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Artichoke Big Beautiful Glorious!

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

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

They are a unique garden plant for several reasons!

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

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

Growing your Artichoke is easy! 

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

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

Successful location!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Companions!

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

Planting!

From seeds for annual varieties

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

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

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

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

From pups of ‘perennial’ varieties like Globe!

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

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

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

Care and Maintenance

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

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

Pests & Diseases

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

Artichoke Pups Pests Ants & Aphids

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

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

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

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

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

When Your Artichokes are Harvest Ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storage

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

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

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

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

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

Artichoke Dried Flowers ready for SeedSaving

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

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

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

Artichoke Tufts Broken Off, No Seed Artichoke Seeds

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

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

Splendid Artichoke Fruit!


Delicious ways to prepare your fabulous artichoke!

Artichoke Shaved Salad Chef Sarah Grueneberg John Kernick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Perennials Edible Vicki Mattern

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

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

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

Would you believe, Artichoke?! 

Edible Perennial Artichoke Plant Fruits

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

Tree Collards, affectionately called TCs

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon Fruit Cactus Dessert! 

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

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

The Ultimate – Perennial Tree Crops

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harvest, Replant, Maintenance, Spring Preps, SEEDS! 

Keep harvesting!  Plant consideringly.  That means, summer planting starts in March.  January, February are generally cold, so slow growth though day length is getting longer.  Keep in mind what space you want available in March for the March starts.  If you are a winter plant lover gardener, one way to do this is to plant another round of your favorite winter plants, then in March designate a ‘nursery’ area, and start your summer seeds there.  Transplant the babies to their permanent locations as the spaces become available.  That in mind, plant more broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes.  Plant an understory of all year favorites – beets, carrots, parsley, radish, and turnips, on the sunny sides of taller plants.  And LETTUCES!  They love January!

January IS bareroot month!  Start bareroot artichokes, short day globe onions, strawberries (if you missed November), asparagus, horseradish (Be warned! Invasive).  Depending on the weather, strawberry flowers may appear shortly after planting.  Remove them so more energy goes into root development.  Seascape, developed by UC Davis, is an everbearer strawberry that produces well in our moderate coastal climate most of the year. Sequoia is an large berried everbearer; Chandler is a June bearer – produces May/June, then done.  For those of you at home, plant bareroot cane berries, blueberries, roses, deciduous fruit trees!  Visit Bay Laurel Nursery in Atascadero!

Clear overwintering pest habitat, debris; weed.  Turn top soil to aerate and let the bad fungi die, pray for the good ones.  Sidedress your producing plants lightly – add some fish emulsion with kelp.  Sprinkle and lightly dig in cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal or fish meal.  Keep a weather watch; keep those old sheets and coverings about in case of hard freezes.  Farmers’ Almanac on Frost   Weather.com Frost Map  Make this one your home page during cold winter months.  No mulch this time of year; it keeps the soil cold.  Rain Tips!  Secure peas and tall plants.

If you have been growing favas, time to secure them from winds, rain.  Pop in a few stakes and tie them with that green stretchy stuff, or some twine.  If they have too much shade, water or fertilizer, they will go to leaf and no bean pods.  If that happens, pinch off the growing tips.  Take ‘em straight to your kitchen for steaming or stir fry!  Back at your garden, side-dress with a sprinkly organic box fertilizer or fish emulsion with kelp, or whatever your choice is, water well!  Takes about a week for the beans to appear.  Let them get 5 to 8 inches, filled with beans, and their yours – tasty and high in protein!  If you are growing for seed, let the pods blacken and dry.  Black?  Yep, I know, counter intuitive.

Make compost, start preparing your soil for spring planting.  Make raised beds.  Plan your spring garden; get seeds, wait until March to start planting your summer veggies.  Wait for it.  Plants planted out of season struggle with weather, day length, temps, and are susceptible to pests and diseases they aren’t naturally able to fend off.  Now, if you have a greenhouse….

