August 16, 2011

10 months of gardening starts NOW

Here we've been getting ready for 10 months of great gardening! Our resting months are officially over, and now we are preparing for the new season. June and July are the months Floridians pour through seed catalogues with interesting photos and poetic descriptions while hibernating in air conditioning. This is very different from gardeners of northerly climes with their growing season starting in spring. The first crops are warm-season types planted at the end of summer (August-ish), followed by cool-season crops planted in the fall once the heat dies off (October-ish), and then another round of warm-season crops for spring (March-ish).

In May I planted cover crops across all the rows from last season and let them take over for the summer. This was a good month to stop warm-season vegetable plantings. Too much of everything- rain, heat, work, humidity, disease, and insects. The rewards fall short of the effort. 

I wanted to enrich the soil, giving back what I reaped last year. I experimented with cover crops in the legume family- peas, beans, and kin. I chose cow peas and velvet beans since they are adapted for hot and somewhat moist climates, but can also tolerate drought. Perfect since typically this is the wet season, and we've been experiencing drought and unpredictable weather for years. 

Legumes are emphasized because they are known as underground fertilizer factories. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria live as nodules on the roots and convert nitrogen from the air into a form stored in the soil. The nitrogen- fixing bacteria need the legume roots to convert nitrogen from the air and the legumes need the nitrogen for fertility. Just another example of symbiotic relationships at work!  Crops later planted where legumes grow get to tap this nitrogen too. 

I was also curious about covering and protecting the soil from weeds and sun beating down all summer. The beans and peas were densely sown, grew in quickly, and created a living mulch. This created a micro- climate that shaded the soil and held in the moisture.  It became a summer hangout for frogs, cats, and chickens just looking for a little relief.

August has been a busy month of uprooting the cover crops, preparing the beds, mulching walkways, and sewing seeds for transplanting. I'll be experiamenting this season with no- till methods, leaving the summer cover crops as a mulch/green manure on top of the soil rather than tilling it under. Top soil hardly exhists in coastal Florida, so tilling wrecks what little soil structure we have. The top few inches see all the action so I'm working on preserving it. That and tilling is tiring.

I hope everyone is staying hydrated, getting excited about their new beds, and of course enjoying the sea!


  1. Shannon, it's so great to see your photos and learn you're doing well! You're art is lovely and so is your garden! I look forward to following your blog and experiencing a new side of Florida!

  2. Such a great post...I love that you explained the florida growing seasons (we are so lucky to have so much) and I think the summer cover crops are brilliant and lovely! Looking forward to many more great posts!