Fall Vegetables for Southern California

The pumpkins are complete and ready for pie-making.  Why is there a sign reading 'Barbra Streisand' next to a pumpkin?  It's for the rose the pumpkin grew into...the lavender flowers look great with the orange pumpkins, by the way...

In coastal and near-coastal Southern California, as with annual flowers, vegetables can be divided into three groups:  warm season, cool season, and both seasons.

Warm season vegetables include beans, corn, eggplant, melons (where it is hot enough), peppers, pumpkins, tomatoes, and squash.  If you are ambitious, try two crops of tomatoes:  early varieties planted in March and the rest planted in May or June to extend the season.  A few may work planted in late August--those varieties of Siberian or Eastern European heritage, such as 'Stupice'.  Where beans are concerned it's pretty easy here in Sunset Zone 23 to get two crops, one planted in early April, the next planted as the first finishes producing.  Of course, you may weary of eating green beans for dinner four times a week.  If you have a food-sealer you can freeze the excess, but I've found that packed in plastic bags, they get freezer burn pretty quickly--within a few weeks.   A few weeks may be very insufficient to recover from eating them for dinner four times a week. 

Cool-season vegetables are traditionally beets, broccoli, cabbage, chard, lettuce of all kinds, garlic, leeks, onions, peas, and turnips.  Cauliflower is very difficult, because it requires uninterrupted cool weather.  You may get lucky, but a few days of 90F+ heat will ruin cauliflower, and here, a few days of 90F+ weather is not untypical any time from say...January to December. 

We grew chard for a while, then made the mistake of letting it get too large and strongly flavored.  One meal of that and we never ate chard again.  So keep eating the baby leaves only.  It's probably the easiest vegetable there is, besides green beans, garlic, and pumpkins.  Please note I do not consider zucchini a vegetable.  Zucchini works best as a neighbor repellant.  Tired of your neighbor out in the yard all the time?  Tell him or her you have some zucchini, and remark offhandedly that they're as big as baseball bats, and you won't see your neighbor again for weeks if not months, until all threat of free zucchini has passed. 

Vegetables that can be planted almost year-round include carrots, radishes, and if you are close to the coast, spinach. 

Vegetable gardening is not my area of greatest expertise, but I've learned a thing about growing cool-season (fall) vegetables I'd like to share:  the most important factor (okay, besides remembering to water) is a combination of soil temperature and air temperature.

In early fall the soil is still quite warm from the long daylight hours of summer.  The daytime temperatures are as warm as ever, but there are less hours of warm temperatures per day, and the nights are cooler.  As fall progresses soil as well as air temperature cools.  The trick with fall vegetable success is to find the sweet spot when the soil is warm enough to make seed germination and root growth fast and easy, but the air temperature is cool enough not to unduly stress crops (like peas) that prefer cool conditions.  You also need to be a little lucky with the weather--an extended hot spell will ruin the heat-intolerant crops like peas and lettuce.  Spinach is one that really likes warm soil to germinate in but cool air to grow in--if I plant it too late in the year I get few plants that don't want to produce those tiny green ovals of tender flavor that rarely make it into the kitchen because I eat them all kneeling beside the spinach bed.  But I digress. 

Today I planted bush beans, a warm season vegetable, and peas, a cool-season vegetable.  I'm gambling the soil and the air will still be warm enough for the next 60-75 days (to mid-November) to produce a crop of beans, but that the air temperature won't be so warm that it shrivels the peas.  (The former is more likely than the latter.)  Last Tuesday I also planted some "broccolini", which began to appear on Saturday, just four days later. This quick germination tells me the soil is still plenty warm, which led me to try bush beans this late in summer.

Broccolini just sprouting:
Broccolini just sprouting 

"Broccolini" is a Japanese-developed cross between broccoli and Chinese Kale.  It is supposed to be similar to broccoli, but with a much sweeter flavor.  I'll let you know.  Update:  the Broccolini was super delicious!  Do watch out for aphids as they found it delicious, too. 

Mid-September, and we now enter the low-humidity/cooler evenings time of year, which brings out the very best in 'Souvenir de la Malmaison':
Souvenir de la Malmaison

When I took out all the old tomato plants, I uncovered 'The Endeavour', which hasn't grown much at all, though it managed to bloom sporadically over the summer, peaking out from underneath all the tomato foliage.   A slight disappointment so far, but I'm willing to be patient, since being buried under tomato foliage is not the best place for a rose.  It was really my fault.  Those darn delicious tomatoes.  Maybe it was really their fault.  They are gone for the year and can't defend themselves anyway.  Though I musn't jinx next year...

'The Endeavour'

Honestly I know many people, including myself, are really not interested in vegetable growing.  I continue to hope it will (excuse the expression) "grow" on me.  The home-growns are all so much better tasting than the ones from the store or even the farmer's market, but my heart is with the roses.  The veggies so far have captured only my stomach.


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