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Tomato Chef's Choice Pink F1 Beefsteak, 2015 AAS Vegetable Award WinnerTomato Chef’s Choice Pink F1 Beefsteak, 2015 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

The request I got was what are the best cherry, the best heirloom, the best standard and the best beefsteak to grow in our area?! Quite reasonable query.

Santa Barbara has such a range of zones! And, if you ask 5 gardeners they will have 5 answers! That’s my experience gardening at a community garden.

Best depends on WHEN you plant. If you plant early, you want ‘early’ producers that are more cold tolerant, the smaller varieties. A month later you can go for the bigger toms. Beefsteaks don’t do well on the Westside unless you have a hotspot. Gardeners at the Terrace don’t get the best results with them. They take too long to mature and often don’t get big like a beef steak should, take forever to redden, thus, low production.

Best depends on whether your soil has Verticillium or Fusarium wilts, which the Terrace does. And the wilts are wind borne as well as soil/water splash spread. Heirlooms generally have little resistance and die first at our garden. And whether heirlooms do well has a lot to do with what the gardener does with their soil and whether they help them out weekly/biweekly with an immune building foliar spray like the mix of powdered milk and aspirin. Soil needs worm castings, that help with the immune system, and at transplant time mycorrhizae fungi sprinkled on their roots for greater uptake of nutrients and water. Best for us are tomatoes that have VFN on their tags ~ Verticillium, Fusarium, Nematodes resistance. Resistance is exactly what it means. The plants do die sooner or later from the disease no matter how much you do, feed, spray, treat.

How the gardener plants tomatoes makes a difference. Up on a mound with a basin on top. Top that with a 1/2″ of compost, cover that with 1″ of straw to let in air and sun to dry the soil but keep the leaves from touching the soil. Touching the soil is the main way toms get the wilts. Lower leaves that might touch soil when weighted with dew or by watering need to be removed ASAP.

The wilts can’t be stopped. Sooner or later the plant leaves curl lengthwise, get dark spots, turn brown, hang sadly. Plants can produce but it’s agonizing to watch. Sometimes they somewhat recover later in the season after almost looking totally dead. I think the summer heat drys the soil and kills enough of the fungi for the plant to be able to try again. When we think it is dead, we water it less. It’s better to water near a tomato, not right at its roots. It has a deep tap root and will find water from water you give to neighboring plants.

The best of each? Cherry, heirloom, standard, beefsteak? I believe often it is totally gardener preference. If they love that variety, they will pamper it like a baby and it grows and produces like crazy! Some gardeners love Lemon Boys that are practically tasteless to me. Some gardeners like a mushy almost grainy texture. Some gardeners far prefer taste to quantity of production. I personally don’t find heirlooms to be anymore tasty than the toms I choose, though I do love their color variations and odd shapes! I’ve chosen toms just because I like their name. And I don’t recommend doing that, LOL! Some plant that variety because that’s what their family planted, sentimental, and they swear it tastes better too! Genes, you know.

Other than that, if you want to get technical, AAS Winners are a total best bet! All America Selections is a non profit of 80 years standing! The 2014 tomato winner was a yummy looking orange heirloom! They are selected each year from the best that are produced, proven producers, disease and pest tolerance/resistance. Obviously color, size, taste and texture are personal choices and best becomes a moot point. I do a little of both. I primarily pick VFNs and let myself ‘experiment’ from time to time, and let at least one volunteer live out of pure curiosity! LOL

Mother Earth News has a great collection of gardener tomato variety preferences cross country. Check it out! For the Southwest, Sungold and other cherry tomatoes are the popular, practical choice. Those of us more coastal are very lucky to have a greater range of choice.

A technical point is some varieties of tomatoes are far better for tomato grafting than others.

So, best depends on best for what, when, where and who! Personal taste, soil conditions, when you plant, where you plant. A windless hot spot with lots of light even in a cool neighborhood works well so you have more choices of varieties that will succeed.

HEAT TOLERANT VARIETIES! Many plants start shutting down, dropping flowers, baby fruits, at about 85 degrees. But, like Rattlesnake green beans that produce wonderfully in temps up to 100 degrees, there are some terrific tomatoes that keep right on producing! Look at successful varieties grown in hot inland California, southern and desert areas to see their choices, not just in the US, but places like Israel too. In this SoCal drought heat, I highly recommend you take a good look at nursery tags! Query a knowledgeable nursery person if in doubt, and double check that variety online before you purchase. Best choices from now on, in the warmer winter and hotter California summers, needs to include heat tolerance! Key words in heat tolerant tomato names are heat, solar, fire, sun!

GardenWeb has some great discussions from around the country on heat tolerant varieties and gardener tips of all kinds! Best heat resistant tomato varieties? – GardenWeb

Happy Tasty Tomatoes to You!

 

 

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Water Wand Long Easy On Off Save H2O
Some people think a drip system is the water saving way to go. That’s true if you have a farm or a permanent landscape. In a fast moving small veggie garden hand watering is better for several reasons.

Plants are constantly changing as they come and go. Even in a row, some plants grow faster than others, a gopher might grab one, and as they mature are pulled to make room for new ones. Happily, this leaves late maturers for continued table supply. Often new plants added to the row are a different kind of plant as the season progresses. New ones require more water more frequently to get started. Seed beds need wetting daily. Seed beds vary in size and design depending on what’s planted, where you put it, how much you need.

One advantage of a small garden is you don’t have to plant in rows. Biodiversity calls for putting the same kind of plant in different areas so disease or pests don’t go down a row or through a patch, from plant to plant and you quickly lose them all. Succession planting means you don’t plant the entire area at once, but leave room to plant another round to mature later, to keep a steady table supply. Plants at different stages need differing amounts of water. Hand watering is perfect in these situations.

Leaves don’t need water, roots do! Long water wands let you reach in to water at the root of your plant as each needs it. There is no evaporation from overhead watering or water on foliage. Fuzzy plants don’t like wet leaves, they can’t breathe nor regulate their temperatures properly.  Nor herbs. If you live by a busy dusty street, then do wash down your plants occasionally to keep their leaf pores open and dissuade Whiteflies.

Water Wand Easy Shutoff ValveKeep the flow low! Choose a water wand with low flow, like the ones they use in nurseries that don’t break the plants. Get one that has an easy to use shutoff valve. Check out this new kind in the image. In a lot of nurseries employees are required to shut off the water while moving from one plant to another! Saves water when you go plant to plant, area to area. Low flow lets the water sink in. The general rule of thumb is water deeply, 1″, once a week. Check that by sticking your finger in the ground. If the soil is dry 1″ down, it’s time to water or water more.

Plants need different amounts of water. Lettuce and short rooted plants like some varieties of strawberries, green beans, onion, need water about every three days or so unless it is exceptionally hot and/or windy. At super hot times you may need to water once a day, twice a day for seed beds. Lettuce may need water every day to keep fast growth and sweet flavor. Big bodied plants like zucchini, some melons, pumpkins and winter squash need a lot of water to support all that plant. And there are times when plants don’t need any water at all, like when garlic and onions mature. They need to develop their ‘storage skin’ that keeps their innards moist while being stored.

Steady water is critical for beans, a heavy producer with small root, and strawberries. Beans curl and strawberries are misshapen, called cat faced, when watering is irregular. Celery and chard are thirsty plants. They need a lot of compost, soil with water holding capacity. Chard naturally wilts in heat, so check first, poke your finger in the soil, so you don’t literally drown it when it is only doing its midday thing!

What else you can do!
  • Compost before planting! Compost has serious water holding capacity, saves water.
  • Except for tomatoes, make planting basins below the soil level. For drier fungi free surface soil for tomatoes, make mounds with the basin on top of it, the bottom of the basin above neighboring soil levels. As soon as you plant, mulch. Put a stake in the center of the basin and water only there at the roots of your plant. Your plant gets water, the basin berms or sunken basin prevent wind drying the soil like in waffle gardening. A few days after you start watering, check to see the basin is still in good shape, doing its job. Soil naturally settles, so add more to tomato berms if needed. Clear out sunken basins if they have filled in a bit.
  • Make berms along pathways especially in sloping areas. Pathways don’t need water. The berms don’t have to be big and the berms don’t need to be wetted.
  • Sprinkle transplant roots with mycorrhizae fungi at planting time. Mycorrhizae increase water and nutrient uptake. In Goleta ask for it at Island Seed and Feed.
  • Except for super heat lovers, Mulch like religion to keep your soil cooler, moist longer.
Hand watering is kinda Zen. You are ‘with’ your plants, see what they need, what needs doing next. Hummingbirds come. You take in the day, the beauty around you. You feel the Earth under your feet.

