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Archive for the ‘Worm Castings’ Category

Tasty Red Bell Pepper, Tomatoes, Edible Garlic Flowers!

Edible Garlic chive blossoms on beautiful thick walled red bell pepper!
Image by super gardener Kenny Point in Pennsylvania

Peppers are not just food, they are an adventure that spices your life! They are not just a veggie, but an edible garden beauty in your landscape!

Peppers Come in an Amazing Array! 

Mini to Mammoth! Tiny brain wrecking hot chilis, dainty mini to humongous sweet Bells! Early maturing thin walled, later thick walled. Short, long – pointy, round. Ones that hang down, others that point up!

Peppers come in colors you won’t believe! How about these super thick walled Jupiter Sweet Burgundy! On the right are 8″ colossal beauties Yellow Monster Peppers! Really sweet, meaty, great fresh, fried or roasted!

Peppers Varieties - Burgundy Bell, Yellow Monsters, Fish, HOT Chile Numex Twilight

Striped, one of the prettiest peppers ever, Fish Pepper, above left, is an African-American heirloom that predates the 1870s. It starts out an unusual cream color striped with green, the fruits ripen to orange with brown stripes, before turning all red. Super for containers! At right is beautiful Numex Twilight. It can produce more than 100 small pretty pods! At 100,000 Scoville Units, it’s HOT! Respect.

Smart Choices!

  • Disease resistant If your land is moist, hybrids are probably going to do better for you than heirlooms. In coastal Santa Barbara CA we usually have a late spring/summer fog belt/marine layer, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Choose Resistant varieties per the list below and also Potato Yellow Mosaic Virus, Pepper Mottle Virus and  Cucumber Mosaic Virus.
    x
    Pepper Resistance Codes:(BLS 1-3) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1-3)
    (BLS 1-2) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1, 2)
    (PC) Phytophthora Root Rot
    (PVY) Potato Virus Y
    (TEV) Tobacco Etch Virus
    (TM 0-2) Tobamovirus (Races 0-2)
    (TM 0-3) Tobamovirus (Races 0-3)
    (TMV) Tobacco Mosaic VirusHere are recommended varieties by UC Davis in California. TMV is Tobacco Mosaic Virus, PVY is Potato Virus Y. AAS is a super plus! It is an All America Selections winner!
    x
    Hotx
    Tam Mild Jalapeno (mild heat with Jalapeno flavor) PVY
    Jalapeno M (very hot)
    Anaheim TMR 23 (chili pepper, moderately hot) TMV
    Anaheim (standard hot chill)
    Cayenne Long Red Slim (hot)
    Hungarian Yellow Wax (popular for canning, moderately hot)
    Serrano Chili Pepper (tabasco type)Sweet Bell
    Bell Boy AAS, TMV
    California Wonder TMV
    Yolo Wonder TMV
    Keystone Resistant Giant TMV
    Jupiter TMV
    Golden Summer Hybrid (yellow when fully mature) TMV
    Golden Bell (yellow when fully mature)
    Early Pimento (used fresh or for canning) AAS
    Sweet Yellow or Cubanelle Sweet Banana AAS
    Gypsy AAS, TMV
    Hy-Fry
    Cubanene
    x
  • Heat tolerant
    x
    Peppers are a Solanacea like tomatoes, and like tomatoes they produce poorly during high temperatures. Banana, ‘Gypsy’ and pimento produce very well, despite the heat. Jessie Keith says ‘super spicy classic jalapeno ‘Tula’, wonderfully flavorful pasilla-type pepper ‘Holy Molé’ (2007 AAS Winner), and classic spicy sweet red bell pepper ‘Mexibell’ (1988 AAS Winner). Of the sweet bell peppers nothing beats the tough, [thick walled] disease-resistant ‘Orange Blaze’ (2011 AAS Winner) and its crisp, bright orange peppers.’ Heirloom Olympus (65 days green, 85 days red) has large bell peppers on medium-sized plants with good leaf cover. They are high-yielding plants, are heat tolerant and can set fruit under a wide range of conditions. MG Seed Stock. If you planted varieties that are more heat susceptible, put up a shade cloth cover. Depending on the density you select, shade cloth can lower the temperature by approximately 5-15 degrees. If you live in a hot area, bell pepper transplants can be planted in August for fall production when the weather cools down.
    x
  • Drought tolerant Look for the terms drought tolerant, drought resistant, dry farmed when searching for the best variety for your garden. It’s important to know that drought tolerant doesn’t necessarily mean heat tolerant and vice versa, so stay alert if you need both. When you are buying seeds, consider the location of the seed company. Perhaps local seed houses will understand your needs best. Check in with local farmers to see which varieties they are growing, remembering that some of their standards are different than a home gardener.For those of you in water critical areas, one way to help the situation is to pick pepper varieties with fewer days to maturity. You get peppers, you can freeze some, your plants are done before the highest heat and driest times.The UC Sonoma County list is short. Only two varieties, Jupiter Red Bell and Ordoño.

Location! If you have a short summer season or are cooler and coastal perhaps, choose earlier smaller fruited varieties than ones that need a long hot summer to fully mature and if necessary change color too.

Pepper HOT Cayenne Blend Eden BrothersHappy Companions!

Sweet Peppers like:  BasilTomato, rhubarb, eggplant, Lettuce, Asparagus, Parsley, Silver Beet, Spinach, carrot, onion, beans, cabbage, peas, marigold and okra.

Hot Pepper plants do well alongside Eggplant, Tomato, Okra, Swiss Chard, Escarole, Squash and cucumbers.

At left, Cayenne Mix at Eden Brothers Seeds, Scoville Scale: 30,000-50,000 Units

Planting

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

At soil temperatures above 65 degrees, pepper growth accelerates. If either the soil or air temperature is much below 55 degrees, blossoms of transplants may drop off. The plants may survive and more blossoms will appear. But it is more likely plants will become stunted and never recover. If your plant is puny and showing no growth, best to compost it and replant when it is warmer.

  • Nighttime temperatures below 60 F or above 75 F can reduce fruit set. In daytime temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. When daytime temps reach 90 F and above, and stay there, just like with tomatoes, the blossoms seldom set fruit. Not to worry. Just give them some time after temps are lower.
  • Plumping up! Gardeners in hot regions will need to be especially patient with big bells and sweet roasting peppers. Both of these tend to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up. These folks may want to plant banana peppers or sweet non-bells, which will ripen in time to use with those bumper crops of tomatoes and basil. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh, so pack your patience.
  • Color Changes! Mother Earth News says: After reaching their maximum size, green peppers that are meant to turn red, will develop red pigments in 10 to 28 days, if daytime temperatures are between 65 degrees and 75 degrees. In southern regions where temperatures exceed that range, peppers turn yellowish and may acquire an off-color pallor that is not attractive. Below the optimum temperature range, color development slows dramatically; below 55 degrees, it stops completely. If soil temperatures drop below 68 degrees, pigment production declines and eventually ceases.

Peppers love sun, but a bit of shade is good for the fruit. I planted a Poblano between two big tomato plants. For awhile I thought it was a goner, shaded out, then, it just grew and grew! It got almost 4′ tall and produced like crazy and I gave giant peppers away!

Peppers need VERY RICH SOIL, are heavy feeders! Place compost for water holding capacity, worm castings, rotted manure under them when transplanting. Mix in Maxi Crop and Island Seed & Feed 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.

Epsom Salts! 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. You could apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) 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.

Plant your peppers about a foot to 18″ apart.  A healthy pepper will get big and top heavy with fruit! It is wise to put small tomato cages over thick wall bell pepper varieties when you plant, to support the weight when they are heavy with fruit.

Though a perennial, they are very susceptible to freeze. With Bell peppers, I have heard a lot of people say their peppers overwintered and produced just fine the following year, but I have not seen that to be true at the community gardens. They are never as robust nor do they produce the big healthy fruits first year plants do. If you are one of the lucky ones, by all means, protect them when there are freezes.

Hot peppers are another story. They seem to do a lot better overwinter, depending on the variety, and I have seen them carry on wonderfully!

Care

Personal Mulch! Solanaceae, that’s peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, like mulch from their own leaf litter, so just let the leaves fall and accumulate. In hot summer weather your peppers will appreciate a heavy mulch. Several inches of straw or dried grass clippings will keep the soil cooler and reduce moisture evaporation. Continually moist ground is a necessity for peppers, as they, like tomatoes, suffer from blossom end rot, a physiological disease caused by a calcium deficiency. Most soils contain ample calcium, but the mineral relies on water to transport it to the plant’s root system. When the soil lacks moisture, the calcium can’t reach the plants and a tell-tale black leathery spot forms on the blossom end of developing fruit. Heavy Nitrogen fertilizer applications can also induce a transient calcium deficiency. I emphasize that you give your peppers plenty of compost for water holding capacity and keep them well mulched!

Peppers, have shallow roots, need even wateringKeep the soil moist, not soggy, to encourage root development and prevent blossom wilting and bitter-tasting peppers. Moisture stress during bloom can cause substantial reduction in fruit set.

Later on, however, as a friend from Farmers Market pointed out: ‘Red & yellow peppers are green peppers that have been ripe for a while. So you are asking an already ripe fruit to stay on a vine longer to change color. Too much water, and the pepper will start to turn brown and rot. So we switched to watering a LOT less frequently and the results have been outstanding.’

Sidedressing Peppers need fertilizer in small doses, a rich organic fertilizer when blooms appear. If you scratch in some compost, be careful not to damage their shallow roots. Liquid chicken manure is high in nitrogen and potassium for heavy feeders like peppers. Big, sweet peppers require a continual source of nutrition. The easiest way to fertilize them is to incorporate gradual-release fertilizer in the ground at planting. Fish-meal pellets, alfalfa pellets or cottonseed meal are all good organic choices. You also can foliar-feed plants every week or two with a fish/seaweed soluble fertilizer, spraying the tops and bottoms of leaves, or water the ground with the same mixture.

Replenish mulch as needed throughout summer! You might schedule a mulch check for them and all your plants once a month.

Annual or Perennial? Technically peppers are perennials, grow year after year – in the right climate. Some chiles overwinter well in Santa Barbara. Bell peppers are another story. Geographically, in Santa Barbara CA they are temp sensitive annuals! I’ve heard claims about them overwintering in the garden successfully, but I have yet to see it. If you like to do it, better to pot your pepper before any frosts and take it indoors by a sunny window or into your fine greenhouse! You have a couple choices. Prune it ruthlessly, or keep it growing, even producing, with lights and bloom sprays. There are many online threads about overwintering your peppers. Check out tips from several experts to make your efforts count!

Personally, there are so many tasty fresh winter foods that grow well here in our SoCal ‘winter,’ that I am more than happy to replant peppers in spring!

Pests & Diseases

For Blossom End Rot, see above under Care.

Early Blight and Verticillium Wilt are a problem at both Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria Community Gardens in Santa Barbara. Please see more about them and what to do here.

See more about Pepper pests and diseases at the UC Davis IPM page.

Choose Resistant varieties.

California Wonder Peppers changing color!  Eden Brothers Seeds image.

California Wonder Peppers Changing Color - Eden Brothers imageHarvest

Bell peppers are at their sweetest and are highest in Vitamins A,  C and carotenoids when fully mature! When choosing bell peppers for eating, select those that are firm, heavy for their size with shiny, bright and vibrant richly colored skin! The bell pepper’s sweetness increases as their color changes from green to their final color if they are a color changing variety.

Their stems should be green and fresh looking. To avoid breaking branches, use a sharp knife to cut, instead of pulling.

It’s nice to know that if not optimally ripe vitamin C and carotenoids in bell peppers will actually increase with refrigerator storage over the next 10 days!

Storage

For maximum flavor, eat peppers on the same day they are picked! Room temp is best for peppers, leave them on a kitchen counter for a day or two to ripen further. Rinse with cold water just before you use them. Bell peppers are very sensitive to ethylene gas so don’t store them with fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas. If you put them in the fridge, do it only 1-3 days and use immediately upon taking out of the fridge. Don’t remove their cores because they are quite susceptible to moisture loss. Peppers are warm-weather fruits that don’t store well in cold temps. If you have too many peppers, consider the following storage options.

Freezing This is the easiest storage method. Peppers freeze well without blanching. Thawed peppers still retain some crispness and can be used in cooked dishes or raw in uncooked preparations. Their flavor is retained, so use frozen peppers primarily for adding ‘spice’ to soups, stews, and sauces. If you stuff the peppers before freezing, you’ll have a ready-made dinner, perfect for the microwave.

To Tray Freeze Sweet Bell Peppers

Wash and core peppers. Chop, dice or slice according to how you plan to use them.
Spread in a single layer on a tray of a cookie sheet. Place tray in the freezer for an hour or longer. Loosen pepper pieces from the tray and pour into zip closure freezer bags. Immediately place sealed bags in the freezer. The pepper pieces will remain separated for ease of measuring. Simply remove as many as you need, reseal the bag and return to the freezer. Or bag them separately in the amounts you plan to use them.

Pickling/Canning Peppers are low-acid fruits so require canning under pressure. It’s easier to pickle peppers as you would cucumbers in a crock filled with a simple brine of four cups of water, four cups of vinegar, and 1/2 cup of pickling salt. Add a clove or two of garlic and some fresh herbs for delicious added flavor.

Sweet Banana, Sweet Hungarian, Cubanelle are long, narrow tapering down to one, two or three lobes. They are thin walled, Cubanelle the thinnest. They are usually picked when light yellow or green. Because they have less water content than bells, they are perfect for frying. ‘Sweet Banana’ was the 1941 All America Selections Winner!

Pepper! Colorful Decorative Ristras!Drying This method works best with thin-walled peppers, particularly the smaller varieties that can be dried whole right on the plant. The key to drying peppers is doing it slowly to retain their color and flavors. Perfect for spicing up bland backpacking meals!

Another form of drying is in brilliant wreaths and Ristras!

You can grind chiles into culinary or medicinal powders! They retain their lovely colors! Paprika is a dried powdered form of bell pepper, and though we are used to seeing red paprika, a paprika can be made from any color of bell pepper and it will end up being that same color. Both the decorative forms and these potent powders make sensational gifts!

Seed Saving

To prevent cross-pollination, hot pepper plants should not be planted near sweet or bell pepper plants. TRUE! Plant at least 400 feet between varieties to ensure absolute purity. That’s important info for seed savers!

Harvest mature, fully-ripe peppers for seed. Most bell peppers turn red when fully mature. If frost threatens before peppers mature, pull entire plant and hang in cool, dry location until peppers mature.

  • There are two methods to process pepper seeds, dry and wet. The dry method is adequate for small amounts. Cut the bottom off the fruit and carefully reach in to strip the seeds surrounding central cone. In many cases, seeds need no further cleaning.
  • To process the seed from large amounts of peppers, cut off the tops just under the stem, fill a blender with peppers and water and carefully blend until good seeds are separated and sink to bottom. Pepper debris and immature seeds will float to the top where they can be rinsed away. Spread clean seeds on paper towel and dry in cool location until seed is dry enough to break when folded.

FYI Birds are not sensitive to capsaicin, the heat factor in chilli peppers, and are therefore the main dispersers of the seeds!

Health

Pepper Hot Oil & Healing Spices

Remedies: Hot Oil! Healing Spices. The countless health benefits claimed are exciting and enormous! Cayenne is said to stop heart attacks. Hot oil works wonders on knees.

Nutrition: I’m not sure people really eat peppers for nutrition, LOL! Peppers are in a food category all their own! Choices are made according to the Scoville Scale, how hot or not they are! At the lower end of the scale, nutrition may factor in somewhat, but it is more likely a visual choice, shape and color, whether for salad or type of cooking you will use the pepper for.

Sweet luscious Bell Peppers have a whopping 169% of the daily value of Vitamin C we need, but who thinks of peppers as a source of Vitamin C?! More we think of low calories, but most of all, that delicious taste! But look, here’s more! Absorption of dietary iron is significantly increased when consumed with fruits or vegetables that are high in vitamin C. Eating raw bell peppers with iron-rich foods like meat or spinach, may help increase your body’s iron stores, cutting the risk of anemia. Eat peppers!

Peppers in a Row Luscious Colors! Johnny's Seeds image

Absolute Culinary Delight!

Mexican recipes are classic! Salsa! Chile Rellenos! Add to burritos, roll-ups and tacos. Stuff and eat fresh, hot pockets! Roasted, grilled on the barbie! Pickled. Fine chopped in tuna or chicken salad! Go Cajun by sautéing with celery and onion, then mix with tempeh, chicken, seafoods. Stir fry some bits in the wok with cashews, shrimp and Oriental veggies. Puree in summer zucchini soups, hot or cold. Add color and crunch to your dip tray, make a pureed pepper dip! Pizza topping. Fresh slices in a cool Romaine, cucumber, avocado salad – add black beans for protein!

Peppers! Salsa and Rellenos

Roasted Poblano Salsa, and by chef Rick Bayliss, Grilled Shrimp Chile Rellenos in Corn Husks

Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

Tasty Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

To your great health and a happy palate! Stay cool when it’s hot!

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Design Your Beautiful Summer Garden!

Designing your garden is an intricate and intimate process depending on a lot of factors. It will ‘look’ like you as you are at the time of your life that you do it. If you plant from seed, it leads to making a pretty accurate seed list.

Some of your choices will be the same as what your family always did. Or, you may be a permaculture type doing a Food Forest guild system. There is no right way. You are you, your situation unique. You may be the same the rest of your life, only influenced by drought, deluge, seasons or climate change. You may be research oriented and enjoy trying out new plants and practices from across the world, allowing volunteers the birds bring to grow. You might decide to leave an untouched wild area in the name of freedom or magic, or rest a section of your garden each winter! Or plant it to green manure!

Choose a sunny place with easy access to water! Bioswales may be part of your water capture plan. In SoCal consider a centuries old technique, a water saving Waffle GardenGreywater distribution location may determine where fruit and nut trees will be planted. Then how will their mature shade affect the rest of your garden? Use dwarfs?

Garden Design Slope HillsideMake your garden a shape that flows with the area, whether that be simply the space available, or contoured to the land. Use slopes and hillsides! (Image by Arterra LLP Landscape Architects) Grow permeable windbreak shrubs to slow wind. If you don’t have outdoor space, but do have a sunny doorstep or balcony, put those containers to work!

Layouts can be any design you want! Circles with cross points, spokes, concentric, spiral! Squares like a formal British royal garden. Wild like a cottage garden or food forest garden guild. Beds in blocks. Straw bales wherever you can put them! Terraced on a slope! S curves along an existing path interspersed with ornamentals! Maybe you would like to add a greenhouse this year, or you need a shed and convenient workspace.

Put in pathways – straw bedding, boards, gravel, pallets, as suits the spirit of the location, are safe and make you happy to be there!

Where is the summer and winter sun path? Where will you plant tall to short? A full 6 to 8 hours of sun is best for almost all veggies. You can do shade, but it’s slower and fruits are not as big or plentiful.

If you choose to make your own compost, select an easy access area for composting, near the kitchen, if you will be using it on an ongoing basis. Plant compost speeding herbs like comfrey or yarrow right next to it. Plant pretty calendula or borage to hide it and bring bees and butterflies! If you use straw layers, leave space beside your composter or compost area for a bale staked in place on its end.  See more

Also choose an area, maybe near the compost, for your worm box if you will be growing them for their valuable castings. Mine take full sun all year. See more

Decide if you want to do a no dig Lasagna type bed or your soil is fine and you can just get to planting right now! But first, either way, install gopher protection wire!

Think about your choices for permanent residents! Plant perennial herbs by the kitchen door, at corner points or gates. The perennial Dragon Fruit along the fence. An amazing chayote needs tons of room. Artichokes are big, and grow 10 years! Set aside an all year area for flowering plants for bees, beneficials, butterflies and birds!

Where will biggies like that Winter Hubbard Squash, pumpkin, squash or melon, artichoke fit or is there really enough space for it per its production footprint?

What plants do you want? Will you judge by nutritional value first, return per square foot? Will you really eat them or has your family just always grown it? Will you be biodiversely companion planting or monoculture row planting?

Are you growing for food or seed or both? Waiting for plants to flower to seed takes time, and the space it takes is unavailable for awhile. But bees, beneficial predator insects, butterflies and birds come.

Will you be planting successive rounds of favorites throughout the season? If you plant an understory of fillers – lettuces, table onions, radish, beets, carrots, etc – you won’t need separate space for them. If you trellis, use yard side fences, grow vertical in cages, you will need less space. See Vertical Gardening, a Natural Urban Choice! If you plant in zig zags, rather than in a straight line, you can usually get one more plant in the allotted space.

Would be lovely to put in a comfy chair to watch the garden grow, see birds, listen to the breeze in the leaves.

Social at Davie Village Community Garden in Vancouver's West EndOr a social area, table, chairs, umbrella. Have candlelight summer salads in the garden with friends. This is at Davie Village Community Garden in Vancouver’s West End.

Plant sizes, time to maturity  There are early, dwarfs, container plants that produce when they are smaller, have smaller fruits. There are long growing biggies that demand their space, over grow and outgrow their neighbors! Maybe you don’t need huge, but just enough for just you since it’s only you in your household. Or it’s not a favorite, but you do like a taste! The time it takes to mature for harvest depends on weather, your soil, whether you feed it or not along the way. The size depends on you and the weather also, but mainly on the variety you choose. You can plant smaller varieties at the same time you plant longer maturing varieties for a steady table supply. How long it takes to maturity, and the footprint size of your mature plant is critical to designing your garden, making it all fit.

Vertical and Horizontal Spacing!

  • Vertical Space – More plants per square foot!
    • One method is to double trellis up! Cucumbers below beans!
    • The other is to plant in ‘layers!’ Plant an understory of ‘littles’ and fillers below larger taller plants ie Lettuce under Broccoli.
  • Horizontal Space – Give them room to thrive at MATURE SIZE!
    • Pests and diseases go right down the row of plants of the same kind that touch each other. You may lose them all ~ better is Biodiversity! Interplant with pest repelling edible companion plants!
    • Plants too closely seeded/not thinned, get rootbound. That lessens growth and production, weakens your plants since your plants are literally starving.

Look up each of your plant choices. Make a list – name, variety, days to maturity, mature spacing. The mature spacing gives a good indication how tall your plant might get and if it will shade out other plants. If you put your list on your computer you can click on the column to reorganize the list per footprint space/height or days to maturity.

Your purpose may be for your and your family’s daily food, as a chef for your clients, for a Food Bank. Fruit and nut trees may be part of your long term plan.

Now that we know how much space you have and your purpose for growing each plant, we can estimate how many plants of each you need, how many seeds you will need if you plant from seeds. Know that Mama Nature has her own schedule – lots of rain, no rain. Wind. Hail. Heat. Birds love picking seeds you planted and slugs are perpetually hungry. We won’t speak about gophers. Add to your number of seeds to account for surprises and gardener error. Get enough for succession plantings.

If you are a SoCal gardener, you may plant several times over a season. If you are canning, plant bush bean varieties and determinate tomatoes to harvest all at once. If you want a steady table supply all season long, also plant pole bean varieties and indeterminate tomatoes. If you have a Northern short season summer window, you may choose cold tolerant early bush and determinate varieties for quicker intense production.

Take into account the number of people you are feeding and their favorites!

Graph paper, sketches, a few notes jotted on the back of an envelope, in your head. It all works and is fun!

Here’s to many a glorious nutritious feast – homegrown organic, fresh and super tasty!

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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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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 – legumes for Nitrogen, oats to loosen the soil down deep. It takes two to three months. When it starts to bloom, chop it down and chop it up, turn it under. If you have heavy clay soil, add Sphagnum Peat Moss to both loosen your soil and increase water holding capacity if you are in a drought or dry, windy area. Let it sit until you no longer see the green ingredients. Keep it moist so the soil organisms will work all the way to the top.

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 earliest 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, 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. 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 these SoCal drought times, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Sphagnum Peat Moss can be added, but not too much because it can make your soil slightly acidic.

Compost is totally easy to make. There are many methods, but the simplest, is making layers, 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. 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.

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, put in some worms that will add their castings for you! If you decide to turn the pile, add worms afterwards so they won’t be injured. 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 may 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. Bird guanos do different things. See more soil tips and about quanos.

Worm Castings! 

In nature, worms are a natural part of 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 castings you can get, local if possible! 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 worms. If you do sheet composting – composting in place, set up a no-dig Lasagna Garden, install some worms! Add a handful of worms to your compost pile and keep the pile moist. In dry times cover composting ground areas with mulch so the compost will be dark and moist, safe from birds.

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

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 youself 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.

Soil pH

Most veggies do best with slightly alkaline soil. 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 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.

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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!

Read Full Post »

Broccoli, the Queen of Brassicas! Rancheria Community Garden Dec 2016

Radiant Calabrese Broccoli, Rancheria Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA Dec 2016!

Broccoli may be the most nutritious of all the cole crops, which are among the most nutritious of all vegetables. Researchers have reported that cruciferous vegetables contain potent natural anti-cancer agents if eaten rawThese nutrients typically are more concentrated in flower buds than in leaves, and that makes broccoli and cauliflower better sources of vitamins and nutrients than cole crops in which only the leaves are eaten. The anti-cancer properties of these vegetables are so well established that the American Cancer Society recommends that Americans increase their intake of broccoli and other cole crops.

Recent studies have shown that broccoli sprouts may be even higher in important antioxidants than the mature broccoli heads. Other research has suggested that the compounds in broccoli and other Brassicas can protect the eyes against macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older people. If you choose to eat broccoli leaves, you will find that there is significantly more vitamin A (16,000 IU per 100 grams) versus flower clusters – the heads (3,000 IU per 100 grams) or the stalks (400 IU per 100 grams).

They are also high in vitamin C, which may protect against atherosclerosis.  Four ounces of RAW broccoli contains twice the vitamin C in an equivalent amount of reconstituted orange juice. Cooking halves the amount of this vitamin.

Vegetarians rely heavily on broccoli because it’s high in calcium.

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, English HeirloomVARIETIES

Broccoli varieties vary considerably, tall, short, more heat tolerant or cold tolerant, have small heads, large heads, some make tons of side shoots, others less! For smaller heads, grow quick maturing varieties. They come in Green or purple! Purples turn green or blue when cooked. At left is an Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, a beautiful English Heirloom producing like crazy!

Besides regular brocs, there are fancies like Romanesco that grows in a spiral! It’s taste is mild and more like cauliflower than broccoli. Sprouting broccoli has a larger number of heads with many thin stalks. Broccoli Raab, aka Rapini, is fast-growing, also known as turnip broccoli, forms multiple small heads and tends to branch out.

Some favorite varieties:

DeCicco 48-65 days – Italian heirloom, bountiful side shoots. Produces a good fall crop, considered a spring variety.  Early, so smaller main heads.
Packman 53 days – early hybrid, 9” head! Excellent side-shoot production.
Green Comet 55 days – early; hybrid, 6” diameter head, very tolerant of diseases and weather stress. Heat tolerant.
Nutribud 55-70 days – is unusually high in free glutamine which is one of the building blocks of protein, a primary energy source of the brain and a major healing nutrient! Purple broccoli, in addition to this, contains anthocyanins which give it its colour. These have antioxidant effects, which are thought to lower the risk of some cancers and maintain a healthy urinary tract as well.
Cruiser 58 days – tolerant of dry conditions
Calabrese 58-90 days – Italian, large heads, many side shoots. Loves cool weather. Disease resistant.
Green Goliath 60 days – heavy producer, tolerant of extremes. Prefers cool weather, considered a spring variety.
Waltham 29  85 days – medium heads, late, cold resistant, prefers fall weather but has tolerance for late summer heat.

Broccoli is notorious for uneven maturity, so you will often see a range of days to maturity, like Calabrese above. So don’t expect clockwork. The advantage is they don’t come in all at once and you have table supply for an extended period, especially if you plant different varieties at the same time. After the main head is harvested, you will have an abundant supply of side shoots which will further extend your harvest time. Some varieties even produce mini side shoots at the same time as the main head!

Companion Plants Broccoli Lettuce repel Cabbage MothTasty image from GrowVeg!

COMPANIONS

Plant Lettuce amongst the Brassicas to repel cabbage moths. In hot summer, big brocs shelter and shade delicate lettuces. When it isn’t hot, put smaller companions on the sunny side of your brocs. Cut lower foliage off so they get sun. Mint nearby deters cabbage moths from laying eggs. Since mint is invasive, plant it in containers.

Cilantro makes broccoli grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!

To deter pests plant Onion family, plant Chamomile, Aromatic herbs, especially Catmint, Hyssop, Mint, Dill, Sage, Thyme, Lavender, Lemon Balm. Plant your herbs in containers so they can be moved around during the year to help specific seasonal plants.

Generally brocs are happy with Basil, Beans, Beets, Celery, Chard, Cucumber, Dill, Garlic, Lettuce, Marigold, Mint, Nasturtium, Onion, Potato,  Radish, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Tomato

Not happy with Tomatoes?, strawberry, lettuce?!, bush & pole beans.

In summer, plant cucumbers under them to reduce the attraction of striped cucumber beetles to the cukes.

Radish reduces green peach aphids.

Be advised! Dying parts of the Brassica family of plants produce a poison that prevents the seeds of some plants from growing.  Plants with small seeds, such as lettuce, are especially affected by the Brassica poison, so plant lettuces from transplants under them. A professor at the University of Connecticut says Brassica plants should be removed from the soil after they have produced their crop.

PLANTING

Brocs prefer full sun, though partial shade helps prevent bolting, but if they don’t get enough sun they will just grow tall. More sun helps make a tougher plant less attractive to aphids.

Broccoli plants will grow in almost any soil but prefer a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimum growth. A pH within this range will discourage clubroot disease and maximize nutrient availability. Well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter are ideal for broccoli plants and especially early plantings of broccoli. They LOVE recently manured ground.

If you will be planting by seed, per Cornell, best germination temperature is 45 F to 85 F, but will germinate at soil temps as low as 40 F.

Though those are best temps, in SoCal, if there are no Bagrada Bugs, fall plantings are started late July. While there is little space for big winter plants, small nursery patches can be planted. Leave enough room between seedlings so you can get your trowel in to lift them out to transplant later when space becomes available. If seeds and nurseries aren’t your thing, wait until your local nursery has transplants! If we aren’t having a heatwave, late August they might start trickling in. Labor Day weekend is a favorite planting time for some gardeners. October is just fine too!

Successive plantings may be done all winter long. If brocs are a favorite, the last round is usually planted in January because spring brings the interest in summer plants and we need room for them! We need space to amend soil for the next plantings, and time to let it settle and for the soil organisms to establish and flourish. The weather shifts, our body shifts with the seasons and we are looking forward to those summer treats again!

Seedlings should be 8″-10″ apart with 30″-36″ between the rows. Broccoli yields and the size of broccoli heads are affected by plant spacing. The tighter the spacing the better the yields, but the broccoli heads will be smaller. If you intend to keep your plants for side shoots, plant taller varieties to the northmost so they won’t shade shorter summer plants you will plant later on. Plant for plenty of air circulation to help avoid mildew.

The number of plants you choose to grow depends on your needs. If Broccoli is a staple for you, plant plenty so after the main heads are taken, you will get enough side shoots. When you need space for summer crops, and as other crops come in, you may decide to keep only 1 or 2 plants for side shoots to garnish your summer salads.

Cool weather is essential once the flower heads start to form. It keeps growth steady.

MAINTENANCE, IRRIGATION/MULCH

For year ’round growers, mulch early in spring to keep the ground cool and moist as well as reduce weed competition. In cool moist areas, forget the mulch. It brings slugs.

An even moisture supply is needed for broccoli transplants to become well established and to produce good heads. Never let the seedbed dry out. In sandy soils this may require two to three waterings per day. When they get up to about a foot tall, lay back on the water so the leaves aren’t too soft, attract aphids.

Compost/Fertilizer Put a ring of granular nitrogen around cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants for bigger heads.

The trick to producing excellent broccoli heads is to keep the broccoli plants growing at a steady pace. Top-dress the plants with compost or manure tea; or side-dress with blood-meal or fish emulsion; and water deeply. Repeat this process every 3-4 weeks until just before harvest.

PESTS & DISEASES

Pests

Research shows there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together! The plants mature at different rates. Aphids usually mean too soft a plant. Less feeding, less water. Immediately check curled leaves. Spray them away with a vigorous stream of water every day until gone, taking special care where new leaves are forming. Check the undersides of the leaves too. If the aphids have infested side shoots, remove the shoots. Some recommend sprinkling cinnamon on the ground to dissuade the ants that tend the aphids.

Cutworms, Flea Beetles, and Diamond Back Moth.

The nemesis is the green looper! This cabbage caterpillar makes your plants holey faster than thou can believe! Get Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis. It is sold in nurseries as Thuricide, Dipel, Bactus, Biological Worm Control, Leptox, SOK, Novabac or Tribacture.

Diseases

Club Root, Black Rot, Black Leg, Wirestem, Alternaria Leaf Spot, and Downy Mildew

Immediately when you plant your transplants, treat for mildew. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution.

Small or no heads? Weather can be the culprit. Per Bonnie Plants, “If transplants sit exposed to cold below 40 degrees for a week or two, the chilling injury triggers heads to form way too early.” A small head on a small plant means you won’t get a large head. A head may not form If the growing tip is injured by rough handling, insects or weather. Your broc is considered to have gone ‘blind.’ If you have enough growing season time left, start over with a transplant if possible.

HARVEST

Potentially you have five kinds of harvests! Leaves, heads, side shoots, flowers, seeds! Leaves are edible, same as collards!

The center head produced by broccoli is always the largest. Harvest the main head while the buds are tight!  Broccoli heads should not have any yellow petals. Cut about 5” down the stem so fat side branches and larger side shoots will form. Cut at an angle so water will run off, not settle in the center and rot the central stalk.

Side heads will develop rapidly in some varieties after the main head has been harvested, some even before! Harvesting of the broccoli side heads may continue for several weeks or all summer! Side shoot heads are 1 to 3″ in diameter. Sidedressing with fertilizer can increase yields and size of these sprout shoots.

Broccoli is highly perishable. The respiration rate of freshly harvested broccoli is very high. Harvest it last, and get it into the fridge asap before it goes limp! Broccoli should not be stored with apples or pears, which produce substantial quantities of ethylene, because this gas accelerates yellowing of the buds. Freeze what you won’t use right away.

If you didn’t harvest your side shoots and your broccoli has gone to flower, harvest the flowers and sprinkle them over your salad, toss them in your stir fry for a little peppery flavor! Hold the stalk with one hand, zip your other hand along the stalk to gather the beautiful flowers! Clip off stalks you don’t need and you will likely get more side shoots!

Broccoli Seed SaveSAVING SEEDS

All varieties in this large species will cross with each other. Separate different varieties at least 1000 feet for satisfactory results or at least 1 mile for purity. Caging with introduced pollinators or alternate day caging is also recommended in small gardens. Because Brassicas are biennial, two year plants, plants to be left for seed production, if in cold climates, should be mulched in the fall or carefully dug, trimmed and stored for the winter in a humid area with temperatures between 35-40° F. In SoCal they can be left in the ground to overwinter. Flowering plants can reach 4′ in height and need at least 2′ to 3′ spacing, depending on the size of the variety, for good seed production.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kohlrabi grown for seed should not be trimmed for consumption. Brussels sprouts, collards and kale can be lightly trimmed for eating without affecting quality seed production. If small amounts of seeds are wanted, allow the fine little pods to dry to a light brown color before picking and opening by hand. Lower pods dry first followed by those progressively higher on the plant. Watch daily to get them before the birds do, or cover the plant with bird netting! For larger amounts of seeds pull the entire plant after a majority of pods have dried. Green pods rarely produce viable seeds even if allowed to dry after the plant is pulled.

Crush unopened pods in a cloth bag with a mallet or by walking on them. Chaff can be winnowed. Remove the seeds so no moisture will remain to rot them.

Viability  2 – 3 years, but up to 5 years in good cool and dry storage conditions.

CULINARY TREATS!

Broccoli is a popular raw hors d’œuvre vegetable for good reason! That is when it is most nutritious! Light and quick steaming is second best.

All Brassica leaves can be eaten the same as collard leaves! Steamed over rice, or toss in a wok with oil, sprinkled with soy sauce or a sauce of your choice. Dr. Amy Simmone, University of Florida Food Safety Specialist and native of Thailand, states that in her country broccoli leaves are stir-fried or sautéed with garlic and oyster sauce and served with rice. She says that broccoli leaves taste a bit like young tender collard greens.

Use to top pastas or even pizzas! Broccoli along with almonds makes a delish creamy soup. Cheese and Broccoli Quiche!

Broccoli Bright Beautiful Edible FlowersThe top portion of broccoli is actually flower buds. Given time each will burst into a bright beautiful yellow flower, which is why they are called florets. The small yellow edible flowers have a mild spiciness, mild broccoli flavor. They are quite pretty and terrific sprinkled on salads, and are delicious in a stir-fry or steamer.

Tarladalal of India says: Combine broccoli, baby corn, spinach and other vegetables of your choice, cook in a thick creamy white sauce or red sauce. Pour in a baking dish, garnish with cheese and bake to make au gratins. You can also use as lasagna sheets in this recipe.

Broccoli has been with us in the US since 1923, when two Italian brothers planted the first crop near San Jose, California. John Evans, of Palmer, Alaska, holds the 1993 world’s record for his 35 lb (no typo) broc!  He uses organic methods, including mycorrhizal fungi!  And, yes, moose eat broccoli!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal 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!

Read Full Post »

Vermicomposting Workshop Vancouver

Since 1990, City Farmer and the City of Vancouver have held worm composting workshops for City of Vancouver residents who live in apartments. For $25 participants get a worm bin, 500 worms (1 lb), Mary Appelhof’s book “Worms Eat My Garbage”, a trowel, bedding and a one-hour class. Now that’s a deal!

Worm Castings are true BLACK GOLD to your garden soil, and high quality store-bought castings are just about as expensive! For good reasons. Worm castings are literally living!  Worm castings host ten to twenty times as much microbial activity than plain soil! They cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits and vegetables are produced. Castings contain 5 times the available nitrogen, 7 times the available potash and 1 1/2 times more calcium than that found in 12″ of topsoil. These nutrients are also water-soluble and immediately available to the plant. Most potting soils have a nutrient life for 2 to 5 days, where worm castings will last up to 6 times as long.

Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

The right kind of worms are RED WIGGLERS! They forage on debris at the surface. They are smaller than earthworms that live IN the earth. Fishermen use them for bait. Ask your fellow gardeners to give you a handful to get started, go to the bait shack, ask at the farmers market, or support your local organic worm dealer! The little guys live 1 to 2 years. My clew (colony) has been going strong for 15 years now.

Worms are easy to raise or you can use a complex system. You can start them anytime, indoors or out depending on temps. Here in SoCal Santa Barbara mine live outside all year in full sun, brief freezes. They are more active when they are warmer. Soy inked newspaper is often used for bedding to start a clew. Worms are 90% water, so keep the bedding moist. My worms get all the moisture they need from the juicy kitchen bits I feed them and I cover them with their black plastic blankie inside the container to keep them moist! If your bin is stinky, you may be overfeeding or watering too much. Maybe increase the size of the air openings or put your bin where there is more circulation, or out of the shade into a sunny area.

Though you can start your worms anytime, two good times to start them are January and July. January will give you a well established clew and supply of castings for spring plantings starting in SoCal March. July gives a good supply for September, October fall plantings.

Vermicomposting Easy Bin Children Worms

Housing! This bin is great for at home gardeners or children’s school projects! The worms are safe from predators, access is easy, any liquid, leachate, worm tea, drains into the lid below. I use a longer bin about the same height.

Since Red Wigglers, Eisenia Foetida, are surface foragers, these worms need width, not depth. Mine live in a low 4′ by 2′ opaque dark grey storage container. I put holes in the bottom to allow the leachate to drain out and from time to time I move the bin to another location to enrich the soil there, each area getting some of that good stuff! I put holes about 6 to 8″ apart along the sides near the top. The wormies get air flow and on hot days hot air vents out. Inside the container I cover them with a large black plastic bag to keep it moist and dark for them. They feed all the way to the top because they feel safe in the dark where no birds can see them!

I do have a shaped-to-the-base piece of 1/4″ hardware cloth, a wire mesh, around the bottom of my box to prevent predator pests like mice or rats from gnawing into the holes in the bottom of the box. Worms are gourmet for them! Sprinkle cinnamon about if you have ants.

How to Start! Select your container or system.

  • If you choose a container, get one made of opaque material, a dark color if it is available. Worms like dark, just like under the leaves, in the topsoil, in nature. Make 1/4″ or less diameter holes in the bottom and near the top of the sides or as needed. If you put holes in the container lid, rainwater will go in, perhaps flooding your worms. A hot stove flame heated very large screwdriver blade is quick and perfect for making holes in plastic containers. Push the screwdriver in and twist. If your container will be indoors, you will need a tray underneath to collect drippings.
  • Put in 4 to 6″ of moist shredded soy ink newspaper bedding, no bleached office papers. Soak the paper overnight, then wring it out so it is moist like a wrung out sponge, fluff it up. Add some leaves if you have them, and what kitchen trim you might have been saving. If the kitchen stuff is a little funky that’s best because your worms feed on bacteria!
  • Add your worms!
  • Feed your worms slowly at first. As your worms multiply, give them more chow. Bury food scraps to keep fruit flies away.
  • Your worms want dark and moist. Cover them with cardboard or another material so they will feed to the top. I tuck them in with a large black plastic garbage bag to keep them moist.
  • Mist the paper as needed to keep it from drying out.

They like decomposing kitchen waste with the exceptions of spicy, salty, acidic citrus, sulfuric onion, dairy makes the bin smell, oils and meats (too tough). No junk food. Coffee filters, grounds in moderation, lightly ripped teabags are good – the nylon kind don’t decompose, but not too many of those because they are acidic, and veggies like things a tad alkaline. Things cut into smaller pieces decompose faster. Harder or tougher items take a long time. No grape stems, corn cobs, avocado or mango pits. They do love the avo shells though and nest in them. Crushed egg shells keep the pH neutral. Cooked rice, bread, pastas and pizzas. Go wild with potato and carrot peelings, carrot tops, funky lettuce, squash, and, a favorite, melon rinds for dessert. Fridge clean outs are perfect for your worms! If you have doubt about an item, don’t. Moderation is a good word.

Rather than laying new food on top of the worms, I use a pitchfork, small tines, little damage to worms, to gently lift my worms from one side of the bin to the other. I lay in half their new food, then move the worms back, covering the new food. Then I do the other half. The new food will decompose faster when covered.

You can easily see when they have run out of food. Feed them sooner than that, or they might be hungry a few days, even die. They eat the bacteria on what you give them. They can’t eat raw food until it decomposes a bit, so feeding them sooner is crucial. If you find yourself wondering about how they are doing, check them!

Once your bin is started, there is absolutely no reason to continue to feed them newspaper or cardboard. The quality of what you feed your worms is the health of your worms and the quality of your castings. Real nutrients – kitchen scraps, plant trimmings – like the organic wastes of nature, give you excellent castings in return. Worms will eat non nutritious cardboard and lots of other things, but why? Better to recycle that in other ways.

If you are an indoor gardener, keep your clew small. If you are an outdoor gardener, you may be hard pressed to produce enough castings! Hit up your friends that juice and make smoothies for a steady supply of high quality fresh organic veg and fruit trims and bits. I have dedicated recycle friends who bring plastic bags and wide mouth containers of veggie trim. They tie bags loosely so it’s easy for me to open and feed to the kids. I, in turn, share veggies when I have extra, sometimes planting a little more, or one of their favorites for them.

Worm Red Wiggler Eisenia Foetida Castings

Harvest the bumpy like little castings – they look like fluffy coffee grounds. You’ve seen them, often after a rain…earthworms push them up in little piles. I use an old coffee container with a handle. Take the ‘blanket’ off your worms. Give them about 5 minutes to dive out of the light. Gather the castings at the top. Wait a few more minutes for them to dive again, then gather some more. Only the castings are taken; the worms are the workers!

Oh, are you spooked because worms are ‘slimy?’ Get some thin rubber gloves. No problem.

At times you will see little yellow eggs, cocoons among the castings. Each holds 4-6  1/2″ long teensy baby worms and hatches in about 23 days. It’s crazy to try to separate them all out. Nevermind. Some of them will hatch in your garden and you will have a small population of red wigglers there too! Do they mate? Yep, they have to so they can make eggs. Lucky for us, they are hermaphroditic and can mate with any other worm they meet!

Worm Castings after a rain

Feeding Your Plants ~ Optimum growth is in a soil ratio of 1:4, that’s 25% castings, 75% soil. However it has been shown that even 10% of wormcast shows significant difference in plant growth. Using over 40% castings, plant growth performance is stunted and may even appear worse off than having no wormcast at all. A wise gardener knows more is not always better. And, your precious castings will go further.

I walk about my garden to see who might need some castings, or where I plan to plant next. Scratch out a shallow area on one side of your plant, leaving as many tiny surface feeder roots intact as possible. Most veggie annuals do all their root growing in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Spread some castings in, cover them with the soil you dug out. After you have used all the castings, water the areas lightly so the castings stay covered and moist. It’s like making and giving them worm tea in place! Remember, 25% is the ideal ratio.

How Castings Work! Castings are not exactly a fertilizer, ie their available N, Nitrogen, content is only 1.80 – 2.05 %, yet their NPK value is much higher than soil! NPK are the main minerals your plants need. The NPK in castings is locked in the cast, and slowly released as micro-organisms break it down. This is much better for plants, because it takes time for them to uptake nutrients. They can’t do it all at once. What they do uptake, they can do easily and immediately.

Vermicompost nutrients and minerals are significantly higher (with Nitrates up to 9 times higher) than garden soil. This creates electro-conductivity, in turn creating more salts in vermicompost. When there is too much salt in soil, it sucks water from plant roots resulting in the ‘burning’ of plants. Although there aren’t enough salts in vermicompost to do that (it is much more common in chemical fertilizers), using too much wormcast can stunt plant growth.

Worm castings have much higher percentages of humus than either soil or compost, which helps the castings hold more water and stay aerated, while also providing binding sites for micronutrients that would otherwise wash out of soil during heavy rains. Mineral clusters that castings form combine in such a way that they can withstand water erosion and compaction, and, increase water retention! Castings hold 2 to 3 times their weight in water! If you are in a drought area, especially add them when you add compost or Sphagnum peat moss. All three increase water holding capacity. In summer, mulching keeps your soil moist also!

A clever gardener will make a drain at one end of the worm box and collect the worm tea! Check out Bentley’s post for some of the finer details to consider and how to process your leachate for maximum results. If you aren’t doing worm tea, move your worm box from time to time so that juice can drip into your soil, making it rich and nutritious at each location. Plants will grow like crazy in those spots!

Here’s another way ~ Per Rodale, ‘One excellent use of castings is in a liquid plant tonic. Put 1 pint/2 cups of castings in a bucket. Add a gallon of warm water and a spoonful of molasses. Stir this well, and stir it frequently over the course of 24 to 48 hours. Dilute the resulting liquid at the ratio of 1 part tea to 4 parts water and use it to water container plants and fruit trees. You can use it in your vegetable beds, but they should already be well nourished by compost and thus don’t need it as much. It’s best to use all of your worm tea in a week or so.’ Another simple way is 1 cup Worm Castings for every gallon of water and wait 1 week.

Broad Fork Garden Baby Blue! Compost, Worm Castings, fish/kelp tea mixes!

A good tip! If you enjoy making worm castings, compost, fish/kelp tea mixes, and want to feed your plants but minimize damage to their roots and soil structure, get yourself a spade fork, or if you have a lot of territory, a broad fork like in the image! Push it down into the soil, rock it back and forth slightly to make holes, pour in your soup! You will hear the soil organisms dancing!

Plant recovery testimonial! L.A. Times, 5/27/00, Julie Bawden Davis: “Convinced that nothing could help a whitefly infested hibiscus in my garden that had been struggling for two years, I spread a one inch layer of worm castings around the plant. A month later I noticed that the whitefly population had dwindled. Three weeks later there were absolutely no whiteflies on the plant. It’s now back to its healthy self and producing lots of blooms.”

To my delight, visitors often wonder if I have named my worms! We all laugh and I show them more worms! Oh, and how do you get more worms?! Worms are hermaphrodites, meaning each worm has both male and female reproductive parts. The worm does have to mate in order to reproduce, but, every worm they meet is a potential mate. When a worm gets to be about six weeks old it forms a white band around its head, called a clitellum, this is where their reproductive organs are located.

Under ideal circumstances, worm populations can double in  a month. They begin breeding at 2 months old, are capable of producing 96 babies each month. Worms have a brain and five hearts. Worms breathe through their skin. They have neither eyes nor ears but are extremely aware of vibrations such as thumps or banging on the composter. Please try not to disturb them unnecessarily. Worms are odorless and free from disease.

Keep the depth of your clew between 6 and 8 inches. If you reach capacity, give some to friends starting vermicomposting, feed some to the chickens, or just turn ’em loose in nature. But, another way to put your worms to work is to add handfuls to areas where you are composting in place or right into your composter! I keep my compost pile covered with thick opaque plastic amendments bags so the worms will work at the top of the pile too! Them and compost speeding herbs like comfrey and yarrow will perk your compost right up. Just keep the pile or area moist.

Those little yellow lemon-shaped beads are worm cocoons. Your worms are happy and breeding. Decomposers – mites, pot worms and tiny black beetles – may join the family. That’s good. They’re all doing the same work, and the worms don’t mind the company.

Vacation?! Feed them well, and add fresh bedding if they need it. That will hold them for a couple weeks.

Worm Economics and Education! Vermiculture has become common practice. Private Worm Farms abound! Universities and schools have educational programs, cities have programs, zoos, private organizations proudly tell their story. Websites assist you about raising your own or starting your own business.

Buying Castings! No time for one more thing to do?! Get your castings from a reputable organic seller, support local worm cast sellers. There are many great companies with high quality castings today. Don’t confuse an amendment with castings in the ingredient list, with a bag or bucket of pure castings. Remember, a little bit of the right stuff goes a long way. Give them to your indoor plants too.

Whether for prevention, abundant growth, recovery or economics, worm castings are fabulous. Worms work for free, and are permaculture sustainable! They can consume about 1/2 of their weight each day, turning our food waste into a high quality powerful garden amendment!

The Urban Worm Anna de la Vega

I love Anna de la Vega’s site name, The Urban Worm! The name reminds us everyone can raise worms, whether at your garden or in a special system in your kitchen! Castings can be used outdoors or in your favorite indoor container plantings! Your plants will be healthier, blooms prolific!

I was more than surprised to find myself raising worms! But the rewards are wonderful and I have come to cherish the amazing little creatures! If you have hovered over the thought of becoming a worm steward, perhaps now is a good time to start!

Names or not, love your worms!

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2.23.16 Revised and expanded from 5.17.14 post


The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal 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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Winter Veggies Harvest basket in red from FarmScape!

Superb winter basket of favorites at Farmscape Gardens! 

It’s 21 days to Winter Solstice! Happy Yule to those of you who celebrate it! 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 November Rancheria Community Garden images!

December is winter’s June!

Harvest Brassicas of all sorts! The big ones, broccoli, cauliflower and if you live in a good chill area, Brussels sprouts, have grown big enough now and your earliest varieties are producing handsomely. Harvest your brocs and caulies while the heads are still tight. If you miss that, harvest asap, even the flowers and flower stalks are edible! After to take the main broccoli head, let your plant continue to grow so it will produce smaller side shoots. Some varieties produce large 3 to 4″ mini brocs and later smaller salad size ones right on through summer! Cauliflowers are a one time harvest though you can keep eating the greens. You might choose to pop in some beautiful chard or a potato patch in large open spots that become available. Some cabbages, especially the mini and early varieties, are headed tightly and ready to eat – slaw, steamed, dropped into soups.

Deliciously fresh and nutritious winter heading lettuces, kale, celery, bok choy, cilantro, arugula and all manner of cut and come agains are in! Table onions scallions, chives and leeks can be snipped or cut off about 2″ above the ground and let to grow back 3 to 4 times! Do the same but at about 3″ with cilantro and arugula. Let some of your cilantro and arugula grow out for flowers to bring the bees, seeds for the birds and for you to plant more!

Winter brings a lot of tasty Root crops. Winter Cylindra Beets are colorful, and have cut and come again leaves too! Long winter radishes are spicey! Carrots are splendid to eat at the garden, share with your pup, shred into salads, add to winter soups and stews, slice/chop/stick and freeze for later! Turnips are so unique a flavor you might want to eat them separately.

Harvest peas when they get to the size you want them, and be prompt with that harvesting to keep them coming! Plant more rounds if you love peas!

MAINTAINING

Sidedressing is like snacking. Some of your heavy leaf producers and big bodied Brassicas, may need a feeding now and again or just when they start to fruit. If they slow down, or just don’t look perky, slip them a liquid feed out to their dripline. Get your long spouted watering can nozzle under those low cabbage leaves. Lettuces love manures. Compost and manure teas, fish emulsion (when there are no digging predators), powdered box ferts, are all good. Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings. An excellent way to get feeds to the roots is to push in a spade fork vertically (so as not to break the main tap roots), wiggle it back and forth just a bit, remove the fork, pour your foods into the holes, close ’em back up. Soil organisms will get right to work, your plant will stay healthy and be quite productive! Slow release is a wise consideration. Worm castings, though not food, work wonders with immunity and help germination!

The exceptions are carrots, peas and favas. Carrots get hairy and will fork with too much food! Over watering or uneven watering makes them split. Your peas and favas are busy gathering Nitrogen from the air, feeding themselves.

A mini task is to keep covering the shoulders of carrots, beets, radishes and turnips. They substantially 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. Uncovered shoulders look dry, are tough, sometimes bitter, and need peeling before cooking. Uncovered carrot shoulders don’t ripen but stay green. Exposed parts of potatoes turn green. The green on potatoes is slightly poisonous, but not enough to do harm and it doesn’t look good.

Watering is important even in cool weather. Also, some plants simply like being moist ie chard, lettuce and short rooted peas. No swimming, just moist. Finger check your soil after rains to see if your soil is moist deeply enough. Sometimes it is moistened only 1/4″ deep, needs more water! Also, be careful of too much water, that makes for an aphid tasty soft plant. 1 to 1.5″ per week is a general guide. Watch WEATHER reports in case of freezes, heavy winds, rain. See more about rainy days!

Santa Barbara’s average First Frost (fall) date AT THE AIRPORT is December 19, Last Frost (spring) date is (was?) January 22. That can vary from the coastal areas to the foothills, and our climate is changing generally to warmer, so these dates may not be viable guides much longer, if even now. See great tips – Protect Your Veggies from Freezing

Except for erosion control, in winter, we pull mulch back to let the soil warm up during the short winter days. The only areas we mulch are around lettuces, chard and strawberries to keep mud splash off the leaves and berries. Also, it’s good to remove pest habitat, let the soil dry a bit between rains to kill off wilts fungi, let Bagrada bug eggs die. Bag up, or pile and cover, clean uninfested summer straw, mulches, for compost pile layers during winter. Do not keep straw from areas where there have been infestations.

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 eaten 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.

Prevention and removal! Keep an eye out for pests and diseases and take quick action! A typical disease is Powdery mildew. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. For mildew apply your baking soda mix. The best combo is 1 regular Aspirin, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. 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. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution. Hose away aphids and whiteflies, mildew. Remove yellowing Brassica leaves. Yellow attracts whiteflies.

