Articles by John Lyons

Grow Your Own Citrus Image

Urban Orchard

Second in a four-part series on growing fruit.

Growing up in the west of Ireland in the 1970s, citrus fruit consisted of large, juicy oranges from Israel, labeled Jaffa. Lemons were a luxury, and more often than not we had to settle for a sad substitute called Jiffy in a plastic squeezy bottle shaped like a lemon.

From time to time I would grow an orange seed and manage to get a really small tree to grow, sitting in a ceramic pot on the windowsill, the rain pelting the glass pane. Inevitably my little glossy green-spined plant would succumb to excessive watering and the cold.

Many years later I traveled to Israel, and when visiting a friend at Kibbutz Petah Tikva it was a revelation and a joy to walk through orange, lemon and grapefruit groves. Now I live in California and enjoy the opportunity to grow a wide range of citrus in my back yard both in the ground and in pots.

Citrus (Rutaceae), a member of the rue family, requires heat, good drainage and a modicum of fertilizer twice annually to thrive. In colder climates, it’s possible to grow them in pots under glass, taking care to protect well in winter by providing a heated greenhouse. In warmer climates, citrus does well in the ground and smaller dwarf varietals really do well in large pots that have the soil correctly amended. There are lots of choices for the smaller garden space. Some are available on dwarf and semi dwarf stock. Dwarf can easily be maintained at 3 to 4 feet; semi dwarf stock can reach 6 to 10 feet.

Citrus can be used in many ways, from juicing to marmalades, or as a flavoring. Citrus fruits can be pickled, candied and dried.

A few important pointers on cultivation

Caring for citrus trees isn’t too difficult, but you need to be attentive and watch for a few key signs of trouble.

Plant in full sun in well-draining soil and feed twice a year with an organic citrus fertilizer. Kelp meal and cottonseed meal will also help with blossom and fruit set.

– Follow the directions carefully, as over application is not advisable.

– Watering should be deep and infrequent. So many homeowners grow citrus in lawns where over-watering results in yellowing (chlorosis) and, in extreme cases, the death of the tree.

Deep green glossy leaves indicate a healthy plant. Pot cultivation is simple, and the addition of a bagged cactus mix to native soil gives the good drainage required. Potted plants should also be fertilized twice a year. Citrus can also be espaliered (grown flat) against a wall. A simple wired grid can be made on the wall and the growing plant attached to the grid, making sure to keep any excessive branches pruned back.

Washington Naval
Cara cara
Seville Sour


Pink Variagated

Lemon hybrids



Rio Red
Star Red


Palestine sweet lime




Clementine (Algerian Mandarin)


Buddah's Hand

Unique citrus varietals

Australian finger lime
Yuzu (Japanese citron)
Mineola Tangelo


Pests and diseases

A few serious diseases can affect citrus. Scale, thrips and mites are the most common pests. Many of the remedies used are chemical in nature, and I do not recommend using them. These chemicals ultimately end up in the fruit and will be ingested by the consumer. An alternative is to grow lots of beneficial insect-attracting plants in your yard, where predatory insects such as lacewings, wasps, pirate bugs and spiders will eat these pests. Mites thrive in hot dry weather on stressed plants so make sure to water deeply during excessively hot weather to help counteract these infestations.

As a beekeeper, my bees love the emergence of citrus flowers in March and April. The resulting orange blossom harvest is a delicate and complex, tasting light honey.

There is a large and ever-growing selection of citrus available in your local nurseries and even in large box stores such as Home Depot and Lowes.

If you follow a few straightforward instructions you can grow beautiful citrus year after year. Create well amended fast draining soil, fertilize twice a year and irrigate deeply and infrequently. It’s as simple as that.


John Lyons is the founder of Earthmatters, a gardening school in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood, and The Woven Garden, a firm specializing in edible landscaping. He has written on gardening for the Los Angeles Times and California Gardener.

