Think back to your childhood ideas about seasonality. Do you remember, in grade school, making those hand traced turkeys and leaf rubbings in the autumn? What about the tissue paper snowman of winter, plastic straw and pastel craft paper flowers of spring, or the endless paintings of rainbows and big smiling suns right before summer break? The turning of the seasons imbued my experience of nature with romance and the anticipation of metamorphosis. I coveted the soft dreamy English-style gardens of Victoria Magazine and wanted to live exactly like Tasha Tudor as an old woman. Our mother was an excellent gardener who evoked in her beds the traditions of her native Midwest giving us spring pansies, summer roses, table settings of dry November leaves and evergreen cyprus branches at Christmas.
If you live somewhere that has all four seasons then you are blessed and know the excitement of a spring bulb peeking through snow and the first golden sycamore. Some L.A. growers like Mr. Homegrown have a 3 season method, but for this SoCal inland valley gardener there are only two. They are “Really Warm” and “The Devil’s Ass-Crack”. I find the latter to be increasingly lasting longer, starting earlier and ending later. If you have surmised that by “increasingly” I refer to the process by which is climate is changing and always has been then you are correct, and I will take this opportunity to say goodbye to the possibly 50% of my readers (all 5 of you, if the stats for this mewling kitten of a blog are correct!) who find this opinion offensive and have lost your taste for Inland ValleyGirl. I hardly knew ye, and truly wish you well in your endeavors. For those of you on the fence, check out the National Geographic redux of the Cosmos series with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, specifically the episode titled “The World Set Free”. It’s visually stunning, thought-provoking, and the best explanation out there.
A couple years after we started growing food, it rained for days and a water-logged tree fell on our house. Fun fact, it was one of only 9 years between 1950 and 2011 that saw over 6 inches of rain in the month of March in Woodland Hills…8 of those years were before 1996. It forced us down to “the flats” and away from the slightly cooler nights and wonderfully Provence-like environment of the North-facing foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Our garden was never at home, but living with more heat in general changed our gardening. At this point I was doggedly ripping up, digging out and generally spending a lot of energy trying to follow a traditional spring/summer/fall/winter planting schedule. There were nice radishes if the mornings stayed cool and tender lettuces some “winters”. These last few years the crops have been increasingly mixed, with peppers coming along as potatoes were still coming out of the ground.
Gardening differs from foraging in that we are imposing an order upon nature, but if you are like me and believe in less effort/more reward than why not just work with what your climate is giving you, right now? Even the busiest person can plan for two garden plantings roughly 6 months apart. List all of the foods that you really love to eat, not just the ones you think everyone should plant. Now separate these into two lists, warm and hot season. Traditionally cool season crops will now be on the warm list (think greens, beets, carrots, chard, radishes) as well as some summer veggies that don’t do well above 90 degrees like snap beans. Warm season crops (tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, corn etc.) will go on the hot list. There are varieties of seeds that have been bred specifically for heat. Check out Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds for unusual varieties that can take it! Order the free catalog, it’s beautiful and has interesting stories. Locate the closest weather station to your garden. Ours is the Pierce College Weather Station and they have a website with monthly and historical data. I’ve been pouring over these charts and looking for patterns, trying to anticipate when the next “warm” season will begin this coming fall. Hey, there’s that week in 2011 the tree fell on our house! So, you say, what if my precious peas start to wither in April when we get our first 90-degree days? Or the basil is killed by the one and only frost we got all year? And I say, so what? You spent a few bucks and took a chance. Make a note of it, and next year plant them one month earlier.
I cannot tell you how many of the seedlings we have lovingly planted have died, how many seeds have refused to sprout, how many tomatoes got sun burnt and blistered. That’s farming, folks! Get used to some loss and disappointment. Just keep putting something in the ground…that old packet of forgotten seeds, those cloves of sprouted garlic in your fridge, half-off bolting veggie transplants at Home Depot, the little bundle of roots left over from your “living lettuce”. You will soon acquire an instinctive knack to knowing what to plant when. The air really does have a different smell when the hot season turns, and it’s not what the name “Devil’s Ass-Crack” would imply. In the Valley, it smells just a little bit fresh and reminds me of pumpkin patches on a hot October night and light sweaters. It smells like the first day with a high temperature under 80 (74 degrees on September 13th, 2016 according to the data) and it smells like the promise of change.