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Vermicomposting Workshop Vancouver

Since 1990, City Farmer and the City of Vancouver have held worm composting workshops for City of Vancouver residents who live in apartments. For $25 participants get a worm bin, 500 worms, Mary Appelhof’s book “Worms Eat My Garbage”, a trowel, bedding and a one-hour class. Now that’s a deal!

Worm Castings are like BLACK GOLD to your garden, and high quality store-bought castings are just about as expensive! For good reason. They cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed!

Worms are easy to raise or you can use a complex system. You can start them anytime, indoors or out depending on temps. Here in Santa Barbara mine live outside all year in full sun. They are more active when they are warmer. Non color inked newspaper is often used for bedding to start a clew (colony). Worms are 90% water, so keep the bedding moist. My worms get all the moisture they need from the juicy kitchen bits I feed them and that I cover them with their plastic blankie to keep them moist!

They like decomposing kitchen waste with the exceptions of spicy, acidic, and meats (too tough). No junk food. Coffee filters, grounds, lightly ripped teabags are good, but not too many of those because they are acidic, and veggies like things a tad alkaline. Things cut into smaller pieces decompose faster. Harder or tougher items take a long time. I don’t ‘feed’ mine avocado pits because they literally can’t eat them. They do love the avo shells though and nest in them. Egg shells keep the pH neutral.

You can easily see when they have run out of food. Feed them sooner than that, or they might be hungry a few days, even die. They eat the bacteria on what you give them. They can’t eat raw food until it decomposes a bit. Hit up your friends that juice for a high quality steady supply of fresh organic veg and fruit trims and bits. Avoid acidic citrus, sulfuric onion, pastas (not a fruit or veg), but go wild with carrot peelings and tops, funky lettuce, melon rinds. Fridge clean outs are perfect for your worms!

The quality of what you feed your worms is the quality of your castings. Real nutrients, like the organic wastes of nature, give you excellent castings in return. Worms will eat non nutritious cardboard and lots of other things, but why? Better to recycle that in other ways.

The right kind of worms are RED WRIGGLERS! They forage on debris above ground. They are smaller than earthworms that live IN the earth. Fishermen use them for bait. Ask your fellow gardeners to give you a handful to get started, or go to the bait shack, or a local organic worm dealer. The little guys live about 2 years. My clew has been going strong for 12 years now.

Housing! Since they are surface foragers, these worms need width, not depth. Mine live in a low 4′ by 2′ opaque grey storage container. I put holes in the bottom for drainage, holes in the cover to let hot air out in summer. Inside the container I cover them with a large black plastic bag to keep it moist and dark for them. They feed all the way to the top because they feel safe no birds can see them!

Harvest the bumpy like little castings, look like fluffy coffee grounds, they push up to the surface. You have seen castings, often after a rain. Earth worms push them up into little textured piles on the soil’s surface. I use an old coffee container with a handle. Take the ‘blanket’ off your worms. Give them about 5 minutes to dive out of the light. Gather the castings at the top. Wait a few more minutes for them to dive again, then gather some more.

Feeding your plants I walk about my garden to see who might need some castings, or where I plan to plant. Scratch out a shallow area. Most veggie annuals do all their root growing in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Spread some castings in, cover them with the soil you dug out. After you have used all the castings, water the areas lightly so the castings stay covered and moist. Remember, you don’t need but 10-40% castings of the total volume of what you are growing your plants in.

How Castings Work! Castings are not exactly a fertilizer, ie their available N, Nitrogen, content is only 1.80 – 2.05 %, yet their NPK value is much higher than soil! NPK are the main minerals your plants need. The NPK in castings is locked in the cast, and slowly released as micro-organisms break it down. This is much better for plants, because it takes time for them to uptake nutrients. They can’t do it all at once.

