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Soil Germination Temperatures Veggies Parsons

The graph above is of best soil temps for seed sowing! And even then, some seeds are more cold or heat tolerant, so get enough seeds to try again should there is some kind of fail.

Challenging conditions can be shady areas, or if you are intermingling veggies in your landscape, areas shaded by permanent ornamental plants. Transplants are already up and more hardy, sun reaching sooner, so your wise choice may be to start with transplants, not seedlings started outside. If you are container gardening, move your container to follow the sun during the day. Use one of those little plant dolly thingies if it is a heavy container.

String Beans 

DARK AND LIGHT-SEEDED BEANS: Dark-seeded beans are more resistant to rotting in cool soil than light-seeded beans. Beans need a minimum soil temperature of 65F to germinate well, otherwise rotting may occur.

Beans are crazy to grow! They will give you a good crop in soil that’s loamy, sandy, rocky, rich or poor and even in clay as long as it has good drainage. They do prefer slightly acid soil. Though beans do need regular water for their short roots, still, avoid planting them in shade with soil that stays wet.

When growing beans in a new garden site! Special tip from Bountiful Container: ‘With inoculant, the critical bacteria that enhance the plant’s ability to convert Nitrogen from air into N in the soil, are added to the soil. Either powder the inoculant on wet seed or sprinkle granules in the soil along with seeds. Grow stronger, produce more beans.’ Even simpler, if available, scatter a few spadefuls of soil from last year’s bean patch into new planting sites.

Beans like days to be at least 70 degrees and nights to dip no lower than 40 degrees. It’s worthwhile to wait until those conditions are met. Otherwise, you’ll have spotty germination and stunted, spindly plants. Beans grow so quickly that waiting for ideal temperatures will be worth some patience.

Cucumber VarietiesCucumbers

Warm, light, sandy loam soils are preferred for early production. Compost and composted manure is good. Cukes like moist well drained, fertile soil and need a pH above 6.0. A farmer says: Apply 6 to 10 pounds of fertilizer for each 100 foot of row, using care not to bring fertilizer into contact with the seed. A home gardener says: When I plant cukes, I dig out a hole, about a foot square, fill it with compost, and plant my seed right into the compost. No fertilizing the rest of the season and you’re not wasting fertilizer in soil between plants that the roots never touch.

A tropical vegetable, cucumbers thrive when the weather is hot and water is plentiful. If the weather is unseasonably cool, you can wait a while to mulch until the ground is warmed by the sun.

Sow seeds directly in the garden when daytime temperatures are at least 65 to 75 degrees. They are frost tender and should not be planted until the soil has warmed up to 65, some say 70 degrees! Cukes grow well in daytime temperatures in the 70’s, best at 81 F to 101.

Mini FYI: The inside of a cucumber can be up to twenty degrees cooler than the outside temperature. This is where the saying cool as a cumber came from!

Eggplant Purple Long Shiny Harvest BasketEggplant

Wherever you plant them, the key word for eggplant soil is ‘rich.’ Sandy loam or loam is lovely. Eggplants are greedy feeders; ideal eggplant soil is well-drained, rich in organic matter, including lots of well-rotted manure, and has about a neutral in pH. During the season, sidedress with extra compost. Keep the soil moist to promote maximum growth.

Eggplant do NOT thrive in very humid areas. Pollination is difficult when the weather conditions are very wet, overly humid or excessively hot.

The minimum soil temp needed for seed germination is 60 F. The optimum range is 75-90 F. 
Transplant at soil temp that is minimum 65F.

Place transplants in the garden slightly deeper than they were in their pot. Cold soil will shock the plant and set it back several weeks.

Eggplants are more susceptible than tomato plants to injury from low temperatures and do not grow until temperatures warm. They like temps to remain above 68 degrees, 70 to 85° F is even better.

Critical temperature for setting out eggplants isn’t the daytime high, but the nighttime low. Cool evenings will set back the seedlings’ growth and make them more susceptible to diseases. Wait until the evening temperatures are above 65 degrees before putting in seedlings. Cold temperatures will stop plant and root growth reducing plant vigor and yields. If your crop is still producing in the fall, cover them on cold evenings to extend the harvest.

Don’t be in a rush to mulch. Mulching too early in the season keeps the soil cool, resulting in slow growth, poor fruit set, and shallow rooting.

Peppers, either hot or bell, need VERY RICH SOIL, are heavy feeders!  Place compost, worm castings, rotted manure under them when transplanting. Mix in 1 T Epsom Salts, Maxi Crop, Landscape Mix.  Sandy soils are preferred for the earliest plantings because they warm more rapidly in the spring. Heavier soils can be quite productive, provided they are well drained and irrigated with care.

Rather than in the soil, do foliar Epsom Salts! A cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. Apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is more effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition.

Peppers are Temp Particular! Hot peppers grow best in daytime air temperatures 65° to 85°F. Transplant when night time temperatures stay above 50 degrees, 55 is better. Below that plants grow very slowly, have yellowish, puckered leaves, and look sickly, often don’t recover. Night temps between 60° and 70° are best. In temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. The ideal temperature for peppers is a daytime temperature around 75°F and a nighttime temperature around 62°F.

At soil temperatures above 65 degrees, pepper growth accelerates. Plants may become stunted and never recover if either the soil or air temperature is much below 55 degrees.

  • Nighttime temperatures below 60 F or above 75 F can reduce fruit set.
  • Plumping up! Gardeners in hot regions will need to be especially patient with big bells and sweet roasting peppers. Both of these tend to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up. These folks may want to plant banana peppers or sweet non-bells, which will ripen in time to use with those bumper crops of tomatoes and basil. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh, so pack your patience.
  • Color Changes! Mother Earth News says: After reaching their maximum size, green peppers that are meant to turn red, will develop red pigments in 10 to 28 days, if daytime temperatures are between 65 degrees and 75 degrees. In southern regions where temperatures exceed that range, peppers turn yellowish and may acquire an off-color pallor that is not attractive. Below the optimum temperature range, color development slows dramatically; below 55 degrees, it stops completely. If soil temperatures drop below 68 degrees, pigment production declines and eventually ceases.

Zucchini Summer Squash YellowSquashes grow best in full sun! They like rich well-drained soil, high in organic matter, and require a high level of feeding. Zucchini, in particular, produce a lot and get hungry!

Days need to be at least 70 degrees and nights to dip no lower than 40 degrees. Summer squashes grow best in air temperatures ranging from 60° to 75°F.

Plant in a warm soil. If the soil is below 60 degrees F., summer squash seeds are more likely to rot in the ground before sprouting. The ideal soil temperature for germination is 70-90 degrees F. A doable temp is 65-70F.

Tomatoes

Add a good dose of animal manures and compost, and my usuals – a huge handful of bone meal, a handful of non-fat powdered milk, worm castings, a tad of coffee grounds to the planting holes. This robust combo works well.  As they decompose, coffee grounds appear to suppress some common fungal rots and wilts, including FUSARIUM!  Go VERY LIGHTLY on the coffee grounds. Too much can kill your plants. It was found in studies, what worked well was coffee grounds part of a compost mix, was in one case comprising as little as 0.5 percent of the material. That’s only 1/2 a percent!

Temps are crucial! Tomatoes are not happy when there are

High daytime temperatures – above 85 F
High Nighttime Temperatures – above 70 F
Low Nighttime Temperatures – below 55 F

True, tomatoes are heat lovers, but per the University of NV, temperatures over 104 F, for only four hours, causes the flowers to abort! If you expect high summer temps, plant heat tolerant (“heat set”) varieties: Florasette, Heat Wave, Solar Set, Sunchaser, Sunmaster, Sunpride, Surfire. When temps are out of your tomatoes’ happiness range, they abort fruit set and go into survival mode, stop production. That’s why your plant may make no tomatoes for a period of time. Don’t think it is a quitter and pull it. It will start up again when temps lower.

High nighttime temps are even worse than high daytime temperatures because your plant never gets to rest.

In the spring, wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55 F or protect your plants with a cover at night.

Soil Temperature ThermometerMany seeds can be presprouted. Presprouting is super and clever because you know you have plants! Germination in the soil can be spotty, so get fresh seed from a reliable source and presprout! It’s easy and terrific fun to watch the little ones appear! See more

Regions have huge variances in planting time strategies, and even in the same yard there are micro niches that vary considerably, so get a thermometer and plant in the right place at the right time! See more

With your Soil Thermometer, and good gardener self discipline, get your seeds and plants in the ground at their most productive times for your location! Here’s to abundant harvests!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for SoCal Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

 

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Soil Building Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Santa Barbara Peat Manure
Kevin Smith making great soil at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

Summer soils need to be fat and rich for the warming spring temps fast growth your plants put on, then they need to be fed to sustain that fast pace and bountiful production in hot weather.

Cooling Fall/Winter SoCal soils don’t need to be quite as rich nor your plants need to be sidedressed (fed during the season) but maybe once, if at all. However, winter plants are hard workers and prodigious! They are mainly leaf crops, leaf after leaf after leaf! Think curly leaf kale and the remarkable amount of foliage being produced! How big those broccolis and cauliflower leaves! Amazing chard. Lettuces are pumping out the leaves. Cabbages are growing from the inside, as the outer leaves are expanding to accommodate that dense growth, leaf after leaf tightly wrapped!

There are two steps to soil care. First is general basic area amending – compost, manure, growing green manure cover crops. Second is adding specific amendments to planting holes, and at planting time, mycorrhizal fungi to plants that use it.

Start winter gardening by tending your precious soil. Gather seeds, clear away finished summer plants. Use clean plants in your compost. Remove and use clean sommer straw mulch as compost layers now. We want to soil to get a little warmer. Compost will finish faster in late summer and fall heat.

Generally add compost, worm castings and manure to your soil. Get the best compost you can buy if you don’t make your own. Get the ones with worm castings, mycorrhizal fungi, etc. Get manure blends to get the best results, especially mixes that include cow (not steer) manure. This area wide amending assures your plants roots will grow wide from your plant, securing it from winter winds, and letting it feed fully to and even past the dripline! Plus, compost adds water holding capacity.

