By DAN GILL
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
As we move into fall, many gardeners consider this the end of the vegetable gardening season in Louisiana. What a pity. An amazing selection of vegetables can only be grown here during the cool season from October through April. And these cool-season vegetables include some of the most delicious, nutritious and popular ones around.
Prepare the beds
Whether you are planting into an existing vegetable garden or starting a new one, you must pay careful attention to bed preparation to ensure success.
Before planting, do a thorough job of removing any weeds that may have grown in the bed, or remove existing turf if this is a new bed. Turn the soil to a depth of 8 inches and spread a 2-to-4-inch layer of organic matter (compost, rotted manure, composted soil conditioner) over the bed.
Sprinkle a general-purpose fertilizer over the organic matter following package directions. In some areas of the state you may need to add some lime at this time. Do not apply lime unless you have had your soil tested and it indicates you need to. Finally, thoroughly incorporate everything into the soil.
If you prefer to garden in raised beds, which are generally less labor-intensive and easier to manage, kill (using an herbicide like glyphosate) and remove any vegetation growing where the beds will be built. Build the raised beds about 8 to 12 inches deep and 3 to 4 feet wide using your choice of materials, such as lumber, bricks or cinder blocks. The length is up to you. Fill them with a blended topsoil or garden soil mix you purchase in bags from local nurseries or in bulk from local soil companies. Incorporate fertilizer into the soil, but you generally will not need to add organic matter to a purchased topsoil or garden soil mix.
Crops to plant
Broccoli is an easy-to-grow and productive fall vegetable. Transplants are available at area nurseries now and can be planted through mid-October. Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart in rows or beds. The 12-inch 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. After the main head is harvested, the plant will produce side florets, and harvesting can continue for several weeks, often doubling the production of each plant.
Cauliflower transplants should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart; spacing closer than 18 inches will greatly reduce the size of the head. Cauliflower produces only one head, so after harvest, remove the entire plant to make way for something else.
For white heads, blanch the cauliflower by pulling the leaves up over the head when it is about the size of a golf ball. Fasten the leaves with a clothes pin and check the head frequently. Harvest before the curds of the head starts to separate. Other related vegetables include cabbage, kale, kohlrabi and collards. All of these can be planted from seed or transplants now through February.
Garlic may be planted now through November. Break the bulb into individual cloves, and plant them by pressing the big end down, pointy end up into a prepared bed. The tip of the garlic should be about one-quarter 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 space at the same time. The garlic plants will not need the 15 inches between the rows for several months, so a quick-growing vegetable can be grown in that area and harvested before the garlic needs it. Good choices would include radishes, leaf lettuce, beets 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.
Other vegetables related to garlic, including green or bunching onions, shallots, bulbing onions and chives, can also be planted now using transplants or seeds. In late November or early December, you may plant sets (small bulbs) of bulbing onions. Choose short-day or day-neutral cultivars of bulbing onions.
Root crops are also excellent for the cool-season vegetable garden. Root crops should always be directly seeded 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 often 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. Some commonly planted root crops and the proper spacing are: beets, 3 to 4 inches; radishes, 2 to 3 inches; turnips, 3 inches; carrots 2 inches; and rutabagas, 4 inches.
Some 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 and snow), 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.