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Chard, the Bouquet of the Garden
Chard is the bouquet of the Garden! Plant it for pretty! Plant it as a centerpiece, at the front, by the entrance. Contrast it with frillys like carrots or dill.

Chard is fabulous in containers on the balcony, mingled with ornamentals in your landscape, and brightens any veggie garden, especially in Mediterranean winter gardens! Whether it is all green, a white stemmed Fordhook Giant, or Bright Lights/Neon from white to neon pink, bright oranges and reds, brilliant yellow, it is glorious!

And it’s not just another pretty face, it’s a prodigious producer, Cut-&-Come-Again, and again, and again! In our SoCal clime, it acts as a perennial, sometimes living for several venerable years!  Low calorie, only 35 calories per cup, it is packed with vitamins K, A, C, E, and B6, a valuable food for maintaining strong bones. Chard is also very good source of copper, calcium, phosphorus, and a good source of thiamin, zinc, niacin, folate and selenium!

In a sense, Chard, Beta vulgaris, is a relatively new vegetable that is thought to have first been described in the mid-18th century. It is also known as Swiss chard, silverbeet, spinach beet, and even spinach in different parts of the world. It is in the same family as beets, but doesn’t make a bulb like they do.

Chard, an all season plant in SoCal, is one of the top 5 veggie producers per square foot! It is a fast prolific crop maturing in only 55 days! It tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes. Besides being a beauty, having a blazing array of colors, leaf after leaf it feeds a family! Though the colorful hybrids are stunning, and your shopping list is delighted with their magical names, the older green forms tend to outproduce them and are more tolerant of both cold and heat. The mammoth white stemmed Fordhook Giant can’t be beat! It grows up to and more than 2′ tall and feeds an army, with heavy yields even in hot weather!

Varieties Cornell lists 49 chard entries!

Five Star ratings go to Burpee’s Rhubarb Chard, Verte a Carde Blanche and Verde da Taglio.
Bright Lights is an All America Selection winner!
Umania is a Japanese chard that tolerates heat and cold, is slow bolting.

Flat leaved or bumpy?! Bumpy, called Savoyed, leaves give more chard per square inch, but they can also hide aphids. Narrow or wide ribs. Green, crimson or purple leaves! Rib colors galore, from white to neon to the darkest reds!

Chard Purple Leaves Gold Ribs Savoyed.jpg

 

 


You can see why chard is frequently used in flower gardens!

Check out Nan Ondra’s post! She grows a designer quality garden in Pennsylvania! Nan says ‘As the season progresses, the leaves of some of the orange- to red-stemmed chards darken to bronzy green or even a deep purple-red.’

Chard, an amazing array of leaf and rib colors!

 

 

 

 

Do you like that purple one with the yellow rib?! The beauty on the left is Prima Rossa! The cooler the weather the deeper the color!
Chard Perpetual Spinach Scottish heirloom MacGregor

 

 

Perpetual Spinach varieties and container sorts make leaf after leaf, and behave themselves. Maybe you would like some red leaves and red ribs! Try Scottish heirloom MacGregor Swiss Chard! It does not get colossal, is more tender than other chards. Pot of Gold is also a charming dwarf variety!x

Grow It!

28 Days for tender little leaves, only 55 days or so to maturity.

Chard likes a rich sandy loam soil – well manured and composted with worm castings added. It is sensitive to soil acidity. A low soil pH results in stunted growth. Consistent water, full sun, and plenty of space! A healthy chard, will take a 2′ to 3′ footprint, more if it is a Fordhook Giant! At 28” tall, it makes a shadow, so plant accordingly!

Soak seeds overnight or presprout! Direct seed into the garden 3-5 weeks before the last frost date, or you can start seedlings indoors around the same time. Transplant seedlings after your last frost. Chard seeds germinate best in soil temps around 75°F-85°F (not air temps) but 50°-55°degrees will do, and is practical. Avoid seeding during daytime air temps of 80°F or more. In SoCal, one of the best times to plant is mid August for production all winter long. Plant then in the shade, on the north or east sides, of taller plants that will be replaced by fall plants or will finish soon. Chard seeds don’t mind those hot August soil temps, but Chard plants here do best in cool weather, wilting pitifully midday in hot summer temps. Check your soil to see your plant really needs water or is reacting to the heat.

Germination will take 5-16 days. Chard seeds are actually a cluster of seeds and will produce more than one plant. Spacing will determine the size of the plants. Space plants at 4″-6′ apart within rows spaced at 18″-24″ apart. When the young plants are 4 inches high, thin them to stand 8 inches apart. If you are pest and disease conscious, keep right on thinning so adult leaves don’t touch each other!

Depending on your space and needs/wants, avoid planting in rows, plant far enough apart that mature leaves don’t touch leaves of another chard plant. Interplant here and there. That way Leafminers, aphids and diseases can’t go plant to plant. if you have space, you can broadcast your seeds in sections of the garden to create a bed of tender leaves and thinned to 4 inches apart as they mature. Otherwise, plant your seeds 1/4-3/4 in. deep. That will give you a steady table supply of tasty little greens!

Mulch in summer keeps roots cool and moist. In So Cal winters it keeps rain from splashing soil up onto the leaves.

Water Chard, like Lettuce, likes plenty of water regularly to keep it sweet. It’s putting up big leaves again and again. Weed early and often!

Feeding! Since Chard is a prolific producer, it needs feeding from time to time. In summer it can use a little compost and a tad of manure. Some worm castings would make it even happier! Late summer spread a little compost over the root zone, drench with a water-soluble organic fertilizer. They will make a strong comeback early fall. In winter a light feed of fish emulsion is easy to apply, and easy for it to uptake.

