Survival Gardening in Florida
Despite the complaints about Florida being too hot and sandy, the Sunshine State is a great place to grow food during uncertain times. Decent rainfall and an almost tropical climate allows growing year-round if need be. Just avoid getting too fancy and plant the plants that love, or at least tolerate, the climate.
First, don't worry about building proper raised beds, just pick a spot and remove the grass and weeds, then loosen the soil. A spading fork is good for this, but we can also turn over shovelfuls of sand to get things loose and let moisture go deep. A good bed size is four feet wide and as long as desired. Two-foot pathways in-between beds allow a wheelbarrow through.
If compost is available, dig it in. Just a quarter-inch to a half-inch or so on top of each bed, raked or dug in, is needed. Compost may be found in the woods under leaf litter. Other good amendments include wood ashes, coffee grounds, chicken or rabbit manure, alfalfa pellets or meal, or even some chicken feed or dog food. Just dig some into each bed.
Otherwise take a drum or a few five-gallon buckets and stuff some weeds and grass in them, then top them off with water and let it rot down into a tea. Add a few quarts of urine per five-gallon bucket to provide nitrogen and other nutrients. A cup of Epsom salts, moringa leaves, alfalfa, fish guts, mimosa leaves and many other ingredients can also be added to this tea and will help feed the plants. Most cow or other ruminant manures are contaminated with long-term herbicides such as look up Aminopyralid used to control weeds; they will often kill a garden before it even gets a good start. Use the compost tea to feed plants. Dilute it at least half-and-half with water and don't use it on maturing leaf crops like lettuce that will go immediately to the table. Urine is also usable diluted about six parts water to one part urine.
Grow calorie crops first, then nutrition crops. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, true yams (Dioscorea spp.), beans, maize/grain corn, Seminole pumpkins, calabaza, sunflowers and turnips are high-calorie allies. After those, plant high-nutrition plants like moringa, longevity spinach, kale, chaya, collards, etc. We are late in the season already by Florida standards, so most leafy greens will have to wait until October to be planted. In the heat of summer, crops are mostly limited to chaya, yard-long green beans, black-eyed peas, okra and sweet potatoes. True yams are sold at Publix sold as name yams.
When planting, pay attention to spacing. Too close and we have to water more. If spacing is wider, plants compete less for resources. Mulching with grass clippings, leaves or wood chips keeps the ground cool and moist, however, it can be hard to find enough mulch for a large garden.
Water deeply every few days if it doesn't rain. Rain or well water is better than city water. Dip into the stinky bucket of tea with a watering can and feed in the morning or evening every week or two, and it will help keep plants happy. Also feed with commercial fertilizer such as MiracleGro or a balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 if need be. Organic is better, but food production is our top priority. Use a hoe to knock out weeds or hand-pull. Throw weeds in the tea barrel or compost pile. Attack pests by hand-removing insects. Carefully spray off aphids with the hose. Neem oil is a good all-around pest deterrent, as is slightly soapy water. Sevin works well if we go non-organic. For fire ants, Amdro bait is not particularly toxic and wipes out the colonies that destroy potatoes, spread aphids and bite feet.
Don't be afraid. Plant the yard and spend lots of time learning and growing. For more information, find more than 2,000 gardening posts online at TheSurvivalGardener.com and [email protected]
David Goodman is the author of seven gardening books, including Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting and Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening.