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Seed Sprouting! Life!

Photo: USDA Flickr

Starting seeds yourself has fabulous advantages! Seeds are cheaper than transplants, and you can grow far more varieties of veggies than you can buy at the local nursery! You can buy the best and order the latest they may not have heard about yet. You can experiment and see for yourself. You can touch and taste these special varieties! You can even do a little research and hybridize some of your own! And you can grow them when you want them!

The two main ways to work with seeds are to plant indoors or outdoors!

STARTING YOUR SEEDS OUTDOORS IN THE GROUND

Just like in Mother Nature, outdoor starts are blessed with whole nutrition from their very beginning and they don’t need transplanting!

Before you sow your seeds, amend your soil surface with worm castings! Castings speed germination and strengthen seedling immunity. Keep that planting space and those castings moist until you are ready to plant. A couple days before planting, water the soil so it is for sure semi moist on planting day.

Plant large hard seeds and seeds that are planted an inch deep before a rain. Wait until after the rain to plant little seeds that could be washed away or buried too deeply. Same for seeds that rot easily like bean seeds.

Prevent pests! Put down what you use to end slugs and snails before you sow your seeds!

While you are waiting for planting day, make tags. I put three things on my tags. 1) I put the planting date on the tag so I’ll know by when I should be seeing seedlings. 2) The name of the plant helps so you will know what they are and not a weed! If you are new to planting seeds, don’t worry, you will learn to recognize the little guys. If in doubt, let them grow a bit before you ‘weed’ them out. Look online for baby pictures! 3) The days to maturity cues me to when I should be expecting fruit and how well my plants did. And that varies per time of year, temps, weather, your soil, how well you cared for them.

Mark your planted areas as you go! When I plant the seeds I put a stick at the ends of the row, a triangle of sticks when there is a single area where the seeds are planted. Since I do a lot of interplanting with understories, companion planting special plants where they will do the most good, that keeps me from stepping on or disturbing the seeds.

Some seeds are big and fat like beans, others, like poppies and purslane, are so tiny if you dropped them you would never find them!

After how far apart should I plant my seeds, probably the most iffy thing about planting seeds is how deep do they need to be planted? Most seed packs have that info on them.

Chopsticks can be used in a couple helpful ways.

Mark one of them at 1/4, 1/2, and 1″ on the stick. That way you can get your seeds at the right planting depth. Using your marked stick keeps you mindful; planting goes fun and faster with less wondering and worrying!

If you are installing delicate sprouts, make a planting hole, and if you are good with chopsticks, grasp the sprout gently, carefully place it. Cover and smooth the soil, water gently. Check out Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas!

Teensy seeds are a challenge in so many ways!

First it’s a question of not dropping them. Hold the package over a dish? Something smooth and not wet or sticky. And keep your hands and that package dry! And don’t plant those tiny feathery seeds on a windy day!

Second is how to distribute them the right distance apart. Very carefully. Be careful not to crush or damage them by rolling them or squishing them between your fingers! Use a tiny spoon.

Since most tiny light seeds aren’t supposed to be buried, in nature they wouldn’t be, simply very lightly hand pat them to the soil.

Third is how to keep them from washing away when you water. You can make a tiny ‘trench’ or depression with mild slopes. Sometimes I just hand pat a little depression area with my fingers. Instead of the hose, use your watering can with nozzle that has fine holes. No flooding or standing water. Just moisten. Moisten them maybe 2 or 3 times so the soil gets moist a 1/4 to a 1/2 inch deep. Moisten once, water something else, come back and moisten again so the water can soak in a wee bit deeper. Repeat.

When you are weeding, have you noticed how many seeds come up by the edge of a pathway board, a plot border or a stepping stone? Put down a mini board, wide stick, where you want tiny seeds to grow, preferably in a slightly lower area, a depression that will hold a bit of moisture. Sprinkle the seeds around the board, along the stick. They will have the moisture and shelter they need to get started right at the side of the board or stick! Once they are started, remove the board, transplant some of them if you like.

It may be easier to plant a group of seeds in one place to get them started. That can be their nursery. Plant them far enough apart that you can get a small trowel in there to collect them to transplant. Transplant them where they are needed or to their permanent place when they get their second set of leaves.

Delicate seeds like Marigold need to be carefully laid down and cover the complete seed, but no more than 1/4″. The ‘tail’ of the seed acts like a wick to deliver moisture to the seed. Unprocessed home saved carrot seeds are fuzzy with wicks. They germinate much sooner than the processed naked ones in seed packs!

Lettuce seeds are planted on the surface OR 1/4″ deep depending on the variety. Read your seed pack!

