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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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Herb Borage StarFlower Stunning Flowers! Blue for Bees!

The herb Borage – Borago officinalis, StarFlower, has stunning Blue-for-bees flowers! Thanks to Ask a Prepper for this lovely image! 

Beautiful Borage Herb Plant in full blue bloom!

Borage at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA by Cerena Childress

Borage, aka StarFlower, is grown commercially for its seed oil, but is also a heavenly, cheerful, prolifically blooming plant to dress up your winter/spring home garden! Look at all those buds! It isn’t stopping anytime soon either!

This herb is the highest known plant source of gamma-linolenic acid (an Omega 6 fatty acid, also known as GLA – an anti-inflammatory) and the seed oil is often marketed as a GLA supplement. It is also a source of B vitamins, beta-carotene, fiber, choline, and, of course, trace minerals. In alternative medicine it is used for stimulating breast milk production and as an adrenal gland tonic used to relieve stress.

Borage is thought to have originated in North Africa, went up through Spain, and is now a common warm climate Mediterranean plant. For us SoCal gardeners that means it is right at home here in our Mediterranean climate. It likes our ‘winter’ and grows happily through midsummer. By late summer it looks a little tired and most gardeners pull it.

Herb Borage, StarFlower, can grow both blue and pink flowers on the same plant at the same time!Single Herb Borage, StarFlower, flowers can be blue AND pink!

The magical Star shaped flowers are a bonus to us humans. Don’t be surprised if occasionally there are pink blossoms among your blue blossoms, on the same plant at the same time, or some flowers that are blue and pink! Sometimes blue ones turn pink! Your prolific plant will produce 100s of flowers during its life!

PLANTING & CARE

Some say to plant 12″ apart,  but considering how big they get I would say at least 3′ apart! Healthy Borage, Borago officinalis, can take up a fair footprint, 2 to 3′ wide, so allow enough space unless you don’t mind clipping it back. However, it is a tad prickly, so you might want to use gloves when you do.

Since it gets 2 – 3′ high, place it so it doesn’t shade out other shorter plants like strawberries.

It prospers in full sun, even partial shade.

Sandy soil is its favorite, some say rich soil, but it adapts to most anywhere as long as there is good drainage. Adding compost gives more flowers!

Seeds do well planted after the last frost date.  1/4 to 1/2″ deep. But when covered by the mother foliage, it self-seeds readily abundantly! You will have little plants to give away or add the young tender leaves to your salad or steam them as greens!

Herb Borage, StarFlower, is fairly hardy. Frosted foliage!

If you are in a cold zone or want an earlier start, sow seeds indoors 3-4 weeks before the last average frost date. Barely cover the seeds and keep them moist. At about 3″ tall, pop them in the ground! It can stand a tad of frost, but that keyword is ‘average.’ Keep a weather watch. Water and cover them if you need to.

During the season, moist is good; soggy is not. When they start to bloom, fertilize with a high phosphorus organic fertilizer. If the flowers drop back later, do it again.

It’s work, but if you want a shorter plant, pinch and prune to encourage branching.

One of its old names was Lungwort, the leaves thought to look like lungs.

The lovey blue Borage, StarFlower, herb flowers are Bees' favorite color!

At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA March 2018 on a rainy morning. Cerena Childress photo

PESTS & DISEASES

Due to its fuzzy nature, Borage has no pests. Another name for it has been common bugloss. Bugloss – we like that! And I’ve never seen it with any diseases. Every part of this plant is fuzzy except for those pretty little baby naked flowers! It’s a pollinator’s paradise and blue is one of Bees’ favorite colors! Borage is a valuable companion plant because it brings bees/pollinators and is a good honey plant! Two of its common names are Bee Plant & Beebread! More bees, more strawberries! Grow some of the bees’ other favorite blue flowers as well – Agapanthus, anise hyssop, crocus, hyacinth, salvias, blue spirea, germander, bog sage, obedient plant, and many others. Your garden will literally be humming.

COMPANION! Planting borage with strawberries and squash is smart! It attracts bees and increases the yield! Borage also repels pests such as Tomato hornworms, Japanese Beetles, cabbage worms and moths! It aids plants it is interplanted with by increasing resistance to pests and disease. It is also helpful to, and compatible with, most plants. Forget the corners and borders! Plant this beauty right in the middle of your garden, between plants, so it can do the most good. Make it the hub of the wheel!

Herb Borage, StarFlower, seeds are easy to gather!SEEDSAVING! Self seeds like crazy! The seeds in the image have broken loose, but not yet fallen. Generally there are four black/brown nutlets. They know how to hide in plain sight, the same color as your soil. Expect babies you can transplant or giveaway. Be careful with that – Borage has a taproot, so dig deep enough not to damage it. Transplant early, at 3 to 4″, while that taproot is still short. If you are just starting, get your seeds early spring before the seed houses run out!

