November is an ideal time to plant a cool-weather vegetable garden. In California, there are two distinct seasons for kitchen gardens: March through September (the warm season) and the October through April (the cool season). The overlap during March and April means that we can harvest cool-season crops while we are planting our summer favorites.
Each season has its own palette of edible plants and vegetables. Most people are quite familiar with warm-season veggies, but what falls into the cool-season category is often unclear. If you cluster the choices into families, however, it can be simple.
Cool season veggies are leaf crops (all lettuces and chards), peas, root crops (beet, radish, turnip, carrot), and cole crops like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.
Many of these vegetables are quick growers, meaning that you can plant them multiple times during the cool-season period and have fresher-than-farmers-market harvests. If you marvel about the exceptional, old-fashioned flavor of home-grown tomatoes, then you will be astounded at true carrot flavors, vibrant green flavors of chard and kale, as well as super sweet-tasting English peas.
Place your edible garden in full sun. Lettuce, chard and radish can take a bit of shade, if needed.
Proper preparation is important to the success of any highly productive kitchen garden. Nutrients need to be supplied to the soil before taking produce out from the soil itself.
Make sure to prepare a planting area in three simple ways:
1. Add lots of compost. Often referred to as soil amendment or planting mix, it is impossible to have too much. This improves the texture of your soil, increases water retention and makes it easier for plants to absorb nutrients. Remember that compost or amendments are not fertilizers, even though there likely are nutrients in them.
2. Feed the soil. This is where fertilizers come in. In kitchen gardens, always use organic foods. At the same time you add compost, also add a pre-plant fertilizer. Later, after plants are established, you will want to use an organic vegetable food.
3. Turn the soil to the depth of eight inches. This will mix your compost and pre-plant fertilizer into the soil. Well-turned, well-amended soil is especially important for root crops like carrots and beets. They will form misshapen veggies (or not grow well at all) if you do not follow this step.
Remember, as with all edible crops, regular watering is important. If you are planting from seed, keep the soil surface moist (not soggy) until seedlings sprout and the first true leaves appear. If you are planting seedlings from packs, keep them regularly moist for at least three weeks while they send out new roots and become established.
Winter rains may be sufficient at times, but be sure to water your garden regularly in between rainstorms. As mentioned, many cool-season crops can be enjoyed rather quickly. Leaf lettuces, baby carrots, radishes, beet greens and kale can all be harvested as early as four weeks after planting.
Gary Jones is the Chief Horticulturist at Armstrong Garden Centers, which has seven San Diego County locations. Email your gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.