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Archive for the ‘Dry Farming’ Category

Disease Tomato Fusarium Wilt Fungi Resistant

You may have had your own tears, and understandably so. Late Blight of potatoes and tomatoes was the disease responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century. Spores are spread by rain/watering splash, insects, and wind, and through our hands and tools and through these mediums they can travel distances. Spore spread is most rapid during conditions of high moisture, marine layer days, and moderate temperatures, 60°-80°F.  Once established, the fungi can over-winter in your garden soil, on debris and weeds.

Fusarium Wilt is commonly found throughout the United States, is a soil-borne pathogen. Plants susceptible to Fusarium Wilt are cucumber, potato, tomato, eggplant, pepper and beans. Fusarium wilt causes foliage to yellow, brown spots on leaves, leaves to curve the length of the leaf, wilt, then turn brown and die. Your plants become stunted because they can no longer function properly.

The list of plants susceptible to Verticillium Wilt is impressive. You might have thought it was just tomatoes, but look: Peanut, Horseradish, Rutabaga, Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Pepper, Safflower, Hemp, Watermelon, citron Cantaloupe, honey dew, Pumpkin, Cotton, Okra, Mint, Radish, Rhubarb, Castor bean, Eggplant, Potato, Spinach, New Zealand spinach, SaIsify, Yard-long bean, Cowpea! Cucumber, tomatoes and strawberries are particularly susceptible.

Verticillium wilt is most active in humid climates. Cool nights and moist conditions, the kind that favors peas, tend to encourage it. It lives in the soil, entering plants through the roots and is drawn up to stems, leaves and fruit through water uptake. At the same time, it is robbing the plant of moisture. The first symptoms of verticillium are usually seen in wilting, yellowing and curling leaves. Discolored streaks are often seen in strawberry stems and runners, and in berry canes.

To determine if a plant is infected with bacterial wilt, press together two freshly cut sections of a stem and slowly pull them apart. If a “stringy” sap (bacterial growth and associated resins) extends between the cut ends, the plant has bacterial wilt.

Especially Tomatoes! And of those, Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts. 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 these 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 the fungi.

Western striped cucumber beetles are deadly to cucumbers. They are referred to as ‘plant-wounding insects’ and also transmit bacterial wilt. Feeding on blossoms and leaves, they carry the wilts and also spread it among squash, melons, and pumpkins. Cucumber beetles also vector viruses such as cucumber mosaic but do so much less efficiently than aphids. Spiders are one of the predators that eat the beetles. Let those spiders live! A tachinid fly and a braconid parasitoid wasp parasitize them. Grow plenty of flowers for these beneficial insects!

Radish have become my new religion! Radish repel the beetles! You do have to plant your radish ahead of installing your transplants or have it up before the seedlings start growing from seed. Grow your radish companion along where you will let the vine travel. The part of the vine growing up over an arch won’t be helped, so if you have space and infected soil, you may opt to keep your vines on the ground. Plant enough radish so you can eat some, but let  some grow out so the whole plant is big and protecting your cukes and other vines. Broccoli also repel cucumber beetles. Grow cucumbers under over summering Broccoli. Put in plenty of straw mulch to keep the brocs cool and the cukes off the ground. Whenever you see these beetles don’t fall for how cute they are. Squish.
Transplant rather than direct seed! Tiny seedlings are most susceptible to cucumber beetle feeding damage and to bacterial wilts.

Washington State Extension says:

Apply straw mulch! Straw mulch can help reduce cucumber beetle problems in at least 3 different ways. First, mulch might directly slow beetle movement from one plant to another. Second, the mulch provides refuge for wolf spiders and other predators from hot and dry conditions, helping predator conservation. Third, the straw mulch is food for springtails and other insects that eat decaying plant material; these decomposers are important non-pest prey for spiders, helping to further build spider numbers. It is important that straw mulch does not contain weed seeds and to make certain that it does not contain herbicide residues which can take years to fully break down.

Cucumber Beetles have their preferences! Bitter is their favorite. Not interested in watermelon at all, but watermelon does get the wilts, just from other sources! Anyway, see more details and rankings of varieties of different kinds of veggies. Varieties make a huge difference.

