Time to Plan and Plant Fall and Winter Vegetables.
By Susanne von Rosenberg, U. C. Master Gardener of Napa County
If you are a regular reader of this column, you already know that you can grow vegetables year-round in Napa County. Growing produce in autumn and winter extends your harvest and protects the health of your soil because you are practicing crop rotation.
The biggest challenge for the novice year-round gardener is mindset. How many of us are really ready to start planning our fall edibles now, when our biggest concern is staying cool, and the best tomatoes are yet to come?
To help you get into the groove, here are a few easy things you can do now to have a successful fall and winter vegetable garden.
First, make a list of the fall and winter vegetables you really enjoy. Broccoli is a favorite for many folks, and lettuces and greens for cooking are also good choices. For more ideas on what to plant, consult the Master Gardeners' “Healthy Garden Tips: Cool Season Gardens for Napa County” (https://ucanr.edu/sites/ucmgnapa/files/153368.pdf).
Next, think about when you want to harvest. As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, plants grow more slowly. Getting them into the ground early is important. If you start broccoli seeds now, you can plant the seedlings in early September and probably harvest some by late October. But wait until mid-August to start your seeds, and your broccoli will likely take until late November to mature because it will grow more slowly than seedlings planted two weeks earlier.
Plantings that mature in mid- to late November can also be left in the garden and picked throughout the winter. Most vegetable plants grow slowly, if at all, between mid-November and mid-January. Your garden is a terrific storage location for fresh produce in the winter. Don't be dismayed if your plants look wilted after a frost; they'll make an amazing comeback as the day warms up.
How do you know what to plant when? Check out the Master Gardeners' spring/summer and winter/fall planting guides (in the Healthy Garden Tips section of our website). Use this link [https://ucanr.edu/sites/ucmgnapa/files/153875.pdf ]for detailed charts, and this link [https://ucanr.edu/sites/ucmgnapa/files/218030.pdf] if you prefer a written summary.
Now comes the most difficult question: where to plant your fall and winter vegetables? Most of us need to be creative to find room. Take a hard look at your garden. Are there plants that are not performing well? Or maybe you don't like that new tomato you tried? Perhaps you're just tired of zucchini or wish you hadn't planted so many.
A little ruthlessness will serve you well as you make space for fall vegetables. If you need more room, interplanting is a great option. Plant your fall starts among the summer plants. Fall plants, which prefer cooler temperatures, will benefit from the shade cast by mature summer vegetables.
Leafy greens can sometimes grow to maturity before summer vegetables need to be removed, but for many fall crops you will eventually need to remove the summer plants so your fall vegetables get enough light. By late September many summer vegetable plants are really slowing down and looking tired, so it's a bit of a relief to take them out.
If you can't bear to remove plants that are still producing, you can grow some fall vegetables in pots. Many leafy greens do well in containers. Look for vegetable seeds specifically intended for growing in pots. One of my favorite container vegetables is sugar snap peas. Some gardeners buy extra time for their summer vegetables by starting fall crops in one-gallon pots, then transplanting them later.
If you're still struggling to find space in your summer garden, consider growing onions, garlic and fava beans, which like to be planted later. Or focus on vegetables that mature rapidly. Some lettuces and leafy greens such as tat soi may yield a crop from seed in less than two months.
Growing mesclun (salad mix) is another option. The greens in most mesclun mixes mature to harvestable size in as little as four weeks. Also consider planting long-maturation vegetables relatively late (mid-October or later) to get a head start on your spring garden. Those plantings probably won't produce anything to harvest this fall or winter, but they will have a big head start when the weather warms in early spring.
Next workshop: “Cool-Season Vegetables: Now is the Time to Plan and Start” on Saturday, August 10, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Repeated on Sunday, August 11, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Yountville. For more details & online registration for the Napa workshop: http://napamg.ucanr.edu. Or call 707-253-4221. For the Yountville workshop, go to Online Yountville registration or telephone the Parks & Recreation Department at 707-944-8712.
The UC Master Gardeners are volunteers who provide UC research-based information on home gardening and answer your questions. To find out more about upcoming programs or to ask a garden question, visit the Master Gardener website (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) or call (707) 253-4221 between 9 a.m. and noon on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.
The drought is now officially over and Yosemite National Park is in its full glory with profuse waterfalls. But we all know that California's water resources are fragile.
In the garden, plants cannot grow without sun and water. We have no control over daily sunshine, but we can influence water supply somewhat by making a self-irrigating pot. Such a container provides some assurance that your plants are getting the water they need with less labor on your part.
You can buy ornamental pots for gardening, but if you are growing edibles seriously at home, you may want less expensive, larger-capacity alternatives. Some stores do carry self-irrigating trough containers intended for vegetable growing, but they can be costly. You can create your own with less investment.
Self-irrigating pots and raised beds reduce watering needs dramatically, sometimes to zero in locales that get rain. You do not need to set up a drip-irrigation system. In Napa Valley's Mediterranean-type climate, a self-irrigation pot (SIP) system may still require occasional watering, but depending on your micro-climate, once every few weeks or once a month may be sufficient. In short, a SIP system simplifies your life and reduces watering chores drastically.
For a small SIP system, start with two plastic 5-gallon buckets. For ornamental plants for indoor or patio gardening, choose decorative store-bought pots. For edibles, you can use any kind or size of planter, but 5-gallon plastic buckets have built-in handles and are relatively lightweight even when filled with soil and plants.
Some people use 2-gallon soda bottles with great success, but they generally lack UV (ultra- violet) protection and may leach harmful chemicals. Painting the bottles may solve the UV problem, and the filtering effect of the soil may neutralize harmful chemicals, but plastic buckets are simpler and easier and can water a larger planting area.
Here's how to convert two 5-gallon plastic buckets into a SIP:
With a 3-inch hole saw, drill four 3-inch holes in the bottom of Bucket #1.
Purchase four 3-inch net cups or use four 3-inch plastic drinking cups and drill a dozen ¼-inch holes in each.
Fill the net cups or drilled plastic cups with potting soil. These cups will serve as water wicks. Put the cups in the holes you drilled in Bucket #1.
Drill at least two ¼-in overflow holes in Bucket #2, where the inserted bottom of Bucket #1 lines up.
Place Bucket #1 inside Bucket #2;
Fill Bucket #1 with potting soil. Water the soil until the water reservoir of Bucket #2 is filled and water leaks from the overflow holes.
Plant the edibles of your choosing in Bucket #1. Refill the water reservoir in Bucket #2 only as needed.
For your SIP to be successful, you must establish water wicking between the water supply and the soil. The overflow holes prevent drowning of the roots.
You can build a self-irrigating raised bed using the same principles, but it takes more steps, work, materials and care—a topic for a future article.
Workshops: U. C. Master Food Preservers will teach a workshop on “Pickling and Fermenting” on Friday, July 14, from 10 a.m. to noon, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Learn the basics of pickling and fermenting, understand the cautions involved in home food preservation, watch a demonstration of each process and discuss recipes easily managed by the home cook. THIS WORKSHOP IS COMPLETELY FULL AND REGISTRATION IS CLOSED.
U. C. Master Food Preservers will teach a workshop on “Food Preserving: Canning, Drying, Freezing” on Saturday, July 15, from 10 a.m. to noon, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Learn the equipment required and hazards to avoid in this demonstration with recipes provided. The emphasis is on microbial food safety but biotechnology, food quality and food security will also be addressed. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening publi with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.