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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.

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!

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. 

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!
Arch Trellis Squash Melon CucumbersTrellis Cucumber Slanting

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. 

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. 

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!

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! 

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

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

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

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SideDressing your veggie garden with Ewe Poo and Pea Straw in Australia!

It’s mid season now, so this weekend I’m giving the garden a boost by side dressing everything with some ewe poo and topping it off with fresh pea straw… [I think this is in Australia. It took a moment before I got it that it is sheep poo!]
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First let’s go over some thoughts about some general considerations and methods of sidedressing, then go through the summer favorites Feeding Schedule plant by plant

Local Conditions 
Super soil, short summer, no feeding necessary. But if you have a long growing season of heat tolerant varieties like here in SoCal, plants making big leaves and lots of fruits, or plants that are harvested for their leaves, like summer lettuces, they need food! And that all depends on your micro niche where you are growing at home – some spots are hotter than others, maybe get more sun. Your plant produces more or less, needing more or less feeding.

Varieties make a difference too! Long season indeterminate tomatoes,  will likely do better with late season feeding. Early varieties, determinate tomatoes or bush beans, may not need feeding at all. Heavily and continuously producing pole beans make their own Nitrogen, but that may not be quite enough near their end of season or in very poor soil. If they start to slow down, try a feed and see if they perk up.

Seasonal Timing Classic times to feed are at transplanting, blooming and just after fruit sets. Baby plants need more Nitrogen. They need to grow big, have a strong body to support all that fruit and make leaves! When it comes to blooming and fruiting your plant is beginning to work hard. We don’t need a lot of leaves now. Lay back on N and give your plants a good feed of more PK, Phosphorus for blooms and Potassium for disease resistance. NPK needs to be highest in P now.

Later in the season, if/when your plants are looking tired, slowing down, a feed can perk them up, extending their production time. Be sure other factors are well tended. Keep plants weeded so weeds don’t siphon off your plants’ food, especially when they are babies. Separate or thin young plants so they aren’t struggling for the same food. Early on use light absorbing dark mulch to warm your soil, keep the soil moist, prevent light germinating weed seeds from starting. Weed the rest. Later in the season lay reflective mulch, like straw, on top of the dark mulch so your plants’ roots stay cool.

Your plants need adequate soil moisture so their roots can take up nutrients. Water after you feed and keep your soil as moist as that plant needs.

Feeding Methods aka Sidedressing

There are a couple ways to feed. Feeding yoFoliar Feeding - rose upturnedur soil feeds your plants. Here are some equivalents: One handful of good compost per plant. That is equal to about one tablespoon of 5-10-10 fertilizer. Liquid fertilizer in your watering can is an easy way to side dress. Compost tea is redundant, since you already put compost in your soil, but a cupful of a MIXED TEA adds all sorts of things your compost doesn’t have!

Foliar feeding garden tea blends is a super enrichment that offers more options of trace factors. Even if proper nutrients are present in the soil, some nutrients cannot be absorbed by plants if the soil pH is too high or too low. Compost corrects soil pH issues and is one of the best ways to maintain the 6.5 ideal. Foliar feeding saves your plants while compost is doing its job. Foliar feeding is an immediate way to revive and stimulate stressed, tired, or diseased plants. If you have an ailing plant, repeated treatments can get your plant up to par soonest! See Teas! Compost, Manure, Worm Castings Brews!

Per Planet Natural:

Foliar Feeding Facts:
• Tests have shown that foliar feeding can be 8 to 10 times more effective than soil feeding.
• Up to 90% of a foliar-fed solution can be found in the roots of a plant within 1-hour of application.
• Foliar supplements are an effective way to compensate for soil deficiencies and poor soil’s inability to transfer nutrients to the plant.

If you are container gardening, have houseplants or seedlings, use a spray bottle. If you are growing in the ground, get a watering can with a nozzle that rotates to spray UP under your plants’ leaves. What goes up between the leaves will fall down and do the tops of the leaves at the same time! In other words, foliar feed your whole plant!

Applying granular fertilizers:  Scatter 8 inches away from the base of the plant on the side of the row or around the plant to just beyond the plant’s drip line to encourage root growth. Apply evenly. Raking the fertilizer into the ground is better than just applying on top of the soil.
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Plant by Plant Summer Feeding Schedule Details for Your Favorites!