Photo: Oranges.
Credit: Lori Shepler
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Shaking the Tree Image

Creating an orchard can sometimes fill the gardener’s heart with fear. Is there enough space? How do I prune? How do I manage disease control? What’s with irrigation? The list can be endless, but not as daunting as you might think. There are many ways to create a viable urban orchard with research, planning and creative space management.

Fruit trees can be grown in pots or directly in the ground, when space permits. Trees also can be espaliered, the horticultural technique of training trees through pruning and grafting to create formal “two-dimensional” or single-plane patterns by the branches of the tree.

When grafted onto rootstock, the size of a fruit tree can be controlled and kept to 12 feet to 15 feet tall with regular pruning. Some varieties are grafted onto ultra-dwarf stock that allows trees to be kept to a very manageable 4 feet or 5 feet.

The stone fruit family includes cherries, plums, nectarines, peaches, apricots and plum/apricot hybrids called pluots and apriums. Stone fruits do not continue to ripen after harvesting, and store-bought fruit is invariably picked early to avoid bruising. Thus it can be rather lackluster in taste. Homegrown stone fruit, however, when tree-ripened, is simply delectable.


First in four-part series on growing fruit, beginning with a selection of stone fruit varieties.

Cherries:  Bing, Craig’s Crimson, Early Richmond, Lapins, English Morello, Montmorency, Royal Lee, Minnie Royal.

Plums: Beauty,  Burbank, Elephant heart, Santa Rosa, Weeping Santa Rosa, Satsuma.

Nectarines: Arctic Queen, Snow Queen, Panamint, Fantasia, Liz’s Late Nectarine, Double Delight.

Peaches: Babcock, Mid pride, Elberta, August Surprise, Desert Gold, Eva’s pride, Flordahome.

Apricots: Royal Blenheim, Goldcot, Goldkist,  Harcot, Earli Autumn, Katy, Moorpark.

Pluots: Dapple Dandy, Emerald Drop, Flavor king, Flavor Supreme.

Apriums: Cot-N-Candy, Escort, Flavor Delight, Honey Rich, Late Brittney, Tasty Rich, Wescot.


All in-ground fruit trees should be planted in a large hole with amended soil. Water it, making sure to finish with a light mulch kept at least 6 inches away from the tree trunk and space at least 12 feet apart.

Potted trees need a large (minimum 25-gallon) pot. Drainage is important, and this can be easily achieved by the addition of a half bag of commercial cactus mix. A generous amount of good quality compost is also important.

In warmer climates such as garden hardiness zones 9 and 10 (California, Texas and Hawaii), pay attention to your tree’s chilling hours rating. This rate describes how many hours below 45 degrees that occur between November and February. It is important for those who live in warmer climates to select trees that have a chilling hour rating of 500 hours or less; trees rated above this level will not produce fruit in a warm climate.

If you have the space, it is a good idea to select an early variety and a late variety of one fruit. You can then enjoy an extended season of your favorite stone fruit. There are a few pests you may have to contend with, however. Peach leaf curl is a fungal disease that can devastate a peach and nectarine crop in short order through defoliation. Spray the trees, when totally dormant, with lime sulphur. This will contain the problem, but be careful to remove all diseased leaves and dispose of them thoroughly.

Newly planted trees can begin producing fruit in the second year. A light dressing with fertilizer annually will suffice.Selective pruning should keep the tree well-shaped and at a manageable height of 12 feet to 15 feet.

Stone fruits are very prolific bearers and a wonderful addition to the urban garden.

John Lyons is the founder of Earthmatters, a gardening school in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood, and The Woven Garden, a firm specializing in edible landscaping. He has written on gardening for the Los Angeles Times and California Gardener.

Photo: Plums on a tree. Credit: Roma-Oslo

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The Root of Flavor Image

No other vegetable reveals the great taste disparity between homegrown and store-bought than a root vegetable. The crisp, sweet taste of a garden-harvested carrot can shock the taste buds, causing one to wonder how they ever endured the lackluster orange cellulose found in the local supermarket. If you’re taken with the beautiful winter crops showing up in farmers markets right now, take heart: They’re easy to produce in your own garden.

