Although temperatures remain hot, the day length is growing notably shorter and soon temperatures will begin to cool to a point that will allow outdoor activities again. It is time to begin to think about Florida’s second gardening season. Although the spring garden season has more of the traditional vegetables enjoyed in summer gardens in northern climates, the cooler fall days offer opportunities for vegetables that are distinctly more southern in variety. Greens like collards kale and, for the hearty, mustard; More traditional crops may also be grown including cabbage, carrots, broccoli, onions, squash and various types of lettuce. One of my favorites that begins to perform well with the break in the weather is the English pea. I have found these to be wonderful in stir-fry or simply buttered by themselves. Once they begin to bloom they produce in lavish amounts.
You Can’t Beat Fresh Produce
Interest in gardening seems to be on the rise. There are even several schools that have incorporated a school garden into their science curriculum. People realize that fresh produce is hard to beat and nothing can be fresher than something you grow and harvest yourself. Increasingly literature indicates the work of gardening has great medicinal purposes. People are able to minimize the effects of a stressful day by spending an evening working in the garden. Perhaps the greatest attribute of gardening is the sense of satisfaction one receives from planning the garden, caring for a crop and seeing it through to production. Moreover, fresh produce to share with neighbors is always a great way to strengthen friendships – or mend fences with those in array.
When selecting a garden site it is important to remember that flowering vegetables need a minimum of 6 hours sunlight each day. Avoid shady sites which also tend to remain damp longer, creating opportunities for disease. Be sure the site you select is near a water source. Understand that you will need to apply about ¼ inch water per day to meet the demands of your crop. Once in a while during fall we obtain some rainfall, but we are entering the dry season. Rain events will diminish during the dry months of October and November.
Start with a small garden site. It can always be expanded if needed, but small gardens are easier to care for. Prepare the garden site by tilling to a depth of six inches, the finer the soil the better. Work to eliminate any clumps of soil. The finer the soil the easier for small roots to penetrate and get established.
Select fresh seed from your local garden store. In general plant small seeds (i.e. carrot) one quarter inch deep, mid-sized seeds (i.e. cucumber) one-half inch deep and large seeds (squash) about an inch deep. Often with small seeds it is necessary to thin seedlings once seeds have germinated, to give room for the crop to develop. Apply ¼ inch water daily to elicit germination.
Once seeds are two or three inches tall make the first fertilizer application using a 6-0-6 material and applying 5 ounces fertilizer per 10 feet of row. Side dress out a few inches from the plant and remember that too much fertilizer will burn tender roots, so be judicious. As seedlings grow you may elect to apply mulch along the middle. This time of year freshly cut grass, piled and allowed to compost for a few weeks makes a good mulch. I often apply the grass while freshly cut as it is easier to handle. September cuttings are important, because grass growth will slow precipitously with the arrival of October.
Other than watering consistently, you will find your garden requires little care as we move into late fall. An occasional once over for weeds about every seven days and regular checks to harvest produce when ready should be sufficient for the fall garden. Due to the cooler weather, you will find insect and disease pressures are typically much less than we observe for the spring garden.
The fall garden offers a longer growing season and some options for produce that aren’t available in the spring. Give this a try and enjoy the various health benefits that are produced in the fall vegetable garden.