Vermicompost nutrients and minerals are significantly higher (with Nitrates up to 9 times higher) than garden soil. This creates electro-conductivity, in turn creating more salts in vermicompost. When there is too much salt in soil, it sucks water from plant roots resulting in the ‘burning’ of plants. Although there aren’t enough salts in vermicompost to do that (it is much more common in chemical fertilizers), using too much wormcast can stunt plant growth.

Optimum growth is in a soil ratio of 1:4, that’s 25% castings, 75% soil. However it has been shown that even 10% of wormcast shows significant difference in plant growth. Using over 40% castings, plant growth performance is stunted and may even appear worse off than having no wormcast at all. A wise gardener knows more is not always better. And, your precious castings will go further.

An even more clever gardener will make a drain at one end of the box and collect the worm tea! Check out Bentley’s post for some of the finer details to consider and how to process your leachate for maximum results. If you aren’t doing worm tea, move your worm box from time to time so that juice can drip into your soil, making it rich and nutritious. Plants will grow like crazy there!

Plant recovery! L.A. Times, 5/27/00, Julie Bawden Davis: “Convinced that nothing could help a whitefly infested hibiscus in my garden that had been struggling for two years, I spread a one inch layer of worm castings around the plant. A month later I noticed that the whitefly population had dwindled. Three weeks later there were absolutely no whiteflies on the plant. It’s now back to its healthy self and producing lots of blooms.”

To my delight, visitors often wonder if I have named my worms! We all laugh and I show them more worms! Oh, and how do you get more worms?! Worms are hermaphrodites, meaning each worm has both male and female reproductive parts. The worm does have to mate in order to reproduce, but, every worm they meet is a potential mate. When a worm gets to be about six weeks old it forms a white band around its head, called a clitellum, this is where their reproductive organs are located.

Under ideal circumstances, worm populations can double in a month. They begin breeding at 2 months old, are capable of producing 96 babies each month. Worms have a brain and five hearts. Worms breathe through their skin. They have neither eyes nor ears but are extremely aware of vibrations such as thumps or banging on the composter.  Please try not to disturb them unnecessarily. Worms are odorless and free from disease.

Worm Economics and Education! Vermiculture has become common practice. Private Worm Farms abound! Universities and schools have educational programs, cities have programs, zoos, private organizations proudly tell their story. Websites assist you about raising your own or starting your own business.

Buying Castings! No time for one more thing to do?! Get your castings from a reputable organic seller. There are many great companies with high quality castings today. Don’t confuse an amendment, with castings added, with a bag or bucket of pure castings. Remember, a little bit of the right stuff goes a long way. Give them to your indoor plants too.

Whether for prevention, nutrition, recovery or economics, worm castings are fabulous. Worms work for free, and are sustainable!

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Dry farming has been a garden practice done for centuries in arid places.  With global warming, many will be using these ancient techniques to great advantage!  In Vietnam today, beans and peanuts, that restore the soil, and sesame, are grown season to season between wet rice plantings!  Watch this Vietnamese video, No Water Required! Dry Farming In Âu Lạc Vietnam

Dry Farming Video Vietnam - Beans, Peanuts, Sesame Restore Soil!

I’m sharing this paragraph of a past post on DRY GARDENING from the Oregon Biodynamics Group.  We hear about tomatoes being dry gardened, but have you ever done it?  Here are some practical tips from people who have:

When the homesteaders planted their gardens, they needed to feed their family for much of the year. They couldn’t afford to do raised beds or to develop irrigation systems. How did they do that? Part of the answer is to give plants lots of elbowroom. Space rows widely at about 8 times what we do with intensive beds. They also hoed or cultivated to keep a “dust mulch” between the plants. This technique is quite effective at preserving water so the plants can make it through the summer with only an occasional irrigation. Most of this class is directed at intensive gardening because we have limited areas for garden plots. But if you have the room, one can produce high-quality produce without irrigation. Vegetables must be able to send down deep roots so that they can draw in the water that is stored in the soil. Plants that work are root crops, brassicas, corn, squash, and beans. Ones that don’t work are onions, celery, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, radishes, and spinach. The plants need to get well established in June [Oregon] using the natural soil moisture. Then they can carry themselves through the dry months. It helps to give 5 gallons of compost tea every 2-3 weeks during July-August. Liquid fertilizer helps with the stress of low water.

