I've been trying to establish a kitchen garden here in south Florida for the last couple years, and I've been struggling. I have learned some lessons - like ignoring any advice that says to plant in full sun - but it's been quite difficult since I've been away at college. The majority of the time I have to work in the garden unfortunately coincides with the hottest part of the year, when all the guides to growing conventional vegetables say you should have already harvested your crop by April-ish, and should avoid planting anything new until September. The plant guides I see also tend to stop at Zone 9, with no advice at all for Zone 10 gardeners.
I'm looking for more sub/tropical plant suggestions, for any edible plants (fruit, vegetable, herb, whatever) that can be planted in late spring or summer in Florida. Ideally, I'd like to establish something that might require a lot of initial work, but little maintenance, so it'll be easy for my mom to care for the garden when I'm away.
So far, the only plants I've been able to successfully harvest have been pineapples. I'm thinking of trying my luck with muscadine grape and American elderberry (both grow wild nearby) and maybe trying some of the early spring plants in a very shady spot with lots of water and mulch, and perhaps some Cuban foods like malanga if I can figure out how to get them to slip...
What's worked for y'all? Any advice at all on subtropical gardening is very much appreciated!
I'm an hour northwest of Tampa...so not as southern as you, but we have the same struggles with the heat. In our gardens I'm growing bananas and papayas as nurse plants giving shade and wind protection to other growies in addition to their fruit. The bananas and papayas are nice because they grow quickly for some shade and they aren't long lived. Bananas die once you've harvested the fruit and thus far my papayas have lasted about 3 years before they die off. Both plants have several varieties in height. If you can plant those, then a few months later plant some of the other things that may need a bit of relief from the sun.
I also have star fruit, guavas, lemon, lime, lemongrass, sweet potatoes (lovely ground cover and crop - both leaves and potatoes), moringa, passion fruit, ube, chaya, elderberry, pineapples (mine grow best in a bit of shade), Dunstan chestnut, katuk, cranberry hibiscus, june plum, turk's cap hibiscus, mango, mulberry, sugar cane, root beer plant (hoja santa). Definitely look at the crops from Africa and tropical areas.
....and then there's the annual stuff I grow....beans (green and for drying), okra, herbs (culinary and medicinal), melons, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes (try to find Everglades tomatoes), corn, peanuts (another wonderful ground cover). My harvests have smaller and inconsistent due to trying to find varieties that will grow with our weather and tweaking the soil. I've had enough to save seed from plants that have done well though.
For lettuces, I started to use the Kratky method of hydroponics this year. It's so easy to set up....no pumps or anything. I can keep my growing bins on my back porch where they get plenty of light, but are protected from the heat. We've had several hot days so far this year, and things seem to be good. We'll see how we do this summer.
I think if you can establish a food forest of sorts to give some shade and cool the area where you are trying for your kitchen garden, you may have better results, especially going into summer. You can also try erecting something that you can suspend shade cloth from until you get your shade from your plants.
Here’s what I’m trying now and what I’ve tried before:
Collard greens (they look rough but they made it the ENTIRE year. As long as they get their water they’ll survive)
Mediterranean herbs as long as they get some shade
Sunchokes (they are in a shady area. Seem happy)
I have multiple other tomatoes, peppers, kale and I’m experimenting with 3 sisters on 3 45 gallon tree nursery pots, so we’ll see. The temp is starting to climb and once the heat hits and the monsoons start, we’ll see what survives.
As far as fruit trees/plants:
Thank you both!! I'm glad to hear there are so many plants that'll grow down here, this is super helpful. Yesterday, I started building some hugelkultures; now it's time to start researching and acquiring these plants!
Tropical yams are way to grow and delicious. You just need a trellis or something for them to climb. Piper lolot does well with a tiny bit of shade, even in full sun, but will tale over. False roselle is good for salad greens. Cuban organs (a Plectranthus) is a good substitute for real oregano and easy to grow. I have no luck with ground mint, but there'a a bush mint that is prolific id you can find it, as well as holy basil. Mulberries do well and Baker Creek has a dwarf variety you can grow in a pot. Divid the Good's books are helpful for FL food growing.
I'm in Ft. Lauderdale if you ever want to trade plants!
Two resources to check out for tropical/subtropical plant ideas: Eric Toensmeier's book Perennial Vegetables, and the nonprofit ECHO. I've never gardened in such an area, but reading Toensmeier's book I was struck by how many cool unusual vegetables you have access to in warmer areas that gardening resources focused on colder climates might not mention at all.