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Mulch ~ save water, reduce weeds, keep fruits above bug level and clean!

I used to be a total mulcher, covered my whole veggie garden. I’ve adjusted my coastal SoCal *mulch thinking to match the plant and the season!

If you are coastal SoCal, in the marine layer zone, your mulch, or composting in place, may be slowing things down a lot more than you realize. The biggest most abundant melons I’ve ever seen grown at cool & coastal Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden were on bare hot dry soil in a plot that had a lower soil level than most of the other plots. The perimeter boards diverted any wind right over the top of the area, the soil got hot! It was like an oven! So, let it be bare! No mulch under melons, your winter squash, pumpkins except under the fruits to keep them off the ground, clean, up from insect predators. Melons!

Put up a low wind barrier – straw bales, a perimeter of densely foliated plants, a big downed log, be creative. Let your peppers and jicama get hot! Eggplant are heat lovers! Okra is full sun Southern hot! If you are coastal cool, help them be warm. If you are foothills hot, mulch them.

Tomatoes need dryer soil to avoid the verticillium and fusarium wilt fungi if your soil has it. Plant them in a basin that keeps the water out! Make the basin on top of a mound with the basin bottom level above the surrounding soil level. Let ‘em dry near the main stem; water nearby plants outside the basin, a foot or more away from the central stem. Let that tap-root do its job, get the water below the fungi, wilt/blight zone, the top 6 to 8 inches. Also, drier soil is not comfy for slugs. Yes, when your toms are babies you need to water in that basin until that tap root is developed. Straw is the best mulch for them because it allows drying air flow. Put only 1″ down to allow light to get through, warm and dry the soil. More about successfully growing Tomatoes!

Get cucumbers up on a trellis, then you won’t need mulch to keep the cukes clean and bug free, but rather because they have short roots and need consistently moist soil. 1″ of straw is good. You want airflow so the soil will dry somewhat. Cukes are susceptible to fungi wilts/blight too, so keep the leaves from touching bare ground. As soon as they are big enough, clip off lower leaves that might touch the ground when weighted with dew, or water in case they get wet. Like tomatoes, they are a fuzzy plant, so better to water at the root, not on the leaves. When they are tall enough, plant low growing spreading heat tolerant lettuces at their feet to act as living mulch. They both like plenty of water to keep them growing fast and sweet, so they are great companions. In that case you will need to use a little Sluggo or its equivalent if you feel comfortable to use it. Know that trellised cukes are cooler up in the air, so your harvest may be a little less, but because your plant will live longer, you will have longer production. Growing Cucumbers!

Straw under cucumbers has an added advantage! Per UC IPM ‘Straw mulch can help reduce cucumber beetle problems. First, mulch might directly slow beetle movement from one plant to another. Second, the mulch provides refuge for wolf spiders and other predators from hot and dry conditions, helping predator conservation.

WATER  Clearly, no mulch, more heat, equals more water needed. Water leaches the soil nutrients away, so you will need to feed your plants during the season. In drought areas, plant in basins below the surrounding soil level. Use your long low flow water wand to water only in the basin at the roots of your plant out to their dripline. If your plant outgrows your basin, make the basin bigger, out to that mature dripline. For vines, adjust your basin according to the size of your vine. Mini melons are quite small compared to Butternut squash! Make your basin big enough to serve the immediate feeding area, to where the lateral feeder roots will extend. Put a stake near the main stem so you know where to water when the big leaves cover the area! Fuzzy leaved plants, tomatoes, cucumber and eggplant, prefer not being watered on their leaves. Since there is no raised mound, there is no maintenance needed for berms surrounding a basin though there is natural settling so you do need to clear the basin occasionally. If you are in a wet area, make those mounds with the bottoms of basins above the surrounding soil level for good drainage and check the berms from time to time to be sure they are holding up. These are variations on age old Waffle Gardening.

LIVING MULCH  Closely planted beets, carrots, garden purslane, radish, strawberries, turnips act as living mulch to themselves and when used as an understory with bigger plants. The dense canopy their leaves make lets little light in, keeps things moist. If you cage or trellis your beans, most of the plant is up getting air circulation, keeping them dryer, more mildew free, if you don’t plant too densely. Beans have short feet that need to stay moist, so do mulch them – your beans and cukes with clean chop and drop, straw or purchased mulch. Strawberries get big pretty quickly and self mulch pretty soon. Chard likes moist and cooler, so mulch. Zucchini, doesn’t care. They are a huge leaved plant, greedy sun lovers, that are self mulching. But, you can do what some do if your zuke is a vining type. Feed the vine up through the largest tomato cages, stake them well, that plant is heavy. Cut off the lower leaves and plant a family of lettuces, carrots, onions, salad bowl fixin’s or basil on the sunny side underneath! If you are in a hot drought zone, plant them in the filtered shade underneath. All of them like plenty of water, so everyone is happy.

SOIL FEEDING MULCH Living mulch may be scattering a legume seed mix that makes Nitrogen nodules on its roots! When the plants die, the N is available to your soil and plants! Throw seeds under larger plants like peppers and eggplant in the summer or broccoli and kale in the winter. When the big plants are done, you can turn the legumes under or clear spots and slice in openings and plant your next crop, letting nature take her course. See more!

If you are going to mulch, do it justice. Besides wanting to cool your soil, keep moisture in, prevent erosion, keep your crop off the soil and away from bugs, and in the long-term, feed your soil, mulching is also to prevent light germinating seeds from sprouting. Put on 4 to 6 inches minimum. Less than that may be pretty, but simply makes great habitat for those little grass and weed seeds! Mulch makes moist soil, where a rich multitude of soil organisms can thrive, including great fat vigorous earthworms if you keep your soil wet enough! You see them, you know your soil is well aerated, doing great!

Mulching is double good on hillsides. Make your rock lined water-slowing ‘S’ terrace walkways snaking along down the hillside. Cover your berms well and deeply to prevent erosion and to hold moisture when there are drying winds. Use a mulch that won’t blow away or garden staple down some plastic. Plant fruit trees, your veggies on the uphill side of your berms.

Use an organic degradable mulch that feeds your soil too! Chop and drop disease and pest free plants to compost in place, spread dry leaves. Spread very well-aged manures. When you water, it’s like compost or manure tea to the ground underneath. Lay out some seed free straw – some feed stores will let you sweep it up for free! If you don’t like the look of that, cover it with some pretty purchased undyed mulch you like. Use redwood fiber only in areas you want to be slightly acidic, like for strawberries. Use redwood fiber as a last resort. Please save our trees. Use gravel if it’s all you’ve got. It works.

COMPOSTING IN PLACE  Build soil right where you need it. Where you do put mulch, tuck kitchen waste out of sight under it, where you will plant next. Sprinkle with a little soil if you have some to spare, that inoculates your pile with soil organisms; pour on some compost tea to add some more! Throw on some red wriggler surface feeder worms. Grow yarrow or Russian comfrey (Syphytum x uplandicum) near your compost area so you can conveniently add a few sprigs to your pile to speed decomposition. It will compost quickly, no smells, feeding your soil excellently! If you keep doing it in one place, a nice raised bed will be built there with little effort!

You don’t have to wait to plant! Pull back a planting space, add compost you have on hand or purchased compost, maybe mix in a little aged manure mix, worm castings, specific amendments to the kind of plant you will be planting. Sprinkle some mycorrhizal fungi on your transplant’s roots, and plant! The warmth from the nearby decomposing materials will speed the growth of your new plant! Yes!

