Keeping Local Food on the Table in Warm Climates
Guest section by Paula Bellman, an experienced southern gardener.
I live in zone 9, SW Louisiana. Because we’re so far south, we’re considered sub-tropical.
Water Table Too High for a Root Cellar
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.
Year Round Gardening
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.
Without artificial light, chickens reduce 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.
When the Heat Sets In
About mid-April, it really starts to heat up. The tomatoes, cucumber, and melon plants jump up in growth and set fruit. 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. The birds and the wasps like them, too. We typically make fig preserves out of them, but some people will can them whole.
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.
See “Summer Gardens – Dealing with High Temperatures in the Garden” for gardening tips from Texas.
Food Storage Options for Warm, Humid Conditions
Food storage for fall/winter crops consist of cold storage like a working fridge on your patio or carport.
I store cabbages and onions in a dorm fridge for a good 6 months after the growing season with no problems.
We really can’t do any type of room temp storage. It’s much too 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.
Our food storage options for summer veggies are: 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.
I hope this post provides you with plenty of ideas to help keep local food on the table longer no matter where you live.
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Originally published in 2013, last updated in 2020.