When August comes along, don’t pack up your gloves! As shorter days and a bit of nip in the air tell us winter has arrived in San Diego, Mia Vaughnes, founder of the community garden-sharing program Good Neighbor Gardens, says what many veteran gardeners already know—that San Diego offers great gardening not only in summer but in our cooler months as well.
“San Diego has two growing seasons: warm and cool. And you can cultivate nutritious bounty in both,” Vaughnes says. “The cool season typically starts in October and ends around April, although things are changing with respect to climate change.”
In summer, we grow squash, peppers, beans, and the tomatoes that everybody loves; winter offers a time to grow the vegetables that thrive in cooler weather. Vaughnes says, “A great way to remember what vegetables to grow during the cool season is to list all the varieties that have the /k/ sound, like cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale, broccoli, etc.”
Kevin Espiritu, founder and CEO of Epic Gardening, adds that winter is the time to grow leafy greens, lettuce, and root crops. “And any type of radish, most beets, and carrots. Winter gardening is also great if you like turnips or parsnips.” Grown in winter, these vegetables may even taste better—and kale will be sweeter. “For me, I noticed that growing garlic is fantastic in the fall and winter. In San Diego, you’d probably plant it at the end of October, maybe mid-November. Garlic really wants cold temperatures for some period of its early life. California Early is a good variety to grow here in San Diego.”
According to Espiritu, pests such as cabbage moths, cabbage loopers, and cabbage aphids are almost nonexistent in winter. Vaughnes adds that winter rain benefits our gardens. “Not surprisingly, rainwater has the perfect pH balance for soil microbes and plants,” she says. “When we water our garden with municipal water, we inadvertently are pouring chloramine into the soil, which is intended to keep the city pipes clean but unfortunately kills the microbes that feed the plants. Because of this, I highly recommend harvesting and using rainwater whenever possible to enhance and maintain soil and plant health.”
With peppers and tomatoes still clinging to their vines in the fall, it can be tempting to delay getting the winter garden started. Espiritu says, “If you have a greenhouse, you can get your winter vegetables started—or you can start them indoors—while the tomatoes, peppers, and other straggling summer vegetables give up their last [produce]. Let the winter vegetables grow from one to three weeks before transplanting them outside.” He suggests finishing up winter gardening by mid-March when tomatoes normally go into the ground.
Climate change may be jeopardizing winter gardening conditions. Because of the rain and humidity this fall, Espiritu’s garlic was plagued with garlic rust. “It’s unheard of in San Diego to get a fungal disease on your garlic because it was too wet,” he says. He has also noticed more flies and more mosquitoes, noting that the greater number of insects brings more rodents. Despite new climate challenges, Espiritu and Vaughnes maintain that winter gardening remains a worthwhile pastime. “I love winter gardening. Everything is green and lush because of the rain and cooler temperatures. It’s refreshing,” says Vaughnes. If you’ve never gardened in winter, she believes that a lack of experience should not hold you back: “So just get out there and see where it takes you. Try a few things. You might wind up making a few mistakes, but cool season gardening is very forgiving.”