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Artichoke Big Beautiful Glorious!

Artichokes! Big, Beautiful and Glorious! Some call them ‘architectural!’ 

This is a love story that has taken place over many years of taking their pictures in all their stages!

They are a unique garden plant for several reasons!

  • The plants are huge, often with a mature 6’+ silvery wing span.
  • The perennial varieties’ central stem dies and is replaced by pups.
  • They are a member of the thistle tribe of the sunflower (Compositae) family, with spiny fruits and leaf stems! Artichokes, chamomile, cardoons, lettuce and culinary dandelions are in the same family.
  • Their blossom is a beautiful brilliant violet-blue!
  • Long lived! Commercial farmers grow Green Globe Artichokes for 5 to 10 years!
  • Unusual way to eat them, part of the bracts and the ‘heart.’ They are a culinary delicacy to those who enjoy that taste and texture!
  • In 1947 Marilyn Monroe was crowned Castroville CA’s first Artichoke Queen! Artichoke Festival June 1-2, 2019!

Artichoke Center of the World Castro CA WP Artichoke Festival Marilyn Monroe First Queen 1947

Growing your Artichoke is easy! 

First you do have to decide if you really want one because they are so big. And that space becomes dedicated if you are growing perennial types. Granted, 20 to 30 Artichokes per year per that big footprint doesn’t make sense compared to the continuous immense production of pole beans, zucchini, chard and lettuces, but many do grow Artichokes because they are so amazing, have those humongous artsy leaves, are such a proud plant! Soul food sometimes trumps production! It’s just fun to pull up a chair and watch them grow!

If you decide Yes!, next you put in your gopher prevention system, or at the very least, plant your babies in wire baskets.

Successful location!

Per cals.Arizona.edu: Historians believe the Artichoke, Cynara scolymus, originated in the Mediterranean countries, possible Sicily or Tunisia, where they were first developed into an edible vegetable. In 77 AD the Roman naturalist Pliny called the choke one of earth’s monstrosities, but many continued to eat them. Nearly one hundred percent of all artichokes grown commercially in the United States are grown in California. Castroville CA, where the Artichoke Festival is held, is 19 miles northeast of coastal Monterey. Artichokes are the official vegetable of Monterey! Approximately 80% of the state’s total acreage lies within Monterey County. Nowhere else in the world is there such a concentrated area of production, consistently yielding nearly 4 million cartons of delicious artichokes every year. As of Sep 4, 2018, Italy, Egypt, and Spain are the top three growers worldwide.

The Green Globe artichoke prefers temperate climates — never too hot or cold. The central coast of California, where winters are relatively frost-free and summers are cool and moist with fog, is an ideal growing area. Other varieties, some new varieties, have more range of planting area, further south. I’ve gotten a good report from as far south as Long Beach CA, and they are growing well in Colorado even!

Per the California Artichokes Advisory Board, the main propagation method for planting Green Globe artichokes is with root sections attached to basal stem pieces. These cuttings, which are often referred to as “stumps,” [What I have been calling pups] are obtained from established fields scheduled for replanting. The newer varieties, which are annuals, are grown from seeds that are nurtured in a greenhouse and transplanted as seedlings in the field. As of 2007, annuals have overtaken perennial production.

For us growing at home, pups/stumps, are the easiest method. Just let it happen. The main stem dies back, the pups take over!

Artichoke Central Stalk has Died - Pups have taken over! Artichokes Abandoned in Fall return after spring rains!

See the central stalk that has died in the left image?! Beginners think their plant is dying when that central stem gives itself up, but hang on! This is an artichoke’s natural cycle; you didn’t do anything wrong! Pups come up around the parent plant when soil conditions are adequate. Those pups are here to do the job and make fruits as soon as they get bigger, right in the same season! They just keep on coming! The area where the plants on the right image are was completely abandoned, just dried dead stalks the previous fall. But these super healthy pups, taller than the original plants, came up after a major series of winter/spring rains!

Yes, you can grow them in containers, BIG containers! A 24” x 24” x 24” box with plenty of good compost in the potting mix can do the job. They will need much more frequent watering to form heavy, solid buds. And because of all that watering leaching Nitrogen away, they will need extra feeding.

For in-ground planting, they prefer light, fertile, well-drained soil—sandy or loam is ideal. Two reasons artichoke plants fail are summer drought and winter soil that’s waterlogged. Adding compost and castings improves soil’s ability to retain water in summer and drain in winter.

The Right Selection of Seed Varieties makes the difference! What do the farmers grow?

