It is no wonder that over a third of the country’s vegetables are grown in California, with its mellow seasons making it possible for gardeners and farmers to grow produce all four seasons.
Four seasons gardening, what does it even mean? To keep things simple, let’s specifically talk about four season gardening in Sonoma and Marin Counties in California, and deep dive into the rest of the country in another conversation.
As the weather transitions in temperatures from warm to cool and moisture from dry to wet, so does your garden ecosystem. Four season gardening is continuing to utilize and grow your garden throughout the year without pause, maintaining the garden ecosystem, and allowing you to grow your own food and ”eat the seasons” all year long. When you grow produce through all of the seasons, the crops will fall into two categories, warm and cool season. The warm season includes your Spring garden and Summer garden, and the cool season includes your Fall garden and Winter garden.
Warm-season crops: Warm-season crops require higher soil and air temperatures (above 50ºF), and are planted after the last frost date. Here in Sonoma and Marin Counties, warm-season vegetables can be grown out of their season if we experience an unusually warm Fall, or if they are protected from temperatures below 50ºF. Vegetables can be protected from low temperatures with row covers, cold frames, and greenhouses. Some examples of warm-season crops are corn, peppers, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash.
Cool-season crops: Cool-season crops should be planted so that they mature when the weather is cool, either in spring, autumn, or winter. Most cool season crops prefer temperatures below 70°. When the temperature starts to climb in the spring or early summer, they will likely bolt. When this happens the plant becomes woody or bitter and flowers. Some of our favorite cool-season crop vegetables (and some of the most nutritious) include the Brassica Family (mustard greens, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts to name a few) and many root vegetables (carrots, turnips, and beets).
Carrots and broccoli grown in the winter may be the best you have ever tasted because the cold causes some of the starches to turn to sugars, turning them sweet and delicious.
If you find that you travel a lot over the winter, or that winter gardening is not something you enjoy, we would still suggest planting a cover crop or a low maintenance crop such as root vegetables, to help hold the beneficial microbes in the soil. Here at Avalow, we can help with Winter garden maintenance too. Winter gardening will also reduce weeds while adding organic matter to your garden.
Ultimately, you can start a garden at almost any time. With Spring, Summer, and Fall being the most optimal. If you live in a microclimate that does experience snow or frequent frosts, the use of a greenhouse, row covers, or a cold frame would make Winter gardening possible. Growing a garden all year long allows you to reduce your carbon footprint and ecological impact (especially with the use of a water-saving Avalow), eat foods at their most nutritionally dense, and eat the fresh, local produce of the season.