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November 12, 2015

Florida permaculture for busy people

It's that glorious time of the year when the caring government changes the clocks in order to save ... whatever they originally decided to save. For those of us with regular day jobs this means that we have no time to garden for it is pitch dark at 6 PM.

Joking aside, how do we garden when weekdays are shot, and weekends are torn apart between other responsibilities. I had faced this problem for a few gardening seasons now; summer is dedicated to fighting the lawn, and winter - our best time to garden - is robbed of available light time.

Over a few years that I had the garden at this place, and even four years that I had this blog, my garden had significantly evolved. I started like everyone else, from trying to grow the usual suspects that could be found in the produce isle, to gradually abandoning this time-consuming assortment, and moving towards local, native, perennial, and self-taking-care-of.

With experience, a touch of bravery, and a bit of taste adjustment, food can be grown by itself, especially in year-around gardening season place like Florida. It is scary, from a consumer perspective, to abandon tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, and squash. But with the exception of cucumbers, the rest can be substituted by native self-growing plants.

I created a new label that I'm calling "Garden Evolution". Muses like this one will be filed under this new label to describe the journey my garden took towards self-sustainability. Trust me though, this journey is far from being fully explored.

Today I'll start with the greens. If you read any of my posts, you would know that I am an avid greens grower and consumer. I love my greens, and quite frankly, that's what I mostly eat. From late October till late April greens grow like weeds in Florida, especially non-picky ones like bok choy, collards, mustard, and sakurajima greens. But what if you don't have the time to even put some seeds into the ground and water it once in a while?

Enter permaculture. This native Asian plant is making in-roads in the USA and is becoming more and more known thanks to well loved You Tube personalities (you know who!). This plant is Okinawa Spinach.

Yes, it looks like a big mess of leaves, and that's what it is. This huge bush that is completely overtaking my 4x6 raised bed, started from a little rootless twig that I bought on eBay. I let it establish in a container for a few months and then transplanted it to the garden. Okinawa Spinach, at least in hot and humid Florida, likes shady moist places. It needs regular harvesting of the succulent ends (yeah, eat it!) so that it can bush out instead of crawling far and skinny. 

The beauty of this plant is that it requires no care (other than being planted in a favorable environment as I mentioned above). It suppresses the weeds underneath - another useful feature, and it is tasty. I should admit that it is an acquired taste. It definitely has "taste" for it is spicy, but not hot spicy. It just has much more flavor than any green you can buy in the store. I eat it raw in salads. But it can easily be sauteed, steamed, boiled, made into an omelet, or whatever creative heat processing you can come up with. And it grows by itself. Not only that, it can be easily propagated by cutting the stem and rooting it in the container (no rooting hormone required). 

If you are trying to convert the front lawn into food forest or edible landscaping , take note of this candidate. It can be grown as a centerpiece of a flower arrangement, or as a border plant. It can be grown under the trees, in containers, in lieu of the border shrubs. Anything goes with Okinawa Spinach, but as I mentioned, in Florida it needs shade and moisture. So, plant it on the East or North side of the house. 

Lastly, a close cousin of Okinawa Spinach is Molokai spinach, or Longevity Spinach.

Its leaves are green, as opposed to reddish-purplish color of Okinawa. The taste is milder, but it is not as juicy. Growing requirements are the same. It is also believed to lower cholesterol, hence one of its nicknames, "Cholesterol Spinach". 

Well, there you have it. With just these two plants we solved the problem, at least partially, of not being able to grow greens in the summer, or any time when weather, daylight saving, or job does not permit gardening.


  1. Thank you! I have a very shady spot in my garden this time of year that needed something, and I was going to go for lettuce in a half-hearted way, but this sounds perfect for the area. I'm looking for seeds now on ebay. :)

  2. In my experience, lettuce likes sun, otherwise it grows spindly. Okinawa spinach is not grown from seed. My large plant is over two years old and had not flowered. Look for transplants. :)

  3. Good tip! I'm very impressed with your mind-shift to permaculture. I didn't realize permaculture could be edible! I haven't seen much out there about this; you should write a book!



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