Most of the newer annual varieties do prefer a Mediterranean climate but are more tolerant of weather fluctuations and can be planted in other areas and at differing times. For farmers this means that artichokes can be brought to market all year long to satisfy eager artichoke aficionados. For us home gardeners it means a more steady harvest! Cornell’s List

Artichoke Purple Variety of Big Heart Lompoc CA Steve JordanHere are three seed varieties you might consider ~

These are grown by Steve Jordan of Baroda Farms, who bases his choices on varieties commonly found in Italy and France! He is growing some in Lompoc CA, 160 miles south of Castroville, and others along the Colorado River near Parker, AZ – different state, different climate! Here are his descriptions:

  1. Developed in the mid-1980s by a California grower named Rusty Jordan, the big heart is aptly named. It is endowed with a large, fleshy base and weighs in at over a pound. This slightly purple thorn less, 3 1⁄2-5 1⁄2″ giant—the first patented annual artichoke grown from seed—is excellent for stuffing.
  2. The dense and rotund Omaha artichoke (up to six inches wide) owes its striking appearance to its sharply tapered red-and-green leaves. The Omaha is less bitter than many artichoke varieties.
  3. The blocky and vividly colored purple **king** has distinctive green spots at the tips of its leaves. Usually four inches in diameter and bred from Romanesco varieties mixed with other Italian artichoke strains, the king typically weighs more than a pound in peak season. [Plus it is said to be meatier, sweeter] See more!

In addition, here are nine different varieties, how they are different, and pointers about how they are to be cooked, or not, and eaten! From big ones to babies, check out Karen Shimizu’s great post! (The choke referred to is the fuzzy part of the interior attached above and to the heart. It is fibrous and not eaten. If the bud is allowed to bloom, the choke becomes the flowers/inflorescence!)

Start looking about! Experiment! There are many new options! If you are buying from a nursery, do find out exactly which kind of artichoke you are buying. Is it a perennial type like a globe, or if planted from seed, exactly which kind of seed? You need to know this so you can give it the proper care and know what to expect of it.

Companions!

Artichokes have few insect pests, and suffer from few diseases, so companion planting is pretty much a moot point for them. Rather, you plant plants that need the same soil and moisture next to them, outside that anticipated dripline, on the sunny side of that big shademaker! Since most artichoke plants are cut close to the ground during their dormant cold weather period, the area is open for planting then. In SoCal you can have a growing garden almost any time of the year right there.

Planting!

From seeds for annual varieties

To grow in a colder short season area, Northern Star, Emerald and Imperial Star are great choices. In warmer areas you could try these if you want to get an extra early start.

To get first year buds, plant as soon as you can because to set their buds artichokes need a period of vernalization, at least two weeks of cold temperatures below 50°F! January is a chance, but in Santa Barbara SoCal, our last average frost date is Jan 28! Artichokes are frost sensitive, so cover them on possible frost nights. Have your transplants ready to go Jan through March latest. In warmer areas, planting in fall brings an abundant crop March, April, May, and May flowering!

Sow seeds ¼” deep. Planting indoors will be needed to give them the temperature around 70-75°F to germinate and will take two to three weeks to sprout. Expect 70% germination, so sow heavily. To avoid damping off, cover the surface of your medium with vermiculite.

If you want a high yield, give them the room to do it! Planting them 3 feet apart is good, but some large varieties, in super conditions, might need 4-foot spacing. When in doubt, give them more!

From pups of ‘perennial’ varieties like Globe!

Know that most varieties survive only down to about 20 degrees F, so if you want to grow artichokes as a perennial, plan to be around to give them protection during the winter months. In the North, pick hardy varieties like Northern Star, Violetto and Grande Buerre. In warmer southern areas plant Green Globe, Imperial Star, Symphony and Green Globe Improved, or purple-budded selections, such as Opera, Tempo and Concerto.

You can gather a ‘stump,’ a root section attached to basal stem piece, from a fellow gardener or your local nursery. For these perennials, no replanting is required…after blooming, in July, with the peak of summer heat coming, we cut them back. They re-sprout in August, leaf out in the fall, and grow through winter, then produce again the next spring.

See Jessica Walliser’s post for additional excellent overwintering tactics in cold climates!

Care and Maintenance

Green Globe artichoke fields are maintained in perennial culture for five to ten years. Each cropping cycle is initiated by “cutting back” the tops of the plants level to the ground or several inches below the soil surface to stimulate development of new shoots. The buds get smaller and more numerous in the later years, because they’re producing from side-branches off the main stem. When this happens, divide the crowns and transplant them into their own space. They’ll produce for several more years before you have to start again from seed or fresh seedlings. Peak season is March through May and again to a smaller degree in October.

Water & Food A lot of water to the dripline and well drained soil! Add plenty of compost and worm castings for good water retention. Your artichokes are a hefty plant and require a lot of Nitrogen too. Since watering leeches Nitrogen from your soil, feed your plants more frequently than you would your other plants. Such a huge plant has lateral surface roots to the mighty dripline, give it plenty of compost out that far. Just before bud set, give your Biggie some tasty chicken manure! Water well so the nutrients soak in. During the season, you can layer on compost. Whether manure or compost, or both, cover with mulch so the amendment stays moist and feeds the soil. Get that shovel way under those leaves! Extra water at bud set produces large, dense, artichokes.

Pests & Diseases

Though there are few of either, ants and aphids can be a problem.