Harder seeds like Cilantro can be exciting to handle since they roll around and jump for it any time they can! They often come up as nearby volunteers! That rolling about can make spacing a challenge. But you can see them and they are big enough to move where you want them. Radish are not exactly round, but they can be unpredictable too! If spacing means a lot to you, you can make or buy seed strips!

If you aren’t overplanting for greens from thinning, spacing does mean a lot! Plants too closely seeded and not thinned, get rootbound, root plants like radish, beets, carrots can’t make, won’t form their roots. Too closely planting lessens growth and production, weakens your plants since your plants are literally starving. Plants along the edge of a clump can reach out. Ones at the center can’t get their roots through to food.

Beet seeds are unique because each ‘seed,’ corm, is a cluster of three to four seeds! There is no escaping needing to thin them. OR, you can gently hand separate them to get four healthy plants! I separated beets I got from a nursery. When I finished 3 of the 6-pack compartments I had planted out 36 beets!

Big seeds are easy, but if you aren’t naturally a good measurer, it’s easy enough to plant too deep or not deep enough! Where are those chopsticks? If the seeds are an inch deep, you usually won’t wash them away when you water. Some seeds can be planted too deep make it, just rot and become compost. With others a little deep means it just takes longer to come up. Too shallow may not keep those seeds moist enough. 

Some batches of seeds are mixed sizes – maybe your green manure or living mulch mix. Some say broadcasting them is all you need to do – they are light germinating seeds. But soil contact and moisture is important. If you plant during a hot spell, get your soil as level as possible. Fling, toss, drizzle your seeds about. Lay a board or a piece of plywood on the soil to press them down for that contact. Immediately cover with bird net or aviary wire or many will be gone overnight, and birds will take tiny tasty tender seedlings that sprout! Gently water your seeds to keep them moist. In hot weather that may be two times a day. You can bury your seeds, but way fewer seeds make it. You only get a thin stand.

Protect your seeds! After your seeds are in, cover with bird netting or aviary wire. Birds love seeds and fresh seedlings! Animals like plowing through your soil looking for insects and seeds. Aviary wire is best for that, or an easily removed wire border so you have access for tending. You can use cloches for small spot plantings. When you can use them, they are excellent because wicked slugs and cut worms can’t get through!

Seedlings Transplants Cover Protection Birds Shade

Successive planting in summer heat has its own challenges, but it is doable! Set up shade cloth, use upturned flower pots or laundry baskets, cardboard boxes, or lightweight fabric held aloft with hoops. Shade cloth comes in different densities. You can water through it and it keeps birds and predator insects away. Remove it when your plants are up and strong. This image has lettuce, but you can start mixtures of other plants this way too. Use it as a nursery then transplant plants where you want them.

STARTING SEEDS INDOORS or IN YOUR COLD FRAME or GREENHOUSE

Seedlings Indoors Grow Lights

Starting seeds in a Container is a whole different territory! Your main advantage is getting a SIX WEEK headstart on planting! That’s food on your table a month and a half sooner!

It can be as simple as putting a few containers or 6 packs in your kitchen window or on top of the warm fridge, or doing something costly, elaborate and sophisticated! If you like starting seeds, choosing a permanent space, then installing lighting, warmth, and setting up a special overhead watering system on a timer may intrigue you. You might put up a greenhouse! You can install a wonderful bought or homemade cold frame on the sun facing hillside.

You can make your own special seed starter mix; it’s not too hard. But if you don’t want the mess, or don’t have time for that, you just buy a great mix at the nursery! While you are there, get a bag of vermiculite, or when you are at the grocery outlet, get a big container of cinnamon. Read on below….

Starting seeds indoors means there are no predator pests. Yay! Rain doesn’t matter. No drying or damaging winds. No hot scorching sun. No soil pre preps – yet.

Level starting medium is pretty easy to achieve. Gentle watering is still needed. Seeds and seedlings need to be kept moist.

Making tags is very useful, especially if you put different plants in the 6 pack compartments! You have a start date and you know when they should be up. And you can use the tags when you transplant the babies in the soil outdoors.

When the true leaves come on, the ones after the first two, the seedlings will need to be fed. Spritzing with a liquid feed is the usual answer.

Cinnamon for Seedling Damping Off Disease Prevention!

The nemesis is Damping off disease, a sad foe of seedlings. The baby just topples overnight and it’s over. A 2005 North Carolina State University study found it’s not the mixture but what’s on top of the soil that counts most. Damping off differences almost disappeared between commercial organic seed-starting mixtures and various homemade mixtures after all of the seeds were covered with vermiculite instead of a planting medium. Simple fix!

The super simplest prevention is Cinnamon! Just sprinkle it on the soil! Sprinkle on plant injuries and they will heal. It is a rooting hormone. And it repels ants! Mildew, mold, fungal diseases? Mix 4 tablespoons cinnamon in a half gallon warm water, shake it vigorously, steep overnight. Strain through a sieve or coffee filter and put it in a spray bottle. Add ¼ teaspoon liquid dish soap as a surfactant, lightly spritz your plants, undersides and tops of leaves!

