Yay, we are halfway through with August and our summer is winding down! This is the perfect time to start prepping for that fall garden. Growing a productive fall vegetable garden requires thoughtful planning and good cultural practices. This process consists of selecting a site, planning the garden, preparing the soil, choosing the seeds and plants, planting a crop, and nurturing the plants until harvest time. In the Florida Panhandle it can be a challenge to get cool season crops started; there is a balance in starting them early enough to allow them to mature (50-60 days) before a hard frost and getting them through the end of a hot summer.
August and September are the main planting times for a fall garden. There are several cool-season crops and a final crop of warm-season vegetables that can be planted. Some good warm season crops are lima beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. Going into September it will be a good time to establish strawberry plants. Some good vegetables to start growing just around the corner are broccoli, carrots, cabbage, collards, mustard, and Swiss chard. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/NorthFloridaGardeningCalendar Herbs that do well are cilantro, parsley, and lemongrass. Mint, oregano, and thyme should be planted in containers as they tend to spread. Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil will also do well in September. See Herbs: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_herbs
Transplants from the local garden center will get the garden off to a fast start while seeds will offer more varieties to choose from. It is also important to think about your location. A vegetable garden can be in the ground, a raised bed, or even grown in containers. Your plants will need more than just a place to grow. They will also need sunlight, water, air, soil, fertilizer, and care. Most vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight. Keep an eye out for pest problems such as insects, diseases and weeds because they will continue to flourish in warm temperatures and high humidity. To help conserve soil moisture a layer of newspaper and mulch can be placed between the rows. Mulch also aids in weed control.
The result of a beautiful, successful vegetable garden is fresh produce to eat, share with neighbors, family, and friends and even the possibility to sell your harvest. With patience and practice your gardening skills will improve every year! Follow the above few tips and you will be well on your way to a great harvest! For more information about starting a fall garden or any other horticultural or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy Gardening
The February Q&A on Growing Tomatoes offered valuable tips for the home gardener to be successful with tomatoes in 2022. Below are the reference materials related to specific questions that were asked.
Let’s start out with the panels favorite tomatoes including hybrids and heirlooms.
Evan: Supersweet 100, Sungold
Larry: Amelia, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple
Sam: Better Boy, Tasti Lee, Sweethearts
Matt: Mountain Magic, Mountain Rouge, Bella Rosa
Daniel: Black cherry and Big Beef
I’m thinking of trying hydroponic gardening on a few tomato plants this year. Do you think a 50/50 mix of perlite and vermiculite would be a good approach for a soil medium? I’d like to use 5-gallon buckets and keep maintenance to a minimum.
Daniel Leonard, Horticulture Agent at UF/IFAS Extension Calhoun County, answers commonly asked questions about raised bed gardening. In the video he discusses construction materials, the type of soil to use, fertilization, crop rotation, cover crops, and smaller container gardens.
A common question for gardeners at the end of the season is if one should till the soil or use no till practices. Opinions vary regarding this question, even among Extension Agents. However old crops harbor insects, both good and bad. This phenomenon was noticed on some recently cut back tomato plants. The intention was to cut the leftover spring garden tomatoes back to encourage fall production. Instead, a host plant for mealybugs was provided.
Mealybugs on a tomato plant. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects that possess a covering of flocculent, white, waxy filaments. They are about 1/8 inch in length and usually pinkish or yellowish in color. Mealybugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts which they use to siphon fluids from the leaves, stems, and sometimes roots of many ornamental and vegetable plants. Mealybug damage produces discolored, wilted, and deformed leaves.
One very common example of an insect pest likely to claim residence in your garden’s crop residue, are squash bugs. They like to overwinter on squash, cucumber, and other cucurbit crop residue. If you choose to not till your garden and leave a portion of last seasons crop in your garden, then you should consider applying an insecticide to your spent crop at the end of the season. A product containing a pyrethrin or pyrethroid as an active ingredient would be a good broad spectrum insecticide to control any pest that may reside on plant residue. More information on pyrethrins and pyrehtroids can be found at the EPA webpage: Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids. If you choose to apply an insecticide, it is important that you follow the information on the label regarding pollinator protection. Another option is to plant a trap crop on the edge of your garden to help attract pest insects away from your desired crops. More information on trap crops can be found in the EDIS Publication: Intercropping, Pest Management and Crop Diversity.
