Chard comes in many colors, bumpy and flat leaved, small and large!
Coastal SoCal December Wisdom includes maintaining growing winter plants, planting lettuces and littles (small veggies between bigger plants), starting to make ample compost for spring planting, making seed decisions and getting your extra saved seeds ready for our January 31 Santa Barbara Seed Swap!
Normally, December would be winter’s June, but due to late starts because of the fall record hot temps, most of us didn’t start planting winter crops until late October. So now we are in the coolest time of the year, plants growing slowly. That changes all the parameters. With another possible mild winter, early spring planting in the offing, a lot of gardeners aren’t planting large winter plants, but are planting more chards and kales for steady greens, and will be readying their soil for spring planting sooner. Smaller fast growers are filling in.
Lettuces, Leaves and Littles! Heading lettuces do well in winter. The more delicate varieties that don’t tolerate scorching summer sun do well. Keep planting at intervals to have a steady table supply. If you live in a cooler area yet than coastal SoCal, be sure to get cold tolerant varieties, especially the ones your local nursery carries. Other winter pleasures are vibrant and fragrant Arugula, asparagus in cooler areas, long rooted radishes like daikons, bunch onions, beets, carrots and chard of all colors, Bok Choy, celery, culinary dandelions, kohlrabi, potatoes, garden purslane, turnips, Mizuna. Keep planting bush or pole peas for a steady supply – snaps, snow, shelling! All delish!
Over planting seeds is fair game! Thin your beets, carrots, chard, kale, mustard, turnips. Take out the smaller, weaker plants. They are great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves.
It’s time for Artichoke pups – give them 3’ to 4’ space! They are hefty growers and live 10 years! I just saw some at Terra Sol Nursery that have a purple tinge to the fruits! For those of you that love collards, they also have Purple Collard Trees, chosen for their sweet, tender leaves & pretty color! They get as much as 10′ tall and generally live 3 to 5 years, but as many as 20! AKA Richmond’s Pride, they are the OFFICIAL green of Richmond, CA!! They were first brought to Richmond from the South during WWII, are easily propagated by cuttings. Buy one, make many!
Aaaaand, they have several varieties of Strawberries – two are Chinault and an everbearer special treat, Berries Galore Rose! Strawberries are in the Rose family, so the blooms look like brilliant little pink roses! VERY pretty!
You could plant another round of brocs, Brussels sprouts if you get winter chill, cabbage, cauliflower, kale. But if you think we will have another mild winter, though they will grow faster, will they be done for soil preps before March plantings?
Make the most of winter companion planting! Carrots enhance peas, onion family stunts peas. Cilantro enhances Brassicas and repels aphids on them! Lettuce repels Cabbage moths. Onions, leeks and chives help repel the carrot root fly. Carrots thrive when Cilantro, Chamomile, Marigold are planted with them.
Per square foot, fast growing cut-and-come-again Lettuce,Chard and Kale are by far the top winter producers!Leaf after leaf they can be harvested without taking the whole plant! Lettuce will need to replanted at some point, but Chard and Kale keep right on coming! Take the large head of Broccoli and let the side shoots grow. On their sunny side grow lettuces underneath. That increases your production per square foot even more! Beet greens are delicious and so are the beets, but you have to keep replanting when you take the roots, and wait all over again for them to mature. See? Time lost. But beets are beets, and variety is good for your health.
Sidedressing is like snacking. Some of your heavy leaf producers and big bodied Brassicas, may need a feeding now and again. If they slow down, or just don’t look perky, slip them a liquid feed that quickly waters into the root zone. Get your nozzle under low cabbage leaves and feed/water out to the drip line. Lettuces love manures. Compost and manure teas, fish emulsion (when there are no digging predators), powdered box ferts, are all good. Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings. Slow release is a wise consideration. Worm castings, though not food, work wonders! Also, be careful of ‘too much’ fertilizer, too much water, that makes for an aphid tasty soft plant. That said, another way to get goodness to the roots is push in a spade fork vertically, wiggle it back and forth, remove the fork, pour your foods into the holes, close ’em back up. Soil organisms will get right to work, your plant will stay healthy and be quite productive!
The exceptions are carrots, peas and favas. Carrots get hairy and will fork with too much food! Over watering makes them split. Your peas and favas are busy gathering Nitrogen from the air, feeding themselves.
Watering is important even in cool weather. Also, some plants simply like being moist ie chard and lettuce. No swimming, just moist.
