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Container Gardening - fence bags!

If you don’t have land, don’t want to or can’t join a community garden, Small Space Urban Farming, Sustainable Containables may be perfect for you! Check what the curbside use rules are for your city. You might be able to use that space too! The number of containers is completely flexible. Have as many as you have time and energy for.

I discovered container gardening through the amazing book Bountiful Containers by McGee & Stuckey. I first wrote about container gardening in November 2012. Now there is a feast of books written on the topic. Learning container gardening principles taught me a lot about how to use precious space productively in a small area!

Containers give you complete flexibility. Have as many or as few as you want, put them wherever you want, move them, remove them, replace them! If it’s too hot or too cold, bring ‘em inside!

Garden in anything! From grow bags, hanging bags to pots. There are containers of any size, shape, material or color, some are even self watering! Some are spiffy new, others are what you have around at the time, maybe an old favorite or an old wooden bucket, the wheelbarrow with holes in it.

Container Gardening gone Rampant!

Most of all, the Beauty of Using Containers is You can plant!

You can make them, paint them!
They can get you outdoors
There’s no digging
You eat better food, fresh basil for your fresh salad.
Often, no slugs or snails, avoids soil-borne fungal diseases
Rarely any weeds
You can give them away
You can instantly remove and replace problem plants, or redesign your layout!
You can move them around for more sun or shade, for warmer or cooler
You can take them with you when you move!
No packaging, or food miles!

Location, location, location – Garden anywhere!

Balcony, Rooftop, along Stairs
Patio, Deck
Along a Wall or Fence, on top of the wall!
Backdoor, Front door
By Kitchen, in a Window
Box hanging from fence, a basket hanging from the upstairs neighbor’s balcony or a tree

A lovely raised bed in plenty of sun is a large container!

What can you plant?! Light makes a difference! 6-8 hrs Sunlight 

Everyday edibles to fruit & nut trees, minis to full size! Flowering plants, water plants, and fruiting vegetables require eight hours of sunlight each day to grow well. Root vegetables can do well with six hours; leafy plants and herbs should get at least four hours.

As a general rule leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce can tolerate the most shade, while root crops such as beets and carrots will need more sun. Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers need the most sun.

If you don’t have enough light, paint a wall white, put a free standing white reflective screen behind your plants to capture light.

Put your planties on a rolling cart, table, on plant dollies and move them with the sun during the day!
Move them from your front porch to your backdoor during the rainy or cold season, or indoors during a frost. Dollies raise your plants so your wooden containers and deck don’t rot.

Too hot?  Double pot – one inside the other. Too cold? Use black containers, wrap your pot with dark fabric, a blanket, burlap.

  • Dwarf & semi-dwarf trees, shrubs, grapes
  • Beets, chard, cucumbers, dwarf sunflowers, eggplant, dwarf kales, bush beans, green onions, green peppers, leaf lettuce, mini melons, garden purslane, radishes, spinach, smaller varieties of summer & winter squash, strawberries, determinate tomatoes!
  • Herbs and edible flowers too!
  • Select smaller veggie varieties that are bred for productivity, disease and pest resistance, slow bolting, heat and/or cold tolerance
  • Pick varieties that tolerate your conditions – sun/shade, wind, water, time of year
  • Find plants that match your diligence, time available to care for – do you like to prune or deadhead?
  • You can plant a container Orchard! Dwarf is the key word! Dwarf figs, ‘cados, citrus, plums, etc! Grafting 3 types that come in early, midsummer and fall on one tree gives you all season fruit for the space of one tree!

Designing your Container Garden

Tiered Space Saving Container Gardening!

Container gardening is a way for people living in urban areas to enjoy the benefits of veggie gardening.

Questions & Options!

Will my deck, balcony or roof support the weight of watered plants?
Do I want to get a bunch of small containers or two really big ones, or a combo of sizes?!
Can I place pots around my regular garden? Would the pots look better on my deck or around my copper beech tree?
Can I grow herbs and flowers or should I stick with one type of plant?
Will someone trip over those small herb troughs near my narrow pathway or underneath my garden arbors?
What complementary plant colors will look best in my sunny office? Or in or around my house?
Are these plants pet and child safe?
Will the draining water rot wood, drip on my table, cause mold or mildew, be tracked indoors?  Drip on your neighbor’s patio or balcony downstairs?
Do most people like the scent of that herb, society garlic? Allergies?

Containers along a Spiral Staircase can be alternately planted with veggies, herbs, more flowers for pollinators!

Design for Beauty and fit There are wonderful design programs online! Or start with one container and see what happens from there.

If you want to, sketch it out – summer, winter layouts
Pencil in your largest plants first
Tall plants against the fence, wall, to the back, north if possible, short in front, vines spilling over front
Stagger the heights of containers
Elevate with concrete blocks
Purchase just a few containers at first to get the hang of it
Mix colors luxuriantly!
Mix veggies, edible flowers and herbs mercilessly!

The simplest space saver is to go Vertical! Hanging baskets & grow bags, tiered planters, strawberry pots, pallets, gutters affixed to a fence (slope to one end for drainage & cover the low end to keep the soil in), put a trellis in a rectangular basket or oblong galvanized container, hang planters on a fence or up a wall!

Each Container is a miniature garden! Select plants with the same watering requirements.

  1. Thrillers:  the tallest, most noticeable or unusual plant.  Put pots with melons, cukes, beans, near a trellis or fence.
  2. Spillers:  plants that “spill” over the edge of the pot. Even if you are using a spectacular container, you do not want all of the plant material to only go up.  Strawberries….
  3. Fillers:  plants that tie your container together, providing a backdrop for your thrillers to shine.

Theme Container Gardens can be oriented to bring wildlife!

Theme Gardens are special!

One color
Pink!  Chard, chives, dianthus – an edible flower, monarda – an herb, pansies, sage
One type plant – a lettuce box or basket
Ethnic
Asian — Japanese Eggplant, Chinese Cucumber, Sugar Lace Peas, Broccoli, Thai Chile Pepper, Chile de Arbol Pepper, Bell Pepper, Cabbage.
Greek and Middle East — Tomato, Eggplant, Cucumber, Shallots, Garlic, Onions.
An era like Victorian – Lavender, roses, sage, scented geraniums, thyme, tulips, with violets, violas, pansies
For kids! Radishes, Thumbelina small round carrots, pansies (cat faces), purple-podded beans, dwarf sunflowers, Wee-Be-Little pumpkins!
To attract pollinators, butterflies, wildlife, hummingbirds! POLLINATION is Vital & Easy to Do!  Grow a Pollinator Meadow at Home in Your Veg Garden!

Design for Companion Plantings for many reasons! Here are just a few to get you started! There are many more combinations you will discover!

Pest prevention  Some plants emit allelochemicals from their roots or leaves, which repel pests. Oregano repels insects that bother broccoli! Borage repels tomato hornworms.
Enhance each other: Oregano enhances the flavor of beans. Carrots stimulate peas (onions stunt peas). Chamomile is called the Plant Dr!
Some plants attract butterflies and bees to pollinate your plants! Feverfew repels bees.
Others are great trap plants – they are more attractive to pests than the plant you want to save. Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!

Colorful Glazed Ceramic Containers of Differing Heights Create Interest!

Choosing the perfect magical container …from found reusables, on the cheap, humble homemades, to extraordinaire, there are multitudes of beautiful materials!! Shop, scavenge, everywhere!

Start with the Standards

1.Traditional Terracotta: has good air circulation, dries out fast, degrades, and is easily breakable, charming old world outdoor look, least expensive.
2.Ceramic: hardier, retains moisture better if glazed, myriad of colorful choices and shapes.
3.Plastic, fiberglass: long lasting, lightweight, good for balcony & rooftop plantings or where weight is a factor. No air circulation. They can be inexpensive to very expensive. They are an excellent liner pot.
4.Untreated Wood Boxes/Barrels: natural look, dries out fast, line with water barrier or use a sealant, use peat for insulation & to hold moisture. If use a water barrier, cut holes for drainage.
5.Magical Metals: keep moisture in

Drainage holes are a must! Ask the nursery if they will make some for you if there aren’t any. Usually there is no charge. 

Pots, baskets, boxes, grow bags, nested burlap bags, shoe bags, plant sacks, bowls, buckets, plastic containers
Plant right in the compost bag!
Bathtubs, sinks
Drawers – use untreated wood, no paint
Drums, ½ whiskey barrels
Wheelbarrow, wagon
Built-in deck planter, top of rail/wall planter
Hanging, upside down toms
Recycled anything – old garden boots, laundry basket
Greenhouses themselves are the perfect winter container or for all year Veggies!

If you like wooden troughs or baskets, make sure that your wood is of a solid quality. Finish the wood with a veggie-safe preserver. If you use barrels, make sure that the hoops are secure. Wood containers fare well in colder weather, provide more insulation than clay pots.

To retain moisture and prevent freezing and cracking, seal your clay pots inside and out with a veggie safe sealant.

Lettuces, peas, beans and cukes require the least depth; tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, the most.

You’ll need some fail-proof saucers to capture that loose soil and dripping water that escapes from the bottom of any container. Plastic saucers don’t get damp as do terra cotta ones.

Your Very Own Pepper Nursery Container!

Making a Home for your Plants  Soil, Filling Your Container, Seeding, Transplanting

Terrific Vertical WorkStation to tend your Container Garden properly!

Soil Selection is critical, a workstation is optional but very nice!

A high-quality potting soil works, choose ones with time release nutrients!
Use all potting soil, or add the very best compost!
Topsoil alone is too heavy, doesn’t drain well, too dense for tiny roots to get through
Soilless mixes are two to three times lighter weight
Each year use fresh soil mix when you plant

Put drainage holes in your container if they aren’t there already. 3 to 5 is good, use your judgment.
For less weight on a balcony or the roof, line the bottom with capped plastic bottles or insert a smaller upside down pot, put your soil on top. It uses less soil, weighs a lot less, especially when wet .
OR, install a self watering system, sub irrigation.
Fill with your soil – lace it  with slow release organic fertilizer (and a ¼ cup lime for tomatoes)
Install trellises as needed for beans, cukes, toms, melons, squash, grapes
Anchor pots and trellises securely if your plant will get tall or is in a windy spot

Seeding, Transplanting

Partially fill your container, put your central or tall back plant in, fill around it. Add any peripheral plants.
Water gently so you don’t wash the soil away from the roots, add more soil if needed as the soil settles.
Plant seeds according to the instructions on their packet in 6 packs or right in your container!
Water again with a watering can so as not to wash the seeds away or cause them to get uncovered, or covered too deeply with soil. Keep them moist!
Top dress, mulch with wood chips or as you like, about 1” deep.  Less weeds, saves water, keeps your soil moist.  Keeps roots cool in summer, but remove in winter so your soil will be warmer. Cocoa mulch is toxic to dogsMulching ~ Why, When, With What, How Much?!

Container Gardening Self Watering Bowl or Pool!

 

Self watering, save-water Sustainable Container Technology!  You can use this in any small container to kiddie swimming pool containers used in rooftop gardening! The principles are the same. If you decide to purchase, there are multitudes of amazing, and even lovely, self watering containers available! Or get a DIY kit, or simply DIY!  There are various techniques.

 

 

 

If it is hot weather or you may be away, try these bottles with watering spikes to keep your plants moist.

 


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Fertilizing, Side-dressing

Since potting mixes drain water rapidly, fertilizer will be leached out of the container as you water.
Avoid contaminating vegetable plants with manures (use only if well aged and incorporated in your soil weeks in advance), teas, or organic emulsions. Do not use manure foliar teas on veggie leaves that you will eat, like lettuce. Not recommended by UC Master Gardeners. Instead, use a dilute liquid fertilizer with every other watering, maybe every two weeks. Liquid fish emulsion is smelly but good. Liquid seaweed/kelp are great plant boosters, add trace elements.

Remember that you need to provide your plants with a variety of nutrients.
Compost and/or worm castings are tasty additions!
Or use organic time release pellets when you build your soil!
Check the labels on the products in your garden center to be sure that they contain a complete, balanced solution that includes trace elements. Be sure to get a season or use specific mix. Early on you want Nitrogen for leaves, but not too much or you get all leaf, no bloom. Be a bit careful with phosphates for bloom…not all soils need it added.

Contact your local extension office to inquire about soil testing. Many municipalities offer soil testing free of charge.

Special Care for Your Tomatoes – the most popular container plant!

Scout around for a good container tomato soil mix or build your own! See Tomato Dirt! They do not recommend to scoop up your ground soil – ‘It compacts making it difficult to water and keep aerated by mid-season. Also, garden soil is infested with fungi, weed seeds, and pests, which can wreak havoc in your containers…’
IF your soil is acidic, add a ¼ cup lime (calcium) when making your soil mix
And a tablespoon of Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts), both to prevent blossom end rot
Secure your plant so it won’t topple in the wind
When the plants are flowering, give the stems a sharp rap about 11 AM to help pollination along.

Common Problems Help List – Be vigilant, Remove diseased plants ASAP! If you are trying to save a weakened plant, move it away from your other healthy plants. Weak plants are vulnerable to pests and diseases. 

Common Problems of Container Gardening Help List

Your harvest! Harvest, Seed Saving, Sharing the Bounty

DO harvest!  When the time is ripe, do it, don’t let it go to waste. If you don’t pick, ask yourself why.  You don’t like that veggie as much as you thought you would? You planted too many plants and you are tired of it! Your recipe is too time consuming or intimidating? Harvest is too labor intensive? This is all a natural part of the live & learn gardening experience. Plant something different, differently next year.

Keep picking, especially beans, cukes and peas, or your plant thinks it is done and stops producing.  Pick daily, don’t ‘store’ on your plant. Cut & come again plants are a true value! Take lower lettuce leaves and the plant will grow more; cut off onions 1-2″ above ground and they will grow back! Several times!  Chards and kales too! When the radishes are pulled, plant more or something else right away!

Seed saving is your 2nd harvest!

If you have a plant, that does terrifically, you might want to save some of its seeds! Or sow them immediately for continuous harvest!

Tie ribbon around a plant you choose to save seeds from to remind you once it has stopped producing you don’t accidentally remove it.
Let it flower – the bees love it, let it seed.
Let the seeds, or your bean pods, dry on the plant. Tomatoes get a different treatment. SeedSaving! An Easy Annual Ritual & Celebration!
Harvest the seeds midday on a dry sunny day.
Label your envelope – save date, plant name.
Store in a cool, dry place.
Some seeds have a short shelf life, only 1 season, so check to see if you should be sure to plant them next year or give them away to someone who will!
If you have extra, share your seeds at a neighborhood garden exchange, Seed Swap, or give some away as holiday or birthday gifts!
Organize your garden seeds during our cool season. It is an inspiration for spring planting!

Container Gardening can be one of the most creative experiences you will ever have! Exercise your options! Have fun and be healthy!

The Beauty & Pleasures of Container Gardening! Pattypan Squash!

Wherever you are, enjoy growing the most colorful tasty organic veggies!
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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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Self Mulching Delicious Summer Edible Landscaping 2020!

Self Mulching Delicious Summer Edible Landscaping!

In view of COVID-19, many of you want to start growing 100% fresh organic food right at your own doorstep! Here are some great tips to get you going!

Fast Plants to Grow Indoors or Out! Clearly, you need that food soonest! Fast has a very different meaning when you are talking about growing veggies! Here is a mini list of days to maturity to give you the idea:

  • Arugula | Rocket | 20-40 days
  • Beets | 40-70 days | tops and roots, harvest when small
  • Broccoli Raab/Rapini/Rabi | 40-60 days| leaves and tops are edible
  • Kale | 30-65 days | the baby greens are much more tender than mature kale
  • Leaf lettuce | 40-60 days
  • Mesclun Greens | 30-45 days
  • Onion greens | 40-50 days | grow micro-onion greens, baby bulbs, or onion stalks
  • Peas | 50-60 days | pea shoots are sweet and delicious! (Winter in SoCal)
  • Radishes | 21-30 days | Radish tops are mild and add nice flavor to salads
  • Spinach | 30-55 days
  • Swiss Chard | 30-60 days
  • Turnips | 35-50 days | Leaves and root are edible

Of course these timings vary per location and climate! In SoCal we have more leeway and many crops can be grown year round. However, if you are in the desert, a lot of community gardens close for the summer – just too hot. With careful management and lighting, you could do indoor container gardening. Try a walapini, a dug out earth shelter greenhouse! It’s cool in summer, warm in winter!

