Fall and Winter Garden
In the Nick of Time
by SCMG Janet Barocco
We are fortunate that, in many parts of Sonoma County, it is possible to grow fresh food for a fall and, even, a winter harvest. The ideal planting window for these cool weather crops is in August and September. This is because in late summer and early fall soil temperatures are still adequate for good germination and day length is sufficient to get roots and shoots off to a good start before winter. A cool-weather garden is a joy and is fairly stress-free: what’s not to like about crisp greens and roots for soup or stir-fry on damp, gray days, and few pest and irrigation worries…that is, if rains come as expected? But, what if you missed the chance to plant in August and September? It may not be too late for your fall and winter garden if you act now.
A QUICK STRATEGIC PLAN: READ, ASK, OBSERVE
Early in October you must do some fast thinking, particularly if you want to direct sow seeds. Knowing when your area is likely to experience its first frost is important so that you can determine the number of days needed for seed germination. November 15 is the official first frost date in Sonoma County, although it is possible for some inland or high elevation areas to experience frost as early as mid-October.
Read the seed packet which should list the number of days until germination. If the days-to-germination is not listed, search for the seed manufacturer’s website or consult a reputable reference such as the UC Davis Vegetable Research and Information Center website which provides information on planting dates relative to weather and early date-to-maturity varieties.
Ask for advice from your local nurseryperson. If they are a truly local business, their personnel are more likely to know the subtleties of weather in your area and, therefore, will be more accurate in recommending specific plants to grow.
Observe your growing spaces for microclimates. Where are the low spots that collect cold? Where are the shady areas? Where are the spots likely to continue to receive the most sun? Bear in mind that the sun will arc lower in the sky as the season progresses.
SOW IT NOW
Although most seed packets list September as the final month these plants can be sown, the October sun in Sonoma, Healdsburg, most of Santa Rosa and other sunny spots around the county could very well germinate leafy greens, herbs, some plants in the onion family and fava beans in time for fall or winter harvest.
Leafy greens and tender herbs: Broadcast seeds into well-composted, moist soil and cover with a fine layer of compost. Keep evenly moist. Harvest young leaves for salads and stir-fry. Use the cut-and-come-again harvest method, snipping outside growth with scissors as you need it. Leafy greens and herbs that you can plant in early October include: spinach, bok choy, mizuna, Asian mustard greens, snow pea shoots, kale, short season lettuces (e.g., ‘Valmaine,’ ‘Romaine,’ ‘Buttercrunch,’ ‘Butterhead’ and ‘Merlot Red Loose Leaf’), parsley, ‘Slo-Bolt’ cilantro and dill.
Onion family: Included for fall sowing are bunching onions (also known as scallions) and garlic. Broadcast onion seed. Purchase garlic “seed” bulbs at your local nursery.
Fava beans are cool weather beans that can be sown into late fall. They actually require about 90 days of cool weather and will tolerate light frosts. Their roots fix nitrogen in the soil and the beans make for delicious spring stir-frys. For more information, click here.
PLANT IT NOW
Several master gardeners diligently sowed their seeds in August and September. Any local nursery worth its salt did too, which means they will probably have the following plants available in early October for you to
transplant into the garden: cauliflower (‘Violetta’), broccoli (‘Purple Sprouting’), Savoy cabbage, winter red kale, red Swiss chard, ornamental kale, giant red mustard, Florence fennel, beets (‘Gold’) and artichoke (‘Violetti’ and ‘Green Globe’). Your local nursery can recommend varieties for your microclimate.
Perennial herbs such as rosemary, sweet marjoram, oregano, French tarragon, sage and savory also can be planted in early October allowing their roots to develop during the rainy season ahead. Tarragon and sage will require some frost protection when young. Starts are available from your local nursery. But if you have generous neighbors, they can give you a division of their herbs that grew too large over the summer. Also, chives can be transplanted and
harvested until they die down in winter. But they will prosper again as soon as the weather begins to warm in early spring. In the meantime, enjoy a bountiful fall!