Hurricane Ian left many Sarasotans with damaged yards and gardens. One thing we can do after the storm is accelerate the healing process of both the soil and our spirits is planting vegetables in our backyard or box gardens. And as temperatures cool, it's the perfect time to get your hands dirty.
To promote vegetable planting in Florida, the Master Gardener Volunteer program, active since 1979, has been providing our community with plants and vegetables each fall thanks to annual plant sales. This year's sales take place 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at 1303 17th St. W., Palmetto, and 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22 at 6700 Clark Road, Sarasota.
We caught up with Alyssa Vinson, the residential horticulture agent at the UF/IFAS Manatee County Extension office, to learn about some local plants that grow quickly and can yield a quick harvest.
As the name implies, bush beans grow on a bush that can stand unsupported, unlike pole beans. Use seeds for growing bush beans; transplants do not do as well. They can be steamed, grilled or boiled for a side dish, or mixed with garlic and other vegetables as a main dish.
A highly nutritious vegetable and easy to grow, beets grow well during warm days and cool nights. Beets can be consumed roasted, grilled, baked, pickled and in comforting winter soups.
Often referred to as a "superfood" because it is rich in iron, calcium and vitamins A, C and K, kale adds a big nutritious boost to fruit smoothies. The hearty leaves can also make for a fulfilling salad. Pro tip: Treat with lemon juice beforehand to soften the thick leaves. You can even bake them to make crispy kale chips, turning them into a nutritious but satisfying snack after adding a dash of salt.
They germinate quickly and reach harvestable size within weeks. Although often underutilized, the entire radish plant is edible. Radish roots can be white, red, pink, purple, yellow, green and even black. Young radish greens are edible and tasty fresh or cooked. Older greens are a little tougher and often have a peppery taste.
Broccoli is very nutritious, providing good amounts of riboflavin, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C, and is a popular and easy-to-grow Florida winter crop. It has only been in the past 1,000 years that selective breeding resulted in different unique offshoot vegetables, including cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables among home gardeners, and you can get a head start by starting seedlings indoors and then transplanting them outside once the soil warms up. Tomato is one of the key ingredients of popular Italian foods like bruschetta, Caprese salads and pasta sauces.
Bell peppers are a popular garden go-to. These sweet peppers are an excellent source of vitamins and add vibrant colors to both garden and table. Often harvested while green, bell peppers can also be left on the plant to ripen further to become red, yellow or orange.
Eggplant can be grown from seeds or transplants, but, in most cases, transplants are recommended. Rich in potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and folate, its skin and seeds can be eaten. Eggplant parmesan and vegetable ratatouille are some ways you can prepare eggplant.
An excellent herb for beginning gardeners, this refreshing plant is easy to grow, attracts pollinators and does well in Florida's hot and humid weather. Both the leaves and flowers can be added to many dishes, including desserts, beverages, salads, jellies and sauces.