No greenhouse?  Start Seeds Indoors – we are now the prerequisite six to eight weeks away from March!  Start tomatoes, marigolds, peppers, cosmos, zucchini, impatiens, salvia, basil, and others.  Especially start peppers!  They take longer than other veggies.  Otherwise, wait until all chance of freezing temperatures have passed and buy transplants at your favorite nursery.  I’ve seen zucchini started in the ground in January thrive.  If it doesn’t come up, no problem!  Put some more seeds in soon again!  Keep planting.  I haven’t seen it work with tomatoes, but Marshall Chrostowski of Pacifica Institute’s Garden starts his toms in January for late March picking!  He uses heat transmitting black row covers on the ground, and floating row covers above.  That’s clear plastic with holes over hoops.  They make the soil 15 degrees warmer, with 15-20% warmer air!  You can buy floating row covers at your nursery.  Give it a try! Eating garden fresh organic tomatoes late March?! Yum! Row covers will speed up your notorious slow-grower peppers too! Not only do floating row covers warm things up, but they keep flying pests away from your plants! Check out Digital Seed’s Planting Schedule!

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Mediterranean Understory & Guild Plants for Food Forests – Part 2

Please SEE Part 1 before you read this list!


Here is what a young Food Forest can look like in a part of your urban yard!

Linda’s List is intended for a Mediterranean climate like coastal Southern California has, one of only 5 in the world. The list in your area may be different. Check out your local gardeners’ successes, check with your local nursery. This list is not tree specific yet. We’re working on that!

More than a list of plants, Linda’s List gives tips for good growing, eating, and usage!
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Once our fruit trees are planted in their water-saving basins in a budding Mediterranean food forest, it’s now time to think about what else to plant in these usually moist wells and swales. Or up the trees? Or nearby? We need these companion plants to increase our food and medicine yield, and also to enrich the soil, provide habitat, pull up minerals and other nutrients from deep in the earth, draw nitrogen from the air and bring it into the soil, attract beneficial insects to control pests, create shade for delicate roots — and to provide beauty, a critical psychological and spiritual yield in every garden.

Thanks to the members of the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club for their ideas and input. Additions and corrections are welcome.  Please email lbuzzell@aol.com.  Especially welcome would be input on what plants do best under specific fruit trees – so far I don’t have much information on that.

BERRIES
Blueberry. To grow well here, they need acid soil, so a container is often the best solution, since Santa Barbara soil and water tend to be alkaline. One gardener we know waters hers with a very dilute solution of white vinegar, plus puts pine needles, coffee grounds around the plant. Best in Mediterranean climates are the low-chill varieties like ‘Misty,”O’Neal,’ ‘Sharpblue’
Cane berries. Upright cane berries are fun to pop in here and there as understory plants and they take some shade. But we found out the hard way that you probably don’t want to put in sprawling, thorny berries (especially blackberry) that sucker underground – they pop up all over the yard and are hard to eradicate. When we buy new berries we limit ourselves to thornless varieties and our current favorites are ‘Navajo’ and ‘Apache,’ although the thorny varieties that still linger in our garden – and will probably be there for hundreds of years as they’re ineradicable – taste best. So we live with them and enjoy the berries.
Elderberry. Shrub. There is a California native variety. Produces edible fragrant white flowers (used to make elderberry syrup and wine) and edible small blue berries that the birds love. Ripe berries are safe to eat but leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots are toxic. Has medicinal uses. We use our elderberry as a sacrificial plant attracting birds away from other fruit trees.
Lemonade Berry (native). Rhus integrifolia. Can also control erosion.

BULBS AND ROOT CROPS
Placement of these may take special care, as you don’t want to plant them too close to delicate tree roots.
Carrots
Edible canna. Canna edulis –Achira. Flowers are smaller than most cannas and the root is edible, can be chopped and sautéed like potato.
Onions
Potato and sweet potato

EDIBLE FLOWERS (note: most fruit trees, veggies and herbs also have edible flowers. Always triple check the safety of any flower before eating!
Daylilies. Hemerocallis species. Buds are used in Chinese stir fry, Petals in salad.
Nasturtium (flowers, young leaves and buds that may be pickled like capers) Let the plants die back in place. They will reseed and form a straw mulch.
Roses (yield petals for salads, sandwiches, syrups, desserts; rose hips for tea, syrups, jam)
Scarlet runner bean
Scented geranium