Beans   Cucumbers   Eggplant   Lettuces   Melons   Peppers
Squash – Summer/Winter   Strawberries   Tomatoes

Vegetable Gardening Gone Vertical - Trellis of beans and cucumbers!

Beans

Beans make their own Nitrogen, though sometimes not enough when they are in heavy production and it is toward the end of summer. They don’t make their own Phosphorous or Potassium.

Yellowing, mildew, white flies, ants and aphids? Pests may set in when a plant is stressed or weakened, but pests also like plants in peak condition! So do Aspirin and powdered milk sprays to up their immune system. Add baking soda to alkalize their leaves for mildew prevention + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) as a surfactant. Best to do these treatments every couple of weeks to treat again and treat new growth. Treat after significant rains and before trouble arrives! See more!

Tea mixes are good for improving their general health. Just imagine, with all those leaves, what foliar feeding can do! Same for those cucumbers below the beans in the image!


Fabulous Array of Cucumber VarietiesCucumbers

Some gardeners prepare their cukes, melons, squash, peppers and tomato soil well in advance, in fall for spring! 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.

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. Time release pellets do better. But adding organic material, composts, 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! Since they have short roots, they need the food right at their feet. 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 top your soil with a 1″ layer of compost, some worm castings if you have them, in the planting basin, re cover with straw and water well.

Foliar feeding mixed teas feeds the whole plant with no harm to the roots at all! Cucumbers are quite susceptible to mildews so do the Mildew Mix as well – Powdered Milk, Baking Soda, Aspirin, Soap – add liquid fertilizer if you like, maybe fish/kelp emulsion. Do both the compost and foliar feeding – alternate the Tea with the Mildew Mix every other week or so!
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Exotic Eggplant

Those eggplant beauties need extra compost and a bit of well-rotted manure at planting time. Dig it in!
AppEggplant Purple Long Shiny Harvest Basketly a general purpose fertilizer in the spring when you till the soil. Add additional applications every three to four weeks. Side dress frequently, especially when the plant begins to bloom. Or sidedress with a Nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are half grown and again immediately after harvest of the first fruits. Given sufficient moisture and good food, eggplant thrives in the heat of summer!

Epsom Salts, sulfur, is a cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. You could apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is more effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition.

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

This mix is super for eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and roses!

Feed your eggplants 3 weeks after planting and at blossom set.
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Cut & Come Again Lettuce is a hard working plant!

Lettuces Tasty Varieties, Edible Flowers

It likes water and manure! Regularly. Water just about every day, even twice a day on the hottest or hot windy summer days. Hand scratch in some 1/2″ deep grooves, with one of those little 3 prong scratcher tools, drizzle chicken manure into the grooves, cover back up and water gently. If your lettuce is planted densely that’s going to be a little challenge. A Tea Mix might work better for you. Use the spout of your watering can and get it under the leaves so the soil is moistened. DO NOT do a foliar application of any tea mix that has animal poo in it on any plant you eat the leaves of! If you have space between your plants, and no fish loving predators like racoons, a fish emulsion/kelp feed is good – just keep it off the leaves.

Feed three weeks after germination, or transplant.
Loose-leaf after second and third cuttings for cut-and-come again crops.
If head lettuce, when the head starts forming.
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Luscious Melons

May is for planting Melons for eating all SUMMER! Goldfarb & Page-Mann Regional Fruition Seeds - Juicy Watermelon!Melons are a big plant, big leaves, big fruits, on a long vine! Or you may be doing mini container varieties.

Before planting large melon varieties, add in a little extra compost, and leaf mold, some well rotted manure, cow manure if you can get it.

Fertilize big melons every two to three weeks before blooming starts, using an all-purpose 5-5-5 fertilizer. If you are using mulch, pull it back, sprinkle on some worm castings and add several inches of compost to root areas monthly. Put the mulch back and water it in. It’s like giving your plant compost/worm tea as the water and compost/worm juice drizzle down into your soil! Better yet is 2 to 3 days before you sidedress, make a mixed tea sans compost! When the tea is ready, put some spade fork holes in the root zone around your plant. Fill the holes with compost/castings. Foliar feed the tea to your plant and pour tea into the spade fork holes! Of course, the very best is to do both – layers of compost and castings plus the tea and spade fork holes!! Especially sidedress melons when blooming starts and every 6 weeks after.

