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Archive for the ‘SoCal’ Category

Gorgeous Kale - Purple Curly Leaf

There’s kale and there’s kale! This truly tasty purple curly leaf kale image is by Steve!

Last Harvests are being collected and stored, seeds saved! Some of you have started seedling nurseries or starts at home, many of you have prepped your soil! If you haven’t yet, make your fall planting beds extra yummy – add 5-10% compost, 25% worm castings – seeds germinate better and do especially better with worm castings! Manure amounts depend on the type of manure and which plant you will be using it with. Rabbit poop manure can be used immediately with no composting! We want rich soil for those big winter plants. We want lots of those marvelous leaves for greens. Winter plants like brocs, collards, cauliflower, chard, are heavy producers, need plenty of food.

BUT NOT CARROTS!  Too good a soil makes them hairy and they fork. And over watering, irregular watering, can make them split. Build your beds up so they drain well, are above the coldest air that settles low down. PEAS, the winter legume, make their own Nitrogen, so feed only lightly if at all.

Some of you carry your layout plan in your head, others draw and redraw, moving things around until it settles and feels right. Do add a couple new things just for fun! Try another direction. Add some herbs or different edible flowers. Leave a little open space for surprises! Stand back, take a deep breath and ask yourself why you plant what you plant and why you plant the way you do. Anything been tickling the back of your mind you are curious about? More about Designing Your SoCal Winter Veggie Garden!

Soil is always first in garden care! Winter plants need different care than greedy summer production plants, heavy feeders. Special soil tips for your winter plants! Some say the most important soil tip of all is Gopher wire prevention, LOL, and I can tell you the misery it is to lose a prime plant in full production that you started from a wee seed. Oh, my Soul. Grrr! See Gopher prevention

If you need to skip a beat, take some time off from the garden, let it rest, but let nature rebuild while it’s resting!

  1. You can cover it deeply with all the mulch materials you can lay your hands on up to 18′ deep. Believe me, it will settle quickly. Let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. That’s called sheet composting or composting in place, lasagna gardening – 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. Next spring you will have rich nutritious living layers of whole soil for no work at all!
  2. You can plant it with green manure. Laying on lots of mulch is a ton of work when you do it, just gathering the materials can be a challenge. Green manure takes some work too, but it has awesome results as well. You broadcast a seed mix of legumes and oats and let them grow. Bell beans, Austrian peas, vetch and oats from Island Seed & Feed  in Goleta is an excellent choice. Legumes gather Nitrogen from the air and store it in nodules on their roots! N is the main ingredient your plants need for their growth! The oat roots break up the soil. They dig deep and open channels for water and air flow, soil organisms.

Kale Flat Leaf High MowingIt’s Brassica time! They are the mainstay of winter gardens! Their nutrition can’t be beat! Kale’s the Queen! Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbages, Cauliflower and Collard greens! Then there are all the mini Brassicas, the fillers and littles – arugula, bok choy, mizuna, kohlrabi, mustards, radish, turnips. Rather than plant just six packs of transplants, put in seed at the same time when possible and stagger your plantings of the large Brassicas. Rather than all six cauliflower coming in at once, plant two now, two later and so on. Adjust that, of course, if you have a large area available to plant and a lot of people to feed! Another way to do it is to get varieties with early, middle and late maturity dates and plant them all at once! Plant both mini and monster cabbages at the same time! Minis come in sooner, monsters later! Successive plantings mean a steady table supply.

Finicky eaters may enjoy a selection! Fall veggies come in lots of shapes and colors! Kales are renowned for their beauty and varieties – classic curly leaf, flat leaf like in the image (less aphids), Red Russian, Elephant, Red Bor that is really purple are just a few! Cauliflower comes in traditional shape and spiral, classic white and yellow and purple and green! Get seed packs of them all and mix them together! Carrots already come in color mix seed packets! Circus Circus is a fun choice, especially when your kids are planting! Thumbelinas are faster for kids. Beets are terrific fun! Yellows, reds, pinks, whites and Chioggias (concentric circles of colors)! You can get them in rainbow mixes just like getting rainbow chard mixes! Rather than have your finicky eater say no, open up that catalog or take them shopping a the nursery and let them pick what they would like to try!

Non Brassica ‘littles,’ understory veggies that love cooler weather, are beets, carrots, celery, chard, cilantro, leeks, spinach and especially lettuce – now is the time for tender butter leafs and heading lettuce! If you anticipate a hot Sep, plant more heat tolerant lettuces.

  • The winter legume is PEAS! Peas are like beans, they come in bush and pole types. And those come in three main types – shelling, eat-them-whole snap peas and flat China/snow peas! They are super easy to sprout! Dampen the paper towel; spray the towel to keep it moist. Depending on temps it takes 2, 3 days. Pop them into the garden by the trellis – if it is hot, devise some shade for them. You just need to be careful as you plant them so you don’t break the sprout off. Definitely plant some every month or so. They don’t live all season long. When they are done, they’re done. It is true that picking peas, just like picking beans, is labor intensive. I eat a lot of mine before they get home, so I don’t mind. Bush peas come in first and pretty much all at once; pole come on later and continue to produce. On the first round it makes sense to plant both at once! TIP: if your soil has never grown peas before, get an inoculant when you get your seeds, follow the instructions. OR if you don’t have time to do seeds, just get six packs at the nursery! Transplants are always stronger than tiny seedlings. But do cover your plants if they show signs of being pecked by birds! The evidence is little V shaped nibbles on the leaves.
  • Onions For the biggest, sweetest harvests, late summer and early fall are the prime times to sow seeds of short- or intermediate-day onions. Fall-sown short- and intermediate-day onions tend to yield more and are larger and sweeter than those seeded or transplanted in early spring.

Cylindra is a Long type Winter BeetVarieties that do better in winter are long beets like Cylindras, long radishes like Daikons, pretty China Rose and handsome Long Black Spanish! Plant small beets like Dutch Baby Ball for quick beets while your Cylindras are growing twice to three times bigger!

Companion planting combos make a difference! Carrots enhance peas, onions stunt peas. Plant the carrots on the sunny side feet of pole beans. Combos can use space wisely! Carrots grow down, peas grow up, perfect! Cabbage babies need to be planted 12 to 28″ apart! A healthy plant will take up much closer to that 28″. They take a long while to grow, head, head tight! Plant lettuces that repel cabbage moths, or other fillers, that mature sooner, in the space between them. You can do this at home amongst your ornamentals, and/or in containers too! Fillers can be onion/chive types, beets. Short quickest growing winter radishes can be among the long slower growing carrots among the slowest growing, your cabbages. Cilantro makes brocs grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener! Research has shown there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together!

No need to plant patches or rows of smaller plants, unless you want to. Scatter them about on the sunny side between larger plants as an understory! Plant different varieties to keep your table exciting. Don’t plant them all at once, but rather successively, every week or two for steady table supply. If you would enjoy a quick payback for your table, select the earliest maturing varieties.

If you have lots of seeds, over planting is an age old practice. Plant too, too many, then thin them with tiny pointy scissors, aka harvest the young, and eat ’em! Young radish sprouts, teeny carrots, little Brassicas of all kinds are wonderful in a salad! Your dog might love those teeny carrots! If they get a little big, steam them or add to stir fries and stews. Another way to do it is plant flats of lettuces, Mesclun mixes, and mow them! Tender baby greens! They will grow back 3, 4 times.

When planting in hot fall weather, plant your outdoor seeds a tad deeper than you would in spring; soil is moister and cooler an extra inch or two down. It’s the law to keep them moist. If you plant successively for steady fresh table supply, plant a batch in September, again in October. Days will shorten and start cooling, but you are taking advantage of a fast start because your plants will grow quickly in the warmer weather now than later on. Sep plant from seeds & transplants if you can get them, Oct from transplants.

Winter Feeding Lettuces like a light feed of chicken manure cultivated in. All the winter plants are heavy producers – lots of leaves, some of those leaves are monsters! Cabbages are packed tight, leaf after leaf! They may need a light feed. Remember, it’s cooler now, so their uptake is slower, so give them liquid feeds, teas, things easy for them to uptake.

