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Archive for the ‘Lasagna’ Category

Thomas Jefferson was a gardening enthusiast, but his passion for growing food went beyond his own backyard. Apparently he believed that America was incapable of true democracy unless 20 percent of its citizens were self-sufficient on small farms. This would enable them to be real dissenters, free to voice opinions and beliefs, without any obligation to food producers who might hold their survival at stake. ~ Katherine Martinko

Container Carrot Patio Planter Haxnicks

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You can start with any container you wish right outside your door, upstairs or downstairs, on the roof, for the freshest tasty organic veggies! (Haxnicks container)

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xVegTrug Stand Up Gardening bed for people with disabilities

Winner of the 2012 Green Thumb Award for Outstanding New Product, the Vegtrug’s back-saving design allows you to garden while standing. Bad knees, bad back? No problem! Get outside, raise your spirits, improve your health! There are no age limits to veggie gardening!

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Container Wall Cans! Any fence or wall will do!

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Any wall or fence will do! Be creative!

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Creative Container gardening on your Balcony!x

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Garden anywhere! The Balcony is perfect! Every which way but loose!

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On the ground Strawberries Pallet Gardenx

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Strawberries in Pallets on the ground…

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STRAWBERRIES, LOTS OF STRAWBERRIES! Overhead planted in rain gutters!x

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…to Rain Gutters overhead!

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Residential Tower Gardeningx
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Grow Fast food in space saver Tower Gardens at home, to feed the homeless, at the office or hospital!

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LA Veggie Roof Garde, architect Norman Millar’s Arkhouse

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At owner/architect Norman Millar’s Arkhouse in the Los Angeles area, the rooftop veggie garden gets plenty of SoCal sun in between polycarbonate panels. Photo: Robin Horton.

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It’s a “liberating DIY revolution,” as writer Megan Mayhew Bergman calls it. In her article “Democracy needs gardeners!” which is an inspiring call for Americans to dig up their lawns, convert empty spaces, and utilize available windowsills, Bergman urges Americans to start gardening as an act of patriotism.

The Back 40 or a gorgeous Food Not Lawn front yard! Do it!

Food Not Lawn Vegetable Garden Front Yard

Guerrilla Gardening has changed the face of many a landscape, raised neighborhood pride, and often feeds many!

Neighborhood Guerilla Garden Before After

Started in 2009, Seattle’s 7 acre, 2.5 miles from downtown Seattle, Beacon Food Forest includes an Edible Arboretum with fruits gathered from regions around the world, a Berry Patch for canning, gleaning and picking, a Nut Grove with trees providing shade and sustenance, a Community Garden using the p-patch model for families to grow their own food, a Gathering Plaza for celebration and education, a Kid’s Area for education and play and a Living Gateway to connect and serve as portals as you meander through the forest. It’s all done by volunteers and the food is free for foraging!

Small to large, Community Gardens, often urban, but not always, give landless apartment dwellers, children, disabled and seniors the blessed and grateful opportunity to garden, enjoy the outdoors, events – weddings, concerts, art exhibits, share friendship, learning and beauty with each other!

Urban garden, Fort Mason Community Garden, San Francisco, CA

Urban Community Garden, Fort Mason, San Francisco CA

Per the GrowNetwork.com: Only a few generations ago, our recent ancestors all kept their own seed supplies. I’m not talking about ancient history… I’m talking about your great-grandparents. They traded their favorite seeds with their friends and neighbors, and they passed on the best seeds to their children. In doing so, they bred vegetable varieties that were tailor-made for their local climates. And they maintained a healthy level of genetic diversity in their food supply.

Seeds Jars SeedsavingIt’s important we do the same! SeedSaving is as simple as collecting seeds from your best plants. Over the fence seed trading has always been done. These days it can be buying from online seed houses, seed exchanges, like Southern Exposure that intend to preserve heirloom plants. You might trade seeds online like at Seed Exchange – GardenWeb! You may want to contribute to a Seed Library 
or get started with free seeds from a Library. Santa Barbara CA’s Foodbank offers free seeds and instruction to people in need to help them grow their own food! Local annual Seed Swaps are usually held in January so gardeners can plan their gardens, have plenty of time to start seedlings for spring planting.

Seeds are a precious resource. Take good care of them. In any natural disaster, they are the first thing I would take with me other than my dog! If you are political, work to secure our right to have non GMO seeds and the right to collect our own seeds.

National Heirloom Exposition Santa Rosa CA 2016

Uncommon and common EVENTS! Local and international festivals, presentations, symposiums, exhibits and more! From Permaculture to rainwater catchment – graywater, soil building, seed gathering trainings, garden design, container gardening to farming, community gardens, vertical gardening, local food, edible flowers, bees, pests & diseases, organic, perennial vegetables, sustainability, to research! And then there are your favorite veggie & fruit festivals, the Gilroy Garlic Festival, The Avocado Festival, Pumpkins, Apples, Strawberries, Tomatoes! All bring out our very best and inspire more conscious gardening!