HERBS (most have edible flowers in addition to other uses)
Borage
Chili peppers, including tree chili
Cilantro
Garlic
Italian parsley
Lavender
Lemon balm
Lemon verbena. A drought tolerant shrub with delicious leaves for tea.
Mint. Some fear its vigorous, spreading roots, but we welcome it into drier areas as ground cover, autumn bee food and a source of fresh leaves for cooking and tea.
Mustard (young leaves can be stir fried, flowers are edible, plus seeds for making mustard)
Pineapple sage (leaves and flowers make delicious herbal tea)
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage

SHRUBS/Understory trees
Guava. Psidium Tropical shrubs native to Mexico, Central and South America that yield white, yellow or pink fruit. Not to be confused with Pineapple Guava (Feijoa) Psidium guajava (apple guava) is one tasty variety. Also try lemon guava and strawberry guava.

VEGGIES (there’s no way to name them all – it’s fun to experiment to see what likes the soil under and around your fruit trees. Our favorites are those that overwinter and/or reseed themselves)
Artichokes. Plant away from tree roots, in baskets as the gophers love them.
Brassicas like broccoli, kale, collard greens.
Chard.
Dandelions. Leaves are great in salads and so good for us. Small birds like the seed heads.
Fava beans and other beans.
New Zealand spinach.

VINES
We often forget about vertical space in the garden, but it’s nice to increase your yield by growing edible vines up fruit trees, on walls and over arbors, fences and hedges.
Grapes. Note: the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara has a separate list of recommended table and wine grapes for our area. Contact lbuzzell@aol.com for details
Passion Fruit. A garden member says “mine is simply rampant, productive and trouble-free; gets little to no supplemental water.” The juice can be used to make a spectacular salad dressing (served at Los Arroyos on Coast Village Road in their tropical salad).

MISCELLANEOUS
Bamboo. Use clumping instead of running kinds to avoid it taking over your garden. Bamboo shoots are a delicacy in Asia.
Pepino melon.
Sacrificial plants. In permaculture designs we often plant trees, shrubs and other plants that are nitrogen-accumulators, “nurse” plants or fruit-providers for animals that might otherwise eat our crops. When they have performed their function, we “chop and drop” them around our fruit trees as a nutritious mulch.
Yucca. We’ve read that yucca yields edible fruit and flower buds. Anyone have more info on this?

BENEFICIAL ATTRACTORS AND NUTRIENT ACCUMULATORS
Ceanothus. Shrubs and ground covers that fix nitrogen in the soil.
Salvia, ornamental. These are treasures in the Mediterranean forest garden.
Tagetes lemmonii. Golden color is lovely in fall.

GROUND COVER
Easy-to-grow succulents can provide temporary ground cover for delicate roots. They can act as a living mulch until other plants take over that function. This crop is often free, as gardeners who have ground-cover sedums always have too many and are glad to share.
Pelargoniums and lantana are other easy, colorful ground cover that can be removed as needed.
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#1 Home Permaculture book in the world for seven years!

Per PatternLiteracy.com, Toby Hemenway’s home site, Gaia’s Garden has been the best-selling permaculture book in the world for the last 7 years. The enlarged, updated 2nd edition is the winner of the 2011 Nautilus Gold Medal Award.

The first edition of Gaia’s Garden sparked the imagination of America’s home gardeners, introducing permaculture’s central message: Working with nature, not against her, results in more beautiful, abundant, and forgiving gardens. This extensively revised and expanded second edition broadens the reach and depth of the permaculture approach for urban and suburban growers.

Treat yourself and your land to this incredibly efficient way of gardening. Wisely use ALL the space available to you in a good way. Nature is the Master Gardener – follow her lead.

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Happy Winter Solstice/Yule, Dec 21st!

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

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

December is winter’s June, harvest time! 

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

Lettuces are thriving, keep plucking the lower leaves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Onions:  Are sensitive to temperature and day length, are photothermoperiodic!  Whew!  They start bulbing only after enough daylight for a certain number of days.  To avoid bolting, in SoCal we need to plant seeds of short day onions in fall, or intermediate varieties in late winter.  Most sets are long-day types and won’t work.  Plant Grano, Granex, & Crystal Wax seeds in the ground Nov 1 to Nov 10, or bare root in January.  Granex stores a little better, all of them are sweet like Vidalia and Maui.  If you miss this window, plant intermediate onions in Feb.  Onion seeds sprout very easily!