Borage oil is made from the seeds. Per Wiki: ‘Borage seed oil has one of the highest amounts of γ-linolenic acid of seed oils — higher than blackcurrant seed oil or evening primrose oil, to which it is considered similar. GLA typically comprises about 24% of the oil.’

Please check these and other sites for extensive details on healthy and medicinal use:

Pros: Mercola, Take Control of Your Health
Pros & Cons: WebMD Watch out for those PAs! Use only products that are certified and labeled PA-free.

Martha Stewart uses the Herb Borage, StarFlower, in a lovely fish, cucumber & tahini dish!

Martha Stewart’s Gently Steamed Fish with Cucumber, Borage, and Tahini Sauce with sprigs of Cilantro flowers.

EDIBLE! Toss some of those magical sweet flowers on top of your salads to make Borage beauty! This herb can be used in soups, young leaves in salads, dried leaves brewed hot in teas, borage-lemonade, strawberry-borage cocktails, preserves, borage jelly, dips, various sauces, cooked as a stand-alone vegetable, or used in desserts in the form of fresh or candied flowers, flowers frozen in ice cubes to float in your lemonade or cocktails (especially in Pimms Cup – see the very last paragraph of the Pimms post)! If you are Italian, wilt some cut up leaves in a fry pan with olive oil and garlic, cool, roll into little patties, dip in batter and make fritters! Or stuff your ravioli with Borage paste. If you are a beekeeper, leave those flowers alone so you will get Borage Honey!

If you don’t want it in your veggie garden or to use it for food or medicinal purposes, grow it in your Butterfly Garden!

The more common names a plant has, and Borage has many, the more uses it serves, the more loved it is, and the more widespread it is! Borage is beautiful, edible, brings and is food for bees, is a valued companion plant for several reasons, is medicinal, and with that tap root, even makes nutritious compost! In the right location, a row can be a living windbreak. If you want to, you can do business and grow it for its oil! In Permaculture terms serving many functions is called Stacking.

Bee glorious! Plant some Borage!

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6.3.19 Updated


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

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. In 2018 they lasted into September and October! Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

 

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Design a Fabulous Raised Bed Veggie Garden!

How quickly could you put this together, or something close to it, plus planted for good summer crops this year?! With or without finished paths wheelbarrow wide. The possibilities are endless!   

Last chance to design, make changes to your summer garden layout! March is often first plantings, if not, it is last soil preps before full on April plantings!

Many of the last days of February 2019 in Santa Barbara area were rainy and frosty! 8 AM Feb 23 the soil temp at Rancheria Community Garden was 40 F! That’s plenty chill and several plants were laying down. Many gardeners are waiting to plant. I haven’t seen any early toms, corn, o rzukes, nor beans yet. Even the Oats one gardener is growing are growing quite slowly. Good choice to wait a bit. Soon the planties will be growing quickly! In the extremes of weather conditions we have been having be prepared for a hot summer! Select heat tolerant varieties of seeds and transplants.

Day lengths are still short. We want Night air temps steadily above 50 and soil temps 60 to 65 for starting our plants well. Peppers, especially need these warmer temps. They do best with nighttime temps above 55°F and soil temps above 65°F. Average March night temps are in the mid 40s.

MARCH through June Planting Timing 

Start MORE seedlings indoors NOW for late April/early May plantings – eggplant, peppers, and more tomatoes for transplanting into the garden in late April or early May. Also sow cucumbers, squash and sweet potatoes. The beauty of seeds is you can plant exactly what and how many you want! If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, get transplants and pop them in the ground per their right times! Plant Winter squash now so it will have a long enough season to harden for harvest and be done in time for early fall planting.

  • APRIL is true heat lovers time! Eggplant, limas, melons (wait until MAY for cantaloupe), peppers, pumpkins and squash! Many wait until April, even May or June, to plant tomatoes. Wait until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons.
  • Some gardeners wait until JUNE to plant okra. It really likes heat and grows quickly when happy. Choose faster maturing varieties for coastal SoCal. If YOU anticipate a HOT summer, plant a tad earlier, but be prepared to deal with it if summer is overcast as often is the case after all.

With our warming temp trends, get bolt resistant/slow bolt varieties, heat, and especially drought tolerant varieties.

Right now plant pepper transplants (at the right temps) and cold tolerant, early varieties if available. If you love your peppers and want some early, or have a short growing season, next year order seeds for ones that mature quickly and are cool weather adapted! Plant those transplants in the ground first and others more heat tolerant soon after to carry the length of the season. For cold tolerant sweet bell peppers, get seed for Ace, Lady Bell or King of the North! Obriy Ukrainian sweet red pepper is both cold and heat tolerant! For hotties that don’t mind cold, order up Early Jalapeno,  Hungarian Hot Wax or Anaheim. Rocoto stands some cold but not a hard freeze. Manzano are reported to survive at 20°! The extraordinary feature of these two peppers, Capsicum pubescens (hairy leaves), is they grow into four-meter woody plants relatively quickly, and live up to 15 years! Truly sustainable! Now we need a bell pepper that can do that! If cold weather can happen anytime where you live, grow your peppers in pots; take them inside when it gets cold. Keep them on a cart or put the pots on roller wheels.

