Permaculture & Gardening in Florida
By Emily Nipps
Midge Jolly has two edicts of wisdom when it comes to growing native plants and herbs in Florida.
“Start low and go slow.” That’s what the longtime South Florida resident tells beginners, meaning you should plant the easier, more gentle and resilient plants first, then work your way to the trickier stuff.
And when you get more experienced: “If something shows up in your garden or yard, figure out what it is and why it’s there for you.” Nature often knows more than you do.
Jolly is one of a growing number of master gardeners and horticultural experts in Florida offering weekend crash courses – and in some instances, even farm stays – to visitors wanting to learn more about planting, growing and surviving off the land, basically everything you need to know about gardening in Florida.
It’s a more hands-on kind of eco-tourism for those who love the science and simplicity of growing food and medicinal or therapeutic herbs in one’s own backyard.
At her and her husband’s Earth and Sea Farm in Upper Sugarloaf Key, where the couple run a B&B out of their large stilt home overlooking a preserve, one can learn a lot.
They maintain two solar-powered salt houses, which are like greenhouses with large trays of salty Keys ocean water that evaporate down to luxurious layers of salt and oily bittern residue, sold in bottles and high in magnesium chloride, calcium chloride and other trace minerals. The farm also occasionally hosts permaculture courses where you can learn more about cultivating native, edible plants.
A little further north in the Miami area, Bee Heaven Farm has been organic-certified for more than 15 years and dedicates a weekend in October to GrowFest!, as well as other seminars and “farm days” for visitors. Beginning backyard growers and veteran gardeners get hot tips from presentations titled “Mango Poetry” and “Wild Edible Plants of Florida,” while sampling fresh, locally grown food and exploring Redland Fruit & Spice Park, where the fest is held.
Nearby in Homestead, Paradise Farms hosts B&B farm stays where guests can stroll through fields of ginger, basil and mint, and they eat a five course-meal made with local organic fruits, veggies and herbs, paired with locally made wines. If you’re only stopping by on a day trip, the farm hosts “learning lunches” for groups, aimed at teaching others about the importance of organic gardening and inspiring visitors to go off and create little permaculture patches of their own, everything on Florida gardens soils.
To truly feel like you’re living off the land, the Treehouse Canopy in Miami’s Little Haiti not only lets guests volunteer on their permaculture farm, but offers overnight stays in a primitive but comfy treehouse. Feed the goats, pigs and emus and dine on fresh eggs, fruits, vegetables and honey while learning the hosts’ touching story of how the treehouse came to be.
The Tampa Bay area has a very active permaculture community in Florida, with various groups hosting produce and seed swaps, seminars, garden volunteer days, certificate courses, potlucks and “permablitzes” – where groups move in on a home or property with shovels and plants and help someone create their own garden. They’re always welcoming to curious visitors who can sign up online to learn more. The Naples area also has a similar group.
For more information about Florida’s permaculture classes, organizations and community, visit Florida Permaculture Convergence