You do need to harden off seedlings. They need to be taken outside to get used to cooler temps, a bit of breeze to build their standing up muscles! The author of ‘Grocery Gardening’, Jean Ann Van Krevelen says, “Take your seedlings to a protected location outside for one hour for the first day.” She said, “Do this each day for a week. Add one hour for each day of the process. By the end of the week, you’ll be at 7 hours and the plants will be ready to be transplanted.” She doesn’t recommend direct sunlight or wind. Don’t take they out if it is windy and your seedlings could be broken. Just do it the next day where you left off. Keep your seedlings evenly moist.

Schlepping them back and forth may be a challenge, but doable. But if you grow them on a cart with wheels in the garage or near the patio, you can easily roll them out and back in each day.

Both indoor and outdoor planting have their necessities, special techniques, disadvantages and advantages! There’s no reason why you can’t do BOTH! Getting a healthy start in the ground is terrific! Others would never make it in cold or extreme heat and indoor babying is just right. Preseason indoor starting gets you there that six weeks sooner!

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Mother’s Day is May 8! Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts! Get living gifts started now! Click here

The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. 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!

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Gorgeous Kale - Purple Curly Leaf
There’s kale and there’s kale! This truly tasty purple curly leaf kale image is by Steve!

Last Harvests are being collected and stored! Some of you have started seedling nurseries or starts at home, many have prepped their soil and harvested seeds! If you didn’t yet, make your fall planting beds extra yummy – add 5-10% compost, 25% worm castings, manures – the amount depending on the type of manure. We want rich soil for those big winter plants. Seeds do especially better with worm castings! We want lots of those marvelous leaves for greens. Winter plants like brocs, collards, cauliflower, chard, are heavy producers, need plenty of food.

BUT NOT CARROTS! Too good a soil makes them hairy and they fork.  And over watering, irregular watering, can make them split. Build your beds up so they drain well, are above the coldest air that settles low down. PEAS, the winter legume, make their own Nitrogen, so feed only lightly if at all

Some of you carry your layout plan in your head, others draw and redraw, moving things around until it settles and feels right. Do add a couple new things just for fun! Try another direction. Add some herbs or different edible flowers. Stand back, take a deep breath and ask yourself why you plant the way you do. Anything been tickling the back of your mind you are curious about?

If you need to skip a beat, take some time off from the garden, let it rest, but let nature rebuild while it’s resting!

  1. You can cover it deeply with all the mulch materials you can lay your hands on up to 18′ deep. Believe me, it will settle quickly. Let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. That’s called sheet composting or composting in place – no turning or having to move it when it’s finished. If you are vermicomposting, have worms, add a few handfuls to speed up and enrich the process. Next spring you will have rich nutritious living layers of whole soil soil for no work at all!
  2. You can plant it with green manure. Laying on lots of mulch is a ton of work when you do it, just gathering the materials can be a challenge. Green manure takes some work too, but it has awesome results as well. You broadcast a seed mix of legumes and oats and let them grow. Bell beans, Austrian peas, vetch and oats from Island Seed & Feed Goleta is an excellent choice. Legumes gather Nitrogen from the air and store it in nodules on their roots! N is the main ingredient your plants need for their growth! The oat roots break up the soil. They dig deep and open channels for water and air.

Kale Flat Leaf High Mowing.jpgIf you decide to plant, unless you have Bagrada Bugs, it’s Brassica time! They are the mainstay of winter gardens! Their leaves are edible – Kales the Queens! Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, Cauliflower and collard greens! Then there are all the mini Bs, the fillers and littles – arugula, bok choy, mizuna, kohlrabi, mustards, radish, turnips. Rather than plant six pack transplants, put in seed when possible and stagger your plantings of the large Brassicas. Rather than all six cauliflower coming in at once, plant two now, two later and so on. Adjust that, of course, if you have a large area available to plant and a lot of people to feed! Another way to do it is to get varieties with early, middle and late maturity dates and plant them all at once! Plant both mini and monster cabbages at the same time! Minis come in sooner, monsters later!

Finicky eaters may enjoy a marvelous selection! Fall veggies come in lots of shapes and colors! Kales are renowned for their beauty and varieties – classic curly leaf, Red Russian, Elephant, Red Bor, that is really purple, are just a few! Cauliflower comes in traditional shape and spiral, classic white and yellow and purple and green! Get seed packs of them all and mix them together! Carrots already come in color mix seed packets! Circus Circus is a fun choice, especially when your kids are planting! Beets are terrific fun! Yellows, reds, pinks, whites and Chioggias (circles of colors)! You can get them in rainbow mixes just like getting rainbow chard mixes! Rather than have your finicky eater say no, open up that catalog or take them shopping a the nursery and let them pick what they would like to try!

