What is more lovely than the scent of a flower? Eating a flower! Edible flowers add beauty and flavor to dishes and drinks. They’re sure to be a conversation piece at a party. When growing edible flowers, follow these simple tips:
Be sure of the variety that you are picking. Some plants, even edible plants, have flowers that are poisonous.
Consider removing the stamen and style from the flower before eating; some people have an allergic reaction when they eat pollen.
Pick flowers in the morning when they are fresh and hydrated. Store them in the refrigerator up to 3 days in a damp paper towel.
Wash the flowers in cool water and shake them to dislodge insects.
Only eat flowers from plants that have not been treated with chemicals and are grown organically. Many plants from commercial nurseries are grown as edibles, so make sure you ask about the chemical treatments that may have been applied before consuming.
This list is provided for informational purposes only. Please thoroughly check scientific names of plants, research edibility and obtain proper identifications before consuming.
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If you’re short on space, consider growing your annual veggies, herbs and edible flowers in a space saving vertical garden. Our favorite is the GreenStalk Vertical Garden. It is soil based, affordable and really easy to use. Plus, it’s made of recycled materials in the USA, and family owned.
Dotted Horsemint (monarda punctata)
Turks cap hibiscus
Blue butterfly pea vine
Passionflower (not passiflora subterosa)
What are you going to do with all these edible flowers?
It depends on their flavor. Some are spicy or garlicy tasty. I like those for salads and savory dishes, either as a garnish or in the dish. Others are sweet tasting. Those are great in salads too, as a pretty topping for a cupcake or other dessert treat, or even as a snack. Many make a wonderful tea.
I’ve seen people make herbed butter and fancy butter rolls for holiday meals with edible flowers, herbs and even dried fruit. There really aren’t limits to what you do with your edible blooms. Just keep in mind that most flowers are quite delicate, and will simply wilt away if they’re cooked.
Are you local to Tampa Bay?
Stop by our Garden Shop, opening in January 2021. It’s in St. Petersburg, near Gulfport, at The Hive St. Pete. We carry organically grown veggies and herbs, including edible flowers, small fruit trees, native Florida and Florida friendly plants, and garden essentials. We are looking forward to being one of the few distributors of ollas in Florida.
Like so many other events and celebrations, our grand plans for International Compost Awareness Week 2020 were derailed by COVID 19 and social distancing requirements. We opted to offer a lot of digital resources to help folks start composting, including activities for children and families. This is a compilation of the children’s activities that our partner, Pinellas Community Compost, shared. These aren’t our own lessons, but rather hands-on activities and online videos and games we found from other sources and really liked. Happy composting!
All About Soil
Compost adds organic matter to soil, which in turn feeds the rich diversity of microbes that help plants to grow.
Learn more about compost in this silly animation video from Recycle Now. They make microbial life cool!
Compost is actually made by decomposing microbes EATING our organic waste. Here’s a fun video about composting for kids from SciShow Kids.
Learn About Your Trash
If you wonder how you’re doing with your waste, a Household Waste Audit is a great place to start! Thank you to PBS Kids for this activity, which includes forms in English and Spanish. Even if you aren’t composting yet, it’s good to know how much food you are wasting. Is there a way you could reduce the amount of food wasted?
One of our goals is to normalize composting in households. Sorting your waste into organics for composting, recycling, and landfill is easy. Kids can practice sorting in this fun game from National Geographic Kids.
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.
Home Grown Beans are Juicy!
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 green bean grows really well in Florida except in the warmest months. 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.
There are other reasons to plant pole beans though. Not only are they more heat tolerant, they have a longer growing period and will produce more beans per plant. They are vining so you can create all of the beautiful vertical structures – arbors, trellises and teepees.
Grown from Groceries
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 sauté 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 sautéed 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.
Rattlesnake beans are another fun vining bean. These love the heat and produce unique beans. In my experience, they lack the chalkiness that some other pole beans have, even if they are picked a little later.
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.
