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~Summer Gardening in Florida — It’s hot, hot, hot!~

By: Taylor Neilly, FOG Intern

It’s beginning to really feel like summertime in Florida and the looming question for all plant growers out there is to garden, or not to garden? While many opt not to take full advantage of Florida’s year round growing season, others embrace the opportunity and keep the veggies going.

Of course, summer gardening here in Florida presents a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand it’s hot, muggy and buggy and even a short vacation away from home can turn any garden into an unruly, weed-filled, bug buffet. On the other hand, summer is the season where many of us find the majority of our free time and a vegetable garden lends itself as the perfect project to get you outside for your daily dose of vitamin D and fresh air, while providing a bounty of produce along the way.

So if you care to brave the heat, here are few vegetables (and fruits) that are capable of withstanding, and even thriving in the summer sun:

1. Sweet Potato. These sweet and starchy tubers can be planted well into July here in Florida and they couldn’t be easier to grow. Loosen up the soil, being sure to give them ample room, plant the slips, and watch them spread. You can also make sweet potato slips.

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2. Peppers. Bell, hot, and sweet pepper varieties all grow well during the summer. Choose your favorites and give them a try. You can also plant a few of your hot peppers in a pot and enjoy their heat for years to come.

3. Roselle. This species of Hibiscus is native to West Africa and a truly beautiful addition to any summer garden. A tasty, tangy drink, similar to red zinger tea, can be made from the calyxes.

4. Lima or Butter Beans. There are both bush and pole varieties to choose from. High in protein, low in fat and prolific growers, these legumes make an excellent addition to any summer garden,

5. Cowpeas. Another resilient and prolific crop, these legumes can withstand extreme heat, harsh drought, and grow in the sandiest of Florida’s soil. Besides being high in protein, Cowpeas also have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, which brings nutrients to the soil. You may even consider allowing them to take over your garden completely to amend your soil for fall planting.

6. Eggplant. Summer after summer I find myself harvesting more eggplant then I know what to do with. While it might be too late to plant in parts of Central and South Florida, North Florida gardeners have until August. Ichiban, Black Beauty and Dusky are all varieties worth considering.

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7. Small Cherry Tomatoes. Many gardeners try to grow larger tomatoes in the summer. But the plants simply end up producing plenty in bush but little in fruit. The truth is, larger tomato varieties need cooler nights to produce an abundance of fruit, which the Florida climate simply doesn’t facilitate. However, several types of cherry tomatoes can be grown throughout the summer and be plenty productive.

8. Okra. This pod producing plant is easy to grow and can be planted late into the summer. Cooking okra is almost as easy as it is to grow. Simply slice the pods and sauté them up in your favorite oil. Or cook them whole and it won’t get near as slimy. With such ease, no wonder okra is a staple of Southern cuisine!

9. Cassava. Plant some now and you’ll have delicious roots that will be ready to boil, mash, fry, or add into a stew by the time fall rolls around.  How cool it will be to show up to Thanksgiving dinner with an exotic dish like mashed Cassava! You’ll need to find someone with root cuttings, but even smaller slivers will root and grow.

10. Callaloo or Tree Spinach.  If you’re craving a leafy green for the summer, this  might be the experimental plant for you. Callaloo, an edible amaranth, is not often utilized or grown in the US, but its leaves are a popular ingredient in many Carribean dishes. The Callaloo leaves are nutrient-rich and similar to spinach.

These are only some of the veggies you can plant this summer. If you care to do some of your own research and find more, look for plants that are native to regions of Central America, northern South America and the Caribbean, and parts of Central Africa, and Southeast Asia. Also remember that Florida is a large state. Because of this, planting dates for certain plants can vary based on your latitudinal location. Check out the Florida gardening calendar from IFAS. Now get out there, enjoy the summer sun, and happy planting!

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