Plant determinate quick maturing tomatoes – start with small fruited varieties and cherry toms – for soonest tomatoes for your table! The moist soil at Santa Barbara’s community gardens has residues of Verticillium and Fusarium wilts, so some gardeners wait until warmer drier June soil to plant tomatoes and other veggies that are wilts susceptible – but remember, those fungi are also windborne. You can delay it, make it less, but not prevent or stop it. Cucumbers are especially susceptible and do quickly die from it, so if you love cukes, be prepared to plant 2nd and 3rd rounds, but do these successive rounds in different places! See more about how to avoid or slow down wilt and fungi problems! See more about selecting tomatoes!

Outdoors sow or transplant beets, carrots, celery, chard, herbs, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces, green onions, bulb onion seed and sets (be sure to get summer maturing varieties), parsley, peas, peanuts (they do grow here!), potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, strawberries, and turnips. Transplant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi seedlings. Time for heat tolerant, bolt and tipburn resistant lettuces of all kinds! The fabulous ruffly Green Star, Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson are some. Tips for super Successful Transplanting!

PLANT PLANTS THAT REPEL PESTS IN ADVANCE SO THEY WILL BE UP AND WORKING WHEN YOUR SEEDLINGS COME UP OR YOU INSTALL YOUR TRANSPLANTS! Those are radish, cilantro, potatoes, borage.

  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, RADISH Combo! Depending on ground temps, tuck in some bean seeds where the peas are finishing, intermingled with cucumber seeds that will grow low along the trellis, below the beans, plus a few dill to go with the cukes! See more for bean/cuke planting tips. Plant radishes with the cukes to deter the Cucumber beetles. Borage repels tomato hornworm and is especially good with tomatoes, strawberries and squash!
  • Tomato Tips:  La Sumida has the largest tomato selection in the Santa Barbara area! Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts, Fusarium and Verticillium. Instead, get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In these drought conditions, consider getting only indeterminates.
  • This is the LAST MONTH to transplant artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale; also strawberry, blackberry, and raspberry roots so they’ll bear fruit well this year.

Succession planting makes such good sense. Put your seeds and transplants in at the same time. Seedlings will come along 6 to 8 weeks behind your transplants so you have a steady supply of yummy veggies! But if tending seedlings isn’t your cup of tea, just leave space and put in more transplants in 6 to 8 weeks after your first planting.

It is perfect to put in fast growers like lettuce, beets, turnips, arugula, to hold space until you are ready to plant bigger plants. When it’s time for the bigger ones, clear a space/harvest, pop in your seeds or transplants and let them grow up among the space holders. As the bigger plants start to shade out the littles, remove lower leaves so the littles get light too! The smaller plants act as living mulch under the bigger plants. No need to plant smaller plants in rows of their own. Think circles and understory! Plant them around and under the bigger plants! If you anticipate a HOT summer, plant heat sensitive littles only on the morning or shady side of larger plants.

Put in borders of slow but low growers like carrots, mini cabbages, in more permanent places, like on what will become the morning side of taller backdrop plants like peppers and eggplant.

Depending on what legumes you choose, figure 3 1/2 +/- to grow another round of green manure to enrich your soil Nitrogen. In warming weather and longer days, it grows faster. In 6 weeks to two months chop it down and chop up. Give it 2 days to 2 weeks to decompose on the surface, keeping it moist. Add amendments, turn it all under, allow 3 weeks to a month for it to integrate with your soil, and the area will be ready to plant again. Or, dig your planting holes as soon as you turn it under, put in some fine compost, a smidge of manure, your other favorite amendments like worm castings, bone meal, a mineral mix, and plant! The rest of the area will take care of itself! See much more – Living Mulch/Green Manure!

Consider not growing kale or chard over summer. Kale will grow, but really is happiest in Winter. If you harvest a lot of your kale in summer, it often has smaller dry looking leaves growing at the top of a tortured spindly stalk. I’ve seen them over 5′ tall. The leaves get tough, lack robust flavor, and lack that cool weather vibrance. Fertilizing, watering really don’t do much at this point because the plant is just trying to survive. A different strategy is to harvest a lot less early on, let your plant branch and become bushy! Then you can harvest at several points, and the plant provides its own living mulch. Huge difference. Or maybe you need to plant a lot more kales so you don’t over harvest individual plants!

This is one kale plant in the image below! It has made all these branches, harvest points, by April at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden! Look at that abundance! It thrives all summer!

Curly Leaf Kale Branching into Bush form!