Garlic LOVERS, if your garlic plants haven’t been as vibrant and robust as these in the image, really amend your soil, put them in full sun, feed them!  Sometimes add a tad boron and zinc to give them great taste!  Give them ample drainage and 24” deep watering.

Garlic is in the genes, I mean, the lily family, related to chives and onions.  So pretty!  Did you know roses make more pungent perfume, and more perfume, when interplanted with garlic and onions?!  Tuck some garlic in among your other flowers and veggies, but NOT with your legumes!  Like onions, garlic stunts peas and beans.

Research indicates garlic aids in lowering cholesterol, reducing cardiovascular disease, cancer prevention, relieving cold and flu symptoms.

Planting in the November/December will produce bigger cloves, but you can also plant garlic in the early spring – who can resist more fresh garlic?!  Gilroy CA, 30 miles south of San Jose, just up the road from Santa Barbara, is called The Garlic Capital of the World!  Gilroy’s Christopher Ranch was, and remains, the largest shipper of garlic in the world!  Take note that the 2012 Gilroy Garlic Festival will be July 27, 28, and 29th!  So their prime festival garlic roses had to be growing all winter and spring!  Count that backwards 7 months, and you have a Dec planting!  That means they have more daylight growing time after Winter Solstice as the days lengthen, and more growing time during warmer months!  Makes sense, yes?!  Garlic takes time – a long growing season and plenty of sun.  Be warned that overcast coastal weather may not go well with your garlic aspirations.  Also, pause, do you want to tie up that sunny land that long for such a small return?  Less insects, no vampires?  Ok, read on.  Some traditionally plant, not in late October, early November, but on Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, for harvest on the longest day of the year, Summer Solstice, or in July!  Your garlic will grow slowly all ‘winter,’ making huge bulbs!  It likes the cooler moist weather, and freezes are good for it!  You just have to be willing to feed them fat, and wait for them!

Here in SoCal, why not plant some in all the fall months?! That’s three rounds, Oct, Nov, Dec! See what works best in your microniche. If some fail, you will have others!

The garlic most of us are familiar with, commonly found in our grocery stores, are the soft-necked varieties, Artichoke and Silverskin, grown in milder climates with longer days.

California Early and California Late varieties need cold exposure of around 6 weeks below an average of about 40F for proper bulbing and clove development. It is the classic, white skinned ‘artichoke garlic’ of the supermarkets.  Continental garlic is more of a generic term covering various white or purple striped hard neck types adapted to more Mediterranean growing conditions.  That’s us.

Garlic needs choice generously amended nutritious soil, to be watered deeply, 24”, in fact!  Garlic World, at Gilroy CA, says garlic needs twice as much fertilizer as other veggies! And they need feeding during growing.  Visualize those hungry bulbs underground.  Heavy soil restricts their growth, so you want rich, loose – not water-logged, fertile!  When you drive through garlic growing country you can SMELL them!  That’s how alive they need to be!

The bigger the seed/clove, the bigger and healthier your plant will become, so plant the huge cloves, reserve the smaller ones for eating and seasoning!  Divide them just before planting.  Plant pointy end up, 2” deep, 4” apart.  Some people plant them 6” deep, others plant them just under the surface.  I’ve had them grow both ways, but to keep the bulbs moist and happy, it makes sense to give them at least that 2” depth.

When the tops start to fall over, stop watering, let the smelly little guys dry a week or two, still in the ground.  Clever harvesting means to carefully loosen the soil with a spade fork, and not bruise the bulb when you remove it.  Let it dry some more in a shady airy place 2 to 3 weeks.

RECIPES?  Fries, ice cream, pasta, sauces, soups, salsa, dips, bread, gift braids, pickled, jellied, roasted, cheese, dressings, potatoes, hummus, powdered.  Garlic cookies?!  At your pleasure.  Confessions of a Garlic Festival Food Judge  If you both love garlic, know that a couple can celebrate their anniversary by sharing the Forty Clove Garlic Chicken at The Stinking Rose in San Francisco or Beverly Hills!

Next Week:  Delicious December, Winter’s June!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal 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!

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