21 Oct Your winter garden
Now is the time to plant your fall and winter vegetables. As the rest of the country prepares to battle another winter it is once again time for those of us in Los Angeles to consider the fresh vegetables that we’d like to harvest in the coming months. Early fall is a great time to plant and establish a garden for a continual winter harvest. Here are some crops that will flourish in our winter weather:
The Cole Crops – Also known as the brassicas, this group of vegetables can suffer in the heat of our summers, but is perfect for our cooler and, hopefully, wetter winters. This group of crops represents one of the greatest achievements in plant breeding as kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, and kohlrabi are all descendents of one kale like plant that ancient farmers subjected to different selection pressures. Establishing these plants now will ensure a harvest in the shorter days of winter. Other closely related crops such as bok choi, broccoli raab, daikons, mizuna and mustard greens, rutabaga, and turnips should also be planted now.
Root Crops – Almost all root crops taste better when harvested during the winter time. The cooler weather encourages the storage of additional sugars in the roots. Winter carrots are considered a delicacy by many a foodie. Beets, daikons, parsnips, radishes, rutabaga, scallions, and turnips can all be grown at this time of year. With the exception of scallions, all of these crops are better planted from seed as the containers that plant nurseries grow them in will deform their roots.
Leafy Greens – With a few notable exceptions, most leafy greens grow better in cooler weather as the heat of summer can cause them to bolt and become bitter. In my opinion these are some of the best crops for beginning gardeners as they grow rapidly and are harvested young. Arugula, asian greens, lettuces, salad greens, and spinach can be harvested within a couple of weeks of planting. Plant these crops every 2-3 weeks for a continual harvest. Kale and swiss chard also grow well at this time of year. Harvested young they are great in salads or pick the mature leaves leaving the rest of the plant to continue growth for future harvests.
Herbs – Fall is a great time to establish an herb garden. Some annual herbs, such as dill and cilantro will bolt in our summer heat, but thrive during the winter. Other perennial herbs such as lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, and thyme are best to establish during the fall and winter for years of harvests.
Perennial Fruits – A little gardening 101 – annual plants complete their life cycle (seed to seed) in one season before dying, while perennial plants continue to grow for many years. Perennial plants are often found in nurseries when they’re flowering because that is when they look prettiest and are thus most likely to sell. In our climate it is in fact best to plant perennials during the fall and winter. Instead of expending energy trying to flower and reproduce as they do in spring and summer, perennials planted in fall and winter will invest in a healthy root system, thus establishing a foundation for bountiful harvests in future years. It may look like slow growth now, but be patient and think of future harvests of apricots, peaches, plums and other tree fruits and nuts, cane fruits such as blackberries and raspberries, strawberries, grapes, and tropical fruits such as guava, kiwi, mango, papaya, and passion fruit.
Miscellaneous – These crops don’t fit neatly into my other groups, but they’re great to grow at this time of year. The flavor of fresh celery kicks supermarket celery’s butt and grows great in our winter. Fava beans are a delicasy that thrive in the winters of our Mediterranean climate. Snow, sugar snap, and shelling peas are all perfectly suited for growing in cooler weather. And, frankly, our winters really aren’t that cold. If there is a traditional summer crop that you love don’t be afraid to give it try at this time of year – I had clients harvesting tomatoes throughout last winter.