If you haven’t noticed, your local nurseries are selling cool season vegetable transplants! It’s time to get them off their tables and into your garden.
I love my cool season garden because it is so pleasant to work in.The temperature in the morning is a pleasant 60-70 degrees, yet it is sunny and warm enough for the plants to get a great start. It really is prime season in the low desert to grow foods. Most gardeners consider it our best growing season.
Cool season gardens call for greens, root vegetables, and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower). The only caveat to this is that our beloved tomatoes for the salads made of the cool-season lettuce are done producing. Everything else for the salads grows in this season, however. You will see tomato plants for sale in the nurseries but buyer beware. I cut back mine from summer to attempt to grow winter tomatoes as an experiment. They have to be babied through the cold, however. Stay tuned as I report how they did.
A DIFFERENT CLIMATE
In the summer, we provided shade during the hottest parts of the day because the overhead sun and heat damaged the garden left unprotected. However, in winter, the sun sits lower on the horizon, casting longer shadows, and the temperatures drop dramatically at night. That means that most of your vegetables will need full sun. Instead of shade screens, you will be covering the more sensitive plants with winter garden blankets or sheets when night-time temperatures dip below 40 degrees. As we near frost dates (usually mid-December), I’ll write about which ones needs coverage and which will handle the frosty nights.
When you purchase your plants, choose quick-maturing varieties. If they take a long time, plan for your cool season crops to still be in your garden as you plant your warm season crops. I use transplants for most of my cool season plants because I want to use as much of my garden as possible for the next season. It cuts the plant-to-harvest time by about 20 percent. If you plant onions or garlic, plan accordingly. Even if you plant sets or cloves instead of seed, they will still be growing when you install your warm-season garden.
I created a chart below that tells you the number of days to harvest after you plant, whether you should plant seeds or transplants, and when to plant. Use the span of dates to spread out planting times of your seed-based plants and elongate harvest times. It doesn’t do much good with transplants because the nurseries are simply maintaining your plants in pots while you wait. Often, they get root-bound in the process, so buy them now and get them in the ground at once. The only way to stagger transplants would be to propagate the plants yourself.
Buy your plants from local nurseries, not big box stores. Even when you buy from a local nursery, ask where it was grown. Local nurseries will sometimes order from California, which is fine, but local growers are better. The plants are already acclimated. You don’t want anything propagated outside of the Southwest or California.
PLANT WITH HARVEST IN MIND
Plant early morning or just before dusk to prevent heat shock. It’s still warm outside! Space your plants according to instructions on the seed packet or the planting stick that came with the transplant. So many new gardeners look at how small the plants are and crowd them, thinking they can produce more food. Plants need correct separation so that air circulates well and roots don’t compete for water. Air circulation prevents disease and pests, improving production.
Carrot and lettuce seeds are very small, so you will have to thin out the seedlings. The best way to thin isn’t to pull out the seedling, but to clip it off at the soil level, leaving the roots to “compost” in the ground. Roots collect nitrogen and nutrients, so when you leave the roots of new or spent plants in the ground (as long as they aren’t diseased), it feeds your soil. It also doesn’t disturb the roots of the plants you are keeping. This is a great technique at the end of a season also as long as the old roots don’t get in the way of your new planting.
When you plant larger seeds, still put in more than the number of plants you want then thin them out to the strongest plants. You will get the most out of your garden if you do this. Seeds are cheap but your labor, water, and soil additives are not. Make it all worth it with strong, productive plants.
Water all transplants and seeds immediately, then watch them grow. Be patient. Cool-season vegetables take longer. The wonderful news is that you won’t have to deal with as many pests, however.
Cool-season gardening is my favorite. I think it will become yours also.
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