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Tasty Red Bell Pepper, Tomatoes, Edible Garlic Flowers!

Edible Garlic chive blossoms on beautiful thick walled red bell pepper!
Image by super gardener Kenny Point in Pennsylvania

Peppers are not just food, they are an adventure that spices your life! They are not just a veggie, but an edible garden beauty in your landscape!

Peppers Come in an Amazing Array! 

Mini to Mammoth! Tiny brain wrecking hot chilis, dainty mini to humongous sweet Bells! Early maturing thin walled, later thick walled. Short, long – pointy, round. Ones that hang down, others that point up!

Peppers come in colors you won’t believe! How about these super thick walled Jupiter Sweet Burgundy! On the right are 8″ colossal beauties Yellow Monster Peppers! Really sweet, meaty, great fresh, fried or roasted!

Peppers Varieties - Burgundy Bell, Yellow Monsters, Fish, HOT Chile Numex Twilight

Striped, one of the prettiest peppers ever, Fish Pepper, above left, is an African-American heirloom that predates the 1870s. It starts out an unusual cream color striped with green, the fruits ripen to orange with brown stripes, before turning all red. Super for containers! At right is beautiful Numex Twilight. It can produce more than 100 small pretty pods! At 100,000 Scoville Units, it’s HOT! Respect.

Smart Choices!

  • Disease resistant If your land is moist, hybrids are probably going to do better for you than heirlooms. In coastal Santa Barbara CA we usually have a late spring/summer fog belt/marine layer, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Choose Resistant varieties per the list below and also Potato Yellow Mosaic Virus, Pepper Mottle Virus and  Cucumber Mosaic Virus.
    x
    Pepper Resistance Codes:(BLS 1-3) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1-3)
    (BLS 1-2) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1, 2)
    (PC) Phytophthora Root Rot
    (PVY) Potato Virus Y
    (TEV) Tobacco Etch Virus
    (TM 0-2) Tobamovirus (Races 0-2)
    (TM 0-3) Tobamovirus (Races 0-3)
    (TMV) Tobacco Mosaic VirusHere are recommended varieties by UC Davis in California. TMV is Tobacco Mosaic Virus, PVY is Potato Virus Y. AAS is a super plus! It is an All America Selections winner!
    x
    Hotx
    Tam Mild Jalapeno (mild heat with Jalapeno flavor) PVY
    Jalapeno M (very hot)
    Anaheim TMR 23 (chili pepper, moderately hot) TMV
    Anaheim (standard hot chill)
    Cayenne Long Red Slim (hot)
    Hungarian Yellow Wax (popular for canning, moderately hot)
    Serrano Chili Pepper (tabasco type)

    Sweet Bell
    Bell Boy AAS, TMV
    California Wonder TMV
    Yolo Wonder TMV
    Keystone Resistant Giant TMV
    Jupiter TMV
    Golden Summer Hybrid (yellow when fully mature) TMV
    Golden Bell (yellow when fully mature)
    Early Pimento (used fresh or for canning) AAS
    Sweet Yellow or Cubanelle Sweet Banana AAS
    Gypsy AAS, TMV
    Hy-Fry
    Cubanene
    x

  • Heat tolerant
    x
    Peppers are a Solanacea like tomatoes, and like tomatoes they produce poorly during high temperatures. Banana, ‘Gypsy’ and pimento produce very well, despite the heat. Jessie Keith says ‘super spicy classic jalapeno ‘Tula’, wonderfully flavorful pasilla-type pepper ‘Holy Molé’ (2007 AAS Winner), and classic spicy sweet red bell pepper ‘Mexibell’ (1988 AAS Winner). Of the sweet bell peppers nothing beats the tough, [thick walled] disease-resistant ‘Orange Blaze’ (2011 AAS Winner) and its crisp, bright orange peppers.’ Heirloom Olympus (65 days green, 85 days red) has large bell peppers on medium-sized plants with good leaf cover. They are high-yielding plants, are heat tolerant and can set fruit under a wide range of conditions. MG Seed Stock.If you planted varieties that are more heat susceptible, put up a shade cloth cover. Depending on the density you select, shade cloth can lower the temperature by approximately 5-15 degrees.If you live in a hot area, bell pepper transplants can be planted in August for fall production when the weather cools down.
    x
  • Drought tolerant Look for the terms drought tolerant, drought resistant, dry farmed when searching for the best variety for your garden. It’s important to know that drought tolerant doesn’t necessarily mean heat tolerant and vice versa, so stay alert if you need both. When you are buying seeds, consider the location of the seed company. Perhaps local seed houses will understand your needs best. Check in with local farmers to see which varieties they are growing, remembering that some of their standards are different than a home gardener.For those of you in water critical areas, one way to help the situation is to pick pepper varieties with fewer days to maturity. You get peppers, you can freeze some, your plants are done before the highest heat and driest times.The UC Sonoma County list is short. Only two varieties, Jupiter Red Bell and Ordoño.

Location! If you have a short summer season or are cooler and coastal perhaps, choose earlier smaller fruited varieties than ones that need a long hot summer to fully mature and if necessary change color too.

Pepper HOT Cayenne Blend Eden BrothersHappy Companions!

Sweet Peppers like:  BasilTomato, rhubarb, eggplant, Lettuce, Asparagus, Parsley, Silver Beet, Spinach, carrot, onion, beans, cabbage, peas, marigold and okra.

Hot Pepper plants do well alongside Eggplant, Tomato, Okra, Swiss Chard, Escarole, Squash and cucumbers.

At left, Cayenne Mix at Eden Brothers Seeds, Scoville Scale: 30,000-50,000 Units

Planting

Peppers are Temp Particular! Peppers grow best in daytime air temperatures 65° to 85°F. Transplant when night time temperatures stay above 50 degrees, 55 is better. Below that plants grow very slowly, have yellowish, puckered leaves, and look sickly, often don’t recover. Night temps between 60° and 70° are best. The ideal temperature for peppers is a daytime temperature around 75°F and a nighttime temperature around 62°F.

At soil temperatures above 65 degrees, pepper growth accelerates. If either the soil or air temperature is much below 55 degrees, blossoms of transplants may drop off. The plants may survive and more blossoms will appear. But it is more likely plants will become stunted and never recover. If your plant is puny and showing no growth, best to compost it and replant when it is warmer.

  • Nighttime temperatures below 60 F or above 75 F can reduce fruit set. In daytime temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. When daytime temps reach 90 F and above, and stay there, just like with tomatoes, the blossoms seldom set fruit. Not to worry. Just give them some time after temps are lower.
  • Plumping up! Gardeners in hot regions will need to be especially patient with big bells and sweet roasting peppers. Both of these tend to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up. These folks may want to plant banana peppers or sweet non-bells, which will ripen in time to use with those bumper crops of tomatoes and basil. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh, so pack your patience.
  • Color Changes! Mother Earth News says: After reaching their maximum size, green peppers that are meant to turn red, will develop red pigments in 10 to 28 days, if daytime temperatures are between 65 degrees and 75 degrees. In southern regions where temperatures exceed that range, peppers turn yellowish and may acquire an off-color pallor that is not attractive. Below the optimum temperature range, color development slows dramatically; below 55 degrees, it stops completely. If soil temperatures drop below 68 degrees, pigment production declines and eventually ceases.

Peppers love sun, but a bit of shade is good for the fruit. I planted a Poblano between two big tomato plants. For awhile I thought it was a goner, shaded out, then, it just grew and grew! It got almost 4′ tall and produced like crazy and I gave giant peppers away!

Peppers need VERY RICH SOIL, are heavy feeders! Place compost for water holding capacity, worm castings, rotted manure under them when transplanting. Mix in Maxi Crop and Island Seed & Feed Landscape Mix. Sandy soils are preferred for the earliest plantings because they warm more rapidly in the spring. Heavier soils can be quite productive, provided they are well drained and irrigated with care.

Epsom Salts! Rather than in the soil, do foliar Epsom Salts! A cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. You could apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is more effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition.

Plant your peppers about a foot to 18″ apart.  A healthy pepper will get big and top heavy with fruit! It is wise to put small tomato cages over thick wall bell pepper varieties when you plant, to support the weight when they are heavy with fruit.

Though a perennial, they are very susceptible to freeze. With Bell peppers, I have heard a lot of people say their peppers overwintered and produced just fine the following year, but I have not seen that to be true at the community gardens. They are never as robust nor do they produce the big healthy fruits first year plants do. If you are one of the lucky ones, by all means, protect them when there are freezes.

Hot peppers are another story. They seem to do a lot better overwinter, depending on the variety, and I have seen them carry on wonderfully!

Care

Personal Mulch! Solanaceae, that’s peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, like mulch from their own leaf litter, so just let the leaves fall and accumulate. In hot summer weather your peppers will appreciate a heavy mulch. Several inches of straw or dried grass clippings will keep the soil cooler and reduce moisture evaporation. Continually moist ground is a necessity for peppers, as they, like tomatoes, suffer from blossom end rot, a physiological disease caused by a calcium deficiency. Most soils contain ample calcium, but the mineral relies on water to transport it to the plant’s root system. When the soil lacks moisture, the calcium can’t reach the plants and a tell-tale black leathery spot forms on the blossom end of developing fruit. Heavy Nitrogen fertilizer applications can also induce a transient calcium deficiency. I emphasize that you give your peppers plenty of compost for water holding capacity and keep them well mulched!

