Pete’s Place: More Summer Veggies and Fall Planting Prep

Seminole pumpkin.

Seminole pumpkin.

One more gardening update to get us through the summer! In my last column, I went through the best vegetables for summer growing here in southwest Florida. I want to quickly mention two that I overlooked, then move on to more current topics.

The two vegetables that should have been included in my roundup of summer-growing produce are the Seminole pumpkin and loofa squash. The Seminole pumpkin is a great vegetable that grows very trouble-free in our summer’s challenging environment. That is because it is adapted to Florida from centuries of selection by Native Americans who grew it here and even in the drier parts of the Everglades.

My experience is that Seminoles will grow disease-free and will reliably bear many fruit if properly cared for. I think of it as more of a winter squash than a pumpkin. Use it just like the butternut squash, which it is similar to inside. Like all squash, melons, and cucumbers, I prefer to direct seed Seminoles. Another great thing about them is that they will store for a year or so. Seeds may be hard to come by, but you can contact me if you can’t find any elsewhere.

Loofas are another vining plant in the same family. You can grow them to maturity for their well-known “vegetable scrubber” insides, eat them when quite young, or both, as there should be ample numbers of fruit. They will thrive in our summer conditions. I recommend trellising or at least keeping the fruit off the ground. For scrubbers, let the fruit get fully mature, until the skin begins to turn brown. At that point, they can be harvested and brought inside for final curing. When fully dry, peel off the skin and shake all the seeds out, and there you have your loofa! Some people bleach the naturally tan-colored loofa, but that is strictly optional.

It's not too late for starting either of these crops, or, for that matter, any of the other summer crops I mentioned in my July column. The downside, however, is that they will still be taking up space when it soon comes time for planting fall crops. The cool-season vegetables are, for most gardeners, more desirable, so if you have limited space, you may want to wait for next spring or early summer for planting the heat-loving ones.

The first veggies to plant for fall are those that are warm-season types that are not necessarily tolerant of our intense summers. This means a replay of many of the ones you could have put in last spring, such as any form of summer or winter squash, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, peppers, beans, or corn. Of those just mentioned, tomatoes and peppers are best seeded in a protected situation and transplanted later. This is ideally done in July. By August, you may still get away with it, but you are at greater risk for cold damage before the crops are in.

The rest of the crops I mentioned can and should be direct-seeded, and the latter half of August is a great time for that. August should also be a time of more focused preparation for the big fall planting season. Be sure to keep enriching your soil with organic matter, eliminating weeds before they go to seed, and finish up solarizing if you were engaged in that. Keep uncropped land covered with either mulches or cover crops as protection against the heavy, leaching rains.

If you start your own transplants, get ready for a busy month of seed starting in September. This will be when you can jump into the highly-anticipated fall/winter growing season, with many of our favorite vegetables. My next "Pete’s Place" column will focus on that.