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Seed Sprouting! Life!

Photo: USDA Flickr

Starting seeds yourself has two 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 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!

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

STARTING YOUR SEEDS OUTDOORS IN THE GROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chopsticks can be used in a couple helpful ways.

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

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

Teensy seeds are a challenge in so many ways!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seedlings Transplants Cover Protection Birds Shade

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

STARTING SEEDS INDOORS or IN YOUR COLD FRAME or GREENHOUSE

Seedlings Indoors Grow Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cinnamon for Seedling Damping Off Disease Prevention!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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German Chamomile Herb Bee Flower

Please do plant Chamomile to feed the bees!

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

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

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

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

There are four ways to plant!

  1. The easiest is to simply let babies sprout this year from fallen seeds if you had Chamomile last year!
  2. Also easy is to simply fling seeds about and forget about them! Let them come up when and where they will. It’s a miracle these super tiny seed beings can do this, but it does happen just like in nature! You can ‘weed’ and transplant them where you want them.
  3. If you are starting Chamomile for the first time and want to grow it from seed, get a packet from your local nursery or a reputable organic seed house. The seeds are husky, but tiny to say the least! The seedlings are tiny too! If you don’t start them indoors, mark where you planted them so you don’t step on them or pull them up thinking they are weeds. Be sure to clear that area of slugs and snails first by putting down something to kill them off before you plant your seeds. Once planted, cover to protect them from being vanished by birds.

    Put your seeds on the soil surface in slight separate depressions 3″ diameter so the seeds don’t float away and water stays where it is needed. Press lightly to settle, do not cover with soil. Your seeds need to be kept moist. That might be every day or twice a day depending on sun and wind. Water lightly and gently so as not to wash away your seeds, or damage tiny seedlings about to come up. They germinate in 7 to 14 days. Do cover the seedlings with netting, a wire cover or a cloche to protect them from birds.

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

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

    Photo by Jellaluna

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

ONE DISEASE, NO PESTS!

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

IT’S A SUPER COMPANION PLANT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chamomile Herb Medicinal
MEDICINAL USES

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

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

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

HOW and WHEN TO HARVEST the FLOWERS! 

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

May 2016 Chamomile

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

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

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

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

Chamomile Herb Dried Flowers Medicinal Glass Jar

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

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

Image from Susy Morris/Flickr, via Hobby Farms  

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

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

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

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

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

Chamomile Herb Tea Cup Flowers

Bee good to yourself and Mother Earth! Plant Chamomile!

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

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Lacinato Kale, aka Tuscan, Black or Dinosaur, is a zesty and nutritious grower!

Lacinato Kale, aka Tuscan, Black or Dinosaur, is a zesty and nutritious grower!

Delicious winter garden harvests continue! You may not feel like eating as many salads in this cooler time, but veggie soups and stews are super nutritious and great for sharing!

Keep an eye on weather reports! We are still in the frost – freeze time in Santa Barbara until the last average frost date January 22 – measured at the airport. Have old sheets, light blankets, old towels handy. If a freeze is predicted, for small plants, like tender lettuces, just lay tomato cages on their sides and put your coverings over them. Secure coverings well so wind doesn’t blow them around and damage your plants or leave them uncovered. Remove them when the sun comes out! No cooking your plants before their time! Dates vary from the coastal areas to the foothills, and our climate is changing generally to warmer, so these dates may not be viable guides much longer, if even now. Find out the frost dates for your Zip Code! See the details – Protect Your Veggies from Freezing!

No rain in sight, but there are still weeds! Weed, weed, weed! Do it before the roots get bigger and you lose your soil when you pull them out. Weed before taproots get deep and hard to remove. Get those clover roots out all the way down and before grass makes its frilly little seed heads. Remove any weed that is flowering, making seeds soon, first! Anything that is not seeding, healthy and not pest infested, may be cold composted, or you can use them as mulch where there is bare ground not in your garden.

Time to check beds and berms! Install trenches to capture rainwater. Mulch to prevent erosion and soil splash on leafy greens. Add soil on carrot, turnip and beet shoulders and exposed potato bodies. See Rainy Day Tactics for Spectacular Veggies! After a rain, do the finger-in-the-soil check to be sure your plants are getting enough water. A light rain may not be enough…

Once the weeds are out, you have choices to make. Plant very last rounds of winter plants or start making soil for spring planting!

January Plantings  If you love your winter crops, and aren’t necessarily in a rush to do spring/summer, amend your soil immediately and plant one more round, from transplants if you can get them or the starts you have begun on your own, seeds if you must. See December for tips on what to plant. In cooler January weather, plantings will start slowly, but they will mature faster than usual as days get longer. Most January plantings will be coming in March, April. That’s still in good time for soil preps in April for April/May plantings. In April/May there is less fungi in the soil, so plants that are fungi susceptible get a better start.

Plant MORE of these delicious morsels now! Arugula, beets, brocs, Brussels sprouts if you get winter chill, bunch onions, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, culinary dandelions, garden purslane, kale, kohlrabi, head and leaf lettuces, Mesclun, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes – especially daikons, and turnips!

For us SoCal gardeners, besides beautiful bareroot roses, this month is bareroot veggies time! They don’t have soil on their roots, so plant immediately or keep them moist! Grape vines; artichokes; short-day (sweet) globe onions; strawberries; cane berries such as raspberries (get low-chill types); low-chill blueberries; and rhubarb, asparagus, and horseradish. Bare root planting is strictly a JANUARY thing. February is too late.

