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July is International Pest Month!

Just kidding! But it is the month so many of the little buggers come out in force! Taking good care of your plants during pest cycles goes with the territory!

Pest Prevention and taking care of your plants during pest cycles is a natural part of gardening!

Aphids & Whiteflies = Ants    Both ants and aphids exude a sugary ‘nectar,’ honeydew, that ants harvest from them.

Jet spray off the whiteflies! That’s those little clouds of tiny white insects that fly away when you bump your plant. Some of them transmit diseases to some veggies. Spray off dust that interferes with natural predators. Whiteflies like the heads of your broccoli side shoots, so keep those picked pronto! Smudge off any eggs you see on the undersides of leaves. Use a finer spray for bean leaves and be gentle, beans stems can break easily. White flies like humidity, so plant less densely, and keep check on the inner and lower leaves. Add a 1″ layer of worm castings out to the dripline of your plant. Water it in well. Insecticidal soaps or Neem oil can reduce populations. You really don’t want those tiny white flies, cute and adorable as they look, because they encourage black sooty mold and aphids that inject toxins and also carry diseases. Not good.

Some aphids are still lollying from April and June. Some are pretty little green tykes, others are dull gray, or black, usually numerous where they have decided to camp. Same principles. Keep vigilant watch so things don’t get out of hand, keep your veggies picked, and jet spray. Look inside curled leaves, under the leaves, and in newly leafing tops. See more about Aphids at UC IPM!

Ants tend aphids. Some say sprinkle cinnamon around your plant to keep the ants off it. Otherwise, use safe ant bait stakes. Be sure the stakes are the right kind for the ants you have and the time of year. ARGENTINE ants prefer sweet baits year-round. Protein baits are attractive to Argentine ants primarily in the spring. Chemical baits are not ok in our organic veggie community gardens. Instead, a simple remedy can be putting a few drops of dish soap around and filling the nest entrance. Pull mulch back from the stem of your plant and let that immediate soil dry a bit. Ants nest near water. See more about Ants at UC IPM!   See a lot more details about aphids and ants!

No mercy to those little green and black striped cucumber beetle cuties down in the cuke and squash flowers or simply strolling about! Squish. Or should we let a few pollinate our cucumbers and squashes even though they eat the flowers away? NO! Because they carry seriously nasty plant diseases.

Pick your outer lettuces leaves, cut & come again style. This guarantees you will find those morning slugs and snails. Poke around your beans gently and peek under squash and chard leaves for ambitious high altitude snail hikers. Scan your tomatoes for the varmints! Toss them someplace, the same place each time, so your local birds can gourmet on them. When the birds see you they will come for snacks! Use Sluggo, or the like, a few times to stop the generations, or hand pick if you can stand it.

Leafminers. Yuk. They chew on your chard and other veggies, get right between the layers of the leaf, making that section brown. External applications obviously can’t touch them. Pull away the infected sections of the leaf, remove badly infected leaves. There are several different kinds of leafminer insects that operate all at once. It’s their hatching season. Later summer there will be less. Keep harvesting to keep ahead of the miners.

Flea beetles in July? Yup. Those trillions of holes in the leaves? That’s who we’re talkin’ about. There are 3 to 4 generations per year, depending on weather, and the generation time is roughly 30 days. They look just like fleas, and are about impossible to catch. No mercy. Disturb their cycle by putting compost, manures, worm castings, under susceptible plants – eggplant, arugula, radish. They like radish the most, so plant it as a trap plant near other susceptible plants and let it grow out. Radish grows quickly, so plant it anytime! Turning the soil exposes the eggs and pupae to dry and die.

Keep the water coming so not only do cukes and lettuces stay sweet, the cukes and beans grow straight, but they grow fast and outgrow pests.

Unlike with insects, you don’t get a second chance with gophers.

Gophers are simply an ongoing pest for most gardeners. You mention them and gardeners groan. Now they are getting summer shiny and well fed on what you grow for them. It’s never too late to put in gopher barriers in any planting area. You can sink in an 18” to 2′ deep barrier, 6” above ground, perimeter, but better is to scoop out the area and lay the wire around and across the entire area, securing the wire edge to edge by weaving it with wire! Be sure neighboring edges are secure one way or another so there is no sneaking through. Hardware cloth will do the best job, lasts about 10 years, naturally is the most expensive. Chicken wire has too big an opening, and is easily gnawable. Aviary wire (1/2” opening), is the better choice,  and disintegrates in about 3 years, but is tons better than nothing at all!