In the US, the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa CA is September 6th, 7th & 8th, 2016. There will be over 100 national and internationally acclaimed on-topic speakers. You can learn and grow with some of the top names in the pure food movement and young people speakers from age 17 up! Three Day Pass only $30, kids 17 and under free! 3 Days isn’t really enough! Three proud sponsors include the City of Santa Rosa, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Mother Earth News!

The terms Permaculture, then Food Forests/Forest Gardening, have come into use. They have changed the ways gardeners approach gardening and their interactions with each other! Simply put, permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

Forest gardening is a low maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables. Making use of plant guilds, companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers, to build a woodland habitat. Forest gardening is a prehistoric method of securing food in tropical areas. In the 1980s, Robert Hart coined the term “forest gardening” after adapting the principles and applying them to temperate climates. (Wiki)

The keyword here is sustainability! It’s a contribution to the planet. It makes living here a good quality option for our children. This is a revolution that makes sense and is well worth fighting for! Plant seeds today!

San Francisco Permaculture Guild Man with outspread arms standing in Mustard taller than he is!SAN FRANCISCO PERMACULTURE GUILD BLOG

Take super good care of yourself and your loved ones. Fuel your body, mind and Spirit with the very best!

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

See the entire July 2016 GBC Newsletter!

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Veggies growing in homemade compost!

Veggies growing in homemade compost! Photo by Rod Zimmer

Compost is the single most best thing you can do for your soil! It feeds your plants, adds water holding capacity, and much more! 

Anytime we have a season change, compost becomes more important. In summer most of us are thinking how can I do it all?! Harvesting takes more time than waiting for the plants to produce. There’s more watering to do in summer. Yet, fall is soon upon us and though making compost takes a wee bit more time, it is so needed to give our plants a good start! In winter, making compost is essential for spring planting!

Here are some possibilities!

There are 3 basic kinds of compost, cold and hot and composting in place.

Of the cold kind….

The kind that finishes the quickest is the kitchen veggie waste that gets chopped vigorously with the shovel every few days, turned and turned again. Small bits decompose faster. The pile is kept moist. The dry brown material in the pile isn’t usually harder to ‘chop’ straw; it’s more like leaves, some already chopped, partially decomposed mulch type stuff. The right leaves have nutrient value. See more. In a community garden you might not have space for such a pile. If you do, toss a thin layer of soil over it to keep flies away, and to keep it from being unsightly to visitors cover it with a light layer of straw or plastic to keep it out of sight. That will keep it moist and it will decompose better rather than off gas the Nitrogen, dry and die. The cover is instantaneous to remove, then you can have at that pile with gusto! With that kind of pile, you have a fairly steady supply of compost. Most of the time some of it is ready to put here and there.

Compost Sifting‘Every day I fill the wheelbarrow with rich screened compost. It really smells quite delicious; nutty with a spicy note.’ Sifting your compost is a piece of cake! Grab your wheelbarrow or bucket, get a piece of hardware cloth/hogwire or a nursery plant flat with a smaller weave to it, like in the image, and sift away! You can build a lovely framed sifter or buy great rolling devices. Choose the size opening you want. Or, don’t sift at all. I like a little texture to my compost. 

Have your compost pile handy, nearby, warm in the sun for speedy decomposition! Keep it moist, cover it when it needs it – in hot/dry or rainy weather, turn it! Compost that gets turned regularly often gets raided before it’s completely finished. You can still make out some of what the stuff is that’s there. That works just fine because  finishes quickly, in the ground, at home with all the lovely soil organisms.

If there comes a time when you compost has been sadly neglected, spread the stuff out as a mulch and start over, or let it go and just buy what you need. No shame in that.

Hot Compost is PDF, pretty darn fast!

It can heat up to amazing temps, so hot it makes ash and you cannot put your hands in it without getting burned. You can see it steaming on a winter morning! The point is to kill diseases, pests, weed seeds. Well that almost gets done, because, you see, the heat is in the middle of the pile. So they say turn it so the hot part goes to the outside and the cool part to the inside. That, my friends, is easier said than done. But, at least some of it happens.

Two interesting points here. My cold compost pile gets that hot! Yep, it does. A well-built pile with thin layers will cook quite happily no matter your intention. It’s nature. The other thing is I don’t put diseased plants or seeding weeds in my pile, so I don’t need it to get hot. Sure, some pest eggs probably make it. However, what happens most is veggie seeds sprout when I put the compost in to amend my soil! I swear, I can’t see those seeds when it is compost. It all looks dark and yummy. But lots of times I’m glad that happens! The plants get a terrific start and I get surprises! This year I enjoyed two elegant celery plants that came up about a foot and a half from each other and everyone complimented how beautiful they were, robust, with gorgeous long dark green stalks!

