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!


Young lettuce, ready to be planted.

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


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 kitchen – Pasta with Peas

October in the kitchen – Pasta with Peas

Ok, so I don’t have any fresh peas from my garden yet. I don’t expect to see any until next spring. There is, however, a trusty package of frozen baby peas in the freezer. And, I have also been pinching the very tops of the snap and snow peas to encourage bushiness (the flowering sweet peas get pinched as well but they are not edible). Those trimmings can be tossed in a salad or used as a garnish for the following pasta dish.

I’ve been using the young fava bean leaves in salads. I don’t grow favas for the beans but rather for their ability to fix nitrogen and improve the soil, they are called a cover crop. The leaves have the subtle flavor of favas and are a lot less trouble than the beans. Because I want their energy to go back into the soil and not into making beans, I cut dig them in when they start to flower. Meanwhile the young leaves are delicious.

Pasta with Peas (Serves 6-8)

Pasta with peas and pea shoots

Pasta with peas and pea shoots

The following recipe uses 4 of the ingredients from the basic 20:

  • Pasta – 1 lb. (regular or gluten free), your choice of shape
  • Olive oil or softened butter – 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup)
  • Parmesan – grated, about a cup plus more for serving
  • Salt
  • Pepper to taste


  • Frozen peas – ½ package defrosted
  • Fresh herbs from your garden – mint, parsley, thyme – a good handful, minced
  • Optional – Pea shoots from pinching your plants or the store (I’ve seen them at Trader Joe’s)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt (kosher) until it tastes like the sea. Toss in your pasta and cook according to the package directions, tasting to make sure it is done to your liking. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Do not rinse.

Add the olive oil or butter to the warm pot; add the peas and heat for about 30 seconds. Dump your pasta back in the hot pot, add the herbs and toss until well mixed, add a little of the hot cooking water if it looks dry, then the cheese and toss again. If the mixture still looks dry, add a bit more cooking water. The cooking water contains starch, which turns butter and cheese into a creamy sauce. Don’t add too much as you don’t want it to be watery. Taste to see if it needs more salt. Turn into a warm serving bowl or individual plates. Garnish with the pea shoots and grate some additional cheese on the top.


October in the garden – time to plant peas

October in the garden – time to plant peas

In my zone 9 garden it is time to plant peas. Freshly gathered sugar snap or snow peas are nothing like the ones you buy in the grocery store or find at the farmer’s market. Just pulled off the vine peas are sweet, juicy and snappy. The natural sugars start turning to starch immediately so they are best, like corn, eaten immediately after picking. There are short varieties of both the snap and snow peas; the shorter varieties don’t shade the other veggies as much. Sun is a valuable commodity in my garden. I grow them along a short pea fence (the same one I use for cucumbers in the summer).

I don’t have enough room to grow regular shelling peas, the vines are very tall and you need a lot of them to produce enough peas for a meal. Frozen baby peas are actually quite good, inexpensive, available year round, and easy!

Sweet pea flowers are a delight! With just a few plants you can gather a vase full of flowers each week, for months. They are expensive to purchase, if you can even find them at the farmer’s market or florist. They are worth every inch of space in the garden.

Peas, ready for planting

Peas, ready for planting

Although it isn’t generally recommended, I decided to start the pea seeds in flats then transplant them into the planting bed later. This has some advantages, as the birds (and the monster cat) love the seedlings. I started the seeds in the fall this year because last springs crop was a failure; I was only able to harvest a few. My mistake was planting transplants into the garden in early April; there wasn’t enough time for them to produce a crop before our unseasonal heat wave. They succumbed to powdery mildew before they developed any pods. I used some of the tips of the pea shoots in salads but had to pull out the plants. This year I will overwinter them for an earlier crop. Peas need some warm weather to sprout but then do fine in cooler weather, they are even ok with a light frost.

I seeded 3 types of bush snap and snow peas all from Cook’s Garden:

All of them are bush or dwarf varieties and only need a short support system. The entire plant of these is edible, so shoots can be gathered for salads even before they produce any pods.

  • Dwarf Grey Sugar – a snow pea with lovely purplish grey leaves and two toned pink and purple flowers. After reading an article on the blog Frugalista Gardener, I couldn’t resist them.
  • Cascadia – snap pea
  • Sugar Daddy – snap pea

I also seeded some flowering sweet peas. They will be tall and need strong support when planted into the garden. I’ll use the bean tower. I grow sweet peas each year, they are lovely in an arrangement with roses and remind me of my grandmother. Their delightful scent will permeate an entire room. Putting a vase in the entrance hallway gives visitors and family a special greeting as they come in the front door.

Flowering sweet peas:

All of the seeds had their outer shell nicked with a nail clipper to hasten germination and were planted in plastic flats (recycled plastic arugula and kale containers from the grocery store). I seeded 2 peas per hole, 1 inch deep, and about 1.5 inches apart. The plastic containers went onto a wet seed mat. The mat wicks from a well of water below to keep consistent moisture level for germination. The APS system came from Gardener’s Supply. This gives me the freedom to go away for a few days and know the seedlings are getting consistent and proper moisture for germination.


I planted them along a short pea fence last week. They are in one of four of my raised beds. As well into that bed went Watermelon radishes, arugula, and some spicy lettuce mixes. The cooler weather means I can start harvesting lettuce from the garden again. Hopefully they will get established before the really cold weather hits us, our first frost date is December 1.

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The sweet pea flowers were planted beside the bean tower, as they will get very tall. In the past I have planted way too many and been overwhelmed with picking flowers to keep the plants blooming. This year I was more restrained in the number of plants, and maybe more optimistic that they would do well. The Incense Peach variety was sold out last year, I’m pleased I was able to get some for this year.

It’s not too late to put in pea plants in zone 9, you will find a wide variety at your local nursery this month.

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