Peppers, have shallow roots, need even wateringKeep the soil moist, not soggy, to encourage root development and prevent blossom wilting and bitter-tasting peppers. Moisture stress during bloom can cause substantial reduction in fruit set.

Later on, however, as a friend from Farmers Market pointed out: ‘Red & yellow peppers are green peppers that have been ripe for a while. So you are asking an already ripe fruit to stay on a vine longer to change color. Too much water, and the pepper will start to turn brown and rot. So we switched to watering a LOT less frequently and the results have been outstanding.’

Sidedressing Peppers need fertilizer in small doses, a rich organic fertilizer when blooms appear. If you scratch in some compost, be careful not to damage their shallow roots. Liquid chicken manure is high in nitrogen and potassium for heavy feeders like peppers. Big, sweet peppers require a continual source of nutrition. The easiest way to fertilize them is to incorporate gradual-release fertilizer in the ground at planting. Fish-meal pellets, alfalfa pellets or cottonseed meal are all good organic choices. You also can foliar-feed plants every week or two with a fish/seaweed soluble fertilizer, spraying the tops and bottoms of leaves, or water the ground with the same mixture.

Replenish mulch as needed throughout summer! You might schedule a mulch check for them and all your plants once a month.

Annual or Perennial? Technically peppers are perennials, grow year after year – in the right climate. Some chiles overwinter well in Santa Barbara. Bell peppers are another story. Geographically, in Santa Barbara CA they are temp sensitive annuals! I’ve heard claims about them overwintering in the garden successfully, but I have yet to see it. If you like to do it, better to pot your pepper before any frosts and take it indoors by a sunny window or into your fine greenhouse! You have a couple choices. Prune it ruthlessly, or keep it growing, even producing, with lights and bloom sprays. There are many online threads about overwintering your peppers. Check out tips from several experts to make your efforts count!

Personally, there are so many tasty fresh winter foods that grow well here in our SoCal ‘winter,’ that I am more than happy to replant peppers in spring!

Pests & Diseases

For Blossom End Rot, see above under Care.

Early Blight and Verticillium Wilt are a problem at both Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria Community Gardens in Santa Barbara. Please see more about them and what to do here.

See more about Pepper pests and diseases at the UC Davis IPM page.

Choose Resistant varieties.

California Wonder Peppers changing color!  Eden Brothers Seeds image.

California Wonder Peppers Changing Color - Eden Brothers imageHarvest

Bell peppers are at their sweetest and are highest in Vitamins A,  C and carotenoids when fully mature! When choosing bell peppers for eating, select those that are firm, heavy for their size with shiny, bright and vibrant richly colored skin! The bell pepper’s sweetness increases as their color changes from green to their final color if they are a color changing variety.

Their stems should be green and fresh looking. To avoid breaking branches, use a sharp knife to cut, instead of pulling.

It’s nice to know that if not optimally ripe vitamin C and carotenoids in bell peppers will actually increase with refrigerator storage over the next 10 days!

Storage

For maximum flavor, eat peppers on the same day they are picked! Room temp is best for peppers, leave them on a kitchen counter for a day or two to ripen further. Rinse with cold water just before you use them. Bell peppers are very sensitive to ethylene gas so don’t store them with fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas. If you put them in the fridge, do it only 1-3 days and use immediately upon taking out of the fridge. Don’t remove their cores because they are quite susceptible to moisture loss. Peppers are warm-weather fruits that don’t store well in cold temps. If you have too many peppers, consider the following storage options.

Freezing This is the easiest storage method. Peppers freeze well without blanching. Thawed peppers still retain some crispness and can be used in cooked dishes or raw in uncooked preparations. Their flavor is retained, so use frozen peppers primarily for adding ‘spice’ to soups, stews, and sauces. If you stuff the peppers before freezing, you’ll have a ready-made dinner, perfect for the microwave.

To Tray Freeze Sweet Bell Peppers

Wash and core peppers. Chop, dice or slice according to how you plan to use them.
Spread in a single layer on a tray of a cookie sheet. Place tray in the freezer for an hour or longer. Loosen pepper pieces from the tray and pour into zip closure freezer bags. Immediately place sealed bags in the freezer. The pepper pieces will remain separated for ease of measuring. Simply remove as many as you need, reseal the bag and return to the freezer. Or bag them separately in the amounts you plan to use them.

Pickling/Canning Peppers are low-acid fruits so require canning under pressure. It’s easier to pickle peppers as you would cucumbers in a crock filled with a simple brine of four cups of water, four cups of vinegar, and 1/2 cup of pickling salt. Add a clove or two of garlic and some fresh herbs for delicious added flavor.

Sweet Banana, Sweet Hungarian, Cubanelle are long, narrow tapering down to one, two or three lobes. They are thin walled, Cubanelle the thinnest. They are usually picked when light yellow or green. Because they have less water content than bells, they are perfect for frying. ‘Sweet Banana’ was the 1941 All America Selections Winner!

Pepper! Colorful Decorative Ristras!Drying This method works best with thin-walled peppers, particularly the smaller varieties that can be dried whole right on the plant. The key to drying peppers is doing it slowly to retain their color and flavors. Perfect for spicing up bland backpacking meals!

Another form of drying is in brilliant wreaths and Ristras!

You can grind chiles into culinary or medicinal powders! They retain their lovely colors! Paprika is a dried powdered form of bell pepper, and though we are used to seeing red paprika, a paprika can be made from any color of bell pepper and it will end up being that same color. Both the decorative forms and these potent powders make sensational gifts!

Seed Saving

To prevent cross-pollination, hot pepper plants should not be planted near sweet or bell pepper plants. TRUE! Plant at least 400 feet between varieties to ensure absolute purity. That’s important info for seed savers!

Harvest mature, fully-ripe peppers for seed. Most bell peppers turn red when fully mature. If frost threatens before peppers mature, pull entire plant and hang in cool, dry location until peppers mature.

  • There are two methods to process pepper seeds, dry and wet. The dry method is adequate for small amounts. Cut the bottom off the fruit and carefully reach in to strip the seeds surrounding central cone. In many cases, seeds need no further cleaning.
  • To process the seed from large amounts of peppers, cut off the tops just under the stem, fill a blender with peppers and water and carefully blend until good seeds are separated and sink to bottom. Pepper debris and immature seeds will float to the top where they can be rinsed away. Spread clean seeds on paper towel and dry in cool location until seed is dry enough to break when folded.

FYI Birds are not sensitive to capsaicin, the heat factor in chilli peppers, and are therefore the main dispersers of the seeds!

Health

Pepper Hot Oil & Healing Spices

Remedies: Hot Oil! Healing Spices. The countless health benefits claimed are exciting and enormous! Cayenne is said to stop heart attacks. Hot oil works wonders on knees.

Nutrition: I’m not sure people really eat peppers for nutrition, LOL! Peppers are in a food category all their own! Choices are made according to the Scoville Scale, how hot or not they are! At the lower end of the scale, nutrition may factor in somewhat, but it is more likely a visual choice, shape and color, whether for salad or type of cooking you will use the pepper for.

Sweet luscious Bell Peppers have a whopping 169% of the daily value of Vitamin C we need, but who thinks of peppers as a source of Vitamin C?! More we think of low calories, but most of all, that delicious taste! But look, here’s more! Absorption of dietary iron is significantly increased when consumed with fruits or vegetables that are high in vitamin C. Eating raw bell peppers with iron-rich foods like meat or spinach, may help increase your body’s iron stores, cutting the risk of anemia. Eat peppers!

Peppers in a Row Luscious Colors! Johnny's Seeds image

Absolute Culinary Delight!

Mexican recipes are classic! Salsa! Chile Rellenos! Add to burritos, roll-ups and tacos. Stuff and eat fresh, hot pockets! Roasted, grilled on the barbie! Pickled. Fine chopped in tuna or chicken salad! Go Cajun by sautéing with celery and onion, then mix with tempeh, chicken, seafoods. Stir fry some bits in the wok with cashews, shrimp and Oriental veggies. Puree in summer zucchini soups, hot or cold. Add color and crunch to your dip tray, make a pureed pepper dip! Pizza topping. Fresh slices in a cool Romaine, cucumber, avocado salad – add black beans for protein!

Peppers! Salsa and Rellenos

Roasted Poblano Salsa, and by chef Rick Bayliss, Grilled Shrimp Chile Rellenos in Corn Husks

Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

Tasty Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

To your great health and a happy palate! Stay cool when it’s hot!

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Soil Germination Temperatures Veggies Parsons

The graph above is of best soil temps for seed sowing! And even then, some seeds are more cold or heat tolerant, so get enough seeds to try again should there is some kind of fail.

