Planning Your Garden for Fall and Winter
Blog Post By Tessa Henry
Cool-weather crop planning sneaks up on me every year. Just as we are in the middle of our mid-summer days of harvesting bountiful crops of tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, and stone fruit, I’m reminded that I need to start planning and seeding for our fall and winter crops. The cycle of farming never ends. If you plan to start seedlings on your own, you can start as early as July. I haven’t always seeded with the phases of the moon in mind, but I have found it helpful to organize my seeding plan roughly as follows:
July Waxing Moon: Cool weather leaf/flower crops with longer days to maturity: Broccoli, Cabbage, Romanesco, Cauliflower, Radicchio, Chicories, Collard Greens, Kale
July Waning Moon: Cool weather root crops with longer days to maturity:
Carrots, Beets, Scallions
August Waxing Moon: Cool weather leaf/flower crops with shorter days to maturity: Lettuces, Tatsoi, Spinach, Kohl Rabi, Napa Cabbage, and anything that needs to be reseeded from July
August Waning Moon: Cool weather root crops with shorter days to maturity: Radishes, Turnips, and 2 nd succession of carrots and beets
If you are buying your starts from your local nursery, it’s not a bad idea to start shopping and planting in August. Plant those brassicas that take longer to mature first, followed by veggies that have a quick turnaround, like lettuce. Most of these cool loving veggies like to be started off in some warmth in order to sweeten up in the cold as they mature. Plants planted in August/September will be harvested in October/November, becoming your fall crops. Plants planted in September/October will be harvested starting in November into December/January, becoming your winter crops. Here in California, we can farm all year round, but it doesn’t come without challenges.
There are a few crops in a category all of their own that do best planted in September/October but that aren’t harvested until late Spring/early Summer. These slow-growing beauties include garlic, leeks, fava beans, sunchokes, and purple sprouting broccoli. There are more that could be listed here, but these are the ones that I find have done well for me.
A few tips from seed to harvest:
- Seeding in July is HOT for germination. Finding some shade in your yard or making shade with a shade cover will help keep your seeds happy.
- Planting in August is HOT. Don’t plant into a heatwave and keep those little root balls moist. Check water daily and water often until the roots become established enough to take a more routine watering schedule.
- Pest pressure from aphids, caterpillars, and birds on young leafy plants is one of my biggest problems. Covering your plants with insect netting has been extremely helpful. It is light enough that, pulled over loosely, doesn’t need hoops to be propped up and still allows the plants space
- Extreme aphid pressure can occur easily and usually lessens in cooler temperatures. Check your plants frequently to remove aphids by hand. On larger plants, you can spray them off with a high-pressure water gun.
- Frost can damage plants that are not cold hardy. Most of the fall/winter vegetables mentioned above will tolerate a light frost. Having some frost cover on hand is always a good idea.
These are some of my favorite cool-weather crops from last season:
Romanesco (variety, Veronica from Johnny’s Seeds) is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. Its eye-catching bright green hue and cylindrical pattern looks like something plucked from a tropical coral reef. I find it to be more frost tolerant than your average white cauliflower with much of the same crisp flavor.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli (from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply) was planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. The name says it all, gorgeous sweet purple broccoli shoots were harvested for weeks in the spring after other broccoli varieties were spent.
Italian Easy Peel Garlic (from Filaree Garlic Farm) was planted in October 2019 and dug from the beds in June 2020. If you can spare some space for garlic in your garden it is well worth the wait!
Little Gem lettuces (Breen and Bambi from Johnny’s seeds) were both frost and heat tolerant. They grew well all through fall and spring and could be seeded, transplanted, and harvested quickly for a continuous supply.
Farmers and gardeners know that growing food is a very dynamic process. I encourage you to find what works for you in your own soil type and microclimate. Try one or two new crops each year but hold on to those varieties that prove successful for you year after year.