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Archive for the ‘Nitrogen’ Category

Amendment Biochar Applying

Charcoal-like biochar improves soil hydration and enhances agricultural production while it curtails nutrient leaching, increases nitrogen available to plants and reduces the release of gas pollutants. A new study by researchers at Rice University and North Dakota State University gathers current and potential sources of government support to promote the production and use of biochar. Credit: Ghasideh Pourhashem, from the January 11, 2019, Rice University post. Read more Biochar holds promise for sequestering carbon and cleansing polluted air.

Fans rave about its virtues. Some are skeptical but want to learn more. So, wanting to learn, possibly use, I typed in ‘2018 2019 Biochar pros cons’…carefully read the latest noncommercial posts and their comments threads.

A few years ago a knowledgeable gardener I know raved about biochar. Now, some years later, recently a friend sent an article that turned the tables enough to make me want to check it out. One is how it was compared with natural soil that is replenished with biochar by forest fires. Two is how Biochar has several soil sustainable features, but foremost is how it keeps Carbon in our soil hundreds, maybe even 1000s of years! And that is to say nothing of its water holding capacity! Carbon is the foundation of our soil ecosystem. Three: Also, I recalled how amazingly my winter and summer garden plants grew last year. It started with a collusion of happenstance. I planted quite late, Dec 10, 2018 during the Thomas Fire ash fall. The ground was literally solid white with ash and chunks. But this winter my plants didn’t do nearly as well. Hmm… Granted, the ash is not biochar, but it’s a relative – it came from the high heat of a forest fire.

Right now, planet wide, by many, Biochar is considered crucial to our planet’s sustainability. Using it is a regenerative practice that will help our plants not only weather extreme conditions, but thrive!  

BIOCHAR RESEARCH

There are technical discussions, both pro and con, in a language all their own, to simple explanations for the home gardener. The main research is in consideration of farmers with vast tracts of land that could have significant impact on climate change.

CONSIDERATIONS

Nov 29, 2018 From a field day presentation at California State University-Fresno, here are some points from Suduan Gao, a research soil scientist with the USDA San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier. She talked of the potential of applying a biochar amendment to help in water and nutrient management.

Biochar is charcoal used as a soil amendment. It is made from biomass through thermal decomposition [fire]. Gao said it increases water use efficiency and nitrogen retention, reduces leaching, cuts nitrous oxide emissions and reduces ammonia emissions.

Gao said nitrogen dynamics are influenced by biochar and are highly affected by irrigation levels.

She said ammonia volatilization loss was substantially higher when fertilizer was applied only a few times in a larger amount than when it was applied more frequently in smaller amounts.

“Soil accumulates more nitrogen at lower irrigation levels than at higher irrigation levels,” Gao said. “The accumulated nitrogen, however, can be all leached during the rain system.” [Fertilizing after rains is more better!]

She said there were no significant biochar effects on ammonia, nitrous oxide and soil nitrate concentration, but there was a significant interaction between biochar and irrigation.

PROBLEMS WITH BIOCHAR? Fabulous or Fantasy? Is it too good to be true? There are extensive rebuttals to its use, even warnings that it’s not all the fans say, can even cause harm!

Nov 18, 2010 DR MAE-WAN HO said ‘Turning bioenergy crops into buried charcoal to sequester carbon does not work, and could plunge the earth into an oxygen crisis towards mass extinction.’ She further says: …implementing the biochar initiative could be dangerous, basically because saving the climate turns out to be not just about curbing the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere that can be achieved by burying carbon in the soil, it is also about keeping oxygen (O2) levels up. Keeping O2 levels up is what only green plants on land and phytoplankton at sea can do, by splitting water to regenerate O2 while fixing CO2 to feed the rest of the biosphere.’

  1. She cites: A ten-year trial in Swedish forests showed that buried charcoal appear to promote the breakdown of humus, the decomposing plant matter on the forest floor, thus completely offsetting the carbon sequestered in the charcoal.
  2. She discusses examples of the stability of biochar stating that it isn’t always stable. [In a 2012 Mother Earth News post, Editor Dr. Kehres (Journal “Humus and Agriculture“) summed up a symposium: “Biochar appears over-rated — the biochar claim to 1,000 year stability is revised downwards to 10 to 100 years, roughly the same as compost.”]
  3. She warns that things that happen so fast now that we have the internet and huge commercial organizations, a lot goes on without public awareness or understanding and no testing. Since this one expressly claimed climate change remediation, it was touted to be necessary immediately. Some fads are found to be faulty later.
  4. She gets into comparisons of interest to gardeners, stating that Biochar effects on soil fertility are not always positive. Field trials were conducted on cleared secondary forest with 15 different amendment combinations of chicken manure (CM), compost (CO), forest litter, chemical fertilizer (F), and charcoal (CC) applied once on rice and sorghum, and followed over four cropping cycles. Chicken manure gave by far the highest yield over the four cycles (12.4 tonne/ha). Compost application came second at about half the yield, but was still four times higher than chemical fertilizer. The control, leaf litter (burnt and fresh), and charcoal treatments gave no grain yields after the second season, and were discontinued. Further, in combination with compost, charcoal amendment decreased yield by about 40 percent compared to compost alone, and only improved yield in combination with chemical fertilizer.

Read the comments on this page for rebuttals and further information. It is suggested Biochar is not THE answer, but part of a complex mix of possibilities.

This 2013 Mother Earth News post Biochar: Not All It’s Ground Up to Be? states the appropriate use of Biochar depends first on soil type. Some soils retain nutrients very well without any amendments like biochar. Tim Crews says: ‘If you’re cropping on soil types other than Ultisols or Oxisols and you manage your organic matter (residues, manure, compost, etc.) well, you don’t need biochar. It won’t do anything for your fertility.’

Second, a ‘situation in which biochar could provide benefits is on very sandy soils in arid climates, because of its ability to improve such soils’ water-holding capacity, reducing drought stress on plants. But making biochar requires large quantities of bulk plant material, and the biochar factory needs to be close to the source of that material; therefore, the product would have to be manufactured in or around highly productive lands or on vast areas of unproductive lands, and then be hauled long distances to the arid environments where it’s to be applied.’ Not only is the available quantity of crop residue per acre too small, but to haul residues off of cropland to a biochar plant would be to further rob the soil of organic matter, while paying a price in energy and other resources as well. After all that, some ‘studies that found yield increases with such heavy application found that after a few years, soil carbon was no higher in biochar-treated plots than in control plots.’

Biochar has been under discussion for years! When you are doing your own questing about it online, look for current posts and research. Note whether the post is on a commercial site, a university, posted by a farmer, if the poster is knowledgeable, what their credentials are or aren’t, if they have experience. Remember that universities make money from research grants on popular topics and sometimes the donation is made by a company. Go to permaculture sites for a look at possible long term possibilities, concerns. Look for pros and cons.

In 2018, the agriculture application segment accounted for 71.1% of the total biochar demand. That makes sense because they have the biggest land holdings. [But it also means 28.9% is used by others, including home gardeners! That’s a big % considering the sizes of their small gardens!] Quoted from a Biochar fan, he says ‘However, a large number of farmers still lack in knowledge about the product and its benefits.’ My question back to him was ‘Do you know what % of farmers use biochar?’

Amendment BioChar and Compost + Manure Yields Great Results!

Some say Biochar alone added to poor soil has little benefit to plants, but when used in combination with compost and organic fertilizers, it can dramatically improve plant growth while helping retain nutrients in the soil.

When would you, a home veggie gardener, use biochar?

First, are wood ash and biochar the same thing? Yes and no. Biochar is made at 450 °C/842 degrees F with low oxygen and wood ash is made at 870 °C from the same mixed hardwood. What about BBQ charcoal? Not the same thing as wood ash or biochar! Not recommended for garden use.

How do you even know if you need Biochar? Was there a forest fire ever there and you already have it? They say biochar comes from such fires and lasts 100 to 1000 years, or 10 to 100 depending on where you read… That translates to the question whether Biochar is considered to be stable or not and under what circumstances.

Have you been applying wood ash from your fireplace regularly? Some gardeners say Yes, used it for years, readily absorbed, amazing crops! Great substitute for lime to raise pH. Others say it’s grey death. It has a high pH that throws off the balance of your compost/soil, can kill off the microbes that are producing your compost. Poster Mr Bill says: ‘Charcoal chemically functions like a sponge, absorbing many organic compounds. When placed in nutrient rich soil, it absorbs the excess nutrients and traps them in the soil. As the carbon in the charcoal is annexed by fungal colonies, those nutrients are released over time. By tying these nutrients up in the soil with charcoal, they resist erosion and release at regular intervals, rather than the feast or famine spikes in levels that occur with manual fertilization by humans.

However, ‘…added to poor soil, or soil deficient in even one nutrient (which may not be obvious), the charcoal’s sponge-like absorption can compete with the roots of plants for the nutrients, leading to increased disease susceptibility or irregular growth hazardous to the plant.’ So it’s good with good soil, bad with deficient soil.

Lord knows even a 10X20′ community garden plot has varying soil content within the plot for many reasons. In my case, I trench in kitchen waste given to me by neighbors. One eats lots of bananas, hence peels. One is a super juicer, greens, carrots, etc. + lettuce and avocado. Another is a senior tea drinker, so little bags along with old snacking grapes, a few eggshells, a bit of coffee and citrus peels, etc. I get them when they have enough. They put them in a bucket outside my door. I take them to the garden and trench them in where compost is needed most. Sometimes a certain kind of plant never thrives in one area no matter what I do. It would take a lot of soil testing to sort out these small areas. I do my own remediation by adding store bought fluffy compost, and chicken manure in general. Most of the time it works fine.

FYI! If you are using or opt to use wood ash as an amendment, DO NOT mix the wood ash with nitrogen fertilizer; a reaction can occur releasing ammonia gas.

Be careful with your choice to use biochar. Is your garden flourishing because it is high on temporary soil amendments that will be spent this season? Is one area doing great, another adjacent area not doing so well; great for one plant but not another? Does your summer or winter garden do well and the other season doesn’t? Plus, all Biochar is not created equal. Its pH and ash content vary depending on the temp it was created at and the feedstock (what was burned) used, whether that was contaminated or not. In general Biochar raises soil pH. You need to use the right amounts. In a community garden 10X20′ plot, where the soil pH varies within the plot, you don’t have room to test/experiment. The increase in soil pH with alkaline biochar will be higher in acid soils than in originally alkaline soils. However! If a biochar has less ash content it will decrease soil pH because of the organic matter content.

Clearly, fireplace ash that is added every season or spring, doesn’t function the same as biochar that lasts 100 to 1000 years. It is either used up or leached away by watering, otherwise, your garden would have the highest pH in history! If biochar can’t be removed from your soil, and lasts for 100 to 1000 years, and your soil is unfavorably balanced, you may need to adjust your soil for a long time. Ironically, it works best where you already have a super flourishing garden!

Note, the type of fire makes another difference. There is increased growth after a forest fire, but slash and burn techniques have a long term bad effect in just a few years. Definitely not sustainable. Wildfires get much hotter, average over 1600°F, than farmer-made controlled burn fires kept under 1000°F to clear a field. Wood burns differently at different temps; the coals have a different structure. Forest fires burn hot at the center with low oxygen and you get Biochar. Big difference. All fires are not equal.

Mr Bill made a convenient list for us home gardeners!

