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Posts Tagged ‘asparagus’

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 age 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!

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Homemade Pickles are high in Probiotics!Believe it or not, the homemade common green pickle is an excellent probiotics food source.  So is homemade sauerkraut, considered a probiotic super food! And the ‘sauerkraut’ can be made of any of the Brassica family plants – broccoli, cabbage – green or red is fine, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, bok choy, kohlrabi, etc.  These plants have the same bacteria as in yogurt, and the bacteria does all the work naturally!

Probiotics?  Say what?  What are they and why would you want them?!

Per WebMD.com ‘Probiotics are organisms such as bacteria or yeast that are believed to improve health. They are available in supplements and foods. The idea of taking live bacteria or yeast may seem strange at first. After all, we take antibiotics to fight bacteria. But our bodies naturally teem with such organisms. The digestive system is home to more than 500 different types of bacteria. They help keep the intestines healthy and assist in digesting food. They are also believed to help the immune system.’

Pickling cucumbers are fun to grow, crunchy tasty off the vine, and the survivors are easy to make into pickles!  Basically, use any mix of spices that pleases you, add it to your jars.  Wash, leave whole or cut to fit, and puncture your cukes – so the brine is better absorbed, stuff them into the jar too.  Make a salt and water brine, pour it over them a 1/2″ more than the height of the cukes.  Ferment a few days and they’re yours!

HellaDelicious uses a marvelous spice mix (below), and has great tips on her page by page recipe – see all the details!  Or just do water and salt, forget all the spices!  But, I’ll bet you have a few of these spices handy and could quickly throw in a few, just your favorites, of course!  Be creative!  This works for any veggies you would like to pickle – cauliflower, beans, asparagus, onions, carrot slices, beets, tomatoes!

  • small handful fennel seeds (you gathered from an unsprayed place)
  • 6-10 black peppercorns
  • 1 T mustard seeds
  • 5-7 cloves
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, sliced (you grew your own)
  • dill flower heads and leaves (you grew it next to your cukes)
  • small handful of coriander seeds (cilantro you let bolt and seed)
  • 1 horseradish root, sliced (fresh is great but it’s highly invasive)
  • cinnamon bark

You may enjoy A cheater’s guide to quick pickling almost anything by wild Brooklynite pickler Kenji Magrann-Wells.

Now.  Before you go running off to the grocery store to buy pickles and sauerkraut, know that, per Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist,

Foods that are pickled are those that have been preserved in an acidic medium. In the case of various types of supermarket pickles on the shelf, the pickling comes from vinegar. These vegetables, however, are not fermented (even though vinegar itself is the product of fermentation) and hence do not offer the probiotic and enzymatic value of homemade fermented vegetables.

Vegetables that you ferment in your kitchen using a starter, salt, and some filtered water create their own self preserving, acidic liquid that is a by-product of the fermentation process. This lactic acid is incredibly beneficial to digestion when consumed along with the fermented vegetables or even when sipped alone as anyone on the GAPS Intro Diet has discovered (cabbage juice anyone?). In other words, homemade fermented veggies are both fermented and pickled.  [Be sure to read the comments on her page too!]

She says not only are there probiotics, but these homemade foods

  • Enhance the vitamin content of the food.
  • Preserve and sometimes enhance the enzyme content of the food.
  • Improve nutrient bio-availability in the body.
  • Improve the digestibility of the food and even cooked foods that are consumed along with it!

To your excellent health and the great sport of pickling and krauting!

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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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Have you already seen Part 1?  Why soak or presprout, all about seeds, how seed coats function; soaking times, seed soaking solutions.

Soaking Pea Seeds - Floaters are Dead, Sinkers You Plant!

Scarify Seeds  Scarify pea seeds to speed up absorption of water, and therefore, germination.  Rub them between sheets of coarse sandpaper, or clip them with a nail clipper by making a slice through the seed coat, not the seed, with a nail clipper [not removing a chunk]! This happens naturally in nature when a mouse with muchies comes along and nibbles seeds.

EZ Planting Techniques!  