Planting and growing tips! 

  • Regarding soil fungi like Fusarium and Verticillium wilts/fungi, how you care for cukes and toms is super important! Cucumbers are even more susceptible than tomatoes to the wilts fungi, die pretty instantly, in about 3 days, if they get infected. So when you plant them, treat them similarly to your tomatoes if you have wilts fungi in your garden.
  • Plant cukes and toms on a raised mound/basin with the bottom of the basin above the regular soil level. This allows good drainage. Top that with a 1/2″ of compost, cover that with 1″ of straw to let in air and sun to dry the soil. Keep the LEAVES OFF THE GROUND from the get go. Leaves touching the soil is the main way toms get the wilts. Remove lower leaves that might touch soil when weighted with dew or water from watering. Keep a regular watch for new foliage at ground level and remove it. AVOID WATER SPLASH when watering at ground level. The fuzzy damp leaves of toms and eggplant are perfect fungi habitat.
  • When they are about a foot tall, water neighboring plants, but not your toms.  That keeps the soil drier near your plant, so the fungi can’t thrive there. Since toms have a deep taproot, they will get plenty of water from what you give neighboring plants. Water near them but not at them or on them. In fact there are farmers who dry farm tomatoes! Read more!
  • If you are comingling beans with cukes lower along a trellis, plant the beans between the raised cucumber mounds. Beans don’t get the wilts, but love the water, so lower is good. They are a big plant with continuous high production and short roots that need to be kept moist. Mulch ASAP with straw under cukes to keep leaves and fruit off the ground, and out of the insect zone. Put a stake in the middle of the basin so you know where to water when the leaves get dense. Water gently below the leaves at ground level, no splash. Keep those leaves dry. When your plant gets bigger you can remove lower leaves.
  • Since the fungi are airborne as well as soil borne, plant in different places as far apart as possible. Plant so leaves of one plant are not touching another plant. Remove sickened foliage ASAP to reduce fungi population and slow spreading. Prune on hot, dry, unwindy days, mid morning to midday, after dew has dried, so cuts can dry and heal with less chance of airborne fungi getting into them. Try not to touch the cuts after they have been made.  Use clippers for a clean cut. Wash your tools and hands often.

    Trimming away infected leaves is a sad and tedious process. It’s practically impossible not to spread the fungi as your touch leaves that have it and try to remove them without touching any other stems or leaves. The very cuts you make are open to fungi. Then, naked stems are susceptible to sunscald – see image below. You come back a few days later and more leaves are wilting. The disease is internal, has spread out to the leaves. At some point soon after that, a lot of gardeners pull the suffering plant. It’s done. Not good to leave it and let windborne fungi infect neighboring plants.

    Do not compost infected plants or trimmings. The fungi has amazing survival ability and being soil borne, it is right at home in your compost. Put it in the trash, carefully bagged so as not to spread or leave any trace. Wash your hands. If you can, burn the infected plants.

  • The wilts can’t be stopped. Sooner or later the plant leaves curl lengthwise, get the dark spots, turn brown then blacken and hang sadly. Plants can produce but the fruit doesn’t ripen properly if it does produce. It’s agonizing to watch. Sometimes they somewhat recover later in the season after looking totally dead. You had stopped watering them, summer heat dries the soil and kills enough of the fungi for the plant to be able to try again. But production is so little and fruits don’t ripen properly. It’s better to pull it, reduce the fungi population that can blow to other plants. The safest bet is to remove the entire plant. Get all of the root as best you can. The root is where the wilt’s mycelium first congregate and infected roots left in the ground will start the whole process again. Replant in a different place if possible.

Tomatoes pruned to remove diseased leaves of Fusarium and Verticilllium wilts are susceptible to sunscald.Preventive Foliar Mix that can help! 

Apply to newly installed transplants, and during the season every 2 to 3 weeks, so new growth will be covered. Wet both the undersides and tops of leaves. Per gallon add:

  • One dissolved regular strength aspirin
  • 1/4 Cup nonfat powdered milk
  • Heaping tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon mild liquid dish soap

After the tomatoes set, add some nitrogen. Boost your plant’s immune system with some worm castings at the same time. You don’t want to add too much nitrogen to your tomatoes before they set fruit. Too much nitrogen before fruiting leads to more leaves and less fruit. Add N only once. Stressed plants are the most susceptible to the fungus. Water regularly and deeply. Use well-balanced, slow-release organic fertilizers that aren’t overly heavy with nitrogen. A healthy plant tends to fight off the spores.