• Use on rich soil with no deficiencies
• Use to correct acidic soils, or amend the pH of the char before application
• Never use on acid loving plants like blueberries [strawberries, celery, beans]
• Add to compost after composting has finished, not during composting. The recommendation for application is about ½ cup per cubic foot of finished compost. [That’s not a lot!]
• Use in moderation
• Never use char from pressure-treated or painted wood.
• Don’t use petroleum based fire starters or fluids if you intend to use the ash.
• Fires started with alcohol or non-paraffin wax are acceptable for garden use.
• Be mindful of your nutrient levels and pH when using char, test regularly for best results.
• Not all char is equal, refuse from wood gasifiers or efficient wood stoves is preferable to that from your campfire, fireplace or grill, but all are acceptable for use given the correct use of your discretion.

Making Your Own Biochar Amendment in Place!

HOW to MAKE OUR OWN BIOCHAR?! 

Though it’s been many years since the Biochar cure has been offered and raved about, using biochar on a mass basis has not been implemented to an extent that is making a planet wide difference. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use it individually. The simplest way to do it is right where you will use it, just like the Amazon Indians did 2000 years ago.

First check your legal situation before you go for it! Per the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District where I live: A burn permit is required for all outdoor burning activity except recreational (campfires) and cooking (BBQ). This includes: Agricultural Burning (see definition) … Residential backyard burning (permitted only in the unincorporated areas of the Santa Ynez Valley)

Highly flammable gases are released during pyrolysis, so make it outside, well away from buildings, animals and people!

Barbara Pleasant, famed author of 5 garden books, throws in her two cents! ‘Last year, I committed one of the great sins of gardening: I let weeds go to seed. Cleaning up in fall, I faced down a ton of seed-bearing foxtail, burdock and crabgrass. Sure, I could compost it hot to steam the weed seeds to death, but instead I decided to try something different. I dug a ditch, added the weeds and lots of woody prunings, and burned it, thus making biochar. It was my new way to improve soil—except the technique is at least 3,000 years old.’

Barbara words the process more simply… What’s biochar? Basically, it’s organic matter that is burned slowly, with a restricted flow of oxygen, and then the fire is stopped when the material reaches the charcoal stage. Unlike tiny tidbits of ash, coarse lumps of charcoal are full of crevices and holes, which help them serve as life rafts to soil microorganisms. The carbon compounds in charcoal form loose chemical bonds with soluble plant nutrients so they are not as readily washed away by rain and irrigation. Biochar alone added to poor soil has little benefit to plants, but when used in combination with compost and organic fertilizers, it can dramatically improve plant growth while helping retain nutrients in the soil.

She speaks of the Amazonian ‘dark earths,’ terra preta, that ‘hold plant nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium, much more efficiently than unimproved soil. Even after 500 years of tropical temperatures and rainfall that averages 80 inches a year, the dark earths remain remarkably fertile…’ They were produced this very way, burning. …composts and other soil-enriching forms of organic matter last longer. …increased productivity by making nutrients already present in the soil better available to plants. …organically enriched soil retains nutrients for decades rather than for a couple of seasons. This charcoal releases its carbon 10 to 100 times slower than rotting organic matter. See the details  See Twin Oaks Forge for making charcoal in a barrel!

Why buy commercial Biochar? 

Jeremy Menefee says, first, because they use more advanced tools and techniques than the home producer can easily acquire, commercially-produced biochar is usually more consistent in composition and charred under ideal temperatures.

Second, they are able to produce inoculant tailored to specific uses. Vermont Biochar, for example, produces (by hand) several versions ideally suited for either leafy annuals, root crops, or shrub or woody perennials. Each uses a different composition of inoculant to tailor it for the specific application.

Experienced permaculturist Jeremy also says to Biocharge your Biochar! Even commercial biochar producers say their products benefit from being biocharged again once it’s on your property, to tailor it to your site conditions. Here are two easy methods he recommends.

1) Compost charging Even if you buy inoculated biochar, rather than producing it on-site, it will be improved by maturing in your compost. You can use as much biochar as you want, up to about an even 1:1 ratio with the compost, so don’t worry too much about overdoing it. The Biochar doesn’t break down in the process. You may have shorter compost times! Some experts recommend adding both manure and bones.

Quick tip: If you have time, a great way to get the most out of your biochar is to spread it an inch thick or less into your farm animal bedding. Then, when the bedding is spent, add it to the compost pile. [LOL Black Sheep?!] The biochar is essentially ‘double-charged’ in this way. Also, in addition to stacking functions of your animal bedding, this can help reduce odors. Anecdotal evidence suggests it can also reduce illness among your animals!

2) Rapid Charging! The other way to inoculate your biochar is a bit more labor-intensive, but you can complete the process in hours or days, not months. First, fill a 55 gallon (210 litre) drum with fresh water and biochar. If you are using municipal treated water, let it sit for a couple days to remove any chlorine. Then add compost tea or worm castings and leachate to the barrel with some soil from the area where you will use the finished biochar. For example, if you are going to apply the biochar to your fruit orchard, add some soil from around a robust and healthy tree in that orchard. This will help charge the biochar with the ideal microbiology for your specific orchard.

Once everything is well mixed, insert a long tube such as a length of PVC pipe into the barrel and direct air from a blower into the tube, or use a pond aerator and air stones. Aeration supercharges the inoculant and gives the beneficial microbes a massive head start, and helps them adhere to the biochar. Continue this for 12-24 hours.

Safety when applying Biochar amendmentBe careful when applying dry Biochar!

Wear a dust mask such as the 3M™ 8511 Particulate Respirator – N95 to protect your lungs. Moistening biochar can help a lot with dust control. Some Biochar is shipped with about 30% moisture content to help with dust control. Protective eyewear will reduce the chance of getting dust in your eyes. Wear gloves! Wear rubber boots that can be cleaned easily! Apply evenly on a dry, windless day. Mix thoroughly into the soil before planting.

How much do you apply? Doing it right depends on what kind of soil you have and it’s tested content, its pH, how much you want to raise the pH if at all. And, of course, none, if you don’t need it or your situation isn’t right for it!

There are different answers!

  • A company says: From everything we have seen in our own use and through the research of others a good “rule of thumb” is 10% of the planting area should be biochar. If your soil is absolutely horrible you should probably start with a 50/50 mix of biochar and compost and apply about 1/4 lb per square foot.
  • Typically home gardeners use 5-10% biochar in the top 6 inches of their soil.
  • A gardener says: If bought, follow the instructions on the bags, but I would suggest 50/50 with soil and the same for containers, and see your results the first season before you adjust quantities.
  • Farmer Jeremy Menefee says: It takes about 10 pounds of biochar to properly cover 100 square feet. For potted plants, use pure biochar at a ratio of about 1:16 with your potting soil – about ½ cup per gallon of soil. This ratio is good for raised beds as well, one gallon of biochar per 16 gallons of soil. If you inoculated your biochar in compost (at ratios up to 1:1), just apply compost as normal – the presence of biochar doesn’t change the amount of compost used.

How to apply? Simple!

  1. Made your own in place? Just add amendments of your choice, especially compost, and till it in.
  2. Purchased, preferably inoculated? Lay on about 1/4″, amendments and till it in. If you don’t have much, spread it out and add more each time you amend.
  3. If you’re not able to till, spread out your inoculated Biochar, cover with mulch to hold it in place, let Nature do the work for you.

Coast of Maine Biochar Amendment raised bed mix

Biochar IS big business. There is university research devoted to it for sustainable reasons. They make huge grant monies from it. Yale and Cornell, Ames Iowa, Delaware, Missouri, North Dakota, Rice U in Houston Tx to name just a few schools. Government is in on it too, for example the USDA’s Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans. There are subsequent conferences, magazines, books, products at your nursery.

USBI Biochar 2019 – is the largest event in North America dedicated to advancing the sustainable production and use of biochar through scientific and engineering research, policy development, field practice, and technology transfer. It will focus on bridging scientific, industrial, practitioner, and policy gaps in biomass utilization for biochar and bioenergy production. June 30 – July 3 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins Colorado.

BIOMASS Magazine – Beyond the Hype

Check out the BioChar Journal …we want our readers to be confident that what is written in the Biochar Journal is based on sound science and practicality.

Local gardeners might see various products at their nursery. A blend in snowy Maine might be quite different than in SW SoCal droughty areas. Before you order up online, take this into consideration. When buying locally, look on the package to see where it was made, then check out those ingredients. The bag shown here is definitely intended as a pH raiser; it has biochar and lime!

For those of us gardening at community gardens, we need to think of what the next gardener’s soil needs might be after you leave. What if they primarily want to plant acid loving plants, those blueberries, strawberries, celery or beans? In keeping with rotating crops, planting in a different place each year, to avoid soil diseases various plants are susceptible to, we may need to stay flexible – amend each season or year with regular or acidic compost per patch as we go.

If you have a good size parcel of land for veg gardening, that you plan to keep for many years, soil test different areas. You might coordinate your Biochar choices with the land’s own natural flow, plant accordingly. Some sites say it takes about a year for the Biochar/soil relationship to be fully established. If you are planting in raised beds/containers, where soil is leached of nutrients due to higher soil temps, drying, in those structures and frequent watering to compensate, replacing spent soil/compost each year, Biochar isn’t going to work for you.

Making your own Biochar is cheap, but a lengthy process you hope you do right. Probably wise to have someone experienced with you when you do your first processes. First there is gathering the right materials, selecting the right place and technique for the kind of results you want, doing the burning. Then there is the biocharging process for it to do its best work. Buying Biochar can be pricey if you get the best, inoculated. If you put it where it can be used to best advantage, that is worth the one-time expense.

Your final decision to use or not use Biochar may be based on your instinct. You may decide not to use it at your current location or in a specific area of your garden. You might move, or be visiting in another gardener’s location and feel it is the right choice for that place. Maybe you will decide to wait and see. Honor your feelings. You might not save the planet today, or maybe you will by using succinct educated choices.

Bless you for being a garden guardian, a caring Earth Steward.

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are 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!

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

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Last Summer Harvests, Seed Processing, Glorious Fall Planting!

Pumpkins Curcurbits Village Autumn Festival Dallas Arboretum 2017 Oz Theme

Autumn at the Dallas Arboretum is September 22 through November 21. 2017‘s theme was Pumpkins, Squash and Gourds, Oh My! Pumpkin Village takes each visitor on a trip highlighting the beloved book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Follow the yellow brick road…  

Congratulations on your Pumpkin harvests and Happy Halloween!

Brassicas are the SoCal winter veg garden winners!

LARGE BRASSICAS

Broccoli is the favorite Brassica and rightfully so per the nutrition it offers. Plants differ in size, head color and shapes, how heat tolerant they are if you intend to let them over summer, and side shoot production. To get value for the room Brocs take up, a lot of gardeners seek varieties that produce a lot of side shoots after the main head is taken. Some newer varieties are already producing side shoots before the main head is taken! These smaller heads are great steamed if large, or tossed with your salad if small. Do as you wish! Research has shown there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together! Probably true for other large Brassicas as well. More!

Kale has been a recent have-to-have! Eat young leaves fresh in salads. Steam with other veggies over rice. High in Vitamin A and anti cancer properties! Lovely varieties – green or purple, flat or curly leaves. They just keep growing. They are technically a biennial, 2 year plant. The first year is for production, the second they make seeds. But. In SoCal they over winter several years. Or if we have exceptionally hot weather, they may bolt and make seeds the first year! You can end up with a pom pom style, especially the curly leaf kales. But they lose their verve, look tired and tasteless, rather tortured. A fresh young kale in good soil will easily take up a 3′ footprint and produce thick tender vibrant leaves like crazy! What a difference. I hope you start fresh ones each year. They grow so quickly. You won’t lose any harvest time if you plant a baby at the base of the old one, then take the old one down when you are getting those sweet young leaves from the baby. I’ll bet you forgot how good they can really taste! Just be sure to work in some good compost so it can be strong and keep producing well. More!