Challenging conditions can be shady areas, or if you are intermingling veggies in your landscape, areas shaded by permanent ornamental plants. Transplants are already up and more hardy, sun reaching sooner, so your wise choice may be to start with transplants, not seedlings started outside. If you are container gardening, move your container to follow the sun during the day. Use one of those little plant dolly thingies if it is a heavy container.

String Beans 

DARK AND LIGHT-SEEDED BEANS: Dark-seeded beans are more resistant to rotting in cool soil than light-seeded beans. Beans need a minimum soil temperature of 65F to germinate well, otherwise rotting may occur.

Beans are crazy to grow! They will give you a good crop in soil that’s loamy, sandy, rocky, rich or poor and even in clay as long as it has good drainage. They do prefer slightly acid soil. Though beans do need regular water for their short roots, still, avoid planting them in shade with soil that stays wet.

When growing beans in a new garden site! Special tip from Bountiful Container: ‘With inoculant, the critical bacteria that enhance the plant’s ability to convert Nitrogen from air into N in the soil, are added to the soil. Either powder the inoculant on wet seed or sprinkle granules in the soil along with seeds. Grow stronger, produce more beans.’ Even simpler, if available, scatter a few spadefuls of soil from last year’s bean patch into new planting sites.

Beans like days to be at least 70 degrees and nights to dip no lower than 40 degrees. It’s worthwhile to wait until those conditions are met. Otherwise, you’ll have spotty germination and stunted, spindly plants. Beans grow so quickly that waiting for ideal temperatures will be worth some patience.

Cucumber VarietiesCucumbers

Warm, light, sandy loam soils are preferred for early production. Compost and composted manure is good. Cukes like moist well drained, fertile soil and need a pH above 6.0. A farmer says: Apply 6 to 10 pounds of fertilizer for each 100 foot of row, using care not to bring fertilizer into contact with the seed. A home gardener says: When I plant cukes, I dig out a hole, about a foot square, fill it with compost, and plant my seed right into the compost. No fertilizing the rest of the season and you’re not wasting fertilizer in soil between plants that the roots never touch.

A tropical vegetable, cucumbers thrive when the weather is hot and water is plentiful. If the weather is unseasonably cool, you can wait a while to mulch until the ground is warmed by the sun.

Sow seeds directly in the garden when daytime temperatures are at least 65 to 75 degrees. They are frost tender and should not be planted until the soil has warmed up to 65, some say 70 degrees! Cukes grow well in daytime temperatures in the 70’s, best at 81 F to 101.

Mini FYI: The inside of a cucumber can be up to twenty degrees cooler than the outside temperature. This is where the saying cool as a cumber came from!

Eggplant Purple Long Shiny Harvest BasketEggplant

Wherever you plant them, the key word for eggplant soil is ‘rich.’ Sandy loam or loam is lovely. Eggplants are greedy feeders; ideal eggplant soil is well-drained, rich in organic matter, including lots of well-rotted manure, and has about a neutral in pH. During the season, sidedress with extra compost. Keep the soil moist to promote maximum growth.

Eggplant do NOT thrive in very humid areas. Pollination is difficult when the weather conditions are very wet, overly humid or excessively hot.

The minimum soil temp needed for seed germination is 60 F. The optimum range is 75-90 F. 
Transplant at soil temp that is minimum 65F.

Place transplants in the garden slightly deeper than they were in their pot. Cold soil will shock the plant and set it back several weeks.

Eggplants are more susceptible than tomato plants to injury from low temperatures and do not grow until temperatures warm. They like temps to remain above 68 degrees, 70 to 85° F is even better.

Critical temperature for setting out eggplants isn’t the daytime high, but the nighttime low. Cool evenings will set back the seedlings’ growth and make them more susceptible to diseases. Wait until the evening temperatures are above 65 degrees before putting in seedlings. Cold temperatures will stop plant and root growth reducing plant vigor and yields. If your crop is still producing in the fall, cover them on cold evenings to extend the harvest.

Don’t be in a rush to mulch. Mulching too early in the season keeps the soil cool, resulting in slow growth, poor fruit set, and shallow rooting.

Peppers, either hot or bell, need VERY RICH SOIL, are heavy feeders!  Place compost, worm castings, rotted manure under them when transplanting. Mix in 1 T Epsom Salts, Maxi Crop, Landscape Mix.  Sandy soils are preferred for the earliest plantings because they warm more rapidly in the spring. Heavier soils can be quite productive, provided they are well drained and irrigated with care.

Rather than in the soil, do foliar Epsom Salts! A cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. Apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is more effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition.

Peppers are Temp Particular! Hot peppers grow best in daytime air temperatures 65° to 85°F. Transplant when night time temperatures stay above 50 degrees, 55 is better. Below that plants grow very slowly, have yellowish, puckered leaves, and look sickly, often don’t recover. Night temps between 60° and 70° are best. In temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. The ideal temperature for peppers is a daytime temperature around 75°F and a nighttime temperature around 62°F.

At soil temperatures above 65 degrees, pepper growth accelerates. Plants may become stunted and never recover if either the soil or air temperature is much below 55 degrees.

  • Nighttime temperatures below 60 F or above 75 F can reduce fruit set.
  • Plumping up! Gardeners in hot regions will need to be especially patient with big bells and sweet roasting peppers. Both of these tend to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up. These folks may want to plant banana peppers or sweet non-bells, which will ripen in time to use with those bumper crops of tomatoes and basil. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh, so pack your patience.
  • Color Changes! Mother Earth News says: After reaching their maximum size, green peppers that are meant to turn red, will develop red pigments in 10 to 28 days, if daytime temperatures are between 65 degrees and 75 degrees. In southern regions where temperatures exceed that range, peppers turn yellowish and may acquire an off-color pallor that is not attractive. Below the optimum temperature range, color development slows dramatically; below 55 degrees, it stops completely. If soil temperatures drop below 68 degrees, pigment production declines and eventually ceases.

Zucchini Summer Squash YellowSquashes grow best in full sun! They like rich well-drained soil, high in organic matter, and require a high level of feeding. Zucchini, in particular, produce a lot and get hungry!

Days need to be at least 70 degrees and nights to dip no lower than 40 degrees. Summer squashes grow best in air temperatures ranging from 60° to 75°F.

Plant in a warm soil. If the soil is below 60 degrees F., summer squash seeds are more likely to rot in the ground before sprouting. The ideal soil temperature for germination is 70-90 degrees F. A doable temp is 65-70F.

Tomatoes

Add a good dose of animal manures and compost, and my usuals – a huge handful of bone meal, a handful of non-fat powdered milk, worm castings, a tad of coffee grounds to the planting holes. This robust combo works well.  As they decompose, coffee grounds appear to suppress some common fungal rots and wilts, including FUSARIUM!  Go VERY LIGHTLY on the coffee grounds. Too much can kill your plants. It was found in studies, what worked well was coffee grounds part of a compost mix, was in one case comprising as little as 0.5 percent of the material. That’s only 1/2 a percent!

Temps are crucial! Tomatoes are not happy when there are

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

True, tomatoes are heat lovers, but per the University of NV, temperatures over 104 F, for only four hours, causes the flowers to abort! If you expect high summer temps, plant heat tolerant (“heat set”) varieties: Florasette, Heat Wave, Solar Set, Sunchaser, Sunmaster, Sunpride, Surfire. When temps are out of your tomatoes’ happiness range, they abort fruit set and go into survival mode, stop production. That’s why your plant may make no tomatoes for a period of time. Don’t think it is a quitter and pull it. It will start up again when temps lower.

High nighttime temps are even worse than high daytime temperatures because your plant never gets to rest.

In the spring, wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55 F or protect your plants with a cover at night.

Soil Temperature ThermometerMany seeds can be presprouted. Presprouting is super and clever because you know you have plants! Germination in the soil can be spotty, so get fresh seed from a reliable source and presprout! It’s easy and terrific fun to watch the little ones appear! See more

Regions have huge variances in planting time strategies, and even in the same yard there are micro niches that vary considerably, so get a thermometer and plant in the right place at the right time! See more

With your Soil Thermometer, and good gardener self discipline, get your seeds and plants in the ground at their most productive times for your location! Here’s to abundant harvests!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for SoCal 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 Heat Lovers Harvest Basket by Komali Nunna

Komali Nunna says ‘One of my greatest pleasures of summer is that I get to harvest from the kitchen garden and create meals around my harvest. I love to grow as many exotic vegetables as possible for my table, including red okra, green eggplant and an Indian cucumber called dosa kaya.’ …at Entertaining From an Ethnic Indian Kitchen

Recently night air temps have been steadily in the early 50s. Soil temps in the sun are now just 60. 60 to 65 are what we are looking for. Peppers especially need warmer temps, nighttime temps above 55°F and soil temps above 65°F. If planted too soon, sometimes they miss their natural sequence of production, and never produce. Best Planting Temps Per Veggie!