Greenhousing is an art! In super cold winter areas others of you may also need to rely on indoor container gardening and installing lighting, and well insulated greenhouses. For ideas and tips:  Greenhouses – the Six Weeks Advantage!   Heating Greenhouses Without Electricity!

If growing your own is too daunting, do support your local CSA, Community Supported Agriculture! Many are organic and you can ask if they deliver. Many do, especially now. You might start with this post on Santa Barbara County CSAs! I didn’t see a date for the post, so some of the info may be out of date, but you get the idea. Also great places to support are the Santa Barbara area Farmer Markets!

Combining supporting CSAs and Farmer Markets AND your own gardening will give you the best of the best while you are learning! Farmer Markets are a great place to ask your very local gardening questions! First, ask where their farm is! It might be in a different climate or a town or even further away. Sometimes there are Master Gardener question tables at Farmer Markets! Sign up for their events or get on their email list!

CONSIDERATIONS BEFORE YOU START

There will be water expenses.

6-8 Hours of Full Sun really is best. Shade is slow, disappointing production, small size results, plants can just fail.

Soil matters. A lot. Urban soils have often been abused or neglected. Maybe you have limited location choices with accessible water. If you are super fortunate, you may have a place with great soil for veggie gardening. Slightly alkaline loam is terrific. Do some soil testing before you get started to see if any adjustment is needed.

You may want to build a raised bed on a lawn. Raised beds can be rather instantaneous wooden boxes or an area piled with nutritious premade booster soil, compost, manure, worm castings. No need for digging. Raised beds can be built in place layer by layer, composted in place. That might be done in the fall for spring planting. You can do both, the quick one first, the spring one in progress. Actually you can start a composted raised bed anytime and continue building it forever! Add kitchen waste, cover with a 1/2″ layer of straw, repeat, repeat, repeat! If you want to plant in your unfinished pile, open a hole, throw in compost, a little manure, whatever amendments make you happy and plant!

However, when you are getting started, there is no need to immediately make compost or hunt for manure. You can buy it inexpensively, safely processed, in convenient bags at the nursery! Once you get your plants growing, if you want to, you can add composting to your talents, find SAFE manure sources.

Container Vegetable Living Gift - Lettuces Edible FlowersThere are plenty of places to grow veggies once you have decided to give it a go!

– At home indoors or out, wherever there is the most sun. You might replace part of your lawn if it is the sunniest location or comingle veggies and landscape plants – edible landscaping!
– In a Greenhouse, on the roof!
– Share space with a neighbor
– Start a container garden in your home, on your patio, your balcony, porch – best directions are East, South, West facing.
– Join a Community Garden. Some of them have waiting lists, so get on the list ASAP. You can always refuse a plot if you change your mind or have found other garden space by the time your name comes up.

If you have little space, go Vertical! Use trellises and cages, pallets on their sides, fences, hanging baskets, towers, strawberry pots, shelves, the roof! Vertical Gardening, a Natural Urban Choice!  Vertical Veggie Garden in a 55 Gallon ‘Drum!’

Gardeners start their plants from seed, just like their parents and grandparents did, or go to the local nursery and get transplants! Transplants are the fastest choice; seeds get you varieties not available at nurseries. Be a little careful at box stores because they don’t always sell plants in season for your locality or part of town. For example, Santa Barbara has cooler beach front properties and hot, dry foothills properties that can be hot in day, cold at night, desert like!

Seeds can be planted at the same time you install transplants to get you a continuous supply for your table. Read the seed packets carefully before you purchase them, and if you buy them, again at planting time! Buy from reputable seed houses, preferably organic. Be sure they are appropriate to your location at the time you would like to plant them. Ask around. Talk with your neighbors, local nursery people knowledgeable about veggies, your farmers market.

Heirlooms? You may think heirlooms are the virtuous way to go. It depends on the plant, your location, the condition of your soil. If you are unsure, go with hybrids. Nothing wrong with hybrids. Some of them are well bred, have set a high standard, and worth the money! Mother Nature does her own hybridizing! Here are mind opening surveys that were conducted by Mother Earth News on Tomatoes & the Most Productive Garden Crops! They concluded: ‘Many respondents declared an “heirlooms only” stance on tomatoes, especially in climates that are kind to tomatoes. Disease-resistant hybrids won more favor in stressful growing situations. Additionally, our survey showed that interest in better disease resistance increases with years of tomato-growing experience.’

Edible Landscape Tomatoes and Flower Companions! (1)
SELECTING YOUR PLANTS!

Best if you like that plant or you will not treat it as well or even somehow neglect to harvest it. But it is a good choice to select some plants others in your household like even if you don’t!

Think of Nutrition. Though you may not like a particular good-for-you plant in the most popular ways, see if there might be a way you could fix it that you would enjoy. I’m not a kale fan, but I eat it happily added to soups and stews! I like shredded beets and their greens stir fried! 

Smart choices may involve choosing plants high in production per square foot! SoCal in Summer: Zucchini, Green Beans on a trellis, Fordhook Giant Chard, Kale, Tomatoes. In winter, kales and broccoli with greens planted underneath, elegant Chard, and colorful carrots thrive with trellised peas.

Quickest to Harvest! The fastest are radishes, lettuces, arugula, spinach, greens of all kinds, chard. Beets and turnips are two for one crops – you can eat the greens and the roots!

For soonest production select mini varieties, like baby carrots, small beets or cucumbers, eggplants, cherry tomatoes. Select bush varieties of beans and tomatoes. They mature more quickly. At the same time plant pole and vining indeterminate tomato varieties for all season production to follow.

Companion Planting Set, excellent use of space!
Marvelous GARDEN DESIGN!

If you need a lot of food in a small space then Companion Planting is the number one technique and makes terrific sense! You can combine helping plants and herbs for greater health and output. See more Herbs to support your garden.

Here is a super SUMMER companion list! 

  • Alyssum is a great old fashioned pretty border plant, an understory living mulch. And WHITE Alyssum repels the cabbage butterfly.
  • Basil repels several unwanted insects, is great near tomatoes but not in the basin with the tom. The tom needs less water. Plant the Basil beside the tom basin. The deeper tomato roots will get water used to water the Basil!
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill to go with pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini & Cukes to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes act as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Chamomile is a love! Pretty, great tea, known as the “plant doctor,” chamomile has been known to revive and revitalize plants growing near it. That’s especially good to know for plants that are susceptible to diseases. Plant it by plants that are wilts susceptible, like your tomatoes & cucumbers .
  • Cosmos is for pollinators! More at SFGate
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!
  • Lettuce and carrots make a great understory below larger plants – in summer peppers, eggplant, in winter below Broccoli and Kales. They act as living mulch! Leave a little open space to lightly dig in some compost or manure later in the season. If you already have enough lettuce and carrots, scatter a living mulch, soil feeding legume seed mix under those plants. At the end of the season you can turn it all under – aka Green Manure. Or remove the larger plants, open up spots in the living mulch and put in winter/summer plants! See much more – Living Mulch/Green Manure!

Tasty WINTER Companions!

– Brassicas! That’s biggies like our broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts.

  • Cilantro makes brocs grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!
  • It is said lettuces repel cabbage moths. Install transplants on the sunny side under big plants. As the plants get bigger remove a few lower leaves if needed to let sun in; put a few between cabbages.
  • Aphids and whitefly love Kale, and other Brassicas, so along with that Cilantro, plant garlic and chives among your Brassicas! Remove yellowing Brassica lower leaves that attract whiteflies.
  • Though this is a pseudo companion idea, research has shown there are less aphids when you alternately plant different varieties of brocs together! 

Peas and Carrots, NO onions, onion family, within several feet. Onions stunt peas. Carrots enhance peas!!!

Somewhere along the line, do add some flowers for beauty, pure joy, and your pollinators! Some flowers are edible! Calendula See Grow a Pollinator Meadow at Home in Your Veg Garden!  “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”  ~ Claude Monet 

Garden Layout is Totally Individual Choice! Other than planting tall to the back, short to the front, so everyone gets sun, the sky’s the limit! Get some terrific ideas here!  Summer   Winter

For continuous harvests, sow or transplant your favorites or the fastest-growing crops every two weeks. That’s called succession planting. Adjust that as you find out what works for you and that plant, you and your family, your soil, sun/shade and temps!

If you are starting on a low budget, as many are, also see Veggie Gardening for NO $ at All! for some super tips and tricks!

Know that many have started gardening with no one to help them, trial and error their only teachers. That works but it can slow you down… If you have neighbors, elders that remember their gardens, ask questions! Get online and check several authors’ posts on the same topic – be sure to read the comments and threads! Often the best answers are in them! Make sure they are in your part of the country or have a climate like yours. Ask at your local nursery and farmer market! Their businesses depend on doing it right and giving you the right answers. It may sound a little crazy this early in the game, but start your own garden blog! When you teach others, you have to learn it to know what to say! Your knowledge will expand exponentially! Many will thank you!

Congratulations on your new venture! Happy Gardening!
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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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Purslane Flowers!

Some say Purs lenothers say Purs lane . Both are legit depending on where you are looking it up!

A weed?! No longer! Purslane has a major pedigree! It has 300-400 mg of omega 3 fatty acids per cup – highest of any plant, 10 to 20 times the melatonin – highest of any other plant, is highest plant in vitamin E, six times more vitamin E than spinach, and seven times more beta carotene than carrots! Purslane can produce seeds in only 40 days, up to 240,000 per plant, which may germinate after 5 to 40 years! The stems, leaves, flowers, seedpods and seeds are all edible. It’s a little powerhouse super plant, a worthy crop!

Purslane, (Portulaca oleracea) is an annual originally from India but long grown as a vegetable in China, England, and even in Australia by the Aborigines. It thrives in full sun, poor soil and drought.

Common ground cover Purslane. Easily identifiable if you are foraging.

Varieties! Purslane comes in a few forms and varieties, all edible! 1) It can be the wild ground hugger cover you never notice, in sprawling circular mats up to 3-1/3 ft across, with red stems. It is easily identified if you are foraging, has distinctive succulent foliage. If you are an inexperienced forager, there is a look-alike plant called “Hairy-Stemmed Spurge (Euphorbia vermiculata)”. Don’t be confused. Purslane is NOT HAIRY. 2) It can be a more upright ground cover used seriously as an understory living mulch! It keeps the soil cooler and more moist, shades out weed seed germination, plus you can eat it. 3) Then there is the upright large leafed Garden Purslane Portulaca oleracea gardeners grow. It is 1′ to 18″ tall, much easier on your back to harvest, your harvest is clean, it branches and grows quickly and abundantly!

Pinch off tops to get it to bush more. Once started, let it self sow. Johnny’s Seeds has Goldberg Golden Portulaca sativa and a microgreen seed, Red Gruner, with fine little pink stems! Red Gruner has Avg. 977,400 seeds/lb.! How did they figure that out?!

Companions! It’s not so much what plants can repel Purslane pests or diseases or be beneficial or bring pollinators to Purslane. It’s more what Purslane does for them! The low growing types make good living mulch, a ground cover, as does white Dutch clover. Clover feeds your soil, but Purslane feeds you!

Garden Purslane grows well among taller plants like eggplant or peppers. If you are having a hot summer that can be a good choice. Keeps the soil cooler and more moist. Some peppers prefer a little shade. If you are having a cool summer or live in a cool area or it’s a tad shady, ground cover keeps soil cool and is not preferred. Leave the soil bare to heat up.

Although pollinators will visit the flowers, Purslane plants are self fertile so almost all flowers will produce seeds. No need to plant pollinator attractor plants for Purslane.
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Growing Purslane in a container is a smart idea!

Planting is easy!

You can let them do it themselves! Purslane self-propagates by spreading seeds abundantly or from sections of the stem that are broken off. The seeds germinate reliably each year when temps and moisture are just right for them. When they are not, purslane seeds can remain viable for up to 40 years, so don’t worry!

Or plant from saved seeds or a packet of seeds! As tiny as poppy seeds, just sprinkle them where you think you want them. They may get stuck to your fingers, fall to the ground and come up there too, LOL! Keep them moist until all the seeds have sprouted – and who knows how many that would be!!! They will grow! Water very gently – sprinkle, so they don’t wash away, get buried too deeply, or puddle and clump! If that does happen, just thin them and eat the micro plant greens in your fresh salad. After they are up about an inch, you can water them almost as vigorously as you do your other plants.

They grow just fine in containers! Choose a pretty container to make a terrific gift! Preferably plant in a container that will not easily dry out. And, particularly, if you are on a balcony, keep it out of the drying wind pattern, put up a windbreak, or shelter it behind a low bushy type plant you have around.

Upright Purslane is lovely among your plants, grows quickly, is easy to harvest and so nutritious!Plant in full sun, rich soil and keep them moist if you want fat super plants! Yes it will grow unwatered sidewalk crack size, but that’s a small crop. You can take seeds from those small plants and grow it big. Chamomile is the same way. When you get it into garden rich moist soil, boom! You got a food supply! Water regularly. Moisture-stressed leaves are not as palatable as those from well-watered plants.

Planting temps. Purslane is frost susceptible. Seeds prefer warm temps to germinate, it’s a summer ‘weed.’ Above 70 during the day and 50 at night, preferably warmer. But mine were up in a long cool 2019 May in Santa Barbara Ca. If you have enough seeds and space, lay them in two or three different times. They will come up when they are ready. If you pay them no mind they will take care of the situation by self seeding! 

Space them about 4 to 6 inches apart, cover with 1/2″ to 1/4″ of soil, leaning to the 1/4″. They will be pretty big at their peak healthy mature summer size! I might put mine 8 to 10″ apart, but mainly I let them come up from last year’s self seeding that happens. If there are too many in one place I eat a few! And, of course, you can always deliberately over plant just because you want those tender micro greens!

WEEDING! If you aren’t happy with having Purslane, remember those 240,000 seeds one plant can produce! Remove the plant entirely. That means roots, broken bits and all. Since it is a succulent type, even segments will happily produce another plant! NEVER let it flower! If it is seeding, don’t put it in your compost. Remember, those seeds can still germinate in 5 to 40 years!!!

If you are happily growing Purslane, keep your crop area weed free and remove little Purslanes if there are too many or some are too close to each other. It can get pretty thick very quickly when they are untended. Purslane is a good Mexican food, so, thank goodness, I can give away my extra to the families at our community garden! Otherwise you may need to educate your friends and neighbors to get them to try it.

Pests & Diseases Purslane has few pests, although in some parts of the country, California is one place, Purslane sawflySchizocerella pilicornis, and a Leafminer weevil, Hypurus bertrandiperris, will damage or kill your plants. UC IPM says these pests were ‘accidentally’ introduced to kill Purslane, a weed from a farmer’s point of view. They say the pests are working well. I have definitely seen Leafminer damage on my plants.

If your plants get succulent fungi diseases, like Black Stem, lay back on the water, water in the morning, water at ground level – no overhead watering, keep any mulch away from the stem, thin your plants so they and the soil dry from more airflow. Purslane is quite drought tolerant, so you can get away with laying back on water. I haven’t observed this disease at Pilgrim Terrace/Rancheria Santa Barbara CA Community Gardens.

You can get three kinds of harvests!

First are the leaves at 6-8 weeks, then continuously as they grow. Second are the green seed pods that are used in place of capers. Third are the super easy to harvest edible seeds!

Master Gardener Stephanie Wrightson of Sonoma County says ‘Harvest purslane when it is young—before it goes to seed and when the leaves and stems are tender. Always remove flowers; cutting back mature plants allows regrowth. If you are harvesting common purslane from your ornamental garden, make sure that the area has not been sprayed with pesticides—always thoroughly wash your harvest. Purslane is crisper [and more tart] when harvested in the morning, but sweeter when harvested in the afternoon [when the malic acid content is lower].’

