California has a wide range of climate zones, but most of them are conducive to growing a vegetable garden. For the northern counties and along the coast, cool season vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage do well in the summer. In the San Francisco Bay area, all veggies thrive during the warm summer, and cool season veggies do well in fall and early spring. Southern California boasts year-round gardening weather, although some crops, such as tomatoes and zucchini, must be grown in summer.
Planting Vegetables in California
Test your soil in the fall to learn its pH. Most vegetables prefer a slightly acidic soil that measures between 6.0 and 6.5. If your soil is alkaline, as are many clay soils in California, add sulfur when you prepare your garden area. If your soil measures very acidic, below 5.5, add hydrated lime.
Spade or rototill your garden area in fall to prepare it for spring planting. If your soil is very dry, run a sprinkler on the area for at least one hour the day before you dig or till. Spread a layer of any type of compost about 3 inches thick on top of the soil and then dig it in, going down at least 6 inches. Rake the bed level.
Start seeds indoors for the vegetables you want to grow, beginning about six weeks before your projected final spring frost. Be sure to give them filtered sun or artificial light at least eight hours a day and keep the soil in their pots moist at all times.
Set out the young plants on a cool or foggy day, or wait until late afternoon, to avoid transplant shock and possible sunburn. Dig holes slightly larger than the root systems of your plants, take your vegetable plants out of their small pots and then gently set them into the holes. Fill in with the soil you removed and pat gently around the plants’ bases to settle the soil. Water all plants thoroughly and keep the soil moist for their first week or two, especially if it doesn’t rain and the weather is warm. After that, most vegetables will do well with a deep watering once a week.
Stake or provide support for plants such as tomatoes, pole beans, cucumbers and other climbing varieties.
Fertilize all vegetables with a balanced plant food after their first month in the ground, and repeat fertilization once a month until late summer. A plant food with an N-P-K ratio of 12-12-12 works well on veggies, or you can choose organic fertilizers such as compost, worm castings or fish emulsion. Vegetables thrive with an application of dry steer manure: scatter 1 lb. over each square foot of garden area. If you use chicken manure, use only 1 lb. for every five feet of area.