Alas! A damsel in distress!
Thank God I found your email. I live in Naples, FL. I am having NO success gardening. I have tried for years. I am from IN and had fabulous success growing, canning etc there? Can’t do anything right in FL.
My first tomatoes were beautiful but no fruit. Every crop after that gave me small rotten hard fruit. I watched your compost everything and have done so. Love everything you do by the way.
I put my new dirt with rotting wood, egg shells, worms, and all onto pots. I tried planting beans this time. Well, when I go out to check if I have growth I am attacked by flying ants coming out of my pots and all over the ground. I can’t even get near my garden area now as the ants are biting like crazy.
Put some cornmeal around and hope it works. Why won’t my garden produce? I want to have a pretty productive garden in SW FL. IS it possible? Can you recommend anyone here that can help?
Desperate in Naples,
Thanks for writing, Jennifer.
First of all, Naples is a beautiful place to live. I admit to being somewhat jealous.
Lots of history…
Plus, you’re right near the ocean, which is great:
I’ve always wanted to visit Pompeii, which is right in the area.
I actually didn’t realize there are fire ants in Italy. Can’t get away from those horrible little b….
…you said Naples FLORIDA!
Ah, that makes more sense.
I was actually just in Naples a few weeks ago. You can grow great gardens there once you know how. I’ll get you started and in a year or two you’ll wonder how it was ever so hard to do.
The soil is the key in Florida, I’d say even more so than in most areas of the country. Our sand doesn’t want to hold water or nutrients so we always have to compost and add mulch and fertilizers of all sorts.
Before I get to that, though, let’s talk about those nasty ants.
Dealing with Fire Ants
Fire ants aren’t native to Florida, but like many animals (and quite a few people), they moved to the state and started messing it all up. What you came across was one of their spring swarms where dozens or even hundreds of queens head for the skies to start new fire ant colonies across your yard and neighborhood.
I admit to having done some obnoxious things when I see them swarming, such as dousing the whole swarming pile in alcohol and lighting it on fire. This doesn’t work well around your plants, however.
Grits and corn meal unfortunately won’t do anything but feed the ants.
There are some good ways to get rid of fire ants in and around your gardens. First, there’s the chemical method: Amdro bait. It works really, really well and isn’t supposed to be persistent or toxic. I like organic methods the best, but Amdro kills the ants quickly and keeps the yard and garden safe for you, children and pets.
Another method that I’ve used with some success is to kick piles open and sprinkle them with diotamaceous earth. I also dust it around pots, windows and doors where ants are getting in, on ant trails and sometimes I’ve even put it on my compost pile when the ants have gotten really out of control.
Yet another method that works is to boil a pot of water and walk around pouring it steaming hot right into fire ant piles. You can roast the queens in a pile that way and shut a nest down quickly, yet, like torching the piles, it can also kill plants nearby.
Florida Gardening Success
If you don’t have my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, go get it on Amazon.
In it, I outline just how to grow lots and lots of food here without killing yourself.
You don’t have to take my word for it, though:
I spent years testing crop varieties for this state, as well as finding methods that work.
The top way you’ll have success in Florida is to pick the plants that grow best here.
These five vegetable crops will outgrow everything else:
Get those in first.
If you want tomatoes, avoid all the big types and go for cherry tomatoes. The best little cherry tomato for Florida, in my experience, is the “Everglades” tomato (they are for sale on Amazon if you can’t find them locally). Everglades tomatoes taste great and will often reseed and come back for years.
Where Florida really shines, however, isn’t in the vegetable garden: it’s in the world of trees and perennials.
You can grow hundreds of incredible fruit trees in your area, including jaboticaba, mulberry, mango, banana, hog plum, papaya, Jamaican cherry, chocolate pudding fruit and more. If I lived in Naples, I’d be loading my yard with edible fruit. Heck, you can even grow macadamia nuts and cashews there! Acerola cherry is another must-have tree in my book.
As for perennials, chaya, cassava, katuk, surinam cherry, natal plums, water spinach, perennial cucumber (AKA ivy gourd) and other vines and shrubs can be tucked around trees. There some good ideas in my little book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, too.
The sand in a vegetable garden dries out and loses organic matter so quickly that planting trees and shrubs and mulching heavily makes a lot of sense. Florida turns into jungle if you leave any part of it alone – so why not engineer your yard and garden to do the same, albeit in a more delicious way?
If you do want to vegetable garden traditionally, I’ve had the best luck with compost-rich double-dug garden beds that aren’t raised much above the rest of the surrounding soil.
Containers are okay, but I like them to be deeeeeep so they don’t dry out. Once you kill the ants you’ll probably have more success there, too.
Good work on composting and getting good stuff into the ground. I hope today’s post has given you some good ideas.
Once you start growing the right things, you’ll be a solid gardener again in no time.
One last thing: ECHO is near you. Go visit, take the tour and be sure to get some plants from their nursery. Trust me – it will inspire you with a million possibilities.
Beyond that, stop on by and ask Florida gardening questions whenever you like – I’m happy to help.