Fall For Crops

By “Green” Gene Sottosanto

Fall is a great time to do many projects in the garden. Shorter, cooler and wetter days provide better growing conditions for planting. In our Mediterranean climate, winter rains encourage growth. Working with the cycles of nature makes your work easier and more successful. Getting a head start before the rains of winter come is beneficial.

Growing some of your own food is a useful and fulfilling way to benefit from the garden. Food crops in the garden are attractive; they provide superior flavor and nutrition; they make wise use of space; and they can be grown without pesticides.

Tomatoes are America’s favorite garden crop, but only cherry tomatoes continue to produce in cooler weather. The fruiting crops, like tomatoes, squash, peppers, melons, and corn are wonderful garden crops. They need the warmer days of summer, regular water and care to grow well. Fall is a time of harvesting, and it is also a time for planting, especially cool season crops, in Southern California.

In order to utilize the most sunlight while efficiently and effectively getting the most use of your space, plant at the north end of your garden with the tallest plants first. This approach also prevents trampling smaller plants and gives you the work area necessary for planting the bigger plants. When establishing privacy or a windbreak it is logical to plant from perimeters and inwards.

A logical way to start is to first prepare your ground. Dig large holes for fruit or nut trees and bury lots of organic amendments. Continue to add amendments in the surrounding area, while setting the grade to prevent water runoff. You are starting with the soil and with the tallest plants first.

There are many trees to choose from. If your choices are deciduous trees that are sold bare root in winter, you can prepare the area ahead of time and finish planting them at the beginning of the bare root season during December or January. Other trees with the fruit removed, properly trimmed and well watered are ready for planting in fall.

Nut trees can be the tallest, reaching as high as 80 feet. They need a large yard. Mulberries, avocadoes, and persimmons grow 35 to 40 feet, but these trees as well as mangos, guavas, jujubes, apples, peaches and citrus are available in dwarf varieties that grow to a more manageable size. Regular pruning of your tree crops encourages them to grow plumper produce. Since more sunlight passes through a pruned tree, surrounding areas will be more productive as well.

Large perennial vines are best planted in the fall or winter to climb up, through, and over various supports including arbors, patio covers, and even trees. Mature crop vines such as chayote, passion fruit, and grape can grow over 40 feet in a season. Vines are cut back in the fall or winter allowing light and space for cool season annuals.

After larger plant choices are settled, decide where to plant other perennial crops. Since perennial crops should be trimmed in the fall or winter they may not look their most attractive, but it is a good time to plant them. The relative permanence and larger area needed for brambles, herbs, artichokes, asparagus, and special hybrid blueberries give these plants priority over smaller annuals.

Annual or biannual cool-season crops offer a lot of variety and include the brassica family (cauliflower, broccoli, and brussel sprouts), peas, roots, and leafy vegetables. Lettuces, cabbages, purple chard, and kale are attractive even when planted among flowers or fit under pruned shrubs. Carrot is an ornamental edible with fine textured foliage and flowers something like Queen Anne’s Lace. Peas also have attractive flowers. Their fresh sweet taste will tempt you to eat them raw before they make it to the kitchen. Peas and beans take nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the soil.

When fall ends and winter begins, with pruning finished and every space filled by plants or thick mulch, you and your garden will be completely ready. Your garden will thrive as it starts a new season with superior rainwater and more gentle sun. Just sit back and watch nature take over.