APRIL through June Planting Timing

APRIL! is true heat lovers time! Start MORE seedlings indoors NOW for successive June plantings. Sow seeds. If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, get transplants and pop them in the ground per their right times! April 1 or as close to it as you can, start your Jicama seeds! Winter squash for sure. It needs time to grow big and harden for winter storage. MAY for cantaloupe, peppers, pumpkins and squash! Wait until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons. Many wait until May, some even June, 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. Long beans need warm temps to start from seeds. 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.

It’s heat lovers time! Eggplant, limas, okra and peppers, pumpkins! Transplant early-maturing varieties of beans, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Sow and/or transplant asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, chard, corn, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, heat-tolerant leaf lettuce, okra, summer-maturing onions, parsley, peanuts, the last peas (choose a heat-tolerant variety such as Wando), white potatoes with zucchini, radishes (with cukes to repel cuke beetles, and with eggplant to repel flea beetles), rhubarb, and spinach.

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! Check out this nifty page of options at Bonnie Plants! Tomatoes are the Fireworks of Your Summer Garden!

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! 

Time for heat-resistant, bolt-resistant lettuces of all kinds! Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson are some. Tips for super Successful Transplanting!

Strengthen your garden! Remember, plan your Companions! Keep the biodiversity rolling! Plant pest deterring plants first so they will be up and working when you put in your or seeds or transplants!

  • Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions!
  • 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.
  • Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!

Keep ’em coming! If you have already done some planting, mid to late April, schedule to pop in another round! Poke in some bean seeds where your very last peas are finishing, add cucumber seeds between the beans, plus dill at each end of the trellis to be there when you pickle your cukes! Plant more radishes to deter the Cucumber beetles, repel flea beetles. Fill in spots that could use a helper companion plant like calendula or chamomile. Succession planting makes such good sense. Put your seeds and transplants in at the same time. Seedlings will come along 6 to 8 weeks behind your transplants so you have a steady supply of yummy veggies! But, again, if tending seedlings isn’t your cup of tea, just leave space and put in more transplants in 6 to 8 weeks after your first planting.

It is perfect to put in fast growers like lettuce, beets, turnips, arugula, to hold space until you are ready to plant bigger plants. When it’s time for the bigger ones, clear a space/harvest, pop in your seeds or transplants and let them grow up among the littles. As the bigger plants start to shade out the littles, remove lower leaves so the littles get light too! If you anticipate a HOT summer, plant littles on the morning light side of larger plants.

Put in borders of slow but low growers like carrots, mini cabbages, in more permanent placements, like on what will become the morning side of taller backdrop plants like peppers and eggplant.

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.
  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. 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! Make compost. Grow worms for castings. In planting areas add tasty properly aged manure mixes. Add non-fat powdered milk for immediate immune system support at planting time; put in a finely ground bone meal for later uptake when your plant gets to flowering time. Sprinkle mycorrhizae fungi directly on transplant roots, all but Brassicas, at planting time to increase their uptake of nutrients and water.
  4. 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.
  5. Maintenance! Keep your plants strong while they are working hard! Be ready to do a little cultivating composts and manures in during the season (called sidedressing), or adding fish/kelp emulsion mixes if you don’t have predator pests like skunks! Keep your plants watered and vibrant, but not so much as to make their leaves soft and inviting to munching insect pests like aphids. Trap gophers immediately if you are able.
  6. Harvest promptly. Insects and diseases know when plants are softening and losing strength as they age. Insects are nature’s cleaner uppers, and they and diseases are hungry! If leaves are yellowing or not looking up to par, remove them. Whiteflies are attracted to yellow.
  7. Prevention A frustrating typical spring disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on late peas, Curly Leaf kales, broccoli. 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.

Water Wise Practices!

  • Please always be building compost. Compost increases your soil’s water holding capacity.
  • This California drought year consider planting IN furrows, where the moisture settles. Plant crosswise to the Sun’s arc so the plants’ root areas will be slightly shaded by the depth of the furrow in early AM and late afternoon.
  • Make mounds with basins on top. Rather than losing water to evaporation from overhead watering, put the water right where it will do the most good and nowhere else. Make the mound to the dripline of your plant so small surface feeder roots get moisture for food uptake. For larger leaved plants, put a stake in the center of the basin so you know where to water. With a long watering wand you can water under the leaves rather than on them ~ unless they need a bath.
  • And, PLEASE MULCH. It keeps your soil cooler, moister, less water needed. And it stops light germinating weed seeds! Plant littles like lettuces, a bit more densely, under larger plants to make living mulch.
  • 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.
  • Dust Mulching, cultivation, weeding, is perfect to break up exposed soil surface. That keeps the water from wicking to the surface and evaporating. If you use a hula hoe you do two things at once! Just a half to one inch depth cuts off weed sprouts that use water. Indeed, it turns the soil a tad, all that’s needed. More weeds will follow, but it’s quick and easy to repeat the process. Two, three times, a few days apart, and there will be few weeds after that for awhile. Get ’em while they are small and easy to do. Smart gardening.

Put in last minute amendments, soil preps for May plantings of Cantaloupe, okra, tomatoes. About Manures

Keep COMPOSTING! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, feeds just perfectly! And if you made it, you know what’s in it! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist. Giving back to Mama Earth is nature’s natural way! And, like Will Allen says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins.

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 swap! Grow beauty – cosmos, marigolds, white sweet alyssum – all benefit your garden in their own way!

…each a miracle of seed and sun, I’ve always been one to enjoy tomato or cucumber right off the vine, with never a trip into the house—one magical wipe down a shirt-front and they’re ready.. ~ commenter Rachel

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Please enjoy a few March garden images!
See the entire April Newsletter! (Sign up for it if you like!)

April – Time for Exciting Heat Lovers!
Quick Guide to Summer Favorites Veggie Soil & Temp Preferences!
Peppers, HOT or Not!
Other Community Gardens – Wayside Chapel Edible Rooftop Veggie Garden! 

Events! Botanic Garden SPRING Plant Sale! CEC EARTH DAY Celebration 2017, Permaculture at Quail Springs!

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

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

Read Full Post »

Onion Bulb Allium Laura Fitch
Onion Bulb, Allium by Laura Leonard Fitch at flickr .com

Alliums, the Onion family, have been cultivated for decorative and edible uses as far back as 1594, and wild varieties have been foraged for millennia. The allium family provides at least one of the staple foods in nearly every culture!

Alliums are stinky and that’s exactly why we love them! They have a great array of flavors and aromas that call you to the kitchen to prepare meals with them, that call you to a mouthwatering meal! A lot of them can be grown all year long in SoCal, and if you live near the wild, they are deer resistant!

The bulbs are the most commonly eaten part of yellow, red and white garden onions, while scallions are usually harvested for their stalks, although the white base is also edible. Generally all parts of alliums are edible. And the lovely flowers are wonderful bee food!

Onions, Allium cepa, make us cry and give us bad breath but have stupendous flavor! Red onions are sweet. Yellow onions are good all-purpose onions. White onions are best used fresh. Some varieties of onions store better than others.

Table, bunch onions or Scallions Scallions are bunching onions, Allium fistulosum, with a bit less biting flavor. In summer heat, plant these onions in a spot with less sun. Plant all year long and you will always have fresh scallions.

Shallots, Allium cepa var. aggregatum, are a multiplier onion, which means that each shallot bulb you plant will produce a cluster of up to a dozen baby bulbs. They have a sweet and mild (although pronounced) flavor, with a hint of garlic, and lack the bite you get with yellow or white onions. Shallots are smaller and have longer, slimmer bulbs, are more commonly eaten raw.

Hot and dry! I’itoi onion is a prolific multiplier onion cultivated in the Baboquivari Peak Wilderness, Arizona area. This small-bulb type is easy to grow and ideal for hot, dry climates. Bulbs are separated, and planted in the fall 1 inch below the surface and 12 inches apart. Bulbs will multiply into clumps and can be harvested throughout the cooler months. Tops die back in the heat of summer and may return with heavy rains; bulbs can remain in the ground or be harvested and stored in a cool dry place for planting in the fall. The plants rarely flower; propagation is by division.

Leeks Leaf PatternLeeks
, Allium ampeloprasum, are tall, handsome and hefty! And they have that pretty leaf pattern! The leaves are large, flat. Leeks are easy to grow and their sweet, mild flavor and can be enjoyed fresh all year long in SoCal! Summer leek seeds can be sown from January to March to provide the best fall harvest and they overwinter well. You can pull up baby leeks at any time or savor mature leeks when they are about one inch in diameter. They too are a cut and come again. Cut them about one and a half inches from the ground and they grow back quickly 3 or 4 times! Use little ones in salads. Slice mature stems diagonally across and pop into winter soups & stews! The flower heads are elegant, the seeds are easy to harvest. Image by Jan at Jan’s Garden

Too much garlic, aka the stinking rose, Allium sativum and we smell like it! But that doesn’t matter to garlic lovers! There are festivals and restaurants that specialize in only garlic cuisine! It takes little space to produce a large supply of garlic. Elephant garlic, Allium ampeloprasum, makes a bulb about the same size as an ordinary garlic bulb, but it has only three to seven cloves and the flavor is mild.

