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Soil Building Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Santa Barbara Peat Manure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bed Shapes

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

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

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

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

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

Composting

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Additional Amendments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mulch ~ save water, reduce weeds, keep fruits above bug level and clean!

I used to be a total mulcher, covered my whole veggie garden. I’ve adjusted my coastal SoCal *mulch thinking to match the plant and the season!

If you are coastal SoCal, in the marine layer zone, your mulch, or composting in place, may be slowing things down a lot more than you realize. The biggest most abundant melons I’ve ever seen grown at cool & coastal Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden were on bare hot dry soil in a plot that had a lower soil level than most of the other plots. The perimeter boards diverted any wind right over the top of the area, the soil got hot! It was like an oven! So, let it be bare! No mulch under melons, your winter squash, pumpkins except under the fruits to keep them off the ground, clean, up from insect predators. Melons!

Put up a low wind barrier – straw bales, a perimeter of densely foliated plants, a big downed log, be creative. Let your peppers and jicama get hot! Eggplant are heat lovers! Okra is full sun Southern hot! If you are coastal cool, help them be warm. If you are foothills hot, mulch them.

Tomatoes need dryer soil to avoid the verticillium and fusarium wilt fungi if your soil has it. Plant them in a basin that keeps the water out! Make the basin on top of a mound with the basin bottom level above the surrounding soil level. Let ‘em dry near the main stem; water nearby plants outside the basin, a foot or more away from the central stem. Let that tap-root do its job, get the water below the fungi, wilt/blight zone, the top 6 to 8 inches. Also, drier soil is not comfy for slugs. Yes, when your toms are babies you need to water in that basin until that tap root is developed. Straw is the best mulch for them because it allows drying air flow. Put only 1″ down to allow light to get through, warm and dry the soil. More about successfully growing Tomatoes!

Get cucumbers up on a trellis, then you won’t need mulch to keep the cukes clean and bug free, but rather because they have short roots and need consistently moist soil. 1″ of straw is good. You want airflow so the soil will dry somewhat. Cukes are susceptible to fungi wilts/blight too, so keep the leaves from touching bare ground. As soon as they are big enough, clip off lower leaves that might touch the ground when weighted with dew, or water in case they get wet. Like tomatoes, they are a fuzzy plant, so better to water at the root, not on the leaves. When they are tall enough, plant low growing spreading heat tolerant lettuces at their feet to act as living mulch. They both like plenty of water to keep them growing fast and sweet, so they are great companions. In that case you will need to use a little Sluggo or its equivalent if you feel comfortable to use it. Know that trellised cukes are cooler up in the air, so your harvest may be a little less, but because your plant will live longer, you will have longer production. Growing Cucumbers!

Straw under cucumbers has an added advantage! Per UC IPM ‘Straw mulch can help reduce cucumber beetle problems. First, mulch might directly slow beetle movement from one plant to another. Second, the mulch provides refuge for wolf spiders and other predators from hot and dry conditions, helping predator conservation.

WATER  Clearly, no mulch, more heat, equals more water needed. Water leaches the soil nutrients away, so you will need to feed your plants during the season. In drought areas, plant in basins below the surrounding soil level. Use your long low flow water wand to water only in the basin at the roots of your plant out to their dripline. If your plant outgrows your basin, make the basin bigger, out to that mature dripline. For vines, adjust your basin according to the size of your vine. Mini melons are quite small compared to Butternut squash! Make your basin big enough to serve the immediate feeding area, to where the lateral feeder roots will extend. Put a stake near the main stem so you know where to water when the big leaves cover the area! Fuzzy leaved plants, tomatoes, cucumber and eggplant, prefer not being watered on their leaves. Since there is no raised mound, there is no maintenance needed for berms surrounding a basin though there is natural settling so you do need to clear the basin occasionally. If you are in a wet area, make those mounds with the bottoms of basins above the surrounding soil level for good drainage and check the berms from time to time to be sure they are holding up. These are variations on age old Waffle Gardening.

