Planning a vegetable garden takes a lot of things into consideration, many of which there just isn’t room to talk about here today so I’m going to confine my comments to getting some seeds into the ground.

Carrot Nantes Scarlet Half Long SeedsThis is the first week of March and in San Diego County that means the tail end of one vegetable season and the start of another. Most vegetables fall into one of two groups: cool season or warm season. Typical of cool season vegetables are peas, lettuces, carrots, radishes, and the brassica vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips). Warm season vegetables thrive in and even need the long summer days: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, beans and squash.

In our garden, cool season vegetables need to be harvested by the time May comes around and the average temperatures are in the mid-70s. However, cool season vegetables can go into the vegetable garden in the fall for harvests all winter. Many vegetables actually improve with falling temperatures. They say that brussel sprouts are sweeter after a frost. Well, that’s doesn’t happen here much but it is nice to think about.

This year, particularly, affords me the opportunity to be a Johnny-come-lately to the cool season veggies. We are experiencing a La Nina weather pattern, meaning we are having below normal temps. I’m going to put in carrots, radishes, and spinach because if the weather gets too warm in April, I can still harvest the immature vegetables. Baby carrots, right? Spinach has just 55 “Days to Maturity” and there are only 25 days for radishes. I’ll reserve some of my seeds to do this again in October. I have been told that here in San Diego’s inland valleys we can plant cool season vegetables in September but the average temperature is still in the high 80s and sometimes much more.

More compost for my vegetable bed. The last thing to do before putting these seeds in the vegetable bed is to add some more compost to the soil. If you look at the picture on the right, you will see that this weekend I sifted compost from one of our bins and dumped it in the bed before digging it in. I’m also going to add a little fertilizer – just an all-purpose organic product. A local celebrity gardener recommends Milorganite(tm). Organic fertilizers are preferable because inorganic fertilizers are salts and I have a problem with salts in my soil. The point of the fertilizer, even though I am adding plentiful amounts of compost and all its nutrients, is that California soils are generally low in nitrogen, the nutrient essential for the plants to form healthy and strong leafy parts. I’ll also check the pH of the soil and correct if it is too acidic.

I really should say something about my warm season vegetables. In our heirloom seed packs, that would include beans, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkin, winter squash and tomatoes. In my zone, this is the best time to start peppers and tomatoes inside so that I can set them in the ground next month. The ground is still too cold for good germination. I actually did take the temperature of the ground last week and it was only 65° on a relatively sunny day. That can slow the germination down considerably. What might take a week or two inside could take a month or more outside. But of more concern to me is the nighttime temps, which are still dipping pretty low and could really damage the seedlings. The average for this time of year is the mid-40s but with La Nina hanging around, it could be lower.

I’ll tell you the “inside story” next week.

Laurie Gore is the Deputy Heirloom Gardener for Zone 9. She and her husband Frank live in Bonita, California, just a few miles north of the US/Mexico border. Laurie and Frank are celebrating their 28th anniversary this month.

by Zone 9 Deputy Gardener Laurie Gore

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Though I totally understand where you are coming from, we are going to have to agree to disagree on this topic. Milorganite has been used as a fertilizer since the 1920s and, if you have concerns about the safety of it, you should read the Material Safety Data Sheet ( You can read more about the use of biosolids on the EPA website at….

We are on a septic tank here and, because I am responsible for maintaining it, I am very aware that we generate waste that has to be dealt with, not just flushed and forgotten. Last year, Scientific American published an article by Scott Huler that literally walked through the waste management system in his hometown Raleigh, North Carolina. ( Fifty percent of all sewage sludge is dumped into landfills because municipalities decide not to implement programs to turn it into reusable biosolids. Because Frank and I are conscientious recyclers, this concerns me.

Historically, human populations either let sewage flow into waterways or used it as “night soil” on crops. Without treatment, which only became the norm in the last century, the consequences could be catastrophic. Personally, the standards to which biosolids are held make me comfortable using them in my garden. The caveat here is the same I would apply to any product, organic or inorganic: always read the label carefully, follow the directions to the letter, and be a responsible consumer.


I wouldnt want to use Milorganite in my vegetable garden (or anywhere to be honest). Milorganite is produced from the sludge of big cities (originally Milwaukee, which is what the "Mil…" stands for. Lots of things go down city drains besides human waste. Included in the mix is runoff from light industry and other sources.


Hi, Michelle!

Glad you stopped by. I know the challenge of gardening on a slope but your poor soil is the perfect excuse to use terraced beds. Amending the soil becomes part of the terracing project and works really well.

As to recruiting friends, try this: start tomato or pepper seedlings for your friends and invite them to pot them up and enjoy the yield all summer. Both plants should do well in containers with a minimum of fuss. I'm taking potted plants to my sister in about a month. I'm also doing some reading on the subject of container vegetable gardening so you may hear more about this from me.

Gardening with children is another potential blog topic for me. We enjoy having children in and around the yard and I'm planning something for them in my vegetable garden. The San Diego Floral Association just published an issue featuring kid-friendly garden ideas (

Good luck and keep in touch.


Hi Laurie,

I am so happy to have found you. I live in Corona, Ca and would love to order and plant the packets of seeds recommended as the community garden. We have a huge slope in our yard allowing us a fair amount of space but our soil is just horrible. I think I may be able to find some help at UC Riverside. I am in a local Moms Club here in Corona. We all have young children and I am trying to encourage my fellow members to grow their own foods and support local farms. I have a big job here. I am looking forward to following you and your information.



Dr. Brent

Hi, Michelle

We recommend posting questions in the forums so that all the other gardeners in your zone can learn, too.

We look forward to growing with you this year!


In Palm Springs, I would think that you could start your tomatoes, yes, but also your peppers, beans, cucumbers, and winter squash.

I went to the UC Garden Web ( and looked up their vegetable guides. For Desert Valleys, the dates are considerably earlier than mine. Check out what they have there are see if it helps.

I was interested to see that they have a second season for warm season vegetables and say you can also plant beans, cucumbers and winter squash in August.


I am in Palm Springs. Just got my seeds. Should I start with the tomatoes?