Continue to make the most of winter companion planting! Carrots enhance peas, onion family stunts peas. Cilantro enhances Brassicas and repels aphids on them! Lettuce repels Cabbage moths. Onions, leeks and chives help repel the carrot root fly. Carrots thrive when Cilantro, Chamomile, Marigold are planted with them. Companion planting is also a size strategy. Keep planting smaller plants, especially lettuce, on the sunny under sides of Brassicas! Take off a couple lower leaves to more sunlight in. Under Brassicas, plant lettuce from transplants since Brassicas are a bit allelopathic, makes biochemicals that inhibit small seeds like lettuce from germinating.

Planting summer crops early isn’t always a gain. Even if the plant lives, some won’t produce fruit until they have enough hours of sun, and for some, warmth including day/night and/or ground temps. And some plants set in too early will never produce. That waiting time for enough sun, enough warmth, interrupts the plant’s natural cycle and the production window is lost. If you take that chance and it doesn’t work, pull and replant.

Peppers are a classic example. For some gardeners peppers take forever…………. For others the standard couple of weeks and seeds are seedlings! If you have experience, you probably know which it is for you. A lot of Latinos start their peppers in January and let them grow slowly until April. If you plant from transplants, I would not try for an early start. Peppers just don’t like cold feet. Whenever you start, plant two rounds, two to three weeks apart. That way you have a better chance of hitting the magic window! Soil Temps are critical for root function. Peppers need 60 degrees + for happiness. A gardeners’ soil thermometer is an inexpensive handy little tool to own.

You can use area that becomes open for quick plants, chard, kale, lettuce, spinach, crops grown for their leaves, until it’s the right time to plant heat lovers. These plants can be removed at any time and you still shall have had lush harvests. However, hardly anyone can resist planting early tomatoes! Another strategy is plant your leafies to one side, leaving room to plant your toms where the toms would be planted if the leafy plants weren’t there. Plant tomatoes on the sunny sides of the leafies! Remove lower leaves of taller plants that would shade the transplants. That way you have table food and your heart is happy too!

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

Summer Garden Design is important right now! You can do diagrams on paper or just give it a good think to see if there are any changes this year, and carry it in your head. That layout is what you need to make your seed list! Seeds from catalogs, seeds from the Jan 28 Seed Swap! Catalogs give you the best selection and of plants your nursery doesn’t carry or isn’t able to get. Check for drought and heat tolerant varieties or look in southern states or world areas that have heat tolerant desert low water needs plants and order up! The seeds of these types may need to be planted deeper and earlier than more local plants for moisture they need. They may mature earlier. Be prepared to do second plantings if needed and use a little water. See Choosing Seeds: Catalogs to Seed Swaps!

Before you opt out of planting tomatoes and/or cucumbers due to Fusarium and Verticillium wilts, check out this special guide for successful results! Get resistant varieties and there are special planting and care techniques that work!

The Seed Swap is free, fun and random, a good way to try plants you might have never considered, and they are adapted to your area!

Later January is time to sow seeds indoors for mid to late March early plantings. If you will be doing succession plantings, sow your seeds in succession, like every 2, 3, 4 weeks depending on which plant it is and how many you need. If those fail, it’s to the nursery you go for transplants! Avoid box stores that bring plants from elsewhere that may not be timely for your area, may be infested or sick. Check them carefully. This is very important in a community garden where pests and diseases can spread quickly. Select local nurseries that order conscientiously for local timing and try to get quality plants for us. You may pay a tad more, but it is worth it. Local people live here and they have your interests at heart since they want your repeat business. Also, they can answer your questions. Establish a good relationship. At the Farmers Market, check with local farmers to see what they plant when. Some feed stores are agriculturally inclined.

Check out  Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas! If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, wait and get transplants and pop them right in the ground per their right times! No fuss, no muss.

For us SoCal gardeners, besides beautiful bareroot roses, this month is bareroot veggies time! They don’t have soil on their roots, so plant immediately or keep them moist! Grape vines; artichokes; short-day (sweet) globe onions; strawberries; cane berries such as raspberries (get low-chill types); low-chill blueberries; and rhubarb, asparagus, and horseradish. Bare root planting is strictly a JANUARY thing. February is too late.

Prevention  A typical disease is Powdery mildew. 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. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution.

Standard Winter Garden Veggie Predators Keep a keen watch for pests and diseases and take quick action!

  • Bless the birds. If they are bothering your tender plants, cover with netting or wire with small openings, cloches, in such a way you have easy access to weed and harvest.
  • Gophers  You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after the rains though we in Santa Barbara haven’t had any yet. If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.
  • Aphids  Watch for leaves unnaturally curled along the length of the leaf, particularly broccolis, cauliflowers, kale, cabbages. Squish or wash any or the colony away immediately, and keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed. Check the new growth tiny leaves at center top. power spray to remove any aphids there. Remove hopelessly infested leaves. After that, water less and give it less food so plant leaves will be less tender and inviting.
  • White flies  Flush away, especially under the leaves. They are attracted to yellow, so keep  those Brassica yellowing, yellowed leaves removed pronto. Again, a little less water.
  • Leafminers  Keep watch on your chard and beet leaves. Pull away those blotchy sections the leafminers make; immediately remove whole leaves that are too funky for rescue. Harvest the bigger outer lower leaves more often to stay ahead of the miners, especially the leaves that touch another plant. Water and feed just a little less to make those leaves less inviting. Plant so mature leaves don’t touch. Rather than row plant, interplant here and there.
  • Slugs, Snails  When you put in new transplants, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from seriously damaging or disappearing tiny seedlings or transplants while they are small. Before you anticipate your seedlings coming up, sprinkle some pellets around the plant, along both sides of rows. That keeps the creatures from mowing them overnight, making you think they never came up! Do this a few times, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while. If you notice tiny children snails, lay down another couple rounds.

