Spring signals the beginning of the growing season and fall is the checkered flag that brings it to an end. At least that’s the way it is for most home vegetable farmers across this great nation.
We follow a wildly different road here in the Sunshine State.
Already, Florida veggie growers have crossed the finish line with most of our spring planted vegetables. But we have not left the track. Because, come August in north and central Florida, the green flag waves again on planting many of our warm season favorites – and some cool weather ones, too.
For the best chance of success, most warm weather vegetables should be planted by mid August. These include tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, southern peas, winter squash, pumpkins and watermelon. Each is best planted during the first half of the month so there are enough warm days remaining to produce mature, tasty vegetables.
Other warm season vegetables, such as beans, cucumbers and summer squash, may be planted later in August and through about mid September. To extend the harvest, I plant some early and then plant more a few weeks later.
Much like NASCAR, where cars perform differently on the same racetrack in spring than they do later in the year, warm weather vegetables perform in a different way on the downhill side of summer than they do in springtime.
For example, starter plants and seedlings get a gentle start in the spring. Days are warm, not hot, and the days gradually get longer. Humidity is low. Nights are pleasantly cool. Pressure from pests is minimal. The environment is right for warm weather plants to thrive and perform at their best.
Fast forward to August. Conditions are nearly reversed. It is scorching hot, sticky as molasses and the amount of daylight decreases with each day. Nights are warm. And legions of pests are lining up to turn succulent seedlings into concession stands.
Given the additional challenges faced by warm weather vegetables planted in late summer, it is not uncommon for some never to quite reach full speed. Also, some may finish with a lesser yield than they would in a springtime setting.
Don’t let the changing track conditions sideline you. It may take a little extra effort to nurture and protect your crops. And they may not produce as much as they might under different conditions. But your efforts will always be rewarded.
Surprisingly, like many warm season veggies, a few of our fall or cool weather vegetables can be planted as early as late August. Many more can be planted during September and October. Broccoli, cauliflower, collards, bunch onions and turnips can be planted in the latter part of August. In September we can begin planting beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard, bulb onions, parsley, and radishes.
Timing is important in north Florida because it can go from hot to cold here more quickly than Kyle Busch. For the best chance of vegetable victory in your fall garden, plant early enough for cold sensitive plants to produce their crop before a potential early freeze puts the brakes on your harvest.
Home veggie growers, start your engines!