Warning: This Blog is Based in a Mediterranean Climate

A fresco from Pompeii depicting many familiar plants.

I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time: write up a sort of this-blog-is-in-a-Mediterranean-climate disclaimer. There’s a certain amount of awkwardness when discussing vegetable gardening in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months. I imagine that most of the readers of this blog are either taking some time off from gardening or gardening under a hoop house. But for us here in Southern California it’s the prime agricultural season, when rain falls and the hills are green. It’s my favorite time of year. But I imagine most of you are puzzled by discussions of picking veggies in the middle of January. As puzzled as I would be about topics like bursting pipes and hoop houses.

It’s my hope that you can learn from our successes and mistakes during your winter months and apply ideas when your garden warms up. But I’m also happy to get comments from gardeners in other Mediterranean climates around the world such as South Africa. There is a lack of information about Mediterranean edible gardening in English and without that information, growing here can be frustrating. Most gardening books, websites and the info on the backs of seed packages are completely useless here. For an author, it’s not economical to write Mediterranean gardening books since the market is so small–as a percentage of the earth’s surface this climate is exceedingly rare.

Paradoxically, it’s a culturally significant climate. The foundational literature of the west–ancient classical texts and the bible–are full of references to plants such as figs, olives, pomegranates,  and grapes. We have all of those plants in our front yard.

There’s also one big misconception about Los Angeles: that it’s a desert. Mediterranean climates such as ours get twice as much rainfall as do deserts. But like deserts, we have to be frugal when it comes to water. All the rain we get comes at one time. Between the late spring and early fall there is no rain at all. Those of us who live here ought to concentrate on plants adapted to long dry periods.

And because of our climate I have a house rule at Root Simple about not talking about the weather on our blog. Why? Because it’s really, really boring. Nothing ever happens. Most of the time it’s sunny. Around this time of year it rains occasionally. In June it’s kinda cloudy. That’s all there is to say.

For those of you who live here in Southern Calfiornia I’ve found a few good sources for edible gardening information:

The Digitalseed Vegetable Planting Calendar and the Digitalseed Flower Planting Calendar

Books:

The New Western Garden Book: The Ultimate Gardening Guide (Sunset Western Garden Book)

Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening (3rd Edition): Month by Month

And for those of you who live where it regularly freezes and snows, you’ll be amused to hear that in all of my years of gardening the first time that I’ve ever had plants get serious frost damage was early Tuesday night (it does occasionally dip just below freezing in the LA basin). And, I promise, that’s the last time I’ll discuss the weather.

Thankfully I’m married to a gifted writer who grew up in Colorado. When it came time to write our books she was able to recall that phenomenon called “snow.”

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24 Comments

  1. I’ve struggled with general gardening information not being very applicable to my climate until I found Steve Solomon’s book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. He refers to the Maritime Northwest. Our problem is that it is rainy and cool most of the year. Having lived in SoCal I can appreciate the desert and Mediterranean growing challenges and they give me inspiration to experiment in my climate. Blogs and small run / print on demand books are a wealth of knowledge for those of us not in the MidWest.

  2. I still haven’t quite figured out when to start things. I live in the San Fernando Valley – the last week we’ve been below freezing at night. I have some lettuce and garlic growing but I’m just starting seeds indoors now and hopefully I’ll have some little sprouters by the time we get to mid-February. I always feel like I’m a little late on the draw though. I have the two books you mention, but I’ll have to look through the digital seed reference. I know I need some timing assistance.

    • Digitalseed is very handy. And I always feel like I’m running late too. Frost is definitely a factor in the San Fernando Valley as is summer heat.

  3. The main reason I read your blog is because you are a mere 4 hour drive south of where I live and you are right, there is not much gardening advice out there for our arid region. Ditto for sustainable living sites. So many sites recommend choosing a piece of land with ample forests nearby (forests!), spring water, and wells 30 feet down with gravity feed into the house and I think “whaaat?” Then I realize they’re on the east coast, usually upper New York State or Vermont, lol. There really isn’t much support out there for those of us who live with less than 16 inches of rainfall a year. Water (or lack of it) changes how you do everything on a homestead, so what works in Vermont will probably not work here.

