By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
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 Louisiana from October through April.
Before planting, do a through 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. Over this organic matter sprinkle a light application of an all-purpose fertilizer appropriate for your area and add lime if your soil is acid and low in calcium. Then dig everything into the bed. You also could use your favorite organic fertilizer.
Never scrimp on bed preparation because it has a direct effect on how well your plants will produce. And once your plants are growing, donít forget to use 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.
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; this reduces the quality of the head. After the main head is harvested, the plant will produce side florets you can continue harvesting for several weeks.
Cauliflower is a bit more challenging than broccoli, but itís 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. A cauliflower plant 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 leave 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 starts to separate. Kohlrabi is not nearly as well known or commonly grown as it deserves to be. It is grown for its round, edible stem, which tastes like a mild, sweet version of a turnip. You can plant seeds or transplants now through February.
From transplants this fast growing vegetable is ready to harvest in just seven to eight weeks. Harvest the stems when they range from a golf ball to a tennis ball in size. They are excellent peeled and sliced for vegetable trays or salads, stir fried, steamed or boiled.
Other related vegetables that are recommended for fall gardens include cabbage, kale and collards. All of these can be planted from seed or transplants now through February.
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, so a quick-growing vegetable can be planted in that area 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.
More vegetables that can be planted this month include beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, collards, endive, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard, onions, peas (English, snow and edible podded), radishes, rape, rutabagas, shallots, Swiss chard, turnips and many herbs such as thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, French tarragon, lavender, chives, cilantro, dill, mints and parsley.