“But wait!” you must be thinking, “Your season can’t be over. Can’t you keep your garden going much longer in North Florida?”
Well, yes. We don’t really have a single “season” down here. We can start things like tomatoes in late February/early March. But, in the hottest part of the summer, most vegetables start to struggle while weeds thrive in our heavy rains. And let me tell you, when I say “weeds,” I don’t mean a few stray dandelions. I mean crazy jungle plants that grow up to my chest and choke out everything else.
Florida! So, a lot of gardeners around here just stop in July, tear everything up, and plant again in late August or early September. Then, we can still get in another round of tomatoes and other things. Some vegetables like okra, sweet potatoes, and corn are fine growing though the hottest summers. And then we grow some things all winter long. So…it’s complicated.
But! This year, things got crazy and I just called it in August. I pulled up everything. Actually, I even pulled up my raised beds. The wood was untreated and has been in the ground for years. Some of it was even salvaged wood so it was already looking rough. I have a new plan I’ll tell you about later.
A lot of what I learned this spring/summer has to do with the size of our garden. When I started, I had a few beds. So I could do this intensive, companion planting. A few tomatoes here, some squash on the side, cilantro underneath. I could weed by hand and give a lot of attention to each bed. Then we added a few more beds and this approach still worked. Then a few more beds. Then a few more. This year, we had 15 beds about 40 square feet each. My old style of gardening was just too time-intensive for that much garden.
1. Mulch. I know this already. But it became really clear this year. I really need good mulch to keep weeds out and moisture in. Hand weeding isn’t going to cut it anymore. And my companion style of planting makes using a hoe difficult.
2. Be careful with bargain mulch. In the past, I’ve just used any old thing for mulch. Raked leaves, grass clippings, whatever. And I’ve often picked up leaves from my neighbors to use in my garden. Well, this year that backfired when I apparently used bags of leaves that also contained cuttings from elephant ear plants. And now I have very hardy elephant ears growing in the middle of my yard. I think I’m actually going to go ahead and splurge on a roll of black ground cover and see how that works.
3. Focus on a few things! I always tell myself this and I never listen. Whenever I start looking at seed catalogs, I just get so excited and next thing you know we’ve got literally dozens of plant varieties. If I had more time, it’d be fine. But I need to just concentrate on doing 7 or 8 things right instead of 30 things haphazardly.
But, all in all, it was a successful season. Lots of great tomatoes and more okra and beans than we could eat.
So, my new plan is to pull up all the raised beds (done!), form long rows where the beds used to be, cover the rows well, and plant only a few things. Since our “winter” season is almost here, I’m going to grow lettuce, kale, snow peas, and Swiss chard. And broccoli. And carrots. And who am I kidding? I’m going to order everything in the seed catalog.