If you visit ECHO during the summer you will find food plants growing everywhere. But you will not find many of the “temperate” vegetables that are staples of most northern gardens. Many of them you may not even recognize.
SW Florida’s hot, humid summers have a lot in common with rainforest conditions. So it is not surprising that some of the standard vegetables in ECHO’s summer gardens originated in tropical rainforests and hot, humid lowlands. Other important vegetables have originated in countries where there are perhaps six months without rain and six months that are like our summers.
Annual vs. Perennial Vegetables
This page features some of our favorite vegetables. We often refer to them by the length of time they will grow before declining or dying. Some vegetables are grown every year from seed or cuttings (e.g. sweet potato). These are referred to as annual vegetables. But first let us tell you about a few great perennial vegetables. These are vegetables that will grow for several years after they are planted.
Some perennial vegetables are the best adapted to SW Florida summers. They come from places such as western Central America where there are very long dry seasons followed by hot, humid summers. They can easily survive both our dry springs and our wet summers. Some, but fewer, come from rainforests. During the coldest days of our winters perennial vegetables from the tropics may be harmed or suspend growth for a few months. Take advantage of that time to grow the temperate vegetables that you enjoy.
You have likely eaten two perennial vegetables from “up north”—rhubarb and asparagus. There are many more perennial vegetables that thrive in SW Florida.
Many of the vegetables listed here have the potential to be perennials in SW Florida as long as the climatic conditions, solar intensity, changes in day length and pests etc. do not kill them off. How far your garden is from the coast can make a big difference too. People can grow fruit trees on Pine Island (30 miles west of ECHO) that we can only grow with our frost protection system that we can run on a freeze night. People that live another 30 or so miles farther east of ECHO cannot grow some perennials that will survive at ECHO.
Advantages of Perennial Vegetables
Perennial vegetables have a number of advantages to the home gardener:
- They don’t have to be planted each season.
- Perennials usually withstand harsh climates and weather better than annuals.
- They tend to be higher in nutrition than most vegetables.
- They often offer more than a single product for the table. For example, sweet potato provides us with delicious roots, but also offers a nutritious green vegetable.
We have chosen vegetables for this document that we believe have a reasonably good chance of producing in the summer, but sometimes they still disappoint you. If you are willing and have the time to invest in the garden and watch carefully for the first signs of trouble and know what to do to handle those problems, you might be able to grow an expanded selection of vegetables or have better success with the ones you do grow. Happy Gardening!