I was recently gifted 30 pounds of freshly picked but slightly over-grown pickling cucumbers. We were fortunate to be able to rescue some of the Florida-fresh produce that did not make it to the traditional market during the pandemic, so we wanted to honor the energy that was put forth by the farmers, picking and transporting it possibly without profit, by not letting even a single bit go to waste.
My family likes pickles but that is thirty pounds is A LOT of pickles, so I turned to google to find inspiration for alternatives. It took some digging, but I tried a few new ideas and had great success. I have a new appreciation for cucumbers now, and will make more of an effort to grow them next season.
I thought I was being creative by making Cucumber-Dill Pasta Salad, but I have since learned that there are tons of different ways to use that cucumber harvest and hope for more!
Immediately, I needed to figure out a way to preserve about 15 cucumbers – I couldn’t get 30 pounds into my refrigerator! My very first cucumber adventure was actually cucumber chips. Yes, I actually dehydrated cucumbers. Couldn’t be easier! My just-turned 4 year old likes to help place the veggies on the dehydrator racks and sprinkle the salt and pepper. We used about 10 cucumbers to fill the 4 racks in the dehydrator. Next time, I may try brushing them with apple cider vinegar to see how that comes out.
This was surprisingly easy to do, and makes a great grab and go snack that doesn’t need refrigeration. I store my dehydrated veggies in re-purposed glass jars with a desiccant pack to help them last longer in the Florida humidity.
My toddler is in this vegetable hating phase which drives me crazy. I help families grow gardens as a living, and my own child is refusing to eat his vegetables. Any time that I can get my little one to voluntarily eat and enjoy veggies, I’m all for it!
Wash and dry the cucumbers.
Trim off the ends.
Slice them about 1/4 inch thick.
Place in the dehydrator or on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking liner or parchment paper.
Add seasonings. We used salt, pepper and fresh dill.
Dehydrate in the dehydrator on vegetable setting until they are done, or on the lowest setting on your oven, opening the door periodically to release the moisture from the cucumbers dehydrating.
Let cool and enjoy or store in a sealed jar.
Yep. You can freeze cucumbers to use later. They won’t be great for sliced up fresh or for salads, but they are great in cold soups, smoothies, and cocktails.
We don’t have a high powered blender yet – it’s on the list. My regular blender was able to handle this job. I washed, chopped, and blended enough to fill my blender up halfway with this cucumber puree (about 5 large cucumbers). I did add a little water, maybe a cup, to help it get started.
Simply pour the cucumber puree into silicone muffin pans for individual servings, and freeze them overnight. Pop them out into a freezer bag and do it again. Toss one in to your next smoothie to up the nutrient content and add in a vegetable.
These cucumbers were on the larger side, so the seeds were big and the flesh surrounding them was slimy and soft. No problem there – I cut the cucumbers in half then scooped the seeds out for compost, leaving me with cucumber boats ready for slicing.
Cut your cucumbers differently for different types of pickles. That way, if your label falls off, it should be pretty obvious what’s what. (Label them – you won’t remember, I promise.)
The last few cucumbers got fermented with a bunch of herbs and spices. I love the tangy flavor without the bite of the vinegar that comes from home-fermented veggies.
Of course, we made pickles. So many pickles. Sweet pickles, bread and butters, kosher dills, spicy dills with some extra jalapenos, and my favorite – sweet relish. Most of these pickles were canned in the traditional way, and will be happy on the shelf, waiting for the next potluck or barbecue to be popped open and enjoyed.
These are just a few of the many creative ways that I found to preserve my cucumber abundance. If you try any of these suggestions, let me know how it turns out in the comments.
Growing food doesn’t need to be hard or expensive. You don’t need a bunch of raised beds or expensive planter boxes. If you have an area in your yard about 30 feet long and 10 feet wide give or take, you can grow a pretty good amount of food for very little money and take care of it in an hour or two a week.
When I’m planning a food forest, I consider a few things:
What do I like to eat?
Budget. For this project, my budget is less than $100 so I want to maximize actual food production and minimize anything I purchase.
Ease of care. It’s okay to have a few fussy plants after the food forest is established but for now, I want it to be as easy as possible to get planted and thriving before taking on a challenge – like heirloom tomatoes.