If you need more robust soil, do something absolutely yummy with it! This is perfect timing to put in some green manure for March & April plantings. Depending on the type of plants you choose for your green manure, allow +/- 3.5 months for the process. If you want the earliest planting time for spring, plant ASAP! See Living Mulch! Put it where you will plant heavy summer feeders – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard. Or you can ‘rest’ an area by covering it with a good 6″ to a foot deep of mulch/straw! That will flatten down in no time at all! Simply let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. That’s called sheet composting, sheet mulching or composting in place – no turning or having to move it when it’s finished. If you are vermicomposting, have worms, add a few handfuls to speed up and enrich the process. Come spring you will have rich nutritious soil for no work at all!

COMPOST always! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost is easy to make, and if you make it, you know what’s in it! Added to your soil, made or purchased, it increases water holding capacity, is nutritious, soil organisms flourish, it helps with immunity, your soil lives and breathes! It feeds just perfectly! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist.

Sidedressing  Heavy leaf producers and big bodied Brassicas, may need a feeding now. Heading is your cue to help them along. If they slow down, or just don’t look perky, slip them a liquid feed that quickly waters into the root zone. Stinky fish/kelp is easy for them to uptake in cooler weather. Get your nozzle under low cabbage leaves and feed/water out to the drip line. Lettuces love manures. Compost and manure teas, fish emulsion (when there are no digging predators like skunks), pretty powdered box ferts, are all good. Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings. Slow release is a wise consideration. Worm castings, though not food, work wonders! Also, be careful of ‘too much’ fertilizer, too much water, that makes for an aphid tasty soft plant. That said, another way to get goodness to the roots is push in a spade fork vertically about 6″ or less deep, wiggle it back and forth, remove the fork, pour your foods into the holes, close ’em back up. Soil organisms will get right to work, your plant will stay healthy and be quite productive!

Especially feed your cabbages, lightly, time to time, because they are making leaf after leaf, dense heads, working hard. I often see kales lose their perk. You would too if someone kept pulling your leaves off and never fed you. Feed them too, please, while feeding your cabbages.

It’s a New Year! Some of you will make serious gardening resolutions, others will take it as it comes, one day at a time as usual. But I do recommend you secure your seeds for the year ahead! Some are now less plentiful with droughts and storms, GMO threats, new laws. Recently much needed seed banks, libraries have sprung up. We want to use our seeds with reverence and seed save our best as they adapt to different climate change conditions, assure their goodness for future generations. At Seed Swaps, take only what you need. If many people grow them, there will be more adapted to our localities. Before there were seed shops, seeds were often used as money. They are as precious today as they have always been, maybe even more so.

Santa Barbara’s 10th Annual Seed Swap is January 28! The last Saturday of January every year is National Seed Swap Day! Look in your area for an event, and if you don’t find one, collaborate with your local garden club or permaculture group to get one going!

Layer up, enjoy these crisp days. Let the wind clear your Spirit, the rain cleanse and soften your Soul.

Happy New Year Gardening!

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

I’m so grateful for having all you garden friends in my life! I love sharing, gardening, learning, being outdoors in all kinds of weather together! Please enjoy some frosty and sometimes smokey (Thomas Fire) December images at Santa Barbara’s Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria Community Gardens!

See the entire January 2018 GBC Newsletter!

January Winter Harvests, Planning Your New Year!
Love KALE! Beauty, Super Nutrition, Easy to Grow!
Living Mulch, Which, When, and Why!
Smart Design for Your Spring & Summer Garden, Seed Selection!

Upcoming Gardener Events! 3 January La Sumida Nursery events, 2018 Permaculture Design Course, 26th Compost Council Conference, 10th Annual Santa Barbara Seed Swap!

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

Read Full Post »

Dec Winter Veggies Colander Flowers Dan Boekelheide

A misty morning at the garden….

I’m so grateful for having all you garden friends in my life! I love sharing, gardening, learning, being outdoors in all kinds of weather together! Happy Holidays and please enjoy some lovely November images!

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

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

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

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

MAINTAINING

Sidedressing is like snacking. Some of your heavy leaf producers and big bodied Brassicas, may need a feeding now and again or just when they start to fruit. If they slow down, or just don’t look perky, slip them a liquid feed out to their dripline. Get your long spouted watering can nozzle under those low cabbage leaves. Lettuces love manures. Compost and manure teas, fish emulsion (when there are no digging predators), powdered box ferts, are all good. Winter feeds need to be easy for your plant to take up. Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings. Slow release is a wise consideration. An excellent way to get feeds to the roots is to push in a spade fork no more than 6″ deep. Push it in vertically (so as not to break the main tap roots), wiggle it back and forth just a bit, remove the fork, pour your foods into the holes, close ’em back up. Soil organisms will get right to work, your plant will stay healthy and be quite productive! Worm castings, though not food, work wonders with immunity, soil conditioning and help germination! Mix some in with your liquid feeds you pour around your plant.

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

A mini task is to keep covering the shoulders of carrots, beets, radishes, parsnips and turnips. They substantially push right up above ground as they grow. Planting their seeds deeper doesn’t compensate. It’s the nature of the veggie! Never hurts to put a handy little pile of extra soil near where you plant them. Uncovered shoulders look dry, are tough, sometimes bitter, and need peeling before cooking. Uncovered carrot shoulders don’t ripen but stay green, just like exposed parts of potatoes turn green. The green on potatoes is slightly poisonous, but not enough to do harm, but it doesn’t look good.