Chard suffers. It droops from midday heat, recovers, droops, recovers each day. That’s hard on a plant. It doesn’t produce much. Doesn’t seem reasonable to harvest when it is trying to stay alive. If you do choose to grow it, plant it where it will have a little shade in the hottest part of the day in summer or install some shade cloth for it. Plant shallow rooted living mulch plants around it. Keep it evenly moist. Flooding it isn’t what it needs when it droops from heat, and plants can literally drown. Chard is a fast grower. Why not harvest them mid to late spring? Plant something that will be more summer happy, plant chard again in fall when things cool down.

Broccoli, on the other hand, depending on the variety, produces side shoots like crazy all summer long! Just be sure to stake them if your plant gets large and top heavy! And feed it now and then. It’s working hard. Mulch brocs you intend to keep, deeply starting now while it’s still cool to keep them cool. Brocs are naturally a winter plant. Or encircle them with quick growing shallow rooted living mulch plants – lettuce (repels Cabbage butterfly), beets, etc. that won’t interfere with your broccoli’s roots. When you harvest those quick growers, when you have access to the soil, feed your broc, and plant more living mulch!

Tall: Indeterminate tomatoes in cages, pole beans in cages or on trellises. Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions! Tall varieties of broccoli you keep for summer side shoots. Cucumbers are great on the trellis below the beans.

Middle height: Determinate tomatoes, bush beans, okra, tall peppers like Big Jim Anaheim or Poblanos, zucchini. White potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugsRadish with cukes and squashes to repel cucumber beetles, with cukes, squashes and eggplant to trap flea beetles! Large Winter Squash vines and pumpkins are middle height, while some mini melons would fall to the lower mid height zone. Put in zucchini and vines, sweet potatoes, to take up space if you don’t want to do a lot of tending, but do know, you must keep those zucchini picked! If your zucchini is dense, and you miss seeing it, an unpicked zuke can become a 6″ diameter 2′ long monster in as little as 5 days!

Lower plants like eggplant, like a lot of heat. Put them on the sunny side, slightly in front of every other slightly taller plant. Leave a couple kale that will get taller. But, if they are leafless stalks with pom pom tops, they aren’t going to give any shade, so they could be left anywhere actually. Since they are a winter plant, mulch them deeply or plant lettuces or leafy plants around their base as a living mulch and keep the soil there moist and cooler, and feed them. Or grow the heat tolerant flat leaf kale like Thousand Headed Kale! It has many growing points instead of just one and self mulches!

Shorties & Littles: A lot of shorties will be in front of or the understory of taller plants, in some instances a living mulch, so there is no need to allocate, use up separate space just for them. Your plants all help each other. When the bigger plant leaves start shading out the littles below, harvest strategic large lower leaves to allow light and airflow.

Put beets and carrots in the short zone, as an understory, between and among big plants. Bunch onions away from beans, great with other short rooted plants like lettuces that need to be kept moist. Summer small bulbed variety radishes give a great spike of hot flavor to a cool summer salad! Some delicious mini melons are quite small leaved and low to the ground, are easily trellised though it is cooler up on that trellis….

Flowers & Seeds! Let arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery go to flower 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!

While 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 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! See Stripes of Wildflowers!

Finish your Summer Gardening preparations!

  • Install a greywater, rain capture system
  • Install gopher wire protection.
  • Install pathways, berms.
  • Waffle Garden, basins & windbreaks, Water Garden. Excellent drought choices.
  • Gather cages & trellises
  • Terrace slopes – capture water runoff, prevent topsoil loss, mulch it
  • Build creative raised beds, try Hugelkultur
  • Get new containers, pallets, boards, net or wire for bird protection
  • Organize where you will keep straw bales for summer mulch
  • Setup Compost and worm box areas

Complete your Soil Prep! 

  • Add compost, only 5 to 10%, & other amendments to your soil all at the same time.
  • 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, help with seedling germination, boost immunities to disease.
  • Adding Jamaican guano high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Its NPK ratio is 1-10-0.2, takes 4 months to become available to your plants.
  • Sprinkle with a tad of coffee grounds to reduce wilts fungi. Add only a ½ a % to your soil or compost. A tiny bit goes a long way!
  • Don’t cover with mulch yet unless you need it for erosion control. Covered soil is cooler. Let your winter cool soil warm up. The exceptions are broccoli, cabbage, chard, and kale! Mulch ASAP because they like/need cooler soil.
  • Water your prepped areas when you water your other veggies. Soil organisms need moist soil to live.
  • Sidedressing! Hard working plants need fuel and water. As broccoli starts to head, give it a fish/kelp tonic! After the main head is cut, your side shoots will flourish!

Pests Reminders and Home Remedies!

