Living on the coast has its benefits. Our unique seasons make it one of the easiest places to grow a bounty of food all year long. Don’t miss out! Mid-July through mid-August is the time to plant a selection of cool-season crops and reap the future rewards of a delicious winter garden.
Not just any old thing can be planted in a winter garden. Warm-season crops, like tomatoes, peppers, and squashes, which are grown for their fruit production, are a big no-no. The ticket? Cool-season crops that are generally harvested before they reach full maturity or produce fruits. Its easy to group the crops suitable for a late summer planting into 3 overlapping groups: brassicas, leafy greens, and root vegetables.
I start by thinking of my biggest plants when I start a new planting. In the winter garden, these are the brassicas. You may be surprised to learn that Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and collard greens are all actually the same plant, Brassica oleracea. Their differences are due to decades of breeding for different dominant traits. Other brassicas include mustards greens, bok choy/pak choi, turnips, rutabagas, and rapini. Brassicas do best as transplants, but seeds can also be used for anything that isn’t a Brassica oleracea. For an extended harvest, consider pairing early-season with over-wintering broccoli and cauliflower varieties. Early-season varieties will be ready to harvest in fall and winter, while over-wintering varieties like the show-stopping Purple Sprouting broccoli, will develop heads in the spring.
Leafy greens are vegetables grown for their edible leaves. While not all leafy greens are brassicas, many brassicas are also considered leafy greens (see diagram). An overlap of the two groups includes kale, collards, bok choy/pak choi, and mustard greens. Non-brassica leafy greens include lettuce, Swiss chard, and arugula. Leafy greens can be started as transplants or directly sown outside.
Root crops include turnips, rutabagas, (both brassicas) parsnips, and radishes. Root crops don’t transplant well and should be sown directly outside. While technically a tuber, potatoes can also be lumped into the root crops. Potatoes aren’t started by seeds, but by small potatoes, commonly called seed potatoes, or cut pieces of potato that have 2-3 eyes, aka growth buds.
There are a handful of additional plants that may be successful depending on the weather. These include peas, spinach, beets, fava beans, and celery. Try them and you may have a nice bonus to an already plentiful garden.
September and October are some of the warmest and sunniest months along the coast. It’s the perfect weather for your plants to put on the flush of growth they’ll need to be harvestable by late November or December. When winter approaches, your plant’s growth will slow to a snail’s pace. If you’re not ready to start harvesting, your plants can remain in the garden in an almost dormant state. We’re lucky! Our winters are cool, but not so cold that things freeze. It makes our gardens the perfect solution to long-term vegetable refrigeration.
Year-around gardening requires a foresight I often lack. I regularly miss crucial planting times that leave my garden bare in the months to come. Don’t let this happen to you. Imagine the sweet carrots, crisp cabbage heads, and delicate lettuce leaves this winter could bring. Plant now to feast later.
This article was originally written for the Half Moon Bay review and Pacifica Magazine.