Growing Artichokes from Seed
Chayote Squash in Bloom

Winter in the College Garden

Dec 09 Vegetables 010 copy Thought you'd like to see what is growing in the garden at City College of San Francisco these days. We are between classes, but the fall-planted crops are continuing to grow into winter. Here is what there is to see. To the right is 'Bordeaux' spinach, grown to be eaten as baby leaves in a salad. It doesn't get very big, but it's succulent and has those nice red veins. Below it is mizuna, a nice mild mustard that is good in a salad or in a stirfry. Good in Asian dishes or sauteed and served with pasta. You see this one in local "spring mixes" in grocery stores, and with good reason, since it is easy to grow and mild in flavor.

Dec 09 Vegetables 009 copy

The cabbages are also maturing. We started three kinds. The first is 'Parel', an early cabbage that makes a small head. It is supposed to mature in 50 days (calculated from the time you set out 5-7 week old plants), and make a head that weighs 1 1/2 to 2 pounds. So the heads are approximately 5 inches across. These are about ready (took a little longer than listed, which is common growing into winter).Dec 09 Vegetables 014 copy You can see that the outer leaves get a little chewed up, but that doesn't harm the head, so I don't worry about preventing every little hole. It is probably done by slugs, maybe earwigs or snails. You can see a bit of cilantro growing above the cabbage and to the right. And there are a few weeds growing through the straw mulch--chickweed, I think. It's edible and an annual you can pull out and it won't grow back. 

I shot the next two cabbage varieties at the same distance, so you can compare their size as well as their maturity. The next one is 'Ruby Ball', a red cabbage. It is supposed to mature in 78 days from planting out, and make 3-4 pound heads. Dec 09 Vegetables 015 copy As you can see, the plant is bigge. The head isn't as solid yet either, so it has a ways to go before it is ready. Again, a few holes at the edge, but not enough to worry about.

Finally, there is some 'January King'. This kind is what they call "overwintering" in that it will not have mature heads until winter is nearly over. It is a pretty one, ruffled green with pink or purple leaf edge. It is supposed to mature in 150-210 days after planting out, and form head that weigh 3-5 pounds each. That is 5-7 months after plant out! (By the way we planted all of these cabbages out in early September.) You may ask why plant cabbage that takes so long to mature? Answer: You probably don't want to spend much time in the garden in the winter and having these long-season cabbages growing allows you, with a minimum of cold feet or hands, to have something to harvest into winter.Dec 09 Vegetables 016 copy You need to get them all planted out in late summer or early fall, depending on your exact microclimate, but then they will mature in different months over the coldest months. They are also pretty in winter. You cn do a little better job than I of hunting slugs and snails, so the skirts of the plants remain handsome. The cabbageworm (a green caterpillar) is a problem until weather cools, but from then on, it is dormant for winter. I pick off cabbageworm eggs, or students help to do it, in San Francisco until about mid-October, and then the problem stops.

Another virtue of growing cabbage, broccoli and other crops into winter is that you can stop watering them in about mid October for the most part, and let the rains take over.

As you can see, the head of the 'January King' is still pretty small for the size of the plant. It will be another month or two before it is fully formed.

Did anyone out there have frost damage last week? The above crops are hardy to quite a lot of frost, and they all look fine. I did lose a row of nasturtiums that were decorating the edge of a bed. Turned to pale yellow mush, flat on the ground. That's it for pretty orange flowers in salads until spring! I lost redworms in a long frosty spell last year, so I moved the worm compost bins into a greenhouse last week. And now a construction class has made them fine new bins. The next step is to harvest finished compost and make the redworms fresh beds in their new homes!

Dec 09 Vegetables 017 copy

What else is happening? Chard set out in September is growing well. It is no longer being damaged by the leafminer that chews out the insides of leaves, now that cold weather is in full swing. This is 'Bright Lights' one of several mixes available with different-colored leaves and stems in one seed packet.

And finally, here are the leeks, set out last late spring, growing nicely into winter. They will still be fine for sharing with the first class of the spring semester, which is in February and early March. After that they are likely to bloom, meaning they become tough and inedible.

All of the above crops are hardy enough to grow in more inland locations in the Bay Area in winter. The new edition of Golden Gate Gardening, due out February 1st, includes planting calendars for inland locations such as Walnut Creek and San Jose. Try a winter garden. You do most of the planting before the winter sets in, and the rewards are delicious!

Dec 09 Vegetables 018 copy


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Pam Peirce

Hi Harold,

I put a piece of row cover over my blue basil, like a little roof, on four poles. So far so good!


My Blue Basil lost all its leaves to frost, but carrots, lettuce, radishes, and wild onions are doing fine in NW San Francisco.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)