When getting started for the season, farmer David Little of Little Organic Farm explains another way of dust mulching. To help people understand how dry farming works, Little uses the example of a wet sponge covered with cellophane. Following winter and spring rains, soil is cultivated to break it up and create a moist “sponge,” then the top layer is compacted using a roller to form a dry crust (the “cellophane”). This three to four inch layer is sometimes referred to as a dust mulch, seals in water and prevents evaporation.

Clearly, our SoCal weather is different than what the Oregon homesteaders had, especially in these times of climate change. I’m translating Oregon June to SoCal May. If you are a coastal gardener, or a foothill gardener, use your judgment how you will do your gardening practice. Plant your dry crops separately from your water-needing crops.  Plant your water lovers more closely together and mulch them well. Get plants going with a little water, then cut it off after a few weeks. As usual, seeds and seedlings Tomato California Dryfarmed Early Girlmust be kept moist at startup.

Soil choice is important. Dry farming in sandy soil, through which water drains easily, doesn’t work.

Dry gardening isn’t for everyone, ie, harvest is generally a tad less, or even only a third as much, or very dramatically, only 4 tons of tomatoes compared to 40 tons from watered plants. But they say the taste is superb! In fact, At Happy Boy Farms, near Santa Cruz, sales director Jen Lynne says “Once you taste a dry-farmed tomato, you’ll never want anything else!”  And people shop specifically for dry farmed tomatoes in areas where they are grown!

Useful pointers if you want to try your hand at it:

  • If it is an option, store water for summer use. Set up a grey water system.
  • Prepare your soil with well aged water-holding compost, manure, worm castings.
  • Plant out of a drying windy zone. If that’s all you have, plant subshrub barriers or build porous windbreaks.
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  • Select plants or plant varieties suited to summer, tolerate heat and being dryer.
  • Choose plants that mature more quickly so they will have the early season water.  Plant those that need less water in the latter part of the season.
  • Grow only what you need.
  • If you don’t need volume, but rather a steady supply, plant high producing dwarfs and minis, like many container varieties, that need less water for smaller leaves.
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  • Plant further apart, at least 1½ times or greater the spacing distance recommended on seed packets, 8 times further if you have been doing intensive planting practices. But, do give seeds and seedlings all the water they need until they are established
  • Make furrows and plant IN the bottoms of furrows, not on the peaks that drain/dry out.
  • Thin out seedlings on time.  No wasting water on plants you won’t use and that will slow others that need all the nutrients and water they can get.  Use scissors; don’t pull up soil causing the other plant’s roots soil to be disturbed, even expose the roots, to dry out, killing that plant too.
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  • If you don’t go the entire dry gardening route, but want to use less water, mulch deeply early on. It keeps your soil from drying out and blocks light germinating weed seeds from sprouting.
  • Self mulching:  plant in blocks, rather than rows. This creates shade for roots and reduces evaporation. If you are home gardening, maybe plant 4 to a block, put the blocks in different places to avoid disease or pest spread.
  • Dust mulching is simply soil cultivation to about 2 or 3 inches deep. Cultivation disturbs the soil surface and interrupts the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation.  Do it after rains or irrigating.
  • Remove water-using weeds. Don’t let them seed.
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  • When you water, do it by drip or trickle, deeply, early AM if possible, when wind is low and temps are cool. Plants drink during the day.  This is a good time to invest in a ‘hose bubbler.’  They deliver water slowly without digging up your soil.
  • Cultivate 2″ to 3″ deep before a rain to capture up to 70% of the rainfall! Cultivate afterwards if a salt crust (from manures) has built up.
  • Give your plants tasty compost tea, equal parts water and aged compost. Compost tea delivers rich soluble nutrients directly to the plant roots.
  • If water becomes critical, consider planting only a couple of containers with vegetables.
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  • Harvest on time at peak flavor and texture, using no more water than needed.
  • When your harvest is done, turn the remaining plants under, especially legumes, like beans, that feed your soil.