  • Before you put in seeds, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from vanishing upcoming seedlings overnight, making you think they never came up! No, they didn’t let you down. Killing off the creatures ahead of time saves the babies. It stops new transplants from being seriously damaged or entirely eaten while they are small. Do this a few times, to knock off the generations, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while.
  • 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. Water a tad less so leaves are less soft and inviting.
  • Hose APHIDS off chard, kale, brocs, cabbages. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed and new generations. Nearby, plant Calendula as a trap plant, radish to repel them. When you see unnaturally curled leaves, you will likely find aphids. Check both upper and undersides of the leaves and the tiny leaves at the central growth point.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 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! However. If the infestation is just over the top, with chard you can cut off the whole plant about 1 1/2″ above ground and simply let it regrow, though it may never be as healthy or lush as a newly grown plant. Sometimes it’s just better to start over, and not in the same place. Hose away any reappearing or lingering aphids post haste! Check out the ant situation.
  • Regularly remove any yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies.
  • Gophers You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after any rains. If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.

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

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants. 

Thin any plants you intentionally over plant – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, mustard. If you planted too close together, take out the shorter, weaker plants. They are all great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves.

Watering & Weeding Wind and sun dry soil quickly and short rooted plants like peas, or seedlings, need to be kept evenly moist.

Dust Mulching, cultivation, is perfect to break up the soil surface, especially after a rain! That keeps the 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 little 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 grass has those 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 and spread seeds all over, if possible, and don’t put them in your compost!

Keep COMPOSTING! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, feeds just perfectly! 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. Giving back to Mama Earth is nature’s natural way! And, like Will Allen says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins.

The good work you do now will pay off with abundant summer harvests!

Oh, and see more in February’s Newsletter, especially about Tomatoes!

Updated 2.24.19

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Here in Santa Barbara many February days have been frosty cold and rainy, with more rain to come! If you are in a rainy area, remember, if the soil sticks to your shovel, wait a little longer to till. Enjoy these images from two of Santa Barbara’s Community Gardens!

2019 Mother’s Day is May 12! Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts! Get living gifts started now! Click here

See the entire March 2019 GBC Newsletter!

March Planting, Thoughtful Garden Design & Choices! 

Grow a Pollinator Meadow at Home in Your Veg Garden!
Clever Seed Planting Tips Indoors or Out!

How to Transplant for Super Successful Returns!

Upcoming Gardener Events! Mesa Harmony Plant Sale/Straw Bale Workshop, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Spring SALE! 49th Annual EARTH DAY Santa Barbara! 2020 International Permaculture Conference Argentina!

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 »

Design Your Beautiful Summer Garden!

Designing your garden is an intricate and intimate process depending on a lot of factors. It will ‘look’ like you as you are at the time of your life that you do it. Gardens are a form of autobiography. ~Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993. If you plant from seed, designing your garden leads to making a pretty accurate seed list.

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

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

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

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

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

Where is the summer and winter sun path in the sky? Where will you plant tall to short? Generally it’s tall in the North to short in the South. A full 6 to 8 hours of sun is best for almost all veggies. You can do shade, but it’s slower and fruits are not as big or plentiful. If so, choose varieties of plants that like cooler weather.

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

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

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

The nitty gritties are deciding what plants you want, how much space they take up per the return you hope for. 

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

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

In summer, where will biggies like that Winter Hubbard Squash, pumpkin, squash or melon, artichoke, sweet potatoes fit or is there really enough space for them per their production footprint? Sweet potatoes want a lot of water. Do you need them to cover space while you take a break from other planting?

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

Are you growing for food or seed or both? Waiting for plants to flower to seed takes time, and the space it takes is unavailable for awhile. But bees, beneficial predator insects, butterflies and birds come. And you will have seeds adapted to your area for next year’s planting, plus extras to share, perhaps take to the Seed Swap!

Would be lovely to put in a comfy chair to watch the garden grow, see birds, listen to the breeze in the leaves. Or read a bit and snooze in the hammock.

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

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

Vertical and Horizontal Spacing!

  • Vertical Space – More plants per square foot!
    • One method is to double trellis up! Cucumbers below beans!
    • The other is to plant in ‘layers!’ Plant an understory of ‘littles’ and fillers below larger taller plants ie Lettuce under Broccoli. The lettuce does double duty – food and as living mulch!
  • Horizontal Space – Give them room to thrive at MATURE SIZE!
    • Pests and diseases go right down the row of plants of the same kind, especially when they touch each other. You may lose them all ~ better is Biodiversity. Interplant with pest repelling, growth enhancing and edible companion plants! Alternate varieties of the same kinds plants.
    • More is not always better. Plants too closely transplanted, seeded/not thinned, get rootbound. That squeezes oxygen from the soil, prevents or dramatically reduces water uptake for plants in the center. Plants can’t take up nutrients without water. That lessens growth and production since your plants are literally starving. In crowded conditions feeding your plants doesn’t help. Weakened plants are more disease and pest susceptible. Give them room to breathe and live to their full glory! Only ONE healthy plant may produce more than an entire row of stunted plants.
    • On the other hand, do as many have always done, deliberately overplant then thin for delicious mini salad greens!

