(This post was originally written in 2017.)

Last December, these little chicken herders were helping the flock get their greens. Not so this December. Where’s the rain? Even more important, when are the Santa Anas going to let up?

Down in San Diego County, I’m picking up fruit that has been knocked off trees. Up in Los Angeles County, my grandmother is looking at a giant pine tree knocked down in her front yard. And in Ventura County, one of my brothers is on a crew fighting the Thomas Fire.

This has been the driest start to a “rainy” season ever. I can say this without even looking at any historical records because there has been exactly zero precipitation. And now these terrible, destructive Santa Anas.

Grasping for an upside, there has been a continuing harvest of green beans, tomatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, peppers and basil in the vegetable garden. All of these should not be ripening so well as I write this here on December 8, 2017. Fresh salsa for Christmas? Is that what we’re doing now?

I sowed green beans, corn, and basil back on August 11 just as an experiment. I didn’t think there would be enough Fall warmth to mature the crops, but it’s looking like I could’ve sowed them even in September safely this year.

This crazy weather makes me hesitate to list what we should normally sow and plant and otherwise do in the vegetable garden and among the fruit trees, but here goes nothing:

Sowing and planting

-Sow / Plant beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, garlic, greens (chard, collards, kale, mustard), lettuce, onions, parsnips, peas

-Plant natives: December is the ideal month because the plant will have the mild weather of winter and spring to get used to its new home; if there’s no rain before or just after planting, then water in lavishly at planting time; you’ll likely not need to water again until spring; from spring until next winter, don’t water more frequently than every couple weeks (frequent watering is treating a native like a non-native, and is likely to kill it); the Las Pilitas Nursery website is a great place to read about growing plants native to your part of Southern California

-Sow California poppies right before a rain is forecast: buy a packet of seeds and sprinkle them, don’t bury them; the rain comes and sticks them to the soil and triggers them to germinate; by the spring they’ll be glowing orange; this is how I’ve grown all of my poppies

poppies by avocados
Poppies that I sowed once back in December of 2013 that continue to bloom every spring on their own. They attract flying insects near my avocados to help with pollination.

-Transplant strawberry runners if you’d like to expand or renew your strawberry patch

-Plan for January planting of bare root or dormant berries (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries), grapes, and deciduous fruit trees (plums, apricots, apples, peaches, etc.); think about which varieties you want and where you want to put them; you might even buy and plant them this month, but January is when they’re definitely available; you might read my posts, “What kind of fruit tree should you plant?” and “Bare root season is here!”

-If your local nursery doesn’t carry bare root plants, consider ordering them from Peaceful Valley or Four Winds Growers; I’ve ordered from both and can recommend them

Harvesting

-Harvest vegetables: beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, corn, greens, green beans, green onions, lettuce, peas, peppers, potatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes

Mom picking green beans
My mom helping with the unusually late December green bean harvest this year.

-When I harvest from the vegetable garden, I try to remember that it’s because I sowed or planted a few months ago; I thank my past self; and if I want to make my future self happy, I need to sow and plant some more today

-Harvest fruit: Pink Lady apples, Fuyu persimmons, pomegranates, passion fruit, cherimoyas, mangos, mandarins (Satsuma, Kishu), limes, guavas, avocados (Bacon, Fuerte, Stewart, Mexicola Grande, maybe early Sir-Prize, maybe even early Hass)

Miles likes December Hass avocados
Miles finds the early season Hass avocados plenty flavorful.

-Don’t be fooled by the orange peels of mandarins/tangerines and oranges this time of year; some are still not sweet yet; see my post “When to pick oranges and tangerines”

Miscellaneous

-Start a compost pile: it can be as easy as finding a corner of your yard in which to pile up fallen leaves, food scraps, weeds that don’t have seeds, and tree trimmings, and then letting them sit; after some months, maybe up to a year, you’ve got compost; if you want it sooner, you can make the process more effortful — but it doesn’t need to be; December is a nice time to start because winter rains will keep it moist for you; see my post, “Simple Composting”

compost pile with horse manure and wood chips
Compost pile of horse manure from my nice neighbor, plus wood chips. Should decompose into a nice mulch that I will spread under trees or on vegetable beds next December.

-Protect plants from cold as necessary: our coldest nights usually occur within a month of the December 20 winter solstice; a first-year avocado might need protection if the temperature drops below freezing, and a simple beach umbrella over it can be enough; all winter vegetables can handle most frosts without any protection (winter vegetables include those listed above under “Sow / Plant”); any plant will persevere through an extremely cold night best if it is well-watered; see my post “Protecting avocado trees from cold”

-Make a shadow map: near the winter solstice of December 20, note how far shadows reach across your yard, in the morning, at noon, and in the late afternoon; trees and buildings make the biggest and longest shadows; the function of this is to guide your future plantings, as some plants enjoy being in chilly winter shade (like deciduous fruit trees) while others can suffer (like a banana that remains in shade through a frosty winter morning)

winter solstice shadow map
Here is one of the shadow maps I made during my first winter at my current house.

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