In the Garden
- Hardy vs. Half-Hardy Cool Weather Vegetables. Refer to page two of the Year-Round Food Gardening in Sonoma County publication to see what veggies can be planted in September and October. Not all of these veggies withstand the same degree of cold weather. Half-hardy crops (such as lettuce and cauliflower) can withstand a limited or light frost whereas hardy crops typically can tolerate a heavy frost (24-28 degrees F). If you want to harvest over the winter and/or early next spring, include hardy crops such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, corn salad, garlic, kale, leeks, bunching onions, radishes, Daikon radishes and spinach. Also, note that most root crops can be "stored" in the ground as long as the ground doesn't freeze (for example, turnips and beets—unless you are growing them for their greens).
- Average First Frost Date. If you've lived in your current location for some time, you probably can estimate the first frost date based on past experience. But, if you're not sure, NOAA has you covered. They produce averages based on the past 30 years of collated data (updated every 10 years) for every weather station. We've made it a little easier to find this info by extracting the data for Sonoma County weather stations (see First and Last Frost Dates for dates based on different risk percentages in your area). Bring half-hardy veggies to maturity before this date and hardy veggies to at least near maturity by this date. As they say in banking, past performance is not an indicator of future earnings, but this is the best information we have for planning purposes.
- Ten Hours of Sunlight. At Sonoma County's latitude, we have less than 10 hours of sunlight from November 18 to January 23. During this time, crops imperceptibly grow or stop growing. If your area's first average frost date falls after November 18, use November 18 when determining when to bring a crop to maturity. Some hardy crops, if brought to a reasonable size by November 18, can be harvested throughout the winter and/or will begin growing again after January 23 for an early spring harvest.
- Days to Maturity. Every crop (and every variety) has a "days to maturity"—the days from when the seed or transplant is put in the ground to the date the first edible leaf or fruit matures. Usually you can find this information on the seed packet. If not on the packet, you will find it easily on the Internet. The date you plant and how you harvest (e.g., harvesting baby lettuce leaves) will affect your variety selection.
Etch Your Pumpkins
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Food Garden Tips
October Food Garden Tasks and Tips
For what to grow this month, click here.
- If a fall/winter garden was not planted, plant a cover crop, such as fava beans or red clover, to add nitrogen and organic matter, to improve the soil tilth and water penetration, and to help mitigate disease issues related to crop rotation. For maximum nitrogen benefit, cut down the crop next year just as flower buds begin to form, leaving the roots in the soil. The tops can be simply chopped and dropped or put in your compost pile.
- Mulch perennial crops and any bare soil. Option: rake leaves into a pile, run the mower over them and use this as organic mulch; 3-4 inches are recommended to retain soil moisture even in the cooler fall when drought conditions persist. Mulch also reduces splash and, therefore, reduces the number of disease spores that might move from the soil to your fall and winter crops. During wildfire season, follow Cal Fire guidelines regarding defensible space and keep all combustibles, including mulch, five feet away from structures.
- If tomatoes are still in the garden, cut off their water to help ripen what is left. Pruning the growing tips of indeterminate tomatoes will encourage the plants to direct all of the sugars and energy to ripening the existing fruit before the first frost (on AVERAGE, mid-Nov to early-Dec in Sonoma County).
- As veggies fade, cut the plants off just below soil level to preserve the soil micro-biology on the roots. Toss any plants showing signs of pests or disease. The rest can go into the compost. If you are immediately replanting the bed, just add a 2” layer of compost and if you encounter the existing sub-surface root, just put each new plant-start to the side of it.
- Strawberries can be planted October through spring. UC has some new varieties which you may want to check out. They should be available at local nurseries. We recommend day-neutral (“everbearing”) varieties for Sonoma vs. short-day types, but, if planting short-day varieties, they should be planted now through February. Trim off all runners as they develop because they weaken the mother plant and reduce fruit size. See University of California guidance.
- Lightly fertilize cool-season vegetables in a fall/winter garden if compost or a slow-release fertilizer was not added earlier. Do not add nitrogen to root crops. Citrus: apply 1/2 lb of 5-2-1 mixed with 1 tablespoon of Epson salts and water well.
- Fruit Trees: apply 7-5-7 per bag instructions around drip line of trees and work in, being careful not to disturb roots.
- Despite the fertilizing schedule outlined above, reduce the amounts if the rainfall outlook suggests below normal precipitation as more vigorous plants require more water.
- Turn off your automatic watering system when rainy weather arrives. But, if a dry spell follows the first rain storm, don’t forget to turn it back on. A drip system is the most efficient way to deliver water to your veggie garden. If you didn’t install one this spring/summer, now is a good time to rectify this.
- Clean, sharpen and oil garden tools and store them in a dry space. Steel wool will remove rust build up (wear gloves); some gardeners use wax paper throughout the year to wipe cleaned and dried blades after use to prevent/reduce rust. Drain garden hoses and hang them in the garage during the rainy season.
- Click here for ongoing monthly tasks.