Personal Vegetable Calendar
Personal Vegetable Calendar
By Sara Malone, Sonoma County Master Gardener
How do you determine when to plant a particular vegetable or fruit in your garden? Or decide which vegetables or fruits will grow best there? One method is to watch the garden centers and see what becomes available for sale, another is to seek information from books or other reference sources, or perhaps ask your friends what they are planting. If you lived in another state or even another county, those methods would generally work pretty well. However, Sonoma County has so many microclimates and the breadth of edible plant varieties that can be grown is so wide, that none of those approaches is very good at optimizing your own garden.
The problem with looking to see what is available in the nurseries is that generally the plants become available much earlier than most of us should be planting them. For example, tomatoes generally start showing up in March and in my garden in Petaluma I don’t have warm enough soil temperatures for planting tomatoes until May. I did plant in March one year and saw the plants sit in the ground and do nothing for 6-8 weeks, taking up space that could have been used for lettuce, peas, chard, parsley, etc.
Books, too, present problems, as the authors seldom live in your own particular microclimate. Many, many, are written by East Coast writers who have very different gardening conditions than Sonoma County. They can serve as guides, but generally do not provide precise information about timing of plantings or harvests.
Unless your gardening friend lives next door, your friend’s planting calendar, even within Sonoma County, may be different from yours. The best way, by far, is to create your own personal edible planting calendar. This is not as much work as it sounds, as the Master Gardeners have started it for you. From the Sonoma County Master Gardener Website, click on ‘Master Gardener Documents’ (on the far left side of the page towards the bottom) and then select “Vegetable Planting Summary”. This table lists most of the vegetables (and a few fruits) that we commonly plant in this area. For each vegetable, e.g. “Lettuce”, it lists whether it is a cool or a warm season crop, the recommended planting dates or range of dates, and then particulars about planting (direct seed vs transplant, spacing, etc). Finally, it lists days to harvest and some notes. This is a marvelous beginning to your own calendar.
When I made my Edible Planting Calendar for my vegetable garden in Petaluma, I began by printing out the Master Gardeners Vegetable Planting Summary and using it as my guide. I plant a lot of lettuce as I eat a lot of salad, enjoy many different varieties and love fresh, small leaves. I dutifully followed the guidelines and started my lettuce in February, with the idea that I could continue until October. However, I soon discovered a few things: first, the plants that I started between February and May did beautifully. Once the summer heat kicked in in earnest, however, my lettuce bolted. I sought out ‘heat resistant varieties’ (easy to find in seed), seeded them directly, and cut entire heads or clumps as soon as they formed, rather than employing the ‘cut and come again’ method that had served me so well in the spring. Thus, I had to adapt my strategy to fit my microclimate. I would guess that residents of Occidental or Bodega or more coastally-influenced areas of the County would not have these summertime issues. Secondly, I seeded all through the fall the first year and figured that I’d just quit when the lettuce quit. The chart did indicate that October was the end of the lettuce planting season in Sonoma County. Not in my part of Petaluma, it’s not. I have successfully grown lettuce all winter long for many years now. I do protect the plants from hard rain by using a sheet of Reemay crop cover over some flexible irrigation tubing (which makes a Quonset hut–style cover over the rows of plants) but other than that I do nothing special to protect the plants. They survived last winter’s long spell of frigid temperatures just fine. If you are in the colder, interior parts of the County that might not work for you – lettuce is very cold-hardy but will start to have problems if the temperatures get to the mid-20’s for very long. However, the only way to find out is to try it yourself. You may also protect the plants with material such as bubble wrap or even newspaper at night. It all depends on your motivation!
With each vegetable or fruit, I began with the recommended planting date, and adapted it as needed. After a few tries, it became much easier as I was able to anticipate which side of the range I was likely to be on. My winters are mild here, on the East side of Petaluma up high enough to catch the ocean breezes, which keep our coldest temperatures above those on the other side of town. By the same token, my summers don’t get quite hot enough to give me a lot of leeway on planting crops that need a lot of summer heat or many days to ripen – if I don’t get my melons and peppers in on time, I am not going to get much of a crop. Thus, I have taken to starting those indoors to give them a jump on the growing season. However, in Santa Rosa, for example, this would probably not be necessary. It took a year – a full cycle – for me to really be clear on what I should plant when, and I am still experimenting. Most of my experiments are the result of forgetfulness – I find the garlic bulbs in the refrigerator where I had them for safekeeping, and I meant to plant them a month ago. Rather than toss them and do without for a year, I planted them a month late, and we’ll see in the spring what the results are.
Remember, that as you proceed with your vegetable planning and the construction of your own Planting Calendar, the Master Gardeners are there to help. Don’t hesitate to email or call the hotline if you have questions. There is undoubtedly a Master Gardener not too far away from where you live, who has had experiences ready for sharing!
©Sonoma County Master Gardeners