The exceptions are pea and carrot areas. If a bed is a little tired, add some food for the peas, otherwise, they, legumes, gather their own Nitrogen from the air and deposit on their roots! No manure at all for carrots, and give them regular watering, though not too much, to prevent them being hairy and splitting.

Some plants, like strawberries and blueberries, need slightly acidic soil. When their soil is right, they fend off diseases better and produce like crazy. So get the right compost, the azalea, camellia type. They like to be moist, add a little peat too if needed, and dig it in a good 8″ deep. Some strawberries don’t have deep roots, but others do, so shovel depth deep is great. The variety Seascape, a prolific large berried strawberry bred at UCSB for SoCal production, does have long roots. They feed well, reach deep for water, and it shows! Plant runner babies Oct/Nov or bareroot mid-January. Ask for bareroot arrival time at your nursery so you be sure to get some. They go fast!

Special soil for seed beds! In addition to the above, incorporate Worm Castings for all your plantings, but seeds benefit a lot! They germinate more quickly, seedlings grow faster! Leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. Vermicompost suppresses several diseases of cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, and it also significantly reduces pests – parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealybugs and mites! Who could ask for more?! These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

SideDressing  If your plants look like they need a little boost during winter, keep it light. In SoCal, feed 1/2 strength during cooler weather when uptake is slower. The most common time to feed your plants is when bloom time begins. For winter plants that’s when broccoli and cauliflower make heads and Brussels sprouts make itsy cabbages up the stalks! They are just about to go into their maximum production. Liquid fertilizers are easy for them to uptake quickly. Teas – compost, worm, manure, fish/kelp – are terrific.

If you won’t be planting this winter, a wise choice is to REST and RESTORE an AREA!

  1. When it gets cooler, plant some hefty favas or a mix for green manures to boost soil Nitrogen. Especially plant them where you had summer’s heavy feeders like corn, eggplant, summer squash, tomatoes and/or where you will plant heavy feeders next summer. The mix can include legumes like Austrian peas, vetch and bell/fava beans, plus oats that break up the soil (they have deep roots). Favas are big, produce one of the highest rates of compostable organic material per square foot! If you change your mind, you can eat the beans! 🙂
  2. Or, cover an area you won’t be winter planting with a good 6″ to a foot and a half deep mulch/straw and simply let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. 1.5′ deep sounds like a lot, but it will sink down quickly, believe me! That’s called sheet composting or composting in place – no turning or having to move it when it’s finished. If you are vermicomposting, have worms, add a few handfuls to speed up and enrich the process. Next spring you will have rich nutritious soil for no work at all! Pull back any top layer that remains, add some finished compost, and plant, plant, plant!

Cultivate after rains! Cultivating does two important things. One, it’s an age old technique to aerate soil, let it dry out, kill off soil fungi. Two, it is also called, Dust Mulching. Simply cultivate about 2 or 3 inches deep. This disturbs the soil surface, interrupting the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation. Dry farmers use this technique. It has been refined during recent droughts.

Ingredients to build great soil!

Compost for feeding and water holding capacity. Now, before you go compost crazy, in Nature, organic matter, our equivalent is compost, only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), yet organic matter is absolutely essential. There is various thinking about what the right amount of compost is to use in a garden. Cornell University says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil! Research shows ideal soil contains 5% organic matter by weight, 10% by volume. Like with a lot of gardening, more is not better! For our veggie gardening, plants we want to produce a lot of fruits, incorporate a little more than 5%.

Homemade compost is top of the line and you know what’s in it! Organic all the way. Fine texture. But the bark fines and other ‘forest products’ in commercial compost are necessary too. They give your compost more water holding capacity. As much as I am in favor of making your own, if I had to choose only one, here in drier SoCal I would choose the commercial compost. Plus, few homemade composts have worm castings in them unless you also grow worms and add their castings to your compost.

See also Hugelkultur for an exceptional style of long term sustainable composting. It is self heating, extends your growing season, needs little water after it is started.

Manures are high in Nitrogen, the main ingredient plants need to grow! Cow is better than steer, blends are best. Lettuces love it!

Worm Castings suppress diseases, reduce several insect populations, seeds germinate more quickly, seedlings grow faster! Leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. 25% is ideal. If you don’t have enough for the entire garden, be sure to put it in the planting holes!

Peat! In drought areas, adding peat is excellent to increase water retention. Per Julie Day: …particularly Sphagnum peat, is a lightweight spongy material that’s great for making sandy soils more water absorbent. Peat will also loosen heavy clay soils, but you need to be careful it doesn’t make the soil too soggy. Peat decomposes slowly and is slightly acidic [good for strawberry beds]. Look for peat that’s harvested from sustainable peat bogs.

If you are curious about Coconut Coir please read more here about what coir is, how it is made, pros and cons, best brands and why, plus how tos. The article starts out about hydroponics. Look at the very end for details on how to use with veggies. It lasts longer than peat, is repurposed waste product from a renewable resource, unlike the peat bogs where we get our peat moss. It can absorb up to 10x its weight in water, but it is expensive and you have to know how to use it.