More veggies that love cooler weather are beets, carrots, celery, chard, cilantro, leeks, spinach and especially lettuce – tender butter leafs and heading lettuce! If you anticipate a hot Sep, plant more heat tolerant lettuce.

  • The winter legume is PEAS! Peas are like beans, they come in bush and pole types. And those come in three main types – shelling, eating snap peas and flat China/snow peas! They are super easy to sprout! Dampen the paper towel; spray the towel to keep it moist. Takes 2 to 4 days. Pop them into the garden by the trellis – if it is hot, devise some shade for them. You just need to be careful as you plant them so you don’t break the sprout off. Definitely plant some every month or so. They don’t live all season long. When they are done, they’re done. It is true that picking peas, just like picking beans, is labor intensive. I eat a lot of mine before they get home, so I don’t mind. Bush peas come in first and pretty much all at once; pole come on later and continue to produce. On the first round it makes sense to plant both at once!
  • Onions For the biggest, sweetest harvests, late summer and early fall are the prime times to sow seeds of short- or intermediate-day onions. Fall-sown short- and intermediate-day onions tend to yield more and are larger and sweeter than those seeded or transplanted in early spring.

Image result for long beets cylindraVarieties that do better in winter are long beets like Cylindras, long radishes like Daikons, pretty China Rose and handsome Long Black Spanish! Plant small beets like Dutch Baby Ball for quick beets while your Cylindras are growing twice to three times bigger!

Combos make a difference! Carrots enhance peas, onions stunt peas. Plant the carrots on the sunny side feet of pole beans. Combos can use space wisely! Carrots grow down, peas grow up, perfect! Cabbage babies need to be planted 12 to 28″ apart! A healthy plant will take up much closer to that 28″. They take a long while to grow, head, head tight! Plant lettuces that repel cabbage moths, or other fillers, that mature sooner, in the space between them. You can do this at home amongst your ornamentals, and/or in containers too! Fillers can be onion/chive types, beets. Short quickest growing winter radishes can be among the long slower growing carrots among the slowest growing, your cabbages. Cilantro makes brocs grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener! Research has shown there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together!

No need to plant patches or rows, unless you want to. Scatter them about on the sunny side between larger plants as an understory! Plant different varieties to keep your table exciting. Don’t plant them all at once, but rather every week or two for steady table supply. If you would enjoy a quick payback on your table, select the earliest maturing varieties.

If you have lots of seeds, overplanting is an age old practice. Plant too, too many, then thin them with tiny pointy scissors, aka harvest the young, and eat ’em! Young radish sprouts, teeny carrots, little Brassicas of all kinds are wonderful in a salad! If they get a little big, steam them or add to stir fries and stews. Another way to do it is plant flats of lettuces, mesclun mixes, and mow them! Tender baby greens! They will grow back 3, 4 times.

When planting in hot fall weather, plant your outdoor seeds a tad deeper than you would in spring; soil is moister and cooler an extra inch or two down. It’s the law to keep them moist. If you plant successively for steady fresh table supply, plant a batch in September, again in October. Days will shorten and start cooling, but you are taking advantage of a fast start because your plants will grow quickly in the warmer weather now than later on. Sep plant from seeds, Oct from transplants.

Winter Feeding Lettuces like a light feed of chicken manure cultivated in. All the winter plants are heavy producers – lots of leaves, some of those leaves are monsters! Cabbages are packed tight, leaf after leaf! They may need a light feed. Remember, it’s cooler now, so their uptake is slower, so give them liquid feeds, teas, things easy for them to uptake.

Keep letting your strawberry runners grow for Oct harvest. Plant in October or plant new bareroot plants. If you replace your strawberries, in Santa Barbara try Seascape, bred at UCSB. Big plentiful berries, firm, tasty, strawberry spot resistant! They have long roots that gather plenty of nutrition and stay moist at deeper levels. Remember, strawberries like slightly acidic soil, so get Azalea/Camellia compost for their bed.

Pest and Disease Prevention  Drench young plants, ones you just transplanted, with Aspirin solution to get them off to a great start! Drench your seedlings when they get up a few inches. One regular Aspirin, 1/4 C nonfat powdered milk, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap (surfactant), per gallon of water. Aspirin, triggers a defense response and stimulates growth! Powdered milk is a natural germicide and boosts the immune system. Be sure to get under the leaves too!

Brassica pests! Lots of ants and lengthwise curling leaves are the giveaways for aphids. Aphids carry viruses. Aphids come in fat gray or small black. Avoid over watering that makes for soft plants, tender leaves that aphids thrive on, and ant habitat. Spray the aphids away, make the ants leave. Get up under those leaves, and fervently but carefully do the tender growth tips. Do it consistently until they don’t come back.

