Vegetables & Herbs in S.E. Florida


Growing herbs and vegetables here in Southeast Florida is very different than any other part of the United States.  Our growing season is opposite what most other regions experience.  Our severe heat and high humidity makes summer months a no-go for all but a few edibles.  But then our winters can deliver severe cold air and even frost that can damage tender plants.  In recent years our winters have been more mild than a decade ago and this has been good for vegetable and herb gardening.  Not so good for some of our fruits like Lychee which need several cold spells in December to encourage bloom and fruit set in Spring.  More on that under the topic of tropical fruits.

To be successful in your veggie growing endeavor plan well.  The space available will be important.  You need lots of sun, at least five hours a day, longer if possible.  I will keep this entire tutorial simple and to the point.

PLAN-  Make a list of all the veggies you want to grow, along with their respective planting dates.  List supplies you have and those you need to obtain.  Are you going to use seeds or starter plants (easier)?   Are you planting directly in the ground as it sits or raising the planting area by installing walls of wood or other acceptable materials to create a raised bed?  Do not use creosoted materials and avoid new cement which both can leach unfavorable chemicals into your soil.  You may want to consider purchasing or building a raised bed on legs.  That’s what I call an elevated garden.

Product DetailsThis is what I mean by elevated.  The bottom of the bed is made of wire mesh for good drainage.  For elderly or just plain lazy folks like me this is a very good idea.  Construct them to the size you like and build as many as you want.  Keeps some of the critters out pretty good too.

SOIL- Regardless of how and where, soil is really important.  Our native soils are far from being ‘rich’ in fact they are quite poor.  You should improve the soil with additions of organic matter such as manures, rotten leaves, compost, commercial soil mixes, potting soils, etc. depending on what’s available and what you can afford.  Composting yard waste can be a real money saver…just like getting to know people who raise chickens, horses and cows.  Soil pH is important since it determines the availability of nutrients to plants.  You want to achieve a pH of 5.8 to 6.3.  Your local ag extension office can arrange testing for you and advise how to adjust your pH.  It’s a good idea to sterilize your soil prior to your veggie growing adventure.  Do this by covering the soil completely with black plastic and place planks or rocks strategically on top to hold it in place.  The sun will do the rest.  July and August are good months to get this done.  If you are starting from scratch using new product in a raised or elevated bed, no need to do this.  While it’s OK to add blood meal into your soil don’t add any fertilizer at this time.

PLANTING-  Our tax dollars have produced some great work in this area.  I refer you to a University of Florida web site that acts as a complete reference to what we can plant successfully and important data about each.

When planting remember that the sun crosses us in the South.  You need to lay out your garden, no matter what form you choose, so that rows run East to West, planting the lowest growing items in the Southernmost row and tallest growing things in the “back row” since they’ll grow taller and catch the sun without blocking the smaller items.  Always plant some flowers in your garden to attract beneficial insects such as big eyed bugs, praying mantis, lady bugs and spiders.  They need nectar and pollen.  Better having these free employees than using chemicals.


Beans- Pole beans, bush beans, limas

Broccoli-  Burpee Seeds carries:   Waltham 29,  Sun King Hyb. and more.


Start with " Veggies es bonus




Carrots-  Burpee Seeds features:  Sugarsnax Hyb.  and  Big Top.  Both very good quality, endorsed by rabbits everywhere!!



Collards-  Burpee offers the popular GEORGIA which is very high in Calcium.  There’s also TIGER Hybrid high yield and great flavor.


Cucumbers-  Burpee offers:  Picklebush, Fresh Pickled Hyb., and Sweet Burpless Hyb.  There are several more.  Check their web site.


Eggplant-  Check BURPEE SEEDS for ones like FAIRY TAIL Hybrid, BLACK BEAUTY (the standard), ROSA BIANCA Italian Heirloom, LONG PURPLE ORGANIC another Italian, MEATBALL Hybrid a relatively new one people report good success to me about.  EARLY MIDNIGHT Hybrid, an early plant that’s nearly seedless.


Kale-  Burpee offers several, but the most popular down here seems to be Dwarf Blue Curled Vates.


Lettuce- crisp, butter-head, leaf, Romaine.  Burpee Seeds offers:  Buttercrunch and Green Ice, both customer favorites.



Onions- Bulbing, Bunching (green onions), Shallots

Peas- English and Southern

Peppers-  Too many to list from common greens to exotic Mexican and Jamaican


Sweet Potatoes






Tomatoes, Too many to list, some trellised, some in ground, some in containers.  You can buy seeds that are common and many that are heirloom but most of us will buy starter plants and grow what is available in our local box store or garden center.

