Q: When should I start my cool season vegetables? I would like to grow a fall and winter garden and was reading that I should start the seeds in August but it still seems too hot for these type of vegetables. Is August the correct time to start a winter garden for Redding or am I way to early?
A: It is not too early to start seed for your fall garden. Fall and winter vegetables can be started by seed from late August to mid-September, then transplanted into the garden later. Seeds should be started indoors where temperatures are cooler, then the seedlings slowly transitioned outside once temperatures cool down in early October.
If cool season vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, beets, carrots, green onions are planted in August and September, some like broccoli, cabbage and carrots will develop and produce in late winter. Others like kale, chard and puller onions may produce all winter long.
You do want to wait until late September to direct-sow root vegetables such as carrots, beets and radish as they do not transplant well. When planting seed outside or transplanting seedlings, remember that humidity is very low during in the fall; and temperatures can still be high during the day, so keep seed and new plantings shaded and well-watered.
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If you have not grown a winter garden before, you may want to start with something easy such as kale, chard or collards. They will tolerate almost any kind of weather, even winter temperatures down to five degrees Fahrenheit. The cold makes them sweeter by converting starches in the leaves to sugar, but they may become somewhat bitter in hot weather.
Eating them is good for you. Ounce for ounce, collards and kale are the richest in vitamins and minerals of any vegetable. Some recent research shows that they may help prevent some types of cancer, too.
If you do not have time or space to start seeds indoors, you can start your winter garden with transplants purchased from the nursery or garden center. Winter vegetable starts are usually available in the nurseries starting in late September.
Most leafy green vegetables prefer lots of organic matter in the soil, a slightly low pH (about six), plenty of fertilizer and full sun. I like to mix compost and organic fertilizer high in nitrogen into the planting bed before transplanting. When transplanting, remember to set the plants about 18 inches apart as they get big.
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To keep plants growing even into colder weather, cover at night with frames and frost cloth or staked gallon milk jugs with the bottoms cut out and covered at night with towels or sheets to protect from frost.
Do not forget to plan for pest control as everything loves leafy green vegetables; especially aphids, cabbage worms and birds. Frost cloth set over rows has the added benefit of protecting seedlings from these pests. For bad pest infestations, insecticidal soap is safe to use, or wash aphids off with a blast of water. The cabbage worms can be hand picked off, or use Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) to control them.
The Shasta Master Gardeners Program can be reached by phone at 242-2219 or email email@example.com. The gardener office is staffed by volunteers trained by the University of California to answer gardeners’ questions using information based on scientific research.