It’s time to start planning the fall garden. This year I’m planning on having my daughter help plan the garden from start to finish and have her plant her own little garden as well to take care of.

September is the best time to start planting in Southern California. The weather is cooling off, not too hot and not too cool. The first steps to having a vegetable garden is of course, planning!

Picking a site

First and foremost, you need to have some space to plant. It doesn’t need to be a large space, but there are three things you’ll need to keep in mind as you decide where to plant.

  1. Sunshine. If your plants can’t get sunlight, they can’t photosynthesis and this means they’ll starve. You want to choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
  2. Water. Plants are thirsty. They need water, especially in southern California. Make sure the area you pick out is convenient to a watering source or that you can install an irrigation system relatively easily. Having to lug water to the garden every day soon becomes a chore, so make it easy on yourself.
  3. Soil. I’m lucky in that my soil is pretty good where I live, a little on the sandy side but I have a twin-barrel composter that turns my kitchen scraps into great nutrients to feel my soil.

What to grow?

When I first started out, I wanted to grow a little bit of everything. This ended up being a bit overwhelming and I ended up with only a few plants of each, they didn’t really grow well, and I ended up letting a lot of the veggies die on the vine because I only had one or two at a time and not enough to really make an effort of turning them into a good dinner.

A better approach is to consider what you most like to eat, and then narrow it down to only maybe 4 or 5 veggies that have a lot of versatility and are prolific in their production. I’ve found that tomatoes work really well because they are easy, prolific, and can be eaten right from the vine as my daughter often goes out into the garden for a mid-afternoon snack. Lettuce, carrots and snap peas also work really well because they take minimal preparation time. I would stay away from things like corn, eggplant, pumpkin, asparagus, or other veggies that take up a lot of room and need preparation before they can be eaten.

Once you’ve gotten the type of veggie, it’s time to break out the catalog and pick 2 or 3 varieties that will grow well in your area. It is important to have several varieties as insurance just in case one species doesn’t grow well in your area. With a little trial and error, you’ll be able to find the exact type that grows best in your area with your style of gardening. Also, some varieties are smaller than others and are described as disease resistant.

Garden Layout

There are two styles that I’ve found work the best:

  1. Rows. Gives you lots of room to walk between the rows and easy access to the crops. This is good for large gardens but uses a lot of land for not a lot of yield.
  2. Intensive. Planting in squares or large bands. This means less pathways and a little more reaching to get the produce, but a good use of space. don’t make the bands so large that you have trouble reaching into the middle.

Between the two, I am going with the intensive method, and will be using a book called Square Foot Gardening that does a good job of laying out that all is involved with this method.

All New Square Foot Gardening
by Mel BartholomewRead more about this title…


Seeds or Seedlings

Between the two, I much prefer buying seedlings that someone else has already gone to the trouble of starting. There are several reasons for this:

  1. I am impatient. I want to see my plants growing!
  2. I know exactly what I’ll have. With seeds, not all germinate and you need to thin out the ones that aren’t doing well.
  3. Starting seeds takes time and attention. They take extra time, and as the lazy gardener, I want to keep my garden on automatic as much as possible so I have more time to play with my daughter.
  4. Seedlings are durable. Since I’ll be with my daughter, it’s much harder to crush a 5 inch plant to death than a 1/2 inch sprout.
  5. And because of #4, my daughter can participate at the very “start” of the gardening and see her plants in the garden from the beginning.

Caring for the garden

I love doing this with my daughter. It can be fast, easy and fun. It is also a great little ritual to get into when I get home from work to spend a few minutes in the garden where I can visit and connect with my daughter as the stress of the day melts away. There are a few things you need to do.

  1. Water. If you have raised beds, you’ll want to water every other day, otherwise twice a week should be fine.
  2. Weed. just peruse the garden as you look for produce to harvest and pick the occasional weed.
  3. Fertilize. I use composted kitchen scraps, but others may want to use packaged commercial fertilizer. Be sure to follow the directions on the box or you may end up damaging your crops with too much of a good thing.
  4. Check for diseases and pests. Make sure you don’t have fungal growth, aphids, whitefly, or other insects. If you do, nip it in the bud before it becomes a problem. I use insecticide soap as a safe deterrent.


This is the best part and the reason we’ve gone through all this work! I’ve spent many evenings with my daughter in our small garden “discovering” ripe red tomatoes and eating them right from the vine. I would encourage everyone who has a garden to plan a garden dinner every once in a while where you go out with your son or daughter and pick the produce and together create a dish for dinner. This is fun, adds to the excitement of gardening for your little one, and is rewarding in that you know you are eating the food that you nurtured.


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