We can begin planting cool-season crops now for harvest in early spring.
We need to hurry to set out transplants and to plant seeds since we’ll only have 60, maybe 80 days before air and soil temperatures are too warm in April for cool season vegetables. Temperatures above 70-75 degrees cause cool-season vegetables to turn bitter or to set flowers (bolt) and produce seed, ending their productive lives.
Root vegetables including carrots, radishes, turnips, and beets require lightweight, well-draining soil in order to form properly. Trying to grow them in the heavy clay common to our area only results in stumpy, misshapen, abnormally small specimens. In between rain showers (we hope), amend your planting beds with large amounts of compost or humus. If you don’t have time to turn in amendments in the entire bed or the soil is rain-sogged, consider digging foot-deep furrows and filling the furrows with a lightweight soil amendment and then planting seed or setting out transplants.
Mud from splashing rain often coats leafy vegetables grown in planting beds, making it time-consuming to clean off all the grit before eating. Lettuces, chards, spinach, mustards and arugula can all be grown in containers filled with potting soil which tends to splatter less than garden soil. Pick greens leaf by leaf or harvest whole when the crop needs thinning.
Peas, both the bush and the climbing varieties, as well as fava beans will need support as they grow. Peas and beans fix nitrogen into the soil, enriching it. Rotate pea and bean crops annually so that nitrogen levels don’t build up in the soil. Tomatoes, for example, are very nitrogen-sensitive and will produce all vine but no fruit when planted in spots where peas and beans have previously been growing.
Local nurseries should have a good selection of seeds and transplants suitable for our climate zones (zone 7 in the foothills and zones 8 and 9 in the Clovis/Fresno area) and our short spring season. Also check nurseries and garden centers for onion and garlic sets and certified seed potatoes. Both do well in our climate and both are easy to grow.
Certified seed potatoes are cut in sections, each of which includes an “eye.” (Supermarket potatoes are usually chemically treated to prevent sprouting). Plant the sections 3 inches deep, 6 to 12 inches apart in lightweight soil. As the green leaves appear, begin to mound dirt up around the plant base-3 inches of dirt at a time. Gently use your hands to pull out a few good-sized potatoes for the evening meal and harvest them all when the leafy tops turn brown and flop over. Store in a cool, dry place.
Onions set bulbs according to the amount of daylight. Long-day bulbs need 15 to 16 hours of daily sunlight; short-day bulbs only need 12 hours and are best planted in early spring. Pull green onions as needed; pull out mature bulbs in late spring and allow them to cure or dry on the soil surface. Onions are cured in about 3 days; garlic bulbs need three weeks to dry and develop the papery, protective skin.
Send Elinor Teague plant questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (“plants” in the subject line).