When you want more Purslane, cut your plant almost to the ground leaving two leaves at the base for re-growth.

Storage! Get cool ASAP! Purslane wilts, and warm temperatures after harvest bring out the mucilaginous factor. Store purslane in the crisper drawer, coldest area, of your refrigerator, and use within a week.

Purslane Seed Pods and Seeds

SeedSavinggathering Purslane seeds is a piece of cake and fun! They are contained in adorable little green seed pods. When the seed pods are dry, hold a bag or bowl under the seed pod, pop the tiny pod top off, and let the seeds spill into your container – bag or bowl. The seeds are tiny! Likely a few will make a leap for it and you will have tiny plants come up there next year! Store your seeds in a cool dry place. Date and label with their name.

Here is what the seedlings look like so you won’t pull them up thinking they are a weed! These are with baby Chard at  She says when they are mature, ‘in the mornings their small yellow flowers open for pollination and make a beautiful, edible garnish for salads and patés.’

Purslane Seedlings with baby Chard at Chef Emily's!

Chef Emily also makes a tasty salad dressing! Toss some purslane in a blender with some clean fresh herbs, a clove of garlic a few glugs of olive oil and some lemon zest and juice, give it a whirl and have a delicious bright green salad dressing!

International tasty Purslane Power!  Purslane contains one of the highest known concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids — five to six times the concentration in spinach. Chickens grazing on purslane produce high omega-3 eggs. In Mexico, called Verdolaga, it is eaten in omelets, as a side dish, rolled in tortillas, used in salsa or dropped by handfuls into soups and stews. Aboriginals made seed cakes. Or it was pounded into flour to make damper. Wiki says: ‘Damper is a traditional Australian soda bread, historically prepared by swagmen, drovers, stockmen and other travelers. It consists of a wheat flour based bread, traditionally baked in the coals of a campfire or in a camp oven. Damper is an iconic Australian dish.’ Commenter Nihal said ‘Back in Turkey there is two types, wild and cultivated. Cultivated ones are sold in bunches in farmers market throughout the summer. But the wild ones are much more delicious. We usually cook it with tomato and add a little bit rice or bulgur wheat.’ In Greece the leaves are fried in olive oil, then mixed with feta cheese, tomato, onion garlic and oregano. The seeds are also edible. North Carolina market gardener Patryk Battle throws basil and purslane (upper stems and all) into a blender or food processor, adds a small amount of olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and enough hot water to get a good consistency. Because it’s so juicy, purslane helps create a low-fat pesto without too much oil. Personally, I eat it while gardening or simply sprinkle fresh raw leaves into my salads. You could add tender sprigs to your sandwich or lightly steam the stems, seeds and leaves or use in stir-fry dishes, curried dishes. Make Verdolaga smoothies and popsicles! The green seed pods are sometimes pickled and used as fake capers!

Here are some additional creative recipes to get you thinking and whet your appetite! From Edible Wild FoodChicken Weed WrapFried or Baked PurslaneNorth African Style PurslaneNutricized PurslanePurslane Egg CupsPurslane Smoothie and PopsiclesSummer SaladSweet Pickled Purslane Stems

There you have it, Purslane culinary tips from several continents!

Word to the wise ~ Purslane is mucilaginous, like okra, giving it a somewhat slimy texture when cooked. Cook it less time. Eaten fresh in salads, it has no such effect. Frances Robinson at Mother Earth News says it more palatably: Purslane’s high level of pectin (known to lower cholesterol) thickens soups and stews.

4 Cautions:  Individuals with a history of kidney stones should use purslane with caution as it may increase kidney filtration, urine production, and possibly cause a stone to move.  Purslane injection induces powerful contractions of the uterus, but oral purslane is said to weaken uterine contractions. Avoid use during pregnancy. A purslane only diet for your chickies and livestock can be toxic due to the high oxalic acid content. In fact, for us humans, no eating very large quantities daily for the same reason. Some people do report allergic reactions. Keep you first encounter to a small taste just in case, especially if the Purslane is uncooked, garden fresh potent!

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds recommends eating Purslane fresh in a salad with thin shaved beets and carrots drizzled with a light, lemon or balsamic dressing. And those look like Calendula petals to me! What a beautiful salad!

Purslane Salad Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Recipe

Here’s a final little comparison to remind you of the Omega-3 Linolenic Acid content! (Grams* per 100-gram serving or approximately a half cup.)

Purslane: 0.4
Lettuce, buttercrunch: 0.03
Spinach: 0.09

Mother Earth News sums it up perfectly! Purslane may be a common plant, but it is uncommonly good for you.

Purslane is one remarkable plant! Grow it!

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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

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Amendment Biochar Applying

Charcoal-like biochar improves soil hydration and enhances agricultural production while it curtails nutrient leaching, increases nitrogen available to plants and reduces the release of gas pollutants. A new study by researchers at Rice University and North Dakota State University gathers current and potential sources of government support to promote the production and use of biochar. Credit: Ghasideh Pourhashem, from the January 11, 2019, Rice University post. Read more Biochar holds promise for sequestering carbon and cleansing polluted air.

Fans rave about its virtues. Some are skeptical but want to learn more. So, wanting to learn, possibly use, I typed in ‘2018 2019 Biochar pros cons’…carefully read the latest noncommercial posts and their comments threads.

A few years ago a knowledgeable gardener I know raved about biochar. Now, some years later, recently a friend sent an article that turned the tables enough to make me want to check it out. One is how it was compared with natural soil that is replenished with biochar by forest fires. Two is how Biochar has several soil sustainable features, but foremost is how it keeps Carbon in our soil hundreds, maybe even 1000s of years! And that is to say nothing of its water holding capacity! Carbon is the foundation of our soil ecosystem. Three: Also, I recalled how amazingly my winter and summer garden plants grew last year. It started with a collusion of happenstance. I planted quite late, Dec 10, 2018 during the Thomas Fire ash fall. The ground was literally solid white with ash and chunks. But this winter my plants didn’t do nearly as well. Hmm… Granted, the ash is not biochar, but it’s a relative – it came from the high heat of a forest fire.

Right now, planet wide, by many, Biochar is considered crucial to our planet’s sustainability. Using it is a regenerative practice that will help our plants not only weather extreme conditions, but thrive!  

BIOCHAR RESEARCH

There are technical discussions, both pro and con, in a language all their own, to simple explanations for the home gardener. The main research is in consideration of farmers with vast tracts of land that could have significant impact on climate change.

CONSIDERATIONS

Nov 29, 2018 From a field day presentation at California State University-Fresno, here are some points from Suduan Gao, a research soil scientist with the USDA San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier. She talked of the potential of applying a biochar amendment to help in water and nutrient management.

Biochar is charcoal used as a soil amendment. It is made from biomass through thermal decomposition [fire]. Gao said it increases water use efficiency and nitrogen retention, reduces leaching, cuts nitrous oxide emissions and reduces ammonia emissions.

Gao said nitrogen dynamics are influenced by biochar and are highly affected by irrigation levels.

She said ammonia volatilization loss was substantially higher when fertilizer was applied only a few times in a larger amount than when it was applied more frequently in smaller amounts.

“Soil accumulates more nitrogen at lower irrigation levels than at higher irrigation levels,” Gao said. “The accumulated nitrogen, however, can be all leached during the rain system.” [Fertilizing after rains is more better!]

She said there were no significant biochar effects on ammonia, nitrous oxide and soil nitrate concentration, but there was a significant interaction between biochar and irrigation.

PROBLEMS WITH BIOCHAR? Fabulous or Fantasy? Is it too good to be true? There are extensive rebuttals to its use, even warnings that it’s not all the fans say, can even cause harm!

Nov 18, 2010 DR MAE-WAN HO said ‘Turning bioenergy crops into buried charcoal to sequester carbon does not work, and could plunge the earth into an oxygen crisis towards mass extinction.’ She further says: …implementing the biochar initiative could be dangerous, basically because saving the climate turns out to be not just about curbing the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere that can be achieved by burying carbon in the soil, it is also about keeping oxygen (O2) levels up. Keeping O2 levels up is what only green plants on land and phytoplankton at sea can do, by splitting water to regenerate O2 while fixing CO2 to feed the rest of the biosphere.’

  1. She cites: A ten-year trial in Swedish forests showed that buried charcoal appear to promote the breakdown of humus, the decomposing plant matter on the forest floor, thus completely offsetting the carbon sequestered in the charcoal.
  2. She discusses examples of the stability of biochar stating that it isn’t always stable. [In a 2012 Mother Earth News post, Editor Dr. Kehres (Journal “Humus and Agriculture“) summed up a symposium: “Biochar appears over-rated — the biochar claim to 1,000 year stability is revised downwards to 10 to 100 years, roughly the same as compost.”]
  3. She warns that things that happen so fast now that we have the internet and huge commercial organizations, a lot goes on without public awareness or understanding and no testing. Since this one expressly claimed climate change remediation, it was touted to be necessary immediately. Some fads are found to be faulty later.
  4. She gets into comparisons of interest to gardeners, stating that Biochar effects on soil fertility are not always positive. Field trials were conducted on cleared secondary forest with 15 different amendment combinations of chicken manure (CM), compost (CO), forest litter, chemical fertilizer (F), and charcoal (CC) applied once on rice and sorghum, and followed over four cropping cycles. Chicken manure gave by far the highest yield over the four cycles (12.4 tonne/ha). Compost application came second at about half the yield, but was still four times higher than chemical fertilizer. The control, leaf litter (burnt and fresh), and charcoal treatments gave no grain yields after the second season, and were discontinued. Further, in combination with compost, charcoal amendment decreased yield by about 40 percent compared to compost alone, and only improved yield in combination with chemical fertilizer.

Read the comments on this page for rebuttals and further information. It is suggested Biochar is not THE answer, but part of a complex mix of possibilities.

This 2013 Mother Earth News post Biochar: Not All It’s Ground Up to Be? states the appropriate use of Biochar depends first on soil type. Some soils retain nutrients very well without any amendments like biochar. Tim Crews says: ‘If you’re cropping on soil types other than Ultisols or Oxisols and you manage your organic matter (residues, manure, compost, etc.) well, you don’t need biochar. It won’t do anything for your fertility.’

Second, a ‘situation in which biochar could provide benefits is on very sandy soils in arid climates, because of its ability to improve such soils’ water-holding capacity, reducing drought stress on plants. But making biochar requires large quantities of bulk plant material, and the biochar factory needs to be close to the source of that material; therefore, the product would have to be manufactured in or around highly productive lands or on vast areas of unproductive lands, and then be hauled long distances to the arid environments where it’s to be applied.’ Not only is the available quantity of crop residue per acre too small, but to haul residues off of cropland to a biochar plant would be to further rob the soil of organic matter, while paying a price in energy and other resources as well. After all that, some ‘studies that found yield increases with such heavy application found that after a few years, soil carbon was no higher in biochar-treated plots than in control plots.’

Biochar has been under discussion for years! When you are doing your own questing about it online, look for current posts and research. Note whether the post is on a commercial site, a university, posted by a farmer, if the poster is knowledgeable, what their credentials are or aren’t, if they have experience. Remember that universities make money from research grants on popular topics and sometimes the donation is made by a company. Go to permaculture sites for a look at possible long term possibilities, concerns. Look for pros and cons.

In 2018, the agriculture application segment accounted for 71.1% of the total biochar demand. That makes sense because they have the biggest land holdings. [But it also means 28.9% is used by others, including home gardeners! That’s a big % considering the sizes of their small gardens!] Quoted from a Biochar fan, he says ‘However, a large number of farmers still lack in knowledge about the product and its benefits.’ My question back to him was ‘Do you know what % of farmers use biochar?’

Amendment BioChar and Compost + Manure Yields Great Results!

Some say Biochar alone added to poor soil has little benefit to plants, but when used in combination with compost and organic fertilizers, it can dramatically improve plant growth while helping retain nutrients in the soil.

When would you, a home veggie gardener, use biochar?

First, are wood ash and biochar the same thing? Yes and no. Biochar is made at 450 °C/842 degrees F with low oxygen and wood ash is made at 870 °C from the same mixed hardwood. What about BBQ charcoal? Not the same thing as wood ash or biochar! Not recommended for garden use.

How do you even know if you need Biochar? Was there a forest fire ever there and you already have it? They say biochar comes from such fires and lasts 100 to 1000 years, or 10 to 100 depending on where you read… That translates to the question whether Biochar is considered to be stable or not and under what circumstances.

Have you been applying wood ash from your fireplace regularly? Some gardeners say Yes, used it for years, readily absorbed, amazing crops! Great substitute for lime to raise pH. Others say it’s grey death. It has a high pH that throws off the balance of your compost/soil, can kill off the microbes that are producing your compost. Poster Mr Bill says: ‘Charcoal chemically functions like a sponge, absorbing many organic compounds. When placed in nutrient rich soil, it absorbs the excess nutrients and traps them in the soil. As the carbon in the charcoal is annexed by fungal colonies, those nutrients are released over time. By tying these nutrients up in the soil with charcoal, they resist erosion and release at regular intervals, rather than the feast or famine spikes in levels that occur with manual fertilization by humans.

However, ‘…added to poor soil, or soil deficient in even one nutrient (which may not be obvious), the charcoal’s sponge-like absorption can compete with the roots of plants for the nutrients, leading to increased disease susceptibility or irregular growth hazardous to the plant.’ So it’s good with good soil, bad with deficient soil.

Lord knows even a 10X20′ community garden plot has varying soil content within the plot for many reasons. In my case, I trench in kitchen waste given to me by neighbors. One eats lots of bananas, hence peels. One is a super juicer, greens, carrots, etc. + lettuce and avocado. Another is a senior tea drinker, so little bags along with old snacking grapes, a few eggshells, a bit of coffee and citrus peels, etc. I get them when they have enough. They put them in a bucket outside my door. I take them to the garden and trench them in where compost is needed most. Sometimes a certain kind of plant never thrives in one area no matter what I do. It would take a lot of soil testing to sort out these small areas. I do my own remediation by adding store bought fluffy compost, and chicken manure in general. Most of the time it works fine.

FYI! If you are using or opt to use wood ash as an amendment, DO NOT mix the wood ash with nitrogen fertilizer; a reaction can occur releasing ammonia gas.

Be careful with your choice to use biochar. Is your garden flourishing because it is high on temporary soil amendments that will be spent this season? Is one area doing great, another adjacent area not doing so well; great for one plant but not another? Does your summer or winter garden do well and the other season doesn’t? Plus, all Biochar is not created equal. Its pH and ash content vary depending on the temp it was created at and the feedstock (what was burned) used, whether that was contaminated or not. In general Biochar raises soil pH. You need to use the right amounts. In a community garden 10X20′ plot, where the soil pH varies within the plot, you don’t have room to test/experiment. The increase in soil pH with alkaline biochar will be higher in acid soils than in originally alkaline soils. However! If a biochar has less ash content it will decrease soil pH because of the organic matter content.

Clearly, fireplace ash that is added every season or spring, doesn’t function the same as biochar that lasts 100 to 1000 years. It is either used up or leached away by watering, otherwise, your garden would have the highest pH in history! If biochar can’t be removed from your soil, and lasts for 100 to 1000 years, and your soil is unfavorably balanced, you may need to adjust your soil for a long time. Ironically, it works best where you already have a super flourishing garden!

Note, the type of fire makes another difference. There is increased growth after a forest fire, but slash and burn techniques have a long term bad effect in just a few years. Definitely not sustainable. Wildfires get much hotter, average over 1600°F, than farmer-made controlled burn fires kept under 1000°F to clear a field. Wood burns differently at different temps; the coals have a different structure. Forest fires burn hot at the center with low oxygen and you get Biochar. Big difference. All fires are not equal.

Mr Bill made a convenient list for us home gardeners!