While you can buy Tomatoes from the store and plant the seeds you find inside, often with good success, you can buy seeds by mail and come up with quite a variety of fruit in your garden.  (Tomatoes are fruit you know)  

Burpee offers many.  Here are a few that are good for our area.  BUSH BIG BOY Hybrid, MORTGAGE LIFTER a legendary huge beefsteak.  SUPER SAUCE Hybrid, SAN MARZANO almost no seed cavities, very meaty, STEAK SANDWICH Hybrid, a tasty and succulent sandwich slicer, BIG BOY Hybrid one of the best ever, HEAT WAVE II for high heat areas like ours, BRANDY WINE RED, ROMA VF, classic for sauce and paste, BETTER BOY Hybrid grows to 1 pound each, BLOODY BUTCHER tomatoes in about 8 weeks, VIVA ITALIA Hybrid great for soups and ketchup, PATIO PRINCESS Hybrid petite plants but very good tomatoes.

From RARESEEDS.COM:  TEN FINGERS OF NAPLES  RIPE IN 75 DAYS, good for canning and paste, ROMA 70-75 days never disappoints, BONNY BEST another dependable all purpose fruit, FLORIDADE grows a 5 to 7 oz. fruit, developed by The University of Florida to be resistant to humidity in our area, HOMESTEAD 80-85 days and wilt-resistant.


Watermelon- Large, small, seedless

When you visit the web site I listed above you are going to find listings of the recommended varieties.  It’s a good idea to take this information seriously since a lot of study has gone into this valuable publication.

WINTER HERBS–  Herbs can be container grown (my choice) or used as border plantings in your garden.  Here’s our list:













Lemon Balm










Some of these are winter annuals and some are perennials.  And, many come in several varieties.  Again, your tax dollars at work.  Go to the following location on the web for many more details:

SPECIALTY CROPS- Cassava, Chayote, Jicama, Roselle


Jack beans

Lima Beans

Yard-long Beans

Calabaza – also known as Cuban pumpkn, Cuban squash, Cucorbita moschata

New Zealand Spinach


Peas, Southern types such as black-eyed peas

Peppers- the hot ones from Mexico, Jamaica, etc.  (not common green, orange and red.  too delicate for our summers)

Pigeon Peas – These can live for 3 years or longer

Seminole Pumpkin (also known as cashew, Spanish Calabaza)

Sweet Potatoes and boniato (Cuban sweet potato.  Plant these somewhere they can not crowd out other plants.

Turnip Greens

Lemon grass

FOR VINE CROPS- To save space, squash, cukes, chayote, beans, peas, tomatoes and melons can be grown on a trellis.  Always place your trellis on the north end of the garden so that smaller plants are not shaded.  Sweet potatoes cannot be trellised.  Trellises can be constructed of wire mesh or netting attached to strong posts or be running wire in two or three horizontal rows with good string tied top to bottom vertically for each plant.

BLUEBERRIES–  Florida has become quite the blueberry growing state lately.  They can be planted in two ways.  In containers or raised beds.  They need special soil.  They really like acid soil, so be plentiful with the peat.

Using containers always use plastic or wood not clay or concrete as they will leach calcium into the soil and counteract the conditions needed.  Use a soil mix of 50/50 peat moss and perlite.  Do NOT use a bag of premix soil because they always sweeten the soil with buffers.  The peat will have enough acid to get you some good results.  As you mix the soil add some Dynamite 18-6-8 or similar numbered fertilizer, about a handful per plant.  Now, all you have to do for the next nine months is water.  Keep moist.  I know what you’re thinking.  Yes, blueberries are different.  We add the fertilizer into the soil at planting time.

In the Ground  An 8 inch raised bed is needed.  Use 60% finely ground pine bark and 40% peat moss.  Use the Dynamite as above.  Normal irrigation.

Holdsworth Victory Garden - Spring 2013

 How to keep veggies fresh longer-  

Wrap them individually with a clinging clear plastic wrap.  Tomatoes, cukes and other veggies will be exposed to less air and retard spoilage.  Make sure the skins are DRY before you apply.  Of course its always better to buy fresh and use right away.  While refrigeration does give us the option to store foods longer, fruits and vegetables are always more nutritionally valuable and taste better when eaten fresh.  Remember that canning is very acceptable and here in Southeastern Florida we can tomatoes in winter as well as pickles and other locally grown items that we want to enjoy all summer long.

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