Blight can also be transmitted through seed, so NO seed saving from infected plants. Fresh seeds and resistant varieties are in order.

Remove volunteer tomatoes and potatoes. If they are a not a resistant or tolerant variety, when they get sick, they increase the chances of your resistant varieties having to fight harder to live, and your good dear plants may not win the battle.

Air circulation, plant staking and no touching. Air circulation allows the wind to blow through your plants. This allows the timely drying of leaves and it helps break up micro climates. If your plants are packed too tightly together, they themselves become barriers to drying. Staking your plants to poles and using cages helps them grow upright and it creates gaps between the tomato plants. You want wind and sun to reach through and around your plants. Moisture is needed for fungi to spread. Dry is good. Tomatoes should be planted with enough distance that only minor pruning is needed to keep them from touching each other.

Spray proactively. Wettable sulfur works. It is acceptable as an organic pesticide/fungicide, is a broad spectrum poison, follow the precautions. It creates an environment on the leaves the spores don’t like. The key to spraying with wettable sulfur is to do it weekly BEFORE signs of the disease shows. Other products also help stop the spread. Whatever you select, the key is to spray early and regularly.

At the end of the season remove all infected debris, don’t compost. Don’t leave dead tomato, eggplant or peppers in the garden to spend the winter. Pull weeds because spores can over-winter on weed hosts. Many weeds, including dandelions and lambsquarters, are known to host verticillium wilt. During our winter season, turn your soil about 10 inches deep. Let the soil dry and the fungi die. Burying the spores helps remove them, it disturbs cucumber beetle eggs and exposes snail eggs to die!

If you have space, crop rotation is an important tool in fighting wilt. If you’ve had trouble with wilt, don’t plant potatoes, eggplant, or other solanaceous vegetables where any of them have grown for at least four years.

Practice prevention, be vigilant. If you don’t have wilts in your soil you are so blessed! 

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city’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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Summer Solstice 2016 Santa Barbara CA by artist Lynn Fogel
Wonderful painting by Lynn Fogel inspired by the Santa Barbara CA Summer Solstice Parade!

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

May brought tasty zucchinis, the first cherry tomatoes were eaten. Lettuces. Peppers appeared. Eggplants are blossoming. Potatoes and carrots were harvested and Beans on the bush and vine. A cucumber, many more babies coming! Huge Seascape strawberries! Put harvesting containers on stakes near what you will harvesting there. Convenient and saves time.

Continue your harvesting, plant more! Definitely time for another round! Okra starts better now, eggplant is happy, and long beans started now like the heat of late summer when they produce those long grand beans as other beans finish! If a plant or two aren’t coming along well, replace them. A healthy plant will grow well and quickly in the warmer time coming.

Extend your harvest later into summer by planting more of everything except winter squash, melons, pumpkins, unless you live in the hot foothills. Seeds are fine, transplants are faster. From transplants, more celery, corn, eggplant, leeks, limas, okras, peanuts, peppers, soybeans, squashes, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Choose bolt resistant, heat and drought tolerant varieties. Time for Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson lettuces. Plant another round of anytime fillers: beets, carrots, chicory, chives, slo-bolt cilantro, leeks, green onions, small summer radish, warm season spinach.

Pat Mycorrhiza fungi right on the roots of all your transplants except Brassicas, when you put them in the ground. The fungi increase uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for it bulk at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta.

Remember these excellent companions! Combining them often gives two crops in the same place!

  • Pop in some tasty white potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Add some quick growing radish with zukes, and trellised together beans/cukes to repel cucumber beetles, the little guys with yellow/green stripes.
  • Also plant radishes with eggplants/cucumbers and zucchini act as a trap plant for flea beetles
  • Plant a flock of carrots intermingled with cilantro and chamomile! Just plain pretty.
  • Basil is a natural with tomatoes, smells great and is super nutritious! Super nutritious Culinary dandelions are thought to repel white flies, mosquitoes, tomato hornworms, aphids, houseflies, and asparagus beetles.