• Use on rich soil with no deficiencies
• Use to correct acidic soils, or amend the pH of the char before application
• Never use on acid loving plants like blueberries [strawberries, celery, beans]
• Add to compost after composting has finished, not during composting. The recommendation for application is about ½ cup per cubic foot of finished compost. [That’s not a lot!]
• Use in moderation
• Never use char from pressure-treated or painted wood.
• Don’t use petroleum based fire starters or fluids if you intend to use the ash.
• Fires started with alcohol or non-paraffin wax are acceptable for garden use.
• Be mindful of your nutrient levels and pH when using char, test regularly for best results.
• Not all char is equal, refuse from wood gasifiers or efficient wood stoves is preferable to that from your campfire, fireplace or grill, but all are acceptable for use given the correct use of your discretion.

Making Your Own Biochar Amendment in Place!

HOW to MAKE OUR OWN BIOCHAR?! 

Though it’s been many years since the Biochar cure has been offered and raved about, using biochar on a mass basis has not been implemented to an extent that is making a planet wide difference. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use it individually. The simplest way to do it is right where you will use it, just like the Amazon Indians did 2000 years ago.

First check your legal situation before you go for it! Per the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District where I live: A burn permit is required for all outdoor burning activity except recreational (campfires) and cooking (BBQ). This includes: Agricultural Burning (see definition) … Residential backyard burning (permitted only in the unincorporated areas of the Santa Ynez Valley)

Highly flammable gases are released during pyrolysis, so make it outside, well away from buildings, animals and people!

Barbara Pleasant, famed author of 5 garden books, throws in her two cents! ‘Last year, I committed one of the great sins of gardening: I let weeds go to seed. Cleaning up in fall, I faced down a ton of seed-bearing foxtail, burdock and crabgrass. Sure, I could compost it hot to steam the weed seeds to death, but instead I decided to try something different. I dug a ditch, added the weeds and lots of woody prunings, and burned it, thus making biochar. It was my new way to improve soil—except the technique is at least 3,000 years old.’

Barbara words the process more simply… What’s biochar? Basically, it’s organic matter that is burned slowly, with a restricted flow of oxygen, and then the fire is stopped when the material reaches the charcoal stage. Unlike tiny tidbits of ash, coarse lumps of charcoal are full of crevices and holes, which help them serve as life rafts to soil microorganisms. The carbon compounds in charcoal form loose chemical bonds with soluble plant nutrients so they are not as readily washed away by rain and irrigation. Biochar alone added to poor soil has little benefit to plants, but when used in combination with compost and organic fertilizers, it can dramatically improve plant growth while helping retain nutrients in the soil.

She speaks of the Amazonian ‘dark earths,’ terra preta, that ‘hold plant nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium, much more efficiently than unimproved soil. Even after 500 years of tropical temperatures and rainfall that averages 80 inches a year, the dark earths remain remarkably fertile…’ They were produced this very way, burning. …composts and other soil-enriching forms of organic matter last longer. …increased productivity by making nutrients already present in the soil better available to plants. …organically enriched soil retains nutrients for decades rather than for a couple of seasons. This charcoal releases its carbon 10 to 100 times slower than rotting organic matter. See the details  See Twin Oaks Forge for making charcoal in a barrel!

Why buy commercial Biochar? 

Jeremy Menefee says, first, because they use more advanced tools and techniques than the home producer can easily acquire, commercially-produced biochar is usually more consistent in composition and charred under ideal temperatures.

Second, they are able to produce inoculant tailored to specific uses. Vermont Biochar, for example, produces (by hand) several versions ideally suited for either leafy annuals, root crops, or shrub or woody perennials. Each uses a different composition of inoculant to tailor it for the specific application.

Experienced permaculturist Jeremy also says to Biocharge your Biochar! Even commercial biochar producers say their products benefit from being biocharged again once it’s on your property, to tailor it to your site conditions. Here are two easy methods he recommends.

1) Compost charging Even if you buy inoculated biochar, rather than producing it on-site, it will be improved by maturing in your compost. You can use as much biochar as you want, up to about an even 1:1 ratio with the compost, so don’t worry too much about overdoing it. The Biochar doesn’t break down in the process. You may have shorter compost times! Some experts recommend adding both manure and bones.

Quick tip: If you have time, a great way to get the most out of your biochar is to spread it an inch thick or less into your farm animal bedding. Then, when the bedding is spent, add it to the compost pile. [LOL Black Sheep?!] The biochar is essentially ‘double-charged’ in this way. Also, in addition to stacking functions of your animal bedding, this can help reduce odors. Anecdotal evidence suggests it can also reduce illness among your animals!

2) Rapid Charging! The other way to inoculate your biochar is a bit more labor-intensive, but you can complete the process in hours or days, not months. First, fill a 55 gallon (210 litre) drum with fresh water and biochar. If you are using municipal treated water, let it sit for a couple days to remove any chlorine. Then add compost tea or worm castings and leachate to the barrel with some soil from the area where you will use the finished biochar. For example, if you are going to apply the biochar to your fruit orchard, add some soil from around a robust and healthy tree in that orchard. This will help charge the biochar with the ideal microbiology for your specific orchard.

Once everything is well mixed, insert a long tube such as a length of PVC pipe into the barrel and direct air from a blower into the tube, or use a pond aerator and air stones. Aeration supercharges the inoculant and gives the beneficial microbes a massive head start, and helps them adhere to the biochar. Continue this for 12-24 hours.

Safety when applying Biochar amendmentBe careful when applying dry Biochar!

Wear a dust mask such as the 3M™ 8511 Particulate Respirator – N95 to protect your lungs. Moistening biochar can help a lot with dust control. Some Biochar is shipped with about 30% moisture content to help with dust control. Protective eyewear will reduce the chance of getting dust in your eyes. Wear gloves! Wear rubber boots that can be cleaned easily! Apply evenly on a dry, windless day. Mix thoroughly into the soil before planting.

How much do you apply? Doing it right depends on what kind of soil you have and it’s tested content, its pH, how much you want to raise the pH if at all. And, of course, none, if you don’t need it or your situation isn’t right for it!

There are different answers!

  • A company says: From everything we have seen in our own use and through the research of others a good “rule of thumb” is 10% of the planting area should be biochar. If your soil is absolutely horrible you should probably start with a 50/50 mix of biochar and compost and apply about 1/4 lb per square foot.
  • Typically home gardeners use 5-10% biochar in the top 6 inches of their soil.
  • A gardener says: If bought, follow the instructions on the bags, but I would suggest 50/50 with soil and the same for containers, and see your results the first season before you adjust quantities.
  • Farmer Jeremy Menefee says: It takes about 10 pounds of biochar to properly cover 100 square feet. For potted plants, use pure biochar at a ratio of about 1:16 with your potting soil – about ½ cup per gallon of soil. This ratio is good for raised beds as well, one gallon of biochar per 16 gallons of soil. If you inoculated your biochar in compost (at ratios up to 1:1), just apply compost as normal – the presence of biochar doesn’t change the amount of compost used.

How to apply? Simple!

  1. Made your own in place? Just add amendments of your choice, especially compost, and till it in.
  2. Purchased, preferably inoculated? Lay on about 1/4″, amendments and till it in. If you don’t have much, spread it out and add more each time you amend.
  3. If you’re not able to till, spread out your inoculated Biochar, cover with mulch to hold it in place, let Nature do the work for you.

Coast of Maine Biochar Amendment raised bed mix

Biochar IS big business. There is university research devoted to it for sustainable reasons. They make huge grant monies from it. Yale and Cornell, Ames Iowa, Delaware, Missouri, North Dakota, Rice U in Houston Tx to name just a few schools. Government is in on it too, for example the USDA’s Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans. There are subsequent conferences, magazines, books, products at your nursery.

USBI Biochar 2019 – is the largest event in North America dedicated to advancing the sustainable production and use of biochar through scientific and engineering research, policy development, field practice, and technology transfer. It will focus on bridging scientific, industrial, practitioner, and policy gaps in biomass utilization for biochar and bioenergy production. June 30 – July 3 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins Colorado.

BIOMASS Magazine – Beyond the Hype

Check out the BioChar Journal …we want our readers to be confident that what is written in the Biochar Journal is based on sound science and practicality.

Local gardeners might see various products at their nursery. A blend in snowy Maine might be quite different than in SW SoCal droughty areas. Before you order up online, take this into consideration. When buying locally, look on the package to see where it was made, then check out those ingredients. The bag shown here is definitely intended as a pH raiser; it has biochar and lime!

For those of us gardening at community gardens, we need to think of what the next gardener’s soil needs might be after you leave. What if they primarily want to plant acid loving plants, those blueberries, strawberries, celery or beans? In keeping with rotating crops, planting in a different place each year, to avoid soil diseases various plants are susceptible to, we may need to stay flexible – amend each season or year with regular or acidic compost per patch as we go.

If you have a good size parcel of land for veg gardening, that you plan to keep for many years, soil test different areas. You might coordinate your Biochar choices with the land’s own natural flow, plant accordingly. Some sites say it takes about a year for the Biochar/soil relationship to be fully established. If you are planting in raised beds/containers, where soil is leached of nutrients due to higher soil temps, drying, in those structures and frequent watering to compensate, replacing spent soil/compost each year, Biochar isn’t going to work for you.

Making your own Biochar is cheap, but a lengthy process you hope you do right. Probably wise to have someone experienced with you when you do your first processes. First there is gathering the right materials, selecting the right place and technique for the kind of results you want, doing the burning. Then there is the biocharging process for it to do its best work. Buying Biochar can be pricey if you get the best, inoculated. If you put it where it can be used to best advantage, that is worth the one-time expense.

Your final decision to use or not use Biochar may be based on your instinct. You may decide not to use it at your current location or in a specific area of your garden. You might move, or be visiting in another gardener’s location and feel it is the right choice for that place. Maybe you will decide to wait and see. Honor your feelings. You might not save the planet today, or maybe you will by using succinct educated choices.

Bless you for being a garden guardian, a caring Earth Steward.

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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

Read Full Post »

February 2019! Winter Harvests, Soil Preps, First Spring Plantings!

Cold Tolerant Tomatoes, Early Heirlooms!

The beauty of planting from seeds is you can get perfect varieties, the rare and unusual! Thanks to TomatoFest for this Cool image!

You went to the Seed Swap, have gotten your seeds from the catalog or nursery, and are itching for the right temps to plant!

Planning now is important because not all spring/summer plants are installed at the same timePlanting in the right places now makes a difference. Bold Souls will be planting Zucchini, cool tolerant tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and corn! They can be started now from seed, in the ground. March is a little warmer and early variety plants get a better start. April is most everything – cucumber, pepper, squash, beans, more tomatoes, watermelon. May is the true heat lovers, cantaloupe, okra (June may be better yet), eggplant. Some gardeners wait to plant tomatoes until May and June to avoid the more moist soil fungi of earlier months. I hold that space by planting something temporary there in March. In long summer areas June is especially good for okra, eggplant and long beans!

Summer garden planning tips emphasizing needing less water! Companions!

PLANT PLANTS THAT REPEL PESTS IN ADVANCE SO THEY WILL BE UP AND WORKING WHEN YOUR SEEDLINGS COME UP OR YOU INSTALL YOUR TRANSPLANTS!

  • If you are not going to be canning, indeterminate tomatoes are the excellent choice! These are the vining tomatoes that produce all summer! This saves time and water because determinate, bush tomatoes produce quickly, all at once – great for canning, then you have to replant and wait for more production. However, determinate toms do produce sooner, so for earlier table production, plant them to hold you until your indeterminates are producing. For earliest production, plant cherry tomatoes! Yum! Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of dandelions! The beautiful herb Borage repels Tomato Hornworms!
  • Choose more prolific plants and varieties of them so you get more production for less water.
  • Plant tall plants to the North unless you anticipate a scorching summer. If you think it will be HOT, plant tall to the west to shade shorter plants, keep your soil cooler, use less water.
  • Cukes & Beans! Plan to put cucumbers up on trellises to keep them disease and pest free, are clean, and so they ripen evenly all the way around. Co-plant with beans! Beans above, cukes below. If you will be wanting a lot of each, plant them on separate trellises! Japanese Long cukes give a generous supply per water used! Suyos are a great choice – give them plenty of room.
  • Next, intermingle mid height plants, bush beans, determinate tomatoes, tall peppers like Big Jim Anaheim or Poblanos, Zucchini! Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs. Plant Radish ahead of cukes & zukes to repel cucumber beetles. Eat a few radishes, but let several grow up by and through the plants you are protecting. Let them bloom for pollinators and produce seed pods for your next crops.
  • Leave a winter broccoli or two for salad side shoots. Mulch deeply under your brocs right now! We want to keep these cool loving plants cool. If you don’t have enough trellis space, plant cukes under your brocs! Broccoli helps repel cucumber beetles, so push the mulch back on the sunny side, make your special cucumber planting mound/basin and plant cucumbers underneath those brocs! Besides keeping the soil cool, the mulch keeps the cukes off the soil, clean and insect free above the bug zone!
  • Leave a couple of winter kale to provide over summer greens. Heat tolerant 1000 Headed Kale is a prolific choice that harbors less aphids on its FLAT leaves. Plant lettuces on the sunny side under your brocs and kale.
  • Eggplant likes it hot! Plant them where they will be sheltered from prevailing winds. Radishes with eggplants and cucumbers. Radishes are a trap plant for flea beetles. If your area is a little cool, plant the long skinny Ichiban Japanese eggies rather than the bulbous Black Beauties. Ichiban’s are prolific and quite tasty.
  • Lowest are the ‘littles’ or fillers! Being mindful of companions, scatter beets and carrots, lettuce, radish, here and there among, alongside, under larger plants on their sunny sides. Bunch onions away from beans. Some littles will be done before the bigger plants leaf out. For those still growing, remove or harvest lower leaves of the big plant when they start shading the littles. There isn’t really a need to allot separate space for littles except strawberries! They need a separate patch with more acidic soil to keep them healthy and be prolific producers!
  • If you love cabbages, plant a few more, but they take up a fair footprint for what they produce and they take quite a while to do it. In spring and summer choose quick maturing mini varieties.
  • SEED SAVING SPACE! Leave room for some arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery to go to flower to bring bees and beneficial insects! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next plantings. Carrots love being with cilantro, marigold and chamomileand chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb! Chamomile flowers make a lovely scent and the tea is sweet.
  • Pumpkin, melon, winter squash vines require some thoughtfulness. Pumpkin and winter squash vine leaves get as huge as healthy zucchini leaves, easily a foot wide! Mini melons have dainty 2″ wide little leaves, can be trellised, but they may do better on bare hot ground. Comparatively, it’s cool up on those trellises. A healthy winter squash vine can easily be 3′ to 4′ wide, 30′ long plus side vines, and produce a major supply of squash! You can use them as a border, as a backdrop along a fence line. In SoCal, unless you are a squash lover, or won’t be gardening in winter, there is question as to why you would grow winter squash at all. Greens of all kinds grow prolifically here all winter long, giving a fresh and beautiful supply of Vitamin A for less calories and no storage space!

Super use of your space! As winter plants finish, that space might be planted right away. Other space may need to be held for later. For example if you plan to plant okra in June, grow quick prolific producers there until it’s the right time to plant those heat lovers! Leafy plants produce continuously, and can be harvested whole body when you want the space. You will have lush harvests while you are waiting. Think of kales, chard, lettuce, beets, even mini dwarf cabbages. Perhaps you will leave some of them as understory plants and plant taller peppers like Poblanos or Big Jim Anaheims, and tomatoes among them. When the larger plants overtake the understory, either harvest the smaller plants, or remove or harvest lower leaves of larger plants to let the smaller ones get enough sun to keep producing abundantly. And you can always plant a quick growing legume, green manure cover crop, aka living mulch, to feed your soil! In early spring and late summer you can plant White Clover.

Hardly anyone can resist planting early tomatoes! In this early cooler time, plant your lettuce leafies to the sunny side of where the toms will be planted. Pop your tomato seeds in when soil temps are good, or put your transplants in as you get them. That way you have table food soonest and your heart is happy too! Here are a couple tips from James M Stephens at Florida University Extension: Tomato plants 4–5 weeks old grow and yield better than older transplants. 

He also says when setting your transplant into the soil, do not compress the soil around the roots. √ Gently pour water into the hole to settle the soil around the roots. After the transplanting water has dried a bit, cover the wet spot with dry soil to reduce evaporation. 

