Fall growing reaps bountiful harvests

David Albers/Staff 
 - Sheila's Out Shopping - Squash It

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News

David Albers/Staff - Sheila's Out Shopping - Squash It

David Albers/Staff 
 - Sheila's Out Shopping - Squash It

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News

David Albers/Staff - Sheila's Out Shopping - Squash It

Lexey Swall/Staff
Sweet dumpling squash, acorn squash, goldcorn squash, delicate squash, spaghetti squash, and hubbard squash.

Photo by LEXEY SWALL

Lexey Swall/Staff Sweet dumpling squash, acorn squash, goldcorn squash, delicate squash, spaghetti squash, and hubbard squash.

David Albers/Staff 
 - Sheila's Out Shopping - Squash It

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News

David Albers/Staff - Sheila's Out Shopping - Squash It

David Albers/Staff 
 - Sheila's Out Shopping - Squash It

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News

David Albers/Staff - Sheila's Out Shopping - Squash It

David Albers/Staff 
 - Sheila's Out Shopping - Squash It

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News

David Albers/Staff - Sheila's Out Shopping - Squash It

Scour local farmers markets for best deals or, pack the family for an outing to u-pick farms or plan a trip out to the farms in Immokalee that will reap a bounty of produce at considerable savings.

Local experts say that some of the best vegetable buys in the fall are corn, melons, squash, zucchini and beans.

While most of the Southwest Florida fruit trees have given up their harvest and are now generating new growth for next season, popular Southwest fall and winter fruit crops include citrus crops.

Other fruit crops harvested in the winter are mangos, melons, bananas and tomatoes – yes, botanically speaking, tomatoes are considered a fruit. Strawberries, in the ground right now, will be available mid-November through May.

Canning or freezing fruits while costs are low and fruit plentiful can provide tomato sauces and jellies to be enjoyed off-season.

However if you have any sort of green thumb, said you can eat well for less.

Local experts agree that mid- September and October are great times to start fall gardens as planting conditions are more favorable with less heat and fewer bugs.

Many plants that can be grown in summer months in the north can be planted in the fall in south Florida, with the most bountiful months for harvest through the season to April.

Good choices for fall planting are beets, kale, Swiss chard, radishes, carrots, lettuces, cabbage and broccoli, collards, pac choi, mustards and peppers. More and more, adventurous are cultivating home gardens of these cool season crops in a variety of sizes.

Home gardening also reaps benefits like reducing stress, healthier eating, if pesticides are avoided, which also reduces a negative environmental impact. For a couple or small family planting a starter garden, Roy said that the most economical way is to start from seed and plant in a small four by eight foot raised bed garden.

He said to read seed company catalogs that test and trial new and old varieties and to look for varieties that are heat tolerant (winter in Florida can still be warm), have resistance to certain diseases and are better suited for growing in the Southern garden.

Christopher Burt the owner and operator of the full service, Island Garden Center on Marco Island said that if you start a fall garden from seed, the best time depends on your targeted harvest time.

"If starting from seed, you will need to allow at least two or three months to produce fruit or vegetables. If starting from young plants, allow one month for the plants to reach maturity," he added.

In addition, bypassing the use of pesticides on edible plants, Roy said to avoid synthetic fertilizers or chemicals and to use products that are organic or O.R.M.I. certified.

"A weekly spray schedule using a garden soap or oil product is advisable to help prevent problems before they occur. A good choice is Organocide that has both fungicidal and insecticidal uses," he said.

Burt said that knowing the potential enemies to your crops, such as insects, fungi, mineral deficiencies, and other diseases helps in their control and elimination. Other good organic pesticides are Pyrethrin, and Neem, safe for consumers and more beneficial to the environment than traditional pesticides.

Another tip from Roy is to amend the soil since Florida soils are sandy and low in the essential nutrients needed for growth and healthy plants.

Soil testing to determine ph levels will reveal optimum growing conditions; ideally vegetables like to grow in soil with a ph level of 5.5 to 6.5 (7.0 is neutral). Adding Lime will raise the ph, while adding garden sulfur will lower the soil's ph.

Both experts also said that adding compost, each season is essential, and keeping the garden free of weeds and other debris will also help reduce pest and disease problems.

Director of Conservation and Education at Naples Botanical Garden, Chad Washburn enjoys home organic as well as container gardening.

Kept in pots on his front porch, besides adding natural edible landscape in place of ornamentals, the container herbs and vegetables are as visually appealing as any annual flowers with the added value of being edible. His favorites are Swiss chard, kale, peppers, tomatoes and basil.

Washburn said that the most economical way to start a container garden is to use a fresh, well drained potting mix and a container that is large enough so that it does not dry out too quickly. If there is limited space, select vegetables that produce for a long period of time, versus a one-time harvest.

Labels on seeds and plants should be checked for those that are bred specifically for containers. And, fertilizer is important and can be easily made.

"We keep a few small worm bins on our lanai, and you'd never know they were there. My two year old son loves playing with them and feeds them every few days. Worm castings are then added to soil as a fertilizer in the raised beds when we plant vegetables seedlings," he said.

While root knot nematodes make growing in our soil a challenge and growing fruits and vegetables in pots or raised beds helps to reduce those problems.

Overall, the best gardening tips, said Burt are to know your crops, the type of soil and nutrients they require, their watering schedules and optimal times to plant and to harvest.

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