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February! SOIL & SEED Month!

Please see February 2010 for tips on aphids/white flies, slugs/snails, gophers, soil, seed starting basics! 

When there are warm days, it is ever so tempting to plant up summer veggies!  Don’t do it.  Not yet.  Start seeds. 

Depending on how much space you have, plant a last round of your very favorite winter crops – lettuces, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, radishes, turnips.  Bare-root asparagus and artichokes.  I forgot to tell you last month, you could start zucchini!  At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we had an elder gardener who always started his in January, early February, and had great zucchini way before everyone else!  Other than zuchs, really look at those days to maturity, and add the number of days you expect for harvest duration.  If you plant a long maturing plant that would be harvested for some time, think if you would rather have that space for an early round of a summer veggie you love more.  Choose mildew and disease resistant varieties for your late peas.  

Keep sidedressing your producing plants, protect your tasty lettuces from slugs and snails.  Keep watch for aphids, and, if you disturb your plant and a little cloud of white things fly off, you have white flies.  Spray those little buggers off asap so they don’t spread to your other plants or someone else’s!  Keep up with your harvesting.  Wait until it warms up some more to prune frost damaged plants.  Even wait until next month to fertilize.  

But do prepare your soil for March summer veggie planting.  Dig if you must – I’m a no-dig, no weed person who leaves the living soil structure intact [see Gaia’s Garden, 2nd edition, chapter on soil].  Instead, prepare your soil by layering good stuff on top, called Lasagna Gardening, sheet composting, composting in place, or on-the-ground composting!  Garden smart!  If it is already there, you don’t have to move it from the compost pile to where it is needed!  Build your soil in place or in your new raised beds!  If you are putting raised beds on top of your lawn, lay down several layers of heavy cardboard first, to stop the grass and weeds, thoroughly soak it, then layer, layer, layer!  When they get there, your plant’s roots will easily poke their way through the cardboard.  Definitely attach gopher proof wire mesh to the bottom of your raised bed frame before you start filling it, unless you are creating your garden on top of concrete or a roof.  If you are container gardening, check out Patricia Lanza’s book Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces: A Layering System for Big Results in Small Gardens and Containers: Garden in Inches, Not Acres. 

Healthy layering should be 2 dry/Carbon to 1 wet/Nitrogen. 

Carbon – carbon-rich matter (like branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust, shredded brown paper bags, coffee filters, conifer needles, egg shells, hay, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light, fluffy body.
Nitrogen – nitrogen or protein-rich matter (manures, food scraps, leafy materials like lawn clippings and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes. 

  • Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
  • ADD dry materials – straw, leaves and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.  Fine chopped, smaller materials decompose faster.
  • Lay on manure, green manure ( clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass ) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.  Put on rinsed seaweed for minerals, scatter some yarrow sprigs to further speed decomposition, and, of course, your kitchen food waste. 
  • Think how that pile is going to decompose lower and lower.  Build enough layers to get the amount of soil you need.  Could be 18” high.
  • If you like, sprinkle some microbe rich topsoil over it all to ‘inoculate’ with living soil organisms that will immediately go to work.  Add a few handfuls of red wriggler compost worms.  Add any other amendments that make you happy.
  • Install some pathways.  Don’t walk on your oxygen rich breathing brew and squeeze the life out of it, or crush your worms and soil structure!  Keep things fluffy for good soil aeration and water absorption.   
  • If you need to, for aesthetic reasons, cover the compost with a pretty mulch that will break down slowly.  Spread it aside when you are ready to plant.  It could be down leaves; if you need your soil in that area to be slightly acidic, cover with pine needles (strawberries).
  • If things get stinky, add more carbon.
  • You want to plant NOW, or the same day you layer?  Can do!  Or your instant soil wasn’t so instant?  OK, here’s the instant remedy.  Make planting holes in your layers, put in some compost you purchased or have on hand, mycorrhizal fungi, and plant!  The rest will catch up, and the heat from the composting material underneath will warm your plants!  You WILL have a fine garden!  