Make a Plan
Outline the area that you’re designating as your food forest first. An easy way to get started is to draw a plan on paper first, making sure to take some measurements and place fruit trees at their mature size on the plan so you leave room for growth. If you’re having trouble visualizing the boundaries, try using a garden hose or rope to outline the garden spaces or mature tree canopies. One of the biggest mistakes that people make is over-planting, wasting time and money with plants that are too crowded to look good or produce well in the long run, which definitely doesn’t follow our shoestring budget goal.
A successful garden always starts with the soil. Our soil in Florida is pretty sandy and nutrient-poor for the most part. You’re going to need to improve it for most plants. Start by calling a few local tree services to get on their list to deliver a free load of mulch to you. Then start composting. In a few months, you’ll have a big heap of rich soil ready to nourish your fruit trees and veggie plants.
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You can use cardboard, compost and mulch to start sheet mulching and Building Your Soil (use coupon code FALLGARDEN2020 for 50% off) to get rid of the grass as you plant your trees. In a nutshell, sheet mulching is using layers to smother the existing plants in the garden. The goal is to improve your soil while blocking weeds. Make sure to overlap the cardboard by 6 inches. The bigger the cardboard pieces, the better. If you are using a bunch of little boxes, be sure to use two layers. Several layers of moistened newspaper will also work. Try to get free mulch from a local tree service to remove that expense from your $100 budget.
You’ll want to focus on growing trees at first. They take less work and generally produce more food than annual vegetable plants. Plant them once and they’ll keep producing for years if you take care of them. One of the easiest trees to grow from seeds is a papaya. It can be eaten green like a vegetable or ripe as a fruit. Buy a papaya fruit from that store. Eat it. If you like it, save the seeds. You can grow tons of papaya in small spaces, such as along a fence, walkway or at the back of a garden area. I recommend planting at least seven plants at first. Papaya can be male, female, or hermaphrodite. Only the female blooms produce fruit but they need male blooms for pollination. Once tree gender has been established (by observing the blooms) you get decide if you want to keep all of them or not. You’ll need one male tree for every 7 females.
Banana trees also grow really easily although not from seeds. The best way to get a few banana trees is to ask someone with a stand of them to give you a young banana tree, called pups. Get a few, plant them in compost or in a banana circle, water regularly, and before you know it, they will multiply and make large racks of bananas that you can use green or ripe. You can store excess bananas in the freezer for later.
Would you like to know how to choose and plant trees that will actually produce? Take our virtual course, High Yielding Fruit Trees which is designed for Florida gardeners. Use coupon code FALLGARDEN2020 for 50% off.
Other trees that you can purchase if you have the space and budget are mango, starfruit, Barbados cherry, and dwarf mulberry. You can start loquats from seeds but they’ll take several years to produce. If you have to choose one tree to buy, get a grafted mango. If you have two choose two get mango and mulberry. The mango produces a lot of fruit that can be preserved in various ways to stretch the harvest and the mulberry tree is very hardy. Its fruits taste similar to a blackberry and it can be easily propagated by cuttings to make more trees.
Start going to the farmers market and buying whole pineapples and sweet potatoes. Twist the tops off the pineapple and plant them, either in pots or directly in the food forest if you’re ready for them. Keep in mind that they’ll get about 3 feet across and the leaves are pretty spiky so don’t place them too close to walking areas or fruit trees that you may need to walk under for harvest. You can’t have too many pineapples! They take a few years to produce fruit and each plant only makes one pineapple a year, so plant them liberally. I have about 40 pineapple plants at my house.
Find a variety or two of sweet potato that you like and buy a few extra. Let them sit for a while in a paper bag so they’ll sprout. You can plant the whole sweet potato or put the end in a cup of water to get more sprouts, called slips, and plant those. In other words, sweet potatoes aren’t fussy at all. Keep in mind that you’ll be digging the sweet potatoes up, so you don’t want them too awfully close to the roots of trees. They like loose soil and can even be planted in a few inches of mulch. Sweet potatoes are great because they can take our hot Florida summer sun and you can enjoy eating the leaves of the plant either cooked or raw before the actual potatoes are done.
