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Some start fall plantings from seed the last week of July. Now to mid August is great time too! Varieties make all the difference! Planting from seed gives you so many more choices!

Beets are so beautiful! Tops and roots are both nutritious! In salad as chopped greens, shredded roots. Root soup! Steamed slices. Cold with a dash of Balsamic! There are numerous colors, a combo seed pack may be perfect for you. Plant them on the sunny side, just barely under, larger plants like broccoli or kale, at the base of peas. Plant a beet patch alternated with pretty little red bunch onions!

Brassicas, Bagradas, Mustard Greens! I have been seeing Bagrada bugs this July, so I highly recommend you plant some trap plants like Giant Mustard Greens. Bagradas go for them first, among your Brassicas! Brassicas are our broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards, Brussels sprouts.

  • Broccoli! My personal favorite variety is All Season F1 even though it doesn’t come in purple! It is a short variety about a foot and a half tall, produces a big main head followed by large 3″ diameter side heads! It continues to grow side branches, so the plant needs room to expand. The most radicallydifferent than that variety I ever grew was 5′ tall with trillions of little 1″ side shoots that I got really tired cutting. These days I cut down the stem several leaves deep, to the second to lowest producing junction, which slows things down so I have time to eat what I got before the next harvest.Research has shown there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together! Buy mixed 6 packs of brocs when they are available if you like the varieties in it, or plant a mix of seeds of varieties you like. UC study explains

    If you like the scent, winter, early spring are good times for cilantro. It doesn’t bolt so fast. Summer it bolts, winters It will freeze, so replants go with the territory. It makes brocs grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!

    Broccoli vitamins and nutrients typically are more concentrated in the flower buds than in leaves. That makes broccoli and cauliflower better sources of vitamins and nutrients than Cole crops in which only the leaves are eaten, like kale, collards or Brussels sprouts. The anti-cancer properties of these vegetables are so well established that the American Cancer Society recommends that Americans increase their intake of broccoli and other Cole cropsBroc is high in bio available Calcium too.

  • Brussels Sprouts are iffy in our 1 mile-from-the-coast climate. They like colder. If you don’t mind small fruits, go for it. They certainly are tasty, like mini cabbages! Buy local varieties recommended by your neighbors or nursery.
  • Cabbages grow huge, an easy 2′ footprint, but slowly. Plant carrot-like white icicle winter varieties of radish between them. They will do the same job as the giant mustard greens, same family. It is said lettuces repel cabbage moths. Put a few of them between the cabbages and radishes. Plant lettuces from transplants because dying parts of Brassicas put out a poison that prevents some seeds, like tiny lettuce seeds, from growing.Plant any variety cabbage you like, though red and savoy types, resist frost better! Check out the time to maturity if you want a sooner harvest, and harvest the first ones when they are smaller. Red cabbage shreds are pretty in winter salads. If you are making probiotic sauerkraut, let the heads get very firm so your sauerkraut is good and crunchy!
  • Cauliflower comes in traditional white, also yellow, green and purple! It comes in the traditional head shapes, and also the castle green spiral variant, Romanesco! It’s a visual choice! The colors do have varying antioxidant qualities if that is a factor for you.
  • Kale, the Queen of Nutrition! Kale’s attractive greenery packs over ten times the vitamin A as the same amount of iceberg lettuce, has more vitamin C per weight than orange juice! kale’s calcium content is in the mostbioavailable form – we absorb almost twice as much calcium from kale than we do from milk! Also, kale is one of the foods that lowers blood pressure naturally.There are several varieties! Dense curly leaf, a looser curly leaf, Lacinato – Elephant/Dinosaur long curved bumpy leaf, Red Russian flat leaf, Red Bor a medium curly leaf, and Red Chidori, an edible ornamental kale! Lots of amazing choices! Plants with more blue green leaves are more cold hardy and drought tolerant!

    Aphids and white fly love Kale, so you might want to choose varieties without those dense convolutions the insects can’t be gotten out of. But for the footprint per return, curly leaf kale can’t be beat. Keep watch. Spray those little devils away. Take a look at this Mother Earth page for some good practical thinking and doing!

Chard has two main varieties, regular colorful size, and huge super prolific white Fordhook Giant size! Colorful chard is better than flowers ~ it especially brightens the winter garden! It has super nutrition, is low calorie. It produces like crazy, the most if it has loose, well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter. If you need nutrition per square foot, the Giant is the way to go! Fordhooks are a phenomena!

Peas and Carrots, no onions, onion family, within several feet. Onions stunt peas. Carrots grow down, peas grow up, perfect! The frilly carrot foliage is lovely living mulch. Be sure your soil is soft for carrot growth, but not manured. Peas make their own Nitrogen, and carrots get hairy if overfed. Peas need water, but over watering causes carrots to split.