Watering is important even in cool weather. Also, some plants simply like being moist ie chard, lettuce and short rooted peas. No swimming, just moist. Finger check your soil after rains to see if your soil is moist deeply enough. Sometimes it is moistened only 1/4″ deep, needs more water! Also, be careful of too much water, that makes for an aphid tasty soft plant. Watch WEATHER reports in case of freezes, heavy winds, rain. After strong winds check right away to see if any plants have blown over and need staking, roots need covering with soil. See Rainy Day Tactics for Spectacular Veggies!

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

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

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

Pests Birds Aviary Wire Cloches
Seedlings Cover Birds Bottles WireSeedlings Baby Lettuce Plastic Bottle Cloche
Seedlings Protection Bent Wire Row Cover

Don’t lose your crops to birds! Buy pre made covers, or get clever and cover seeded rows with DIY small openings wire tunnels or a patch cover bent that has sides bent to the ground to keep birds from pecking at little leaves or from plucking tiny seedlings right out of the ground! You can also use small plastic bottle sections to make mini sleeves that birds won’t go down into. Or for baby lettuces, make large plastic bottle self watering cloches though wire covers let more light in! Bird netting is inexpensive, tears easily, but is good to stretch over peas on a trellis.

Prevention and removal! Keep an eye out for pests and diseases and take quick action! A typical disease is Powdery mildew. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. For mildew apply your baking soda mix. The best combo is 1 regular Aspirin, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day if transplanting. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution. Hose away aphids and whiteflies, mildew. Remove yellowing Brassica leaves. Yellow attracts whiteflies. In general, plant further apart for air circulation, water and feed just a little less to let those leaves harden up a bit. Soft fat leaves are an invitation to aphids and mildew!

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

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants.

Windy days are prime time to gather leaves to add to compost or process for Leaf Mold, Mulch or Compost! Leaf Mold is low in nutrients, but makes a superb soil improver, conditioner for vegetable and flower beds. Leaf mulch is free for the making! Leaf Compost processes faster when made the right way! See more!

PLANT JUDICIOUSLY NOW

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

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

Believe me, you are going to get spring planting fever along about March, so plan ahead for it!!! Start seeds the first three weeks of January for early March plantings! Choose varieties that are cold tolerant and are early maturers for the soonest table eats!

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

Remember your winter companion planting tips:

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

Besides beautiful bareroot roses, decide now where you will be buying any January bareroot veggies you want! Consider: grape vines; artichokes; short-day (sweet) globe onions; strawberries; cane berries such as raspberries (get low-chill types); low-chill blueberries; and rhubarb (be cautious where you plant it, it can be poisonous to humans – children, dogs and chickens), asparagus, and horseradish. Artichoke pups need 3’ to 4’ space, 6′ is more a reality! They are hefty growers and live 10 years! If you keep them watered, and there is enough space, they are a great street strip plant!

SPRING PREPS

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

Delicious choices to consider:  Perennial  Heat & Drought Tolerant – per Southern Exposure ~

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

Definitely start building compost for spring planting. You could plant green manure where you will grow heavy summer feeders like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, strawberries. Or plant it if you want a break! Just lay in some green manure seed mix – vetch, bell beans, Austrian peas and oats. In Santa Barbara area get the mix and inoculant at Island Seed & Feed. Let it grow two to three months to bloom stage, chop down, chop up and turn under, let sit two weeks to two months. Your choice. Let the herds of soil organisms do their work! I usually do about 3 weeks. Or, lay on as many layers of compost material as you can get for an up to 18″ deep area where you will be planting. Put in some surface feeding red wiggler worms. The BEST soil enhancer!

WINTER VEGGIES STORAGE

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

Storage - Which veggies and fruits to Refrigerate or Countertop!

BEE FOOD! Plant wildflowers now from seed for early spring flowers! Germination in cooler weather takes longer, so don’t let the bed dry out.

Santa Barbara’s 10th Annual Seed Swap is January 28! The last Saturday of January every year is National Seed Swap Day! Look in your area for an event, and if you don’t find one, collaborate with your local garden club or permaculture group to get one going!

Wonderful Gardener Style Holiday Gifts!

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

Layer up, enjoy these crisp days. Let the wind clear your Spirit, the rain cleanse and soften your Soul.

Happy December Gardening!

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

See the entire November 2017 GBC Newsletter!

December Winter Garden Harvests!
Salanova® Lettuces! Super Production per Space!
It’s the Season for Leaf Mold, Mulch or Compost!
Selecting the Right Seeds for Your Annual Plantings!

Upcoming Gardener Events! 3 January La Sumida Nursery events, 10th Annual Santa Barbara Seed Swap!

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

Read Full Post »

Greenhouse Henry Ford Hospital Michelle Lutz

Michigan’s Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital upgraded the condition of its food by adding a greenhouse. Michelle Lutz oversees production of vegetables, fruits and herbs, used in preparations such as braised romaine salad. / Photos courtesy of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital

Greenhouse seedlings, transplants are ready six to eight weeks early and you can grow Out-of-Season Treats in winter! Pest and disease free equals greater production! For institutions like hospitals, greenhouses are workhorses! A greenhouse is a most valuable part of a productive home garden. Seedlings are ready for earlier planting. Hospitals want the best food possible for the health of their patients, and can’t afford to be weather dependent.

As a home gardener in coastal SoCal areas you may question the need for a greenhouse. Though unheated, ours at our mile-from-the-beach community garden is well used! We often run out of space for everyone’s seedlings as we get closer to planting time or the weather warms! Even unheated, an enclosed space is heated by the sun during the day and doesn’t get so cold at night, no chilling winds or late freezes in there! Seedlings are protected from marauding pests, birds, walkabout creatures. Foothills and inland gardeners get more heat and more COLD! They really can use greenhouses to advantage.