September is still Seed Saving time for some. Make notes on how your plants did, which varieties were the most successful. These seeds are adapted to you and your locality. Each year keep your best! Store your keepers in a cool dry place for next year’s plantings. Generously gather seeds for upcoming January Seed Swap!

Borage is a magical cool season plant with edible flowers, blue for bees! It has a large 3 to 4′ footprint, so allow for that or plan to keep clipping it back. Plant Sweet Peas for Christmas bloom!

Plant gift plants or bowls or baskets for the holidays! Fall bounty is on its way!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal, during late spring/summer 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!

See the entire September 2016 GBC Newsletter!

September Starts SoCal’s Second Season!
Designing Your SoCal Winter Veggie Garden! Think Big!
Two Mexican Herbs Used Instead of Cilantro!
Other Community Gardens – Cultiva Ciudad-helmed Huerto Tlatelolco, Mexico City 

Events! National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa CA, 6th Annual Fermentation Festival, Master Gardeners’ Year-Round Edibles from the Garden – Fall Planting!

…and wonderful August images at Rancheria Community Garden!

 

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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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I used to be a total mulcher, covered my whole veggie garden. I’ve adjusted my coastal SoCal mulch* thinking to match the plant! Same goes for composting in place. That’s a good idea for some areas of your garden, other areas not at all!

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 best melons I’ve ever seen grown at 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, above soil level insects.

For more heat, put up a low wind barrier – straw bales, a perimeter of densely foliated plants, a big downed log, be creative. Permeable shrubs are the most effective wind barriers. Let your peppers and jicama get hot! Eggplant are Mediterranean heat lovers! Okra is Southern, hot.

Tomatoes need dryer soil to avoid the verticillium and fusarium wilt fungi, no more than an inch of loose straw to allow airflow at soil level but keep heat down. Let ‘em dry nearby; water 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. Drier soil is not comfy for slugs.

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. Preplant radish to repel cucumber beetles when your cukes bloom. The radish will provide a living mulch as their leaves shade the cuke roots. Eat a few radish, but let the rest grow out to keep repelling the beetles. In time you can gather their seeds. Plant 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. Slugs and snails like peas and lettuce. You will need to use a little Sluggo or its equivalent if you feel comfortable to use it.

Clearly, no mulch, more heat, equals more water needed. In drought areas, plant in basins below the main soil level. Use your long low flow water wand to water only in the basin at the roots of your plant. Fuzzy leaved plants, tomatoes and eggplant, prefer not being watered on their leaves anyway. Since there is no raised mound, there is no maintenance needed for berms surrounding the basin, but you will need to keep the basin from filling in. Plant companion littles and fillers in the basin around the base of bigger plants. They will enjoy the cooler damper soil and provide living mulch to keep that soil more cool!

LIVING MULCH  is triple productive! It mulches, provides companion plant advantages, and is a crop all at the same time! Closely planted beets, carrots, garden purslane, radish, turnips act as living mulch to themselves and bigger companion plants you plant them by. The dense canopy their leaves make lets little light in, keeps things moist. Cucumbers under broccoli are living mulch while the brocs repel cucumber beetles! 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. They, cucumbers and strawberries, also 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.

Zucchini, doesn’t care. They are a huge leaved plant, greedy sun lovers, that are self mulching. But, you can feed their vine up through the largest tomato cages, cut off the lower leaves and plant a family of lettuces, carrots, onions, salad bowl fixin’s or basil on the sunny side underneath! Especially preplant radish to repel cucumber beetles! All of them like plenty of water, so everyone is happy.

Cooler crops, over summering Broccoli, Kale, Chard like moist and cooler, so mulch deeply very early in spring.

Pallet Garden Strawberries Boards as MulchBoards as mulch! Your strawberries like slightly acidic soil, and acidic mulch – redwood or pine needles. Also, you can lay down boards between mini rows of strawberries to keep the soil moist under the boards, the soil between the rows that the berry roots have access to. It’s a variation on pallet gardening. The advantages of using boards are you can space or remove your boards so you can easily access the soil to add amendments, you can add or remove boards to make a bigger or smaller patch, you can make the boards the length you need or want, space them as needed per the plant. Planting between boards can be used for lots of other plants too if you won’t be planting an understory! As for your strawberries, as they leaf out and get bigger, in addition to the boards, they will be living mulch for themselves!

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 weed seeds from sprouting. Put on 4 to 6 inches minimum, tomatoes being the exception. Less than that may be pretty, but simply make 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! You see them, you know your soil is well aerated, balanced, doing great!