If installing a barrier isn’t an option, then trapping is the most effective. It’s not hard to do, but I admit, it’s not entirely pleasant or even safe. Please do be careful setting traps, especially if you are gardening alone. I push the dead creature down the tunnel and close up the tunnel. Hopefully any newcomers to that tunnel system will plug that section off. Wire traps, like Macabees, are cheap and effective, need only a small hole dug to install, less digging, saves nearby plants. Box traps are perhaps more humane, and probably catch the fast small babies better, but do install two, one each direction, that’s what’s effective, you need a hole at least a foot in diameter. That usually requires a plant or more loss. The easy way to find tunnels, if you can’t find it at the fresh mound, is to push a small diameter ¼” to ½” stick into the surrounding ground at intervals until it gives when you push it in. That’s your tunnel location. The bigger the tunnel, the better your chances, especially if it goes off in two directions. Install your traps, one each direction. More on gophers!   UC Davis Integrated Pest Management  Good hunting.

Last option, but overall expensive per cost per an area, time and repeated installations, is wire baskets. You can buy them or make them. First check out how deep your plant’s roots are likely to grow and shop or make accordingly. If the roots grow through the basket they are likely to be nibbled.

We have talked about small nuisances and gophers. We haven’t talked about bunnies, mice,  deer, grasshoppers, skunks or others. But we can if you need to. Let me know.

Good gardening.  Vigilance, giving immediate care, are two good traits to have. Keep it organic. Remove pest habitat, keep working your soil, keeping your plants healthy and resistant. Floating row covers can be a good early season choice. But they have to be opened daily when it gets too hot, and opened daily or removed to allow pollination when your plants start flowering. At that point, they become more work than they are worth for pest prevention. Avoid overplanting that leads to neglect by not harvesting. If you’ve done it, remove plants you don’t use, give away if possible. Replace with something new, vigorous and inspiring! Sometimes a plant you love will simply successfully grow through the season of the pest, outgrow the part of the pest’s cycle that would bother your plant. Plant year round habitat for natural predators, beneficial insects. They are hungry hard workers! Don’t kill the spiders, welcome the lizards, put a safe bowl of water for the birds – safe means away from kitties and with a little ramp so lizards and mice, the tinies can get out.

Prevention is best! Select pest and disease resistant varieties. Use companion planting wisely!

  • Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions! It is thought to repel white flies, mosquitoes, tomato hornworms, aphids, houseflies, and asparagus beetles. Smells great and tastes great!
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill goes with your pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes act as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Herbs are fabulous! Calendula, aka Pot Marigold, traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!

No denial allowed! Be observant and take immediate action. Carry on, good garden soldiers!

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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’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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Ants and Aphids on Tomato Plant
Ants tending aphids on Tomato plant

Too many ants! Plants are seriously damaged by their aphids. Production is stalled, plants die. Not ok.

Bad year! Ants are on beans, cucumbers, okra, even tomatoes! It’s become clear the usual hosing off the aphids isn’t enough. Hosing uses too much water, it waters your plants too much, which the ants like! With big tomato plants jammed in cages, you can’t get to the center and fuzzy plants don’t like to be watered on their leaves anyway. The aphids the ants tend are almost impossible to get off those fuzzy backed leaves – especially the stiff haired cucumber leaves. You can’t hard spray them off cucumber flowers because it blows the flowers away too. Argh.

Where do those aphids come from?! Some farming ant species gather and store the aphid eggs in their nests over the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants. Queens that are leaving to start a new colony take an aphid egg to found a new herd of underground aphids in the new colony. As aphids feed, they often transmit plant viruses that can sometimes kill the plants, and the honeydew they make, that the ants feed on, favors the growth of sooty mold. This is a very destructive black fungus that spreads on plant leaves. Not only do ants protect and farm herds of aphids, but also cottony scales, mealybugs, soft-type scales, and whiteflies. Bad juju in the garden.

OK. So it’s either spray with a killer mix, or bait to end the colony. Enough already. Spraying is immediate; baiting takes a few days to a week. Do both to save your plants sooner.

Temporary Solutions

  • Insecticidal soaps are quick but temporary. Drench ant colonies with solutions of insecticidal soap, which are nearly non-toxic highly refined soap. It will not eliminate ants deep in the nest.
  • Neem Oil, organic, is a maybe. Some report it works and swear by it, others say it doesn’t work at all. Probably depends on what kind of ants you have. Some say premix works for them, others say get the 100% stuff. It is not long lasting, repeated sprayings are needed.
  • The Stinkies! Tea Tree Oil, herbs like Peppermint or Rosemary, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus sprays work and smell great! These can be used a couple of different ways. Crush the leaves, sprinkle on an ant line and they vanish. Or, use one cup of water to ¼ cup of peppermint or spearmint. Mix in your blender, strain into a handheld pump sprayer. Put it where you want it! Repeated sprayings needed. Some say you need less of Tea Tree and less frequent sprayings.
  • Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is fossilized remains of plankton; it looks like an off-white talc powder. It kills insects with exoskeletons, all kinds of them! It is perfectly safe for mammals, in fact, is eaten daily by some humans. To work it has to get ON the ant, and if it is even dew dampened, doesn’t work. It doesn’t attract ants, so they don’t invite their friends, and it isn’t ‘shared’ with the other ants. So yes it works, and no it doesn’t. If your plants are suffering now, it’s too slow to use.
  • Vinegar A half to a liter down the hole kills, but the ones that escape merely move. Remember, vinegar is also an herbicide. Be careful.
  • Water? Ants can live submerged in water for several days. That’s why the hose down the hole doesn’t work. So you need a little fire power, boiling hot water, to kill them.

