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By Marianne Taylor

Dirt Therapy: By Marianne Taylor

Sept. 23 marked the first day of autumn. Although the scorching heat is still upon us in many parts of Southern California, we know the cooler temperatures are around the corner.

Soon enough, we’ll be able to venture out to our wilted and weed-infested gardens to reboot them with life for an abundant crop for winter. Now is the time to start planning and preparing for those delicious fall crops that will grace our tables in time for the holiday feasts.

If you’re new to gardening or have been gardening for years, I find the autumn vegetable and herb gardens are quite inspiring and invigorating.

There is a plethora of plants to choose from during this season. The benefits from a fall garden do a body good, filled with healthy antioxidants. Not sure what an antioxidant is? Antioxidants are a substance that reduces damage due to oxygen, such as that caused by free radicals.

Free radicals can cause cancer. Well-known antioxidants include enzymes and other substances, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene, which are capable of counteracting the damaging effects of oxidation, thus helping slow the aging process and reduce risks of cancer.

Antioxidants can be added to foods to prevent or delay deterioration, from the action of air. (Think lemon juice on an apple preserving it from browning.)

Here’s the best news of all: Antioxidants are naturally found in cruciferous vegetables. What are cruciferous vegetables? They are a diverse group that includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, arugula, Brussels sprouts, collards, watercress and radishes. These vegetables grow best in cooler temperatures from fall to winter.

With this healthy fall-winter plant menu, let’s get started for some healthy greens.

Here are the steps needed to grow a fall garden ready for the holidays:

New to gardening? You’ll need to shop for supplies either online or at the local nursery, or if you’re handy, you can build your own raised beds.

First, you need to find a sunny location that gets at least six hours of sun in the garden or on a patio. I suggest using raised beds that are from a kit, unless you like to build. These kits are ideal and easy to work around.

I personally like beds that come to my waist about 30” high off the ground. These keep critters out and save your back. You will need a few small hand tools, a pair of garden gloves, seeds to sow or plants already in a pack.

It’s important that you have a water source close by; raised beds dry out fast and will do best on a drip system or by hand watering each day. Best soil is an organic vegetable planting mix.

Once you have all the supplies in place, you need to plan when and where you will place your plants in the garden bed. If you are planting from a 6-pack or 4” containers, purchase plants the day you plant.

Too often, people purchase plants first before preparing the garden beds, and their young plants perish from sitting in their packs for a week or so. Once plants are in place, water thoroughly, visit your garden daily, observe the growth and watch for any pests. (White cabbage butterflies will decimate a garden.)

Use Dawn soap mixed with water in a spray bottle for pest control; never use chemicals. Get in a habit of keeping a garden journal; write the steps you did to begin this garden, add the date and time along with your daily observations. By doing this, you’ll teach yourself a lot about gardening.

If you’re a seasoned gardener, you know the steps and what these ample autumn vegetables will supply for a hearty and healthy meal. It’s time to prep and clean out the summer harvest and amend the soil for the next season.

Maybe try something new and purchase a whiskey barrel container, creating a themed Italian garden. Now is the time to start from seeds. Be sure to protect the seedlings from the heat, water and watch daily.

If you are planting from the containers, purchase plants the day you plant. Enjoy your therapeutic time toiling in the soil; you have permission to get lost in the garden.

Happy Fall, y’all!

Marianne Taylor, of San Juan Capistrano, is the founder and executive director of Goin’ Native Therapeutic Gardens, 501c3, teaching gardening and life skills as a way of empowering, engaging and connecting people. Goin’ Native focuses on educating local families, special-needs adults, seniors, at-risk youth and members of the military.


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