Q: Which vegetables should I be planting in my garden at this time of year? — Mike Berry, Nipomo
A: While our Central Coast climate lends itself to growing vegetables year-round, some crops do much better in cool seasons, and some do much better when it’s warm.
Cool-season crops are those we grow and harvest for their vegetative parts, including roots like beets, carrots, parsnip and radish; leafy plants, like lettuce, spinach and cabbage; stems like asparagus; and immature flower parts like broccoli, cauliflower and globe artichokes. These grow best when average temperatures range between 55 to 75 degrees, and they can usually tolerate minor frost.
Warm season crops include those with mature fruits such as tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, and watermelon; as well as some with immature fruits such as corn and snap beans. These grow best when the days are long and the temperatures range between 65 to 95 degrees, and they usually don’t tolerate frost.
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Here on the Central Coast, we are pretty frost free from mid-April until Halloween, so that tells us generally which kinds of vegetables may be appropriate for the season. When selecting the particular variety, you may want to pick one that is resistant to common diseases in our area. The “VFN” designation on tomato plants, for example, indicates their disease resistance to Verticillium and Fusarium wilts and root-knot nematodes.
Where and how to plant is almost as important as what to plant. Full sunlight (6 to 8 hours per day) is ideal for all vegetables, but mandatory for those we harvest for their fruits. When planting tall and short plants next to each other, try to locate the taller plants (such as corn) to the north to avoid shading the shorter plants (such as peppers). Leafy plants can ordinarily tolerate some partial shade. Sequential plantings can extend your harvest season.
For detailed planting tips, you might want to see “Vegetable Garden Basics,” UC Pub. 8059 and “Vegetable Gardening at a Glance,” UC Master Gardener Handbook, Table 14.2 , both available through Google online. A most enjoyable video presentation on home vegetable gardening by UC Davis Professor Robert Norris can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wZes0AnFKA.
The important thing is to do a little planning before planting. After all, even the word “plant” starts with “plan."