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How to plant winter vegetables in salty soil

Fava beans are a cool vegetable crop.
Fava beans are a cool vegetable crop.

Q. My soil is high in salt. Can I still plant winter vegetables? — Rocky in San Luis Obispo

A: The short answer is no. The best solution for your situation is to wait for abundant winter rains this season, which will “wash out” the salts. It is a common problem in a drought that nitrates accumulate in the soil from fertilizers and compost applied over the years. To improve your soil further, plant a cover crop after the first rain. Then, when the cover crop is turned under, it will provide crucial biomass for the microorganisms in your soil.

Back to those veggies. You can always “garden in a bag.” This is a wonderful idea for a temporary vegetable plot or for an area with limited space. You’ll need at least one bag of high quality organic soil, most of which contain 3 cubic feet of material.

Begin by laying the bag down flat on a surface that has good drainage; natural soil is best. Cut the top of the plastic away so you still have three inches of the plastic packaging around the perimeter. Doing so will prevent soil from spilling out from the edges which will come in handy if you need to move this “bed” later.

Now take a piece of rebar, or something similar, and punch the rebar through the top of the soil all the way through to the bottom of the bag. This will provide ample drainage for all that rain that we are expecting this year. Repeat about 10 times, spacing these drainage holes an equal distance apart. All that’s left to do is to place your seedlings in the soil, provide a diluted organic fertilizer as a welcome drink for each plant, and water them all with a soft water spray.

What can you plant? Anything you, your family and friends love to eat!

Here are some suggestions: lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, radishes, carrots, cabbages, beets, fava beans, peas (coastal areas). If frost is a concern, you can raise the bag up a few inches with a two-by-four, since cold air comes up from the soil surface. Have a row cover on hand for frosty nights to protect your crop. For an inexpensive, fast and rewarding vegetable garden, nothing beats a garden in a bag!


In San Luis Obispo call 781-5939, Arroyo Grande, 473-7190 and Templeton, 434-4105. Visit us at http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo/ or email us at anrmgslo@ucanr.edu. Follow us on Instagram at slo_mgs and like us on Facebook. Informative garden workshops are held the third Saturday of every month, 10 a.m. to noon at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. Garden docents are available after the workshop until 1 p.m. To request a tour of the garden, call 781-5939.