Maintaining a Fall Vegetable Garden in Central Florida

Maintaining a Fall Vegetable Garden in Central Florida

We are truly blessed to be one of the only regions in the United States that can actually continuously grow vegetables all year round. Fall is a long, beautiful season that begins in September and continues clear thorough February. We don’t get the long, hard freezes experienced by many regions where the nighttime temperature slips below the 30’s for days or weeks in a row. We get our cold snap, and if the temperature is in the 30’s for more than two nights, it’s a shock.

Be sure to plant only seasonal vegetables to be prepared for the cold snaps. Fall vegetable plants include; broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, kale and spinach. Then there are some exceptions because we live in Florida, and our winter season is so mild. Tomatoes, eggplants and bell peppers can grow practically all year round here due to the mild winter. Because these are not typically cool weather crops, they need to be covered up when the temperature dips down into the 30’s. Just moisten the soil, then cover these vegetable plants with a fitted sheet. No need to cover your broccoli; it actually tastes better when it’s harvested after a frost.

It also means we get to harvest many of these plants for a good solid four to five months. So we need to ensure we prune the plants properly. Remove the extra suckers as they grow on the tomato plants and the cucumbers. Those are two examples of plants whose vegetables can take over a region of your garden. As you’re thinning your fall garden, just remember the beet tops and tiny little lettuce heads make a beautiful, tasty and nutrient-packed addition of “micro greens” for any salad!

Harvest vegetables when they are young for the maximum nutrient density as well as flavor. Those two always go hand in hand. Don’t wait for your vegetables to get too big. It might be funny to have the biggest cucumber in town, but when the vegetables get too big, they just don’t taste as good. For tomatoes and peppers, allowing them to ripen on the vine is always preferable.
Make sure to finish your fall plant at least 30 days before the first fall frost. That typically occurs for us in late December or January. This will ensure that plants are large and hardy enough to endure the cold snaps that will come this winter.

Don’t forget to fertilize every four to six weeks to ensure optimum vegetable production. Always read and abide by the instructions on the fertilizer package. Also, ensure that the vegetable plants get a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight each day. Mature plants need about ¼ inch of water each day. Larger plants prefer to be watered more heavily and less frequently. New starter plants need frequent watering but in smaller amounts. Drip irrigation systems are a great way to conserve water in the garden since you’re watering only the garden and not the surrounding yard, like many sprinklers.

Our fall planting and harvesting season is literally the best kept secret around. We have the opportunity to grow an abundance of fall vegetables to nourish our families and share with our neighbors. Not even Hurricane Irma can mess that up due to our extended growing season. I hope everyone’s Thanksgiving table was one filled with wonderful vegetable recipes for things like mashed potatoes and green bean casserole straight from the garden. Be sure to support your local farmers markets and community gardens this fall season and always.