Time to plant cool-season crops

Published 7:41 am Sunday, August 5, 2012

I guess when you look at this article heading you may say he is crazy. Summer just started, its 90 degrees, and he is talking about cool-season planting. Well, to justify my logic, good early seed bed preparation and other cultural practices for the garden site are critical during this time of year, and yes — there are vegetables to be planted. Here is a listing of some of the crops you can plant: broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, greens, cabbage, shallots, potatoes, snap beans, lima beans, squash, cucumbers, bell peppers and tomatoes. Now, doesn’t that read like a list for the spring? Most to all the crops planted in the spring can successfully be grown in the fall.

Fall Tomatoes: Transplant fall tomatoes in now to mid-August. Be prepared to spray with insecticides and fungicides; insect and disease pressure is usually worse in the fall than in the spring. The heat-set varieties that have produced well in recent trails are Sun Leaper, Florida 91, Sun Chaser, Solar Set and Heat Wave. These varieties have the ability to set fruit in high temperatures. Now, I am not saying that some traditional or standard varieties cannot be planted. Some that do well are Bingo, Merced, Pelican, Fantastic, Mountain Pride and Hawaiian N65. Remember to plant your fall tomatoes deep, about 6 inches. This deep-set planting will take advantage of the lower soil temperature and good soil moisture at this level.

Peppers: Bell peppers often produce poorly during high temperatures, but hot peppers and sweet peppers such as Sweet Banana, Gypsy and Pimento produce very well despite the heat. Plant transplants now, spaced about 18 inches apart. Bell pepper transplants also can be planted now for production this fall when the weather cools down.

You can also nurse your existing tomatoes and pepper plants by spraying, fertilizing and watering to have production when temperatures moderate later.

Eggplant: Unlike their relatives, the tomatoes, eggplants thrive in the heat of mid- to late summer, and you can purchase transplants to plant into the garden now.

I generally have found the Oriental types, such as Ichiban or Tycoon with long, narrow fruit, are especially productive during stressful summer weather. Large-fruited cultivars such as Blackbell, Classic, Midnight and Florida Hi Bush, as well as green, white, lavender and pink cultivars, also are recommended.

Plant eggplant transplants 18 inches to 24 inches apart in well-prepared beds. Production should begin in early September and increase through late October to early November.

Do not go by the size of the fruit when harvesting eggplants. Eggplants are eaten immature and should not be allowed to become old and bitter before harvest. The skin should be shiny and tender. Once the skin starts to dull you should harvest the eggplant immediately — no matter what the size — because that indicates it Is getting past its prime.

Okra: Native to tropical Africa, it never gets too hot for okra to thrive here. Direct-seeded into the garden now, okra will come into production in late August or early September (even sooner if you plant transplants) and produce until the weather cools down in late October or early November.

Reliable okra varieties include Clemson Spineless, Cajun Delight, Louisiana Green Velvet, Emerald and Burgundy.

A common mistake gardeners make is growing okra plants too close together. Once the okra seedlings are a few inches tall, they should be thinned to provide 12 inches of space between plants.

When the plants are knee high to waist high they begin to produce their yellow, hibiscus-like flowers. Harvest okra pods frequently when they reach a length of about 3 inches for best quality, although some varieties stay tender if harvested when the pods are larger.

Snap Beans: This crop can be planted from mid- to late August/early September for production. It normally takes 50 to 60 days from planting to harvest. Plant the following varieties: Strike, Green Crop, Provider, Caprice, Roma II, Bronco and Derby. Those are just a few that can be grown.

Irish Potatoes: Do not look for these plants to sprout too readily unless they have met a physiological rest period of 90 days, so all of those small potatoes saved from the spring can be planted. Remember to plant the entire small potato.

Cucumbers and Squash: Plant these cross crops now and in about a week you will be harvesting. Your production may not be as good as the spring because of heat and other environmental factors. Be prepared to spray for insects and diseases.

Greens: Mustard, collards and turnips: Plant now. Moisture is critical to get a good stand. Do not plant too thick: Drilling the seeds rather than broadcasting will provide better results. There are several good turnip varieties to try planting. Plant these for roots: Tokyo Cross and White Lady. And for greens you can plant Southern Greens, Seven Top, Topper and All Top.

School gardening is very popular in all the parishes of the state, and our parish is no exception. With the help of my Master Gardeners, we have gardens in the schools throughout the parish and will be starting up this month for fall planting. The purpose of these gardening projects is to have our students understand the importance of where our food comes from and the enjoyment of being in touch with nature. Not only does it provide hands-on experiences; it is also a form of exercise for their mind and body.