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Posts Tagged ‘comfrey’

June Garden Wedding Lyons Farmette CO

What’s a garden for? Fertility and good living! Bridgette and Hoyt got married on a supermoon evening at Lyons Farmette & River Bend, Lyons CO! 

June is Midsummer Magic month! Divine small Faery beings will be celebrating your garden!
June 21, 24, 25 or a date close to the Summer Solstice, any day June 19–24, is celebrated as Midsummer Night; June 24 is Faery Day! In Santa Barbara the 2020 Summer Solstice festival and parade will be virtual starting June 20!

Abundance is flowing, harvests are happening!

Tomato Indigo Rose Purple AnthocyaninsTomatoes are coloring up nicely, their sidekick basil is potent delish, golden zucchini and lettuces of all kinds are being eaten, purple pole beans are being harvested by adults and children! I’ve seen some big fat full size cukes and humongous Seascape strawberries! Be careful with some of your harvests. Clip rather than break away and damage or pull your plant up.

Cherry tomatoes come in first. Fertilize your toms with a slow release fertilizer once the fruiting begins.

Last year I had the pleasure of growing Pink Boar Tomatoes, from the Wild Boar series bred by farmer/breeder Brad Gates. As High Mowing says, ‘Deep pink skin is stunning with contrasting olive stripes and luscious deep red flesh,’ and it was!

Unexpected benefit! Reviewer Rebecca of Old Mosses Secret Garden said: I bought [Brad Gates Blue Berries] tomatoes for my whimsical choice. My experiences were similar to others opinion, they are abundant, vigorous and salad enhancing, plus they make a wonderful antioxidant jam spread. What I wanted to share about the blue berry tomatoes is that they are top of the menu choices for BATS. Bats were not on our urban radar, four years later five thousand bats have moved in and troll the garden where the fence lines are abundant with these little tasty gems, which get devoured . This plant is the greatest organic gardening boon ever sprouted. For fair reveal though I have hundreds of evergreen spruce that also get bat vacuumed for more meaty choices, so Thank you Baker seed, your diligence to excel is my secret weapon for a fantastic garden.

Harvest at your veggie’s peak delicious moment! Juicy, crunchy, that certain squish in your mouth, sweet, full bodied flavor, radiant, vitamin and mineral rich! Besides being delicious and beautiful, it keeps your plant in production. Left on the plant, fruits start to dry and your plant stops production, goes into seeding mode. The fruit toughens or withers, maybe rots, sometimes brings cleanup insect pests that spread to other plants. Keep beans picked, no storing cucumbers on the vine. Give away or store what you can’t eat. Freezing is the simplest storage method. Cut veggies to the sizes you will use, put the quantity you will use in baggies, seal and freeze. Whole tomatoes, chopped peppers, cut beans, diced onions. Probiotic pickle your cukes. Enjoy your sumptuous meals! Sing a song of gratitude and glory!

Plant more! Try some new ones too!

In those empty spots you have been saving, plant more rounds of your favorites! Check your lettuce supply. Put in more bolt resistant, heat and drought tolerant varieties now. Some heat tolerant lettuce varieties are Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson. That ruffly little beauty queen Green Star has excellent tolerance to hot weather, bolting, and tipburn. Rattlesnake beans keep right on producing when temps get up to 100 degrees! Plant more of everything except winter squash, big melons, pumpkins, unless you live in the hot foothills.

Put in plants that like it hotter! Long beans grow quickly from seed now. They grow later in the season when your other beans are finishing. They make those enormously long beans in the ample late summer heat. Keep watch on them, in spite of their size they grow quickly. Harvest promptly, usually daily! Certain varieties of them don’t get mildew either! Their unique flavor keeps your table interesting. Plant Okra now, it grows quickly in this warmer weather! More eggplant and also tomatoes you have been waiting to put in the now drier fungi free ground. Plant mini melons like Sugar Baby watermelons!

For those of you that are plagued with fungi diseases in your soil, the drier soil now makes this a better time to plant. Select wilt and blight resistant Tomatoes. Remember, when you plant your tomatoes and cukes, build a mound and make a basin whose bottom is higher than the surrounding soil. You want drainage and a wee bit of drying to reduce the potential of fungi – verticillium and fusarium wilts, blights. More Special Planting and growing tips for your Tomatoes and Cucumbers!

Plant WHITE potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs, radishes with cukes and Zucchini to repel cuke beetles, and radishes with eggplant, potatoes and arugula to repel flea beetles.

If you have more space or you lost a plant here or there, think on putting in some perfect companion plants! One of the Three Cs are super!

  1. Calendula – so many medicinal uses, bright flowers, and traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips! Yep. Plant Calendula by tomatoes and asparagus.
  2. Chamomile –  is called the Plant Dr! It heals neighboring plants and improves the flavor of any neighboring herb! The flowers make a lovely scent and the tea is sweet.
  3. Comfrey – aka Knitbone, is an amazing medicinal herb, a super nutritious compost speeder upper! Plant it by your compost area.

Tasty herbs – chives, parsley, or more permanent perennials like rosemary, oregano (invasive), thyme are flavorful choices.

Pat Mycorrhiza fungi right on the roots of all your transplants except Brassicas. It increases uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for it bulk at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta. Support your local nurseries.

Here’s your tending list for Beauty and Bounty!

Summer Solstice SunflowerWater regularly so everyone is moist the way they like it! Seeds and seedlings daily, even twice daily on super hot days. Shading them may save their lives. Peppers like moist, so as they need it. Others not so water critical on average need an inch a week; water beans, cukes, lettuces and short rooted varieties of strawberries more frequently – lettuces could be daily on hot windy days. To double check use the old finger test or push your shovel in and wedge the soil open enough so you can see if it is moist as deep as it needs to be. Watering at ground level, rather than overhead watering, keeps your plant dry. That means less mildew, less fungal diseases, especially for fuzzy leaved plants like toms and eggplant.

If at all possible, water in the AM before 10:30 to let leaves dry before evening to prevent mildew – beans, cucumbers and squashes are especially susceptible. Plant fewer beans further apart for air flow. If your plants are near a street or there has been a dusty wind storm, wash the dust off your plants so they can breathe, and to make them less attractive to Whiteflies.

Some plants need MULCH now, and if the mulch is tired and flat, replace it with fresh clean mulch. No more than an inch of straw mulch under toms and cukes. They need airflow so the soil can dry a bit and reduce harmful fungi. Otherwise, put on 4 to 6 inches minimum to keep light germinating seeds from sprouting. Mulch any Brassicas you are over summering – broccoli, kale – 4 to 6 inches deep for them too. They need cool soil. Melons and winter squash – Butternuts, acorn, pumpkins – need heat! They are the exception – no mulch for them if you are coastal. Yes, they will need more water, so be sure their basin is in good condition and big enough so they get water out to their feeder roots. Put a stake in the center of the basin so you know where to water when the leaves get big. The only place for straw for them is right under the melons. See more at Mulching ~ Why, When, With What, How Much?!

Keep a sharp eye on tomatoes. Remove leaves touching the ground or will touch the ground if weighted with water! Trim so neighboring plants don’t touch and spread diseases like the wilts or blights. Remember, the wilts are spread by wind as well as water, so neighboring plants are very likely to give it to one another. Try planting other plants between. You can still do rows, just mix up the plants! Your healthier tomatoes will produce more and longer.

POLLINATION is vital & easy to do!

Pollination Cucurbits Male Female Flowers     Pollination by Hand Cucurbits Male Stamen to Female Stigma

Hand Pollination of Cucurbits! In left image, male flower on left, female right.

Improve your tomato, eggplant and pepper production by giving the cages or the main stems a few sharp raps, or gently shake the stems, to help the flowers self pollinate. Midday is the best time. Honey bees don’t pollinate tomatoes, or other Solanaceae! Build solitary bee condos for native bees. Native bees, per Cornell entomology professor Bryan Danforth, are two to three times better pollinators than honeybees, are more plentiful than previously thought and not as prone to the headline-catching colony collapse disorder that has decimated honeybee populations. The very best Solanaceae pollinator is a Bumblebee!!! See more! Plant plenty of favorite bee foods!

While you are helping your tomatoes pollinate, if you are growing them in cages, also very gently help them up through the cages. Remove any bottom leaves that might touch the ground when weighted with water. Remove any diseased leaves ASAP!

Squashes, melons and monoecious cucumbers can easily be hand pollinated. Cukes are notorious for needing help being pollinated! Cucurbits have male and female blooms on the same plant. If there are not enough pollinators about, we need to help. Also, multiple visits from the bees are required for good fruit set and properly shaped cucumbers. Male flowers open in the morning and pollen is only viable during that day. Hand pollinate during the morning hours, using only freshly opened flowers. You can use a small pointy paint brush, a cotton swab, Q-tip, your finger, and move pollen from the male stamen to the center of the female flower. Or the best, most complete method is to take the male flower off the plant, pull the petals off, and gently roll the male flower anther around and over the female stigma in the center of the female flower. The pollen is sticky, so it may take some time. One male anther can pollinate several females. Repeat. Female blooms will simply drop off the plant if they are not pollinated or not pollinated adequately. So when your cukes are in production, you need to do this daily for more fruits.

Don’t be confused by the little fruit forming under the female flowers and think pollination has already happened. The flower needs to be fertilized, and adequately, or the fruit just falls off. Flowers not pollinated enough, that don’t abort, make misshapen fruits. That goes for corn having irregular to lacking kernels. Strawberries are called cat-faced. Squash and cucumbers can be deformed. On an unwindy day, tilt the stalk so the corn tassels are over the silks and tap the stalk. You will see a shower of pollen fall on the silks. You may need to do it from one plant to another so you don’t break the stalk trying to get the pollen to fall on silks on the same plant.

Planting a lot of plants close together stresses the plants. At higher densities, plants compete for water, nutrients, and sunlight, and the resulting stress can lead to a higher proportion of male flowers, less female flowers, the ones that produce. If you really want more fruit, give them room to be fruitful. The same goes for other stresses – damage from insects or blowing soil, low light intensities, or water stress – less female flowers are produced.

Weather affects pollination. Sometimes cool overcast days or rain, when bees don’t fly, there is no pollination. High humidity makes pollen sticky and it won’t fall. Not good for wind pollinated veggies like tomatoes. Drought is a problem for corn pollination. Too high nighttime temps, day temps 86°F and above, will keep your tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables from setting fruit unless they are high temp tolerant varieties. Too windy and the pollen is blown away. See Pollination: Honeybees, Squash Bees & Bumblebees!

If it is your cucumbers that are not pollinating well each year, try parthenocarpic varieties. Parthenocarpic varieties produce only female flowers and do not need pollination to produce fruit. This type of cucumber is also seedless. Try a few varieties and see if you like them.