Except for erosion control, in winter, we pull mulch back to let the soil warm up during the short winter days. The only areas we mulch are around lettuces, chard and strawberries to keep mud splash off the leaves and berries. Also, it’s good to remove pest habitat, let the soil dry a bit between rains to kill off the wilts fungi, and let Bagrada bug eggs die. Bag up, or pile and cover, clean uninfested summer straw, mulches, for compost pile layers during winter. Do not keep straw from areas where there have been infestations.
A mini task is to keep covering the shoulders of carrots, beets, radishes and turnips. They substantially push right up above ground as they grow. Planting their seeds deeper doesn’t compensate. It’s the nature of the veggie! Never hurts to put a handy little pile of extra soil near where you plant them. Uncovered shoulders look dry, are tough, sometimes bitter, and need peeling before cooking. Uncovered carrot shoulders don’t ripen but stay green.
Prevention and removal! Keep an eye out for pests and diseases and take quick action! A typical disease is Powdery mildew. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. For mildew apply your baking soda mix. The best combo is 1 regular Aspirin, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day if transplanting. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution. Hose away aphids and whiteflies, mildew. Remove yellowing Brassica leaves. Yellow attracts whiteflies.
Chard and beets gets Leafminers. Plant so mature leaves don’t touch, remove infested leaves immediately! Water and feed just a little less to make those leaves less inviting.
Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants.
When you put in seeds, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from vanishing upcoming seedlings overnight, making you think they never came up! No, they didn’t let you down. Killing off the creatures ahead of time saves the babies. It stops new transplants from being seriously damaged or entirely eaten while they are small. Do this a few times, to knock off the generations, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while.
Religion. Watch WEATHER reports in case of freezes, heavy winds, rain. If we SoCal gardeners are lucky, we will have El Niño rains this month! Check berms before rains. Cover straw bales and leaf stores. See Rainy Day Tactics for Spectacular Veggies! Stake large top heavy plants before rain and winds. Double check trellises. Lay boards or straw in pathways. Best is to lay down straw then put a board or two side by side on top. This holds the straw in place and the straw will feed your soil for good spring planting. Mulch around lettuces, chard and strawberries to prevent mud splash on leaves and fruit.
Keep plants well fed with Nitrogen and cover safely before freezes. See the details – Protect Your Veggies from Freezing! Santa Barbara’s average First Frost (fall) date AT THE AIRPORT is December 19, Last Frost (spring) date is(was?) January 22. That can vary from the coastal areas to the foothills, and our climate is changing generally to warmer, so these dates may not be viable guides much longer, if even now….
COMPOST is your second religion! Compost is easy to make, and if you make it, you know what’s in it! Added to your soil, made or purchased, it keeps your soil aerated, increases water holding capacity, is nutritious, soil organisms flourish, your soil lives and breathes! It feeds just perfectly! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place! Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist.
Plant green manure where you will grow heavy summer feeders like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard. Green manure can be beautiful favas or a vetch mix to boost soil Nitrogen. Favas are big and you get a lot of green manure per square foot. If you change your mind, you can eat them! 🙂 Or cover an area you won’t be planting with a good 6″ to a foot deep of mulch/straw and simply let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. That’s called sheet composting or composting in place – no turning or having to move it when it’s finished. If you are vermicomposting, have worms, add a few handfuls to speed up and enrich the process. Next spring you will have rich nutritious soil for no work at all!
SEEDS FOR SPRING & SUMMER! Perfect time to sit with seed catalogs, do online research. Get your summer garden layout in mind. First choices are for your excellent health! Next might be how much plant you get per square foot if you have limited space and want to feed several people. Since we are in drought conditions, water could be a strong consideration ~ choose heat and drought tolerant varieties. Place your order for the entire year, while seeds are still available.
Besides beautiful bareroot roses, decide now where you will be buying any January bareroot veggies you want! Consider: grape vines; artichokes; short-day (sweet) globe onions; strawberries; cane berries such as raspberries (get low-chill types); low-chill blueberries; and rhubarb, asparagus, and horseradish.
Please be generous with your time these holidays. Rather than just serving food, maybe show someone how to grow veggies, give them seeds with instructions, give them a tour of your garden. Show them they can do it themselves. There are many garden heroes out there, like Will Allen, 66 year old American urban farmer based in Milwaukee and a retired professional basketball player. Growing Power, just one of his accomplishments, is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. He says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins.
The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. We are very coastal, during late spring/summer in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!
November Garden Images! Western Bluebirds, green manure patch, surprises!
See the entire December GBC Newsletter:
Carrots! Steaming, Roasted, Juicing, Snacking, Salad!
Lettuce ~ Beautiful, Nutritious, Low Calorie!
Wonderful Gardener-Style Holiday Gifts!
West Oakland Farms for Ex-Cons
Events! Master Gardener Training, Seed Swap!