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

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

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

If you are a SoCal gardener, you may plant several times over a season. In summer plant bush bean varieties and determinate tomatoes for soonest table supply and to harvest all at once for canning. If you want a steady table supply all season long, also plant pole bean varieties and indeterminate tomatoes. If you have a Northern short season summer window, you may choose cold tolerant early bush and determinate varieties for quicker intense production. In SoCal ‘winter,’ plant bush and pole peas at the same time for early peas then a longer harvest of the pole peas!

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

Graph paper, sketches, a few notes jotted on the back of an envelope, in your head. It all works and is great fun! If you sketch it, keep that sketch to make end-of-season notes on for next year’s planning!

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

See also some of the bigger long term choices planning your garden.

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

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

Read Full Post »

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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Design a Fabulous Raised Bed Veggie Garden!

How quickly could you put this together, or something close to it, plus planted for good summer crops this year?! With or without finished paths wheelbarrow wide. The possibilities are endless!  

Last chance to design, make changes to your summer garden layout! March is often first plantings, if not, it is last soil preps before full on April plantings!

Recent Santa Barbara temps have been close to freezing, a few plants lost. Day lengths are still short. We want Night air temps steadily above 50 and soil temps 60 to 65 for starting our plants well. Peppers, especially need these warmer temps. They do best with nighttime temps above 55°F and soil temps above 65°F. Average March night temps are in the mid 40s. The soil temp now is 51-53°F at Rancheria Community Garden.

MARCH through June Planting Timing 

Start MORE seedlings indoors NOW for late April/early May plantings – eggplant, peppers, and more tomatoes for transplanting into the garden in late April or early May. Also sow cucumbers, squash and sweet potatoes. The beauty of seeds is you can plant exactly what and how many you want! If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, get transplants and pop them in the ground per their right times! Plant Winter squash now so it will have a long enough season to harden for harvest and be done in time for early fall planting.

  • APRIL is true heat lovers time! Eggplant, limas, melons (wait until MAY for cantaloupe), peppers, pumpkins and squash! Many wait until April, even May or June, to plant tomatoes. Wait until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons.
  • Some gardeners wait until JUNE to plant okra. It really likes heat and grows quickly when happy. Choose faster maturing varieties for coastal SoCal. If YOU anticipate a HOT summer, plant a tad earlier, but be prepared to deal with it if summer is overcast as often is the case after all.

With our warming temp trends, get bolt resistant/slow bolt varieties, heat, and especially drought tolerant varieties.

Right now plant pepper transplants (at the right temps) and cold tolerant, early varieties if available. If you love your peppers and want some early, or have a short growing season, next year order seeds for ones that mature quickly and are cool weather adapted! Plant those transplants in the ground first and others more heat tolerant soon after to carry the length of the season. For cold tolerant sweet bell peppers, get seed for Ace, Lady Bell or King of the North! Obriy Ukrainian sweet red pepper is both cold and heat tolerant! For hotties that don’t mind cold, order up Early Jalapeno,  Hungarian Hot Wax or Anaheim. Rocoto stands some cold but not a hard freeze. Manzano are reported to survive at 20°! The extraordinary feature of these two peppers, Capsicum pubescens (hairy leaves), is they grow into four-meter woody plants relatively quickly, and live up to 15 years! Truly sustainable! Now we need a bell pepper that can do that! If cold weather can happen anytime where you live, grow your peppers in pots; take them inside when it gets cold. Keep them on a cart or put the pots on roller wheels.

Plant determinate quick maturing tomatoes – start with small fruited varieties and cherry toms – for soonest tomatoes for your table! The moist soil at Santa Barbara’s community gardens has residues of Verticillium and Fusarium wilts, so some gardeners wait until warmer drier June soil to plant tomatoes and other veggies that are wilts susceptible – but remember, those fungi are also windborne. You can delay it, make it less, but not prevent or stop it. Cucumbers are especially susceptible and do quickly die from it, so if you love cukes, be prepared to plant 2nd and 3rd rounds, but do these successive rounds in different places! See more about how to avoid or slow down wilt and fungi problems! See more about selecting tomatoes!

Outdoors sow or transplant beets, carrots, celery, chard, herbs, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces, green onions, bulb onion seed and sets (be sure to get summer maturing varieties), parsley, peas, peanuts (they do grow here!), potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, strawberries, and turnips. Transplant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi seedlings. Time for heat tolerant, bolt and tipburn resistant lettuces of all kinds! The fabulous ruffly Green Star, Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson are some. Tips for super Successful Transplanting!