Keep letting your strawberry runners grow for Oct harvest. If you will be planting bareroot berries in January, remove old plants and plant green manure in October. Here’s the schedule:

  1. Oct 1 plant your living mulch/cover crop – put this on your garden calendar! Bell beans take that long if they are in the mix or are your choice.
  2. About Dec 1 chop down/mow, chop up your living mulch and let it lay on the surface. Studies show there is more nutrition if it is let to lay. Keep your chopped mulch moist, not wet, until it is tilled in. Being moist aids decomposition. If Bell beans are in the mix, chop when it flowers or the stalks will get too tough to easily chop into small pieces.
  3. Mid Dec till in your living mulch for mid January bareroot planting. The little white balls on the roots are like a beautiful little string of pearls. Those are the Nitrogen nodules legume plants make! For strawberries, or other acid soil loving plants, add acidic compost at the same time. If your soil needs it, add some coir for water holding capacity.

If you replace your strawberries, in Santa Barbara area try Seascape, bred locally at UCSB. Seascapes are big fill-your-palm plentiful berries, firm, tasty, strawberry spot resistant! They have long roots that gather plenty of nutrition and stay moist at deeper levels. Available at Terra Sol Garden Center – call ahead to get the date they arrive – they go fast and then they are gone!

Pest and Disease Prevention Drench young plants, ones you just transplanted, with Aspirin solution to get them off to a great start! Drench your seedlings when they get up a few inches. One regular Aspirin, 1/4 C nonfat powdered milk, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap (surfactant), per gallon of water. Aspirin triggers a defense response and stimulates growth! Powdered milk is a natural germicide and boosts the immune system. Be sure to get the under sides of the leaves too!

Brassica pests! Lots of ants and lengthwise curling leaves are the giveaways for aphids. Aphids carry viruses. Aphids come in fat gray, eency light green or small black. Avoid over watering that makes for soft plants, tender leaves that aphids thrive on, and ant habitat. Spray the aphids away, make the ants leave. Get up under those leaves, and fervently but carefully do the tender growth tips. Do it consistently until they don’t come back. Cinnamon is amazing. Ants don’t like it at all, and when you are starting seedlings it prevents molds and damping off. Sprinkle it on the soil in your six pack. In Santa Barbara area get it in big containers at Smart and Final. Reapply as needed.

September is still Seed Saving time for some. Make notes on how your plants did, which varieties were the most successful. These seeds are adapted to you and your locality. Each year keep your best! Store your keepers in a cool dry place for next year’s plantings. Generously gather seeds for upcoming January Seed Swaps! If your area doesn’t have a seed swap, please!, start organizing one!

Borage is a beautiful cool season plant with edible star shaped flowers, blue for bees! It has a large 3 to 4′ footprint, so allow for that or plan to keep clipping it back. What flower colours do birds and bees prefer?

Plant Sweet Peas for Christmas bloom! Plant gift plants or bowls or baskets for the holidays!  

This is a terrific time to put up a Greenhouse! You can start more seedlings, overwinter sensitive plants – eat tomatoes in December! The right size, easy-to-maintain greenhouse may be perfect for you!

Have fun! September gardens are a magical time of creativity and seasonal transition!

x


Please enjoy these August images at two of Santa Barbara’s community gardens, Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria! The emphasis is on SeedSaving! 

Check out the entire September Newsletter!

SEPTEMBER 2018 ~ Last of Summer Harvests, SeedSaving, 1st Fall Plantings!

Love KALE! Beauty, Super Nutrition, Easy to Grow!
SoCal Fall/Winter Veggie Soil Tips for Delicious Returns!
Super SoCal Fall, Winter Veggies Varieties, Smart Companion Plantings!
Smart Garden Design Leads to Excellent Plant & Seed Selection!Upcoming Gardener Events! Mesa Harmony Crop Swap! National Heirloom Expo, Soil Not Oil, American Community Gardening Assn 39th Annual Conference!

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

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’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.

Read Full Post »

Design Your Beautiful Summer Garden!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vertical and Horizontal Spacing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

Veggies Summer Harvest Bounty

For those of you who planted early spring, many of your plants are now finishing. It’s time to save seeds from your best plants! Clear space and ready soil for mini nursery seed beds in your garden or for transplanting from local nursery starts as soon as they become available.

Just getting started in a new garden, or you just love to plant?! Summer plants you can still plant for fall harvests are early varieties of determinate tomatoes, beans (bush beans are faster) and corn. Corn is more disease prone at this time though. Tuck in your year-round fillers, beets, bunch onions, carrots, summer lettuces, winter radish, to keep a colorful and delicious variety for your table.

ONIONS For the biggest, sweetest harvests, late summer and early fall are the prime times to sow seeds of short- or intermediate-day onions. Fall-sown short- and intermediate-day onions tend to yield more and are larger and sweeter than those seeded or transplanted in early spring.  Onions have stupendous flavor and come in white, yellow, red!

In our hot Santa Barbara foothills and further south, watch your melons, big squashes and pumpkins for their best harvest time – when their stem is brown and dry, or they are ready to ‘slip’ off the vine. Hold off irrigating melons about a week before they will ripen so their sugars will concentrate. Harvest okra while it is small and tender – bigger is NOT better! Let your winter squash harden. When you can’t push your fingernail in it, it’s ready.

Keep up with harvesting so plants don’t quit producing. More about harvesting! As in July, keep up with watering just beyond that dripline, replenish mulch.

If you are extending your season, give your favorite late summer/fall heavy producers you are keeping a good feed to extend their harvests. Eggplants have a large or many fruit, beans put out a ton of beans, tomatoes are big and working hard, peppers can be profuse! They like a tad of chicken manures scratched in, bunny poop and straw (pick up at Animal Shelters), well aged horse manure and compost makes them dance with the faeries in the night time!

Fertilizers highest in P, Phosphorus, keep blooming and fruiting optimum. Now is the time you wish you had added mycorrhizae fungi, the good guys, at planting time, to enhance Phosphorus uptake! Aged organic compost makes for healthy roots that make their own natural organic phosphoric acid that helps break down compounds of calcium and phosphate into a usable, soluble form. Digging it in now breaks the established feeder root network. It’s also too late to add bonemeal or guanos. They take 2 and 4 months respectively to become available to your plants. They are another must add at planting time. NOW, Phosphorus from fish bone meal 3-18-0 is easily taken up! So is chicken manure 1.1-0.8-0.5, but the P is a lot less. Scratch it in lightly, but only around your plant in spots. You want to leave the majority of the lateral feeder root system intact. The feeder roots not only supply your plant with food, but also with water so needed in late summer in SoCal.

  • Peppers specially like a foliar feed of non-fat powdered milk (Calcium) and Epsom Salts (Magnesium & Sulfur). They also can use more Potassium. This time of year kelp meal is good source and releases quickly. If you have predators about, don’t get the kind mixed with stinky fish emulsion.
  • Foliar feed all your plants with a super mixed tea – no manure in teas you will use on leaves you will eat, like lettuce! At the same time, for deeper root feeding, use a spade fork to make holes about your plant. Push it into the soil, wiggle back and forth a bit, then pour the rest of that tasty mixed tea down the holes. Replace the mulch and water well at soil level to the dripline. That will feed at root level too and give the soil organisms something to think about!

Seeds are your last harvest! Allow your healthiest top producers to seed. Tie a ribbon on plants (at top and bottom or where you might grab it) or fruits you want to save seeds from so you don’t accidently pull them in a clearing frenzy! Each year keep your best! Scatter some seeds about if they would grow successfully now! Or just scatter them about and when it’s the right time, even next spring, many will come up quite well on their own. Store your keepers in a cool dry place for next year’s better than ever plantings. Remember, these seeds are adapted and localized to you! If you are willing, take your extras to a local Seed Bank! While you are there, pick up some of your fall favorites and some new ones to try out! Hold some for your local Seed Swap! Our Santa Barbara area Seed Swap is in January. See more about SeedSaving!  How to Save Tomato Seeds!

After seedsaving, when your plants are done, let them go, compost if pest and disease free, start clearing space for fall soil prep.

Soil Prep! Blue Wheelbarrow of Compost ready to apply with spade fork!
Soil Prep!

August is perfect time to ready your soil for the very first fall plantings, mid August from seed! Do the seed beds first!

Some would consider the ultimate ‘soil prep’ to be installing gopher wire protection, LOL! Here we are at the turn of the season, a very good time to do the job. Get a team of friends together and go for it! Appoint a watcher to play music, make sure everyone stays hydrated. Bring gloves, wear sturdy shoes or boots. You may not be able to do the whole area at once, but do what you can. You will be so glad you did! You can do it!