A caution:  The debris pile of composting in place may be habitat for overwintering insect pests, so put it safely away from plants that have had or might suffer infestations. To break a pest’s growing cycle, put no piles at all where there have been pests before.

If you live in a cold climate, cold, cold winters, mulch can keep the soil as warm as possible, extend your season, protect your soil, keep plants from freezing. In SoCal pull mulch away in ‘winter’ to let the sun warm the soil, let soil dry so fungi die. If there have been diseased or infested plants there, put that mulch in the trash, NOT in green waste for city pickup. If it is clean, dig it into landscaped areas to feed the soil or compost it. In general, remove overwintering pest habitat – old straw, weeds and piles of debris. 

So, you see, there are times for mulch and times not for mulch. Using less saves money, saves work. Using it well gives you a better crop!

Mulch is magic when done right!

*Mulch is when you can see distinct pieces of the original materials. Finished compost is when there are no distinct pieces left, the material is black and fluffy and smells good.

Updated from June 11, 2011 post. Updated 5.12.19

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, then became this blog too! 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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Healthy care and choices make the difference!

Give your plants a chance!

Not too much N (Nitrogen)  It imbalances your plants, just like too much sugar for us.  You get lots of leaf, no fruit, growth is too fast and ‘soft,’ inviting to pests and diseases.

Watering practices make a difference.  Overhead watering is not good for most plants, but especially not for fuzzy plants that like it dry – tomatoes, eggplant.  Too much nighttime wet equals mildews and more slugs and snails, more remedies and pest prevention, more costly.  Plants drink during the day – water in the AM when you can.  Make furrows, water deep, let it soak in laterally.  Make basins to keep water where you want it.  Drip systems usually don’t work in a veggie garden you are planting biodiversely, mixing things up.  Also, veggies come and go pretty quickly in an active garden.  If you are row or patch planting, if the area is long or big enough, a drip system could work well. 

  • Water soaked soil is dead soil.  Soil organisms, soil builders, simply drown.  If in a low spot, check your drainage options; build a raised bed.  Add organic water holding compost, water less no matter how much fun it is!
  • Dry soil is dead soil.  Nitrogen off gases, your soil organisms die or go away.  See if you can channel some water to that area.  Install furrows or build soil walls or basins to keep water where it is needed, avoid wasteful runoff.  Again, add organic water holding compost.  Water deeply.  If you are gardening at home, busy and forgetful, perhaps you could install drip irrigation on a timer. 

Avoid spreading viruses that can spread diseases.  Really check those plants you buy at the discount nursery.  Remove diseased plants and don’t compost diseased plants.  This is a tough decision when it comes to disease tolerant plant varieties.  They can have a disease yet still produce.  They are bred to do that.  Is that ethical?  If you are gardening at home and make that choice, that is one thing.  If you are in a community garden, and the disease is windborne, is it fair to your garden neighbors?  Maybe we all need to get tolerant varieties.  

Some diseases lurk in garden border weeds.  Or you can bring them into the garden by walking through weeds.  Insects bring some diseases and so do animals, like our skunks, raccoons, possums.  If the ‘weeds’ are habitat for beneficial insects, be careful what you remove, consider the balances. 

Ants.  Whether you mind them or not probably depends on how many there are and what they are doing.  If they are tending aphids, no!  Not only are there ants with aphids, but white flies are attracted to the aphid honeydew as well.  Otherwise, ants are virtuous hard working cleaner uppers!  The take away dead insects.  Balance is the key. 

Varieties matter.  Planting a variety out of season makes that plant struggle and be vulnerable to pests and diseases it can’t handle.  In Santa Barbara we have the cool damp ocean areas and the hot dry foothills.  Different varieties will thrive in one and not the other.  Planting too early or too late, your plant will try, but may not be able.  Some gardeners are totally pro Heirloom, against hybrids.  But Nature herself hybridizes, it is a natural process.  It occurs naturally by area and plants that grow there do the best there.  In a way, we subtly do a similar thing ourselves when we select seed from our best plants.  I think being flexible in your choices will get the best all around results. 