Peas come in two size varieties, bush and pole. Bush varieties produce sooner, pole produces continuously. A lot of gardeners plant both for a longer pea-loving harvest! :)

Peas come in three main kinds!

  • SNAP! Those are eat off the plant, pod and all, tummy beans! Many never make it into the house! You can cook them, but why?! They are a quintessential snack, put in a fresh salad at most!
  • English are the originals, but are grown for the pea, not the whole pod! These are also called shelling peas since the peas need to be removed from the pod. These can come in splendid varieties 8″ long, full of tasty peas!
  • Chinese peas are the flat ones you get with those Oriental dishes, although many of them never get to the kitchen either!

The last thing to know about peas is they can be Stringless! Look for that on the seed package or transplant tag. Strings can be tough, get tangled in your teeth, take time to remove before using. It’s a simple thing, but makes a difference to your enjoyment.

You can go crazy picking veggie varieties! Fun, happy, crazy! If you can’t make up your mind, if one is an All America Selection, AAS, go for it! They are generally superb. You may have a dilemma whether to go with heirlooms only or some hybrids too. Nature hybridizes plants all the time, so I feel good with them. GMOs are another story. Personally I am not in favor of them. Safe Seeds sellers list by state and country. Companies known to use GMO sources. Some may surprise you.

Get used to thinking in combinations! Happy plant communities help each other thrive! And speaking of communities, Brassicas don’t partner up with community forming mycorrhizal fungi. Other winter veggies do, so if you are buying compost, get the ones with the most mycorrhizal fungi, and sprinkle the roots of non-Brassica transplants with mycorrhizal fungi when you are planting!

May you and your garden enjoy each other’s company!

 

Bagrada Bug Stages

Brassicas are their favorite, and Brassicas are THE SoCal winter garden plant! I’ve seen them here and there lately, but this morning found infested mulch! YUK and bummer!

  • What some of the local organic farmers are doing is planting mustards as a trap plant. Giant red mustards give them plenty to munch on. If you find mustard transplants at your nursery, buy them without delay! The Bagradas prefer them, so they go there rather than your brocs.
  • Mind you, you still have to remove the Bagadas by whatever means you prefer, or the brocs are next. Bagradas are fast reproducers, make virtual swarms, and when they suck juices from your plant toxic disease producing stuff gets in your plant. In hot temps, I’ve seen a 1 1/2 foot tall plant go down in 3 days.
  • I highly suggest biodiversity, interplanting – that’s mixing it up, even interplanting different varieties of the same plant (especially broccolis), rather than monoculturing – a row of a single kind of plant. With rows of a single plant, the pest or disease simply goes plant to plant and you lose the whole row. This also stops leafminers (typical on soft leaved chard & beets) from going plant to plant. Slows them way down.
  • Plant so mature plant leaves don’t touch! Stop the ease of transmission. If you can’t help yourself, and go monoculture, plant too close, clip back the between leaves so they don’t touch.
  • Remove infested or diseased leaves immediately. Hold a bucket underneath the area you are going to clip. Bagradas drop to the ground the moment you disturb the plant. The bucket catches them and the leaves. DO NOT lay the leaves or trim on the ground. Eggs you might not see hatch quickly, defeating your clipping. Tie them in a plastic bag, and take them to the TRASH, not in compost or green waste. Simply moving Bagradas doesn’t work. They fly.
  • Don’t lay down mulch, instead, remove any mulch you see them in, and from around infested or susceptible plants until the Bagrada season is OVER. They hide out in the mulch, mate like crazy, then climb back up on the plant when you are gone. I’ve seen it. Stand very still and wait…sure enough, there they come. That’s your second chance to remove, euphemism for kill, some more.
  • For plants other than Brassicas, use mycorrhizae fungi when you plant. The fungi network linking your plants is proven that when one plant gets a disease or pest, it warns the neighbor plant. That plant then boosts its own defenses!

Here is the link to some additional really excellent information at UC IPM (Integrated Pest Management) published Jan 2014.

Good luck, Dear Gardeners. Let us know your stories.

Topiary Woman Garden Dreams at Chelsea Flower Show, London 2006
Heather Yarrow at 2006 4Head Garden of Dreams co-designer, watering topiary sculpture designed by Sue and Peter Hill. Royal Horticultural Society, 84th Chelsea Flower Show, London

Heat lovers will flourish, you may feel like lazing about, but at times, some plants need your help! It’s a fine art!

Keep an eye on weather reports.

Water is key.