‘Permanent’ Solution! Borax, plain old grocery store 20 Mule Team Borax kills the colony. It really works without fail. It’s cheap, a little goes a long way, and you can use what’s left to do your laundry!

Spray Mix 1/2 cup of sugar with 1 teaspoon of borax (20 mule team) with 1 cup of water to make a spray and spray on their trail where they enter the house (garden) and in 3 days they will be gone. Spay around the windows and doors to keep them out. When the spray dries they eat the crystals and take them back to the nest and POOF they are gone. At the garden, do this on a WINDLESS DAY, and be very careful not to get it on your plants. It’s an herbicide.

Per April Sanders, here’s how the BAIT thing works: Worker ants only feed on liquids. They take solid food back to the nests, where it is given to larvae. Then, the larvae convert it to liquid and feed it back to the worker ants [all the worker ants!]. Straight boric acid or insecticide will kill ants, but the worker ants will eat it rather than taking it back to the nest because it is in liquid form. Making a paste ensures the poison will get to the nest.

The first bait recipes I found were sugar and Borax. So I tried it. I found a lot of dead ants, meaning the Borax was not getting back to the nest, but the Borax was definitely killing the ants. After reading April’s explanation, I am now adding cornmeal to the mix. It is a ‘solid’ the ants have to carry back to the nest for processing. So sugar to attract the ants, cornmeal to carry home, Borax to do the job.

Here’s the skinny on cornmeal! Neither cornmeal nor grits cause ants to explode or jam up and starve because ants don’t eat solids. Cornmeal does disrupt ants’ scent trails until they lay down new ones. Yes, the ants might move, due to disrupted trails, and that might be only a few feet away. It appears to stop ants, but they are merely feeding close to their nest at your expense! They take the stuff home, let the larvae convert it to liquid, and they get it back in the form they can eat.

April explains that cornmeal is a medium to carry the poison. ‘Mix cornmeal with a slow-acting liquid insecticide or boric acid to make a paste. Slow-acting insecticides are the most effective way of controlling ants, according to the Colorado State University Extension. Choose one made specifically for ants for best results, and add it a little at a time to the cornmeal until you have a thick paste.’

  • Sugar ants. Bait is serious. This means you are out to kill the colony, a ‘permanent fix.’ Bait is easy to make, a cup of very warm water, 1/2 c of sugar, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons Borax, make a paste. Set it out in a way birds, pets or children can’t get to it. Put it out AFTER you have watered, at the base of plants the ants and aphids are bothering. The ants will go for the sugar and lay off your plants. Scout ants take it home to the colony, and it is spread to all the ants. It isn’t an instant fix, but it works in a few days to a week. REMOVE while you water, replace afterwards.
  • For grease or protein ants, Golden Harvest Organics bait: Mix three parts peanut butter with two parts jelly and add one tablespoon of boric acid per six ounces of mix. Add cornmeal for your solid. Place the bait on pieces of paper or stuff it into large straws (safer so birds won’t get into it,) and place it where you see ants foraging.

Make your own SAFE bait containers!

Make your own Safe Ant Bait Containers!

  • Small diameters of pipe or unchewable tubing keeps bait safe from birds, pets and small animals. Swab the inside of the end of the tube with a Q-tip to be sure the paste is stuffed far enough away from the end of the tube for a small creature to reach. Place out of the sun, or make some shade for it, along the ant trail.
  • Make holes in a jar lid, toward the center, so if it gets wet, falls over or you lay it on its side, your bait doesn’t ooze out. Put your bait in the jar, put the lid on tight. Lay it on its side, butt end facing the direction you water from, so if you accidentally water, the water doesn’t get inside. Lay it on its side along the ant trail, but especially near a plant the ants have been tending, for their easy access. They will go to it and stop tending the aphids. Don’t put it in full sun so it won’t bake your bait or be too hot for the ants to want to get into. If the lid surface is too slick for purchase, sandpaper or scratch it with a rock so the ants can get a grip. Containers are safe for you to handle when you want to move them or add more bait or remove while you water. If you make holes in the sides, make them high so the bait doesn’t seep out.

When I say Borax really works, I mean it! BE VERY CAREFUL. Besides a bugacide, it is an herbicide, used to kill weeds! It can’t tell the difference between a weed and your veggie plants. When you put down your bait, do not water later, forgetting it is there, and get it in your soil or on your plants. Take up your baits before you water. Definitely don’t do it before rains.

