Produce Fresh From The Garden

Cucumbers grow in spring or autumn.

Plants notice it before people do. They respond accordingly. Vegetative growth slows or stops completely. Most remaining bloom does likewise. Fruit and seed finish developing. Less fresh produce is available from the garden. Boston ivy and Japanese maples might already be changing color. They all know that the days are shorter and nights are cooler.

Warm season produce gets less abundant as summer ends because most is fruit, which contain seed. Most plants naturally finish with seed production prior to autumn. Most cool season produce is truly vegetative and lacking seed. It naturally grows during autumn or winter, with the (‘fruitless’) intention of blooming and fruiting during the following season.

It seems as if warm season vegetables were replacing cool season vegetables from last winter only a few months ago. Perhaps they were. That process began about half a year ago, but never completely stops. Various phases of various vegetables start and finish at various times. Now, some warm season vegetables might continue to produce until frost. 

Corn is of those warm season vegetables that remain productive. Seed for the last phase would not have been too late if it got into the garden two weeks ago, but will take time to produce. Broccoli seed sown at the about same time could be the first of the cool season vegetables in the garden. However, it is likely more practical to plant seedlings a bit later. 

Seed for cabbage and cauliflower can go into the garden now. Alternatively, it should do as well in flats or cell packs, for later planting. This procedure delays their occupation of garden space, which might still be occupied by late warm season produce. Besides, it is easier to defend tiny seedlings in flats or cell packs from slugs, snails, birds and insects.

For big and leafy cool season produce, it may be more practical to purchase seedlings in cell packs rather seed. Since only a few seedlings of each type are needed, they are not too much more expensive than seed. However, confinement to cell packs disfigures root vegetables, such as beets and carrots. Their seed can get into the garden in two weeks to a month.

Lettuce

Lettuce grows through cool spring weather.

On the coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, lettuce, Lactuca sativa, seems to grow throughout the year. None of it actually grows in every season. Some varieties merely produce late enough for varieties that produce earliest to replace them. Slightly farther inland, lettuce is really only a cool season vegetable of early spring and autumn. The last new plants should finish by May.

There are many varieties of lettuce. Some are more tolerant of warmth than others. They perform well both late in their early season, and early in their late season. Others are more tolerant of cool weather. They can start early in their early season, and continue late in their late season. No variety produces through the coldest part of winter. Warmth initiates bolting (bloom), which ruins flavor.

The three types of lettuce that are most popular here are leaf, head and romaine. Leaf lettuce is the most variable. It can be blotched, bronzed or reddish, with variably ruffly texture. Some types of leaf lettuce mature in about a month. Some of the more substantial varieties of head and romaine lettuce start early, and can take nearly four months to mature. They can get to a foot wide and tall.

Vegetables From Winter To Summer

Bell peppers wait for warmer weather.

Cool season (or winter) vegetables are now finishing their season. Some continue to produce later than others. Eventually though, they all succumb to warming spring weather. As they do so, they relinquish their space to warm season (or summer) vegetables. Many warm season vegetables want to start growing as soon as possible. Later phases must wait for space to become available.

Later phases are no problem. They actually prolong the season for plants that are productive for only a brief season. For example, if sown at the same time, corn seed germinates and grows into stalks that produce all their corn at the same time. If sown in small groups every two weeks or so, corn seed grows into groups of stalks that produce corn every two weeks or so. That is ‘phasing’.

Phasing is more common with the cool season vegetable plants. Most of them are true vegetables, rather than fruits that are classified as vegetables. Individual plants produce only once, and can not produce again after harvest. Conversely, most warm season vegetables are actually fruits. (They contain seed.) Many of the plants that produce them continue to produce after harvest begins.

For example, squash, pole bean and indeterminate tomato plants that start growing in spring can continue to produce until frost. (Determinate tomatoes and bush beans have shorter seasons, so can benefit from phasing.) Cucumber vines can produce until frost, but might get shabby enough (from aridity) for replacement halfway through their season. Pepper and eggplant thrive in warmth.

