Green Scene, Winter Tomatoes
With warm fall and late frost, you might luck out
Early autumn is the time to establish winter vegetable gardens for home use. Onions, cabbage, collards, kale, snow peas and many other cool-season vegetables will flourish during the season of waning light.
Some, like onions, will take 150 to 180 days to reach maturity. Others, like radishes, can be harvested in less than 60 days.
Collards, kale and Brussels sprouts handle frost and freezing mornings with no ill effects. Others like snow peas and sugar snaps will wilt after exposure to temperatures lower than 40 degrees.
If the gardener is willing to gamble on a warm fall and late frost, then tomatoes can be tried. Success is more likely if starter plants are used.
If attempting to grow tender vegetables in the fall, always have frost and freeze protection close at hand. Frost cloth over a frame works well. Even trash cans will do. Always remove the cold weather shield the following morning to avoid overheating the plant.
Remove all remnants of summer vegetable plants. In general, they hold only problems for the following year. Many will retain dormant insect eggs. These will hatch when the weather warms and give the pest species a head start. Others can serve as host for fungal diseases that quickly attack young plants in the spring. It is most effective to bag up the detritus and place in the trash, or if practical, burn on site.
October is the optimal time for planting many wildflower seeds. The colorful heralds of spring require the cooler seasons to germinate and become established in order to produce brilliant blooms.
Wildflower beds typically need to be in full sun. To minimize competition, remove all the unwanted annuals and collect their seed so the spring wildflowers will receive the full benefit of available moisture and soil nutrients.
In planting beds, choose wildflower species that grow well in the Emerald Coast area, and use seed that has been collected in the region. “Locally acclimatized” seeds will result in plants well adjusted to our environment.
Thoroughly scatter the seed in the desired area. Use caution not to concentrate seed too tightly.
Cover seeds planted on bare ground with an eighth of an inch of soil. This can be accomplished by gently dragging the flat side of a rake over the seed. If disbursed over land with other plants, sow heavier so that some are sure to lodge in the organic mat next to the earth.
This same technique works when establishing crimson clover, the red blooming flower frequently seen on roadsides. Keep the wildflower and clover seeds watered, and enjoy a colorful spring.
With the cooling weather and the seasonal end of nectar-producing blooms, it is time to remove hummingbird feeders until spring. For their size, hummingbirds have the largest appetites in the bird world. They feed every 10 or 15 minutes from dawn until dusk. During this period of high activity, they eat more than half their weight in food and drink eight times their weight in water. Hummingbirds must consume large amounts of high-energy food to acquire enough strength to support their hypersonic aerobatic activities. Adult hummingbirds feed primarily on nectar. Energy-rich nectar is absorbed rapidly. One adult hummingbird may need nectar from hundreds of blossoms daily just to maintain its body weight. In the autumn and winter, dependency on human-supplied feeders puts the hummingbirds at risk of starvation. For their own good, they must be encouraged to follow the blooms south for the winter. With the return of blooms in spring the hummingbird will soon follow.
Les Harrison is a retired University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Wakulla County extension director.