Cover crop soil restoration! You can plant herbs, Calendula, all sorts of things, but a Green Manure mix including lots of legumes and oats does the best. Legumes collect Nitrogen, the number one element plants need for leaf growth! They deposit the N on their roots in little nodules. When you turn the legumes under, they not only feed your soil with their leaves, but those little nodules! Beans and Peas are legumes. Alway cut off rather than pull out their roots. Leave those roots there to feed your soil! The oats are what we call a dynamic accumulator! That’s terrific because their roots go deep, loosening the soil, creating channels for oxygen and water and soil critters to navigate. They bring nutrients up from deep below. Also, they produce more growth in late fall/early winter than in spring! Perfect for winter crop plantings! The Basics – Cover Crops   More – Living Mulch!

If you have enough area, plant one space entirely with a cover crop. If your area is smaller, each year plant a different section with your cover crop. Some years you can get two cover crops in, especially if you are planting successively for a steady table supply. When the first patch is done you plant it. You start your second patch where another area has been finishing. Or if you are doing one area for early planting, save another for planting bareroots in January.

If you are inclined, always be making compost with clean garden waste, kitchen scraps. Decide where you want to compost, leave the space next to it so you can move your compost back and forth. Or you can move your composter around to enrich the soil there. The fastest way to compost is to make a pit or a trench. Add your healthy green waste or kitchen waste, chop it fine, turn it in with some soil. If you trenched it, turn it a few times the next few days. If you have a pit, turn it two to three times over the next few days, then add it where it is needed when it is done. If composting isn’t for you, buy the best in bags you can! In addition to the basics, we want to see worm castings, mycorrhizae fungi, maybe some peat to loosen clay and add water holding capacity.

Seeds germinate really well and quicker when worm castings are added to your soil along with the compost. Castings also strengthen your plants’ immune systems! Add 25% for best results. Boost up seed beds (castings improve germination) and where you will be installing transplants. Put a stake where your planting holes will be so you can pay special attention at those points.

Start Seedlings for transplant, or plant seeds right in the ground! 

Get seeds for celery, chard, mustard greens, parsley, peas, winter radish varieties, and Brassicas: cabbage (especially red and savoy types, which resist frost better), brocs, Brussels sprouts, collards, cauliflower, kale babies, kohlrabi, Mizuna, pak choi, radish, rutabaga, turnips. Sow carrots (they do best from seed). Keep the soil moist and shaded until they’re up, and then gradually allow them more sun over a week’s time. Winter plants that get a good start while there is still some heat, will be producing a lot sooner than plants started while it is cooler. You will have a much earlier crop, plus time for a successive crop, maybe in December! Be sure to leave space to plant additional rounds to keep steady table supply.

If planting from seed is not for you, no time, gone on vacation, of course you can wait and get transplants when the nurseries bring them in. Just know nursery selections are not as big as what you can buy as seeds. Island Seed & Feed has a great seed selection in the Santa Barbara area, and there are marvelous seed companies. Be sure to get seed varieties that are right for your area!

Keep harvesting, do your soil preps, and wait for September or October transplanting. Labor Day weekend is a favorite big planting time for many gardeners, and that’s only a month away now! At that time you can plant both seeds and transplants, effectively two rounds at once, the seeds coming in six weeks after the transplants!

See Super Fall Veggies for help choosing the very best varieties and Fall companion planting! Don’t forget to plan space to commingle your valuable companion plants! They enhance growth, repel pests. Here’s your quick handy list of winter companions:

Cilantro with Broccoli! It makes brocs grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!
Lettuce among, beside Cabbages to repel cabbage moths
Chives, Coriander, Garlic, Geraniums, Lavender, Mint family (caution – invasive), and onions are said to repel aphids.
Mustard and nasturtium can be planted near more valuable plants as traps for the aphids. A word to the wise, nasturtiums are snail habitat.
Calendula is a trap plant for pests such as aphids, whiteflies, and thrips by exuding a sticky sap that they find more appealing and delicious than nearby crops.
Peas and carrots together but NOT with the onion family

Among HOT August days, there are hints of fall. Days are a tad shorter; shadows fall in different places now. For us SoCal gardeners it’s time to design! It’s in our minds, maybe put to paper. What will be new and different this year, what will we try, is there a more productive variety? Will you be adding compost space, or a worm bin? Would you like raised beds this year? How about a greenhouse?! Have you ever planted a green manure cover crop? Will your soil be different? Will you be planting tall indeterminate peas in a cage that shades, or low bush peas? What about greywater systems? Rainwater capture? In the cool of summer evenings think it through….
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Please enjoy these July images at two of Santa Barbara’s community gardens, Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria! Luscious veggies, some beautiful flowers, birdies, intriguing oddities!

Check out the entire August Newsletter!

AUGUST ~ Splendid Harvests, SeedSaving, Fall Starts!

Broccoli, the Queen of the Winter Garden!

The Larger Soil Pest – Gophers!
Greenhouses – the Six Weeks Advantage!

Upcoming Gardener Events! Mesa Harmony Crop Swap! National Heirloom Expo, Soil Not Oil, American Community Gardening Assn 39th Annual Conference!

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

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’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.

Read Full Post »

Pests Gopher Wire Installation Rancheria Community Garden

Epic installation of Gopher prevention wire in progress, 10X20′ plot, going well. Another 3′ was cleared today and the wire rolled out further, more soil backfilled. 11.25.17 Rancheria Community Garden

We have been plagued, the gophers have thrived this year. 3 helpful ideas!

When should you install gopher wire protection? Anytime! But if you are waiting for seasonal crops to finish, in SoCal, it’s fall before winter plantings, or very early spring before you get itchy and can’t wait to plant! If you are in rainy areas, do it when the soil is less wet and heavy and you will do the least damage to your soil structure. If you are in northern snow and soil freeze areas, do it when you can first work the soil, or just before winter sets in and the soil is too hard to work any longer. Same for desert areas, but go by the heat not the freeze. Spring for the desert starts in the fall when it is cooler. By actual spring, it gets too hot and there is no more planting until fall again, so do it before the heat sets in.

1) If you decide to use wire barriers, you could do small areas at a time as they become available. You could purchase, or make, wire ‘baskets,’ very small to quite large, for areas that you want to plant gopher favorites like lettuce, beans, cukes, chard – soft bodied plants. My other thought is to install a border of wire vertically to see if that works, rather than digging up the whole plot and laying wire underneath. I’ve seen two places where people installed these boundaries and the gopher piled soil outside their plot where the barrier stopped them. They didn’t go underneath it.

But, there are times that just doesn’t work and though it takes time and help from the Angels, wiring the whole area underneath and perimeter, is the wise real choice. If you are going to do that, remember, aviary wire lasts about 3 years. 1/2″ Hardware cloth/hog wire lasts about 10 years. Big difference. Builder supply yards often carry several wire roll widths and they will cut just the length you need. When measuring, decide on the length/width you need, plus the amount you will need to get up the sides and maybe 6″ more so overland gopher travelers don’t come in over the top. Remember AVIARY wire. NOT chicken wire! Gophers go right through the chicken wire…

The depth you choose depends on what plants you choose and the relationship between you and your shovel! Veggies are primarily annuals with roots 6 to 8″ deep. Tomatoes have long deep roots. Also, if you are vigorous with your shovel, the average shovel blade length is 10″, install your wire deeply enough that when you are amending your soil you don’t puncture your wire! Gophers are strong little earth movers and can push through such a break. NO, NO, NO! The last time I installed wire I laid it 16″ deep – beyond my average digging depth, and well beyond where the annuals’ roots live.

That super tiny animal strength is why you bind your lengths of side by side rolls of wire together, if you are using several widths, and overlap them a good 8″ or more. Be sure to fix it to the board that borders your planting area.  Especially if you are only going to board height, not having some of the wire extend above the board.

Word to the wise. Install your wire so it surfaces OUTSIDE the board from the space that will be planted. That way weeds that get tangled in it will be outside your planting area!

Yes, hardware cloth is hard to work with. It’s hard to get it to corner. I sat down in the bottom of the area and shoved and kicked it into place with my boots! It’s easier if there are two people. When you roll up your wire, if you are doing a lengthy area, tie the inner loops of the wire together at the edges. Otherwise, the moment you let go of the roll, the whole things sprongs out and unrolls itself! That’s worth a few strong words ’cause it was hard enough to roll it up in the first place!

