Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer doldrums and where IS the information?

Every year about this time I start searching. Scouring the internet looking for information on *something.* You know that something I'm talking about. Something wonderful. Different. New. Something that I haven't tried before. That magical thing that is going to like to grow in our swampy conditions.

Every year I fail to find this mythical and magical plant. I find the same thing time after time. "You can only plant...."
WHAT? Or "You shouldn't plant, allow the soil to rest..." WHO SAYS? Grrr... These websites all list one or two things that grow here in our rather sticky conditions and nothing else. Either the typical or atypical things and then nothing else.
The other thing I see is that the sites are geared to either veggie growers or flower gardeners and I guess I can understand that. But a lot of the cool weather veggie gardeners get info on combining crops. I just don't understand why there isn't any info out there for us folk down here. I'd like to know what to plant companion wise with some of these stranger things. Heck, for that matter I'd like to know where to get them or what in the world they taste like, what texture they have. Anything!? But it seems that in order to glean this information around here you have to attend a seminar for $20 or go to a nursery in South Florida where they actually DO grow these things. But, they are only open to the public for those exhibitions a couple times a year and honestly I don't know that they'll let you walk around and just go tasting their plants and all.

Each time I think I have a great little (edible and exotic) nursery under the radar it either closes or changes hands. Sometimes they just can't make ends meet and they stop carrying the things I'm interested in the most - usually just before the summer when their business gets slower and I'm looking for the things like this. *sigh*

SO - are we Central and South  Florida gardeners really stuck to just:
Sweet Potato
Black-eyed Peas

That answer is a resounding HECK NO!
First off let's just look at the family of those plants. Okra belongs in the hibiscus family and that lends us to Roselle.

Roselle - pic from google search
Roselle is a wonderful plant - the part used the most is  fleshy calyx of the a true hibiscus flower. It's used to make jams, jellies, drinks - all sorts of stuff (even PIES!) and grows just dandy in all of our heat, humidity and any other of Florida's conditions that we can throw at it. Well, except freeze. It can handle a little frost but not a hard freeze. Good news though. Inside each of those lovely sweet and sour juicy little tidbits are a couple seeds. They will easily reseed for next year. Good to keep in mind if you don't want it coming up again and spreading around. Personally I like a little hedge.  Of course the plant can also be used for other things, but our modern day society doesn't use it normally.

Sweet Potato belongs in the same family as the morning glory. You wouldn't think that this is a flower that does well here, but it does. We even have our own versions of it. Beach morning glory actually lines some of our coastal dunes and Swamp cabbage is something that I grew up hearing about along with water spinach. All nicknames for the water morning glory. It's vine float along the (more passive) waterways here. Rarely seen now though.

Along with sweet potatoes other tuber type crops that you would think are related do well here all summer like yarrow, yams, jicama, Jerusalem artichoke, ginger, taro...taro makes poi. Poi sits next to the lomi lomi... I need a luau! I do make a killer Kalua pulled pork. Did you know I lived in Hawaiii for a while? I so need a vacation. I may live here by the ocean breezes but it's so rare I get to enjoy them, even though it feels like they are a part of my blood. *sigh*

Back to business. Where was I? Oh yes. I am up to peanuts. A legume really and belongs to the same family as beans and peas - fair weather friends in my book. We'll see the rest of them again in fall.

Black-eyed peas however, now those open up a whole other world of goodies. Crowders, long beans, cowpeas, things that can be substituted for my fair weathered friends the grean beans. They can also be shellies or dry beans. Yep this is a category I love.  But for more reasons than just because they grow here. Because the entire plant (OK not really the stem or roots but you get the idea) can be eaten and used. There are so many different types of these beans.

picture courtesy of
 Love black beans for Mexican food? They've got an equivalent for that! Peking black and I'll bet you can't tell the difference. Prefer small white beans like navy beans? Try the white acres, fast lady or zipper cream. The selection seems endless. Pick them young and eat them like green beans, eat the leaves while they are young and tender as well. These are great plants and they tend to thrive in our heat.

Another choice is long beans. They are Asian and the humidity doesn't seem to bother them much. Aphids like them like every other bean so be on the lookout and have your spray bottle of soap and water handy. My little 5' trellis isn't enough to keep them happy. They need more space to keep gowing and growing. There are red beans and green beans but be sure to get them young. They are best before hey reach a foot long. 55 days is all it takes for most vines to produce here because the respond so well. But northerners should know it does take more time where heat and light are less.