Amy Garrett, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University says ‘for each 1% increase in soil organic matter, soil water storage can increase by 16,000 gallons per acre-foot of applied water (Sullivan, 2002)! Many people think of grains and beans when dry farming is mentioned, however farmers in the western region of the U.S. have dry farmed many other crops including: grapes, [cucumbers,] garlic, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes, winter squash, potatoes, hay, olives, and orchard crops.’

After years of trial and error, David Little now considers himself an expert.“It’s very challenging because you have to hold the moisture for long periods of time, and you don’t know how different crops are going to react in different areas,” Little says. Much of the land he farms is rolling hills and valleys, which present additional challenges because they hold and move groundwater differently than flat land.

If you decide to dry farm all or part of your garden area, know that you and your land, your plant choices, are unique. Don’t give up, find your own way. Also you can do as David did, search for people who were known dry-farmers. He even made the rounds at local bars, asking older farmers about their experiences! He said they humbly shared their stories and gradually he picked up the important details. That’s dedication!

Be water wise, sleep well, eat hearty, share the bounty!

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Foliar plant care is so easy!
Use a
Dramm Can, the Perfect Foliar Machine!

Worm Castings, Compost, Manure Tea, Fish Emulsion/Kelp for FEEDING – All in ONE!

You can easily make this tea!  A handful of castings, a handful to a cup of compost, handful of manure, stir and let them soak overnight in a bucket.  In the morning, swoosh it around in the bucket one more time, let it settle, then pour the top liquid into your watering can, the one with the up turning rose.  Add a Tablespoon Fish Emulsion/Kelp, mix, and drench your plants in the morning!  Yum!

Epsom Salts, Magnesium Sulfate, Your Solanaceaes, Peppers especially, and Roses!

Magnesium is critical for seed germination and the production of chlorophyll, fruit, and nuts. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improves plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.  Magnesium deficiency in the soil may be one reason your tomato leaves yellow between the leaf veins late in the season and fruit production slows down.

Sulfur, a key element in plant growth, is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes.  Sulfur is probably the oldest known pesticide in current use. It can be used for disease control (e.g., powdery mildews, rusts, leaf blights, and fruit rots), and pests like mites, psyllids and thrips. Sulfur is nontoxic to mammals, but may irritate skin or especially eyes.  Sulfur has the potential to damage plants in hot (90°F and above), dry weather. It is also incompatible with other pesticides. Do not use sulfur within 20 to 30 days on plants where spray oils have been applied; it reacts with the oils to make a more phytotoxic combination.

Epsom Salts are easy to do!  Buy some Epsom Salts, what you soak your feet in, at the grocery store, mix a tablespoon per gallon, foliar feed!  Foliar feeding is simply sprinkling leaves with your solutions, and works better than applying to the soil!  Get a Dramm 5 liter long snouted watering can that has a turnable sprinkler head.  That long spout comes in handy, reaching well into your plant!  Turn the head so the water shoots up under the leaves then falls back on the tops!  The long arc of the handle gives lots of maneuvering ability!  Feed your plants once when they bloom, and again ten days later. The results, attributed to magnesium in the salts, are larger plants, more flowers, more fruit, thicker walled peppers!  I use this mix on all my Solanaceaes: eggplant, pepper, tomato, tomatillo.  Roses love it too! 

Baking Soda & Nonfat Powdered Milk for PREVENTION!