Pests & Diseases

  • Hose APHIDS off Chard, kale and brocs. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed. For hard to get at places, down the centers of chard and in crinkly kale leaf crevices, get out that spray bottle! Treat once, wait a couple days, treat the ones that got away and newborns.I tried this home remedy, it WORKS! The simplest is to spray with 2 parts alcohol, 2 parts water, 1 part  soap. DO NOT use on seedlings, it will kill some of them. Spritz lightly rather than drenching or you may kill your bigger plant too! If the aphids are totally out of control and you can’t get to them down in the center of the plant, if you are very brave, cut the whole plant off a couple inches above the crown, let it produce new leaves.
  • Leafminers are the bane of chard, spinach and beets, going from plant to plant. These are not plants to row crop! You know you have leafminers when you see their trails or brown patches on the leaves as the miners burrow between the leaf’s layers. Remove those sections and badly infested leaves immediately. Keep your chard harvested and well watered to keep it growing and producing fast, sometimes outgrowing the leafminers. Some say soft fast growth is perfect habitat for the miners, but chard is meant to be a fast grower with plenty of water to keep it sweet! So if you can’t eat it all, find a friend or two who would appreciate some and share your bounty! Or remove plants until you have what you can keep up with.  Plant something else delicious in your new free space!
    x
    Details from U of Illinois Extension:  Spinach and Swiss chard leafminer flies are 1/2 inch long and gray with black bristles. This leaf miner lay eggs on the underside of the leaves side by side singly or in batches up to five.  One larva may feed on more than one leaf.  After feeding for about two weeks, the larvae drop from the leaves onto the ground where it pupates and overwinters in the soil as pupae. In spring, they appear from mid April to May and they cause serious damage compared to the other generations that appear later. The life cycle is only 2 weeks long, and they can have five to ten generations per year!  That’s why you immediately want to remove infected parts of your plant, to stop the cycle! Cornell Cooperative Extension  UC – IPM
  • Slugs & snails are chard’s other not best friends. Irregular holes in the leaves, that’s the clue. Remove by hand, checking the undersides of leaves and down in the center area where new leaves are coming. I chuck snails and slugs where our crows gourmet on them. Or use Sluggo or the cheaper store brand in the cardboard box of the same stuff. Lay down Sluggo two or three times to kill the generations then you won’t need to do it again for quite awhile.
  • Beets, Chard and Spinach get Cercospora leaf spot, light brown patches surrounded by purple halos. Promptly remove infected leaves. Late fall or early spring plantings are most likely to be affected. Late summer when conditions are favorable (high temperatures, high humidity, long leaf wetness periods at night) is the worst. It grows on infected crop residues, so immediately remove leaves that collapse on the ground. It is carried by wind or rain to host leaves. This is one case where AM watering really makes sense to reduce humidity. Plant less densely for more airflow, thinnings are tasty! Planting only every 3 years in the same spot often isn’t possible if there is too little garden space, so cultivating, turning and drying the soil between plantings is good. See more

Harvest & Storage

Cut or twist off stems of outer leaves while still tender, 1-2 inches above the soil surface. Leaves are of best quality just when fully expanded or slightly smaller. Chard loses water very quickly after harvest, so give it a rinse, shake off excess water, pack loosely in a plastic bag, get it into the fridge. Use ASAP, 3-4 days! Do not store with fruits, like apples, and vegetables that produce ethylene gas. Blanch and freeze leaves if you like; use in soups and stews later.

Chard seeds look exactly like Beet seeds!Like other biennial plants, chard produces flowers and seeds in the spring of its second year, after it has been through winter. Let your favorite chard make a flowering stalk, seed and dry. The seed is super easy to harvest. Just hold your fingers close to the stalk, zip them along the stalk and put the seed in an airtight container. Label it right then and there because you can’t tell chard seed from beet seed! Same family. If you want that variety of colors, and don’t have room or the time to let all of them seed out, just get a packet at your local nursery or online from your favorite seed house. Keep your seeds cool and dry, viability 3+ years. Harvest plenty for you, gifts for friends, seed swaps!

Culinary Satisfaction

When preparing your chard, if you are eating it for the Vitamin A, trim the leaf from the rib. You can eat the rib, it just takes a little longer to cook unless you chop it up into little pieces. Ribs have healing factors all their own due to their colors! Here’s a surprise – use stems like celery! Stuff and serve! Or pickle them, or the crisp ribs can be steamed or grilled like asparagus!

Small leaves in salad, drizzle with a sauce or dressing of your choice. Larger leaves chopped, steamed over rice or in stews. Toss with olive oil and stir fry with your favorite veggies and protein. Layer in lasagna or a casserole of scalloped potatoes or turnips. Everyone has their favorites! Deb Elliott of Helena AL loves hers in chard soup, beginning with chicken bouillon, Italian sausage, onions and little red potatoes. Chopped chard leaves are added toward the end, as it only takes a few minutes for them to cook.

Chard can be used as a substitute for spinach in most dishes and goes well with roasted meats, cream sauces, nutty cheeses, and tomatoes. Try adding chard to au gratin or serving it alongside Jamaican Jerk chicken with red beans and rice. Squeeze out excess water, and use the cooked chard in casseroles, quiches, or as a succulent side dish.

Or try this Vegetarian Stuffed Chard Oregon Style from Organic Authority!

Chard Stuffed Oregon Style, Scandinavian Recipe

Cabbage is substituted by chard in this Pacific Northwestern version of a Scandinavian recipe. Light, nutritious and deliciously healthy, the chard leaves are stuffed with a grain of choice alongside Oregonian staples like hazelnuts, dried cranberries, goat cheese and late summer veggies for a satisfying and wholesome dish. The red, pink, white and yellow veins of rainbow chard leaves are an excellent choice for this chard recipe, especially if you are looking for visual appeal. Serve it as a main vegetarian dish with a side of yogurt sauce, homemade chutney or lemons wedges, or make smaller ones to serve as pop-in-your-mouth appetizers.

Serves 3-5

Happy growing, happy eating!

