We are in the most hopeful time of year for most gardeners. The tomatoes are showing blossoms and tiny fruits, the plums in the trees are swelling, and the vines are spreading out and covering arbors. Soon we will have a magnificent harvest of cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and more zucchini than we, or even our neighbors, can use.
But what about the rest of the year? Is it possible to fulfill the fantasy of stepping out to the garden to harvest something fresh for dinner in every season?
We are fortunate that with careful planning, our mild Mediterranean climate makes it possible to harvest year round. The four general planting periods in Marin are:
- February and March
- April and May
- August and September
- October and November
It is not too late to plant for summer harvest. If you get starter plants from nurseries you can get a jump on the time it would take to harvest from seeds.
A cherry tomato, such as the juicy, sweet Sun Golds or Sun Sugars, will produce tomatoes well into the fall. Young eggplants, peppers, corn, green beans, pumpkins, squash and melons can go in the ground now. If you get going, you will have your Cinderella pumpkins for Halloween.
As summer drifts on, start thinking about planting in August and September. What could be more wonderful than a Thanksgiving feast bountiful with fresh vegetables you have grown yourself?
There are many delicious edibles you can plant at the end of August and harvest in time for your feast.
Check the pattern of the sun now to determine where you will have the most light as the sun diminishes in the fall. If you are lucky, you will still have spots that get six hours of sun. Excellent fall crops include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, leeks, onions, peas and Swiss chard. Other good vegetables iclude beets, carrots and leafy green lettuces.
October and November can be a good time to plant artichokes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, chicory, Chinese cabbage, collard, endive, lettuce, potatoes, winter radish, rutabaga or spinach. Check the seed packages to be sure you have specific varieties for growing in the winter season. The fava bean also is a good winter crop that will enrich your soil by fixing nitrogen and provide you nourishment. If you have a lot of space, you even can plant alfalfa, winter wheat or rye.
Although tender annual herbs such as basil will not make it through the winter, hardy perennials such as rosemary, oregano and thyme thrive year-round. You can always step outside to your kitchen garden to snip some fresh ingredients for a warming winter soup.
Many of the cool weather crops that thrive in fall also do well in February and March. You can plant asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, leeks, carrots, peas and potatoes. Early spring is also the time to plant berries such as strawberries and blueberries. This is the best time to get your fruit trees — apple, citrus, apricot, cherry or pear — in the ground. Most nurseries try to carry plants in season so the selection of fruit trees will be best at this time.
As with all planting, keep your soil rich with additions of compost. Mulch during the growing season, and alternate which vegetables you plant in a particular location. These simple techniques will build your soil, reduce your need for fertilizer and increase the efficiency of your irrigation.
Learn more about year-round planting at Marin Master Gardener Joe Jennings' class on "Growing Vegetables for Thanksgiving Dinner" on June 22 at the Novato Library. The class will focus on planning and preparing a vegetable garden for August to September planting. Seed selection and planting issues will be examined as well as soil preparation, irrigation and frost.