Early Top Crops and Their Challenges

Early Top Crops

The types of plants that the settlers grew was very limited. Corn was sometimes roasted when young and tender, with sweet corn not becoming popular until later in the 20th century. Greens like collards, which were grown most of the year, and mustard, as well as okra, tomatoes, field peas (also known as cowpeas or black-eyed peas), beans, sweet potatoes, and some peppers made up the main crops.

Some crops, like corn and peas, were dried so they could be used throughout the year. Dried corn was ground into cornmeal and used for cornbread, corn cakes, or pone. These many uses for dried corn as well as dried peas made for nutritious although repetitious meals to which were added a meat, usually pork or something shot wild.

The Moore Garden perimeter and smaller garden includes native plants. Native plants are the plants that were growing in the area pre-settler. Some were edible like the fruits of the elderberry and well known to settlers from the Southern states. Southerners also knew about pokeweed shoots and leaves and how to cook it to be edible and nonpoisonous.

Some plants, like coontie and cabbage palms, were unknown to settlers. American Indians showed the settlers the time-consuming process of making these native plants into parts of an edible meal. Poisonous coontie root could even be made into an edible flour that could substitute for wheat flour as a biscuit ingredient.

Native plants were also used as medicines when the need arose. Settlers were tens of miles, or further, from the nearest doctors. The wife/mother was usually the person who grew and used the herbs that kept her family healthy. Toothaches, stomach aches, diarrhea, constipation, cough, fever, boils, open wounds, and broken bones were normal maladies that the pioneer mother and wife had to know how to treat.

Pleasures and Problems

The approach to Florida gardening as compared to anywhere “up north” is different in several ways! The most important differences in Florida gardening vs. elsewhere include timing, soil make up, and abundant and persistent insects. Main growing seasons are fall and spring, plus limited winter crops - very little thrives in the intense heat of summer. Although summer is hot, the southern staples of lima beans, okra, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and watermelon can be grown. Black eyed peas will grow and can be used as a cover crop and worked in as green manure when they are 6-8 inches tall or before its seeds set, providing nitrogen and organic matter.

Soils tend to be almost entirely sand - nearly void of nutrients and with little moisture-holding capacity. Amending soils with organic matter here is even more important than other places.