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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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Yummerlicous basket of summer veggies grown near Mahanandi, a peaceful temple town in India.  Indira and her Husband Vijay share the traditional recipes of their families.  Brinjals, btw, are eggplants!

Each of your plants has special harvest needs and techniques to get continuing excellent returns! 

  • Be gentle in closely planted areas.  Leaf damage opens your plant to diseases and pests.  Breaking off new tender shoots stops that point of growth.
  • Harvest when your plants are dry, before you water, to reduce disease spread.

Beets  Pull when they are small and tender.  Steam the leaves too.

Broccoli  Though thought of as a winter crop, All Season brocs are perkin’ right along, prolific with side shoots!  Keep them picked to keep them coming.  Get them to the fridge ASAP because they wilt fast.

Cantaloupe is ready when it ‘slips’ from the plant – no pulling, it just comes off in your hand.

Corn is ripe when the silks turn crispy brown, and the juice is white when you pierce a kernel with your finger  nail.  Corn pretty much comes in all at once.  Get ready to feast, invite friends!  Corn turns starchy immediately, so get it to the fridge, or into that boiling water ASAP!  Cut the kernels off the cob to sprinkle over salads, freeze for winter stews.

Carrots  Poke around with your finger to see if the shoulder, the top of the carrot, is the size you want.  Loosen the soil with a spade fork if necessary, pull, rinse, eat!  I mean take them home to share with your family!  If they are hairy and forked, your soil was too rich.  If the shoulders are green, they needed to have been covered with soil.

Cucumbers!  Harvest at will.  Your choice, but big ones can be seedy.  And if you wait too long, the plant thinks it’s done and stops producing.  Harvesting smaller is better.  Keep your cucs well watered – they make a watery fruit.  Pickle some!  Grow dill beside them to be ready for pickling.

Eggplant, Aubergine.  Shiny.  When they are shiny and they don’t spring back when you press them.  The more you clip, the more you get.  Another no-store-on-the-plant!

Green Beans  Or any kind of bean!  Pick, pick, pick, carefully so as not to damage your plant, to keep them coming!  Pick when the leaves are dry, so you don’t spread diseases, and before the pods get bumpy.

Lettuces  Crisp summer lettuce salads hit the spot!  Pick the leaves last, just before you head for the fridge.  Keep taking the lower leaves.  If your plant starts to bolt (grow upward), take the whole plant right away unless you want it to seed for you, otherwise, it’s compost.

Peppers!   When they are big and they’ve got that great pepper shape!  Peppers have a specific number they reach and they won’t make any more until you pick some!

Radish  Keep them well watered for fast growth, pull before they split.  They are usually a bit hotter in summer.

Summer Squash (zucchini, crookneck, etc.)  Cut them off at your preference, but when it’s hot, keep a watch under those leaves!  Giant squash sap the strength from your plant and keep younger fruit from developing.  Harvest small for salad slices.  When you find a giant hiding, use it for stuffing and baking.  If you are getting too many, pick the blossoms off to slow them down; eat the blossoms!

See ALL about SQUASH at On The Green Farms! 

Tomatoes!  Red on the vine, before the bugs, birds or mice get them.

Watermelon  When the tendrils start to dry and the bottom of the melon turns creamy color.  If it makes a dull sound when you thump it, it’s overripe.

SEEDS!  Seeds are another kind of harvest!  Let your best plants flower and seed.  Collect those seeds for planting next year!  But not the seeds of hybrids or corn unless your corn in no way can hybridize with anyone else’s corn!

Preserve!  If you have a great abundance, start preserving!  Dry, freeze, can!

Share!  Have extra tomatoes, beans, cukes, zuchs, and you don’t have time or inclination to preserve?!  Share your abundance! Here’s how!

  • Give to Pilgrim Terrace residents!  Take your veggies to the office 8 AM to 5 PM (Modoc/Portesuello).  They watch the garden for us, so it’s good payback!  The elders really appreciate fresh veggies and herbs!
  • Santa Barbara County’s Foodbank  Drop off M-F 7 AM – 3:30 PM at  4554 Hollister Av.
  • Share at weekend Neighborhood Food Exchanges!  Dates and locations  

Thanks for your generosity when so many really need your kindness.   Just a quick stop among your errands….

Organic garden-fresh produce can’t be beat!  Enjoy every life-giving luscious bite!

Next week:  August in Your Garden!

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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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Interplant - Lettuce between Cabbages

Interplanting, Cut & Come Again, Winter Watering! 