Whether you do hot or cold compost is your choice. I’ve tried it both ways. Sincerely. Got a long thermometer, built cubic yard piles and turned them. Now I have cold compost and turn it. No way around that turning if you want results sooner than later. It doesn’t matter what size I build it. I’ve seen 1 cubic foot piles heat up just fine! If it gets hot, it’s hot. If it doesn’t that’s fine with me. Taking care of it, turning, keeping it moist, making thin layers gets the job done. The layers are more a measuring device – 1 dry to 2 wet. Once they are in, mix up the material so the straw is moistened and the wet just doesn’t make a mass. My friend who chops and turns his with vigor gets much faster results, and I may take that up too.

Composting in place

No dig composting in place is an age old technique more recently called Lasagna Gardening. It takes some prep time, that is often done with a group of friends, but once that is done, you’re home free! There’s no turning, no carrying finished compost about because it is already where you want it! Materials may take longer to decompose. It is a cold pile, but if your pile is directly on the earth, soil organisms happily munching makes things happen quickly. It takes a lot of materials to start depending on the size you want your garden to be. You can start with a small area, add more later.

The beauty is it can be done on top of a lawn to form a raised bed, with or without a box border. If you have lawn where you want to plant, peel back the lawn or not, lay down cardboard or newspaper to kill off the lawn, prevent it growing back, up into your bed. If you choose cardboard, water a LOT to soak that cardboard. Layer to your heart’s content until you run out of materials. You can make beds 18″ high to start. They will settle a lot. That 18″ can easily become 9″ in two or three days in warm weather! You can plant instantly! Just pull back a planting hole, add some ready or nursery-bought compost and any other amendments right for your plant, and plant! Your amazing ‘lasagna’ will decompose and make beautiful soil without you doing a thing more! Add more materials as you acquire them to any spots you want to build up or if you want more compost or a bigger or another bed!

If you are doing composting in place while gardening, you just put on the layers, between the plants or down a row, with the materials you have on hand until you run out. The smaller the chop, the pieces, the faster the decomp. Keep them moist so they will decompose faster.

Trench it and forget it! Trenching has always been the simplest technique of all! It’s a super simple way of putting chopped veggie kitchen wastes to work.  Put your kitchen waste on the ground, grab the shovel and vigorously chop it into fine pieces. If you don’t feel like chopping it, don’t! Dig, pull back a 6″ trench, no deeper. Soil organisms live at the top. Put in the stuff, cover with the soil you pulled back, and forget it. Period. Done. A week later you can dig in that area and find no trace of it. Soil organisms are intelligent and hungry.

If you have massive amounts of stuff to compost, the fastest way of all, record time, is to use maggots! Cities use them and sell the compost! See all about it!

Hugelkultur Sepp Holzer Diagram Cross Section

Hugelkultur is a long term choice. Hugelkultur, hill mound, is the quintessential sustainable variation of ‘composting’ in place. It can be above and/or below ground and takes a lot more energy to start but what a payoff! Get some big logs, branches. If you are doing it above ground, lay two logs closely side by side, put a lot of bigger to smaller branches between them, then go for it! Woods that work best are alders, apple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, maple, oak, poplar, willow (make sure it is dead or it will sprout). Add leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available. Add some red wiggler casting worms if you have them. As possible add your materials in thin 1/2 to 1″ layers, dry, wet, dry, wet until the area is filled. Lay a third log on top of them and if you have sod you peeled up, lay it on top of the whole pile upside down and do it again! Top the turf with grass clippings, seaweed, compost, aged manure, straw, green leaves, mulch, etc. Top that with soil and plant your veggies! If you did it right, you end up with a steep sided tall pyramid pile and veggies planted at easy picking heights. See a LOT more and example variations at permaculture, practical solutions for self-reliance.

Raised bed Hugelkultur Lasagna Combo Buckman StyleIf you are starting a raised Hugelkultur bed, dig down about a foot or more, lay in the big logs, big branches around them, smaller branches on top, layer as above to the height you want, allowing for settling. The difference is that this is a flat top raised bed. You can also dig deeper and make the top of the bed flush with your soil! Also, you can do terracing with a Hugelkultur substructure.

Container gardeners you can do your own mini Hugelkultur version as well. A 1/2 beer barrel, a five gallon can, kid’s swimming pool, whatever you have, can be repurposed! Just be sure there are drainage holes. Double purpose your container by making it a self-watering system as well!

Hugelkultur is an excellent long term sustainable choice!