Other Amazing Amendments

  • Nonfat powdered milk is a natural germicide and immediately boosts plant immune systems. A handful mixed into the planting hole soil does the job.
  • Powdered milk is taken up by your plants immediately. Bone meal takes about two months to become available to your plant. That’s just in time for flowering, fruit production! Add that to the planting holes at the same time you put the milk in. By increasing the phosphorous in the soil, bone meal works with other organic matter to ensure a more prolific root growth, winter hardiness and often hastens maturity.
  • Mycorrhizal fungi – Brassicas don’t dance with it, but other plants thrive. It links your plants’ roots with the soil, increases uptake of nutrients. Just sprinkle it on the roots of your transplant and give it a pat so it will stick. The roots and the fungi need to be connected!
  • If your soil has fungi problems, wilts, blights, add a tiny tad of coffee grounds. A 1/2 a percent does the job. Yes, you read right, that is a 1/2 a %!
  • Add Green Sand or some such for a mineral boost if you think your soil needs it.
  • Kelp Meal is terrific for trace minerals too.

How to feed your soil

Dig your amendments into the top 6 to 8 inches! Yum. Add a tasty blend all at once. Some compost, some manure, some castings and whatever else is needed or seems right for the location or what you will be planting!

Incorporate winter amendments, don’t add layers nor cover them with mulch. We want the soil to be warmer, so cooling mulches are pulled back in winter. Nitrogen off gases from uncovered layers, little N is delivered. A layer just dries out. Pulling back mulches removes moist habitat for overwintering summer pest eggs and diseases. If you have/have had Bagrada Bugs you definitely want to remove mulches and turn your soil and let it dry. Also turn soil that has Fusarium and Verticillium wilts so the fungi die.

Spade Fork treatment! Push the spade fork in, wobble it, pull it out leaving the holes. Pour compost/manure/worm tea down the holes! That feeds the roots. If you don’t have digging predators, you can add liquid fish/kelp too. Liquid root feeds are especially good to do when sidedressing at the beginning of bloom time.

Double your benefits by digging in great amendments followed by the spade fork treatment! Liquid tea feeds give immediate uptake; dug in amendments feed for a period of time.

Planting Tips

Drainage. In soil infested with fungi or pest eggs, plant high so the soil drains and dries, the fungi and eggs die. Make basins so the bottom of the basin is above the general soil level. Make the basin large enough so the edges don’t degrade from the watering and your large plant is sure to get enough water out to its dripline.

Soil can only do so much. Don’t starve and stunt your plants by planting too closely. Give them room and access to the amount of soil space they need for natural healthy growth. Given more space they get bigger, produce more, are healthier. Plant so their leaves don’t touch at maturity, giving access for disease and pests to spread from plant to plant.

However, some deliberate overplanting is pretty clever! If you row or batch plant, especially harvest, thin as they grow. That’s like getting two crops for one! For example, all the Brassica plant – Broccoli, Kale, Cauliflower, Collards – leaves are edible! Add the tender young leaves to your salads, or if bigger, steam over rice, stir fry or add to your stews! Do it with carrots. Tiny carrots are a delicacy, and my pup loves them!

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. Santa Barbara’s three community gardens are very coastal, during late spring/summer in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

See the entire August 2016 GBC Newsletter!

…and wonderful images of Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden in July!

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Soil Building Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Santa Barbara Peat Manure

Everybody makes soil their own way for different purposes at different times. At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA, this happy gardener is lowering his soil pH by adding peat and upping nutrition with manure.

Spring may be early again. If so, we need to be thinking of soil prep now. Perhaps layout a loose summer plan, or make notes for areas you really know what you will want there. If we have a hot summer again, your soil is going to need a lot of water holding capacity, and planting low for retaining water will make a big difference in water usage.

Soil care is for making fat plants and big harvests! We want nutrition, good texture that allows air flow and plenty of water holding capacity.

Clean Up First, free your soil of debris that may harbor pests or diseases. Remove old boards. Weed out neglected areas that may even shade out some areas. Thin out thick tree branches at the right time. Schedule it.

Cultivate! An age old technique to aerate soil, let it dry out, kill off soil fungi. It is also called, Dust Mulching. Simply cultivate about 2 or 3 inches deep. This disturbs the soil surface, interrupting the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation. Do it after rains or irrigating.

Compacted Soil If your soil is compacted, it needs lots of organic matter, composted plant and animal materials, to loosen it up. Or grow a green manure crop! Annual rye,  winter wheat or oats put down deep roots opening channels for airflow, compost or worm teas, liquid fertilizers and water to trickle down.

Resist working your soil when it is wet! That compacts it, making it difficult for plant roots to grow, and it drains more slowly. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze. If it stays in a ball, wait! Crumbly is what we want. As B. Rosie Lerner of Purdue Extension says, ‘…soothe that gardening itch by sketching garden plans, browsing online and mail-order catalogs, and making a shopping list for your local garden center.’