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Radish Sprouts looking at the Sky!Radish Sprouts looking at the Sky!
Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Capture water! Grow organic!
 

The Seed Swap was a huge success! In a total downpour, it was buns to buns standing room only at times! All the seeds and cuttings were taken, there were generous sharings! My talk was well attended, I got the Romanesco Zucchini seeds I was hoping to find, along with some other treats including cilantro seeds I was out of, and a locally grown loofa! A lot of people were from out of town, so good to see gardener friends ~ the music was great! Congratulations to Oscar Carmona for his Seed Savers Hero Award! Happy planting to you all!

This year my summer strategy is to plant tall in the West to filter sunlight, give shorter plants respite from the hot afternoon sun, keep them a bit cooler, keep the soil a bit cooler, more moist. Last summer, record HOT, our crops were done in July and we had so much heat, fall planting wasn’t successful until the end of October. Hopefully my strategy will give a longer growing period this year.

  • Plan to put indeterminate tomatoes and pole beans in vertical cages or on sturdy trellises on the western border. Indeterminate tomatoes are an excellent choice! They are water savers since no time is lost starting more determinate/bush tomato varieties, having periods of no crop while waiting for them to fruit. Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of dandelions!
  • Next, intermingle mid height plants, bush beans, determinate tomatoes – good choice for canning, tall peppers like Big Jim Anaheim or Polanos, zucchini – try the prolific heirloom, star shaped Costata Romanesco! Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs. Radish with cukes & zukes to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Leave a broccoli or two, that will get taller, on the West side, for salad side shoots.
  • Leave a couple kale that will get taller on the West side. They will produce all summer long. Plant lettuces on the sunny side under your brocs and kale.
  • Plan to put cucumbers up on mini trellises to keep them disease free and clean, and so they ripen evenly all the way around.
  • Scatter the ‘littles’ among them on the sunny side. Some of them will be done before the bigger plants leaf out. When the bigger plant leaves start shading out the ones below, harvest strategic large lower leaves.
  • Lower plants like eggplant, like a little humidity, so snuggle them among, in front of tall chards, maybe some curly leaf kale behind the chard. Radishes with eggplants and cucumbers as a trap plant for flea beetles.
  • Leave room for some arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery to go to flower to bring bees and beneficials! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next plantings. Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile!
  • If you love cabbages, plant a few more, but they take up a fair footprint for what they produce and they take quite awhile to do it. Plant quick maturing varieties. You can do better by planting drought tolerant prolific producers! These are the top 5: Indeterminate tomatoes, pole beans, Zucchini Romanesco, Giant Fordhook chard and Thousand Headed Kale!
  • In the East put in your shorties. Beets and carrots there and among the big plants. Bunch onions away from beans. Strawberries and lettuces. Radish.
  • Pumpkin, melon, winter squash vines require some thoughtfulness. Pumpkin and winter squash vine leaves get as huge as zucchini leaves, easily a foot wide! Mini melons have dainty 2″ wide little leaves, can be trellised, are definitely low to the ground, can be quite smaller than strawberries! A healthy winter squash vine can easily be 3′ to 4′ wide, 30′ long plus side vines, and produce a major supply of squash! You can use them as a border, as a backdrop along a fenceline. In SoCal, unless you are a squash lover, or won’t be gardening in winter, there is question as to why you would grow winter squash at all. Greens of all kinds grow prolifically here all winter long, giving a fresh and beautiful supply of Vitamin A.

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

In spaces needing to be held for later, ie if you are planting okra in June, grow plants that are quick and prolific producers grown for their leaves. They produce continuously, and can be removed when you want the space. You will have lush harvests while you are waiting. Think of kales, chard, lettuce, beets, even mini dwarf cabbages. Perhaps you will leave some of them as understory plants and plant taller peppers like Poblanos or Big Jim Anaheims, and tomatoes among them. When the larger plants overtake the understory, either harvest the smaller plants, or remove or harvest lower leaves of larger plants and let the smaller ones get enough sun to keep producing. Super use of your space.

The weather is warming rapidly, January ground temp at Pilgrim Terrace is 51-55 degrees, and likely we will have another HOT summer, so our planting times may be earlier, but, again, remember, day length is still important. No matter how early you plant some plants, they still won’t produce fruit until they have enough hours of sun, and for some, warmth including day and/or night and/or ground temps. If they miss their window, they may never produce at all…. Keep growing those leafy producers – lettuce, chard, kale – in that space and plant the right plants at the right good time! See Best Soil Temps

Start seedlings indoors now for March/April plantings. If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, just wait, get transplants and pop them right in the ground per their right times!

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

Along with deciding plant locations, get ready for Summer Gardening!
  • Install pathways, berms. You may have to do some rearranging if you decide to plant tall West.
  • Waffle Garden, basins & windbreaks, Water Garden. Excellent drought choices.
  • Gather cages & trellises
  • Terrace slopes – prevents water runoff and topsoil loss
  • Build raised beds, Hugelkultur
  • Get new containers, pallets, boards, wire for bird protection
  • Organize where you will keep straw bales for summer mulch
  • Setup Compost areas – enclosures, area to compost in place

Spring planting soil prep! 

  • Add compost & other amendments to your soil all at the same time.
  • Add well aged manure as appropriate. Less in spring because you want fruit production, not leaf, unless it is a plant grown for its leaves, like lettuce, kale or cabbage! None for carrots, peas or beans.
  • Add 25% worm castings. As little as 10% works. They are potent, help with plant immunities to disease.
  • Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Jamaican bat is high P phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2.
  • Sprinkle with a tad of coffee grounds to reduce wilts fungi.
  • Don’t cover with mulch unless you need it for erosion control. Covered soil is cooler. Let your winter cool soil warm up.
  • Water your prepped areas when you water your other veggies. Moist, not flooded soil is rampant with life!