The various greens and the various root vegetables, which are truly vegetative rather than fruiting vegetables, should grow in phases.

Seed for corn, bean, root vegetables and most greens should go directly into the garden. Seedlings do not transplant well, and are expensive in sufficient quantity. Romaine and head lettuces are exceptions that produce well from seedlings. Tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber and squash seedlings transplant easily. If only a few are required, they are not much more expensive than seed.

Pumpkins Exemplify Ripening Winter Squash

Winter squash are replacing summer squash.

Zucchini is probably the most reliable of warm season vegetable through summer, even when tomatoes are having a bad year. A single zucchini plant produces enough for a household. Two plants produce enough to share with neighbors. Pattypan, crookneck and other varieties of summer squash may not be quite as reliably productive individually, but can be assembled as a delightfully variable team that produces early in summer, and is just now finishing.

The fruit of summer squash is best when immature and tender. It gets tougher and loses flavor as it matures. Because development of seed within maturing fruit exhausts resources, plants are actually more productive if the fruit gets harvested while immature. In other words, they can either make many small fruits, or a few large fruits. The plants have coarse foliage on big but relatively confined annual plants.

Winter squash is very closely related to summer squash. The shabby annual vines sprawl over much larger areas, and can even climb fences and shrubbery. The main difference though, is that each plant produces only a single fruit or only a few individual fruits that are allowed to mature completely through summer. Their ripening fruit is just now becoming available as summer squash are running out. The fruit is supposed to be best after frost has killed the foliage, which could take a while here.

Hubbard, acorn, turban, spaghetti, kabocha and butternut squash, as well as the many varieties of pumpkin, are the more popular types of winter squash. Unlike summer squash, winter squash can be stored for quite a while, and need to be cooked to be eaten. While winter squash do not produce as many fruiting female flowers as summer squash produce, they seem to make at least as many male flowers that can be harvested while still fresh.

Male flowers can be stuffed, battered and fried, or simply fried. After they have been pollinated and set fruit, female flowers are typically too wilted to be eaten. All squash produce more male flowers than female flowers. Even the most fruitful of summer squash produce about three times as many male flowers as female flowers.

It Will Soon Be Autumn

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Cool season vegetables replace summer vegetables.

From the time they get planted in early spring, tomato plants are expected to perform a bit better than they did earlier in the season. They start out with only a few early tomatoes, but quickly become prolific. Production continues to increase as the plants grow all through summer . . . until now. Newer leaves on top are not staying so far ahead of fading leaves below.

While the weather is still warm, it is difficult to say how tomato plants know that autumn will soon replace summer. They do not seem to be intelligent enough to realize that every day is imperceptibly shorter than the one before. Nor do they seem to be sensitive enough to notice if the nights get slightly cooler. They just know, and they tell all their friends.

If zucchini plants have not started to fade and sag, they will soon. As weather cools, they no longer grow faster than the mildew that they tolerated all summer. Any fruits that are present now should have time to finish developing, but there probably will not be many more after that. (Zucchini fruits are eaten before mature anyway.) Other warm season vegetables are in a similar state.

Acorn, Hubbard, butternut and other winter squash grow through summer just like summer squash do, but are not harvested until the vines wither in autumn and winter. Unlike summer squash that continue to produce many tender juvenile fruit to replace what gets harvested through summer, winter squash plants put all their effort into one or two large ripe fruit.

Warm season vegetable plants still need to be watered as the foliage slowly deteriorates. They only begin to need less water as they lose foliage and the weather gets cooler. They may like to be fertilized one last time, but will not not need it again. Any last phases of corn will stay thirsty later than other vegetable plants because they deteriorate slower, and are rather thirsty anyway.