1.  You will find that small wet seeds do not sow as well as dry seeds. They cling to your fingers, and tend to drop in gobs. This can easily be remedied by laying the seed on a paper towel for a little while. Not only will they be really easy to see, but the surface water will be drawn off, and the shell of the seed will continue to remain soft and moist until you have time to plant them.  They germinate in 2 days usually!

2.  Nutsy but fun!  With smaller seeds, you can make seed tapes if you plant in rows or if you plant in blocks, you can even just glue them to a thin paper napkin with some Elmers glue (the white, water soluble kind) to ensure the spacing you want without having to thin them. Purely optional though.  Maybe the kids could do it for you, or as a class project?!

3.  Carl Wilson, Denver County Cooperative Extension Agent, Horticulture says pre-germinating seed indoors is helpful in early spring because sprouted seed will grow in soils too cool for germination. It’s easy to sprout seeds on moistened paper towels sealed in a plastic bag for a few days. The difficult part is to sow fragile young seedlings without injury to them. The solution is sowing in a fluid gel, called fluid seeding.

To make a gel for planting seeds, add one tablespoon cornstarch to one cup of water and bring to a boil. Cool the starch mixture to room temperature before pouring it into a plastic sandwich bag. Gently ease your germinated seeds into the gel and close the bag with a twist tie. If the weather is not right for planting, store the gel bags in the refrigerator for a few days until conditions improve. To plant, snip the corner off the plastic bag and squeeze the gel and seedlings into the planting furrow as you would toothpaste from a tube.  [Great for carrot seeds!]

4.  The easiest method for sowing seeds after soaking is to put them in a plastic squeeze bottle along with some water. If you keep swishing the solution in the bottle as you hold it in an upturned position, you can get an even distribution of seeds. This, of course, is for fine seeds such as parsley, onion, celery, asparagus, and carrots.

Hot weather seed tricks:  Water furrow deeply before planting. After planting, place a board over it to keep soil moist and cooler. Requires regular peeking for signs of germination. Presoak your seeds. Plant deeper. Space farther apart.

You can plant carrots, parsley, celery, lettuce, coriander, etc. in 100-degree temperatures. Keep the soil cool, reduce light intensity and maintain soil moisture. Add humus to soil first.

Carrots, parsnips, peas don’t like recently manured ground but the cabbage family, fennel, onions, lettuce and late squash and corn love it.

Water the garden area thoroughly the day before planting. Moist seeds, moist soil = quicker germination. After that, you have to watch your seedlings and make sure they don’t dry out or that they are not drowned by over-enthusiastic watering.  [Practice until you get it right.  Don’t give up if you don’t get any seedlings the first time, even the first few times you try – be sure your seeds are viable.]

Au Naturel!  From Glib at iVillage Garden Web:  In my view, a better technique involves watching the weather forecast at the appropriate time of the year. When 80%+ rain is forecast, abandon any other project and seed the hell out of the garden. There are a few windows of opportunity during the year when direct seeding is easy.  Part of the art is knowing when the time is right for direct seeding. It is not just the rain but also the overcast skies that help.

This works well in spring and early summer around here (Michigan). Rains are fairly frequent, and seedlings “know” that if they emerge and the air temp is a bit low they should stick close to the ground for a while. There will be no transplant shock, and the workload is truly minimal (minimal work is always interesting to me). When the temps increase, they are 100% ready and take off.

In August this does not work so well, if you have to plant your kale for Fall and winter. Then soaking, followed by twice a day misting, is the least worst technique. Still, if you have your seedlings coming up under a searing sun it is not good. You still want to look at the forecast and see if you can catch a cloudy day or two. Lacking that, keep those Ikea cardboard boxes around, opened flat. They can cover a bed in mid day if needed.  [Or pole up some garden shade cloth, or prop up some of those latticed plastic flats, the ones with the 1/4” lattice.]

There you have it!  Take your pick or don’t!  If you do, let me know your successes…and failures.  

Please also see Part 1! Why soak or presprout, all about seeds, how seed coats function; soaking times, seed soaking solutions.

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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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