One more round of green manure is doable. Grow it 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. Green manure can be beautiful favas, bell beans, or a vetch mix to boost soil Nitrogen. Favas are big and you get a lot of green manure per square foot. With our warming weather, longer days, your green manure will grow quickly! As soon as it begins to flower, whack it down, chop into small bits and turn under. It’s more tender to chop then. Taller is not better. Wait two to three weeks and plant, plant, plant!

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

Pests!

  • 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.
  • Pull away those blotchy sections leafminers make on chard and beet leaves. Remove whole leaves that are too funky for rescue. Harvest the bigger outer lower leaves more often to stay ahead of the miners. Water a tad less so leaves are less soft and inviting.
  • Hose APHIDS off chard, kale and brocs. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed.

    For hard to get at places, down the centers of chard, crinkly kale leaves, get out that spray bottle! Treat once, wait a couple days, treat the ones that got away and newborns.I tried it, it WORKS! The simplest is to spray with 2 Parts alcohol, 2 parts water, 1 part  soap. DO NOT use on seedlings, it will kill some of them. Spritz lightly rather than drenching or you may kill your bigger plant too!

    Lemon Spray It kills the aphids on contact. Grate the rind of a large lemon. Boil it in enough water to fill a garden spray bottle. Let the mixture sit overnight. Strain the liquid into the garden spray bottle. Spray the aphids and larvae directly. It’s over for them.

    Vinegar Spray Get out a spray bottle and fill it 1/3 of the way with distilled white vinegar and the rest of the way with water. This will kill the aphids and larvae on contact. Some plants react badly to the vinegar. It’s important know which plants you can and cannot use this method with. Test it on a small area of your plant before doing a large area.

    Calcium Powder Sprinkling calcium powder around the base of the plants is another natural aphid repellent. The aphids do not like the calcium and will generally stay away from it.

    Banana Peels?! Burying shredded banana peels around the base of plants is an odd, but effective remedy. It has been around for ages and many gardeners will swear by it. I’m gonna try it.

  • Remove any yellowing leaves that attract white fly.
  • Gophers You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after  the rains. If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.

Prevention  A frustrating typical disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on Curly Leaf kales. 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 teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! See Aspirin Solution.

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants.

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

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

Watering & Weeding is important after rains. Winds dry soil quickly and short rooted plants like peas, or seedlings, need to be kept moist.

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

Grass in Flower, soon to SeedWhen grass has those frilly little green tops, it is blooming and seeding! Remove it ASAP. Better yet is to remove weeds before they seed! If at the seeding stage, gently pull, don’t shake the soil loose from the roots and spread seeds all over, if possible, and don’t put them in your compost!

Keep COMPOSTING! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, feeds just perfectly! And if you made it, you know what’s in it! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist.

Giving back to Mama Earth is nature’s natural way! And, like Will Allen says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins.

Have a wonderful February! May your seedlings grow well!

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

January Rainy Garden Images!

See the entire February GBC Newsletter:

Chard, an Elegant Colorful Pleasure!
Everyday Gardening – Free Therapy & Lots of Healing
Seeds@City Urban Farm, San Diego City College! 
Events!  Earth Day!

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SeedSaving - Advocates and Laws
Peasant seeds – the pillar of food production – are under attack everywhere. Under corporate pressure, laws in many countries increasingly limit what farmers can do with their seeds. Seed saving, which has been the basis of farming for thousands of years, is quickly being criminalised. What you can do.

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 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 precious today as they have always been, maybe even more so.

Santa Barbara’s average last frost date is January 22 – and that is measured at the Airport! This isn’t to say there might not be another frost after that… With early plantings, know that you are taking your chances. If you lose ’em just replant! Guarantee your success by starting another round of seeds in two weeks to a month or so, both for backup and succession planting. Find out the frost dates for your California Zip Code! See the details – Protect Your Veggies from Freezing!

Just in case, 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 them well so wind doesn’t blow them around and damage your plants. Remove them when the sun comes out! No cooking your plants before their time!

Planting 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.

While others are dancing with glee at their new plants so soon, don’t worry if you wait a bit for a more sure thing! You can use that area for quick plants, chard, kale, lettuce, spinach, 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 don’t remove your leaf producers; instead plant tomatoes here and there among them! Remove lower leaves on the sunny side of taller plants and put in some little transplants there. 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!

We may or may not have El Niño here in Santa Barbara, SoCal. If it happens, if you haven’t gotten your land ready, be prepared to scramble to get your beds and berms up and secure. Have a good source of mulch, a kind that doesn’t wash away, in mind to quickly prevent erosion. Quickly install trenches to hold the rainwater, and do some terracing if you are on a slope! Our water goals have changed in recent years. Now we hope to keep every drop of water ON our land. Let the earth filter it, restore our water tables, let only clean water get to our ocean. The ocean provides food too ~ fishes, mineral rich seaweeds. Let’s give them a clean environment. See Rainy Day Tactics for Spectacular Veggies!

With your summer garden layout in mind, get SEEDS! Start them indoors NOW to be planted in March! After a HOT summer and fall that had even the heat lovers groaning, we have had a coolish November and December. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have another hot summer. Check your 2016 seed catalogs for drought and heat tolerant varieties or look in southern states or world areas that have 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 and use a little water.

This is THE time to start peppers from seed! Peppers take their time, much longer than other plants. They are super persnickety about soil temps – they need 60 degrees + for happiness. Soil Temps are critical for root function. Peppers will sit for agonizing months if they are too cool. When that happens they rarely take hold, never produce. Better not to plant at all, or pull and replant. A gardeners’ soil thermometer is an inexpensive handy little tool to own.

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.

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 have starts of your own. In cooler January weather, plantings will mature slowly, but they will mature faster than usual as days get longer, temps are warmer. Most January plantings will be coming in March, April. That’s still in good time for soil preps in April for the first spring plantings in April/May.