Cauliflower now comes in the standard white, also green, orange and purple! The disadvantage is there is only one head and that’s it, though as with any Brassica, the leaves are edible. Like Collard greens.

Cabbage is more dense for the dollar than Cauliflower though it too has only one head and takes a long time to grow – even the mini varieties! But what a feast! A cabbage head is amazing and you can fix it so many ways. Shred in salad, coleslaw, steamed, cabbage soup – Borscht, stir fried, cabbage rolls, cabbage kimchi, in tacos, as sauerkraut! Or try a traditional Irish dish, colcannon, a mixture of mashed potatoes, cabbage or kale, onions, and spices. YUM! There are many cabbage varieties as well – ‘white,’ red or green. Different sizes, and I do mean different. There are 4 to 6″ minis for container gardens, sooner eating or you just don’t need a huge cabbage. Easily more than a foot in diameter monsters! First they grow loose, then they fill in and make hard dense heads. An amazing plant! While your cabbages are putting on size, plant lettuces among them and other Brassicas. Lettuce repels cabbage moths. More!

Brussels Sprouts are charming. They like a colder climate to make big sprouts. In Santa Barbara SoCal area you need to be prepared to harvest lots of small ones.

All these big Brassicas need feeding from time to time because they are big, and most of them are continuously producing leaf crops! They are all susceptible to Mildew. Try for resistant varieties. Water in the morning when possible so they can dry by evening. A good reason not to over water or fertilize is aphids and whiteflies! They like softer plants. Use plenty of worm castings, as much as possible in their soil – as much as 25% if you can! Plant your Brassicas far enough apart, leaves not touching, for airflow when they are mature, so pests and diseases don’t easily spread plant to plant. Brassicas are generally frost tolerant, even a bit freeze tolerant, and it is said their flavor improves!

Cilantro is their best companion! 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. Cilantro makes brocs grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!

ENJOY LOTS OF SMALL BRASSICAS! 

For salads arugula, bok choi, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard, tatsoi, peppery sweet alyssum! Root crops are Daikon and White Icicle, pretty China Rose and handsome Long Black Spanish radish, turnips, rutabagas! Grow horseradish for fermenting. Plant these tasty small Brassicas in rows, between, among, around, in patches. A few here, a few there! Be artful and enjoy their many flavors at your winter table!

Peas – Flat, Snap or Pod

Pea Golden Sweet Shelling or eat young whole pod

Flat is the same as Chinese or snow peas. String ’em or buy the stringless variety, and eat ’em right then and there or toss a few with your salad, steam or stew in Oriental dishes, add to your stir fry! Shelling or English peas are so delicious fresh out of the pod and might tasty steamed. SNAP peas are the sinful favorite of many. Few make it home from my garden. I just eat them. That’s why you get stringless varieties. Who wants to be picking their teeth at the garden, LOL?! Ok, if some of those snap peas do make it to the kitchen, add them to salads. If you must, lightly steam them, add them to stir fries. They are very tender. To keep their fresh green look, undercook….

Yellow, green or purple, you can get bush or pole peas! Bush peas come in sooner; pole peas grow tall, so come in later. Soon as your bush peas are done, the pole peas will come in shortly after, making for a steady supply. And the pole peas keep on coming. Compared to beans or tomatoes, peas have a shorter life span. And when they are done, they are done. Fertilizing, coaxing, additional water doesn’t help. Successive planting is the answer. Plant once a month or so if you love peas. You do have to keep them picked or, like beans, they stop producing. They have short roots and need to be kept moist. Onion family stunts peas! But carrots enhance peas! Plant carrots around the cage or along the trellis. If you plant carrots on one side of them, water the pea side so the carrots don’t get too much water and split.

Peas are the winter legume as beans are the summer legume of your garden! They are the trellis plants of our winter gardens. Put in your trellis first, then plant pole seeds, plus transplants of bush and pole all at the same time for them to come in one after the other. Your bush peas in cages will produce first, then your pole peas, and likely your seeded pole peas will follow in short order. Soon as your peas are done, clip off the plant, leaving the roots with their Nitrogen nodules in the ground to feed your soil. Plant more!

If you don’t have marauding birds, presprouting your seed peas makes sense! If you do have birds, cover them with aviary wire soon as you put them in the ground. PreSprouting peas is super simple. Paper towel on plate, lay out peas an inch apart, fold the paper towel over them, spritz with clean water, keep them moist. By +/- 5 days they will have sprouted, some more than others! Carefully put them in the ground so you don’t break the little roots. Presprouting assures no spots will be empty where a seed didn’t come up and you lose production! See more! As with any seeds, a couple days before planting put down organic slug/snail bait and remove any overnight marauders that would feast on your tiny new plants.

The pea image on the right above is Pea & Mint Crostini at My Husband Cooks (Please do not drool on your keyboard while you are at this site.)

You can have a terrific time with beets! They thrive in cooler weather. Many colors! Grow the biggies, Cylindra! Plant them at the same time you plant smaller varieties so you have the littles first, then the biggies! Early Wonder Tall Tops and Dutch Baby Ball are a tasty choices, or red cold hardy Flat of Egypt! Try a yellow like Touchstone Gold!

Purple leaved Chard! Gold ribs, savoyed. Super nutritious!   Chard is an elegant super productive winter favorite! Handsome, colorful, really, they are the ‘flowers’ of the winter garden! Superlative nutrition, low calorie, easy to grow! If you want quantity, plant Fordhook Giants! They are wondrous – easily 3′ tall, foot wide leaves when conditions are right for them! Chard can’t be beat for production per square foot.

Lettuces thrive in cooler weather too, but do cover them at threatened freezes. Lay down tomato cages, cover, and secure the cover. Remove when the day warms up. Lettuces come in all kinds of shapes and delicious colors. They do best in rich soil, regular moisture. Winter is the cooler time when tender butter leafs and heading varieties do well.

Try super dense Salanova! Johnny’s Seeds says: Harvested as fully mature heads, the flavor and texture have more time to develop than traditional baby-leaf lettuces. The unique structure of the core produces a multitude of uniformly sized leaves, harvestable with one simple cut. Salanova is more than 40% higher yielding, has better flavor and texture, and double the shelf life of traditional baby-leaf lettuce, making it an excellent, more economical option. What do you think about all that?!

Perfect timing for tasty root crops – beets, turnips, rutabagas, daikon radish. Beets are a double winner because the roots and the leaves are edible! Pick leaves from time to time. When your beets are the size you want, pull them and eat all the leaves and the beets as well!

Winter is growing time for long Daikon Radish. And Carrots. Carrots are a dense root, so they take awhile. Plant short varieties like Thumbelina and Little Fingers for sooner eating. Kids love them! At the same time plant longer varieties to eat when the Little Fingers are done. Or plant successively, every 2 weeks, once a month per your needs. The longer the carrot, the longer it takes to grow. Look at the seed pack to see how many days it takes to maturity. Of course, you can pull them sooner and smaller. 🙂 Avoid manuring where you know you will be planting carrots – makes them hairy. Steady water supply and not too much or they split. You might enjoy some of the mixed color packs – Circus Circus, Sunshine, Cosmic Purple!

Parsnips, celery and parsley are all in the carrot family and enjoy cool SoCal weather. Celery is in-the-garden edible let alone low calorie! Leeks and bunch onions, but NO onion family near peas.

If you haven’t planted already…some of you carry your layout plan in your head, others draw and redraw, moving things around until it settles and feels right. Do add a couple new things just for fun! Try another direction. Add some herbs or different edible flowers. Leave a little open space for surprises! Stand back, take a deep breath and ask yourself why you plant what you plant and why you plant the way you do. Anything been tickling the back of your mind you are curious about? More about Designing Your SoCal Winter Veggie Garden!
 


Plant longer maturing larger and taller varieties to the back, shorter early day varieties in front where they will get sun. Put littles on the sunny side of these. Plant your tall plants first, let them get up a bit. Then clip off the lower leaves and plant your littles. Or plant quick rounds of littles between the tall plants. They will be ready to harvest when the big plants would start shading them. A classic combo is lettuces among starting cabbages!

Mixes rule! Plant several varieties for maturity at different times and to confuse pests. Pests are attracted at certain stages of maturity. They may bother one plant but leave others entirely alone depending on temps and the pest’s cycle! There are less aphids on broccoli when you plant different varieties together. See Super Fall Veggies Varieties, Smart Companion Plantings!

Peas and green manure mixes – legumes and oats, feed and replenish your soil because they take N (Nitrogen) out of the air and deposit it in little nodules on their roots! If an area in your garden needs a pep up, plant it to green manure. Broadcast a seed mix of legumes and oats and let them grow. Bell beans, Austrian peas, vetch and oats from Island Seed & Feed Goleta is an excellent choice. Be sure to get the inoculant they recommend to use. The first three deposit N; the oats have deep roots that bring nutrients up and create soil channels for oxygen, water and soil organisms! Plant it where next summer’s heavy feeders, like tomatoes, will be grown!

If you are planning for mid January bareroot strawberry planting, be preparing your strawberry patch now if you are planting green manure! The green manure mix I use takes 2+ months to grow. I chop it down when the bell beans flower. Chop it into bits, add acidic (azalea/camellia) compost, worm castings and turn it all under. It takes two to three weeks to decompose, let the soil organisms restabilize, and be ready to plant. That puts us right at mid January when the bareroots arrive!

Here’s the schedule:

  1. Oct 1 plant your living mulch – put this on your garden calendar! If Bell beans are in your seed mix, or are your choice, they take a couple months to mature.
  2. About Dec 1 chop down/mow, chop up your living mulch and let it lay on the surface two weeks. If Bell beans are in the mix, chop when it flowers or the stalks will get too tough to easily chop into small pieces. Keep your chopped mulch moist, not wet, until it is tilled in. Being moist aids decomposition.
  3. Mid Dec till in your living mulch for mid January bareroot planting. The little white balls on the roots are like a beautiful little string of pearls. Those are the Nitrogen nodules legume plants make that we are growing them for! At this time add any other amendments you want. Strawberries like slightly acidic soil, so I add store bought Azalea/Camellia acid compost. It’s fluffy and adds water holding capacity.

OR. Strawberry runner daughters can be clipped Oct 10 to 15, stored in the fridge for planting Nov 5ish. Remove any diseased soil where your beds will be; prep your beds with acidic compost like an Azalea mix. Commercial growers replace their plants every year. Some gardeners let them have two years but production tapers off a lot the second year. If you let them have two years, generously replenish the soil between the berries with acidic compost. I lay down boards between the rows where my berries will be planted. The boards keep the soil moist underneath. I planted the berries just far enough apart that they self mulched (shaded the soil) when they grew up a bit. Worked beautifully. I got the idea for the boards from a pallet gardener.

Plant in super soil to get a good start! Clean up old piles of stuff, remove old mulches that can harbor overwintering pest eggs and diseases. Then add the best-you-can-get composts, manures, worm castings. In planting holes, toss in a handful of nonfat powdered milk in for immediate uptake as a natural germicide and to boost their immune system. Throw in a handful of bone meal that will decompose for uptake at bloom time. If you have other treats you like to favor your plants with, give them some of that too! Go lightly on incorporating coffee grounds either in your compost or soil. In studies, what was found to work well was coffee grounds at only 0.5 percent of the compost mix. That’s only 1/2 a percent! See more details about soil building! If you have containers, dump that old spent stuff and put in some tasty new mix!