LIVING MULCH  Closely planted beets, carrots, garden purslane, radish, strawberries, turnips act as living mulch to themselves and when used as an understory with bigger plants. The dense canopy their leaves make lets little light in, keeps things moist. If you cage or trellis your beans, most of the plant is up getting air circulation, keeping them dryer, more mildew free, if you don’t plant too densely. Beans have short feet that need to stay moist, so do mulch them – your beans and cukes with clean chop and drop, straw or purchased mulch. Strawberries get big pretty quickly and self mulch pretty soon. Chard likes moist and cooler, so mulch. Zucchini, doesn’t care. They are a huge leaved plant, greedy sun lovers, that are self mulching. But, you can do what some do if your zuke is a vining type. Feed the vine up through the largest tomato cages, stake them well, that plant is heavy. Cut off the lower leaves and plant a family of lettuces, carrots, onions, salad bowl fixin’s or basil on the sunny side underneath! If you are in a hot drought zone, plant them in the filtered shade underneath. All of them like plenty of water, so everyone is happy.

SOIL FEEDING MULCH Living mulch may be scattering a legume seed mix that makes Nitrogen nodules on its roots! When the plants die, the N is available to your soil and plants! Throw seeds under larger plants like peppers and eggplant in the summer or broccoli and kale in the winter. When the big plants are done, you can turn the legumes under or clear spots and slice in openings and plant your next crop, letting nature take her course. See more!

If you are going to mulch, do it justice. Besides wanting to cool your soil, keep moisture in, prevent erosion, keep your crop off the soil and away from bugs, and in the long-term, feed your soil, mulching is also to prevent light germinating seeds from sprouting. Put on 4 to 6 inches minimum. Less than that may be pretty, but simply makes great habitat for those little grass and weed seeds! Mulch makes moist soil, where a rich multitude of soil organisms can thrive, including great fat vigorous earthworms if you keep your soil wet enough! You see them, you know your soil is well aerated, doing great!

Mulching is double good on hillsides. Make your rock lined water-slowing ‘S’ terrace walkways snaking along down the hillside. Cover your berms well and deeply to prevent erosion and to hold moisture when there are drying winds. Use a mulch that won’t blow away or garden staple down some plastic. Plant fruit trees, your veggies on the uphill side of your berms.

Use an organic degradable mulch that feeds your soil too! Chop and drop disease and pest free plants to compost in place, spread dry leaves. Spread very well-aged manures. When you water, it’s like compost or manure tea to the ground underneath. Lay out some seed free straw – some feed stores will let you sweep it up for free! If you don’t like the look of that, cover it with some pretty purchased undyed mulch you like. Use redwood fiber only in areas you want to be slightly acidic, like for strawberries. Use redwood fiber as a last resort. Please save our trees. Use gravel if it’s all you’ve got. It works.

COMPOSTING IN PLACE  Build soil right where you need it. Where you do put mulch, tuck kitchen waste out of sight under it, where you will plant next. Sprinkle with a little soil if you have some to spare, that inoculates your pile with soil organisms; pour on some compost tea to add some more! Throw on some red wriggler surface feeder worms. Grow yarrow or Russian comfrey (Syphytum x uplandicum) near your compost area so you can conveniently add a few sprigs to your pile to speed decomposition. It will compost quickly, no smells, feeding your soil excellently! If you keep doing it in one place, a nice raised bed will be built there with little effort!

You don’t have to wait to plant! Pull back a planting space, add compost you have on hand or purchased compost, maybe mix in a little aged manure mix, worm castings, specific amendments to the kind of plant you will be planting. Sprinkle some mycorrhizal fungi on your transplant’s roots, and plant! The warmth from the nearby decomposing materials will speed the growth of your new plant! Yes!

A caution:  The debris pile of composting in place may be habitat for overwintering insect pests, so put it safely away from plants that have had or might suffer infestations. To break a pest’s growing cycle, put no piles at all where there have been pests before.

If you live in a cold climate, cold, cold winters, mulch can keep the soil as warm as possible, extend your season, protect your soil, keep plants from freezing. In SoCal pull mulch away in ‘winter’ to let the sun warm the soil, let soil dry so fungi die. If there have been diseased or infested plants there, put that mulch in the trash, NOT in green waste for city pickup. If it is clean, dig it into landscaped areas to feed the soil or compost it. In general, remove overwintering pest habitat – old straw, weeds and piles of debris. 

So, you see, there are times for mulch and times not for mulch. Using less saves money, saves work. Using it well gives you a better crop!

Mulch is magic when done right!

*Mulch is when you can see distinct pieces of the original materials. Finished compost is when there are no distinct pieces left, the material is black and fluffy and smells good.