See Tomatoes at Cornell! Here are special instructions for planting and tending tomatoes and cucumbers where the soil is known to have verticillium or fusarium wilts fungi. All our Santa Barbara City community gardens have them. Some gardeners plant toms in May to avoid moist soils.

Choose early cold tolerant varieties. Ones with northern names, in SoCal that could be Oregon Spring, or Siberian. Stupice from Czechoslovakia is very early! Bellstar, from Ontario Canada, is larger and earlier than other plum tomatoes. Early Girl is a favorite! And SunGold cherry tomatoes are almost always a winner! Cherry toms are small and will ripen when larger tomatoes just stay green until the 4th of July! See more!

Soil Temperature ThermometerSoil temp matters. Though the soil may become fairly warm quickly in days to come, day length is still important. No matter how early you plant some plants, they still won’t produce fruit until they have enough hours of sun, and for some, warmth including day and/or night and/or ground temps. If they miss their window, they may never produce at all…better to pull and replant. Keep growing those leafy producers – lettuce, chard, kale – in that space and plant the right plants at the right good time! See Best Soil Temps

Start seedlings indoors now for March/April plantings. A 2005 North Carolina State University damping-off study found it’s not the mixture but what’s on top of the soil that counts most. Damping-off differences almost disappeared between commercial organic seed-starting mixtures and various homemade mixtures after all of the seeds were covered with vermiculite instead of a planting medium. No brewing, spraying or sprinkling. Simple fix!

If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, just wait, get transplants and pop them right in the ground per their right times!

Right now, from seed in the ground, sow beets, caraway, celery, carrots, chard, chervil, chives, collards, cilantro (coriander), dill, endive, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces, mustards, green onions, bulb onion sets, flat-leafed parsley, peas – mildew resistant varieties, white potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, and turnips. Get bolt resistant/slow bolt varieties, and especially heat and drought tolerant varieties.

Along with deciding plant locations, get ready for Summer Gardening!

  • Install gopher barriers.
  • Get netting or bendable wire like aviary for bird protection.
  • Install or repair pathways, berms. Lay in straw, boards, pallets, stepping stones.
  • Waffle Garden, basins & windbreaks, Water Garden. Excellent drought choices.
  • Gather cages for toms, peppers, eggplant & trellises for beans and cukes
  • Terrace slopes to prevent water runoff and topsoil loss. Mulch, secure the mulch. Plant with living mulch.
  • Build raised beds, Hugelkultur (see lower part of page)
  • Get new containers, replace tired soil
  • Setup Compost areas – enclosures, area to compost in place. Worm box.
  • Organize where you will keep straw bales for summer mulch, compost layers

Spring planting soil prep! Save time by adding all your amendments at the same time! See more

  • Compost! The amount of compost to use varies, depending on your soil’s condition, plant selection, compost quality, and availability. A guideline offered by Cornell University (veggies – bottom of Pg 4) says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil!
  • Add well aged manure as appropriate. Less in spring because you want fruit production, not leaf, unless it is a plant grown for its leaves, like lettuce, kale or cabbage! None for carrots, peas or beans.
  • Add 25% worm castings. As little as 10% works. They are potent – increase germination, faster seedling growth, help with plant immunities to disease, increase water holding capacity.
  • Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Jamaican bat is high P phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2.
  • Sprinkle with a tad of coffee grounds to reduce fungal rots and wilts!! Grounds are more potent than they have a right to be! 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less is all that is needed or wanted!
  • Don’t cover with mulch unless you need it for erosion control. Covered soil is cooler. Let your winter cool soil warm up. Do mulch under broccoli and kale you will be keeping over summer. They do best with cool conditions.
  • Water your prepped areas when you water your other veggies. Moist, not flooded, soil is rampant with soil organisms enriching your soil for free!

Keep COMPOSTING! You are going to need it for summer plants! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, soil organisms flourish, it’s nutrients are released in perfect natural timing! And if you made it, you know what’s in it! Make it HOT, Cold, or In Place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist. See more

One more round of green manure is doable where you will plant late April, May, June. Grow it where you will grow heavy summer feeders like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, okra, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard. Green manure can be beautiful favas, bell beans, and/or a legume mix to boost soil Nitrogen, plus oats to aerate your soil and bring nutrients up. Favas are big and you get a lot of green manure per square foot. With our warming weather, longer days, your green manure will grow quickly! As soon as the bell beans begin to flower, whack them down, chop into small bits. It’s more tender to chop while it’s smaller. Taller is not better. Let it lay on the soil 2 weeks, add any other amendments you want, then turn it all under at once. Wait two to four weeks then plant, plant, plant! Depending on which plants you choose, the process takes about 3 1/2 months.

Sidedressing! Hard working plants need fuel and water. As broccoli starts to head, give it a fish/kelp tonic or compost/casting/manure tea! After the main head is cut, your side shoots will flourish!

PESTS!

BEFORE you put in seeds, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around a couple of times, to kill the generations, to keep snails and slugs from vanishing upcoming seedlings overnight, making you think they never came up! No, they didn’t let you down. Killing off the creatures ahead of time saves the babies. It stops new transplants from being seriously damaged or entirely mowed while they are small. When, if, later you see more slimy predators, sprinkle that stuff a couple times again.

Pull away those blotchy sections the leafminers make on chard and beet leaves. Remove whole leaves that are too funky for rescue. Harvest the bigger outer lower leaves more often to stay ahead of the miners. I believe sometimes the leafminers come when the leaves have reached peak and need to be harvested, when the foliage is just past prime and softening. Rather than row planting, letting the leafminers go from plant to plant, interplant, a few here, a few there. Water a tad less so leaves are less soft and inviting.

Aphids Watch for leaves unnaturally curled along the length of the leaf, particularly broccolis, cauliflowers, kale, cabbages. Check at the center where the tiny new leaves are beginning. Hose aphids off chard, kale and brocs. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed. After that, water and feed them a little less.

  • For hard to get at places, down the centers of chard, crinkly kale leaves, get out that spray bottle! Treat once, wait a couple days, treat again for the ones that got away and newborns.
  • I tried it, it WORKS! The simplest is to spray with 2 Parts alcohol, 2 parts water, 1 part soap. DO NOT use on seedlings, it will kill some of them. Spritz lightly rather than drenching or you may kill your bigger plant too!
  • Ants nest near water and don’t like cinnamon. Sprinkle cinnamon around the base of your plant but not on the stem. Repeat if necessary after watering.

Whiteflies Flush away, especially under leaves. Remove any yellowing leaves, especially on your Brassicas, that attract whiteflies. Again, a little less water.

DISEASES

Prevention  A frustrating typical disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on Curly Leaf kales, peas. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day of transplanting. A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin crushed and dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! See Aspirin Solution.

Cercospora Leaf Spot on Chard. This fungi also infects Spinach and Beets.Beets, Chard and Spinach get Cercospora leaf spot – like the Chard at left. Sadly, no resistant cultivars of table beet are known. Late fall or early spring plantings are most likely to be affected. Late summer when conditions are favorable (high temperatures 75-85˚F, high humidity, long leaf wetness periods at night) is the worst. Beet roots fail to grow to full size when disease is severe. Successive plantings made close together can allow disease to move from one planting into the next. It grows on infected crop residues, so immediately remove leaves that collapse on the ground. It is spread by rain splash, wind, irrigation water, insects, gardeners, and equipment. This is one case where AM watering really makes sense to reduce humidity. UMASS Amherst recommends to ‘Avoid overhead irrigation if it will result in prolonged leaf wetness periods (e.g., through the night); irrigate mid-day when leaves will dry fully or use drip irrigation.’ If all that fails, use foliar fungicides. Plant less densely for more airflow, thinnings are tasty! In general, harvest more frequently so leaves don’t surpass their prime health. Planting only every 3 years in the same spot isn’t possible if there is too little garden space, so cultivating, turning and drying the soil between plantings is good. See more

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants. Bag them and put them in the trash, not green waste.

Soil Checks! Especially after recent rains, check your root crops – beets, carrots, radish, potatoes, turnips, in general, for low soil. Soil naturally compacts with watering. Some of these veggies naturally push right up above ground as they grow. Planting their seeds deeper doesn’t compensate. It’s the nature of the veggie! Never hurts to put a handy little pile of extra soil near where you plant them. Cover their exposed shoulders to keep them from drying, getting tough, sometimes bitter, needing peeling, losing the nutrients in their skins. Uncovered carrot shoulders don’t ripen but stay green. Same with potatoes.

Watering & Weeding 

Watering can be important after rains. Winds dry soil quickly and roots of short rooted plants like peas, or seedlings need to be kept moist. Some rains wet only 1/4″ deep or less. Poke your finger into the soil and see if it is moist enough where the roots of your plants are.

Dust Mulching, cultivation, breaks up the soil surface, keeps water from wicking to the surface and evaporating. If you use a hula hoe you do two things at once! Just a half to one inch depth cuts off weed sprouts. Indeed, it turns the soil a tad, all that’s needed. More weeds will follow, but it’s quick and easy to repeat the process. Two, three times, a few days apart, and there will be few weeds after that for a while. Get ’em while they are small and easy to do. Smart gardening.

Grass in Flower, soon to Seed

When you are weeding, remove blooming or seeding plants first!!! When grass has those pretty frilly little green tops, it is blooming and seeding! Remove it ASAP. Better yet is to remove weeds before they seed! If at the seeding stage, gently pull, don’t shake the soil loose from the roots spreading seeds all over, and don’t put them in your compost! Bag and trash.

Thinning is a form of weeding! Thin plants that need it, like beets whose seeds start in foursomes! Thin plants you intentionally over planted – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, radish, mustard! If you planted too close together, take out shorter, smaller weaker plants. They are all great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves. If you don’t thin, plants grown for their roots don’t have room or nutrition to grow that root. They are literally rootbound and starve each other out, stunted. So thin sooner than later. If you miss the window, thin or not, you won’t get your root – beet, carrot, radish, etc. Keep thinning as they get older. At mature size their leaves shouldn’t touch each other. That helps keep pests and disease from spreading from one to the next.

Happy Imbolc (Gaelic beginning of Spring) Feb 1 & GroundHog Day Feb 2! Happy February Gardening and the very beginning of spring planting!

Updated 1.24.19


See the entire February Newsletter:

FEBRUARY 2019! Winter Harvests, Soil Preps, First Spring Plantings!

Tomato Varieties! Humble to Humongous & More!
Wilts & Cucumber Beetles, Tomatoes & Cukes!
Squashes! Prolific and Indomitable!
Other Community Gardens – Kale not Jail! 

Upcoming Gardener Events! Mesa Harmony Garden Plant Sale!, Earth Day, the International Permaculture Conference, IPC 2020 Argentina!

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Subscribe to the Green Bean Connection Monthly Newsletter!
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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!

Read Full Post »

Senior woman harvesting tomatoes in her garden

Why quit now?! Have a feisty life! Here are some tips that may renew or ignite your passion! If you have a senior in your life and think gardening might be a good part of their lives, read on for some ideas!

Or maybe you have never gardened before! I didn’t start veggie gardening until I was 57! I knew nothing. Never had houseplants…they died if I tried. But it became my time! I learned fast listening to community garden seniors who had gardened all their lives, and seeing 30+ other community gardener’s successes and failures opened my eyes! I intensely scoured the Internet and I asked questions at my local nurseries and every once in awhile at our Cooperative Extension office!

Gardening is one of the most healthy things you can do for yourself! Having gardened in a community garden that is next to a senior community, and becoming a wee bit older myself, I have seen the advantages to senior gardeners first hand!

Get outdoors and get that Vitamin Sunshine! You can eat 100% organic fresh vegetables and fruits! You get excited by a seedling bursting to life, and that seedling’s growth every day. You get invested in its wellbeing. And it’s fun! You learn more things and your mind stays sharp!

Friends! One way or another you get talking with others, making new friends and improving your outlook on life! If you garden with others, there is delightful camaraderie and a wealth of sharing! See if your area has any gardening clubs. If not, start one yourself!

May I introduce the Four Counties Gardening Club of Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware Counties of the state of Pennsylvania celebrating their 95th anniversary in 2017! Imagine the years of enjoyment that have been shared!

Garden Club Four Counties Pennsylvania 95 Yrs 2017

Right now, this spring, get out and start your garden! If you have never done before, you are in for a treat. Your plants don’t care how old you are, they just want some TLC! You will learn as they grow.

Be comfortable!

Choose some great garden shoes or mud boots.

Maybe you haven’t been getting out because you chill down easily. Check out the thrift shop or discount store for a snuggly work shirt, sweater or jacket. Wear layers. Take a thermos of a hot drink you like.

Too hot? Go a little earlier if possible. Take a cool drink with you and stay hydrated. Get a pretty sun hat and cool shades and you be stylin’!

Work easy! Lightweight wheelbarrows, tools and smaller watering cans can help a lot. Rather than working until you can’t, do a bit each day. Select a smaller patch to work. Go for quality.

Be happy! Have a smaller garden space that doesn’t overwork you, you leave feeling great! A lot can happen in a small space. Even a small space can do wonders! Get your plants up in cages and on trellises! Plant small plants, littles, on the sunny side below larger plants. Remove the larger plant’s lower leaves if they shade out the littles. No need for rows. Plant around, among or along the larger plants!

Nor do you need to garden all year. Some gardeners prefer cooler weather, so refreshing it perks you right up! Others love the hot sun, no heavy clothing, so relaxing. If you are in a northern single season area, you garden with vigor, then rest over winter. Same for hot desert areas only in reverse! Coastal, especially SoCal, all year may be quite enjoyable. Do please yourself.

Easy access! If you can’t get down, or back up, then don’t! Have beds on legs or that you can stand or sit at. Containers up on strong secure waterproof bases work well. Either way, no gophers!

You could invest in a self-watering VegePod Garden! It is a fancy container type gismo up on legs with a protective hood that keeps bad insects and animals out and gives shade. You do need to open it when your plants need pollinating and to get more sun when the temps are right. You can order the stands with wheels so you can move them around with the sun! The largest one is 3’X6′. See more details at Fertile Fields! See if any of your local nurseries carry them and support your local nursery. In Santa Barbara area La Sumida carries them! I’ve seen a closely planted super successful one in action! It might take three years to break even with organic veggies, but there is no price for the joy of the gardening and superb health of being outdoors!

Raised Bed VegePod!

Smart choices

You don’t have to plant from seed unless you are used to it and like to. Nurseries take a lot of the worry out of life. Most of them have plants that do well locally at the right time of year. Chains and box stores are chancy. Transplants are easiest to do. Start with easy plants to care for. Plant part of the patch; save room for a second round of planting for a steady table supply. Even then, you may choose not to plant the entire area. Plants take tending and need harvesting. Do what works for you. Less may be an excellent choice.

Save time and energy. Choose efficient plants per square feet of production! Leafy chard and kales, and peas are cool weather winners. And you can plant a lot of beets in a small place – eat their greens and beets both! Summer squash, Zucchini grow enough for giveaways that are refused! Everyone else has too many too! Pole Beans keep making beans. Asian Suyo Long cucumbers grow so many so long so fast you can’t believe it! Lettuces are prodigious and Tomatoes light up our eyes! In addition grow one or two of your own super other favorites!

Container gardening is excellent! You can have as few or as many containers as works perfectly for you!

If you are gardening in the ground, do install gopher wire protection from the get go whether that is the bottom of a raised bed or a patch you dig up and install protective wire. If you are container gardening, no problem.

Teach the youngers the wisdom you have learned! It makes a huge difference to gardeners just getting started. It did to me. Years later now, I still remember them with respect and a little awe.

SAFETY ALWAYS

Get help with heavy lifting – bags of amendments.

Get help with any large scale digging that needs doing.

If you have any health jeopardy, share gardening with a friend or your family so you are not alone. Good health to you both, all of you! Gardens are healing places.

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes!

To start your own Veggie Gardening Revolution all it takes is YOU & ONE SEED (or transplant)! May you garden with happy abandon!

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Mother’s Day is May 8, 2018! Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts! Get living gifts started now! Click here

The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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Seed Sprouting! Life!