Seed for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and certain other cool season vegetables can be sown in flats or cell packs now so that their seedlings are ready to go when the warm season vegetables relinquish their space in the garden. If space allows, seed for beet, turnip and turnip greens can be sown directly into the garden. Carrot seed should still wait for cooler weather.

Winter Vegetables Start In Summer

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There are vegetables for every season.

It seems to be much too early for cool season vegetables while the weather is still so warm. Summer vegetables, which are also known as warm season vegetables, are still at their best. Most will continue perhaps until frost. Yet, months ago, they also started prior to their growing season. At that time, cool season vegetables, which are also known as winter vegetables, were still producing.

Although it really is too early for winter vegetables to grow in the garden, it is time to plan for them. Those of us who prefer to grow varieties of winter vegetables that are not likely to be available in nurseries should get their seed now. In only a few weeks, it will be time to sow the first phase of seed for carrots and beets directly into the garden. By October, it will be time to sow seed for peas.

Broccoli grows slowly from seed. Whether it goes directly into the garden, or into flats for later transplant, broccoli seed should get sown by about now. If the preferred gardening style allows for it, seed for winter vegetables can be sown below old summer vegetable plants. The seed for winter vegetables can germinate and start to grow as summer vegetables finish and vacate the garden.

Cauliflower and cabbage seed want to germinate and start growing shortly after broccoli, within the next few weeks. However, seedlings of the more popular varieties of cauliflower and cabbage, as well as broccoli, will be available in nurseries for later planting. Lettuce, spinach and kale do well from late seedlings, or seed sown after cauliflower and cabbage, along with carrots and beets.

Root vegetables, like carrot, beet, radish, turnip, rutabaga and parsnip, grow from seed, sown directly.

Eventually, some of the warm season or summer vegetables will need to relinquish their space to winter vegetables. Most will finish by that time anyway. Those that stay long enough will succumb to frost. Summer vegetables can stay latest where subsequent phases of winter vegetables will later (not yet) replace an early phase. Subsequent phases begin production as early phases finish.

Horridculture – Bucket of Bolts

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They started out nicely.

Radishes seemed like a good idea back when I sowed the seed in the garden. I had not grown any in many years. I thought that the particular location would be cool enough to inhibit bolting, even though it was starting to get close to the end of their season here. They are definitely a cool season vegetable here, with brief seasons in spring and autumn. Some linger through winter.

The seed germinated efficiently. The seedlings started out well. Radishes are small roots that mature in only about three weeks. Technically, they were right on schedule. I happened to get a few tiny radishes from the batch. However, after the seed were sown, but before the radish roots developed, the formerly cool spring weather warmed suddenly enough to stimulate bolting.

The elongation of floral stalks was visible within the foliar rosettes of most of the individual radishes while they were still quite dinky. Initially, I thought it would be no problem. There were a few good radish roots, which was all I needed to brag to my colleague down South about. Those that bolted would sort of be palatable as radish greens. Bitterness does not bother me much.

Now, because so few of the radishes were pulled for their roots, too many are growing as greens, and they evolved from merely bolting to blooming. The flavor evolved from normal bitter to almost icky bitter. I will not be sharing these with anyone. I can not leave them in the garden to get shabby either. Besides, I want the space for something else. I suppose I will freeze some.

After all the effort, I got only a few small radishes, some decent greens, and mostly bitter greens. Perhaps I will try radishes again in autumn. This radish trial was a ‘FAIL’.

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Yes, we have no radishes.

Cool Vegetable Gardening Goes Warm

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Warm season vegetables enjoy warming weather.

The weather agrees with the calendar this year. It is time to start replacing remaining cool season vegetable plants with fresh warm season vegetable plants. In fact, according to how the weather has been through February, the process could have begun quite some time ago. Frost, which is the limiting factor for warm season vegetables, is very unlikely this late, even if wintry rain resumes.

