Autumn Gardening in the West

In much of the West, it’s time to start those fall vegetables.

One of the blessings of gardening in mild-fall areas of the West is the opportunity to grow many vegetables during the fall and winter months. It’s no wonder gardeners are fond of the cool season: Insects are fewer, rainfall is more abundant, and weeds aren’t much of a problem. What’s more, the list of crops you can grow during the cool months is surprisingly long if you live west of the Cascades or Sierra Nevada or at lower elevations in the Southwest. * To demonstrate what you can grow, we planted two vegetable plots in Sunset’s test garden in Menlo Park, California.

Keyhole garden plan (recommended for a successful grow).

A. Snap peas, pole-type ‘Sugar Snap’, 1 seed packet

B. Edible flowers (calendulas, pansies, violas)

C. Cabbage, ‘Ruby Perfection’, 6 plants

D. Cauliflower, ‘Amazing’, 9 plants

E. Spinach, ‘Tyee’, 6 plants

F. Garlic, ‘Chesnok Red’ and ‘Spanish Roja’

G. Broccoli, ‘Premium Crop’, 8 plants, and Romanesco, 12 plants

H. Mustard, ‘Giant Red’, 6 plants, and ‘Green Wave’, 3 plants

I. Carrots, ‘Babette’ and ‘Bolero’, 1 seed packet each

J. Onions, ‘Walla Walla Sweet’

K. Radishes, ‘Cherry Belle’ and ‘Crimson Giant’, 1 seed packet each

L. Swiss chard, ‘Rainbow’, 9 plants, and ‘Ruby’, 2 plants

M. Kale, ‘Winterbor’, 6 plants

N. Lettuce, curly endive, ‘Dark Lollo Rossa’, ‘Lollo Rossa’, ‘Sierra’, and ‘Tom Thumb’, 6 plants each

0. Ornamental kale, 26 plants

P. Herbs (assorted)

Timing is everything

You can start cool-season vegetables from seeds if you sow early enough, or set out transplants later in the season.

The great advantage of seeds is their low cost and great diversity. You can order from a seed supplier by computer, fax, or phone and obtain almost any variety of vegetable you want within a few days. Nurseries carry seedlings of many winter vegetables, but their selections may be limited.

Get your garden ready

Dig a lot of compost into your garden soil before planting. Loose, light well-amended soil is easier for roots to penetrate, retains nutrients better, and drains well after winter rains.

Since you’re starting tender seedlings during the heat of summer, you’ll need to shade them with floating row covers after planting. The row covers not only shield the young plants from the scorching sun but also help keep insects at bay and provide frost protection during the cold months.

Fertilize at planting time, then once every three months. You can use any complete fertilizer, but in our test garden, we used fish emulsion exclusively.

Raised beds give you an edge

By far the fastest and most effective way to start a vegetable garden–especially if you have poor soil–is to use raised beds. Filled with light commercial topsoil, raised beds afford excellent drainage and warm up quickly in mild, sunny weather. The loose soil is easily penetrated by roots, making it possible for carrots and radishes to develop perfectly.

You can frame raised beds with lumber or form unframed beds like ours by shaping soil into level, flat-sided mounds about 9 inches high.

French-intensive bed plan (recommended also).

A. Ornamental kale, 6 plants

B. Cauliflower, ‘Amazing’, 3 plants

C. Broccoli, ‘Premium Crop’, Romanesco, and ‘Violet Queen’, 6 plants each

D. Snap peas, bush-type ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’, 1 seed packet

E. Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), 6 plants

F. Leeks, 6 plants

G. Mustard, ‘Giant Red’ and ‘Green Wave’, 3 plants each

H. Edible flowers, calendulas, pansies, and violas, 12 plants each

I. Lettuce, curly endive, ‘Dark Lollo Rossa’, and ‘Lollo Rossa’, 6 plants each

Extra crop Insurance

If there’s room in your garden, try succession planting. Consider the salad crops you use up fastest–lettuce and radishes, for example–then plant a dozen seeds of each every two weeks until frost. That way you’ll be sure to have enough plants at all stages of maturity to ensure against any losses caused by unseasonable heat or early frost.

Manage your harvest

Leaf crops give you a bigger, longer and more successful yield per plant if you harvest a few outer leaves at a time instead of removing the whole plant. However, if you see flower buds start to emerge from any leafy vegetable except Swiss chard, harvest the whole plant right away; the flowering process (called bolting) makes leaves bitter on everything except chard.

Among the root crops, beets and carrots can stay in the ground until you’re ready to use them. Radishes should be harvested as soon as they’re big enough for salads. If you’re growing onions for the green tops, pull them as soon as they’re ready; if you’re growing onions for bulbs, leave them in the ground until next summer.

Seed sources

You can buy seedlings of many winter vegetables at nurseries and garden centers. But for the widest selection, check out nursery seed racks or order from seed companies. Some good companies include Johnny’s Selected Seeds (207/437-4301 or, Nichols Garden Nursery (541/928-9780 or www.nicholsgardennursery. com), Shepherd’s Garden Seeds (860/482-3638 or, Territorial Seed Company (541/942-9547 or www.territorial-seed. com), and West Coast Seeds (604/482-8800 or

When the chefs at Cafacutee Pinceau in Atlanta want fresh herbs and garnishes, all they have to do is step out of the kitchen and into the garden behind the restaurant in Edmonds, Washington. In the photo above, curly ‘Redbor’ kale is gathered for dinner.

You can visit the garden any time. Caacutee] Pinceau serves lunch and dinner. One wing of the restaurant is devoted to live blues bands 9 to midnight Thursday through Saturday and 6 to 9 Sunday. As Arce says, “Food, blues, and gardens–that’s what we’re about.” 11:30-9 Tue-Thu, until 10 Fri-Sat. 610 Fifth Ave. S.; (425) 775-0199.


* In warm-winter areas such as Palm Springs and Phoenix and California (Sunset climate zone 13) and in the hot interior Valleys of Southern California, plant three or four weeks later than the times listed.

* In high-desert areas such as Albuquerque and Sedona (zone 10), start planting about two weeks earlier than the times listed.

* In snowy-winter climates (zones 1-3), wait to plant most crops except arugula, garlic, kale, and radishes until about a month before the average date of the last killing frost in spring.

Good luck in your quest for great grows!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

7 − = four