  4. So… are the days shorter when you are trying to do the majority of your gardening? are you able to grow things like tomatoes? what about cool season crops?

    I live in zone 6, near St. Louis, in Illinois, and have a difficult time seeking out good advice. Our land grant institute, the univ. of Illinois, is located about 4 hours north, on the most beautiful soil known to man. We have really terrible soil. We are also hotter and drier. The farmers say ‘you really have to know how to farm to farm in Southern Illinois’. the same must be true of gardening, and I haven’t figured it out yet.

    • We grow cool season crops from late fall to early spring. Warm season crops like tomatoes are grown in the summertime. Day length can be an issue–December/January things grow slowly. And good luck figuring out your land–just takes time.

  5. I started reading your blog when I was trying to figure out what to grow when in Eagle Rock. Of course, now that I live in Vermont, certain parts are less relevant…

  6. As a central FL gardener I understand this warning I try to put my zone on everything that is planting advice as not to confuse people. Most things are useful everywhere though! <3 this blog. Started following you after reading your first book!

  7. I also started reading your blog right after reading your first book and I just want to say how much I appreciate it. It keeps me from becoming discouraged and gives me the energy to keep going. I am amazed at how much you have accomplished over the years on your place. I am familiar with your area being an old L.A. county gal. Thank you for your daily information/sometimes ‘rants’. My day would not be the same if I could not read your blog!

  8. Yes, we have kind of a difficult climate here, too, in eastern WA. Good soil for growing things and a long growing season, but dry as dust. I have a condo and keep trying to grow tomatoes in containers, but it’s hard to get enough water on them during our hot, dry summers. And it gets cold in the winter, so LA plants like olives and palm trees don’t make it through our winters (20 degrees and gray here today).

  9. I think we forget we are in a Mediterranean climate because we are mesmerized by the seed quantity and gloss from seed catalogs. Only now am I paying attention to what can I really grow in my mini-climate of my backyard by paying attention to how much sunlight and shade do I really get and is this plant going to do well in my environment. I now look at nurseries/seed sellers between Sacramento and San Diego to see their successes and hope I too can be successful.

  10. Always catches my attention when someone mentions South Africa. Just as a note the Mediterranean climate in South Africa is only around Cape Town and it’s surrounds. This is where some of the best wines in the world are cultivated along with other similar climates like California some areas in Australia and… well the Mediterranean. Cape Town is regarded as one of the most beautiful areas in the world and Table Mountain was recently named as one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature.

    South Africa has many climate zones. Where I grew up in Durban it was sub-tropical, i.e. stinking hot and humid. Where winter consisted of wearing a jersey for two weeks a year. In Johannesburg you’re on the “Highveld” (a plateau)at an elevation of 1,753 metres (5,751 ft) and you also have the Karoo, a semi-desert with lots of sheep farms like in the outback of Australia. You also have the Kalahari which is a full on massive desert.

    And that’s not all of it! :-)

    If you feel the urge you can also go to the Kruger National Park for a game drive or two to see the big five and countless other wild animals.

    I think I should get a job with the tourism department!

    Regards, Martin.

    • Hi Letty,

      You’re not late at all. It’s time to put in all the classic summer vegetables: tomatoes, cukes, corn, sunflowers, melons, zucchini, beans, basil, etc. You can plant sturdy greens, like Swiss chard and maybe kale. It’s hard to grow lettuce and other tender greens when it’s hot.

  11. Dear Mr. Homegrown,
    I live in Tucson, AZ and have been growing vegetables for quite a while. I have found that many of the Southern Italian vegetables such as the cucumber-melons known as “Carosello” do very well here and are much more delicious and grow much better than the normal English varieties of cucumbers available from most seed catalogues.

    • Jay–you have a very cool website. Need to do a link to you–hard to find good vegetable gardening info for dryland climates.

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