Mulching is double good on slopes and hillsides. Make rock lined water-slowing ‘S’ terrace walk ways snaking along down the hillside. Cover your berms well and deeply to prevent erosion and to hold moisture when there are drying winds. Be sure to anchor your mulch in windy areas -biodegradable anchor stakes are available.  has some clever ideas on how to keep your mulch on a slope. Plant fruit trees, your veggies on the sunny side under them, on the uphill side of your berms. Make your terrace wide enough so you don’t degrade the berms by walking on them when you harvest.

If you mulch, make it count!  Mulch with an organic degradable mulch. 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 mulch you like. Use redwood fiber only in areas you want to be slightly acidic, like for strawberries or blueberries.

COMPOSTING IN PLACE  Build soil right where you need it. Tuck green kitchen waste out of sight under your mulch, 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!

Mulch Straw Plant Now!

You don’t have to wait to plant! Pull back a planting space, add compost you have on hand or purchased, maybe mix in a little aged manure mix, worm castings, your favorite plant specific amendments. Sprinkle some mycorrhizal fungi on your transplant’s roots (exception is Brassicas), and plant! Yes!

*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.

Mulch is magic when done right!

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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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Carpenter Bee - Male, AKA Teddy Bear Bee!

April 15, 2011 I had my first encounter with a huge male carpenter bee – see image! Awesome! They are all fuzzy and yellow (not all black like the females), sometimes called Teddy Bear Bees, and I could totally see why! They hover closely and look you right in the eye, buzz off and come back for another look! They are the largest bees found in California, don’t sting. What a pollinator!

Magic May, Mama Earth’s Bounty Month, It’s Cantaloupe Time!!

Keep planting your summer veggies and year-arounds! If you haven’t put in the summer heat lovers, do it NOW! That’s peppers, eggplant, okra, melons. Absolutely get winter squash in now. It takes time to mature and harden. Beans, beets, carrots, chayote, corn, cucs, summer lettuce varieties, pumpkins, radish, zuchs, chard, tomatoes, more tomatoes, turnips! Omigod, I’m hungry!

Harvesting is like pruning, no? So eat! Keep your plant producing by steady picking and plucking, no storing on the vine! Otherwise, it thinks it did its job, made those seeds, and folds up camp! Keep your broccoli harvested. If you see flower stalks, cut them off ASAP, back to where new shoots can come. If you are getting too many sprouts, cut them back further to slow them down. Eat those bitty zuchs, flowers and all! Use those herbs you planted – basils, thyme, sage, oregano. Just a few of their leaves rubbed, mashed, steeped, chopped, can add luscious flavors! Make pretty bouquet garni for giveaways! Parsley is SO good for you, and beautiful in your garden! Its second year it goes to seed, a biennial. Pull and cook the tasty roots in your soup, or let a plant or two go to seed to feed beneficial insects and reseed your patch.

Oh yes, and, of course, plant cosmos, marigolds, petunias, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, your favorite summer flowers!

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Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 1

Wolf Peach!!!!  Did you know – our tomato originated in South America and was originally cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas, came to Europe in the 1500s.  People were warned not to eat them until the 18th century!  Wolf Peach comes from German werewolf myths that said deadly nightshade was used to summon werewolves!  ‘Tis true, tomatoes are of the deadly nightshade family, and does have poisonous leaves.  But you would have to eat a LOT of them to get sick!  But they are not good for dogs or cats!  Smaller bodies, right?

Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 1

Tomato - Healthy SunGold!

Tomato – Verticillium Wilt

Above on the left is a very healthy Sun Gold cherry tomato and happy owner.  On the right is a verticillium wilt fatality, not old age.  Almost all of us have had tomato wilt fatalities.  Very sad to see, disappointing and frustrating as XXX!  Tomatoes are pretty dramatically affected, but many plants get the wilt, including your trees, shrubs and roses.  Veggies affected are cucumber, eggplant, pepper, potatoes, rhubarb, watermelon, artichoke, beet, broad bean, strawberries, raspberries.  Cool, damp weather, like we had here in Santa Barbara area ALL last summer, referred to as the ‘May grays’ and the  ‘June glooms,’ is the worst. 

The leaves fold along their length, the stems get brown/black spots/blotches on them, the leaves turn brown, dry and die.  It is a fungus in the soil that is also windborne.  There may be too much N (Nitrogen), too much manure – lots of gorgeous leaves but no flowers.  That’s an easy fix, add some Seabird (not Bat) guano to restore the balance, bring blooms, then fruit.  The wilt is tougher.  When the toms get about a foot tall, STOP WATERING!  Remove weed habitat and don’t mulch.  The fungus can’t thrive in drier soil. Water the toms’ neighboring plants, but not the toms.  Tomatoes have deep tap roots and they can get water from below the wilt zone.