~ The heat from decomposition gives your plants a terrific early start or extends your growing season. You do need to be careful of freezes if you live in a cold area.
~ The right hardwood logs will give your plants steady nutrition for 20 or more years!
~ If you do the above ground version, you have more planting space because it is tall and vertical!
~ Nearby fruit trees are also fed.
~ The logs and branches soak up water and hold it, so less water to none is needed after the first year.

More clever tips!

  1. At intervals, near the center of your compost pile, place handfuls of old compost or fresh rich soil, as an infusion, an inoculant of soil making organisms.
  2. In dry SoCal, I cover my compost pile to keep it from drying out, and I never need to water it.
  3. When cold composting and composting in place, add red wriggler worms to chomp up materials. They add worm castings that help your plants’ immune systems and uptake of nutrients. If you will be turning the compost, kindly use a pitchfork so there will be the least damage to your worms.
  4. Be smart, add herbs! Penny Woodward says: ‘Regular handfuls of chamomile, dandelion and yarrow leaves and flowers will all speed up decomposition of the compost with YARROW being the most effective. Yarrow also adds copper, nitrates, phosphates and potash while chamomile adds calcium and ‘sweetens’ the mixture. Dandelions contribute copper, iron and potash. Nettles are problem weeds but they actually improve the quality of the soil they are growing in and when added to the compost they contribute iron and nitrogen. Tansy adds potassium, which is very important for plant growth while Valerian increases the phosphorus content so essential for good flowers and fruits [but is invasive!]. The most nutritious compost plant is COMFREY and it grows most of the year in SoCal coastal climate. The leaves are rich in potassium, nitrogen, calcium and phosphates. I keep a clump growing next to the compost. It grows like crazy, and I layer on a handful of leaves whenever I throw in kitchen scraps.
Stemilt's World Famous compost!

Fine finished Stemilt World’s Famous Compost!

Mix it up! Do any version or combo of compost versions that work for you or as you have the materials available to do what you want! Do more than one method at the same time! Super soil is the Number 1 thing you can do for your garden and compost makes the difference! When your compost smells great and you could just about eat it, you know you made it right!

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All that said,  if building your own compost isn’t your choice, support your local nursery and get the best from them! Have a good dirty time of it!

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

Read Full Post »

Besides feeding your plants and adding water holding capacity, composting is important for two more good sustainable reasons. Composting helps to minimize the trash going to our landfill, but most importantly doesn’t contribute methane to our atmosphere. When we compost, an aerobic condition is created and the bacteria that thrive create a waste product of CO2. Yes, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, however methane is over 20 times more powerful in contributing to greenhouse gas effects.

Composting in summer’s heat is the fastest, just keep things moist! And there are several ways to do it!

In place composting

Hugelkultur Diagram Cross Section

Long term is Hugelkultur. I say long term because you use logs and branches. Not only are you making compost, but heat! You can plant sooner in spring, grow later in fall. Building up, you get more surface area for planting if space is limited. If space is not an issue and you don’t want raised areas, dig trenches fill with logs, branches, twigs. Cover with the soil you dug up and other stuff. Same excellent results! There are many ways to Hugelkultur! Some projects are gentile and mini, others are huge!

  • The classic is the three log triangle stack and hillock system. Put a bean trellis at the end of the pile!
  • Lay a bed of thick diameter branches, small branches, and twigs at the bottom of your raised bed.
  • Use logs to terrace your slope

Long term might be that pile in the back forty that you pay no attention to, other than dumping on more barrow loads from time to time and letting nature take its course. That can take years. But if your pile is warm in the sun and kept moist, at the bottom of that pile, eventually, not less than a year, you will get some fine leaf mold, and leaf mold is potent!

LASAGNA! Quick and dirty is composting right where you will grow things, and planting all along if you like! it’s the easiest on your back! If you have enough materials, all you do is chop and drop your disease free and seed free weed cuttings and lay your kitchen scraps right on the surface and let them decompose. Throw in some composting worms, red wrigglers. It will all go faster still, and you will have castings right where you need them! Throw some manures (no pet or human waste) about to ramp up the heat and Nitrogen plants need! Some people add other favorite amendments. Yes! Do keep things moist or thick/deep enough for the materials that contract the soil to decompose. To plant immediately, pull a space open, put already made compost in your planting holes and plant instantly! There’s no moving the compost you are making because it’s already where it is needed! There’s no turning, no space taken up by a composter. In summer it also acts as a mulch! Composting and mulch at once!

If you don’t have enough materials, do areas as you can, one at a time, each season another one. Consider giving your neighbors a container, or two, to collect their kitchen trim for you; ask for their landscape waste materials. Hooray, no trips to the dump!

Trenching kitchen scraps or burying garden trim 6″ to 8″ deep is really fast. Soil organisms get right to work! Again, keep that area slightly moist.