But let me tell you, every bit of the time and energy it takes will make you a very happy gardener. I’ve seen grown humans, women and men, cry at losing a wonderful special plant they tenderly raised from a baby. Once your wire is installed, heartily congratulate yourself!

Pests Gopher Wire Installation neary completed - Rancheria Community Garden

All soil now to the right. It took 12 days to get to this point, 10X20′ plot. I was so tired. This image shows how the side wire that was folded in, unfolded as the wire was rolled out. You can see the dark spot where a gopher had previously tunneled along the perimeter trying to get in. 12.2.17 Rancheria Community Garden  

If it’s all you can do or afford, make baskets! Easiest, if you have only a few plants, is to buy ready-made wire baskets. They come in lots of sizes! See Peaceful Valley Farm Supply’s selection! Several people at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden have made varieties of custom sizes of wire baskets – see Hillary’s Plot 24, Marion Freitag’s, Plot 19, Hoanh’s Plot 45. Hoanh installed black plastic flats vertically around his plot as a barrier as well. He said to use the small patterned grid flats. The gophers can go right through the large grid flats.

2) If your soil is too hard to dig, too sandy or something, you want to grow veggies where your lawn is, you want to avoid soil fungi issues, or your back or knees can’t get down to the ground like they used to, buy or make raised bed boxes with wire stapled to the bottom! In the case of the lawn, maybe lay down plywood cut to fit to extend beyond the box base, so you don’t have to deal with grass getting into your new raised bed.

See Bob Berdan’s Plot 30, Ginny Woliver Plots 5-7. Nice thing about this option is you can take the boxes with you if you have to change plots, or you can take them with you if you leave the garden, or you can give them to someone when you no longer need them. Easy to empty and transport. Some of them got sold when these gardeners left. They were good boxes. Yes, boxes and wire degrade over time and will eventually need repairs or replacement. If you anticipate moving, build with light wood. If you are in a permanent location, spend a little more. Go for weight, insect and rot resistance, and durability.

3) If you want to use traps (UC IPM), get someone to show you how to use them. There are a few tips that you learn with experience. And, really, they are dangerous, so respect them completely. Best choice is to set them when other people are around to help you in case of a bad oops. Traps are a temporary solution because gophers have children.

One of the tips I would give, is trap immediately if you decide to trap. I have caught them in 20 minutes, while I was working in the plot! You can hear the trap snap. That means no more plants are eaten or damaged, at least by that gopher! Otherwise, they just mow plant after plant.

At the community garden, essentially the gophers know you. No need to worry about your scent on the traps. Nor do you need ‘bait.’ The gophers come to plug the hole because air is coming into their tunnel, and as far as they are concerned that shouldn’t be, so they come to fix it.

The cheaper little Macabee wire traps, not the large ‘black hole’ tunnel kind, need much smaller holes to insert. That’s less damage to existing plants, less need to remove any plants to make room for the traps. But the big traps might have a better success rate with smaller gophers. Gopher Hawks work well. All kinds of traps are dangerous to humans – DO NOT SET THEM UNTIL THE HOLE IS READY FOR YOU TO INSTALL THEM. Do not leave them lying about once they are set.  Not a project to do with children about. Cover the holes with boards and put heavy rocks/stepping stones on top so visiting kitties, doggies or toddlers don’t get into them and be hurt.

Many gardeners could never use traps. I understand. Gophers are beautiful little beings. Barriers are 100% humane.

4) You can use a combination of the 3 ideas above.

Beeper repellent stakes  Battery operated is expensive – price it out, you’ll see, or do the recharge dance.  Solar beepers on sale are better and they last 2, 3 years.  They work best in ‘open’ areas where the sound can carry, like lawns.  If you put one in an area planted with tall dense plants, it won’t do much good.  But if those plants are special and you want them protected, that works.  Be sure the solar panel gets a lot of sun, doesn’t get shaded by your plant growing over it.  If it is shaded, it fades to no beeping.  Underground critters depend on hearing and vibration to alert them to danger, so take careful notice of the radius the beeper says it will cover per the area you need to work for.  Heavier soils such as clay are superior transmitters of sound and vibrations than are sandier soils, so our loose garden soil isn’t going to get great mileage.

Poison is not a good choice because of neighborhood pets, birds like owls that prey on gophers, and children. They could somehow ingest the poison, or an animal that has been poisoned. There have been instances where people found only partial remains in traps that had been dug up by predators after the gopher had been caught.

Very funny, sometimes touching, dialogue at the Garden Web Forum!  The more I read, the more I laughed, and I must say some tears came to my eyes too. I had great empathy with many of the writers, real people with their various experiences! Worth the read.

Some gardeners say they plant enough for the birds, the insects, gophers too, but in a 10X20′ community garden plot, or a small space at home, you may not have enough space to satisfy that option. Nor is it kind to other gardeners, neighbors, who don’t choose that option. Gophers have children, and in time that option may not be feasible unless you have several kitties, owls, hawks or egrets to keep the balance. Build or buy and install an owl box!

Owls are chancy, whereas wire barriers are 100% barring the rare overland traveling gopher. But this natural method might be your choice depending on your location. Sutton Ag: ‘In Northern and Central California, Barn Owls begin selecting nesting sites in December or January in time for the February to May nesting season.  Occasionally new nests may be started as late as March but that’s getting late as peak hatches are in April. By July, most nest boxes have been vacated by the young who have flown to nearby trees or buildings for the final stages of their development. It is best to install the new Barn Owl Box before January, February at the latest.‘ Details at Sutton Ag, Salinas CA!

So your decision is based on who you are. Be true to your heart. It depends on your budget, the time of year. Your strength. Get help if you need it. It can be a big project. Very virtuous. No more cursing or crying.

Updated 7.29.18

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

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’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.

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July basket of tasty summer veggies!

Thanks to GrowVeg for this delicious image! See their great post on ‘How to Tell When Fruits and Vegetables are Ready for Harvest’

Happy 4th of July to you all! Henry David Thoreau says ‘Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw.’ That’s us, growing the freshest, most nutritious, organic food there is! Enjoy your luscious tomatoes!

July is maintaining and feeding, harvesting, seedsaving, storage, share Month, the beginnings of fall planting preparations for late August!

July is Tomato month! A few turned red, their mature colors, in late June, especially those tasty little cherry toms! Even some of the bigger varieties, but by the 4th, they will definitely be coming in good numbers! Super salads on the way!

July usually brings your greatest variety of table fresh veggies and herbs! It’s colorful and full of great textures. This is giveaway time if you don’t can. It’s giveaway time if you have so much there is enough canned and/or frozen for you and your family and then some! Some of us SoCal gardeners don’t can at all because our fall, winter crops are so nutritious and freshly abundant there is no need!

Sharing is a blessing to people who don’t have access to fresh organic food. Fresh foods last so much longer than store bought, and have so much better taste! Start with family, friends, neighbors. Give to senior communities and those who prepare food for them. Give to any organization that helps people in need, the FoodBank, maybe your local women’s shelter. When we eat better we think more clearly, our body heals, our Soul mends. Thank you and bless you for caring so much.

Sidedressing is important now while plants are working hard!

General sidedressing, during season feeding times, are when baby plants are just up 5, 6 inches tall, when vines start to run, at bud time, and first fruiting. From then on it varies per plant! Late July when some plants are near the end of production, extend their fruiting with a good feed – in the ground, or foliar, preferably both, but foliar tops ground feeding for several reasons! See more!