Winter Feeding Lettuces like a light feed of chicken manure cultivated in. All the winter plants are heavy producers – lots of leaves, some of those leaves are monsters! Cabbages are packed tight, leaf after leaf! They may need a light feed. Remember, it’s cooler now, so their uptake is slower, so give them liquid feeds of things easy for them to uptake. Fish emulsion (if you don’t have predators) or a tasty tea mix – compost, worm castings, manure (no manure tea for lettuces).

Give your berms a check. Restore or add, shift them as needed. Before wind or rain, double check cages and trellises, top heavy plants. Stake them, tie peas to the trellis or cage. Start gathering sheets, light blankets for possible cold weather to come. Keep tomato cages handy.

You don’t have to garden this winter! You can cover it deeply with all the mulch materials you can lay your hands on up to 18′ deep. Believe me, it will settle quickly. Let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. That’s called sheet composting or composting in place, lasagna gardening – 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 living layers of whole soil for no work at all! Another wise option is to do something Hugelkultur style!

“Our most important job as vegetable gardeners is to feed and sustain soil life, often called the soil food web, beginning with the microbes. If we do this, our plants will thrive, we’ll grow nutritious, healthy food, and our soil conditions will get better each year. This is what is meant by the adage ‘Feed the soil not the plants.
― Jane Shellenberger, Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West (Colorado)

Winter watering in drought areas is the same as for summer. Before 10:30 AM, after 4 PM. Watch which way water flows along the leaves. Some plants it flows to the center stem. Some drip water off the leaf tips in a circle around your plant, the dripline. Some go both ways. Make berms just beyond where the mature plant’s water flows. If at the dripline, that’s where the tiny feeder roots take up moisture and nutrients. That’s why they call them feeder roots! If your garden has a low spot, plant your water loving plants – chard, lettuces, spinach, mizuna, mints – there or near a spigot.

Fall Pests & Diseases

  • Prevention Drench young plants, ones you just transplanted, with Aspirin solution to get them off to a great start! Drench your seedlings when they get up a few inches. One regular Aspirin, 1/4 C nonfat powdered milk, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap (surfactant), per gallon of water. Aspirin triggers a defense response and stimulates growth! Powdered milk is a natural germicide and boosts the immune system. Be sure to get under the leaves too!
  • Brassicas, Peas! Lots of ants and on Brassicas, lengthwise curling leaves are the giveaways for aphids, then whiteflies. Aphids carry viruses. Aphids come in fat gray or small black. Avoid over watering and feeding that makes for soft plants, tender leaves that aphids thrive on, and ant habitat. Spray the aphids away, make the ants leave. Get up under those leaves, and fervently but carefully do the tender growth tips. Do it consistently until they don’t come back. Cinnamon is amazing. Ants don’t like it at all, and when you are starting seedlings it prevents molds and damping off. Sprinkle it on the soil in your six pack. Get it in big containers at Smart and Final. Reapply as needed. ASAP remove yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies.If Whiteflies and aphids/ants come along, give them a bath too! Get a good grip on your hose and swoosh them away when you first see them. Be sure to get hideaways under the leaves and in crevices!
  • Chard, Lettuces, Spinach – Slugs and snails are the bane of so many crops, but these especially. Lay down something like Sluggo immediately. Then do it again in a week or so. Kill the parents, kill the children. After about 3 times you rarely need it again anytime soon.
  • Biodiversity In general, avoid row planting where disease and pests wipe the plants out from one to the next to the next. Instead or rows, plant in several different spots. If you can’t help yourself, because your family always planted in rows or that’s the way farm pictures show plantings, remember, this is YOUR garden! Also, leave room so mature plants’ leaves don’t touch. Give them room to breathe, get good big leaves that get plenty of sun and produce lots more big leaves and many big fruits! Stunted crowded rootbound plants just don’t perform as well and are more disease and pest susceptible.

Keep up with your maintenance. Weed so seedlings aren’t shaded out or their nutrients used up.

If you have lots of seeds, over planting is an age old practice. Plant too, too many, then thin them with tiny pointy scissors, aka harvest the young, and eat ’em! Young radish sprouts, teeny carrots, beets, cilantro, arugula, onions, little Brassicas of all kinds are wonderful in a salad! If they get a little big, steam them or add to stir fries and stews. Another way to do it is plant flats of lettuces, mesclun mixes, and mow them! Tender baby greens! They will grow back 3, 4 times.

Have it in the back of your mind what summer plants you will be wanting, where you will plant them. Plant more permanent plants like a broccoli you keep over summer for side shoots (like All Season F1 Hybrid), or a kale that will keep on going, where they will not be shaded out by taller indeterminate summer tomatoes.

October is the last of Seed Saving time for most of us. Make notes on how your plants did, which varieties were the most successful. These seeds are adapted to you and your locality. Each year keep your best! Start sorting and labeling seed baggies on coming cooler indoor evenings. Store your keepers in a cool dry place for next year’s plantings. Generously gather seeds for upcoming January Seed Swaps!

Santa Barbara’s Seed Swap is January 26! The last Saturday of January every year is National Seed Swap Day! Look in your area for an event, and if you don’t find one, collaborate with your local garden club or permaculture group to get one going!

Plant gift plants or bowls or baskets for the holidays! Make Lavender sachets!

Take a deep breath of this fine fall weather!

x


Please enjoy these September images at two of Santa Barbara’s community gardens, Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria! And a special album by Rancheria gardener Judith Mingram! I’ve titled it: From Weed Patch to Wonderful, one woman’s community garden plot transformation – no more gophers!

Check out the entire October Newsletter!

OCTOBER 2018 ~ Last Summer Harvests, Seed Processing, Glorious Fall Planting!
Chard! An Elegant, Colorful, Nutritious Pleasure!
Upcoming Gardener Events! Mesa Harmony Talk & Crop Swap! Lane Farms Pumpkin Patch, Quail Springs Permaculture Course, not to miss January Santa Barbara Seed Swap!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’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.

Read Full Post »

Gorgeous Kale - Purple Curly Leaf

There’s kale and there’s kale! This truly tasty purple curly leaf kale image is by Steve!

Last Harvests are being collected and stored, seeds saved! Some of you have started seedling nurseries or starts at home, many of you have prepped your soil! If you haven’t yet, make your fall planting beds extra yummy – add 5-10% compost, 25% worm castings – seeds germinate better and do especially better with worm castings! Manure amounts depend on the type of manure and which plant you will be using it with. Rabbit poop manure can be used immediately with no composting! We want rich soil for those big winter plants. We want lots of those marvelous leaves for greens. Winter plants like brocs, collards, cauliflower, chard, are heavy producers, need plenty of food.

BUT NOT CARROTS!  Too good a soil makes them hairy and they fork. And over watering, irregular watering, can make them split. Build your beds up so they drain well, are above the coldest air that settles low down. PEAS, the winter legume, make their own Nitrogen, so feed only lightly if at all.

Some of you carry your layout plan in your head, others draw and redraw, moving things around until it settles and feels right. Do add a couple new things just for fun! Try another direction. Add some herbs or different edible flowers. Leave a little open space for surprises! Stand back, take a deep breath and ask yourself why you plant what you plant and why you plant the way you do. Anything been tickling the back of your mind you are curious about? More about Designing Your SoCal Winter Veggie Garden!

Soil is always first in garden care! Winter plants need different care than greedy summer production plants, heavy feeders. Special soil tips for your winter plants! Some say the most important soil tip of all is Gopher wire prevention, LOL, and I can tell you the misery it is to lose a prime plant in full production that you started from a wee seed. Oh, my Soul. Grrr! See Gopher prevention

If you need to skip a beat, take some time off from the garden, let it rest, but let nature rebuild while it’s resting!

  1. You can cover it deeply with all the mulch materials you can lay your hands on up to 18′ deep. Believe me, it will settle quickly. Let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. That’s called sheet composting or composting in place, lasagna gardening – 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 living layers of whole soil for no work at all!
  2. You can plant it with green manure. Laying on lots of mulch is a ton of work when you do it, just gathering the materials can be a challenge. Green manure takes some work too, but it has awesome results as well. You broadcast a seed mix of legumes and oats and let them grow. Bell beans, Austrian peas, vetch and oats from Island Seed & Feed  in Goleta is an excellent choice. Legumes gather Nitrogen from the air and store it in nodules on their roots! N is the main ingredient your plants need for their growth! The oat roots break up the soil. They dig deep and open channels for water and air flow, soil organisms.

Kale Flat Leaf High MowingIt’s Brassica time! They are the mainstay of winter gardens! Their nutrition can’t be beat! Kale’s the Queen! Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbages, Cauliflower and Collard greens! Then there are all the mini Brassicas, the fillers and littles – arugula, bok choy, mizuna, kohlrabi, mustards, radish, turnips. Rather than plant just six packs of transplants, put in seed at the same time when possible and stagger your plantings of the large Brassicas. Rather than all six cauliflower coming in at once, plant two now, two later and so on. Adjust that, of course, if you have a large area available to plant and a lot of people to feed! Another way to do it is to get varieties with early, middle and late maturity dates and plant them all at once! Plant both mini and monster cabbages at the same time! Minis come in sooner, monsters later! Successive plantings mean a steady table supply.

Finicky eaters may enjoy a selection! Fall veggies come in lots of shapes and colors! Kales are renowned for their beauty and varieties – classic curly leaf, flat leaf like in the image (less aphids), Red Russian, Elephant, Red Bor that is really purple are just a few! Cauliflower comes in traditional shape and spiral, classic white and yellow and purple and green! Get seed packs of them all and mix them together! Carrots already come in color mix seed packets! Circus Circus is a fun choice, especially when your kids are planting! Thumbelinas are faster for kids. Beets are terrific fun! Yellows, reds, pinks, whites and Chioggias (concentric circles of colors)! You can get them in rainbow mixes just like getting rainbow chard mixes! Rather than have your finicky eater say no, open up that catalog or take them shopping a the nursery and let them pick what they would like to try!

Non Brassica ‘littles,’ understory veggies that love cooler weather, are beets, carrots, celery, chard, cilantro, leeks, spinach and especially lettuce – now is the time for tender butter leafs and heading lettuce! If you anticipate a hot Sep, plant more heat tolerant lettuces.

  • The winter legume is PEAS! Peas are like beans, they come in bush and pole types. And those come in three main types – shelling, eat-them-whole snap peas and flat China/snow peas! They are super easy to sprout! Dampen the paper towel; spray the towel to keep it moist. Depending on temps it takes 2, 3 days. Pop them into the garden by the trellis – if it is hot, devise some shade for them. You just need to be careful as you plant them so you don’t break the sprout off. Definitely plant some every month or so. They don’t live all season long. When they are done, they’re done. It is true that picking peas, just like picking beans, is labor intensive. I eat a lot of mine before they get home, so I don’t mind. Bush peas come in first and pretty much all at once; pole come on later and continue to produce. On the first round it makes sense to plant both at once! TIP: if your soil has never grown peas before, get an inoculant when you get your seeds, follow the instructions. OR if you don’t have time to do seeds, just get six packs at the nursery! Transplants are always stronger than tiny seedlings. But do cover your plants if they show signs of being pecked by birds! The evidence is little V shaped nibbles on the leaves.
  • 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.

Cylindra is a Long type Winter BeetVarieties that do better in winter are long beets like Cylindras, long radishes like Daikons, pretty China Rose and handsome Long Black Spanish! Plant small beets like Dutch Baby Ball for quick beets while your Cylindras are growing twice to three times bigger!