Unrelated to any of the 4 types of plants that are usually suggested to plant in our summers? Those atypical that you can find by going to seminars and  hearing about through the grapevine. We crunchy type like talking about self sustainability. I'm along way from that so I don't know if I should say 'we' but I do like to talk about it. I did mention some in the roots and tubers, but there are more. Certainly the alligator pear gets it's name fairly. It's also known as Choyote or Chaya. Malabar Spinach, New Zealand spinach, amaranth, calalloo are all hot weather spinach or greens substitutes.

Calabaza and Seminole pumpkin are the two main winter squash that will grow during our long hot summers. They are both regional favorites. The calabaza is from Central/South America and it is a c. moshata. This means it has a much better resistance to insects like the squash vine borer and to some diseases as well. As such it does well here and since it's from a hot and humid region it already has adapted to our environment. Bonus! The Seminole pumpkin is in the same family and was said to be brought from the Seminole Indians. There are several styles of this pumpkin and both look similar to the calabazas skin.  Word of caution. These vines really and truly LOVE our heat. watch out for anything within 30' because it will be over run with the vines if you are not very careful. You'll be handsomely rewarded with a large supply of sweet orange fleshed winter storage squash, but you will need a lot of space. (Something I don't have much of)

Now - all that said you'd think I'd have a garden so full and lush.... but alas - I do not. Many of the plants that do thrive here are large and unrelenting. I have only a small space to use. I also don't have a good place to buy plants from. I do attend swaps and I have gotten quite a few plants from there. It's always great to try new things that way, but slow. I have almost no vertical space so that is limiting as well. A lot of these things are climbers after all. Other things are only  hard to get because after all who wants to pay $12 (or MORE!) for a packet of a few seeds to find out after planting 2 that you hate something?

The things I do love are staples in my garden though, and I've found new and interesting things to do with those. Remember last years okra fritters?

photo courtesy of ME!
 MMMMmmmm... I do love these. Some people love pickled okra. Never tried that myself. The slime makes me think I might not enjoy it. But to each their own. LOL.

So yes, I plant okra, peanuts, sweet potato and cowpeas in my garden. I happen to like them, Thank you very much. I'm just looking for diversity and information that is easier to get all in one place. I know that a lot of the problem has to do with losing the mainstay crops that I love. The tomatoes are gone for a while and the harvests are in a lull. It creates this need in me to change things. To find something that can take the place of those things and nothing can. Only time. The tomatillos WILL ripen eventually. They will take the place of the tomatoes. But as usual my timing was off. Or maybe the plants timing is. ;-) The cowpeas will be along shortly. The sweet potatoes and the peanuts take longer than green beans do so the summer heat makes us lazy? It makes our plants lazy, too.

Maybe I'll grab a beach towel and find myself a relaxing spot. I can't do anything to change the time so I may as well enjoy it, right?  This year I am trying soybeans for the first time. The squirrels or birds one thought they were a huge hit. Let's hope there is at least enough of a harvest to enjoy and find out if they are worth growing again. Those $12 seeds I was talking about? Yup - these are some of those. Only enough to plant a small 2' square patch and now full 2/3 are gone. Good news on those though. I did plant them early enough that they already have beans on the plant. Who knew they were so hairy!?  Can't wait to share that with ya!

Meanwhile I'm still sowing some crowders and looking for that elusive new plant. Think I'll try a new tomatillo, too.

I do love tomatillos...
'Till next time!
(Stay cool!)



  1. Hang in there. I just discovered cowpeas this fall. I never really liked black eyed peas but it turns out I love pink eye purple hull peas. If these produce for me I will branch out to other types next year. I did not know you could also eat the leaves!

  2. Great post! We just harvested the last of our calabaza pumpkins this week. I've never tried growing it in the middle of summer, and I'm really curious to see if it grows. So, I'll just have to do that. We've planted sweet potatoes before, but they became really invasive in our garden, so I'm hesitant to do that again. Okra is great! Malabar spinach has also been invasive... but it does grow well in the summer. Maybe I'll try growing those Asian beans again this year. I wonder if it will be too late by the time I receive some in the mail? I've never seen seeds for sale locally.

  3. AinA - Not only that but I think that by adding in the leaves and some of the smaller pods to the pot of shellies it really makes the beans so much better. Just takes the flavor to the next level. :-D

    Mary- You brought up a great point. Because of space I use bush sweet potatoes and it didn't dawn on me to point that out. THere are 2 types of bush sweets. I have one tiny slip that I can spare. LOL. It's not much... but it's something. ;-) I'm not even sure how it even escaped and isn't either planted with the rest or in the compost! If you are available at lunch time tomorrow I think I have some spare asain long seeds, as well as Seminole Pumpkin too. I'll dig through my stash tonight. Let me know!