In The Garden: October 2011, Plant Now!
Fall is the beginning of our cold crop planting season in South and Central Florida. Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant, Basil and Beans that were started in August may be getting ready to fruit, and may ripen fruit before our first frost. If you are starting those plants now you will have to protect them from the coldest part of our season in order to harvest fruit from them in the early spring (February, March). I have never eaten a tomato from a vine I planted in October before January. As the days grow shorter, no matter how lovely the weather, growth slows down in the garden.
Now is the time to plant lettuce, arugula, cole crops like cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, mustard greens, chard, and asian greens like pak choi, and tatsoi, peas, carrots, onions, radishes, nasturtiums, all herbs, cucumbers, and squash. I have also recently started bush beans. It is later then I should have started them, but I am hoping to have beans before the first frost.
In the last few years we have had some rather severe cold weather in December, and January with temperatures dipping below freezing. For that reason I put very little effort into frost tender plants until February or March. I focus my planting on the crops that love the cold and even become sweeter or more tender in a frost or freeze. Brassicas or cole crops really like the cold and become more tender after a frost, and don’t seem to mind a few hours of freezing temperatures. Radishes growing in cool weather are mild sweet and juicy. The same crop grown in hot temperatures becomes hot, bitter, and dry. Very cold weather makes the most crisp, sweet, attractive, nearly translucent carrots. This is because carrots will transfer sugars from the leaves to the roots as a survival response to cold. Chard manages cold quite well, though like mustard and lettuce the leaves can be ruined by a freeze, but the plants usually resurge easily afterward, so they are cold season crops in my garden. Nasturtiums don’t make it through a freeze in my garden, but I don’t bother to protect them because they are so vigorous that once established a freeze is just a needed pruning.
Because I can’t be entirely certain that we will have lots of cold weather I try to hedge my bets with a few crops that will enjoy a warmer winter. I therefore keep bush and pole beans in my winter plan, and then if I have to replace them with more in a few weeks I do that. I also keep tomatoes going throughout the winter so that I have an early tomato as well as the spring tomatoes that always come as volunteers.
This week we have been having some tremendous rains and wind. My seedlings are unfazed by the ferocity of the rain. They were planted into soil that was disturbed only enough to bury the seeds. In spite of the torrential downpours we have been experiencing for the last 4 days my soil has not run off. This is just another advantage of the no till method of growing.
Some people here don’t know it is time to plant. Many have only recently arrived from the North where winter is the fallow time for their gardens. If you have been caught unaware and are still hoping to plant some crops for this winter and spring season it is not too late. What we call our native soil here (the fill that was brought in when your house was built, and the soil that has been ravaged for years with synthetic fertilizers and pesticide of all sorts) is severely depleted and is rather sandy. Were you to plant into it as is, you would not be satisfied with your crops. To start an optimum soil garden right away see my article Revisiting the Lasagna Garden Mound. That article has a printable diagram (white background) that will instruct you in how, and with what to stack the lasagna garden mound. With that mound built you can plant into it right away, and you will have a healthy and bountiful garden for your first season gardening here in Florida without digging a single shovel full of soil, and without spreading a single trowel of fertilizer.
Now get out there and plant your best garden ever!