Did you know? Flowers can hear buzzing bees—and it makes their nectar sweeter!

SIDEDRESSING! This IS the time! Feeding when your plants start to bloom and produce is a pretty standard recommendation. But if your baby is looking peaked, has pale or yellowing leaves, an emergency measure could be blood meal. Foliar feeding a diluted fish emulsion/kelp is easy for your plant to uptake. Foliar feeding a tea mix per what each plant might need, is the ultimate feed and it’s not hard to make tea mixes! Your lettuces love it if you scratch in a 1/4″ chicken manure, but no manure in a tea on leaves you will be eating! Pull your mulch back, top with a 1/2″ of compost and some tasty worm castings! If you prefer organic granulated fertilizer, easy to apply, sprinkle it around evenly. But remember, that has to be repeatedly applied. Recover with your mulch, straw, then water well and gently so things stay in place. That’s like making compost and worm tea in place!

Face up to pests! It’s easier to deal with them when there are only a few rather than losing your whole plant or a row of plants. I have already seen Cucumber beetles foraging on Zucchini flowers, on Tomatillos. They are deadly to cucumbers because they transmit bacterial wilt and squash mosaic virus and cucumbers are the most susceptible to the wilts than any other garden veggie. Squish those beetles. Put one hand under where the beetle is, reach for it with the other hand. Be prepared! They are fast and can see you coming! See more Here are tips for Beetle prevention for organic gardeners:

  • If possible plant unattractive-to-cucumber beetle varieties. In 2012 U of Rhode Island trials, best pickling choices are Salt and Pepper and H-19 Little LeafMarketmore 76 was tops for slicing cukes. If you find more current research on best varieties, please let me know!
  • Plant from transplants! The youngest plants are the most susceptible.
  • Interplant! No row planting so beetles go from one plant to another.
  • Delay planting! In our case, most of us already having planted cucumbers, can plant another round late June or when you no longer see the beetles. Start from seeds at home now since transplants may no longer be available in nurseries later on.
  • Plant repellent companion plants BEFORE you plant your cukes. Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes act as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles. Radish are the fastest growers, so get them in ASAP if you didn’t before.
  • Natural predators are Wolf Spiders, daddy long legs and Ground Beetles! Let them live! They eat beetle eggs and larvae. And there is a tachinid fly and a braconid parasitoid wasp that parasitize striped cucumber beetle, and both sometimes have large impacts on striped cucumber beetles. When you see a dark hairy fly, don’t swat it! It is doing important garden business!
  • Here is a super important reason to use straw mulch! Per UC IPM ‘Straw mulch can help reduce cucumber beetle problems in at least 3 different ways. First, mulch might directly slow beetle movement from one plant to another. Second, the mulch provides refuge for wolf spiders and other predators from hot and dry conditions, helping predator conservation. Third, the straw mulch is food for springtails and other insects that eat decaying plant material; these decomposers are important non-pest prey for spiders, helping to further build spider numbers. It is important that straw mulch does not contain weed seeds and to make certain that it does not contain herbicide residues which can take years to fully break down.’
  • Organic mulches foster diverse populations of beneficial soil microorganisms that trigger the plant’s internal defenses.
  • At the end of the season or when your plants are done, remove garden trash, tired mulch and other debris shortly after harvest to reduce overwintering sites.

If you are by a road or in a dusty windswept area, rinse off the leaves to make your plants less attractive to whiteflies. Also, asap remove yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies. Pests adore tasty healthy plants just like we do. They also make us see which plants are weak or on their way out. Give those plants more care or remove them. Replace them with a different kind of plant that will do well now and produce in time before the season is over. Don’t put the same kind of plant there unless you have changed the conditions – enhanced your soil, installed a favorable companion plant, protected from wind, terraced a slope so it holds moisture, opened the area to more sun. Be sure you are planting the right plant at the right time! Remove mulch from under plants that were diseased and replace with clean mulch. Do not compost that mulch or put it in green waste. Trash it.

Please always be building compost and adding it, especially near short rooted plants and plants that like being moist. Compost increases your soil’s water holding capacity.

Reduce your carbon footprint! Grow local!

Summer Garden Mary Alice Ramsey in her North Carolina backyard

Mary Alice Ramsey in her North Carolina backyard. Photo by Hector Manuel Sanchez

May You enjoy a super beautiful, bountiful & juicy June!

Oh, and please see more about Tomatoes in February’s Newsletter!

Updated annually  



Summer Solstice is June 20, Father’s Day June 21! Congratulations to Grads and their families!
 Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts for any and all! You can even start some seeds now! Click here

Veggies and Flowers, Birds & Bees! Please enjoy a delightful array of early summer images at Rancheria Community Garden! You may get some ideas for those Father’s and Grad’s prezzies! Happy gardening!

Check out the entire June 2020 Newsletter!
It includes these and more!

  • Veggie Feeding Schedule for Your Delicious Summer Favorites!
  • Success with Eggplant, Aubergine!
  • Container Gardening, Garden Anywhere!
  • Special Treat! Sweet Summer Magic: Solstice Honey Cookies!


Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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.

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Mulch Types make a difference!
Mulch is what covers the soil. Compost goes in the soil and feeds it.

According to Texas A&M University, a well-mulched garden can yield 50% more vegetables than an unmulched garden space! Mulching brings soil organisms to enrich the top of your soil, where the plant’s feeder roots are! And, oh, yay, prevents light germinating hungry weed seeds from sprouting! Less time weeding! Healthy soil suppresses diseases! In addition to that, mulching cools your soil, keeps plant roots functioning optimally when it’s hot, keeps moisture in. Even only a two-to-four inch layer of mulch decreases evaporation from the soil by 70 percent or more! Water well before applying your mulch, or you will insulate dry soil rather than moist soil. Mulch prevents erosion, keeps your crop clean above the soil and above the soil predator zone, and in the long-term, if biodegradable, feeds your soil! Gardeners.com says University field tests have shown that mulch can increase (or decrease) yields by as much as 30 percent.’ Either way, 30% or 50% on the plus side is a significant amount!

I used to be a total indiscriminate mulcher, covered my whole veggie garden. I’ve adjusted my coastal SoCal mulch thinking to match the plant and the season! Here are important considerations about mulching that make a difference!

If you are north you mulch in winter and maybe summer depending on how hot things are where you live. In cold, cold winters, you use mulch like a blanket to keep the soil as warm as possible, maybe prevent it from freezing, extend your season, keep plants from freezing. And maybe it will all freeze anyway!

In SoCal, south, in our ‘winter’ rainy season, pull mulch away to let the sun warm the soil, reduce moist slug and snail habitat, let soil dry so fungi die, to remove pest habitat. Gardeners generally start mulching late April, May, in summer for sure, unless you are super coastal cool, or your garden is shaded. Then you mulch a little later, if at all. Mulching for us is to keep the soil cooler, keep it moist/use less water, keep roots from burning or drying out, reduce weeds.

The first plant you mulch in spring, well before May, is any Brassica – broccoli, kale – that you will be over summering. Brassicas like cool soil, so pile your mulch on good and deep, 4 to 6″! Sweet Peppers are quite the reverse, the last plants you mulch. They like soil temps above 65. Mulch keeps the soil cooler, so use your soil thermometer to see if your soil is up to that happy 65 yet. Mulch may be too cooling for your peppers, slowing their growth.

Beans and plants that have short roots that need to stay moist, you mulch. Strawberries get big pretty quickly and self mulch pretty soon though you could mulch them just enough to keep the berries clean and above the ground level predator zone. Chard likes moist and much cooler, so mulch. Zucchini, doesn’t care. They are a huge leaved plant, greedy sun lovers, that are self mulching.

Some like it HOT! Fact is, some veggies/fruits do better with no mulch 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 biggest most abundant melons I’ve ever seen grown at cool & coastal Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden were on bare hot dry soil in a plot that had a lower soil level than most of the other plots. The perimeter boards diverted any wind right over the top of the area, the soil got hot! It was like an oven! So, let it be bare! No mulch under melons, your winter squash, pumpkins except under the fruits to keep them off the ground up from insect predators, clean. Clearly, no mulch, more heat, equals more water needed. Raised beds and some containers also need more water since the beds are hotter. Water leaches the soil nutrients away, so you will need to feed, sidedress, those plants during the season.

Don’t trellis your melons or fruits that need heat. It’s cooler up on that trellis where most any breeze lowers the temps. Do put up a low wind barrier – straw bales, a perimeter of densely foliated plants, a big downed log, be creative. Let your peppers and jicama get hot! Eggplant is a Mediterranean heat lover! Okra is full sun Southern hot happy plant! Winter squash needs a full hot season to get their full growth and develop that protective hard shell.

Mulch can be many different materials as you can see in the image above. Keep them an inch away from your plant’s stem to avoid rot and fungal problems. Be garden smart! When possible, use an organic degradable mulch that feeds your soil too!

Biodegradable, soil building!