Artichoke Pups Pests Ants & Aphids

The three pups above are suffering from an ant/aphid infestation. You can see they aren’t able to get their proper nutrients, the leaves are light green. Or maybe they were weak first and the aphids were looking for soft chow. Maybe they can be saved. Get out the hose; spray away at full force and do it again for two, three days until they are all gone! Feed up your pups – some compost and manure – they need lots of Nitrogen. In the cooler time of year, give them a quick foliar feed of fish emulsion that is easy for them to uptake.

Put down a Sluggo type of slug/snail killer to prevent young plants from being nibbled.

Yes, like so many plants, artichokes get Powdery mildew too, a white coating on foliage caused by fungi, that thrive in moist, warm weather. It doesn’t usually kill the plant outright, though it slows it down. The fungal spores overwinter on plant debris, so clean up the beds in fall. Water early in the day and no overhead watering.

Botrytis blight can coat older leaves. If only a few leaves are infected by the blight, remove and destroy them. Treat the plant with a fungicide such as neem oil. Avoid overhead watering. IPM info

Harvesting One plant can produce up to 30 artichokes of different sizes!

When Your Artichokes are Harvest Ready

The artichoke on the left above is starting to open, just past prime harvest time. The one on the right is ready to go! Harvest artichokes as soon as the bottom bud bracts start opening out from the bud. That’s when there are the largest and most tender artichoke hearts, and reduces the risk of aphids and their ant attendants, pincher bugs/earwigs from moving into the buds! But that slight opening of the bracts is not a deterrent to most fans! Cut a 1- to 3-inch section of stem with each bud to avoid those spiky bract tips.

Bonnie Plants says: When you have harvested all buds on a stem, cut the stem to the ground. For large, established plants, prune the entire plant back by a third to spur a fall harvest.

4.22.19 Super Tips Per Dale Huss | VP Artichoke Production | Oceanmist.com

‘I would leave the center bud on the plant until it’s ready to harvest. Then the “secondaries” will grow at a faster rate if temperatures are right (warmer). I would not take the center bud off early because if harvested right – it’s one of the best artichokes to eat. Nor, would I leave it on the plant for the same reason. [LOL]

The original plant will die off and one of the “pups” or side shoots, or ovuli will initiate growth and produce in late fall or early spring depending on weather. Around the base of each “spent” stalk are 8 to 12 dormant buds that will initiate growth. Each of these buds that grow will eventually produce artichokes if they get the “chill” they need.’

Chill is a key point to remember. In SoCal about the end of April it’s no longer so cool. Don’t be surprised if these little buds just open and die. The plant doesn’t any longer support their growth. Again, you did nothing wrong. This time it’s the weather at your location.

Storage

Store artichoke buds in the refrigerator as soon as possible after harvesting. Add a few drops of water or mist the stems only. Don’t wash them. Too much water and they spoil faster. Put them in a perforated plastic bag, keep in the coldest part of your refrigerator, usually the crisper, for up to 3 weeks.

If you want to save the artichoke in the freezer, it has to be cooked first. Sprinkle cooked artichokes with lemon juice before freezing.

What if you don’t harvest the fruits? Brilliance! Some gardeners grow them for the blossoms, not the fruit! And they bring lots of pollinators!

Artichoke Bud to Blooms Sequence Artichoke Brilliant Purple Bloom - Thistle Family

SeedSaving preserves the best of our local plants, plants adapted to our area!

Artichoke Dried Flowers ready for SeedSaving

If you let one of your artichokes flower, you can wait until it gets to the seeding stage. When the flower head is quite dry the seeds can be collected. Don’t be fooled by the exterior dried look. Part the fuzz down into the flower’s core, pull on a pinch worth of tufts and see if it is dry down in that middle. Sometimes it will be green and moist. If you pull then, the tuft just breaks off. If that’s the case, if you don’t need that space, it may take another month before it’s dry enough on the plant. It’s very dense in there, so no air gets in to dry things. Hope for heat! If you can, let it dry on the mother plant in situ, as it would in nature. It is collecting Mom’s mojo!

Artichoke Flower Still has Color! Artichoke Flower Tufts are Still Green

See that little telltale purple in the center of the left image? Still green on the right. They need to dry a lot more before the seeds will be dry enough to collect!

Artichoke Tufts Broken Off, No Seed Artichoke Seeds

If you don’t dig deep enough, the tufts may simply break away. You will have to push pretty hard to get deep enough to get the seeds.

An easier way to collect the seeds, though it doesn’t get as much mojo from the mother plant, is to cut the head off when it turns brown. Tie a paper bag (not plastic that holds the moisture) over the head, let dry in a cool dry place. Once the flower head is completely dry, shake vigorously and voila, you got seeds! For most of us home gardeners that’s plenty of seeds. If it is a perennial variety, cut it back to ground level. Stake the area where it will regrow; plant in the remaining space until the pups come up later. If it is an annual variety, then the space where your plant was becomes available.

Splendid Artichoke Fruit!


Delicious ways to prepare your fabulous artichoke!

