Fall and Winter Garden
Sonoma County gardeners may feel that reaping fresh, cool-weather crops is a bonus after the summer-autumn harvest, but many crops thrive best in our mild, wet, Mediterranean winters. With careful timing and plant selection, the harvest may continue into early spring. And when winter rains are plentiful, the chore of supplemental irrigation is kept to a minimum.
Cool-Weather Kitchen Garden Crops
Many crops are easy to start from seed either directly sown in garden beds or indoors in pots for transplanting. Starts may be purchased at local nurseries as early as late July and early August. Consult the Sonoma County Master Gardener “Vegetable Planting Summary” for details. (See link below.)
- Many cool-weather crops sweeten and deepen in flavor with colder weather.
- From seed: beets, bunch onions, calendula, carrot, chives, dill, greens (bok choy, Swiss chard, kale, mustard, radicchio), leeks, nasturtium, parsley, parsnip, peas.
- Usually purchased as starts: artichoke, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, fennel bulb. These can also be sown indoors mid-summer and transplanted to the garden in August and September.
- Other cool-season crops:
- Fava Beans: sow August–December.
- Asparagus: plant bare root in January-March.
- Garlic, onions, shallots: sets are often available at nurseries or may be purchased by mail-order in early autumn.
Timing Is Everything
- After the summer solstice in late June, days grow progressively shorter in the northern hemisphere, leaving less sunlight for plant growth.
- Despite warm and hot temperatures in August and September, seeds must be sown and plants set out or there will not be sufficient light to sustain growth.
- After November 18, there is less than 10 hours of sunlight from dawn to dusk.
- If sowing seeds, check seed packets to determine the number of days to germination and to maturity. Keep in mind, however, that many greens, roots, and herbs are delicious when harvested young and tender and do not require waiting until maturity to enjoy.
- Keeping a record of the timeline from planting to harvest helps to make adjustments in a garden plan from year to year.
- Where there is limited kitchen garden space, sow or plant in and around existing summer vegetables that are at peak production, such as tucking seedlings or scattering lettuce seeds around tomatoes and peppers.
- Prepare a completely new area, even a small 3 ft. square plot, and re-design your planting scheme.
- Plant and sow in large containers such as half wine barrels filled with purchased, fast-draining potting mix. Set ornamental food crops like parsley and nasturtiums along the rim.
Keep Soil and Plants Healthy
- Work compost into the top few inches of soil before planting or side dress existing plants.
- Or use a foliar spray fertilizer such as fish emulsion on young plants.
- Monitor soil moisture around seedlings and transplants during the drier months of August and September and in subsequent months in the absence of rains.
- Sonoma County Master Gardener Vegetable Planting Summary
- Focus on Fall Vegetables Sample Planting Plan