  • Straw is one of the simplest, fastest, easiest to use, readily available – some feed stores will let you sweep it up for free! It allows air circulation, water to get through. Apply 4″ deep or more, enough to keep the light from getting through to light germinating weed seeds, or if you want your soil to stay quite cool and damp underneath. Be sure it is the seed free kind!!!1″ Deep is good where you want no splash, like on lettuce, or to avoid soil splash on fungi susceptible leaves of tomatoes and cucumbers. Straw is the best choice for them because it allows air to circulate, letting the soil dry and the fungi die! For cucumbers, research shows straw might slow cucumber beetle movement from one plant to another! Plus, it is great shelter for wolf spiders, daddy long legs and other predators, helping predator conservation. The more spidies, the healthier your garden! More about successfully growing Tomatoes!It’s important to remove, throw away, not compost, tired mulch from under disease susceptible plants like tomatoes and cucumbers, then replace with fresh uninfected straw. Keeping it moist creates habitat the fungi do well in. If you keep forgetting to replace it, just remove it entirely and let that soil dry. As best you can, remove any soil-touching drooping leaves like religion!
  • Grass clippings need to be dried before use so they don’t form an impervious slimy mat. Spread them out, run a rake through them a few times. 24 hours and you’re in business. Once they are brown, the Nitrogen is gone, so they are no longer food, just mulch. Be sure no herbicides have been used on the grass.
  • Pine needles, deep downed leaves gathered after a windstorm. Use only leaves that have been aged at least nine months. This allows the growth-inhibiting phenols to be leached out. Run over the leaves with a mower or stomp them in a bag to break them down so they will be at soil level, available to the soil, and not blow away. See more! Know that pine needles can make your soil acidic over time.
  • A thick layer of compost is often used as mulch though when it is used it is usually covered with straw to keep it from totally drying out, off gassing Nitrogen, nutrients lost. Why waste any of it? Dig it into the soil.
  • Simple chop and drop! As you are gardening, have your clippers handy to cut up discarded disease and seed and pest free green waste. It can be mulch, or pull back your mulch, chop in your stuff, pull your mulch back over to cover it. If you have time, use your spade fork to put holes in the soil. Insert the fork, rock it back and forth a bit. Spread very well-aged manures. Cover with your chop and drop to compost in place. It acts as mulch while they decompose. When you water, it’s like compost or manure tea to the ground underneath. If you don’t like the look of that, cover it with some pretty purchased undyed mulch you like. Let it feed your soil.
  • LIVING MULCH, SELF MULCHING 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, strawberries, turnips act as living mulch to themselves and when used as an understory they are living mulch for the bigger plants too! The dense canopy their leaves make lets little light in, keeps things moist. Thin them out as they get larger. Eat the tasty tinys! Put plants like these, on the sunny side, around the bases of larger plants. Two crops from the same space!
  • Living Mulch Legume soil feeding understory! Aka cover crop, green manure! Fling a legume seed mix about under your taller plants, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, kale and let it grow. As some of the plants die, the Nitrogen nodules they form on their roots become available to your soil. At the end of the season you can turn it under for a super feed – add some manure if you wish, but not much is needed. OR, you can clear back spots to plant more large plants of the next season! Just slice in a hole through the legume roots, pop in your plant and you’re off! FREE except for the cost of the seeds! In SoCal White Clover is a good choice under summer plants. Be sure to plant companion plants that help your plants before you plant the plant you want to be helped. Add the Clover to fill in; it grows quickly and isn’t too tall.
  • Sawdust, Shavings, Wood bark/chips from disease and pesticide free trees. Ask a trustworthy arborist to deliver chips only from healthy trees. Specify the size of chips you want. They save dump fees. If you are growing organically avoid dyed materials. Generally chips and bark, called perpetual mulches, are used for pathways rather than on veggie beds.

    What you don’t see in the image at top is large bark chips. Yes, larger pieces decompose more slowly, and use up Nitrogen as they decompose. This is not so good in a veggie garden since that decomp uses the Nitrogen veggies need. Same problem when we do continuous sheet composting/lasagna gardening. The process takes N from the soil; our plants may not thrive the first year or so until a soil base is established unless you use a good bit of compost in your planting holes. If you are using chips from your local arborist, know that oaks have tannins, and eucalyptus and tea trees have aromatic oils that inhibit plant growth. Be careful how you use those chips, even in your landscaping, especially if you want to introduce veggies among your ornamentals. Check to see what is in bagged commercial mulches, how they have been processed and if they are dyed.Redwood fiber is acidic, good for shade plants, but you need acidic compost IN the soil for acid loving vegetable plants – strawberries, celery, beans. Please use redwood fiber as a last resort. Please save our beautiful trees. They take a long time to grow.

  • If you are using found manures as mulch, check if animals have been fed hormones, eat pesticide sprayed hays, or pesticides have been sprayed on the manures to reduce flies. It is much safer to get nursery bought bagged manures from a reputable nursery and a reputable brand.
  • Cardboard or simple overlapped sheets of newspaper…about 6 will do the job of suppressing light germinating seeds.
  • Strawberries Board MulchUntreated Boards 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 weed or 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, they leaf out and get bigger, and in addition to the boards, they become living mulch for themselves!
  • Grow your own organic mulch! Comfrey is a great choice! It is a plant with long roots that bring up nutrients from deep in the soil. It has abundant large leaves, and you can spread them about by your tomatoes and peppers. Chop and drop covered with another kind of mulch lets more of the comfrey goodness to permeate your soil. Comfrey has lovely blue flowers for pollinators, other beneficial insects, and hummingbirds. It’s best use, however, is as a compost nutrient and speeder upper! Turn in a few chopped leaves!

Not Biodegradable but still good!

  • Gravel, Rocks of a size and color that pleases you, though this would be easier to use for permanent landscaping rather than veggies that change seasonally. But if it’s all you have…it works. If you live in a windy or desert area, your garden is on a slope, rocks might be best. Rocks were used in Zuni, Hopi and Navajo waffle gardens.
  • Plastic. It works, a lot of commercial growers use it, but it doesn’t feed your soil. There are reasons to use different colors for specific crops, ie red works best with tomatoes! In an urban yard garden there might not be enough of that crop to warrant its use. You must put in a drip system underneath it; rainwater can’t get into the soil. It might work best in a windy area, on a hillside, where other mulch would be blown or washed away. Be careful with it because it is also used in the solarization process to heat the soil to kill weeds, read also the roots of your plants.  The biggest negative is it also kills beneficial soil organisms like worms. If it works for your situation, secure it with garden staples.

Other than rocks, too much mulch would be hard to do. Too little doesn’t do the job. Replenish thinning late summer mulch. Deep mulch really protects the soil and brings soil organisms to the surface where the mulch layer meets the earth. Worms thrive in moist cool soil. Deep mulch feeds the soil and decomposes within the pile too.

If you are going to mulch, do it justice. Put on 4 to 6 inches minimum. Less than that may be cheaper and pretty, but simply makes great habitat for those little grass and weed seeds! Mulch makes moist soil, where a rich multitude of soil organisms can thrive, including great fat vigorous earthworms if you keep your soil wet enough! You see them, you know your soil is well aerated, doing great!

COMPOSTING IN PLACE!  One of the nifty tricks of using deeply mulched areas is to build soil right where you need it! Tuck kitchen waste out of sight under your mulch, where you will plant next or simply to feed the soil there! Sprinkle with a little healthy 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) for leaves to put down first, then add your kitchen stuff. Comfrey speeds decomposition. What you put under your mulch will compost quickly, no smells, feeds 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!Deepest mulch can act like a compost pile that heats up. It can extend your growing season. By installing it early you may be able to plant earlier. You don’t have to wait to plant! Just make an opening, add finished compost, amendments of your choice, and plant! There are two schools of thinking about fall mulch. 1) As fall cools, mulch keeps the soil insulated, warmer longer, extending your fall growing as well! 2) Or, late summer, as cooling starts, you may find removing mulch is better so the soil is again warmed by the Sun. Get out your soil thermometer and test it for yourself and let me know, please!

Mulching is double good on slopes and hillsides. Make your 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. Use a mulch that won’t blow away or be sure to cover it with plastic or netting and anchor it in windy areas – biodegradable anchor stakes and ‘extra tall’ stakes are available. Carolyn Csanyi 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.

Keep your Mulch topped! Cover bare spots and replenish where your mulch is getting thin. 4 -6″ is a good depth. Preferably use light colored mulches, like straw, that reflect the sunlight. If your mulch has meshed into a tight layer, use a watering spike so water gets to the roots of your plants or make holes with your spade fork. Insert it, rock it back and forth, water. Straw, rather than a meshing mulch, is better for your veggies.

Remove and trash mulch where plants have had pests or disease; replace with clean mulch. Do NOT compost it or put it in green waste for city pickup. In general, remove overwintering pest habitat – old straw, weeds and piles of debris.

Any organic mulch will decompose. It really becomes sheet composting or composting in place! An 18″ deep pile becomes about 9″ high in 3 days to a week depending on temps, how wet it is, what kinds and sizes of pieces are used! Such a grand deep pile of mulch can easily become a super nutritious raised bed!

A variation of that is to first plant green manure, a legume and oat mix, let it grow, cut it down at first bloom, chop into pieces, let it sit on top 3 weeks, turn under, then cover that with deep mulch and let it be. If you have them, add some surface feeding worms, red wigglers. Your soil is fed, soil organisms are enriching it, excellent soil structure is being created. In a warm SoCal ‘winter’ you can do this anytime. The whole process can take 3.5 months depending on which plants you choose to grow. See more!

End of Season 

Soil resting and restoration! At the end of summer, depending on the type of materials you used, and if your soil has no disease fungi, the mulch was not under a plant that had pest infestations or disease, you can rest and feed that area of your soil by simply digging your old mulch in. Cover that area with a good deep layer of new mulch, or put on layers of materials and compost in place! Let the soil organisms party out. Leave it alone until your next planting time. It will become living vigorous nutritious soil!

It there have been pests or disease, trash that mulch, literally. Again, Do NOT compost it or put it in green waste for city pickup. In general, remove overwintering pest habitat – old straw, weeds and piles of debris.

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

Mulch is magic when done right! Enjoy that 30 to 50% increased yield!


Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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.

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Compost Tea Brew for Seedlings

Some of you are pros, literally, at making teas, others of us have never done it before, but interested, even willing to give it a try.

Why? Why make teas at all? Isn’t good soil enough? If you are just making compost tea, with compost you are already using in your garden, you may not notice much results. Every time you water, aren’t you making compost tea in place anyway?! But if you make a more diverse tea, with a lot of different ingredients, and it is made just right producing a lot of microbes, you are likely to get superb results! Research shows foliar feeding is more effective than soil drenching.

A lot of summer plants are what are called ‘heavy feeders.’ They are doing business 24/7 for several months using that soil right where they are at. They can’t go walkabout seeking new soil. Plants that produce leaf crops, lettuces, chard, kale, are using up soil nutrients just as fast as they can! Plants that produce a lot of crop, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, are feeding a big plant, foliage and fruits! Teas are a microbial inoculant that gives them a boost from leaf to root!

Teas offer increased nutrient availability!

Teas are a high grade fertilizer full of nutrients and minerals! The tea’s chelated micronutrients are easy for plants to absorb. The teas will never burn your plants. You can easily make them yourself from your own materials. You know exactly what’s in it. No chemicals, and they don’t add salt that commercial fertilizers can add to your soil. DIY! Save money!

Marvelously, tea microbes degrade toxic pesticides and other chemicals! Much better for beneficial insects, wildlife, plants, soil and humans. Your soil will come alive again as the organisms start thriving. Your soil will have greater water holding capacity, a resiliency, the aeration it needs from burrowing soil creatures.

Nutrients! Black liquid gold can feed your plants through their roots and their leaves. The beneficial microbes are fast acting and quickly absorbed. This whole plant treatment increases plant growth – more and bigger blooms, bigger size fruits and yields. The microbes produce plant growth hormones; mineralize a plant’s available nutrients, and fix nitrogen in the plant for optimal use.

Suppress diseases! When plant surfaces are occupied by beneficial microbes, there simply is no room for pathogens! The plant will suffer little or no blight, mold, fungus or wilt! That’s a huge claim! But even if it doesn’t entirely work, your plant will likely have a much improved existence for a longer period of time. Beneficial microbes compete with disease causing microbes. Go tigers! The live microbes enhance your soil and in turn, up the immune system of your plants. Your plants are healthier, more stress-tolerant.

