Our Marin coastal climate gives us rainless, foggy summers followed by beautiful fall harvest days. Tomatoes still ripen on the vine, green beans flower and climb trellises and Cinderella pumpkins take on robust orange and gold hues.
Observation teaches us that shorter days signal approaching rains and possible nights of freezing temperatures. Harvest days of warm-season crops like corn, melons, beans and tomatoes are drawing to a close. Nature signals the changing seasons and our gardens need seasonal attention.
Are you a gardener who thinks gardens shut down after harvesting summer's bounty? Or, are you wondering what edibles grow in Marin County in fall and winter gardens? Many vegetables planted in early fall can thrive with success increased by selecting varieties with the shortest days to maturity. Fall and winter gardens thrive best when you choose from the following cool-season crops:
• Greens including arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuces and kale
• Root crops including carrots, beets, onions and radishes
• Brassicas including broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage
• Legumes including fava beans and peas
• Alliums including leeks and red scallions
If you are a gourmet gardener, you might wish to select Asian vegetables like pak choi, Chinese mustard greens and snow peas. European specialty salad greens such as mâche, arugula and sorrel also flourish this time of year. Whatever your preferences, you can find a fall or winter crop that entices.
Deferring planting until early fall helps conserve water and a few late fall nights of 28 degree temperatures produce super sweet-tasting cool season edibles! With just a bit of planning, you can plant your fall/winter garden. Follow these simple steps for success:
• Remove all plant material from warm season crops and add 3 inches of compost.
• Rotate planted areas (move this season's fall/winter garden if you planted one last year).
• Select edibles that germinate in soil temperatures between 40 and 60 degrees and mature quickly (good representation listed above).
• Plant fall/winter crops close together to minimize soil erosion.
• Add mulch — you can use leaves falling from your trees (just shred them first by running your lawn mower over them).
Vegetable beds that are to be left bare in winter benefit from preparation as well. Plant a cover crop such as clover, fava beans or vetch; this is a crop you do not intend to harvest, but rather turn over into the soil before spring planting to restore nitrogen. Plant seeds just before the rains so you don't have to water.
To keep you inspired, plan a winter feast from your harvest. One of my family's treasured traditions is to hike and make soup on New Year's Day. Returning from our hike, we forage in the garden for the last of the leeks, chard and carrots. Someone scrubs and chops the vegetables while someone else searches the freezer for summer's tomatoes and the pantry for dried beans. The soup is a memorable hearty winter feast with which we welcome the New Year!