Late Winter Gardening for the Southern California “Homestead”

These beets are ready for harvest!

The Southern Californian winter garden is a delicious one. Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale, carrots, beets, and radishes, onions and leeks, and an astounding array of lettuces can all be pulled from your garden’s soil. The winter is starting to come to a close but there remain plenty of options for the winter gardener. The time for tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumber is just around the corner. A post on the summer vegetable garden is soon to come. But today’s late-winter gardener should focus on crops that grow quickly (to make room for soon-to-be-planted summer crops) and on planting fruit trees.

Late Winter Vegetables

Beets  – These root vegetables grow fairly quickly and will tolerate the heat if the weather warms up.  If you sow seeds today you could be eating beets by mid April. Chioggia is a great Italian variety that is sometimes called “Candy Cane” for its alternating rings of red and white flesh. Beet “seeds” are usually several seeds fused together. After your beets germinate be sure to thin your plants – each individual should be 4 – 6” from its neighbor.

These are Tonda di Parigi Carrots. Their blunt, chubby shape make them perfect for a quick carrot crop or shallow soils.
These are Tonda di Parigi Carrots. Their blunt, marble shape make them perfect for a quick carrot crop or shallow soils.

Carrots – Homegrown carrots are incredibly sweet and tender. Seeds sown today could grow into nice sized vegetables by the middle of April. A great variety to try is Tonda di Parigi, a small marble shaped carrot that is great for shallow, rocky, or heavy soils. Be sure to keep your carrots seeds close to the surface. A covering of a 1/4” is plenty.

Leaf Lettuce – The warm weather that we’ve been having and the impending increase in temperature are not ideal conditions to grow head-lettuce. Luckily, it is easy to cultivate young leaf lettuces that grow quickly and will grow back after harvest. Purchase three or four types of lettuce seed of varying type, colour, and texture. Sow these seeds very densely (3 – 4 seeds per square inch) and just barely cover them with soil. Keep them moist until some begin to germinate (4 – 7 days). After 28 – 40 days you should be ready for your first harvest. Use scissors or a very sharp knife to cut your lettuce 2” from the level of the soil. Harvest directly into the salad spinner, rinse, spin, and dress simply. These greens are gorgeous. The plants that you’ve cut should be ready for a second harvest in 10 – 14 days. Continue this until you’re sick of fresh greens (unlikely) or you’re ready to plant tomatoes!

Stone Fruit Trees

Late winter is the perfect time to plant a fruit tree in Southern California. Peach trees have been blooming recently and this signifies the beginning of a close to tree-planting season. Now is the time to act if you’ve thought of planting peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots. If you haven’t considered adding these to your home landscape, you certainly should! Not only are the fruits of these trees delicious, a pruned stone-fruit tree is a beautiful thing.

Be sure to plant two different varieties if you want to grow apricots or plums. Both of these fruits require a second tree of a different variety planted nearby to ensure cross-pollination (and fruit!). If you have ONE of these trees and it isn’t bearing, cross-pollination is likely the issue.

You can definitely pick container-grown trees up from local garden centers. A better and sometimes less expensive option is to buy bare-root trees from the store or online. An excellent online retailer is Peaceful Valley Farm Supply – www.GrowOrganic.com.

Here are some of our favourite stone-fruit varieties:

Plums

Methley

Satsuma

Elephant Heart

Late Santa Rosa

Burgundy

Peaches

Red Baron

Double-Jewel

Eva’s Pride

Apricots and Apriums

Flavor Delight Aprium

Royal Blenheim Apricot

Good luck! And if you have issues with your vegetables or fruit trees please use the comments section below to post your questions/challenges. We’re happy to help!

And don’t forget, if you are interested in backyard gardening or urban farming, I will be hosting a FREE workshop this May at the Yorba Linda Public Library on seed saving. Check it out on Wednesday, May 14 at 7:00 p.m. in the Library’s community room.  (This class is in addition to a number of free cooking classes we will be offering at the Library throughout the spring!)

Happy planting!

~Jonathan Duffy Davis

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