  • Manure feeds are especially great for lettuce, and all others except for beans, beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet and white potatoes, and tomatoes, or there’ll be more foliage than fruit! Lettuce loves chicken manure but only about a 1/4 inch gently dug in.
  • Give your peppers and solanaceas, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, Epsom Salt/Magnesium foliar treatments.
  • Every couple of weeks your strawberries would love a light fish emulsion/kelp drench.
  • Or you can foliar feed everyone some tea! Make a super duper mixed tea – no compost is needed in that mix for plants whose soil was well composted before planting. First make your tea. When it is ready, make your spade fork holes and apply a good compost/worm castings mix, then foliar feed with your tea! Drippings will help moisten your mulch and compost/castings on the ground below! Last, water well with a low flow water wand underneath your plant so everything stays where you put it and you don’t wash away your foliar feed. Do that before the sun gets on your plants or while it is still cool in the day and plants have plenty of time to dry during the day. Low flow also lets water and tea and compost/castings drippings drizzle down into the spade fork holes! THAT is a super feed!Mixed teasfeed and help prevent pests and diseases. They serve up beneficial living microbes to your plant and provide trace minerals it may need. Use foliar tea more frequently for plants that are ailing or in recovery. On an immediate basis, foliar feeding is 8 to 20 times more potent than ground feeding, and your plant takes it up in as little as an hour! Plants in immediate need can be helped right away! Compost supplies the organic matter that tea doesn’t supply, so it is critical in and of itself, plus it has many times more nutrients than a diluted tea. On and in the ground it decomposes slowly, feeds your plant steadily. It and castings have great water holding capacity. Do both whenever you can!
  • Compost is always super, remember to use acidic compost for strawberries! Pull back the mulch. Grab your spade fork, insert it, rock it gently, remove the fork leaving the holes. Stay 8″ away from the central stem, go out to the dripline. Gently scratch up only one or two separate areas around your plant out to the dripline, even a little further to encourage roots to extend, and to feed the feeder roots that are in progress growing out further. Avoid breaking a substantial number of tiny surface feeder roots, otherwise your plant will be slowed down by being in recovery for lack of food due to its inability to uptake it. Mix in your compost and lay on a 1/2″ to an inch of compost on top of areas you didn’t dig up. While you are at it, be sure your basins are retaining their shape out to the dripline. Put your mulch back, add more (straw) if it needs replenishing. Gently water well. Keep the area moist for a few days so soil organisms can multiply! See Composting Methods, Make it Your Way!
  • Save yourself some time by adding 25% Worm castings, and for plants that need it, a bit of manure, to your compost and apply them all together. Especially apply that mix to any ailing plants or plants in recovery. Castings help our plants uptake soil nutrients and boost your plant’s immune system. When your plant is taxed producing fruit in great summer conditions, it also is peaking out for the season and fighting pests and diseases are harder for it. Adding compost and castings may prolong and up the quantity and quality of late summer fruits. However, sometimes a plant is just done. No amount of coaxing will have effect. It worked hard. Thank it. Let it produce its seeds for seedsaving, or take it to the compost altar.

If you prefer organic granulated fertilizer sprinkle it around evenly per instructions, and water in well. Just know you will have to do that more frequently, and it doesn’t provide the water holding capacity that compost and castings do.

Feeding your plants can be plant specific or in general. For example, Tomatoes and Peppers (and Roses – edible petals), do well with a little sulfur. It is easily applied – a Tablespoon of Epsom salts, and a 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap as a surfactant (so your application sticks to the leaves), in a gallon watering can is all it takes. If the nozzle turns up to get under those leaves, all the better. Apply before the sun hits your plants or while it is still cool.

If any of your plants are looking puny, have yellowing leaves, might give them a bit of blood meal for a quick Nitrogen pick me up. Add compost, castings and a tad of manure too so your plant has steady food after the blood meal (an expensive feed) is used. If you have predators creatures, especially skunks or raccoons, forgo stinky fish emulsions and blood meal.

Zucchini Squash Zoodles Kale Pesto Edamame RecipeLate July, gardeners are starting to want new ways to enjoy their Zucchini! ZOODLES! Zucchini Zoodles Kale Pesto Edamame Recipe! Here are 28 cool summer variations on how to include this common veggie in a unique way!

Take care of pests and diseases asap! You don’t want them to spread or increase, lose the fruit of all your efforts and time. July brings hot weather, water stress, the stress of continued production. Though you may be a bit tired with all your tending and harvesting, this is not the time to interrupt your care. The heat will bring hatchings; tired plants may get overwhelmed by diseases. Be consistent with your watering. Stay on it with your harvest to keep your plants in production, sidedress (feed) as needed. Mercilessly squash the cucumber beetles, the green/yellow and black striped jobs. They give your plants, especially cucumbers, deathly systemic diseases. Put down pellets for slugs & snails, use sulfur and soap in foliar feeds to keep back aphids. See more! Keep plants susceptible to Whiteflies free from dust and Ants, and well supplied with worm castings. Hose the flies away, and remove infected leaves or the whole plant if it gets them repeatedly. Insecticidal soaps or Neem oil can reduce populations.

I found refraining from watering my strawberries but once a week, more in exceptionally hot or windy weather, and not mulching under my strawberries keeps the slugs and snails at bay. They don’t like dry soil. I’m growing the Seascape variety that has deep roots, so it works well. Do put down organic slug/snail bait where you will be sprouting seeds and while the seedlings are coming up. Aphids don’t thrive in a dryer environment either. Water the plants susceptible to them a little less. Remove yellowing leaves asap. Yellow attracts whitefliesLeafminers love temps in the 70s! Remove damaged areas of leaves immediately so they don’t spread.Plant so mature plant leaves don’t touch each other so pests and disease don’t go plant to plant. Mice and rats love tomato nibbles and they are well equipped to climb! A garden kitty who loves to hunt is a good helper. Keep your compost turned so mice don’t nest in it; remove debris piles and ground shrub or hidey habitat. Please don’t use baits that will in turn kill birds, or kitties or animals that would feed on a poisoned animal. That includes Gophers. For gophers, install wire barriers. See more about pests!

Watering in July is vital, along with Compost & Mulch. Compost increases water holding capacity. Mulch shades soil, keeps it and your plant’s roots cooler, keeps soil more moist longer, less water needed. Replenish tired or missing mulch the birds might have scratched away. Steady water is a must to produce good looking fruits. Some water then none makes misshapen strawberries, called catfaced, curled beans and cukes, carrots lose their consistent shape. Tomatoes have more flavor when they are watered a tad less just before harvest. You can do that with bush varieties, determinates, but with indeterminate vining types you just have to see how it goes. Lots of tasty flavor tests may be in order! They have deep tap roots, so usually watering nearby plants is sufficient. Melons in cooler coastal areas don’t need mulch! They self shade and hot soil helps them produce better. Give them a good sized basin so tiny lateral feeder roots can fully supply that big plant with water and nutrients. Put a stake in the center of the basin so you know where to water! Short rooted plants like beans, beets, lettuces need frequent watering to keep moist. Some plants just need a lot of water, like celery.

Don’t be fooled by Temporary High Temps! Non heat resistant or tolerant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, stop flowering and fruiting when temps rise above 85 to 90 degrees F for an extended time depending on humidity. Humidity causes pollen to stick and not fall to pollinate. Dry heat causes the pollen to fall and not stick! When weather cools, you will have blooms again and be back in production. Rattlesnake beans, on the other hand, keep right on producing at 100 degree temps! So choose heat tolerant veggie varieties, like Heatmaster and Solar tomatoes, from locales with hot weather. Wonderful heat tolerant varieties are out there!

Zucchini Lasagna! Eat it hot or cold on a summer evening!Cool summer evenings enjoy Zucchini Lasagna! You can even eat it cold, and for breakfast!

Though July is more a maintenance and harvest month, Yes you can plant more! At this point, transplants are best, but many plants will not still be available at nurseries, and it is a tad late to plant many plants from seed. What you can plant is beans! They grow quickly and if you grow bush beans and quickly maturing heat tolerant varieties you will still be eating beans in Sept and Oct if it doesn’t get cold early! Get patio container types of quick

growing heat tolerant determinate tomatoes if you can find them. Previously planted tomatoes may be done producing, or bit the dust for one reason or another – likely a blight or wilt. Remove the old plants to reduce further spread of disease – do NOT compost them. Beef up the soil and plant your late tomatoes in an entirely different spot.

More lettuces! In summer you want heat tolerant & slow bolting lettuce! Lettuce Leaf and Red Sails and Outredgeous are great. Jericho from Israel is great. Sierra, Nevada. Nevada is a Green Crisp/Batavian that grows BIG, doesn’t bolt, and is totally crispy! Green Star is roughly, grows big around! Parris Island Romaine is slow bolting. Green Towers Romaine tolerates moderate summer heat and has some resistance to tipburn and bolting.