Bed Shapes

Raised Beds If we SoCal gardeners get El Nino rains, I’m recommending to make raised beds with berms, cover the berms with straw to prevent them from eroding. Leave the interior of the raised bed open to let winter sun heat up your soil. If you are planting in spring, raised beds heat up sooner. You can make them with or without walls. No permanent walls gives you complete flexibility of shape and location, and if you have too much rain, you can open a berm to release water. They are great for plants that need well drained soil. Make low spots or plant in trenches for plants that thrive on more water, like fast growing lettuces, chard. Short rooted plants, beans/peas, radish, beets, onions, strawberries, can be grown in mild trenches. Or, boards can be lain between rows to keep the soil moist underneath them. Space them per the need of your plant. Roots will seek the moisture under the boards. Overall, you will use less water. It’s a variation on pallet gardening.

In summer, if we have another hot one, lowered beds with thick berms will work well. Water will be held within the berms. In deep beds berms will act as mini wind breaks and well mulched beds will stay moist longer. See Zuni Waffle Gardens

Containers include some bordered raised beds and those pretty pots on your deck or balcony. If things are looking tired, replace that old spent stuff. Do your special soil for small containers per the type of plant you will grow there, being extra conscious of water holding capacity. If we have a hot summer, double pot adding insulation between the pots so the inner pot soil keeps cooler, more moist.

Pathways Healthy soil is about 25 percent air! Rather than compacting, crushing the air and life out of your soil, lay down something dry that feeds the soil, like leaves, straw, then top that with something like a board to distribute your weight. Do boards harbor slugs? Yes, but as you put down something like Sluggo (SLUGGO is 1% Iron Phosphate (FePO₄) in a yeast/noodle base, non toxic to all non mollusks, certified organic and extremely effective if used as directed. (Thanks, William!)), two or three times to kill off the generations, those go away too when they come out for their midnight snacks. Some gardeners use stepping stones and put kitchen trim into the soil under the straw. Next season they move the path over and plant in the old path, now rich soil!

Green Manure is a natural wonder mimicking Nature! During the seasons, leaves are dropped, animals come by and fertilize, things grow and die, laying in place giving their bodies to next year’s seedlings. Well, we are choosing that option. Legumes are a natural choice since they pull N (Nitrogen) out of the air and deposit it in nodules on their roots. N is the main food your plants need for prime growth. Legumes often chosen are Bell Beans (a small type of Fava), Austrian Peas and Vetch. Oats are a favorite of dry farmers because the oat roots go deep opening the soil for air and water flow letting nutrients drain down! When the beans start to flower, cut the patch down, chop everything up into small bits, turn them under. Wait 2 to 3 weeks, until you can’t see the bits anymore, then plant!

Composting

In Nature, organic matter, our equivalent is compost, only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), yet organic matter is absolutely essential. There is various thinking about what the right amount of compost is to use in a garden. Cornell University says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil! Research shows ideal soil contains 5% organic matter by weight, 10% by volume.

Using the Method of your Choice! There are hot and cold composting methods, hot is faster. Making your own compost means you know what’s in it! The easiest of all composting, hands down, is composting in place, an age old method, but in recent years called Lasagna gardening. Whether you are doing hot or cold composting or composting in place, the principles are the same: put down brown/dry layers, your green/wet layers on top. Two brown to one green. The thinner the layers, the smaller the chop, the faster the result. Add Yarrow or Comfrey leave to make it go even faster! When composting in place put the layers right where you want your garden to be! If it isn’t ready in time, get some store bought compost, pull back a planting hole, plant! The rest of the garden will catch up! If you have worms, throw some on so they can help!

Hugelkultur, hill mound, is a long term sustainable variation of ‘composting’ in place. After the 2nd year the beds don’t need water, and the system will last up to 10 years! It can be above and/or below ground and takes a lot more energy to start but what a payoff! Get some big logs, branches. If you are doing it above ground, lay two logs closely side by side, put a lot of bigger to smaller branches between them, then go for it! Add leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available. Add some red wriggler casting worms if you have them. As possible add your materials in thin 1/2 to 1″ layers, dry, wet, dry, wet until the area is filled. Lay a third log on top of them and if you have sod you peeled up, lay it on top of the whole pile upside down and do it again! Top the turf with grass clippings, seaweed, compost, aged manure, straw, green leaves, mulch, etc. Top that with soil and plant your veggies! If you did it right, you end up with a steep sided tall pyramid pile and veggies planted at easy picking heights. See a LOT more and example variations at permaculture, practical solutions for self-reliance.

Purchase No shame in purchasing compost. It saves a lot of time and is sometimes better than you could make! Buy the best you can afford, with as many tasty items listed as possible. We do want to see worm castings and mycorrhizal fungi in the mix! You can get some quite pricey magical sophisticated blends!

Acidic blends are for strawberries, and shade type landscaping plants. It’s quick and easy to change your soil pH by digging in a serious amount. Strawberries can be grown in the same soil as other veggies, but they get diseases and production is pitiful compared to magnificent strawberries grown in their right soil conditions.

Favorite Additional Amendments

Manures – Chicken, Cow/Steer, Bunny Poop, Horse – all add tons of N to your soil.