Greenhouse Long CucumbersIn addition to starting preseason transplants, in a heated greenhouse you can grow out of season tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, cucumbers, beans, eggplant, zucchini, cantaloupe! Herbs, chard, raspberries and strawberries! And winter crops too if you just have too much snow outside!

Your greenhouse doesn’t need to be huge or showy. It just needs to do the job.

Super options!

Our land is flat, but yours might have slopes and you could choose to have an earth shelter space complete with indoor shower! See also Heating Greenhouses Without Electricity!

Greenhouses come in a vast variety of shapes from squares to pillowdomes! Buy a premade kit or design and build it yourself entirely to your specs.
You can have a 2′ wide up against the chimney mini to a palatial entire rooftop greenhouse with an elegant view!
You may have a built in the ground greenhouse cousin, a cold frame, or an indoor kitchen window box.

Materials vary from hoop frames to the fanciest filigree and glass, cob or strawbale! They can be spanking new, made of have-arounds, or be recycled from demolition sites! Covering materials can be poly films, panels, glass and glazing. There are so many new products, techniques, new research, all the time, and each person’s needs are so different, it is wise to check these things out for yourself. Talk with several ‘experts’ on each topic. Read up online. Compare. See what you really want. See what will do the best job for your needs.

If you have space for a larger greenhouse, consider gardening some of your crops in it! Hoop houses, or high tunnel farming is a recent invention. They are certainly the larger version of traditional row covers! There are huge commercial installations. Yet home made hoop houses can be no bigger than 8X8, so easy to put up a child can do it!

  • Season extension is the #1 advantage. 30 days on the front end and 30 days on the back end of the growing season is equivalent to moving your farming operation 400 miles to the south!
  • Yields increase when your plants are protected from excessive rain and wind. When a more ideal growing temperature is maintained, a reduction in temperature-related stress, fruit set, fruit size increases.
  • There is no bolting, so no loss of your plant’s production.
  • Because temperatures are maintained, you can plant when you want to, not have to wait until conditions are favorable.
  • Soil conditions are more controlled, less moist, less to no fungi – wilts, blights.
  • No pests, no pesticides! No birds, small mammals.
  • Plus, they are movable!

Greenhouse Energy Efficient Attached Lean ToEnergy efficient attached greenhouses make a lot of sense. The home, and these bricks, help heat the greenhouse for free! Some attached greenhouses are beautiful walkin sunrooms, garden rooms, conservatories!

If you decide to build a greenhouse yourself, first check on local ordinances and with your neighbors. Place it conveniently, near electrical and water access if possible. Choose a location with a winter angle for maximum light, as much sun as possible. Use trees for windbreaks if necessary.

Know your prevailing wind direction, be sure it is well anchored. Use concrete blocks with eye hook attachments, sink posts or anchoring stakes, or use sand, not rocks, on the windward base cover.

Your roof choice tells us what kind of weather you have! Steep slopes and insulated lower areas tell us you are in high cold country with snow and need to decrease your heating costs. Medium slopes with rounded shoulders are good in windy and rainy areas. An extended slope on one side that faces the sun tells us you may get a lot of shade from trees on one side.

Doors make a difference. If you are in a windy area, you might choose sliding doors that can be secured and weather stripped versus velcroed flaps, zippers or swing out doors that blow away or animals could get through.

Ventilation is key! Hot days are hot! In two shakes a greenhouse can to get up to 110 degrees! Doors and windows can be the vents if intruders are not an issue, otherwise, ceiling vents are best. Solar devices can be set to open when temps hit a high level. Fans may be needed.

Greenhouse sloped for lots more Solar energy!Electrical! Get advice from a greenhouse experienced professional because of the extreme conditions: heat, wet, cold. Make sure that person knows local codes
Consider solar lights, vent openers, fans or simply long sloped sides to have lots more solar energy as in the image!
Growlights? Yes!
Night light to see by
Computer monitor

Irrigation tips! Put your timer OUTSIDE! Make & see your adjustments without getting wet! Mini drop down sprayers or foggers at varying adjustable heights along an overhead line are fabulous! Consider recycling your water – is it legal to use grey water where you live? Collect rainwater.

A word about Damping Off. Damping off is a common problem with seedlings started in containers, indoors or in greenhouses. Per Planet Natural: ‘Several fungi can cause decay of seeds and seedlings including species of rhizoctonia, fusarium and phytophthora. However, species of the soil fungus pythium are most often the culprit. Damping off typically occurs when old seed is planted in cold, wet soil and is further increased’ by poor soil drainage.

Disease Cinnamon Damping Off PreventionThe super simplest prevention is Cinnamon! Just sprinkle it on the soil! Sprinkle on plant injuries and they will heal. It is a rooting hormone. 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! (In Santa Barbara area buy it in big containers at Smart & Final.) Also, it repels ants!

Pathway and Flooring best for your plants and feet! Have a sturdy pathway that stands up to wheelbarrow use. A non muddy pathway saves your greenhouse floor. A raised flooring keeps you from having a muddy mess. Drainage is necessary so there is no rot or mold. Heated flooring is the best. There are great options, more and less expensive! Concrete, rubber matting saves your feet. Dirt, my last choice, and/or pavers. Decomposed granite, pea gravel, raised wooden slats, pallets, straw, chips – use weed mat underneath! Use pest protection wire under weed mat and soft flooring choices. No gophers, no mice, squirrels, bunnies or snakes, thank you.

