Fall Preparation in the Garden!

Fall Preparation in the Garden!

Carrots need enough space so as not to compete for light, nutrients, or moisture. Photo by Full Earth Farm.

Photo by Full Earth Farm.

Yes, that’s right! We made it through the hottest part of the year and we are looking ahead to fall just around the corner!  I am excited to be discussing September and what we can do to prepare for fall in the garden.  As the nighttime temperatures start to cool down, we are given many more options.

For annual color plantings in September, try Ageratum, Celosia, Zinnias, and Wax Begonia to add fall color to your landscape.  Bulbs will also add color, texture, and pattern to a bed.   If you have some extra space, a variety of elephant ears could really accent a bed or you could always go with the classic calla, narcissus or zephyr lily.  Popular vegetables to plant in North Florida in September are broccoli, carrot, cabbage, and collards. See Vegetable Gardening in Florida This is also the time of year to establish strawberry plants.  Some great herbs to get started are Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil.

Strawberries growing on "plastic" to protect them from water splashed fungal spores found in soil. Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension Washington County

Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension Washington County

There are many things that can be done in your lawn during September.  Monitoring your lawn for its health and potential insect pests is important this time of year.  Common insects to scout for are fall armyworms, chinch bugs, mole crickets, and sod webworms.  The last fertilizer application should be done by the middle to end of September.  Make sure you choose a fertilizer with little to no phosphorus unless a soil test shows differently.  To maintain a healthy lawn, avoid weed and feed products and only apply herbicides in areas with high infestations of weeds. Weed and feed products are not recommended because the timing of when to fertilize and the timing of the weed killer is not always the same. The best management practice is to use a separate treatment for weeds and when possible spot treat weeds.

If you already have bulbs in your landscape from previous growing seasons, this is the time to divide and replant those that are big.  You can also add organic matter to new planting areas. Continue working on your vegetable plants and prepare them for either transplants for a fast start, or plants seeds for more variety.  Throughout your landscape, it is important that plants are getting the right amount of water as we go in and out of wet and dry weather this time of year.

October will be here before we know it in just a couple of weeks. Look out for the next article to come.  We will be getting into the cooler nights and more options for planting vegetables and herbs!

Thinning Carrots for the Greater Good

Thinning Carrots for the Greater Good

Carrots need enough space so as not to compete for light, nutrients, or moisture. Photo by Full Earth Farm.

Carrots need enough space so as not to compete for light, nutrients, or moisture. Photo by Full Earth Farm.

 

Of all the garden veggies, carrots are very close to the top of my list of favorites to grow. They can be directly seeded into the garden, need no pruning or staking, can hold up magnificently in the cold, have few pest problems, are easy to harvest, can be eaten raw or cooked, and they are, of course, delicious.

Hand-seeding carrots can be a challenge, as the seeds are very small. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Hand-seeding carrots can be a challenge, as the seeds are very small. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Carrots are in the Apiaceae, or umbel family, along with cilantro, celery, fennel, parsley, and dill. Flowers in the umbel family grow as short flower stalks which spread from one point, like that of an upside-down umbrella, hence their name. If the carrot root is not harvested, the plant will produce beautiful umbrella-like inflorescences the following year, as carrots are biennial.

When planting carrots, there are some important aspects to keep in mind. Here in Florida, carrots thrive in our cool season. They prefer soil temperatures to be less than 80°F for good germination and air temperatures below 75°F for best growth. Therefore, waiting until mid-September through October to seed will yield better germination and growth.

One of the biggest mistakes one can make in the garden is neglecting to thin seedlings. And carrots – whose seeds are a mere millimeter in length – are one of the prime culprits.

An individual carrot needs one to three inches of soil space, depending on the variety, to grow to full maturity and not compete for light, nutrients, or moisture. This, however, does not mean that you must only plant one carrot seed per one to three inches. In fact, carrots should be seeded one-half inch apart, especially when day temperatures are above 75°F, as you may have spotty germination. But the key is proper thinning. Carrots take between seven to 21 days to germinate, so be sure to give them time, and be sure to keep the area consistently moist, but not water-logged.

Depending on the variety, carrots need one to three inches per plant. Photo by Beth Bolles.

Depending on the variety, carrots need one to three inches per plant. Photo by Beth Bolles.

