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” (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 [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, inter-planting 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, Aug. 11, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Yountville. For more details and 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.
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