Garden Variety: Go for the greens

Jennifer E. Beaver
Master Gardener

I swear my plants know what I’m thinking.
On Wednesday afternoon, I began contemplating pulling up my lackluster tomatoes. They’ve been sulking all spring and summer, and it’s time to replace them with vegetables and flowers that appreciate cooler weather.
Yet, when I visited the garden Thursday, a miracle had occurred. All the fruit was noticeably bigger. So I’ve given these psychic tomatoes another week or two, but then it’s time to go.
September and October are odd times in local gardens. As I write this, it seems fall-ish and I happily contemplate homemade soup, good bread and cooler weather. But as anyone who has spent a year or more in southern California knows, autumn is a mercurial time here. Put on a cardigan, and Santa Ana winds blow in and make you trade it for shorts and a tank top.
What does that mean in the garden? Caution. It’s mostly too late for heat-lovers like tomatoes, eggplant and peppers and a little too early for cool-season transplants like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
If you want to play it safe, go for the greens.
Lettuce, Swiss chard, arugula and Oriental vegetables like bok choi, mustard, and cabbage will do well now if planted from seed or transplants. Check out Based in Oakland, it’s the oldest seed company in the country specializing in Asian vegetables. I also like the selection from Renee’s Garden (, which you’ll find locally at OSH and online ( Until Sept. 30, the online shop is offering a 40-percent discount on seeds packed for 2011. I think I’ll order “Renee’s Stirfry Mix,” a combo of “tangy, rich-hued Red Mustard; Mizspoona, a new cross between tasty-sweet Mizuna and rich-flavored Tatsoi; succulent white-stemmed Tatsoi and handsome Asian red kale.”
All these greens are easy to grow. With plenty of water, they’ll take full sun but will also do well in semi-shade. Just cut what you need and leave an inch or two of stem, and you’ll get new growth for another round of salad or stir-fries.
Frilly lettuce and rainbow-stemmed chard do double duty as ornamentals. Look through the garden magazines, and you’ll find pictures of colorful lettuce exploding out of all kinds of containers. If you’ve been on the fence about growing something you can eat, it’s time to get your hands dirty and go for it. Grow some lettuce or chard, and chow down!

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California and Edible Gardening for California.

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