Greenhouse Shelving FanShelves and Worktable

Make your work table a good working height for you
Shelving needs to be safe and well supported
Construct your shelves wire covered like the top shelves in the image, or like the lower shelves, out of spaced boards so water drains, the boards dry, there is no mildew or mold.
Enough space between boards makes it easy to clean
Or use open wire metal shelving that allows drainage and dries
If there is lower shelving, slant it down from back to front

  • so you can see what is in the back
  • It is easier to get items in back out – keep heavier items to front
  • No water clings to it – stays dry, no rot or mold

OR some say don’t have bottom shelves so there is no nesting space for mice or chipmunks – they WILL eat your plants! You want to be able to SEE the ground! Depends on how critter secure your house is.

Rather than just the greenhouse, consider a 4 part working complex! A storage shed, the greenhouse, a covered work area and hardening off area.

Tool & Gear Storage could hold your tools and supplies!

Wheelbarrow, all tools – shovel, rake, pitchfork, spade fork
Small tools – trowel, clippers, sprayers
Bags of compost, potting mixes etc
Plug trays, biodegradable containers, labels
Gloves, apron, work boots, jacket
Greenhouse gear & replacement materials

Greenhouse Support Supplies!

Heating gear – heaters, heating mats
Cooling systems – fans
Irrigation, misting items
Lighting – grow light, night light
Thermostat, humidity (no mold), temperature   devices, CO2 generators
Secure, safe-for-children and pets, dry storage containers

Your Workspace needs a sun shade top and wind screen side. It would be a good place for your composter, worm bin and might be a good place for your rain collector barrels

Care and Maintenance

Seasonal checks, reset watering needs, replace brittle coverings
Routine cleaning inside and out
Equipment
Sterilize propagation area
Ventilation – Heat, condensation. Insulation – Frost
Deal with pests and diseases immediately!

Greenhouse Reused Doors and WindowsGreenhouses made of reused doors and windows are much more green than recycling!

Sustainable Greenhouses are often compost or solar heated!
They have heated benches and floor because root zone temperatures are more critical to plant growth than leaf temperatures. By maintaining an optimum root zone temperature, greenhouse air temperatures can be lowered 15° F!
LED’s balance good light, cooler temps
Hydroponics (preferably aeroponics) remove excess heat and water vapor
CO2 is recycled by breaking down old plant debris in a digester
Soluble components of the plant debris can be incorporated back into the nutrient solutions.

5 Sustainable Sources to stir your thinking!

  1. Eco-Friendly Greenhouses
  2. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service:  Greenhouse Production
  3. Sustainable Architecture, Greenhouse Book & Video List
  4. Kiva’s straw bale greenhouse – the time & money it takes
  5. The Ghandi of Greenhouses – The Greenhouse Biz

Rooftop greenhouse with a view of the city! Germany Fraunhofer UMSICHT

Fresh City Tomatoes, Any Time! On his way home from the office, the computer scientist harvests tomatoes from his company‘s rooftop greenhouse. No food miles! Why not produce lettuce, beans and tomatoes where most of the consumers are to be found: in the city? The flat roofs of many buildings are well-suited for growing vegetables. Rooftop greenhouses can also make use of a building‘s waste heat and cleaned waste water. Solar modules can do the rest. This uptown rooftop greenhouse urban garden is in Germany. Image courtesy of Fraunhofer UMSICHT.

Greenhouse Conferences! Tradeshows, sustainable, educational. Local, international! If you love greenhouses, might want to do urban agriculture business, just want to get involved, check these out online. There are different sponsors, different locations each year!

Whatever your special connection is, in SoCal, before our winter rains and cooler weather, late summer, early fall are perfect for getting your very own fine greenhouse up and running! If you miss that window, very early in the new year is good so you can start seedlings for early March plantings!

You might decide to sleep in it the first night!


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 »

July is International Pest Month!

Just kidding! But it is the month so many of the little buggers come out in force! Taking good care of your plants during pest cycles goes with the territory!

Pest Prevention and taking care of your plants during pest cycles is a natural part of gardening!

Aphids & Whiteflies = Ants    Both ants and aphids exude a sugary ‘nectar,’ honeydew, that ants harvest from them.

Jet spray off the whiteflies! That’s those little clouds of tiny white insects that fly away when you bump your plant. Some of them transmit diseases to some veggies. Spray off dust that interferes with natural predators. Whiteflies like the heads of your broccoli side shoots, so keep those picked pronto! Smudge off any eggs you see on the undersides of leaves. Use a finer spray for bean leaves and be gentle, beans stems can break easily. White flies like humidity, so plant less densely, and keep check on the inner and lower leaves. Add a 1″ layer of worm castings out to the dripline of your plant. Water it in well. Insecticidal soaps or Neem oil can reduce populations. You really don’t want those tiny white flies, cute and adorable as they look, because they encourage black sooty mold and aphids that inject toxins and also carry diseases. Not good.

Some aphids are still lollying from April and June. Some are pretty little green tykes, others are dull gray, or black, usually numerous where they have decided to camp. Same principles. Keep vigilant watch so things don’t get out of hand, keep your veggies picked, and jet spray. Look inside curled leaves, under the leaves, and in newly leafing tops. See more about Aphids at UC IPM!