Updated from June 11, 2011 post. Updated 5.12.19

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, then became this blog too! 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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Garden Low Maintenance Wicker
Casual and comfy outdoor living/dining room. The owner says ‘…the wicker furniture in my garden was found —wearing a “free” sign— on the side of the road.’

I’ve been so serious about this due to the request of a friend, but I love how this gardener started her post: ‘The easiest way to keep vegetable gardening from being hard work is to pay someone else to do the work while you watch from the comfort of your air conditioning sipping on a cold beverage. (Well someone has to say it!) LOL’ And I have to laugh with her!

Whether you are super busy, as my friend is, or working, raising a family, doing dedicated community work, or are a senior taking it slower, or managing an estate, here are some helpful ideas to soothe your way.

As always, soil building is Number 1!

Start with a wide beeline path between your kitchen and the composter! Now that ‘beeline’ may be curvy, but make it the main pathway especially if your composting area is in a far corner. Consider putting your compost closer, centrally located, so you spend less time going to it, delivering compost from it. Add some solar lights for nighttime forays. Perhaps the composter can have a taller many flowered (for the bees) plant on the side to hide your compost area from view, but you know where that path leads. Make it sweet and easy to get there.

Make composting the simplest! Everyone has varying amounts of time and energy to compost. It can be a simple pile. Period. Just keep it moist.
  • If inclined, add a super simple divider like a piece of plywood jammed in the ground so you can turn the compost from one side to the other. That speeds up the process, aerates the pile. If you have compost type worms, throw in a handful and let them add precious castings to your pile. Decomposing will go faster.
  • If you love composting and like building, you can build a tidy 2 compartment setup.
  • Have one of those lightweight hard but thin rubber composters you can move about, enriching the soil at each spot you put it. Rather than spread the compost, plant right in it!
  • Save time and speed your compost by having a covered straw bale right next to your compost. If you don’t want it jutting out, break the bale in half, stack and cover or stand it on end between two hefty stakes, cover. Making compost is so easy. There will be no smells or flies if you layer. 1/2 Inch layers are ideal for fast decomposing, but do what you can. Every time you have non-seeding, disease free weeds or kitchen scraps (no meat – brings predators, no grain – brings mice & rats, little citrus – too acidic), lay it in, then cover it with a twice as thick layer of straw or dry brown waste (dry leaves) as the top layer. No smell, no flies, either!

Design makes a huge difference! And it all depends on how much space you have and how much time and energy YOU have! You want a veggie garden but the space is overwhelming?! Reduce the gardening space!

Garden Low Maintenance No Box Raised Bed The Gardener's Eden

  • As at The Gardener’s Eden, design your paths to be wide, almost as wide as this simple planting mound! Mounds are good in cool moist areas. Dug down beds, like Waffle Gardening, peripheral berms, are good for hot drought areas.
  • The purpose of wide deeply mulched pathways is to break up the space into smaller attractive patches. If your land is sloped, natural contour divisions may be obvious. The idea is to have less area to plant and tend. Same thing with the plant to camouflage your compost area. It takes up space you don’t have to repeatedly plant and repeatedly harvest. Three foot wide paths are fine! That gives you room to move your straw around to mulch under summer plantings, and to wheelbarrow in any bags of special amendments.

    And pathways become Black Gold! Deep straw is great in pathways. Dig down about 6″. You can lay down cardboard first to keep weeds at bay, water lightly, then lay on your straw, replenish as needed. It will be slippery at first, so be careful. If you want the path to become future garden space, omit the cardboard, keep adding straw as it flattens down. By the following summer, the straw will have decomposed, made rich soil. Move the path over one width, and plant in last year’s path!

  • Make a sweet little seating area that takes up more space you don’t have to plant ever again and is enjoyable to boot! It’s a one time job so you can watch your plants grow! Could be just for two, or for a few friends to join you upon occasion. A colorful folding adjustable tilt umbrella is lovely for summer shade. A tree stump table, a couple of comfy back supporting chairs, or bring over folding lawn chairs for summer night star watching! You can take them in during winter. Could be a clever way to ‘store’ another couple of straw bales, casual seating for kids. Do it your way. The simplest flooring is an attractive mulch. If you are a builder, put in a mini deck, squared or curvy as suits you and the space available.
  • Would you like a covered area for garden items storage? How about a little veggie processing table by the hose for processing plantings or your harvests? Maybe even a little greenhouse?! All these lovely amenities take up space you don’t have to garden but make gardening happy. Cleverness prevails!

