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.
This 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.
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.