Planting at the Right Time makes a big difference.  Sometimes you just won’t get germination if it is too cold or hot.  Or a plant thrives in temporary weather, but dies when it goes cold again, or too, too hot.  They need certain temps and day length.  Some may survive, but never thrive later.  That is sad to see.  So respect them.  Know them well enough to honor their needs.  Planted at the wrong time, pests they aren’t equipped to handle may eat them alive.  If you are a big risk taker and financially don’t mind a few losses, go ahead.  Some will succeed, for sure.  You may or may not get earlier production.  Sometimes plants can be planted a month apart, but the later one will ‘catch up,’ and produce at the same time as the earlier plant!  Same can be true of smaller and larger transplants because it all depends on temps and day length.

Once your plants are going, sidedressing keeps them going!  Sidedressing usually starts when your plants start to bloom, make fruits.  Scatter and lightly dig in a little chicken manure and/or lay on a ½” of tasty compost, some worm castings, water on some fish emulsion, blood meal if they are yellowing and could use a quick Nitrogen boost.  Water well.

Plant appropriate varieties on time, water and amend well, keep watch on pests and diseases.  Robust happily producing plants are worth it, and a joy to watch!

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AUGUST is WATER SPECIFIC month! 

Keep it steady!

The Southern California coastal ‘June Glooms’ may continue, or alternate with hot days in August.  That calls for your attention; there just isn’t a routine, so water with passion!  Feel how your veggie must be feeling!  Thirsty plants need their water to continue to grow and produce.  Most plants need consistent water.  If they don’t get it they make misshapen fruits, or stop producing at all, thinking summer or production time is over.  Oops.  If you need to be gone, ask someone reliable and experienced, who knows what your plants need, to water for you.  General courtesy and gratitude is you offer to let them pick what ripens while they are tending your veggies.    

Think like a plant!  Pretend you are a short rooted plant, like a strawberry, lettuce, onion, bean, cucumber. You can’t go get the hose yourself, but you need to stay moist or your toes dry up.  You are hoping your gardener will check, stick their finger in the ground, to see just how moist your soil is and how deep the moisture goes.  Think like a tall big corn making fat cobs – needs water from bottom to top!  Giant leafy plants like chard, kales with tons of curls, zucchinis, need a lot of water to fill up those leaves!  Plants that are in full production, especially of watery fruits like zucchinis, cucumbers, and tomatoes need steady water to make those fruits.  You need more water because you are working hard, and there is a lot of you!  If you are a little seed or seedling, you need tender gentle watering so you won’t be swept away or broken!  Remember, fuzzy plants, like tomatoes and eggplant prefer dry leaves, so water them underneath.  Although with tomatoes, better to water their neighbors or nearby rather than right at or under them.  That’s to let the soil near the roots be dry, to not harbor the Verticillium and Fusarium Wilts.  The water your tomatoes can then get is from their lower roots below the topsoil fungus area.      

Rebuild water basins that have degraded to be sure to capture the water your plant needs.  Use some pretty shells or rocks to hold the soil in place.      

A sure sign there isn’t enough moisture is if the water just runs off the top of the soil to low spots.  That soil needs a deep thorough soaking to wash away accumulated surface salts.   Water deeper and less frequently.   Mulch can help, keep it a couple inches away from the veggie stem.  One of the simplest things is to take healthy trim, chop and drop.       

On these overcast days, water at ground level and in the AM so leaves aren’t wet, mildewing.  Cut off bottom leaves so they don’t transmit funguses from the soil up into your plants, and keep fruit up off the soil to prevent bug nibbles.      

Winter Weather  Predictions are mild to cooler and dry.  Cooler means slower growth, so this fall, perhaps a bit more manures – as they rot they create heat and nutrients for your plants.  Plant a tad more densely in a row for more crop, and to keep the plants warmer together.  But, do leave plenty of space between the rows for air flow to keep down diseases.  Do you follow the Farmers’ Almanac planting dates?      

Tomato Questions & Cures – Holes, spots, brown areas?  Here is an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) image page from UC Davis that is likely to answer your question!  It includes diseases and pests.      

How to Get RID of those cute pesky digging Skunks!  http://www.howtogetridofstuff.com/pest-control/how-to-get-rid-of-skunks/

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