Southern California is a gardener’s delight. While other parts of the country are blanketed in snow, our winter vegetable gardens are thriving.
The Winter Vegetable Garden
In Southern California we grow all year long. In the winter, our cool season crops will often produce even throughout the coldest months of the year. The inland area gets very few days of frost, and snow in most regions is a rarity at best. It is not uncommon to see bell peppers still growing in November and even December. Root vegetables, leafy greens, members of the cabbage family and cool weather herbs thrive in the Inland Empire well beyond the holiday season. Even if you have yet to plant a fall and winter garden, you still have time to take advantage of the season.
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Plant a variety of lettuce, spinach, or a mesclun mix. These are quick to sprout, and do not take long to reach maturity. Swiss chard and winter kale are also popular choices for greens. Peas will do well throughout the fall, and can be planted for the pea pods or for harvesting pea tendrils.
Carrots, onions, radishes, beets, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga an other root vegetables are all cold weather vegetables that can be planted as late as November, and sometimes even December depending on the weather.
The Cabbage Family
Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and napa can be grown easily throughout the winter. Kale is another vegetable that is winter hardy.
Fall herbs include oregano, garlic, rosemary and thyme. Perennial sage will also have no problem surviving the cold months.
Fall and early winter are the best times to plant fruit trees in Inland Southern California. Fruit bearing vines should be planted in the spring for a summer harvest. However, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and even melons can be grown in small greenhouses, provided they are pollinated properly. Strawberry growers typically begin planting as early as October. Strawberries are not affected by Southern California’s winter weather.
Taking Care of Your Winter Vegetable Garden
Even the Inland Empire will experience an occasional frost. To protect your crops you may need to cover them with plastic or run strings of lights along the plants to keep them freezing. Kale will stand up to a frost much better than lettuce, spinach or other greens. For root vegetables, a straw mulch will help protect the tender roots from becoming frost damaged. If there is a frost warning, take steps to protect your crops. Constructing a temporary frame and covering the rows or raised bed gardens with plastic, in effect, building a temporary green house is an effective way to keep the vegetables safe. There are also a number of portable, lightweight green houses made of pliable plastic sheeting with zippers that can set up as needed.
Your fall and winter garden will require less water than during the hot months. In some parts of the country very little to no irrigation is used on fall and winter crops. That will not work here. Even though the weather begins to cool in October and November, it is still notoriously dry.
The Santa Ana winds are also an issue. Besides drying out the soil, they can do significant damage to your vegetable garden. You should take steps to shield your garden from the high winds. Block walls and even vine covered fences or hedges can provide a wind break that will help your garden get through the windiest of days.
Fall and winter vegetables require fertilization. Use an organic fertilizer as recommended for the types of food that you are growing.
Well drained soil, properly fertilized and protected vegetable gardens should continue to produce into January and beyond. Enjoy the bounty of your winter garden.
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Published in: Gardening