More ant & Borax details from an undated UCCE article on ‘New Research’ by Nick Savotich says: ‘The Argentine ant, being a honeydew feeder, has a strong preference for high carbohydrate liquids. High sucrose-based baits, (50% solution), were found to be the most preferred. Various concentrations of boric acid as the toxicant were also tried in combination with the high sucrose baits. It was found that the lowest concentration of boric acid, 0.25%, was as acceptable to the ants as was the sugar solution alone. Higher concentrations, 0.5 – 2%, tended to inhibit acceptance. Boric acid is an excellent toxicant for ants. However the next step is to determine whether this very low concentration (0.25%) is adequate to destroy whole colonies of the Argentine ant.’ So you see, it doesn’t take much of that 20 Mule Team to do the job.

For best results lay out a fresh bait daily. Lay it in areas where you see regular activity and near their points of entry if you know them. Don’t be diligent washing away their trails, you want them to find the bait spots easily again and again. All the workers in the colony can follow each others trails, so even if you killed off the first foragers, their partners will follow the trail they left.

Stop them before they start! Maybe you have been over watering? Ants make their colonies near a water source, and soft over watered plants are aphid friendly. When you find ant colony entrances, put a few drops of dish soap around, down the nest hole, fill in/bury the nest entrance. If they have taken up residence in your compost pile, turn that compost more frequently and water it a little less!

Predators! Groundbeetles, humpback flies, parasitic wasps, praying mantids and the yellow-shafted flicker all dine on ants. Plant flowering plants like cilantro, celery, carrots, food to bring the beneficial insect predators. You are lucky if you have woodpeckers because they are voracious ant eaters.

Wear gloves, wash your hands when you are done working with any toxic stuff, and remove your baits promptly when you are done with them.

Next year, put down your baits before you do plantings the ants and aphids love. Knock back the ant population from the get go! No, dear garden friends, we will never be ant free, nor do we want to be. Ants aerate our soil, clean up scraps and seeds, feed on fleas, termites, and other pests, are a food source for birds and other insects. As with all creatures, they play an important part in a healthy planet. Balance is a practical peace.

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Bushel of tasty String Beans in a Basket!

Tasty string beans, aka snap beans, are one of the easiest plants to plant from seed, and to grow! Poke those little seeds into the ground by your cage or trellis, ’bout a 1/2″ to 1″ deep depending on seed size. Water gently, and frequently enough to keep your soil moist, but only just moist so they don’t water log and rot, especially the light colored seeds. Wait a few days and you will see their little stems bowing up, leaves popping up next! So cute!

Plant them far enough apart so they have plenty of air flow when mature – that’s better for preventing mildew, so you don’t damage your plant when you harvest, and can actually get all those beans you grew! Leave room for cucumbers in between! Beans and cukes both need lots of water, so making a little trench and planting them in it is a great idea, just plant the cukes up a little higher to let the soil dry more and prevent the wilts.

Which kind of beans to plant? Your pleasure. All the same kind, different kinds in different patches, or mix ’em all up on one trellis, one each! Trellises are a tad better for bean harvesting because you have easy access to both sides of your plants. Beans come in all colors, lots of shapes, and two plant sizes – bush or pole! Gold, white, green, red, purple, variegated! They are skinny like French filets, wide like broad Italian Romanos, short and fat, or 1 1/2′ long! Long beans take longer to come in and have a taste all their own. Plant at the same time as your other beans and they will come in when the others are finishing. Perfect! And you can plant dry beans for storage, for high protein winter dishes, if you have the patience to process them. Choose bush beans for early returns, lots at once if you are canning. Choose pole/vine beans for all season production, fresh and delish! Plant bush and pole at the same time for an earlier continuous supply. For drought and heat tolerance, plant Rattlesnake bean, aka Preacher Bean. 100-degree heat doesn’t stop them from producing lots of beans!

Once your seedlings are up with 2 to 4 leaves, give them the royal treatment ASAP! One Aspirin, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap (surfactant), per gallon of water. While you are at it, add a 1/4 C nonfat powdered milk and Tablespoon of Baking Soda as well. Aspirin, triggers a defense response and stimulates growth! Nonfat powdered milk is a natural germicide and boosts the immune system. Baking Soda makes the leaves alkaline and inhibits fungal spores – that’s MILDEW, the nemesis of beans! Use especially on your young bean plants, all your cucurbits – cukes, zuchs, any mildew prone plant. Use a watering can that has a rose (nozzle) that turns upward to get the undersides of leaves as well as their tops. Prevention is better than a remedy, believe me. So feel free to treat your babies once a week or as often as you can if you just can’t do once a week.

Beans are legumes, and legumes grab N, Nitrogen, right out of the air and deposit in little nodules on their roots! But. They are enthusiastic heavy producers, so a little light feeding of liquid fish/kelp mix is good at flowering time, maybe every couple of weeks. A Tablespoon in a full watering can, and later in the season too if you see the leaves yellowing. They are hungry. If you get lots of leaf and no flowers, lay off the N; rebalance your soil by adding some P, Phosphorous. P is for rapid growth, strong roots, more flower, fruit, and seed production.

