Growing tomatoes in the fall is a bit of a race against time
Published: Saturday, August 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.
Q: I understand that I can plant tomatoes now in my garden. I'm from Ohio, and only plant them in the late spring. Is this true? Should I start from seeds or transplants?
A: One of the good things about vegetable gardening in North Central Florida is that we can have two seasons of tomatoes, as well as beans, eggplants, squash and peppers. The UF/IFAS Extension Vegetable Gardening Guide for North Florida recommends planting tomatoes in February, March, April and again in August. This is a great bonus to people who grow their own produce. It's like having a second spring.
Pick a site that has at least six hours of sun per day, is close to a water source and has well-drained soil. If you are going to grow the tomatoes in containers, use a pot with a volume of 5 gallons or more, and make sure there are drainage holes.
Since growing tomatoes as a fall crop is a bit of a race against time, start out with transplants. Select varieties that have small fruit because they are quick to mature and have less cracking problems. Sweet 100, Juliet, Red Grape, Sugar Snack, Sun Gold and Sweet Baby Girl are great varieties for Ocala and Gainesville. Sun Gold is one of my personal favorites.
Fertilize the tomato plants once every three weeks for good production. You will be able to harvest a nice crop of tomatoes before Thanksgiving if all goes well. Call the UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension Office at 955-2402, and ask for a "Vegetable Gardening Guide" to be sent to you. Or access it online at the UF/IFAS Extension website, www.solutionsforyourlife.com.
Q: While weeding my back fence line, I found a plant that is covered in spines. It grows long, strapped leaves, but has a red-and-white flower that comes from the center of the plant like a volcano. It is about 12 inches tall. Should I remove it?
A: I think you have discovered a cold-hardy bromeliad called Pinguin (Bromelia pinguin). It has been used in this area as a security fence because, as you have discovered, nobody would dare try to get past this spiny barrier. The leaves are lined with spines that are hooked and will grab on to your pant leg or skin. Before you decide to remove this plant from your landscape, know that they have a most striking inflorescence. The bloom is red to orange, with white bracts emerging from the center of the plant like a pineapple. The Pinguin is not native, and will spread if left unchecked. It is from the tropics and prefers warmer climates, but there are several places in Gainesville where they have really taken off. If the plant is serving a purpose by acting as a barrier, you might want to leave it. But, if it is in a spot where it will grab you or a guest to your landscape, you should consider removing it.
Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. Email her at email@example.com.