Artichoke Shaved Salad Chef Sarah Grueneberg John Kernick

Shaved Artichoke Salad by Chef Sarah Grueneberg ~ Tasty photo by John Kernick

Basic: If you harvested a bit late and ants/critters have gotten in, put your artichokes in a bowl and fill with hot water, keeping the artichokes under water. The critters will float right to the top and you can pour them out! Cut an inch off the top – a serrated knife works well. Those thorns have a bite! Trim the stem off at the base so the artichoke can sit up while you are cooking it. Do a last minute check in the outer lower petals to assure yourself the critters and any debris are gone. Put them in a steamer basket, cook 25 to 35 mins. Add more water if necessary. Pierce with a paring knife to test the bottom for tenderness; leaves should come off easily when they are done. Use as you like! Right then with a flavored oil or butter dip, or in any other way that you love or want to try!

Common & tasty, eat the artichoke heart, and, dipped in melted garlic or lemon butter, pull the bracts between your teeth to squeeze out the flesh at the base of the bract! Eat the tender heart bite by bite! Delish! If you will be using the heart in recipes, harvest “baby” artichokes—picked before the prickly inner “choke” develops. Cut it to the size you want, chill and add to a tasty salad with a vinegar or lemon dressing. You can marinate the hearts and use them later in salads. Precook, split the Artichoke in half, grill, stuff; eat with a dip of your choice and offer that squeeze of lemon. Add them to stir-fry and pasta dishes, even stews. Ice cream?! Of course! Mix in a tad of Fennel and Lemon or other favored flavors!!

However, these 8 chefs win the award for creative artichoke cookery! Take a peek, check out the amazing recipes!

Artichokes have a long history… In 1699, John Evelyn said: The bottoms can be baked in pies (“with Marrow, Dates, and other rich ingredients”); and in Italy, he adds, artichokes are broiled, basted with “sweet Oyl” and served up with orange juice and sugar.

Here’s to you creating your own love story with your artichokes!
Happy Planting!

All but one of the plant images, the purple Kings, were taken at two of Santa Barbara CA’s Community Gardens by Cerena Childress

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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!

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

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!

Coolish April temps have delayed sweet pepper plantings. Night temps are still dipping below 55°. Soon… Sweet peppers need nighttime temps that are steadily above 55°F, some say 60, and soil temps above 65°F. If planted too soon, sometimes they miss their natural sequence of production, and never produce. Best to replant if you suspect this is happening. See Best Planting Temps Per Veggie!

May, June Planting Timing

MAY is time for cantaloupe, sweet bell 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. Castings improve germination and germination is sooner.

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 tomato varieties at Bonnie Plants! 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.

May Companion Planting

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. Plant the Basil beside the tom basin. The deeper tomato roots will get water used to water the Basil!
  • 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 & Cukes 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!
  • Chamomile is a love! Pretty, great tea, known as the “plant doctor,” chamomile has been known to revive and revitalize plants growing near it. That’s especially good to know for plants that are susceptible to diseases. Plant it by plants that are wilts susceptible, like your tomatoes & cucumbers .
  • 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. Mulch only if your soil temps are up to par. Otherwise, wait, so the mulch doesn’t keep your soil cool.

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. In Santa Barbara a good choice can be White Clover. Get seed at Island Seed & Feed.

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 over summering Brassica – broccoli, kale. They like cool soil, so pile it on good and deep, 4 to 6 inches, or plant a dense understory of living mulch. 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.

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 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. The exception is winter plants in the Brassica family – Broccoli, Kales. They don’t interact with mycorrhiza.

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 like peppers 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 guanos 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! Some sites say with good starting soil you shouldn’t need to amend during the season. Your plants will tell you if they do need more food. Maybe your soil wasn’t perfect. Maybe your plant has phenomenal production and gotten hungry. When production slows down, decide if you want more. Feed your plant a bit and see what happens.
  7. 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.
  8. Harvest promptly. Insects and diseases can signal when plants/fruits 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.
  9. 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.
  • Squash Bugs like your Zucchini and other squash, cucumber and melons. Plant radish and WHITE potatoes amongst them to repel the bugs. Let some of the radish grow full height, eat the others as usual! You will get three crops instead of just one! IPM info
  • 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 ahead of time, or ASAP when you put seeds and transplants in.  IPM notes
  • 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. Calendula is a trap plant for them. See more

Beautiful graceful design of Hugelkultur style compost!

Now is 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!

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, marigold, 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



April images April brought our Santa Barbara CA Community Gardens lovely flowers – Poppy fever, baby birds, flavorful herbs, the starts of many veggies, inspiring and tasty Artichokes! It’s only $67/yr for a 10X20’ plot that will produce more than you anticipate! Check out these images and informative comments! Happy Gardening!  

2019 Mother’s Day is May 12! Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts! Get living gifts started now! Click here

See the entire May 2019 GBC Newsletter!

May 2019! Radiant Flowers & Tasty Veggies!

The Magic of Melons ~ Cantaloupe, Honeydew!
Pollination: Honeybees, Squash Bees & Bumblebees!

Mulching ~ Why, When, With What, How Much?!
Artichokes, A Wild & Wonderful Experience!

Upcoming Gardener Events! SBCC 18th Annual Plant Sale! Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Spring Native Plants SALE is finishing May 5! International Permaculture Day, Fairview Gardens Events & Programs – Summer Camp. Quail Springs Permaculture Farm Events! 2020 International Permaculture Conference Argentina!
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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!Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! 