Garlic is fun to plant! Check weather forecasts and plan to plant before a cold time! Let your garlic cloves or shallots sprout, plant them 6″ to 2″ deep, a 1/2″ if unsprouted. Don’t remove the skin. Plant in slightly moist soil, firm it lightly over the cloves, don’t water or water very little. Too wet and the cloves rot. Plant the biggest and best cloves for the sassiest plants! See more In six to seven months you’ll have beautiful cooking ingredients! Late October, November is likely the best SoCal garlic planting time to get the most cold weather for them. If you don’t mind smaller bulbs, you can also plant in spring.

Sadly, our SoCal warmth doesn’t make our garlic happy. In Santa Barbara our coastal humidity and lack of frosts and freezes like in inland areas let our plants get a lot of rust fungi. It stunts our plants and we get small bulbs. We can grow it, just not with the same jubilant success as happens further north, like at Gilroy CA, where winter frosts naturally kill off the fungi and plants are invigorated and healthy.

Chives Allium tuberosum Hudson Valley Seed LibraryChives,
Allium tuberosum – smallest of all the Alliums, garlic chives, Allium schoenoprasum are a perennial (grow year after year). They are great for your baked potatoes or cottage cheese. The flowers are edible too! While easily grown from seed, they take a while to mature. A nursery purchase is easier! Plant them where they can live weed-free for a long time. A pot of chives close to the kitchen is always a treat. Clip the leaves with scissors about an inch above ground level. They grow back! Image compliments of Hudson Valley Seed Library

Ornamental Alliums are used for landscaping and often edible too! Society Garlic though ornamental, has edible flowers and leaves! And it’s a pleasure to mix veggie alliums in your landscape!

GROWING  Most species of these hardy perennials prefer a sunny location, and many require a period of dormancy. That often happens during the dry time of year. Not to worry if your plant dies back for awhile. Don’t pull it, wait for it. It will return and flourish again. These shallow-rooted plants need well-draining soil – no standing water for them! They need slightly fertile to fertile soil because they have those short roots, so the soil has to be good right where they feed! They can take clay soil quite well. They need weeding. They don’t compete well with weeds. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Not maybe bone dry, ’cause if you live on the edge and don’t water enough you may lose your plant. Rotating your allium crops can help prevent disease. If you have limited space, and not enough room to rotate, keep your soil fertile by amending with quality well rounded compost, resting your soil for a season, or putting in a green manure cover crop.

Alliums work well as companion plants for roses, carrots and beets, but inhibit the growth of legumes – that’s peas and beans. Otherwise, when grown close to other plants they tend to increase that plant’s resistance to disease and reduce insect infestation. The smell of onions mask the scent of a plant that might be attacked.

Per Plants for a Future ‘You can make a very good tonic spray from onion or garlic bulbs that will also increase the resistance of plants to pests and diseases, and garlic bulbs have in the past been used as a fungicide. Simply chop up the bulbs and soak them overnight in cold water – a few cloves in a pint of water should be adequate, and adding some camomile flowers if available seems to increase the effectiveness. The juice of the common onion is used as a moth repellent. It can also be used as a rust preventative on metals and as a polish for copper and glass. It is possible that other members of the genus can also be used in these ways.’

PLANTING

Seeds: Generally sow in late winter or in early spring. Sow thinly and only cover the seed lightly. Germination is normally quite quick and good. They are so tiny, you may not realize you have them, possibly pulling them thinking they are grass coming up! Wait a few days before you weed an allium planted area. Apply a liquid feed occasionally to make sure that the plants don’t get hungry. A number of species from Mediterranean-type climates usually come into growth in the autumn, flower in the spring and then die down for the summer. You do have to be careful that they don’t damp off.

Most alliums can be planted in the spring (May is still doable) for fall harvest/blooms in the later summer or early fall. Table, bunch onions or Scallions can be planted year round. Garlic likes fall to Winter Solstice plantings.

Onion varieties are region specific, plant the varieties your local nurseries carry, farmers grow, or experiment! For the biggest, sweetest SoCal harvests, late summer and early fall are the prime times to sow seeds of short- or intermediate-day onions. Fall-sown short- and intermediate-day onions tend to yield more and are larger and sweeter than those seeded or transplanted in early spring. If you do plant in spring, sow summer-maturing onions Feb/March/April. In our area, the  1st half of Nov plant seeds of globe onions for slicing. Grano, Granex, Crystal Wax. December/January plant short-day (sweet) globe onions. 

Bulbs! Divide in spring for winter-dormant species, or in late summer for summer-dormant species. The method of division depends the plant. With chives, the bulb is constantly dividing and a clump of bulbs is formed. Dig up the clump, break it into smaller sections, one bulb, replant. In other species, a number of small bulbs, or offsets, are produced at the base of the parent bulb. For rapid increase, dig up the bulbs every year & plant out the offsets.

Rhizomes! A number of species, like Society Garlic, form a clump of rhizome-like roots. In spring, dig up the clump, cut it into sections with a sharp knife making sure that there is at least one leaf- growing point on each section. Or, without digging it up, chop sections away from the part you choose to be the parent. Either way, plant the sections where you want them.

Some species, like the Tree Onion (A. cepa proliferum), and Walking Onion, also produce small bulbs, or bulbils, at the top of the flowering stem. Sometimes these are produced together with flowers, sometimes instead of flowers. Plant them out as soon as they part easily from the flowering stem. Some of the alliums with bulbils can become noxious weeds! Too true!

Transplants are often the easiest for busy gardeners. Carefully separate the little plants. Make a trench where you want to plant them and lay them with their roots outstretched along the edge of the trench as far apart between them as is right for what you are planting. Simply push the soil from the other side of the trench over their roots.

CAUTION! Alliums are poisonous to dogs and cats. Don’t grow these in your garden if your pets can access them, and never give a dog or cat table food that has been seasoned with onion or garlic.

HEALTH! If you are one of the lucky ones and garlic thrives at your micro climate niche, hooray! For humans, raw Garlic, in particular, acts like a natural antibiotic! A Washington State University 2012 study states that a compound from garlic is 100 times more effective than two popular antibiotics used in the treatment of intestinal infections caused by the bacterium species Campylobacter bacterium. Many other scientific research projects suggest that raw garlic has incredible healing properties. It has a substantial history. in France, gravediggers supposedly drank wine mixed with crushed garlic to protect them from the plague. It was also given to soldiers – in both world wars – to prevent gangrene caused by bacterial infection. The healing properties of this spice ranges from anti-infective to antioxidant.

Garlic is amazing! It is the only antibiotic that can actually kill infecting bacteria and at the same time protect the body from the poisons that are causing the infection. Clinical research found garlic’s effectiveness to be comparable to that of penicillin, streptomycin, erythromycin, and tetracycline. In addition, it has proven effective against some resistant bacteria that no longer respond to prescription antibiotics. It has also been reported that the vapor from freshly cut garlic can kill bacteria at a distance of 20 centimeters!

HARVEST, Drying! In May garlic, bulb onions, and shallots naturally begin to dry. When the foliage begins to dry it’s time to stop irrigating. 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. Some gardeners gather and store the bulbs inside. Others leave them lying on the hot ground for about a week. If you like, plait your onions or garlic!

Onion Allium cepa Drying Bundles by Larry Rettig at Dave's Garden
Onion, Allium Cepa drying bundles by Larry Rettig at Dave’s Garden

STORAGE! 

Onions Garlic Storage
Image at Masters Produce, Auckland NZ

Besides plaiting onions or garlic, or bulk dry onion storage, make healthy probiotic treats. Conveniently chop and put in freezer bags in the serving sizes or the amount you will add to favorite meal, freeze. Canning and drying are traditional. Dry thinly sliced onions and garlic to spice up a camp stew later on.

Onions IN the Kitchen tips!

Store in a cool, dark, dry place such as your pantry.

No fridge! Cold temps soften their texture plus onions flavour your other produce.

NO plastic bags; they accelerate sprouting and spoilage due to lack of air circulation.

Store onions and potatoes separately! Both give off gases that accelerate spoilage of each other.

SAVING SEEDS is a joy! Let a few of your plants grow out. Put a bag over the seeding flower stalk, bend the stem, whap or shake it, and let the seeds fall into the bag. I use a clear, zipper style plastic bag so I can see it happen and seal the seeds in so I don’t lose them if the bag gets dropped or bumped!

Enjoy the tasty range of shapes, colors, flavors of your alliums. Experiment with different varieties!


The Green Bean Connection 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!

See the March 2017 GBC Newsletter!

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

Read Full Post »

March Seedlings at HighDesertGarden

Wonderful seedlings at HighDesertGarden.com!

Temps have been cool, day lengths are still short. We want Night air temps steadily above 50 and soil temps 60 to 65 for starting our plants well. Peppers, especially need these warmer temps. They do best with nighttime temps above 55°F and soil temps above 65°F. Average March night temps are in the mid 40s. The soil temp now is 51-53°F at Rancheria Community Garden.