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 make room.

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.

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, peas, potatoes, radishes – especially daikons, and turnips!

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 them 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.

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 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.

If you need more robust soil, do something absolutely yummy with it! This is perfect timing to put in some green manure 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 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!

Repeat! Excellent Winter Garden Practices:

Thin any plants you intentionally over planted – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, mustard. If you planted too close together, take out the shorter, weaker plants. Keep thinning beets as they get bigger, taking small ones from between the ones getting larger. Thinnings are great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves.

Sidedressing is like snacking. Some of your heavy leaf producers and big bodied Brassicas, may need a feeding now and again. 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), 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, 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.Don’t feed carrots, they will fork and grow hairy! Overwatering makes them split. Your peas and favas are busy gathering Nitrogen from the air, feeding themselves, so little to no feeding is needed for them.

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

In SoCal, winter is not a time for mulching except for erosion control. Its purpose in summer is to keep the soil and plant roots cool, and retain moisture. In winter, we pull the mulch back to let the soil warm up during the short days. Also, it’s good to remove pest habitat, let the soil dry a bit between rains to kill off the wilts fungi, and let Bagrada bug eggs die. Do not keep straw from areas where there have been infestations. Bag up clean summer straw, mulches, for compost pile layers during winter or lay the straw under the boards in pathways to feed the soil there. Later, move the pathway over, left or right, and plant in that fertile soil that is now under the boards!

Do water! Watering is important even in cool weather. Also, some plants simply like being moist ie chard and lettuce, strawberries. No swimming, just moist.

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

  • Gophers  You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after the rains. 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. After that, water less 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  Lay down Sluggo, or the like, before seedlings even get started, immediately when you put your transplants in! Once stopped, there will be intervals when there are none at all. If you notice tiny children snails, lay down another couple rounds.

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, 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.

Again, get your summer garden layout in mind NOW for January/February SEED SWAPS! Peruse seed catalogs and order up. Later on, many seeds will no longer be available, so wisely get your entire year’s supply now!

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

Love your Mother! Plant more bee food! Capture water. Grow organic!

December Garden Images! Western Bluebirds, the Fallen Tree, surprises!

See the entire January GBC Newsletter:

ALL About Beets, So Sweet!
Soil Care for Spring Planting
HEAL Community Garden for Sydney Children

Events!  January 31, 2016 Santa Barbara Seed Swap!

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Lettuce Red Leaf
Beautiful tasty Red Leaf Lettuce

Companion planting is not hard and fast science, but try it for yourself! The luxury of home, or personal gardening, is you can plant as you wish! Rather than row planting, pop lettuces between your Brassicas – that’s broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbages! Lettuce is said to repel Cabbage butterflies. While you are at it, throw in some Cilantro seeds! Cilantro repels aphids from Brassicas. Great threesome! Lucky for us, lettuce has few pest problems, so plant, plant, plant!

In winter, especially remember to plant tallest solid leaved plants, ie big brocs, to the back, feathery leaved Cilantro next, short Cabbages and then lettuces, so they all get plenty of short days sun.

Lettuces thrive in cool winter temps. This is the time to plant heading lettuces and delicate thin leaved varieties that you wouldn’t dare plant in summer! Plant flavorful Radicchio now to get the best heads.

Try colorful and different shapes! If you like colors, try Ruby Red or Yugoslavian Red Butterhead that has touches of purple! Bronze Mignonette is lovely! Red Velvet is curly and Red Romaine is gorgeous! Flashy Trout Back is a freckled tease! The names alone make you want to plant them!

Transplanting gets quick results and is easiest, but growing by seed gets you the varieties nurseries don’t carry! Sometimes the nurseries will have something special in you might like a lot. Keep those nursery tags with the name, or make notes in your garden journal, so you can order seeds in case they don’t carry it again.

Growing from seeds! Lettuce seeds have a short shelf life, a year or less. Be sure your seed is fresh! They have two planting depths depending on the variety you choose. Some need a bare covering, strictly no more than 1/8 inch deep. Deep is not quite the word here! Some people don’t bother covering them, but religiously keep them moist until sprouted and rooted! If you have the patience, presprout and head to the garden with tweezers to plant them. And do be careful not to break those tiny roots! Jeepers. Takes a saint and steady hands and eyes! The other varieties require a whole 1/4 inch deep! That’s a little easier on some of our souls. But, they still need to be kept moist, not swimming. Watering tiny lettuce seeds is truly an art. Very light sprinkling. No floating away to low spots. Over seeding lettuce is never a problem. Let them grow a bit, then thin carefully with scissors, don’t pull and disturb the remaining plant’s tiny roots. Eat!

NOTE 1! Dying parts of the brassica family of plants produce a poison that prevents the seeds of some plants from growing. Plants with small seeds, like lettuce, are especially affected by the brassica poison. So keep your Brassica leaves cleaned up, maybe don’t put them in your compost. Plant from transplants directly under Brassicas!

NOTE 2! Put down Sluggo or the cheaper house brand equivalent when you plant! Nothing like thinking they never came up when the slugs had gourmet eating the night the sprouts arrived! Also, if you have birds, install a raised cover of something like aviary wire to keep the birds from snatching them.

Feed? Like many winter crops, lettuce is a hardworking leaf crop. If you harvest cut-and-come-again style, it will produce for quite a time! Likely you gave it well manured, composted soil. If it starts to slow down, leaves yellow, it may need a small feed. If you don’t have digging type predator visitors to your garden, give it some fish & kelp liquid. If you do have ground predators, lay off the stinky fish and use something else. Liquid feeds are best because they go right into the soil where the roots need it now! If you plant more in the same spot, add more manure and compost. Keep your soil light with a good water holding capacity.

Lettuces thrive on water. Again, not swimming, but kept moist. It keeps them growing fast, and the leaves have sweet taste!

