In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2012
Regional Report

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There are lots of wonderful lettuce varieties to get started now and eat through fall!

Last Frost Signals Planting Time for Later Eating

January 31 is the average last frost date for our flatland areas, with some adjustment for the higher foothills and lower seaside areas, and therefore the best time to begin starting seeds of vegetables for eating in the upcoming seasons.

The consistent increases in light and temperature are the cues and clues for edible foliage plants to "think" they're in their first year of growth and therefore producing what we consider to be food. Once plants like lettuce and parsley experience downward temperatures -- like those crops we planted in the fall and winter and have been eating from already -- the warming temperatures send them the signal that their "growing" time is over and their "going-to-seed" time is at hand.

This is why those fall and winter-planted seedlings produce fine through early spring, but come the extensive late-spring heat, they'll bolt. Consequently, you must reseed them in the early spring as well as early fall. The exceptions I've found are chard and beets, which will continue bearing wonderfully tender leaves and bulbs through several seasons, often more than a year.

Seeds to start outdoors now include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, chives, kale, leeks, buttercrunch, leaf and iceberg lettuces, mustards, green and bulb onions, peas, radishes, and spinach. Herbs include chamomile, caraway, chervil, cilantro (coriander), dill, fennel, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, tarragon, and thyme.

Transplanting all these from commercially grown seedlings should present no bolting problem since they've been pampered in humid greenhouses to get them growing well, so they'll have only a bit of setback as they're planted into your colder garden. With our consistently moderate temperatures hovering in the 70s during the day and barely below 50 at night, they should develop and produce just fine. And if they do bolt, just plant more seedlings or seeds!

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