November in the garden – salad greens, broccoli, peas, carrots, artichokes

November in the garden – salad greens, broccoli, peas, carrots, artichokes

Thank goodness we got some rain overnight. My garden has been getting along with occassional water from the hose but I don’t think veggies like it as much as rain water. Do you notice a difference after a rain? I do, they seem to perk up and go through a growth spurt.

The broccoli rabe is starting to form little heads. I may harvest a bit to add to pasta this weekend. Planting three varieties of broccoli is an experiment, in addition to the broccoli rabe I’ve planted purple sprouting broccoli and regular ones. We’ve had some warm weather during the day so they are getting a good start. In the past the cabbage worms and aphids got most of the harvest. I’m being diligent this year about picking off cabbage worm eggs and watching for aphids.

broccoli rabe

broccoli rabe

The cauliflower is standing tall, but there are no heads yet.

The lettuce is looking amazing! We had our first full salad from the garden last night. It was gorgeous with all those colors, textures and leaf shapes. I added fava leaves and trimmings from the pea plants.

fava beans and lettuce

fava beans and lettuce

I plan to scatter some more arugula seeds this weekend. We love it so, and it gets eaten quickly.

Arugula

Arugula

The watermelon radishes I planted seem to have become squirrel food! I’ll replant and cover them with a wire basket to keep the critters away. The radishes were purposely inter-planted with some spicy mixed greens, that usually keeps the furry pests away. Not this time, they selectively dug up all the young radishes.

The snap and snow peas are growing tall though.

nap peas, snow peas, and mesclun

snap peas, snow peas, and mesclun

That’s some spicy mesclun in the front, see the holes where the squirrels dug up the radishes? Grrrr…

carrots and radishes in containers

carrots and radishes in containers

Although I have many gardening failures over the years, the one that frustrates me the most are carrots. They should be easy to grow, right? Well, I have had terrible luck so far. Recently I decided to try another method, containers. I had some deep nursery containers that were sitting around waiting for me to stop being lazy and recycle back to the nursery. I thought I would use them, plant some radishes in the same container. So far, so good. I initially planted pelleted seeds (which are larger and supposed to make it easier to space the carrots), but the germination rate was terrible! So, I purchased several seed varieties and plan to thin the carrots when they are a couple of inches tall.

mini coldframe

mini coldframe – greenhouse

This mini-greenhouse is on the back deck, I’m hoping it will allow me to keep growing lettuces throughout the winter. It will get more sun once the magnolia tree looses the rest of it’s leaves.

artichoke plant

artichoke plant

The artichoke plants are coming back with the cooler wet weather. Last spring we had tons of them. This plant looks as if it could use separating out into at least 3 new ones. They grow like weeds here. Because my neighbor likes the flowers, I let some of them go to seed. Every since they have been self sowing themselves everywhere, even into cracks in the sidewalk.

artichoke plant growing from a crack in the sidewald

artichoke plant growing from a crack in the sidewald

 

October in the garden – what’s happening?

October in the garden – what’s happening?

I can’t believe it is almost Halloween and the beginning of November! Our days are still warm although nights are cooler. It’s been a few weeks since I posted anything about the garden. Things are growing but there’s not much to harvest yet. I have been able to pick some lettuce leaves to add to a salad, the heads themselves are still developing and I don’t want to stress them by picking too much. I take the biggest of the outer leaves and leave the rest of the head, more seedlings were planted today. Once the cold weather hits everything will slow down.

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The broccoli and cauliflower have almost reached the top of their protective wire cover. They’ll soon need to take their chances with the elements and critters.

Speaking of critters, something has been nibbling at the young lettuce plants. It doesn’t look like snails or slugs, they would have taken it roots and all! Got to be squirrels, mice, or the monster cat. I covered them again with a spare wire basket. My garden feeds the neighborhood!

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Young lettuce, ready to be planted.

The peas are looking good and getting a head start before cold weather hits.

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We are supposed to get rain tomorrow, fingers crossed for the garden. Not so good for the Halloween crowd. And, I do mean crowd. We get carloads of kids in the neighborhood from all over Oakland. I love the little ones, not so much the teenagers.

