Walking under a carob tree the other evening, I smelled a strong scent of chlorine bleach. This unusual fragrance is emitted by carob flowers when the nights turn cool.
In the San Fernando Valley, when fall-flowering carob trees begin to waft their unique perfume, it is a signal that the worst of the year’s heat is over and that fall planting may begin in earnest.
When you smell the bleachy carob flower fragrance, you should start to think about yourfall garden — your fall vegetable garden in particular.
You can harvest vegetables throughout the fall and winter if you plant now.
The easiest vegetables to start are radishes, lettuces, peas and beets.
Radishes come in many configurations, from the common globe radish to the more exotic icicle and oriental radishes.
The seeds of all types sprout readily in the garden. Globe radishes may be ready to eat in less than a month. The white Japanese daikon radish grows 1 foot in length, yet goes from seed to harvest in only 40 days.
Lettuces are also easy to grow from seed and are ready to harvest in about a month, albeit at a modest size. If you want larger lettuces, keep them in the ground longer, although you should not expect to grow supermarket-size lettuce crops.
Mesclun, the French word for mixture, refers to a salad consisting of a combination of garden greens. Seed packets labeled “mesclun” are now available; they include seeds of red and green lettuce, curly endive, chicory, radicchio and arugula. Your salad should be ready in 30 days.
If you wish, harvest individual leaves from your garden greens or shear the tops off with scissors every week or so, instead of harvesting the whole plants. They will continue to produce new growth for several months.
Peas require a little more than twice the patience of radishes and salad greens. They need around 70 days to yield their first edible pods.
Picked fresh from the plant, the whole pods can be eaten raw. They make the sweetest snack the vegetable garden has to offer. Make sure you plant peas at the rear of your vegetable garden; provide them with some sort of trellis to climb. If you have a sunny fence or block wall, consider turning the ground beneath it into a pea patch.
Beets and Swiss chard are botanical relatives, both grow in Valley gardens with ease, and both are ready to harvest 60 days after planting. Swiss chard is not only edible but ornamental, with maroon-leafed and gold- and pink-stem varieties available.
Carrots also can be planted now. Their seeds are so small, and the leaves that first sprout are so tiny and slender, you might miss them.
Make sure you give carrots a loose, well-drained soil so they can grow straight and long. And remember to thin them out — a rule that holds true for all vegetables.
Cole or cruciferous crops include cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, collard greens and kohlrabi. All may be planted now and all face the same potential nemesis: that pretty white butterfly with the black beauty marks on its wingtips.
Prevent this pest, better-known as the imported cabbageworm, from taking up residence in your fall garden. Place a floating row cover over the seedlings and keep it there until harvest.
Tip of the week
Speaking of peas, now is as good a time as any to plant those inedible, but wonderfully fragrant sweet peas. When you see and smell their white, pink and violet flowers in the spring, you will swear the couple of dollars spent on their seeds now was the best fallinvestment you ever made.