Abundance flowed from the Kelly garden boxes this summer. When the first produce was ready to be picked, I licked my lips as I planned a family feast.
We’ve been chowing down on zucchini, cucumbers, yellow crookneck squash, Hungarian wax peppers, sweet corn, fresh herbs, and eight varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and we’ve still had plenty to give away.
“It’s easy to get the kids to eat their veggies when they’ve planted, tended, and picked them,” Patrick said recently while wiping the juice and seeds of a fresh cherry tomato from the corner of his mouth. “And our grocery bill is lower, too.”
Ever the bottom-liner, I countered, “Yeah, but I wonder how much you save after you account for the planting and watering costs…and, of course, the time involved.”
That comment didn’t even elicit a response. Instead, Patrick said, “I want to keep this garden growing into fall and winter. But the vines were planted so long ago that they’re looking sad. And I don’t know when I should pull them out and what to plant in their place.”
He gave me that think-you-could-find-out-for-me? look. I can’t resist that look.
“I would not change out most of the summer crops until about September because it is usually too hot for some of the winter crops,” said John Hoffman of Grangetto’s Farm and Garden Supply in Encinitas (760-944-5777). “In September you can start beets, carrots, celery, lettuce, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, parsley, parsnips. They say peas would probably do pretty well during this time…Swiss chard, turnips, and winter squash. Those are all good winter crops.”
And what about my favorite: cucumbers?
“Cucumbers are more of a warm-season crop,” Hoffman answered.
I checked cucumbers off the list and asked about tomatoes.
“There are some new tomatoes on the market that you can plant in the fall and they will still produce. The flowers are made to work through the cooler parts of the year. Normal tomatoes won’t set flower in the winter as well, so you have a lot less fruit.”
Some of these new winter tomatoes: Siberian, stupice, Oregon spring, champion, legend, and taxi.
When should you give up on a plant and start anew? Tiger Palafox, manager at Mission Hills Nursery, explained, “The fruit production becomes less and the size becomes smaller,” he offered. “So, after you start to see that, you can think about replacing it. Always amend the soil before replanting.”
For those gardens east of the College Area, such as ours, Palafox warned, “Avoid planting peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe, and spring variety tomatoes. It will be too cold for them. But celery, chard, lettuce [$2.99 for a four-inch pot]…all of your leafy vegetables will do well in the winter.”
For the winter tomatoes, Palafox suggested Oregon spring, Siberian, and glacier.
“The winter tomatoes can be planted now but will need more watering since it is still warm.”
The first batch of Kelly tomatoes came with a lot of black rot on the bottom. “It is called blossom end rot,” Palafox said, “and it is a calcium deficiency in the soil. It can be cured by a spray called blossom end rot spray. You spray it right on the flower before it sets fruit.”
Internet gardening forums are full of questions about blossom end rot. The consensus seems to be that it’s a problem that should be taken care of before planting by amending the soil.
Mildew and mold, Palafox said, are two common enemies of the winter gardener. “Mildew and mold on the foliage comes with a humid environment. You prevent that by keeping the plant from having a lot of inner growth, pruning it, allowing air to flow through the plant, and not watering in the evening. You should water in the early morning.”
Patrick’s pumpkins have already been harvested, and he’s thinking of a second planting. “You would plant them now for the smaller varieties, like the miniature pumpkins, but if you wanted the larger ones, you should have planted them a month ago.”
Palafox’s last words on winter gardening: watch out for pests. Even during the cooler months, aphids, caterpillars, snails, and slugs can devastate a garden. Mission Hills sells Neem Oil for the aphids ($9.95 for a 24-ounce spray bottle), Spinosad for the caterpillars ($10.99 for a 24-ounce spray bottle), and Sluggo for the snails and slugs (a pound for $11.99).