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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 green manure!

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! See some smart design ideas and tips at the Magic of Permaculture!

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? Design to plant so tall plants don’t shade out the shorties – generally that is tall in the North, short in the South. If you have only morning sun, you plant tall in the West, vice versa for only afternoon sun. 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 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. Plant pretty calendula or borage 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 take full sun all year. 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 them 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!

Where will biggies like that Winter Hubbard Squash, pumpkin, squash or melon, artichoke fit or is there really enough space for it per its production footprint? Do you need it 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 a while. 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, read a bit and snooze.

Social at Davie Village Community Garden in Vancouver's West EndOr a social area, table, chairs, umbrella. Have candlelight summer 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, 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. They do double duty 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.

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 you planted and snails/slugs are perpetually hungry. We won’t speak about gophers. Add to your number of seeds to account for surprises and gardener error. Get enough for succession plantings.

If you are a SoCal gardener, you may plant several times over a season. 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.

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 notes on for next summer’s planning!

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

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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!

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Perennials Edible Vicki Mattern

If you have enough space for them, and for winter and summer favorites and staples as well, they are just the ticket! Save time. No replanting because a perennial is a plant that grows year after year. Lucky for us coastal SoCal gardeners, lots of plants act as perennials here since we have such a temperate climate. As a system that more closely mimics nature, and gives a longer growing season, expect higher yields! One of the beauties of perennial garden plants is they usually only need to be split to start a new plant! Another saving. Pick hardy varieties right for your climate and soil. These days, SoCal gardeners, give special consideration to drought tolerant perennials.

Mediterranean Favorites All those wonderful herbs – marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, winter savory.

There are many edible perennials! Alpine strawberries, asparagus, chives, French sorrel, lavender, lemon grass, peppermint, various peppers, rhubarb, society garlic.

Would you believe, Artichoke?! 

Edible Perennial Artichoke Plant Fruits

A type of thistle. Depending on the plant’s vitality, commercial growers let them grow 5 to 10 seasons! Full sun, grows well in all soils with compost. Lots of water is required, as well, so water deeply every 2-3 days, but they are drought tolerant once established. They produce about mid-summer, often sending up a second crop in fall. In the very best growing conditions you may be able to harvest artichokes throughout the year. From a well loved 3-5 year old plant you can get dozens and dozens! Gophers do love them, so please protect them – plant in a large basket or do what you do, ‘k? When they get big and happy, simply split off the new pups for new plants. The Green Globe cultivar is the variety of choice of California commercial growers, and California produces 100% of all commercially grown artichokes in the United States. We know how to do ‘chokes!

Tree Collards, affectionately called TCs

Edible Perennial Tree Collards from Africa
‘We’re thankful for caritas seeds donators, whose collective action to provide sustainable solutions to hunger serves as a constant blessing for countless families in Kenya!’ Women Farmers

It’s a full circle. Reputed to come from Africa, and have been propagated and passed on by cuttings within African American communities in this country, especially the Los Angeles area, we are now sending them back to Africa! Ask for cuttings at your local Farmers Market.

They are also called tree cabbages. There are a few varieties, collards, cabbage, kale, that grow slowly on an upright husky central stem. TCs grow 6′ tall average, but up to 11 feet! They withstand light frosts, and like some other Brassicas, are reputed to taste sweeter after the frost!

Brassica family, Tree Collards can thrive for four to five years (and possibly 20 years), it is probably better to rotate them after three years, since they remove so much calcium from the soil. Get new cuttings well started before you remove an old bed. They need full sun and rich, moist soil. See a LOT more about them at http://treecollards.blogspot.com/ Also, Richards Farms has a great info sheet.

Know this: TCs are high in Calcium, and unlike spinach, chard, and beet greens, collard greens don’t contain high amounts of oxalic acid, an anti-nutrient that can deplete your body of important minerals like Iron. Eat them fine chopped in your frittata/quiche, as wraps, steamed over rice, in your tasty bean soup, as a pretty stir fried bed of greens under your protein slices! Finely shredded raw leaves may be added to salads, sandwiches and tacos.

Dragon Fruit Cactus Dessert! 

Edible Perennial, Amazing Dragon Fruits
May 2012, 66-year-old mother of four, Edita Dacuycuy, was in Malacanang, Philippines, to receive her presidential award as the year’s most outstanding high-value commercial crop farmer. There’s more to her Story, about her daughter.

You have to love cacti to appreciate how this plant looks. But the FRUIT! An amazing array of different colors, a delicate taste, textures from creamy to crunchy, a shape that will never bore you! Easy to grow from seeds or starts right here in Santa Barbara CA! Just stuff a segment in the ground, water, and it will grow. Put it near your fence and tie it along the way. True to its cactus forebears, little space, care or water needed.

