Observing a plant growing can be a magical experience for children. For parents, it can often be easier to get your child to eat a vegetable when the person eating it grew it. In Florida, child-friendly backyard gardens can be grown year round.
Unlike most of the rest of the United States, many different interesting plants can easily be grown during the Florida winter. These include the all time hardest-to-get-kids-to-eat vegetable broccoli. While broccoli plants can be grown from seed, it is easier to obtain small plants from local nurseries. It is best to grow a number of different varieties since this will increase the length of the harvest. If you can find them, purple and white varieties can add excitement to your child’s dinner plate. Lettuce and cauliflower also grow well during the Florida winter.
While it is tempting to grow the second-most-disliked kids food, brussels sprouts, it can be difficult to obtain mature brussels sprouts in North Central Florida. The issue with brussels sprouts is that plants will not produce sprouts when the weather warms in the spring. In years in which warmer temperatures arrive a few weeks early, a disappointing (or welcome, if you are a kid) sprout harvest will occur. Heavy fertilization of plants and an early planting of plants (October) can increase the chance of producing a crop of brussels sprouts.
If you are looking for a winter vegetable that can easily be grown from seed, carrots are an excellent choice. For ~$1 hundreds of carrots can be grown in a ~4X8 foot space. The key to growing carrots is to plant them in “loose” soil. Turning over the soil using a simple shovel prior to planting the seeds works well. The soil needs to be loose so that the carrot (the root of the plant) can easily grow downward. It is also important to thin the plants to ~1 plant every two inches. Carrots grown too close to each other will result in malformed roots. One drawback to growing carrots from seeds is that seeds planted in December will not be able to be harvested until the following April.
All the plants listed above will survive multiple nights of frost. In particular, broccoli should survive even the coldest nights in North Central Florida without the need to be covered.
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