1)  Interplant!  

  • Plant peas at the base of your declining beans.  Keep harvesting beans while your baby peas are coming.  When you decide to remove your beans, clip the plant off at the ground, leaving the roots with their nitrogen nodules in the ground.  Onions stunt peas, but carrots enhance peas!  While you are at it, include space to put a row of lettuces at the sunny side of the base of your peas.  The carrot or lettuce foliage will help keep your peas’ feet moist and they like that.  You can harvest both standing in the same spot!  Peas are the only really keep-planting-more  winter crop, and the only really vertical (cages and trellises) winter crop!  Gophers love peas, and carrots, and lettuce, sigh, so I would definitely install protective wire baskets for their root areas before you put up your trellises or cages.  It is such a bummer to lose a producing pea plant. 
     
     
  • Your fall garden is going to look sparse when you start because plants like broccoli, kale, collards, cauliflower and cabbages have a big footprint, 1 ½’ centers.  Interplanting slow growers with fast growers between and among is good space usage, reduces weeds, and is downright pretty besides being edible!  The fast growers mature before the larger plants shade them out.  Carrots, though having slow growing roots, grow pretty tops quickly, and they won’t mind being among your Brassicas. 
      
  • Because your big guys will get big, you may need to leave a dedicated sunny space for your littles – lettuces, radishes, bunch onions, beets, carrots, colorful chards.  But once your Brassicas get bigger, except your cabbages, which will grow low to the ground, cut off the lower leaves on the south, sunny side.  Now you can grow shorter plants under your Brassicas again.   

  • If you have strawberries that produce most of the year, they are going to need a dedicated sunny space.  Make the space easy to reach for harvesting or plunk a large stepping stone in the center, then start planting around it like a wheel.  Don’t plant too close to the stone, so when you use it you aren’t stepping on your plants’ leaves and fruit.  Don’t plant so far from the stone that you can’t reach to harvest your fruit. 
  • Larger, Slow Growing Vegetables:  Bulb onions, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peas, parsnip.
    Smaller, Fast Maturing Vegetables:  Beets, bunch onions, carrots, kale, lettuce, mesclun, radish, spinach, Swiss chard.
        

    2)  Cut & Come Again!   Since so many winter plants are cut and come again, there is not as much concern to plant successively, a new round every few weeks or month.  Cabbages planted on the same day just don’t all mature at the same time.  Nature, you know.    

    3)  Water less often, deeply, at ground level, not on the leaves.  That reduces soil funguses and foliage mildews, especially on peas.  Harvest dry, water afterwards.  Wash your hands after handling mildewed or diseased plants before working with other plants.

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    Small Bites, Big Problems! May/June PESTS!

    Flea Beetles! For the first time, I got down close to my poor perforated eggplants, lifted the leaves, and, ugh, there they were, flea beetles! The ones I saw are tiny, about one-sixteenth of an inch, shiny black beetles with enlarged hind legs that enable them to jump like fleas, just a bit bigger than our pet’s fleas, easy to see, and, they are buggers to catch! They DO jump, vigorously. And they are not particular. They munch on eggplant, potato, tomato, sweet corn, peppers, radish, Brassicas, and, you’ve seen all those pinholes in your arugula leaves? That just drains your plant’s energy. You can imagine what they can do to a tiny plant just coming up. It’s a race to see if the plant survives, outgrows how fast the beetles feed.

    Flea Beetle bitten Arugula

    Here’s a cure from Maria Coombs, Plot 37, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden:

    ‘When I realized my eggplant was losing a battle between life and death against flea beetles, I began my search for a viable organic pest solution. I studied several gardening books: old, new, traditional, and organic to help me. After an unfruitful search, I searched the good ol’ web and found several organic tips. However, one stood out from the rest: a concoction of chili and garlic. Based on the fact I had ingredients to make it, I decided to give it a try. The tip didn’t come with a recipe, I made it up. So, you could potentially use any chili you have….. it would be interesting to see if anyone tries a different type and if it does/does not work!

    The simple home recipe is: 1 cup boiling water, 1 Thai chili (cut lengthwise), 3 garlic cloves (shredded)

    Place chili and garlic in cup of boiling water. Let it steep until cool and strain. I felt it necessary to put the chili and garlic in boiling water to help release the oils, but you may not have to. I put the concoction in a spray bottle and drenched the plant, tops and undersides of leaves, and the soil around it.

