As summer winds down and our cool season approaches, a farmer's thoughts start to turn dark green, like kale. Often people that grow food in Southern California just plant a summer garden of corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans and cucumbers, and maybe a few other things. The garden patch is left to go fallow until the first warm days of spring when thoughts of a summer harvest starts to stir.
One beauty of living in Southern California is our mild winters; this type of climate allows us to plant things all through the winter months.
It's actually very simple in Southern California. We have a "warm season" and a "cool season." Most gardeners are familiar as to what to grow during the warm season, ut when it comes to the cool season, I find enthusiastic gardeners have a lot of questions like, "Is it really worth growing food in the winter?" or "I can only think of a few things, are there any others?" or "What's good to grow in the Fall and Winter?"
I love it when someone asks me that! My first response is, "Well, that depends" and then I go into my rant. It all depends on if you want to grow a whole lot of healthful super-foods with a lot less work. Many of the most nutrient dense foods grow during the winter months, coincidentally during the time of year when we need more nutrient dense foods. Nature makes so much sense!
It comes as a big surprise to most people that we can grow many more things in winter than we can in summer. Because of the shorter days, the ground is cooler and there's less evaporation, so we end up watering a lot less even though cool season plants need more moisture. The weather is cooler, so it's easier to work in the garden. During the cool season, plants tend to take care of themselves. On occasion, it even rains! And if we have amended our soil properly with adequate composted organic matter and mulched around our plants, then we really save time and water.
I'm sure you are all on the edge of your seats, anxious to learn the diversity of amazing food plants that we can grow to bring delicious joy to our dull and dreary days of winter!
Ready for the list?
In no particular order:
Broccoli - look for re-sprouting varieties; you'll probably have to order seed.
Brussels sprouts - the key to great sprouts is to decapitate the plant at about 30 inches.
Beets - try Chioggia or Golden Beets, Oh so sweet! (Beet-haters love these beets!)
Kohlrabi - the early purple ones are stunning and sweet
Arugula - try it instead of lettuce on a sandwich
Sugar Pod Peas - the more you pick, the more you get!
Fava Beans - amazingly delicious! Excellent with a fine Chianti.
Carrots - plant a riot of carrots; they come in yellow, white, red, purple and orange!
Kale - try walking stick kale or tree kale; they are perennials
Rutabaga - sounds yucky, tastes great! Mash them like potatoes.
Artichokes - from seed, or later in the season, starts from the nursery
Sunchokes - get some at the Market and plant 'em!
Rhubarb - available at nurseries as starts, or later in the season in bare root form.
Lettuces - so many to choose from!
Corn Salad - great for small spaces
Onions - from seed now, and later from sets
Leeks - from seeds or starts
Garlic - find your favorite, break into cloves and plant 'em!
Shallots - buy them at the Farmer's Market and plant them in your garden; they multiply.
Potatoes - buy only organic ones (then they are non-GMO) and plant them.
Florence Fennel - a must-have in every garden!
Cilantro - that's right, Cilantro is a cool season plant!
It is also good to plan on planting fruit trees, berries, grapes and other dormant fruiting plants in the winter.
If I have missed any, I am sure someone will speak up.