By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale
Although it feels daunting as I write in the throes of August heat, I am contemplating my fall garden. For early cool-season crops, I shall sow a variety of brassicas, such as purple sprouting broccoli and tatsoi, a compact Chinese leafy vegetable. Kohlrabi has a bulbous stem that is sweet and crunchy in salads, and is delicious steamed or braised. Kales are relatively easy to grow, as is the ubiquitous collard, but whatever I plant, my family has to enjoy it and unfortunately stronger tasting leafy vegetables aren’t very popular. Radishes, also a brassica, are a quick crop; they take just 20 to 30 days to harvest, and their peppery crunch really spices up a salad. Apparently the French eat them as a snack with a little butter and salt.
Lettuce needs cool weather to flourish, and if sown too early will bolt — that is, begin to produce flowers — and become bitter. This year I will try to be organized and sow little and often to spread out my harvest, as home grown lettuce is so very good.
I’ve had good luck with onions in the past, but not from seed. Bundles of seedlings are available locally in late September or early October and establish fairly easily. This year my husband has been pickling shallots in spicy vinegar, so that’s another allium for the garden. They are also used in some southeast Asian cuisines, perhaps more so than onions. If I can’t find sets (small bulbs) to plant, I’ll buy good quality shallots from the grocery store. Each bulb will split and grow more segments, a bit like garlic.
Refer to “The Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” for planting and growing information, and useful links to advice on fertilizing, composting, soil testing, gardening in raised beds, organic vegetable gardening, safe pesticide use and more (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/VH021).
Herbs for the fall garden are another possibility. Some prefer cooler weather, so check out https://tinyurl.com/yydcszzv to see what conditions they need. Fall favorites include sage, rosemary, regular chives, and cilantro.
Insects need continued sustenance. Honey bees will be stocking their hives for winter with pollen for food and nectar to produce honey, and native bees and wasps, some of which hibernate, also need to be well nourished. Butterflies too are gearing up for the winter, the most famous being the monarch. These travelers migrate from the east to Mexico, where they congregate in trees in mountainous areas where the air is moist and temperatures cool. The west coast monarch population travels south to overwinter in similar conditions in California, and there is a smaller eastern population that spends winters in south Florida (https://tinyurl.com/y5flvw7a). Here we are advised to cut back Mexican milkweed by late November, to stop the spread of a serious parasitic disease.
There are delightful wildflowers to be found along our roadways. Yellow sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) and goldenrods (Solidago spp.) grow in glorious gleaming abundance late in the summer. More subtly colored are the cream and pink dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata) and dusty blue mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum), both of which are supremely attractive to pollinators. In our own pollinator gardens, it takes around 15 species of flowering plants, offering blooms throughout the year, to sustain a healthy population of insects. Gardeners can certainly help. For recommendations for our area, check out https://tinyurl.com/y6rpyrpa.
With heavy summer rains, lawns can be stressed, and take-all root rot is a common problem: https://tinyurl.com/yyn9fhm2. However, diagnosing disease problems is tricky and it isn’t advisable to use fungicides unless you have a firm diagnosis. You may either bag some of the diseased plant material — top growth, stems, and roots — and take it to the Extension Office for advice, or send clear, detailed photographs to the office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris Kerr has covered this disease in the most recent New Leaf: https://tinyurl.com/y2p6o5fc. To understand how best to care for your lawn, and hopefully avoid disease problems, see also https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep236.