  • Water in advance when hot weather is predicted.
  • Water early in the day as possible so your plants have as much moisture as possible during the hottest time. On the hottest days, a second watering may be needed.
  • Don’t be confused by wilting. Some plants, like chard, shut down to conserve water when it is hot. They perk right back up by the next morning!
  • Water deep and occasionally. Frequent light watering encourages lush growth but also promotes shallower roots so that the plant is less prepared to cope when there is a reduction or no water coming on a hot day.
  • Remove water competitor weeds.
  • Harvest frequently and thoroughly; make it easier for your plants to keep up with the business of staying alive. Ripening fruits demand huge loads of water and nutrients.
  • Hydrozone – Plant water lovers, shallow rooted planties, together when compatible.
  • Strawberry tip: On a raised mound, lay down an untreated pallet, or 3 to 4 inch wide boards side by side separated about 3 to 4 inches apart. Fill the pallet with soil, plant your berries. As the berry leaves grow, they cover the boards, keeping them cool, the boards in turn keep the soil below cool and moist and the boards feed the soil as they decompose.

Water if there has been a drying wind. Windy conditions can interfere with fruit set too, so if you can, create windbreaks. Use non heat radiating materials that allow some airflow so they won’t be blown over if you are in a wind pattern area. No air flow can make your garden a heat trap. In future, at planting times, anticipate winds, install trellises, planting them thinly to allow air flow. In SoCal ‘winters,’ they can block cold winds. In spring, put in some corn for filtered shade and as a windbreak. You may have to stake taller large bodied varieties of corn. Might choose varieties with less height that mature sooner, require less nutrients, and create less waste.

Keep your Mulch topped! Cover bare spots and replenish where your mulch is getting thin. 4 Inches is a good depth. Preferably use light colored mulches, like straw, that reflect the sunlight. If your mulch has meshed into a tight layer, use a watering spike so water gets to the roots of your plants. Straw, rather than a meshing mulch, is better for your veggies. But if you have Bagrada Bugs, REMOVE your mulch ASAP!

Water Spikes, a saving grace in Container Gardens

Container gardeners consider these terra cotta plant spike/bottle setups. Steady moisture right at the root zones! The adapter fits wine or plastic bottles! There are other variations. You can cut the bottom off a plastic bottle, for easy refilling! Cover with cloth and a rubber band to keep debris or insects from clogging your spike. One of the advantages of container gardening is plants can be moved into temporary shade if available if necessary.

Incorporate water holding compost into your soil, but also know that your soil only needs 5% humus, and over composting is not helpful.

WikiHow says: ‘In times of heat shock, a seaweed extract based liquid fertilizer treatment often reduces heat stress and it may help protect the plant in future.’ If your plant needs a feed, mix that kelp with some fish emulsion.

Shade Cloth over Remesh, easy, custom fit!If you have tender plants, maybe seedlings, set up some temporary shade. Safely prop up some nursery plants flats with the fine mesh, or use some scrap lattice. For an easy custom fit, a simple set up is remesh, bent to the shape you want, anchored, covered with shade cloth. The beauty of shade cloth is it comes in ‘shade factors,’ the degree of blocked sunlight, and can range from 25% – 90% ! Salad greens do well with 50 – 60% shade factor. Heat lovers like squash and beans do well under 30% shade cloth. Or, simply pop in a well anchored umbrella. Power up some shade sails, an old sheet or dust cloths. Just be sure there is air flow – no baking your plants! When the heat is over, remove your covers promptly so your plants won’t get used to having them and suffer at the time of their removal.

If you live in a hot area, consider permanent options like this beautiful sliding wire canopy at Desert Botanical Garden! Install it East to West for all day shade when needed. This image is used by permission from Rock Rose Blog! Thanks, Jenny, it’s lovely! Please see her post for more clever and beautiful shade ideas ~ love your garden, be creative!

Shade Sliding Canopy, used by permission from RockRose Blog! At Desert Botanical Garden.

Design well ahead of time for ‘shelter’ plantings! In late summer/early fall, winter transplants, having shallow roots, will do well in partial shade of mature plants that will soon be pulled. This way, the sun will be available to the little ones when they are better established. In spring, plant corn or leeks, tall onions, north to south, that later allow filtered light to plants that need a little shade later on. Corn planted June/July can shade peppers or strawberries at the hottest August/September weather.