Communi-Tea Make your own Compost Tea!

Making teas is fairly new, but is here to stay! Nowadays we know more about microbe power, soil and plant structures and processes. Researchers have determined exacting and scientific ways to brew teas, brewing equipment is available at garden centers or on the internet. Some garden centers are brewing in large batches so customers can conveniently draw-off what they need by the gallon!

There are many tea making methods, from the simplest home bucket method to technical and elaborate brewers with plenty of debate over different ways. Aerobic brewed teas have much higher microbe population densities than extracted teas and for this reason are the teas of choice. A good head of foam and scum on top signifies healthy microbe action! Try out different methods for yourself if you have the time and the gear, and love researching. Whichever you choose, your plants will benefit!

TEA MAKING TIPS

First of all, Temp and Timing matters, especially to the home gardener brewing outside, not using a brewing system. The microbes we want are the most happy at about 75 F, a comfy room temp for us too. Put your brew out of direct sunlight.

Based on Marc Remillards book “Compost Tea Making” temps/time are: 24 hrs @ 75, 36 hrs @70, 42 hrs @ 65 and 48 hrs @ 60. 95 and higher is a no go, just too hot! Your microbes go anaerobic. If you are using a brewing system, you can use an aquarium heater to ensure a constant brew temp especially if ambient is cooler at night. So it helps if night temps are 60 up.

Choose a clean 5 Gallon container or a size that suits your needs

The right water! Rain water is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate, or bubble water through an aerator for a minimum of 20 minutes. The chlorine will be released as a gas. Or, add a small amount of powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or humic acids. If you start with chlorinated water it will kill some of your microbes before you get started.

Compost Tea Bucket Straining Painter's Mesh BagStraining your Tea! There’s various thinking on how to strain your tea.

The easiest and simplest is to use a sock, cheesecloth bag, but let the sock be big enough to allow the ingredients you put in it room to move around as it is swished through the water. Clearly those will not accommodate a third of a 5 gallon bucket’s worth of compost plus whatever else you put in. If you will be foliar spraying your tea, sock or pillowcase fibers are too tight to allow the good fungi and nematodes to flow through.

So! Super easy but has a small price, is a painter’s bag, 400 microns, 5 gallon size (they come in different sizes). Perfect! You put it in the container you will use, the elastic top fits over the top of the bucket. When the tea is done you simply lift it out. It has a durable nylon mesh and can be used several times. Add your leftover solids to your compost pile or as a soil topper mulch. Rinse out and dry your bag ASAP.

Or if you already started your brew, just get a 400 micron mesh strainer that fits your bucket, put it over a second bucket, and pour your mix through.

INGREDIENTS! Microbial diversity!

Add Compost

CAUTIONS Unfinished compost or uncomposted manures may contain harmful pathogens and compost that is too old may be nutritionally deficient. COMPOST TEA and MANURE TEA ARE NOT THE SAME THING! Manure teas may be made the same way but are not generally recommended as foliar sprays for veggies and are not as nutritionally well-balanced.

Use well-aged, finished compost The best is good smelling, very dark, broken-down into minute particles like course cornmeal. Dig deep down inside your bin, near the bottom. This is where organic material will be most decomposed and fresh, teeming with life. All you need is a good shovelful or two, maybe a third of the bucket, for a 5-gallon bucket of compost tea.

Add Manure

Cow manure is better than steer manure if you can get it. Chicken manure is good. Less of it does more. Be careful of free horse manure. It can be salty, and if the horses ate pesticide sprayed hay, or the stalls have been sprayed to repel flies, you’ve got toxins. All manures need to be very well composted, except bunny poo, which you can sometimes get free at shelters. Bird guanos do different things. See more soil tips and about quanos. 1 cup of manure may be quite enough. Most importantly, DO NOT foliar feed leaves you will eat, like lettuce, with animal poo brews!

Add Worm Castings! 

In nature, worms are a natural part of soil. In addition to soil nutrients, it’s smart to add worm castings. They speed germination of your seeds, seedlings grow faster. Worm castings help your plant’s immune system, and you have measurably more produce! Plants like strawberries, that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew! Growing your own worms and harvesting vibrant fresh castings is ideal, but if you don’t have time, simply buy the best organic castings you can get, fresh and local if possible! More about growing worms! Add 2 cups to your 5 gal bucket.

Compost Tea Seaweed & Herbs - Borage Nettle Comfrey Brew

Seaweed and herbs – Nettles, Comfrey and Borage Tea at Milkwood Permaculture Blog

You can add all kinds of supplements at the same time! Put compost, manure/fish emulsion, worm castings, pond muck, powdered seaweed – 2 tablespoons kelp powder, 2-3 crushed Aspirin, rock dust, alfalfa pellets, chopped nutritious comfrey/borage/tansy leaves all in a bucket together – adding one volume of compost to 4-10 volumes of water. Let them sit overnight, a couple of days, stir a couple times, when you think of it. This turns the tea into a balanced organic fertilizer.

Compost Tea Bottle ComfreyComfrey, a dynamic accumulator, is especially nutritious! Having as much as a 20-30 feet deep root system, it bring minerals and trace nutrients up into its leaves that are unavailable to other plants. It is also the only plant that contains a form of vitamin B12. Mash it in a mortar & pestle, or use a big stone to break it down. That makes it easier to stuff into a stocking or 400 micron mesh bag, and speeds decomposition. Put comfrey in loosely, not too firmly, so the water can circulate around it. Even add a bit of healthy soil! You can make just a comfrey tea alone if that suits your needs. More about comfrey at Nantahala Farm & Garden

How long does it take? Add Sugar or Molasses! Aeration!

It has been shown that adding a simple aquarium pump to the bucket and letting it run to percolate the mixture will increase the potency of the finished mixture, and can be completed in as little as 12 hours to 2 days. If you want a super concentrate, let it brew a week, or more!

Recent research indicates that using some kind of aeration and adding a sugar source (unsulphured molasses works well) results in an excellent product that extracts the maximum number of beneficial organisms. 2 Tablespoons of unsulphured Molasses is good. An aerobic environment favors the aerobic microbes, physically pulls them off the compost and supplies air they need to multiply. This aeration is crucial to the formation of beneficial bacteria and the required fermentation process. It increases the absorption of the water and organisms. For the bucket-brewing method, you must stir the tea a few times during those hours or days it is brewing to aerate it. If you go over the time needed, you need to add more food for the microbes (sugar/molasses), and probably a little more compost.

Caution! Commenter Suburban Hobby Farmer on a compost tea post says: I’ve also read a study from a university extension service that says you shouldn’t use compost tea on indoor seedlings –especially if it has molasses —  because of increased damping off. According to the study, this is true even when watering from the bottom. A 2004 study says a more successful brew intended for seedlings has sufficient aeration, cuts back on the molasses, uses humic acid and kelp additives.

Anaerobic? You waited too long and your tea has gone anaerobic? Your tea should always have an “earthy” odor. If it smells bad, throw away the tea and don’t put it on your garden soil or compost pile.

Wash Your Gear Immediately! Bio-slimes build up inside your brewer or in your 5 gallon bucket. In a brewer this means walls, tubes, small crevices at the bottom. The pressure of hose water isn’t enough to remove it. It may take elbow grease, 3% hydrogen peroxide or a solution of 5% baking soda.

Here I’ve added a few notes to Shelle’s Quickie Recipe and instructions:

  1. 2 cups worm castings [or your choice of ingredients]
  2. 2 tablespoons corn syrup or unsulphured molasses. Molasses feeds the bacterial growth in the brew and also contributes trace elements of iron, manganese, copper and potassium.
  3. 5 gallon bucket
  4. Old pantyhose (no holes), a bag if you are doing soil drenching. Manure tea not recommended for foliar application.
  5. Water (rainwater is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate)
  • Put the castings (etc) in the sock and tie it closed
  • Submerge the stocking in water
  • Add the corn syrup and soak for 24 hours, stirring every few hours. Your mix should never be stinky. Like good compost, it should smell earthy.
  • Dilute to a 3 to 1 ratio, use within 48 hours

How long will my tea last? It is best to apply your compost tea immediately; however, it can still produce benefits if applied within 4-6 hours of removing the oxygen source if you are aerating. Remember we are talking about living organisms, trying to keep them in optimum health!

Applying your finished tea!

Diluting your tea. You can use your compost tea full strength on plants that are sickly or not growing well. Otherwise, it usually works well to dilute your tea half and half with de-chlorinated water (you can dechlorinate your water by letting it sit in an open container for a day). Another way of diluting it is until it looks like a slightly dark iced tea for soil/root drenching, weak iced tea for foliar feeding. Of course some teas are stronger than others depending on what’s in it and how much water is used. Work with it to find what works for you.

Will you use it as a soil drench or a foliar application? BOTH!

If using it as a soil drench, dilute or apply it full strength. If your tea is good, you really can’t overdo it! And you don’t need to strain it. But for young, delicate or houseplants try it diluted first. Amazingly, only 5 gallons of compost tea can be diluted to cover approximately one acre of land, and still produce benefits!

Tea to be used as a foliar application you must strain. Use a 400 micrometer mesh or screen. The mesh is big enough to allow the fungi and nematodes to flow through it, while trapping larger particulate matter that will eventually clog your sprayer.

Make sure that the sprayer you are using is designed for compost tea. Many sprayers apply with too much pressure, kill the microbes before they even make it to the plant surface. You need 70 pounds psi or less. Use a smooth, slightly-curved nozzle. With 90 degree bends in the nozzle, the microbes can be damaged. Try to arc or parachute, your application onto the leaves so the microbes land more gently, not head on.

Foliar Feeding - Rose Upturned to Moisten Undersides of LeavesApply with a watering can or a simple garden sprayer. Soak the soil to the dripline. When foliar feeding, be sure to add 1/8 to 1/2 tsp vegetable oil or mild dish-washing liquid per gallon to help it adhere to leaves. Use a watering can with a head that rotates so you can spray both on and under leaves. Minerals and nutrients are absorbed through the leaves and the roots – the WHOLE plant! Apply early in the day, avoid applying in direct sunlight. Ultraviolet (UV) rays kill microbes. If you must apply during sunlight time, do it before 10 am or after 3 pm, when UV rays are weakest.

If you do soil drenching, once you apply it, keep it moist for a few days to a week so the microorganisms have time to settle in, strengthen and multiply! Space out your applications a bit to give them time to get results. If you need a little more mojo deeper in your soil, down where the roots are, use your spade fork, the kind with the short wide tines that are spaced about two inches apart. Push your fork all the way into the soil, wiggle it back and forth to make holes, lift it straight up back out. Pour in your tea. Close the holes. Water a bit the next few days so your soil stays moist below and the organisms can thrive. Your plants will thrive as the root zone is so kindly treated!

