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Get your garden ready for winter vegetables

September 17, 2016
Dot Zanotti Ingels

Summer is trying to make an escape. Our summer gardens are winding down. The tomatoes, zucchini and peppers are waning. Many home gardeners think only in spring about planting a vegetable garden, but fall is an ideal time to plant many kinds of cool-season vegetables. We can take advantage of cooler outdoor daytime and evening temperatures to nurture a whole new selection of yummy choices. Some things we plant in spring such as lettuce and spinach actually do better when they are not exposed to long, hot summer days that encourage them to bolt (produce flowers and seeds) or become bitter.

The timing for changing over to a cool-season garden is starting now. It is difficult to cave in and dig up those squash and tomato plants but the reality is that, as the temps go down, the quality of the summer vegetables goes down because they are not making as much sugar. Let them go and start preparing your soil for a new crop.

The principles for planting are the same in fall as they are anytime during the year.

• Plant what you like to eat. Plant where you can access the crop easily, especially when the garden can get muddy.

• Practice good garden hygiene. Clean up any summer debris. This can provide the first line of defense against insect and disease pests.

• Provide fertile, well-drained soil. After a long summer growing season, amend the soil with a generous serving of compost that will give the new crop a fresh shot of balanced nutrients.

• The days may be shorter and the shadows cast by buildings and trees are longer, but even winter vegetables like at least six hours of sun each day. Think about how the fall/winter sun travels through your garden each day.

• Roots like warm soil. In mostly temperate Marin, we generally do not get frost until later in the year (and some of us near the coast never get frost), but establishing plants while the soil is still warm gives them a better shot at establishing a strong root base. A good mulch layer also provides the plants some protection.

• We may not see rain start for some time and it is anyone’s guess how much rain we will see so it is essential to maintain irrigation until regular rains arrive. If rainfall is not consistent, keep the soil moist to protect the crop from variable temperature or drought stress.

• Planting from seed gives you more choices and is cheaper but sometimes instant gratification is a good thing. The nurseries are definitely stocking a wider variety of vegetables from which to choose. A six-pack of any one thing may be too much for you so it is fun to share a bit of this or a bit of that with friends. If you choose to try seeds, make sure that the packet says that the variety is for fall/winter planting and growth. For both seed starts and nursery plants, make sure you have the right place for it and that you plant it so it has the best chance to succeed. That includes correct planting depth and plant spacing.

• The weather may be variable, but your attention to the garden should not be. Every day or so take some time to cruise your garden. It is much easier to deal with disease or insect pests earlier than when they have had a chance to get well established.

• There are many good choices to plant. Peas are so much sweeter when picked and eaten fresh. The leafy greens like Swiss chard, lettuces, arugula, kales and spinach are perfect and an easy place to start. Green onions are also easy to grow. The brassicas like the broccolis, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts and cabbages are fun to grow and now come in so many colors and varieties. Make it fun and yummy at the same time. Maybe you will have your own produce for your holiday meals.

To learn more or have your questions answered, join UC Marin master gardener Joe Jennings at a free class, “Fall to Winter Vegetable Gardening,” from 7 to 8 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Corte Madera Public Library at 707 Meadowsweet Drive in Corte Madera.

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