Is it fall yet?
No offense to summer, but I will be glad when we bid adieu to triple digits and high a/c bills. Even though it’s still sweltering outside it’s time to think about planting for the cold. While many plant for the fall, some don’t take advantage of the many items you can grow through the winter months. If you could care less about taking a gardening break now is your chance to enjoy fresh produce even at Christmas time.
We’re a little spoiled here in the Central Valley in that we can keep growing crops with ease when other parts of the country are covered with snow; in fact our citrus depends on the cool weather to reach maturity. The hardiest cold season veggies include: broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, green onions, parsnips, peas, radishes, turnips and spinach. Other less hardy, but still cold season friendly veggies include: asparagus, beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Irish potatoes and lettuce. You can start planting many of these in August and then sow more (lettuce, spinach, radishes, etc.) about every few weeks for a constant supply of fresh veggies through the season.
If you’re a lazy gardener (no worries, I’m one too) the winter season is fantastic. Most of the garden is asleep or looks dead so you can concentrate on your winter crops. You don’t really have to water because usually the rain takes care of that job for you (thank goodness), though of course you should monitor the soil. Providing adequate drainage is important during this time since we tend to receive our fair share of precipitation and you don’t want your plants to rot or drown. Weeding is a cinch since many go dormant and the soil is moist so other weeds are easy to dig up or pull out. Crops grow slower and many pests are nowhere to be found.
The main winter nemeses you’ll find is snails (arg!) whose population tends to explode after any rain fall, and frost, which will only hurt certain varieties. Snails/slugs love vegetation and will use your crops to have a slimy family reunion feast if you’re not careful. If you find yourself fighting an army of snails I recommend Sluggo. It’s environmentally friendly, effective, can be used on both fruit and veggies and doesn’t disappear once it comes in contact with rain/water like some snail baits do. It’s also safe to use around wildlife and pets.
Don’t let Jack Frost wreck your winter garden; plant on the south side where your garden will get the most “sun” and properly prepare for those icy nights. Frost can be combated with a combination of PVC pipes and plastic/row covers (best solution) or even old sheets that haven’t seen a bed in years will work. Frost usually appears on cloudless, dry, cold days so on those nights it’s best to keep a plastic cover or old sheets on hand. Another good indicator is when you hear the fans going in the orange groves.
If you want to grow other less hardy varieties you can use a cold box, cold houses (plastic and pipe methods) or if you are lucky you can use a heated greenhouse. Cold boxes are relatively cheap to make, especially using some old windows. And row covers can be reused.
If you’re looking for more information I suggest either the Tulare County Master Gardeners www.ucanr.org/sites/UC_Master_Gardeners (great for information pertaining to Tulare County) or the book the Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. Well, time to order some seeds and get planting!