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cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, green onions

New Vegetable Gardener — Is it too Late to Start a Vegetable Garden?

New Vegetable Gardener — Is it too Late to Start a Vegetable Garden?

Several months ago in this series on vegetable gardening information (New Vegetable Gardener) you learned about the vegetable garden seasons in Central Florida. You should again download and read the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/VH/VH02100.pdf).  As we near the end of the month of March, it just might be too late to start a backyard vegetable garden.

If this is the first time you have seen the series “New Vegetable Gardener,” the vegetable gardening season for Central Florida starts in late August to early September with “warm season” vegetables. Always leave some room in your garden for the “cool season” vegetables that will be planted in late October to early November. Most “warm season” crops will be finished by the second week of December (our average first frost date), so you can continue growing “cool season” crops up to the end of February (after our average last frost date). Then in early March, we plant out our last “warm season” crops for the end of the vegetable gardening season that wraps up about the second week of June (beginning of the rainy season).

The vegetable gardening season in Central Florida is about to end. This is the “warm season” vegetable garden that would include tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, melons, cucumbers, beans and corn. Since most of these vegetables take about 90 days to reach maturity, if they were planted in March, they would be ready for harvest about mid-June. There will be some that will be harvested throughout the “warm season” as they reach the size you want, such as cucumbers, beans and squash.

By mid-June we will be entering the summer rainy season, making it difficult to grow quality vegetables with the exception of okra, Southern peas and sweet potatoes. High daytime temperatures above 85o F cause many flowers of “warm season” vegetables to abort.

The frequent, almost daily, afternoon showers make the foliage very wet and the foliage doesn’t get a chance to dry off before sunset.  Additionally, the rain splashes soil onto the lower leaves of the vegetables along with spores of native fungal organisms. Now couple this with the higher night time temperatures, typically in the mid-70s, and you have an ideal situation for rampant diseases to deal with.

Diseases in the vegetable garden are very challenging. It is often more productive to remove diseased plants to prevent the spread of the disease than try to control the disease. Fungal diseases are especially difficult to control once they get started.

You still want to start a garden but time is working against you. The rainy season starts in about 11 weeks (77 days). By reviewing the planting tables in the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide on pages 6 and 7, you will see that seeds planted at the end of March that will reach maturity for harvesting in less than 77 days include beans, sweet corn, cucumbers, okra, Southern peas and summer squash. Is your garden bed ready to plant out? If not, then you will have fewer days to grow vegetables this season.

What about tomatoes, peppers and eggplant? The planting tables indicate that these vegetables require 80-110 days to reach maturity. If you can find large transplants (1-3 gallon containers) you might have a chance. Transplants will reduce the time from planting to harvest to 60-90 days.

So you won’t feel rushed, you may wish to wait out the reminder of this gardening season and plan for a better 9-month gardening season that starts in late August with “warm season” plants again. This would be a good time to relax and leisurely prepare the garden by improving the soil, repairing damaged beds, and solarizing the soil if you had diseases or nematode problems the previous season. After all, we don’t have the winter cold of New England or the mid-west to shut down our gardening season (and they don’t have our hot and humid summers to slow down their vegetable production).

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