Composting in enclosures 

Compost Geobin

Quick might be in a babied system in an enclosure, chopping things into small pieces, deleafing tough stalks, feeding with high class chopped, even blender chopped, kitchen trim! Trim could include squshed eggshells (keeps pH balanced), 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less of coffee grounds (suppresses fungal rots and wilts!). You could add some compost worms, red wigglers, so their castings are precombined with your compost! Careful layering, alternating WET/Nitrogen – grass, green trim, kitchen trim, and DRY/Carbon – leaves, straw, dried spent plants, makes for a well balanced process. Straw aerates, wets moisten and decompose the straw. 1″ wet to 2″ dry is good, but you get it, it’s 1 wet to 2 dry. Easy.

To Turn or Not to Turn! If you decide to turn, you need either a permanent two enclosure side by side system, or a lightweight movable enclosure. You may need to make your system secure from pests like rats or squirrels.

Turning speeds things up a tad, but research shows unturned compost is a little more nutritious. I use the enclosures you can lift off the pile. The pile doesn’t fall apart, so I move the enclosure to a nearby spot and pitchfork the pile into the new location. When things are well decomposed you will need to use a shovel. The pile goes back and forth every couple of weeks or so, leaving a spot that is enriched from the pile’s drippings, a prime planting spot! Then I move the enclosure to another spot.

Covering your pile with a heavy mil plastic, like old compost bags or trash compactor bags, keeps the pile moist. Water the fresh straw or leaves you add just a bit. Also, covering makes the worms feel safe from birds to come and feed at the top of the pile. When you take the cover off, the worms dive to get out of sight of birds!

6 months is usual, but since I add-as-I-have, part of the pile is ready sooner than the rest. I use the part that is ready; the rest I let keep processing. You can use almost finished compost sooner just fine! Mix it into the soil in the new planting area a couple weeks before planting and Baby, you quickly have tasty soil! The soil organisms ramp up and things are integrated down to the micro dots! However, if your compost pile isn’t going as quickly as you like, get some compost accelerator at your nursery or grow a compost activator plant like yarrow or nutritious comfrey next to your composter for convenient use! Add a few leaves to each layer as available.

Also use your compost for sidedressing. If it is summer, pull back your mulch. Push your spade fork in and carefully rock it back and forth to make some holes around your plant – not too close to the main stem, and as you feel to do. Lay down two to three inches of compost as you have available. Put your mulch back in place. Water slowly and gently to let the compost moisten, melt and drizzle into the holes, feeding the root area of your plants. It’s like giving them compost tea! Give it a few days to take effect. It’s especially effective when your plant starts into production, or as a late summer feed when they are pooping out. It will extend your harvest.

Some gardeners just divide their compost into big piles, make a water holding bowl in the top, and plant directly in the compost for super growth! Works great for a giant tomato plant, plants that are heavy feeders like Goliath-size winter squash, melons, Mammoth cabbage! How many times have you let a compost pile go and come back to find little plants growing in it?! They know what’s good for them! Cover the piles with some light blocking mulch, like thick straw, to keep the pile from washing away. Stick a stake beside your plant so you know right where to water.

HOT or Cold compost There is always the curiosity whether to do cold or hot compost.
  • Hot is faster but more labor intensive, frequent turning a must to keep it going. Layering and balancing your ingredients is critical to get those temps. A thermometer is good to have, ideal temps 141°F to 155°F so weed seeds and disease pathogens die.
  • Cold compost can be as simple as pile and wait. And wait. No concern about the order of things. Nature takes her course.
  • My system is a hybrid system. I layer pretty carefully. My pile gets hot when I first layer in a new batch of stuff, but if I don’t turn it for a few weeks, that’s ok too.

Do what suits your needs or as you have materials, but compost, compost, compost! In these SoCal drought times, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Keep your soil healthy and lively, with excellent friability, so it makes the most of what moisture it does receive.

Tyler W at Crazy About Compost, says: Just the other week, I had filled the bin up to the edge with new material…and I look out there today after forgetting about it and it’s dropped nearly a foot! This is what I love about compost piles – I’ve been adding material to this thing on a weekly basis and it’s just a bottomless pit of degradation.

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

Read Full Post »

California’s 2013 was the driest year on record since this type of data has been recorded, in 119 years. 

Think water capturing, slow the flow, Bioswales & Furrows this year! Plant IN your furrows, where the moisture collects. Carefully take a look at Holzer’s Hugelkultur type diagram. The lower areas are wind and drying protected. In the case of a regular level garden, furrows can do the same thing, and when you water, you water in the furrows. If you don’t plant on top of the furrows or plant plants with deep roots, all your plants will get water, and soil that doesn’t need water doesn’t get it. Plant taller plants where they can cut the flow of prevailing drying winds. See how the furrow in the image is lined with stones? Besides storing heat, they keep the slope from degrading when you water.