Lettuce - Mesclun Mixed Baby Greens

Container - Salad Table, Mesclun, Successive Plantings

Growing Mesclun! Grow it in the ground or up on a table if you have a bad back or predator problems! Build your own? For example, lay out some boards with space between for drainage, or plywood with drainage holes, over saw horses. That’s a height you can live with for harvesting! Grow in flats lined with fiberglass with drainage holes, landscape cloth to keep the soil in, a layer of gravel, then your grow mix. Or order up a readymade raised bed! End of summer you can get great buys! The one above is planted in three successive sections, one after the other. As one is done you plant some more. Steady supply intended! If you put it out in the garden somewhere, you can grow other tasty salad fixings like radish, bunch onions, your favorites, even beets, right under it!

When your lettuces grow to the height you want, 3″ to 6″, cut them off. Let them regrow!

In summer you want a stronger lettuce, heat tolerant & slow bolting! Lettuce Leaf and Red Sails are good. Jericho from Israel is great. Sierra, Nevada. Parris Island is slow bolting. Green Towers Romaine tolerates moderate summer heat and has some resistance to tip burn and bolting.

Lettuce is a super food! It helps with weight loss since it is low calorie and the fiber content gives a feeling of fullness as well as being heart-healthy! Lettuce protects your eyesight! It is high in Beta-carotene and regular consumption of beta-carotenes is known to lower risks of macular and degenerative eye diseases. It is highest in Vitamin K for your bones and blood. Lettuce is alkaline forming in your body promoting good energy levels, clear thinking, good sleep and youthful skin!

Yes, red varieties have advantages! Per HeathWithFood.org: Red oak leaf lettuce has been shown to possess exceptionally strong antioxidant properties. A group of scientists from Spain found that the red-leafed lettuce varieties (red oak leaf and lollo rosso) had the highest antioxidant activity among the tested cultivars. The red-leafed varieties also had the highest total phenolic content, which may explain the extraordinary antioxidant properties of these varieties. This study covered five varieties of lettuce (iceberg – the LEAST nutritional value overall, romaine, continental, red oak leaf, and lollo rosso) and one variety of escarole (frissé).

Organic, home grown is best, of course! Commercial lettuces typically have high levels of pesticides. Leaves start to lose nutrients as soon as they are harvested. Wash, refrigerate, eat ASAP! Don’t store lettuce near fruits that produce ethylene gases (like apples). This will increase brown spots and speed up spoilage. Cut-and-come-again gardeners are doing the right thing! Outer leaves have the highest phytonutrient content and antioxidant properties. Oh, and use oil-based salad dressings to make the fat-soluble carotenoids in lettuce more available to your body.

Commercial FYI Lettuce is the third most consumed fresh vegetable in the United States, behind tomatoes and potatoes. California accounted for 71 percent of U.S. head lettuce production in 2013, followed by Arizona producing nearly 29 percent. These states also produce over 98 percent of the leaf lettuce in the U.S. The California drought may cause some changes in those figures…. The most important vegetable crops grown in the state are lettuce and tomatoes.

In your kitchen…. Truly, when it comes to salads, the only limitation is your imagination. Use a variety of lettuces, add your favorite foods – vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, grains, croutons, meats or cheeses! Put nutritious red romaine lettuce in your green smoothies. Lettuce is the most beautiful garnish, laid under and around just about any cool dish! And, it is a superb sandwich layer peeking out, just inviting a bite!

In the interest of world peace, a Thich Nhat Hanh quote: When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look into the reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or our family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and arguments. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.

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STRAWBERRIES, LOTS OF STRAWBERRIES!
Plant in overhead rain gutters with food and fertilizer drips installed, and pluck your berries right from the sky!

Strawberry lovers have their tastes. Some love those potent little Alpine babies. Others of us love those big fat juice-down-your-jaw types that you eat when you pick. Then there are ones who want their firm non messy berries that store a bit better.

Strawberry Types

  • June Bearers, Camarosa, Chandler (high yield, large fruit), Oso Grande, Sweet Charlie, produce lots of runners, so rows quickly become a tangle of plants. The constant new growth and work of production requires regular fertilizer, typically a light feed of liquid fish/kelp every two weeks or so. They produce intensely in or around June and that’s it. For some gardeners that’s just right.
  • Day Neutral Albion (high yield, large firm fruit, resistant to verticillium wilt) and Seascape produce small crops of berries in cycles all season long. They don’t send out as many runners as June-bearers.
  • EverBearers Sequoia, large fruit, produces from spring to fall, whenever the weather is right. Everbearers have fewer runners than June bearers.

Timing

Timing is essential to a productive strawberry crop. Strawberry and onion varieties are region specific, strawberries even more than onions. So plant the varieties our local nurseries carry, or know that you are experimenting! Plant when your local farmers do! In Santa Barbara CA area, plant your bareroot Albion Strawberries NOW NOV 1 to 5 (get at Island Seed & Feed)! Yes, the Santa Barbara dates are that specific! OR plant bareroot Sequoias December through February. In January you can get healthy bareroot Sequoias at La Sumida Nursery.

In areas with cold winters, plant your strawberries early spring as soon as all danger of frost has passed and the ground is dry enough to work. If you squish soil in your fist, it doesn’t drip.

In mild winter areas, plant your everbearers in spring so that you can harvest during summer. June-bearing varieties, however, can be planted in late summer or fall for a harvest the following spring. Planting June-bearing strawberries at this time allows them to become productive earlier. If you plant June bearers in spring, they will not start to grow fruit until the next year.

