Hopefully you all had a successful summer harvest and are ready for Fall planting. One of the advantages of Southern California over the North and the East, is that our mild winters make it possible to plant and grow year-round. Fall is not only a time for garden maintenance and preparation of the soil for spring planting; it is the time to plant for winter and early spring harvests and blooms. Also it is the time to overwinter cool weather hardy crops, and plant cover crops for soil building. Growth during fall and winter slows down. Seeds sown now for spring crops and blooms will encourage the growth of strong roots and foliage, which plants will bear sooner in spring. Timing is an important factor in planting cool weather hardy crops in fall. Your seeds will germinate throughout this season, but it is critical that these plants grow to maturity by Thanksgiving or early December. This is so they do not bolt and go to seed with the coming of the first warm weather in spring.
Build up your soil: turn over to loosen soil, without overworking it and add compost to amend, water to settle, and then let sit a couple of weeks before planting. Letting the soil sit before planting allows the amendments to fully break down and enrich soil and also is less likely not to burn roots.
Soil needs to be fertilized from nutrients being used up by plants and washed away by rain and irrigation. Crops and annual flowers need fertilizer due to their short, fast growing season. It is best to use a standard complete and slow release fertilizer. Plants need other nutrients along with the macro nutrients Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N-P-K). Here in Southern California the soil tends to have Nitrogen deficiencies. However, extra Nitrogen is not needed in winter in order to slow the growth of lots of tender new foliage which could be susceptible to cool temperatures.
To Plant or Not to Plant
Some of us that are not planting may chose to to a cover crop. Cover crops are plants grown to protect or improve the ground for future crops. Keeping soil covered over winter protects it from erosion and helps support all the beneficial life associated with it. It also gives weeds less opportunity to establish, meaning cleaner beds for sowing or planting in spring. Dig the cover crop into the ground at the end of winter and it will rot down to add valuable organic matter, helping to feed the plants that follow. Legumes are a very good cover crop and produce nitrogen rich soil.
Here is a great article about cover crops https://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/how-nitrogen-fixing-plants-can-perk-your-garden
If you are planting, you can plant lettuce, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, Swiss chard, kale, celery, onions, garlic, peas and spinach. Turnips, carrots and radishes are best grown from seeds. Radishes are great fun to plant with children because they grow so quickly.
A nice trick (especially with leafy crops) is to plant in succession. That means plant some now, some more in two weeks, more two weeks later etc. If you do that you will be harvesting throughout the season. When harvesting pick some but not all of the leaves and your plant will continue to grow more lettuce, arugula etc.
If you are looking for something new and fun to grow. Garlic! This is an awesome crop and easy too. Get some good quality garlic cloves… those are your seeds. Plant them in the ground and in the summertime you will have fresh garlic. Each head has lots of cloves so… lots of new heads of garlic.