Flowering plants starting to produce need another feed, sidedressing. Give them a deep drink of tea or fish emulsion. Spade fork in some holes, pour your tea down them. if you don’t have skunks or other predators, give them a good fish emulsion/kelp liquid feed down those holes! Or pull back the mulch, scratch in a little chicken manure – especially with lettuces. Top with a 1/2″ of compost and some tasty worm castings! If you prefer organic granulated fertilizer sprinkle it around evenly. Recover with your mulch, straw, then water well and gently so things stay in place. That’s like giving them manure/compost/worm tea in place. If any of your plants are looking puny, have yellowing leaves, might give them a bit of blood meal for a quick pick me up.

Please always be building compost and adding it, especially near short rooted plants and plants that like being moist. Compost increases your soil’s water holding capacity.

Summer WATERING is a skill! The key to good looking fruits is regular watering and enough water. After you water stick your finger in the soil and see if is wet below or just at the surface. A general rule is an inch a week. Summer plants often need more during hot weather. If plants don’t get enough water, production is sporadic, fruits misshapen, they are susceptible to pests and diseases. Too much water brings ‘soft’ plants susceptible to aphids and leafminers.

  • Water early AM when possible to let plants dry off, avoid mildew.
  • Water at ground level with a long wand with a shut off valve, rather than overhead watering unless you plant is dusty. Dust brings whiteflies.
  • Keep seeds and emerging and young seedlings moist. Lay down some Sluggo type stuff, as soon as you have seeded, to jam up the slugs and snails before they have a chance to eat your prize babies.
  • Irregular watering makes beans and cucumbers curl, strawberries to have irregular shapes.
  • Chard needs plenty of water to make those big sweet leaves. However, chard naturally shuts down and droops in the heat of the day. Don’t mistakenly drown it!
  • Water beans, cukes, lettuces and short rooted varieties of strawberries more frequently. They are all workhorses producing fast and repeatedly, cukes making a watery fruit even. Lettuces need to put on growth fast to stay sweet. Heavy producers like beans need plenty, especially if they are closely planted.
  • Tomatoes have deep tap roots and can make do with little water. In fact, dry farming concentrates their taste!
  • Big plants like corn and zucchini need ample water as do huge vines like winter squash, melons, pumpkins. Stake the centers of vine basins so you know where to water the roots.

MULCH If you haven’t mulched yet, this is a good time to do it before we go into hot July, August, September. Replenish thin mulch. Use a soil feeding mulch, seedless straw works well. Use an inch or so under tomatoes. You want their soil to get a little air, the soil to dry some, and if you have it, the fungi to die. Otherwise you can put on, up to say, 6″ worth. The exception would be to leave soil under melons and other real heat lovers bare so the soil is good and HOT! Yes, they will need more water, so be sure your basin is in good condition and big enough so they get water out to their feeder roots. You can see the dripline of your plant by watering at the central area and seeing where the water falls off its leaves. Plus, mulch prevents light germinating seeds from starting – less weeds!

Pollination! On gray days, help your tomatoes by giving the cages or the main stems a few sharp raps to help the flowers pollinate. You can do that on sunny days too, best time is about 11 AM, to make more pollination, more tomatoes. Honey bees don’t pollinate tomatoes, so build solitary bee condos for native bees. Native bees, per Cornell entomology professor Bryan Danforth, are two to three times better pollinators than honeybees, are more plentiful than previously thought and not as prone to the headline-catching colony collapse disorder that has decimated honeybee populations. Plant plenty of favorite bee foods!

Pest prevention! One of the fastest things you can do is plant radish, a couple here, a couple there. They repel those cute but very nasty disease carrying cucumber beetles, are a trap plant for flea beetles. Plant enough for eating, leave one to grow up and protect your plants. If you are by road or in a dusty windswept area, rinse off the leaves to make your plants less attractive to whiteflies. Also, remove yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies. Smart pests adore tasty healthy plants just like we do. They also make us see which plants are weak or on their way out. Give those plants more care or remove them. Replace them with a different kind of plant that will do well now. Don’t put the same kind of plant there unless you have changed the conditions – enhanced your soil, installed a favorable companion plant, protected from wind, terraced a slope so it holds moisture, opened the area to more sun. Be sure you are planting the right plant at the right time!