Once germinated, it is crucial to make your first thinning. Find the seedlings that are less than an inch apart and simply cut their stems at the soil line using either a sharp fingernail or garden sheers. Depending on the variety of carrot and seeding density, you may need to make another thinning to ensure the carrots have enough room to prosper.

I know it can be emotionally challenging to remove growing seedlings from your garden – but remember – it’s for the greater carrot good!

Colorful Carrots for the Home Garden

Colorful Carrots for the Home Garden

Carrots are synonymous with a few things: Bugs Bunny, old wives’ tales about improving eyesight, and the color orange.  For centuries, orange colored carrot varieties have been the industry standard and still dominate store shelves.  These days though, choices for consumers are ever expanding and thankfully home garden carrot variety selection has participated in this phenomenon!  With a little searching, gardeners can now source and plant any color and/or type of carrot they desire.  For instance, this winter, I planted carrots of various types in various shades of orange, purple, and red. Through this experience, I also found that not all colored carrots look, cook, or perform the same.  The following is a quick primer on carrot types followed by my review of the four varieties ‘Bolero’, ‘Red Sun’, ‘Deep Purple’, and ‘Malbec’ after a season of growing.

Carrot varieties (left to right): ‘Bolero’, ‘Red Sun’, ‘Deep Purple’, ‘Malbec’.

There are three main types of carrots regardless of color:  Imperator, Nantes, and Chantenay.  Imperator types are the extra-long, durable, sweet tasting carrots most often found in stores and are suited best to deep, loose soils.  Nantes type carrots are medium length and cylindrically shaped, often with a blunt tip.  Sometimes called “storage” carrots, Nantes types are easy to grow and tend to store well for long periods of time after harvest and retain their flavor well.  Finally, Chantenay type carrots are excellent performers in shallower beds or soils as they are a bit shorter, possessing a conical shape with roots wider at the top and tapering to the tip, making a deep soil bed a bit less critical.  I primarily grow Imperator and Nantes types as I find they give you a little more bang for the buck if you have a deeper (>6”) raised bed.  Now, on to the variety reviews.

‘Bolero’ – I always have this carrot in my garden.  An extremely versatile Nantes type carrot that has been a consistently high yielder for me whether I grow it in pots or in a traditional raised bed.  Typical for a Nantes type, ‘Bolero’ stores very well in the refrigerator and will change your culinary life if you’ve only ever eaten carrots purchased from a store.  They are excellent either fresh or cooked, with a complex, sweet taste.  If I could only grow one carrot, it would be this one.

‘Malbec’ – Colored carrots have a poor reputation as far as flavor is concerned.  ‘Malbec’ is the first non-orange carrot that changed my mind.  This Imperator type is as flavorful as they come, deep red throughout, and is easy to grow.  For some reason, ‘Malbec’ has been hard to come by the last two years, but if you spot seeds in a catalogue, online, or on a store shelf, it is well worth a purchase!

‘Red Sun’ – Winter 2020 was my first experience with ‘Red Sun’, a brand-new Nantes type carrot from Bejo Seeds.  I only planted this variety because I initially could not source ‘Malbec’.   Having said that, I was very pleased with ‘Red Sun’.  The carrots were extremely vigorous, had excellent top and root growth and mostly held their own with ‘Malbec’ flavor-wise in the kitchen also.  I would purchase ‘Red Sun’ again!

‘Deep Purple’ – Wow, they weren’t kidding when they named this variety!  Most purple carrots are colored on the exterior but fade to a “normal” orange at their core.  Not ‘Deep Purple’!  This Imperator type is strikingly dark purple, almost black.  Even the tops have a purple hue to them!  Cooking them was also an interesting experience.  Most colored veggies, peppers, carrots, and others lose their hue when cooked.  Not this variety.  Not only did ‘Deep Purple’ retain its color after cooking, my hands and cutting board turned a shade of indigo when preparing and, once put in a pan to sautee with other veggies, the juice from ‘Deep Purple’ dyed all the other veggies a deep violet!  While I wouldn’t grow ‘Deep Purple’ as my main crop carrot, it definitely has a place in the garden as a tasty novelty.

Carrots are among the easiest to grow, most rewarding vegetables in the winter garden.  Next fall, plant a variety of carrots in your home garden and enjoy the many types, colors and flavors that this tasty veggie has to offer!  For more information on the above mentioned varieties, home carrot gardening in general, or any other horticultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office.  Happy Gardening!