I stayed up late last night sowing seeds into module trays in my garage. It’s the dawn of the new season — fall — yet I’m afraid of time passing me by.

You want to get certain vegetables growing by now, on the cusp of the fall equinox: brassicas, lettuces, greens. The weather is warm and the days are long enough (about 12 hours long). You’ll be harvesting them much sooner than if you waited to sow or plant until the weather felt like fall.

Space must be made for these new seedlings so tired summer plants must be removed. I add some compost to the soil surface where I put in the new vegetables. It’s a busy time, a transition time.

The soil continues to dry fast in September and early October. There is still lots of watering to be done because of the warm weather and because there is almost zero moisture leftover in the dirt from the last rain, way back in spring. Plants are totally dependent on our irrigation.

While the leaves of some fruit trees show their age and look ready to turn color (plum, peach, cherry, pomegranate), others delight in continued warmth and continue growing. Citrus continues maturing new leaves. Avocados flush again and, hopefully, disguise some of the damage from the Labor Day weekend heat wave.

New flush of growth on Ettinger avocado tree, September 18, 2020.

Fall is fast, until it’s slow

That is the fast part, the dynamic part of what it’s like in the garden in the first part of fall in Southern California. Then one day, or so it seems, shadows are so long and the sun goes down surprisingly early. All fruit trees have stopped growing. You need at least a sweatshirt, every morning. The cauliflower plant that had quickly grown to three feet wide has seemed to stall.

The first rain may have fallen. In 2014, our first rain began to fall on Halloween night (0.6 inches). In 2015, our first rain fell even earlier, on October 4 (0.5 inches).

Or the first rain may not have fallen. In 2016, our first rain didn’t fall until almost Thanksgiving, on November 21 (0.75 inches). Last year was similar, when it didn’t rain until November 20. And do you remember the fall of 2017? There was nary a sprinkle. It was dry all the way until January 9, 2018, but on that single day we got 3.75 inches! When it waits to rain, it pours.

Regardless, watering has become relaxed in late fall, almost optional. The days are short and so cool that if you don’t get to it today, the plants will be fine until tomorrow. I look so forward to that.

And you can do it any time of the day, for there are many hours when the temperature is comfortable. Harvesting lettuce in the middle of the day is even possible. No rush.

But rush now so you can relax later in fall, so your daughter gets to eat her broccoli before Christmas.

Photo taken December 9, 2019. Broccoli seed sown August 7, 2019.

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