Companion planting combos make a difference! Carrots enhance peas, onions stunt peas. Plant the carrots on the sunny side feet of pole beans. Combos can use space wisely! Carrots grow down, peas grow up, perfect! Cabbage babies need to be planted 12 to 28″ apart! A healthy plant will take up much closer to that 28″. They take a long while to grow, head, head tight! Plant lettuces that repel cabbage moths, or other fillers, that mature sooner, in the space between them. You can do this at home amongst your ornamentals, and/or in containers too! Fillers can be onion/chive types, beets. Short quickest growing winter radishes can be among the long slower growing carrots among the slowest growing, your cabbages. Cilantro makes brocs grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener! Research has shown there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together!

No need to plant patches or rows of smaller plants, unless you want to. Scatter them about on the sunny side between larger plants as an understory! Plant different varieties to keep your table exciting. Don’t plant them all at once, but rather successively, every week or two for steady table supply. If you would enjoy a quick payback for your table, select the earliest maturing varieties.

If you have lots of seeds, over planting is an age old practice. Plant too, too many, then thin them with tiny pointy scissors, aka harvest the young, and eat ’em! Young radish sprouts, teeny carrots, little Brassicas of all kinds are wonderful in a salad! Your dog might love those teeny carrots! If they get a little big, steam them or add to stir fries and stews. Another way to do it is plant flats of lettuces, Mesclun mixes, and mow them! Tender baby greens! They will grow back 3, 4 times.

When planting in hot fall weather, plant your outdoor seeds a tad deeper than you would in spring; soil is moister and cooler an extra inch or two down. It’s the law to keep them moist. If you plant successively for steady fresh table supply, plant a batch in September, again in October. Days will shorten and start cooling, but you are taking advantage of a fast start because your plants will grow quickly in the warmer weather now than later on. Sep plant from seeds & transplants if you can get them, Oct from transplants.

Winter Feeding Lettuces like a light feed of chicken manure cultivated in. All the winter plants are heavy producers – lots of leaves, some of those leaves are monsters! Cabbages are packed tight, leaf after leaf! They may need a light feed. Remember, it’s cooler now, so their uptake is slower, so give them liquid feeds, teas, things easy for them to uptake.

Keep letting your strawberry runners grow for Oct harvest. If you will be planting bareroot berries in January, remove old plants and plant green manure in October. Here’s the schedule:

  1. Oct 1 plant your living mulch/cover crop – put this on your garden calendar! Bell beans take that long if they are in the mix or are your choice.
  2. About Dec 1 chop down/mow, chop up your living mulch and let it lay on the surface. Studies show there is more nutrition if it is let to lay. Keep your chopped mulch moist, not wet, until it is tilled in. Being moist aids decomposition. If Bell beans are in the mix, chop when it flowers or the stalks will get too tough to easily chop into small pieces.
  3. Mid Dec till in your living mulch for mid January bareroot planting. The little white balls on the roots are like a beautiful little string of pearls. Those are the Nitrogen nodules legume plants make! For strawberries, or other acid soil loving plants, add acidic compost at the same time. If your soil needs it, add some coir for water holding capacity.

If you replace your strawberries, in Santa Barbara area try Seascape, bred locally at UCSB. Seascapes are big fill-your-palm plentiful berries, firm, tasty, strawberry spot resistant! They have long roots that gather plenty of nutrition and stay moist at deeper levels. Available at Terra Sol Garden Center – call ahead to get the date they arrive – they go fast and then they are gone!

Pest and Disease Prevention Drench young plants, ones you just transplanted, with Aspirin solution to get them off to a great start! Drench your seedlings when they get up a few inches. One regular Aspirin, 1/4 C nonfat powdered milk, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap (surfactant), per gallon of water. Aspirin triggers a defense response and stimulates growth! Powdered milk is a natural germicide and boosts the immune system. Be sure to get the under sides of the leaves too!

Brassica pests! Lots of ants and lengthwise curling leaves are the giveaways for aphids. Aphids carry viruses. Aphids come in fat gray, eency light green or small black. Avoid over watering that makes for soft plants, tender leaves that aphids thrive on, and ant habitat. Spray the aphids away, make the ants leave. Get up under those leaves, and fervently but carefully do the tender growth tips. Do it consistently until they don’t come back. Cinnamon is amazing. Ants don’t like it at all, and when you are starting seedlings it prevents molds and damping off. Sprinkle it on the soil in your six pack. In Santa Barbara area get it in big containers at Smart and Final. Reapply as needed.

September is still Seed Saving time for some. Make notes on how your plants did, which varieties were the most successful. These seeds are adapted to you and your locality. Each year keep your best! Store your keepers in a cool dry place for next year’s plantings. Generously gather seeds for upcoming January Seed Swaps! If your area doesn’t have a seed swap, please!, start organizing one!

Borage is a beautiful cool season plant with edible star shaped flowers, blue for bees! It has a large 3 to 4′ footprint, so allow for that or plan to keep clipping it back. What flower colours do birds and bees prefer?

Plant Sweet Peas for Christmas bloom! Plant gift plants or bowls or baskets for the holidays!  

This is a terrific time to put up a Greenhouse! You can start more seedlings, overwinter sensitive plants – eat tomatoes in December! The right size, easy-to-maintain greenhouse may be perfect for you!

Have fun! September gardens are a magical time of creativity and seasonal transition!

x


Please enjoy these August images at two of Santa Barbara’s community gardens, Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria! The emphasis is on SeedSaving! 

Check out the entire September Newsletter!

SEPTEMBER 2018 ~ Last of Summer Harvests, SeedSaving, 1st Fall Plantings!

Love KALE! Beauty, Super Nutrition, Easy to Grow!
SoCal Fall/Winter Veggie Soil Tips for Delicious Returns!
Super SoCal Fall, Winter Veggies Varieties, Smart Companion Plantings!
Smart Garden Design Leads to Excellent Plant & Seed Selection!Upcoming Gardener Events! Mesa Harmony Crop Swap! National Heirloom Expo, Soil Not Oil, American Community Gardening Assn 39th Annual Conference!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Back to top


The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’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.

Read Full Post »

Seeds Exotic Unusual Rare Amazing!

The beauty of planting from seeds is you can get perfect varieties, the rare and unusual!  

You went to the Seed Swap, have gotten your seeds from the catalog or nursery, and are itching for the right temps to plant!

Planning now is important because not all spring/summer plants are installed at the same timePlanting in the right places now makes a difference. Bold Souls will be planting Zucchini, cool tolerant tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and corn! They can be started now from seed, in the ground. March is a little warmer and early variety plants get a better start. April is most everything – cucumber, pepper, squash, beans, more tomatoes, watermelon. May is the true heat lovers, cantaloupe, okra (June may be better yet), eggplant. Some gardeners wait to plant tomatoes until May and June to avoid the more moist soil fungi of earlier months. I hold that space by planting something temporary there in March. June is good for okra, eggplant and long beans!

Summer garden planning tips emphasizing needing less water! Companions!

PLANT PLANTS THAT REPEL PESTS IN ADVANCE SO THEY WILL BE UP AND WORKING WHEN YOUR SEEDLINGS COME UP OR YOU INSTALL YOUR TRANSPLANTS!

  • If you are not going to be canning, indeterminate tomatoes are the excellent choice! These are the vining tomatoes that produce all summer! This saves time and water because determinate, bush tomatoes produce quickly, all at once – great for canning, then you have to replant and wait for more production. However, determinate toms do produce sooner, so for earlier table production, plant them to hold you until your indeterminates are producing. Also, for earlier production, plant cherry tomatoes! Yum! Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of dandelions!
  • Choose more prolific plants and varieties of them so you get more production for less water.
  • Plant tall plants to the North unless you anticipate a scorching summer. If you think it will be HOT, plant tall to the west to shade shorter plants, keep your soil cooler, use less water.
  • Plan to put cucumbers up on trellises to keep them disease and pest free, are clean, and so they ripen evenly all the way around. Co-plant with beans! Beans above, cukes below. Japanese Long cukes give a generous supply per water used! Suyos are a great choice – give them plenty of room.
  • Next, intermingle mid height plants, bush beans, determinate tomatoes, tall peppers like Big Jim Anaheim or Poblanos, zucchini! Potatoes with zucchini to repel squash bugs. Plant Radish ahead of cukes & zukes to repel cucumber beetles. Eat a few, but let several grow up by and through the plants you are protecting.
  • Leave a winter broccoli or two for salad side shoots. Mulch deeply under your brocs right now! We want to keep these cool loving plants cool. If you don’t have enough trellis space, plant cukes under your brocs! Broccoli helps repel cucumber beetles, so push the mulch back on the sunny side, make your special cucumber planting mound/basin and plant cucumbers underneath those brocs! The mulch does double duty. It keeps the cukes off the soil, clean and insect free above the bug zone!
  • Leave a couple of winter kale to provide over summer. Heat tolerant 1000 Headed Kale is a prolific choice that harbors less aphids on its FLAT leaves. Plant lettuces on the sunny side under your brocs and kale.
  • Eggplant likes it hot! Plant them where they will be sheltered from prevailing winds. Radishes with eggplants and cucumbers. Radishes are a trap plant for flea beetles. If your area is a little cool, plant the long skinny Ichiban Japanese eggies rather than the bulbous Black Beauties. Ichiban’s are prolific and quite tasty.
  • Lowest are the ‘littles’ or fillers! Being mindful of companions, scatter beets and carrots, lettuce, radish, here and there among, alongside, under larger plants on their sunny sides. Bunch onions away from beans. Some littles will be done before the bigger plants leaf out. For those still growing, remove or harvest lower leaves of the big plant when they start shading the littles. There isn’t really a need to allot separate space for littles except strawberries! They need a separate patch with more acidic soil to keep them healthy and be prolific producers!
  • If you love cabbages, plant a few more, but they take up a fair footprint for what they produce and they take quite a while to do it. In spring and summer choose quick maturing mini varieties.
  • SEED SAVING SPACE! Leave room for some arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery to go to flower to bring bees and beneficial insects! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next plantings. Carrots love being with cilantro, marigold and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb! Chamomile flowers make a lovely scent and the tea is sweet.
  • Pumpkin, melon, winter squash vines require some thoughtfulness. Pumpkin and winter squash vine leaves get as huge as healthy zucchini leaves, easily a foot wide! Mini melons have dainty 2″ wide little leaves, can be trellised, but they may do better on bare hot ground. Comparatively, it’s cool up on those trellises. A healthy winter squash vine can easily be 3′ to 4′ wide, 30′ long plus side vines, and produce a major supply of squash! You can use them as a border, as a backdrop along a fence line. In SoCal, unless you are a squash lover, or won’t be gardening in winter, there is question as to why you would grow winter squash at all. Greens of all kinds grow prolifically here all winter long, giving a fresh and beautiful supply of Vitamin A for less calories and no storage space!

Super use of your space! As winter plants finish, that space might be planted right away. Other space may need to be held for later. For example if you plan to plant okra in June, grow quick prolific producers there until it’s the right time to plant those heat lovers! Leafy plants produce continuously, and can be harvested whole body when you want the space. You will have lush harvests while you are waiting. Think of kales, chard, lettuce, beets, even mini dwarf cabbages. Perhaps you will leave some of them as understory plants and plant taller peppers like Poblanos or Big Jim Anaheims, and tomatoes among them. When the larger plants overtake the understory, either harvest the smaller plants, or remove or harvest lower leaves of larger plants to let the smaller ones get enough sun to keep producing abundantly. And you can always plant a quick growing legume, green manure, aka living mulch, to feed your soil!

Hardly anyone can resist planting early tomatoes! In this early cooler time, plant your lettuce leafies to the sunny side of where the toms will be planted. Pop your tomato seeds in when soil temps are good, or put your transplants in as you get them. That way you have table food soonest and your heart is happy too! Here are a couple tips from James M Stephens at Florida University Extension: Tomato plants 4–5 weeks old grow and yield better than older transplants.

