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.

Bonita & Estero Magazine - - HOME & GARDEN -

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.

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