Historically, root vegetables constituted a large part of the food crop grown in kitchen gardens because of their excellent storage ability. In cool areas of the country, crops can be left in the ground, lifted and stored in root cellars or even kept in earthen pits dug in the garden itself. In warmer climates, it is best to harvest root vegetables as you need them. The sowing times for these crops are seasonal, and vary by climate zone. As a general rule, root crops are best sown in cooler fall temperatures and then allowed to grow on slowly through the winter months.

Certain varietals, such as parsnips and celeriac, improve in flavor when subjected to very cold weather; it condenses their natural sugars. Nutritionally, root vegetables are rich in fiber, low in calories and packed with vitamins and minerals. Since they’re so easy to grow, they are an absolute must for an urban kitchen garden. Here are my picks for a selection of easy-to-grow root crops:

Displays of parsnips piled high next to celery root.


This long-season vegetable (winter vegetables can take anywhere from 45 days to three months to mature) is, to some, an acquired taste.  Historically, it was grown as nutritious fodder for animals, but it has been refined through selective breeding and is now a staple in the winter garden. Recommended varieties: Cobham Improved Marrow, Hollow Crown, Tender and True and The Student.


Originating in Middle and Far East, the earliest carrots were white, purple and red, but in the 17th century the Dutch bred the orange carrot that we know today. Recommended varieties: Royal Chantennay, St. Valery, Scarlet Nantes, Danvers, Belgian White and Persian Ronde.


Grown primarily for its leaves, this kitchen staple can be allowed to grow through the season for the taproot, which can be roasted, boiled or mashed. You can also add it to potatoes for a distinctive parsley aroma. Recommended varieties: Hamburg is the best variety for root production. Curled leaf and Italian are leaf varietals.


This unusual, long-season root vegetable boasts a distinctive taste some liken to that of an oyster. It has been selectively bred to produce a decent-sized taproot. Recommended varieties: Sandwich Island is the lone variety worth growing in the kitchen garden.


This is essentially a black type of salsify that produces a long, narrow, highly nutritious root that is best left in the garden for two full years before harvesting. Recommended varieties: Maxim and Geante Noir de Russe.


Unlike many root crops, quick-growing turnips can be sown year round. The greens are edible as well. Recommended varieties:  Purple Top, Golden Ball, and Gilfeather.

Winter radish

Relatively fast growing, radishes were historically grown and eaten much like turnips.  Today they are used raw, sliced in salads and, on occasion, boiled. Recommended varieties: Round Black Spanish, Chinese White, Violet de Gournay and Tama Hybrid.


This delightful vegetable is a perennial favorite. Somewhat heat tolerant, it can be grown both in cold temperatures and moderate summer weather. The extreme summer heat of the Southwest is not suitable, but the region’s winter months are ideal. The greens are also delicious in salads or sautéed. Recommended varieties: Detroit, Chioggia and Bulls Blood,

Celery root may look intimidating, but it's very versatile.

Celery Root

A relative of celery, celeriac has a denser texture. This slow-growing vegetable is delectable and should be more widely known. It is easier to grow in cool climates. Recommended varieties: Dolvi, Large Smooth Prague and Mentor.


Chicory is grown in a two-step process: The first year, the plant is planted in the ground then it is lifted and then the roots are grown (forced) in pots of sand. Because this second stage is done in the dark, the resulting leaves are pale and tender. It is best grown in a cold zone. Recommended varieties: Witloof, Turbo and Flash.


This delicate member of the onion family can be grown year round and is delicious in soups and stews. It can also be eaten alone—leeks are delicious on the grill. The leek also makes a spectacular flowering plant if allowed to go to seed. Recommended varieties: Musselburgh, Prizetaker, Lancelot and Carentan.

