“A time to sow…”
Here in California, there are two prime times of year to plant–spring and fall. Generally, you can plant after the last frost of winter and before the first frost of fall. Depending on where you live these dates will be different. A quick internet search should provide approximate first frost dates, and it looks like the first fall frost for Sacramento is predicted for November 8, 2019 (The National Gardening Association).
Bonnie plants also offers this map as a resource to estimate the first frost in your region:
According to the Bonnie map, Sacramento should have its first frost between November 16-30. This estimate is a little later than the National Gardening Association’s estimate, but they’re pretty close.
To be safe, I’d recommend having all your plants in the soil before November (before mid October is even better). Especially, if you are starting plants by seeds, it is important to get them in sooner rather than later because seeds usually need warmer soil temperatures to germinate even if they are a cold-hardy plant.
Choosing cool season crops
Most garden centers and nurseries are well-stocked this time of year for fall planting, so you will probably have luck finding seeds and plant seedlings wherever you decide to shop. I decided to buy my seeds and plant starts from a local shop called The Plant Foundry. They carry nursery and seed brands that I trust, and I like their unique, quirky vibe.
I created a rough list of what I wanted to buy before I went shopping for plants. Onion starts were on my list, and I contacted the store ahead of time to make sure they had them in stock. However, I planned to start all of my root vegetables from seed, and from previous visits, I knew The Plant Foundry had a good seed selection. I have a couple of reasons for choosing to start certain vegetables by seed rather than transplanting them as seedlings. One reason is that some vegetables don’t respond as well to being transplanted, and root vegetables tend to fall into that category. Another reason is that buying seeds tends to be less expensive than buying seedlings that have already been started for you.
These are the root veggie seeds I bought:
Botanical Interests, Renee’s Garden, and Baker Creek’s Heirloom Seeds are all seed companies I like and trust. Johnny’s and Territorial Seeds are two other great companies, but you won’t see them in the store, rather, you can order from them online.
These are the onion starts I purchased:
A place to plant
With this plant purchase, I exceeded the capacity of my container garden. My solution was to transform a patch of the back yard into an edible garden space. Unfortunately, It doesn’t get as much sun as I would like because it is under a couple of mature trees in our backyard. One advantage to this garden location is that it is close to the micro-sprinkler system that waters our ornamental plants, so that takes the burden of hand-watering off of me.
My first step was to turn up the soil. I ended up removing about 6-8 inches of rocks to free up the soil:
Next, I needed to infill with new soil. For one, the soil level dropped significantly after removing the rocks. For two, the soil that was in place was loose, crusty, and had no living insects or worms in it. This is a sign of poor soil health. A healthy soil will have a thriving ecosystem of both macro- and microscopic organisms. Anticipating this, I picked up a bag of E.B. Stone Soil Conditioner Planting Mix.
This planting mix helps to break up tough soils, adds crucial plant nutrients, and it will also help the soil to retain more water. In addition to the planting mix, I also added a granular plant fertilizer from E.B. Stone for an extra nutrient boost for my seedlings. This one is specifically formulated for vegetable gardens.
After preparing my soil, it was time to plant. I planted my onions first. I set them up in rows roughly 3-4 inches apart. The onions rows made great guidelines for planting my rows of seeds. I inter-cropped rows of root veggies with rows of onions. This is partly due to my limited space and partly for biodiversity. Additionally, I’ve heard that squirrels do not like onions and garlic. I hope the onions will be a good squirrel deterrent, especially since our backyard has a lot of them.
As far as planting goes, I generally follow the seed packet directions. In this case, I couldn’t afford the recommended row spacing, so everything was planted pretty close together. It is crucial to follow the seed depth instructions though. If you plant your seeds too deep, you risk them not emerging. All of my root veggies were planted ¼”-½” deep depending on how small the seeds were. Also, if planting by seed, be sure to label your rows! It is easy to forget what was planted where once you step away from the seeds and they are all covered up.
After watering these seedlings, I took an extra measure to ensure their success. I used row cover to protect my seedlings from pests and to give them another defense against the elements. Row cover is a permeable, white, agricultural cloth. It is used on large scales by organic farmers, and you can buy rolls of it online from farming supply shops. I was fortunate enough to find a garden-sized package of row cover at the Plant Foundry under the name Harvest-Guard.
I am currently using this row cover over my container garden and my new garden bed planting. It is folded up kind of like a sheet, and that gives each gardener a chance to cut it to the size of the area they are covering. The cloth is permeable by light, water, and air while protecting from pests like birds and caterpillars. It provides an increase in soil temperature to help seeds germinate, and it traps in moisture so that seeds will not dry out too quickly. It is also reusable so long as it is still intact at the end of the season. I love using this stuff when possible, and I think it gives seedlings a much needed head start on pests and poor weather.
It doesn’t look like much once the cover is on, but it will help the garden out while it gets started. I will probably keep the Harvest-Guard on for at least a month. It can remain on until the plants start to outgrow it! I look forward to seeing how these seedlings grow. It was satisfying work to get this garden dug and planted. I look forward to enjoying the fruits (erm…veggies) of my labor!