Ants tend aphids. Some say sprinkle cinnamon around your plant to keep the ants off it. Otherwise, use safe ant bait stakes. Be sure the stakes are the right kind for the ants you have and the time of year. ARGENTINE ants prefer sweet baits year-round. Protein baits are attractive to Argentine ants primarily in the spring. Chemical baits are not ok in our organic veggie community gardens. Instead, a simple remedy can be putting a few drops of dish soap around and filling the nest entrance. Pull mulch back from the stem of your plant and let that immediate soil dry a bit. Ants nest near water. See more about Ants at UC IPM!   See a lot more details about aphids and ants!

No mercy to those little green and black striped cucumber beetle cuties down in the cuke and squash flowers or simply strolling about! Squish. Or should we let a few pollinate our cucumbers and squashes even though they eat the flowers away? NO! Because they carry seriously nasty plant diseases.

Pick your outer lettuces leaves, cut & come again style. This guarantees you will find those morning slugs and snails. Poke around your beans gently and peek under squash and chard leaves for ambitious high altitude snail hikers. Scan your tomatoes for the varmints! Toss them someplace, the same place each time, so your local birds can gourmet on them. When the birds see you they will come for snacks! Use Sluggo, or the like, a few times to stop the generations, or hand pick if you can stand it.

Leafminers. Yuk. They chew on your chard and other veggies, get right between the layers of the leaf, making that section brown. External applications obviously can’t touch them. Pull away the infected sections of the leaf, remove badly infected leaves. There are several different kinds of leafminer insects that operate all at once. It’s their hatching season. Later summer there will be less. Keep harvesting to keep ahead of the miners.

Flea beetles in July? Yup. Those trillions of holes in the leaves? That’s who we’re talkin’ about. There are 3 to 4 generations per year, depending on weather, and the generation time is roughly 30 days. They look just like fleas, and are about impossible to catch. No mercy. Disturb their cycle by putting compost, manures, worm castings, under susceptible plants – eggplant, arugula, radish. They like radish the most, so plant it as a trap plant near other susceptible plants and let it grow out. Radish grows quickly, so plant it anytime! Turning the soil exposes the eggs and pupae to dry and die.

Keep the water coming so not only do cukes and lettuces stay sweet, the cukes and beans grow straight, but they grow fast and outgrow pests.

Unlike with insects, you don’t get a second chance with gophers.

Gophers are simply an ongoing pest for most gardeners. You mention them and gardeners groan. Now they are getting summer shiny and well fed on what you grow for them. It’s never too late to put in gopher barriers in any planting area. You can sink in an 18” to 2′ deep barrier, 6” above ground, perimeter, but better is to scoop out the area and lay the wire around and across the entire area, securing the wire edge to edge by weaving it with wire! Be sure neighboring edges are secure one way or another so there is no sneaking through. Hardware cloth will do the best job, lasts about 10 years, naturally is the most expensive. Chicken wire has too big an opening, and is easily gnawable. Aviary wire (1/2” opening), is the better choice,  and disintegrates in about 3 years, but is tons better than nothing at all!

If installing a barrier isn’t an option, then trapping is the most effective. It’s not hard to do, but I admit, it’s not entirely pleasant or even safe. Please do be careful setting traps, especially if you are gardening alone. I push the dead creature down the tunnel and close up the tunnel. Hopefully any newcomers to that tunnel system will plug that section off. Wire traps, like Macabees, are cheap and effective, need only a small hole dug to install, less digging, saves nearby plants. Box traps are perhaps more humane, and probably catch the fast small babies better, but do install two, one each direction, that’s what’s effective, you need a hole at least a foot in diameter. That usually requires a plant or more loss. The easy way to find tunnels, if you can’t find it at the fresh mound, is to push a small diameter ¼” to ½” stick into the surrounding ground at intervals until it gives when you push it in. That’s your tunnel location. The bigger the tunnel, the better your chances, especially if it goes off in two directions. Install your traps, one each direction. More on gophers!   UC Davis Integrated Pest Management  Good hunting.

Last option, but overall expensive per cost per an area, time and repeated installations, is wire baskets. You can buy them or make them. First check out how deep your plant’s roots are likely to grow and shop or make accordingly. If the roots grow through the basket they are likely to be nibbled.

We have talked about small nuisances and gophers. We haven’t talked about bunnies, mice,  deer, grasshoppers, skunks or others. But we can if you need to. Let me know.

Good gardening.  Vigilance, giving immediate care, are two good traits to have. Keep it organic. Remove pest habitat, keep working your soil, keeping your plants healthy and resistant. Floating row covers can be a good early season choice. But they have to be opened daily when it gets too hot, and opened daily or removed to allow pollination when your plants start flowering. At that point, they become more work than they are worth for pest prevention. Avoid overplanting that leads to neglect by not harvesting. If you’ve done it, remove plants you don’t use, give away if possible. Replace with something new, vigorous and inspiring! Sometimes a plant you love will simply successfully grow through the season of the pest, outgrow the part of the pest’s cycle that would bother your plant. Plant year round habitat for natural predators, beneficial insects. They are hungry hard workers! Don’t kill the spiders, welcome the lizards, put a safe bowl of water for the birds – safe means away from kitties and with a little ramp so lizards and mice, the tinies can get out.

Prevention is best! Select pest and disease resistant varieties. Use companion planting wisely!

  • Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions! It is thought to repel white flies, mosquitoes, tomato hornworms, aphids, houseflies, and asparagus beetles. Smells great and tastes great!
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill goes with your pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes act as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Herbs are fabulous! Calendula, aka Pot Marigold, traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!

No denial allowed! Be observant and take immediate action. Carry on, good garden soldiers!

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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 »

Tasty Red Bell Pepper, Tomatoes, Edible Garlic Flowers!

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

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

Peppers Come in an Amazing Array! 

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

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

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

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

SMART CHOICES!