Do these bits little by little. Might take a couple or three summers. All in good time.

There is no need to build raised beds. You can make them by building up certain areas, like in the image above, by composting in place, but no walls/box are needed! Save yourself and your time. And it gives you more flexible usage of your space. Your soil is actually richer and you save water since less watering is needed and less soil ingredients are drained away. Higher areas are good for plants that like drainage, like strawberries. Save water by scooping up raised mounds with a well on top for tomatoes, cukes, squashes. Put a stake in the center of the well so you can see where to water when your plant’s leaves get big.

Preparing your Beds! NO DEEP DIGGING NEEDED! Usually. Annuals, that’s most veggies, use only the top 6 to 8″ of soil! Adding compost, manures, worm castings, may or may not be needed at all. If the soil has been resting, maybe all you need to do is weed and plant. If the soil is dead and dried out, amendments are probably needed, especially compost, to increase water holding capacity. Start watering to soften the soil and make your work easy, take less time. Get top of the line compost with everything in it. If you can find it, get a manure mix, especially if it has cow, not steer, manure in it. Worm castings are for your plant’s hormones and immunity to pests and diseases. Add all your amendments at the same time; turn them in. No stepping on your new beds and crushing the air out of them! Soil organisms need air to breathe just like we do! Put in stepping stones as needed. Better yet, make beds so narrow you don’t need to step in them at all!

Use any existing fencing, walls, for trellises. Install some permanent trellises, wire guides or hang a remesh panel on eye hooks. One time job. Tie your tomatoes to the fence, run your beans/peas up the trellises. Remesh can also be circled into sturdy easy access tomato cages!

Trellis Cage Remesh

Weed mat? My 20X20 garden is so active that I don’t find weed mat to be helpful. I like to rotate and plant successively, and not in the exact same places. Plus, I do understory plantings of small plants on the sunny sides of larger plants and they are always coming and going. Better I like deeper mulching that feeds the soil. I just pull the mulch aside and plant when and where I feel to do.

Drip lines? Similar answer. In my Southern California garden plants come and go, not only seasonally, but again, as I plant successively and biodiversely, deliberately mixing it up! I water when my plants need it, as much as each needs it. I find being there hand watering makes me see what’s needed and I take better care of my plants. Your circumstances may be different. Do what makes you happy to be there.

Wise Low Maintenance Plant Choices and Harvesting

  • Plant only your very favorite veggies that make you want to garden! Simply don’t plant others you or your family don’t eat up quickly that end up in the compost.
  • Plant from transplants! No growing from seeds that need daily watering then seedlings that need tender vigilant nursing.
  • Choose award winning veggie varieties like AAS 2015 Winners by region, non GMO. Get vibrant healthy transplants with staunch disease and pest tolerance and/or resistance, heat/drought tolerance, humidity tolerance or proper cold hardiness. Don’t lose time with questionable box store plants, spindly, puny, sometimes sick or pest infested, or root bound plants.
  • Choose plants that produce well in your soil and temps so you aren’t discouraged. For example, in the NW you might not choose plants that take a long time to produce; summer is just too short. Carefully choose sunnier locations with low wind and warmth from fencing. Ask around your neighborhood, at your LOCAL nursery for recommendations.
  • Plant fewer plants. Less Zucchini is a classic example. Instead of a vining Zucchini, get a bush/container variety. Plant less string beans. Harvesting, one, two beans at a time, is labor intensive, time consuming, to say the least, and they are prolific! Yes, you can give them away, but if you find yourself not gardening because it takes too much time….
  • Plant plants with large footprints and low maintenance! For example, rather than a 2′ diameter calendula that needs constant deadheading to look good, put in a 3′ to 4′ diameter Borage! Both are beautiful but the herb Borage uses more space, makes pretty, the flowers are edible, requires no maintenance, and, they generously reseed themselves!
  • Rather than gardening vertically to save space, plant ramblers and let them ramble! Put in a mound of 3 winter squash, or melons, and let them ramble a whole patch! All you do is watch and water. Or put in the biggest vining zucchini you can find. They produce a lot and take up a LOT of space you don’t otherwise have to maintain. Put a stake in the basin on the mound so you know where to water when the leaves get big.
  • Tuck in some hardy perennial herbs close to your kitchen at corners or entrances for quick convenient harvest, beauty, fragrance! Some are invasive, like Oregano, so sink in a bottomless 5 gal container to keep them where you want them. Again, less maintenance in the long run.
  • Instead of canning, do the simplest! Whack them into the size you like and freeze ’em in serving size bags or containers you can reuse!

