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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 8 years ago

Tom Carey: Regional garden choices

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Understanding what grows best in our region.
by: Tom Carey

Our gardens are not tiny farms. Miniaturized industrial agriculture does not transmute to neat, short rows of wheat, corn and cotton in our backyards. The economy of scale that affords factory farms the socially subsidized network of itinerant labor, Frankenstein’s crop selections, and gargantuan technology will not translate from an Iowa cornfield to a suburban cottage garden.

The legacy of a locality’s farms can help indicate what foods have been successfully raised in the past, but in my neighborhood that was pinesap for turpentine and free-range Cracker cattle. (Oviedo’s legacy of celery farming created such an environmental disaster that Lake Jesup is still considered a cesspool.) In our personal space, the attention required to grow regionally non-compliant crops is not impossible; it just lacks any affordable justification.

I am sure good intentions abound, but the pound of lima beans that did not get shelled last week is nevertheless languishing in the back of the fridge’s produce drawer. Our social currency that has both husband and wife working, the older generation off on a five island cruise, and the kids glued to a video game does not create the cultural processes to shell pods for tonight’s dinner. Even with a tilled plot in the backyard, the construction of a trellis to plant pole beans is still on the list of good intentions. As an alternative, plant bush snap beans. They produce a crop in less than two months, do not need an engineered structure, provide an edible pod that does not need shelling, and taste great. My favorites are green ‘Provider,’ yellow wax and purple heirloom.

Florida’s sandy soil is not made of the organic materials that hold moisture, plant nutrients, and the biological legacy that endows the consistent growth for solid heading crops of cabbage, blocky bell peppers, or bulbing onions. Find a native gardener and their love of collard and mustard greens, bunching scallion onions, and jalapeno peppers will be apparent. Put some South in your mouth! Fire up the cast iron skillet, sauté the onions and peppers, then add a pile of de-stemmed greens.

As much as my Upick customers long for cucumbers, watermelons and yellow crooknecks, the pest problems that persevere beyond all my efforts to grow cucurbits would require an inexplicable price in comparison to commercially grown imports. Squash family plants are susceptible to every weather anomaly, soil disease, leaf mildew, pickleworm and stem borer that exists. (Our lack of a real winter is my excuse.) If your cousins up North are bragging on their bumper crop of zucchinis, have them mail a few down.

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