The Ultimate – Perennial Tree Crops

Four excerpts from Mother Earth News, A Permaculture Farm: The Perennial Revolution of Oikos Tree Crops. A Michigan permaculture farm defies the agricultural status quo by growing in harmony with nature as told by Eran Rhodes:

The Oikos Tree Crops landscape is, in a sense, complete. There are a plethora of nut trees: pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, hickories, buckeyes and, of course, oaks. There is just about every fruit or berry tree, shrub, vine or crawling groundcover imaginable: nannyberry, bearberry, buffaloberry, snowberry, thimbleberry, and berry much more! And for every type of tree or bush or vine, numerous varieties. The main food staple that has been missing from the food forest is perennial vegetables.

Besides all the wild edibles that grow as weeds around the property, such as dandelions, clover, plantain, nettles, asparagus, among many others, we are now propagating dozens of other edible plants that can become like weeds, and grow on their own, either as perennials, or by self-seeding. Ken does not follow the general public’s fear of weeds — utilizing and working with nature’s abundant diversity, he has never had one weed take over completely.

Wild varieties of squashes and melons are growing on their own out in the fields, and will hopefully spread on their own in the coming years. Earth peas with their exploding pods will become a permanent edible legume. Perennial wheat and other grasses with edible seeds will slowly replace the aggressive bindweed. Tubers, such as Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, chufa, oca, wild mountain yams and others are all thriving. We even have a wild variety of crabgrass that originates in Russia, and we cultivate the seeds for food. We have dozens of perennial salad greens, quinoa (a close relative of the common weed lamb’s-quarters), rhubarb, and even tomatoes and peppers.

Our model would be the perfect homestead system for anyone interested in truly living off the land with minimal tilling.


This brief write-up is meant as a teaser to intrigue you, disturb some of your thinking! If Perennial Gardening really makes you happy, see Eric Toensmeier’s list of all lists of edible perennial plants. Peruse his website for valuable tips!

May it go well with you and your new Food Forest!

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This is your last chance to plant more rounds of winter veggies you love the most, and the littles that grow year round.  Peas are especially heat sensitive, but we Coastie pea lovers can get one more round!  At this time be sure they are mildew resistant varieties!  But it’s really time to think in terms of those summer treats you love too!  Space is an issue now unless you have fields!  Those of us in 10’ X 20’ Community Garden plots need to reserve space and prepare those soils.  I plant some of the smaller border plants, like lettuces, where they will be on the sunny side, then add the bigger plants that need more heat behind them in March.

Plant LETTUCE, beets, brocs, cabbages, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, radish, spinach, turnips.  Asparagus and artichoke bare-root.  Or put in asparagus from seed in March.

Clean things up.  Prune your trees, remove dead wood in your herbs.  Divide clumps of Society garlic.  On ground that needs more humus, lay down some bagged steer or well aged horse manure, let the rains wash the nutrients down, in about 2 months dig it in.

Continue with your harvesting, sidedress your producing plants, do your snail prevention.  After rains, foliar apply another batch of aspirin – stimulates growth, boosts the immune system, and baking soda and powdered milk to boost their immune system and act as a germicides.  Don’t forget to add a dash of liquid soap to make the mix stick!  Hold off on watering for a few days to let the potion do its job.  Your plants will thrive!

Select your plants Mindfully!  This takes more than a quick trip to the Nursery and buying whatever they have on hand.  But, hey, if that’s all the time you have, then go for it!  If you have the time, do some quick online comparisons at Universities that specialize in Mediterranean climates.  Check out this year’s All America Selections!  Ask at your local nursery why the varieties they have are their choices.

  • What pests or diseases did your plants have last year?  Select for resistance or tolerance.
  • Is that plant heat tolerant, bolt resistant?
  • What is the disease or pest cycle?  Can you plant at another time, just a few weeks later to avoid them?!
  • Is it a long producing pole plant, or a heavy one-time bush producer?
  • How much space will that amazing plant take up versus it’s return?
  • Is that variety better for canning or table eating?
  • Do you want a hybrid, or will you be seed saving and need an heirloom that plants true year to year?  In a community garden, with all kinds of plants close together, few true seeds can be saved.

Start Your Seedlings!  If you have a greenhouse, and it can be a very small humble enclosure, even a row cover setup, start your seedlings now to plant mid to late March!  At home?  Easy!  Use flats, peat pots, six packs,  punctured-for-drainage plastic containers reused from your kitchen.  Sterilized potting soil holds moisture and is easy for tiny roots to penetrate.  Put them in your greenhouse or with grow lights 7 to 10 inches above, on 14 to 16 hours a day.  Put a plant heating pad underneath, a heat cable, or a moisture protected 15/20 watt bulb in a ‘trouble light,’ for warmth, 70 degrees F.  For better germination, spray aspirin on your seeds before planting!  Another great trick is seed soaking and presprouting!

When they are ready, let them sit outdoors in the daytime shade for a week, then in the sun for a week, then all day the 3rd week.  That process is called hardening off.  The beauty of seeds is you can get the very best plants, and varieties your nursery doesn’t carry!

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Happy Winter Solstice/Yule, Dec 21st!

