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How to grow an edible garden in Southwest Florida for homeowners and apartment dwellers

Nasturtium
David Goehring, Flickr
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Originally from South America, nasturtiums are an easy-to-grow annual that pack a double wallop: bright, beautiful flowers and edible leaves, pods, and blooms. This vining annual can be grown year-round in most of Florida, but will die back to the ground during a freeze. Nasturtium leaves are round and smooth, and its numerous flowers are yellow, orange, or red. Nasturtiums are easy to grow. Plant seeds from spring through fall throughout Florida and year-round in South Florida

Gardening and planting edibles is most definitely a science with a lot of factors to consider, so where does one get started? Do you pick the plants first? Do you have to test the soil? When should tomatoes be planted? How does someone start from scratch?

Vegetables can be grown year-round in Florida if attention is paid to the appropriate planting. And the benefits of creating an edible landscape range from mental therapy to food cost savings. Edible landscaping replaces plants that are strictly ornamental with plants that produce food, creating a multi-functional landscape that repays your investment of water, fertilizer, and time, with food.

In this episode, find out how to get started with your own edible, Florida-friendly garden, and if you live in an apartment, get tips about creating a container or community garden and how you can regrow store-bought produce.

GUESTS:

  • Cecila Morales, Shangri-La Springs organic garden manager
  • Heather Gonzalez, University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Master Gardener Volunteer in training

Here some our our guest's favorite edible plants:

Malabar spinach

Malabar spinach
Malabar spinach can be grown from seeds or cuttings. While not essential, the vine should be trellised. Two vines are sufficient to supply a small family all summer and fall. Vines are somewhat ornamental, so they can be trained to climb over doorways for easy accessibility. The thick, fleshy leaves are cut off together with some length of stem to keep the plant pruned to a desired shape. Stems that are too tough to eat can be put back in the soil and rerooted. Plants started in Gainesville in August made excellent growth during the fall months. When cooked, Malabar spinach is not as slick in texture as many greens, such as spinach. The Bengalis cook it with chopped onions, hot chilis, and a little mustard oil.

Nasturtium

800px-Yellow_and_red_Tropaeolum_majus_(Garden_nasturtium).jpg
Mary Hutchison, Wikimedia Commons
Nasturtiums are easy to grow. Plant seeds from spring through fall throughout Florida and year-round in South Florida. You will eventually have to stake or trellis the tall types. There are few pests that bother these plants. Pods develop about 4 months after seeding. You can add the leaves, which have been likened to watercress, to salads, as well as the flowers. The seed pods can be pickled and used as you would capers. If you plan to eat parts of your nasturtiums, avoid using pesticides on or near the plants.

Fennel

Growing-and-Harvesting-Fennel-Cover.jpg
Florence fennel is also known as finocchio, sweet fennel, sweet anise, and fetticus. It is grown successfully in many gardens and a few fields throughout Florida. Fennel has a very aromatic, distinctive anise-like flavor and odor. It is used as a boiled vegetable, and sometimes raw in salads or with other vegetables. Plants grow about 3 feet tall. The dense and thread-like foliage reminds one of dog fennel. Florence fennel appears somewhat similar to celery and it is often confused with dill. From seeding to harvest takes about 4 months. Cool weather is best for growth of fennel.

Edible landscaping benefits:

  • Improved Taste and Nutrition of Food: Nutrient content and flavor in most plants is highest immediately after harvest. The edible landscape provides fresh foods that can be eaten minutes, rather than days or weeks, after harvest. Also, many exceptional and flavorful varieties not readily available at food markets are available to gardeners.
  • Increased Food Security: An edible landscape reduces your dependence on foreign food sources that have unknown production systems.
  • Reduced Food Costs: Certain edibles are highly productive and are more economical to grow at home than to purchase.
  • Convenience: Having fruits and vegetables right outside your home may help you add fresher, healthier foods to your diet and make meal preparation easier.
  • Fun and Exercise: Growing food can be rewarding and fun; the exercise you get in the process can help you stay fit.
  • Sustainability: Consuming locally grown produce can be an important part of reducing energy inputs and protecting our environment.
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UF/IFAS
What to Plant in December

Tara Calligan is an award-winning journalist and a public media producer, writer and online content creator at WGCU. Twitter @TlCalligan