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cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, green onions

New Vegetable Gardener — Cool Season Vegetable Gardening in Central Florida

This is the second vegetable garden season of the year. It is the longest vegetable gardening season with almost five months of growing the easiest vegetables you will enjoy. It will be cooler. It will have fewer insect pests and it will be bountiful. You should download and read the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide for a complete understanding about what to plant (pages 8-10), when to plant (pages 6-7), and how to prepare your garden. And there are tips for growing vegetables without using pesticides (pages 4-5).

The warm season vegetable garden in Central Florida that was planted out in late August is in full swing. Flowers are setting fruit and as the temperatures are starting to be more seasonable, we can see that soon we will have tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and squash to enjoy on our dinner table. Maybe you have already picked some green beans; weren’t they great tasting? Harvest a few more of those great tasting vegetables from your garden and make some space to start planting out the cool season vegetables: cabbage and cabbage relatives, lettuce, beets, Swiss chard (a beet by another name), turnips, carrots, English peas, potatoes, onions and strawberries.

The summer rainy season is coming to an end. Vegetable gardening will become easier. And once you have all the warm season vegetables out of the garden, there will be plenty of space for the wonderful cool season vegetables. Now is also a good time to plant out herbs. Because they have different water and nutrient needs than vegetables, they should be planted in their own place in the garden and not mixed in with the vegetables.

Once you have determined that there is enough space in the warm season garden to plant some cool season vegetables, prepare the area by removing old, poorly performing plants and weeds, loosen up the soil, add organic matter, level the area and rake smooth. Add about 1-3 pounds of a complete fertilizer such as 6-6-6 to a 100 square foot area. Water the area lightly.

Have you planned your cool season garden? What are you going to grow in the cool season garden? Ask your family members what they like to eat so you will know what to plant. Do you have enough space to grow the cool season vegetables your family members would like to eat? A cabbage plant needs about 4-6 square feet of space when mature. How many cabbage plants do you want to harvest at one time? You can stagger the planting (succession planting) such that you will have a longer harvest period as the cabbages mature so you won’t have too many cabbages to harvest at one time. Broccoli and cauliflower require at least one square foot of growing space. Collards need a little more space. Brussels sprouts require cold weather, so if we are having a warm winter, you may not want to grow them. Beets need about 6” spacing. Swiss chard is a beet that was bred to make leaves and not so much of a bulbous root. By planning the garden, you will know how much space you will need and how many vegetables to grow in the cool season vegetable garden.

Are you going to grow your cool season vegetables from seeds or transplants? By growing them from seed, you will have a greater choice in what varieties you will grow. Purchasing transplants from the garden center may limit the varieties you can grow because of the limited selection. If you choose to grow vegetables from seed, do not plant them deeper than 3 times the diameter of the seed. If you choose to grow transplants, make sure the garden bed is moist, try not to damage the root system as you remove the plant from the transplant container, and plant no deeper than the plant was growing in the container.  You may want to use a “starter fertilizer” (a half strength liquid fertilizer), but it is not necessary.

Care for the garden as necessary. Weed often, keep pests under control and choose pesticides only after you have identified the pest so you make a good choice on how to control the pest. Often it will only require you hand pick the pest from the plant and dispose of it in a container of soapy water.

The Brassica (cabbage) family is a remarkable group of cool season vegetables comprised of cabbage, collards, mustard greens, broccoli, cauliflower (white, orange and purple varieties), Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, radishes and turnips. But you don’t want to limit yourself in the garden with five months of gardening to look forward to.

Mustard greens, collards and leaf lettuces are “cut and come again” crops. As the plant grows, remove the older leaves for the kitchen table and leave the new leaves and center of the plants alone. They will grow more leaves so you can come back and cut some more as necessary.

Beets, Swiss chard, carrots (come in many colors), lettuce, spinach, English peas, onions and strawberries round out the rest of the fabulous cool season vegetables.

Potatoes are planted in January. Buy certified disease free “seed” potatoes. Potatoes from the produce market may have a sprouting inhibitor applied to keep them from sprouting; they may not be a good choice.

Onions should be varieties that grow during the short days of winter such as grano, granex and 1015y. You may have to buy them from out of state during November.

Choose strawberry varieties that are bred to grow during the short days of winter. A trip to Plant City, FL may be necessary or contact UF/IFAS Extension in Baker County as they are having a fall fund raiser and virtual class about growing strawberries.

Most of all, care for the garden as needed and enjoy the best tasting vegetables ever — your own.

Come back and read more about the “New Vegetable Gardener.”