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

  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, RADISH Combo! Depending on ground temps, tuck in some bean seeds where the peas are finishing, intermingled with cucumber seeds that will grow low along the trellis, below the beans, plus a few dill to go with the cukes! See more for bean/cuke planting tips. Plant radishes with the cukes to deter the Cucumber beetles.
  • Tomato Tips:  La Sumida has the largest tomato selection in the Santa Barbara area! Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts, Fusarium and Verticillium. Instead, get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In these drought conditions, consider getting only indeterminates.
  • This is the LAST MONTH to transplant artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale; also strawberry, blackberry, and raspberry roots so they’ll bear fruit well this year.

Succession planting makes such good sense. Put your seeds and transplants in at the same time. Seedlings will come along 6 to 8 weeks behind your transplants so you have a steady supply of yummy veggies! But if tending seedlings isn’t your cup of tea, just leave space and put in more transplants in 6 to 8 weeks after your first planting.

It is perfect to put in fast growers like lettuce, beets, turnips, arugula, to hold space until you are ready to plant bigger plants. When it’s time for the bigger ones, clear a space/harvest, pop in your seeds or transplants and let them grow up among the space holders. As the bigger plants start to shade out the littles, remove lower leaves so the littles get light too! The smaller plants act as living mulch under the bigger plants. No need to plant smaller plants in rows of their own. Think circles and understory! Plant them around and under the bigger plants! If you anticipate a HOT summer, plant heat sensitive littles only on the morning or shady side of larger plants.

Put in borders of slow but low growers like carrots, mini cabbages, in more permanent places, like on what will become the morning side of taller backdrop plants like peppers and eggplant.

Depending on what legumes you choose, figure 3 1/2 +/- to grow another round of green manure to enrich your soil Nitrogen. In warming weather and longer days, it grows faster. In 6 weeks to two months chop it down and chop up. Give it 2 days to 2 weeks to decompose on the surface, keeping it moist. Add amendments, turn it all under, allow 3 weeks to a month for it to integrate with your soil, and the area will be ready to plant again. Or, dig your planting holes as soon as you turn it under, put in some fine compost, a smidge of manure, your other favorite amendments like worm castings, bone meal, a mineral mix, and plant! The rest of the area will take care of itself! See much more – Living Mulch/Green Manure!

Consider not growing kale or chard over summer. Kale will grow, but really is happiest in Winter. If you harvest a lot of your kale in summer, it often has smaller dry looking leaves growing at the top of a tortured spindly stalk. I’ve seen them over 5′ tall. The leaves get tough, lack robust flavor, and lack that cool weather vibrance. Fertilizing, watering really don’t do much at this point because the plant is just trying to survive. A different strategy is to harvest a lot less early on, let your plant branch and become bushy! Then you can harvest at several points, and the plant provides its own living mulch. Huge difference. Or maybe you need to plant a lot more kales so you don’t over harvest individual plants!

This is one kale plant in the image below! It has made all these branches, harvest points, by April at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden! Look at that abundance! It thrives all summer!

Curly Leaf Kale Branching into Bush form!

Chard suffers. It droops from midday heat, recovers, droops, recovers each day. That’s hard on a plant. It doesn’t produce much. Doesn’t seem reasonable to harvest when it is trying to stay alive. If you do choose to grow it, plant it where it will have a little shade in the hottest part of the day in summer or install some shade cloth for it. Plant shallow rooted living mulch plants around it. Keep it evenly moist. Flooding it isn’t what it needs when it droops from heat, and plants can literally drown. Chard is a fast grower. Why not harvest them mid to late spring? Plant something that will be more summer happy, plant chard again in fall when things cool down.

Broccoli, on the other hand, depending on the variety, produces side shoots like crazy all summer long! Just be sure to stake them if your plant gets large and top heavy! And feed it now and then. It’s working hard. Mulch brocs you intend to keep, deeply starting now while it’s still cool to keep them cool. Brocs are naturally a winter plant. Or encircle them with quick growing shallow rooted living mulch plants – lettuce (repels Cabbage butterfly), beets, etc. that won’t interfere with your broccoli’s roots. When you harvest those quick growers, when you have access to the soil, feed your broc, and plant more living mulch!

Tall: Indeterminate tomatoes in cages, pole beans in cages or on trellises. Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions! Tall varieties of broccoli you keep for summer side shoots. Cucumbers are great on the trellis below the beans.

Middle height: Determinate tomatoes, bush beans, okra, tall peppers like Big Jim Anaheim or Poblanos, zucchini. White potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugsRadish with cukes and squashes to repel cucumber beetles, with cukes, squashes and eggplant to trap flea beetles! Large Winter Squash vines and pumpkins are middle height, while some mini melons would fall to the lower mid height zone. Put in zucchini and vines, sweet potatoes, to take up space if you don’t want to do a lot of tending, but do know, you must keep those zucchini picked! If your zucchini is dense, and you miss seeing it, an unpicked zuke can become a 6″ diameter 2′ long monster in as little as 5 days!

