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Growin’ in the Gold Country  by Don Urbanus    

Fall Gardening:Ready.  Set.  Start your fall garden!

            You are probably harvesting lots or tomatoes and zucchini right now but it’s time to transition to fall and winter vegetables – and flowers too.  Summer is over; things are starting to cool down and fall is around the corner.  All the nurseries are well stocked now with either seeds or vegetable starts ready to go for your fall garden.

            Broccoli is the most popular vegetable even if a former president famously said that he didn’t like it.  Most kids really do like broccoli – especially if it isn’t cooked to death.  It can be eaten raw although not everyone likes it that way.  Lightly steamed or stir-fried are the favorite ways to cook it.  Picky kids?  Just put a little cheese on it or perhaps some mayonnaise and down it will go.

            Red onions are a close second to broccoli.  Right now six-packs or 4” pots of red onions are available.  Carefully divide the cluster of onions and plant about 4 to 6 inches apart.  In late September or early October, onion sets (little bulbs) will be available.  These are best used as “green” onions.  If kept too long they often want to flower in the spring instead of forming large onion bulbs.  In November all onions will be available bareroot and are usually sold in bunches of 25 or 50. 

            One of the easiest of vegetables to grow is chard.  Besides the regular green-leafed chard with white stalks, there is a red-stalked variety with green leaves and red veins.   My favorite variety is “Bright Lights”, which can have stalks that are white, yellow, gold, orange, red, violet, pink and striped stalks.  Bright Lights is not only edible; it is very attractive.  Even if you hate to eat chard you’ll love the eye-catching statement of this crazy vegetable.

            Besides the above vegetables, there are also Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, collards, kale, lettuce, peas and spinach.  Carrots and radishes are usually planted by seed only.  Peas are also very easy from seed.  I usually wait for cooler weather for lettuce and spinach since they’re not fans of hot weather although seeds can be started right now in some shade.

            Fall flowers are already blooming.  Violas, pansies, dianthus, calendulas, snapdragons, cyclamen, and Iceland poppy are splashing their colors around and will continue to do so right into next spring.  Primroses and stock usually bloom a bit later.

            The strains of pansies are too numerous to list.  There is an endless variety of patterns and colors.  Some of the most popular are the blotch series in yellow, blue, rose, purple and white.  More refined are varieties like Antique Shades and Beaconsfield.  Almost good enough to eat are pansies with names like Panola Blackberry Sundae and Scrumptious Berry Tart Mix.   

            Another of my fall favorites are flowering kale and cabbage.  Technically they are all kale but some look like cabbage.  The “flower” is not really a flower at all.  As the weather cools, the center turns white, pink or red with green or reddish leaves on the outside.  They are very striking.  The ones called kale have very frilly ruffled leaves and tend to stay shorter.  The flowering cabbages have larger smooth leaves.  If you actually let them flower in the spring, the center will shoot up yellow flowers similar to mustard.  There is no reason that ornamental kale and cabbage can’t be eaten, but only young leaves should be attempted.  Older leaves get too tough.  Also, they are bred for color, not taste. 

            Now that the summer is winding down you thought you were going to kick back and relax?  No way!  There is way too much to do in your garden.  In many cases, people have more luck in their garden with fall and winter vegetables and flowers because the weather is cooler and less stressful to the plants – and to people.

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