An adult squash bug on a zucchini leaf. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
So the answer to the till or no till question is…it depends. It is really up to the gardener. Yes, the residue from crops will add nutrients and organic matter to your soil, but it could also increase pest pressure in your garden. If you don’t plan to remove crop residue and don’t plan to till, then keep an eye out for what could be hiding in your garden.
Veteran Master Gardener, Les Furr shares an idea he and his wife had to hide an ugly debris pile following Hurricane Michael. He planted a temporary sunflower screen to block something ugly with something beautiful. Sunflowers can be planted along a road or fence, and provide a lovely addition to your property. The seed can be saved and frozen to provide beauty to your property year after year.
Early BLS symptoms appear on lower leaves. Photo courtesy of the author.
Tomatoes are among the most notoriously difficult vegetable species to grow in Florida. Even when you do everything right (choose disease resistant varieties, buy clean seed/healthy transplants, plant early, rotate crops, scout for insects, prune and support vines, etc), things can go wrong in a hurry. Bacterial Leaf Spot (BLS) caused by the pathogen Xanthomomas perforans, is one of those things. BLS often hitches a ride into gardens undetected on seed and transplants and presents itself as warm and humid weather arrives in late April/early May. Outbreaks typically happen in concurrence with the frequent heavy rainstorms that accompany these months and quickly wreak havoc on tomato plants.
BLS occurrence, much worse in some springs than others, has exploded this year in home gardens. First noticed on the plant’s lower leaves, BLS pathogens enter through natural openings in leaves called stomata, manifest as small, “water-soaked” leaf lesions and then develop within days into dark circular spots, sometimes surrounded by a yellow halo. As conditions worsen, all these individual infections cause a general yellowing or “blighting” of entire leaves. Though the issue begins on tomato leaves, BLS can affect all parts of the plant, including stems, flowers and fruit too! It’s at this point, when blighted leaves become obvious and lesion developing on flower stalks cause both flowers and small fruit to drop, that most home gardeners notice that something is up.
Advancing progression of BLS with “blighted” leaves. Photo courtesy of the author.
Unlike with many other pathogens, gardeners don’t have an abundance of options to control BLS. However, taking the following preventative measures can reduce the pathogen’s impact and stave off disease progression until ripe fruit can be harvested.
Don’t irrigate overhead. Utilize drip/microirrigation or hand water beds and containers at soil level. This prevents the leaves from becoming wet; wet leaves become a perfect host for BLS.
Never work tomato plants when leaves are wet. No staking, pruning, tying, or anything else until plant tissue is dry. Working wet tomato plants is an excellent way to spread bacteria!
Sanitize pruning tools often and wash hands after working infected plants.
Maintain airflow in plants by planting at correct spacing and thinning interior leaves as necessary to facilitate quicker drying of the plant.
Prune lower leaves to at least 12” from the soil’s surface to prevent disease transmission from soil to leaves through splashing water.
Remove infected leaves (when plants are dry!) to slow disease progression.
Rotate crops and destroy infected plants to prevent buildup of BLS organisms in soil.
BLS lesions on tomato flowers. Photo courtesy of the author.
Preventative measures are best, but if your garden has a history of BLS and local weather forecasts call for warm/wet/humid weather, it is best to spray fungicides proactively to protect your crop. A weekly spray with a tank mixture of copper and mancozeb is effective at keeping BLS at bay. This is the only chemical spray combination proven to be effective in controlling BLS.
Unlike many common tomato pathogens that can be reliably avoided through planting resistant cultivars like ‘Big Beef’, ‘Celebrity’ and others, no varieties are resistant to BLS.
While BLS is an extremely destructive pathogen of both home and commercially grown tomatoes, growers can lessen the disease’s effects by following the preventative measures outlined above and spraying with a copper/mancozeb mix if necessary. Growing tomatoes this year hasn’t been easy, but it’s worth it to fight back and realize a harvest despite difficulties like BLS!
If bacteria have given you the blues or other garden issues are bringing you down, give your local UF/IFAS County Extension Agent a call! We’re here to help you be successful in all your horticultural endeavors. Happy gardening!