If you do also need a traditional compost pile for spot needs, consider “No-turn” composting!  The biggest chore with composting is turning the pile from time to time. However, with ‘no-turn composting’, your compost can be aerated without turning.  The secret is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material, like straw – little air tubes, when building the pile. The compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly, and studies show that the nitrogen level may be even higher than turned compost.  With ‘no-turn’ composting, add new materials to the top of the pile, and harvest fresh compost from the bottom of the bin.

So here are 3 ways to save garden time and your back!  1)  No digging!  2)  Compost in place, no moving it.  3) No compost turning!  Uh huh.

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Or wear your awesome Sloggers!  With boots like these from Sloggers Garden Outfitters, No Problem!  Regrettably, their selection for men lags.  Oops, did I say that?!  No matter, buy some for your Sweetie!  Valentine’s Day is coming….

This is bare root time – plants without soil on their roots!  For us SoCal gardeners that’s cane berry bushes, deciduous fruit trees, strawberries, artichokes, asparagus, short day onions.  Think twice about horseradish.  It’s invasive as all getout!  If you do it, confine it to a raised bed or an area where it will run out of water.  Rhubarb, though totally tasty in several combinations, ie strawberry/rhubarb pie, has poisonous leaves!  That means to dogs, small children and unknowing people.  Either fence it off, or don’t grow it.  I don’t recommend it in community gardens because we can’t assure people’s safety.  Bare root planting is strictly a January thing.  February is too late. 

SoCal’s Lettuce Month!  They germinate quicker at cooler temps!  Grow special ones you can’t get at the store, or even the Farmers’ Market!  They like a soil mix of well aged compost, organic veggie fertilizers, chicken manure.  Lay your seeds in, barely, and I do mean barely, cover them, 1/8 inch, pat them in.  Water gently with a watering can, or use the mist setting on your sprayer.  Keep the bed moist.  That might mean watering even twice daily!  If it is going to rain heavily, cover the bed so the seeds don’t wash away.  Slug and snail cocktails (Sluggo) make sense or your seedlings may vanish.  If your seeds just don’t germinate, be sure your seed is fresh.  Feed the bed once a week.  Fast growth keeps it sweet; slow growth is bitter!  Eat the younglings you thin from the patch, or transplant them.  Pluck those larger lower leaves for robust winter salads!  Plant another patch in 2 weeks to a month to keep a steady supply! 

As you harvest your winter veggies, keep planting, from seeds or transplants.  Transplants will speed things up by a good 6 weeks if you can find them.  Your winter veggies are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, parsley, peas, chard.  Seeds of beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, radish, turnips, do well.  Pop in some short-day onions. 

Remember, harvest your cabbages by cutting them off close to the bottom of the head, leaving the bottom leaves.  New smaller cabbages will grow from those axils at the stem/leaf junctions.  You might get as many as four babies!  Do the same with lettuces!  Once you harvest your main broccoli head, let the side shoots form mini broccolettes!  The further down the stalk you cut, the fewer but fatter your side branches.  Pat Welsh, Southern California Organic Gardening, recommends the variety Bonanza.

The SideDress Dance continues – if you harvest, you fertilize.  That’s a good rule of thumb.  Sprinkle some fertilizer or drizzle your favorite liquid mix, especially before a rain.  Dig it in lightly, but not in a circle.  You don’t want to break all the tiny rootlets that spread out at the surface from your plant.  So do it on a couple sides max.  Dig it in a bit so the N (Nitrogen) doesn’t just float away into the air….  Use half strength of summer feedings to avoid a lot of tender growth a frost would take. 

Start seedlings of peppers!  They are notoriously slow growers, so to get them in the ground in March, start now!  Ask your Latino friends; they are experts!  When you see them planting, you do the same.  While you are at it, ask them if they happen to have any spare jicama seeds!  Fresh-from-the garden jicama is like nothing you have ever tasted! 

