By Lesley Arrandale
Come September it will be time to have a plan in place for your winter vegetable garden. To avoid disease and insect problems, it’s important to rotate crops to different areas of your garden. A four-plot system makes this an easier proposition, but if you have limited space this layout may not be feasible. In any case, good record keeping will help keep track of what vegetables you have grown, and where and when you grew them. Wait at least three seasons before growing plants in the same family in the same area and incorporate generous amounts of well-rotted compost to encourage populations of beneficial organisms. You may find this article from Mother Earth News helpful: http://tinyurl.com/juqhnma
If you intend to start your garden from seed, good hygiene — cleaning used seed trays and pots with warm soapy water and using a final rinse of a 1:10 solution of bleach — should minimize damping off problems with seedlings. Make sure to water seeds from below, and don’t let the trays or pots sit in water longer than it takes to just moisten the surface of the compost.
Not all vegetable seedlings can be transplanted successfully, so direct sowing will be necessary: edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh027. “The Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” also has information on this and much else besides: edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021
Starting seeds indoors, where winter vegetables might appreciate the cooler temperatures, will enable you to produce healthy plants earlier in the season than by direct sowing once temperatures have moderated; however, be prepared to give those tiny plants enough light to grow sturdily. I use a single four-foot T5 tube grow light fixture with reflector, which I hang from a simple stand I made from PVC tubing. I can raise the light as my seedlings grow, keeping it two to three inches above them for maximum effect. This simple project saved at least $30, compared to buying a stand — plus it can be taken apart for easier storage. In addition, letting a fan blow gently across the young plants makes for sturdier growth, as the growing tissues move with the breeze.
For even more articles from the University of Florida on growing vegetables, see http://tinyurl.com/kpvz5w3 The September/October issue of “A New Leaf” newsletter will soon be available at duval.ifas.ufl.edu/lg_new_leaf_news.shtml There you’ll find great information on what flowers and vegetables to plant in the next few months, as well as information on upcoming classes.
As summer slips into autumn, our gardens reflect the lower temperatures and the shortening of days. Late-flowering perennials come into their own and feeding bees are still stocking their winter supplies of honey, while deciduous trees start the process of breaking down chlorophyll, the pigment that makes leaves green. Once the products of that mechanism, along with nutrients in the leaves, are drawn back down to the roots, they will be stored until spring. What chemicals are left behind result in the leaves’ beautiful fall colors.
As happens in our forests, if we allow fallen leaves to blanket our beds to a depth of two to three inches and slowly decompose, they will add to the soil’s fertility. If you are lucky to have a surfeit, and a spare corner in which to make a leaf pile, simply let them rot down and in time you will have a wonderful product called leaf mold, a natural soil builder full of billions of beneficial microbes. And of course they make a great addition to a compost pile, along with yard trimmings, coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. How satisfying it is to make something so useful from all that waste.
Lesley Arrandale is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Cooperative Extension Service/City of Jacksonville Agriculture Department, which is a partnership between the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the City of Jacksonville.