Everyone seems to be familiar with radish, Raphanus raphanistrum subspecies sativus. It has been so popular with so many cultures for so long that its origin is now impossible to identify. It likely originated in Southeastern Asia at least two thousand years ago. After so many centuries, it has become remarkably variable in regard to flavor, form and color.
Radish are generally cool season root vegetables, although their foliage and flowers are also edible. They can be red, pink, purple, yellow, green, black or white, with white flesh. Their form might be almost spherical, cylindrical or tapered like a carrot. Small types are only about an inch to three inches long. Some daikon radish can get as long as two feet!
Because radish are typically smaller than most other root vegetables, they mature faster. Therefore, their seed can get started in their garden slightly later. If they mature too soon, warmth may cause them to bolt, which ruins their flavor and texture. Subsequent phases extend production, by resuming production as previous phases exhaust their production.
September began with the warmest weather of the year. Such weather is not uncommon for late summer here. It can happen as late as early autumn. Still, it can be disconcerting while weather should be cooling. Cool season vegetable plants that are technically now seasonable dislike such warmth. Cole vegetables are particularly responsive to weather.
Cole vegetables are within the Cruciferae family, which is alternatively the Brassicaceae family. They therefore also classify as crucifers or brassicas. They include various forms of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collard, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, turnip, radish, arugula, rutabaga and Brussels sprouts. As variable as they are, several are of the same species.
Broccoli and cauliflower are floral vegetables, since their primary edible parts are bloom. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard, kale, arugula, mustard greens and turnip greens are foliar. Turnip, radish and rutabaga are roots. Kohlrabi is a distended stem. Mustard seed, which is a seasoning instead of a vegetable, is the only common fruiting cole vegetable.
Therefore, unlike most warm season vegetables, cole vegetables should not fruit or go to seed. Broccoli and cauliflower only begin to bloom, but do not finish prior to harvest. This is why most cole vegetables are cool season vegetables here. Warmth stimulates bolting and bloom, which ruins flavor and palatability. Cool weather prolongs vegetative growth.
Contrary to the implications of recent weather, cool season vegetables, including several cole vegetables, are seasonable. This is the time to sow seed for turnip, radish, rutabaga and other cool season root vegetables directly into the garden. Transplant of seedlings is disfiguring to roots. Weather should be cooler by the time new seedlings start to develop.
Arugula, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard, kale and kohlrabi likewise develop most efficiently from seed. However, transplanted seedlings can be adequately productive too. Because only a few broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts plants are likely sufficient, cell pack seedlings are likely more practical than seed. Since they are already growing, they can get planted a bit later.
Last autumn, it was unpleasant to remove warm season vegetable plants to relinquish space for cool season vegetables, particularly since some still seemed to be productive. Now the cool weather that the cool season vegetables crave will soon be getting warmer. It is still too early for warm season vegetables, but it is time to get ready for them.
If space allows, seed for a quick last phase of certain fast growing cool season vegetables can be sown. Radishes, carrots and beets still have time to mature before the weather gets too warm, although the beets will be the small tender sort. There probably is not enough time to grow big beets for canning. Leafy lettuces can still be sown to replace what might be running out early. Large vegetable plants like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage grow too slowly to mature before spring weather gets too warm, so will need to wait until next autumn.
Peas are odd vegetables that like to grow in autumn and spring, in between warm and cool (or cool and warm) season vegetables. The first phase of peas can be sown now, and followed by subsequent phases every two weeks or so until the weather gets too warm for them.
Even though it will soon be getting too warm for cool season vegetables, it is not yet warm enough to sow seed for warm season vegetables directly into the garden. Fast growing vegetable plants that get sown directly, such as beans, corn and most squash, will need to wait until the weather is warm enough for them to grow efficiently, and the cool season vegetables finish and get out of their way. However, seed for vegetable plants that can get planted as seedlings, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, can be sown into flats or cell packs in greenhouses or cold frames.
Tomato, pepper and eggplant seed sown directly into the garden when the weather gets warmer will be more likely to get eaten by snails or succumb to rot as they germinate than seedlings that got an early start in a greenhouse or cold frame (although snails and rot are not problems in every garden). For those who do not want to start growing seedlings at home now, seedlings will certainly be available in nurseries when it is time to put them out into the garden. However, the advantage to growing them at home is that there are many more varieties of seed available from catalogs and online than any nursery could stock with seedlings.
Tropical plants are clueless. They do not understand that autumn is just prior to winter, when the weather may get uncomfortably cool. Philodendron selloum continues to develop fresh new leaves that mature slowly in cool autumn weather, and may consequently lack resiliency to frost in winter. Vegetable plants and flowering annuals are not so ignorant, which is why so many that were productive through summer are nearly finished, and some are ready to relinquish their space to cool season counterparts.
Like the many warm season vegetables, most of the cool season vegetables should be grown from seed sown directly into the garden. Only those that produce efficiently from fewer but substantial plants, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprout and some of the heading lettuces, can be grown practically from seedlings purchased in cell packs. Because individual plants produce only once, more can be added to the garden in phases every two to four weeks through the season to prolong production.
Chard, kale and collard greens can likewise be grown from cell pack seedlings if only a few plants to harvest as intact heads or large leaf greens are desired. However, a package of seed costs about as much as a single cell pack of only six seedlings, but contains enough seed for many more mature heads, as well as for abundant production of ‘baby’ greens plucked from many juvenile plants through the entire season. Those to be harvested as heads should be planted in phases with enough space to mature. Those that will get plucked through the season can be sown or planted once early in the season, and perhaps followed by a second phase if productions starts to diminish.
Root vegetables, such as beet, carrot, turnip and radish, really do not recover well from transplanting from cell packs. Individual cells are sometimes crowded with too many seedlings that must push away from each other as they mature. Otherwise, if not crowded, each cell contains only a few seedlings that are not nearly as practical as simply sown seed would be.
Although each individual root vegetable plant produces only once, they all mature at different rates, so most types can be sown in only one or two phases instead of several phases every two to four weeks. If the biggest get pulled first, the smaller ones continue to mature. They are less perishable than other vegetables, so any abundance is not likely to be wasted.
There are three practical ways to grow onions. They are most popularly grown from seed or from ‘baby’ onions known as onion sets. The third and sneakier way to grow them is from separated cell pack seedlings. Cell packs typically contain too many onion seedlings that would develop into crowded clumps anyway. There are often as many seedlings as could be grown from a package of seed!
Peas get sown as seed early in autumn to grow and produce before winter gets too cold. Another phase can be sown as winter ends for spring production.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.