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Seasonal Confusion

December 7, 2010

When I spend a gorgeous sunny afternoon running by the beach in a t-shirt and shorts – and that afternoon happens to be Christmas Eve? I think to myself, why in the name of all that is warm and sunny and wonderful would anyone live anywhere else?  Seriously.   Sometimes I bitch and moan about how it’d be nice to have seasons but you know what? At the end of the day I can visit my in-laws in Canada if I want friggin’ seasons.  I’ll take my December beach weather, thankyouverymuch.

But here’s the rub: our lovely mixed bag of seasons here in southern California makes for some confusing-as-hell gardening guidelines.  All the planting instructions work off of the “latest hard freeze” date for the region.  Um… I think that was early 2007… yeah I think there might have been a bit of frost that winter. But I can’t quite remember.

Agricultural Child Labor at its Best

And yes, it’s cooler than the summer, but our winter is like Ireland’s summer – only probably warmer – so why aren’t my potatoes coming up?  why are the established plants growing all wonky (stretching farther and farther toward the side of the yard that shadows the latest)?

Then the other day it dawned on me.  Or… maybe it sunset on me?  I was in the garden around 3:30 pm and noting how the twilight was already encroaching over my yard.  At a time when, just six months ago, the sun was high over head… do you see where I’m going with this?

Of COURSE you do. Because it is OBVIOUS. just not to me.  It took me two years to realize that, maybe, you know something silly like how long the sun shines each day, might have something to do with whether or not my plants grow.  Turns out plants like sun. Who’da guessed it.  Winter is more than just a temperature drop that may or may not be significant.

So I have pulled out all but one each of this summer’s pepper and tomato plants (for infestation reasons and because I didn’t want to put the effort it would take to keep them healthy enough to keep bearing through the winter) and refrained from doing what I did the last two years which is plant a whole host of crops that would do fine in the temperature range but which rarely even make it out of the soil.  And when they did, they got eaten so fast it was like they were never there at all.  I’m chalking that up to being weak from lack of food (sun) and holding out till February and longer days.

Ok I’m *mostly* holding out.  I did throw in some potatoes (with the help of one small laborer) before my revelation – none of which have come up.  And some green bean seeds that I had leftover (which have not come up).  These can serve as my control to see if my theory is correct.  I also planted a couple of seedlings I got for free from the farmers market but the guy there said they’d be ok since they’re already established.  And finally I spread some seeds for a cover crop that is supposed to pull any heavy metals out of the soil – that, naturally, is sprouting up all over the place.  Figures.

So mother nature has given me a cuff to the chin and an admonition to BE PATIENT you idiot!  And I’m trying to listen.  I’ll spend the intervening time scouring heirloom seed websites for inspiration come spring.

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