Keeping Local Food on the Table in Warm Climates
This section was written by my friend, Paula Bellman, who shares her experience as a southern gardener.
I live in zone 9, SW Louisiana. Because we’re so far south, we’re considered sub-tropical. We have a very high water table. Depending on where in SW Louisiana you live, you could dig down about 2 feet and you’d hit water. People do not have basements here, nor root cellars for this particular reason.
We are able to garden 12 months out of the year. Typically our crops in the late fall/early winter are sweet potatoes, cabbages, turnips, kohlrabi, daikon radish, regular radishes, beets, chards, kale, mustard and turnip greens. Chickens that do not sleep under artificial light will reduce their egg production dramatically in December/January. Sunrise for us is around 7:00am and sunset would be around 5:30. Citrus fruits are typically ripe around Christmas, though some mandarin type of oranges will ripen earlier than that. Blood oranges will ripen in later January and lemons can come anytime between November and January.
In the early spring, we are able to harvest the tender lettuces like Bibb, romaine, leaf as well as the hardier greens like chard, mustard and turnip greens, broccoli, & cauliflower. We continue to get cabbages and root crops, but also new potatoes, red and yellow onions. Loquats come into season around the first part of March and strawberries can ripen anytime between February and April. I consider early spring to be mid-February thru end of March.
Food storage for fall/winter crops consist of cold storage like a working fridge on your patio or carport. We really can’t do any type of room temp storage. It’s much to humid to leave things outside to dry/cure. Things need to be done inside and moved somewhere pretty quickly. Even things like fermented veggies need to go in the fridge pretty quick, or they spoil and grow mold. I have stored cabbages and onions in a dorm fridge for a good 6 months after the growing season with no problems.
Long about mid-April, it really starts to heat up. The tomatoes, cucumber, and melon plants jump up in growth and set fruits. We can usually begin harvesting the summer squash around the 1st part of May. Once the real heat hits, the squash vine beetles set in and you can’t get any more squash, unless you use alternate means of pest control, which I do not. June is hot and humid with highs sometimes in the upper 90s and high humidity. Peaches and plums come ripe in late May or early June. Sweet corn comes early June along with sweet peppers, early tomatoes, and blueberries. We can or freeze tomatoes. Cantaloupes and watermelons come in June. June is my favorite month in the garden. So much delicious produce. Cucumbers will continue through July, but by then they are bitter. During the hottest part of the summer (July, August, September) basically all you’re going to get is okra, peppers, and eggplants. Figs become ripe around the 4th of July. The crop ripens basically all at once and will spoil quickly if not picked. Or the wasps get to them. Or the birds. We typically make fig preserves out of them, but some people will can them whole.
Food storage for summer veggies is water bath canning, pressure canning, freezing, and some fermenting, like salsa. I freeze cantaloupe and honeydew melons. Watermelons can be de-seeded and pureed for juice to make jello or sorbet. Peppers can be frozen whole. I usually cook down eggplant and okra and freeze in ziploc bags. Okra and tomatoes cooked together with onions and hot peppers is really a welcome addition to a winter dinner or added to a gumbo.
If we’re lucky and we don’t get a hurricane, we can get a second crop of tomatoes, cucumbers, and cantaloupes in October. By October, the bitter greens are coming back in as well as turnips and sweet potatoes.
I hope this post provides you with plenty of ideas to help keep local food on the table longer no matter where you live. You may also want to check out the book “Warm-Climate Gardening: Tips, Techniques, Plans, Projects for Humid or Dry Conditions“, listed for only a penny on Amazon, if you're gardening down south.