Many gardeners jump right into gardening without a clear plan for their garden. This can be ok for some, and beginner’s luck is a phenomenon that exists in certain gardening situations, but by and large it is helpful to generate some sort of plan, even if it isn’t a plan executed at once. Developing the right plan for your edible garden depends on the amount of space (soil, sun exposure, proximity to kitchen, etc) and the amount of work that you want to invest into its installation and maintenance.
Summer is an excellent time to improve your soil and have it ready for fall planting. I recommend doing this by adding compost, mulch and planting cover crops like buckwheat, sunn hemp and pigeon pea. Also, summer is the best time to plant fruit trees, so if you want to include fruit trees in your edible landscape consider planting them while we have the rain and warmth of our summer weather.
Consider having a your bed(s) for annual vegetables and herbs in an area close to your kitchen door, or for those of you with shady backyards but sun up front, consider having a garden close to your front door. Placing your veggie/herb bed(s) in areas that you’ll see on a daily basis will result in you using your garden more, as well as taking better care of it. Also, having your garden in front makes your garden into more of a social experience, and can lead to other neighbors gardening more and having great produce trades.
For everyone who goes out of town on a regular basis, or just doesn’t have the time to water their garden sufficiently, it can be wise to consider having an irrigation system, particularly for your annual bed. Systems of drip lines and micro-sprayers are particularly water-wise for annual garden beds. Setting up rainwater collection systems are also well worth considering. Having an irrigation system ready for the dry part of the year in late fall-early spring will generally make your garden more productive, especially in planted areas that receive full sun for most of the day. Both under-watering and over-watering gardens can lead to unhappy plants. Irrigation systems can help provide regularity to your watering schedule.
Installing an edible garden:
1. Edible plants can be planted directly in the ground (ideally with improved soil) or in raised beds (usually made out of wood or stone). Since the soil in south florida is usually sandy and rocky, it is best to improve its nutritional value through the addition of compost and organic fertilizers. Remember to prepare your garden site in an area that receives ample sun exposure and close to a water source.
2. Edible plants can be planted from seed or from plants that are already started in pots or seedling trays. I recommend starting plants from seed directly in the garden for larger seeded crops like beans and cucumber. If starting plants in pots or seedling trays it is best to use a fine mix that is both rich and well draining. Keeping the soil moist is important for starting seeds, but overwatering can injure or kill seedings.
3. Remember to provide a trellis to plants that need additional support, like vining beans and tomatoes.
4. Mulching on top of soil will help to prevent the growth of weeds, and keep the soil moist. Just remember to not put too much mulch, especially around small plants. Generally the larger the plant, the more mulch it will prefer.
Maintaining an edible garden:
1. Different plants have different watering requirements. Generally plants that are just planted require watering once or twice a day until they are more established. If plant leave are droopy and soil is dry 1-2″ below the surface, it is probably a good time to water.
2. Regular harvesting is very important once plants become larger. Without it, it is easy for a garden to become overgrown. Also, tomatoes can be tied to trellises to encourage more vertical growth and conserve space.
3. Occasionally adding compost, mulch and/or organic fertilizer can help. If pests become problematic there are different organic pesticides that can be used.