Creating a Backyard Edible Paradise
In Florida's Concrete Jungle
By: Pepe's Plants (954) 740-4070
Many city dwellers want to grow their own food these days. This idea is catching on nationwide in every major metropolitan area. This whole urban farming phenomenon is bringing people together and helping to provide local, fresh, sustainable produce close to home.
Restaurant owners are always excited to hear about local sources of produce. They know how much better the produce can taste and the clientele feels great about the idea of eating what the community has grown and supplied to the Chef. Urban farming is smart and good for all of us no matter how large our town maybe, with a little patience and some basic information, most any determined person or family can become urban farmers. The first step is to transform the typical urban backyard by creating a plan. Grab the property survey and take a little walk around your land. Have a look above you. Look for power lines and the direction of the sun. Think about the places you will dig up and what dangers may be below. Power lines, gas lines etc. could likely be a problem so call 811 and have them locate the utilities for free!
Look for natural wind breaks like fences, tree lines, hedges etc. These can be very helpful in protecting your plantings from strong winds and also help provide some shade to certain plants that enjoy a little protection from the sun. For example, many herbs do better in a bright area out of the harsh Florida sun. On the other hand most all fruit trees will need as much direct sun as possible!
Here in Florida we have two growing seasons to work with. Our hot rainy summers are great for sub-tropical fruit production. We can enjoy delicious mangoes, avocados, bananas, oranges and even some delicious exotics like atemoyas and the not so exotic but always tasty Lychee and Longan fruits.
Planting several fruit trees is a must if you really want to be an urban farmer. Have you ever tried Soursop? It’s absolutely amazing. For those of you that have mostly shade have a look at the Miracle Fruit Tree.
Now if you are interested in growing a real super food, look into planting the fast growing, super nutritious Moringa Tree. Moringa trees contain more nutrition than you could even begin to imagine. Grow them in full sun and trim often to keep bushy. These trees are very drought tolerant and do not like too much water.
During our cooler dry season October to February we can do quite a lot of vegetable growing. This is a great time for tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, kale, eggplant, strawberry, corn and many other edibles like herbs and spices. As a matter of fact, you can grow eggplant almost into late summer. Eggplant can take the heat.
Culantro is a fantastic easy to grow herb that enjoys some shade and actually requires little water and is of a better quality and texture when not grown in full sun. Culantro tastes very similar to cilantro but is easier to grow and takes the heat. Cilantro is a little wimp that is too sensitive when Florida heats up and rains are abundant. If you must grow cilantro try the kitchen window indoors.
Creating an edible yard requires a bit of planning so remember to use your survey to help develop a plan. A basic understanding of the soil you have on your property is also very important to success. The soil truly is the key to success and can’t be overemphasized in mostly all cases. Good soil is not dirt! Good soil is alive with organisms like earthworms, fungi and all kinds of tiny creatures. Most of these little creepy crawlers are actually very beneficial. Healthy soil is composed of mostly good little critters. Earthworms are present when the soil is rich and moist with plenty of organic material. When you see earthworms in your soil say Hallelujah! Earthworms are magical and they actually help to aerate and loosen soil. They are a very important part of the soil food web and a great indicator of organic growing practices. Keep them happy by not spraying the soil with chemicals, synthetic pesticides and be aware that some Bacterial insecticides like BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) will kill earthworms as well as caterpillars.
When people speak about organic farming, they seem to forget the key word organic. Organic is the organisms I mention above and how to let them help you grow healthy food. Don’t rely on synthetic fertilizers to give you the growth and health you want from your plants. Good soil, good organic materials, compost teas, mulching and a respect for the earth are fundamental to all your truly organic farming endeavors.
About Florida Soils
A good soil for growing is not easy to find in Florida. If you just dig a hole you will usually discover that most urban areas are filled with rock and most of the fill is pretty bad. Trying to grow in compacted soil is not ideal and usually futile.
Here is an example description of a recent planting hole we dug up in Plantation, Florida. The first six inches of top soil was rock fill and then about four inches of black top soil. The next three feet down was pure sand. We had gray very fast draining sand at the lower levels. The site was actually not that bad. We mixed most of the native rock, sand, and topsoil with organic mushroom compost, some pine bark conditioner and some composted manure. The mix was basically 1/3 of each of the amendments mentioned here. We then filled the planting hole with water and had good drainage not too fast and not too slow. It was just right to hold moisture but not become a mud pit or a hard pan soil. Air and organic material all around the roots is important. The soil needs to breathe just like we do. Sometimes digging is not even practical and many growers will use raised beds or containers.
The majority of urban growers will build elevated planting beds made from concrete blocks, old tires, wooden boards etc. Many utilize special grow bags and others plain old plastic pots or whatever container they can make holes in for drainage. All of these options are okay as long as you know that the material is free of toxins. In the case of plastic you need to be certain that it does not contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a petrochemical derivative linked to diseases in humans. When building raised beds use untreated wood to avoid any chemicals leaching into your soil and plants roots.
To learn more about Urban Farming visit us at: Pepe’s Fruit Trees