Weed before they Seed! That’s the one thing you need to do like religion for less maintenance later! Otherwise you have a continuous supply of lots of weed babies. And don’t put seeding weeds in your ideal habitat compost! That weeding certainly doesn’t have to be done all at once. Each day or every few days, do a small area. It goes quickly that way and progress feels so good.

To your low maintenance gardening pleasure!

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Garden Design, Labyrinth - Pastor Craig Goodwin author Year of Plenty, Spokane WA

Garden Design, Labyrinth – Pastor Craig Goodwin, author Year of Plenty, Spokane WA. Another fun form of Food Not Lawns!

Choose your plants well and place them wisely!

Plant to Plant Locations!

Northmost taller plants

Few summer plants like much shade, so plant tall to the North, short to the South. That puts tall trellises and cages to the north, or to the East so plant get the most heat they can from the afternoon sun. Pole beans, Lemon cucumbers, indeterminate tomatoes like SunGold, cherry toms, tall peppers. If your soil has wilts diseases, leave plenty of space between tomatoes so their leaves don’t touch. Thought the fungi are also windborne, it slows it down if tomatoes are planted apart rather than the disease going right down the row.

Depending on access to light, interplant cucumber vines low on a trellis with your pole beans to repel cucumber beetles. After the cukes get up a bit, over plant fast growing WHITE radishes as well to ward off cucumber beetles. Though cute, the beetles carry wilt diseases plant to plant. Eat some of the radishes, leave the rest. Radishes let to grow get 3′ tall, would shade out your cukes. Let them flop down or remove lower leaves so your cukes get sun they need. Ideally, as with tomatoes, you would plant cucumbers, a very vulnerable plant, separately from each other.

Medium height  

Squash need space, lots of space! Allow plenty for that gorgeous non-stop Zucchini or get dwarf varieties that you can keep up with! Even with dwarf varieties, healthy leaves on stems can be almost 3′ tall, easily a foot wide! Cute little Patty Pans are great and they get big too! Healthy Winter Squash can easily grow 40′ vines and produce many squash! Put them along a border or a fence line if you have that space. They are shorter than zucchini, but know that the leaves also get a foot across!

Next put in your indeterminate tomatoes, mingled with medium height peppers, eggplant in front, then tallish onions. Also plant radishes with eggplants as a trap plant for flea beetles. Flea beetle damage, little pin holes, seems so less severe, but it slows the growth of your plant way down, and there is little production. Pretty basils smell good, ward off evil insects, and need full sun. If you are going to dry farm your tomatoes put the basil somewhere else because it needs plenty of water.

Depending on which size you choose, and you have the heat to grow them, pumpkins and melonsmight be next in height. Again, you need room unless you are coastal cooler and choose small varieties. You can trellis them; just be prepared to support the fruits.

Southmost Shorties!

Put taller Romaine lettuce, arugula, feathery cilantro, to the back. Let your arugula and cilantro grow out for flowers for bees, and seed for next year’s plantings. Stir in some pretty beets, turnips, radishes for eating. Last, very southmost, plant pretty patches of low lettuces, bunch onions, mingled with strawberries! Arrange comfortable harvest access to your strawberries.

Space to Space Designs!

Now, blend those delicious plant choices into Patterns! Put them all in rows, circles, squares, diagonal rays, or have no plan at all, jungle style! That’s a plan too, right?! Whether your space is small or large, you can make pretty with it!

If you plant in rows, alternate different types of plants as well as different varieties of the same plant. Plant green alternated with purple basils. Different varieties come in at different times, attractive to an insect at one time but not another. Breaking the pattern of same plant to same plant stops insect pests from making a slurping beeline down the row of your plants. Diversity is good.