The bicarbonate of soda makes the leaf surface alkaline and this inhibits the germination of fungal spores. Baking soda prevents and reduces Powdery Mildew, and many other diseases on veggies, roses, and other plants!  It kills PM within minutes.  It can be used on roses every 3 to 4 days, but do your veggie plants every 5 to 10 days, or after significant rains, as the plant grows, because these new plant tissues are not yet protected yet by your fungicide.  Irrigate well 2 days before use; on a sunny day spray off as much of the PM as you can from plants in sunny locations.  A heaping Tablespoon baking soda to a gallon of water, with a 1/2 Teaspoon of a surfactant – insecticidal or dish soap or salad oil, does the job.  It is not effective without the surfactant to spread it and make it stick.  You can add a liquid fertilizer with it if you want.   Cautions:  1)  I have had no trouble using it on my veggies, but it may burn the leaves of some other plants, so try it on a few leaves first.  2)  Don’t apply during hot midday sun that can burn the leaves.  3)  Avoid over use – it is a sodium, salt.  For a definitive discussion of Baking Soda usage and research, see https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/bakingsoda.html.   The article is an easy read, nicely summarized, has references, includes cautions and info on commercial preparations.  Best of all is to plant powdery mildew resistant varieties:

  • Cucumber:  Diva
  • Yellow Summer Squash:  Success, Sunray, Sunglo
  • Zucchini:  Ambassador, Wildcat
  • Pumpkin:  18 Karat Gold, Gladiator

Add nonfat powdered milk to your Baking Soda fungicide!  Powdered milk is a natural germicide, boosts your plant’s immune system!  Apply right away on young bean plants, all your cucurbits – cukes, zuchs, any mildew prone plant.  A 1/4 c milk in your gallon of water.  Get under those leaves, early morning so the leaves dry and the habitat is less humid.

Also add Salicylic acid, an aspirin to the mix! It triggers a defense response in tomatoes and other plants as well, and stimulates growth!  One regular strength dissolved/gallon does the job.

Healthy plants and abundant production are so rewarding!  Just take a few minutes to give your plants a boost with these simple treatments!  Whether Dramm, or another can, get yourself a good one!  Make it easy to get up under those leaves!  Otherwise, you are treating only 1/2 your plant!

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Food Not Lawns is all about raising veggies not grass.  Studies show they both take about the same amount of water, but veggies pay back sustainably with fresh highly nutritious food on your table and no-food-miles or pollution.  Plus they make seeds for their next generation, adapting to your microclimate niche!  http://www.sbfoodnotlawns.org

  • Do I have to rip up my lawn?  You can do lasagna gardening/sheet composting right on top, start with cardboard/newspaper. 
  • Do I have to do a major portion of my lawn?  You can do any part you want, big or small, your call!
  • But I don’t want to do my front lawn.  You don’t have to!  It’s yours, do what makes you happy!  You only need 6 to 8 hours of sun to grow veggies, any space, corridor that has that, works.
  • Is it really hard work?  Using the lasagna/sheet composting method is no harder than gathering the materials to do it!  There is NO DIGGING!  And you don’t have to build raised beds.  Building soil on top of your lawn can make a lovely undulating landscape.  Frameless raised beds have plantable sloped sides!  
  • Is it ugly?   Could be, but how you do it is up to you!  It can be integrated along/among border landscaping plants, you don’t have to have raised beds at all.  If you want to though, you can make really attractive raised beds with beautiful materials, ie a lovely rock wall, terracing.  You can  cover an unsightly area like the edge under a south facing deck.  There are so many lovely options! 
  • I don’t want to wait months before I can plant!  You can plant the same day!  Just pull back a planting hole,  throw in compost, bought or made by you, plus any amendments you want, just like usual, and plant NOW!  No waiting at all!

