you can plant chamomile in raised beds with other vegetables

Early Spring Garden Crops For Mild Climates

by | Jan 14, 2023

Hello! This week’s post is going to be a little shorter and more picture heavy than last week’s post on Growing Chamomile in the Garden. Essentially, I’d like to discuss the early spring garden here in my part of Southern California, and some of the fun things that have been happening behind the scenes. If you have any questions about early spring gardening, what to start, etc. that I don’t answer, then feel free to leave a comment below!

Related article: Cold Hardy Annual Herbs

A Garden Update

Remember those seedlings we planted out last September-October? They have been feeding us throughout the Winter— filling our plates with roasted veggies and salads—but now they are basically bolted and/or harvested, leaving empty spots in the garden. This is the natural progression of the garden as we move from Fall/Winter crops into Early Spring crops. During this time, I’ve been carefully noting the empty areas of our raised beds to assess what’s next. Here in zone 10, the options for early spring crops are basically the same as our list of Fall/Winter crops, with the added thought that Summer is coming soon so we don’t want to plant anything that takes forever to mature.

Before I get into more specifics for the early Spring garden, here are some of the things we’ve been enjoying from our Fall and Winter garden:

Joi choi is a powerhouse in the garden. Extremely easy to grow from seed, joi choi has been in our stir fries, wonton soups, ramen, and breakfast scrambles all winter long. It’s also a wonderful candidate for an early spring crop.

This area of our raised bed garden has lots of lettuces, cilantro, and rapini. All of those crops also happen to be perfect for succession sowing into early spring as well. This was my first year growing rapini, and I really enjoyed it!

We picked our first head of broccoli on Thanksgiving day. This year I transplanted one round of broccoli early September, and then waited another month to plant a second round. By spacing out the plantings, we avoided harvesting too much broccoli all at once. These gorgeous specimens are Belstar broccoli.

Sweet and crunchy snow peas! Another great crop to succession sow all Fall/Winter and early spring, edible peas are so delectable in stir fries or as raw snacks. I like these golden snow peas especially, because I can spot them easily on the vines when it’s time to harvest.

Maybe one of my favorite cool season crops of all time, the cauliflower has showed up on the menu as a roasted side and aloo gobi. I did try a cauliflower soup one night, and was really disappointed in it.

Our savoy cabbage is a little small this year because I didn’t give it enough sun. Regardless, we still got heads and I’m impressed with this ‘clarissa’ variety for the second year in a row. I’m not sure how savoy would perform if started in the early Spring garden, but with a maturity time of 89 days, I think it’s worth trying.

But what is the Early Spring season in zone 10b?

Honestly, early spring is probably one of the most fleeting, unpredictable, and challenging seasons in my garden. Early spring garden crops don’t have it easy because you never know how quickly we are going to heat up. There’s potential for frost, combined with fluctuating temperatures that hint at Summer. In fact, we traditionally have a “false Spring” where it appears warm enough to plant out tender plants and then a frost sweeps through suddenly. Of course, you can utilize a variety of gardening tools to extend your growing seasons—-like the fabric row covers or shade mesh discussed HERE—but it’s just good to know that you aren’t alone if the Spring garden feels challenging. I tend to treat the early spring garden as a “bonus” or “shoulder” season where I can try new things, grow some quick-growing crops, and basically bridge the gap between the Winter garden and Summer garden.

In anticipation for many of my Fall and Winter crops being done, I started a small round of early spring crops in my garage using last year’s indoor seed starting setup. Here’s a little picture of what’s currently growing indoors:

starting early spring crops indoors under grow lights

I snapped this photo earlier today. There’s some napa cabbage, buttercrunch lettuce, spinach, beets, broccoli, sprouting cauliflower, and rapini growing right now. This week I’ll start hardening off the largest ones to go outdoors in the spring garden.

What are some good early spring crops for mild climates?

