Cooler mornings in October make it a joy to get out and work in the home vegetable garden. A number of delicious and nutritious vegetables will thrive in the coming cool season. Indeed, some of our favorite vegetables can only be grown in October through April in Louisiana.
Before planting any vegetables, do a thorough job of removing any weeds that may have grown in the bed. Turn the soil and add at least a 3-inch layer of compost, rotted manure, leaf mold (partially decayed leaves) or other organic matter. Sprinkle a light application of an all-purpose fertilizer appropriate for your area and lime if your soil is acidic and low in calcium over the organic matter, and dig everything into the bed. You could also use your favorite organic fertilizer. Never scrimp on bed preparation; it has a direct effect on how well your plants will produce. And once your plants are growing, don’t neglect using mulches to control weeds.
Broccoli is an easy-to-grow and productive fall vegetable. Plant transplants you will find at area nurseries now through mid-October. Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart in rows or beds. The closer spacing will produce smaller heads but total production is greater because you have more plants in the same space.
Broccoli heads are harvested when the largest flower buds in the head are about the size of the head of a kitchen match. It is common for gardeners growing broccoli for the first time to leave the heads on the plant too long. Never allow the flower buds to begin to open into yellow flowers, or quality of the head is reduced. After the main head is harvested, side florets will be produced, and harvesting can continue for several weeks.
Cauliflower is a bit more challenging than broccoli but is still a good choice for your fall garden. Cauliflower should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart; closer spacing will greatly reduce the size of the head. Cauliflower produces only one head, so after harvesting, remove the entire plant from your garden to make way for planting something else. For white heads, blanch the cauliflower by pulling the leaves up over the head when it is about the size of a silver dollar. Fasten the leaves with a clothes pin and check the head frequently. Harvest before the curds of the head start to separate.
Kohlrabi is not nearly as well known or commonly grown as it deserves. It is grown for its round, edible stem, which tastes like a mild, sweet version of a turnip. Seeds or transplants may be planted now through February. From transplants, this fast-growing vegetable is ready to harvest in just seven to eight weeks. Harvest the stems when the size ranges from a golf ball to a tennis ball. They are excellent peeled and sliced for vegetable trays or salads, stir-fried, steamed or boiled.
Garlic may be planted now through November by pressing individual cloves big end down into prepared soil so that the tip of the garlic is about 1/4 inch below the soil surface. Space the cloves 4 to 6 inches apart in rows spaced about 15 inches apart.
Garlic growth is slow, and the 15-inch space between rows can be used for intercropping. Intercropping is a term used when two or more different vegetables are grown in the same bed at the same time. The garlic plants will not use the 15 inches between the rows for several months, and a quick-growing vegetable can be grown in that space and harvested before the garlic needs it. Good choices would include radishes, leaf lettuce, beets, kohlrabi and spinach. These vegetables are not large growers and will be harvested long before the garlic is ready next May.
Intercropping may also be done with other vegetables that are initially spaced far apart, such as cabbage and cauliflower.
Root crops are also excellent for the cool-season vegetable garden. Root crops should always be direct seeded into the garden where they will grow and never transplanted. The tiny root the seed first sends out eventually develops into the edible vegetable. If this is damaged, as generally happens when you transplant seedlings, the result is a deformed root.
Plant the seeds rather thickly to make sure you get a good stand, and then thin the seedlings to the proper spacing. The following are some commonly planted root crops and the proper spacing: beet, 3-4 inches; radish, 2-3 inches; turnip, 3 inches; carrot, 2 inches; and rutabaga, 4 inches.
Vegetables that can be planted this month include beet, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, collard, endive, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, mustard, onion, peas (English, snow and edible podded), radish, rape, rutabaga, shallot, Swiss chard, turnip and many herbs, such as thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, French tarragon, lavender, chives, cilantro, dill, mints and parsley.
For more information on growing vegetables in your area, contact your local parish LSU AgCenter extension office and request a free copy of their Louisiana Vegetable Planting Guide.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu.