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Artichoke Big Beautiful Glorious!

Artichokes! Big, Beautiful and Glorious! Some call them ‘architectural!’ 

This is a love story that has taken place over many years of taking their pictures in all their stages!

They are a unique garden plant for several reasons!

  • The plants are huge, often with a mature 6’+ silvery wing span.
  • The perennial varieties’ central stem dies and is replaced by pups.
  • They are a member of the thistle tribe of the sunflower (Compositae) family, with spiny fruits and leaf stems! Artichokes, chamomile, cardoons, lettuce and culinary dandelions are in the same family.
  • Their blossom is a beautiful brilliant violet-blue!
  • Long lived! Commercial farmers grow Green Globe Artichokes for 5 to 10 years!
  • Unusual way to eat them, part of the bracts and the ‘heart.’ They are a culinary delicacy to those who enjoy that taste and texture!
  • In 1947 Marilyn Monroe was crowned Castroville CA’s first Artichoke Queen! Artichoke Festival June 1-2, 2019!

Artichoke Center of the World Castro CA WP Artichoke Festival Marilyn Monroe First Queen 1947

Growing your Artichoke is easy! 

First you do have to decide if you really want one because they are so big. And that space becomes dedicated if you are growing perennial types. Granted, 20 to 30 Artichokes per year per that big footprint doesn’t make sense compared to the continuous immense production of pole beans, zucchini, chard and lettuces, but many do grow Artichokes because they are so amazing, have those humongous artsy leaves, are such a proud plant! Soul food sometimes trumps production! It’s just fun to pull up a chair and watch them grow!

If you decide Yes!, next you put in your gopher prevention system, or at the very least, plant your babies in wire baskets.

Successful location!

Per cals.Arizona.edu: Historians believe the Artichoke, Cynara scolymus, originated in the Mediterranean countries, possible Sicily or Tunisia, where they were first developed into an edible vegetable. In 77 AD the Roman naturalist Pliny called the choke one of earth’s monstrosities, but many continued to eat them. Nearly one hundred percent of all artichokes grown commercially in the United States are grown in California. Castroville CA, where the Artichoke Festival is held, is 19 miles northeast of coastal Monterey. Artichokes are the official vegetable of Monterey! Approximately 80% of the state’s total acreage lies within Monterey County. Nowhere else in the world is there such a concentrated area of production, consistently yielding nearly 4 million cartons of delicious artichokes every year. As of Sep 4, 2018, Italy, Egypt, and Spain are the top three growers worldwide.

The Green Globe artichoke prefers temperate climates — never too hot or cold. The central coast of California, where winters are relatively frost-free and summers are cool and moist with fog, is an ideal growing area. Other varieties, some new varieties, have more range of planting area, further south. I’ve gotten a good report from as far south as Long Beach CA, and they are growing well in Colorado even!

Per the California Artichokes Advisory Board, the main propagation method for planting Green Globe artichokes is with root sections attached to basal stem pieces. These cuttings, which are often referred to as “stumps,” [What I have been calling pups] are obtained from established fields scheduled for replanting. The newer varieties, which are annuals, are grown from seeds that are nurtured in a greenhouse and transplanted as seedlings in the field. As of 2007, annuals have overtaken perennial production.

For us growing at home, pups/stumps, are the easiest method. Just let it happen. The main stem dies back, the pups take over!

Artichoke Central Stalk has Died - Pups have taken over! Artichokes Abandoned in Fall return after spring rains!

See the central stalk that has died in the left image?! Beginners think their plant is dying when that central stem gives itself up, but hang on! This is an artichoke’s natural cycle; you didn’t do anything wrong! Pups come up around the parent plant when soil conditions are adequate. Those pups are here to do the job and make fruits as soon as they get bigger, right in the same season! They just keep on coming! The area where the plants on the right image are was completely abandoned, just dried dead stalks the previous fall. But these super healthy pups, taller than the original plants, came up after a major series of winter/spring rains!

Yes, you can grow them in containers, BIG containers! A 24” x 24” x 24” box with plenty of good compost in the potting mix can do the job. They will need much more frequent watering to form heavy, solid buds. And because of all that watering leaching Nitrogen away, they will need extra feeding.

For in-ground planting, they prefer light, fertile, well-drained soil—sandy or loam is ideal. Two reasons artichoke plants fail are summer drought and winter soil that’s waterlogged. Adding compost and castings improves soil’s ability to retain water in summer and drain in winter.

The Right Selection of Seed Varieties makes the difference! What do the farmers grow?

Most of the newer annual varieties do prefer a Mediterranean climate but are more tolerant of weather fluctuations and can be planted in other areas and at differing times. For farmers this means that artichokes can be brought to market all year long to satisfy eager artichoke aficionados. For us home gardeners it means a more steady harvest! Cornell’s List

Artichoke Purple Variety of Big Heart Lompoc CA Steve JordanHere are three seed varieties you might consider ~

These are grown by Steve Jordan of Baroda Farms, who bases his choices on varieties commonly found in Italy and France! He is growing some in Lompoc CA, 160 miles south of Castroville, and others along the Colorado River near Parker, AZ – different state, different climate! Here are his descriptions:

  1. Developed in the mid-1980s by a California grower named Rusty Jordan, the big heart is aptly named. It is endowed with a large, fleshy base and weighs in at over a pound. This slightly purple thorn less, 3 1⁄2-5 1⁄2″ giant—the first patented annual artichoke grown from seed—is excellent for stuffing.
  2. The dense and rotund Omaha artichoke (up to six inches wide) owes its striking appearance to its sharply tapered red-and-green leaves. The Omaha is less bitter than many artichoke varieties.
  3. The blocky and vividly colored purple **king** has distinctive green spots at the tips of its leaves. Usually four inches in diameter and bred from Romanesco varieties mixed with other Italian artichoke strains, the king typically weighs more than a pound in peak season. [Plus it is said to be meatier, sweeter] See more!

In addition, here are nine different varieties, how they are different, and pointers about how they are to be cooked, or not, and eaten! From big ones to babies, check out Karen Shimizu’s great post! (The choke referred to is the fuzzy part of the interior attached above and to the heart. It is fibrous and not eaten. If the bud is allowed to bloom, the choke becomes the flowers/inflorescence!)

Start looking about! Experiment! There are many new options! If you are buying from a nursery, do find out exactly which kind of artichoke you are buying. Is it a perennial type like a globe, or if planted from seed, exactly which kind of seed? You need to know this so you can give it the proper care and know what to expect of it.

Companions!

Artichokes have few insect pests, and suffer from few diseases, so companion planting is pretty much a moot point for them. Rather, you plant plants that need the same soil and moisture next to them, outside that anticipated dripline, on the sunny side of that big shademaker! Since most artichoke plants are cut close to the ground during their dormant cold weather period, the area is open for planting then. In SoCal you can have a growing garden almost any time of the year right there.

Planting!

From seeds for annual varieties

To grow in a colder short season area, Northern Star, Emerald and Imperial Star are great choices. In warmer areas you could try these if you want to get an extra early start.

To get first year buds, plant as soon as you can because to set their buds artichokes need a period of vernalization, at least two weeks of cold temperatures below 50°F! January is a chance, but in Santa Barbara SoCal, our last average frost date is Jan 28! Artichokes are frost sensitive, so cover them on possible frost nights. Have your transplants ready to go Jan through March latest. In warmer areas, planting in fall brings an abundant crop March, April, May, and May flowering!

Sow seeds ¼” deep. Planting indoors will be needed to give them the temperature around 70-75°F to germinate and will take two to three weeks to sprout. Expect 70% germination, so sow heavily. To avoid damping off, cover the surface of your medium with vermiculite.

If you want a high yield, give them the room to do it! Planting them 3 feet apart is good, but some large varieties, in super conditions, might need 4-foot spacing. When in doubt, give them more!

From pups of ‘perennial’ varieties like Globe!

Know that most varieties survive only down to about 20 degrees F, so if you want to grow artichokes as a perennial, plan to be around to give them protection during the winter months. In the North, pick hardy varieties like Northern Star, Violetto and Grande Buerre. In warmer southern areas plant Green Globe, Imperial Star, Symphony and Green Globe Improved, or purple-budded selections, such as Opera, Tempo and Concerto.

You can gather a ‘stump,’ a root section attached to basal stem piece, from a fellow gardener or your local nursery. For these perennials, no replanting is required…after blooming, in July, with the peak of summer heat coming, we cut them back. They re-sprout in August, leaf out in the fall, and grow through winter, then produce again the next spring.

See Jessica Walliser’s post for additional excellent overwintering tactics in cold climates!

Care and Maintenance

Green Globe artichoke fields are maintained in perennial culture for five to ten years. Each cropping cycle is initiated by “cutting back” the tops of the plants level to the ground or several inches below the soil surface to stimulate development of new shoots. The buds get smaller and more numerous in the later years, because they’re producing from side-branches off the main stem. When this happens, divide the crowns and transplant them into their own space. They’ll produce for several more years before you have to start again from seed or fresh seedlings. Peak season is March through May and again to a smaller degree in October.

Water & Food A lot of water to the dripline and well drained soil! Add plenty of compost and worm castings for good water retention. Your artichokes are a hefty plant and require a lot of Nitrogen too. Since watering leeches Nitrogen from your soil, feed your plants more frequently than you would your other plants. Such a huge plant has lateral surface roots to the mighty dripline, give it plenty of compost out that far. Just before bud set, give your Biggie some tasty chicken manure! Water well so the nutrients soak in. During the season, you can layer on compost. Whether manure or compost, or both, cover with mulch so the amendment stays moist and feeds the soil. Get that shovel way under those leaves! Extra water at bud set produces large, dense, artichokes.

Pests & Diseases

Though there are few of either, ants and aphids can be a problem.

Artichoke Pups Pests Ants & Aphids

The three pups above are suffering from an ant/aphid infestation. You can see they aren’t able to get their proper nutrients, the leaves are light green. Or maybe they were weak first and the aphids were looking for soft chow. Maybe they can be saved. Get out the hose; spray away at full force and do it again for two, three days until they are all gone! Feed up your pups – some compost and manure – they need lots of Nitrogen. In the cooler time of year, give them a quick foliar feed of fish emulsion that is easy for them to uptake.

Put down a Sluggo type of slug/snail killer to prevent young plants from being nibbled.

Yes, like so many plants, artichokes get Powdery mildew too, a white coating on foliage caused by fungi, that thrive in moist, warm weather. It doesn’t usually kill the plant outright, though it slows it down. The fungal spores overwinter on plant debris, so clean up the beds in fall. Water early in the day and no overhead watering.

Botrytis blight can coat older leaves. If only a few leaves are infected by the blight, remove and destroy them. Treat the plant with a fungicide such as neem oil. Avoid overhead watering. IPM info

Harvesting One plant can produce up to 30 artichokes of different sizes!

When Your Artichokes are Harvest Ready

The artichoke on the left above is starting to open, just past prime harvest time. The one on the right is ready to go! Harvest artichokes as soon as the bottom bud bracts start opening out from the bud. That’s when there are the largest and most tender artichoke hearts, and reduces the risk of aphids and their ant attendants, pincher bugs/earwigs from moving into the buds! But that slight opening of the bracts is not a deterrent to most fans! Cut a 1- to 3-inch section of stem with each bud to avoid those spiky bract tips.

Bonnie Plants says: When you have harvested all buds on a stem, cut the stem to the ground. For large, established plants, prune the entire plant back by a third to spur a fall harvest.

4.22.19 Super Tips Per Dale Huss | VP Artichoke Production | Oceanmist.com

‘I would leave the center bud on the plant until it’s ready to harvest. Then the “secondaries” will grow at a faster rate if temperatures are right (warmer). I would not take the center bud off early because if harvested right – it’s one of the best artichokes to eat. Nor, would I leave it on the plant for the same reason. [LOL]

The original plant will die off and one of the “pups” or side shoots, or ovuli will initiate growth and produce in late fall or early spring depending on weather. Around the base of each “spent” stalk are 8 to 12 dormant buds that will initiate growth. Each of these buds that grow will eventually produce artichokes if they get the “chill” they need.’

Chill is a key point to remember. In SoCal about the end of April it’s no longer so cool. Don’t be surprised if these little buds just open and die. The plant doesn’t any longer support their growth. Again, you did nothing wrong. This time it’s the weather at your location.

Storage

Store artichoke buds in the refrigerator as soon as possible after harvesting. Add a few drops of water or mist the stems only. Don’t wash them. Too much water and they spoil faster. Put them in a perforated plastic bag, keep in the coldest part of your refrigerator, usually the crisper, for up to 3 weeks.

If you want to save the artichoke in the freezer, it has to be cooked first. Sprinkle cooked artichokes with lemon juice before freezing.

What if you don’t harvest the fruits? Brilliance! Some gardeners grow them for the blossoms, not the fruit! And they bring lots of pollinators!

Artichoke Bud to Blooms Sequence Artichoke Brilliant Purple Bloom - Thistle Family

SeedSaving preserves the best of our local plants, plants adapted to our area!

Artichoke Dried Flowers ready for SeedSaving

If you let one of your artichokes flower, you can wait until it gets to the seeding stage. When the flower head is quite dry the seeds can be collected. Don’t be fooled by the exterior dried look. Part the fuzz down into the flower’s core, pull on a pinch worth of tufts and see if it is dry down in that middle. Sometimes it will be green and moist. If you pull then, the tuft just breaks off. If that’s the case, if you don’t need that space, it may take another month before it’s dry enough on the plant. It’s very dense in there, so no air gets in to dry things. Hope for heat! If you can, let it dry on the mother plant in situ, as it would in nature. It is collecting Mom’s mojo!

Artichoke Flower Still has Color! Artichoke Flower Tufts are Still Green

See that little telltale purple in the center of the left image? Still green on the right. They need to dry a lot more before the seeds will be dry enough to collect!

Artichoke Tufts Broken Off, No Seed Artichoke Seeds

If you don’t dig deep enough, the tufts may simply break away. You will have to push pretty hard to get deep enough to get the seeds.

An easier way to collect the seeds, though it doesn’t get as much mojo from the mother plant, is to cut the head off when it turns brown. Tie a paper bag (not plastic that holds the moisture) over the head, let dry in a cool dry place. Once the flower head is completely dry, shake vigorously and voila, you got seeds! For most of us home gardeners that’s plenty of seeds. If it is a perennial variety, cut it back to ground level. Stake the area where it will regrow; plant in the remaining space until the pups come up later. If it is an annual variety, then the space where your plant was becomes available.

Splendid Artichoke Fruit!


Delicious ways to prepare your fabulous artichoke!

Artichoke Shaved Salad Chef Sarah Grueneberg John Kernick

Shaved Artichoke Salad by Chef Sarah Grueneberg ~ Tasty photo by John Kernick

Basic: If you harvested a bit late and ants/critters have gotten in, put your artichokes in a bowl and fill with hot water, keeping the artichokes under water. The critters will float right to the top and you can pour them out! Cut an inch off the top – a serrated knife works well. Those thorns have a bite! Trim the stem off at the base so the artichoke can sit up while you are cooking it. Do a last minute check in the outer lower petals to assure yourself the critters and any debris are gone. Put them in a steamer basket, cook 25 to 35 mins. Add more water if necessary. Pierce with a paring knife to test the bottom for tenderness; leaves should come off easily when they are done. Use as you like! Right then with a flavored oil or butter dip, or in any other way that you love or want to try!

Common & tasty, eat the artichoke heart, and, dipped in melted garlic or lemon butter, pull the bracts between your teeth to squeeze out the flesh at the base of the bract! Eat the tender heart bite by bite! Delish! If you will be using the heart in recipes, harvest “baby” artichokes—picked before the prickly inner “choke” develops. Cut it to the size you want, chill and add to a tasty salad with a vinegar or lemon dressing. You can marinate the hearts and use them later in salads. Precook, split the Artichoke in half, grill, stuff; eat with a dip of your choice and offer that squeeze of lemon. Add them to stir-fry and pasta dishes, even stews. Ice cream?! Of course! Mix in a tad of Fennel and Lemon or other favored flavors!!

However, these 8 chefs win the award for creative artichoke cookery! Take a peek, check out the amazing recipes!

Artichokes have a long history… In 1699, John Evelyn said: The bottoms can be baked in pies (“with Marrow, Dates, and other rich ingredients”); and in Italy, he adds, artichokes are broiled, basted with “sweet Oyl” and served up with orange juice and sugar.

Here’s to you creating your own love story with your artichokes!
Happy Planting!

All but one of the plant images, the purple Kings, were taken at two of Santa Barbara CA’s Community Gardens by Cerena Childress

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

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

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Amendment Biochar Applying

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

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

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

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

BIOCHAR RESEARCH

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

CONSIDERATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amendment BioChar and Compost + Manure Yields Great Results!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Bill made a convenient list for us home gardeners!

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

Making Your Own Biochar Amendment in Place!

HOW to MAKE OUR OWN BIOCHAR?! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why buy commercial Biochar? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safety when applying Biochar amendmentBe careful when applying dry Biochar!

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

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

There are different answers!

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

How to apply? Simple!

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

Coast of Maine Biochar Amendment raised bed mix

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

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

BIOMASS Magazine – Beyond the Hype

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pollinator Plant Cosmos Drought Tolerant Long Season Ca Native Bees

Lovely many colored drought-tolerant Cosmos blooms spring through first frost!

The most fabulous choices to grow are a diversity of flowering multipurpose companion plants with your veggies! If that includes being a native plant, hallelujah! 

Companion Planting maximizes your connections!

Companions plants may be other vegetables, like Radish! It is grown for the bulb, can be planted as a living mulch understory, can be let to grow up among cukes and zukes to repel cucumber beetle, is a trap for flea beetles, makes lovely edible flowers! We eat Cilantro leaves, it repels aphids, it’s flowers attract pollinators, the seeds become Coriander on your spice shelf. 

Some companions are colorful! Calendula! Chamomile is bright beauty. Arugula and radish flowers are delicate and detailed! Some flowers are total dainty princesses – cilantro, carrot and celery, the three Cs! Let arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery go to flower summer through fall to bring bees, butterflies and beneficial insects – pollinators! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next year’s plantings, to share at the seed swap, give as gifts! Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!

And what if they are not companions?! Grow beauty for the pollinators just because you love beauty and your special little friends! Flying insects are the most common pollinators. A special note about the importance of Bumble bees! Honey bees DON’T pollinate tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant or blueberries, but bumble bees DO! Bumblebees do what is called buzz pollination, sonication! Please see all about it in Sue Rosenthal’s post at Bay Nature! See the PBS Bumblebee Buzz Pollination video!

Be careful with those lovely hybrids, especially ‘double-blooms.’ A slight change in scent or shape and your pollinator may not be able to recognize them.

Design for Habitat and No Pesticides!

When you are thinking where to put things, select permanent spots for herbs, gateway points for flowers and edible flowers! Designate a permanent patch for year round flower habitat for bees. Cilantro is both tasty and has lovely feathery leaves and flowers in breeze, great pollinator food. Chamomile is downright heady scented on a warm morning. Comfrey, Knitbone, is both medicinal, healing (arthritis/bones), and speeds your compost, is high in soil nutrition. Poppies are beautiful; humble white Sweet Alyssum is dainty and attracts beneficial insects. Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips! Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents! Cosmos is cosmic! Breadseed Poppies will literally have your bees rolling in pollen!

Prairie Nursery in Westfield WI says: Pollinators are attracted to blooms that fit the pollinators’ physiological traits – specifically the length of their tongue. Some bees are generalists, flitting among flowers to drink nectar and collect pollen from many plant species. Flat or shallow blossoms, such as asters or coreopsis, attract a variety of bee species. But long-tongued bees will be attracted to plants with deeper nectaries and flowers with petals that form long tubes. The inclusion of a variety of floral shapes [and sizes] attracts a more diverse array of pollinators.

Grouping plants in clumps of three or more attracts bees to the plants and allows them to forage efficiently. And don’t forget the water. Pollinators get thirsty while they are working in the sun! They like shallow water sources. A shallow birdbath with stones in it is perfect!

Farmers are planting wildflower rows! See Stripes of Wildflowers! The stripy fields have been planted across England and other countries as part of a trial to boost the natural predators of pests that attack cereal crops and potentially cut pesticide spraying! Plant flowers among, alongside, your veggies! In fact, plant your flowers right in the center of things where they can serve several plants at once! Make that a short walk, or fly, for your beneficial insects! You may not plant stripes six metres wide, but do grow plenty of flowers the length of your area!

Pest Pesticides Reduction Flower Stripes Habitat in Fields

Current UCDavis research published Dec 18, 2018 says “Planting wildflowers is a key strategy promoted nationally to support wild and managed bees,” said Williams. “Successful adoption of these plantings in agricultural landscapes will require that they not only support pollinators but that they also avoid supporting too many pests. Plant selection going forward will need to balance multiple goals of pollinators pest management and other functions. This research is a first step on the path to identifying plants that will meet these goals.”

All Season Support! Text for images from UCDavis Arboretum post for native California bees! 

Some bee species are active all year, others only in April and May, still others in July and August, and all need food! New queens are born in the fall, and after breeding they may find a place to hibernate for the winter. When they emerge in spring, they need nectar and pollen sources—or they can’t start their colonies.

Renee's California Poppy Scatter Seed Can
Spring

California poppy, Eschscholzia californica is technically an annual, but they will “perennial-ize” by sprouting the following year from their roots and lower stems or by re-seeding. Look for sweat bees scrambling around the bottom of the flower and covering themselves with pollen.

Check out Renee’s California Poppy seed scatter can!

 

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Pollinator Gaillardia × grandiflora Blanket Flower

Summer

Blanket flower,  × grandiflora is a colorful daisy-type flower popular with a number of native bees. In the Valley they attract long-horned bees like Melissodes which can be easily observed collecting nectar and pollen from the showy orange and yellow flowers. This plant may be short-lived in heavy soils. Image by Cerena Childress, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden
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Pollinator Plant Germander Sage, Salvia chamaedryoides Native CA Bees
Fall

Germander sage, Salvia chamaedryoides blooms with beautiful dark blue flowers from late spring to early summer and again in fall. It is a primary nectar source for a number of bee types. Male carder bees may be most noticeable as they set up territories around flowering patches and knock into other bees that enter their area. Deadheading spent flowers in early summer will help the blossoms (and the bees) return in fall.
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Pollinator PLant Goodwin Creek lavender, Lavandula × ginginsii ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ Heat Drought Tolerant Long SeasonWinter

Goodwin Creek lavender, Lavandula × ginginsii ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ hybrid lavender is a tough and long-blooming sub-shrub that can be used to provide winter structure to your pollinator planting. Blooming early and lasting into summer, it is popular with large carpenter bees and a range of other smaller bees for its nectar. It can be pruned to shape, to increase branching, or to keep a compact form. Image at UCDavis Arboretum

Grow host plants for butterfly & moth caterpillars too! Some are quite particular, even to only one kind of plant.

Other special pollinators!

Don’t forget the other littles! Butterflies, midges, beetles! Wasps, ants and flies, even slugs! Some of them will make you more happy than others, but thank them too for pollinating!

Bird pollination even has a name, Ornithophily! In the US, hummingbirds are key in wildflower pollination.

About 87% of flowering plants are pollinated by animals. These include wild flowers and those used by people for food and medicine. While many ground plants benefit from small mammals’ pollination, some flowering trees rely on similar relationships with tree-dwelling or flying mammals. Bats are probably the best known mammal pollinators. Hundreds of plants rely on these busy, flying nectar lovers to spread their pollen at night.

The ‘little dragons,’ lizards and skinks, not only pollinate, but eat insect pests!

Where your pollinators live!

Flowers are much more than a pretty face! They are habitat. That means food and shelter, moisture – the morning dew, and for many wild bees, a place to sleep at night! You don’t always see them because they generally get up earlier than Honeybees.

First and foremost, just because your flowers are done, doesn’t mean beneficial insects don’t still need food and living quarters. Be more conscious about planting permanent habitat for them. Plus, if you have year ’round habitat, they will be ready to work for you as soon as your plants are up!

Stripes of Wildflowers says they plant oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot. Likely they carefully chose those plants for the results hoped for. This combination probably serves the majority of common beneficial predators, large to small, needed to replace those pesticides.

  • Oxeye daisy is a pretty little perennial – grows year after year, no replanting necessary.
  • Depending on your climate, Red Clover, a legume, is a perennial that has the added advantage that as they die they also feed the soil the flowers are growing in!
  • Common knapweed is a tall, thistle-like grassland perennial that doesn’t like wet areas or acidic soil.
  • Wild carrot (Daucus carota), also known as Queen Anne’s lace, is a biennial plant in the parsley family. The flower head has trillions of tiny flowers! It is perfect for smaller beneficial insects, strongly attracts Syrphid flies aka Hoverflies!

The common factor here is by planting perennials and self-seeders, there is always habitat, and no replanting necessary! Though Wild carrot is a biennial, it self-seeds like crazy, keeping a constant supply of flowers! Your choice of flowers, that insects love, that bloom all year long and are there all the time, is garden wisdom!

Honey bees have their hives, but native bees don’t. Most species of wild bees are solitary, and some 70 percent of them dig a nest in the ground to raise their young—something they can’t do if mulch is in the way. Leave a little bare ground and protect it from being stepped on! No mulch needed! They favor a slight slope or well drained site.

Install some living quarters, a bee block or bee hotel, which are available online or at some garden stores. Bee hotels are a pollinator’s paradise! Pollinators’ housing needs are hugely diverse! Bare soil, hollow twigs, big holes in trees, little holes of only a certain depth. You could also drill holes of varying sizes in a dead tree that’s still standing (if beetles haven’t already done it for you). You can easily build them yourself! They can be simple and small or a luxury condo like this one! See more!  Please see these super useful detailed tips here!

Homemade Solitary Bee House with Gourd!

Put your bee home up in March or early April! This will offer prime nesting sites for solitary bees for laying their eggs. Soon they will be buzzing, hovering and feasting about your veggie garden! Plant their favorite flower foods in time to feed them! See more about their favorite food!

Jennifer S Holland, writes for National Geographic: Learn more about organizations that support pollinators and their habitats, such as Pollinator Partnership. You can also participate in citizen-science programs for pollinators such as Bumble Bee Watch (Xerces Society), The Great Sunflower Project (San Francisco State University), Fourth of July Butterfly Count (North American Butterfly Association), and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (Monarch Watch).

If you have questions, one wonderful resource is the National Gardening Association! State your location when requesting information. The National Gardening Association reaches more than 7.6 million gardeners a year, and during the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge recorded on its website:

• A 25% uptick in participation in its forum, “Gardening for Bees and Butterflies.
• A 45% increase in searches relating to pollination.
• 140,000 photos of pollinator-friendly plants and pollinators uploaded.

For those of you with space for shrubs and trees, find out the best varieties to seasonally support our precious pollinators all year long! If you don’t have big space, plant your mini bloomers in containers, on your apt balcony, wherever you can! Don’t forget to plant the street strip with drought tolerant abundantly flowering native plants, buckwheat might be one! Check with your local nurseries that support pollinators, local botanic gardens, master gardeners, for the best plant choices for your area.

Sharing is Caring!  Put up your conversation starter informative sign. Be proud & happy!

Pollinator Habitat Sign Cosmos Sunflower Bring Back the Pollinators

Plant significant, do-the-job flowers for bees, the colors they love the most! Plant for pollinators of all kinds, plant for the good-guy predators! Do it in your yard, in your veggie garden, along the street! Make your life a lovely Meadow!

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

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

Read Full Post »

February 2019! Winter Harvests, Soil Preps, First Spring Plantings!

Cold Tolerant Tomatoes, Early Heirlooms!

The beauty of planting from seeds is you can get perfect varieties, the rare and unusual! Thanks to TomatoFest for this Cool image!

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

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

Summer garden planning tips emphasizing needing less water! Companions!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start seedlings indoors now for March/April plantings. A 2005 North Carolina State University damping-off study found it’s not the mixture but what’s on top of the soil that counts most. Damping-off differences almost disappeared between commercial organic seed-starting mixtures and various homemade mixtures after all of the seeds were covered with vermiculite instead of a planting medium. No brewing, spraying or sprinkling. Simple fix!

If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, just wait, get transplants and pop them right in the ground per their right times!

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

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

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

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

  • Compost! The amount of compost to use varies, depending on your soil’s condition, plant selection, compost quality, and availability. A guideline offered by Cornell University (veggies – bottom of Pg 4) says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil!
  • Add well aged manure as appropriate. Less in spring because you want fruit production, not leaf, unless it is a plant grown for its leaves, like lettuce, kale or cabbage! None for carrots, peas or beans.
  • Add 25% worm castings. As little as 10% works. They are potent – increase germination, faster seedling growth, help with plant immunities to disease, increase water holding capacity.
  • Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Jamaican bat is high P phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2.
  • Sprinkle with a tad of coffee grounds to reduce fungal rots and wilts!! Grounds are more potent than they have a right to be! 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less is all that is needed or wanted!
  • Don’t cover with mulch unless you need it for erosion control. Covered soil is cooler. Let your winter cool soil warm up. Do mulch under broccoli and kale you will be keeping over summer. They do best with cool conditions.
  • Water your prepped areas when you water your other veggies. Moist, not flooded, soil is rampant with soil organisms enriching your soil for free!

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

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

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

PESTS!

BEFORE you put in seeds, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around a couple of times, to kill the generations, to keep snails and slugs from vanishing upcoming seedlings overnight, making you think they never came up! No, they didn’t let you down. Killing off the creatures ahead of time saves the babies. It stops new transplants from being seriously damaged or entirely mowed while they are small. When, if, later you see more slimy predators, sprinkle that stuff a couple times again.

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

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

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

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

DISEASES

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

Cercospora Leaf Spot on Chard. This fungi also infects Spinach and Beets.Beets, Chard and Spinach get Cercospora leaf spot – like the Chard at left. Sadly, no resistant cultivars of table beet are known. Late fall or early spring plantings are most likely to be affected. Late summer when conditions are favorable (high temperatures 75-85˚F, high humidity, long leaf wetness periods at night) is the worst. Beet roots fail to grow to full size when disease is severe. Successive plantings made close together can allow disease to move from one planting into the next. It grows on infected crop residues, so immediately remove leaves that collapse on the ground. It is spread by rain splash, wind, irrigation water, insects, gardeners, and equipment. This is one case where AM watering really makes sense to reduce humidity. UMASS Amherst recommends to ‘Avoid overhead irrigation if it will result in prolonged leaf wetness periods (e.g., through the night); irrigate mid-day when leaves will dry fully or use drip irrigation.’ If all that fails, use foliar fungicides. Plant less densely for more airflow, thinnings are tasty! In general, harvest more frequently so leaves don’t surpass their prime health. Planting only every 3 years in the same spot isn’t possible if there is too little garden space, so cultivating, turning and drying the soil between plantings is good. See more

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants. Bag them and put them in the trash, not green waste.

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

Watering & Weeding 

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

Dust Mulching, cultivation, breaks up the soil surface, keeps water from wicking to the surface and evaporating. If you use a hula hoe you do two things at once! Just a half to one inch depth cuts off weed sprouts. Indeed, it turns the soil a tad, all that’s needed. More weeds will follow, but it’s quick and easy to repeat the process. Two, three times, a few days apart, and there will be few weeds after that for a while. Get ’em while they are small and easy to do. Smart gardening.

Grass in Flower, soon to Seed

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

Thinning is a form of weeding! Thin plants that need it, like beets whose seeds start in foursomes! Thin plants you intentionally over planted – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, radish, mustard! If you planted too close together, take out shorter, smaller weaker plants. They are all great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves. If you don’t thin, plants grown for their roots don’t have room or nutrition to grow that root. They are literally rootbound and starve each other out, stunted. So thin sooner than later. If you miss the window, thin or not, you won’t get your root – beet, carrot, radish, etc. Keep thinning as they get older. At mature size their leaves shouldn’t touch each other. That helps keep pests and disease from spreading from one to the next.

Happy Imbolc (Gaelic beginning of Spring) Feb 1 & GroundHog Day Feb 2! Happy February Gardening and the very beginning of spring planting!

Updated 1.24.19


See the entire February Newsletter:

FEBRUARY 2019! Winter Harvests, Soil Preps, First Spring Plantings!

Tomato Varieties! Humble to Humongous & More!
Wilts & Cucumber Beetles, Tomatoes & Cukes!
Squashes! Prolific and Indomitable!
Other Community Gardens – Kale not Jail! 

Upcoming Gardener Events! Mesa Harmony Garden Plant Sale!, Earth Day, the International Permaculture Conference, IPC 2020 Argentina!

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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.

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

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Senior woman harvesting tomatoes in her garden

Why quit now?! Have a feisty life! Here are some tips that may renew or ignite your passion! If you have a senior in your life and think gardening might be a good part of their lives, read on for some ideas!

Or maybe you have never gardened before! I didn’t start veggie gardening until I was 57! I knew nothing. Never had houseplants…they died if I tried. But it became my time! I learned fast listening to community garden seniors who had gardened all their lives, and seeing 30+ other community gardener’s successes and failures opened my eyes! I intensely scoured the Internet and I asked questions at my local nurseries and every once in awhile at our Cooperative Extension office!

Gardening is one of the most healthy things you can do for yourself! Having gardened in a community garden that is next to a senior community, and becoming a wee bit older myself, I have seen the advantages to senior gardeners first hand!

Get outdoors and get that Vitamin Sunshine! You can eat 100% organic fresh vegetables and fruits! You get excited by a seedling bursting to life, and that seedling’s growth every day. You get invested in its wellbeing. And it’s fun! You learn more things and your mind stays sharp!

Friends! One way or another you get talking with others, making new friends and improving your outlook on life! If you garden with others, there is delightful camaraderie and a wealth of sharing! See if your area has any gardening clubs. If not, start one yourself!

May I introduce the Four Counties Gardening Club of Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware Counties of the state of Pennsylvania celebrating their 95th anniversary in 2017! Imagine the years of enjoyment that have been shared!

Garden Club Four Counties Pennsylvania 95 Yrs 2017

Right now, this spring, get out and start your garden! If you have never done before, you are in for a treat. Your plants don’t care how old you are, they just want some TLC! You will learn as they grow.

Be comfortable!

Choose some great garden shoes or mud boots.

Maybe you haven’t been getting out because you chill down easily. Check out the thrift shop or discount store for a snuggly work shirt, sweater or jacket. Wear layers. Take a thermos of a hot drink you like.

Too hot? Go a little earlier if possible. Take a cool drink with you and stay hydrated. Get a pretty sun hat and cool shades and you be stylin’!

Work easy! Lightweight wheelbarrows, tools and smaller watering cans can help a lot. Rather than working until you can’t, do a bit each day. Select a smaller patch to work. Go for quality.

Be happy! Have a smaller garden space that doesn’t overwork you, you leave feeling great! A lot can happen in a small space. Even a small space can do wonders! Get your plants up in cages and on trellises! Plant small plants, littles, on the sunny side below larger plants. Remove the larger plant’s lower leaves if they shade out the littles. No need for rows. Plant around, among or along the larger plants!

Nor do you need to garden all year. Some gardeners prefer cooler weather, so refreshing it perks you right up! Others love the hot sun, no heavy clothing, so relaxing. If you are in a northern single season area, you garden with vigor, then rest over winter. Same for hot desert areas only in reverse! Coastal, especially SoCal, all year may be quite enjoyable. Do please yourself.

Easy access! If you can’t get down, or back up, then don’t! Have beds on legs or that you can stand or sit at. Containers up on strong secure waterproof bases work well. Either way, no gophers!

You could invest in a self-watering VegePod Garden! It is a fancy container type gismo up on legs with a protective hood that keeps bad insects and animals out and gives shade. You do need to open it when your plants need pollinating and to get more sun when the temps are right. You can order the stands with wheels so you can move them around with the sun! The largest one is 3’X6′. See more details at Fertile Fields! See if any of your local nurseries carry them and support your local nursery. In Santa Barbara area La Sumida carries them! I’ve seen a closely planted super successful one in action! It might take three years to break even with organic veggies, but there is no price for the joy of the gardening and superb health of being outdoors!

Raised Bed VegePod!

Smart choices

You don’t have to plant from seed unless you are used to it and like to. Nurseries take a lot of the worry out of life. Most of them have plants that do well locally at the right time of year. Chains and box stores are chancy. Transplants are easiest to do. Start with easy plants to care for. Plant part of the patch; save room for a second round of planting for a steady table supply. Even then, you may choose not to plant the entire area. Plants take tending and need harvesting. Do what works for you. Less may be an excellent choice.

Save time and energy. Choose efficient plants per square feet of production! Leafy chard and kales, and peas are cool weather winners. And you can plant a lot of beets in a small place – eat their greens and beets both! Summer squash, Zucchini grow enough for giveaways that are refused! Everyone else has too many too! Pole Beans keep making beans. Asian Suyo Long cucumbers grow so many so long so fast you can’t believe it! Lettuces are prodigious and Tomatoes light up our eyes! In addition grow one or two of your own super other favorites!

Container gardening is excellent! You can have as few or as many containers as works perfectly for you!

If you are gardening in the ground, do install gopher wire protection from the get go whether that is the bottom of a raised bed or a patch you dig up and install protective wire. If you are container gardening, no problem.

Teach the youngers the wisdom you have learned! It makes a huge difference to gardeners just getting started. It did to me. Years later now, I still remember them with respect and a little awe.

SAFETY ALWAYS

Get help with heavy lifting – bags of amendments.

Get help with any large scale digging that needs doing.

If you have any health jeopardy, share gardening with a friend or your family so you are not alone. Good health to you both, all of you! Gardens are healing places.

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes!

To start your own Veggie Gardening Revolution all it takes is YOU & ONE SEED (or transplant)! May you garden with happy abandon!

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Mother’s Day is May 8, 2018! Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts! Get living gifts started now! Click here

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

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Seed Sprouting! Life!

Photo: USDA Flickr

Starting seeds yourself has fabulous advantages! Seeds are cheaper than transplants, and you can grow far more varieties of veggies than you can buy at the local nursery! You can buy the best and order the latest they may not have heard about yet. You can experiment and see for yourself. You can touch and taste these special varieties! You can even do a little research and hybridize some of your own! And you can grow them when you want them!

The two main ways to work with seeds are to plant indoors or outdoors!

STARTING YOUR SEEDS OUTDOORS IN THE GROUND

Just like in Mother Nature, outdoor starts are blessed with whole nutrition from their very beginning and they don’t need transplanting!

Before you sow your seeds, amend your soil surface with worm castings! Castings speed germination and strengthen seedling immunity. Keep that planting space and those castings moist until you are ready to plant. A couple days before planting, water the soil so it is for sure semi moist on planting day.

Plant large hard seeds and seeds that are planted an inch deep before a rain. Wait until after the rain to plant little seeds that could be washed away or buried too deeply. Same for seeds that rot easily like bean seeds.

Prevent pests! Put down what you use to end slugs and snails before you sow your seeds!

While you are waiting for planting day, make tags. I put three things on my tags. 1) I put the planting date on the tag so I’ll know by when I should be seeing seedlings. 2) The name of the plant helps so you will know what they are and not a weed! If you are new to planting seeds, don’t worry, you will learn to recognize the little guys. If in doubt, let them grow a bit before you ‘weed’ them out. Look online for baby pictures! 3) The days to maturity cues me to when I should be expecting fruit and how well my plants did. And that varies per time of year, temps, weather, your soil, how well you cared for them.

Mark your planted areas as you go! When I plant the seeds I put a stick at the ends of the row, a triangle of sticks when there is a single area where the seeds are planted. Since I do a lot of interplanting with understories, companion planting special plants where they will do the most good, that keeps me from stepping on or disturbing the seeds.

Some seeds are big and fat like beans, others, like poppies and purslane, are so tiny if you dropped them you would never find them!

After how far apart should I plant my seeds, probably the most iffy thing about planting seeds is how deep do they need to be planted? Most seed packs have that info on them.

Chopsticks can be used in a couple helpful ways.

Mark one of them at 1/4, 1/2, and 1″ on the stick. That way you can get your seeds at the right planting depth. Using your marked stick keeps you mindful; planting goes fun and faster with less wondering and worrying!

If you are installing delicate sprouts, make a planting hole, and if you are good with chopsticks, grasp the sprout gently, carefully place it. Cover and smooth the soil, water gently. Check out Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas!

Teensy seeds are a challenge in so many ways!

First it’s a question of not dropping them. Hold the package over a dish? Something smooth and not wet or sticky. And keep your hands and that package dry! And don’t plant those tiny feathery seeds on a windy day!

Second is how to distribute them the right distance apart. Very carefully. Be careful not to crush or damage them by rolling them or squishing them between your fingers! Use a tiny spoon.

Since most tiny light seeds aren’t supposed to be buried, in nature they wouldn’t be, simply very lightly hand pat them to the soil.

Third is how to keep them from washing away when you water. You can make a tiny ‘trench’ or depression with mild slopes. Sometimes I just hand pat a little depression area with my fingers. Instead of the hose, use your watering can with nozzle that has fine holes. No flooding or standing water. Just moisten. Moisten them maybe 2 or 3 times so the soil gets moist a 1/4 to a 1/2 inch deep. Moisten once, water something else, come back and moisten again so the water can soak in a wee bit deeper. Repeat.

When you are weeding, have you noticed how many seeds come up by the edge of a pathway board, a plot border or a stepping stone? Put down a mini board, wide stick, where you want tiny seeds to grow, preferably in a slightly lower area, a depression that will hold a bit of moisture. Sprinkle the seeds around the board, along the stick. They will have the moisture and shelter they need to get started right at the side of the board or stick! Once they are started, remove the board, transplant some of them if you like.

It may be easier to plant a group of seeds in one place to get them started. That can be their nursery. Plant them far enough apart that you can get a small trowel in there to collect them to transplant. Transplant them where they are needed or to their permanent place when they get their second set of leaves.

Delicate seeds like Marigold need to be carefully laid down and cover the complete seed, but no more than 1/4″. The ‘tail’ of the seed acts like a wick to deliver moisture to the seed. Unprocessed home saved carrot seeds are fuzzy with wicks. They germinate much sooner than the processed naked ones in seed packs!

Lettuce seeds are planted on the surface OR 1/4″ deep depending on the variety. Read your seed pack!

Harder seeds like Cilantro can be exciting to handle since they roll around and jump for it any time they can! They often come up as nearby volunteers! That rolling about can make spacing a challenge. But you can see them and they are big enough to move where you want them. Radish are not exactly round, but they can be unpredictable too! If spacing means a lot to you, you can make or buy seed strips!

If you aren’t overplanting for greens from thinning, spacing does mean a lot! Plants too closely seeded and not thinned, get rootbound, root plants like radish, beets, carrots can’t make, won’t form their roots. Too closely planting lessens growth and production, weakens your plants since your plants are literally starving. Plants along the edge of a clump can reach out. Ones at the center can’t get their roots through to food.

Beet seeds are unique because each ‘seed,’ corm, is a cluster of three to four seeds! There is no escaping needing to thin them. OR, you can gently hand separate them to get four healthy plants! I separated beets I got from a nursery. When I finished 3 of the 6-pack compartments I had planted out 36 beets!

Big seeds are easy, but if you aren’t naturally a good measurer, it’s easy enough to plant too deep or not deep enough! Where are those chopsticks? If the seeds are an inch deep, you usually won’t wash them away when you water. Some seeds can be planted too deep make it, just rot and become compost. With others a little deep means it just takes longer to come up. Too shallow may not keep those seeds moist enough. 

Some batches of seeds are mixed sizes – maybe your green manure or living mulch mix. Some say broadcasting them is all you need to do – they are light germinating seeds. But soil contact and moisture is important. If you plant during a hot spell, get your soil as level as possible. Fling, toss, drizzle your seeds about. Lay a board or a piece of plywood on the soil to press them down for that contact. Immediately cover with bird net or aviary wire or many will be gone overnight, and birds will take tiny tasty tender seedlings that sprout! Gently water your seeds to keep them moist. In hot weather that may be two times a day. You can bury your seeds, but way fewer seeds make it. You only get a thin stand.

Protect your seeds! After your seeds are in, cover with bird netting or aviary wire. Birds love seeds and fresh seedlings! Animals like plowing through your soil looking for insects and seeds. Aviary wire is best for that, or an easily removed wire border so you have access for tending. You can use cloches for small spot plantings. When you can use them, they are excellent because wicked slugs and cut worms can’t get through!

Seedlings Transplants Cover Protection Birds Shade

Successive planting in summer heat has its own challenges, but it is doable! Set up shade cloth, use upturned flower pots or laundry baskets, cardboard boxes, or lightweight fabric held aloft with hoops. Shade cloth comes in different densities. You can water through it and it keeps birds and predator insects away. Remove it when your plants are up and strong. This image has lettuce, but you can start mixtures of other plants this way too. Use it as a nursery then transplant plants where you want them.

STARTING SEEDS INDOORS or IN YOUR COLD FRAME or GREENHOUSE

Seedlings Indoors Grow Lights

Starting seeds in a Container is a whole different territory! Your main advantage is getting a SIX WEEK headstart on planting! That’s food on your table a month and a half sooner!

It can be as simple as putting a few containers or 6 packs in your kitchen window or on top of the warm fridge, or doing something costly, elaborate and sophisticated! If you like starting seeds, choosing a permanent space, then installing lighting, warmth, and setting up a special overhead watering system on a timer may intrigue you. You might put up a greenhouse! You can install a wonderful bought or homemade cold frame on the sun facing hillside.

You can make your own special seed starter mix; it’s not too hard. But if you don’t want the mess, or don’t have time for that, you just buy a great mix at the nursery! While you are there, get a bag of vermiculite, or when you are at the grocery outlet, get a big container of cinnamon. Read on below….

Starting seeds indoors means there are no predator pests. Yay! Rain doesn’t matter. No drying or damaging winds. No hot scorching sun. No soil pre preps – yet.

Level starting medium is pretty easy to achieve. Gentle watering is still needed. Seeds and seedlings need to be kept moist.

Making tags is very useful, especially if you put different plants in the 6 pack compartments! You have a start date and you know when they should be up. And you can use the tags when you transplant the babies in the soil outdoors.

When the true leaves come on, the ones after the first two, the seedlings will need to be fed. Spritzing with a liquid feed is the usual answer.

Cinnamon for Seedling Damping Off Disease Prevention!

The nemesis is Damping off disease, a sad foe of seedlings. The baby just topples overnight and it’s over. A 2005 North Carolina State University study found it’s not the mixture but what’s on top of the soil that counts most. Damping off differences almost disappeared between commercial organic seed-starting mixtures and various homemade mixtures after all of the seeds were covered with vermiculite instead of a planting medium. Simple fix!

The super simplest prevention is Cinnamon! Just sprinkle it on the soil! Sprinkle on plant injuries and they will heal. It is a rooting hormone. And it repels ants! Mildew, mold, fungal diseases? Mix 4 tablespoons cinnamon in a half gallon warm water, shake it vigorously, steep overnight. Strain through a sieve or coffee filter and put it in a spray bottle. Add ¼ teaspoon liquid dish soap as a surfactant, lightly spritz your plants, undersides and tops of leaves!

You do need to harden off seedlings. They need to be taken outside to get used to cooler temps, a bit of breeze to build their standing up muscles! The author of ‘Grocery Gardening’, Jean Ann Van Krevelen says, “Take your seedlings to a protected location outside for one hour for the first day.” She said, “Do this each day for a week. Add one hour for each day of the process. By the end of the week, you’ll be at 7 hours and the plants will be ready to be transplanted.” She doesn’t recommend direct sunlight or wind. Don’t take they out if it is windy and your seedlings could be broken. Just do it the next day where you left off. Keep your seedlings evenly moist.

Schlepping them back and forth may be a challenge, but doable. But if you grow them on a cart with wheels in the garage or near the patio, you can easily roll them out and back in each day.

Both indoor and outdoor planting have their necessities, special techniques, disadvantages and advantages! There’s no reason why you can’t do BOTH! Getting a healthy start in the ground is terrific! Others would never make it in cold or extreme heat and indoor babying is just right. Preseason indoor starting gets you there that six weeks sooner!

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Mother’s Day is May 8! Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts! Get living gifts started now! Click here

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

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German Chamomile Herb Bee Flower

Please do plant Chamomile to feed the bees!

Chamomile is downright heady scented on a warm morning and the tea is sweet.

Chamomile is in the Asteraceae family, making it a relative of Daisies. German Chamomile, Matricaria recutita, is upright, easily gets 2’+ tall and leggy, unruly! It has dainty feathery foliage, smells like pineapple or apple depending on who you talk with. Due to the shape of the yellow part of the flower is sometimes called Pineapple Plant! Roman Chamomile, Anthemis nobilis, is a ground cover with thicker foliage. For medicinal purposes they can be used interchangeably. Roman has bigger flowers, but German is easier to harvest and pretties up your garden!

Bodegold, Matricaria recutita, is an improved German variety from East Germany, where herbal remedies have been used for centuries. Bodegold is shorter, a more sturdy upright 18–24″ tall, so flowers several weeks before other varieties! It blooms through August, even a little more if there are rains! Bodegold has more and larger flowers per plant that have higher essential oil content. Its more uniform habit which makes harvesting easier. If you enjoy details, see a comparative study of 4 Chamomile cultivars including Bodegold.

PLANTING  It’s an annual that prefers cooler weather. In SoCal, plant by seed in fall or when the soil warms to about 65 degrees in spring for blooms starting in 65 days! It goes through midsummer or later. It’s lovely in containers! Maybe right by the door or below the kitchen or bedroom window! Full sun is best but in hotter areas partial shade may be ok. Plant as a border, use it to fill in spots where you need something bright and cheerful, as a companion pest-preventing plant by the plants that need its protection. Chamomile likes well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. Give mature plants ample even moisture.

There are four ways to plant!

  1. The easiest is to simply let babies sprout this year from fallen seeds if you had Chamomile last year!
  2. Also easy is to simply fling seeds about and forget about them! Let them come up when and where they will. It’s a miracle these super tiny seed beings can do this, but it does happen just like in nature! You can ‘weed’ and transplant them where you want them.
  3. If you are starting Chamomile for the first time and want to grow it from seed, get a packet from your local nursery or a reputable organic seed house. The seeds are husky, but tiny to say the least! The seedlings are tiny too! If you don’t start them indoors, mark where you planted them so you don’t step on them or pull them up thinking they are weeds. Be sure to clear that area of slugs and snails first by putting down something to kill them off before you plant your seeds. Once planted, cover to protect them from being vanished by birds.Put your seeds on the soil surface in slight separate depressions 3″ diameter so the seeds don’t float away and water stays where it is needed. Press lightly to settle, do not cover with soil. Your seeds need to be kept moist. That might be every day or twice a day depending on sun and wind. Water lightly and gently so as not to wash away your seeds, or damage tiny seedlings about to come up. They germinate in 7 to 14 days. Do cover the seedlings with netting, a wire cover or a cloche to protect them from birds.

    Here is what your tiny seedlings will look like when they first appear! You can easily see how you could step on them if the area isn’t marked, mistake them for a weed unless you know what to look for. And, how easily they can be overnight gourmet outdoors for slugs. When they are a tad bigger, they have teensy leaves.

    Delicate Chamomile, Anthemis, Seedlings need protection from slugs, snails, and birds!

    Photo by Jellaluna

  4. If direct seeding isn’t for you, get transplants as soon as your nursery has them. If you already have plants and like them right where they are, let some of your flowers dry on the plant. When you remove the dry plant, give it a good shaking, or squish the dry cones, roll them between your fingers, and let some of the seeds fall to the ground. Your Chamomile will likely self seed next season! That area can act as a nursery area and you can transplant some of the babies to other spots next year if you like. Or, gather a few dry flowers while you are harvesting your flower heads. Save extra seeds for the annual Seed Swap. Next spring plant the seeds you keep where the plants will do the most good for your garden. If your nursery doesn’t carry Chamomile, then you are back to planting from seed or asking another gardener if they have any babies they don’t need and transplant those!

ONE DISEASE, NO PESTS!

Though Chamomile is pest and disease resistant, it can/does get mildew when mildew temps, 60° to 80°F, arrive. Chamomile gets 2′ tall and a good 2′ diameter! Leave plenty of room. Best to leave enough space so mature plant’s leaves don’t touch each other or another plant and spread the mildew. But it often does lay over and lean on neighboring plants, so stake it up. Tie it loosely to the stake if the area is windy. No overhead watering. Mildew can be a problem on a plant you have pinched back to get dense bushy foliage with little air circulation. When you treat your other plants for mildew prevention, treat it too.

IT’S A SUPER COMPANION PLANT!

Traditionally chamomile is known as the “plant doctor,” chamomile has been known to revive and revitalize plants growing near it. Chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb and it’s just plain pretty.

CARROTS thrive with Chamomile, Cilantro, and Marigold. Plant a flock of carrots intermingled with, along with them or around a central plant!

Chamomile flowers attract hoverflies and wasps, both pollinators and predators that feed on aphids and other pest insects.

One of the colors bees see is yellow! Chamomile blooms are perfect! Please plant Bee Food, Herbs and Flowers! Sow or transplant basil, borage, chervil, chamomile, chives, cilantro, comfrey, dill, fennel, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme. Let a carrot or two, and a celery to go to flower to bring bees, butterflies and beneficial insects! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next year’s plantings, to share at the seed swap, give as gifts!

Chamomile, comfrey and yarrow are compost speeder uppers. Plant them near your compost area! Sprinkle your compost with a handful or two of living moist soil to inoculate your pile, and add a few handfuls of your decomposer herbs.

Some think Equisetum (Horsetail) tea is the sovereign remedy for fighting fungus — especially damp-off disease on young seedlings. Spray on the soil as well as plant. (I sprinkle with Cinnamon powder.) Chamomile tea and garlic teas are also used to fight mildew on cucumbers and squash. Try it on other plants that get mildew too!

Chamomile Herb Medicinal
MEDICINAL USES

German Chamomile is a productive and highly medicinal herb, a staple of every herb pantry. Photo by Fotolia/gitusik

Mother Earth News says: It is an anti-inflammatory nervine that has a calming effect on the nervous and digestive systems, and it’s safe for children and adults who are in a weakened state. Chamomile has antiseptic properties and is used topically in washes for skin, eyes and mouth. Its essential oil is useful in creams, oils and salves. When brewed as a tea – affectionately called ‘cammy tea,’ the sweet little blossoms bring a sense of well-being. Chamomile can also be formulated with other herbs and taken in extract form as a digestive, a sleep aid and an overall nerve tonic.

In an herbal shampoo – sage darkens your hair, chamomile lightens!

HOW and WHEN TO HARVEST the FLOWERS! 

Many large commercial growers of chamomile sacrifice quality for expediency by using combines to harvest the flowers. Hand-harvesting is easy and retains more of the essential oils and medicinal compounds. Pick on a dry day when the flowers are nearly fully open, after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is high, before the sun beats down on them and volatile oils lost. Definitely harvest before the petals fall back (go back down). In this early morning image you can see flowers with their petals down, others fully open. Most are mature, others just starting to petal up!

May 2016 Chamomile

Image by Cerena Childress, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

As your plants grow, you can pick the flower heads by running your fingers through the plants, palm up, fingers spread wide enough to allow the flower stems to get between them, taking the flowers as you sweep across. Of course, you can pick them one by one as well if you want only the very best. You only want the flower head – cone and petals, not the stem, which some people taste as bitter. One efficient way to do this is to cut off a stem that has several flowers on it. Shake it well to remove any insects. Remove the flowers with your fingernail or scissors or as you wish. The purpose for taking the stem with the group of flowers is so you don’t have to trim remaining flower stems away after you take the flowers.

Start harvesting 3 days after flowering. Pick blossoms every seven to 10 days during peak bloom time. The more you harvest, the more your plant will bloom! Flowering may slow down during hot, dry spells and then resume when cool weather returns.

PRACTICAL CAUTION: Some of us have topical hypersensitivity to chamomile. If you are allergic to other members of the Asteraceae family, such as ragweed, if you develop a rash while picking chamomile flowers, avoid using them externally or internally. Please.

Chamomile Herb Dried Flowers Medicinal Glass Jar

You can use fresh blossoms immediately, but they’re also relatively easy to dry. Everyone has their own special method and tips!

To ensure the centers of the flowers are dried completely but volatile oils are not lost, dry at lower temperatures (85 to 95 degrees) somewhere with good airflow and limited light. Be sure your flowers don’t have any insects! You can tie and hang them, or spread out the flowers in a single layer on a paper plate and allow them to dry for 1 to 2 weeks in a dark, warm, dry space.

Image from Susy Morris/Flickr, via Hobby Farms  

If you have a lot of flowers to dry, you can build a screen frame and rest it over two sawhorses. With a frame, the flowers dry both from top and bottom. Make your frame lightweight so you can shake and flip the flowers to speed drying. Lay a white window sheer fabric over the screen so small bits of the drying flowers aren’t lost by falling through the screen.

Store in an airtight glass jar in a cool dark place until ready to use. Dried chamomile keeps its flavor for up to a year if it’s stored in an airtight glass or metal container, away from heat and humidity, and out of direct light. Put some in a small jar, tie a ribbon around it, add a label. Makes a super sweet gift!

Simplest TEA preparation: Before bed or anytime you need to relax, put a tablespoon dry or 2 tablespoons fresh, or as you prefer, into your tea ball/infuser. Put it into 6 to 8 ounces of hot water in a cup or teapot and steep for five minutes. Steeping for longer than the recommended time or boiling the blossoms can volatilize the essential oils in the plants, reducing the quality and negatively affecting taste and aroma.

Chamomile, being in the Daisy family, has those white ray petals. The yellow center cone has the disk flowers that produce the seeds! To harvest seeds, just pull the dry cone apart, and there are your seeds!

Author and Ethnobotanist Dawn Combs says it so well! ‘With so many great uses for the bright, sunny flower of chamomile, it’s well worth the time and effort to grow and harvest. The time I spend in the quiet of the garden on a summer day while picking the small blossoms do as much for me as if I were drinking a cup of the tea. We all need more excuses for these times of contemplation and peace. You might say growing chamomile is a way to grow your own meditation.’

Chamomile Herb Tea Cup Flowers

Bee good to yourself and Mother Earth! Plant Chamomile!

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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!

Read Full Post »

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