Panic Planting during this pandemic: Modern Victory Gardens

Posted 4/20/20

Caloosa Belle/Danika J. Hopper: Gardening in South Florida’s heat is easy if you pick the right varieties, and beware of zoning recommendations! Victory Gardening was a movement that began during …

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Panic Planting during this pandemic: Modern Victory Gardens

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Caloosa Belle/Danika J. Hopper: Gardening in South Florida’s heat is easy if you pick the right varieties, and beware of zoning recommendations!

Victory Gardening was a movement that began during World War I, where Americans worked to plant and grow food however they could. The goal was to promote self-sufficiency, growing and harvesting your own fruits and vegetables no matter how small the space available, in a time when food supplies were threatened. This continued through World War II, as Americans were encouraged to plant in any and every patch of available soil.

Decades later, due to the panic buying of groceries that the current pandemic has caused, along with our current stay at home order, the concept of victory gardening has popped up again. Food supply anxiety coupled with more time at home has garden centers and nurseries reporting sharp increases in sales of potting soil, seeds, seedlings, and fruit trees.

This is such a great solution to many of the problems we are currently facing. Growing and harvesting your own food keeps you busy, outside in the sun and fresh air, and provides fresh veggies and fruits packed with immune boosting vitamins and minerals. Some of you may worry that you don’t have a green thumb, but gardening can be quite easy and it’s a really fun and rewarding way to pass the time while being stuck at home. Start small, a few little seed packets and some good soil. Master gardeners and experienced homesteaders like myself with warn you however, that when gardening here in South Florida, the zoning recommendations on the back of seed packets are not helpful. The extreme heat we experience makes it hard to produce the usual carrots, tomatoes, and lettuce that our friends and family up north may be growing.

Down here, at this time of year, it’s best to stick with heat-tolerant, hardy plants like okra, black eyed peas, and yard long beans. As for tomatoes, the wild variety known as Everglades tomatoes, which are tiny but packed with flavor, are easy to grow. They basically thrive on neglect. If you want to grow leafy greens, choose Malabar or Longevity spinach, mustard greens, or collards.

I’ve just started my usual yard long beans, red snake beans, winged beans, luffa gourd, Seminole pumpkins, mizuna, savoy tatsoi, Everglades tomatoes, vegetable amaranth, longevity spinach, pigeon peas, and bird peppers. We also have nopales (cactus), sweet potatoes, cranberry hibiscus, papaya, pineapples, and moringa in the back yard garden along with some sugar cane, ginger, tumeric, and various herbs in the front yard.

While some of your favorite culinary herbs can be grown indoors, like cilantro, sweet leaf basil, or chives. You can expect to have better success with sage, Rosemary, oregano, and garlic chives outside. Mint and lemongrass will grow well outside, too.

Where might you find these heat tolerant varieties? In the communities of Clewiston, Montura, Pioneer, and LaBelle there is a small but growing group of people who have started locally based Victory Garden Facebook groups to share knowledge and trade seeds by mail or planning seeding trades by drop off during travel for essentials.

One thing everyone has agreed on, in our FB group, is that most of Florida experienced hot, dry weather in March and more of the same is expected for April. So when you’re getting started, make sure you keep an eye on the soil moisture for young seedlings and transplants. It’s unfortunately really easy to let them dry out and die in this heat.

If you feel curious and have more confidence in your cultivation skills, you may want to grow more varieties, there are so many other plants you can try out like achira, aibika, boniato, cassava, chaya, chayote, jicama, katuk, malanga, mitsuba, molokhia, papalo, quilquina, sunchokes, taro, tindora, and water chestnuts will all do well, and might make you a more adventurous chef and enhance your culinary skills, as well!

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