It is better to pull infected plants, called the one-cut prune, because their production will be labored and little compared to a healthy plant that will catch up fast in warmer weather.  And you will be more cheerful looking at a healthy plant.  Heirlooms are particularly susceptible, so get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery, or are a known VFN variety.  The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes.  Ask a knowledgeable person if the tom doesn’t have a designation, or check online.  It’s just a bummer when plants get the wilt.  If you are one who removes the lower leaves and plants your transplant deeper, don’t let the lowest leaves touch the ground. When your plants get bigger, cut off lower leaves that would touch the ground BEFORE they touch the ground or leaves that can be water splashed – some say take all up to 18″ high!  The wilt gets into your plant through its leaves, not the stem.  Don’t cut suckers (branches between the stem and main branch) off because the cuts can be entry points for windborne wilts.  Wash your hands after working with each plant with the wilt so you don’t spread the wilts yourself.

Verticillium-resistant Tomato Varieties
AAS (All America Selections) are Starred & Bolded 
  • Ace
  • Better Boy
  • *Big Beef
  • *Celebrity
  • Champion
  • Daybreak
  • Early Girl
  • First Lady
  • *Floramerica
  • *Husky Gold
  • Husky Red
  • Italian Gold
  • Jet Star
  • Miracle Sweet
  • Pink Girl
  • Roma
  • Sunstart
  • Super Sweet 100
  • Ultra Sweet
  • Viva Italia

There’s little you can do for/to the soil to get rid of the wilt.  The only method I know that most of us can afford is Solarization.  Put black plastic tightly to the ground during a couple weeks of heat to kill it.  Problem is twofold.  1) That would be high summer to get that heat, so you can’t have your summer crop in that area.  If you have enough space, it’s doable.  If you only have a small space, that means no toms this year.  2) We are coastal and the temp needed to kill the wilt isn’t maintained over a two week period.  Sigh.  So we do our best, resistant varieties, little water, removal of lower leaves, remove infected plants.  A lot of smart local farmers dry farm tomatoes, and it’s water saving. 

You can use straw bale planting, or make raised box beds and fill them with soil that isn’t infected with the wilt.  That can help for awhile.  Here’s a link to my Green Bean Connection blog post on Plant a Lot in a Small Space that has a bit on hay/straw bale gardening!  It’s about 2/3s down the page, with link for instructions!  But.  Not only are the wilts soil borne, but airborne.  That you can’t do a lot about except ask everyone with infected plants to remove them.  

See Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 2, including Fava & Basil Tips

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Now IS still a good time to start your seeds, especially your true heat lovers – eggplant, limas, melons, okra, peppers and pumpkins, and for you SoCal coastal marine layer gardeners, tomatoes!

Beautiful Scarlet Runner Bean Seeds

When you start them, for your sanity, label your seedlings with their name and date!   

Hmph.  How hard could it be, soaking seeds?!  It isn’t, but it turns out there are lots of options and some specifics for better results!

Whether you only soak your seeds, or go on to presprouting, is your choice.  For me, I found once they started sprouting, growth was rapid!  At that stage, they can’t dry out or be too wet and rot, so you have to be ready to plant!  Also, it is more difficult to very carefully plant sprouted seeds.  They are delicate!  So if you are at all bull-in-the-China-shop like I am, it may pay to only presoak!

The main arguments for seed soaking are not only for a speedier garden [Sprouted seed will grow in soils too cool for germination, YES!, but also for more complete germination of all seeds planted. You can get germination results in 3 to 4 days, while without pre-soaking it may take 2 weeks of unfavorable germinating conditions, and you may get none.  Whether you plant directly in the ground, or for those of you at Pilgrim Terrace planning on using the greenhouse, here is some very useful info on seed soaking!

The Harrowsmith Country Life Book of Garden Secrets, by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent & Diane E. Bilberback:

The seed coat that surrounds the living seed sometimes does more than just protect it. The seed coats of many plants contain chemicals that inhibit germination of the seeds. This keeps them from germinating too early or when only briefly exposed to moisture. Some gardeners who are interested in rapid germination soak and wash their seeds to get around these germination inhibitors.

Some types of peppers, such as jalapenos, may germinate more rapidly if soaked in a couple of changes of lukewarm water before planting.

Beet and chard seeds also have a germination inhibitor; these strange-looking lumpy “seeds” are not really seeds at all but dried-up fruits of the plant, each of which contains several seeds. (That’s why beets and chard always need to be thinned.) The hard fruit covering contains a germination inhibitor, but if you soak the seed (fruit) overnight, it will absorb too much water, and you will still have poor germination.Seed coats play other important roles in the lives of plants. They regulate how much oxygen, water, and light the seeds receive.