Tips for planting: Always grow root crops from seed in well-tilled and debris-free soil. (Overly rich soil can cause forking in the roots and early onset bolting.) Do not be afraid to sow thickly — you can thin out the seedlings when they are 2 to 3 inches tall. Harvest baby root crops a few weeks after the first thinning and allow the remaining plants to grow on to full size.  Turnips and beets can be grown exclusively for their greens. If this is your intent, sow the seeds fairly thickly in rows and harvest only the greens throughout the season.

John Lyons is the founder of Earthmatters, a gardening school in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood, and The Woven Garden, a firm specializing in edible landscaping. He has written on gardening for the Los Angeles Times and California Gardener.

Photos from top: Fresh radishes on display at Manhattan’s Union Square farmers market; Parsnips piled high next to celery root; Celery root may look intimidating but is very versatile. Credits: Martha Rose Shulman

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Frugal Family Tradition Image

My grandmother Bridget Finnegan Lyons (1894-1989) lived for almost a century. She was born at a time when people traveled in horse-drawn carriages, and she died when the space shuttle routinely traveled to and from the moon. Formidably intelligent, she did not get much more than an elementary school education. She was deeply religious and somewhat rigid and Victorian in her manners until the day she died. My mother, her daughter-in-law, never had a relationship with her. They simply had nothing in common.

As a child, and even to this day, I always enjoy the company of older people, and my grandmother, despite her stern demeanor, was a favorite. She grudgingly gave up family secrets, but generously shared a family recipe for a comfort food for lean times — soda bread. It remains an inexpensive and welcome reminder of home and hearth — literally for some.

My grandmother would occasionally open up and tell tales from her childhood and just as quickly clam up when I became just a little too inquisitive. There were many skeletons in her family closet, and it would be many years later that certain things came to light. I never did quite understand the need for the secrecy. One of the great secrets involved madness and a brother locked away for 75 years. I only met him when he died at 95, and I saw him in a coffin. To a young adult, it was remarkable to see a dead body for the first time, but I digress.

In 1975, Ireland had a series of labor strikes that occasionally would cripple the country’s power supply. That winter my grandmother was ill, and I took care of her for a week or so. It coincided with a power outage, so we had to cook meals on an open peat and wood fire. She instructed me in great detail on how to use a cast iron skillet to cook potatoes, cabbage and salted bacon, the core Irish diet. In addition she showed me how to make soda bread, another staple of the diet, explaining how she had seen it baked in a really crude fashion in front of a blazing turf fire as a child in homes too poor to even afford a cast iron skillet.

For the traditional soda bread it is important to get a good whole wheat flour and local grown stone ground meal is absolutely the best. I like Stone Buhr.

A variation on this recipe is the addition of 2 cups of raisins, a beaten egg and a ¼ cup of sugar and substituting the whole wheat flour with white flour. The result a sweet- tasting white soda bread with plump raisins.

Brown soda bread

4 cups stone ground whole wheat flour
2 cups of unbleached plain flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2½ to 3 cups of buttermilk
1. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
2. Mix flours, salt and bread soda thoroughly in a bowl.
3. Make a well in the center.
4. Add almost all of the buttermilk.
5. Mix quickly and turn out the slightly soft dough onto a well-floured surface.
6. Working quickly, knead lightly and form into a round approximately 1½ inches thick. Do not over-knead the dough.
7. Place on lightly greased heavy baking pan or cast iron skillet.
8. Make a deep cross with a sharp knife.
9. Brush with a little buttermilk.
10. Bake in a cast iron or heavy-based pan.
11. Bake for 15 minutes at 450 F.
12. Turn down heat to 350 F and continue baking for 25 to 30 minutes.
It is baked when it sounds hollow when tapped underneath.
13. To keep crust soft, wrap in a clean tea towel and place on its side to allow excess moisture and heat to escape.
Note: It does not keep long and is best toasted after Day 3. It freezes well. It is perfection when served with a strong Irish or English cheddar cheese.


John Lyonsis the founder of Earthmatters, a gardening school in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood, and The Woven Garden, a firm specializing in edible landscaping. He has written on gardening for the Los Angeles Times and California Gardener.