Circles can become graceful ‘S curves’ with lovely taller plants, maybe tomato cages in the center of the circle, with stepping stones for harvest access, or plant something special in the inside of each of the ‘S’ curves. Very attractive. Your S could be the continuous perimeter of your circle each instep like a keyhole area! Curves all the way around. Try a double Mandala circle!

Veggie Garden Designs, Circles, S Curves, Squares, Keyholes

Squares are absolutely divine! Your whole garden can be planted to it, or just a section or have several, each featuring something special! Put contrasting color plants in lines crossing corner to corner, like an X, or put in a 5-pointed star inside your square! Alternating colors in same length rows might make your square.

Diagonal rays can be corner to corner side by side, or Sunrise/Sunset with pinks, Marigolds in yellow or orange to set the pattern.

Favorite perennial herbs can be heady scenty lovely corner accents! Or put them at welcoming entrance points for easy harvest access. Lavendars, culinary sages, dwarf rosemarys, thymes, Italian oreganos. Put them in the ground or raised up in colorful containers to keep them from being invasive and so they can be easily replaced when they age.

Healing herbs like bright yellow chamomile and calendula, and striking blue borage with star flowers! They are taller and useful. Don’t forget other edible flowers like chives, cilantro, clover, fennel, Johnny Jump Ups, marigolds, Society garlic and all time favorite, rose petals! Bury-your-nose-in-it Mint is so pungent, wonderful tea. Needs lots of water and a container. Very invasive. How about some medicinal aloe next to your old unused terra cotta chimenea?

Other Epic Thoughtful Choices!

A centuries old Water Saving Waffle Garden
An incredibly terraced hillside food forest starting with fruit trees, sitting places under them, terrific views.
Depending on where you live, create a lowland water garden with fish, ducks, and a variety of edible pond plants. This can be done with containers too!
Baffles, dividers enclosures using vertical Pallet Gardens to create a private rest or sitting areas
Balcony multi level super Container Garden

You and the Creator can collaborate. This is called playing with your food!

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Zuni waffle gardens were extensive in New Mexico in 1873, and are still used today. Drought, a hot dry, maybe windy, climate requires creative response. Consider an old proven successful technique!

Waffle gardens at the Zuni Pueblo were planted near the river. 1873 by Timothy H. O’Sullivan
Photographer: T. H. O’Sullivan. Expedition of 1873.
xThe Zuni people developed this waffle-garden design, which is still used today as an ecological method of conserving water. Photo by Jesse Nusbaum, 1911 New Mexico.Planting a waffle garden, Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. Museum of New Mexico photo by Jesse Nusbaum, 1911

The Zuni people developed this waffle-garden design, which is still used today as an ecological method of conserving water. The garden was surrounded by a clay or adobe wall that rose 30-50 cm above the ground. The waffle plot may have had a gravel mulch as well. Both methods served to hold the water in the soil longer, to retard evaporation.About those walls! Study this little airflow diagram…better to make a porous windbreak!Study this little diagram...better to make a porous windbreak!

In a cooler climate, a wall, maybe of berry producing shrubs with dwarf fruit trees behind, can reduce cooling and drying winds, allowing the warmth of a food forest! The waffles still reduce water use. Mulch in summer keeps weeds down and the plant roots cool and moist though the plants are getting lots of heat.

Waffle gardens at the Zuni Pueblo were planted near the Zuni River. Sadly, today, it is an unreliable water source for sustainable farming, but if you live at the bottom of a drainage area, take advantage of it as they did. If you are selecting land, choose wisely.

Water Zuni River Watershed Waffle Garden

This Zuni field, below left, takes advantage of the shade of the trees. Notice that the pattern follows the contour of the land, and the waffles are not all square or the same size. Shape them as suits your needs. They don’t have to have straight lines! The rock border, below right, indicates the gardener is creating a waffle garden medicine wheel!

This Zuni waffle garden field takes advantage of the shade of the trees.Design Waffle Mixed Size Basins

OCTOBER 28, 2014 The University of Arizona plans a simple Community Garden that incorporates water conservation structure where the higher ground acts as waffle berms.

A modern Waffle Garden! University of Arizona plans a simple Community Garden that saves water.

June of 2002 the A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center had put in a waffle garden to help the children of Zuni understand the ways of their ancestors. July and August, Zuni usually experiences monsoon season with afternoon thunderstorms coming from the south, a common (hoped for, prayed for!) occurrence. When we visited Zuni in August we found that the garden had changed significantly and that there had been lots of growth to all the crops!