When, How often?

Why wait until your plants are in the ground to add teas?! Start feeding your soil soonest! If you have your plant placements in mind, be sure to invest your teas out to the anticipated dripline so feeder roots will get some.

Make your tea applications every two weeks until your plants start to bud. We want our plants to make fruit, not foliage then! Some suggest to apply your tea at least four times per year, 1x spring, 2x summer, 1x fall. If you are trying to overcome disease, you may need to apply compost tea every five to seven days. If your soils have ever been sprayed with pesticides or otherwise compromised, apply more often.

Teas are perfect for container gardens, right?! You can buy ready made tea bags. You can buy Tea! No digging, just feeding.

Some tea making techniques are purposely biased toward bacterial, fungal or neutral predominance. It is speculated that one day we can selectively make teas focused to prevent/heal certain plant diseases or upset pest cycles, preventing infestations, and we are already making super teas to inoculate specific crops for super health and production. Eric in Denver says: ‘Now is our chance to get in on the ground floor of this exciting new science. Get a microscope (400x), learn to identify the main types of soil organisms, refine your brewing techniques, and set aside a place in your garden for experiments. It sounds much harder than it actually is, and there is plenty of work to be done.’

As of early 2011, there was very little evidence that proved the benefits of aerated compost teas; non-aerated teas seemed to fare a little better. That’s similar results as whether to turn compost or not. Turned compost processes faster, but unturned compost is higher in nitrogen! In the Journal of Plant Pathology 2015, Effect of Aerated Compost Tea on the Growth Promotion of Lettuce, Soybean, and Sweet Corn in Organic Cultivation, four types of compost were brewed and then the available nitrogen was determined, as well as the density of microbial communities, along with their effect on plant growth characteristics. Across the board it was shown that aerating compost tea released more nutrients, increased microbial counts, and helped plants grow!

Some practical points: When your tea hits the dirt, the water near the surface remains aerobic sustaining the aerobic species in the tea, and the water that soaks deeper becomes anaerobic sustaining those species. In other words, the soil microbe stratification remains the same as nature makes it. If you apply tea to your soil, made with the same compost you grow with, you are making extra work for yourself! But if you add biodiverse amendments to your tea, it supplies an array of tasty ingredients your compost likely doesn’t have. Compost supplies the organic matter that tea doesn’t supply, so it is critical in and of itself, plus it has many times more nutrients than a diluted tea. But teas are great for potted plants and lawns! And if you foliar feed your veggie plants, the uptake is greater and works within an hour!!! So think through why and how you will use teas and make them accordingly!

Here’s to a blessed summer of happy plants and abundant harvests!

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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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Soil No Till Lasagna Compost in Place, Sheet Mulching,

No Till Gardening aka Lasagna Gardening… Beds are finished. Push aside grass clippings to plant seeds or seedlings. Read the story, get the details! Start making living soil asap! 

Grow Green Manure  SoCal’s two best starting times are October 1st for mid January bare root plantings, and January 1 for April heat lover plantings! Adjust as you need for your own timing needs. Plant legumes for Nitrogen, oats to loosen the soil down deep. It takes two to three months depending on which plants you choose to grow. If bell beans are one of your choices in a mix, when it starts to bloom, chop your green manure down. Let it lay on top of the soil 2 to 3 weeks, keeping it moist. Add whatever other amendments you choose and turn it all under. Let it sit 2 to 3 weeks more so the soil organisms can decompose it and build soil structure. If you have heavy clay soil or are in a drought or dry, windy area, add Sphagnum Peat Moss to both loosen your soil and increase water holding capacity and more compost too. Probably the fluffy store bought compost with a lot of texture will do the best. Let the mix sit until you no longer see the green ingredients. Keep it moist, not muddy, so the soil organisms will work all the way to the top. See more: Cover Crops  Living Mulch

Make Compost!

No time for Green Manure? First week of January might be the latest time you want to start growing your green manure so you can plant late March, first two weeks of April. So if you won’t be planting by then, add your home grown organic compost or the best you can buy that has worm castings (especially for planting seeds – speeds germination), mycorrhizal fungi for spring planting, some peat to help make humus to keep your soil loose.

Some nurseries, especially locals that depend on your business, are quite trustworthy about what they stock for you. Box stores, nurseries that sell for volume, may just want you and it out the door. Really take a good look at that ingredients list. If there is no list, you likely aren’t getting a very whole food for your veggies. Look at what is in that compost bag when you open it. If there are chunks of recognizable materials, you need to find out if the compost has been nitrogen stabilized – they’ve added enough nitrogen to balance the carbon. Otherwise, Nitrogen required for decomposition is robbed from your plants. It should have no ammonia smell that indicates immature compost that might damage your plants. The only smell you want coming from that bag is for it to be like the forest floor, sweet and earthy.

In SoCal drought times, or if you garden in a dry, windy area, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Sphagnum Peat Moss or coir can be added, but not too much peat because it can make your soil slightly acidic. Also, it decomposes quite quickly… If you have heavy clay soil, they will help loosen your soil.

Compost is totally easy to make. There are many methods, but the simplest and fastest technique has always been putting fine chopped kitchen waste and healthy garden trim in mini 6 to 8″ deep trenches or areas! Lay your kitchen stuff in. If the soil there is too dense, you can add store bought compost that has a little fluff, more water holding capacity. If you know you will be planting there right away, add any other amendments, maybe a little manure, at the same time you add the kitchen waste. Cover it partially with some of the soil you dug out. Turn it all a couple times to incorporate it with the soil, then add the remaining soil so all is covered. Turn again in a few days to a week. Soil organisms get to work and it completely disappears in less than 2 weeks, and you don’t have to move it, it’s already in place and ready to plant in! That soil will be so productive!

If you need to collect a little compost in place, there are no open trenching spaces available right now, you can make layered compost in a compost enclosure or pit if you wish. 1″ green/wet to 2″ brown dry. You can turn it or not. Research shows compost not turned has more Nitrogen. There are many different compost devices. You can use one or just make a pile wherever it makes sense, but do put it in the sun and keep it slightly moist so it stays active and you actually get some compost! Compost making methods!

Tasty soil is loaded with nutrients! What you put in your compost makes a difference. High quality organic kitchen scraps sure beats cardboard and newspaper. Same thing with your worms. Newspaper isn’t exactly food, doesn’t occur in nature. As is said, ‘You are what your food eats.’ Give your compost the best you have or can get. Prevail on your neighbors or family to save their waste for your compost or to feed your worms. Make it easy for them to do the process. Some will deliver it to you because they believe in it and want to help. You may have to make a pickup from others.

No till, no dig, gardening a.k.a. Lasagna Gardening ~ Another way to Compost!

You can do this on top of your lawn, or do a raised bed in the garden you already have! A word to the wise! First, install gopher protection.

If you have the time and materials, composting in place, sheet mulching, has the single most advantage of not having to haul anything anywhere once done! It’s already right where you want it! Lay down your compost materials. Put the ones that would act like tea at the top so when the pile is watered that good stuff drizzles down. The smaller the bits, the faster the decomposition. Chop ’em up!

Depending on your materials you may choose to turn the pile a couple times to blend and mix the materials in the layers. Rather than using a shovel, a spade fork or pitchfork might work, better. If you have them, add worms after all turning is done so they won’t be injured. The worms will add their castings for you! Possibly, ‘inoculate’ your pile with a wee bit of already processing compost or top rate soil that has working soil organisms in it. Know that an 18″ pile will soon decay to become a 9″ pile, so don’t be afraid to build high!

If you want it sooner, cover and ‘cook’ it with black plastic for 6 weeks results when temps are high enough. Worms will be ok. They will go to the bottom of the pile. Depending on availability and preferences, what you layer on will undoubtedly vary from someone else’s project, but your garden bed is made! Now you wait. Let it sit. The hard work is at the front, the rest is ‘low maintenance!’ Done ‘right’ you have less weeds and it needs less water! Read the story that goes with the image above – get more ideas and all the details!

Another terrific way to make a sustainable pile is to do it Hugelkultur style! Your pile starts with logs! The logs and branches soak up water and hold it, so less water to none is needed after the first year. The right hardwood logs will give your plants steady nutrition for 20 or more years! As they decay they create heat – you can plant sooner and have a longer season! You can do this with many variables depending on materials available and your needs – from containers to the hill method! See more and see how!

Add Manure

Cow manure is better than steer manure if you can get it. Chicken manure is good. Less of it does more. Be careful of free horse manure. It can be salty, and if the stalls have been sprayed to repel flies, you’ve got toxins. All manures need to be very well composted, except bunny poo, which you can sometimes get free at shelters. Different bird guanos do different things per NPK, but mainly they take a long time in the ground, minimum of 4 months, before they become available to your plant. Study up on them before applying them.

Worm Castings! 

In nature, worms are a natural part of moist soil. In addition to soil nutrients, it’s smart to add worm castings. They speed germination of your seeds, seedlings grow faster. Worm castings help your plant’s immune system, and you have measurably more produce! Plants like strawberries, that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew! Growing your own worms and harvesting vibrant fresh castings is ideal, but if you don’t have time, simply buy the best organic, local if possible, castings you can get! More about growing worms!

The ideal ratio, depending on your soil, is 25% castings. You can see that is a lot of castings if you have a 10X20 foot area. Use your precious castings wisely. Use them in seed beds, planting holes, around ailing plants, or heavy producers.

The type of worms used for making castings are surface feeders, red wigglers. If you trench your compost, add some of them. If you do sheet composting – composting in place, set up a no-dig Lasagna Garden, install some worms! If you don’t turn your compost, add a handful of worms to your compost pile and keep the pile moist. If you turn your compost, don’t add them – you could injure or kill them. In dry times cover composting ground areas with mulch so the compost will be dark and moist, and your worms safe from birds. If your pile is moist enough, cover it before rains. Shade slows things down; put your compost in the sun!

Compost Tea Bu's Brew Biodynamic Malibu BagTeas offer increased nutrient availability!

First, Temp and Timing matters, especially to the home gardener brewing outside, not using a brewing system. The microbes we want are the most happy at about 75 F, a comfy room temp for us too. Put your brew out of direct sunlight. Making tea outdoors generally doesn’t work in winter, even in SoCal. So if you can, make it indoors. If you need to transport it, you may need to put it in smaller covered containers.

