In considering gardening for food for the table, take your cue from the natives. Many of our soil types in Lake County and Central Florida are sandy, well drained soils. Depending on the history of the site, there may or may not be much organic matter present. This is easily augmented with the addition of compost and then mulching your garden soil. Many fruit bearing native plants do well in our sandy soils with only the annual addition of leaf litter or pine needles.
So, have you noticed how robust the native muscadine grapevines can be? Conclusion: many hybrid grapes will do very nicely in our sandy soils. The muscadine varieties range from dark purple to light and golden. All give a sweet burst of juice and tasty sweet meat. They are fun to pop into your mouth on a dewy August morning. Or, on a field trip you may have seen the native blueberries such as low growing Little Blueberry and Shiny Blueberry or the taller Highbush Blueberry, Gallberry and Sparkleberry growing and bearing profusely all on their own. This suggests that planting of blueberry hybrids for table use will be successful. You can enjoy blueberries from April through June from varieties available. They grow nicely in sand with a mulch of pine straw or pine bark to raise the pH and a once a year application of 6-0-6 or 10-10-10 fertilizer. They are cold hardy, a colder winter produces a larger crop come spring, and provide a pollinator food with their blooms. Long lived, you will love these plants for years.
The native blackberry, with a rainy spring, will produce some excellent berries from the wild. You pick the edges and the deep bramble is for the birds. Hybrids are available to have in your garden, too, producing bigger berries and more regular crops.
Our easily worked sandy soils make vegetable gardening a pleasure. Microjet irrigation is effective and conserves water in producing a wide variety of vegetable crops. Composting all the vegetable trimmings back to the garden soil keeps improving the soil year to year. The cucurbit and nightshade families of plants do very well in our sandy soils. In the cucurbit group you can grow zucchini and yellow squash, cucumbers, watermelons and cantaloupes. The native pollinators and honey bees will all be very happy ensuring you will have produce to give away. In the nightshade group, plant tomatoes, eggplant and peppers for summertime harvest.
And then there are the shelling peas. Now, I really think these are beans, but they are all called peas. Whichever, in any case, they are legumes so they are able to fix nitrogen from the air to improve the soil for their own production and for crops in ensuing rotation cycles. The plants are attractive and have blooms from creamy white to deep pink depending on variety. You can have them grow on a trellis or up your sweet corn stalks. They seem to like to grow together. Or just let them sprawl in a patch. Favorites at our house are Acre Peas, Long Whites, Mississippi Silvers, and best of all, Texas Zipper Peas. Again the pollinators will be happy and they will produce over a long season. There are many varieties of shelling peas. You pick them green when the pod is filled and then, of course, shell them. They only need a few minutes cooking time and they blanche and freeze very well. They will re-seed themselves from missed pods and produce a second crop. You can save mature, dried seeds and freeze until next season. Sooner or later you will need to work the area all up and start again, but you will have to admire the determination and productive capacity of the southern shelling peas. Like their fellow legume, the peanut, they are a wonderful source of plant protein and I have often thought, as I’ve bent and picked peas, of the generations of southern lads and lassies that grew straight and tall because of the faithful shelling peas growing in the family garden....Nadine Foley
Ms. Foley will be appearing at the 2012 Festival of Reading. The complete schedule can be found at http://www.mylakelibrary.org/festival_of_reading/2012/default.aspx