Photo: USDA Flickr

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

Some seeds need special treatment before planting. Some need hot or cold treatments or both, some need scarification, slight damage to open the seed. Some of this is easy to do, some has to be done very carefully and can be a tedious labor of love! See Cold Stratification

Plant at the right temps! Seeds are soil temp sensitive. That’s how they know when to come up in nature! The winds may howl one day and the sun be hot the next day, but the soil keeps a more even temp. Seeds know what the temp is they want and after a certain number of days at the right temp, they shake their little booty, break dormancy and germinate!

You can help your seeds by pre-soaking them! There are a lot of important pre-soaking techniques to consider. And it varies a lot seed to seed so check it out for the specific seeds you will be planting. Pre Soaking and Sprouting!

The two main ways to work with seeds are to plant indoors or outdoors! One of the main deciding points is how long your growing season is. If you have a short season, little sun, if possible, do those indoor starts because they give you a six weeks head start! Otherwise, it’s early fast maturing varieties for you!

STARTING YOUR SEEDS OUTDOORS IN THE GROUND

Just like in Mother Nature, outdoor starts are blessed with whole nutrition from their very beginning and they don’t need transplanting! It’s called Direct Sowing when gardeners start their seeds in the ground.

Some plants don’t transplant well, direct sowing is best! In general, root crops and tap root veggies don’t transplant well. Some little plants grow amazing tap roots very quickly. If that main root is damaged, it’s all over. Plants with delicate roots can be damaged in the transplant process. Seeds that favor direct sowing are arugula, beans (short roots need continuous connection with their soil), especially beets and carrots because they have tap roots, cilantro (delicate tap root), dill, melons, peas, radish for sure (they grow too fast to be worth it to move them!), spinach, squashes, turnips, zucchini. Seeds that like being started in trays are basil, celery, eggplant, collards, kale, broccoli, kohlrabi, leeks, onion, peppers, scallions, tomato, tomatillo! Now you can bet gardeners disagree on this. I just started some scallions in the ground and they came up quickly and prolifically! But I can sure agree, carrots are better started right where they are going to live! Some plants on the in-the-ground list can be transplanted if transplanted early enough and handled very carefully.

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

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

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

While you are waiting for planting day, make tags. I put four things on my tages. 1) I put the planting date on the tag so I know when the plant started! 2) I put the germination date on the tag so I’ll know by when I should be seeing seedlings. That might look like 14-21 DG – 14-21 days to germinate 3) The name of the plant helps so you will know what they are and not a weed! If you are new to planting seeds, don’t worry, you will learn to recognize the little guys. If in doubt, let them grow a bit before you ‘weed’ them out. Look online for baby pictures! 4) The days to maturity cues me to when I should be expecting fruit and how well my plants did. And that varies per time of year, weather, your soil, how well you cared for them.

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

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

After how far apart should I plant my seeds, probably the most iffy thing about planting seeds is how deep do they need to be planted? General rule is no more than double the width or diameter of the seed, but I can tell you that can vary significantly! Most seed packs have that info on them. Do read it!

Chopsticks can be used in a couple helpful ways.

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

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

Teensy seeds are a challenge in so many ways!

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

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

Since most tiny light seeds aren’t supposed to be buried, in nature they wouldn’t be, simply very lightly hand pat them to the soil or sprinkle the barest amount of fine soil over them, just enough to anchor them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seedlings Transplants Cover Protection Birds Shade

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

STARTING SEEDS INDOORS or IN YOUR COLD FRAME or GREENHOUSE

Seedlings Indoors Grow Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cinnamon for Seedling Damping Off Disease Prevention!

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

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

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

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

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

Have a terrific good time! Blessings on your all your Seeds!

Updated annually

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Mother’s Day 2020 is May 10! Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts! Get living gifts started now! Click here

The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

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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German Chamomile Herb Bee Flower

Please do plant Chamomile to feed the bees!

Chamomile is downright heady scented on a warm morning and the tea is sweet.

Chamomile is in the Asteraceae family, making it a relative of Daisies. German Chamomile, Matricaria recutita, is upright, easily gets 2’+ tall and leggy, unruly! It has dainty feathery foliage, smells like pineapple or apple depending on who you talk with. Due to the shape of the yellow part of the flower is sometimes called Pineapple Plant! Roman Chamomile, Anthemis nobilis, is a ground cover with thicker foliage. For medicinal purposes they can be used interchangeably. Roman has bigger flowers, but German is easier to harvest and pretties up your garden!

Bodegold, Matricaria recutita, is an improved German variety from East Germany, where herbal remedies have been used for centuries. Bodegold is shorter, a more sturdy upright 18–24″ tall, so flowers several weeks before other varieties! It blooms through August, even a little more if there are rains! Bodegold has more and larger flowers per plant that have higher essential oil content. Its more uniform habit which makes harvesting easier. If you enjoy details, see a comparative study of 4 Chamomile cultivars including Bodegold.

PLANTING  It’s an annual that prefers cooler weather. In SoCal, plant by seed in fall or when the soil warms to about 65 degrees in spring for blooms starting in 65 days! It goes through midsummer or later. It’s lovely in containers! Maybe right by the door or below the kitchen or bedroom window! Full sun is best but in hotter areas partial shade may be ok. Plant as a border, use it to fill in spots where you need something bright and cheerful, as a companion pest-preventing plant by the plants that need its protection. Chamomile likes well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. Give mature plants ample even moisture.

There are four ways to plant!

  1. The easiest is to simply let babies sprout this year from fallen seeds if you had Chamomile last year!
  2. Also easy is to simply fling seeds about and forget about them! Let them come up when and where they will. It’s a miracle these super tiny seed beings can do this, but it does happen just like in nature! You can ‘weed’ and transplant them where you want them.
  3. If you are starting Chamomile for the first time and want to grow it from seed, get a packet from your local nursery or a reputable organic seed house. The seeds are husky, but tiny to say the least! The seedlings are tiny too! If you don’t start them indoors, mark where you planted them so you don’t step on them or pull them up thinking they are weeds. Be sure to clear that area of slugs and snails first by putting down something to kill them off before you plant your seeds. Once planted, cover to protect them from being vanished by birds.Put your seeds on the soil surface in slight separate depressions 3″ diameter so the seeds don’t float away and water stays where it is needed. Press lightly to settle, do not cover with soil. Your seeds need to be kept moist. That might be every day or twice a day depending on sun and wind. Water lightly and gently so as not to wash away your seeds, or damage tiny seedlings about to come up. They germinate in 7 to 14 days. Do cover the seedlings with netting, a wire cover or a cloche to protect them from birds.

    Here is what your tiny seedlings will look like when they first appear! You can easily see how you could step on them if the area isn’t marked, mistake them for a weed unless you know what to look for. And, how easily they can be overnight gourmet outdoors for slugs. When they are a tad bigger, they have teensy leaves.

    Delicate Chamomile, Anthemis, Seedlings need protection from slugs, snails, and birds!

    Photo by Jellaluna

  4. If direct seeding isn’t for you, get transplants as soon as your nursery has them. If you already have plants and like them right where they are, let some of your flowers dry on the plant. When you remove the dry plant, give it a good shaking, or squish the dry cones, roll them between your fingers, and let some of the seeds fall to the ground. Your Chamomile will likely self seed next season! That area can act as a nursery area and you can transplant some of the babies to other spots next year if you like. Or, gather a few dry flowers while you are harvesting your flower heads. Save extra seeds for the annual Seed Swap. Next spring plant the seeds you keep where the plants will do the most good for your garden. If your nursery doesn’t carry Chamomile, then you are back to planting from seed or asking another gardener if they have any babies they don’t need and transplant those!

ONE DISEASE, NO PESTS!

Though Chamomile is pest and disease resistant, it can/does get mildew when mildew temps, 60° to 80°F, arrive. Chamomile gets 2′ tall and a good 2′ diameter! Leave plenty of room. Best to leave enough space so mature plant’s leaves don’t touch each other or another plant and spread the mildew. But it often does lay over and lean on neighboring plants, so stake it up. Tie it loosely to the stake if the area is windy. No overhead watering. Mildew can be a problem on a plant you have pinched back to get dense bushy foliage with little air circulation. When you treat your other plants for mildew prevention, treat it too.

IT’S A SUPER COMPANION PLANT!

Traditionally chamomile is known as the “plant doctor,” chamomile has been known to revive and revitalize plants growing near it. Chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb and it’s just plain pretty.

CARROTS thrive with Chamomile, Cilantro, and Marigold. Plant a flock of carrots intermingled with, along with them or around a central plant!

Chamomile flowers attract hoverflies and wasps, both pollinators and predators that feed on aphids and other pest insects.

One of the colors bees see is yellow! Chamomile blooms are perfect! Please plant Bee Food, Herbs and Flowers! Sow or transplant basil, borage, chervil, chamomile, chives, cilantro, comfrey, dill, fennel, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme. Let a carrot or two, and a celery to go to flower to bring bees, butterflies and beneficial insects! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next year’s plantings, to share at the seed swap, give as gifts!

Chamomile, comfrey and yarrow are compost speeder uppers. Plant them near your compost area! Sprinkle your compost with a handful or two of living moist soil to inoculate your pile, and add a few handfuls of your decomposer herbs.

Some think Equisetum (Horsetail) tea is the sovereign remedy for fighting fungus — especially damp-off disease on young seedlings. Spray on the soil as well as plant. (I sprinkle with Cinnamon powder.) Chamomile tea and garlic teas are also used to fight mildew on cucumbers and squash. Try it on other plants that get mildew too!

Chamomile Herb Medicinal
MEDICINAL USES

German Chamomile is a productive and highly medicinal herb, a staple of every herb pantry. Photo by Fotolia/gitusik

Mother Earth News says: It is an anti-inflammatory nervine that has a calming effect on the nervous and digestive systems, and it’s safe for children and adults who are in a weakened state. Chamomile has antiseptic properties and is used topically in washes for skin, eyes and mouth. Its essential oil is useful in creams, oils and salves. When brewed as a tea – affectionately called ‘cammy tea,’ the sweet little blossoms bring a sense of well-being. Chamomile can also be formulated with other herbs and taken in extract form as a digestive, a sleep aid and an overall nerve tonic.

In an herbal shampoo – sage darkens your hair, chamomile lightens!

HOW and WHEN TO HARVEST the FLOWERS! 

Many large commercial growers of chamomile sacrifice quality for expediency by using combines to harvest the flowers. Hand-harvesting is easy and retains more of the essential oils and medicinal compounds. Pick on a dry day when the flowers are nearly fully open, after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is high, before the sun beats down on them and volatile oils lost. Definitely harvest before the petals fall back (go back down). In this early morning image you can see flowers with their petals down, others fully open. Most are mature, others just starting to petal up!

May 2016 Chamomile

Image by Cerena Childress, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

As your plants grow, you can pick the flower heads by running your fingers through the plants, palm up, fingers spread wide enough to allow the flower stems to get between them, taking the flowers as you sweep across. Of course, you can pick them one by one as well if you want only the very best. You only want the flower head – cone and petals, not the stem, which some people taste as bitter. One efficient way to do this is to cut off a stem that has several flowers on it. Shake it well to remove any insects. Remove the flowers with your fingernail or scissors or as you wish. The purpose for taking the stem with the group of flowers is so you don’t have to trim remaining flower stems away after you take the flowers.

Start harvesting 3 days after flowering. Pick blossoms every seven to 10 days during peak bloom time. The more you harvest, the more your plant will bloom! Flowering may slow down during hot, dry spells and then resume when cool weather returns.

PRACTICAL CAUTION: Some of us have topical hypersensitivity to chamomile. If you are allergic to other members of the Asteraceae family, such as ragweed, if you develop a rash while picking chamomile flowers, avoid using them externally or internally. Please.

Chamomile Herb Dried Flowers Medicinal Glass Jar

You can use fresh blossoms immediately, but they’re also relatively easy to dry. Everyone has their own special method and tips!

To ensure the centers of the flowers are dried completely but volatile oils are not lost, dry at lower temperatures (85 to 95 degrees) somewhere with good airflow and limited light. Be sure your flowers don’t have any insects! You can tie and hang them, or spread out the flowers in a single layer on a paper plate and allow them to dry for 1 to 2 weeks in a dark, warm, dry space.

Image from Susy Morris/Flickr, via Hobby Farms  

If you have a lot of flowers to dry, you can build a screen frame and rest it over two sawhorses. With a frame, the flowers dry both from top and bottom. Make your frame lightweight so you can shake and flip the flowers to speed drying. Lay a white window sheer fabric over the screen so small bits of the drying flowers aren’t lost by falling through the screen.

Store in an airtight glass jar in a cool dark place until ready to use. Dried chamomile keeps its flavor for up to a year if it’s stored in an airtight glass or metal container, away from heat and humidity, and out of direct light. Put some in a small jar, tie a ribbon around it, add a label. Makes a super sweet gift!

Simplest TEA preparation: Before bed or anytime you need to relax, put a tablespoon dry or 2 tablespoons fresh, or as you prefer, into your tea ball/infuser. Put it into 6 to 8 ounces of hot water in a cup or teapot and steep for five minutes. Steeping for longer than the recommended time or boiling the blossoms can volatilize the essential oils in the plants, reducing the quality and negatively affecting taste and aroma.

Chamomile, being in the Daisy family, has those white ray petals. The yellow center cone has the disk flowers that produce the seeds! To harvest seeds, just pull the dry cone apart, and there are your seeds!

Author and Ethnobotanist Dawn Combs says it so well! ‘With so many great uses for the bright, sunny flower of chamomile, it’s well worth the time and effort to grow and harvest. The time I spend in the quiet of the garden on a summer day while picking the small blossoms do as much for me as if I were drinking a cup of the tea. We all need more excuses for these times of contemplation and peace. You might say growing chamomile is a way to grow your own meditation.’

Chamomile Herb Tea Cup Flowers

Bee good to yourself and Mother Earth! Plant Chamomile!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Read Full Post »

Tomato Varieties Feast!

How many varieties are there? There are more than 3,000 varieties of heirloom or heritage tomatoes in active cultivation worldwide and more than 15,000 known varieties. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says there are 25,000 tomato varieties. The list is constantly expanding. One current group being added is the Indigo series of tomatoes!

HEIRLOOMS VS HYBRIDS

Heirlooms are more lovely than words can say with their many shapes, sizes, and colors! But they are particularly susceptible to wilts and blights. Instead, get resistant hybrid varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In the Mother Earth News tomato survey, they found gardeners chose heirlooms over hybrids if their soil is wilt/blight free. Otherwise, the longer the gardener has gardened, they more they chose wilt resistant hybrid toms if their soil has the fungi. If you are gardening at home, you can strengthen your soil, and take practical measures to grow heirlooms successfully. If you are at a community garden that has the fungi in the soil, it’s virtually unavoidable because the wilts are not only in the soil, but are windborne as well. See Wilts & Cucumber Beetles, Tomatoes & Cukes!

Tomato Bush Determinate in Container CageDETERMINATE AND INDETERMINATE

The other two main categories are Determinate and Indeterminate. Determinate get about 3′ tall, produce prodigiously all at once. They are grown for two main reasons. Since they produce when they are shorter, they produce sooner. Since they produce a lot at once, they are great for canning. If you want to can a lot, grow several of them at the same time. If you want a large steady supply plant successively, like more plants each month or so. You can do that if you have the space.

Determinates are great for container growing! Pick varieties that have patio, dwarf or mini in their names. These will be more compact. Small tomatoes doesn’t necessarily mean the plant is small! Be sure you check that it is a determinate variety. Also check for height, that it will grow no taller than the support you will be putting it on. The Dwarf Tomato Project offers dozens of options, identified by gardeners from around the globe.

Indeterminate are vining tomatoes, grow 6′ to 10′! Grow them on a trellis or in a large substantial supporting cage; they will take up a lot less space. Or up against a wall, along a fence. But if they ramble, the fruits will be on or close to the ground, fungi and pest susceptible – slugs, mice, little birds. Indeterminates produce a little later, but continuously all season long! They have flowers, ripening fruit and mature fruit all at the same time. If you aren’t canning, these are terrific because you plant just once. When they start producing, there is no waiting time like with determinates, while you wait to grow another plant if you don’t have space to grow both at once.