Photo of Irish soda bread by John Lyons


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An Uncommon Garden Image


Third in a series on growing what you cook
and cooking what you grow.

The large group of plants belonging to the mustard family Cruciferae — genus Brassica — covers a range of common and not-so-common vegetables: from broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts to kohlrabi, rutabagas (Swedes), turnips, collards and choy.

Brassicas are edible from flowers to roots. Depending on the plant, cooks prepare the stems (kohlrabi, choy), leaves (cabbage, choy, mustard, kale and collards), flowers (cauliflower, broccoli), roots (turnips and rutabagas) and seeds (mustard and rape).

Rich in potassium, soluble fiber, folic acid and vitamins C and K, these vegetables are an absolute must in a daily diet. When home-grown, the taste and vitality of the vegetable is unsurpassed.


Brassicas are quite easy to grow, though knowing the correct soil type is important. Most prefer a rich, well-draining soil that has been prepared with well-rotted manure and compost. Ideally the soil should be slightly acidic. Adding lime can increase the ph and adds calcium and magnesium to the crop.

In Southern California, the ideal time to plant the winter garden is November onward when planting established plants, or as early as August when starting from seed. Southern Californians can continue to plant in succession through late January, but in the rest of the country Brassicas should be grown in early spring.

Brassicas need their space in gardens. They grow large — albeit slowly — but eventually their habit of spreading can shade anything planted too close. When harvested, the yield will be substantial, especially with cabbages. Broccoli will form a main head, which should be removed; this will prompt the plant to produce side shoots that can be harvested for many weeks. Turnips can be easily grown from seed, just remember to thin out the plants to a 5-inch spacing once the plants reach 3 to 4 inches. (The removed plants can, of course, be eaten as turnip greens.) Allow extra garden space for a succession of plantings every six weeks and you’ll have a steady supply of fresh vegetables throughout the season.


There are a few really pernicious pests that enjoy eating these plants. The insidious, soil-borne fungal disease commonly known as club root is one of the most serious. If your soil becomes infected, this disease can remain in your garden for many years. A great advantage in growing brassicas from seed is that you avoid accidentally bringing such a disease into your garden via nursery-bought seedlings. The cabbage white butterfly is another opportunistic pest that can wreak havoc in crops. The butterfly lays large amounts of eggs, and its voracious caterpillars render leaves skeletal in a matter of days. An organic solution is a spray of Bt (bacillus thuringiensis), a parasitic bacterium that effectively kills the caterpillars when ingested. Such products can be found at most garden stores and are applied through spraying. Another solution: Cover the crop with fine netting to physically prevent the butterfly from gaining access to the plants. Aphids also can congregate in large amounts and be effectively controlled by a short, sharp blast of water from the hose. Finally, some of these plants may be eaten by rabbits and birds, something problematic usually in rural areas. Again, netting is the best solution to keep animals away from plants.

Heirloom and hybrid varietals for the garden

Select breeding and hybridization has resulted in a wide array of choices within each variety, but it can be hard to find them all at nurseries. Seed companies are where you’ll find a full complement of options.


Broccoli: Legend, Packman, Fiesta, De Cicco
Broccoli raab: Zamboni, Spring Sorrento
Kale: Winter Red, Nero di Toscana, Improved Dwarf Siberian
Brussels sprouts: Long Island Improved, Vancouver, Rubine
Collards: Champion, Flash, Georgia
Mustard (red and green): Southern Giant Curled, Osaka Red, Green Wave
Turnips: Gold Ball, Purple Top Globe, Seven Top
Choy: Pac Choi, Bok Choy, Ching-Chiang, Tatsoi
Cabbage (red and green): Early Jersey Wakefield, Ruby Ball, Red Acre, Copenhagen Market, Savoy
Kohlrabi: Dyna, Kongo, Purple Vienna
Cauliflower: Snowball Early, Self Blanche, Cheddar, Snow Crown
Rutabagas: Marian, Laurentian, Champion Collet Rouge


John Lyons is the founder of Earthmatters, a gardening school in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood, and The Woven Garden, a firm specializing in edible landscaping. He has written on gardening for the Los Angeles Times and California Gardener.