Another method is to feed when they begin to run; again a week after blossom set; again three weeks later. This probably works well for mini melons.

Once the first fruit ripens, stop all watering. Too much water at ripening time dilutes the fruit’s sugars and ruins the sweet flavor. The melons don’t need the water because they develop a deep root system soon after they start to flower. This means you stop fertilizing just before then. Your plants need soil moisture so their roots can take up nutrients, so there is no point in fertilizing after you stop watering.

Melons are also quite susceptible to mildew, so do the Mildew Mix  for them as well – Powdered Milk, Baking Soda, Aspirin, Soap – add liquid fertilizer if you like, maybe fish/kelp emulsion. Alternate the Tea with the Mildew Mix every other week or so!

See also Cucumbers above!
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Peppers Varieties - Burgundy Bell, Yellow Monsters, Fish, HOT Chile Numex TwilightFabulous Peppers!

Peppers need VERY RICH SOIL, are heavy feeders! Place compost for water holding capacity, worm castings, rotted manure under them when transplanting. Mix in Maxi Crop and Island Seed & Feed Landscape Mix. Sandy soils are preferred for the earliest plantings because they warm more rapidly in the spring. Heavier soils can be quite productive, provided they are well drained and irrigated with care.

Epsom Salts! Rather than in the soil, do foliar Epsom Salts! A cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. You could apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is quite effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition. See Eggplant above

Sidedressing  Peppers need fertilizer in small doses, a rich organic fertilizer when blooms appear. If you scratch in some compost, be careful not to damage their shallow roots. Liquid chicken manure is high in nitrogen and potassium for heavy feeders like peppers. Big, sweet peppers require a continual source of nutrition. The easiest way to fertilize them is to incorporate gradual-release fertilizer in the ground at planting. Fish-meal pellets, alfalfa pellets or cottonseed meal are all good organic choices. You also can foliar feed plants every week or two with a fish/seaweed soluble fertilizer, spraying the tops and bottoms of leaves, or water the ground with the same mixture.

At least, feed at three weeks after transplant; again after first fruit set.
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Squash

Zucchini Costata Romanesco Kelly Armful Harvest Annie's AnnualsAnother vining plant, like melons, huge leaves and vine, or patio minis! Big squash plants have the biggest leaves in the garden. They aren’t shy about taking 30′ or more!

Summer – Soft, Zucchini types, Chilacayote

We all know how prolific Zucchini is! That is a hard working plant! Some varieties make more fruit than others. Costata Romanesco, in the image, makes a zuke at every leaf join! Chilacayote doesn’t quit! Even patio container varieties work their little hearts out!

Feed them when plants are about 6 inches tall; again when they bloom. That’s standard, but later in the season, if you still want more fruit, feed them again. If you are so tired of summer squash, nevermind.

Like Cucumbers and Melons, summer and winter squash are also  susceptible to mildew, so do the Mildew Mix  for them too – Powdered Milk, Baking Soda, Aspirin, Soap – add liquid fertilizer if you like, maybe fish/kelp emulsion. Alternate the Tea with the Mildew Mix every other week or so!

See also Cucumbers and Melons above

Winter – Hard, Butternut, Acorn, Pumpkins

Give them a fat start with soil amended with well-rotted manure and compost prior to planting. These babies run all summer long, first making the dense fruits, then hardening the fruits. A healthy plant will make a lot of fruits, an ample supply for all winter long!

Feed them when the vine starts to run; again at blossom set.

See also Cucumbers and Melons above
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Strawberries

Sidedressing Strawberries Tricia Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

Perfectly adorable image by Tricia at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

And that’s true! At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we had a first time gardener that fed exactly that mix to his strawberries every 2 weeks and he was so proud to tell us he was harvesting strawberries by the shoebox full! His patch was not so big, but it was prolific with good sized berries! He later went on to sell his fine strawberries at Farmers’ Markets!