Why wait until your plants are in the ground to add teas?! Start feeding your soil soonest! Mix ’em up. Put compost, manure/fish emulsion, castings, chopped nutritious comfrey/borage/tansy leaves all in a bucket together – adding one volume of compost to 4-10 volumes of water. Let them sit overnight, a couple of days, stir a couple times, when you think of it. Get a spade fork, the kind with the short wide tines. Push it all the way into the soil, wiggle it back and forth to make holes, lift it straight up back out. Pour in your tea. Push soil in the holes. Your plants will thrive!

If you are foliar feeding, put your ingredients in a stocking, sock, or bag. Let the ingredients settle or strain it so it won’t clog up your gear. Use a watering can with a head that rotates so you can spray both on and under leaves, wetting the whole plant.

About that comfrey. It is especially nutritious! Mash it in a mortar & pestle. That makes it easier to stuff into a stocking, sock or bag, and speeds decomposition. Put the comfrey in loosely, not too firmly, so the water can circulate around it.

Here’s another recipe and instructions from Shelle

  1. 2 cups worm castings [or your choice of ingredients]
  2. 2 tablespoons corn syrup or molasses. Molasses feeds the bacterial growth in the brew and also contributes trace elements of iron, manganese, copper and potassium.
  3. 5 gallon bucket
  4. Old sock or pantyhose (no holes), a bag
  5. Water (rainwater is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate)
  • Put the castings (etc) in the sock and tie it closed
  • Submerge the stocking in water
  • Add the corn syrup and soak for 24 hours, stirring every few hours. Your mix should never be stinky. Like good compost, it should smell earthy.
  • Dilute to a 3 to 1 ratio, use within 48 hours

There are many tea making methods, from the simplest like above, to technical and elaborate with plenty of debate over different ways. Aerobic brewed teas have much higher microbe population densities than extracted teas and for this reason are the teas of choice. A good head of foam and scum on top signifies healthy microbe action! Try out different methods for yourself if you have the time and the gear, and love researching. Whichever you choose, your soil will come alive again as the organisms start thriving. Your soil will have greater water holding capacity, a resiliency, the aeration it needs from the burrowing of soil creatures.

If you have your plant placements in mind, be sure to invest your teas out to the anticipated dripline so feeder roots will get some.

Teas are perfect for container gardens, right?! You can buy ready made tea bags. No digging, just feeding.

See more important details about teas and tea making! Teas! Compost, Manure, Worm Castings Brews!

Soil pH

Most veggies do best with slightly alkaline soil but will be ok a little to one side or the other. Definite acidic soil lovers are strawberries, blueberries, cranberries. Composts for camellias, azaleas, are perfect!

Do or Buy!

Three of the main components of top grade soil are ones you can grow/make on your own – green manure, compost, worm castings. Teas you can make from compost and castings. For most urban gardeners it is a trip to the nursery for manures, but you can certainly make your own tea with it! Just don’t foliar feed manure tea on plants whose leaves you will eat! Compost and castings are totally available, some from organic local venders. I emphasize doing your own when possible. You will know what’s in it and it’s 100% fresh and alive!

There is some good ready made stuff you can get. There’s heroic satisfaction in toting those bags on your shoulder or filling the wheelbarrow and rolling it in, almost spilling the load on the way… Digging in your valuable ingredients gives you a feeling of virtue – LOL, worthiness, contributing. And oh how your garden grows!!!

At the same time, lay on your compost, manure, and Sphagnum, any other favorite amendments, and turn it in all at once, blending it with your soil. Castings are usually added separately unless you have enough for the whole area. Reserve some of your castings, compost and manure to make teas. Where you run out of materials, use the tea to help that soil.

A few more tips!

If you have had rain, wait until your soil is not so wet that it sticks to your shovel. If you are digging your amendments in, do minimal digging; leave clumps when you can to maintain soil structure. Disturb soil organisms, worms, the least possible. We want to leave their air and water channels intact so your soil stays aerated and moist. Make beds in your garden that are comfortably reachable without stepping on your soil. Make pathways, either with boards that distribute your weight or lay down straw or other organic material to make a pathway that will decompose and become rich soil for next year’s plantings when you move the path! In other words, don’t compact and crush your fluffy healthy soil!

Soil Building and Care is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden.

See also SoCal Fall/Winter Veggie Soil Care Tips for Delicious Returns!

Last updated 12.25.19

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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.

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Feeling inspired? Get the word out! Sharing is caring ~

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Companion Plants Alyssum Flower Yellow Chard

Beautiful image and planting by Amy at Tenth Acre Farm, a suburban homestead in Cincinnati, Ohio!

Interplant and select wonderful companion plant combinations to make beauty, glorious scent, biodiversity, to protect and enhance your vegetable garden! Plant for bees and beneficial insects and edible flowers for yourself. There are so many magical choices and personal preferences. Design in advance, or simply add as you go. Intuitively try new groupings. Mix and mingle to your heart’s content!

Alyssum is a pretty little ground cover, living mulch!

Attracts beneficial predator insects like hover flies, ladybugs and lacewings that eat mites, white flies, scale insects mealy bugs and thrips! White Alyssum repels cabbage butterflies. As Alyssum spread, they are a lovely living mulch, beauty for free. Your garden is sweetly scented all Summer and alyssum brings butterflies and pollinators! It is a favorite old fashioned border plant as in the image above.

Flower Bees Bachelor's Button Companion Plant BlueTall Bachelor’s Buttons & Cosmos!

Big Beauty in Blue, Bachelor’s Button attracts pollinators, and like Alyssum, they also attract beneficial insects that will prey on damaging insects like scales and thrips. Since it and Cosmos are tall open plants, 4-5′, they can let filtered light through to plants that don’t thrive in direct blasting midsummer midday sun.

Comfrey for Compost and Healing!

Comfrey is a superlative choice! It is nutrient accumulator, has more protein in its leaf structure than any other known member of the vegetable kingdom! It has more than three times the potash of farmyard manure and with a similar phosphorous content, has much the same balance of plant foods as a chemical potato and tomato fertilizer, and one of the first discoveries on the Comfrey Blossoms Nutrient Accumulator, Compost ActivatorHDRA trial was that it behaved exactly like such a fertilizer! In trials, adding 1.5 pounds of wilted comfrey to every foot of potato row doubled the yield! Comfrey is invasive, so put it in a bottomless pot to keep it from spreading too much. It likes moisture, so by or near the spigot is a great place for it.

Besides feeding your compost, it is also a superb compost activator – grow it conveniently near your compost area. Throw in a few leaves each time you add a layer to your compost.

Not only is it good for your veggies, but has many amazing proven health benefits as well! Check it out online as Comfrey or Knitbone.

Herbs! Rosemary, Blue for Bees!

When in flower, Rosemary attracts bees like crazy and the bees will pollinate your beans, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes. Being so aromatic, the fragrance of the rosemary messes with the ability of ‘bad bugs’ to detect delicious vegetables! And, of course, Rosemary is a tasty cooking herb! Other herbs, like Lavender, will do much the same for you as Rosemary. If they are perennials put them in more permanent places, corners, entryways, and use them all year long! Also, enjoy your Rosemary as edible flowers sprinkled on your salad!

Borage Herb Blue Star Flower Pilgrim Terrace Community GardenSupport your bees! Bees can’t see the same spectrum of colors as we do. For example, yellow flowers appear blue to bees. And bees seem particularly attracted to blue flowers (and the yellow flowers that appear blue to them). That’s why our bees love Borage so much too! Help restore their population by planting plenty of Asters, Scabiosa, Blue Larkspur and all those yellows we love. Stagger your times of bloom to feed your bees all summer long! See more about how to have happy bees at Life on the Balcony! Walk in Beauty. See more about Borage

“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”  ~ Claude Monet

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x
The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. We 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 April 2016 GBC Newsletter

Read Full Post »

Veggies growing in homemade compost!

Veggies growing in homemade compost! Photo by Rod Zimmer

Please sit back and read this carefully, then give it a little time before you blaze off to do it! There is quite a bit to consider. Give your subconscious time to sift it, then read this again. I’m cautious because Compost is the single most best thing you can do for your soil! It feeds your plants, adds water holding capacity, and much more! 

Anytime we have a season change, compost becomes more important. In summer most of us are thinking how can I do it all?! Harvesting takes more time than waiting for the plants to produce. There’s more watering to do in summer. Yet, fall is soon upon us and though making compost takes a wee bit more time, it is so needed to give our plants a good start! In winter, making compost is essential for spring planting!

There are 3 basic kinds of compost, cold and hot and composting in place.

Of the cold kind….

The kind that finishes the quickest is the kitchen veggie waste that gets chopped vigorously with the shovel every few days, turned and turned again. Small bits decompose faster. The pile is kept moist. The dry brown material in the pile isn’t usually straw. Straw is hard to chop and takes a long time to decompose. It’s more like leaves, some already chopped, partially decomposed mulch type stuff. The right leaves have nutrient value. See more. With only a couple of turns, this whole process might take two weeks, usually less – even in cooler weather! It’s quick. For quick results it’s also best to put your compost in full sun. Shaded compost usually ends up untended. It’s in an out-of-the-way place, processes so slowly a lot of gardeners forget they ever made the pile. Neglected, the pile usually dries out, literally dies.

In a community garden or a small garden area you might not have space for such a pile. But if it’s a priority you probably will make the space! If you do, and if you want to keep it a bit contained, instead, make a shallow pit and put your ‘pile’ in there. Toss a thin layer of healthy soil over it and turn that in to inoculate your compost with soil organisms. They will speed the decomposition process. A thin layer of soil also keeps flies away and you have no smell. Cover it with a light layer of straw or plastic to keep it from being unsightly to visitors while it is in process. A wire cover over straw keeps the straw from blowing away and lets rain in. I use a couple plastic bags left from bought manure/compost. I put a light weight board over my cover and a concrete stepping stone on the board to keep it from blowing away. If it rains, the cover keeps your processing compost from getting too wet. If it’s dry weather, covering keeps it moist. It will decompose better rather than off gas the Nitrogen, dry and die. The cover is instantaneous to remove, then you can have at that pile with gusto! With that kind of pile, you have a fairly steady supply of compost. Most of the time some of it is ready to put here and there.

I am very grateful to three neighbors who give me their green kitchen waste. Since I also grow worms, I ask them to give me only what they imagine a worm could eat. Worms!

Compost Sifting‘Every day I fill the wheelbarrow with rich screened compost. It really smells quite delicious; nutty with a spicy note.’ Sifting your compost is a piece of cake! Grab your wheelbarrow or bucket, get a piece of hardware cloth/hogwire or a nursery plant flat with a smaller weave to it, like in the image, and sift away! You can build a lovely framed sifter or buy great rolling devices. Choose the size opening you want. Or, don’t sift at all. I like a little texture to my compost. 