Chard and beets gets Leafminers. Where they have eaten looks terrible but the good part of the leaves is perfectly safe to eat. Plant chard so mature leaves don’t touch, remove infested leaves immediately! Beets are not a permanent crop, so they are planted closely. Simply harvest them at their leaves’ prime.

In general, plant further apart for air circulation, water and feed just a little less to let those leaves harden up a bit. Soft fat leaves are an invitation!

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants.

PLANT JUDICIOUSLY

Per square foot, fast growing cut-and-come-again Lettuce, Chard and Kale are by far the top winter producers! Plant more big plants like brocs and cauliflower, but remember, with cooler weather, they will grow more slowly. That may interfere with early spring plantings in March because you will need time to let added compost, manures, worm castings and Sphagnum peat moss (increases water holding) become part of the soil organism community. If you do plant them, better to get transplants if you can, and shave six weeks of their needed gowing time to maturity.

As lettuces tire, and other plants like carrots and beets are removed, add more of them and any ‘littles’ you love on the sunny side and between the big plants. If they need more sun, remove large lower leaves of the big plants. Mild tasting littles include bok choy, kohlrabi, garden purslane, arugula, mizuna, watercress, young turnips, Daikon winter radishes, and Napa cabbage. Otherwise, go for those dark green kales, mustard, rutabaga and turnip greens! Try some culinary dandelions for super nutrition! These are plants that will take you through February, March and leave enough time to add compost and to let sit until major spring planting begins in April. Believe me, you are going to get spring planting fever along about March, so plan ahead for it!!!

If you have enough seeds, over planting is fair game! Thin your beets, carrots, chard, kale, mustard, turnips. Take out the smaller, weaker plants. They are great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves.

Remember your winter companion planting tips:

  1. Carrots enhance peas, onion family stunts peas
  2. Carrots thrive when Cilantro, Chamomile, Marigold are planted with them.
  3. Onions, leeks and chives help repel the carrot root fly. But remember you can’t put the onion family near peas!
  4. Lettuces repel cabbage butterflies
  5. Cilantro enhances Brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, kale and repels aphids on them!

Besides beautiful bareroot roses, decide now where you will be buying any January bareroot veggies you want! Consider: grape vines; artichokes; short-day (sweet) globe onions; strawberries; cane berries such as raspberries (get low-chill types); low-chill blueberries; and rhubarb (be cautious where you plant it, it can be poisonous to humans, dog and chickens), asparagus, and horseradish. Artichoke pups need 3’ to 4’ space! They are hefty growers and live 10 years! If you keep them watered, and there is enough space, they are a great street strip plant!

SPRING PREPS

Seeds for Spring & Summer planting! Perfect time to sit with seed catalogs, do online research. Get your summer garden layout in mind. First choose what is good for your excellent health! Next might be how much plant you get per square foot if you have limited space and want to feed several people. Since we are in drought conditions, water could be a strong consideration ~ choose heat and drought tolerant varieties. Get some early varieties, for earliest harvests. Those fruits are generally smaller, but Yum! Cherry tomatoes come in first. Place your order for the entire year, while seeds are still available. The Santa Barbara Seed Swap is Jan 29, very soon!  Get your seeds ready to share, and prepare your ‘shopping’ list!

Delicious choices to consider:  Perennial  Heat & Drought Tolerant – per Southern Exposure ~
Summer Lettuce Varieties: In summer you want a stronger lettuce, heat tolerant & slow bolting! Lettuce Leaf Red Sails is a beauty. Jericho Romaine from Israel has become the classic summer romaine for warm regions. Sierra, Nevada. Parris Island is slow bolting. Green Towers Romaine tolerates moderate summer heat and has some resistance to tip burn and bolting. Black Seeded Simpson. And there are more – try several!

Definitely start building compost for spring planting. Plant green manure 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. Or plant it if you want a break! Just lay in some green manure seed mix – vetch, bell beans, Austrian peas and oats. In Santa Barbara area get the mix and inoculant at Island Seed & Feed. Let it grow two to three months to bloom stage, chop down, chop up and turn under, let sit two weeks to two months. Your choice. Let the herds of soil organisms do their work! I usually do about 3 weeks. Or, lay on as many layers of compost material as you can get for an up to 18″ deep area where you will be planting. Put in some surface feeding red wiggler worms. The BEST soil enhancer!

WINTER VEGGIES STORAGE

This is such a great post by Anthony Reyes at FarmScape Gardens, here is the link! Winter Vegetable Storage, Part 2
For a quick choice, here is the UCDavis Quick Guide to Fruits & Vegetables Storage:

Storage - Which veggies to Refrigerate or Counter top Fruits Vegetables

Please be generous with your time these holidays. Rather than just serving food, maybe show someone how to grow veggies, give them seeds with instructions, give them and the kids a tour of your garden – eat carrots together!

Happy December Gardening!

 

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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!

See the entire December 2016 GBC Newsletter!

December Winter Garden Harvests!
Magnificent Cabbages are Easy to Grow!
Grow Your Own Garden Worms, Harvest Valuable Castings!
Wonderful Gardener Style Holiday Gifts! 
Other Community Gardens – Lower Sioux Indian Community Garden 

Events! January 29 Santa Barbara 9th Annual SEED SWAP!

See the wonderful November images at Rancheria Community Garden!

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

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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! Some of you have started seedling nurseries or starts at home, many have prepped their soil and harvested seeds! If you didn’t yet, make your fall planting beds extra yummy – add 5-10% compost, 25% worm castings, manures – the amount depending on the type of manure. We want rich soil for those big winter plants. Seeds do especially better with worm castings! 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. Stand back, take a deep breath and ask yourself why you plant the way you do. Anything been tickling the back of your mind you are curious about?

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 – 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 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 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.

Kale Flat Leaf High Mowing.jpgIf you decide to plant, unless you have Bagrada Bugs, it’s Brassica time! They are the mainstay of winter gardens! Their leaves are edible – Kales the Queens! Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, Cauliflower and collard greens! Then there are all the mini Bs, the fillers and littles – arugula, bok choy, mizuna, kohlrabi, mustards, radish, turnips. Rather than plant six pack transplants, put in seed 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!

Finicky eaters may enjoy a marvelous selection! Fall veggies come in lots of shapes and colors! Kales are renowned for their beauty and varieties – classic curly leaf, 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! Beets are terrific fun! Yellows, reds, pinks, whites and Chioggias (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!

More veggies that love cooler weather are beets, carrots, celery, chard, cilantro, leeks, spinach and especially lettuce – tender butter leafs and heading lettuce! If you anticipate a hot Sep, plant more heat tolerant lettuce.

  • The winter legume is PEAS! Peas are like beans, they come in bush and pole types. And those come in three main types – shelling, eating snap peas and flat China/snow peas! They are super easy to sprout! Dampen the paper towel; spray the towel to keep it moist. Takes 2 to 4 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!
  • 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.

Image result for long beets cylindraVarieties 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!

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, 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 every week or two for steady table supply. If you would enjoy a quick payback on your table, select the earliest maturing varieties.

If you have lots of seeds, overplanting 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! 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, 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. Plant in October or plant new bareroot plants. If you replace your strawberries, in Santa Barbara try Seascape, bred at UCSB. Big plentiful berries, firm, tasty, strawberry spot resistant! They have long roots that gather plenty of nutrition and stay moist at deeper levels. Remember, strawberries like slightly acidic soil, so get Azalea/Camellia compost for their bed.

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 under 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 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.

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 Swap!

Borage is a magical cool season plant with edible flowers, blue for bees! It has a large 3 to 4′ footprint, so allow for that or plan to keep clipping it back. Plant Sweet Peas for Christmas bloom!

Plant gift plants or bowls or baskets for the holidays! Fall bounty is on its way!

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

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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 in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

See the entire September 2016 GBC Newsletter!

September Starts SoCal’s Second Season!
Designing Your SoCal Winter Veggie Garden! Think Big!
Two Mexican Herbs Used Instead of Cilantro!
Other Community Gardens – Cultiva Ciudad-helmed Huerto Tlatelolco, Mexico City 

Events! National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa CA, 6th Annual Fermentation Festival, Master Gardeners’ Year-Round Edibles from the Garden – Fall Planting!

…and wonderful August images at Rancheria Community Garden!

 

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