He also says when setting your transplant into the soil, do not compress the soil around the roots. √ Gently pour water into the hole to settle the soil around the roots. After the transplanting water has dried a bit, cover the wet spot with dry soil to reduce evaporation. 

See Tomatoes at Cornell! Here are special instructions for planting and tending tomatoes and cucumbers where the soil is known to have verticillium or fusarium wilts fungi. All our Santa Barbara City community gardens have them. Some gardeners plant toms in May to avoid moist soils.

Choose early cold tolerant varieties. Ones with northern names, in SoCal that could be Oregon Spring, or Siberian. Stupice from Czechoslovakia is very early! Bellstar, from Ontario Canada, is larger and earlier than other plum tomatoes. Early Girl is a favorite! And SunGold cherry tomatoes are almost always a winner! Cherry toms are small and will ripen when other tomatoes just stay green until the 4th of July!

Soil Temperature ThermometerSoil temp matters. Though the soil may become fairly warm quickly in days to come, day length is still important. No matter how early you plant some plants, they still won’t produce fruit until they have enough hours of sun, and for some, warmth including day and/or night and/or ground temps. If they miss their window, they may never produce at all…better to pull and replant. Keep growing those leafy producers – lettuce, chard, kale – in that space and plant the right plants at the right good time! See Best Soil Temps

Start seedlings indoors now for March/April plantings. If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, just wait, get transplants and pop them right in the ground per their right times!

Right now, from seed in the ground, sow beets, caraway, celery, carrots, chard, chervil, chives, collards, cilantro (coriander), dill, endive, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces, mustards, green onions, bulb onion sets, flat-leafed parsley, peas – mildew resistant varieties, white potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, and turnips. Get bolt resistant/slow bolt varieties, and especially heat and drought tolerant varieties.

Along with deciding plant locations, get ready for Summer Gardening!

  • Install gopher barriers.
  • Get netting or bendable wire like aviary for bird protection.
  • Install or repair pathways, berms. Lay in straw, boards, pallets, stepping stones.
  • Waffle Garden, basins & windbreaks, Water Garden. Excellent drought choices.
  • Gather cages & trellises
  • Terrace slopes to prevent water runoff and topsoil loss. Mulch, secure the mulch. Plant with living mulch.
  • Build raised beds, Hugelkultur
  • Get new containers
  • Setup Compost areas – enclosures, area to compost in place
  • Organize where you will keep straw bales for summer mulch, compost layers

Spring planting soil prep! Save time by adding all your amendments at the same time! See more

  • Compost! The amount of compost to use varies, depending on your soil’s condition, plant selection, compost quality, and availability. A guideline offered by Cornell University (veggies – bottom of Pg 4) says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil!
  • Add well aged manure as appropriate. Less in spring because you want fruit production, not leaf, unless it is a plant grown for its leaves, like lettuce, kale or cabbage! None for carrots, peas or beans.
  • Add 25% worm castings. As little as 10% works. They are potent – increase germination, faster seedling growth, help with plant immunities to disease.
  • 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.
  • Sprinkle with a tad of coffee grounds to reduce fungal rots and wilts!! 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!
  • Don’t cover with mulch unless you need it for erosion control. Covered soil is cooler. Let your winter cool soil warm up. Do mulch under broccoli and kale you will be keeping over summer. They do best with cool conditions.
  • Water your prepped areas when you water your other veggies. Moist, not flooded, soil is rampant with soil organisms enriching your soil for free!

Keep COMPOSTING! You are going to need it for summer plants! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, soil organisms flourish, it’s nutrients are released in perfect timing! And if you made it, you know what’s in it! Make it HOT, Cold, or In Place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist. See more

One more round of green manure is doable where you will plant late April, May. Grow it where you will grow heavy summer feeders like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard. Green manure can be beautiful favas, bell beans, or a legume mix to boost soil Nitrogen. Favas are big and you get a lot of green manure per square foot. With our warming weather, longer days, your green manure will grow quickly! As soon as it begins to flower, whack it down, chop into small bits. Let it lay on the soil 2 days to 2 weeks, then turn under. Wait two to three weeks then plant, plant, plant! It’s more tender to chop while it’s smaller. Taller is not better. Depending on which plants you choose, the process takes about 3 1/2 months.

Sidedressing! Hard working plants need fuel and water. As broccoli starts to head, give it a fish/kelp tonic or compost/casting/manure tea! After the main head is cut, your side shoots will flourish!

Pests!

When you put in seeds, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from vanishing upcoming seedlings overnight, making you think they never came up! No, they didn’t let you down. Killing off the creatures ahead of time saves the babies. It stops new transplants from being seriously damaged or entirely mowed while they are small. Do this a few times, to knock off the generations, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while.

Pull away those blotchy sections the leafminers make on chard and beet leaves. Remove whole leaves that are too funky for rescue. Harvest the bigger outer lower leaves more often to stay ahead of the miners. I believe sometimes the leafminers come when the beet needs to be harvested, when the foliage is just past prime. Rather than row planting, letting the leafminers go from plant to plant, interplant, a few here, a few there. Water a tad less so leaves are less soft and inviting.

Aphids Watch for leaves unnaturally curled along the length of the leaf, particularly broccolis, cauliflowers, kale, cabbages. Check at the center where the tiny new leaves are beginning. Hose aphids off chard, kale and brocs. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed. After that, water them a little less.

  • For hard to get at places, down the centers of chard, crinkly kale leaves, get out that spray bottle! Treat once, wait a couple days, treat again for the ones that got away and newborns.
  • I tried it, it WORKS! The simplest is to spray with 2 Parts alcohol, 2 parts water, 1 part soap. DO NOT use on seedlings, it will kill some of them. Spritz lightly rather than drenching or you may kill your bigger plant too!
  • Ants nest near water and don’t like cinnamon. Sprinkle cinnamon around the base of your plant but not on the stem. Repeat if necessary after watering.

Whiteflies Flush away, especially under leaves. Remove any yellowing leaves, especially on your Brassicas, that attract whiteflies. Again, a little less water.

Prevention  A frustrating typical disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on Curly Leaf kales, peas. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day if transplanting. A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin crushed and dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! See Aspirin Solution.

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants.

Soil Checks! Especially after recent rains, check your root crops – beets, carrots, radish, potatoes, turnips, in general, for low soil. Soil naturally compacts with watering. Some of these veggies naturally push right up above ground as they grow. Planting their seeds deeper doesn’t compensate. It’s the nature of the veggie! Never hurts to put a handy little pile of extra soil near where you plant them. Cover their exposed shoulders to keep them from drying, getting tough, sometimes bitter, needing peeling, losing the nutrients in their skins. Uncovered carrot shoulders don’t ripen but stay green. Same with potatoes.
Grass in Flower, soon to Seed

Watering & Weeding is important after rains. Winds dry soil quickly and roots of short rooted plants like peas, or seedlings need to be kept moist. Some rains wet only 1/4″ deep or less. Poke your finger into the soil and see if it is moist deep enough to reach the roots of your plants.

  • Thinning is a form of weeding! Thin plants that need it, like beets whose seeds start in foursomes! Thin plants you intentionally over planted – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, mustard, radish! If you planted too close together, take out shorter, smaller weaker plants. They are all great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves. If you don’t thin, plants grown for their roots don’t have room or nutrition to grow that root. They literally starve each other out. So thin sooner than later. If you miss the window, thin or not, you won’t get your root.
  • Dust Mulching, cultivation, breaks up the soil surface, keeps water from wicking to the surface and evaporating. If you use a hula hoe you do two things at once! Just a half to one inch depth cuts off weed sprouts. Indeed, it turns the soil a tad, all that’s needed. More weeds will follow, but it’s quick and easy to repeat the process. Two, three times, a few days apart, and there will be few weeds after that for a while. Get ’em while they are small and easy to do. Smart gardening.

When you are weeding, remove blooming or seeding plants first!!! When grass has those pretty frilly little green tops, it is blooming and seeding! Remove it ASAP. Better yet is to remove weeds before they seed! If at the seeding stage, gently pull, don’t shake the soil loose from the roots spreading seeds all over, and don’t put them in your compost!

Love it up this February! Looking forward to a fine spring season! 

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are 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!

I’m so grateful for having all you garden friends in my life! I love sharing, gardening, learning, being outdoors in all kinds of weather together! Please enjoy some lovely Pilgrim Terrace January images!

See the entire February 2018 GBC Newsletter!

February Soil Preps, Very First Spring Planting!

Tomato Varieties! Humble to Humongous and More!
Soil for Seed Starting! DIY, Pre-made
German Chamomile: Easy to Grow, Easy to Use!

Upcoming Gardener Events! 48th Annual EARTH DAY Santa Barbara!

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

Read Full Post »

Mulch Living Missoula Montana Permaculture Sustainable FarmLast month we looked at Leaf Mold, Mulch or Compost. That’s from the end of life of tree leaves. This month I would like you to take a think about Living Mulch! It is by contrast, an ongoing sustainable green process that produces more and more Nitrogen right where you can use it. It’s generally a faster process by far! You may be a little challenged to figure out how to use it in your specific garden, and you may choose not to, but it may be a perfect option for many reasons.

I use it for my strawberry patch each year. When weather cools and the berries produce little, I pull them, plant my living mulch, green manure, close to Oct 1 for mid January bareroot berry planting. If I have a soil area that is producing less than spectacularly, I plant that area about Dec 1 in time to be ready for early spring planting mid March. Clearly, if you are in northern snow zones, you may need to rotate areas, plant living mulch in an area every three years maybe. In SoCal you might forego planting a ‘winter’ garden and instead plant living mulch. It will need watering, but while it’s working hard to make great soil, you can have a wee rest.


Looking to find what plants to grow as a Living Mulch under Rat’s Tail Radishes started my inquiry! I was delighted to find this permaculture farm site with these terrific details based on experience with references to university (non commercial) research. It’s the real deal since their income depends on successful sustainable growing near Missoula, Montana in a northern short season!

Living mulch can easily be done by planting closely and letting the leaves of the plants completely shade your soil keeping it cool and moist. In summer, living mulch might look like beets or carrots, or differently colored lettuces planted a little more densely on the sunny side under a larger plant like peppers, or at the base of your bean trellis. In SoCal winter it could be cilantro, beets, carrots and lettuce under your broccoli or surrounding your kale, at the feet of your pea trellis. Or if you can’t eat that much, you could toss a mix of legume seeds under your plants to feed your soil as well!

What else could you do? You might like to prepare your current pathway for crop rotation – using it to plant in next season. Maybe you have an area you would like to convert to a veggie garden, or you have a patch where you want to restore the soil before planting again.

When you read this, you will think like a farmer! After you’ve got it, then think how to apply this info to your own garden. These excerpts from http://www.veganicpermaculture.com/agroecology.html have some more technical language and information, but take it slowly. Sometimes I have to read one paragraph at a time, several times, when I’m taking in new dense information. It’s worth the read. You won’t be the same afterwards, and there are some surprises. Go directly to their page to get the whole read, see all the backup images and videos! But read this too, because I’ve made comments for home gardeners and SoCal timing along the way and at the end….


You can grow your own fertilizer with living mulches. Living plants used as mulches have an advantage over dead mulches, such as straw and hay. They affect soils both above and below the ground. They grow with and around main crops and are usually green, succulent, and full of nutrients, with a well-developed root system. This root system works its way into the earth, opens up the soil, and feeds the soil food web all season long, if living mulches are managed properly.

