I miss baby spinach. It is probably my single favorite vegetable. The year or so leading up to the September 2006 was very exciting for me (admittedly, my life is not exactly James Bond’s), as baby spinach was more easily available than ever, from the grocery store to most good restaurants (even Subway!). However, when the E. coli contamination came around, the supply, of course, dried up almost completely. While baby spinach is again available, it has never gotten back to pre-2006 levels. Because demand is so much lower now that people associate spinach with contamination, the spinach in the grocery store sits on the shelves longer, arrives less often, and as such is far less fresh and delicious. This is a big part of why I get so excited when it’s time to start planting cool-weather vegetables in early spring and late summer.
Of course, in South Carolina time to start planting cool-season veggies isn’t as close as it is for much of the country, but for many of you it’s right around the corner as early as mid-August or so. Like I always do, I recommend that you start thinking early about what you’re going to grow to give you time to order your seeds and plants, to prepare your planting bed, and to do all of those other little things that make it so much easier when the time comes to plant.
Many gardeners don’t bother with fall plantings of cool-season veggies. They think of them more as an early prize after the long winter. In the fall they are already weary of gardening, or at least less excited about it. In some ways, though, fall is the best time for these plants. Depending on climate, you may be less likely to have your plants killed by a snap freeze in the autumn than in the spring. Your spinach is less likely to bolt in autumn, too (which I think is a huge benefit). I tend to think of autumn plantings as a gardening year’s dessert, a great treat at the end of all that hard work. Sure, the spring planting’s appetizer is fantastic, but in the end, isn’t dessert always the best part?
I’m in the low deserts of Southern California. My winter garden is the best. It’s about the only time of year we get rain, which makes it more economical too. Last few years my brocolli has been excellent. I used cottonseed meal at planting time to fertilize and help acidify the soil. I’ve also had success with snap peas, romano pole beans, turnips, parsley, cilantro, lettuces and mesculin, carrots, onions, garlic. I begin planting mid August and finish about mid November. And now is the time to put in some “winter” tomatoes. They seem to do better in the fall, as temps drop a bit. The daytime temps in 90’s and 100’s prevent a good crop of tomatoes in the summer. I think you get the idea… winter is great here for gardening.