MARCH through June Planting Timing!  Start MORE seedlings indoors NOW for April/May plantings – eggplant, peppers, and more tomatoes for transplanting into the garden in late April or early May. Also sow cucumbers, squash and sweet potatoes. The beauty of seeds is you can plant exactly what and how many you want! Sow seeds. If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, get transplants and pop them in the ground per their right times! Plant Winter squash now so it will have a long enough season to harden for harvest and be done in time for early fall planting.

  • APRIL is true heat lovers time! Eggplant, limas, melons (wait until MAY for cantaloupe), peppers, pumpkins and squash! Many wait until April, even May or June, to plant tomatoes. Wait until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons.
  • Some gardeners wait until JUNE to plant okra. It 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.

With our warming temp trends, get bolt resistant/slow bolt varieties, heat, and especially drought tolerant varieties.

Right now plant pepper transplants (at the right temps) and cold tolerant, early varieties. Plant determinate quick maturing tomatoes – start with small fruited varieties and cherry toms – for soonest tomatoes for your table! The moist soil at Pilgrim Terrace has residues of Verticillium and Fusarium wilts, so some gardeners will wait until warmer drier June soil to plant tomatoes and other veggies that are wilts susceptible. See more on how to avoid or slow down wilt and fungi problems!

Outdoors sow or transplant beets, carrots, celery, chard, herbs, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces, green onions, bulb onion seed and sets (be sure to get summer- maturing varieties), parsley, peas, peanuts, potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, strawberries, and turnips. Transplant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi seedlings. Time for heat-resistant, bolt-resistant lettuces of all kinds! Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson are some. Tips for super Successful Transplanting!

  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, RADISH Companions! Depending on ground temps, tuck in some bean seeds where the peas are finishing, intermingled with cucumber seeds that will grow low along the trellis, below the beans, plus a few dill to go with the cukes! See below for bean/cuke planting tips. Plant radishes with the cukes to deter the Cucumber beetles.
  • Tomato Tips:  La Sumida has the largest tomato selection in the Santa Barbara area! 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 these drought conditions, consider getting only indeterminates.
  • This is the LAST MONTH to transplant artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale; also strawberry, blackberry, and raspberry roots so they’ll bear fruit well this year.

Succession planting makes such good sense. Put your seeds and transplants in at the same time. Seedlings will come along 6 to 8 weeks behind your transplants so you have a steady supply of yummy veggies! But if tending seedlings isn’t your cup of tea, just leave space and put in more transplants in 6 to 8 weeks after your first planting.

It is perfect to put in fast growers like lettuce, beets, turnips, arugula, to hold space until you are ready to plant bigger plants. When it’s time for the bigger ones, clear a space/harvest, pop in your seeds or transplants and let them grow up among the littles. As the bigger plants start to shade out the littles, remove lower leaves so the littles get light too! If you anticipate a HOT summer, plant littles on the morning side of larger plants.

Put in borders of slow but low growers like carrots, mini cabbages, in more permanent places, like on what will become the morning side of taller backdrop plants like peppers and eggplant.

There is still time to put in another round of green manure to enrich your soil Nitrogen. In warming weather and longer days, it grows faster, the cover crop will be ready to turn under in 6 weeks to two months. Give it two to three weeks to decompose and integrate with your soil, and the area will be ready to plant again. Or, dig your planting holes, put in some fine compost, your other favorite amendments, like worm castings, bone meal, a mineral mix, and plant! The rest of the area will take care of itself!

Consider not growing kale or chard over summer. Kale gets tough, has smaller leaves on a spindly stalk, and lacks that cool weather vibrance. Fertilizing, watering don’t really do the job. It thrives in cooler weather. Chard suffers. It droops from heat, recovers, droops, recovers. That’s hard on a plant. Hardly seems like the time to harvest when it is trying to stay alive.

Broccoli, on the other hand, depending on the variety, produces side shoots like crazy all summer long! Just be sure to stake them up as the plant gets large and top heavy! And feed it now and then. It’s working hard.

Tall: Indeterminate tomatoes in cages, pole beans in cages or on trellises. Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions! Tall broccoli you keep for summer side shoots. Cucumbers are great on the trellis below the beans.

Middle height: Determinate tomatoes, bush beans, okra, tall peppers like Big Jim Anaheim or Poblanos, zucchini – Costata Romanesco is prolific. Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugsRadish with cukes and squashes to repel cucumber beetles, with cukes, squashes and eggplant to trap flea beetles! Large Winter Squash vines and pumpkins are middle height, while some mini melons would fall to the lower mid height zone. Put in zucchini and vines to take up space if you don’t want to do a lot of tending, but do know, you must keep those zucchini picked! If your zucchini is dense, an unpicked zuke can become a 6″ diameter monster in as little as 3 days!

Lower plants like eggplant, like a lot of heat. Put them on the sunny side, slightly in front of every other slightly taller plant. Leave a couple kale that will get taller. But, if they are leafless stalks with pom pom tops, they aren’t going to give any shade, so they could be left anywhere actually. Plant lettuces or leafy plants around their base as a living mulch and keep the soil there moist and cooler, and feed them. Or grow the heat tolerant flat leaf kale like Thousand Headed Kale! It has many growing points instead of just one!

Shorties & Littles: A lot of shorties will be in front of other taller plants, in some instances a living mulch, so there is no real need to have a patch just for them. Your plants all help each other. When the bigger plant leaves start shading out the littles below, harvest strategic large lower leaves to allow light and airflow.

Put beets and carrots in the short zone, between and among big plants. Bunch onions away from beans, great with other short rooted plants like lettuces that need to be kept moist. Summer small bulbed variety radishes give a great spike of hot flavor to a cool summer salad! Some delicious mini melons are quite small leaved and low to the ground, are easily trellised, great in containers!

Flowers & Seeds! Let arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery to go to flower to bring bees, butterflies and beneficial insects! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next year’s plantings, to share at the seed swap, give as gifts! Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!

While you are thinking where to put things, select permanent spots for herbs, gateways points for flowers and edible flowers! Designate a permanent patch for year round flowers for bees. Cilantro is both tasty and has lovely feathery leaves and flowers in breeze, great bee food. Chamomile is downright heady scented on a warm morning. Comfrey, Knitbone, is both healing (arthritis/bones) and speeds your compost, is high in soil nutrition. Poppies are beautiful; humble Sweet Alyssum is dainty and attracts beneficial insects. Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips! Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents! Cosmos is cosmic!

Finish your Summer Gardening preparations!

  • Install a greywater system
  • Install gopher wire protection.
  • Install pathways, berms.
  • Waffle Garden, basins & windbreaks, Water Garden. Excellent drought choices.
  • Gather cages & trellises
  • Terrace slopes – capture water runoff, prevent topsoil loss
  • Build raised beds, Hugelkultur
  • Get new containers, pallets, boards, wire for bird protection
  • Organize where you will keep straw bales for summer mulch
  • Setup Compost and worm box areas

Complete your Soil Prep! 

  • Add compost, only 5 to 10%, & other amendments to your soil all at the same time.
  • Add well aged manure as appropriate. Less in spring because you want fruit production, not leaf, unless it is a plant grown for its leaves, like lettuce, kale or cabbage! None for carrots, peas or beans.
  • Add 25% worm castings. As little as 10% works. They are potent, help with seedling germination, boost immunities to disease.
  • Adding Jamaican guano high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time 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.
  • Sprinkle with a tad of coffee grounds to reduce wilts fungi. Add only a ½ a % to your soil or compost. A tiny bit goes a long way!
  • Don’t cover with mulch yet unless you need it for erosion control. Covered soil is cooler. Let your winter cool soil warm up. The exceptions are broccoli, cabbage, chard, and kale! Mulch ASAP because they like/need cooler soil.
  • Water your prepped areas when you water your other veggies. Soil organisms need moist soil.
  • Sidedressing! Hard working plants need fuel and water. As broccoli starts to head, give it a fish/kelp tonic! After the main head is cut, your side shoots will flourish!

Pests Reminders and Home Remedies!

  • When you put in seeds, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from vanishing upcoming seedlings overnight, making you think they never came up! No, they didn’t let you down. Killing off the creatures ahead of time saves the babies. It stops new transplants from being seriously damaged or entirely eaten while they are small. Do this a few times, to knock off the generations, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while.
  • Pull away those blotchy sections the leafminers make on chard and beet leaves. Remove whole leaves that are too funky for rescue. Harvest the bigger outer lower leaves more often to stay ahead of the miners. Water a tad less so leaves are less soft and inviting.
  • Hose APHIDS off chard, kale and brocs. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed and new generations. Nearby, plant Calendula as a trap plant, radish to repel them.For hard to get at places, down the centers of chard, crinkly kale leaves, get out that spray bottle! Treat once, wait a couple days, treat the ones that got away and newborns.I tried it, it WORKS! The simplest is to spray with 2 Parts alcohol, 2 parts water, 1 part  soap. DO NOT use on seedlings, it will kill some of them. Spritz lightly rather than drenching or you may kill your bigger plant too! However. If the infestation is just over the top, with chard you can cut off the whole plant about 1 1/2″ above ground and simply let it regrow. Hose away any reappearing or lingering aphids post haste!
  • Remove any yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies.
  • Gophers You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after  the rains. If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.