If needed, install some mini wiers, check dams, to slow the rush of the water, to make it possible to give some sections more water, as needed, than others. In a small garden area you could lay in some halved lengthwise PVC with holes drilled in it to let water drain through – plant along each side of it. If you can, do mini Hugelkultur strategies, or do it with full blown zest! Get a log/s and go for it!

One homeowner said: We built a really cool bioswale and rainwater storage system to collect not only rainwater runoff from the green roof, but also to collect any irrigation water seeping from our terra cotta pots and the water we use to wash off shoes and our feet after working in the nursery or with the animals.

Get creative with ‘furrows!’ Curve them, make some deeper, wider than others as needed. If you can’t do furrows, do wells, basins. Keep that water corralled where it will do the most good. Be mindful of your fruit trees. Feed them well, out to the drip line, and water that food in. Natural leaf drop, mulch on top of the ground, isn’t decomposing as usual with our dry weather. Watch for leaf curl and yellowing.

Self Mulching!  This is the cheapest, easiest mulching technique! Plant or Transplant seedlings close enough so that the leaves of mature plants will shade the soil between the plants. That’s all there is too it! Roots are cool and comfy, less water needed. Natural mulches feed your soil as they decompose. Avoid any that have been dyed. Strawberries and blueberries like loose, acid mulches – pine needles or rotted sawdust. Raspberries and blackberries enjoy SEEDLESS straw. Mulch is just so clever!  Besides the underground advantages, above ground, it keeps plant leaves off the soil where snails, other critters, soil diseases, climb on board. It keeps leaves drier, less molds, mildew. It keeps fruits off the soil, clean to harvest.

If you are gardening at home, install a grey water system – it is now legal in California. Our water is so precious. Let’s use it well and do what we can to save, slow down the use of, depleted water tables. In Santa Barbara area, check with the experts at Sweetwater Collaborative. Their next Laundry to Landscape Workshop is on Sat Feb 15!

Consider Dry Farming. Sometimes it’s doable, sometimes not. Here are practical tips from different people who have done it!

Consider aquaponics. At its best, that’s growing crops and fish together in a re-circulating system. Sounds good. For me, I love being outdoors, getting dirty in soil, the surprise volunteers that come from visiting birds. I like insects and worms, small animals, even snails! It makes me think my plants are wholly nutritious in ways no chemical formula could ever make them be. And I like that the plants are different from year to year. It calls on me to pay keen attention. I love weather, anticipating and responding to nature’s rhythm. Makes me feel alive! But if you love tinkering with pumps, siphons, filters and formulas, I totally understand. You can’t grow root veggies, but it certainly takes less land and plants grow fast, really fast, and you can grow tender plants all year if your system is indoors! You can get expensive towers or do it yourself inexpensively, with or without fish. There are numerous ways to do it to fit your needs!

In general, select seeds and plants that are heat and drought tolerant that require less water. Ask your nursery to carry them. Check into seed banks in warmer drier areas of the country, and the world, for their successful plants.

Compost, compost, compost! Compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Also, alternate plantings of soil nourishing legumes, then other plants. Keep your soil healthy and lively, with excellent friability, so it makes the most of what moisture it does receive. More you can do!

Live your techniques; talk with and show others how to do it! Bless you for your kind considerations.

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Mycorrhizal Fungi, the Proof is in the Roots!

Mycorrhizal Fungi increase uptake of nutrients by increasing the surface absorbing area of roots 100 to a 1,000 times!  This is like having way more than a second set of roots!  They work in both natural soil and with fertilizers added, especially phosphorus. P is for  flowering, so increases production.  The fungi also release powerful enzymes into the soil that dissolve hard-to-capture nutrients, such as organic nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and other “tightly bound” soil nutrients.  The extra nutrients can fuel better growth and increase resistance to drought and disease.  Plants in soil with well-established mycorrhizal fungal root systems are better able to survive droughts and transplant shock, and the fungi’s ability to alleviate salt stress is well documented.

Two exceptions to using MF:  1) When the soil already has such ideal nutrient and moisture levels that the plants can scavenge enough on their own.  2) with Brassicas (members of the mustard family), because they do not allow the mycorrhizal fungi to colonize their roots!  Save your time and money!

There is so much more known now due to research the last 40 years!  David D. Douds, Ph.D., a microbiologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), notes that different species of plants have different tendencies toward developing mycorrhizal associations. For example, he has found that leeks greatly benefit from mycorrhizal association in most years, while tomatoes and peppers are more likely to benefit when they are more nutrient-or water-stressed. Brassicas such as turnips and radishes do not form mycorrhizal associations under any conditions.

Recent research shows mycorrhizal plants warn each other when disease or pest infestations occur.  ‘The uninfected ‘receiver’ plants also activated six defense-related genes!’  The infected or infested plant may die, but the others live!

