you? Fall is almost or already here. This is really a busy time for
a gardener even with the evenings coming sooner and mornings later.
I mean it's really a crunch – there is harvesting from the Summer
garden and planting for the Winter garden! But if you find time now,
you'll reap rewards later in the year.
half-way into the month, it usually becomes cool enough to sow
arugula, beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, parsnips and turnips. My
leek and fennel seedlings ought to be ready to transplant out, as
should broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chard,
endive all later in the month. Lettuce is one plant I’ll usually
direct sow in the garden AND start in six packs to set out – there
are advantages to both and so I’ll use both. Root crops –
carrots, beets, radishes and turnips – must be sown where they will
grow. If you ignore my advice and try to sow root crops for
transplanting, you will find beets, radishes and turnips will produce
a crop, but they are so set back by the transplanting process it
really isn't worth it – carrots and parsnips simply do not perform
at all unless you are incredibly meticulous and then it's just not
worth the time.
September wanes, probably the most productive time in the Southern
California potager begins. If you are eating from your garden, now
is the time you can really feast for awhile, the last of summer –
peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, sweet corn, basil – is still
out there to eat and the first root crops or lettuce will be big
enough to munch a bite or two. I enjoy eating BLT sandwiches and for
a brief moment in spring and a second brief moment at this time; the
homemade BLT is one of my rituals. I bake my own bread, and the
tomato and lettuce come from my garden so the only non-homemade items
are the bacon and the mayo. It's almost a mystical experience,
especially when the bread is still warm from the oven. Finish it off
with a dessert of figs heated on the grill or in a broiler, drizzled
with a bit of honey on them and a dollop of some fairly stout Greek
yogurt. Oh, to die for! Not some store-bought fig shipped in from
far away, but a fig that got ripe on a tree in the back yard or from
a local farmer at your farmers' market.
My friend Joy Sun grew
this amaranth - a plant we are harvesting this time of year -
beautiful with the lablab bean flowers around it.
beans, lentils and peas are being planted now, too. All of these
grow best in our cooler winters. Fava beans were the only bean in
the Old World before the American plants became part of the European
pantheon; all the other beans are American (as are tomatoes, peppers,
and potatoes among others – one wonders how in the world the
Italians and French survived long enough to arrive at a culinary
tradition!). Fava bean plants, as well as lentils and peas, make a
marvelous addition to any soil building program and favas, when
combined with artichoke hearts, make a Mediterranean stew so
delicious that my taste buds flutter just to remember.
is an exciting time to be gardening. Grab your imagination and take
it to where you are planting. Think about the eventual size of what
you are planting – it's OK to make mistakes – that's how we
learn! When I'm teaching a class, the truth of it is, I have
probably killed more plants than anyone else in the room and yet,
they are the ones saying “I have a black thumb.” That's probably
the biggest lie they can tell me. When I kill a plant, I usually
know why it died and sometimes it isn't my fault. When it IS my
fault, it's usually because I wasn't paying attention. Death by
inattention isn't a 'black thumb' issue unless you do things like
forget to stop the car when parking or forget to go to get breakfast
in the morning. Death by inattention can be reformed – it's simply
changing your patterns. Be kind to yourself and you'll learn. It's
we harvest a tomato, we are really harvesting the soil's fertility
that has been converted via the sun's energy into the vegetables from
our garden. Putting the tomato plant back into the soil, without the
tomatoes you harvested, represents a net loss for the soil. That's
where the additional mulch and compost come in – we try to replace
the vegetables we have eaten with organic matter that will allow the
soil to recreate its bevy of nutrients nourishing our next season's
garden. It is not sufficient, in the long run, to just add
fertilizers – we need to add things that will provide sustenance
for the fungi, bacteria and other critters living in our garden's
soil; a thriving soil ecology will provide better nutrition to your
plants without spending needless dollars on fertilizer, most of which
will only become pollution in our ground water or vaporize off into
a garden where perennial weeds are not a huge problem, I like the
idea of planting a perennial crop that will assist in nourishing the
soil – these are sometimes called cover crops or 'manure crops' if
they are planted in the beds. My method is a little different,
because the crop is allowed to stay in the paths, like any one of
several clovers or an alfalfa that will take mild foot traffic and
will do something to add to the fertility of the soil. If this crop
is mowed in a sustainable manner – like without a gas powered lawn
mower – the clippings can be put right back into the beds or added
to a compost pile for more green material. Unfortunately, for those
of us growing in most community gardens, control of perennial weeds
is only as good as the worst gardener. If one gardener doesn't keep
them in check, perennial weeds will infest the pathways and there is
no good way to get rid of them without digging them out of the
pathways. Not having perennial paved paths is another compromise one
makes in community gardening.
