Garden Experiments

I’m gardening in a foreign land.

Here’s what I’ve learned about gardening in the Deep South:  Throw out most everything I’ve learned through my lifetime of northern gardening and start over again.  It rains in Florida…really hard.  It’s hot and sticky for days on end and that means that fungus just takes over.

Now that I look back, I’m very thankful that I started my vegetable garden using pots.  I put them outside our screened outdoor enclosure in October, thinking that was where they belonged.  At first, they grew just fine–I had started them in good soil and we got regular rain, so I left them there and forgot about them. After several weeks, they yielded a couple of very pitiful tomatoes before disaster struck.  We got a 5-day rainstorm that just didn’t let up.  My husband left on a business trip to Michigan on a Tuesday and returned 5 days later, and it was still raining. It poured so much I expected to see Noah come by on his boat to ask if we wanted a ride.  As it pounded on our metal roof through the days and nights, my dogs and I looked out the dripping window and wondered if our next walk would turn into a swim.

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I didn’t think much about the tomatoes during that storm.

When it stopped raining, I clipped the dogs into their leashes and ran out joyfully to splash in the puddles and watch the dark clouds drift away.  We looked around and saw that everything was absolutely flooded.  In a few days, most of the water had receded and the hot, sticky weather had returned.  That was when I checked on my tomatoes, poor things.  The leaves clearly had a terrible fungus and were wilting away.  I did what I usually do in Michigan when this happens and took off all the dying leaves.  A couple of days later, when it was clear the tomato plants were on their way out, I looked over at my broccoli plants.  Their small leaves were eaten down to nearly nothing by some very fat caterpillars.  Sigh.

Big.  Garden.  Fail.

The nurse gardener in me kicked into action.    My husband and I moved the pots inside the screened enclosure.  The tomatoes went under the eaves to protect them from flooding in a spot where they would get reflective light from the pool and our light yellow house.  I picked off all the fungus-infected leaves, cut the tomatoes back, gave them a good shot of fertilizer and crossed my fingers.  They were in intensive care and all we could do was wait to see if the patient would recover…or….

Within a week, they were different plants.  

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They sprouted new leaves and started growing again.  And now they are huge, so big that they are bursting out of their cages!  I check them several times each day as I let the dogs out.  Each time, I tell them how beautiful they are, curling around their support, green leaves absolutely glowing with health.  They coo back, showering me with views of their prolific sweet and sassy yellow blossoms.  A second crop of tasty tomatoes is coming!  Inside the screen, the broccoli has fully recovered too, sprouting great big dark green leaves that pull in that vibrant sunshine energy.  We also have several kinds of lettuce, kale, peppers, cauliflower, beans and lemon, all incredibly healthy.

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Wow.  Gardening in Florida can be pretty fun!

Here’s what I have learned:

  • It’s helpful to use containers–they are mobile and you can move them around to the spots the plants like the most.  You can also move them when it is too rainy so the roots don’t get saturated.
  • Setting the plants near where I walk allows me to check on them frequently to see how they are doing.  I also get a boost when I see them looking so healthy.  Counting the blossoms on tomatoes is fun.
  • Watch to make sure that there is good air flow through your tomatoes to prevent fungus.  Now that they are so healthy, I remove leaves periodically to get the air moving through the plant.

I have some ideas about what I’d like to do to increase my yield and fill my space with more veggies, but I’ll save that for another post.  Happy Gardening!

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