A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden!A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden in the rain!

Same garden in August after the rains!
A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden corn is flourishing!A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden corn is flourishing!

Use and modify your areas to good advantage. High berms deflect the prevailing drying wind. Deep basins hold water where it is needed.

Waffle Garden modification! High berms deflect the prevailing drying wind. Deep basins hold water where it is needed.

Teach! Visit local historic native gardens in your area. In Santa Barbara CA that would be our Mission Garden, called La Huerta, The Orchard. The City of Albuquerque collaborates with the nonprofit Open Space Alliance. Below is the Traditions Demonstration Garden, at the Open Space Visitor Center. It is a hands on volunteer effort learning feature designed to teach about historical foods and methods of farming in the Rio Grande Valley.

Design Waffle Albuquerque Open Space

Pointers

  • Your berms don’t need to be amended.
  • You don’t need berms, or very high berms, if you dig down and amend.
  • Generally, make your waffle 2′ or smaller square. Make them a size workable for you to comfortably reach across.
  • Make pathways close enough between patches so you can easily reach across to tend and harvest your plants, and haul in your amendments.
  • Plant sprawlers like squash, melons, at a corner. They can act as a living mulch.
  • Plant corn so it doesn’t shade plants that need full sun.
  • Lovely as the Three Sisters sounds, beans climbing corn, squash at the feet of the corn, some say the corn shades out the beans.
  • Put up a trellis along one edge if you are ok with breaking tradition a bit. It can also act as a porous windbreak!

Squash and corn starting in a single dug down Waffle! Give it a try! You can do it anywhere!

Squash and corn starting in a single dug down Waffle Garden section!

And that, became this! Happy Planting!

Corn and squash in Waffle Garden space.

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

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara 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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California’s 2013 was the driest year on record in 119 years.

Beautiful Pineapple Tomato Heirloom is drought tolerant, suitable for grafting!
This beauty is Territorial Seed’s heirloom Pineapple tomato – drought resistant, indeterminate, suited to grafting.

Drought won’t stop us from growing tomatoes, but we do need to adjust some of our veggie variety plant choices.

Herbs by nature are naturally drought tolerant since most of them are Mediterranean.

Veggies are generally not naturally drought tolerant. Most are seasonally advantageous short rooted annuals, not deep rooted perennials. They grow quickly, need water to do that. Period. To produce fruitfully, they need to be able to make generous leaves to support photosynthesis to produce generous fruits and lots of them. Yet there are more heat loving varieties that do thrive in dry areas.

Some of us very coastal gardeners will be quite happy for the heat! It will mean we can grow plants we couldn’t before, like melons, pumpkins, large fruited eggplants, okra, that gardeners further inland, in the hot foothills, or south of us have been enjoying all along! There are even drought tolerant varieties of melons like Blacktail Mountain.

One drought solution is to grow only super prolific plants for the most return per square foot, especially the drought and heat tolerant varieties! These 5 are a great backbone-of-your-garden veggies!

  • Indeterminate tomatoes produce all summer long from one plant! No need to replant determinates costing periods of time with no production and additional water usage. Of the heirlooms, Pineapple, per Bountiful Gardens is the most cold-hardy and drought resistant large tomato they have seen.
  • Pole beans!  Same issue with bush beans as with determinate toms. No need to replant bush beans costing periods of time with no production and additional water usage. Pole beans produce all summer long. Try Rattlesnake bean, aka Preacher Bean. 100-degree heat doesn’t stop them from producing lots of beans.
  • Zucchini  Dark Star, produces in only 50 days. It is the result of organic growers working together to grow an open-pollinated heirloom-type zucchini that could outdo the modern hybrids. The result is a zucchini with great performance in cooler soils and marginal conditions, along with a big root system that goes deep to find water and resist drought.
  • Giant Fordhook chard, BountifulGardens.org says it is tolerant of drought and heat in our research garden.
  • Kale! Curly leaf is super productive per its footprint! In our warmer weather Curly leaf kale, a favorite, is more susceptible to aphids, and those little devils are hard to get out of those convoluted leaves. One thing you can do is pick more frequently to keep new growth coming fast. And it will be a must to do frequent routine pest checks; keep flushing them away.1000 Thousand Head Kale Multiple Growth Points!But how about a heat tolerant flat leaf kale like Thousand Headed Kale?! It has multiple growth points instead of just one, so it puts out a lot more foliage and tender shoots. Huge plants make lots of food. A must for self-sufficiency.Edible Perennial Tree Collards from AfricaAnother super Brassica is perennial Tree Collards! From Africa to Los Angeles, TCs grow 6′ tall average, but up to 11 feet, live 4 to 5 years in continuous production! No lost harvest time because of needing to be replanted. TCs are high in Calcium, and unlike spinach, chard, and beet greens, collard greens don’t contain high amounts of oxalic acid, an anti-nutrient that can deplete your body of important minerals like Iron.