I like this saying I found at the Old Farmers Almanac:  Old Frost, the Silversmith has come:  His crisping touch is on the weeds.  – Charles Dawson Shanly

And, bless him, his touch will soon be on our veggies!  Some will love it; kales are said to taste better after a good frost.  Basils, some peppers and other tender plants will fold and die.  Gather seeds while you still can.  It’s tuck & roll time –  ready a stack of covers in case we get some hard freezes.  Keep a diligent weather watch.  Watering the evening before an anticipated freeze will help your plants withstand damage.

December is winter’s June, harvest time! 

Brocs, cauliflowers, peas, are all coming in now, especially if you planted in August, September!

Lettuces are thriving, keep plucking the lower leaves.

Keep harvesting your chard and beet leaves to keep ahead of the leafminers.  Don’t over water making the leaves too soft and inviting.

Cabbages take time to get to the stage to form that super head of tight fitted leaves.  Don’t despair, they are working on it.  Lay down Sluggo or do slug/snail maintenance around your cabbages to keep the pests from damaging your beauties.  Can you imagine what the plant would look like if the leaves were spaced out on a stalk?!  Pretty tall.  Feed lightly during winter to make Nitrogen easily available.  It’s cooler, so uptake is slower.

Your favas are busy gathering Nitrogen from the air, putting it into little nodules on their roots.  So are your peas, both legumes.  They do that!  Little to no feeding for them, they make their own N.

If you tuck in kitchen veggie trim, don’t be surprised if a few potatoes (they look like tomatoes, same family) pop up here and there.  If you like ‘em, let ‘em come if you have space!

If you have everbearer strawberries you may have few berries after a few warm days.  Even a single berry is such a treat!

Collards, kohlrabi and kales are very happy, providing excellent nutrition.  You can eat the leaves of all your Brassicas – brocs, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, and, of course, cabbages!

Carrots are coming!  Plant another round near your peas!  All kinds!  Mix the seeds up for surprises later!

Yes, you can still plant!  Start a new garden with or put in successive rounds of artichoke (give them 3’ to 4’ space), arugula, asparagus – Pat Welsh (Southern California Gardening) recommends UC-157, beets, brocs, Brussels sprouts, bunch onions, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, head and leaf lettuces, mesclun, peas, potatoes, radishes, and turnips!  As soon as one is done, plant another!

Put in some little bunch onion patches here and there but not by your peas!  Plant some of those little  Italian red ones – so pretty in your salad!  How about some garlic chives?  Mmm….

Remember, this is THE time to be planting your largest garlic cloves – they need twice the fertilizer, so make a super rich soil for them.  If you are so inspired, many plant on Winter Solstice day, Dec 21!  Plant skins on, or for more mojo, quicker sprouting, here is the way to prep your cloves Bob Anderson style:

  • Soak in water and baking soda for 16-24 hours before planting.  Soak separate strains separately. (One T soda to 1 gallon water, or a half teaspoon in a cup of water).  Remove the skins – start at the bottom being careful not to damage the growing tip OR the bottom, because that’s where the roots grow from!
  • Just before planting soak nude cloves in rubbing alcohol for 3-5 minutes and plant immediately.

SideDressing – seedlings up 2 to 3 inches get hungry!  Liquid fertilizer once a week is quick and easy for them to uptake.  Feed your other plants every 6 weeks.  That means, sprinkle fertilizer around your plants or down a row, and dig it in a little, especially before a rain!  Water it in.  Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings.  We don’t want a lot of tender new growth that a frost would take.  Some people love their manures, others love Island Seed & Feed’s Landscape Mix, and some love their stuff that comes in a pretty box!  Plants love a fish/kelp mix.  Try the powdered version for a little less stink.  If you decide to do foliar teas, pick a warm, dry, or breezy morning so your plants will dry well before evening.  Do what makes you and your plants happy!  If you haven’t been fertilizing, think about how hard your plant is working.  Big brocs, for example.  When it starts to head, when plants start to produce, that’s your cue to help them along.

Gophers.  You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after the rains.  If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.
Aphids?  Watch for curled leaves, squish or wash any or the colony away immediately.
White flies.  Flush away, especially under the leaves.  They are attracted to yellow, so keep yellowing, yellowed leaves removed.
Slimy Slugs, Snails.  Sluggo before they even get started, right when your seedlings begin to show, when you put your transplants in!  Once stopped, there will be intervals when there are none at all.  If you notice tiny children snails, lay down another round.

Make Organic, Sustainable Holiday Garden Gifts!  Plants themselves make wonderful gifts!  Start perusing catalogs for your Spring planting!

Happy Holidays, of all kinds, to you and yours! 
Garden Blessings, Cerena

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Herbs and Your Winter Veggies

Lavender, Marguestau at http://lestroisamies.wordpress.com/

Herbs – Pretty, aromatic, to repel pests!
The flavors that makes veggie dishes come alive!

