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Other parts of the country may be singing “Let it Snow,” but here in the Chino Valley we can say “Let it Sow!” Even in December, we can still sow seeds and transplant cool season veggies in our winter gardens. True, the days are shorter, colder, and there’s morning fog. But with some care, our seeds of chard, kale, or spinach may germinate during the scattered sunny days. Sow at least twice as many seeds as usual and be prepared for them to take a longer time to grow. Using a top coat of mulch will help insulate the soil, enhancing germination rates. Row covers, agricultural plastic, or mulch can be used after the seeds sprout to shield the plant or “blanket” the soil and conserve warmth.
A note for new gardeners: we’re sowing cool season crops like Bibb lettuces, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, radishes, and flat leaf parsley. These crops require fewer hours of daylight to mature and can handle the cooler temperatures. Sow seed or transplant semi mature vegetables still available at garden stores and nurseries. Perhaps try a cover crop of micro greens mix in the vegetable beds to keep roots in the ground, encourage mycorrhizal development (those beneficial fungal networks that support plant growth and health), and cover bare soil. Cover crops are generally non-primary crops planted to support the health of the main crop or to build or support soil health. Their purpose may also be weed control or water retention.
Not all cover crops are edible (think clovers or Vetches.) Using edible micro greens mixes as a cover crop layers functionality in that the soil builder/weed barrier is also an edible mix of lettuces, mustards and other green leafy vegetables. After the plants discourage the weeds, you may just pick a few for your evening salad or sandwich—delicious.Choosing not to harvest the majority of the cover crop is part of a no-till approach to vegetable gardening whose goal is to build a healthy soil full of rich organic matter (including worms and micro organisms) while disturbing the soil as little as possible. No double digging. No tilling or rototillers. No heavy shovel work.Just grow the cover crop and after the greens have emerged and begin to put on leaves, chop them at the crown and allow them to sit on the soil as “green” mulch. This is known as “chop and drop” and may be used with any cover crop to build soil health. Not a bad idea as a means to prepare your beds for bare root season next monthOf course, even if you choose the no-till approach, if you are vegetable gardening in clay soils you may have to do a bit more digging and amending to get your seeds to actually grow in the ground.But there are still advantages to no-till —not the least of which are fewer blisters and sore muscles—leaving more energy to hang those holiday lights!Donna Palmer is a San Bernardino County Master Gardener (class of 2021) who lives and gardens in Chino Hills. The University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners in San Bernardino County operate a free helpline to address your home gardening and landscaping questions: [email protected] Visit: mgsb.ucanr.edufor a list of upcoming classes and events.
As you may know !