As fall approaches, you may have noticed some of your garden veggies have slowed down. The leaves may look a little crispy or droopy or they’re starting to yellow. At this point in the season, it probably doesn’t have to do with watering. Plants that went into the ground back in May or June are reaching the natural end of their life. Most summer vegetables that we love such as eggplant, melons, and zucchini are annual plants that only live for one season, and then they naturally expire. Although, I always feel sad pulling out my plants at the end of a season, the good news is that there are still plenty of veggies that like to grow in California’s fall and winter. September through mid-October is a great time to plant leafy greens, root vegetables, and cruciferous crops (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts). Plant soon, so that you can enjoy garden fresh veggies throughout fall and winter as well!
Garden Bed Turnover
In between your summer and fall crop, it is good to give your planting bed a bit of a refresh. After harvesting the last of your summer crop and pulling out the spent plants, you’ll want to add some nutrients (in the form of fertilizer or compost) and soil back to your garden bed. If you are planting in containers, you may need to change out the soil, or at the very least, add more potting soil to your container. The reason for this is two-fold. First, most summer vegetables are known as ‘heavy feeders.’ Tomatoes, in particular, fall into this category. That means they need to take up a lot of nutrients from the soil in order to fuel their fast, fruit-laden growth. Those nutrients need to be replaced in your garden bed before the next round of crops, so your new plants don’t starve. The second reason to replace soil in your garden bed is simply because the soil level has likely dropped several inches since the beginning of last season. You’ll want to add in some new soil and/or compost and mix it into the existing soil.
Leafy greens are a great cold-tolerant crop that can thrive in the cooler temperatures of fall and winter. Some are hardier than others, so be sure to read the seed packets and plant tags to know how low your plants can go. Certain crops such as lettuce and spinach want to be protected from frosty nights with protective cloth. Other favorites such as chard and kale stand up to frosty nights and even taste better because of them. Other examples of leafy greens you can plant include mustard greens, collards, and arugula. Leafy greens are great to sautė, add to eggs and salads, as well as winter soups and stews.
Rooting for root vegetables! This tasty group includes beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes, and turnips. These are wonderful, hearty, starchy foods that grow well in the cooler weather. Beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips grow best when planted directly from seed into the garden bed. It is possible to transplant them, but sometimes they don’t take as well. With carrots especially, you will want to make sure you have nice loose soil to plant in. When carrots hit a hard pan of soil or a rock, they can stop growing downward and result in very short carrots and/or oddly shaped carrots. Admittedly, seeing the variations in carrot shapes is one of the fun things about growing them yourself. All of the atypical shaped carrots usually don’t make it to the grocery store!
Potatoes are a slightly different story. You don’t grow them by seed, you actually grow them from planting other potatoes! Most garden centers will carry something called “seed” potatoes. This means that they are potatoes which are ready to be planted and make you more potatoes. I often just plant the odd potato that has sat too long in my pantry and has begun to sprout. It has worked pretty well for me so far.
Alliums are a group of plants which includes onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots. I did not include them in the root vegetable section because technically they are not roots! The parts of these plants that we eat are actually modified leaves and stems. You can use their leaves while they grow (i.e. scallions, garlic scapes, green onion), and at the end of the season harvest the bulb! For cured garlic and onions, let the leaves dry down completely (become brown and dry) before harvesting. By letting them cure in the ground, they will store longer in the pantry or root storage.
Crucifers (a.k.a. Brassicas a.k.a. Cole crops). Yes, that is a lot of different names for one single group of plants. These terms are all referring to a very familiar plant group which includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, and brussel sprouts. Kale, mustard greens, collards, and bok choy are all brassicas, too. You may have noticed while eating these vegetables they all share some degree of sulfur tasting compounds. This is one of their shared characteristics. They all also happen to be rather cold hardy. Many crucifers actually taste better/sweeter after a cold snap because the plants are adapted to store their energy (a.k.a. sugar) during a freeze, resulting in a sweeter tasting harvest afterwards. Kale and broccoli can also sometimes look a little bit purple after a freeze, and this is also part of their reaction. This is a versatile plant group, and in my opinion, tastes best when grown in cold weather!
Some other cool weather crops include certain herbs, members of the pea family, and more. Parsley, cilantro, and chives can all stand some cold weather. Perennial herbs such as thyme, oregano, and sage may slow down over winter, but might still be producing some new leaves. Fennel is an herb which is grown for its bulb, leaves, and seeds. It does great in cold weather. Celery is another one which is infinitely useful for soups, stews, sauces, salads, snacks, and more. Awesome cool weather staple. Last, but not least, peas such as sugar snap peas and snow peas can be grown in fall and winter. Although once the rains begin, peas tend to be prone to powdery mildew. Harvest before mildew sets in to enjoy these yummy vegetables as snacks or in a stir fry!