Fresh today: Veggies that pay off in Northeast Florida

Back in the Great Recession, there was a revival of Depression-era thinking as families coped with job losses, devalued home prices, wage stagnation and reversal along with increasing prices for everything a household needed. And documentaries like Food, Inc. and Forks Over Knives, which showed the waste and unhealthiness of huge food systems got popular, too.

So, many people started looking hard at how to make their dollars go father, which led to the revival of the ‘Victory Garden,’ a 1940s-era practice of producing one’s own food that was less expensive, fresher, more varied and tasted better than the produce in stores. (Chicago Tribune story here.)

Now, more than 10 years later, we are growing our own, more nutritious, better tasting food, but we have learned to be smart about it.

Not every variety or plant is going to survive in our particular climate here in Northeast Florida. We are blessed with much longer growing seasons than other places but still face the difficulty of too much humidity and too much heat for too long. I’m not even going to get into the bugs.

That said, here is a short list of some amazing vegetables that grow here and produce far more food than it would cost to purchase. We show you our yields over the hottest months of the summer.

Note: Just because a plant is not on the list does not mean it won’t do well. We are highlighting our best summer producers.

Okra

This is one of the hardiest plants you can grow in the summer, and it is gorgeous to boot, with its hibiscus-like flowers and tropical foliage. It takes a couple of months to grow them from seed, but once they start producing, you will be picking every day while Publix, Winn-Dixie and upscale grocery stores are selling non-organic stuff from other states or countries for $3.99 a pound and up. You can dry it yourself and save the $8.99 price tag, too.

I love to cook them with tomatoes, with field peas, or to pickle them in brine for a probiotic and tasty snack.

See the photos below and the article here.

Collards

I was skeptical when I planted two collard plants back in May, because this is a cool season crop. I paid $3-$4 dollars each for two unnamed varieties from a big box hardware store, less than the price you pay for an organic bag of sliced collards. I got four times that much from my organic plants in the summer, and they are still producing. When they finally bolt, I will have seeds for the coming cool season.

My favorite ways to eat them are cooked in a crockpot or wrapped around veggies (inspired by the Present Moment restaurant)

Green onions:

These can be free to grow, once you have bought a bunch from the store. I use them in everything from Chinese, Thai and Japanese recipes to soup and scrambled eggs.

Here’s an article on how to grow them.

Peppers

Peppers grow so well here that it seems like we are robbing the bugs and the hot sauce makers. I almost feel sorry for Frank’s Red Hot, Crystal’s and Lousiana Hot Sauce.

Almost, but not really

You can pick your pepper by heat level and bring it in during our unpredictable but infrequent hard frosts, which means you cam grow them for two years or more

Some of our favorites to grow include jalapenos, Datil peppers, Fish peppers and ‘ornamental’ Black Peal with stylish black foliage and tiny fruit that look like holly berries and are hotter than Thai chilis. Buy seeds here.

Too many herbs:

Some herbs are too resilient to die and cost almost nothing to plant. We’ve been lucky in our selections, which include Rosemary, Lemongrass, Chives, Thyme, Oregano and others. These herbs cost almost nothing to start and are still providing many years later, so we skip the expensive $3 packages of non-organic herbs and just go out in the garden.

And, yes, that big bush my daughters are playing in front of is actually an herb!

For more detail, see the article here.

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