Disease prevention. Water early AMs to give plants time to dry off. Use a long water wand with a shutoff valve and water underneath as possible. Choose excellent and appropriate plant varieties, using companion plants in wise combinations. Make super soil, at bloom start sidedress and later in the season to extend their production time. Regularly apply prevention formulas more details and all the recipes. Keep up on maintenance. These are the things that keep your plants in top form! They will be less likely to have diseases. See more in the April Newsletter

If your soil has disease fungi, remove any leaves that can or will touch the ground. Remove infected leaves ASAP, don’t let the leaves of one plant touch another. This especially goes for tomatoes. Remove alternate plants that have grown to overcrowded conditions. The remaining plants will grow bigger, produce more with ample space. See April’s chat on Tomato and Cucumber specifics – A word on the Wilts. Lay down a loose 1″ deep straw mulch blanket. Too much straw keeps the soil moist, which is good for some plants, not for others. Under maters and cukes, we want some air circulation and a bit of soil drying. In their case, the main purpose of mulch is to keep your plant’s leaves from being water splashed or in contact with soil, the main way they get fungi/blight diseases.

Keep your garden clean. Remove debris, weed. Remove mulch from under plants that were diseased and replace with clean mulch.

HARVEST! Harvest at your veggie’s peak delicious moment! Juicy, crunchy, that certain squish in your mouth, sweet, full bodied flavor, radiant, vitamin and mineral rich! Besides being delicious and beautiful, it keeps your plant in production. Left on the plant, fruits start to dry and your plant stops production, goes into seeding mode. The fruit toughens or withers, maybe rots, sometimes brings insect pests that spread to other plants. Keep beans picked, no storing cucumbers on the vine. Give away or store what you can’t eat. Freezing is the simplest storage method. Cut veggies to the sizes you will use, put the quantity you will use in baggies, seal and freeze. Whole tomatoes, chopped peppers, beans, onions. Probiotic pickle your cukes. Enjoy your sumptuous meals! Sing a song of gratitude and glory!

What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade. ~ Gertrude Jekyll

Gertrude was an influential British horticulturist, garden designer, artist and writer. She created over 400 gardens in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, and wrote over 1,000 articles for magazines such as Country Life and William Robinson’s The Garden. Jekyll has been described as “a premier influence in garden design” by English and American gardening enthusiasts. 1843- 1932

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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 June GBC Newsletter!

JUNE Summer Garden Treats!
Common SoCal Summer Garden Pests – Aphids, Cucumber Beetles, Leafminers, Whiteflies
Tower or on the Ground Gardening?!
A Food Not Lawn Garden in Santa Barbara CA 
Events!  Home & Garden Expo, Summer Solstice Celebration! Fairview Farm – Summer Farm Camp!

…and wonderful images of Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden in May!

 

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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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Ecosystems Restoration John D Liu
Forests keep drylands working – think big, think local!

January 17, 2014, California Governor Brown declared California is in a Drought State of Emergency. Many of us ask ‘What took so long?’ We have been having record breaking January high temps, no rain in sight. What will summer be like?! Our other concern is fires.

Nashville born Chinese American John D Liu has been greening deserts for 2 decades. As an environmental film maker, he has documented the successful restoration of large-scale ecosystems in some of the most difficult areas, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Jordan. He was first inspired by the seemingly miraculous recovery of China’s Loess Plateau, from desert to lush farmland! He has lived in China 30 years, so has seen it firsthand. Amazing results happen in 3 to 5 years, not only affecting the local areas, but all the areas below. As the soil becomes able to retain water, water flow is increased, giving water to farmlands and for hydroelectric power. Heads of state invite him to help their countries.