                            Sheet Compost/Lasagna Garden Layers                           

Mulch or Tarp or not
Optional – Compost, Sprinkled Soil
Repeat layers until 18” to 2’ deep
Greens – Garden chop & drop
Browns – twice as deep as greens
Greens/Wet – kitchen veggie scraps, garden trimmings, grass, manure
Browns/Dry – leaves, straw for air circulation, alfalfa for Nitrogen
Well wetted Cardboard/Newspaper
Existing surface – Lawn

Wet green layers go above dry browns so the juicy decomposing stuff seeps down, keeping the brown stuff moist!  Straw is good in a brown/dry layer because air can pass through it, keeping the pile aerated!  Throw in some red wriggler worms to work the pile, make castings!  Maybe toss in some soil to ‘innoculate’ the pile with soil organisms.

Don’t worry overmuch about exactness of ingredients in your layers as you chop and drop greens from your garden/yard.  In fact, you can mix them up!  But do put in manures for Nitrogen (N).  Decomposing plants use N to decompose, so add a little so your growing plants will have an adequate supply.

If you can, make your pile at least 18” high; it is going to sink down as it decomposes.  Thinner layers, or layers that have been mixed, and smaller pieces, decompose faster.

If you like, cover the whole pile with some pretty mulch when you are done!  Or tarp it to keep things moist until ready for use.

When you plant, especially in ‘new’ soil, sprinkle the roots of your transplants with mycorrhizal fungi!  The fungi make micro filaments throughout your soil that increase your plants’ uptake of minerals, especially phosphorus that builds strong roots and increases blooming, fruiting!

Anybody can lasagna garden/sheet compost in any garden, any part of a garden, any or all the time!  It’s a time honored soil building/restoration technique!  Happy planting!

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APRIL is for Heat Lovers! Pull back your mulches, let soil heat up, PLANT!

Why not start with an AAS (All America Selections) 2011 Winner?!
Pepper ‘Orange Blaze’ F1  Early ripening orange variety, very sweet flavor, multiple disease resistances!

AAS 2011 Winner - Orange Blaze F1 Pepper

Get out last year’s garden notes if you made any, and review for varieties you liked, where you got ‘em, how much to plant!

CORN!
Plant in blocks, not rows, for pollination.  When tassels bloom, break off pieces and whap them on the silks!  Each silk is one kernel, each needs one grain of pollen!
Corn hybridizes – plant only one variety, or varieties that don’t have pollen at the same time.  This is pretty much not doable at a community garden since everyone is planting all kinds at any time, so if you harvest seeds, don’t expect true results!

Heat tolerant, tipburn resistant lettuces – Nevada, Sierra, Black Seeded Simpson, Jericho Romaine
     Slo bolt cilantro, arugula in semi shade (among your corn?!)
Eggplant love humidity and heat.  Tuck ‘em in between, right up against, other plants.  Near the cooler coast plant the longer length varieties that mature earlier.
Jicama, limas, melons, okra, peppers, seed potatoes, pumpkins
From Seed:  basil (Nufar is wilt resistant), chard, green beans (while peas finishing), beets, carrots, corn, endive, New Zealand spinach, parsley, radish, squash – summer & WINTER, sunflowers, turnips.  Coastal gardeners, get your winter squash in NOW so it will have ample time to mature.
The radish variety French Breakfast holds up and grows better than most early types in summer heat if water is supplied regularly.

PreSoak and/or PreSprout for 100% success!  Click here for details!  Per eHow:  How to Soak Watermelon Seeds in Milk Before Growing.  Sometimes the seed coat carries a virus, and the proteins in milk will also help deactivate the virus.  Read more 

Transplants:  cucumbers (hand pollinate?), tomatoes, watermelon
WAIT FOR MAY to plant cantaloupe
Herbs from transplants – oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme 

Plant successively!  If you put in transplants now, also put in seeds for an automatic 6 week succession!  Plant different varieties (except of corn if you want true seed – see above)! 

If you overplant, thin for greens, or transplant when they are about 2 to 3 inches high.  Lettuce, carrots, onions.  Too many stunt each other.  OR, this from Santa Barbara Westsiders Lili & Gabor:  Overplant mesclun on purpose, then mow the little guys!  If you are at home, plant densely in a planter bowl, cut off, leaving 1 ½” of stem still in your soil.  They will regrow, you will have several months’ supply of tasty baby greens.  Plant two or three bowls for more people or more frequent harvest!  Give a bowl as a gift! 