You may have planted beans or corn in soil that was very moist but cool and were dismayed by subsequent poor germination. The seed coats of these crops can allow water to rush into the seeds too quickly, as with beets. This rapid water uptake can damage the tender cell membranes, permanently harming a young seedling so it grows slowly or preventing germination altogether. This process has been termed imbibitional shock, or soaking injury. Soaking injury can occur at any time with some crops, but cold temperatures make it worse.To avoid soaking injury, you can allow the seeds of sensitive crops such as beans, beets, and corn to soak up water gradually before planting them in the garden. This method is called seed moisturization.

One way to do this is to place them in moist vermiculite for eight to sixteen hours before planting. An easier method for most home gardeners is to place damp paper towels on a sheet of wax paper, sprinkle on the seeds you want to hydrate, and roll up the towels with the wax paper on the outside. Leave the seeds inside the paper for eight to sixteen hours at room temperature. Don’t let them sit for more than nineteen hours, or the delicate seedling root may begin to penetrate the seed coat, and you could damage it during planting.

Things to know plucked from the web….  

Start with viable seed.  Check the date on the seed pack to see when it was packaged for.

It won’t do you a bit of good, for example, to presoak lettuce seeds and expect them to germinate in a soil temp of 87 degrees, as they prefer a cooler-temperature. So start your pre-soaked seeds at the temperature and time you generally plant. Pre-soaking just gives you faster performance under normal conditions.

There are huge variations in the length of time people soak their seeds!

  1. Tomato and Pepper seeds are soaked 6 hours, no more that because they can suffocate from lack of air.
  2. overnight in tepid water. That is water that is warm, but not hot. I make sure that the seeds are covered at least twice their size with water. I don’t add anything to the water, but when planting them, I do water them in with manure tea.
  3. Soak them for 12 hours in compost tea, then rinse & drain. Rinse & drain each day, keeps the seeds moist until you have roots.  With beans, the roots emerge from the scar.  Plant the seed endwise, the root pointing down.  Plant roots and shoots at the soil surface, the bulk of the seed below the soil mix surface.  Keep moist.
  4. Soaked in tepid well water for six hours. The water was then poured off and the seeds were rinsed a couple times a day with some misting in between. The seeds were planted once they had visible roots.
  5. 12 hours in water, then drain and leave for 12 hours, then keep repeating the process until they split their skins and start showing a root. It normally only takes 2 or 3 days and then I plant out.
  6. Bean seeds may split if soaked for more than an hour or two. However, even this short soak will speed up germination
  7. When legume (peas/beans) seed coats split, the seeds may lose vital nutrients and fall prey to disease fungi when planted.  Drain them after they have been submerged for an hour.
  8. I do think I’ve oversoaked bean and pea seeds in the past, almost to the point where they are falling apart, and that it has weakened them. The soak time would depend on the size of the seed I would think, but never more than a few hours.
  9. I let them soak ‘til they are big and full, or ‘til they start to sprout a small root. Corn, beans, peas, squash (some) and pumpkins. Then I gently place them in the ground.  [Tweezers, please?!]
  10. OKRA !!!! (48 hours)  Or… I presoak my okra seed in 1 pint of warm water containing 1 tablespoon of household bleach to pre-soften the seed for 24 hours before planting.
  11. Cucurbita (cucs, luffas, melons, squash) seeds only needs to be soaked to loosen up the shell. Gourd seeds in particular are very tough and some people even scratch the sides of tips (scarify) to make it easier to germinate. I soaked them a little and also wrap them in wet toilet tissue before planting. This will help to keep them moist.

The soaking solution varies…see compost tea, manure tea above.  And what about worm tea?!

  1. Last year I soaked my bean seeds in a kelp solution before planting and they sprouted in about 2 days.
  2. I would never use bleach in the soaking solution. If you are worried about contamination, try soaking in chamomile tea or 3% hydrogen peroxide instead. If the seed is purchased, I wouldn’t bother.
  3. Hydrogen peroxide, both in soak and rinse solutions:1 oz. of  3% H²O² to 1 pint of water.  Sprouts come up faster.  Some people have reported 3/4″ sprouts in 24 hours.   

When you plant the seedlings dig the hole and spray it with peroxide. Wet it good and then wet the roots of the seedlings or small plant.   

The vegetable that gave me a problem was the cabbage. I was determined to conquer the cabbageworm. Years ago I sprayed the cabbage plants with peroxide to no avail. This year I soaked the cabbage seeds before planting them. There were no signs of the bug until the cabbage plants were almost full grown, then I poured about a quarter of cup of 8% peroxide over the cabbage, letting it flow down into the layers of the leaves. That stopped the cabbage bugs. 

Please see more tips… Part 2!  Scarifying  your seed, how to plant wet seed, better hot weather germination, water tricks!

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