Too much heat, water stress

  • Know that veggies have their own priorities. Some ‘bolt,’ go into flowering mode, at significant weather changes. They think the season has ended.
  • Some plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, stop flowering and fruiting when temps rise above 85 to 90 degrees F (depending on humidity) for an extended time. Humidity causes pollen to stick and not fall to pollinate. Dry heat causes the pollen to fall and not stick! At those extremes, no amount of sharply rapping your plant or its cage will help pollination.
  • There are heat tolerant varieties, for example  Heatmaster and Solar Fire tomatoes are two. Heirlooms are more fussy, hybrids less. Cherry tomatoes and the Oregon State U-bred parthenocarpic tomatoes, including Gold Nugget, Oregon Spring, Oregon Star, Siletz and Legend, are the exception, as they will set fruit over a wider temperature range than most large-fruited types. Parthenocarpic and cherry tomatoes will fruit throughout the heat of summer, even in Tucson, according to the University of Arizona.
  • At 95 degrees, beans and peas simply drop their flowers. At 100 degrees, corn tassels are killed, no pollination can happen and its all over for them.

When it cools down, your other plants will get back into production. Wait for it.

Here in SoCal we are facing more heat, less rainfall. Being mindful of how and when you use our water is important. Selecting heat tolerant varieties makes good sense. With long-term climate changes, we gardeners will become more skilled at hot weather gardening!

Delicious Summer Veggies Harvest

Some of you gardeners may be a wee bit tired of picking prodigious batches of green beans, but keep up with harvesting, it keeps your plants producing! I hope you have been canning, freezing, fermenting, storing, drying!

There are HOT August days, and ones that have a hint of fall. Days are a tad shorter; shadows in different places now. It is the time of the turn of the seasons here in coastal SoCal! Though crazy busy with harvests, gardeners are making their first fall plantings mid August, especially from seed! Often they are made in semi shaded ‘nursery’ areas to be transplanted as they get bigger and space becomes available. Plant your seeds far enough apart to get your trowel in to pick your little plants up to move them one by one to their new home. Some are planted under finishing plants to take the finishing plant’s place, like peas under beans. Pop in some kale between the tomatoes and peppers. Safe in a greenhouse is wonderful too!

Already, get your seed packs for celery, chard, mustard greens, parsley, peas, winter radish varieties, and Brassicas: cabbage, brocs, Brussels sprouts, collards, cauliflower, kale babies, kohlrabi, turnips. See below for help on choosing the very best varieties! Winter plants that get a good start while there is still some heat, will be producing a lot sooner than plants started while it is cooler, and you will have a much earlier crop.

Make your own Seed Strips! They are great for radish, carrots, any seeds that are small and hard to handle. It’s an easy, satisfying evening activity that saves your back, and seeds, when you are planting!

If seeds don’t work for you, don’t have time to do the extra watering, you will be away at the critical time, keep harvesting, do your soil preps, and wait for September or October transplanting. Labor Day weekend is the big planting time for many gardeners, and that’s only a month away now!

Summer plants you can still plant for early fall harvests, are beans and early maturing tomatoes and corn. Corn is more disease prone at this time though.

Tuck in your year-round fillers, beets, bunch onions, carrots, summer lettuces, radish, to keep a colorful variety for your table.

Plant sweet potato slips in late summer for harvest around Christmas.  Jenny Knowles, then at Plot 16, harvested these tasty beauties Dec 28, 2011!  She let sprouted taters grow into plants while on her kitchen window sill. She planted them in August/Sep, on the sunny side of her black composter. Clearly, between the super compost nutrition, and the heat of the composter, both from the black color and the warmth of the decomposing compost, she succeeded! She got several smaller pups before she took the main plant and the large central potatoes. I was lucky to witness this fine harvest!

ONIONS  For the biggest, sweetest harvests, late summer and early fall are the prime times to sow seeds of short- or intermediate-day onions. Fall-sown short- and intermediate-day onions tend to yield more and are larger and sweeter than those seeded or transplanted in early spring.  Onions have stupendous flavor and come in white, yellow, red!

Give your heavy producers a good feed.  Eggplants have a large fruit, beans put out a ton of beans, tomatoes are big and working hard, peppers can be profuse!  They like a tad of chicken manures scratched in, bunny poop and straw (pick up at Animal Shelters), well aged horse manure and compost makes them dance with the faeries in the night time!  Fertilizers highest in P, Phosphorus, keeps blooming and fruiting at an optimum.

Keep your watering steady to avoid slowing or stopping production or misshapen fruits – that’s curled beans, odd shaped peppers, catfaced strawberries. In hot late summer weather water short rooted high production plants like beans, cucumbers, lettuces and strawberries more frequently.  Keep them well mulched, especially the cucumbers.  Keep them off the ground to protect them from suffering from the wilts fungi. I put down straw a good 3″ deep.