Planting Tips

Yes, you can plant from seed! Start them in containers indoors about eight weeks before you plan to transplant the strawberries to the garden.They love sun, and rich, moist, well-draining soil. Be careful about the ‘rich’ part. Too rich and you will get all leaf, no berries. Dig the patch deep enough that the roots can go as deep as they want. Bareroot plants start at 5 to 6″ when planted! In nature strawberries grow along the woodland edge in slightly acidic soil. You can make them optimally happy by incorporating some pine needles, stomped cone broken bits or a bagged acidic compost mix into your soil. Both of those will add water holding capacity but not water log your plants.

There are variations of recommendations for planting spacing.  14 to 18 inches apart in rows 2 to 2 1/2 feet apart, OR 18-24 inches apart in rows 3 1/2 feet apart, are two examples.Get bareroot plants in the ground the day you get them if possible. DO NOT LET BareROOTS DRY OUT. If you can’t set them at once, small lots can be kept in good condition in the fridgie. Keep them moist but not waterlogged. To wake them up before planting you can soak the roots 20 mins to a couple hours (not overnight!) in warm water or a diluted seaweed solution. Just the roots, don’t immerse the whole plant.

Plant depth and root position are important. You want the crown just above the soil, roots completely covered, stems should be completely exposed. Spread the roots open like a little fan; get them down in the soil, let those little food seekers do their job! Some of your bareroots come with long roots, cut them off about 5 – 6″ long. Remove damaged or bent roots. Dig your planting hole accordingly. Dig down, make a little soil cone at the bottom, spread the roots over it, bury with soil. You don’t want the roots to be bent and remain near the surface where they can dry out.
Strawberry Planting Depth, Roots
Care

Mulch, when or not? If you live where there are cold snaps, in winter do a deep straw mulch to keep the soil at an even temp. Otherwise, remove mulch so the ground will be warmer. Definitely pull it off into an aisle in spring; make compost in place! Mulch does conserve moisture in summer, keeps your berries up off the ground, reducing rot, yes. But it also keeps soil cooler delaying flowering. It certainly doesn’t prevent slugs like many sites say it will. I am merciless with slugs. I use a tad of Sluggo type stuff two or three times, killing off the generations of slugs, and am pest free for almost the rest of the season. If they reappear, do another round. If you don’t mind that cooler soil, plant just close enough, mature plants act as living mulch shading the soil and preventing moisture loss. Save your back, save the straw.

No overhead watering. That spreads the Strawberry Spot disease, those little brown spots. Some say it is only cosmetic, but no, plants that have it don’t thrive, get more and more of it, eventually die. Leaf to leaf it spreads plant to plant. Remove/replace sick plants. Plant a little further apart. Be sure your soil is a little acidic.

Weeding is good. Be sure it is your strawberries that are getting the nutrients.

Treat your berries well and they will give you 2 to 3 years of production!

Eat ’em ASAP!!! On average, studies show 2 days as the maximal time for strawberry storage without major loss of vitamin C and polyphenol antioxidants. However, many strawberries never make it to the kitchen. A cup of fresh berries gives 112% of your Vitamin C needs! Not bad. If they are not eaten blissfully immediately, preserve flavor and shelf life by picking into a shallow, paper towel lined container, no more than three or four layers of berries deep. Refrigerate immediately after picking. If you can bear it, give some away to a worthy recipient.

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About Snails!

About Snails

Snail - Helix Pomatia, edible, pest, amazing animal!Wonderful image of Helix pomatia, a protected French gourmet snail, from TrekNature.com!  Our common brown garden snail, Helix aspersa, is also protected in France – both considered fine eating!

When they can’t find much else to consume, they will eat dirt.  Snails have to feed on foods that have large amounts of calcium to keep their shell hard and protective like it should be. With their thousands of tiny teeth, snails can gnaw through limestone, eating the little bits of chalk in the rock.  Snails have very poor vision and they can’t hear, so they find their food with their powerful sense of smell.  They eat more before winter, storing fat for their hibernation.  They hibernate when food sources are low in spring, and during summer droughts.

Hermaphroditic, every snail lays dozens of batches of eggs, in pockets of cool moist shaded soil.  The number of eggs in each clutch varies from 10 to 170!   They reproduce constantly, can live up to FIVE years.  Yes.  Our common garden snail, the grand grandparent of thousands.  Though chickens and ducks like them, geese don’t.  They don’t live all over the US – none in Wisconsin or New Jersey.  Sigh.  The French love snails, have almost hunted them to extinction.  New 2011 research shows snails can survive passage through a bird’s digestive tract, and the scientists conclude that land snails could potentially be dispersed through bird predation.  No, NO!

Snails in Your Veggie Garden – Nature’s Time Table

It is said pests attack unhealthy plants in unhealthy soil.  That’s true.  But it is also true they love fresh prime veggie leaves and fruit in terrific soil!  Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty, unless you are, of having unhealthy soil.  If your soil and plants need more care to be vibrant, get to it!  I notice snails eat plants that are finishing their lifespan.  I see snails eating the older leaves of my plants grown for their leaves – lettuces and chard.  And they love winter cabbages!  Older plants and leaves are just past their peak, starting to subtly decay, getting softer.  Snails have tiny teeth and it’s easier for them to eat what’s soft and tender.  That’s also why they mow new tender baby sprouts, or plump soft over-watered plants!  So be knowing a finishing plant is coming to the end of its time.  Be preparing to plant something new there, that round is done.  Harvest your lettuces and chard more frequently, before that turning point, for peak flavor and robust crunchiness!  Stay ahead of the snails.  Speaking of which, garden snails are the fastest species; they can move about 55 yards per hour, half a football field!

Snail Prevention!

Irregular holes with smooth edges in your plant leaves and silvery slime trails are giveaways.

