How in the world does a summer vegetable garden in the Orlando heat become a producer? Well, you just need to know your climate and plant-heat-tolerant, pest-resistant summer varieties of vegetables. In zone 9b, I like to focus on many Asian varieties of vegetable plants that thrive in similar scorching environments. It can be a little intimidating to try new things when it’s harvest time. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the beautiful, but unusual, ruffles on the Asian winged beans. Fortunately, just like green beans, the winged beans can be steamed or sautéed with other veggies. They have edible flowers that taste like mushrooms, leaves that taste like spinach, and nutty-tasting roots that are sure to be a hit!
I also grow things like okra, malabar spinach, longevity spinach, hot peppers, eggplants, winged beans, and other heat-loving vegetable plants. Plants that do not have these qualities will struggle, fail to produce flowers and fruit, and attract bugs to your garden.
On the other hand, if your garden is focused more on spring seasonal plants, around the end of June, you can see the spring plants begin to produce less as the days get hotter. Usually we’re over 90 degrees steadily by July and for all of August. Leaves turn brown; bugs you haven’t seen before just appear in your garden and take over their host plants. So, before all of that happens, remove the spring plants and either leave your garden empty or solarize your garden for the summer months of July and August.
The garden can also fill up with weeds in the summertime. Just like the bugs, the weeds appear where there was just black soil the week before. Then, gardeners either stay on top of weeding every few days, or the weeds just take over the entire garden. When pulling out weeds by hand, be sure to get them out by the root, otherwise those persistent ones will grow right back. Don’t add the weed seed to your compost, either, or next season, guess who may just come right back when you add the compost back to your garden.
Even with the best of intentions, sometimes the summer can turn into a tangled mess of weeds and bugs. If that has happened and you want a fresh start, make the best of the heat and harness it to solarize your garden. Solarizing a garden is a process where we clear out all plant material, or at least cut it down so it can be covered. Get the garden wet and then cover it with plastic. From that point, let the garden cook for the next 6-8 weeks. Make sure that the garden is really sealed with the plastic so the heat doesn’t escape. This will kill the bugs and weeds and get you to a lower maintenance garden for the fall season. Now, it also kills the good bacteria in the soil, so when you get ready for the next season, put some extra compost and worm castings in to help build up that healthy ecosystem in your garden.
If you are interested in more information on the details of solarization, you can always trust the University of Florida to steer you right in your local garden. Their information is just for us in Florida, since we follow different gardening rules than the rest of the country: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_soil_solarization
Amber Harmon is the owner of My Nona’s Garden, where they sell and service low-maintenance, elevated, organic vegetable gardens. Their mission is to bring health, promote growth, and provide vegetable gardening education to local communities, one garden at a time. Visit www.MyNonasGarden.com for more information.
“We make organic vegetable gardening easy!”