In our hot foothills and further south, watch your melons and pumpkins for their best harvest time – when they ‘slip’ off the vine.  Hold off irrigating melons about a week before they will ripen so their sugars will concentrate. Harvest okra while it is small and tender – bigger is NOT better!  Let your winter squash harden.

Design Your Fall Garden! Move plants from the nursery area as space becomes available. But have a plan too. Tall plants, trellises, to the North or on the shady side, then plants of graduated sizes to the South or sunniest areas. Peas need a string or wire trellis for their tiny tendrils. They aren’t like beans that twine anything. Few winter plants need support, but big brocs, tall kales sometimes need staking. If they ‘lay down,’ if you have the room and want more plants, they will grow baby plants along their stems! Otherwise, put your plants back up and stake them securely. Build your new raised beds. Install gopher barriers!

Think soil, soil, soil! When an area is done, clear away insect hiding places. Remove and throw away any mulches from under where diseased plants were.  If your soil is high for the area, plants there were diseased, and you have a plentiful compost stash, maybe remove the couple top inches of soil and generously lay on some of that tasty new compost!  Dig it into the top 4 to 6 inches. Amend your soils per the plant that will be grown in the area per your design.

Keep turning your fall compost pile, start one if you haven’t! This warmer weather will help the pile decompose faster, and your plants will be blessed when you give the compost to them! If you aren’t hot composting, remember, thin layers and smaller bits decompose faster. The ratio is 1 wet/green to 2 dry/brown. Throw in whatever kitchen trim, torn tea bags, coffee filters/grounds, crushed eggshells – anything worms can eat will decompose faster. I’m talking faster because starting now is a little late, so this is what you do to ‘catch up!’ Sprinkle with a handful or two of living moist soil to inoculate your pile, and some red wriggler worms here and there to make your pile jump up! Turn it as often as you can to aerate and keep things humming. Once a day if possible, but do what you can. Compost improves your soil’s water holding capacity and adds and stabilizes N, Nitrogen!  Yes!

SeedSaving! Allow your healthiest top producers to seed. Seeds are your second harvest! Each year keep your best! Scatter some about if they would grow successfully now! Store your keepers in a cool dry place for next year’s plantings.  Remember, these seeds are adapted to you and your locality. If you are willing, take your extras to a local Seed Bank!  While you are there, pick up some of your fall favorites and some new ones to try out!

Love your Mother! Plant more bee food! Eat less meat. Grow organic!

See the entire August 2014 Newsletter!

Crusty Parmesan Herb Zucchini Bites!

Another way to have low-cal, tasty Zucchini fresh from your garden!

Easy to make, this is San Francisco blogger Elle’s recipe with a few additions of my own! See her blog and original recipe if you like! Thank you, Elle!

Slice your zucchini lengthwise
Brush with olive oil
Sprinkle with herbs – maybe fresh rosemary & thyme, finely chopped basil, cilantro or parsley
Top with any cheese you like, Parmesan is tasty!
Add any tasty bits that make you happy! Minced onion or bell pepper, fine shred carrot, bacon bits.
Salt & pepper to taste
Sprinkle with a tad of Paprika!

Pre-heat oven to 350F, lightly brush both sizes of the zucchini with olive oil and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes then place under the broiler for the last 3-5 minutes until cheese is crispy and browned.

Enjoy every last bite, you Zucchini lovers!

Composting in summer’s heat is the fastest, just keep things moist! And there are several ways to do it!

In place composting

Hugelkultur Diagram Cross Section

Long term is Hugelkultur. I say long term because you use logs and branches. Not only are you making compost, but heat! You can plant sooner in spring, grow later in fall. Building up, you get more surface area for planting if space is limited. If space is not an issue and you don’t want raised areas, dig trenches fill with logs, branches, twigs. Cover with the soil you dug up and other stuff. Same excellent results! There are many ways to Hugelkultur! Some projects are gentile and mini, others are huge!

  • The classic is the three log triangle stack and hillock system. Put a bean trellis at the end of the pile!
  • Lay a bed of thick diameter branches, small branches, and twigs at the bottom of your raised bed.
  • Use logs to terrace your slope

Long term might be that pile in the back forty that you pay no attention to, other than dumping on more barrow loads from time to time and letting nature take its course. That can take years. But at the bottom of that pile, eventually, not less than a year, you will get some fine leaf mold, and leaf mold is potent!