If you tossed wildflower seeds, keep their beds moist. 

Start a garden journal, especially enter your genius thoughts!  Domestic harmony?  Clean up your shed/working space, or build one.   Build a greenhouse!  Plan your spring garden, order seeds.  Order fall seeds now too so they won’t be sold out later on.  Build your raised beds – that’s with frames if you want frames, and start building your soil. 

Great Rain Tips!  Please click here!  Mulch keeps your plants from getting mud splattered.

Frost Watch!  Keep an eye on your weather predictions!  If it starts getting down near 32 degrees, run for the covers! That’s your cheap sheets you got at the thrift shop, spare beach towels, old blankies, and cover your plants mid afternoon if possible!  For things to know about cold weather plants, and more tips on how to save your plants, click here!

Do I see green leaves sticking out of the corner of your mouth?

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Glorious cauliflowers are being harvested, peas devoured, lettuce leaves eaten on the spot, mini carrots munched, radishes and arugula carried home for salads! In December, your August to October plantings are paying off!  Broccolis and cabbages are coming very soon!

Winter harvesting is so fine!  Cut and come again is the name of the game! Cut the main head from your brocs, continue to harvest the mini side shoots. Cut the cabbage heads above the lowest leaves, let 4 more form in the remaining leaf axils. Take the lowest lettuce leaves, the outer celery stalks, and keep right on harvesting! Pluck your peas to keep them coming. Pull tender young beets and carrots.

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

Cauliflowers – to tie or not to tie?  Some cauliflower is self blanching, that is, the central leaves naturally curl over the head, keeping it white! If your cauliflower doesn’t do that, and you want white heads, tie the leaves over the head as soon as it starts to form. You can tie it anyway if you want to, to guarantee that pristine color. They grow super quickly, so keep watch and harvest when they are still tightly headed! Sadly, if the temp is below 40 degrees, there is too much salt, not enough N (Nitrogen), or your plants dried out, no head may be formed. That’s called buttoning. Leaves stay small, a tiny curd forms but never gets big. If you grow purple cauliflower, no tying needed!

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Reminder:  My campaign this fall is for garden cleanup, and turning the soil to expose the fungi that affects our tomatoes, and other plants, so the fungi dries and dies!

Vibrant Yellow Chard!

November, though cooler, is a rich planting time!   

First do remaining fall cleanup of lingering summer plants still at it with the warm weather we have been having.  Now is a perfect time to weed and clear pathways. 

Last chance to plant wildflowers from seed for early spring flowers!  Germination in cooler weather takes longer, so don’t let the bed dry out. 

More transplants of winter veggies.  That’s Brassicas – brocs, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips!  Plant super low calorie nutritious chard, a fast grower; and from its same family, beets.  Beets and carrots are a two in one – you eat the bulb/carrot, and can harvest the leaves to steam as greens, or chop and drop into your stew!  Bright Lights chard is a favorite of mine – it’s as pretty as any flower with its bright easy-to-harvest stalks.  Carrots near peas!  Celery near the water spigot.  Fava, parsley, potatoes.  The fru fru thin leaved varieties of lettuces, that are too tender for hot summer sun, now thrive!  Plant in easy to reach places, so you can continually harvest the big lower leaves.  

Plant seeds of onions for slicing.  Bare-root artichoke, strawberries.  Strawberry and onion varieties are region specific, strawberries (more to come on this soon) even more than onions.  So plant the varieties our local nurseries carry, or experiment!  Get your bare-root strawberries in between Nov 1 to 10.  

Fillers and accents, unders and besides, can be red bunch onions, bright radishes!  Try some of the long radishes, like French Breakfast, said to have a ‘delicate crunch and gentle fire’ or a quickie like Cherry Belle that matures in only 22 days – that’s only 3 weeks! 