Transplant basil, celery, chard, cucumbers, dill, kale, leeks, summer lettuce, green onions, white potatoes, summer savory, New Zealand spinach. In our hot foothills and further south, go for more melons, okra, pumpkins, summer & winter squash. I’ve seen tomato transplants and bean seeds started in August produce plentiful crops into October! Rattlesnake pole beans do as they are supposed to, make beans in up to 100 degree weat

her! Yard long beans tolerate late summer weather and make magnificent beans! And some varieties of those don’t get mildew!

Corn is an exception – late plantings often develop smut. But. That smut, from a fungus called Ustilago maydis, is considered a delicacy by many. ‘It’s insanely delicious and luxurious, like black truffles.’ In Mexico it is known as huitlacoche. – weet-la-COH-cheh. Your neighboring gardeners may especially not be pleased, however. See more!  

Fall transplants need babying! Transplant late afternoon or evening so plants have the whole night to begin to recover before they’re hit with a full day of sun and heat. Water well and provide shade from intense mid-day sun. Prop up and secure some of those plastic plant flats that have the finer grid pattern to filter the light. Keep your transplants moist for at least a month or until they’re well established. Mulch to save water unless they thrive on hot soil.

Harvesting has special little techniques and storage varies considerably from veggie to veggie! See more for details!

Be really patient with your big Bells and sweet roasting Peppers. Both like to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh. Some will still be needing to change color.

>>>> At the end of the month, SoCal gardeners start your winter crops! Sow carrots (they do best from seed), celery and Brassicas. Brassicas are arugula, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (especially red and savoy types, which resist frost better), cauliflower, and kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard, pak choi, radish, rutabaga, turnip.

Mid to late July start preparing by clearing areas for late July first fall plantings. Remove finishing weakened plants that attract pests and get diseases. Remove debris insects live in. Remove mulch from under plants that were diseased and replace with clean mulch. Trash that mulch, don’t compost it. Decide where you will plant your green manure patches. Add worm castings to mini nursery areas you will be planting seedlings in. Castings speed germination. Leave space so the seedlings can be removed by a narrow trowel to their permanent place when they become big enough and space becomes available. Keep the soil moist and shaded until they’re up, and then gradually allow them more sun over a week’s time.

It’s time to get seeds if you don’t already have them! If seeds and mini nurseries aren’t your thing, wait until your local nursery starts having the transplants that make you happy! Late August they might start trickling in. Labor Day weekend is a favorite planting time for some gardeners depending on how hot it still is. October is just fine too! One year it stayed so hot we all planted the first couple weeks of November!

Delicious Healthy Recipe Zucchini RollsTasty Zucchini Rolls made with Sunflower Seeds Pate, Sun Dried Tomatoes and Spinach! See complete recipe by Chris at Tales of a Kitchen!

If you are just starting, just got your first plot at one of the community gardens, first, prepare your soil! While waiting for fall planting time, plant a few patches of fast growing, less water needing, heat lovers, lots of summer heat tolerant lettuces for your salads! They may need a little shade cloth protection. Plan out your fall/winter layout, remembering tall to the north, short to the south. Winter plants don’t take up as much food in cooler weather, so use less compost and manure. Remember, nature’s soil is naturally only 5% organic matter, but we are growing veggies, so a little more than that is perfect. Too much food and plants go to all leaf, but then a lot of winter veggies are just that, all leaf! Cabbage, Chard, Kale, Lettuces. Oh, lettuces thrive with manures, so put more in the lettuce patch areas, but none where the carrots or peas will grow. They don’t need it.

Important Habitat!
 As plants finish, let some of them grow out to save seeds. A carrot, celery and cilantro produce masses of seeds! Besides being food for pollinators and beneficial predator insects, they are beautiful! Birds will have seeds for food and scour your plants for juicy cabbage worms, whiteflies, aphids, earwigs, grasshoppers, cucumber beetles and grubs fresh for their hatchlings! Chickadees even eat ants!

Seedsaving is really a no-nonsense game! Besides being our second harvest, it insures the purity of your line! It’s important to our world community, as Thomas Rainer says, to preserve our garden heritage & biodiversity! Besides, it’s fun! Keep some for you – some as spices & others for planting. Package as gifts, and reserve some to take to the Seed Swap in January!

Let some beans go until they are completely dry in their pods; let corn dry until the kernels are hard on the cob. Let a cucumber turn yellow and tough. Save some seeds from your favorite and best tomatoes. Dry them further in home. When ready, put in an envelope, label with their name/variety,  date/year, any other info you think you would be helpful. See more about SeedSaving!

Be ready for winter rain! If you garden at home, please look into water capture and gray water systems – shower to flower, super attractive bioswale catchments. In Santa Barbara County there are rebates available! Call (805) 564-5460 today to schedule a FREE water system checkup! Check out the Elmer Ave retrofit!

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes. ~ Author Unknown 


See the entire July 2018 GBC Newsletter!

Please enjoy these happy, and some unusual, June images at two of Santa Barbara’s community gardens, Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria! Happy harvesting!

July ~ Happy Harvests!

Harvesting and Storage Tips for Our Summer Favorites!
SeedSaving!
An Easy Annual Ritual & Celebration!

Upcoming Gardener Events! Mesa Harmony Crop Swap! National Heirloom Expo, Soil Not Oil, American Community Gardening Assn 39th Annual Conference!

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

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

Read Full Post »

Little girl eating Watermelon! Red!
Are you having fun?! Does your garden make you this happy?! PLANT MORE!
In SoCal it’s Cantaloupe planting time!

Recent night air temps have been in the low 50s, a 45, and a 48. Quite cool. Soil temps are low too. Peppers especially need warmer temps, nighttime temps above 55°F, some say 60, and soil temps above 65°F. It’s still a bit cool for peppers, but many gardeners, including me, have planted them already anyway. If planted too soon, sometimes they miss their natural sequence of production, and never produce. Let’s hope they do ok. See Best Planting Temps Per Veggie!

May, June Planting Timing

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

Long beans are spectacular and love heat. Late May, June is the best time to start them. They grow quickly from seed. They will last longer than other beans, hitting their stride toward the end of summer. Certain varieties of them don’t get mildew either! Their unique flavor keeps your table interesting.

While we are waiting for the right temps, do soil preps that are still needed. Weed out plants that won’t help your summer lovers. Make your soil fluffy with water holding compost, only 5 to 10%, while also adding tasty well aged manure! Add worm castings to areas that will be seeded.

Plant another round of your favorite heat lovers! Might be eggplant, limas, peppers and pumpkins! Transplant or seed different varieties of beans, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes than you planted before! Sow and/or transplant asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, chard, corn, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, heat-tolerant leaf lettuce, summer-maturing onions, parsley, peanuts rhubarb and spinach! Add white potatoes and radish with zucchini, radishes with cukes to repel cuke beetles, and with eggplant to repel flea beetles. Add fillers and littles under bigger plants as living mulch! Put some color in your choices! Plant RED table onions, fancy lettuces! Tips for super Successful Transplanting!

Choose heat and drought tolerant varieties when you can. For example, why wait when it gets HOT and your tomato stops setting fruit?! Get heat tolerant varieties the heat doesn’t bother! Heat tolerant tomatoes  keep right on producing when temps get up to and above 85! Rattlesnake beans are a winner! They produce in up to 100 degree weather! They have a slightly nutty flavor. You do have to keep watch and pick almost daily because they get long and plump quickly – and are still tender!

Problem temps for tomatoes:

High daytime temperatures (above 85 F)
High Nighttime Temperatures (above 70 F)
Low Nighttime Temperatures (below 55 F)

Check out this nifty page of heat tolerant varieties at Bonnie Plant! If your plant is not heat tolerant, wait. When things cool down, it will start making flowers and setting fruit again. See also Tomatoes are the Fireworks of Your Summer Garden!

Time for heat and leaf tip burn resistant, bolt-resistant lettuces of all kinds! Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson are some. Green Star wins the beauty award!

Tomatoes! Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts, Fusarium and Verticillium. Instead, get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In Santa Barbara area continued drought conditions, consider getting only indeterminates. In the Mother Earth News tomato survey, they found gardeners chose heirlooms over hybrids if their soil is wilt/blight free. Otherwise, the longer the gardener has gardened, they more they chose wilt resistant toms if their soil has fungi. La Sumida has the largest tomato selection in the Santa Barbara area! See Special Planting and growing tips for your Tomatoes and Cucumbers! If you are interested in the Indigo family of tomatoes, in the Santa Barbara area, Terra Sol and La Sumida both have them this year!

