Christine asks about starting a small-space Grocery Row Garden in Central Florida:
Hi David, I am a Master Gardener Volunteer at the _________ office in (Central Florida, near the ocean).
I also have a Permaculture Certification from New Zealand. I now have 3 of your books and have just ordered Grocery Row Gardening! I went to Scrubfest last year – so much fun! I did my presentation for my Master Gardener class on Survival Crops for Florida using your books! I am very new to Florida. Have been here since June of 2022 and have now got rid of most of my lawn and planted fruit trees and crops in my own yard – yay!
Anyhow, I have taken over the Raised Beds at the Extension and I very much want to do a survival garden there too – trying to inspire people to grow food not lawns! I’m looking for a bit of advice from you on what to grow.
There is some space next to the raised beds between the beds and a sycamore tree (that will be pruned). The space is approximately 20′ long x 12 feet or so wide. I was thinking of doing 2 grocery rows 4′ wide with a 3′ path between each and 3′ away from the fence on one side and 3′ away from the raised beds at the end with 3-5 dwarf fruit trees and other survival crops as listed in your book on survival crops.
Anyhow since I’m in 9a/b wondering if you might recommend some trees and survival crops that would work in that space. I have some ideas but not sure what might crowd out what!
My ideas for dwarf tree are as follows – what do you think?
Red Lady papaya
Brown Turkey fig
Then maybe a chaya or katuk, cassava .. wanting to do mostly perennial vegetables or ones that readily self-seed like arugula since I can do annuals in the raised beds. What do you think?
How much space should I leave between the raised beds and the first fruit tree and between fence and first row? Is it a big enough space to make it work?
Any feedback would be most welcome.
Congratulations on moving to the Sunshine State, and on your work with the Master Gardeners. You can reach a lot of people there.
That space is enough for a decent little Grocery Row Garden demonstration. Since you’re going to prune twice a year as part of the system, the ultimate size of most trees isn’t that important. However, you’re probably wise to stick with the littler trees anyhow, since future volunteers might not know how the system works.
You don’t need much space before you get to your first tree. Just prune accordingly if things get too crazy.
Your initial list of trees is mostly solid. The banana tree is likely to freeze down every other year or more, since you’re not in a safe zone for it. The same is true of papayas. You’re close to their range, but not quite, and the few frosts you usually get in winter will take off their tops and may kill the papayas. It’s worth a try, even knowing you may lose them, but they’re not ideal for the climate.
Other good options there for shrubs/trees include:
Blueberries (Rabbiteye or Southern Highbush)
Cherry of the Rio Grande
Tea (Camellia sinensis)
Thornless blackberry (University of Arkansas selections are good)
Sugarcane (plant a cane or two – beautiful addition)
And for other layers:
Longevity spinach (may die in winter)
Cuban oregano (may die in winter)
Name yam (needs a trellis)
Yard-long beans (on a trellis)
All of these should do well in your climate.
I am proud of you – thanks for including me in the good work you are doing, and thanks for saying “hi” at Scrubfest.