Prevention A frustrating typical disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on Curly Leaf kales, squashes, beans. 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.

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants.

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

Watering & Weeding Wind and sun dry soil quickly and short rooted plants like peas, or seedlings, need to be kept moist.

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

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

Keep COMPOSTING! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, feeds just perfectly! And if you made it, you know what’s in it! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist. Giving back to Mama Earth is nature’s natural way! And, like Will Allen says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins.

The good work you do now will pay off with abundant summer harvests!

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Please enjoy some February garden images!
See the entire March Newsletter! (Sign up for it if you like!)

March – Seedlings for April/May, Early Plantings!
Squashes! Prolific and Indomitable!
Wilts & Cucumber Beetles, Tomatoes & Cukes!
Other Community Gardens – RISE in the Talamanca Mountains, Costa Rica! 

Events! Botanic Garden SPRING Plant Sale! CEC EARTH DAY Celebration 2017!
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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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

Read Full Post »

Calendula Biodiversity Companion Plant Sage Strawberry Chard

Beautiful biodiversity! Calendula – yellow, Pineapple Sage – red, Strawberries, Scarlet Chard in back.

Calendula is a terrific January on herb that brightens SoCal Gardens most of the year though they do prefer cool weather and tolerate frost. Yellow, orange, white or bicolor! Spiffy green, green leaves! One blogger refers to them as Sunshine Incarnate! Aka Pot, English or Poet’s Marigold ~ Calendula Officinalis, not to be confused with the Tagetes Marigolds used for Nematode suppression. See the Tagetes details

Be ready to give them some room! They grow up to 2′ tall and can take up a good 3′ footprint, plus they self seed, given time will spread if you let them. Plant well back from narrow pathways, or soon you won’t be able to get through!

Calendula Frost Pilgrim Terrace Community GardenIt’s easy to grow. If you still have plants from last year, gather seeds, drop them here and there in well drained areas when soil temperatures reach 60 degrees or after last frosts. Cover with about a 1/4″ of soil, and the ones that like that spot will grow themselves! Or transplant babies. They aren’t too picky about their soil and are cold hardy to 25 degrees. Scorching heat is not good, so plant sooner or later. They do great in containers! Put them in accent places or where you can see them a lot of the time!

Remove browning lower leaves to keep them looking fresh and let air circulate. They are susceptible to mildew. Deadhead to keep getting flowers!

GARDEN WORKHORSE COMPANION PLANT

Most insects avoid the plants, which is in keeping with one of its old uses as the basis for insect sprays, contains pyrethrum. The idea of brewing up calendula tea from the plants’ flowers and leaves, and using it as an insecticidal spray, is getting renewed attention based on several recent studies. In Poland, growing calendulas among cabbage resulted in fewer problems with aphids, cabbage worms, and diamondback moths. A recent study in India showed that calendula extract reduced feeding by tobacco cutworms.

The Mexican beetle avoids Bean rows that have Marigold/Calendula growing among them. Calendula repels a number of unwanted soil nematodes and asparagus beetles, but may attract slugs. Plant Calendula with tomatoes and asparagus. Calendula attracts a wide range of pollinators because it provides nectar over the whole growing season.

It is a super trap crop for aphids, whiteflies, and thrips because it exudes a sticky sap that they find more appealing and delicious than nearby crops.

Calendula flowers attract pollinator bees and butterflies! The nectar–along with the pests that it traps–attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs, hoverflies, and lacewings. Black flies that are attracted are followed by predatory hoverflies that feast on insect pests.

Calendulas also benefit the garden below ground, where they form partnerships with soil-borne fungi that turn the plants into soil-cleaning machines. In China and the USA, calendula has been found to be useful in the restoration of soil contaminated with high levels of cadmium. In Columbia and Spain, cover crops of calendula were found to suppress root-knot nematodes.

Calendula is an excellent multi-functional plant for permaculture fruit tree guilds.

Calendula grows thick and makes a great cover crop. Seed an area, let it grow, turn it under.

Plant Calendula right in the middle of things, between, next to any plant you want to help!

PESTS & DISEASES

Pests are Aphids, snails, slugs, whiteflies and the cabbage looper. Wash away aphids, remove infested leaves if necessary. Use a vinegar solution to kill them. Toss some organic snail/slug bait around two or three times to remove generations of snails. Where there are holes in the leaves, seek and remove loopers.

The disease is Powdery mildew. No Overhead watering. Mildew can be a problem on a plant you have pinched back to get dense bushy foliage with little air circulation. Best to prevent mildew by including it in your baking soda applications. UC IPM Powdery mildew  UC IPM Calendula

SEEDSAVING

Herb Calendula Seed HeadsCalendula seeds have personality! No two are alike. Saving them is simple! Let them dry on the plant for the most nutrition the mother plant can give them. Select plants with the color you want. Hold a bag underneath the dried flower head, gently break off the seeds. If the seeds don’t want to break off easily, let them dry a little longer. Lay them out in a dry place for two to three days to dry completely off the plant.

Gather enough for yourself and to share as gifts or package up for your local Seed Swap! Label your packet, store in a dry cool dark place.


HYPO-ALLERGENIC MEDICINAL

An account, written in 1699, states “The yellow leaves of the flowers are dried and kept throughout Dutchland against winter to put into broths, physicall potions and for divers other purposes, in such quantity that in some Grocers or Spicesellers are to be found barrels filled with them and retailed by the penny or less, insomuch that no broths are well made without dried Marigold.” Marigold is another name for Calendula.

Calendula Infused Oil Hypo-allergenic MedicinalMedicinal, of course, depends on whether you like doing that with your plants. I’m not too patient about building my own remedies, though one of these days I might do it. I know Calendula from tubes of goo I buy at the health food store. It’s a natural remedy for skin ailments, minor cuts and burns, sunburn, insect bites, diaper rash, dandruff! Use for skin and tummy ailments with dogs, horses, and cows, ear mites in doggies.

Sore throat? It doesn’t matter whether it is viral or bacterial infection because Calendula is effective against both! Gargle your tea 2-3 times a day or sip warm calendula tea slowly to get immediate relief. For children, mix honey with the tea and give spoonfuls of it several times a day.

Calendula infused oil Recipe by Ashley

It increases blood flow to the skin cells, provides antioxidant protection that reduces the appearance of wrinkles and ages spots, and even the visibility of scars. Calendula tea is great!

The easiest way to make the tea is to put about a tablespoon of dried calendula flowers in a heat proof mug and pour boiling water over them. Cover with a saucer and let steep for around 15 to 20 minutes.

It has antibacterial properties that make it good in toothpastes, mouthwashes, soaps, and shampoos. It is very effective in killing bacteria that cause everything from gingivitis to cavities. Research has shown that calendula has antioxidant compounds that directly impact your vision, helps prevent macular degeneration and the development of cataracts. Calendula can significantly reduce inflammation discomfort from a cough, joint pain, upset tummy. Add some calendula oil to your skin balm.

If you need a lot of flowers for your remedies, fertilizers high in phosphorus help. Jamaican bat guano is great, but needs to be added to your soil 4 months in advance of planting so it has time to break down for your plant to uptake. Plant densely and deadhead.

Warning: Some people have allergic reactions to high doses of calendula oil. Consult a trained herbalist or medical professional to avoid any major side effects.

EDIBLE LANDSCAPING – COOKING WITH CALENDULA!

Petals of single flowered varieties have better flavor! It’s spicy leaves and flowers are added to soups, sprinkled on salads, used as garnishes, in salsas, burritos, scrambled eggs, and frittatas! The yellow pigment of the flowers is used in place of saffron, in fact is called ‘Poor man’s saffron.’ It is tasty good looking in quiche, cake frosting, rice, butter, in or on cream cheese! Add to bread, syrups and conserves. You can dry the flowers and leaves for longer storage, to make winter tea and tonics.

There are tons of calendula varieties with different flower shapes, color combos, dwarfs for containers and borders, single to multi heads! Prince is heat resistant. Pacific Beauty is heat tolerant, has long stems for cutting!

Orange Calendula Flower at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden
Orange Calendula Flower at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

We are charmed by its beauty and it serves us well. Thank you dear plant.

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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!

Read Full Post »

Soil No Till Lasagna Compost in Place, Sheet Mulching,

No Till Gardening aka Lasagna Gardening… Beds are finished. Push aside grass clippings to plant seeds or seedlings. Read the story, get the details! Start making living soil asap! 

Grow Green Manure – legumes for Nitrogen, oats to loosen the soil down deep. It takes two to three months. When it starts to bloom, chop it down and chop it up, turn it under. If you have heavy clay soil, add Sphagnum Peat Moss to both loosen your soil and increase water holding capacity if you are in a drought or dry, windy area. Let it sit until you no longer see the green ingredients. Keep it moist so the soil organisms will work all the way to the top.