Over time, living mulches improve soils and build the skeletal framework which holds plant nutrients so that they are available when plants need them. This is because living mulches add organic material into the soil without disturbing it. When mowed regularly or tilled into the soil, living mulches add plant nutrients for free, including the big three: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as sulfur, calcium, and micronutrients. When compared to plants grown without mulch in bare soil, legume living mulches produce higher vegetable yields. Leaf cover and yields of bush green beans was higher when planted into a killed stand of hairy vetch. Corn yields were higher in red clover that had been killed in strips. Though fruit maturity was delayed, yields of tomatoes grown in hairy vetch were higher and fruit weights were greater than in bare soil treatments.

Soil organic matter acts like a big sponge soaking up water and releasing it slowly when needed. However, in the short term, most living mulches steal soil water from crops when both are actively growing, especially early spring through early summer. Living mulches hold onto and recycle soil water when NOT actively growing. In one study, corn grown in mowed hairy vetch struggled for water during the first 1 to 4 weeks after planting. But, by two to four weeks after planting, soil moisture levels were the same as in bare soil treatments. Soil water levels were higher than in bare soil after four weeks. In other words, over time living mulches can conserve moisture in your garden, but in the short term, especially right after planting, they compete with crops for soil water.

Living mulches provide diversity and a legume crop rotation which is the foundation of disease suppression in all organic gardens and farming systems. In my 17-year living mulch vegetable production system, disease problems simply dropped off the radar, including cabbage worms. In a 2- year study, we discovered that the living mulch was providing a home for many kinds of predators who were controlling cabbage worms in our commercial plantings of broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.

IMPORTANT to know! In cold, wet soil, living mulches may encourage disease and some pests such as slugs or snails. Researchers from South Dakota found lower seedling emergence and survival and higher amounts of disease-causing fungi in clover and hairy vetch mulched fields, when crops were planted during cool weather. But many other studies indicate that several insect pests are controlled in living mulch as compared to bare soil plots. Several species of both specific and generalist predator and parasite populations [the good guys] have been shown to increase in living mulch plots.

When hairy vetch and rye residues covered at least 90% of the soil in one study, weed density was decreased by 78%. Living mulches can fight weeds by “smothering” them, and by utilizing all the water and nutrients so that weeds are starved and cannot invade. Combinations of grasses and legumes are best for smothering weeds.

When to plant your Living Mulch – There are 3 kinds!

  1. ANNUAL LIVING MULCHES. Plant in the spring. In cold climates they are killed by below freezing winter temperatures.
  2. BIENNIAL LIVING MULCHES Plant in the spring. Will grow foliage the first season, overwinter and then flower, set seed, and die the next growing season.
  3. PERENNIAL LIVING MULCHES Plant in late summer/early fall or in spring

You want to read this! For fascinating details on which plants to plant at which times and details about each so you make the very best choice, see their page.

Important points! Once you have chosen the right living mulch for your particular area and need, develop a management plan. You can keep living mulches from becoming too competitive by mowing, lightly tilling, rolling, or keeping them dry (withholding irrigation).

  • Mulches should be mowed and left to sit on the soil surface for two days to two weeks before incorporating into the soil. Your management timing affects pest management.
  • Keep mulches short in wet, humid weather to avoid disease.
  • Mow mulches if annual weeds begin to pop their heads through in order to avoid weed seed production.
  • For FAST plant nutrient cycling, till living mulches into the soil in late spring 2-4 weeks before planting.

Ok, so when you plant living mulch, say for your annual mid Jan bareroot strawberry patch…here’s the schedule:

  1. Oct 1 plant your living mulch – put this on your garden calendar! If Bell beans are in your seed mix, or are your choice, they take a couple months to mature.
  2. About Dec 1 chop down/mow, chop up your living mulch and let it lay on the surface two weeks. If Bell beans are in the mix, chop the mix down and into small pieces when the beans flower and the stalks are still tender. Keep your chopped mulch moist, not wet, until it is tilled in. Being moist aids decomposition.
  3. Mid Dec till in your living mulch for mid January bareroot planting. The little white balls on the roots are like a beautiful little string of pearls. Those are the Nitrogen nodules legume plants make that we are growing them for! At this time add any other amendments you want. Strawberries like slightly acidic soil, so I add store bought Azalea/Camellia acid compost. It’s fluffy and adds water holding capacity.

If you are preparing for early SoCal spring planting mid March, that translates to planting your living mulch, again based on your choice of plant(s), right about Dec 1. If you miss that window, plant a faster grower! Clovers and vetch grow quickly and vigorously, or ask your local nursery, feed store person or farmers what they have or what plant will do the job.

Legumes are prime living mulch choices because they make (fix nitrogen from the atmosphere) for other crops. But, they only give up that fixed nitrogen when they die or are tilled into the soil, or over time if they are mowed and the residue is left on the soil surface as a mulch. Actively growing legumes do not USE as much nitrogen as non-legumes, but they do not GIVE UP nitrogen to the soil or other plants when they are actively growingLegumes do not fix nitrogen at equal rates, or under all conditions. Nitrogen fixation rates are decreased by low (< 40 to 50o F) soil temperatures and stop at freezing temperatures. Nitrogen fixation rates vary among legume species. For example, clovers, sweet clovers, medics, and vetch provide 0.1 to 2.5 lbs of nitrogen per 100 sq ft. Alfalfa provides six pounds of nitrogen per 100 sq ft.!

I use Island Seed & Feed’s Harmony mix – Bell beans, Austrian Peas, Vetch and Oats. Oats grow deep into the soil opening air and water channels, bring up nutrients. Get the inoculant that goes with it. After you broadcast your seeds, roll them or if a small space, lay down a piece of plywood or a board and press them into the soil so the seeds have good soil contact and will stay more moist longer when watered. Water gently overhead with a fine spray so soil isn’t washed away and soil contact lost, seeds aren’t swooshed to a low spot. Immediately cover with raised aviary wire, or your choice of material, to keep them from being bird food! How quickly that can happen! Keep them moist, especially if there is hot weather.

You can plant living mulch at any time, depending on your climate, among your existing plants. Living mulch plants shade the soil, some suppress weeds, while they are living, then feed the soil when you till them in after your plants are done. Just choose ones for the right time of year. Plant your garden pathways with ones that can stand being walked on. Till that in and plant there next season!

HOW AND WHEN TO CONTROL YOUR LIVING MULCH

The way living mulches are managed in our [Montana] gardens determines what benefits we derive from them. Legumes contribute most to soil fertility if they are mowed or tilled into the soil. Nutrient release is much slower if the living mulch is mowed and not tilled in. But, some studies indicate that nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium levels are best increased in the soil over the long term when crop residues are left on the surface, rather than tilled into the soil. Nitrogen release by cover crops depends on temperatures and humidity levels. The warmer the weather, the more quickly residues will release their nitrogen. Studies at North Carolina State indicate that 75% of the nitrogen in some legume cover crops is released within seven to ten weeks after mowing if residues are left on the surface. If the residues are tilled under, nitrogen release is quicker and may be accomplished within four to eight weeks. In cooler weather, nitrogen release can take much longer. In my experiments in Montana in a very microbially active soil, nitrogen release occurred 2 to four weeks after tilling red clover into the soil. There is a lag time of at least two weeks during which nitrogen and phosphorus will be tied up in the soil food web digesting wheel (This lag is called immobilization because soil microbes are using the same nutrients that plants need and thus immobilizing them, or making them temporarily unavailable to plants). Plan for this and wait two to four weeks after mowing or tilling the living mulch before planting main crops. Waiting at least two weeks to plant will also reduce the chance of increased disease organisms, which can be favored by an addition of fresh (particularly succulent and green) residue.

Mowed cover crop residue left on the surface to decompose needs to be kept moist (but not wet!) for at least the first five to seven weeks after mowing to enhance decomposition.

Some living mulches may need light tillage. Light tillage equates to walking your rototiller quickly over the surface of the living mulch. Do not let the tiller tines go into the soil more than one to two inches. If residue is buried deeper than several inches below the soil surface, decomposition time will be longer and anaerobic conditions may occur. Remember that soil microorganisms require oxygen to do their job.

Cover crops can also be managed with a rake. Rake the cover crop vigorously until the soil is exposed. Cornell University research indicates that disturbing living mulch cover crops by using light tillage is most successful in July. This is also the time when most summer crops are particularly resource demanding and hence it is a time when living mulches are most likely to compete with crops.

RIGHT INOCULANT FOR YOUR LEGUME COVER CROPS

Inoculation of legume cover crops is suggested. Inoculants consist of species-specific bacteria that associate with legume roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Use the correct inoculants for the cover crop. Alfalfa and yellow and white sweet clovers share the same inoculants; true clovers share another; peas and hairy vetch share a third; garden beans and field beans share a fourth. Purchase inoculants when purchasing seed.

Some living mulches are allelopathic. This means that they biochemically inhibit the growth of other plants. Mustard family types, such as rape and black mustard, are good examples of allelopathic living mulches. Allelopathy can be used to help control weeds; on the other hand, crops can be adversely affected, particularly seeded crops [meaning seeds don’t germinate well or at all].

Seeded crops, like lettuce, can be inhibited by some living mulches, such as mustard, but usually only if the living mulch is tilled into the soil and a crop seeded immediately after. The allelopathic reaction dissipates in time. For example, the compound in plants from the mustard family [includes Brassicas] that is most responsible for its allelopathic reaction loses 80 percent of its punch within two weeks. Plant main crops three to five weeks after mowing or turning under any living mulches suspected of exhibiting allelopathy.


Living Mulch is a superior choice. Give it some thought. Carefully read up on it. Keep your notes. Every gardener’s situation is different – what you grow, your weather, how much time you have, how much production you need. Living mulch is a sustainable choice.

There are two SoCal standard times to plant living mulch to do soil restoration. One is early October to be in time for January bareroot strawberry and berry vine plantings. The other is December/January for early spring plantings. Or you can opt to not plant an area for production that year and plant living mulch anytime if you live in an area that freezes in winter.

In Santa Barbara area, Island Seed & Feed carries legume seeds and mixes by the pound and the inoculants you need. Plus, it’s a fun place to visit! They also carry LOTS of other seeds and local organic seeds as well! (Pet supplies too!)

You don’t need to do a large area. Do a test run. This year try a pathway with living mulch you can walk on instead of a board, concrete steps or straw! If you do a pathway, mound it up before you plant so when it compacts as you walk on it, it will stay level rather than dipping lower and collecting water, making mud. Restore an area where you will grow heavy feeders next spring. When you are eating bigger tomatoes right off the plant you will be happy and feel quite virtuous.

Excerpts from http://www.veganicpermaculture.com/agroecology.html


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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are 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!

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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.

Bushel of tasty String Beans in a Basket!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 65°F 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 spadesfuls of soil from last year’s bean patch into new planting sites.

Beans like days to be at least 70° and nights to dip no lower than 40°. 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, 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°. They are frost tender and should not be planted until the soil has warmed up to 65°, some say 70°! 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 65°F.

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°, 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° 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.

California Wonder Peppers Changing Color - Eden Brothers imagePEPPERS, 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°, 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°, pepper growth accelerates. Plants may become stunted and never recover if either the soil or air temperature is much below 55°.

  • 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° and 75°. 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°, it stops completely. If soil temperatures drop below 68°, 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° and nights to dip no lower than 40°. Summer squashes grow best in air temperatures ranging from 60° to 75°F.

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

Tomatoes, Red Slicers and Cherries!

TOMATOES

I add a good dose of animal manures and compost, and my usuals to the planting hole –- a huge handful of bone meal – for later blossoms, a handful of non-fat powdered milk – for the immune system, worm castings – immune system, a tad of coffee grounds. 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% 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 – select heat tolerant varieties
High Nighttime Temperatures – above 70° F – select heat tolerant varieties
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 Thermometer VeggiesMany 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 super tasty abundant harvests!