Keep your beans harvested or your plant will think it has done its job and stop producing. Harvest while they are more young for tender, crunchy juicy beans – snap! Be a little careful when harvesting so you don’t damage your plantie and open it to diseases.

Beans don’t mind sharing but not with onion family plants. Instead, put cucumbers at their feet, and trellis the cukes too. Keeps them clean and insect free. Add some radishes to discourage Cucumber beetles – those cute little green with black dots jobs. Remove them instantly. Squish, stomp, whatever it takes. Bad news, they carry bacterial diseases and viruses from plant to plant, such as bacterial wilt and mosaic virus.

Speaking of beetles, the Mexican Bean Beetle is a species of lady beetle, looks like one too. It is a notorious agricultural pest, one of the few lady beetles that feed on plants rather than other insects. They are yellowish-brown, 1/4-inch beetles with 16 black spots on their wing covers. See all about them here and organic garden practices to do if you have them.

The other bean pest is white flies. Ugh. Spray those little buggers away with your hose and invite them to not come back! Check daily until they are GONE.

At the end of the season, save seeds from your monster producing plants! They are the most localized to your garden space and you. It’s as simple as waiting for the pods to dry on the vine, collecting the seeds, and completely drying them before storing in jars.

China produces 48% of the world’s beans, the US is 15th. Beans are high in fiber, have diverse antioxidant carotenoids, give a quarter of your day’s requirements of vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that’s important for healthy bones and blood clotting, and are a good source of absorbable silicon. And they taste good right off the vine! They are yummy lightly steamed, in stews, Southern-style with ham or bacon and butter, roasted, chilled in salads, stir fried or sautéed with sauces and garlic! Hungry?!

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Vegetable Gardening Gone Vertical - Trellis of beans and cucumbers!It seems like there is never enough space for Summer Veggies! Depending on how and where you go Vertical, plan ahead, think it through! Your water source, and how water will be delivered. Will electricity be available for a timer, will you set up a self watering system, or is it you and your hose? What about sun and shade, rain and wind? How much space will each mature plant take?

Beautifully done bean and cucumber container combo from digginfood!  On the ground, use a bigger trellis and weave those cukes up on the trellis, get them off the ground, and/or lay in deep straw mulch, to avoid wilts and have clean harvests.  Plant radishes in front to deter Cucumber beetles!

When choosing your materials, details to know:

  • Peas have tiny tendrils that grab onto things, even other plants that grow upright. Beans have no such constraints! The entire vine will grow around and through openings. If you want something that serves for both kinds of plants, choose something wiry and small so the peas can live there too!  Peas are SoCal winter plants; beans are summer.
  • Oh, and think about harvest – can you get that cucumber through the opening? A lot of wire fencing just doesn’t have openings a size you can conveniently get your hands through to tend your plant.  Think remesh.

Trellises & Cages! The old fashioned standards! Stick them in the ground or in your container, or across several containers! Anchor well, plant beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, even melons, to your happiness! Cucumbers below, beans growing through them to the remaining trellis space above! Trellises can be A-framed, or bent to an inverted U shape – run your melons up and over it, plant summer lettuces in the shade underneath! Cages can give a lot of support to big plants like indeterminate tomatoes. And you can buy them pretty now, in vibrant colors! Or, buy 2 panels of 4′ X 7′ remesh and bind them together lengthwise into a 2′ diameter cylinder. Or stagger and bind them together to make a taller trellis lengthwise.  Those will hold a lot of plant, one huge indeterminate tomato or a passel of pole beans or peas, so anchor them well in case of a major wind.

Fences – a sunny openwork fence is the next best thing to a trellis, and you don’t even have to anchor it; it’s already up! If the fence is not openwork, use some ‘S’ hooks and hang some remesh or wire fencing for your plants to climb. When the season is done, carry the remesh or whatever you got as a climbing frame, over to the compost pile and remove the finished plants. Put that wire right back up and plant again!

Arches & Arbors These are lovely, providing cooling shade over your patio or deck, or adorn the entrance to your home or garden area. Grapes are classic and oh, so, tasty! But you can do all kinds of fancy, pretty, specialty gourds as well. Add a couple of climbing roses for scent and beauty! A scarlet runner bean or two are superb accents!

Containers! Tons of options!
  • Put tall plantings in raised pots behind medium and short plants in graduated sizes in front.
  • Railings of balconies or decks are terrific for those specialty boxes made to fit. Concerns are water rotting the wood, or what the water drips on. You could put flowering herbs there, Mediterranean plants that need less water. Keep them trimmed by using them frequently, for yourself, and for gifts.
  • Traditional hanging container gardens – baskets, pots, boxes, but nowadays, reused plastic bottles too! Be sure they are wind secure, won’t damage any nearby structures. Know where the water is coming from and where it is going! Put water lover plants under the hanging containers to receive overflow from above. Water more frequently due to drying out sooner. Anticipate that a large plant will shade others when it grows bigger….
  • Vertical grow columns! These come in many forms. Be sure they are well anchored. Install your water and feeding system, soil, plants, and grow, grow, grow! Great for lettuces and strawberries.