TIME OF YEAR CHOICES!

In SoCal, spring’s first choice, February, March, is cold hardy determinates that produce and ripen in cool weather! That’s to get toms on your table soonest! When they are done, in their place, pop in some other favorite summer veggies that do better in that by then warmer weather. If you live in the north with a short growing season, go with these quick growers. Try Sophie’s Choice, a Canadian variety that produces a heavy crop of six to eight-ounce fruits about 55 days after planting. The compact plants grow to about 24 inches tall, making this a good option for container growing. Siberian (NOT Siberia) sets fruit at 38°, but is still not very frost hardy – popular in Alaska! Considered a determinate, but grows 48 to 60” tall. Bush Early Girl and Oregon Spring are favorites. You can start indeterminate cherry toms like Sungolds, because cherry toms ripen soonest while larger varieties are still growing.

In SoCal start your indeterminates at the same time as the cool producing toms! They will come in with red fruits about the 4th of July or a tad sooner. Czech heirloom variety Stupice is cold tolerant and comes in early. Early Girl indeterminate gives you a head start and gives high yields!

Later, April, May, plant whatever toms you want to your heart’s content! Just be sure you get resistant varieties if you have soil fungi. April is better if you are planting monster varieties like Big Boy – they need time to grow big! Big toms can grow to enormous proportions, winners can be up to 7+ lbs! The heaviest tomato was weighed in August 30 2016 at 8.61 lb, grown by Dan Sutherland, Walla Walla, Washington! The achievement was authenticated by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC).

June?! You betcha! Many tomato-loving gardeners wait until fungi laden soils are warmed and drying. Your plants have a better chance to get a healthier start. True that the Wilts are also windborne, but with less fungi in the soil your plant can better withstand the fungi.

In late summer, early fall, as most of your tomatoes are getting tired, southern gardeners can go back to planting quick growing cool type determinates. Weather in SoCal is starting to cool, day length is shorter, and the northern type varieties will do well again. Select petite varieties like bush, determinate cherries that mature more quickly.

Winter, though many toms may have tomatoes on them, they are slower to turn red if at all. Day lengths are shorter. Let go. Instead, plant other winter favorites that thrive in short day cold weather and are so nutritious! Kales and chards are prolific choices per their footprint. Start new vigorous tomatoes in spring.

LOCATION

In drought conditions, consider growing only indeterminates. If you are repeatedly growing determinates, there is the time it takes to regrow them, using water when there is no production.

There are super heat tolerant varieties of toms. Just look up those varieties at southern or desert locations. Check on local university recommendations, cooperative extension. See what the nurseries near you carry or what the farmers market farmers are growing successfully.

Humidity and wind are conditions to consider. You can open up an area to reduce humidity, or put in some shrubs to buffer winds.

Desert can be turned into an oasis using permaculture techniques! Jeff Lawton in Jordan

If your location is known for tomato hornworms, generously plant Borage and/or Calendula with your toms. They repel the worms!

Tomato Steakhouse Largest Beefsteak Buy Seeds Burpee!SIZE AND PURPOSE CHOICES

Cherry and Grape tomatoes for buffets and snacks. Saladettes for salad bites. Texas huge for slicing. Romas for canning, sauce and paste. The bigger the tomato the longer it takes to mature.

At left is a fine SteakHouse Hybrid, a meal in itself! Steakhouse are the largest Beefsteak Tomato there is! It is available at Burpee. com. They refer to it as a tomato titan! If you love huge toms, these fruits are enormous, up to 10 inches wide and as heavy as 3 lbs! Each plant will yield nine to 11 fruits.

COLOR, TASTE & SKIN!

Poetically, in Jim Duncan’s post Harvesting Sunlight he says ‘Different carotenoids give such fruits their red, yellow and orange colors. In photosynthesis, they trap certain waves of sunlight and funnel their energy into the chlorophyll system. In this sense, different colored tomatoes are packed with different waves of sunlight. Artists can’t look directly at the sun but tomatoes can and artists can look inside tomatoes.’

As an organic gardener you are an artist that looks to the health and wellbeing of us all. Your garden reflects who you are, tells your story. It creates beauty. It makes a difference.

There is no doubt color makes a difference. Blind people can feel which color it is! Colors have different frequencies. Just looking at them makes us change. We pick that color to wear today. Choose the colors that uplift your spirit!

Taste is often subjective. We know too that people genetically taste the same thing differently ie Cilantro! People describe different tomatoes as tasteless, robust, bland, mild, sweet, fruity, tangy, tart, mealy, meaty, watery, juicy, dry, firm, soft, mushy, smoky, musky, old-time, winey, perfect! Toms are like fine wine only in a different body! Taste is something you will need to try for yourself. While it was originally thought that certain regions on the tongue detected specific flavors, we now know this is not true. Smell is more predominant! So you smell it and swish the wine/tomato around in your mouth! Modern tasting techniques If you don’t have space to experiment, to garden several varieties at once, stick with the standards at first – or go to the nearest Farmers Market and buy one of each, the fresher the better! Have your own tasting & smelling – you and the others who will eat them with you!

Tomato skin thickness varies a lot! They can be thin and easily damaged, or so thick you can hardly take a bite and if you manage, the juice squirts out! Some you seriously need a knife for. If you are canning or making tomato paste you need to remove the skins for a smooth consistency! Roma VFA, Amish Paste and Super Marzano are excellent sauce toms, meaty with low water content, and improved disease resistance and taste.

HEALTH BENEFITS

Tomatoes contain a good amount of vitamins A, C, and K, folate and potassium along with thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, all of which are necessary to maintain good health. The best part is that tomatoes are naturally low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories.

Besides righteous colors that feed your Soul, and taste for your palate, varieties do vary a tad health wise. Here are some choice points:

  • The Kumato tomato is slightly higher in carbs than regular tomatoes. Compared to a standard red tomato, the Kumato contains a higher amount of fructose.
  • Grape tomatoes, despite their similarities to cherry tomatoes, have a thicker skin, less water content and smaller amounts of fructose. As a result, these tomatoes are probably slightly lower in carbs.
  • The colossal beefsteak Steakhouse, the largest variety of tomato, has more carbs as well as overall nutrients.

Colors and the different carotenoids associated with them give specific different benefits to our health. Indigo breeder Jim Myers says ‘The red pigment in tomatoes is lycopene. Orange tomatoes have beta-carotene or prolycopene, while yellow ones may have other carotenoids such as delta-carotene. Carotenoids have antioxidant properties and are thought to have health benefits similar to flavonoids.’

From fighting cancer to fighting wrinkles, the goal of the Indigo series of tomatoes is to breed the antioxidant purple anthocyanins into the flesh as well as the skin. Oregon State’s high-flavonoid breeding program breeder Jim Myers is almost there! Indigo Rose is the closest so far. It is an open pollinated variety, meaning seed saved from self-pollinated plants will grow true and not produce hybrids.

In the image below, is Blue Beauty bred by Bradley Gates of Wild Boar Farms in St. Helena CA. It is a self-pollinated variety, will grow fruit the same as the parent. The young blue tomato fruit appears amethyst purple and turns dark purple-black as it matures, with the skin of the darkest ones becoming almost jet black. Tomatoes hidden by leaves remain red. These are ‘modest beefsteak-type slicers,’ weighing up to 8 ounces. High in antioxidants. Brad says TOMATOES HAVE CHANGED MORE IN THE LAST 10 YEARS THAN THEY HAVE IN THEIR ENTIRE EXISTENCE. They are the Heirlooms of the Future! Check out Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomato at Baker Creek! Outrageous, I swear!

Tomato Indigo Blue Beauty Slicer 8 Oz

Culinary Breeding Network! Meet some breeders from around the US! They are working for our health, production excellence and just plain gardening enjoyment! Working together, brainstorming, improves the quality of their work, their results.

PURE DELIGHT!

Meanwhile, right here in your own garden…happiness is! Eating your favorite homegrown organic tomatoes at the garden! Cherry size poppers or huge drizzlers so big they are more than a meal! That beautiful color that just makes your heart sing! A shape that calls your name! This year I’m trying….

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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MY Cucumbers! Cucumbers and Cassie, Indiana Veggie Gardener!

MY cucumbers! Cassie lives in Indiana and usually has dirt under her fingernails.

Some people LOVE Cucumbers! Dice ’em or slice ’em, put slices on your eyes, make a soothing skin cream, hair tonic! Sulphur in cucumbers helps stimulate the growth of hair and makes it thick and healthy. Although less nutritious than most fruit, cukes are delicious and good for your health in many ways. 

  • Magnesium, potassium, and the mineral silicon in Cucumbers keep your skin beautiful! The juice cleans your pores by removing dirt, bacteria and excess oil. Cucumbers have a natural cooling effect and reduce the redness, inflammation of blemishes. Their Vitamin E fights free radicals and heals scars. They treat bad breath, so you will look and smell good!
  • Cucumbers will help heal stomach ulcers. Drinking two glasses of cucumber juice every day can cure heartburn. Cukes help reduce your blood pressure. And they lower blood sugars, helping with diabetes.
  • Cucumber contains polyphenols called lignans, and phytonutrients called cucurbitacins. They help prevent the growth of breast, uterus, and prostate cancers.
  • They help get rid of excess uric acid in the body and help maintain healthy kidneys and bladder conditions, even prevent the formation of kidney stones. They also help digestion and reduce constipation!
  • Vitamin B and electrolytes in the cucumber will be useful to help relieve headaches.
  • Weight loss! Cucumbers are 95% water and low calorie! They will help keep you hydrated and delay hunger, as well as improve your joint health and reduce bad cholesterol!

Cucumbers belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes squashes (including pumpkins), luffas, melons, and watermelons. Cucumbers grew wild in India over 4000 years ago and have since traveled worldwide! They have been traded by empires, eaten every day by emperors, brought to Haiti by Columbus in 1494, banned as deadly at times! In 2010 worldwide cucumber production was 57.5 million tons, with majority of the world’s production and export being located in China (40.7 million tons)! As of a 2013 article, In the United States, consumption of pickles has been slowing, while consumption of fresh cucumbers is rising!

Huge Selection of Extraordinary Varieties!

Cucumber Melothria Scabra Mouse Melon TreatsSizes from itsy tiny watermelon-like heirloom Mexican Sour Gherkin AKA Mouse Melons, sandia de raton, to small bumpy pickling types, substantial juicy slicers, to longs like wonderful Chinese Suyos!

Cucumbers can be green, white, golden orange, healthy bitter red orange spiky Gaks, up to 3 meter long brown Kigelias, brilliant red Dragon’s Eggs! You just haven’t lived until you’ve tried a few exotics!

The different shapes are a treat! Mouse Melons, round lemon cucumbers, the standard long shapes, fat Hmongs, African Horned Cucumbers!

You can get big viners, or bush type patio container types with smaller leaves at shorter intervals. Compact yet lots of production!

Now we have varieties producing all female flowers (gynoecious types) that produce seedless fruit earlier have more concentrated production, a longer shelf life. No bees are needed. In experimental trials the following varieties have produced high yields and have resistance or tolerance to common diseases: Burpee Hybrid, Comet A II, Dasher II, Marketmore 80, Slice Master, Sprint 440 II, and Victory!

Disease Resistant Varieties

Read the notes about these varieties! These are features you want to see when picking varieties!

Long Green Slicing

Burpless (hybrid – 62 days to harvest; the original sweet, long, Chinese-type hybrid; does well on a trellis
Marketmore 76 – 68 days; very uniform, dark green, straight fruit; multiple disease resistance
Straight 8 – 58 days; AAS winner; long-time favorite; excellent flavor; evenly dark green fruit

Long Green Slicing (compact plant)

Bush Crop – 55 days to harvest; delicious; 6-8 inch fruit on dwarf, bushy plants
Fanfare – hybrid – 63 days; AAS winner; great taste; high yield; extended harvest; disease resistant
Salad Bush – hybrid – 57 days; AAS winner; uniform 8 inch fruit on compact plants; tolerant to a wide variety of diseases
Marketmore 97 – 55 days. One of the best early northern cucumbers producing long dark green fruit, non bitter. This excellent slicing cucumber variety is tolerant of powdery mildew, cucumber mosaic virus and resistant to scab, providing a good crop under adverse conditions. Very dark green, looks thick skinned, bumpy.

Best of all is to plant powdery mildew resistant varieties like AAS winner gynoecious and parthenocarpic Diva!

Early Varieties

Marketmore 80
BETH ALPHA – 58 days Heirloom. The original Middle-East type. Often a parent for the wonderful high-end Slicing hybrid cucumbers. Probably the best all round cuke. Early, productive over long season, mild. Thin skin, wonderful taste with no ‘bitter ends’.
Dasher II  Early, dark green; concentrated set
Very early:   Lightning, Speedway, Thunder

Heat/Cold, Drought Tolerant Varieties

If your area has short cool summers, go for early, cold tolerant, smaller fruited varieties, container types. In hot areas, enjoy those big slicers and Japanese longs! Sometimes heat and drought go together, or you would just like to save water. Here’s a great page at SFGate that lists six heat tolerant varieties with all their details! Little Leaf H-19 (parthenocarpic) and Suyo Longs are terrific! Ashley withstands heat and has good downy mildew resistance.

Monoecious or Gynoecious

Affects  your choice of plant for harvest! Monoecious is over the season a steady table supply harvest. Gynoecious is like bush plants, all at once harvest for canning. Female flowers of gynoecious varieties still need to be fertilized with pollen from male flowers, so a certain percentage of monoecious plants need to be planted along with the gynoecious plants to serve as pollenizers. Most seed companies provide cucumber seed blends that contain 85% to 90% gynoecious seed and 10% to 15% monoecious seed.

NOTE: If you are planting non gynoecious types, all female flowers, not to worry if first flowers don’t make baby cukes! Male blossoms come first so they can fertilize the female blooms unless you have an all female no pollination needed gynoecious and parthenocarpic variety. Cucumber vines will produce the greatest amount of female flowers when day length shortens to approximately 11 hours per day. Plant a round at the time you can hit that window!

Choosing Companion Plants

Your climate, soil and many, many other factors determine how well plants grow together. I’ve seen gardeners make exact opposite claims with the pictures to prove it. Bottom line is try things for yourself!

Companion plants enhance each other’s growth, repel pests! Adding companion plants adds a whole new dimension to planning your garden! Spacing changes. Locations change. Your plants are healthier, there is more production, your growing season is extended. By intermingling companion plants, biodiversity happens naturally. For example, rather than having a separate herb area, spread them throughout your garden. Put those herbs to work beside veggie plants they help and favor! Plant 4 or 5 plants with an herb at the hub of the wheel! The herb will serve all those plants at once!

Cucumbers & Dill! This is a companion combo based on timing and usage! Plant Dill at the same time as your cukes, and with your cucumbers so they will mature at the same time for pickling, probiotics, and you have convenience of harvest! Another natural combination is basil and tomatoes!

A super spatial combo is trellising Cucumbers below, letting pole beans grow up, through and above the cukes!

Cucumber Beetles are BAD. They vector bacterial wilts, squash mosaic virus, and others. They harm beans and Cucurbits, the Cucumber family – that’s cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, ZUCCHINI, some gourds.

RADISHES get the gold star award! They repel a variety of beetles, including the nasty disease carrying Cucumber Beetle! Plant Radishes, followed by Cucumbers so the radishes will be up and running when your cucumbers need them! Let the radishes grow out. It’s not like you are planting a crop of radishes there. You want them to mingle among your cukes. You won’t need very many radishes to do this. If you didn’t get them in before planting time, get them up and growing ASAP!

Other helpers! Basil or summer savory, and dwarf marigolds, can mask cucumbers from cucumber pests like striped or spotted cucumbers beetles.

Here are some valuable tips from Jim and Mary at Old World Garden Farms.Plant Sacrificial and Repelling Crops : Many successful growers will plant sacrificial plants that the beetles love nearby their cucumber plants.

