Southern California is undoubtedly one of the best places to live as a gardener! We can grow many things year round. And our season is long enough for great melons. But, we have a lot of issues, too. First, we are not on the same planting schedule as most other places. Therefore, when following other garden blogs and websites, we may plant things at the wrong time. Second, we cannot rely on Big Box stores to advise us what to plant. In my first season of planting veggies, I assumed that if a nursery sold something ready to plant, it was time to plant it. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily true. Big Box stores often make the same purchases for stores all over the Country, regardless of climate.
If you live in Southern California, it would be worthwhile to pick up guru Pat Welsh’s book, “Southern California Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide.” This is the best source of information for the Southern California gardener that I have ever seen.
Anyway, the common vegetables that you can transplant this month are: cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, tomatoes and melons!!! It’s a little late to plant cukes and tomatoes from seed. If you don’t have any yet, check out http://www.twodognursery.com, a local organic nursery. And there is a sale this Sunday to support Japan!
The common veggies you can plant from seed are: green and lima beans, beets, carrots, corn, endive, leaf lettuce (not head – it’s too warm outside!), New Zealand spinach (I get mine from http://www.rareseeds.com - it’s too late to plant regular spinach from seed!), squash – summer and winter, radishes, swiss chard and turnips. Remember some of these should be planted in intervals. For example, for constant lettuce, plant lettuce every 3 weeks. Over plant leaf lettuce and you can have a sprout salad when you thin them out. Seed packs have way too many lettuce seeds anyway!
Now is also time to plant Amaranth. The plants are beautiful and delicious! I got some seeds from rareseeds.com and am giving this a try this year! Just can’t decide whether to put it in the SqFt garden or landscaping. (Landscaping is better because it grows 5 to 7 feet high but I have hard clay soils and haven’t amended much of it yet). Anyway, Amaranth is wonderful. Each plant produces 40,000-60,000 seeds, which can be used like grain (like quinoa) but are even higher in protein (and are gluten-free!). I find the seeds to be quite tasty! Especially when on a gluten-free diet and am craving something like flour or oatmeal. Amaranth seed is high in protein (15-18%), and contains amino acids, lysine and methionine. The seed is high in fiber (3x that of wheat) and contains calcium (2x that of milk), iron (5x that of wheat), potassium, phosphorus and vitamins A and C. The seed also contains tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E, which can lower cholesterol. Cooked amaranth is 90% digestible and consists of 6-10% oil. The oil is predominantly unsaturated and is high in linoleic acid, which is important in human nutrition. The amaranth seeds have a unique quality in that the nutrients are concentrated in a natural “nutrient ring” that surrounds the center, which is the starch section. For this reason the nutrients are protected during processing. The leaves are supposed to taste like spinach and can be used like them. But the amaranth leaf contains higher calcium, iron, and phosphorus levels than spinach. The leaves are best when the plant is young.
Herbs are easy. I started gardening by transplanting some $2.49 Basil from Trader Joes! You can transplant basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, summer savory and thyme. You can seed-plant basil and parsley. Cilantro and arugula can be grown, too, but they prefer cooler temps. They will bolt fast in the sun. Plant them in semi-shade. These are great to plant behind larger plants. For example, tomatoes and cilantro are great companion plants. Plant cilantro in the tomato shade. Some herbs should be grown in containers because they are invasive. These include all kinds of mint, horseradish and French tarragon. (The latter can be hard to find but Two Dog Nursery has it!)
You can also plant seed potatoes through this month. And it’s time to plant sweet potato slips. I get mine from Debbie at Mericlone labs in NorCal. Their website has been down but you can e-mail her at: email@example.com. They have wonderful white, orange and purple varieties. As an aside, in California, we cannot receive shipments of sweet potatoes from other states. But that is okay because here, we only need to plant “slips.” That is a cutting from the sweet potato vine. Debbie, or whomever you order from, mails the vine wrapped in a little wet tissue in a ziplock bag. When you get it, just stick it in the ground and keep it watered until it roots. It is really easy!
Also, when I bought my home, I inherited a lemon and orange tree but had no idea what to do with them. And they certainly grow more fruit than I can pick! April is the time to thin fruit lightly to allow remaining fruit to grow larger. Do this once now and again in 6 weeks. Pat Welsh recommends pulling one or two from each of the large clusters of fruit.
Finally, flowers. Now is the time to plant begonia, bellflower, calliopsis, cosmos, celosia, coleus, columbine, daisy, delphinium, geranium, lavender, impatiens, marigold, nicotiana, petunia, scarlet sage, straw flower, sweet alyssum and verbena. And have fun!