Thunder was grumbling in the distance as the warm, wet cloud of humidity wrapped around my skin. The cicadas in the trees serenaded me as my feet sloshed through the warm puddles not yet soaked into the grass, and my hands slipped on gardening gloves well-worn from pulling up dollarweed. Mosquitoes were buzzing around my ears when I walked by a daisy that the rain had just brought back from the brink of death. I was a picture of a woman gardening in the middle of a Floridian summer. But despite the high heat, humidity, and insect-pressure of our intense summers, I felt no dread on my walk to the garden.
I do not claim to be an expert, but I’ve learned a few things over the years by trial and error, or more accurately, from my blood, sweat, and tears. As a mother of two with a very busy schedule, I don’t have time for finicky plants, and there certainly are a lot of those when it comes to surviving Florida’s summer of high heat and humidity. When I walk confidently to my garden after a summer thunderstorm, here are some of the things I see:
Black-Eyed Peas that Eat Heat for Breakfast
When we think of homegrown food, a lot of us gardeners have an image of sitting in a rocking chair on a porch with a glass of lemonade and a bowl of peas being shucked in our laps as we gaze lazily at a beautiful pink sunset. Maybe that country image isn’t your thing, in which case if you grow a patch of black-eyed peas, you will need to update your children’s chore list. These plants make peas as reliably as humidity makes you sticky.
Black-eyed peas are drought tolerant but relish those afternoon thunderstorms. They make a great nitrogen-fixing cover crop, and if you cook them on low heat until buttery, they are a delicious and nutritious side dish.
Cucumbers that Soak up Humidity
With their cooling nature, cucumbers are the epitome of summer. Their cheery big green leaves and subtle but elegant yellow flowers are a happy sight to lay eyes on when walking through a cloud of humidity. Even more lovely is that those leaves have a way of disguising the bounty hidden beneath them until you go sniffing around and get an excellent surprise—cucumbers galore! Dill pickles, sweet pickles, pickles and onions … cucumbers galore become pickles galore.
Snake Beans that Shoot for the Stars
I know, you’ve already got black-eyed peas coming out your ears, why more legumes? Good news, for those lazy days you just don’t want to shuck anything, these guys are like enormous green beans. The name doesn’t lie, nor does its other nickname — yard long bean. You can eat them cooked or raw. Hey, if you’re going to grow a green bean — which is healthy — why not supersize it?
Moringa: The Independent Superstar of the Garden
This plant is my favorite because I adore plants that don’t need me to water them, fertilize them, watch for pests, or basically do anything other than unskillfully whack off the top to ensure I can still reach the branches once a year or so. And better still — the leaves are highly nutritious.
Nicknamed The Tree of Life, the leaves contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. When I have a large amount, I strip the leaves, wash them, and then lay them out to dry. In about 48 hours they will have turned crispy and are easily ground into a powder which can be added to smoothies or other foods to add a nutritional boost. The fresh leaves are tasty and are good added to salads.
Moringa is fast-growing, enjoys heat and humidity, requires very little from its owner, and works well in a corner of the garden because it does not cast significant shade if kept dwarfed. I grow some of my less heat-tolerant plants beneath mine.
Sunflowers, Zinnias, and Marigolds Basking in the Sun
Oh, how I love sunflowers. Just imagine it — a whole row of towering sunflowers with their big smiling yellow faces pointed toward the sun, bees buzzing back and forth across their fat fluffy centers, and the sweet smell that leaves visible evidence on your nose in the form of yellow pollen. They are symbols of summer, and no summer garden should be without one. You can eat sunflower seeds, and the plants couldn’t care two hoots about heat or humidity.
Zinnias and marigolds are also near and dear to my heart. Like sunflowers, they grow so quickly from seed that I scatter them all around the garden. Zinnias make very nice cut flowers. Not only are they beautiful, but they draw those handy-dandy pollinators into our gardens all summer long.
The List Goes on and on
If you’ve got space or a bit of ingenuity for trellising, how about Seminole pumpkins? The pumpkins are quite unique looking, delicious, and have interesting historical value. Amaranth greens seem to be becoming a new foodie green — and they love heat and humidity. Can’t forget okra, of course. It is both a beautiful plant and a hardy vegetable. With gardening, the learning never stops. This summer I am experimenting with growing peanuts and a native of India, bitter melon.
The possibilities are endless. Gardening in the heat and humidity just requires a can-do attitude and a bit of an adjustment to what we might consider regular garden fare.
With a large bottle of mosquito repellent and a wide-brim straw hat, I will be wading through those puddles and listening to those cicadas sing all summer long on my way to the garden. Let the quest for summer homegrown food begin!