In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
August, 2005
Regional Report

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Growing onion seedlings in a tire enables frequent watering for good germination, and then easy transplanting.

Think Ahead to Winter Harvests

You'll have a winter gold mine in your garden if you start seeds for overwintering crops this month and next. Yes, it's too hot to think about doing anything now but harvest and water and escape the heat, but think ahead to winter vegetable prices ... and start sowing!

Sow beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, endive, escarole, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, thick-leafed and heading lettuces, onions, parsley, peas, white potatoes, radishes, shallots, and spinach. Savoy-leafed types of cabbage and spinach resist frost better than the more tender flat-leaf varieties. Last sowings of summer-maturing crops also can be made now: bush beans, cucumbers, oakleaf lettuce, white seed potatoes, New Zealand spinach, and squash.

Getting Seeds Through the Heat
Keep seed beds or flats moist and shaded during the hottest portion of the day until the seeds germinate. A light mulch helps keep the soil surface from crusting, especially over tiny seeds that take a while to germinate, like carrots and parsley. Boards laid over the seed bed also help to keep it from drying out. Prop them up or remove them when more than half of the seeds germinate.

Sow carrots, lettuce, and spinach a dozen or so seeds at a time every two or three weeks from now through October. This will provide a succession of succulent harvests through the winter. Leafy green plants like lettuce and spinach that are 3 or 4 inches tall and wide and carrots that are at least 1/2 inch in diameter before the first hard frost will be mature enough to provide harvests through early spring. If they're smaller, they'll not provide much to eat until spring, when they may bolt first.

Seeds or Sets?
Sowing bulb onion seed now will provide green onions throughout the winter and small bulb onions in late spring. Dig these up when their tops dry and replant them as sets after the following January's frosts. They will develop into full-size bulbs the following summer. (The set-size bulbs that are larger than a dime may bolt when replanted, but they can be used in winter recipes as "pearl" onions, or used for their greens.)

If this sounds like too long to wait, considering you can buy sets commercially, remember that many more varieties are available in seed, and seed produces better in our area than the sets, which are generally from the Midwest. Unless you purchase the sets from a reputable nursery as soon as they are put on display in late summer or early fall, chances are they'll bolt because they've been kept too warm for too long. Seed is so inexpensive and so simple to germinate that with a little effort you'll get many more high quality green and bulb onions.


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