Updated April 2018

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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 No Till Lasagna Compost in Place, Sheet Mulching,

No Till Gardening aka Lasagna Gardening… Beds are finished. Push aside grass clippings to plant seeds or seedlings. Read the story, get the details! Start making living soil asap! 

Grow Green Manure  SoCal’s two best starting times are October 1st for mid January bare root plantings, and January 1 for April heat lover plantings! Adjust as you need for your own timing needs. Plant legumes for Nitrogen, oats to loosen the soil down deep. It takes two to three months depending on which plants you choose to grow. If bell beans are one of your choices in a mix, when it starts to bloom, chop your green manure down. Let it lay on top of the soil 2 to 3 weeks, keeping it moist. Add whatever other amendments you choose and turn it all under. Let it sit 2 to 3 weeks more so the soil organisms can decompose it and build soil structure. If you have heavy clay soil or are in a drought or dry, windy area, add Sphagnum Peat Moss to both loosen your soil and increase water holding capacity and more compost too. Probably the fluffy store bought compost with a lot of texture will do the best. Let the mix sit until you no longer see the green ingredients. Keep it moist, not muddy, so the soil organisms will work all the way to the top. See more: Cover Crops  Living Mulch

Make Compost!

No time for Green Manure? First week of January might be the latest time you want to start growing your green manure so you can plant late March, first two weeks of April. So if you won’t be planting by then, add your home grown organic compost or the best you can buy that has worm castings (especially for planting seeds – speeds germination), mycorrhizal fungi for spring planting, some peat to help make humus to keep your soil loose.

Some nurseries, especially locals that depend on your business, are quite trustworthy about what they stock for you. Box stores, nurseries that sell for volume, may just want you and it out the door. Really take a good look at that ingredients list. If there is no list, you likely aren’t getting a very whole food for your veggies. Look at what is in that compost bag when you open it. If there are chunks of recognizable materials, you need to find out if the compost has been nitrogen stabilized – they’ve added enough nitrogen to balance the carbon. Otherwise, Nitrogen required for decomposition is robbed from your plants. It should have no ammonia smell that indicates immature compost that might damage your plants. The only smell you want coming from that bag is for it to be like the forest floor, sweet and earthy.

In SoCal drought times, or garden in a dry, windy area, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Sphagnum Peat Moss or coir can be added, but not too much peat because it can make your soil slightly acidic. If you have heavy clay soil, they will also loosen your soil.

Compost is totally easy to make. There are many methods, but the simplest and fastest technique has always been putting fine chopped kitchen waste and healthy garden trim in mini 6 to 8″ deep trenches or areas! Soil organisms are at work and it completely disappears in less than 2 weeks, and you don’t have to move it, it’s already in place and ready to plant in! If the soil there is too dense, you can add store bought compost that has a little fluff, more water holding capacity.

If you need to collect a little compost in place, there are no open trenching spaces available right now, you can make layered compost in a compost enclosure or pit if you wish. 1″ green/wet to 2″ brown dry. You can turn it or not. Research shows not turning it has more Nitrogen. There are many different compost devices. You can use one or just make a pile wherever it makes sense, but do put it in the sun and keep it slightly moist so it stays active and you actually get some compost! Compost making methods!

Tasty soil is loaded with nutrients! What you put in your compost makes a difference. High quality organic kitchen scraps sure beats cardboard and newspaper. Same thing with your worms. Newspaper isn’t exactly food, doesn’t occur in nature. As is said, ‘You are what your food eats.’ Give your compost the best you have or can get. Prevail on your neighbors or family to save their waste for your compost or to feed your worms. Make it easy for them to do the process. Some will deliver it to you because they believe in it and want to help. You may have to make a pickup from others.

No till, no dig, gardening a.k.a. Lasagna Gardening ~ Another way to Compost!

You can do this on top of your lawn, or do a raised bed in the garden you already have! A word to the wise! First, install gopher protection.

If you have the time and materials, composting in place, sheet mulching, has the single most advantage of not having to haul anything anywhere once done! It’s already right where you want it! Lay down your compost materials. Put the ones that would act like tea at the top so when the pile is watered that good stuff drizzles down. The smaller the bits, the faster the decomposition. Chop ’em up!

Depending on your materials you may choose to turn the pile a couple times to blend and mix the materials in the layers. Rather than using a shovel, a spade fork or pitchfork might work, better. If you have them, add worms after all turning is done so they won’t be injured. The worms will add their castings for you! Possibly, ‘inoculate’ your pile with a wee bit of already processing compost or top rate soil that has working soil organisms in it. Know that an 18″ pile will soon become a 9″ pile, so don’t be afraid to build high!

If you want it sooner, cover and ‘cook’ it with black plastic for 6 weeks results when temps are high enough. Worms will be ok. They will go to the bottom of the pile. Depending on availability and preferences, what you layer on will undoubtedly vary from someone else’s project, but your garden bed is made! Now you wait. Let it sit. The hard work is at the front, the rest is ‘low maintenance!’ Done ‘right’ you have less weeds and it needs less water! Read the story that goes with the image above – get more ideas and all the details!

Another terrific way to make a sustainable pile is to do it Hugelkultur style! Your pile starts with logs! The logs and branches soak up water and hold it, so less water to none is needed after the first year. The right hardwood logs will give your plants steady nutrition for 20 or more years! You can do this with many variables depending on materials available and your needs – from containers to the hill method! See more and see how!

Add Manure

Cow manure is better than steer manure if you can get it. Chicken manure is good. Less of it does more. Be careful of free horse manure. It can be salty, and if the stalls have been sprayed to repel flies, you’ve got toxins. All manures need to be very well composted, except bunny poo, which you can sometimes get free at shelters. Different bird guanos do different things per NPK, but mainly they take a long time in the ground before they become available to your plant. Study up on them before applying them.

Worm Castings! 

In nature, worms are a natural part of moist soil. In addition to soil nutrients, it’s smart to add worm castings. They speed germination of your seeds, seedlings grow faster. Worm castings help your plant’s immune system, and you have measurably more produce! Plants like strawberries, that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew! Growing your own worms and harvesting vibrant fresh castings is ideal, but if you don’t have time, simply buy the best organic, local if possible, castings you can get! More about growing worms!

The ideal ratio, depending on your soil, is 25% castings. You can see that is a lot of castings if you have a 10X20 foot area. Use your precious castings wisely. Use them in seed beds, planting holes, around ailing plants, or heavy producers.

The worms used for making castings are surface feeders, red wigglers. If you trench your compost, add some of them. If you do sheet composting – composting in place, set up a no-dig Lasagna Garden, install some worms! If you don’t turn your compost, add a handful of worms to your compost pile and keep the pile moist. If you turn your compost, don’t add them – you could injure or kill them. In dry times cover composting ground areas with mulch so the compost will be dark and moist, and your worms safe from birds. If your pile is moist enough, cover it before rains. Shade slows things down; put your compost in the sun!

Compost Tea Bu's Brew Biodynamic Malibu BagTeas offer increased nutrient availability!

First, Temp and Timing matters, especially to the home gardener brewing outside, not using a brewing system. The microbes we want are the most happy at about 75 F, a comfy room temp for us too. Put your brew out of direct sunlight. Making tea outdoors generally doesn’t work in winter, even in SoCal. So if you can, make it indoors. If you need to transport it, you may need to put it in smaller covered containers.

Why wait until your plants are in the ground to add teas?! Start feeding your soil soonest! Mix ’em up. Put compost, manure/fish emulsion, castings, chopped nutritious comfrey/borage/tansy leaves all in a bucket together – adding one volume of compost to 4-10 volumes of water. Let them sit overnight, a couple of days, stir a couple times, when you think of it. Get a spade fork, the kind with the short wide tines. Push it all the way into the soil, wiggle it back and forth to make holes, lift it straight up back out. Pour in your tea. Push soil in the holes. Your plants will thrive!

If you are foliar feeding, put your ingredients in a stocking, sock, or bag. Let the ingredients settle or strain it so it won’t clog up your gear. Use a watering can with a head that rotates so you can spray both on and under leaves, wetting the whole plant.

About that comfrey. It is especially nutritious! Mash it in a mortar & pestle. That makes it easier to stuff into a stocking, sock or bag, and speeds decomposition. Put the comfrey in loosely, not too firmly, so the water can circulate around it.

Here’s another recipe and instructions from Shelle

  1. 2 cups worm castings [or your choice of ingredients]
  2. 2 tablespoons corn syrup or molasses. Molasses feeds the bacterial growth in the brew and also contributes trace elements of iron, manganese, copper and potassium.
  3. 5 gallon bucket
  4. Old sock or pantyhose (no holes), a bag
  5. Water (rainwater is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate)
  • Put the castings (etc) in the sock and tie it closed
  • Submerge the stocking in water
  • Add the corn syrup and soak for 24 hours, stirring every few hours. Your mix should never be stinky. Like good compost, it should smell earthy.
  • Dilute to a 3 to 1 ratio, use within 48 hours

There are many tea making methods, from the simplest like above, to technical and elaborate with plenty of debate over different ways. Aerobic brewed teas have much higher microbe population densities than extracted teas and for this reason are the teas of choice. A good head of foam and scum on top signifies healthy microbe action! Try out different methods for yourself if you have the time and the gear, and love researching. Whichever you choose, your soil will come alive again as the organisms start thriving. Your soil will have greater water holding capacity, a resiliency, the aeration it needs from the burrowing of soil creatures.

If you have your plant placements in mind, be sure to invest your teas out to the anticipated dripline so feeder roots will get some.

Teas are perfect for container gardens, right?! You can buy ready made tea bags. No digging, just feeding.

See more important details about teas and tea making! Teas! Compost, Manure, Worm Castings Brews!

Soil pH

Most veggies do best with slightly alkaline soil but will be ok a little to one side or the other. Definite acidic soil lovers are strawberries, blueberries, cranberries. Composts for camellias, azaleas, are perfect!

Do or Buy!

Three of the main components of top grade soil are ones you can grow/make on your own – green manure, compost, worm castings. Teas you can make from compost and castings. For most urban gardeners it is a trip to the nursery for manures, but you can certainly make your own tea with it! Compost and castings are totally available, some from organic local venders. I emphasize doing your own when possible. You will know what’s in it and it’s 100% fresh and alive!

There is some good ready made stuff you can get. There’s heroic satisfaction in toting those bags on your shoulder or filling the wheelbarrow and rolling it in, almost spilling the load on the way… Digging in your valuable ingredients gives you a feeling of virtue – LOL, worthiness, contributing. And oh how your garden grows!!!

At the same time, lay on your compost, manure, and Sphagnum, any other favorite amendments, and turn it in all at once, blending it with your soil. Castings are usually added separately unless you have enough for the whole area. Reserve some of your castings, compost and manure to make teas. Where you run out of materials, use the tea to help that soil.

A few more tips!

If you have had rain, wait until your soil is not so wet that it sticks to your shovel. If you are digging your amendments in, do minimal digging; leave clumps when you can to maintain soil structure. Disturb soil organisms, worms, the least possible. We want to leave their air and water channels intact so your soil stays aerated and moist. Make beds in your garden that are comfortably reachable without stepping on your soil. Make pathways, either with boards that distribute your weight or lay down straw or other organic material to make a pathway that will decompose and become rich soil for next year’s plantings when you move the path! In other words, don’t compact and crush your fluffy healthy soil!

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

See also SoCal Fall/Winter Veggie Soil Care Tips for Delicious Returns!

Updated 12.27.18

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’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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