We’ve had a banner tomato crop this summer, our experts say. Many of us are still enjoying our tasty heirlooms and prolific hybrids. The good news is that this delicious, healthy bounty doesn’t have to stop—even as we head into fall and winter.
“A lot of people don’t realize there’s a fall season for tomatoes,” said Steve Hampson, horticulturist and vegetable plant buyer for Roger’s Gardens. “But you have to start right now.”
If you want to grow tomatoes through winter, you need to plant your seedlings now or before the end of September at the latest. Some of Hampson’s favorites for winter tomatoes include Champion, Jetsetter, Stupice and San Francisco Fog, as well as cherry varieties, Sun Gold and Sweet 100. Most other winter vegetables, however, can be started anytime between now and early October—depending on how close you live to the coast.
“In general, if you had tomatoes growing in your garden in summer, and want to plant them in fall, it’s helpful to move them to a new spot where they weren’t growing. Unfortunately, in Southern California with smaller yards, people don’t have the luxury of moving their veggie garden to a new location,” Hampson said.
The best alternative to rotating crops is to prepare the soil for your winter crops by restoring nutrients. Once summer plants are done producing, pull up the old plants and clear out the debris. Then work in some compost (Hampson recommends Harvest Supreme organic matter), and a vegetable fertilizer (Hampson uses Dr. Earth.). For containers, Hampson uses Roger’s Potting Soil, and also fertilizes with Dr. Earth.
“The advantage to the organic vegetable fertilizers is that they break down slowly and give a long feeding as opposed to chemical fertilizers,” Hampson said. “That’s really all I do before I plant.”
Besides tomatoes, here are other fall and winter vegetables that are relatively easy to grow:
Lettuces and Salad Greens: “They are simple and quick,” Hampson said. “Containers are especially great for growing lettuce.” Coastal gardeners can start planting lettuce and other greens, such as spinach, swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, aruula, mizuna, etc. now, and inland gardeners should wait until early October. Plant every three to four weeks for continuous produce.
Top picks: Any “gourmet mix” or variety six-packs; Lollo Rosa (a red, crinkled leaf lettuce); Black Seeded Simpson (medium green leaf lettuce); Butter Crunch (a semi-headed lettuce.).
Radishes: “These are great for kids, since they mature so quickly,” he said. Plant any time.
Top picks: Easter Egg Blend (all different colors); Cherry Belle; and Early Scarlet Globe.
Peas: Plant the same timing as lettuces.
Top picks: English Shelling Peas; Snap Peas and Snow Peas. “These will need some support, but you can use bamboo or twiggy branches,” he said.
Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower: “These can be a little trickier to grow, but a lot of people have good luck, too.” Broccoli tends to be easier to grow than cabbage or cauliflower. They all require cool weather.
Top picks: Green Comet and Premium Crop.
Potatoes: “There’s been a lot of interest in growing these. You can grow them in large pots, including stacks of old tires, garbage can, etc. Just fill them with soil and use ‘seed potatoes,’ which are small pieces of potatoes,” he said. Plant in late fall, starting in November on.
Top picks: Russian Banana; French Fingerling and Yukon Gold.
Hot Tip: Hampson’s favorite water soluble fertilizer, which he recommends using every three to four weeks, especially for container veggies: Sea Grow All Purpose fertilizer.