Florida gardening: Fall is the best time to plant a vegetable garden

Carol Cloud Bailey Special to TCPalmPublished 10:01 AM EDT Sep 16, 2020We are all spending more time at home t

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We are all spending more time at home these days. I hope you have not given up on gardening; it is a challenging endeavor during the heat and humidity of summer. However, gardening season is upon us; the temperatures really will go down and the garden will flourish. It is time to plant the garden! Fresh veggies will soon grace our tables.

Granny Cloud always had a fall garden; she grew beans, squash, tomatoes, and onions – her favorites. The point is that if you are from somewhere else, it just doesn’t seem right to plant veggies in the fall. But this is the perfect time for growing most folks’ favorite vegetables, put a few in the ground or in a container, both work for many veggies. Vegetable gardening is a life-affirming activity.  Working with family is both an exercise in cooperation and exercise for the body. Fresh veggies bring a smile and a promise of good things to come.

If this is the first garden planted or one that has been in the ground five years or more, a soil test is a good thing. Soil testing provides a look at the condition and contents of the soil, including pH and some nutrient levels. Many garden centers and nurseries offer soil tests to their customers. There are also private labs and university labs that will test for a fee. Check with the local Extension office for forms, costs, and directions.

A soil test is only as good as the sample. Good soil samples consist of many smaller samples. Grab a clean bucket, a trowel, a spade, or even a large spoon, take a sample of the soil from the surface to about 10-12 inches deep, repeat at least 10 -15 times, mixing all the samples together. Spread the soil out and let it air dry. If the area being tested is less than 40 acres and the soil looks about the same all over, one composite sample is enough. About a pint of soil for each test.

Successful vegetable gardens start with varieties adapted to the area. Look for vegetable varieties, flowers too, that have been tested for local condition. Check out this University of Florida publication, Seed Sources for Florida Homegrown Vegetables that includes both good varieties and sources for the seed at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep486 and the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021.

This is the time to plant and prepare; make a paper plan, start seeds for transplants, visit a local garden center or nursery for supplies and inspiration. Do wear a mask and respect the nursery or garden center’s rules for distancing. Plant what the family loves to eat. Even kids will try kale if they help plant, grow, and harvest the tasty, nutritious leaves.

Carol Cloud Bailey is a landscape counselor and horticulturist. Send questions to carol@yard-doc.com or visit yard-doc.com for more information.

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