By Sonoma County Master Gardener Sue Lovelace
March 29, 2020
Because we live in a moderate climate, this is a great time to be planning and planting a food garden. Cool season plants like lettuce, kale, chard, peas, potatoes, onions, and beets can be planted now to be enjoyed late spring, early summer and beyond, depending on your climate. Planting these vegetables strategically to save space for warm season plants like tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, melons, and cucumbers enables one to enjoy eating cool season crops while the others grow. Also, if you know the future placement of a tomato or bean tower, planting a cool season plant to enjoy its shade later is a good ploy.
I know so many of you are already eating from and enjoying the benefits of a food garden. However, I would like to provide some basic information for those who may be planting their first garden or have not planted a food garden in a long while. Whether you’re planting your Victory Garden in a container, in a raised bed or directly in the soil, as long as your garden has 6-8 hours of sunshine, a level surface and no major obstructions, you are pretty much good to go. Soil temperature in the range of 65-80 degrees is ideal for vigorous growth.
Planting the right plant at the right time is important as a warm season plant will simply sit in a soil that is not warm enough (65-80 degrees) and not grow if air temps are less than 65 degrees (growth delays also above 95 degrees). The longer days that are present a couple weeks after the last frost date (which occurs sometime around the middle of April in much of Sonoma County) would make the first couple weeks of May a good planting time for warm season plants.
Cool weather crops grow best in air temps of 55-75 degrees and thrive in soil that is 60-65 degrees. Knowing how large your plant will grow will help you with spacing. However, if you will be harvesting leaves when a plant is less than full growth, your spacing can be less. Some of the best salads, smoothies and stir fries can be enjoyed with immature leaves and roots. Speaking of leaves, enjoy leaves like broccoli and beets as well as their flowers and roots. The stems and leaves of warm season vegetables are not edible (best to inquire about any plant if you’re not sure).
I’d like to add a few words about irrigation. Vegetables do best in soil that’s consistently moist, not soaked. Using your finger or chopstick or moisture meter to check for moisture around the root zone will help determine if you are watering sufficiently. Employing a drip system that can be hooked up to your faucet or to an irrigation system is very efficient in providing water directly to the plant. Many local nurseries or irrigation venues can help you set up a simple faucet connection or even one that has a timer, or you can hand water at the base of the plant until irrigation is in place (overhead watering is not generally effective in keeping root zones moist).
The last basic step in creating your sustainable Victory Garden is mulching, which is covering the ground, the soil around your vegetables (or anywhere else in your garden). Mulch, which can be straw, extra compost or even dried leaves or shredded newspaper, keeps moisture in the ground and also helps regulates temperature changes. It also preserves the vital life that we’ve helped encourage in the soil, and carbon is kept in the soil instead of being released in the air.
Being purposeful, growing a food garden, eating and sharing, are the concepts behind a Victory Garden. Take care and be safe.
“A Victory Garden today can be any garden with a purpose that you define personally. That purpose can be a family project to raise food for your household or a community effort to grow produce for a local food bank or whatever else you see as a need.” Rose Hayden-Smith (A historian of war-time writing.)