Tomatoes
Plant for excellence
 – Throw a handful of bone meal in your planting hole along with a handful of nonfat powdered milk, worm castings, compost/manures, mix it all up with your soil.  Sprinkle the roots of your transplant with mycorrhizal fungi!  That’ll do it!  Stand back for bounty!
REMOVE LOWER LEAVES OF TOMATOES  Wilt prevention.  Water sparingly or not at all after about a foot tall.  Wilt comes from the ground up the leaves and is airborne. Remove any leaves that touch the ground or could get water splashed.  Don’t remove suckers – airborne fungi can enter open wounds.
Sorry, NO HEIRLOOMS if you know the soil has the wilts.  Heirlooms don’t have resistance.  Get varieties with VF on the tag or that you know have resistance/tolerance.
Mid day, rap tomato cages or the main stem, to help pollination.  55 degrees or lower, higher than 75 at night, or 105 in daytime = bud drop.  Not your fault.  Grow early varieties first that tolerate cooler temps.
Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Kevin and Mary Smith have had successes with 2 blight resistant/tolerant determinate varieties, New Hampshire Surecrop, a 78 day, great tasting slicer/canner, and Legend, a very early 68 day!  Ask for them, and more Jetsetters, with unbelievable VFFNTA resistance/tolerance, at your nursery.  See Tomatoes and Wilts here at the Green Bean Connection Blog for a list of additional resistant/tolerant varieties and tips!   

Maintenance!  Sidedress when blooms start.  Fish/kelp, foliar feed Epsom salt for Solanaceaes, seabird guano (not bat) for more blooms, manures for lettuces and leaf crops like chard, collards.

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Fine Bright Lights Chard

To start, especially tomatoes, 4 things!

  • First, throw a big handful of bone meal in your planting hole and mix it in with your soil.  Bone meal is high in Phosphorous (for blooming) and takes 6 to 8 weeks before it starts working – perfect timing!  It is also high in calcium, which helps prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes.  Water regularly or it won’t help.  Fine ground bone meal releases quicker, coarse ground lasts longer.
  • Second, throw in a handful of nonfat powdered milk!  It’s also high in calcium, that your plant can uptake right away, but more importantly, it is a natural germicide, and boosts your plant’s immune system!!!
  • And what about tossing in some worm castings?  They have special plant-growth hormones in the humic acids of the castings.
  • This is indirect, but makes sense.  Sprinkle mycorrhizal fungi ON the roots of your transplants when you plant them!  To live, the fungi need the sugars the roots give.  The fungi, in turn, make a wonderful web of filaments, mycelium, that work in harmony with your plant, increasing its uptake of nutrients and water, reducing transplant shock, and helps with disease and pathogen suppression!  One of the great things mycorrhiza does is assist Phosphorus uptake.  Of the NPK on fertilizers, P is Phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop.  Buy them fresh at Island Seed & Feed.  Ask them, they will weigh out whatever amount you want.  A quarter pound would be $4.99 (2-24-11/Matt).  Mycorrhiza & Farmers video

When your plants start blooming

  • Sidedress them with seabird quano (NOT bat guano) that is high in phosphorus, stimulates blooms, more blooms!  More blooms, more tomatoes!
  • Foliar drench or spray with Epsom Salt mix – 1 Tablespoon/watering can.  Fastest way to feed plant, and often the most efficient, is to foliar feed it.  Epsom Salt, right from your grocery store or pharmacy, is high in magnesium sulfate.  Peppers love it too.  It really gives your plants a boost, and fruits are bigger, peppers are thicker walled.  I drench all my Solanaceaes – toms, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, tomatillos – with Epsom salt.  Some say apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, or spray a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salt per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set.