BioWalls! In a manner of speaking, a wall garden is nothing more than a fancy container garden! Make your structure with openings the size to accommodate your plants’ containers. Set in your water and feeding system. Put in containers that fit into the openings! Add your planting mix, and plant! Voila, a vertical wall garden! You can take containers out to conveniently tend your plant, exchange for another. Clearly, there needs to be enough space between plants so they don’t damage each other when you take them out, return them. Make them your height so you can easily reach them to tend them. If your biowall is going to be a feature, know it will need a little more tending to keep it attractively vibrant.

Shelves are simple! No saggies! Use adequate support and use materials that won’t endanger your plants by sagging half way through the season. Instead of using one wide board, lay on 3 to 5 narrow boards side by side, on edge if possible, about an inch apart – that’s for drainage and drying so your wood doesn’t warp and rot out. Or, tilt the shelf/shelves slightly, down in front, away from the wall of your house if you are doing the shelves against your home, so the water drains off and away from your home. Leave a little airspace between the shelf and your home for air circulation. Wire racks, like old refrigerator shelves, make terrific shelving. Drier conditions keep mildews, molds, bacteria and fungi from forming. Keep your plants disease and pest free for successful harvests.

Untreated pallets! What fun! Usually you can get them for free! Stand them on edge, throw in some peat and soil, maybe some straw, plant both sides! Put them where you want them. Move them anytime, per season, or not at all! True space savers.

Roof! How vertical can you get?! Be safe. Water is heavy. Can the structure support it? Is it ok with the owner. Where will excess water go? Anchor plants well – no flying plants!

As one blogger says, ‘…believe me, with a little love plants can grow just about anywhere and on anything.’ Tis true.

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Its’ Tomato Time!

July Gardening is Red Hot! Tomatoes and Peppers!

Fine image from TheGardenersEden.com

Relax in the hot summer sun, get a big basket, line it with a light kitchen towel, grab a container for berries, mosey on out to the garden and fill that puppy with your finest! Beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, a couple peppers, zucchini, strawberries, some cooking herbs. Before you leave, top off your basket with some lettuces, chard if you still have it, garden purslane. Last, gather your corn, and hustle to the fridge, or cook it right up, so it doesn’t go to starch.

Gather your seeds before the birds get them all, but leave some for them too, if you can spare them, and don’t mind a dry brown plant for a few days. Brown and dry has its own beauty.

Do some watering, give yourself a splash or two, stay hydrated. Make sure any seed/seedling beds don’t go dry. I often weed as I water, checking soil tilth as I go. Add some compost where needed. Maybe mix in some well aged manures. If you have some worm castings, add them too. Summer is for sidedressing – that’s feeding your producing plants. They are working hard! Put on fertilizers high in P, Phosphorus to keep your plants flowering and fruiting. SEE June 15 post on how to fertilize each of your plants!  Lay down some more mulch on thin spots, and especially under your tomatoes and cucumbers, but not on eggplant, peppers, melons or winter squash that need all the heat they can get here on the coast. Only exception might be those eggplants. They like humid. A nest of straw might be like a little local sauna for them if you keep it moist.

You can still plant most of your very favorite heat lovers – tomatoes, beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, zucchini. Transplants are best now. Too late for winter squash that needs to harden. And, as always, plant your year-rounds, beets, bunch onions, carrots, summer lettuces, radish, to keep a steady supply.

The Great Jicama Hunt!  When your jicamas flower, designate which plants you intend to save seeds from, then cut the flowering stalks off the rest, so the energy goes to that lovely tuber forming underground!

Start thinking about your upcoming fall plantings – where are you going to put things? If you love winter crops, get a head start! If you are going to start cool season SEEDS in the ground mid month August, – celery, Brassicas: cabbage, brocs, Brussels sprouts, collards, cauliflower, kales, improve your soil now as plants finish, areas become available.  Start seedlings now for your first August plantings!  Or, if you love summer plants more and want to eke out those last harvests, you can wait and do September transplants, Labor Day Weekend is perfect! Another option is to start your fall plants in a safe designated small nursery area and transplant as space becomes available…. Just plant them far enough apart so they don’t get damaged in transplanting and you can take them complete with their growing soil around them. That way there is no damage to their roots, no interruption in their growth! Happy babies, happy gardener!