Although my garage already has a seed tray of early spring crops going, I’m going to need to start more! Aside from the empty spots I already see, it’s now time to check the garden and pull anything that is bolted, diseased, or simply not providing anymore. For example, here are some photos of other spots in the garden that will soon need new plants for early spring:

Bolting is a natural process as plants are either exposed to stressful conditions or are matured to the point where they want to flower and set seed. Bolting often happens with lettuce when temperatures are too hot. My buttercrunch lettuce (pictured) has all bolted, so it’s time to remove it from the garden and plant new early spring crops in its place.

This is a plant with broccoli side shoots. After harvesting the main head of broccoli, many varieties will then continue to produce little side heads that are delicious! This year I tried a couple new broccoli varieties where I’m not happy with the side shoots, so I’m just going to pull those plants and make more space for the early spring!

More empty areas of the garden! This was where I harvested two cauliflowers and had one get attacked by mealy aphid bugs. It’s time to compost the plants and add in early spring crops!

Ideally, early spring crops for southern California gardens would be anything that can mature in 30-90 days and enjoy cooler weather. Again, I just simply can’t predict how long the spring weather will last, and I don’t want to get stuck with things that take up space for Summer plants and never produce. Some of my favorite options are: any leafy greens (especially joi choi, tatsoi, kale and spinach), my favorite lettuces, sugar snap/snow peas, cold hardy herbs, green onions, swiss chard, and beets. PS: I’ve linked any articles on my blog that pertain to those crops.  

While I’ve started some early spring crops indoors, there are also many seeds that can be directly sown outdoors. For example, cool weather crops like edible peas, lettuce mixes, carrots, and various radishes/daikon can be sown directly into your garden and mature relatively quickly.

If you’re a Southern California gardener, don’t forget that subscribers have access to my personal seed starting schedule. You can find this document in my Garden Resources Library (the link is at the bottom of every newsletter). I’m a firm believer in following local gardeners and sharing information. Therefore, this document continually gets updated as I learn more and track my seed starting/planting times. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great guideline for fellow zone 10b gardeners, especially in Orange County/LA/SD.

Why I start early spring crops indoors

You may have noticed that I keep saying that early spring crops are “cool weather” crops, so why am I starting them indoors? These crops all traditionally enjoy cool weather and have a degree of frost tolerance, but starting them indoors can help them grow to transplant-size faster. Essentially, most seeds germinate best  in temperatures between 65-75 degree, so by keeping my seeds in a controlled environment (see my indoor seed starting setup), they will reach the transplanting stage much faster. Yes, I do need to harden off my seedlings before planting them in the garden, but it will be worth it.

In lieu of a indoor seed starting setup, you could keep your seeds indoors until they germinate. Once they germinate, you’d have to bring them outside for light during the day and be wary of frosts when your seedlings are babies. With less daylight hours and colder temperatures they will grow slower, but they will grow! Alternatively, you could stick with only direct sowing quick-growing crops.

Other garden happenings

As we head into early Spring, there are other things I think about to plan ahead for the hotter months. For example, I’d like to increase the number of perennial flowers in my garden without having to buy more at the nursery, so that takes some pre-planning. To accomplish this, I delved deeper into propagation. Check out some of the plants that are currently propagating in my indoor starting station:

My favorite thing is making free plants!!! The propagating attempts have been going really well. Pictured above is a sampling of some of my cuttings taking root. There’s some salvia cuttings, woolly veronica, echinacea and verbascum. I also potted up some self-seeded agastache so I have more to plant this Spring where I please.

Honestly, I have never propagated during the cold months before, but this why I am utilizing my indoor seed starting station. The seedling heat mats are awesome for encouraging root growth, and I simply use my DIY seed start mix and a bunch of different six pack cells for my cuttings. Furthermore, I tried a brand new propagation technique that utilizes root cuttings (from the actual root system!) to create more plants. My root cuttings are in the flat trays you see in the photos (I’m trying out echinacea and Verbascum this way). Once I have gone through the whole process, I’ll happily share the experience with you all if you’re interested.

Lastly, another way I’m prepping for the hotter months is to purchase my Summer seeds. Truth be told, it’s too early for me to be starting Summer crops, but it isn’t too early to order them. In fact, many seeds sell out early so make sure to get your orders in (if you need reliable seed sources you can use my list)! I haven’t planned the Summer garden yet, so that will be a high priority in the coming weeks.

Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

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