Once you have these strong varieties installed particular maintenance will keep them healthy longer.

  • Remove any leaves that will touch the ground if weighted with rain, dew or by watering.
  • Remove infected leaves the curl the length of the leaf or get brown spots.
  • Lay down a loose 1″ deep straw mulch blanket to allow air circulation and the soil to dry. No friendly fungi habitat. The most important purpose of this mulch is to keep your plant’s leaves from being water splashed or in contact with soil, which is the main way they get fungi/blight diseases.
  • When the straw gets flat and tired, remove (don’t compost) and replace.

Delicious Companion Plants to grow with Tomatoes!

Flowers or veggies that are great companion plants for your tomatoes!

Companion Plants! Always be thinking what goes near, around, under, with, what enhances your plant’s growth and protects it from damaging insects and diseases, or feeds your soil! Keep the biodiversity rolling! Plant pest deterring plants first so they will be up and working when you put in your seeds or transplants! If you forget, you can always add your companions later.

  • Alyssum is a great old fashioned pretty border plant, an understory living mulch. And WHITE Alyssum repels the cabbage butterfly.
  • Basil repels several unwanted insects, is great near tomatoes but not in the basin with the tom. The tom needs less water.
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill to go with pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes 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!
  • Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Cosmos is for pollinators! More at SFGate
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!
  • Lettuce and carrots make a great understory below larger plants like peppers, eggplant. They act as living mulch! Leave a little open space to lightly dig in some compost or manure later in the season. If you already have enough lettuce and carrots, scatter a living mulch, soil feeding legume seed mix under those plants. At the end of the season you can turn it all under – aka Green Manure. Or remove the larger plants, open up spots in the living mulch and put in winter/summer plants! See much more – Living Mulch/Green Manure!

Now is the time watering becomes critical!

Water wise veggie garden practices!

SEEDS need to be kept moist. If they dry they die and you either replant or if you don’t have time, just go get transplants. Of course, the advantage of seeds is you have a lot more variety choices than what you can get at the nursery if you aren’t too late in the season to get them if you don’t have any more… Always purchase extra seed for accidents and incidents, ie birds or insects.

TRANSPLANTS need to be kept moist the first few days until they acclimate to their new home. Gentle watering. I water once, then go back and do the whole area again, giving the first watering a chance to soak down. Flooding is not necessarily a good choice. Soil needs oxygen, and plants can literally drown.

THE SCHEDULE What schedule, LOL?! It all depends on the weather. In our area there are hot days, cool days, overcast days, not often windy. But very hot and windy together might mean watering twice a day, whereas cool and overcast might mean an inch of water a week could be just fine. Water beans, cukes, lettuces and short rooted varieties of strawberries more frequently – 2 to 3 times a week, daily in very hot or windy weather. Poke your finger in the ground after rains to see just how deep the water soaked in. Use your shovel and wedge a spot open to see if the soil is moist deeper.

Most plants need to be kept moist. Kept moist. Dry crusty soil keeps your soil from breathing. Compost, mulch and planting living mulch are all good answers. Compost has excellent water holding capacity. Work it in gently around the dripline of your plant so as to damage as few roots as possible. Maybe only do one or two sides of your plants so all the feeder roots are not destroyed. It will set your production back if your plant has to regrow them.

Living mulch has two advantages over dead mulch like bark or straw. 1) Living mulch can be an edible understory of small plants I call Littles. Their shade keeps the soil cool and moist. On balance they need water too, so you might use a wee bit of more water, but you also get 2 crops in the same space! 2) Living mulch can be soil feeding legumes under your bigger plants. They too shade and keep your soil moist and looser.

The plant that does well with straw is cucumbers! It keeps the fruits clean and soil free, and, drum roll, might slow cucumber beetle movement from one plant to another! Plus, it is great shelter for wolf spiders, daddy long legs and other predators. The more spidies the more healthy your garden!

The first plant you mulch is any Brassica – broccoli, kale – you are over summering. They like cool soil, so pile it on, good and deep, 4 to 6 inches. Peppers are quite the reverse, the last plants you mulch. They like soil temps above 65. Mulch keeps the soil cooler, so use your soil thermometer to see if the mulch is cooling it too much for your peppers.

If you live in a cool or coastal area, you may choose not to mulch melons at all! They do well on hot bare soil sheltered from cooling winds!

Furrows and basins are perfect for water capture, just like the SW indigenous peoples did with their waffle gardens. The water collects at the bottom, the wind goes over the berms. You can raise fungi susceptible plants, your tomato and cucumber basins onto the tops of your mounds so there is better drainage and your soil dries somewhat. For plants that are not wilt fungi vulnerable, dig your basins and furrows down. Let the normal soil level be the ‘berm’ for the wind to blow over.

Sprinkle and pat on Mycorrhiza fungi right on the roots of your transplants when you put them in the ground. It increases uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for it bulk at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta

Save water by using a long water wand to water under your plants, not the foliage. Use one with different settings so you use only what your plant needs, and an easy-to-use shut off valve so you use water only when you need to.

Garlic, bulb onions, and shallots naturally begin to dry this month. When the foliage begins to dry it’s time to stop watering them. Dry outer layers needed for long storage will form on the bulbs. When about half of the foliage slumps to the ground, bend the rest to initiate this maturing. The bulbs will be ready for harvest when the foliage is thoroughly dry and crisp.

Natural Disease & Pest Prevention!

  1. Be wise and pick the right plant varieties for your temps and conditions! Get heat tolerant, bolt resistant, drought tolerant, disease tolerant/resistant. If you are just starting, just start! You will learn as you go. Our climate is changing, so we are all adjusting and plants will be being hybridized, and hybridize naturally, for new climates. We can get varieties from other areas that are already used to conditions we will be having. Together we will do this. Locally, save seeds from plants that do the best with the heat and share some of those seeds at the Seed Swap and with other gardeners.
  2. Think biodiversity! Plant companion plants that repel pests, enhance each other’s growth so they are strong and pest and disease resistant. Mix it up! Less planting in rows, more understories and intermingling. Split up groups so pests won’t go from one plant to the next, and the next. Allow enough room for air space between, no leaves of mature plants touching each other. That breaks up micro pest and disease habitats.
  3. Make top notch soil!
  4. In planting holes
    – Add worm castings for your plants’ excellent health. 25% is best; 10% will do if that’s all you got.
    – Add a tad more tasty properly aged manure mixes where manure lovers will be planted.
    – Add non-fat powdered milk for immediate immune system support at planting time
    – Put in a finely ground bone meal for 2 months later uptake when your plant gets to flowering time.
    – Add Jamaican guano high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time. It helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Its NPK ratio is 1-10-0.2, takes 4 months to become available to your plants. Other quanos don’t have this particular NPK ratio.
    – Add an eency tad of coffee grounds (a 1/2 of a %) if you have wilts in your soil
    – Sprinkle mycorrhizae fungi directly on transplant roots, all but Brassicas, at planting time to increase their uptake of nutrients and water.
    – Use acidic compost in strawberry patches and work in a little where you will be planting celery and string beans.
  5. Immediately drench your transplants, foliar feed, with a non-fat powdered milk, baking soda, aspirin, soap mix to jazz up their immune systems. Specially give your peppers an Epsom salt and soap mix bath for a taste of sulfur. More details and all the recipes.
  6. Maintenance! Keep your plants strong while they are working hard! Be ready to do a little cultivating composts and manures in during the season (called sidedressing), or adding fish/kelp emulsion mixes if you don’t have predator pests like skunks! Keep your plants watered and vibrant, but not so much as to make their leaves soft and inviting to munching insect pests like aphids. Trap gophers immediately if you are able.
  7. Harvest promptly. Insects and diseases know when plants are softening and losing strength as they age. Insects are nature’s cleaner uppers, and they and disease organisms are hungry! If leaves are yellowing or not looking up to par, remove them. Whiteflies are attracted to yellow.
  8. Prevention A frustrating typical spring disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on late peas, Curly Leaf kales, broccoli, cucumbers and zucchini. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day if transplanting. A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! See Aspirin Solution.

The usual May culprits!

