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How to get the best harvest from your edibles

  • Anne Marie Walker
  • The pleasure of going into your garden for vegetables can be immensely satisfying and immediately connects you with the subtleties of the cycle of seasons while stimulating your taste buds.

    The key to growing vegetables galore in your kitchen garden is remembering its purpose: to provide a seasonal harvest. To accomplish this, think of vegetables as clues to the season.

    Spring means it's time to harvest hardy perennials such as rhubarb, asparagus, sorrel and artichokes. These plants thrive in Marin County and can be planted from December through March with good harvests in the third year. Cool season annuals can be planted when soil temperatures range from 40 to 60 degrees. These plants include carrots, cabbage, broccoli, kale, potatoes, turnips, peas, fava beans, leeks and quick-to-mature greens such as spinach and lettuces. Crop harvests begin as soon as 30 days (lettuce) to 120 days (potatoes).

    In May, warmer days approach and soil temperatures increase to 60 degrees or more. You can now plant warm-season crops, including corn, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, pumpkins, squashes and beans. In warm growing conditions, you can expect to harvest beans as quickly as 60 days and pumpkins in 120 days.

    Marin's temperate climate affords a third planting opportunity from late July through September for cool-season vegetables. Because seeds germinate at different soil temperatures, use a soil thermometer to determine when to plant. Direct seed large seeded vegetables such as corn, squash, beans and peas as well as all root crops such as carrots, radishes, beets and turnips. Transplant vegetables you want to get an early start such as tomatoes.

    Once planted, water your seeds gently keeping them consistently moist to ensure germination. To achieve growth, seedlings need consistent watering, soil nutrients and adequate pollination.

    To understand the cultural preferences, life cycles and probable problems of vegetables, it helps to learn the families of common vegetables. Grow sheets for many vegetables can be found on the UC Marin Master Gardeners' website at www.marinmg.org. Click on Backyard to Belly to learn about how and when to plant vegetables and which varieties thrive best in Marin.

    When planning your garden, include herbs and flowers with your vegetables. This practice not only adds beauty to your garden, but also it helps attract pollinators and repel hungry pests that might otherwise go after your crops.

    The best companion planting practices are outlined in a chart at the end of the grow sheets on the website. Remember to place taller vegetables to the north so shorter ones get the six to eight hours of sunshine needed to produce. Edible crops need nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to produce vegetables galore. Planting by vegetable family maximizes crop yield by allowing you to fertilize according to the needs of that plant family. It also helps with annual crop rotation and disease control.

    Vegetable gardens are always in transition looking pristine one day and a bit forlorn the next week. Here are three simple steps that can help you keep your vegetable garden visually interesting through most of the year and producing vegetables galore:

    • Think seasonally selecting a mix of annual and perennial vegetables that you like to eat and plant according to soil temperature placing taller vegetables to the north.
    • Include herb and flowers with vegetable plantings. They help draw the pollinators, deter pests by attracting predators, and act as borders to provide structure and balance.
    • Interplant by vegetable family according to soil, fertilizer and water needs while respecting crop rotation requirements, especially important in the edible landscape.

    The University of California Marin Master Gardeners are sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension. For questions about gardening, plant pests or diseases, call 473-4204 from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays, or bring in samples or pictures to 1682 Novato Blvd., Suite 150B, Novato.