in mind that some kind of soil regeneration must be happening all the
time or the soil will eventually not support food crops. It is
better to do this regeneration little by little in our smaller
gardens. Folks with larger areas, or a long vacation coming up, can
plant cover crops to increase the soil's fertility over a season.
For gardeners in Sunset Zones 22 and 24, that means a part of the
garden can be left without growing crops to harvest every single
month of the year. In areas where there is not a huge problem with
perennial weeds, the paths supplement this soil enrichment by growing
something like clover year round to improve the soils vibrancy. In
any growing season, it is better to have the soil
covered with some crop – even a crop of weeds is better than
leaving the soil barren. Although it would be ideal if you were to
get rid of the weeds before they began to go to seed. Protecting the
soil from wind and rain is imperative and bare soil fares the worst.
Having some plant there with roots in the soil makes all difference
in keeping soil – especially on a slope – in place.
you've built good garden soil, you don't want it to leave. We work
hard to make our soils the kind of soils our gardening friends will
drool over. But one hard rain, or a Santa Ana event on bare soil,
even really good soil, can ruin all that work.
manure crops have been a time honored way of helping the soil regain
lost fertility. Farmers have known for centuries that bean crops add
nitrogen to the soil and bulky plants add to the tilth of the soil.
Alfalfa is prized for its extensive root system that breaks up the
hard subsoil and bring nutrients trapped out of the reach of other
plants into its leaves – adding them to the soil or compost pile
brings all that into an area where it can be made available to your
as well as alfalfa, creates nitrogen – what is called 'fixing
nitrogen' and is beneficial to most garden plants. Clover, as a
member of the bean family – the Legumes, they are called – has a
symbiotic relationship to a bacterium in the soil. The bacteria
invade the bean plants roots and the plant feeds the bacteria – the
bacteria return the favor by taking atmospheric nitrogen – which
plants can't use – turning it into a form that plants can use.
Growing fava beans, lentils, peas, or garbanzo beans all will add
nitrogen to your soil – whether you harvest the beans or not.
Whenever you think you need fertilizer, consider using a green manure
crop instead. It takes longer, but the results are much more
you have begun to work on your soil, never leave it uncovered to the
wind and the sun. Those elements will destroy your soil and will not
help your garden's production or water/nutrient holding capacity.
It is best to use a cover of plant material, even weeds if you have
nothing else! Pull the weeds, leave them in the path with their
roots exposed to the sun and within 24 hours, they'll be toast and
you can spread them along your paths or even place them near your
plants (this is also a good thing to do with your cover crops –
while it's better to put them in your compost (as greens), you can
also pull the cover crop, lay them on the path to dry and use them as
your pathway mulch.
a different world, where the perennial weeds are kept at a minimum, a
wonderful path planted of cover crops is a gift that keeps on giving.
The green manure crop produces nitrogen that will eventually help
your garden plants out, it's pleasant to walk on an almost lawn –
even barefoot if you are so inclined. And kept up, looks positively
divine, darling! We cannot do this at The Learning Garden – too
many perennial weeds!
These In Containers
These In The Ground
to the Ground from Containers
cabbage family crops
cabbage family plant big enough to survive.
*You must grow root crops in the
ground from the very beginning because they transplant poorly, even
if you are spectacularly careful in transplanting, very few will
avoid having ugly deformed roots – it just is not worth the effort!
You can begin planting right now
between the dying, dismal plants of summer – just get right in
there and sow your seeds or transplant your little baby plants!