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Survival Gardening in the Deep South

2/4/2013 11:37:15 AM

Tags: survival gardening, year-round gardening, David Goodman

sweet potato harvestI live in Florida. People that don’t live here think this is some kind of gator-ridden jungle with some nice beaches … and people that move here almost universally agree that it’s a gardening wasteland.

Both views are ridiculous. Why … it’s been at least 10 minutes since I saw a gator – and if you take a look out my back door, you’ll see a winter garden that might make Eve a bit jealous.

The problem with gardening this far south is mostly a mental one. A lot of Floridians are transplanted Yankees that are used to growing rhubarb, raspberries, asparagus and veggie varieties that need extra care in our heat and humidity. They remember the rich loamy soil up North and the long, cool springs and moderate summers.

If you’re trying to garden in USDA Growing Zones 8 to 10 and beyond, forget all you know from up North! You’re close enough to the tropics to start reaching into a wealth of crops that your friends back home wouldn’t even recognize as food. The Deep South is anything but a wasteland. In fact, I’d argue that it’s one of the most underappreciated and highly productive regions in the US. One of the main draws for me is our year-round growing season, plus the fact that we’re within striking distance of the tropics and can often pull off exciting plants like cassava, citrus, guavas and tropical yams. And really - where else can you grow papaya and cabbage at the same time? 

Thanks to Cheryl Long, our hard-working Editor-In-Chief, I’ve been invited by MOTHER EARTH NEWS to join the blogroll and start sharing my knowledge with you. If your budget is tight … your dirt is sandy or poor … your veggies are failing … and your desire is to feed yourself, this blog is for you. In future columns I’ll write about alternative crops for the sup-tropics… delve into the heady world of creating food forests … mess around with hardcore composting … explore how to use microclimates to pull off “impossible” species … and help you figure out the best way to grow lots of food in tough economic times. papaya tree 

Fear ye not the barren sands
Nor nematode whispers about thy roots
For in these hot and blessed lands
Lie many wondrous blooms and fruits
Though gators loom in murk and muck
And vultures circle sun-burned skies
Rich abundance is surely struck
By the one who boldly tries

My future posts will also be a place for you to share your thoughts, successes and failures. Though I know plenty about gardening in the hot, humid south … I don’t know everything (though I like to pretend I do, particularly around my wife). If you’ve got a great idea – post it in the comments and we’ll all learn together. You can also visit my daily blog at and shoot me questions any time.

Until next time – happy gardening!

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Post a comment below.


2/11/2013 8:06:39 PM
Thank you, Lori.

2/11/2013 8:06:27 PM
You might be treating them too well - try cutting back on fertilization and nitrogen in particular. Another problem you might be having: too much heat.

Shannon Richardson
2/7/2013 5:48:23 PM
I'm in Houston, TX and I've been trying for 5 years to get tomato's to grow without success. I can make the plants grow very well. They get up to 9 feet tall, just no frut. I've tried the hanging baskets and in the ground with the maximum sun my back yard can get to no avail. HELP!!!!!!!!!!!

Lori Andersen
2/5/2013 3:43:00 PM
Oh thank goodness !!! We grow lots of plants and try veggies - can always us some help. Looking forward tho your blog !!!!

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