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Diggin' Florida Dirt

Diggin' Florida Dirt: Getting a late start on your veggies? Don't sweat it

A couple of months from now, when my more self-disciplined friends are going on about their amazing broccoli crowns, I'll wonder why I didn't get my own veggies planted this month.

I'm sure a couple of weeks with temperatures below 90 will make me forget how very hot September was. And my veggie bed, situated as it should be in glaring sun, is the last place I wanted to be this month — at any time of the day.

But it's not too late for us, fellow procrastinators.

Cynthia "Meems" Glover, a Lutz master gardener who documents her adventures at hoeandshovel.com, is still sowing. Some seeds she won't even think about planting until later next month or November. And, she reminded me, those planting timetables vary by garden and the weather. Cool-weather veggies planted a couple weeks ago will be just as miserable as we are if we don't get some genuine crisp fall soon.

Meems has been gardening for 28 years but didn't plant her first vegetable garden until spring 2008. She knew nothing when she started, she says.

"I just plunged in. Otherwise, fear would have kept me from doing it. It's so intimidating!" (I find it reassuring when veteran gardeners say these kinds of things.)

Her edible garden has since grown to two framed beds and four mounds. She starts everything from seed, which she plants directly in the ground. (Of course, not just any ground. She adds compost, soil, blood meal, bonemeal and alfalfa pellets about two months before planting.)

So far, she has spinach, kale, collard greens, green beans, radishes, broccoli and cauliflower in. She also has Heatwave lettuce blend and Sweet Treat carrots started, but only because they're special Burpee varieties that should withstand this warm-weather start. (Order at burpee.com; $3.95 for a packet of 500 lettuce seeds or 1,500 carrot seeds.)

If you're a new vegetable gardener, or new to it in Florida, Meems recommends radishes, collards and okra as super easy plants you can start this weekend. A garden coach, she encourages clients to try containers or the EarthBox, a no-muss, no-fuss system, to skip the work of digging a bed.

She started okra in July because it stands up well to heat, but she says it's not too late to give it a go. Nasturtiums, an edible flower that adds peppery zing to salads, can also be started now. These seeds have a hard outer shell, so kick-start them by wrapping them in a wet paper towel for a day or two before planting.

Other good veggies to plant in October: spinach, carrots, beets, cauliflower. Get ideas by checking the University of Florida's planting guide, which includes details on seed depth and spacing, at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021.

For the more adventurous, Meems has some great ideas, starting with one for me. My veggie bed has been barren since May, except for a growing mat of weeds that makes me sigh and head the other way.

Meems, who has spent many more years growing flowers and foliage than vegetables, couldn't abide the notion of any part of her yard being empty for part of the year. So around her vegetables are colorful zinnias and gaillardia, pink gaura, penta and cigar plants. A tidy edge of perennial bulbine, Aztec grasses and society garlic provides color nearly year-round.

"You don't see empty beds," she says. "You would think it was full right now. … The only problem is, those plants have dropped seeds and I don't have the heart to pull out the sprouts." So, less room for, say, squash.

Having flowers in her veg beds helps keep her motivated to tend them, she says. And the flowers attract the little pollinators that help keep any garden blooming.

If the forecast for the weekend holds, we just might see some almost fall-like weather. A bit late, but in Florida, the rule is better late than never. And the timing's perfect for me. A couple of months from now, I plan to be going on about my fresh-from-the-garden salads.

Join in the chat with Penny and other local gardeners at facebook.com/ digginfladirt. You can contact her at pcarnathan@sptimes.com.

Diggin' Florida Dirt: Getting a late start on your veggies? Don't sweat it 09/29/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:56pm]

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