  • Bet this works for snails too:  Research in Switzerland found that slug damage to lettuce plots that were watered in the morning was 5 times less than slug damage to plots that were watered in the evening.  Use drip rather than overhead sprinklers.
  • Reduce habitat, especially in shady areas.  Weed.  Clear away mulch and fallen debris, especially under shrubs.  It’s a natural food source of decaying matter.  Remove ground cover, ivy, nasturtium.  Boards.
  • Convert shady areas to a rock garden, perhaps.  It’s drier and less attractive.
  • Turn the top 6” of soil to expose eggs, and slugs too, to weather and birds.
  • Hand picking is doable if you are persistent.  Not my choice.  Yuk.
  • Sluggo/EscarGo, or a cheaper house brand of the same, which is iron phosphate, interrupts the snail’s digestive process. It’s not toxic to children, pets or birds, and when it breaks down, it adds iron to the soil, a mineral that’s necessary for healthy plant growth.  If you do use it, kill the critters off early in the year before they lay eggs, and you will be slug/snail free for most of the rest of the year!  Irrigate, apply in late afternoon or evening. Sprinkle moist and protected locations where they hang out, or scatter along areas that snails and slugs cross to get from sheltered areas to the garden.
  • Beer also works — snails are attracted to yeast, so they will drink and die! But it depends on which beer you use!!!  Facts here!  UC Davis says this system is not very effective per the time it takes.  It attracts snails only within a few feet.  More details at UC Davis IPM page.
  • If you have a small area, or for certain special plants, copper strips on pots and raised beds are effective; the copper sets up a galvanic shock that deters snails, but only if you keep the copper polished, and its pricey!
  • Rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, sage, wormwood, mints, tansy, oak leaves, needles from conifers and seaweed will repel slugs.  Snails don’t like those scents, and they’ll stay away.  Clearly, some of these would need to be regularly replenished or replaced to keep the scent strong enough to do the job.

Ultimate revenge, raise and eat your snails!  Here’s how San Francisco snail lover, Italian Victor Yool, does it!  You purify them first….

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Healthy care and choices make the difference!

Give your plants a chance!

Not too much N (Nitrogen)  It imbalances your plants, just like too much sugar for us.  You get lots of leaf, no fruit, growth is too fast and ‘soft,’ inviting to pests and diseases.

Watering practices make a difference.  Overhead watering is not good for most plants, but especially not for fuzzy plants that like it dry – tomatoes, eggplant.  Too much nighttime wet equals mildews and more slugs and snails, more remedies and pest prevention, more costly.  Plants drink during the day – water in the AM when you can.  Make furrows, water deep, let it soak in laterally.  Make basins to keep water where you want it.  Drip systems usually don’t work in a veggie garden you are planting biodiversely, mixing things up.  Also, veggies come and go pretty quickly in an active garden.  If you are row or patch planting, if the area is long or big enough, a drip system could work well. 

  • Water soaked soil is dead soil.  Soil organisms, soil builders, simply drown.  If in a low spot, check your drainage options; build a raised bed.  Add organic water holding compost, water less no matter how much fun it is!
  • Dry soil is dead soil.  Nitrogen off gases, your soil organisms die or go away.  See if you can channel some water to that area.  Install furrows or build soil walls or basins to keep water where it is needed, avoid wasteful runoff.  Again, add organic water holding compost.  Water deeply.  If you are gardening at home, busy and forgetful, perhaps you could install drip irrigation on a timer. 

Avoid spreading viruses that can spread diseases.  Really check those plants you buy at the discount nursery.  Remove diseased plants and don’t compost diseased plants.  This is a tough decision when it comes to disease tolerant plant varieties.  They can have a disease yet still produce.  They are bred to do that.  Is that ethical?  If you are gardening at home and make that choice, that is one thing.  If you are in a community garden, and the disease is windborne, is it fair to your garden neighbors?  Maybe we all need to get tolerant varieties.  

Some diseases lurk in garden border weeds.  Or you can bring them into the garden by walking through weeds.  Insects bring some diseases and so do animals, like our skunks, raccoons, possums.  If the ‘weeds’ are habitat for beneficial insects, be careful what you remove, consider the balances. 

Ants.  Whether you mind them or not probably depends on how many there are and what they are doing.  If they are tending aphids, no!  Not only are there ants with aphids, but white flies are attracted to the aphid honeydew as well.  Otherwise, ants are virtuous hard working cleaner uppers!  The take away dead insects.  Balance is the key. 

Varieties matter.  Planting a variety out of season makes that plant struggle and be vulnerable to pests and diseases it can’t handle.  In Santa Barbara we have the cool damp ocean areas and the hot dry foothills.  Different varieties will thrive in one and not the other.  Planting too early or too late, your plant will try, but may not be able.  Some gardeners are totally pro Heirloom, against hybrids.  But Nature herself hybridizes, it is a natural process.  It occurs naturally by area and plants that grow there do the best there.  In a way, we subtly do a similar thing ourselves when we select seed from our best plants.  I think being flexible in your choices will get the best all around results. 

Planting at the Right Time makes a big difference.  Sometimes you just won’t get germination if it is too cold or hot.  Or a plant thrives in temporary weather, but dies when it goes cold again, or too, too hot.  They need certain temps and day length.  Some may survive, but never thrive later.  That is sad to see.  So respect them.  Know them well enough to honor their needs.  Planted at the wrong time, pests they aren’t equipped to handle may eat them alive.  If you are a big risk taker and financially don’t mind a few losses, go ahead.  Some will succeed, for sure.  You may or may not get earlier production.  Sometimes plants can be planted a month apart, but the later one will ‘catch up,’ and produce at the same time as the earlier plant!  Same can be true of smaller and larger transplants because it all depends on temps and day length.

Once your plants are going, sidedressing keeps them going!  Sidedressing usually starts when your plants start to bloom, make fruits.  Scatter and lightly dig in a little chicken manure and/or lay on a ½” of tasty compost, some worm castings, water on some fish emulsion, blood meal if they are yellowing and could use a quick Nitrogen boost.  Water well.

Plant appropriate varieties on time, water and amend well, keep watch on pests and diseases.  Robust happily producing plants are worth it, and a joy to watch!

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