Time for round two for your Bay Area Victory Garden

If your Victory Garden is starting to wave a white flag, no need to surrender. Just make a short retreat and prepare for the winter campaign.

The pandemic, fears of food shortages and just plain boredom led many people in the Bay Area to become first-time gardeners, emulating the World War II-era populace by growing their own vegetables in backyards, porches or kitchen windows.

As the summer fades, so are many gardens, but instead of mourning the loss of tomatoes and squash, look to a future filled with broccoli, cauliflower and beets.

Janet Miller, manager of Our Garden, the Contra Costa Master Gardeners’ Walnut Creek demonstration garden founded by the Bay Area News Group, has tips on finishing up the summer harvest and planting for the winter.

In many ways, Miller says, the winter victory garden is less work than the summer one. Plants grow more slowly, eliminating the need to harvest daily and figure out what to do with all the produce. There are fewer insects to worry about. And with luck, nature will assist with the watering.

What to do now

Take a good look at your garden to see what’s still doing well, what has slowed and what you can live without.

Bush beans and squash, Miller says, have pretty much had their run. Production isn’t near what it was a couple of months ago and the squash likely is developing powdery mildew. Those plants can be pulled out and added to the compost pile.

Did you grow vegetables that you really didn’t care for or didn’t do well? Pull them out, Miller says. There’s no need to grow food you’re not using and no need to spend resources on plants that aren’t delivering.

If your tomatoes and eggplants are still producing, you can leave them for now, but if you’re noticing the tomatoes are getting end blossom rot (dark, mushy spots on the bottoms), you can pull those out, too.

Indeterminate tomatoes varieties will continue producing until the first frost, but the later it gets in the season, the less time those tomatoes will have to ripen. Determinate tomato varieties, which grow to a certain height and produce most of their fruit at one time, are about at the point where they won’t have any more tomatoes and can be pulled up without guilt.

What to plant next

Although we might not be ready to think about winter, your garden thinks it’s time to start planting cool weather crops. Because of our relatively mild winters, there are many crops that we can grow in the winter — far more varieties than we grow in the summer, actually.

The largest plants we grow in the winter — cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower — need time to get established before the cold sets in and the hours of daylight are reduced.

You’ll find seedlings for all these plants in your favorite nursery and garden shops now or, Miller says, you can start plants from seed in pots and trays to be transplanted later.

Seeds that you can plant in your beds now include beets and carrots, but make sure you keep the soil moist. If the seeds dry out during germination, they will never sprout.

  • Tip: Miller suggests covering the beds or containers with burlap, which you can then soak to make sure the area stays damp.

You can grow lettuce throughout the year, but when planting now, be sure to protect it from the heat and the sun. If temperatures are above 100, Miller says, wait until it’s cooled down to plant.

If you’re starting lettuces and other leafy greens from seed, you’ll need to grow them under a shade cloth. They won’t germinate until temperatures are regularly 85 degrees or cooler.

October is the time to plant garlic, but because you won’t harvest it until July, pick a spot in your garden bed or in a large pot that you won’t need for other plants.

  • Tip: The larger the clove you plant, the bigger the bulb you’ll grow. While you can plant garlic from the grocery store, you’ll have much better luck planting organic garlic that you buy from seed companies or nurseries.

Peas love cool temperatures and can be planted now and grown through the winter.

  • Tip: If you’re a fan of cilantro, surprise. It’s a cool weather crop.

First steps

Before planting anything, clear the beds or gather your containers, and add compost. One easy way to add nutrients and save yourself some work is to knock over existing plants and cover them with compost, burlap bags or cardboard. Continue to water the beds. In a couple of weeks, the plants will have broken down and returned nutrients to the soil. You can then tidy up and plant.

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