Few foods are as healthy or delicious as fresh-picked vegetables. Growing vegetables in South Florida presents daunting challenges. Florida’s soil is composed primarily of sand and limestone and tends to be nutrient poor. Extreme summer heat, dry winters and an abundance of insects add to the difficulty. Here are some fool-proof tips for getting your veggie garden started.

1. Potting containers. John Heflin of Sunkiss Nursery recommends circumventing these difficulties by using containers. “Pots are much better. You don’t have trouble with nematodes. You have fewer fungus problems. Containerized gardens are the way to go.” Using containers filled with a good, balanced potting soil is easier for beginners because there is no need to mix moss or perlite to hold nutrients or enhance drainage. Heflin also recommends using a timed-released fertilizer when planting. After 30 days, follow up with 12-6-6 fertilizer, which is the ideal fertilizer to enhance most Floridian soil. When blooms appear, use a blooming fertilizer to promote vegetable growth.

2. Vegetable choice. With any type of gardening, proper planning is a necessity. Florida gardeners must understand what vegetables do well in this climate and during which months they should be planted. The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences hosts a comprehensive list of vegetables and fruits suitable for South Florida and ideal planting dates.

3. Supplies and seeds. Another helpful resource is the website hosted by the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, a foundation that strives to preserve diverse plant species and prevent their extinction. This organization provides gardening supplies and flower seeds both on site and from the online store.

4. Pest control. After you have planted your vegetables, you will need to control the many pests that will attack them. Synthetic pesticides are effective, but exact a high cost on the environment. To minimize the need for them, fertilize and water plants regularly to keep them healthy and build their resistance. Other strategies include buying beneficial insects that prey on harmful ones. Reduce the risk of losing the crop to white flies by introducing lady beetles or wasps, which feed on white fly larvae.

5. Consulting the experts. If you need more advice as your vegetables are growing, contact the Urban Oasis Project. This group works to end ‘food deserts’—places in which junk food, cigarettes and alcohol are widely available but fresh produce isn’t. Members teach about various gardening methods and offer classes in preparing healthy foods from locally grown produce. Because this group is located in South Florida, its members will have experience in handling the types of problems likely to arise here.

Local garden shops are also an invaluable source of both supplies and advice for novices. Some stores cater to gardeners on a budget, while others provide heirloom seeds and organic pest control products for organic produce.

Container-grown collards at Sunkiss Nursery (credit: Jessica Ramer)

The following local businesses and organizations may be helpful in helping you get started:

Sunkiss Nursery
2101 N Dixie Highway
Pompano Beach, FL 33060
(954) 943-0550

Eden Organic Nursery Services, Inc
2021 SW 70th Ave  #B-10
Davie, FL  33317
(954) 382-8281

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agicultural Sciences
P.O. Box 110180
Gainesville, FL 32611-0180
(352) 392-1971

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
10901 Old Cutler Road
Coral Gables, FL 33156
305 667-1651

Related: Online Program Teaches Kids To Grow And Eat Their Veggies

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