University of California
UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County
The Long Month of December
(IS IT SPRING YET?)
Sonoma County is a great place to live. If we are so inclined, we can food garden all year. Each month there are vegetables that can be planted along with many hardy herbs. Depending on your microclimate or use of season extenders, you may have a longer planting window than recommended in SCMG’s Vegetable Planting Summary. There are a number of citrus varieties that thrive in our mild winter. And, if we were diligent with our fall planting, we
are harvesting some cold weather crops throughout the winter.
But many do not plant a winter garden. Instead, we are biding our time until we can plant our spring food garden. What to do in the interim to soothe the inner-gardener? Here are some ideas.
Walk through your landscape with a critical eye. Think about how you might integrate edibles over the next growing season. Put your plan in writing. Some of the large-leaved, ruby-stemmed rhubarb varieties provide a stunning backdrop to ornamentals and can be planted now. Soon you can plant artichokes. If your yard is lacking winter interest, consider the glossy leaves and brightly-colored fruit of citrus. Some citrus varieties are light-frost tolerant, like the Nagami kumquat. Dwarf varieties suit smaller spaces. Persimmons on bare branches provide a pop of color this time of year.
Request seed catalogs or peruse online catalogs. Identify at least one new vegetable variety to plant next spring or summer in addition to your favorites. Seeds sources can be found on the SCMG site. Vegetable seed providers in California include Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Bountiful Gardens, Renee’s Garden and Seeds of Change, among others. There are a few seed banks in the county and the Bay Area – grab your gardener friends and go on a day trip.
Use the SCMG Vegetable Planning Summary and seed catalogs to plan your spring and succession summer garden. Buy a notebook or calendar to record your plans.
Get a jump on purchasing materials if you start vegetables from seed. In general, seed for cool weather crops are started indoors in February-March. If you didn’t sterilize containers after last year’s efforts, now is a good time.
Assuming December is fairly dry, till a new vegetable bed for a spring garden expansion.
Build a new raised vegetable bed. Click here for construction directions. But, do not work the soil within the raised bed if the soil is overly wet.
Clean and sharpen your garden tools. If you don’t have your own sharpening tools, haul them to a local farmers’ market that includes a vendor who provides this service.
Plant an indoor kitchen window herb garden. Be sure to use soil that is specific for containers – either your own mix or commercial potting soil. Recipe: 1/3 sterilized course sand + 1/3 good compost + 1/3 perlite or vermiculite or lava rock.
Build a cold frame to extend your growing season. Check out one master gardener’s experience harvesting cold frame lettuce all winter.
Cold frame lettuce
It may not be too late to plant a cover crop, but hurry! Fava beans are one of many options – chop them down when they flower in early spring. The plants will lessen winter rain erosion and their roots will fix nitrogen in the soil.
If you don’t want to plant a cover crop (or it’s too wet or too late), add a thick layer of compost to your food garden. It will aid in retarding weed growth and decompose over winter to provide an organic source of nitrogen to your spring crops. Plus, when you work this amendment into your food garden in early spring, it will improve soil tilth and feed the beneficial microorganisms that help plants uptake nutrients in the soil.
Add garden tools to your holiday wish list – this could be the year that you get a hori-hori knife that will help you remove the suckers from your fruit tree roots.
Check out the food gardening tips on this page each month. And, if you have questions, call for free advice from the Sonoma County Master Gardener information desk. The numbers and hours are listed on the SCMG home page.