Have your compost pile handy, nearby, warm in the sun for speedy decomposition! Keep it moist, cover it when it needs it – in hot/dry or rainy weather, turn it! Compost that gets turned regularly often gets raided before it’s completely finished. You can still make out some of what the stuff is that’s there. That works just fine because it finishes quickly, in the ground, at home with all the lovely soil organisms.

If there comes a time when you compost has been sadly neglected, spread the stuff out as a mulch and start over, or let it go and just buy what you need. No shame in that.

Hot Compost is PDF, pretty darn fast!

It can heat up to amazing temps, so hot it makes ash and you cannot put your hands in it without getting burned. You can see it steaming on a winter morning! The point is to kill diseases, pests, weed seeds. (Mind you, it kills the beneficial organisms right along with the bad ones.) Well that almost gets done, because, you see, the heat is in the middle of the pile. So they say turn it so the hot part goes to the outside and the cool part to the inside. That, my friends, is easier said than done. But, at least some of it happens.

Two interesting points here. My cold compost pile gets that hot! Yep, it does. A well-built pile with thin layers will cook quite happily no matter your intention. It’s nature. The other thing is I don’t put diseased or infested plants or seeding weeds in my pile, so I don’t need it to get hot. Sure, some pest eggs probably make it, and better, so do the beneficial organisms like worms. However, what happens most is veggie seeds sprout when I put the compost in to amend my soil! I swear, I can’t see those seeds when it is compost. It all looks dark and yummy. But lots of times I’m glad that happens! The plants get a terrific start and I get surprises! This year I enjoyed two elegant celery plants that came up about a foot and a half from each other and everyone complimented how beautiful they were, robust, with gorgeous long dark green stalks!

Alternate Layers by Volume  The main thing to remember is more dry/brown than wet/green! I’ve seen the fastest results with 1″ dry to 1/2″ wet layers. Thin is best because you want all the wet material to be in contact with carbon-rich browns. Yes, it takes a bit more time to make your pile. Start with brown, end with brown. At the bottom start with a layer of browns/carbon and add a layer of greens/nitrogen. Keep on going with the materials you have available. Cover your pile with at least 3 to 4 inches thick dry materials. Pull it back each time you had a new layer of compost materials. You don’t have to make your entire pile at once. You can if you have that much materials at hand, but for most gardeners it’s an ongoing process.

Around the web you will read various layer formulas. You can see there are not necessarily hard and fast ratios. Materials vary in how thick and dry or wet they are. Your compost pile is not heating up? Add more greens. Starting to smell, add more browns. Err to the side of more dry. More dry is slower, but you can always add more greens.

  • 2″ dry/brown, 1″ wet/green
  • Six inches of brown materials, two to four inches of green materials
  • 2 to 3 parts “brown” materials for 1 part “green” materials
  • three- or four-parts browns to one-part greens

Jennifer Hattam says ‘a healthy compost pile requires a mix of dry, carbon-rich “brown” items (e.g. dry leaves and grasses, newspaper, dead plant clippings [non chemically treated], wood branches [at the bottom], hay, straw [takes forever to break down], sawdust, and pine needles) and wet, nitrogen-rich “green” items (e.g. grass clippings, food scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, and fresh leaves).’

  • Be very careful with newspaper – shredded is probably best so it doesn’t mat and can be turned easily.
  • Wet can also include healthy chopped plants that are done, that you are discarding.
  • Be careful with those coffee grounds too. They are acidic and most veggies like slightly alkaline. Coffee grounds can be very strong and kill your plants. Only .05, that’s 1/2 a %, is what is recommended. They can render soil unplantable for up to 3 years. The most important good thing about coffee grounds is they can kill off the wilts, bad soil fungi, but more is not better!
  • NO meat scraps, fats ie mayonnaise 
  • Do add cow, horse, sheep, chicken, rabbit manures, but NO cat/dog or or human waste. Manures and fish emulsion can bring predators.
  • Breads, rice and pasta bring mice.

Whether you do hot or cold compost is your choice. I’ve tried it both ways. Sincerely. Got a long thermometer, built side by side cubic yard piles and turned them. Now I have cold compost and turn it. No way around that turning if you want results sooner than later. It doesn’t matter what size I build it. I’ve seen 1 cubic foot piles heat up just fine! If it gets hot, it’s hot. If it doesn’t that’s fine with me. Taking care of it, turning, keeping it moist, making thin layers gets the job done. The layers are more a measuring device – 2 dry to 1 wet. Once they are in, mix up the material so the straw is moistened and the wet just doesn’t make a mass.

Composting in place

No dig composting in place is an age old technique more recently called Lasagna Gardening. It takes some prep time, that is often done with a group of friends, but once that is done, you’re home free! There’s no turning, no carrying finished compost about because it is already where you want it! Materials may take longer to decompose. It is a cold pile, but if your pile is directly on the earth, soil organisms happily munching makes things happen quickly. Sprinkle some healthy soil on top so microbes can work their way down the pile too! It takes a lot of materials to start depending on the size you want your garden to be. You can start with a small area, add more footage later.

The beauty is it can be done on top of a lawn to form a raised bed, with or without a box border. If you have lawn where you want to plant, peel back the lawn or not, lay down overlapping cardboard or newspaper to kill off the lawn, prevent it growing back, up into your bed. If you choose cardboard, water a LOT to soak that cardboard. Layer to your heart’s content until you run out of materials. You can make beds 18″ high to start. They will settle a lot. That 18″ can easily become 9″ in two or three days in warm weather! You can plant instantly! Just pull back a planting hole, add some ready or nursery-bought compost and any other amendments right for your plant, and plant! Your amazing ‘lasagna’ will decompose and make beautiful soil without you doing a thing more! Add more materials as you acquire them to any spots you want to build up or if you want more compost or a bigger or another bed!

If you are doing composting in place while gardening, you just put on the layers, between the plants or down a row, with the materials you have on hand until you run out. The smaller the chop, the pieces, the faster the decomp. Keep them moist so they will decompose faster.

Trench it and forget it! Trenching has always been the simplest technique of all! It’s a super simple way of putting chopped veggie kitchen wastes to work. Dig, pull back a 6″ trench, no deeper. Soil organisms live at the top of your soil. Put your kitchen waste in the trench, grab the shovel and vigorously chop the waste into fine pieces. If your soil has worms, chop the stuff somewhere else first. If you don’t feel like chopping it, don’t, but know it will take longer to decompose. Put in the chopped stuff, cover with some of the soil you pulled back. Turn that a couple times to mix in soil organisms to speed the decomp process, cover with the remaining soil and forget it. Period. Done. A week or two later you can dig in that area and find no trace of it. Soil organisms are intelligent and born hungry.

I combine trenching and a pit. If I have a spot needing compost, I trench it there. If there are no spots needing it right now, I put it in the pit and hold it until a spot needs it or a plant needs sidedressing (feeding mid season). In that case, in summer I also add a bit of manure or if it’s SoCal winter time, a little fish emulsion for easy and quick uptake.

NOTE! Compost you make isn’t the same as manure, nor nursery bought bagged compost. When you trench, you can add those at the same time if you wish or closer to the time you want to plant. Manure is good ole down home stinky poopy stuff high in Nitrogen. You can also plant cover crops, living mulch, green manure for Nitrogen. You plant different areas to restore your soil, or in SoCal winter to make good soil for spring planting. Your soil also needs water holding capacity from bulk – what is called forest materials in nursery compost bags. Bagged nursery compost is fluffy. Air space. Your soil needs that too. Kitchen waste compost doesn’t have that. I buy bags of nursery compost – bulk and chicken manure – Nitrogen, as well and add them, sometimes to an area, definitely to my planting holes. Plants uptake a lot of their nutrition from tiny lateral feeder roots that often grow beyond the dripline of your plant, so if you can, do a whole area. See SoCal Fall/Winter Veggie Soil Tips for Delicious Returns! for amazing amendments to put right in your planting holes any time of year! Make that planting hole a bit larger than you have been doing? Sometimes it depends on your budget how much materials you have available. Planting cover crops is cheaper, but it takes longer…

If you have massive amounts of stuff to compost, the fastest way of all, record time, is to use maggots! Cities use them and sell the compost! See all about it!

Hugelkultur Sepp Holzer Diagram Cross Section

Hugelkultur is a long term choice. Hugelkultur, hill mound, is the quintessential sustainable variation of ‘composting’ in place. It can be above and/or below ground and takes a lot more energy to start but what a payoff! Get some big logs, branches. If you are doing it above ground, lay two logs closely side by side, put a lot of bigger to smaller branches between them, then go for it! Woods that work best are alders, apple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, maple, oak, poplar, willow (make sure it is dead or it will sprout). Add leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available. Add some red wiggler casting worms if you have them. As possible add your materials in thin 1/2 to 1″ layers, dry, wet, dry, wet until the area is filled. Lay a third log on top of them and if you have sod you peeled up, lay it on top of the whole pile upside down and do it again! Top the turf with grass clippings, seaweed, compost, aged manure, straw, green leaves, mulch, etc. Top that with soil and plant your veggies! If you did it right, you end up with a steep sided tall pyramid pile and veggies planted at easy picking heights. See a LOT more and example variations at permaculture, practical solutions for self-reliance.

Raised bed Hugelkultur Lasagna Combo Buckman StyleIf you are starting a raised Hugelkultur bed, dig down about a foot or more, lay in the big logs, big branches around them, smaller branches on top, layer as above to the height you want, allowing for settling. The difference is that this is a flat top raised bed. You can also dig deeper and make the top of the bed flush with your soil! Also, you can do terracing with a Hugelkultur substructure.

Container gardeners you can do your own mini Hugelkultur version as well. A 1/2 beer barrel, a five gallon can, kid’s swimming pool, whatever you have, can be repurposed! Just be sure there are drainage holes. Double purpose your container by making it a self-watering system as well!

Hugelkultur is an excellent long term sustainable choice!

~ The heat from decomposition gives your plants a terrific early start or extends your growing season. You do need to be careful of freezes if you live in a cold area.
~ The right hardwood logs will give your plants steady nutrition for 20 or more years!
~ If you do the above ground version, you have more planting space because it is tall and vertical!
~ Nearby fruit trees are also fed.
~ The logs and branches soak up water and hold it, so less water to none is needed after the first year.


More clever tips!

