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A Clean Slate

We here in Southern CA have the luxury of gardening all year long, which is both tremendously rewarding and occasionally a little daunting – without the impending winter frost that gardeners have in more variable climates, there is no time to sit back with hot chocolate a wait for spring. I feel an obligation somehow to keep my garden productive year-round simply because I CAN, like I’d be wasting a precious resource if I took the winter off…

Plus, the beauty of a new season is irresistible to me, all promise and excitement like the first day of school. What happened last season doesn’t really matter – it’s always a fresh start. Sure I learned some lessens from my battles with pests and mildew this summer, but this is my chance to try again, maybe a little differently, and see what my efforts can create this time around. Pull up the old plants, cultivate the soil, and start anew…

So, now that the weather is finally cooling, it’s time to plan. I see before me a blank slate of nearly 200 sq ft of earth longing to be cultivated, but what to put in it? A good plan goes a long way, and there are are a few resources I swear by for figuring out when to seed what, which plants do best when planted near each other, and which plants totally hate each others’ guts:

  • LA Garden Blog – this guy is amazing, and his month-by-month guide is so helpful. Most garden books I have found are written by people who can’t garden year-round because of their climate, but he is right here in LA and really knows his stuff.
  • Gardens Ablaze – Companion planting guide that is invaluable! More than any other tactic we’ve tried, companion planting has been the best for deterring problem insects and getting better yields.

I do a basic sketch of my garden beds first (see above), then fill in the biggest plants first. For fall, we really like to plant broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, and these all need lots of room. Once I figure out their placement, it’s easier to fill in the rest, making sure not to plant anything in the same place it was last season. (Crop rotation keeps the soil healthier.) It takes a few tries usually to get it right, but the payoff for good planning is totally worth the effort.

One last tip: I often keep my herbs in pots (particularly mint, since it will take over the whole garden if you let it) so they can be easily moved around the garden as they are needed. They help deter pests from sensitive seedlings, but once the plants grow and need more room (and can defend themselves), the herbs can be moved to other areas to help out other seedlings.

Time to pour myself a glass of wine, sharpen my pencil, and get to planning!