Check out the amazing Health Benefits of Eating Radish

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Happy October, Month of Magic!

The next months…so you can plan ahead!       

October  Transplants of all fall crops, but specially of cabbages and artichokes.  Cut Strawberry runners off to chill for Nov planting.
November  Seeds of onions for slicing.  Wildflowers from seed (don’t let the bed dry out).  Strawberries in no later than Nov 5.  More transplants of winter veggies.
December is winter’s June!  Crops are starting to come in, it’s maintenance time!      

My campaign this fall is for garden cleanup, and turning the soil to expose the fungi that affects our tomatoes, and other plants, so the fungi dries and dies!     

Purple Broccoli, Bright Lights Chard, Cauliflower, Yellow Mangetout Snow Peas, Radishes or Beets of all colors, ‘Licous Red Lettuces!

This is Southern California’s second Spring!  Time to plant your winter garden, all the Brassicas, that’s, cabbage, brocs, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kales, plus celery, chard and peas, peas, peas!  All kinds!  And what I call the ‘littles,’ the veggies you plant all year, beets, bunch onions (the ones that don’t bulb), carrots (bonemeal yes, fresh manure no), radish, spinach, arugula, and, especially, all kinds of lettuces!   Plant gift plants or bowls or baskets for the holidays!  Start making holiday gifts, herbal wreaths, powdered herbs, pretty vinegars and oils, shampoos, soaps, or candles!      

Winter weather?  Bring it on!  Starting to cool down now!  Your plants will grow fast then start to slow down.  Less weeds and insects.  Aphids & White Flies are a winter crop problem (see below please).  Some people prefer the cool slower pace of winter gardening to the more phrenetic hot summer labor and work of big harvests, distribution, storage.  Harvesting cold hardy vegetables after they have been hit with a touch of frost can enhance the flavor and increase the sweetness of greens such as kale and collards.     

Extend the crop! Cut and come again!  Harvest your big greens – kale and collards, and lettuces leaf by leaf rather than cutting your plant down.  Many lettuces will ‘come back’ even if you cut them off an inch or two above ground.  Leave the stalk in the ground, see what happens!  Rather than pulling your bunch/table onions, cut them off about an inch to 2 inches above the ground.  They will come back 3 to 4 times.  Leave a potato in the ground to make more potatoes.  After you cut the main broccoli head off, let the side sprouts grow and snip them for your salads or steam them.  Cabbages?  Cut off right below the head, then let them resprout, forming several smaller heads at the leaf axils.     

Gather your last lingering seeds midday on a sunny dry day.  Dry a few seeds from your favorite tomatoes!  Sidedress continuing and producing plants.  Then cleanup!  Remove funky habitat for overwintering insect pests, fungi.       

Build wire bottomed raised beds for gopher protection.  For very useful information, please see University of California, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Pocket Gophers.     

Prepare your soil!      

  • If you are a new gardener at Pilgrim Terrace, ask other gardeners, or the previous person who had your plot, how the soil  was tended.  Some plots may need no amending, others may need a lot.  Add compost, manures, seaweeds, worm castings as needed.  Some people do the whole garden at once, others conserve valuable materials by preparing only where they will specifically plant, for example, a large plant like a broc.  If it is a lettuce bed that you will do repeated plantings in, you might opt to do the whole bed at once.
  • Since mulch keeps the soil cool, some people pull it to the side in winter, to let the sun heat the soil on cool days.
  • Simple soil test!  Test the soil by putting a drop of vinegar in a teaspoon or so. If it fizzes, it’s too alkaline. Then test it by putting in baking soda mixed with a little water. If it fizzes, it’s too acidic.