LASAGNA! Quick and dirty is composting right where you will grow things, and planting all along if you like! it’s the easiest on your back! If you have enough materials, all you do is chop and drop your disease free and seed free weed cuttings and lay your kitchen scraps right on the surface and let them decompose. Throw in some composting worms, red wrigglers. It will all go faster still, and you will have castings right where you need them! Throw some manures (no pet or human waste) about to ramp up the heat and Nitrogen plants need! Some people add other favorite amendments. Yes! Do keep things moist or thick/deep enough for the materials that contract the soil to decompose. To plant immediately, pull a space open, put already made compost in your planting holes and plant instantly! There’s no moving the compost you are making because it’s already where it is needed! There’s no turning, no space taken up by a composter. In summer it also acts as a mulch! Composting and mulch at once!

If you don’t have enough materials, do areas as you can, one at a time, each season another one. Consider giving your neighbors a container, or two, to collect their kitchen trim for you; ask for their landscape waste materials. Hooray, no trips to the dump!

Trenching kitchen scraps or burying garden trim 6″ to 8″ deep is really fast. Soil organisms get right to work! Again, keep that area slightly moist.

Composting in enclosures 

Compost Geobin

Quick might be in a babied system in an enclosure, chopping things into small pieces, deleafing tough stalks, feeding with high class chopped, even blender chopped, kitchen trim! Trim could include squshed eggshells (keeps pH balanced), 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less of coffee grounds (suppresses fungal rots and wilts!). You could add some compost worms, red wrigglers, so their castings are precombined with your compost! Careful layering, alternating WET/Nitrogen – grass, green trim, kitchen trim, and DRY/Carbon – leaves, straw, dried spent plants, makes for a well balanced process. Straw aerates, wets moisten and decompose the straw. 1″ wet to 2″ dry is good, but you get it, it’s 1 wet to 2 dry. Easy.

To Turn or Not to Turn! If you decide to turn, you need either a permanent two enclosure side by side system, or a lightweight movable enclosure. You may need to make your system secure from pests like rats or squirrels.

Turning speeds things up a tad, but research shows unturned compost is a little more nutritious. I use the enclosures you can lift off the pile. The pile doesn’t fall apart, so I move the enclosure to a nearby spot and pitchfork the pile into the new location. When things are well decomposed you will need to use a shovel. The pile goes back and forth every couple of weeks or so, leaving a spot that is enriched from the pile’s drippings, a prime planting spot! Then I move the enclosure to another spot.

Covering your pile with a heavy mil plastic, like old compost bags or trash compactor bags, keeps the pile moist. Water the fresh straw or leaves you add just a bit. Also, covering makes the worms feel safe to come and feed at the top of the pile where things are fresh. When you take the cover off, the worms dive to get out of sight of birds!

6 months is usual, but since I add-as-I-have, part of the pile is ready sooner than the rest. I use the part that is ready; the rest I let keep processing. You can use almost finished compost sooner just fine! Mix it into the soil in the new planting area a couple weeks before planting and Baby, you quickly have tasty soil! The soil organisms ramp up and things are integrated down to the micro dots! However, if your compost pile isn’t going as quickly as you like, get some compost accelerator at your nursery or add some yarrow leaves as you layer! Plant the yarrow next to your composter for convenient use!

Some gardeners just divide the compost into big piles, make a water holding bowl in the top, and plant directly in the compost for super growth! Works great for a giant tomato plant, plants that are heavy feeders like Goliath-size winter squash, melons. How many times have you let a compost pile go and come back to find little plants growing in it?! They know what’s good for them! Cover the piles with some light blocking mulch, like thick straw, to keep the pile from washing away. Stick a stake beside your plant so you know right where to water.

HOT or Cold compost There is always the curiosity whether to do cold or hot compost.
  • Hot is faster but more labor intensive, frequent turning a must to keep it going. Layering and balancing your ingredients is critical to get those temps. A thermometer is good to have, ideal temps 141°F to 155°F so weed seeds and disease pathogens die.
  • Cold compost can be as simple as pile and wait. And wait. No concern about the order of things. Nature takes her course.
  • My system is a hybrid system. I layer pretty carefully. My pile gets hot when I first layer in a new batch of stuff, but if I don’t turn it for a few weeks, that’s ok too.

Do what suits your needs or as you have materials, but compost, compost, compost! In these SoCal drought times, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Keep your soil healthy and lively, with excellent friability, so it makes the most of what moisture it does receive.

Tyler W at Crazy About Compost, says: Just the other week, I had filled the bin up to the edge with new material…and I look out there today after forgetting about it and it’s dropped nearly a foot! This is what I love about compost piles – I’ve been adding material to this thing on a weekly basis and it’s just a bottomless pit of degradation.

Ants and Aphids on Tomato Plant
Ants tending aphids on Tomato plant

Too many ants! Plants are seriously damaged by their aphids. Production is stalled, plants die. Not ok.

