One of the great things about gardening in the Deep South is the ability to grow things pretty much year-round. In Zone 8b, particularly here in the Florida Panhandle, October is the time to plant what are considered cool-weather crops. For those of us who moved here from climes farther north, these may be crops you successfully grew in spring and summer elsewhere.
Among the vegetables that are considered cool-weather crops in our area are broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips, collards, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, spinach and various kinds of lettuces. Many of these can be started easily from seed, because the soil is warm and they should germinated quickly. Some, such as beets, will need a little special treatment such as soaking or scuffing with sandpaper to improve germination rates. But in general, it’s pretty easy to plant a fall garden from seed. If you’d rather start with seedlings, you can find a selection now at local garden centers.
Make sure your soil is well-amended with organic matter, loose and crumbly. Garden soil that is finely tilled makes it easier for the tiny shoots to break through and reach sunlight once the seeds have germinated. You can plant in rows or broadcast the seeds in a square area; raise beds divided into square-foot sections are a popular technique. Be prepared to thin the seedlings when they get a couple of inches tall.
Because different plants grow at different soil depths, sometimes you can double up and plant two crops in the same space. For instance, the root of the beet is the part that swells and is harvested, although the green tops are also edible. Those roots grow deep in the soil. Spinach and lettuce are fairly shallow-rooted, and they can be mixed in a bed with beets and each will pull nutrients from a different level of the soil.
Take some time this week to get your beds prepared for fall. Mix in some composted manure or other compost and work it in well, then check out the seeds and seedling plants in area stores.