Fish/kelp mixes are for light feeding, are well balanced, but stinky, even when the fish emulsion is deodorized.  If you want a more potent mix, use the hydrolyzed powder.  Maxicrop is great stuff!

Along the way, if leaves start yellowing, green ‘em up quick with emergency doctoring!  Bloodmeal!  It’s very high in quickly usable Nitrogen (N).  Dig it lightly into the top soil, water well.  Be aware, it and fish/kelp mixes are stinky and bring predators.

Give everybody a little manure, dig into the top 6” of soil, but only on two sides of your plant.  We want most of the near-the-surface roots to be undisturbed. Steer manure is cheap.   Chicken stores in less space per what it can do, but it can be hot (burn your plants’ roots), so go lightly with it.  Lettuces like manures.  Compost is good stuff but sometimes not strong enough on N.  Sometimes you can get FREE compost from the city.

Again, indirect, but organic mulch not only keeps your soil cool, moist and weed free, but feeds your soil as it decomposes.  Apply coarse mulch that decomposes slowly so it doesn’t use up your plants’ Nitrogen in the decomposition process.

Well fed and maintained plants are more disease and pest resistant, are lusty and productive – they pay back with abundant  larger tasty fruits and potent seeds for the next generation!

“Earth turns to Gold in the hands of the Wise” Rumi

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Now, let’s look at July in more detail:  Definitely time to be gathering info about fall plant varieties, getting your seeds for August planting!  As plants finish, spaces become available, get that soil ready with compost and manures.  Get some hardware cloth and install some gopher barriers. 

Wise Harvesting!  Now that the initial rush of harvesting your new veggies has passed, and it has, at times, become a labor, it is not the time to slack off!  Harvest frequently to keep your crop coming!  Do not store on the vine.  Pick zuchs and cucs small and tender. 

Maintenance practices make a difference!  See June’s info for more details! 

  • Water & mulch.  Mulch for moisture, water deeply and less frequently.  Stick your fingers in the soil to see how moist it is.  Keep strawberries moist or they will stop producing.  Water short rooted plants, beans, lettuces, cucs, more frequently.  Keep seed beds moist, water twice a day if you need to.
  • Feeding!  Epsom salts your peppers, blood meal for yellowing Nitrogen needing plants.  Scratch in a little manure to keep lettuces fat and happy.  Seabird guano (NOT bat guano) keeps plants flowering and producing!
  • Pollinators!  That’s bats, bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, moths, and wind.  The creatures need year round food, shelter and clean water.  Selecting Plants for Pollinators – California Coastal Chaparral Forest and Shrub Province is a must see article!
  • Pests – insects and skunk prevention, gopher management.
  • Diseases – pick before you water, so you don’t spread disease.  Water in the AM to let leaves dry off to keep mildew at bay. 

Make compost, compost, compost now for fall planting!  Use trimmings, spent plants, plants that bolt, healthy but no longer wanted, in your compost!  In August we will start planting fall and winter crops, and they will be wanting your fine organic compost!  Chop things up so they degrade more quickly.  Keep your pile moist so it will decay.  A dry pile is a dead pile.  Add some red worms to the pile so you will get some worm castings as well, and your pile breaks down more fully.  Bring your kitchen trim!  Add a few sprigs of yarrow from time to time and that will speed decomposition.   

Instead of leaving the big air holes open in the rubber compost enclosures, you might decide to install a very large heavy mill plastic bag to keep your pile moist!  Put a few holes in the bottom for drainage.  When enough compost has formed, you can just remove the bag to a storage area out of the sun, or empty it where you want to plant next, incorporating it with the soil there.  Or if you don’t use a bag, just remove the enclosure and plant right there, right in your compost!

Bountiful Storage!  Freezing, canning, seed collecting, making medicinal products like creams and shampoos, teas, powdered herbs, candles, flavored oils & vinegars, or drying flowers, are all wonderful ways to extend the joy of what you grew, whether you keep them or give them as gifts!

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