  • Cucumber Beetles get in cucumber, squash and melon blossoms. They aren’t picky. They are yellow greenish with black stripes or dots about the size and shape of a Ladybug. They are cute but are the very worst garden pest. They carry bacterial diseases and viruses from plant to plant, such as bacterial wilt and mosaic virus, deadly to cukes. Radish repels them, is a champion plant, a hero of the garden! Plant enough radish for you to eat and to let others just grow, be there permanently or at least until the beetles are done, gone. IPM data Straw mulch recommended.
  • Flea Beetles look like large black fleas and do hop mightily! They seem harmless enough, make tiny little holes in the leaves of eggplant, potatoes, arugula. But, those tiny holes add up. As the beetles suck out the juice of your plant they disrupt your plant’s flow of nutrients, open the leaves to disease, your plant is in a constant state of recovery, there is little production. Your plant looks dryish, lacks vitality. The trap plant for them, one that they like best, is radish! Thank goodness radish grow fast! Better yet, plant it ASAP when you put seeds and transplants in. IPM notes
  • Squash Bugs like your Zucchini and other squash, cucumber and melons. Plant radish and WHITE potatoes amongst them to repel the bugs. You will get three crops instead of just one! IPM info
  • Whiteflies do the honeydew thing like aphids do, leaving a nasty sticky black sooty mold or white fibers all over your plant’s leaves. The honeydew attracts ants, which interfere with the activities of Whitefly natural enemies. They are hard to get rid of, so keep a close watch on the undersides of leaves, especially if you see little white insects flying away when you jostle your plant. Whiteflies develop rapidly in warm weather, in many parts of California, and they breed all year. Prevent dusty conditions. Keep ants out of your plants. Hose them away immediately. See more Calendula is a trap plant for them.

Now is a the time to be thinking of soil prep for the future! Gather and dry good wood now for trial Hugelkultur composting at the end of summer, early fall! Woods that work best are alders, apple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, maple, oak, poplar, willow (make sure it is dead or it will sprout). Hugelkultur can be a simple huge pile or an elegant graceful design like this one. Could be right in your front yard! See more!

Beautiful graceful design of Hugelkultur style compost!

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. Be mindful where you plant them… Mediterranean herbs from southern France, like lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme, do well in hot summer sun and poor but well-drained soil with minimal fertilizer. On the other hand, basil, chives, coriander (cilantro), and parsley thrive in richer soil with more frequent watering. Wise planting puts chives by your broccoli, kale, but away from peas if you are still growing some. Cilantro, a carrot family workhorse, discourages harmful insects such as aphids, potato beetles and spider mites, attracts beneficial insects when in bloom. Dill is a natural right next to the cucumbers since you will use the dill if you make pickles. They mature about the same time.

Let some of your arugula, carrots, lettuces, cilantro bloom! Bees, and insect eating birds and beneficial insects love them and you will get some seeds – some for the birds, some for you, some to take to the seed swap! Grow beauty – cosmos, marigolds, white sweet alyssum – all benefit your garden in their own way! See Stripes of Wildflowers! Here are some special considerations – Courting Solitary Bees!

To plant a seed is to believe in tomorrow. Audrey Hepburn, born May 4, 1929


See the entire May 2018 GBC Newsletter!

May! Radiant Flowers and Tasty Veggies!

Cantaloupe!
Pollination à la Honeybees, Squash Bees & Bumblebees!
Mulching ~ When, With What, How Much?!

Upcoming Gardener Events! International Permaculture Day, Mesa Harmony Crop Swap 2018! SBCC ANNUAL PLANT SALE, Fairview Gardens Programs, Quail Springs Programs!

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

Back to top


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!

Read Full Post »

Use Cover Crops to Improve Soil

By the esteemed Barbara Pleasant!

Cover Crop Pleasant Crimson Clover Batchelor's Buttons

Colorful companion cover crops such as bachelor’s buttons and crimson clover will not only improve soil, they’ll beautify your garden beds.

Intro! Legume cover crops are more than pretty, they improve your veggie garden soil, a lot! There are informed choices to be made. Cover crops are in the same categories as Living Mulch and Green Manure.

I’m copying the beginning of Barbara’s wonderful post and will link you to the rest. She says…

There are three main ways to improve soil: grow cover crops, mulch the surface with biodegradable mulches, and/or dig in organic soil amendments (such as compost, grass clippings, rotted manure or wood chips). All have their advantages and none should be discounted, but cover cropping is the method least likely to be practiced in home gardens. There is a reason for this: Information on using cover crops is tailored to the needs of farmers who use tractors to make short work of mowing down or turning under cover crops. But when your main tools for taking down plants have wooden handles and you measure your space in feet rather than acres, you need a special set of cover crop plants, and special methods for using them.

How Cover Crops Help

A cover crop is any plant grown for the primary purpose of improving the soil. Since the early 1900s, farmers have used cover crops to restore fertility to worn-out land. In addition to helping bulk up soil with organic matter, cover crops prevent erosion, suppress weeds, and create and cycle soilborne nutrients using the power of the sun. Recent advances in soil biology have revealed two more ways cover crops can improve soil.

Rhizodeposition is a special advantage to working with cover crops. Many plants actually release sugars and other substances through their roots. They are like little solar engines, pumping energy down into the soil. With vigorous cover crop plants, this process goes on much more deeply than you would ever dig — 6 feet for oats and rye! If you are leaving your garden beds bare in winter, you are missing the chance to use cold-hardy crops such as cereal rye or oats to solar-charge your soil. Thanks to this release of sugars, the root tips of many plants host colonies of helpful microorganisms, and as the roots move deeper, the microbes follow.

But so much for scientific talk. If you’ve experimented with cover crops, perhaps you have dug up young fava beans or alfalfa seedlings to marvel at the nitrogen nodules on their roots, or watched a stand of buckwheat go from seed to bloom in four weeks flat. Or how about this one: It’s April and the soil is warming up and drying out. After loosening a clump of fall-sown wheat with a digging fork, you pull up a marvelous mop of fibrous roots and shake out the soil. What crumb! The soil’s structure is nothing short of amazing! These are the moments an organic gardener lives for.

Cover Crop Root Channels for New Plant Roots Bio-drillingBio-drilling is what happens when you use a cover crop’s natural talents to “drill” into compacted subsoil. For example, you might grow oilseed or daikon radishes as a cover crop where their spear-shaped roots will stab deep into tight subsoil. Bio-drilling action also takes place when deeply rooted cover crop plants penetrate subsoil and die. Then, the next crop grown may actually follow the rooting network mapped out by the cover crop. Maryland researchers were able to track this process using special camera equipment (a minirhizotron), which took pictures of the interactions between cover crop (canola) and crop plant (soybean) roots. As the canola’s deep roots decomposed, soybean roots followed the trails they blazed in the subsoil, hand in glove. In addition to reduced physical resistance, the soybean roots probably enjoyed better nutrition and the good company of legions of soil-dwelling microcritters, compliments of the cover crop.

Dozens of plants have special talents as cover crops, and if you live in an extremely hot, cold, wet or dry climate, you should check with your local farm store or state extension service for plant recommendations — especially if you want to use cover crops under high-stress conditions. Also be aware that many cover crop plants can become weedy, so they should almost always be taken down before they set seed.

How to Take Cover Crops Down

Speaking of taking down…  Continue reading!

From here, Barbara talks about how to take the cover crops down, then, which cover crop to use, what time of year to start it in which zone, the pros & cons of each, her experiences, research.

Or, you may not want to take down your cover crop. If you planted a short ground cover type legume, late in the season you may simply want to remove the larger plants, open up spots in the living mulch and put in winter plants! Your cover crop will keep on working as the older plants die naturally and feed your soil.

Two for one and save time and money! If you choose edibles as a cover crop under larger plants, you get living mulch and food! If you choose legumes, they are working at the same time you are growing your large edible plants! I do hope you consider this 100% natural organic method of restoring or improving your soil, improving space you won’t be using right away! You will have less disease, less pests, less amendment expenses. Plant with flower combinations like Crimson clover to make habitat for wild bees/pollinators, and beneficial predatory insects, for simple beauty!

  • Spring and Summer, cover crops also act as living mulch while feeding your soil. Toss seeds around and under bigger plants.
  • In SoCal and southern areas, Fall and Winter, use cover crops as green manure to restore and improve your soil for spring ~ summer planting.

The better your soil, the more handsome your harvests. To your health and happiness!

See also Living Mulch! When, Which and Why?!

Back to top


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

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

Read Full Post »

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