Get your compost started now, ASAP, for fall planting! I can’t say enough good about compost! It adds a wide variety of nutrients that are easily taken up by your plants, adds tilth to your soil, that’s loamy nutrient laden soil with excellent water holding capacity, and stabilizes Nitrogen. And it is easy to make! The simplest method is to throw stuff in a pile and wait. That takes the longest. Layering, thin layers of chopped up bits of discarded or finished green plants plus kitchen trim, crushed eggshells, torn tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, layered with straw (not hay), is much faster, especially if you turn it once a week, or every couple days! Sprinkle it with a bit of live soil every few layers, add some red wriggler worms, sprigs of yarrow or chamomile to speed composting, and you will have a fine black fluffy great smelling mix in a few months. Your plants will be singing Hallelujah!
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Follow up on Tomato Grafting! Cherokee Purple or whatever your favorite, heirlooms! Yes! I was hoping to start a tomato revolution! We may have to educate our nursery people. If we all ask for those Maxifort seeds, or the Japanese equivalent, He-Man, then they just might stock them for the profit! Turns out the Maxifort seeds are $23 for 50 seeds! Yup. Even so, to get the rightful amount of tomatoes for our efforts would be wonderful, especially those favorites! To get 3X the regular amount?! There’s a little modification on that point. It depends on the variety. Some are more invigorated than others, but all tested had greater production! Pure tomato heaven – canning galore, drying for backpacking food! There are some nurseries offering the already grafted tomatoes. Yes, they too are expensive, and more so to ship. This last info is for lucky people who might live near such a nursery or might visit family in a nearby area. A fellow Master Gardener and I have gotten our seeds (from Johnny’s), little guys now growing, grafting to happen soon! Will keep you posted.

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Reporting on the Great Fava Versus Wilt Experiment!

Some of you have been following my fava experiment, that, per John Jeavons, favas counteract the tomato Fusarium and Verticillium Wilts fungi, hoping it would work. Issues for me were lower leaves, humidity, low spots, nearby plant water needs. I religiously watered only nearby plants. But that was still a problem because the neighboring plants needed a LOT of water, and the toms were in low spots. The fava ring, planted around each tomato, grew really well and was so bushy I forgot to reach in and trim the lowest ground-touching leaves off my tomatoes. The favas created a humid environment, blocked air flow. They got the wilt first, kind of like a trap plant. But then it spread to the tomatoes because I had planted them closely, not knowing how far apart I should plant them. Perhaps I should have removed the favas at first signs of the wilt?

I didn’t give up on favas.

  • As per the long-term plan, I decided where I would plant some of this summer’s toms, and put in dense fava patches in those places. They are now ready to be used as green manure.  Tip!  Cut them down just as they begin to flower.  When they flower, the energy of the plant no longer goes into making leaves, but production.  And the stalks get tougher the longer they grow – harder to chop up.
  • At planting time, I will add a good dose of animal manures and compost, and my usuals – a huge handful of bone meal, a handful of non-fat powdered milk, and worm castings, and a new item, a tad of coffee grounds (see below), as well, to the planting holes.
  • I’ll plant in wells/basins on slightly raised mounds for drainage, and plant only plants that need less water nearby, ie no basil.
  • I’ll top the area with a one inch layer of compost, then cover with a thin layer of straw mulch to prevent the splash factor. When water splashes up from infected soil onto the lower leaves, the plant is infected. I will replenish the straw monthly. Straw has air flow through its tube structure, allowing the soil to be drier even though straw is a mulch.
  • I’ll plant my resistant and tolerant varieties far enough apart so their leaves don’t touch, and trim the lowest splash susceptible leaves away, remove infected leaves promptly. I don’t expect to stop the wilt, just slow it down, a LOT.
  • Instead of long living indeterminate varieties, I’m going to plant determinate faster producing varieties successively, removing infected plants when they finish producing.
  • I’m going to plant later. Rather than put young vulnerable plants in cool fungi laden soil, depending on the weather, I’m going to wait until late May, even June, when the warmer soil is drier. In the past I have had volunteers come up in July and gotten good crops from them late August, September!

Coffee Grounds: Myths, Miracles or Marketing?!

Here’s some study results adapted from the Washington State U report! Disease suppression As they decompose, coffee grounds appear to suppress some common fungal rots and wilts, including FUSARIUM! In these studies, coffee grounds were part of a compost mix, in one case comprising as little as 0.5 percent of the material. Researchers suggest that the bacterial and fungal species normally found on decomposing coffee grounds prevent pathogenic fungi, like Fusarium, from establishing. Currently, disease suppression from coffee grounds has only been demonstrated under controlled conditions on a handful of veggies, bean, cucumber, spinach, and tomato. Their efficacy in gardens and landscapes is unknown, as is any protective activity on other plant materials such as trees or shrubs.

Not all get a jolt – Weed Suppression
Not all plants get a jolt from coffee grounds. Seed germination can be inhibited by water leached through coffee grounds. Growth of crops such as Chinese mustard (Brassica juncea), komatsuna (Brassica campestris) and Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) were all inhibited by coffee grounds, as was that of ornamentals including inch plant (Tradescantia albiflora), geranium, and asparagus fern. One investigator speculated that toxic substances released from decomposing coffee grounds were responsible for their inhibitory effect. This effect also reduces weeds, and perhaps in a landscape dominated by large shrubs and trees, only germinating seeds and seedlings would be injured. But as there has been no experimental research on coffee grounds and woody plants, this is only speculation, says the author.