Don’t kill your Mycorrhizal Fungi!

Day to day gardening can degrade and destroy delicate mycorrhizal fungi, and the mycorrhizae-forming potential of your soil.  Not good.  Tilling and hoeing, removal of topsoil, erosion, site preparation, compaction (removes air and damages filaments), fumigation, relentlessly removing weeds, and leaving soils fallow without a deep mulch covering, are some of the activities that can reduce or eliminate these beneficial soil fungi. Scientific studies indicate endo mycorrhizal fungal populations are slow to recolonize, unless there is close access to natural areas that can act as a source of mycorrhizal spores to repopulate the affected area.  Reintroducing mycorrhizal fungi in areas where they have been lost can dramatically improve plant performance with less water and fertilizer and at a reduced cost.

So, for example, if you just dug up an area to install gopher barriers, that area needs some babying, tender repopulating.  And you can see this is a huge reason to do lasagna gardening, or sheet composting.  Put the nutrients, compost on TOP of your soil.  Don’t dig up your soil and destroy the mycorrhizal network and soil structure of the micro herds of soil organisms, or the mini air tunnels earthworms make that let your soil breathe and moisture to soak in!  Don’t be shy!  Pile it all on a foot to 18″ deep!  Remember, that pile will rapidly settle to about 6 to 8″ deep.  For immediate planting, pull some holes open, add a tasty compost, and plant away!

Tips to Help your Mycorrhizal Fungi Flourish!

  • Add fungi!  Sprinkle dry or pour or spray liquid fungi right on the roots as you put in your transplants, except those Brassicas.  Use a core drill or auger and put liquid fungi down into your soil.  Not only does it help veggies, but your turf grass as well!  While you are at it, put in some compost tea in alternate holes to build your soil herds.  You will be amazed at the results from these amendments!
  • If your soil is already high in phosphorus (get a soil test), do not fertilize with a phosphorus-rich amendment, because too high phosphorus levels inhibit development of associations between plants and mycorrhizal fungi. Manures and manure-based composts can be high in phosphorus, so test these amendments before adding them.
  • Minimize digging (especially rototilling), as it can break mycorrhizal hyphae, preventing them from colonizing new plant roots and transporting nutrients.
  • Don’t let your soil dry out!  Cover it deeply with partially composted leaves and other organic material if you aren’t planting there right away.  Plant densely enough that your plants are living mulch.  Or, simply water anyway until you are ready to plant.  If it will be an extended time, best of all is to plant a quick growing soil-feeding cover crop!
  • Grow a diverse mix of plants in your soil for as much of the year as possible, because mycorrhizae need active plant roots in order to develop.
  • If you decide to use mycorrhizal inoculants, look for a company that produces the inoculant in your geographic region.

Elaine Levine suggests techniques to keep your mix diverse:

• Rotate crops each year (as long as there aren’t too many successive brassicas). Crop rotations are vital to mycorrhizal fungus populations because, in addition to providing a continuous succession of root hosts, different crops also tend to favor different species of mycorrhizal fungi.
• Plant a cover crop. In addition to adding organic matter and retaining soil nutrients, the cover crop offers host roots for the mycorrhizal fungi to colonize and helps them proliferate in preparation for your next planting. A good mix of crops above ground is the best way to support a mix of beneficial fungi below ground.
• Lighten up a bit on weed control, because, surprising as this may be, weed roots can also be excellent mycorrhizal hosts.

Santa Clara Master Gardener Elaine Levine says ‘These simple, no-cost steps help keep the soil’s native population of mycorrhizal fungi healthy and diverse, harnessing yet another gift of the natural environment to create a vibrant and abundant garden.’  She’s so right!

TheEarthProject.org says:  Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi [AMF] is the medium of soil structure, it determines the flow of water, nutrients, and air, directs the pathways of root growth, and opens channels for the movement of soil animals. As the moderator of the microbial community, it determines the metabolic processes of the soil. In other words, the mycorrhizal network is practically synonymous with ecosystem function.

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Raised bed Hugelkultur Lasagna Combo Buckman Style

Australian permaculturist Rosina Buckman has some terrific tank garden tips!  She says think of your raised bed as a compost pile!  That’s efficient!  Place it wisely to get the most sun, least cold wind.  This bottomless tank is a tidy look even for the front yard!
Rosina combines a mini Hugelkultur process and Lasagna layering, composting in place!

  • Hugelkultur puts logs, branches, twigs at the bottom of the pile.
  • Rosina puts a rough mulch on top of that.
  • Then she Lasagnas a layer of green/wet grass clippings, or the like, to dampen the dry layers below.
  • Newspaper or cardboard is next.  Make sure it is completely super soggy.
  • Lay compost on that.  Throw in a few handfuls of red worms!
  • A topping of Straw mulch allows aeration yet keeps the compost moist!

