Preparing a Fall Garden Starts in August
It seems like summer just started, doesn’t it? Everything is green and growing and it’s a waiting game in the garden. I haven’t even picked a ripe tomato yet this year! Still, I know from experience that it is already time to start thinking about the fall.
Starting in August, you could already be planting carrots, lettuce, and peas as seeds, as well as brassica family plants like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.
Even though it may seem like you should wait until November or December to plant such cold-happy crops, in our weather, that might be too late. The rains can invite more pests like slugs and earwigs, who will find your seedlings quite the dish. Starting now or in the next few dry months can give you a head start that means bigger yields. You can even plan on multiple harvests!
Starting Fall Seeds
Starting seeds when it is still hot out can be challenging, but there are some ways to increase your rate of success.
For small close-to or on-the-surface seeds like lettuce and carrots, you can start the seeds under a layer of burlap or similar material. The fabric will keep the seeds moist even in the sun, and you can remove fabric once the seedlings have sprouted. This same method can work for other kinds of seeds, but be sure to check daily so you don’t keep seed leaves too close to the soil (where they may become a tasty snack for pill bugs and earwigs).
And while you absolutely can start brassica seeds outdoors, for me, starting the plants indoors or in a protected area of my porch still yields the best results. Aphids, roly-polies, earwigs, and slugs love to eat seedlings, and their favorite seedlings are in the brassica family (at least in my yard). #aphidsarejerks
What to Grow
Looking for some fun new things to grow this fall? How about these?
Purple Broccoli (from Botanical Interests) This is a variety of broccoli that will tolerate those warmer weather streaks in the winter (unlike some others) and grows numerous side shoots after the main stem is cut off. That means you get an impressive plant with purple, tasty flowerheads all winter.
Toscano/Dinosaur Kale (from Botanical Interests) My favorite kale to eat, hands down. It tolerates even the summer heat in Brisbane without bolting, and when it does finally seed, it will reseed, which I always love (being a lazy, but hungry, gardener). It does attract aphids like crazy, so grow enough for yourself and the pests or be ready with the neem oil spray!
Cauliflower (from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) Purple, green, traditional white, or the alien-looking romanesco “broccoli” variety, all are delicious and perfect for our cooler winter weather. Be sure to soak those heads. Not sure what to do with cauliflower? My kids love it roasted with olive oil, salt, & pepper for 35 minutes at 425 degrees, stirred halfway through.
Fava Beans (from Botanical Interests) These dangerously delicious beans love our weather, but if you want a few meals out of them, consider buying two seed packets and planting a few weeks apart.
Colorful Carrots (from Botanical Interests) Why do carrots have to be orange? Try a blend of multiple colors and figure out which kind you like best! Also, carrots are great for a lazy gardener, because they will just keep getting bigger in the soil over time if you don’t pick them, and their flavor is the same no matter the size.
Other Fall Crops
Some other fall crops you can start now include potatoes (which you can grow most of the year anyway), and now is the time to order seed potatoes to ensure you get the varieties you want.
September is the best time to plant strawberry crowns in the Bay Area, so if you’re looking to start a strawberry fields of your own, order your crowns from your favorite nursery as soon as you can. They will flower and fruit according to the type (June-bearing or Ever-bearing). You can also try growing smaller, sweeter, Alpine Strawberries. In my experience, the seeds take a long time to germinate, and they do not generate runners like other strawberry plants.
Garlic, which doesn’t need to be planted until November or December, should be ordered soon as well if you want your choice of variety.
What will you be planting this fall?