Moral of the story is go lightly, only 0.5 % in your compost – that’s a 1/2 of a %!
That’s very little! Just as our soil only needs 5% humus, over composting is not helpful, so is too much coffee grounds. When I first started gardening, I laid some grounds down as mulch. Bad beginners move. The plants there died, and that area grew plants poorly for the following two seasons.
May you and your tomatoes have a happy summer!

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Time to start compost for spring planting!   

Did you make rich fall soil?  If so, your bin and sheet composting is really paying off now!  If you have more compost available now, incorporate it with the soil in your new planting places, and plant another round!  Keep ‘em coming!  Now it is time to start the cycle again for your spring garden – start some more fat compost!  SOIL!  I’m always talking with you about soil because it’s the legs of your horse!  Can’t run without it!

When you restore, recondition soil, you can imagine how much the ground must be welcoming you, screaming up to you in its own way, how grateful it is to be so lovingly fed, organically to boot!!!  You are going to have wonderful soil, and very soon!  Just the act of planting adds life, the plant roots busting through, little creaturelets thriving!

There are so many ways to build wonderful soil!

  • Tuck kitchen trim in the top 6” of your soil, where the microbes and buglets are hard at work!
  • Make piles and fill bins with compost from kitchen trim, cuttings, leaves, straw for aeration.  Whack it up!  Smaller pieces, thinner layers decompose faster and fluffier.  Dry brown on the bottom, then up and up, alternating layers.  1 green wet, 2 dry brown, 1 green wet….
  • Sheet composting – build your compost in place, no moving later!  Lay down straw, cover with green and wet waste like kitchen trim, cover with straw.  That would be the simplest of all.  If you can, keep layering, up to 18” deep if you are starting raised beds, because you know that stuff is gonna sink down!  2 brown dry to 1 green wet is the formula.  Inoculate it with soil microorganisms by flinging a few handfuls of nearby soil onto it every couple of layers.  If you have them, put some red wriggler surface feeding worms in there.  They will chomp about and add their castings for free!  If you are seaside, chop up some seaweed for trace minerals!
  • Plant Nitrogen fixers – fava, peas, beans, clovers and other ground cover legumes.  At home plant Leucaena trees!  Not only do they fix N, and are drought tolerant, but the young pods are edible!  Be warned though, they grow FAST, and can be invasive – if you aren’t ready for that, like burning them for firewood, not a good choice.
  • Let your local livestock, goats, chickens, bunnies add their part!  Horse manure has more N than cow manure.  For excellent info and fun reading, check out the scoop on poop, Manure Matters! by Marion Owen, Co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul.

Margaret Frane, President of the California Rare Fruit Growers, reminds us, ‘FEED THE SOIL, AND THE PLANT!  When planting a garden, especially a fruit garden, don’t just focus on individual plants; remember the importance of looking after your soil.’  She further says, ‘…let the soil provide the nutrients. Don’t fertilize your plant; feed the soil and the soil will feed the plant. And for the most part, everything you need to feed your soil is already on your property!’

Frane says:  Trees benefit most from the nutrients available in their own leaves. Most leaves beat manure for mineral content; when incorporated into the soil, they add nutrients, improve aeration and soil structure and encourage earthworms. So don’t rake leaves up and throw them away! Leaves are not garbage, they are an important food for your soil!

Planting immediately and directly in your sheet composting, lasagna layers?  Of course!

Are you doing seeds? Ok, a little preparation is needed.  Time for a little potting soil.  It’s good to get the seedlings started – it has the water holding capacity they need – just like the little transplants you get at the nursery, which they feed, probably daily, kelp, fish emulsion mix, other concoctions.  After that, seedlings have to hit something with real nutrition in it, like a mix of compost and soil.  Most seeds are planted directly in soil, just like Mother Nature does the job.  That’s where they immediately get the most nutrition.  I would get a deep bowl, a bucket, put in ½ soil, then compost, mix it up.  Put the mix in the planting hole, make a little hole for the potting soil, and put your seeds in that.  No more potting soil than if you were filling up one of the little transplant containers.  Obviously, not a lot would be needed.  To keep the soil from falling through the lasagna layers below, you could line the hole with two or three sheets of newspaper, saturate them.  That will keep things where you want them until it all decomposes together, the newspaper, the lasagna.  It won’t hurt your drainage, and little roots will poke right through!  And you are only going to lightly sprinkle, water, your seeded areas, right?  You don’t want your seeds to wash away, get buried too deep or uncovered.  It’s a good thing to check seedlings after a rain.  Recover or rebury anyone who needs it.  If you are doing transplants, you just won’t need any potting soil.  Make your compost/soil mix and pop your cute little transplant right in there!

In the biggest sense, “We are part of the earth and it is part of us … What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.” — Chief Seattle, 1852

Take good care of yourself…and your soil.

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