  1. At intervals, near the center of your compost pile, place handfuls of old compost or fresh rich soil, as an infusion, an inoculant of soil making organisms.
  2. In dry SoCal, I cover my compost pile to keep it from drying out, and I never need to water it.
  3. When cold composting and composting in place, add red wriggler worms to chomp up materials. They add worm castings that help your plants’ immune systems and uptake of nutrients. If you will be turning the compost, kindly use a pitchfork so there will be the least damage to your worms.
  4. Be smart, add herbs! Penny Woodward says: ‘Regular handfuls of chamomile, dandelion and yarrow leaves and flowers will all speed up decomposition of the compost with YARROW being the most effective. Yarrow also adds copper, nitrates, phosphates and potash while chamomile adds calcium and ‘sweetens’ the mixture. Dandelions contribute copper, iron and potash. Nettles are problem weeds but they actually improve the quality of the soil they are growing in and when added to the compost they contribute iron and nitrogen. Tansy adds potassium, which is very important for plant growth while Valerian increases the phosphorus content so essential for good flowers and fruits [but is invasive!]. The most nutritious compost plant is COMFREY and it grows most of the year in SoCal coastal climate. The leaves are rich in potassium, nitrogen, calcium and phosphates. I keep a clump growing next to the compost. It grows like crazy, and I layer on a handful of leaves whenever I throw in kitchen scraps.
Stemilt's World Famous compost!

Fine finished Stemilt World’s Famous Compost!

Mix it up! Do any version or combo of compost versions that work for you or as you have the materials available to do what you want! Do more than one method at the same time! Super soil is the Number 1 thing you can do for your garden and compost makes the difference! When your compost smells great and you could just about eat it, you know you made it right!

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All that said, there are tons of composting devices available. Some work more or less, some work for one person but not another, for various reasons. Google for pros and cons of each one before you purchase. See if you think you will tend it as it needs to be tended, if it suits your needs, your location. Will you need additional tools. Imagine doing the process it requires. Would that really work for you. Worst is you buy and it fails. You can resell it, give it to someone who would be dedicated to the process it needs, donate it to a charity sale, or an organization that needs one. It’s ok.

All that said, if building your own compost isn’t your choice, support your local nursery and get the best from them! Otherwise, have a good dirty time of it!



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! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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Read Full Post »

Besides feeding your plants and adding water holding capacity, composting is important for two more good sustainable reasons. Composting helps to minimize the trash going to our landfill, but most importantly doesn’t contribute methane to our atmosphere. When we compost, an aerobic condition is created and the bacteria that thrive create a waste product of CO2. Yes, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, however methane is over 20 times more powerful in contributing to greenhouse gas effects.

Composting in summer’s heat is the fastest, just keep things moist! And there are several ways to do it!

In place composting

Hugelkultur Diagram Cross Section

Long term is Hugelkultur. I say long term because you use logs and branches. Not only are you making compost, but heat! You can plant sooner in spring, grow later in fall. Building up, you get more surface area for planting if space is limited. If space is not an issue and you don’t want raised areas, dig trenches fill with logs, branches, twigs. Cover with the soil you dug up and other stuff. Same excellent results! There are many ways to Hugelkultur! Some projects are gentile and mini, others are huge!

  • The classic is the three log triangle stack and hillock system. Put a bean trellis at the end of the pile!
  • Lay a bed of thick diameter branches, small branches, and twigs at the bottom of your raised bed.
  • Use logs to terrace your slope

Long term might be that pile in the back forty that you pay no attention to, other than dumping on more barrow loads from time to time and letting nature take its course. That can take years. But if your pile is warm in the sun and kept moist, at the bottom of that pile, eventually, not less than a year, you will get some fine leaf mold, and leaf mold is potent!

LASAGNA! Quick and dirty is composting right where you will grow things, and planting all along if you like! it’s the easiest on your back! If you have enough materials, all you do is chop and drop your disease free and seed free weed cuttings and lay your kitchen scraps right on the surface and let them decompose. Throw in some composting worms, red wrigglers. It will all go faster still, and you will have castings right where you need them! Throw some manures (no pet or human waste) about to ramp up the heat and Nitrogen plants need! Some people add other favorite amendments. Yes! Do keep things moist or thick/deep enough for the materials that contract the soil to decompose. To plant immediately, pull a space open, put already made compost in your planting holes and plant instantly! There’s no moving the compost you are making because it’s already where it is needed! There’s no turning, no space taken up by a composter. In summer it also acts as a mulch! Composting and mulch at once!

If you don’t have enough materials, do areas as you can, one at a time, each season another one. Consider giving your neighbors a container, or two, to collect their kitchen trim for you; ask for their landscape waste materials. Hooray, no trips to the dump!

Trenching kitchen scraps or burying garden trim 6″ to 8″ deep is really fast. Soil organisms get right to work! Again, keep that area slightly moist.

Composting in enclosures 

Compost Geobin

Quick might be in a babied system in an enclosure, chopping things into small pieces, deleafing tough stalks, feeding with high class chopped, even blender chopped, kitchen trim! Trim could include squshed eggshells (keeps pH balanced), 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less of coffee grounds (suppresses fungal rots and wilts!). You could add some compost worms, red wigglers, so their castings are precombined with your compost! Careful layering, alternating WET/Nitrogen – grass, green trim, kitchen trim, and DRY/Carbon – leaves, straw, dried spent plants, makes for a well balanced process. Straw aerates, wets moisten and decompose the straw. 1″ wet to 2″ dry is good, but you get it, it’s 1 wet to 2 dry. Easy.

To Turn or Not to Turn! If you decide to turn, you need either a permanent two enclosure side by side system, or a lightweight movable enclosure. You may need to make your system secure from pests like rats or squirrels.

Turning speeds things up a tad, but research shows unturned compost is a little more nutritious. I use the enclosures you can lift off the pile. The pile doesn’t fall apart, so I move the enclosure to a nearby spot and pitchfork the pile into the new location. When things are well decomposed you will need to use a shovel. The pile goes back and forth every couple of weeks or so, leaving a spot that is enriched from the pile’s drippings, a prime planting spot! Then I move the enclosure to another spot.

Covering your pile with a heavy mil plastic, like old compost bags or trash compactor bags, keeps the pile moist. Water the fresh straw or leaves you add just a bit. Also, covering makes the worms feel safe from birds to come and feed at the top of the pile. When you take the cover off, the worms dive to get out of sight of birds!

6 months is usual, but since I add-as-I-have, part of the pile is ready sooner than the rest. I use the part that is ready; the rest I let keep processing. You can use almost finished compost sooner just fine! Mix it into the soil in the new planting area a couple weeks before planting and Baby, you quickly have tasty soil! The soil organisms ramp up and things are integrated down to the micro dots! However, if your compost pile isn’t going as quickly as you like, get some compost accelerator at your nursery or grow a compost activator plant like yarrow or nutritious comfrey next to your composter for convenient use! Add a few leaves to each layer as available.

Also use your compost for sidedressing. If it is summer, pull back your mulch. Push your spade fork in and carefully rock it back and forth to make some holes around your plant – not too close to the main stem, and as you feel to do. Lay down two to three inches of compost as you have available. Put your mulch back in place. Water slowly and gently to let the compost moisten, melt and drizzle into the holes, feeding the root area of your plants. It’s like giving them compost tea! Give it a few days to take effect. It’s especially effective when your plant starts into production, or as a late summer feed when they are pooping out. It will extend your harvest.

Some gardeners just divide their compost into big piles, make a water holding bowl in the top, and plant directly in the compost for super growth! Works great for a giant tomato plant, plants that are heavy feeders like Goliath-size winter squash, melons, Mammoth cabbage! How many times have you let a compost pile go and come back to find little plants growing in it?! They know what’s good for them! Cover the piles with some light blocking mulch, like thick straw, to keep the pile from washing away. Stick a stake beside your plant so you know right where to water.

HOT or Cold compost There is always the curiosity whether to do cold or hot compost.
  • Hot is faster but more labor intensive, frequent turning a must to keep it going. Layering and balancing your ingredients is critical to get those temps. A thermometer is good to have, ideal temps 141°F to 155°F so weed seeds and disease pathogens die.
  • Cold compost can be as simple as pile and wait. And wait. No concern about the order of things. Nature takes her course.
  • My system is a hybrid system. I layer pretty carefully. My pile gets hot when I first layer in a new batch of stuff, but if I don’t turn it for a few weeks, that’s ok too.

Do what suits your needs or as you have materials, but compost, compost, compost! In these SoCal drought times, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Keep your soil healthy and lively, with excellent friability, so it makes the most of what moisture it does receive.

Tyler W at Crazy About Compost, says: Just the other week, I had filled the bin up to the edge with new material…and I look out there today after forgetting about it and it’s dropped nearly a foot! This is what I love about compost piles – I’ve been adding material to this thing on a weekly basis and it’s just a bottomless pit of degradation.

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

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If you didn’t mulch, didn’t mulch thick enough, or your mulch is thin and tired, now’s the time to put some down! It keeps your soil cooler, reduces evaporation, you use less water. Mulch prevents light germinating seeds from growing, using up soil nutrients and your soil.      

Big weeds – if healthy with no pests, chop and drop – that can also include your spent big plants, tops that have bolted, ones you no longer want. Toss the heavy stems into your long-term compost or green waste disposal. Chop and drop practice makes perfect pure guaranteed organic mulch. Remember, you won’t be doing chop and drop with Brassicas that have poisons that kill small seeds like lettuce seeds.      

Little weeds – get ‘em before they seed. If you see flowers, no matter how cute, pretty, and tiny, tiny seeds are very soon to follow. Every one of those is a new little weed that will need weeding, eats up your time weeding, again, and soil. Grass, with that pretty little plume? Those are flowering, seeding. The wind will blow them about. DO NOT pull and lay them on your soil to regrow right there. Remove them, not even into your compost pile, especially if you are not doing hot compost. Even then, it’s not likely every part of your compost pile will get hot enough to kill those little survivor seeds.      

Pigweed, Lamb's Quarter - Chenopodium, Nutrient Accumulator

When you pull little weeds, and you want to use them for mulch, leave them with their roots up, not down where they may grab what soil they can and grow again. One way to instant ‘weed’ tiny weeds in soft soil, is to use a knife, thin blade or stick, and poke/cut them down, push them into your soil. Instant mulch! Works better than raking or hoeing because that dries out your soil, and exposes more light germinating seeds so they can grow too, more weeding.      

Good weedsGardeners, we can reduce or eliminate fertilizer costs and improve soil naturally with plants that are “dynamic, or nutrient, accumulators.” Often they have long tap roots that gather nutrients deep in our soil and make them available to other plants. Some are very nutritious!  You can steam them or eat tasty young tender leaves in salads!      

Pigweed/lamb’s quarters, comfrey, dandelion, garlic, yarrow (also helps heat, decompose your compost more quickly!), fennel, purslane, buckwheat, parsley, peppermint, chamomile, stinging nettle, thistle, vetch, plantains, are all nutrient accumulators! Yes, several of those are ‘weeds,’ but now you will never think of them quite the same way again!

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