Gardening is the new front porch in urban America- share yours!
By Susan Taylor
Fall gardening! Yes, I know that it is still over 90 degrees in all parts of the county except along the coast and these high temperatures could last many more weeks. I have been reduced to gardening before 9 a.m. when it really heats up in my La Mesa neighborhood. I’ve been harvesting massive amounts of figs every day, which I’ve eaten right off the Mission fig tree that grew to over 12 feet tall this year and nearly as wide. I’m eating dried figs, cooked up with some sugar and port and frozen. I may have to try Fig Taylors before long.
When I saw the massive number of baby green figs emerge this summer, I asked my sons to drape some bird netting over and around as many branches as they could. When the figs changed from green to soft, luscious and dark purple the netting saved the harvest from the birds and June bugs waiting patiently for the fruit to be perfectly ripe. So far I’ve ‘lost’ two earrings and a pair of sunglasses that I might be able to reclaim from the net when fig season is over.
I hope you have enjoyed your summer veggies and fruits. I have loved the tomatoes, corn, melon, tomatillos, beans and eggplant to name a few. Except for tomatoes, peppers, melons and possibly eggplant most of your plants should be in the waning stage by now. Feel free to clear them out and regroup–your soil needs nourishment for the months ahead.
I like to use thoroughly composted chicken manure, worm casings and an organic commercial fertilizer that has a balanced formula with emphasis on nitrogen. Before you add amendments, turn your soil over, checking for unwanted critters (slugs come to mind) and if you have mulched (surely you have in order to not have weeds) put the mulch to one side while replenishing your soil. Now you are ready to plant something new.
If you haven’t had enough fresh tomatoes you can replant some starts. Really, when does one get sick of tomatoes? If you want more beans, plant the bush variety instead of pole beans for the fall. Though it doesn’t say in any literature you can still possibly squeak in some pumpkins and other fall squash.
Other fall plantings can include bok choy, the baby bok choy is very quick and tender to produce, carrots, beets, radishes, kale, many varieties of chard, spinach and lettuces. Since we still have lots of hot weather ahead, keep your eye on the spinach and lettuces so they don’t bolt. If they do, haul them out and plant some more.
Think about the fall veggies you really like to eat before you plant. There is a cost/benefit ratio to consider before planting, say cabbage or rutabaga. These and others take a long time to grow, as well as considerable space in the garden bed. I prefer to buy certain fall organic produce because of the length of time and space considerations. Of course, if you are urban homesteaders with LOTS of room, by all means plant away.
A few words about cole crops– they include Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli and kohlrabi. These are cool season vegetables and some people believe that “cole” is really meant to be the word “cold.” Cole crops also require vigilance against snails and other insects that find the host plant wonderful to live and snack on. Vigilance means watering in the morning only and keeping your garden plants clean, well spaced and free of weeds. This is a truism for year round gardening too!
If you are thinking about something floral and would like some sweet peas for Christmas and New Year’s, you can plant seeds now. Sweet peas like to be soaked overnight in warm water. No, you don’t have to keep the water warm all night, just start with warm water. You may buy bush or pole sweet peas so check the seed packet before you plant and plant accordingly. If you are done with tomatoes, use your stakes or supports to provide support for the coming flowers.
The heirloom varieties have some wonderfully fragrant plants so be sure to check them out. I really like Renee’s seeds for sweet peas with fabulous colors, fragrances and variety. I always have mixed success with sweet peas (tad of honesty here) and accept that I may have to re-seed a couple of times. I keep trying to figure out what went wrong and if I kept a better garden journal maybe I’d have learned by now but never mind.
Finally, if you’re not really ready to face fall plants, why not browse some catalogues? Some seed companies no longer mail catalogues and I know why but just love browsing knowing full well I’m not going to plant certain plants. Catalogues I enjoy are Renee’s Seeds, Seed Saver Exchange, Nichols Garden, and for some real garden porn, order Landreth’s catalogue. Not as practical for Southern California perhaps, but but they have been purveyors of America’s seeds since 1784, that’s right, 1784! Wonderful to support such a business.
We’re not done with fall gardens but I wanted to give some folks a jump-start for the months ahead. In the meantime, anyone made tomato or zucchini ice cream yet?
Important note: The San Diego Master Gardener Association will hold a terrific Plant Sale on September 20 from 9-2 in the Casa del Prado building and surrounding patios in Balboa Park. Trees, natives, ornamentals, veggies, Ask a Master Gardener Booth, birdhouses extraordinaire, and more. Don’t miss it!