More Vegetables – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

It is hard to believe that October is here and those of you that have followed my articles should already see your vegetable gardens starting to take shape. Even though you may have started your fall gardens, there is still much more to do. This week I want to go over a few additional plants you can sow into the garden. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and Cauliflower are all great additions to the garden and you should be planting them right now. I will also share with you some of the varieties to look for when purchasing transplants from your local garden center and I will give you a few helpful hints of how to prepare a proper soil to make your harvest a bountiful one. Let us get started.  

            Proper soil and nutrients are the most important things you should be aware of when planting any garden. Weed seeds, nematodes, and diseases are abundant in our Florida soils. These problems make it almost impossible to plant directly into our soil and expect our gardens to survive let alone thrive. Further, each week I receive several e-mails asking me for my “magic soil mix” to be used in the garden. Even though I have given you this information in the past, I will go over the components needed to create your own garden soil. Because the amounts you will need will depend on the size or shape of your garden, I will give you the information needed to create a well balanced garden soil using a wheel borough and you can determine how many wheel boroughs full you need to fill your garden.

            The perfect garden soil is made with peat, perlite, compost, and a few elements. Combine three cubic feet of compost and/or peat into a wheel borough with one cubic foot of perlite. These products are readily available at any garden center and can be purchased in large or small quantities. The peat I prefer is named Fafard #4.  Fafard #4 is a prepared peat mixture meaning it has been processed with a starter fertilizer but you can buy any prepared peat soil mixture (such as fertilome or miracle grow) and get similar results. Mix these products together with a shovel. Next add three cups of dolomite and two cups of an 8-10-10 granular fertilizer. Again, mix these products together and when you are finished your mixture should look rich and loose. Put this mixture into your garden and try to maintain a depth of ten to twelve inches for you garden plants. 

             This well balanced and pH neutral soil will be the foundation of your vegetable garden. Do not compact the soil as this mixture will produce more for your plants when left loose. Loose soil allows better drainage and exchange of oxygen to the plants root systems. One other benefit is potting soils are sterilized meaning you will not have to worry about weeds (for awhile), diseases from the soil, or nematodes. This soil will also be your foundation for growing seasons in the future. Just add additional soil mix as explained above each year and turn into the garden. Now that you have a good soil mix it is time to get your new plants into the garden.

             Broccoli and Brussels sprouts are ready to plant now. If you did not start your seedling plants a month ago, then you will need to purchase transplants from the garden center. Look for the varieties of broccoli called Green Mountain, Waltham 29, or Atlantic. Even though Brussels sprouts take a little longer to mature than broccoli, I like to plant both crops in rows next to each other. Space your plants about fifteen inches apart and leave at least thirty inches between the rows. Look for Brussels sprouts transplants from the garden centers called Jade Cross Hybrid. This variety seems to grow the best in our area with some reaching up to three feet tall. Normally I will plant one row of Broccoli and one row of Brussels sprouts. However, if you have a large garden you may wish to plant more.

            Mulch both the Broccoli and the Brusselsand water in the morning so the heads can dry out during the day. This lessens the chance of fungus. Even though you added fertilizer to the soil before planting, you will need to fertilize your young plants every three weeks with a good quality 8-10-10 granular fertilizer. Use one to two pounds per every one hundred square feet of garden area. You do not need to work the fertilizer into the soil as this may disturb the roots of your developing plants. Rather you should water after fertilizing making sure all particles are rinsed off the new plants.  

            As your broccoli plants begin to mature, look for well developed heads and side shoots which can be harvested as they reach their maturity. You will know when the main head is ready for harvest (about two months) when the green buds are hard and before they turn color. If some of the green buds have opened and the yellow blooms appear, you can still harvest and eat the broccoli however they may be tough and the flavor may be too strong. Leave the cut stems in the ground after harvesting the main head as side shoots will continue to grow extending the harvest. Side shoots produce small heads but if you have enough plants you can add plenty of small spears to the table.

            Brussels sprouts are fun to grow as they seem to jump out of the ground eventually reaching up to thirty six inches in height. This growth rate is necessary to support the small brussels which will eventually develop on the stem of the plant. Once the plants are about fifteen inches tall, remove several of the lower leaves to begin forcing the little heads to develop. Many times the lower leaves tend to yellow so removing them also help make the plants more attractive. Once the lower leaves are removed, the plants tend to get top heavy so you may need to stake the plant with bamboo stakes to keep the plants from falling over. Fertilize your plants the same as we do for broccoli with a granular 8-10-10 fertilizer every three weeks. 

            In about seventy days the Brussels sprouts will be ready for harvest. Choose the firm buds at the base of the plant first and twist them off to harvest. You may also want to remove more of the lower leaves to initiate additional formation of buds. You will notice that the more you harvest, the more buds will be formed so harvest as often as possible. As with any leafy vegetable make sure you monitor your plants for worms and insects and treat them accordingly.     

            Cauliflower is another great plant you should grow in the garden. Start your plants from transplants and make sure you check their root systems. Transplants of any vegetables that have hard or intertwined roots should be avoided unless that is all you can find. If necessary, gently pull apart the roots being careful not to separate the roots from the base of the plant. Look for varieties such as Snowball or Snow Crown which do well in our area.

            I like to plant my Cauliflower on the outermost rows of the garden with taller plants in the middle rows. Leave at least two feet between plants in the row to allow for the large green leaves to form. The leaves produced by cauliflower give the plant a look that resembles cabbage. In about forty-five days you will notice the head forming in the center of the plant. Some people cover the head using some of the large leaves the plants produce. This process is called “Blanching” which protects the head from discoloration by the sun. Heads which are left uncovered develop a stronger flavor. Do not let the heads get too large as the best flavor come from the smaller compact heads.            

            I wish I had more space to go over the many plants you could be planting now but I hope these few plant will add enjoyment to your garden. Thank you for your support and remember, without plants we wouldn’t be here!

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