If we can green deserts, we can save our land and water locally! What they do, we can do in our landscapes and gardens on a smaller scale. Water capturing terraces are established on hillsides. Holes are dug and lined with rocks to keep the water there until plants recover and do that job. Plants are planted. Destructive grazing or land use is stopped. We can make major and mini bioswales and terraces, build a series of rock lined mini dams in steep gullies to slow water and let it sink in, restore the water table. We can cover our land as is natural, with plant debris sprinkled with manures. We can easily let crops grow to fruition, let those plants feed the birds with their seeds in winter, some seeds will fall into the soil. We can save some seeds from our best plants, and let the plant fall to the ground. Rather than let plants fall over and lay there in unbreathing straw-like mats, we can speed the soil building process, cut and break them up with our shovels, aerating the soil, increasing water holding capacity. We, can add manures, grow green manure crops, let land rest at times. Cover exposed soil with organic soil feeding, building, mulches. If you own herds, cattle, goats, sheep, chickens, move them around. Have a plan. Install a grey water system – it is now legal in California.

Consider Dry Farming. Sometimes it’s doable, sometimes not. Here are practical tips for the adventure from different people who have done it! In general, select seeds and plants that are heat and drought tolerant that require less water. Also, in your veggie gardens, alternate plantings of soil nourishing legumes, then other plants. Keep your soil healthy and lively, having excellent water holding capacity, so it makes the most of what moisture it does receive.

What we do in our landscapes and veggie gardens is a mini model of the world you want to see happen. If you are inclined, you can teach it to others verbally, by writing about it, or through images as well. Connect with local groups who specialize in water conservation land stewardship and have experience. In Santa Barbara CA that might be Sweetwater Collaborative that offers hands-on workshops.

Liu’s work is more than just talk. The success of this restoration is well documented. It is not just a tale of hope; it’s evidence of hope. Get out your shovel; it’s a New Year!

Watch the Green Gold video! 47:31 Minutes

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Dry farming has been a garden practice done for centuries in arid places.  With global warming, many will be using these ancient techniques to great advantage!  In Vietnam today, beans and peanuts, that restore the soil, and sesame, are grown season to season between wet rice plantings!  Watch this Vietnamese video, No Water Required! Dry Farming In Âu Lạc Vietnam

Dry Farming Video Vietnam - Beans, Peanuts, Sesame Restore Soil!

I’m sharing this paragraph of a past post on DRY GARDENING from the Oregon Biodynamics Group.  We hear about tomatoes being dry gardened, but have you ever done it?  Here are some practical tips from people who have:

When the homesteaders planted their gardens, they needed to feed their family for much of the year. They couldn’t afford to do raised beds or to develop irrigation systems. How did they do that? Part of the answer is to give plants lots of elbowroom. Space rows widely at about 8 times what we do with intensive beds. They also hoed or cultivated to keep a “dust mulch” between the plants. This technique is quite effective at preserving water so the plants can make it through the summer with only an occasional irrigation. Most of this class is directed at intensive gardening because we have limited areas for garden plots. But if you have the room, one can produce high-quality produce without irrigation. Vegetables must be able to send down deep roots so that they can draw in the water that is stored in the soil. Plants that work are root crops, brassicas, corn, squash, and beans. Ones that don’t work are onions, celery, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, radishes, and spinach. The plants need to get well established in June [Oregon] using the natural soil moisture. Then they can carry themselves through the dry months. It helps to give 5 gallons of compost tea every 2-3 weeks during July-August. Liquid fertilizer helps with the stress of low water.

When getting started for the season, farmer David Little of Little Organic Farm explains another way of dust mulching. To help people understand how dry farming works, Little uses the example of a wet sponge covered with cellophane. Following winter and spring rains, soil is cultivated to break it up and create a moist “sponge,” then the top layer is compacted using a roller to form a dry crust (the “cellophane”). This three to four inch layer is sometimes referred to as a dust mulch, seals in water and prevents evaporation.

Clearly, our SoCal weather is different than what the Oregon homesteaders had, especially in these times of climate change. I’m translating Oregon June to SoCal May. If you are a coastal gardener, or a foothill gardener, use your judgment how you will do your gardening practice. Plant your dry crops separately from your water-needing crops.  Plant your water lovers more closely together and mulch them well. Get plants going with a little water, then cut it off after a few weeks. As usual, seeds and seedlings Tomato California Dryfarmed Early Girlmust be kept moist at startup.