Lower plants like eggplant, like a lot of heat. Put them on the sunny side, slightly in front of every other slightly taller plant. Leave a couple kale that will get taller. But, if they are leafless stalks with pom pom tops, they aren’t going to give any shade, so they could be left anywhere actually. Since they are a winter plant, mulch them deeply or plant lettuces or leafy plants around their base as a living mulch and keep the soil there moist and cooler, and feed them. Or grow the heat tolerant flat leaf kale like Thousand Headed Kale! It has many growing points instead of just one and self mulches!

Shorties & Littles: A lot of shorties will be in front of or the understory of taller plants, in some instances a living mulch, so there is no need to allocate, use up separate space just for them. Your plants all help each other. When the bigger plant leaves start shading out the littles below, harvest strategic large lower leaves to allow light and airflow.

Put beets and carrots in the short zone, as an understory, between and among big plants. Bunch onions away from beans, great with other short rooted plants like lettuces that need to be kept moist. Summer small bulbed variety radishes give a great spike of hot flavor to a cool summer salad! Some delicious mini melons are quite small leaved and low to the ground, are easily trellised though it is cooler up on that trellis….

Flowers & Seeds! Let arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery go to flower 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!

While 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 bee food. Chamomile is downright heady scented on a warm morning. Comfrey, Knitbone, is both 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! See Stripes of Wildflowers!

Finish your Summer Gardening preparations!

  • Install a greywater, rain capture system
  • Install gopher wire protection.
  • Install pathways, berms.
  • Waffle Garden, basins & windbreaks, Water Garden. Excellent drought choices.
  • Gather cages & trellises
  • Terrace slopes – capture water runoff, prevent topsoil loss, mulch it
  • Build creative raised beds, try Hugelkultur
  • Get new containers, pallets, boards, net or wire for bird protection
  • Organize where you will keep straw bales for summer mulch
  • Setup Compost and worm box areas

Complete your Soil Prep! 

  • Add compost, only 5 to 10%, & other amendments to your soil all at the same time.
  • 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, help with seedling germination, boost immunities to disease.
  • Adding Jamaican guano high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Its NPK ratio is 1-10-0.2, takes 4 months to become available to your plants.
  • Sprinkle with a tad of coffee grounds to reduce wilts fungi. Add only a ½ a % to your soil or compost. A tiny bit goes a long way!
  • Don’t cover with mulch yet unless you need it for erosion control. Covered soil is cooler. Let your winter cool soil warm up. The exceptions are broccoli, cabbage, chard, and kale! Mulch ASAP because they like/need cooler soil.
  • Water your prepped areas when you water your other veggies. Soil organisms need moist soil to live.
  • Sidedressing! Hard working plants need fuel and water. As broccoli starts to head, give it a fish/kelp tonic! After the main head is cut, your side shoots will flourish!

Pests Reminders and Home Remedies!

  • Before you put in seeds, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from vanishing upcoming seedlings overnight, making you think they never came up! No, they didn’t let you down. Killing off the creatures ahead of time saves the babies. It stops new transplants from being seriously damaged or entirely eaten while they are small. Do this a few times, to knock off the generations, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while.
  • 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. Water a tad less so leaves are less soft and inviting.
  • Hose APHIDS off chard, kale, brocs, cabbages. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed and new generations. Nearby, plant Calendula as a trap plant, radish to repel them. When you see unnaturally curled leaves, you will likely find aphids. Check both upper and undersides of the leaves and the tiny leaves at the central growth point.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 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! However. If the infestation is just over the top, with chard you can cut off the whole plant about 1 1/2″ above ground and simply let it regrow, though it may never be as healthy or lush as a newly grown plant. Sometimes it’s just better to start over, and not in the same place. Hose away any reappearing or lingering aphids post haste! Check out the ant situation.
  • Regularly remove any yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies.
  • Gophers You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after any rains. If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.

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

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants. 

Thin any plants you intentionally over plant – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, mustard. If you planted too close together, take out the shorter, weaker plants. They are all great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves.

Watering & Weeding Wind and sun dry soil quickly and short rooted plants like peas, or seedlings, need to be kept evenly moist.

Dust Mulching, cultivation, is perfect to break up the soil surface, especially after a rain! That keeps the 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 little 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 grass has those 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 and spread seeds all over, if possible, and don’t put them in your compost!

Keep COMPOSTING! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, feeds just perfectly! 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. Giving back to Mama Earth is nature’s natural way! And, like Will Allen says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins.

The good work you do now will pay off with abundant summer harvests!

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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!

See the entire March 2018 GBC Newsletter!

March Planting, Thoughtful Garden Design & Choices!

Stripes of Wildflowers!
Clever Seed Planting Tips Indoors or Outdoors!

Senior Veggie Gardening!

Upcoming Gardener Events! Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Spring SALE! 48th Annual EARTH DAY Santa Barbara!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW AND WHEN TO CONTROL YOUR LIVING MULCH

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

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

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

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

RIGHT INOCULANT FOR YOUR LEGUME COVER CROPS

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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