In September and October when we try to kick start our growing season in South Florida the weather is crazy and not hospitable to most of the veggie varieties that are accustomed to more moderate climates. We all work hard to get them to grow and we don't even realize how much the heat and humidity affects them until we get our first cool front in late November. Then we all have an "aha!" moment when it seems to become effortless and everything gets bright green and full of flowers and gardening finally gives you that magical feeling. That aha moment is right now! And it feels so damn good... And we hope a lot of you have been gardening this year and are feeling the magic.
Now we can finally grow some of our favorite foods like spinach, lettuces of all shapes and sizes, kale and broccoli as well as less heat tolerant edible flowers like violas, pansies & dianthus. It's no coincidence that our Winter Plant Sale scheduled for December 11th-13th is focused on more lettuce varieties than any other time of year! If you bought lettuce seeds online at your favorite seed company make sure they are "bolt tolerant" varieties, because even though its cooler now its still pretty darn hot for cool weather crops like lettuce and many of the fancier heirloom types that draw the eye in a seed catalog will bolt here in South Florida. Bolting is the technical term for when a plant makes flowers & seeds too early. Different plants will do it when they encounter different stressors, so things like not enough light or not enough nutrients will also cause a plant to bolt, but heat is a big factor in the bolting of things like lettuce. If your lettuce is making a stalk and getting tall (and when you break a leaf off there is sap and it tastes very bitter), your plant has bolted. We grow a super selective variety of lettuces that are tried and true for South Florida growing, so if you want to try your own plants from seed use our website as a variety resource and buy yourself the seeds we use from somewhere trusted like Johnny Select Seeds.
For those of you who have been gardening since the "beginning" of the growing season, now is the time to go big on salad greens and flowers. They will finally grow as quickly, densely and vibrantly as they are meant to. It's like, they get to be their best selves during our peak cool months of December, January and February (and sometimes March). Happy veggie plants grow fast so if you are doing everything right (full sun, fertile soil, regular watering, etc) then you should be harvesting from your garden weekly this time of year. You should give your leafy greens a trim at least once every two weeks in order to take full advantage of your crop. We also recommend quick succession plantings of leafy greens for a continuous supply of productive tender plants. It's very normal to plant a new lettuce patch about once per month and harvest each patch about 2-3 times before pulling it out to make room for the next succession. Same goes for arugula, mustard greens and bok choi. We specifically sell those types of plants in six packs rather than 4" pots. For $6 you get 6 plants which are younger and smaller, but rightly so because they grow so freaking fast you'll be harvesting in a matter of 2-3 weeks! The term for harvesting mature leaves selectively off of your greens plants is "cut and come again" and if you do it right and take just the mature outer leaves without compromising the growing tip (at the center of the plant, where the small new leaves emerge) then it'll make your plants last quite a while. Heres a fun video of someone harvesting this way and explaining it for you.
You may also be encountering some challenges with pruning and trellising your indeterminate tomato plants if you planted them a few months ago. Tomatoes are very fast growers so they should be really big and happy and full of flowers by now, maybe to the point where you've lost some control. The most popular way to trellis tomatoes in a home garden is the "Florida Weave" and trying to explain it in words would be super silly but there are tons of videos and diagrams online to help you, and its a super simple setup. Heres one good video we like, and a diagram to help out too.
If you have something super tall to tie off to (for example Farmers Tiff and Chris put an eyelet screw in the eave of their roof and use that to trellis tomatoes 20 feet into the air) you can try to use a "lower and lean" trellis system and prune your plants to a single leader. This is a bit more advanced seeming because many farms do this in professional greenhouses, but its definitely not hard to do. Check out this helpful video of a home gardener setting up a lower and lean system for his tomatoes and cucumbers.
If you don't already have a garden, think about starting one. It's one of the best excuses to spend time outside this time of year. Gardening with kids and showing them the process of growing leaves for a salad or herbs for roasted potatoes or tomatoes and cucumbers for snacks is such a beautiful way to spend quality time with family. A garden can be a classroom, a playground and an extension of meal time or snack time. When you have a garden in the backyard and you take family or friends or kids out there to pick a few things for dinner you create casual opportunities for bonding, not just between the humans, but between humans and plants and our inherent and vital (yet sometimes overlooked) relationship with them.