Friday, June 10, 2011

productive landscapes

The intoxicating, thick scent of rotting mangos in the back yard is triggering more thoughts about food in the domestic landscape. One question we’ve been grappling with at tin box is the extent to which we’ll use fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices in our mix of plant species.

One complicating factor is a growing season with which we are unfamiliar. While we can grow food crops year-round in South Florida, the seasons are reversed from our experience up north. Many of the foods we would have grown in the summer in New Jersey are winter crops here, like strawberries and zucchini. We have some good summer options, like watermelon, beans and some tomato varieties. On the other hand, we’re excited about the ability to grow species that are unique to the tropics and subtropics, such as mango, papaya, pineapple, banana, plantain, pepper (the vine, not the vegetable) and ginger.

This month’s momentary abundance of mango is also triggering thoughts about how to deal with temporary gluts of specific crops. We have toyed with the idea of learning to can, jar, pickle and preserve, and we’ve built extra storage space into the garage, where, presumably, we can store our bounty.

Two other issues we’ll need to deal with are soil and irrigation. The soil here is sandy, alkaline and very shallow. A lot of our plants are going to require raised beds enriched with copious amounts of compost (an easy way to divert organic material from our waste stream), and acidified with lots of coffee grounds (which we produce in great quantities). Irrigation is an interesting case from a sustainability standpoint, since LEED demands significant reductions in the amount of potable water used in the landscape. We’ll use harvested rainwater to water the crops.

We haven’t yet done any research on natural pest repellants. We like our grasshoppers and peacocks (and parrots and squirrels), and we want to coexist with them, but we don’t want them taking our food, and we’d prefer not to poison them. We consider the house and its gardens as habitat for native species (as well as a few awesome exotics, like peacocks, parrots and humans), and the mix of plant species – both edible and otherwise – needs to be calibrated to accommodate all of us.


  1. you could make some major grey chutney!

  2. Smashing idea, Carole. Maybe we should think more about planting a tamarind tree (they grow pretty easily, here). Lime, too.

    How is your garden looking?