September is the happiest time of the year for many home vegetable gardeners in Northwest Florida. And why not? It’s the beginning of our cool weather planting season for much of the state, and the time we get to plant some of our favorite vegetables.
In Northwest Florida, the vegetables commonly sown in September are beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, radish, and turnips. The mere mention of the names has images of fall dancing in my mind!
Planting dates can be slightly different in Central Florida, where September is the beginning of planting time for broccoli, cabbage, endive, kale, leeks, lettuce, mustard, onions, English peas, radish, and turnips. Other cool weather vegetables are sown in October, such as beets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, kohlrabi and parsley. Spinach and strawberries are commonly planted in October throughout the state.
October also marks the beginning of the cool weather gardening season for many of the cool weather vegetables grown in South Florida. If you are near a coastal area for best results look for salt-tolerant varieties of beets, broccoli, cabbage and spinach. Some cool weather crops, such as Brussels sprouts, celery and head lettuce do not perform well because the region does not receive enough cold weather.
While planting dates are slightly different throughout the state, most cool weather crops are sown while it feels more like summer outdoors than fall, regardless of location. So, it is still best this time of the year to work around the mid-day heat.
Before long, though, the summer heat will fade and those cool fall days will make caring for your growing garden an immense pleasure.
No matter where you reside in the Sunshine State, you will have a greater chance of gardening success by preparing your garden about a month before planting, and then planting your cool weather crops at the right time.
Preparing your garden is far less complicated and requires less effort than you might think. All we are really talking about here is clearing the garden and then working in some compost to add nutrients to the soil. We should do this each time we plant to replace nutrients that have been utilized during the previous growing season, or that have leached through our sandy soil beyond the roots of our vegetables.
About 30 days before planting time, remove any vegetation that is currently growing in your garden because the vegetation harbors pests. Pests have had all summer to multiply and mature. We want to start with as few in the garden as we can. Clean the area around your garden for the same reason.
After clearing your garden of vegetation, either work in some compost or spread compost on the soil surface. If you prefer to dig in the compost, begin by spreading a two-inch layer of compost on the soil and then turn the soil to a depth of six to eight inches.
Use your own garden compost or commercially available compost such as composted cow manure or mushroom compost. Dried grass clippings and leaves worked into the soil a month ahead of planting will also suffice.
If you prefer the no-dig method, simply leave the two-inch layer of compost on the soil surface.
Whichever method you choose, cover with a few inches of mulch once the compost has been applied. My favorite mulch is pine straw. Regular straw also is popular with Florida home veggie growers. The mulch will nearly eliminate weeds and hold in moisture. When you are ready to plant, simply rake back the mulch, work in a little fertilizer if you like, and put the mulch back in place after planting.