Now’s the time for them to get a good start, with fall and winter rains coming. Divide the ones you already have growing now as your plants slow down. Rosemary and tarragon tend to root better in the fall, so gather cuttings now, and if you want to, grow them indoors over the winter. Tuck your divisions, cuttings, or new transplants, in here and there. Realize some of them are a bit invasive. You will have a steady supply at your finger tips! Either allow them to ramble – perhaps as ground cover, plant in a container, or keep harvesting and make several bouquet garni for your friends. Or pot up some of the babies you split off to give as gifts! Any gift you give to a gardener, tie on some flowering herbs with green garden twine rather than ribbons with bows! That’s sustainable and a double gift! More on growing herbs at Gardener’s Supply Company!

Healthy herbs are vibrant, full leaved, have good color, grow robustly! I often grow them just because they are pretty and smell good. But they are more, much more! They are so aromatic they are said to repel pests! They add marvelous flavors to our food, and are said to have medicinal properties as well! When one item serves many functions, in permaculture that is called ‘stacking!’ YES, works for me!

Here are some great winter combos:

Winter Veggie

Herb to Repel its Pest or….

Artichoke

Tarragon

Beets, Chard

Onions, sage

Broccoli

Chamomile, dill, garlic, hyssop, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, rosemary, sage

Brussel Sprouts

Dill, garlic, hyssop, mint, nasturtium, onion, sage, thyme

Cabbage

Chamomile, dill, garlic, hyssop, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onions, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme

Carrots

Chives, leek, onions fool the carrot fly, oregano, rosemary, sage

Cauliflower

Dill, garlic, hyssop, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, rosemary, sage, thyme

Celery

Nasturtium, leeks, onions

Collards

Catnip, dill, garlic, hyssop, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, rosemary, sage, thyme

Kale

Dill, garlic, hyssop, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, rosemary sage, thyme

Lettuce

Onions

Chives, Garlic,
Onions, Leek

Beets improve production. Chamomile, dill, savory

Peas

[Enhanced by carrots] NO onions

Potatoes

Cilantro, dead nettle, horehound, marigold, onion, tansy

Strawberries

Borage, onions, sage


Common dishes, tasty cuisines, made with your favorite herbs:

Cilantro

Asian, Caribbean, Mexican!

Garlic

Asian, Indian, Mediterranean

Onions

Bulb, stems in any cooked dish, minced in salads, edible flowers on salads

Oregano

Pizza, spaghettis, meats, stews, lasagna, egg dishes – Mediterranean

Parsley

Minced and sprinkled over veggies and baked fish and squashes, in salads, fresh sprig on plate

Rosemary

Chicken, fish, lamb, pork – worldwide, retards food spoilage

Sage

Meats, soups & stews, potatoes & veggie dishes – Mediterranean

Winter Savory

Meats & stews, beans, any legumes, stuffings, Brussels Sprouts, cabbage, corn – European, Mediterranean

Thyme

Meats & stews, stuffings, pâtés – Asian, Creole, European, Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican

Enjoy more cooking details from Toronto, Ontario on Yvonne Tremblay’s page!

More tips to make it even better!

  • Angelica, Caraway, Dill & Dandelion are Lacewing habitat.
  • Chives planted around the base of fruit trees will discourage insects from climbing the trunk.
  • Garlic and yarrow are said to enhance the production of oils in herbs. Garlic is elegant, is marvelously odiferous, and yarrow has pretty ferny leaves and colors! Plant them freely. But specially grow yarrow near your compost so you can conveniently add leaves to your compost to speed decomposition.
  • Garlic improves the growth and health of roses and raspberries, general insect repellent, deters aphids, flea beetles!
  • Keep Fennel away from your garden. Fennel is disliked by most plants.
  • Though Feverfew is lovely and repels pests, it also repels bees.
  • Plant French Dwarf varieties of Marigold throughout the garden for beauty, but plant especially where you will plant tomatoes, potatoes, roses, and strawberries because they repel root knot nematodes (soil dwelling microscopic white worms) – but only where they are actually planted! To do the job, let them grow 3 to 4 months, then ‘plow’ them under as green manure and so the roots will decay in your soil. Marigolds do attract spider mites and slugs, have an herbicidal effect on beans and cabbage, and root secretions can inhibit the growth of some herbs. They are also called Spanish, Mexican or winter tarragon. The leaves and yellow flowers have a taste similar to French tarragon. Use sparingly in herb vinegars, dressings or dishes which call for tarragon. Marigold myths!
  • Hoverflies – larvae of these creatures resemble thin wasps, devour great numbers of aphids. They can be encouraged into your garden by planting Tagetes (Marigolds), Calendula and Nasturtiums.

Planting the ‘right’ things together can ‘double’ your yield per the space planted. Not only do plants dovetail, ie long rooted carrots with short rooted peas, and garlic, that doesn’t take up much space, can easily be snuggled on the sunny side of your winter Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale), improving the health and flavor of your veggies, but by including beautiful herbs in your garden, you save plants from pests, enhance growth, increase pollination – makes a real difference!

Ye olde disclaimer! Much of this info is anecdotal, but I’ve seen some of it act just the way it is claimed. There are contradictions on the web. When I find those, I leave the name off the list. Try these out for yourself. Here’s to flavorful and bountiful gardening!

Next week: BLACK FRIDAY Garden Gifts! Gifts to Give, Gifts to Get!

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