By Laurie Meyerpeter, Placer County Master Gardener
For your cool-season garden, many vegetables are best planted in late summer or early fall. The same vegetables can also be planted in early spring for a crop that matures before the heat of summer.
These cool-season crops fall into several categories. The first is vegetables that are grown for their leaves: lettuces, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens, kale, and collards. These are typically grown from seed, though many nurseries carry seedlings as well. Beginning gardeners may want to try their hand at leaf lettuce, spinach, and chard. Leafy crops can also be grown in pots.
The second category of vegetable is root crops such as carrots, radishes, turnips, onions, and the more obscure rutabagas. These are almost always grown from seed, except for onions, which can be grown from “sets” (immature onions) or from seedlings, which are available from a nursery. If you grow them from seedlings, separate the tiny plants and sets in the garden. For these, beginners may wish to try radishes, onion sets, and short varieties of carrots.
Potatoes can also be grown in the milder areas of this region. Choose “seed potatoes” from a nursery or mail order supplier, and plant them in an area with good drainage. Directions for cutting the potatoes up are usually given on the bag, though potatoes also grow just fine when kids drop them in the ground! Potatoes are easy to grow so they’re popular with children.
Also grown in the fall are vegetables in the “cole family,” which is a fancy term for the cabbage family. These include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and several obscure “family members” such as kohlrabi. These plants are commonly grown from starts obtained at a nursery, but they can also be grown from seeds if they’re planted early. With these, beginning gardeners are usually more successful with starts.
There are also a few cool-weather vegetables that are grown for their “fruit,” such as peas, snow peas, and fava beans. Typically, these are all easy to grow from seed. While you’re at the nursery picking up your plants and seeds, remember to pick up a few cool-season flowers such as calendulas, snapdragons, and pansies to add some color to your fall garden. Have fun!