Winter perfect to grow a salad
ANN M. O'PHELANFlorida is known for many things — fresh orange juice, year-round sunshine, and as the No. 1 tourist destination in the world, but did you know we're also known as the "Winter Salad Bowl" of the United States?
Published: November 21, 2012
Published: November 21, 2012
That's because Florida provides 80 percent of the fresh vegetables grown during January, February and March of each year.
If you were going to make yourself a Florida winter salad, you could put in lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, Chinese cabbage, green beans, celery, and carrots, and that wouldn't even cover all the fresh veggies you can find here during the winter months. Lucky us.
Veggie planting takes place every month in the Sunshine State, and in November and December, the seeds and starts that are going in now include: Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese Cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, onions, peas, radishes, spinach, strawberries and turnips.
The winter vegetables that are being planted also include root vegetables, such as beets, radishes, turnips and carrots. Because they grow underground, they absorb moisture and nutrients from the ground.
For those who are preparing to plant their own winter gardens, there are a few tips to keep in mind:
"Winter veggies thrive in the winter months due to the fact that they have a temperate origin and are better adapted to the cooler temperatures," said Gene McAvoy, county extension director, regional vegetable agent IV, UF/IFAS, who explained that tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers are warm season vegetables and do not grow well in the cooler months, so hold off on those.
Other veggies like snap beans, are grown throughout most of the year. Florida actually ranks first nationally in the production of snap beans.
Like with everything, there's positive and negatives when it comes to winter gardening. While the cooler months also make it easier to work in the garden, as you can enjoy fewer mosquitoes and no-see-ums, you also can expect a few more winter garden pests as some thrive in the winter months.
"Aphids and leafminers become more common," said McAvoy, adding that to rid your garden of such pests that insecticidal soap is good for aphids, but oil or systemic insecticides are better for leafminers.
And, of course, there are winter diseases to worry about that also love the cooler months. "Diseases like late blight and alternaria increase during cool weather," said McAvoy. For these diseases, growers need to inspect plants frequently and apply protectant fungicides such as Bravo and Mancozeb on a regular basis.
Also, while the drier conditions in the winter lessen the chances of many other diseases, the many foggy mornings we contend with can have the opposite effect.
"The foggier mornings increase leaf wetness and encourage various foliar diseases," said McAvoy.
Gardening in the winter also decreases the need for irrigation as soils cool and "evapotranspiration" declines with lower temperatures; however, on the flip side, plant growth slows down with cool temperatures and shorter days.
To keep your winter garden a "Winter Veggieland," be sure to fertilize, and use organic matter. "Add two to four pounds of 6-6-6, or one or two pounds of 15-15-15, or similar fertilizer, per 100 square feet before planting," said McAvoy, who explained that side dressing (an extra boost of fertilizer used beside the plant) composed of 5 ounces of 6-6-6 per 10 linear feet of row every three to four weeks, also should be used as needed.
Additionally, organic matter — compost or composted manure — should be added as frequently as possible. "You almost cannot add too much," said McAvoy, explaining that 100 pounds per 100 square feet is a good start.
Furthermore, one also needs to keep track of the weather as winter crops need to be protected with lightweight fabrics such as blankets or row covers in the event of frosts or freezes.
With all that in place, you should get out a salad fork and get prepared to dig right in once those veggies are ready to harvest.