Page 25

Some Like It Hot The Summer Garden by David Y. Goodman, UF/IFAS Marion County Master Gardener


hat happened to spring? It’s suddenly June—and it’s hot. Last week I walked past one of my spring garden beds in the heat of the early afternoon. The once-proud carrots were having a really bad hair day, the cabbages were one step from the guillotine, and the row of purple kohlrabi looked significantly less royal than usual. It’s over, man. It’s over. It’s only going to get hotter from here, and you can kiss your lettuce, cauliflower and radishes goodbye. We’ve been told that one of the great things about Florida is that you can “garden year-round”—but if you talk to most Florida gardeners, you’ll find they only believe in two growing seasons: spring and fall. Despite the heat-induced siesta many of us take, and though it isn’t easy to grow in summer, you can do it if you pick the right plants. Are you ready? Then put on a straw hat, break out the bikini top, and grab a cigar (plus a tube of SPF 1000), because it’s time to get planting! Okay now! You’re all ready to plant something, feeling rather silly in your hat and top, covered in some kind of weird coconut-scented sunscreen and trying to figure out how to light a cigar. (You don’t have to smoke it. I was just being funny. I’ll smoke it later if you don’t want it.) But … what do you plant? It’s too danged hot for most food plants right now, and there’s a good reason for that. Most of our common garden vegetables were bred for temperate climates. In order to have success, you need to dip into the glorious tropics for species that can handle the heat.

Sweet Potatoes Probably the tastiest summer crop is the sweet potato. Have you planted any yet? It isn’t too late, though you might have a hard time finding slips (“slips” are what they call baby sweet potato plants) at your local nursery or garden center. If you don’t have luck, buy some good-looking sweet potatoes from your local grocery store and plant them about four feet from each other in a prepared bed. I plant them in my garden beds as I yank out spring crops. June is stretching the season, but you should be fine, unless the theories of a new Ice Age are true and we end up getting a frost in October. I’ve grown sweet potatoes in my blueberry patch, around trees, in double-dug beds, in square foot gardens, and in my wife’s rose garden. They’re really easy. Water them for the first few weeks and then stand back. Okra A second crop that will handle the heat: okra! Yeah, I know, it’s slimy—but hey, it grows in the summer. (You can’t say that about your precious heirloom rutabagas, can you? Can you?) Okra will handle tons of heat—just don’t plant it where you planted okra in a previous year. They’re nematode magnets; in fact, the University of Florida uses okra in its nematode control experiments, just because it’s such a tasty plant for these oh-so-irritating psuedocoelomates. You can plant okra all the way through June; they’re tough, heat-loving, and easy to grow (if not easy to eat). Cassava Though it isn’t easy to find, cassava (also known as manioc, tapioca, or “yuca” with one “c,” not to be confused with the desert plant “yucca”) is a tropical root crop and a major staple in many equatorial nations. If you plant it in summer, it won’t make big roots until next year, but it will thrive during

the hot rainy days and be in great shape for 2014’s fall harvest. This is a long-term perennial plant, with graceful 12-foot canes and swaying palmate leaves. It will usually freeze to the ground during the winter—but don’t worry, it’ll come back. I’ve planted them from spring to fall and had a good success rate, and have eaten plenty of delicious fried roots over the years. This plant is basically pest and maintenance-free … as long as you don’t mind the wait. Just cook it right or it’ll kill you. Don’t be scared—just look it up online. Snake Beans Moving away from roots and slimy things, our next summer garden candidate is one of my personal favorites: the snake bean! I’ve written about snake beans (also known as yard-long beans) in the past. This crop is unbeatable for this region. The 18-inch pods make great green beans and don’t need shelling. As a bonus, the plant grows in poor soil, in half-shade, in full sun, in drought, and in the gardens of people who can’t grow anything else. Make sure you plant them next to a chain-link fence or a strong trellis, because the vines will grow about 15 feet and can knock down weak supports. Pick when the pods are about 14 inches long and they won’t be as stringy. Keep harvesting regularly and they’ll produce more for you—and that’s saying a lot, since this plant is very prolific. A Final Thought So—are you encouraged yet? It’s hard to work in the heat, but with good plants that will do some of the work for you, you can still stay fed on good stuff despite the blazing sun. If none of these crops sound good to you, don’t worry. In a few months you can ditch your silly sun hat and start your fall gardens. ©2013 David Y. Goodman. David Goodman is a Master Gardener, writer, musician, artist and father, as well as the creator of, an online resource for people who are serious about growing food in Florida.

June 2013


June 2013 Natural Awakenings Magazine  

“Natural Awakenings” Magazine, June 2013 issue. The full-color monthly magazine about inspired, fun, green, local, organic, prosperous, whol...