Check out Bountiful Gardens! They specialize in heirloom, untreated, open pollinated varieties for sustainable agriculture. In the drought tolerant section they say, ‘Please note that this does not mean that the crops listed don’t need some watering – these are crops that will grow with less water and all of these crops will need moisture to get established.’

Prickly Pear - Zapatas, have edible pads and fruits!Try new plants from arid countries. Maria Arroyo at our Santa Barbara Community Gardens office recommends a traditional local plant, zapatas, Prickly Pear! Both pads and the fruits are edible! The fruits, tunas, are used in brilliantly colored healthy anti inflammatory juices, uh, margaritas, a jelly candy, and jams. The pads, nopales, are used various ways. From Phoenix Arizona, here is Kymm Wills’ easy Nopales Recipe!  When & how to harvest those dangerous nopales! Or, check out your local Mexican market.

I have been thinking of the Santa Barbara Mission traditional La Huerta corn. The cobs are quite small. That is likely what happens generation after generation when there is little water. Bet the New Mexico/desert varieties have small production as well. In some instances we will need to adjust our expectations about how much yield to expect when we use less water. We may need more land to plant more for the same previous yield.

This is time to check out southern university sites in states like Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, maybe Florida, hot states, for their successful heat loving varieties. Please report in to me your location and ones you try that prove successful. Please save those seeds!

Our planting techniques need rethinking. One simple garden practice to change is to plant IN furrows and basins/wells, like Zuni waffle gardens, would keep water right and only where it is needed rather than randomly watering an entire area. A more refined furrow technique is to make a deep furrow, flatten the top, about 8 to 10″ wide, and make a mini furrow there on top! With gentle and careful hand watering, your water stays right at the top where seedling roots need it, rather than running off and eroding the sides of the furrow, lost to evaporation. The bottom of your furrow stays dry and you footwear doesn’t get muddy! Later on, as plants get bigger, roots go deeper, you can water in the main furrows.

Soil amended with compost, worm castings or Sphagnum peat moss has greater water holding capacity.

Grey-water is king. Think how much an apt building would make. Even a 10-minute shower with a low flow shower-head at 2.5 gallons per minute is 25 gallons of water used per shower.
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FYI  Feb 19 I attended the Farm Policy presentation. Here are some notes I took:
  • Santa Barbara County is #12 in California agriculture production.
  • Broccoli is our #2 crop (strawberries #1), 20% of US production! Most of what is exported goes to Japan, cut in special forms to their taste!
  • Farm production is up to 3B/yr.
  • We could be in a 500 year drought. Farming as we know it will be changing. Wells are drying up.
  • Nutrition is the base cause of noncommunicable diseases, 50+% overweight, 8% diabetes, our life expectancy now declining.
  • Amazingly, we import 95% of our fruits and vegetables. Yes, you read that right. Suggestions – increase local food distribution, grow more at home!
  • Mexico has the highest obesity rate in the world.
  • Europe now has a 50% reduction of meat and dairy use.
  • The Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue gleans a 2nd harvest of unused produce, ie misshapen, too small, from farms, farmers’ markets, for seniors, youth, and others in need. Wonderful story!

Which Landscape Plants to Save? TREES! 

Trees are long term plants, and they make shade. Shade means cooler, less evaporation, and though trees use water, they also preserve water.

I like Joan S Bolton’s thorough and thoughtful, informative professional post. HOW TO KEEP YOUR TREES HEALTHY DURING THE DROUGHT

Here are some more details at SB County Agriculture & Weights & Measures Newlsetter. See Page 4, Our Oaks are Thirsty by Heather Scheck.

Stay strong in these challenging times. Enjoy the changes. To your good health and happiness!


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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