The beauty of branches and twigs at the bottom of your raised bed is the decomposition process, which takes a long time, heats the soil above, allowing earlier planting and extending your summer season into fall!
Neighbors contribute their high quality nutritious kitchen trim, which can be part of the ‘green’ layer or dug in anytime, anywhere!
Ms Buckman tells how to ‘wake up’ your soil with a ‘cocktail of Kelp or Seaweed extract which you can buy in concentrate form known as Maxicrop in the US or Seasol in Australia!’  You can do it yourself with a ‘small cup of each ingredient (liquid kelp/molasses) mixed with a bucket of water’ to speed up the growth of microorganisms.  [Why not add a 1/2 cup to a cup of fish emulsion too?!]

Admin at this site says:  One important point that needs to be made about this raised tank garden. There is NO metal Bottom to the Tank Garden. It has no base. The tank is just a hoop to hold all your organic matter in. Water is allowed to escape at the bottom and leach out into the surrounding soil. Do not use tanks with a metal base. If you have a tank with a metal base – consider turning it into a Wicking Bed Garden. Some people say wicking beds are the very best way to garden because you will never need to water your garden.  Read about how to make one here.

See more at EcoFilms

I’m always encouraging you to make good soil because it is the living foundation of your garden!  Healthy soil; an abundance of yummy veggies!

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Say what?!  Why is Hugelkultur, ‘hoogel kultoor,’ considered a Permaculture* technique? It resuses logs – freshly downed or old, wood debris right in place. It fits the needs of the land – less to no water, self fertilizing soil building! ‘Hugel’ means hill in German.  In this case, steep is good, tall makes for easier harvesting!  It is another form of composting in place, or building a raised bed, with more benefits, concentrating heat and nutrients!  Sepp Holzer has used the technique, but never called it Hugelkultur.  His wonderful method is diagrammed in the image.

Holzers version of Hugelkultur, hill planting, is now adopted by Permaculture gardeners.

Paul Wheaton at RichSoil.com explains it simply:

‘Hugelkultur is nothing more than making raised garden beds filled with rotten wood. This makes for raised garden beds loaded with organic material, nutrients, air pockets for the roots of what you plant, etc. As the years pass, the deep soil of your raised garden bed becomes incredibly rich and loaded with soil life. As the wood shrinks, it makes more tiny air pockets – so your hugelkultur becomes sort of self tilling. The first few years, the composting process will slightly warm your soil giving you a slightly longer growing season. The woody matter helps to keep nutrient excess from passing into the ground water – and then refeeding that to your garden plants later. Plus, by holding SO much water, hugelkultur could be part of a system for growing garden crops in the desert with no irrigation.’ He does caution about what kinds of woods not to use, and recommends the best ones to use.

Hugelkultur as diagrammed at Paul Wheaton's site RichSoil.comHolzer’s diagram shows one log.  At Wheaton’s site the diagrams show a veritable lumber yard pile!  Gradually the pile decomposes making super nutrients!  Lay down your logs – don’t be shy, stack ’em deep, twigs, branches as per the images. Fill with dry brown leaves if you have them. If you are taking up sod, turf, lay it over the top of the logs upside down, cover with soil! Plant!

You can make borders if you wish – dense hardwood logs, stones you removed from the soil you gathered.  There are so many terrific ways to vary making a Hugelkultur garden! Use what you have about, do what fits your site needs. With urban neighbors nearby or woodlands, street side to backyard, it works! Start small, add some each year, or do huge if you have the materials available!

This might not be a project to start at the beginning of a rainy season. Now would be excellent! Get some plants on the mound right away. Vines with big leaves are terrific to protect the soil from washing away, let the soil settle, get the system percolating. Squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins. Use some allysum as filler.

Perfect in areas short on water because after it’s established, the first two years, it needs NO irrigation!  It is self feeding, no fertilizer needed!

Lawns to slopes! Hugelkultur terraces act like mini bioswales to slow, spread and sink rainwater!  That’s Hugelkultur farmer Glenn Kangiser’s planted slope in the image below!  Would love to see your images if you give it a go!

Hugelkultur farmer Glenn Kangiser's planted slope!See all the details, and Paul Wheaton’s thoughtful therapy on how to talk with your skeptical friends and neighbors, and tons of images!  Click on every image to go to a thread about it! Marvelous inspiring ideas!  I used to say garden anywhere, now I’m saying Garden EVERYwhere!

* “Permaculture uses ecological design to build self-sufficient human systems that meet our needs while regenerating and healing the natural environment. Central to the practice of permaculture are three core ethics, taken from the study of cultures which have traditionally lived in balance with nature: care for the earth, care for people, share the surplus.” Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara, sbperm2006@googlegroups.com

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