Oh, the mistakes I’ve made: Planting vegetables at the wrong time

Oh, the mistakes I’ve made: Planting vegetables at the wrong time

I love hummus, so when I saw a garbanzo bean plant at the nursery last April I bought it. Rookie mistake. Just because you see a plant at the nursery doesn’t mean that now is a good time to buy and plant it.

Different vegetable plants prefer to grow in different seasons, of course. And contrary to the beliefs of people who don’t live here, we do have seasons in Southern California. Sow cauliflower in May and see how well it does.

But it had been a fine spring day, and I had been infected with the fever of that warming season. (Here in March it is that warming season again — beware!) Forgetting to consider when garbanzo bean plants like to grow in Southern California, I bought it and put it in the ground among my other vegetables. Soon it formed bean pods. Excited, I squeezed a pod, but it dented. It was empty. All of the other pods were hollow too. Then in the heat of summer, the plant started to brown and eventually, it died. I forgot about it.

Then a couple months ago I heard someone mention that farmers in California’s Central Valley grow garbanzo beans as a winter crop. Duh, Greg. Beans are not beans. Some grow in summer, like black beans or pinto or green beans, but some grow in winter here, like fava beans. I should have done my homework. Once I did, I learned that actually some other farmers do grow garbanzos in the summer, but this is in places like Morro Bay, where summers are cool and foggy — in other words, where summers are like our winters.

Oh well. Lesson learned, again.

We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves for making this timing mistake, right? I forgive myself for forgetting that lesson primarily because of the way grocery stores are stocked. Judging by the appearance of grocery store shelves, there are no seasons. How should I know when garbanzo beans are grown in my area? I only see them in cans, 365 days a year. And how should I know when cauliflower is grown in my area? It’s fresh on the shelves 365 days a year.

Grocery store shelves may carry all fruits and vegetables all of the time, but your garden won’t. Unless it’s warm like summer, tomatoes won’t ripen. Unless it’s cool like winter, broccoli will shoot for the sky and become a yellow mass of flowers that is candy for the bees before you can say, Wait, please!

broccoli flowers

We usually eat the immature broccoli flowers, but bees are grateful when we let some grow up.

Wait . . . sometime in January, I noticed little plants popping up that weren’t my usual weeds. As they grew, I began to recognize their leaves as those of garbanzo plants. How did that happen? All of the pods had been hollow. The plant had died. Who knows? Nature has forgiven me, too.

That photo at the very top shows foliage of one of the garbanzo bean plants now, pretty happy among spinach and winter grass weeds, growing in their season of cool. If the pods are not hollow this time, I have a dream: I’m going to use the beans to make hummus mixed with avocado and spread it on sourdough toast.

. . .

From now on, let’s grow our vegetables at the right time the first time. When to plant what? Consult these resources:

The best online resource I know of is Vince Lazaneo’s Vegetable Garden Planting Guide. (You may want to see my note here about determining whether you live in the “coastal” or “inland” zone.)

The best offline resource I know of is Sunset’s Western Garden Book.

You might also like to have a look at my “Month by Month” posts where I list vegetables to sow and plant each month in Southern California.



My dream of making hummus has been dashed by my sons, who discovered how good garbanzos taste fresh off the plant. At least the pods weren’t hollow.

Fresh green garbanzo bean

Which vegetables can you plant now?

Even though I refer to my notes from past seasons for precise planting times, for a glance at which vegetables I can plant at any given time I always go to Vince Lazaneo’s “Vegetable Planting Guide.” Vince is a retired farm advisor for San Diego County with the University of California Cooperative Extension and he supervised my Master Gardener training class. He has been growing vegetables in Southern California for longer than I’ve been alive. His guide is to the point at only four pages, but below is the most important page in case you’re in a rush.

Are you “coastal” or “inland”? Consider yourself coastal if you are less than two miles from the ocean. Consider yourself inland if you are more than two miles from the ocean. If you are right around two miles from the beach, maybe in Oceanside or Costa Mesa or Torrance, then think about your elevation: if it’s over 200 feet, then consider yourself inland.


Glass Gem corn, and Happy Thanksgiving!

glass gem corn

I try to grow some of our fall decorations each year, and this year, instead of squash, I focused on colorful corn. Doesn’t get much more vibrant than Glass Gem. 

A variety from Oklahoma that has a hopeful history, it is available from Baker Creek for about $5 a packet, which sowed a 10′ x 10′ block for me. I grew it with squash underneath and beans climbing the stalks, in a “Three Sisters” configuration.

The only mistake I made in growing this crop was planting it too late such that the ears weren’t dried and in full color until early November. I sowed on July 8. Next time I’ll sow in June so we can enjoy Glass Gem’s beauty from October onward.

When the ears are finished with their decorative work in the next few weeks I’ll feed some of them to the chickens. I’ve already been feeding ears that were badly damaged by earworms to the chickens, and they get so excited for the kernels, although I doubt it has anything to do with being impressed by the colors.

glass gem corn

How I grow sweet potatoes

How I grow sweet potatoes

Here’s what I do: Buy a sweet potato at the grocery store, dig a shallow hole somewhere in the yard, and bury the tuber. Then I forget about it. I don’t even remember exactly where I buried it. It doesn’t matter. In the spring it will send up a bunch of little vines and I’ll say, Oh yeah, I buried a sweet potato there.

The other day I bought the sweet potato in the photo above and buried it at the edge of the canopy of my orange tree. I also buried a purple sweet potato near there that I had grown last year so I can grow more next year.

cass and sweet potato

Cass enjoys digging up purple sweet potatoes while wearing my gloves.

What I’ll do next spring is use the little vines that the sweet potatoes shoot up in order to grow my sweet potato plants through the summer. I’ll write a post about how exactly I do that when the time comes, likely in early June (planted mine on June 13 this year), but it’s ridiculously easy. Essentially, you clip off a section of vine about as long as your forearm and stick it in the ground. Come fall — voila! — you’ll be digging up sweet potatoes that look like the one you buried last fall (now). Of course, you have to give them water through the summer.

So if you want to grow some sweet potatoes next summer, pick up a tuber next time you’re at the grocery store and bury it.

Harvesting tomatoes and broccoli at the same time?

Harvesting tomatoes and broccoli at the same time?

What’s wrong with this picture, besides the fact that it’s not well composed? If we lived in Oregon, nothing. If we lived in Missouri, nothing. But in Southern California, you don’t usually pick both tomatoes and broccoli from the garden at the same time, especially here in early November, especially for weeks on end. Yet here I am, harvesting a bunch of tomatoes still while also harvesting our first heads of broccoli.

Usually, it’s tomatoes (sown in early summer) harvested until about Thanksgiving, and only then are the first broccoli heads ready (sown in late summer). So there’s an overlap of a couple weeks, max.

This year, I found some broccoli seedlings at the nursery in late August (probably sown in July) — about a month earlier than they usually show up — and decided to buy and plant them as an experiment. The results are in: the heads formed well and taste excellent. Apparently, planting broccoli in late August (or sowing in July) is not too early, this year anyway. Also this year, it looks like we’ll be ripening oodles of tomatoes past Thanksgiving with this warm and dry weather having no end in sight.