  • Alyssum, Zinnias and Pumpkin vines are all excellent sacrificial crops. Beetles prefer them even more than cucumbers, so they tend to stick to attacking them. It makes them easy to spot and destroy, and gives a fighting chance for your cukes.
  • You can also plant repelling crops that beetles dislike such as radishes, oregano (can be invasive – plant in a 5 Gal bucket), and nasturtiums (nasturtiums can bring snails). Plant them right with your cucumbers to help repel the beetles away.

INCOMPATIBLE Plants

Potato, super aromatic herbs like Sage.

Planting for Pleasure!

Long Cucumbers hanging from Overhead Trellis!

First decide how you will grow your Cukes! On the ground, trellising or overhead?!

That determines how you layout your garden! Overhead may require separate additional space, or you might install it over your patio but not so tall that you can’t reach to harvest! Unique! Trellises will make varying kinds of shade depending on what kind of trellis you use. You might like some shade for summer lettuces. A simple vertical trellis still makes shade, but less if you install it along the direction of the summer sun’s path! If you have already planted other plants and don’t want to shade them, you might choose smaller varieties of cucumbers that will grow to less heights, have smaller leaves.

Small pickling cucumbers are easy on a vertical trellis. If you are growing heavy slicers, a vertical trellis is still good. If you are growing a LOT of long cukes, you might grow them on an overhead, let them hang for easy harvesting. Cucumbers up on trellises will ripen all the way around while ground growing might leave an unripened yellow area on their down side.

Choose trellis shapes that give you easy picking access and that will give ample space for the variety of cucumber you choose!

Trellis Squash Melon CucumbersLeaning Cucumber Trellis

Getting your cucumbers off the ground keeps them out of the nibbling insect zone, but it is a little cooler up there and may delay growth a bit. If you are in a cool windy coastal area, you might decide to grow low shrub porous windbreaks to shelter an area, and leave your cukes on the ground. Mulch with only an inch layer of straw to keep them off the ground and the insects happy under the mulch. The thin straw layer allows aeration and some light through to keep the soil warm.

Sun, Soil, Spacing

Full summer sun! Cucumber is not a ‘winter’ plant, they grow best at 81 F to 101! They will do alright at 60 degrees at night, and above 70 degrees during the day. If you are coastal cool, if possible, find a SHELTERED spot for them so they can be good and warm! In the garden plant them on the sunny side of corn, beans or tomatoes. Look for a light colored wall, west facing, with no chilling wind that whips by. A light, sandy loam soil works well for early production. Cucumbers thrive in well drained, fertile soil and need a pH above 6.0.

Some northern gardeners prepare their cukes, melons, squash, peppers and tomato soil well in advance, in fall for spring! They compost in place – pile on manure, chopped leaves and grass, sprinkle on coffee grounds and kitchen scraps, wood ashes from winter fires, etc. In spring dig a foot square hole, fill with your luscious compost, plant your seed right in that compost! Lasts all season if you live in a short season area, and no compost is wasted where no plant is planted! As long as you get that compost out to just beyond the feeder root area your mature plant will have, it’s good.

Incorporate a layer of worm castings at the top of your planting area if you are planting seeds. Castings improve and speed germination, improve water holding capacity to keep your seedlings moist longer!

Spacing depends on which varieties you plant and whether you trellis or not. For trailing cucumbers on the ground, plant 3 to 4 seeds in hills, spacing the hills 3 to 4 feet apart in the row and space rows 5 feet apart. If you plan to trellis your cucumbers, space the hills 2 feet apart in the row and thin to one plant per hill. If you use a vertical trellis, as your plants grow, be prepared to gently weave them up the trellis or tie them in place. Cukes are not like beans or peas that do it by themselves and bend easily.

Hilling or Basins?! If you live in a wet summer rainy area, hilling is great for drainage, though sometimes toward the end of summer, salts accumulate on the top of the soil and water simply runs off. Or the hill flattens from watering, roots are exposed, you need to replenish the soil. Laying on compost mulch covered with a straw mulch will help that. In hot Mediterranean summer dry areas like SoCal, a dripline-wide basin corrals the water right where your plant needs it. Put a stake in the center of the basin so you know where to water. If your soil is infected with wilts or blights, make a hill, put the basin on top, with the bottom of the basin above the regular soil level. This waters your plant, allows drainage and some drying, reducing the fungi. Mulch with only 1″ of straw to allow airflow, but to keep leaves from touching soil. Keeping the leaves from touching the soil is critical because it is the number one way wilts access your plants.

Germination

Cucumbers are frost tender. Wait to plant until the soil has warmed up to 65° degrees or above.

Pre sprouting is smart! Soak your seeds in water for 5 to 10 hours, drain. Put them on damp paper towels wrapped loosely in an unsealed plastic bag and put in a warm spot. 70-85 degrees is optimum. Check the bags every day – keep the towels moist. The seeds will sprout in a few days. It saves time and guarantees you will have a plants in every space! You won’t waste time waiting for failed seeds in the ground. Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips Plant your sproutlings very gently. 

Transplant Technique Separating Lemon Cucumbers - John Kohler

Selecting Transplants to save money! Not everyone wants to plant from seed! Not everyone wants to spend a ton of bucks on transplants either! Ok, so do it John Kohler style! See this video of him separating out ELEVEN lemon cucumbers from one 4″ container he purchased for $1.79 – those were the days, ha, ha! I didn’t believe it, but he did it easy! And I’ll bet they all grew! You can use this technique with many plants. 

Tag your seedlings and transplants with the date planted, variety name, # of days to maturity. Having your plant date and days to maturity tells you at a glance how well they are doing per how long they have been in the ground. If your seeds don’t germinate, you know your seed is compromised or too old. If there are no fruits when expected, are you over fertilizing and your plant is going to leaf and no fruit, or are they slow due to cooler weather than usual? When the season is done, how did that variety do for you? Should you save some seeds? Put a note in your records of what to do better next year, for selecting next year’s purchases, how many to plant. Also, jot down where you got that transplant or the seeds. 

Successive Planting

If you have poor or fungi infected soil, two plantings may make sense. The first planting may not last long depending on whether you planted a resistant variety or not. A later second planting, when the soil has heated and dried, may be more successful. To help keep the soil drier, use an open mulch like straw, only 1″ is best, for airflow. 

Planting smaller shorter fruited varieties is good early on. A month or two later you might plant long varieties that need good heat to make those big babies! 

Pollination! Or, Why do my cucumber plants have flowers but no fruit?

Unlike tomatoes that have both male and female parts in every flower, the cucurbits – squash, melons, cucumbers, have male flowers and female flowers. Somehow the pollen must be transferred. And, complete pollination is a must! Without it you may get deformed cucumbers, slow growing cucumbers or no cucumbers at all! With good pollination you can get more and larger cukes!

NMSU says: The female flower cannot produce the pollen needed to cause the fruit to develop and is dependent upon insect (or human) pollinators to transport the pollen from the male flower. The male flowers begin forming [a week or two] before the female flowers form. So, it is possible to have cucumbers blooming, but not producing fruit.

When skies are gray, it’s rainy or it is super windy, some pollinators don’t fly. Hand Pollination is easy! Daub that Q-tip or mini brush on the male flower’s anther (the stem is shorter and has no baby cuke forming under the flower – sometimes they grow in clusters where the females grow singly) then roll it onto the female’s stigma at the center of the flower! Or break the male flower off, remove the petals and do it direct! Don’t shake it and lose all the pollen before you introduce it to that girl flower! One can do several females.

Use only fresh male flowers. Flowers open in the morning. The females are only receptive that day and pollen is only viable that day. If you are doing a few it’s quick. If you have a lot of cukes, it’s going to take some time. But if you love cucumbers, it is so worth it! Do squash and melons the same way!

SFGate says: If pollination is a problem each year for your cucumbers, choose parthenocarpic varieties. Parthenocarpic varieties produce only female flowers and do not need pollination to produce fruit. This type of cucumber is also seedless.

Watering/Mulch  Compost   Fertilizer  Sidedressing

Cucumbers have short roots and need consistent water, kept moist, to never dry out. Pick first, water afterwards. Avoid wetting the plants and water in AMs if possible to avoid mildew. Plant mildew resistant varieties like Diva. Apply your baking soda mix to alkalize the leaves. Some say most granular fertilizers leach from the soil rather quickly due to watering. That is why the instructions say you should reapply periodically through the season, even once a week. Time release pellets do better. But adding organic material, compost, to your soil not only adds nutrients, it loosens the soil, attracts worms and other soil building critters and helps your soil retain moisture and nutrients.

Feed your cukes when they first begin to run (form vines and sprawl); again when blossoms set. A big vined short rooted, long fruited variety of cucumber, in a long summer is a heavy feeder, so some gardeners recommend to fertilize once a week! A small fruited, small leaved patio type container cucumber may need little to no feeding.

Since Cucumbers are short rooted, be very careful if you dig in fertilizer or compost. Dig only on one side so as not to break off all the tiny surface feeder roots. Better to add a 1″ layer of compost, some worm castings if you have them, in the planting basin, cover with straw and water well. Foliar feeding mixed teas feeds the whole plant with no harm to the roots at all! Do both the compost and foliar!

Fruits will be aborted during dry spells and very hot weather. Keep your plants watered, moist, regularly, and don’t worry if your plant temporarily stops flowering and producing. When the weather cools, you will be back in business!

Common Diseases

Mildew is #1. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day if transplanting. A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! IPM on Powdery mildew

The worst diseases, spread by Cucumber Beetles, are the Wilts, Fusarium and Verticillium. Please see Wilts & Cucumber Beetles, Tomatoes & Cukes! for the details, prevention and treatment.

Common Pests

Cucumber Beetle Western Striped SpottedStriped/Spotted Cucumber Beetles are the nemesis of Cucumbers. Squish. Cucumber Beetles get in cucumber, squash and melon blossoms. They aren’t picky. They are yellow greenish with black stripes or dots about the size and shape of a Ladybug. They are cute but are the very worst garden pest. They carry bacterial diseases and viruses from plant to plant, such as bacterial wilt and mosaic virus, deadly to cukes. Radish repels them, is a champion plant, a hero of the garden! Plant enough radish for you to eat and to let others just grow, be there permanently or at least until the beetles are done, gone. IPM data

Squash Bugs like your Zucchini and other squash, cucumber and melons. Plant WHITE potatoes among these plants to repel the bugs. You will get two crops instead of just one! IPM info

Whitefly infestations leave a parasitic fungus called black sooty mold, and that attracts aphids/ants and aphids add to the black problem. Hose ‘em, several days in a row to get rid of them, being sure to get under the leaves! Sprinkle the ground with cinnamon to repel aphid-tending ants. Remove any yellowing leaves throughout your garden that attract whiteflies. Water a tad less. Remove unhealthy leaves that may lay on the ground and harbor pests or diseases. Thin some leaves away to improve air circulation. IPM on Whiteflies

Bill Finch has written a detailed, educated and humorous account about using summer horticultural oil on whiteflies!It’s worth the read.

Maturity

Most cucumber varieties will start to bloom in about 60 to 65 days after they germinate. They have male and female blooms on the same plant. Only the female bloom produces fruit. Insects are necessary for cross pollination. Grow lots of bee food! If it is necessary to apply insecticides it is best to apply them as late in the afternoon as possible, when bees are less active. Parthenocarpic varieties having all female flowers, don’t need bees. 

Harvest & Storage

Cucumber Pickles And Dill Jars

Mexican Gherkins/Mouse Melons, are ripe when they fall to the ground! Lemon cukes are best eaten while still young and pale green. Other Cucumbers mature rapidly and once in production check every other day for ones ready to harvest. No storing on the vine or your plant thinks it’s done and stops producing. Cut, clip or carefully twist off while holding the vine. Cukes are old if they are large, puffy, dull and yellow. Use care not to step on vines during harvest. 

Pickles are the only real way of storing cukes, and there are the cuke varieties that are specific for that purpose! Probiotic pickling is the healthiest way of doing it. 

Cucumbers are another room temp veggie. University of California, Davis, says cukes are sensitive to temperatures below 50°F. They thrive and last longer at room temp. However, cucumbers, eggplant and peppers can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 days if they are used soon after removal from the refrigerator.

Seed Harvest, SeedSaving, Inbreeding Depression.  When, Seed Saving Process, Viability

If you are in a short summer cool climate, don’t have a long enough summer to save seed, buying seed may be your only option.

Parthenocarpic means your plant produces without pollination, makes NO seeds. Like with hybrids, saving seeds is not an option. However, there are reports of saving seeds from parthenocarpic plants! Some flowers do get pollinated. Soak the seed like usual, keep only the sinkers that look the most like your original seed! You might not get many, but probably enough!

If you have non parthenocarpic varieties and want to save cucumber seed, plant only one variety! They cross breed like crazy! Experienced home seed savers can grow more than one variety at a time in a single garden by using hand pollinating techniques. If you don’t hand pollinate, separate two different cucumber varieties by at least 1/2 mile to ensure purity. Inbreeding Depression, reduced vigor due to breeding related plants, is not usually noticeable in cucumbers. Seeds should be saved from at least 6 cucumbers on 6 different plants.

You may ask what if I plant non and Parthenocarpic varieties together? Parthenocarpic cucumbers grow fruits without pollination, developed for commercial greenhouse production – no bees. As a home gardener, if pollinated they will have seeds. If you don’t mind seeds, then interplanting is not a problem. But these seeds will be hybrids. Experimenting can be fun, or disappointing if you want what you had before.

Saving the seeds of Cukes, Eggplant, Melon, Pepper, Squash, Tomatoes, and Zukes is super easy.

Leave the best or last of your cukes to get old on the vine to reap all they can from the Mother plant. Leave them at least 5 weeks after the eating stage, until they have turned a golden color. Now is the time we want those old large, puffy, dull and yellow ones! In northern areas the first, light frost of the season will blacken vines and make cucumbers easier to find. Undamaged fruits can be stored in cool, dry place for several weeks to finish ripening. 

Slice your cucumbers lengthwise and scrape seeds out with spoon. Put them in warm water no more than two days. Scrape any scum off. Let the contents settle and begin pouring out the water along with pieces of pulp and immature seeds floating on top. Viable seeds, sinkers, are heavier and settle to the bottom of the jar. Repeat this process until water being poured out is almost clear and clean seeds line the bottom of the container. Pour these clean seeds into a strainer that has holes smaller than the seeds. Let the excess water drip out and invert the strainer onto paper towel or piece of newspaper. Allow the seeds to dry completely (usually a day or two). Break up the clumps into individual seeds, label with date and variety, store in a packet or plastic bag. Check them in a week or two to be sure there is no mold or any insect infestations.

The drier the seeds, the longer they will store ~ about 5 years for cucumbers, 2 – 10 maybe. 


Cucumbers are easy to eat! 

Cucumber Open Sandwich Dill Garnish

Some cucumbers simply never make it home from the garden. Next best fresh is in a tasty greens salad!

Eat cukes and yogurt! Raita, an Indian dish, is pretty and a very nice cooling summer dish. It can also be used as a sauce over falafels, as a veggie dip or salad dressing! Chicken, lettuce & cucumber slice sands!

Make a pale green egg salad with fresh minced basil, green onions, and crunchy cucumbers. Tuck it into pita pockets. Mmm…..

In Asia cucumbers are often stir-fried and are quite tasty. Give it a try! Toss cold noodles with sauce, cucumber, and scallion or coriander. Sprinkle noodles with sesame seeds.

How about a delicious Pineapple Cucumber Smoothie?! Add blueberries for blue, Strawberries for pink! Or do Cucumber, Apple & MInt! With Kale. Watermelon! Do a flavor a day – just add Cucumber!

  1. Add cucumber, pineapple, frozen banana, light coconut milk, water, lime zest, lime juice, greens, and ice cubes to a blender and blend on high until creamy and smooth, scraping down sides as needed.
  2. For a thicker smoothie, add more ice. For a thinner smoothie, add more liquid of choice. …

Pickles are prime! Do probiotics for the very best nutrition! Add carrot sticks, hot peppers, garlic, dill, whatever tickles your tastebuds!

FYI the inside of a cucumber can be up to twenty degrees cooler than the outside temperature! This is where the saying cool as a cucumber came from.

Stay cool!

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Updated at various times…


The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, then became this blog too! All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

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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