Photo by Ledette Gambini


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Do Your Bit for Bees Image
Second in a series on growing what you cook
and cooking what you grow.

Everyone by now has heard about the demise of bee populations from a condition termed Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists, baffled, seem reluctant to blame current beekeeping practices — yet anecdotal evidence points in that direction. At the very least, beekeeping methods may be one of a combination of factors that has led to a huge die-off in bees worldwide.

A beekeeping group called the Backwards Beekeepers has formed in Los Angeles. Its members are dedicated to keeping bees organically, forgoing chemicals and antibiotics. Commercial beekeepers routinely use an array of chemicals to maintain hives, and therein lies the problem: The intervention allows weak and diseased bees to survive, and thus risks the long-term health of the bee population.

Backwards Beekeepers use local feral bees and allow the bees to form their own comb instead of providing preformed beeswax sheets. (Preformed sheets can be tainted with residual pesticide and chemicals.) Feral bees collected through trapping become the nucleus for a new hive. Some cities in Southern California are looking into controlled trapping as an alternative to destroying unwanted bee colonies.

What to do with your harvest? See Making the Most of Honey.

The typical beehive consists of 10 medium or large frames contained in boxes called supers. A three super hive can yield 35 pounds or more of honey annually with ample honey left over to feed the bees through the winter months.

Help your honey production by landscaping a bee-friendly yard including these plants:

African Blue Basil

Common Yarrow
Pride of Madeira
Globe thistle

Local laws can be unclear and inconsistent on urban beekeeping — but so far the Backwards Beekeepers report no cases of forcibly removed hives. However, if you wish to have bees, it is both sensible and courteous to discuss it first with your neighbors — and to share the honey with them.

Keeping a hive is not as daunting as it sounds, but it’s wise to take classes and read up on the subject before you take the plunge.

Organic Beekeeping: What to Keep in Mind

New hives need to be in a slightly out of the way area; too much nearby activity disrupts the bees. A new colony is best left undisturbed for a month or more, so it can get on with the business of creating honey and brood.

Ants and local bees might attack the new hive to rob it of honey. The best way to prevent ants is to sit the individual legs of the hive into oil-filled containers (such as a tuna can). You can also sprinkle cinnamon or cayenne pepper around the base of the hive. If local bees or yellow jackets attack the hive, narrow the entrance, which allows the new colony to successfully defend itself. These two potential threats must be addressed; otherwise, you run the risk of the bees bolting for a better abode.

Harvesting honey is relatively easy. You can invest in a centrifugal extractor, which spins frames rapidly so the honey flows freely. Another method is to scrape all the wax and honey into a bucket and mash it up, then strain it through muslin overnight. It is slower but just as effective. Honey has remarkable keeping properties and does not need to be refrigerated. Store in an airtight jar, ideally at 70° F.


<i>A hive consists of a super filled with frames. Photo by John Lyons. Above: honeybees on their comb. Photo by Martha Rose Shulman</i>

A hive consists of a super filled with frames.
Photo by John Lyons.
Top photo: honeybees on their comb.
Photo by Martha Rose Shulman.


John Lyons is the founder of Earthmatters, a gardening school in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood, and The Woven Garden, a firm specializing in edible landscaping. He has written on gardening for the Los Angeles Times and California Gardener.