  • Bunny poop is supreme. It needs no composting, will not harm your plants in any way.
  • Horse often has salt. It needs to be well aged, from horses that ate pesticide free grass, free of insect spray used to keep flies off the manure.
  • Chicken manure used to be too HOT, but now, nursery chicken manure is a mixed bag literally. It is ‘diluted’ and more safe to use right out of the bag. If friends are giving you chickie poop, try a little first to see how it goes. Be careful.
  • Steer manure can be cheap! But cow manure is better. The more you pay for specialty soil mixes at a nursery that carries them, the more you will find cow manure in that mix. Yes, you will pay more.

Worm Castings are referred to as Black Gold for good reason. They are not a food, but work with the hormones and immune systems of your plants. Just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is optimum! You can certainly grow your own easily! Again, this means you know what they were fed. What goes in is what comes out. Feed ’em newspaper and that’s the kind of castings you will get. Feed them a healthy variety of kitchen trim and you will have serious quality castings!

Minerals are from rocks in nature. And are of all kinds from everywhere for every purpose! Chat about with experts, look online.

Coffee Grounds are free from local coffee shops,  and wonderful because they suppress fungal rots and wilts!! Our garden has wilts, so remember, coffee and cultivating! Grounds are more potent than they have a right to be! 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less is all that is needed or wanted! Be very careful with fresh grounds. They have mojo that can kill your plant or make your soil infertile!

Seasonal amendments are for upping bloom and fruiting! During flowering, we want lower nitrogen and higher phosphorous, that’s the P in NPK! Look for fertilizers higher in P, intended for flowering and fruiting. Know your guanos! Besides being expensive, bat and Seabird Guanos are not a quick fix; they take awhile to break down. Some say they are better applied as foliar teas, but still, the release time per Colorado University Extension is FOUR MONTHS even for powdered guano! Guanos vary hugely in NPK percents! Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Jamaican bat is high P phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2. But Mexican bat is high N (leaf growth, plant vigor) 10-2-1. Peruvian seabird is high in N and P (leaf and bloom) 10-10-2.

Soil Testing If you have some doubts, concerns about your soil pH, content or balance, you can get DIY soil testing kits or have a professional company do the job for you. They will want samples from several areas and that is wise. Soil can vary significantly in just a few feet!

Soil Building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden.

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Prepping Your Soil for Planting! Shovel, Spade Fork, Boots!

Soil Building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden.

Green Manure is beautiful! It adds a wealth of organic matter! Where you will be planting summer heavy feeders, grow a Vetch, Austrian Peas, Bell beans mixed with oats patch. It is a super soil choice! The legumes take Nitrogen from the air and deposit it on their roots. That’s why you always leave legume roots in the soil when you remove bean and pea plants. Oats have deep roots opening channels down into your soil so nutrients drain down. After your mix is felled and chopped to the size you want it, sprinkle the mix with worm castings and any mineral amendments like green sand or powdered kelp, and turn it all in together at once.

Compost

I like what Kathy LaLiberte says: Although it only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), organic matter is absolutely essential. It binds together soil particles into porous crumbs or granules which allow air and water to move through the soil. Organic matter also retains moisture (humus holds up to 90 percent of its weight in water), and is able to absorb and store nutrients. Most importantly, organic matter is food for microorganisms and other forms of soil life.

Kitchen scraps, clean garden waste, straw, animal manures are all quality ingredients! If you have visiting predators, no meats, bones, oils, even animal manures. And don’t fertilize with stinky predator-attracting fish emulsions. Compost is simple to make. Layer wet/greens with dry/browns inch after inch. The thinner your layers the faster you get your compost. Yes, you can wait for it to get fine and crumbly, but it’s also good to use it as soon as it decomposes to the point that you can’t tell what’s what anymore. That gives your soil organisms something to chomp on, makes a living soil! Kept moist, it is luscious habitat for worms.

Compost Mix Guide 

How much to use depends on many factors including the quality of the compost! Factors are soil, ie sandy or clay, site characteristics like slope or flat lowland, plant selection – heavy feeders or carrots, compost availability. Mature composts can be used in most planting situations without serious concern for precise amounts. God knows plants happily grow in your compost pile!

  • Container plants
    A 20 to 50 percent soil blend would be the best mixture to use for pots on a deck or patio, since potted plants tend to dry out quickly. A higher percentage of compost helps hold more moisture, decreasing the rate the soil dries. If you have clay pots that wick moisture more easily, use a higher percentage compost to soil blend.
  • Vegetable gardens
    ~ If you use a rototiller, which I hope you aren’t (it destroys soil structure), put one inch of compost on top of the soil and till it to a depth of five inches of soil.
    ~ If you are using a shovel to incorporate your compost, use one-fifth of an inch of compost for every inch of depth of the shovel. Sprinkle with worm castings and turn them both in at the same time. Cornell University says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil! You can see there are varying thinkings. Research shows ideal soil contains 5% organic matter by weight, 10% by volume. That’s your basic guide. More than that and plants can actually have problems as well as unused ‘nutrients’ polluting our water!

Coffee Grounds Caution  As they decompose, coffee grounds appear to suppress some common fungal rots and wilts, including FUSARIUM!  But go VERY LIGHTLY on the coffee grounds. Too much can kill your plants. In studies, what worked well was coffee grounds part of a compost mix, was in one case comprising as little as 0.5 percent of the material. That’s only 1/2 a percent! More details and Study results adapted from the Washington State U report!

