In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2003
Regional Report

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1164

I grow beets year-round, sowing and harvesting every month.

Looking Forward to Cool Weather

I've been really disappointed with my tomatoes this year — great foliage but not too many blossoms, and fewer fruits, although they are good-sized and tasty. Since summer means tomatoes to me, even my plentiful cucumbers and beans and squash weren't enough to take the edge off my disappointment.

Fall Planting
So I'm especially looking forward to raiding my compost pile to replenish my beds, and making an extra early planting of edible and sweet peas. A side benefit of growing peas is that they're nitrogen-fixers. This means that the plants extract nitrogen from the air, use it for growth, and then form nodules on their roots that release nitrogen into the soil when they decompose. A great all around crop: for eating, beauty, and benefitting the soil and hence the following crops!

Another crop I depend on for fall, winter, and early spring is lettuce. I grow some 20 varieties each year and relish the butterheads the most for their soft-and-crunchy texture contrast. Red speckles and stripes add to the visual pleasure.

I always plant kohlrabi -- those wonderfully sweet crunchy globes that intrigued me as a child with their flying saucer wings. I harvest mine smaller than most seed packet recommendations, at a maximum of 1-1/2 inches unless they are grown through the coolest weather. But some friends of mine prefer to let theirs grow larger in late spring because they like the mustardy bite that develops. And varieties I enjoyed in Germany — salted and munched with great liter-sized mugs of beer — were still tender and tasty although 5 inches in diameter.

Beets are another favorite, destined for pickled beets easily made using my Mom's recipe. I've tried all the colors and shapes but still prefer the heritage variety Detroit Dark Red as the tastiest and sweetest, with the best keeping quality, even if they look pretty ratty. I've been amazed to get great-tasting beets throughout the year — literally sowing and harvesting every month — even though I was sure the late summer ones would be woody and not as sweet.

Potatoes have been great fun, an excellent crop for heavily mulched sandy soil that stays dry during the hottest summer months. No matter how thoroughly I comb the soil in search of the tasty tidbits, I always miss some that eventually resprout. When they do, I know it's time to plant more.

I reseed all these crops every three to four weeks for continuous harvests. Even if the first and last sowings poop out due to heat, I've made sure I'm eating as long as possible. I'd rather get tired of that veggie because growing has been too successful than wish I'd planted more if the weather remains cooler longer than I'd expected.

Parsley is my great mainstay; I let it resow wherever it wants to, so I always have some flourishing and some maturing seed. Its attractive foliage makes it a great edible landscaping choice, and its blooms attract many beneficial insects.


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