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COOL SEASON VEGETABLES

A fresh start for the new year

By Linda Morse

The first months of a new year are full of promise for gardens and gardeners. A variety of cool-season vegetable seedlings (also called starts) are available at nurseries. Now is the time to transplant them into your garden so they can mature before it gets warmer. Cool season vegetables include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, endive, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, white potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, and turnips.

Beets | SHUTTERSTOCK.COM / JUKOV STUDIO
Beets | SHUTTERSTOCK.COM / JUKOV STUDIO
Kohlrabi | SHUTTERSTOCK.COM / GIEDRE VAITEKUNE
Kohlrabi | SHUTTERSTOCK.COM / GIEDRE VAITEKUNE

Since weather can be unpredictable this time of year, watch out for frost, hail, or heavy rainfall. An unexpected hard freeze or hail can ruin young plants, so keep some floating row covers or old sheets on hand to cover plants and provide necessary protection in case temperatures dip below cold-tolerance guidelines. 

In the case of a heavy rainfall, our drought conditions combined with substantial downpours may contribute to flooding conditions. When the ground is dry and does not absorb water quickly, runoff and flooding can be a serious problem. Check containers and raised beds to be sure that they are draining well. Avoid compacting the soil by not walking on muddy ground. Stay off squishy spots until they dry out and don’t dig or till waterlogged soil. As the ground becomes saturated, rake back some of the mulch to give the soil a chance to dry out.

It is no longer recommended to till your soil. In fact, scientists have proven that it is best to mimic Mother Nature by adding organic matter (compost) to the surface of garden beds. You can buy compost by the bag or create your own from kitchen and garden scraps. Spread a thick, even layer of two or more inches of compost over your garden bed soil without disturbing it. Top with a layer of mulch (wood chips, straw,
grass clippings, or shredded leaves) to discourage weeds and improve moisture retention.

One of the most rewarding parts of growing your own vegetables is how good they taste fresh from the garden. When purchasing vegetable seeds or transplants, you’ll notice each variety has a stated “days to maturity” listed on the package or plant label. It is best to use this number as an estimate because there are many variables that can alter that number such as too little or too much water, temperature, and pests. The only fail-safe way to guarantee harvesting vegetables at the optimal time is using the taste test. If you harvest your vegetables just before they reach full maturity, you are certain to have the maximum flavor and the best texture.

Carrots | SHUTTERSTOCK.COM / RAWPIXEL.COM
Carrots | SHUTTERSTOCK.COM / RAWPIXEL.COM

An application of fertilizer rich in nitrogen, which too often is in short supply in San Diego soils, will help your plants thrive. Nitrogen content is indicated by the first of the three numbers on a fertilizer bag. Pick one with more nitrogen “N” (the first number), than phosphorus “P” (the second number), or potassium “K” (the third number). Scatter fertilizer granules lightly and evenly at the edge of the plant’s root ball or out to where the foliage ends, scratch it into the ground taking care not to harm feeder roots, and then water lightly if soil is dry. It’s tempting to fertilize when rain is forecast, but heavy showers could carry the granules away in runoff.

Another important tactic is to monitor irrigation and adjust it to suit the weather. Use the Be Waterwise calculator (bewaterwise.com/calculator.html) to find out how long your sprinklers should run. The changing seasons also can shift shadows from places that earlier basked in the sun, reducing irrigation needs. Check your system for leaks every few months and, if your timer has a rain delay feature, use it whenever precipitation is forecast.  

Linda Morse is a San Diego Master Gardener. If you have any gardening questions, you can contact San Diego Master Gardeners at help@mastergardenersd.org or call 858.822.6910.