October in the garden – cabbage family (broccoli and cauliflower)

October in the garden – cabbage family (broccoli and cauliflower)

On August 7th I planted seeds for several types of broccoli, cauliflower, beets, kale and chard. These are the staples (along with lettuce and onions) of my fall and winter garden. They were seeded in flats on my back deck so I could keep an eye on them. I covered them with a plastic lid to keep a constant moisture level. Once the first leaves emerged I removed the cover. You can see from the picture below that the seeding flats are recycled plastic containers from the grocery store. I punched holes in the bottom, then set them in a shallow pan with water or on part of a commercial seed starting system. I’ve used the APS system for seed starting from Gardener’s Supply. It includes a tray as a water reservoir, a rack, a heavy duty fabric capillary mat, planting cells, and a greenhouse cover. I’ve found the included planting cells are too shallow for most vegetables (ok for lettuce). However the other parts of the system are very helpful in maintaining the consistent moisture required for seed germination. They are especially valuable if you will be away for a few days or get busy and forget your seeds. Your baby seedlings are kept safe from pests and disease when they are the most vulnerable.

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IMG_2016Once the young plants had a set of true leaves (the first leaves to emerge are called cotyledons and are not representative of the leaves you will see later), they were ready for the garden. I transplanted them into the garden at the end of September. They will do fine over the winter even with a light frost.

The broccoli and cauliflower went into one of my raised beds. Because there were previously tomatoes in that location, I added quite a bit of compost and organic fertilizer. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and deplete the soil of nutrients. Onions are good companion plants for the cabbage family. There are chives at one end of the bed and I planted some scallions between the young plants. Thyme and lemon verbena are at the other end of the bed, the aromatic herbs are reported to deter cabbage worms which have been a problem in the past. I tossed in a handful of yellow nasturtium seeds, they are a decoy for black aphids. I’ve noticed that black aphids like chives as well, maybe they will leave my broccoli and cauliflower alone this year!

Cole transplants

Broccoli and cauliflower transplants

You can see the last of my tomato plants in the raised bed behind, I can’t bear to pull them out yet as there are still some green ones on the vines. Their time is limited though as that bed is scheduled to be planted with peas.

I need to protect my plants from deer that love to lunch in my garden (not to mention the birds and squirrels and the monster cat), I covered the young plants with some wire screening left over from another project.

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It’s not too late for you to plant cauliflower and broccoli (or chard and kale) in Northern California; but you will need to buy the small plants at your local nursery as 6-packs. Avoid the ones with roots coming out of the bottom. And don’t bother with Brussels sprouts, see my note below. There will be more on chard, kale and beets in my next post.

A note on Brussels sprouts: you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned them yet, although they are one of my favorites. Brussels sprouts need five months from the time they are seeded to the time they are ready to harvest around December 1st. That means seeding no later than May 15th and planting in the garden by July 1st. In May they are not anywhere on my radar. And in July, I am enjoying the glory of the first tomatoes. My first thoughts of Brussels sprouts occur in October with Thanksgiving on the horizon. What to do? I buy those beautiful stalks at the farmer’s market. They are almost as good as home grown.

October gardening chores

Garden Journal – end of September and October 2014 

Fall is my favorite season. I love the shift to stronger flavored heartier foods, braises, and roasted vegetables. The bright colors of autumn, the crisp days, and colder nights that call for thick quilts and duvets make me happy. This year I will love the rain, every drop of it. In Northern California we have Indian summer and the first week of October often has the warmest weather of the year. This year was no exception with temperatures into the high 80’s. Nevertheless, I feel and smell fall in the air.

It is time to plant my fall garden, but some of my summer veggies are still hanging in there and taking up garden space.

This past week I pulled out the cucumbers, pole beans and half the tomato plants to make way for my cauliflower, broccoli, chard and beet transplants (seeded on August 7). The raised bed intended for peas is still producing tomatoes; they have been so delicious this year that I can’t bear to tear out the plants. I’ll need to figure out what to do with the remaining green ones but maybe some of the Sungold cherries will ripen in time. I think I can wait another week or two and besides, my green bins for the city street side composting are full. The cucumbers and summer squash had powdery mildew and couldn’t go into my own household compost bins. The tomatoes went into the green bin as well. Composting tomatoes is not recommended. Both the plants and fruit are prone to carry disease, which can get into your soil and infect next year’s plants. (This is also why it is not recommended to plant tomatoes in the same place consecutive years.) Lastly the seeds are quite resistant to even a hot compost bin and can remain viable for years. I’ve spent a lot of time picking tomato seedlings out of the garden.

General garden chores in October:

  • Pull out any diseased or finished plants and vegetables
  • Refresh garden beds with aged compost and manure
  • Mulch paths in the garden in preparation for winter wet weather and mud
  • Seed winter and spring vegetables:
    • Peas, all kinds including those intended for ornamental flowers
    • Carrots
    • Radishes
    • Lettuce
    • Arugula
    • Cilantro
  • Put out transplants of:
    • Cauliflower
    • Broccoli
    • Chard
    •  Kale
    •  Beets
    •  Parsley