Make Compost!

No time for Green Manure? First week of January might be the latest time you want to start growing your green manure so you can plant earliest late March, first two weeks of April. So if you won’t be planting by then, add your home grown organic compost or the best you can buy that has worm castings, mycorrhizal fungi for spring planting, some peat to help make humus to keep your soil loose.

Some nurseries, especially locals that depend on your business, are quite trustworthy about what they stock for you. Box stores, nurseries that sell for volume, may just want you and it out the door. Really take a good look at that ingredients list. If there is no list, you likely aren’t getting a very whole food for your veggies. Look at what is in that compost bag when you open it. If there are chunks of recognizable materials, you need to find out if the compost has been nitrogen stabilized – they’ve added enough nitrogen to balance the carbon. Otherwise, Nitrogen required for decomposition is robbed from your plants. No ammonia smell that indicates immature compost that might damage your plants. The only smell you want coming from that bag is for it to be like the forest floor, sweet and earthy.

In these SoCal drought times, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Sphagnum Peat Moss can be added, but not too much because it can make your soil slightly acidic.

Compost is totally easy to make. There are many methods, but the simplest, is making layers, 1″ green/wet to 2″ brown/dry. You can turn it or not. Research shows not turning it has more Nitrogen. There are many different compost devices. You can use one or just make a pile wherever it makes sense, but do put it in the sun and keep it slightly moist so it stays active and you actually get some compost! Compost making methods!

Tasty soil is loaded with nutrients! What you put in your compost makes a difference. High quality organic kitchen scraps sure beats cardboard. Same thing with your worms. Newspaper isn’t exactly food, doesn’t occur in nature. As is said, ‘You are what your food eats.’ Give your compost the best you have or can get. Prevail on your neighbors or family to save their waste for your compost or to feed your worms. Make it easy for them to do the process. Some will deliver it to you because they believe in it and want to help. You may have to make a pickup from others.

No till, no dig, gardening a.k.a. Lasagna Gardening ~ Another way to Compost!

You can do this on top of your lawn, or do a raised bed in the garden you already have! A word to the wise! First, install gopher protection.

If you have the time and materials, composting in place, sheet mulching, has the single most advantage of not having to haul anything anywhere once done! It’s already right where you want it! Lay down your compost materials. Put the ones that would act like tea at the top so when the pile is watered that good stuff drizzles down. The smaller the bits, the faster the decomposition.

Depending on your materials you may choose to turn the pile a couple times to blend and mix the materials in the layers. Rather than using a shovel, a spade fork or pitchfork might work, better. If you have them, put in some worms that will add their castings for you! If you decide to turn the pile, add worms afterwards so they won’t be injured. Possibly, ‘inoculate’ your pile with a wee bit of already processing compost or top rate soil that has working soil organisms in it. Know that an 18″ pile will soon become a 9″ pile, so don’t be afraid to build high!

If you want it sooner, cover and ‘cook’ it with black plastic for 6 weeks results when temps are high enough. Worms will be ok. They will go to the bottom of the pile. Depending on availability and preferences, what you layer on may vary from someone else’s project, but your garden bed is made! Now you wait. Let it sit. The hard work is at the front, the rest is ‘low maintenance!’ Done ‘right’ you have less weeds and it needs less water! Read the story that goes with the image above – get more ideas and all the details!

Another terrific way to make a sustainable pile is to do it Hugelkultur style! Your pile starts with logs! The logs and branches soak up water and hold it, so less water to none is needed after the first year. The right hardwood logs will give your plants steady nutrition for 20 or more years! You can do this with many variables depending on materials available and your needs – from containers to the hill method! See more and see how!

Add Manure

Cow manure is better than steer manure if you can get it. Chicken manure is good. Less of it does more. Be careful of free horse manure. It can be salty, and if the stalls have been sprayed to repel flies, you’ve got toxins. All manures need to be very well composted, except bunny poo, which you can sometimes get free at shelters. Bird guanos do different things. See more soil tips and about quanos.

Worm Castings! 

In nature, worms are a natural part of soil. In addition to soil nutrients, it’s smart to add worm castings. They speed germination of your seeds, seedlings grow faster. Worm castings help your plant’s immune system, and you have measurably more produce! Plants like strawberries, that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew! Growing your own worms and harvesting vibrant fresh castings is ideal, but if you don’t have time, simply buy the best organic castings you can get, local if possible! More about growing worms!

The ideal ratio, depending on your soil, is 25% castings. You can see that is a lot of castings if you have a 10X20 foot area. Use your precious castings wisely. Use them in seed beds, planting holes, around ailing plants, or heavy producers.

The worms used for making castings are surface feeders, red wigglers. If you trench your compost, add some worms. If you do sheet composting – composting in place, set up a no-dig Lasagna Garden, install some worms! Add a handful of worms to your compost pile and keep the pile moist. In dry times cover composting ground areas with mulch so the compost will be dark and moist, safe from birds.

Compost Tea Bu's Brew Biodynamic Malibu BagTeas offer increased nutrient availability!

Why wait until your plants are in the ground to add teas?! Start feeding your soil soonest! Mix ’em up. Put compost, manure/fish emulsion, castings, chopped nutritious comfrey/borage/tansy leaves all in a bucket together – adding one volume of compost to 4-10 volumes of water. Let them sit overnight, a couple of days, stir a couple times, when you think of it. Get a spade fork, the kind with the short wide tines. Push it all the way into the soil, wiggle it back and forth to make holes, lift it straight up back out. Pour in your tea. Push soil in the holes. Your plants will thrive!

If you are foliar feeding, put your ingredients in a stocking, sock, or bag. Let the ingredients settle or strain it so it won’t clog up your gear. Use a watering can with a head that rotates so you can spray both on and under leaves, wetting the whole plant.

About that comfrey. It is especially nutritious! Mash it in a mortar & pestle. That makes it easier to stuff into a stocking, sock or bag, and speeds decomposition. Put the comfrey in loosely, not too firmly, so the water can circulate around it.

Here’s another recipe and instructions from Shelle

  1. 2 cups worm castings [or your choice of ingredients]
  2. 2 tablespoons corn syrup or molasses. Molasses feeds the bacterial growth in the brew and also contributes trace elements of iron, manganese, copper and potassium.
  3. 5 gallon bucket
  4. Old sock or pantyhose (no holes), a bag
  5. Water (rainwater is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate)
  • Put the castings (etc) in the sock and tie it closed
  • Submerge the stocking in water
  • Add the corn syrup and soak for 24 hours, stirring every few hours. Your mix should never be stinky. Like good compost, it should smell earthy.
  • Dilute to a 3 to 1 ratio, use within 48 hours

There are many tea making methods, from the simplest like above, to technical and elaborate with plenty of debate over different ways. Aerobic brewed teas have much higher microbe population densities than extracted teas and for this reason are the teas of choice. A good head of foam and scum on top signifies healthy microbe action! Try out different methods for youself if you have the time and the gear, and love researching. Whichever you choose, your soil will come alive again as the organisms start thriving. Your soil will have greater water holding capacity, a resiliency, the aeration it needs from the burrowing of soil creatures.

If you have your plant placements in mind, be sure to invest your teas out to the anticipated dripline so feeder roots will get some.

Teas are perfect for container gardens, right?! You can buy ready made tea bags. No digging, just feeding.

Soil pH

Most veggies do best with slightly alkaline soil. Acidic soil lovers are strawberries, blueberries, cranberries. Composts for camellias, azaleas, are perfect!

Do or Buy!

Three of the main components of top grade soil are ones you can grow/make on your own – green manure, compost, worm castings. Teas you can make from compost and castings. For most urban gardeners it is a trip to the nursery for manures, but you can certainly make your own tea with it! Compost and castings are totally available, some from organic local venders. I emphasize doing your own when possible. You will know what’s in it and it’s 100% fresh and alive!

There is some good ready made stuff you can get. There’s heroic satisfaction in toting those bags on your shoulder or filling the wheelbarrow and rolling it in, almost spilling the load on the way… Digging in your valuable ingredients gives you a feeling of worthiness, contributing. And oh how your garden grows!!!

At the same time, lay on your compost, manure, and Sphagnum, any other favorite amendments, and turn it in all at once, blending it with your soil. Castings are usually added separately unless you have enough for the whole area. Reserve some of your castings, compost and manure to make teas. Where you run out of materials, use the tea to help that soil.

A few more tips!

If you have had rain, wait until your soil is not so wet that it sticks to your shovel. If you are digging your amendments in, do minimal digging; leave clumps when you can to maintain soil structure. Disturb soil organisms, worms, the least possible. We want to leave their air and water channels intact so your soil stays aerated and moist. Make beds in your garden that are comfortably reachable without stepping on your soil. Make pathways, either with boards that distribute your weight or lay down straw or other organic material to make a pathway that will decompose and become rich soil for next year’s plantings when you move the path! In other words, don’t compact and crush your fluffy healthy soil!

Soil Building and Care is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden.

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

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

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