Bad year! Ants are on beans, cucumbers, okra, even tomatoes! It’s become clear the usual hosing off the aphids isn’t enough. Hosing uses too much water, it waters your plants too much, which the ants like! With big tomato plants jammed in cages, you can’t get to the center and fuzzy plants don’t like to be watered on their leaves anyway. The aphids the ants tend are almost impossible to get off those fuzzy backed leaves – especially the stiff haired cucumber leaves. You can’t hard spray them off cucumber flowers because it blows the flowers away too. Argh.

Where do those aphids come from?! Some farming ant species gather and store the aphid eggs in their nests over the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants. Queens that are leaving to start a new colony take an aphid egg to found a new herd of underground aphids in the new colony. As aphids feed, they often transmit plant viruses that can sometimes kill the plants, and the honeydew they make, that the ants feed on, favors the growth of sooty mold. This is a very destructive black fungus that spreads on plant leaves. Not only do ants protect and farm herds of aphids, but also cottony scales, mealybugs, soft-type scales, and whiteflies. Bad juju in the garden.

OK. So it’s either spray with a killer mix, or bait to end the colony. Enough already. Spraying is immediate; baiting takes a few days to a week. Do both to save your plants sooner.

Temporary Solutions

  • Insecticidal soaps are quick but temporary. Drench ant colonies with solutions of insecticidal soap, which are nearly non-toxic highly refined soap. It will not eliminate ants deep in the nest.
  • Neem Oil, organic, is a maybe. Some report it works and swear by it, others say it doesn’t work at all. Probably depends on what kind of ants you have. Some say premix works for them, others say get the 100% stuff. It is not long lasting, repeated sprayings are needed.
  • The Stinkies! Tea Tree Oil, herbs like Peppermint or Rosemary, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus sprays work and smell great! These can be used a couple of different ways. Crush the leaves, sprinkle on an ant line and they vanish. Or, use one cup of water to ¼ cup of peppermint or spearmint. Mix in your blender, strain into a handheld pump sprayer. Put it where you want it! Repeated sprayings needed. Some say you need less of Tea Tree and less frequent sprayings.
  • Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is fossilized remains of plankton; it looks like an off-white talc powder. It kills insects with exoskeletons, all kinds of them! It is perfectly safe for mammals, in fact, is eaten daily by some humans. To work it has to get ON the ant, and if it is even dew dampened, doesn’t work. It doesn’t attract ants, so they don’t invite their friends, and it isn’t ‘shared’ with the other ants. So yes it works, and no it doesn’t. If your plants are suffering now, it’s too slow to use.
  • Vinegar A half to a liter down the hole kills, but the ones that escape merely move. Remember, vinegar is also an herbicide. Be careful.
  • Water? Ants can live submerged in water for several days. That’s why the hose down the hole doesn’t work. So you need a little fire power, boiling hot water, to kill them.

‘Permanent’ Solution! Borax, plain old grocery store 20 Mule Team Borax kills the colony. It really works without fail. It’s cheap, a little goes a long way, and you can use what’s left to do your laundry!

Spray Mix 1/2 cup of sugar with 1 teaspoon of borax (20 mule team) with 1 cup of water to make a spray and spray on their trail where they enter the house (garden) and in 3 days they will be gone. Spay around the windows and doors to keep them out. When the spray dries they eat the crystals and take them back to the nest and POOF they are gone. At the garden, do this on a WINDLESS DAY, and be very careful not to get it on your plants. It’s an herbicide.

Per April Sanders, here’s how the BAIT thing works: Worker ants only feed on liquids. They take solid food back to the nests, where it is given to larvae. Then, the larvae convert it to liquid and feed it back to the worker ants [all the worker ants!]. Straight boric acid or insecticide will kill ants, but the worker ants will eat it rather than taking it back to the nest because it is in liquid form. Making a paste ensures the poison will get to the nest.

The first bait recipes I found were sugar and Borax. So I tried it. I found a lot of dead ants, meaning the Borax was not getting back to the nest, but the Borax was definitely killing the ants. After reading April’s explanation, I am now adding cornmeal to the mix. It is a ‘solid’ the ants have to carry back to the nest for processing. So sugar to attract the ants, cornmeal to carry home, Borax to do the job.

Here’s the skinny on cornmeal! Neither cornmeal nor grits cause ants to explode or jam up and starve because ants don’t eat solids. Cornmeal does disrupt ants’ scent trails until they lay down new ones. Yes, the ants might move, due to disrupted trails, and that might be only a few feet away. It appears to stop ants, but they are merely feeding close to their nest at your expense! They take the stuff home, let the larvae convert it to liquid, and they get it back in the form they can eat.

