Question from Peter:
We’ve just moved to Monrovia (San Gabriel Valley). There’s a patch waiting to grow some veg in – what would be best to plant this time of year (the start of August) – for quick results.
Answer from Pat:
You are lucky to have a new garden in Monrovia, which is blessed with a great climate and I believe the soil is friable decomposed granite in some areas—amongst the best soil anyone can have for gardening. I think I would be foolish to suggest vegetables for you to stick into the ground now for a quick harvest since most of the plants you could plant now in the vegetable garden take time to produce a crop and will likely fall prey to pests, disease, or weather problems if planted now. You might be able to grow and harvest radishes in one month, but if you put in lettuce or mesclun or watercress—all quick crops— they would fry in the heat since they are cool-weather crops. If, however, you wish to have a non-conventional garden, and grow a few unseasonal vegetables, you could plant an early variety of tomato now, such as Early Girl Improved VFNT, for example, and if you feed and water it correctly you should be able to harvest fruit into fall,—but not quickly. Count the days to harvest on varieties and that will tell you how long it takes to harvest a crop and you will realize that it will be October or November by the time you can eat something planted now. I am afraid it’s too late now and too hot also to even get a good cover crop going that you could dig into the ground in September before planting for fall.
Another idea I have is that if this is an existing vegetable garden you are now taking over, you have time to use solar sterilization on the soil so that any problems it has that you don’t know about can be pinched in the bud before you begin to garden. (Soil solarization is covered on pages 295-296 of my book.) But don’t do this if this is a fresh patch of ground. For the first year after planting a vegetable garden, usually there are absolutely no pest or disease problems to be endured. New gardeners usually are blessed with beginners luck. It’s later on, beginning the second year, when problems arise.
One of the most important skills a gardener can learn is to plant with the seasons, and this skill is of prime importance in the vegetable garden. August is usually the time when summer vegetables are reaching their peak at end of their season and the garden begins to decline and look pretty ratty. Pest problems also can build up in August and by harvesting the last of the summer crops, then cleaning out the entire garden at once towards the end of the month or in September and tilling the soil and adding fresh soil amendment, it gives us a chance to prevent pests from carrying over from year to year. Thus it’s usually time for harvesting the last of the summer vegetables, sending away for seeds of winter crops and getting ready to plant in fall.
If you plant summer crops now you will use up the space needed for planting winter crops next month. A better plan is to prepare the soil now. If you have a patch in full sun and it is indeed decomposed granite or agricultural silt or loam, all of which are well drained, and not clay soil (which exists in some parts of Monrovia) then you could top your vegetable garden with aged manure now and dig it into the ground. You could be planning your garden and sending for seeds of winter crops. By starting in August you can even send for varieties of special cole crops and other vegetables such as celery that you can grow from seeds instead of transplants. Basically anything you would purchase as a transplant in October can be planted from seeds now. This will save you a lot of money and by choosing excellent varieties you can have much better results. You will be able to find and grow vegetables not usually available in nursery transplants. Now in August start them in flats of potting soil. Feed them, care for them, pot them on into larger containers, and you can have sturdy little plants all ready to pop out into the garden in October. (For best results, treat the ground with humic acid when transplanting cole crops. You will get amazing roots and remarkable plants.)
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