Mar 16, 2018

Tampa’s Top 3 Edible Plants

Are you wondering what edible plants you can grow easily here in Tampa? Trying to figure out what to grow to give you some kitchen inspiration when you want to create the latest popular cuisine from our area? There are many gardening options for all kinds of gardeners – here are 3 suggestions for you that might whet your appetite.

Cilantro

Used in many Latin, Thai, Indian, and Chinese dishes, cilantro is a workhorse in the kitchen. There are, of course, different kinds of cilantro, and different dishes use different parts of the plant. In general, you can grow any cilantro and use it to cook a dazzling number of ethnic foods. Cilantro is perfect for anything from basic tacos and salsa to deep-flavored Thai and Indian curries. Tampa has an enormous Latin American community and Asian communities, so fresh cilantro is in high demand. Cilantro is easy to grow, and if it is happy, it will grow quite abundantly. I recommend growing it in a large pot so it has plenty of soil, fertilizer, and sunshine. With a large container, proper drainage is essential to avoid stem rot. When it gets really hot outside, relocating your cilantro to a place where it gets shade in the afternoon will help keep the plant from going to seed (creating flowers, also called “bolting”). After the plant bolts, the flavor of the cilantro changes. To harvest from the pot, cut the lower stem and harvest the leaves and stem (both have good flavor and mince well). Only take what you need, the plant will continue to produce until it bolts later in the season. If you decide to grow a lot of cilantro in a garden bed, sow a few seeds every other week 3-4 times in the late Spring in order to extend the plant’s production before it bolts. In an indoor windowsill container garden, you can grow cilantro year round. Give it a try!

Blueberries

Blueberries are prized for their sweet flavor, dark blue color, high antioxidant and vitamin content. But did you also know they also make wonderful landscaping shrubs? Planting blueberries instead of other non-fruiting shrubs qualifies as “permaculture,” where you grow plants that sustain you as well as the space they inhabit. Blueberries are native to North America, and there are at least 8 varieties that grow wild in Florida’s woods and swamps. If you stick to berries that grow in zone 9, you don’t have to fear them becoming invasive or buying them only to discover they won’t grow in the heat. Blueberries are slow-growers and usually require 2-3 years in well-drained acidic soil to give you a small harvest. The larger harvests begin after 5 years. To produce fruit, two cultivars need to be planted, and I recommend Rabbiteye and Southern Highbush varieties. #ProTip: Prune any dead wood in the winter time. Plant in full sun to get the most fruit, though the shrubs themselves will tolerate partial shade if you simply want the shrub for decorative purposes. Some varieties of blueberries have seasonal foliage changes that make them extra colorful. Soon enough you’ll be harvesting blueberries for pies, tarts, and your morning cereal, and the birds will come to your yard in droves for a tasty treat!

Sunflowers

In the Sunshine State, planting Sunflowers seems like a no-brainer. They grow very well here, and they provide seed kernels to feed birds, squirrels, and also us! Bees and other pollinators love the enormous pollen-heads, so they help nourish these special insects that do the work of pollinating our crops. Sunflower seeds are harvested after the flower itself is spent. You will know it is spent when you see seed heads formed in the flower center. Usually, the flower itself turns brown and bends down towards the ground from the sheer weight of the seed head. You can leave the seed heads on the stalk until the plant is brown, which will give birds and other creatures time to pick a few seeds out for a snack. You can also cut them and dry them yourself by hanging them upside down in a dry, warm, well-ventilated space. Keep them up away from rodents who will be attracted to the smell. Just comb the seeds out with your fingers after they head dries and either roast them for yourself or put them in the feeder raw for the birds!

Some of our favorite varieties are Mammoth and Super Snack Mix Hybrid. Mammoth can grow up to 12’ tall, and Super Snack has large seeds with nice oily kernels inside. Planted in a bunch they make an impressive display when in full bloom. They grow so tall that you’ll need to make sure they’re not shading other plants that need sunlight too. These are easily grown from seed, and there are many varieties, sizes, shapes and colors to choose from. It’s a great first plant for kids to experience the joy of growing for themselves!

 

These are my top 3 picks for edible plants in Tampa – between all of the herbs, fruit, and flowers available there are lots of different things to eat in the Florida gardens in all of these categories. What other herbs, fruits/veggies, and edible flowers are YOUR favorites?Thanks, Marissa

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