Worm Castings are not nutrients, but they do cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced! Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

Turning soil? Less is best, don’t break up the clods except as needed. Exposing tiny soil organisms kills them. Mycorrhizal fungi networks are destroyed. Some turning is good, especially if you are incorporating amendments. It aerates your soil, loosens it for crops that need it, like carrots and potatoes. Digging deep is not necessary. Annuals generally grow in the top 6 to 8 inches. Rototilling is brutal. It destroys soil structure and compacts soil where it hits bottom. Shovels are great. Spade forks are for loosening soil without turning it. Push it in, rock it back and forth. Pour properly made

Garden Teas – compost, worm castings, manure teas, down the holes made by the tines. The organisms added immediately get to work, make your soil rich and alive! Your well fed plants will take off!

Soil Air  Healthy soil is about 25 percent air! Insects microbes, earthworms and soil life need that air to live. The air in soil is also an important source of the atmospheric nitrogen that plants use. Fine clay, tiny spaces, no air, your soil suffocates. Sandy soil with too much air can cause your organic matter to decompose too quickly. Add plenty of organic matter, don’t step in the growing beds or compact the soil with heavy equipment. Never work the soil when it is very wet.

Keep it moist!  Dry soil is dead soil. Soil organisms, the bacteria and fungi, protozoa and nematodes, mites, springtails, earthworms and other tiny creatures can’t do their jobs. Their excretions help to bind soil particles into the small aggregates that make a soil loose and crumbly. It’s our job to keep them happy! About 25 percent water with a combination of large and small pore spaces is perfect! Organic matter is their food, and it absorbs water and retains it until it is needed by plant roots.

Soil Tests! When in doubt, don’t add anything to your soil. Get a test. Go to your local Cooperative Extension University office. Or online find a reputable testing firm ~ Woods End Soil Labs , A & L Agricultural Labs, or Green Gems might do it for you. Your soil may surprise you. Sometimes something is missing, other times there is too much. Maybe you need to change an alkaline/acidic condition.

Feed your garden; it feeds you!

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Grow superlative tomatoes - favas for Nitrogen, add a tad of coffee grounds, wilts prevention!

Wilts, Fava, Coffee Grounds!  Favas for Nitrogen, add a tad of coffee grounds, wilts prevention practices!  Here are some super tips on how to grow superlative tomatoes!  Prevent diseases, give them gourmet soil!

  • Plant tomatoes where you had dense fava patches.  This year I was smarter, learned to chop the favas down for green manure while easy to chop when they started flowering.  You can see all the Nitrogen nodules on their roots!  Last year tomato plants I grew where the favas were, were robust and resisted the wilts longer.  As the one reference online suggested, I cannot say they prevented the wilts, but they did feed the soil beautifully.  I’m now letting some of the favas seed out for next year’s plantings.
  • At planting time, I added a good dose of animal manures and compost, and my usuals – a huge handful of bone meal, a handful of non-fat powdered milk, worm castings, a tad of coffee grounds to the planting holes.  This robust combo works well.  As they decompose, coffee grounds appear to suppress some common fungal rots and wilts, including FUSARIUM!  Go VERY LIGHTLY on the coffee grounds.  Too much can kill your plants.  In studies, what worked well was coffee grounds part of a compost mix, was in one case comprising as little as 0.5 percent of the material.  That’s only 1/2 a percent!
  • Plant on slightly raised mounds, with a well on top, for drainage, and plant only plants that need less water nearby.  That means your basil goes elsewhere even though they are often said to be tomato companions.
  • Top the area with a one inch layer of compost, then cover with a thin layer of straw mulch to prevent the splash factor. When water splashes up from infected soil onto the lower leaves, the plant is infected.  Straw has air flow through its tube structure, allowing the soil to be drier even though straw is a mulch.  Deep mulch keeps the soil cool and damp.  No.  Use only the thin 1″ layer of straw that allows more air flow, the soil to heat a bit. Replenish the straw monthly.  Tomatoes like it hot!
  • Plant resistant and tolerant varieties.
  • Plant far enough apart so when they are mature their leaves don’t touch.  It’s hard not to be greedy and jam them all together thinking you will get more per your space.  But often that doesn’t pay if there are infestations or disease that spreads through the entire patch.  Not only is it sad, but, ugly.  And, it can reduce production since they shade each other out.  When you struggle to harvest through dense foliage, breaking the foliage, those damaged areas are also then susceptible to disease and pests.
  • Plant alternately, tomato, a pepper or two, tomato, a couple eggplants, tomato….  You see?  That keeps diseases and pests from going from one plant they like right onto the next.  Instead of monocultures, work the biodiversity principle.  Take that further, and do separate plantings, two or three plants here, a couple over there, and a third group or plant in yet another place.  That can save them from gophers too if you haven’t installed barriers.
  • Trim the lowest splash-susceptible leaves away religiously, even if they have tomatoes forming on them.  It’s a small sacrifice in behalf of the health of your plant, in favor of continued vigorous production.  Remove infected leaves promptly.  Don’t expect to stop the wilt, just slow it down, a LOT.
  • Instead of long living indeterminate varieties, plant determinate faster producing varieties successively.  Plant new plants in other areas when the previous plants start producing.  Remove infected plants when production slows down.  Sick plants will sometimes suffer along with low production, but replacing these plants is more effective and less disease is spread.  The wilts are airborne as well as soil borne.  Consider the prevailing wind direction in your area.  Plant downwind first; work your way upwind with your clean healthy new plants.
  • You can plant later. Rather than put young vulnerable plants in cool fungi laden soil, depending on the weather, you can wait until late May, even June, when the warmer soil is drier. In the past I have had volunteers come up in July and gotten healthy plants with good crops late August into September!

