Happy May! Many learning experiences include input from others. In the first week of every month, I’d like begin to introduce everyone to gardeners, permaculturists, teachers, spiritual mentors and friends who have inspired and supported my journey. If you are interested in contributing, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
As the first guest writer, I would like to welcome E. Ray Gard! E. Ray is a gardener, educator and designer in Austin, Texas. He writes his own blog, called Agricrafty.com. Enjoy his article! And thank you, E. Ray!
Learning to grow in long, hot summers! (notes from Austin, Texas)
Hi there, our growing season here in Austin and the rest of surrounding Central Texas is a bit of a head scratcher to most people in the Northern parts of the United States. You see, we’re not quite tropical, thanks to those occasionally cold, albeit short, winter freezes that we get, but we’re not quite temperate, because our seasons are most accurately described as Summer and Fall/Winter?…well, maybe Summer and Not Summer?
Anyway, just like anyone with an unusual shoe size or uncommon first name can tell you, when you are outside of the norm, a perfect fit can be hard to come by, whether it’s shoes or good gardening advice.
So, while the rest of the United States is shuttering their garden sheds for the winter, we find ourselves filling up our greenhouses with seed trays full of kale, cabbages and spinach, getting ready to grow as many greens as we possibly can over the mild winter.
The tricky part (and this is where Florida might recognize the tune) comes in the middle of summer, while our friends to the north are rolling in verdant hills of delicate strawberry plants covered in glossy red fruit, we are staring at wilted fields of explosive, but exhausted squash, okra and tomatoes. By the middle of August, with the hot days followed by hot nights with low or high humidity, a Texas summer can kill or stunt most any vegetable.
On that note:
Tips for Gardening in Long, Hot Summers!
- Plants like rest!
When the long hot days are followed by long hot nights, your plants, even if they’re well-watered, are constantly having to use energy (sugar) and other nutrients to cool themselves and maintain normal function. With this in mind, get to know your plants natural light requirements and be ready to plant some in partial shade because it might mean they can be slower to mature, but maintain productivity throughout the summer and be awesome fall producers once the temperatures start to lower.
- Keep your soil safe and hydrated!
Too much rain can compact bare soils as well as wash nutrients like phosphorous, calcium, magnesium and sodium away, which makes them more acidic. Here in Central Texas, we have a lot of limestone in our soils, so low pH (acid) soils aren’t that common, but the rain can still be a powerful frenemy depending on how much and how often it comes to visit. If you are getting daily rains, be sure that your plants are located away from excessive runoff or pooling, unless they are adapted for that kind of pond living. Lots of water on a regular basis can wash away the smaller components of your soil (like humus and compost), which can actually reduce your soil’s ability to hold water when it’s not raining as well as rob your plants of necessary nutrients.
- Plants love great soils!
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but to the point above about washing too much of the good stuff out of your soils, not only do those plants need water to survive the heat, they need tons of rich soil to pull a wide variety of nutrients out of. In people, this is like thinking that all you need after a run on a hot day is water, no food, no electrolytes, just water. Now imagine that you are running every single day, only drinking water to recover. I think you get my point, you have to feed your soil so your plants can have access to everything they need to run that race every single hot day of the summer.
I hope you found something helpful for learning to grow in Florida in these tips from a fellow gardener a few states to the West in Texas! I write about my own gardening experience and journey into permaculture and regenerative agriculture over on my blog at Agricrafty.com, so feel free to stop by and take a look for more useful information.
E. Ray Gard is a cowboy way down deep. He loves to experience other cultures and has lived and worked in France, Italy, Ecuador, Honduras and Syria, but currently calls Austin, Texas home. When he’s not covered in dirt and bits of vegetables, he’s learning to play the fiddle, training capoeira or BJJ, or working on his scifi novel. He grew up on a ranch and farm in rural New Mexico and has stayed in agriculture his whole life. He started teaching gardening as a bright-eyed Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador after college and has been sharing agriculture as a way to help people improve their health, environment and quality of life ever since. Since then, he’s studied permaculture, holistic management and more recently the Regrarian’s design platform as paths to be a better student of and partner with the land. E.Ray is passionate about healing the problems of the world in a garden. He believes deeply that nurturing a piece of land makes us better dreamers, warriors, lovers and human beings in general.
Katrina is a stay-at-home mom with two children, ages 4 and 6. She got her AA in Environmental Science Technology and has a fascination with Florida Ecology. She is involved in Anchor Home School with her son Landon and the PTA at her daughter’s elementary school. She started a small garden a few years ago, found out how easy it is to grow edibles in your landscape, and has been adding on to her garden ever since. She loves to see her kids eat raw fruits and veggies right in the garden. Katrina is helping with a beautification project in Sun City and hopes to be involved in educating the community on how unique Florida is and how we can make small changes to keep you doing less work in your yard and more time enjoying it with your kids.
Stephanie is a mom of four children, ages 2, 4, 6, and 8. She has been gardening since she was pulling weeds in her mom’s large vegetable garden. Over the years, she’s moved from vegetables to flowers and now has a variety of perennials, vegetables, fruit trees, orchids, tillandsia and palms. Her favorite gardens are butterfly gardens, which attract many species of caterpillars, butterflies and hummingbirds. Stephanie recently has shared her love of plants with the Ruskin Elementary School in a beautification project on the campus. This included raised vegetable beds that can provide educational opportunities for the science teachers. This blog is where she documents her experiments in her own garden. She is also certified in permaculture design.
