Well, it’s quite simple. All you have to do is live in Central Florida, where we can grow vegetables 12 months out of the year. The best time to plant your fall garden is in September or the beginning of October. When the rest of the country is packing up their gardens in November, ours will just be taking off. We can grow fall vegetables all the way through March when we will plant our spring gardens.
The first thing to remember is what to grow and what not to grow. It is crucial to the success of a fall garden to pick cold-weather vegetables. Fall seasonal varieties include cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and beets. Greens, collards and kale also do very well in the cold. Most herbs are very easy to grow in the fall, too, such as basil, thyme, oregano, dill and chives. For a comprehensive list of the vegetables to grow in each season for our area, visit: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/vh/vh02100.pdf.
When it gets very cold, all vegetable production tends to slow down, but when the right varieties are planted, they will continue to grow. Some fall vegetables, like carrots, actually get sweeter after a frost. It is still important to protect vegetables from a frost or freeze. Remember, the weather forecast is not always correct. A frost can be predicted and then it actually turns into a freeze, so it’s important to know the difference. Frost occurs when temperatures reach 32 degrees at night. A hard freeze is when the weather is below 28 degrees for five hours or more. In either situation, vegetable plants need to be protected.
For a frost, it is typically necessary to cover vegetables that we can grow in the fall but are not specifically cold-weather crops, like tomatoes and peppers. When preparing for a frost, water the garden, as the moisture will help to trap the heat that radiates from the soil and create a protective barrier for the plants. Then drape a sheet over the vulnerable plants and secure it with clips. It is best to use hoops or vegetable cages to keep the cover from touching the plants. Never use plastic to cover plants as the necessary air is not able to reach the plants.
For a hard freeze, more protective measures need to take place. In a hard freeze, even the cold-tolerant vegetables can be vulnerable to frost burn. If a hard freeze is in the forecast, water and cover as described above, but this time instead of a sheet, use a frost cloth that is rated for freezing weather. These can easily be ordered online or found at a local nursery. The frost cloth will be needed to cover all vegetables in the garden when there is a hard freeze, not just the tender ones.
Another benefit of using a frost cloth is that they are breathable and designed to be left on plants for multiple days if necessary. They also allow the sun to shine through. It is best to leave the cover on plants until the temperature warms to around 55 degrees. Removing the cover too early can also cause damage to the plants. So, better to be safe than sorry and just leave the frost cloth on during the next day after a hard freeze.
Spotlight on Spinach: Fall is the perfect time to grow spinach and literally the only time of year that we can grow it from seed. Spinach will best germinate when temperatures at night drop between 60-65 degrees. Keep this in mind and wait until that happens in November to be successful growing spinach in your fall garden.
Amber Harmon is the owner of My Nona’s Garden, an organization with a mission to bring health, promote growth and provide vegetable gardening education to local communities, one garden at a time. Visit www.MyNonasGarden.com for more information.
“We make organic vegetable gardening easy!”