If you don’t have wilts in your soil, hallelujah!  And pray you don’t bring any home on transplants from the nursery or it blows in from a neighbor.  Keeping a clean crop is one good reason to do seed saving, buy organic seeds from a reliable seed house, and grow your own!  If you are not a tomato eater, ok.  If you are, enjoy every ‘licious bite!

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Reporting on the Great Fava Versus Wilt Experiment!

Some of you have been following my fava experiment, that, per John Jeavons, favas counteract the tomato Fusarium and Verticillium Wilts fungi, hoping it would work. Issues for me were lower leaves, humidity, low spots, nearby plant water needs. I religiously watered only nearby plants. But that was still a problem because the neighboring plants needed a LOT of water, and the toms were in low spots. The fava ring, planted around each tomato, grew really well and was so bushy I forgot to reach in and trim the lowest ground-touching leaves off my tomatoes. The favas created a humid environment, blocked air flow. They got the wilt first, kind of like a trap plant. But then it spread to the tomatoes because I had planted them closely, not knowing how far apart I should plant them. Perhaps I should have removed the favas at first signs of the wilt?

I didn’t give up on favas.

  • As per the long-term plan, I decided where I would plant some of this summer’s toms, and put in dense fava patches in those places. They are now ready to be used as green manure.  Tip!  Cut them down just as they begin to flower.  When they flower, the energy of the plant no longer goes into making leaves, but production.  And the stalks get tougher the longer they grow – harder to chop up.
  • At planting time, I will add a good dose of animal manures and compost, and my usuals – a huge handful of bone meal, a handful of non-fat powdered milk, and worm castings, and a new item, a tad of coffee grounds (see below), as well, to the planting holes.
  • I’ll plant in wells/basins on slightly raised mounds for drainage, and plant only plants that need less water nearby, ie no basil.
  • I’ll top the area with a one inch layer of compost, then cover with a thin layer of straw mulch to prevent the splash factor. When water splashes up from infected soil onto the lower leaves, the plant is infected. I will replenish the straw monthly. Straw has air flow through its tube structure, allowing the soil to be drier even though straw is a mulch.
  • I’ll plant my resistant and tolerant varieties far enough apart so their leaves don’t touch, and trim the lowest splash susceptible leaves away, remove infected leaves promptly. I don’t expect to stop the wilt, just slow it down, a LOT.
  • Instead of long living indeterminate varieties, I’m going to plant determinate faster producing varieties successively, removing infected plants when they finish producing.
  • I’m going to plant later. Rather than put young vulnerable plants in cool fungi laden soil, depending on the weather, I’m going to wait until late May, even June, when the warmer soil is drier. In the past I have had volunteers come up in July and gotten good crops from them late August, September!

Coffee Grounds: Myths, Miracles or Marketing?!

Here’s some study results adapted from the Washington State U report! Disease suppression As they decompose, coffee grounds appear to suppress some common fungal rots and wilts, including FUSARIUM! In these studies, coffee grounds were part of a compost mix, in one case comprising as little as 0.5 percent of the material. Researchers suggest that the bacterial and fungal species normally found on decomposing coffee grounds prevent pathogenic fungi, like Fusarium, from establishing. Currently, disease suppression from coffee grounds has only been demonstrated under controlled conditions on a handful of veggies, bean, cucumber, spinach, and tomato. Their efficacy in gardens and landscapes is unknown, as is any protective activity on other plant materials such as trees or shrubs.

Not all get a jolt – Weed Suppression
Not all plants get a jolt from coffee grounds. Seed germination can be inhibited by water leached through coffee grounds. Growth of crops such as Chinese mustard (Brassica juncea), komatsuna (Brassica campestris) and Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) were all inhibited by coffee grounds, as was that of ornamentals including inch plant (Tradescantia albiflora), geranium, and asparagus fern. One investigator speculated that toxic substances released from decomposing coffee grounds were responsible for their inhibitory effect. This effect also reduces weeds, and perhaps in a landscape dominated by large shrubs and trees, only germinating seeds and seedlings would be injured. But as there has been no experimental research on coffee grounds and woody plants, this is only speculation, says the author.

Moral of the story is go lightly, only 0.5 % in your compost – that’s a 1/2 of a %!
That’s very little! Just as our soil only needs 5% humus, over composting is not helpful, so is too much coffee grounds. When I first started gardening, I laid some grounds down as mulch. Bad beginners move. The plants there died, and that area grew plants poorly for the following two seasons.
May you and your tomatoes have a happy summer!

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