Garden Design       

  • In addition to planting your veggies, plan ahead to plant flowers, to always have some in bloom, to attract pollinators.  Borage is a lovely plant, blooms all year, has purple blue star flowers that are edible and good for you!  Toss a few on top of your salads!
  • Make habitat!  Plants for beneficial insects, poles for birds, rocks for lizards! 
  • Plant tall in the North, the mountain end of our plots; plant shorties in the South.  This is especially important in our winter gardens because of the low sun long shadows.
  • Give your big plants plenty of room to become big; plant fillers and littles (beets, bunch onions – the ones that don’t bulb, carrots, radish, spinach, arugula, lettuces) on their sunny south sides!
  • Put plants that like the same amount of water together (hydrozoning). 
  • Put plants together that will be used in the same way, for example, salad plants like lettuces, bunch onions, celery, cilantro.
  • Biodiversity.  Planting the same kind of plant in different places throughout your garden.  It can be more effective that row cropping or putting all of one plant in one place, where if disease or a pest comes, you lose them all as the disease or pest spreads from one to all.
  • Layering example:  Transplant peas at the base of any beans you still have.

How to plant!       

  • This is the time to put your mycorrhiza fungi to work!  One of the great things mycorrhiza does is assist Phosphorus uptake.  Of the N-P-K on fertilizers, P is Phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop.  Sprinkle it on the roots of your transplants when you plant them!  More about mycorrhiza:  http://www.mycorrhizae.com/index.php?cid=468&    http://www.mastergardeners.org/newsletter/myco.html      Island Seed & Feed carries it.
  • Use vigorous fresh seeds, choose vibrant not-fruiting transplants that preferably aren’t root bound (having a solid mass of roots).  If the transplant is pretty big for the container, pop it out of the container to make sure it isn’t root bound.  If it is the only one there, and you still want it, can’t wait, see what John R. King, Jr (2 min video) has to say on how to rehabilitate your plant!
  • Lay down some Sluggo (See Slugs & Snails below) right away, even before seedlings sprout, when you put your transplants in, so your plant isn’t overnight snail and slug smorgasbord! 

Strawberry Runners!  Mid Oct cut off runners, gently dig up if they have rooted, shake the soil off.  Clip all but two or three leaves off, tie ‘em together in loose bunches. Plastic bag them and put in the back of your fridge for 20 days.  Plant them Nov 5 to 10!  Prechilling your plants makes them think they had a cold winter.  When days get longer and warmer, they will produce fruit, not as much vegetative growth.  You can then either keep your plants that produced this year, or remove and compost them, start fresh with new plants!     

Watering – Morning when you can because plants drink during the day, and we want them to dry so they don’t mildew!  Water underneath, especially late beans, and your new peas, who are especially susceptible to mildew.  Except for your short and shallow rooted plants, once a week and deeply is good unless there is a hot spell or rain.  Then, check ’em.  Poke a stick in the ground to see if the soil is moist under the surface.     

Happy playing in the dirt!

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Design ahead for month by month planting!

Plan ahead for delicious results!

July  Time to start counting the days to maturity on what you plant now, because a lot of winter crops are started as early as August!  Start preparing your soil as spaces become available.  Some say October is the best planting month of the year!  Heat lovers started now will have a shorter harvest period.  Maintenance and good harvesting practices are key.

August  Depends on which you like most, summer crops or winter crops.  Plant summer crops you love a lot and still want more of.  If you love winter crops, improve your soil as plants finish, areas become available, and wait until September.  Midmonth start cool season seeds – celery, cabbage, brocs, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower are good – to put in the ground late September and October.  Make notes on your summer crops in your garden journal.

September  First fall planting month, Labor Day weekend or bust!  Seeds are fun, transplants produce sooner.  Plant Sweet Peas for Christmas bloom!

October  Transplants of cabbages and artichokes.  Cut Strawberry runners off to chill for Nov planting.

November  Seeds of onions for slicing.  Wildflowers from seed (don’t let the bed dry out).  Strawberries in no later than Nov 5.  Transplants of winter veggies.

December is winter’s June!  Crops are starting to come in, it’s maintenance time!

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