    Dousing is needed every 3 days to kill newly emerging fleas (there were fleas again on the 4th day), until you don’t find them anymore. However, I would recommend checking the plant every day for awhile, then spot check from time to time. The potency of chili and garlic will vary, and temps may affect hatching, which may change the timeframe.

    Good Luck fellow eggplant growers!’

    Thanks to Maria for inspiring me to get over my fear of looking for the flea beetles, then actually doing something about it! Every year I make progress.

    Cucumber Beetles? Cute, but NO, NO, NO! One morning Kevin Smith, Plot 44, at the Terrace, showed me these small creatures publicly procreating in our zucchini blossoms! Take a look down into the center of your zuch flowers, you may be shocked – at how many of them there are! Not only cucs & squashes, and beans, but eggplant suffer too! Thought it was flea beetles on your eggplant? See for sure. Here’s what cuc beetles look like, this one below is on an eggplant. The simplest remedy is to remove them by hand. Learn more at Vegetable Gardener.

    Cucumber Beetle on Eggplant

    THE LARGER PEST – GOPHERS

    We have been plagued, the gophers have thrived this year. 3 helpful ideas!

    1) If you decide to use chicken/aviary wire barriers, you could do small areas at a time as they become available. You could purchase, or make, wire ‘baskets,’ very small to quite large, for areas that you want to plant gopher favorites like lettuce, beans, cucs, chard – soft bodied plants. My other thought is to install a border of wire vertically to see if that works, rather than digging up the whole plot and laying wire underneath. I’ve seen two places where people installed these boundaries and the gopher piled soil outside their plot where the barrier stopped them. They didn’t go underneath it.

    Several people at Pilgrim Terrace have made varieties of sizes of wire baskets – see Hillary’s Plot 24, Marion Freitag’s, Plot 19, Hoanh’s Plot 45. Hoanh installed black plastic flats vertically around his plot as a barrier as well. He said to use the small grid flats; they chew through the large grid flats.

    2) Raised boxes with wire stapled to the bottom are another barrier type option. See Bob Berdan’s Plot 30, Ginny Woliver Plots 5-7. Nice thing about this option is you can take the boxes with you if you have to change plots when the lottery comes, or you can take them with you if you leave the garden, or you can give them to someone when you no longer need them. Easy to empty and transport. Yes, boxes and wire degrade over time.

    3) If you want to use traps (UC IPM), get someone to show you how to use them. There are a few tips that you learn with experience. And, really, they are dangerous, so respect them completely. Traps are a temporary solution. Of course, after about 3 years, the wire and wood barriers degrade and need to be replaced.

    One of the tips I would give, is trap immediately if you decide to trap. I have caught them in 20 minutes, while I was working in the plot! That means no more plants are eaten or damaged, at least by that gopher! Otherwise, they can just mow an area.

    The cheaper little Macabee wire traps, not the large ‘black hole’ tunnel kind, need much smaller holes to insert. That’s less damage to existing plants, less need to remove any plants to make room for the traps. But the big traps might have a better success rate with smaller gophers. Both kinds of traps are dangerous to humans – DO NOT SET THEM UNTIL THE HOLE IS READY FOR YOU TO INSTALL THEM. Do not leave them lying about once they are set.  Not a project to do with children about.

    4) You can use a combination of the top 3 ideas.

    Beeper repellent stakes  Battery operated is expensive – price it out, you’ll see, or do the recharge dance.  Solar beepers on sale are better and they last 2, 3 years.  They work best in ‘open’ areas where the sound can carry, like lawns.  If you put one in an area planted with tall dense plants, it won’t do much good.  But if those plants are special and you want them protected, that works.  Be sure the solar panel gets a lot of sun, doesn’t get shaded by your plant growing over it.  If it is shaded, it fades to no beeping.  Underground critters depend on hearing and vibration to alert them to danger, so take careful notice of the radius the beeper says it will cover per the area you need to work for.  Heavier soils such as clay are superior transmitters of sound and vibrations than are sandier soils, so our loose garden soil isn’t going to get great mileage.

    Poison is not a good choice because of neighborhood pets. They could somehow ingest the poison, or an animal that has been poisoned. There have been instances where people found only partial remains in traps that had been dug up by predators after the gopher had been caught.

    Very funny, sometimes touching, dialogue at the Garden Web Forum!  The more I read, the more I laughed, having great empathy with many of the writers, real people with their various experiences!  Worth the read.

    So part of your decision is based on budget. Buy traps, wire, lumber. Think now, gather materials, perhaps install raised boxes this fall for your winter planting?

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