Disease resistant If your land is moist, hybrids are probably going to do better for you than heirlooms. In coastal Santa Barbara CA we usually have a late spring/summer fog belt/marine layer, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Choose Resistant varieties per the list below and also Potato Yellow Mosaic Virus, Pepper Mottle Virus and  Cucumber Mosaic Virus.
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Pepper Resistance Codes:(BLS 1-3) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1-3)
(BLS 1-2) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1, 2)
(PC) Phytophthora Root Rot
(PVY) Potato Virus Y
(TEV) Tobacco Etch Virus
(TM 0-2) Tobamovirus (Races 0-2)
(TM 0-3) Tobamovirus (Races 0-3)
(TMV) Tobacco Mosaic Virus Here are recommended varieties by UC Davis in California. TMV is Tobacco Mosaic Virus, PVY is Potato Virus Y. AAS is a super plus! It is an All America Selections winner!
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Hot
Tam Mild Jalapeño (mild heat with Jalapeño flavor) PVY
Jalapeño M (very hot)
Anaheim TMR 23 (chili pepper, moderately hot) TMV
Anaheim (standard hot chill)
Cayenne Long Red Slim (hot)
Hungarian Yellow Wax (popular for canning, moderately hot)
Serrano Chili Pepper (tabasco type)

Sweet Bell
Bell Boy AAS, TMV
California Wonder TMV
Yolo Wonder TMV
Keystone Resistant Giant TMV
Jupiter TMV
Golden Summer Hybrid (yellow when fully mature) TMV
Golden Bell (yellow when fully mature)
Early Pimento (used fresh or for canning) AAS
Sweet Yellow or Cubanelle Sweet Banana AAS
Gypsy AAS, TMV
Hy-Fry
Cubanene

GROWING CONDITION CHOICES

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

Cold Tolerant! 
If you love your peppers and want some early, or have a short growing season, order ones that mature quickly and are cool weather adapted! Plant those first and others more heat tolerant soon after to carry the length of the season. For 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 Jalapeño,  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! If cold weather can happen anytime where you live, grow your peppers in pots; take them inside when it gets cold.

Heat Tolerant! Peppers are a Solanacea like tomatoes, and like tomatoes they produce poorly during high temperatures. Banana, ‘Gypsy’ and pimento produce very well, despite the heat. Jessie Keith says ‘super spicy classic jalapeño ‘Tula’, wonderfully flavorful pasilla-type pepper ‘Holy Molé’ (2007 AAS Winner), and classic spicy sweet red bell pepper ‘Mexibell’ (1988 AAS Winner). Of the sweet bell peppers nothing beats the tough, [thick walled] disease-resistant ‘Orange Blaze’ (2011 AAS Winner) and its crisp, bright orange peppers.’ Heirloom Olympus (65 days green, 85 days red) has large bell peppers on medium-sized plants with good leaf cover. They are high-yielding plants, are heat tolerant and can set fruit under a wide range of conditions. MG Seed Stock. If you planted varieties that are more heat susceptible, put up a shade cloth cover. Depending on the density you select, shade cloth can lower the temperature by approximately 5-15 degrees. If you live in a hot area, bell pepper transplants can be planted in August for fall production when the weather cools down.

Drought tolerant Look for the terms drought tolerant, drought resistant, dry farmed when searching for the best variety for your garden. It’s important to know that drought tolerant doesn’t necessarily mean heat tolerant and vice versa, so stay alert if you need both. When you are buying seeds, consider the location of the seed company. Perhaps local seed houses will understand your needs best. Check in with local farmers to see which varieties they are growing, remembering that some of their standards are different than a home gardener. For those of you in water critical areas, one way to help the situation is to pick pepper varieties with fewer days to maturity. You get peppers, you can freeze some, your plants are done before the highest heat and driest times. The UC Sonoma County list is short, only two varieties, Jupiter Red Bell and Ordoño.

Pepper HOT Cayenne Blend Eden BrothersHAPPY COMPANIONS! 

Sweet Peppers like: Basil, tomato, rhubarb, eggplant, lettuce, asparagus, parsley, silver beet, spinach, carrot, onion, beans, cabbage, peas, marigold and okra.

Hot Pepper plants do well alongside eggplant, tomato, okra, Swiss chard, escarole, squash and cucumbers.

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

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

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

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

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

Peppers need VERY RICH SOIL, are heavy feeders! Place compost for water holding capacity, worm castings, rotted manure under them when transplanting. Mix in Maxi Crop and Island Seed & Feed Landscape Mix. Sandy soils are preferred for the earliest plantings because they warm more rapidly in the spring. Heavier soils can be quite productive, provided they are well drained and irrigated with care.

Epsom Salts! Rather than in the soil, do foliar Epsom Salts! A cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. You could apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is more effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition.

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

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

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

CARE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PESTS & DISEASES

For Blossom End Rot, see above under Care.

Early Blight and Verticillium Wilt are a problem at all the Santa Barbara Community Gardens. Please see more about them and what to do here.

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

Choose Resistant varieties.

California Wonder Peppers changing color!  Eden Brothers Seeds image.

California Wonder Peppers Changing Color - Eden Brothers imageHARVEST

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

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

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

STORAGE can be really fun with peppers! So many options!

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

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

To Tray Freeze Sweet Bell Peppers

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

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

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

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

Another form of drying is in brilliant wreaths and Ristras!

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

SEED SAVING

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

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

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

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

HEALTH

Pepper Hot Oil & Healing Spices

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

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

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

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

Absolute Culinary Delight!

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

Peppers! Salsa and Rellenos

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

Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

Tasty Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

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

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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

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