April explains that cornmeal is a medium to carry the poison. ‘Mix cornmeal with a slow-acting liquid insecticide or boric acid to make a paste. Slow-acting insecticides are the most effective way of controlling ants, according to the Colorado State University Extension. Choose one made specifically for ants for best results, and add it a little at a time to the cornmeal until you have a thick paste.’

  • Sugar ants. Bait is serious. This means you are out to kill the colony, a ‘permanent fix.’ Bait is easy to make, a cup of very warm water, 1/2 c of sugar, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons Borax, make a paste. Set it out in a way birds, pets or children can’t get to it. Put it out AFTER you have watered, at the base of plants the ants and aphids are bothering. The ants will go for the sugar and lay off your plants. Scout ants take it home to the colony, and it is spread to all the ants. It isn’t an instant fix, but it works in a few days to a week. REMOVE while you water, replace afterwards.
  • For grease or protein ants, Golden Harvest Organics bait: Mix three parts peanut butter with two parts jelly and add one tablespoon of boric acid per six ounces of mix. Add cornmeal for your solid. Place the bait on pieces of paper or stuff it into large straws (safer so birds won’t get into it,) and place it where you see ants foraging.

Make your own SAFE bait containers!

Make your own Safe Ant Bait Containers!

  • Small diameters of pipe or unchewable tubing keeps bait safe from birds, pets and small animals. Swab the inside of the end of the tube with a Q-tip to be sure the paste is stuffed far enough away from the end of the tube for a small creature to reach. Place out of the sun, or make some shade for it, along the ant trail.
  • Make holes in a jar lid, toward the center, so if it gets wet, falls over or you lay it on its side, your bait doesn’t ooze out. Put your bait in the jar, put the lid on tight. Lay it on its side, butt end facing the direction you water from, so if you accidentally water, the water doesn’t get inside. Lay it on its side along the ant trail, but especially near a plant the ants have been tending, for their easy access. They will go to it and stop tending the aphids. Don’t put it in full sun so it won’t bake your bait or be too hot for the ants to want to get into. If the lid surface is too slick for purchase, sandpaper or scratch it with a rock so the ants can get a grip. Containers are safe for you to handle when you want to move them or add more bait or remove while you water. If you make holes in the sides, make them high so the bait doesn’t seep out.

When I say Borax really works, I mean it! BE VERY CAREFUL. Besides a bugacide, it is an herbicide, used to kill weeds! It can’t tell the difference between a weed and your veggie plants. When you put down your bait, do not water later, forgetting it is there, and get it in your soil or on your plants. Take up your baits before you water. Definitely don’t do it before rains.

More ant & Borax details from an undated UCCE article on ‘New Research’ by Nick Savotich says: ‘The Argentine ant, being a honeydew feeder, has a strong preference for high carbohydrate liquids. High sucrose-based baits, (50% solution), were found to be the most preferred. Various concentrations of boric acid as the toxicant were also tried in combination with the high sucrose baits. It was found that the lowest concentration of boric acid, 0.25%, was as acceptable to the ants as was the sugar solution alone. Higher concentrations, 0.5 – 2%, tended to inhibit acceptance. Boric acid is an excellent toxicant for ants. However the next step is to determine whether this very low concentration (0.25%) is adequate to destroy whole colonies of the Argentine ant.’ So you see, it doesn’t take much of that 20 Mule Team to do the job.

For best results lay out a fresh bait daily. Lay it in areas where you see regular activity and near their points of entry if you know them. Don’t be diligent washing away their trails, you want them to find the bait spots easily again and again. All the workers in the colony can follow each others trails, so even if you killed off the first foragers, their partners will follow the trail they left.

Stop them before they start! Maybe you have been over watering? Ants make their colonies near a water source, and soft over watered plants are aphid friendly. When you find ant colony entrances, put a few drops of dish soap around, down the nest hole, fill in/bury the nest entrance. If they have taken up residence in your compost pile, turn that compost more frequently and water it a little less!

Predators! Groundbeetles, humpback flies, parasitic wasps, praying mantids and the yellow-shafted flicker all dine on ants. Plant flowering plants like cilantro, celery, carrots, food to bring the beneficial insect predators. You are lucky if you have woodpeckers because they are voracious ant eaters.

Wear gloves, wash your hands when you are done working with any toxic stuff, and remove your baits promptly when you are done with them.

Next year, put down your baits before you do plantings the ants and aphids love. Knock back the ant population from the get go! No, dear garden friends, we will never be ant free, nor do we want to be. Ants aerate our soil, clean up scraps and seeds, feed on fleas, termites, and other pests, are a food source for birds and other insects. As with all creatures, they play an important part in a healthy planet. Balance is a practical peace.

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