Soil choice is important. Dry farming in sandy soil, through which water drains easily, doesn’t work.

Dry gardening isn’t for everyone, ie, harvest is generally a tad less, or even only a third as much, or very dramatically, only 4 tons of tomatoes compared to 40 tons from watered plants. But they say the taste is superb! In fact, At Happy Boy Farms, near Santa Cruz, sales director Jen Lynne says “Once you taste a dry-farmed tomato, you’ll never want anything else!”  And people shop specifically for dry farmed tomatoes in areas where they are grown!

Useful pointers if you want to try your hand at it:

  • If it is an option, store water for summer use. Set up a grey water system.
  • Prepare your soil with well aged water-holding compost, manure, worm castings.
  • Plant out of a drying windy zone. If that’s all you have, plant subshrub barriers or build porous windbreaks.
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  • Select plants or plant varieties suited to summer, tolerate heat and being dryer.
  • Choose plants that mature more quickly so they will have the early season water.  Plant those that need less water in the latter part of the season.
  • Grow only what you need.
  • If you don’t need volume, but rather a steady supply, plant high producing dwarfs and minis, like many container varieties, that need less water for smaller leaves.
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  • Plant further apart, at least 1½ times or greater the spacing distance recommended on seed packets, 8 times further if you have been doing intensive planting practices. But, do give seeds and seedlings all the water they need until they are established
  • Make furrows and plant IN the bottoms of furrows, not on the peaks that drain/dry out.
  • Thin out seedlings on time.  No wasting water on plants you won’t use and that will slow others that need all the nutrients and water they can get.  Use scissors; don’t pull up soil causing the other plant’s roots soil to be disturbed, even expose the roots, to dry out, killing that plant too.
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  • If you don’t go the entire dry gardening route, but want to use less water, mulch deeply early on. It keeps your soil from drying out and blocks light germinating weed seeds from sprouting.
  • Self mulching:  plant in blocks, rather than rows. This creates shade for roots and reduces evaporation. If you are home gardening, maybe plant 4 to a block, put the blocks in different places to avoid disease or pest spread.
  • Dust mulching is simply soil cultivation to about 2 or 3 inches deep. Cultivation disturbs the soil surface and interrupts the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation.  Do it after rains or irrigating.
  • Remove water-using weeds. Don’t let them seed.
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  • When you water, do it by drip or trickle, deeply, early AM if possible, when wind is low and temps are cool. Plants drink during the day.  This is a good time to invest in a ‘hose bubbler.’  They deliver water slowly without digging up your soil.
  • Cultivate 2″ to 3″ deep before a rain to capture up to 70% of the rainfall! Cultivate afterwards if a salt crust (from manures) has built up.
  • Give your plants tasty compost tea, equal parts water and aged compost. Compost tea delivers rich soluble nutrients directly to the plant roots.
  • If water becomes critical, consider planting only a couple of containers with vegetables.
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  • Harvest on time at peak flavor and texture, using no more water than needed.
  • When your harvest is done, turn the remaining plants under, especially legumes, like beans, that feed your soil.

Amy Garrett, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University says ‘for each 1% increase in soil organic matter, soil water storage can increase by 16,000 gallons per acre-foot of applied water (Sullivan, 2002)! Many people think of grains and beans when dry farming is mentioned, however farmers in the western region of the U.S. have dry farmed many other crops including: grapes, [cucumbers,] garlic, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes, winter squash, potatoes, hay, olives, and orchard crops.’

After years of trial and error, David Little now considers himself an expert.“It’s very challenging because you have to hold the moisture for long periods of time, and you don’t know how different crops are going to react in different areas,” Little says. Much of the land he farms is rolling hills and valleys, which present additional challenges because they hold and move groundwater differently than flat land.

If you decide to dry farm all or part of your garden area, know that you and your land, your plant choices, are unique. Don’t give up, find your own way. Also you can do as David did, search for people who were known dry-farmers. He even made the rounds at local bars, asking older farmers about their experiences! He said they humbly shared their stories and gradually he picked up the important details. That’s dedication!

Be water wise, sleep well, eat hearty, share the bounty!

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