This past month, I was asked to design two small shade gardens, so I grabbed my books and went to the Internet to see what did well in Florida. Shade gardens can be limited by the colors used because blooms tend to need more sun, but I feel like these gardens still have a variety of color textures, creating its own foliage beauty. Here is what I came up with:
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Brunfelsia):
This shrub is the centerpiece for this small garden. The blooms are purple, lavender, and white. But that isn’t the best part. The fragrance is AMAZING! These shrubs aren’t picky for soil or light and are easy to care for. Be sure to keep soil moist during dry spells and fertilize in spring. This shrub will grow from 7 to 10 feet tall and up to 12 feet wide. ¹
Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora):
The Autmn Fern or Japanese shield fern is a perennial fern that grows well in Florida. Its foliage can reach up to 2 feet tall. The foliage is a bronze-copper color in spring when the plant is young, then matures to a dark green. The cultivar Brilliance has more reddish to coppery coloring than other species and holds the coloration when it becomes mature. Keep the soil evenly moist. ²
*Cost: $98, mulch included. Plants purchased at Crowley’s Nursery and Gardens. Mulch purchased at Home Depot.
Hostas are a good shade-garden plant and were a favorite of mine when I lived in Illinois. I did read mixed reviews on hostas in Florida, so perhaps this is an experiment. They may not handle the heat well. This particular garden spot doesn’t get any direct sunlight, so I hope the hostas have a fighting chance to survive.
This ground-cover grass is another plant that works well in shade and moist soil. This grass can be trimmed one a year. ¹
I chose this Brazilian-native ginger because of the color variety. This ginger does well in humidity and filtered light. It can grow from 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide. You can fertilize this plant up to every 2 weeks, though I would suggest adding compost and mulch to add more natural fertilizers. ²
This ginger can be used as a substitute for ginger spice. This plant can grow from 5 to 8 feet tall. It needs to be in moist soil. If the soil is sandy, be sure to add compost and mulch to help remedy the soil. ³
*$68, mulch included. Note: Some of the other plants pictured were already apart of the garden. Plants and mulch were purchased at Lowe’s.
Nothing is ever wasted in nature. Every dead corpse is recycled as food for life; everything has its place and contributes to a very sophisticated balance in the system. ~ Giovanni Dienstmann
Dear Mr. Repairman,
You ruined my garden. I appreciate all you’ve done in replacing my water heater for a more energy efficient water heater. This will save me money. This will help save the planet. Still, you killed my plant.
How did you not see the beautiful purple shrub I had planted? I feel as if I lost a precious treasure. I grieve for the new blooms that will not be, the roots that may still move underground, but have no branches to forge new leaves. There is an empty space where there was once life. The plant will live on as compost creating nutrients for it’s fellow neighbors, but that had not been it’s intentions. It was supposed to inspire beauty through it’s own soulful blooms. Yet, that can not be.
I do not ask you to replace my shrub. I merely ask that next time you look where your big boots step before installing a water heater because you could be squashing the soul of a poor defenseless plant that can not even scurry out of the way.
With a heavy heart,
A Mournful Gardener
April 10: Meet and greet. Plant seeds in pots. Learn what a garden needs. Water. Tools.
May 9: Composting. Vermicomposting.
June 13: Soil. Ph testing. Cabbage project.
July 11: Fairy Gardens. Make fairy homes.
August 8: Air plants.
September 12: Mason bees. Make mini mason bee hives.
October 10: Spooky garden decorations
November 14: Yoga in the woods.
December: Holiday Party. Poinsettias.
As I learn to garden in Florida, I am constantly being pulled toward this concept of permaculture. This is a new term for me and an exciting idea. By definition, permaculture means: the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. It centers around replicating patterns in the natural ecosystems.
Understanding the natural ecosystems in Florida helps to understand how things survive. Because it takes a determined plant to survive drastic dry seasons, flooding, numerous pests and a scorching heat. Florida’s landscape and weather is so unique that it’s best to scrap anything you’ve ever known about gardening and stick to what works in Florida. And I guarantee, if you’re new to Florida gardening, it’s like nothing you have previously learned.
What makes up permaculture:
- Edible gardening: this could be raised beds, vertical gardening, or placed throughout your yard.
- Companion planting: this helps attract beneficial bugs or can deter insects from neighboring plants.
- Sheet mulching: this is newspapers, cardboard, straw, mulch, compost, soil all working together as a weed barrier; to hold in moisture; and to add nutrients to the soil.
- Composting: using food scraps, yard waste to add nutrients to the soil. Vermiculture can also be an added element to compositing.
- Water feature: rainbarrels, drip irrigation, etc.
The benefits of permaculture:
- Diversity: medicinal plants, wildlife habitat, food crops, herbs, flowers, fruits.
- Sustainability: the initial prepping and planting may be time consuming, but with the right tools and plants, your garden will thrive with less maintenance.
- No need for pesticides: companion planting creates an environment that brings in beneficial bugs. Permaculture creates a diversity that mimics nature and creates a more balance environment for the insects and plants.
How to begin:
- Research your gardening zone.
- Evaluate your soil.
- Evaluate your sunlight.
- Visit local nurseries for ideas and advise.
- Consult a permaculture designer.
- Plant your choice of fruit trees, then shrubs, then edible raised beds.
I believe permaculture has a place in any Florida garden. It’s a way to maximize vegetable and fruit output, and a way to take advantage of nature’s guiding hand to create success in edible gardening. Permaculture is a way to experiment and grow as a gardener.
A personal relationship of mindful care for the Earth ecology is the foundation of the health of all species, all lives. ~ Tig-le House