Creating an Island Garden
Vermicompost ensures you’ll create that “special magic” These experienced local growers specialize in vegetables and exotic flowers that carry scents across full fields, such as jasmine, honeysuckle and gardenia.
Some people, especially those relocating from up north, think you need “special magic” when planting in the salty, beachy and hot terrain of Florida’s coastline—and that the magic occurs only during certain time periods. But the truth is that planting can take place year-round. Fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and broccoli yield great results from the “right soil and compost.” With those components, you can create an organic garden oasis in your backyard.
To find out more, I spoke with longtime Sanibel School teacher and longtime island gardener Tylor Stewart. She explains, “The best soil for [an island garden like] The Sanibel School garden is cow manure and worm castings, which is called vermicompost.” And according to North Fort Myers Pine Forest Fruit and Flower Farm, worm castings “contain beneficial bacteria and essential minerals that are utilized by the plants versus synthetic fertilizer which can lie in the soil unutilized …”
In Southwest Florida, having access to worm soil solution is the next best thing for outdoor gardening, as well as using eggshells, leftover vegetables, fruits and other mineral-rich refuse in order to create compost that is “cooked” in homemade or store-bought compost bins. As discarded food is collected, it should be “sifted and shifted” through the weeks or months ahead. The material breaks down into mineral-rich garden matter that is great for lush gardens.
I spent many years growing dahlias, flowers, vegetables and herb gardens in Western North Carolina, using black-gold soil rich with carbon, nitrogen and earthworms—mixed with black cow manure and peat and covered in mulch. I thought I left a “gem mine” of resources behind and would be without the needed elements to grow dense gardens again after I moved to Southwest Florida.
That is, I thought my gardening days were behind me until, at the Edison Garden Festival in Fort Myers, I met several master gardeners from the University of Florida Extension in Lee County. These experienced local growers specialize in vegetables and exotic flowers that carry scents across full fields, such as jasmine, honeysuckle and gardenia.
I learned the orchid will never dry out on your dining room table because it can swell and bloom all year long in a nice corner in the shady part of your landscape. And tomatoes will plop off one by one from September through June—right in a tropical backyard.
Up in North Carolina, I worried about how to successfully drown my slugs with beer, but down here the biggest worry in organic gardening lately has to do with pesky “Peter Rabbits.” These little fast-footed fuzzballs pilfer everything from cabbage to broccoli.
Stewart’s “nemesis” at the school is a cotton-tailed bandit who eats the broccoli flowers right to their nubs. He can be spotted in the wee hours and is quick to hightail it out of there when the pupils arrive, but she’s learning how to kindly trap him with care and deposit him to another area on the island.
So, with the right guidance and resources at your fingertips, go outside, create your own Florida garden oasis—and experience the magic. Paula Michele Bolado is a freelance writer and professional educator living in Southwest Florida.
Each year, exotic flowers and vegetables are on display at the Edison Garden Festival in Fort Myers.