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Digging a Winter Garden Image

I always feel odd when using “winter” and “Southern California” in the same sentence. What passes for winter here is really a slightly chilly spring in most northern climes. The winter months — chilly, slightly frosty and even warm at times — are one of the most glorious gardening times of the year. The rains arrive with a certain predictability and go away, leaving us with deeply watered soil and bright dry days to plant a whole range of wonderful plants. It may seem odd to be thinking winter when we have triple-digit temperatures. However, the weather will cool soon enough and now is the time to start thinking about buying and starting winter seed crops, such as:

  • Leafy greens: Lettuces (use bolt-resistant varieties), mache, chicory, spinach, frisee, Swiss chard, arugula and mesclun mixes
  • Onions: Green bunching, Spanish, shallots, cippolini, sweet Maui, white and red
  • Leeks: Lancelot
  • Garlic: Red Silverskin, Giant white California, Chesnook Red
  • Peas: Mammoth, Green Arrow, Oregon sugar pod
  • Fava beans: Broad Windsor
  • Sweet peas: Cupani, Spencer varieties, Bijou (dwarf)
  • Cabbages: Savoy, red, curled and Napa
  • Broccoli: Goliath, Packman and Purple Sprouting
  • Broccoli Raab: Cima di Rapa, Super Rapini and Sorrento
  • Cauliflower: Snowball, Romanesco and Purple Cape
  • Choi: Bok Choi and Tatsoi
  • Kale: Lacinato, Nero di Toscana and Russian red
  • Mustard: Curled mustard, Osaka red
  • Radicchio: Chioggio, Tardivo and di Treviso
  • Root vegetables: Carrots, radish, turnips, rutabagas, beets and parsnips
  • Celery: Self-Blanching, Golden Pascal
  • Fennel: Florentine
  • Artichoke: Green Globe, Desert Globe and Imperial Star
  • Asparagus: Green and red varietals
  • Cool season herbs: Parsley (curled and flat leaf) and cilantro

The season officially begins Nov 1. This is my determination. Planting cool-season crops before this date can be problematic as October is known for sudden spikes in heat. If this happens, you risk an entire crop bolting and going to seed prematurely. It is best to be patient, a virtue lost on many gardeners. Wait until nighttime temps are consistently 50 degrees or below.

Preparing the soil

Thorough soil preparation is vital. Growing a green manure or cover crop in between the summer and winter crop is an ideal way to condition the growing beds. A cover crop is grown from seed until it is at the green-seed state, i.e., no viable seeds on the plant. The crop is dug into the soil and acts as a supplier of organic biomass, provides supplemental nitrogen (especially if you grow a leguminous crop such as Austrian Field Peas), and a source of food for the healthy microbial load in the soil. After digging in, the earth will be ready for planting winter starts in approximately four weeks.

There are the old tried-and-true vegetable favorites that should be grown every year. If it works, why change? However, every season there will always be something new and interesting to plant. Reading the latest seed catalogues and gardening blogs, watching current TV gardening shows and subscribing to a few gardening magazines should keep you in the loop. Traveling overseas can also lead to new discoveries, and many foreign seed companies have franchises in North America. Growing from seed is a very satisfying way to garden. In Southern California, it is possible to plant almost everything directly into the ground, and between transplanting and thinning out the seedlings, one can develop healthy starts within five to six weeks.

All root crops must be seed planted, and the earlier the better. Carrots especially are happiest in fine, deep rich loam free of stones. The earlier you start, the more crop succession possibilities you can have.  Planting every six weeks will provide a constant supply all winter long.

Dealing with pests

A few pest problems can occur, and in general the crops will survive most of the attacks. However, some organic solutions are possible. BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a safe way to control cabbage white larvae that can decimate brassicas. This natural bacterium is applied in powder form to kill emerging larva. One other common pest is the aphid. Ladybugs will take care of the matter swiftly if you have not used any chemical sprays. If aphids are present, you can also buy ladybugs at a garden center and release them in the evening under the plant that is infested. They will happily reside in your garden as long as the aphid buffet is open for business. A short blast of water from a hose will also help get rid of a heavy aphid population. Slugs and snails are controllable with beer traps, diatomaceous earth and copper strips on raised beds.

Winter gardening is a real pleasure.  No hot weather to contend with, natural rainfall to help your plants grow and the joy of a fresh garden salad is an unequaled sensory experience.


Picture 1 of 10

Freshly picked salad greens. John Lyons

Seed companies worth supporting this season
Seeds of Change

Seed Savers Exchange

Renee’s Garden

Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply

Franchi Seeds

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