Let’s face it – gardening in Florida can be tough. With our heat, humidity, rains, and poor soil, it seems like the deck is stacked against us. However, much of the Earth enjoys a tropical climate, even warmer than Florida. Yet native people have been living off the land and growing food in abundance for generations. Rain forests thrive too. There must be a way to garden despite all of these hurdles.
You’re right – there is. Choosing the right type of plant for the growing season is so important to your garden’s success. Many plants are specifically suited to thrive in our sticky hot summers because they are from more tropical regions. Try some of these plants – I bet you’ll like them, and be really impressed with how much easier it is to garden when you have made wise choices for your garden.
Beans are one of the most popular vegetable plants to grow in a home garden. They are pretty easy to grow and don’t have a ton of pest problems. Many types can thrive in less than ideal soil too. The typical bush style green bean grows really well in Florida until summer comes. You’ll have better luck with pole beans – they handle the heat and humidity better. There are a number of different varieties of beans that will do really well.
I recommend that everyone start out by purchasing a bag of dried black-eyed peas from the grocery store. You’ll be able to eat most of them just like dry beans, and have plenty left over to plant. Black-eyed peas are a type of cow pea. They grow like crazy in the summer in all of Florida, and can tolerate poor soil. This variety is vining, so you may want to give them a trellis or shrub to climb up into. The pretty flowers are followed by young tender pods, which we like to harvest and saute just like a green bean. As the pods mature and plump, you can take out the juicy seeds and add them to salads or pasta. The beans are edible cooked or raw, and the leaves are actually edible too, so you can add them to your list of leafy greens to enjoy in a stir fry. Once the pods dry, you can harvest them to replant or to store in a jar for use as dried beans.
If you are looking for a quick growing shrub or hedge, you can plant pigeon peas, also known as gandules. These small trees are actually really pretty plants, blooming with yellow flowers from about November-February. We’ve had a few get up to 12 feet tall without any pruning, but we use them in the gardens for chop and drop to build the soil.
Just like black-eyed peas and cow peas, pigeon peas can be eaten raw or cooked when they are juicy and plump, or allowed to dry on the plant then shelled for storage to use as dried beans.They are a traditional bean used for Puerto Rican yellow rice and gandules.
Long beans are another heat-loving legume. These beans are seriously fun to grow, especially on an arbor so the 2 foot long beans dangle down and tickle passerby’s. They are also vining so provide them a trellis or something to climb up. We love eating these sauteed with garlic or pickled. We found this recipe and have made it every year. It’s a staple snack food for my toddler. I’m just happy he’s eating a vegetable.
Winged beans are another option. You might think that these look really unusual, and that the ridges will give the bean a tough or woody texture. Not at all. These beans, particularly when they are picked young, are really juicy and tender.
Btw – shelling beans is a favorite job for my toddler. He loves popping open the dried pods and separating the beans. It gives him a sense of accomplishment as it is a task he can do independently. Plus, it is so good for little hand’s fine motor skill development. Watch out for young children popping these dried beans in their mouths though – they are too hard to chew up at this point and need to be cooked.