Grab a bag of dried beans at the grocery store. I like black-eyed peas personally. They like our Florida heat and can grow in the poorest soil imaginable. Simply buy a bag of dried beans at the store, eat most of them, and plant the rest. You can eat the young beans in the pods like string beans, take the beans out of the green pods and eat them raw in salads or let let dry on the vine. Once dried, it’s easy to save them in jars for later. They are legumes, which take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil, which will actually help to improve your soil. Win-win. There are a number of heat loving beans. If you like beans, you can definitely grow them year round in central and south Florida!
If you have enough room, watermelon and Seminole pumpkin also love the heat and will grow in the summertime. Plan on planting them in the early spring to avoid pest issues. They make some pretty long vines – watch out! You can fold them carefully back on each other which also encourages pollination. Other melons, squash and pumpkins are possible to grow from seed, too, if you start around February or September. They aren’t as heat tolerant as the watermelon or Seminole pumpkin though. If you really want a particular melon or squash, it’s best to buy seeds because they easily cross-pollinate with each other, so you may end up with a hybrid.
Cucurbits, including squash, cucumber, melon and gourds, develop blossoms that are either male or female. The plants will produce only male blooms first, then the female blooms. You need both male and female blooms for fruit to form.
Spice it Up!
Herbs are a kitchen staple. If you are buying them either fresh or dried, you’re spending too much money. Many of these herbs growing easily from seeds. Others are pretty cheap to buy. You can get cuttings from friends and put them in water to root. Everyone needs a rosemary bush. They thrive on full sun and general neglect. Basils, parsley, sage, lemongrass, lemon balm, mint and chives all grow well here in fertile soil and varying amounts of sun. Grow them, use them fresh and prune them liberally. If you aren’t ready to use the pruned herbs, dry them and refill your spice jars. Before you know it, you’ll be able to make your own spice blends and teas. Save small glass jars to store them. Add a fancy ribbon and piece of cloth to the top and you have a DIY gift that anyone would love!
Between the climbing bean vines, the sprawling sweet potatoes and watermelons, and the towering leaves of the banana and papaya trees, you will be well on your way to enjoying a bountiful harvest and beautiful tropical paradise in just a few months after spending minimal money to get started. As your plants become established, you can add more seasonal annual vegetables, tropical perennial plants and move some of the baby banana trees around.
Ready to Expand?
The suggestions above will help you get a thriving food forest started for less than $100. If you eat the food you’re growing, you’ll see a difference in your grocery bill and fresh produce consumption within a few months. When you’re ready to add more to your food forest, here are some budget friendly suggestions:
Find a friend who is a few steps ahead of you in their food forest and get cuttings or seeds of their favorite plants.
Consider planting some annual vegetables. If you don’t have space for a raised garden bed, consider a vertical garden. Our favorite is the GreenStalk Vertical Garden.
Talk to other friends and neighbors who are growing food. Decide who’s growing what and swap! I regularly swap my plentiful starfruit, Asian greens and calamondins (small sour oranges) for hot peppers and tomatoes.
Visit a local Asian market and get some tropical veggies that will grow easily. I recommend ginger and turmeric for starters. Many roots, rhizomes, and tubers can be grown from the parts you buy at the store. Choose organic if possible or try to find small growers who are less likely to put growth prohibiting substances on their produce.
There are so many types of tropical and subtropical vegetables that will grow far more easily than the traditional veggies we buy at the grocery store. Longevity spinach, katuk, moringa, okinawa spinach, amaranth and molokhia are a examples that grow from cuttings and can handle our Florida summers. These are often advertised as tropical perennial greens or permaculture plants. Plant them once (except molokhia and amaranth – they’re annuals) and they will grow for years!
Try to join a local seed and plant swap group. You will learn so much and get free additions to your food forest. Don’t forget to bring something to share!
Would you like more information or assistance on designing your food forest?
We have an online course that we developed as an extension of this article. You can find it HERE along with several other gardening courses. Living Roots Eco Design also offers virtual and in-person consultations and design services. For a detailed list of our services, visit our website or contact us by email or phone.