The past month of springy weather makes it easier to replace aging cool season vegetable plants with those that are now in season. Cool season vegetable plants obviously perform best through the cool weather of autumn and winter. They perform into spring where winters are cooler. Unseasonable warmth here accelerated their maturation. They deteriorate if not harvested soon enough.

Most of the the cool season vegetable plants produce vegetables that truly are vegetative. Most individual plants produce only once. For example, one cabbage plant produces only one cabbage. Conversely, most warm season vegetable plants actually produce fruit. Some produce many fruits through their season. Even some warm season vegetative leafy greens can produce repeatedly.

Tomato, pepper, eggplant pole beans and the various summer squash can get planted early to produce until they succumb to frost at the end of the season. Cucumber and pea do not produce for such an extensive season, so might be grown only in spring or the end of summer. Corn and root vegetables produce only once, so their seed get sown in multiple phases to prolong their season.

Corn, root vegetables and most greens grow best from seed sown directly into a garden. There is no need to start them inside here. Confinement can disfigure root vegetables anyway. Because so many individual plants are grown, it is impractical to purchase seedlings.

However, purchasing a few seedlings of tomato, pepper, zucchini and most other warm season vegetable plants is not as impractical. If only a few are desired, they are not much more expensive than seed. They are conducive to transplant, and will continue to produce through the season.

Pumpkins Exemplify Ripening Winter Squash

41001thumbZucchini is probably the most reliable of warm season vegetable through summer, even when tomatoes are having a bad year. A single zucchini plant produces enough for a household. Two plants produce enough to share with neighbors. Pattypan, crookneck and other varieties of summer squash may not be quite as reliably productive individually, but can be assembled as a delightfully variable team that produces early in summer, and is just now finishing.

The fruit of summer squash is best when immature and tender. It gets tougher and loses flavor as it matures. Because development of seed within maturing fruit exhausts resources, plants are actually more productive if the fruit gets harvested while immature. In other words, they can either make many small fruits, or a few large fruits. The plants have coarse foliage on big but relatively confined annual plants.

Winter squash is very closely related to summer squash. The shabby annual vines sprawl over much larger areas, and can even climb fences and shrubbery. The main difference though, is that each plant produces only a single fruit or only a few individual fruits that are allowed to mature completely through summer. Their ripening fruit is just now becoming available as summer squash are running out. The fruit is supposed to be best after frost has killed the foliage, which could take a while here.

Hubbard, acorn, turban, spaghetti, kabocha and butternut squash, as well as the many varieties of pumpkin, are the more popular types of winter squash. Unlike summer squash, winter squash can be stored for quite a while, and need to be cooked to be eaten. While winter squash do not produce as many fruiting female flowers as summer squash produce, they seem to make at least as many male flowers that can be harvested while still fresh.

Male flowers can be stuffed, battered and fried, or simply fried. After they have been pollinated and set fruit, female flowers are typically too wilted to be eaten. All squash produce more male flowers than female flowers. Even the most fruitful of summer squash produce about three times as many male flowers as female flowers.

Carrot

91002Bugs Bunny was an expert. He was always chewing on a carrot, Daucus carota, and rudely talking with his mouth full. Because carrots can be stored in refrigeration for a few months, Bugs Bunny could get one whenever he wanted to. However, in home gardens, they are cool season vegetables that are grown through spring and autumn, but not through summer or the middle part of winter.

Carrots are biennial. They complete their life cycle in two seasons. They are vegetative during their first season, as they produce their edible and elongated conical taproot. If not harvested, they bloom and go to seed in their second season. By then, their fat roots are tough and useless. Carrots are ready for harvest in three to four months after their seed are sown, depending on variety.

Carrots are famously bright orange. Yellow, white, red, purple and black varieties have been gaining popularity in the past many years. The longest carrots might be a foot and a half long, but most are less than half as long. Many are only about four inches long, or less. They may be as narrow as half an inch, or wider than two inches! Some carrots are more uniformly cylindrical than conical.