Juicy Luscious TOMATO!
Tomatoes

Another heavy feeder, making zillions of tomatoes! If your plant is indeterminant, it will make fruit all summer long!

Before planting add plenty of well rotted manure/compost.

AFTER planting, add a weak solution of complete fertilizer or fish emulsion to the soil around them. Continue to feed them two to three weeks after transplant; blossom time, again before first picking; again two weeks after first picking. Blossom time and after, go light on nitrogen or you will have a lot of leaf, no fruit!

Lengthwise curled spotted leaves? Wilts or blights? Foliar feed with Tea Mix!!! When plant surfaces are occupied by beneficial microbes, there simply is no room for pathogens! The plant will suffer little or no blight, mold, fungus or wilt! That’s a huge claim! But even if it doesn’t entirely work, your plant will likely have a much improved existence for a longer period of time. Beneficial microbes compete with disease causing microbes. Go tigers! The live microbes enhance your soil and in turn, up the immune system of your plants.

If your plant is diseased or pest infested, you may need to apply your mixed tea every five to seven days. Otherwise, Make your tea applications every two weeks until your plants start to flower. We want our plants to make fruit then, not foliage!

This Table will help you save time! See at a glance which plants to feed at the same time with the same food. Copy and print, cover with clear waterproof tape, put it on your bucket for quick reference! See timing details above, plant by plant!

Summer Veggies Feeding.jpg

With any foliar feeds remember to add that 1/2 teaspoon of dish soap, surfactant, so the feed will ‘stick’ to your plant!

Stand back and take a look at your garden. See who’s the slowest, behind in production, lacks perk, and who looks vibrant, reaching for the sky! Grab a barrow of compost, make a super tea mix, go for the gusto! You could even note your feed date, then mark down about when to do it again!

Here’s to a super plentiful and most joyful summer ever!

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

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

Read Full Post »

Design Your Beautiful Summer Garden!

Designing your garden is an intricate and intimate process depending on a lot of factors. It will ‘look’ like you as you are at the time of your life that you do it. If you plant from seed, it leads to making a pretty accurate seed list.

Some of your choices will be the same as what your family always did. Or, you may be a permaculture type doing a Food Forest guild system. There is no right way. You are you, your situation unique. You may be the same the rest of your life, only influenced by drought, deluge, seasons or climate change. You may be research oriented and enjoy trying out new plants and practices from across the world, allowing volunteers the birds bring to grow. You might decide to leave an untouched wild area in the name of freedom or magic, or rest a section of your garden each winter! Or plant it to green manure!

Choose a sunny place with easy access to water! Bioswales may be part of your water capture plan. In SoCal consider a centuries old technique, a water saving Waffle GardenGreywater distribution location may determine where fruit and nut trees will be planted. Then how will their mature shade affect the rest of your garden? Use dwarfs?

Garden Design Slope HillsideMake your garden a shape that flows with the area, whether that be simply the space available, or contoured to the land. Use slopes and hillsides! (Image by Arterra LLP Landscape Architects) Grow permeable windbreak shrubs to slow wind. If you don’t have outdoor space, but do have a sunny doorstep or balcony, put those containers to work!

Layouts can be any design you want! Circles with cross points, spokes, concentric, spiral! Squares like a formal British royal garden. Wild like a cottage garden or food forest garden guild. Beds in blocks. Straw bales wherever you can put them! Terraced on a slope! S curves along an existing path interspersed with ornamentals! Maybe you would like to add a greenhouse this year, or you need a shed and convenient workspace.

Put in pathways – straw bedding, boards, gravel, pallets, as suits the spirit of the location, are safe and make you happy to be there!

Where is the summer and winter sun path? Where will you plant tall to short? A full 6 to 8 hours of sun is best for almost all veggies. You can do shade, but it’s slower and fruits are not as big or plentiful.

If you choose to make your own compost, select an easy access area for composting, near the kitchen, if you will be using it on an ongoing basis. Plant compost speeding herbs like comfrey or yarrow right next to it. Plant pretty calendula or borage to hide it and bring bees and butterflies! If you use straw layers, leave space beside your composter or compost area for a bale staked in place on its end.  See more

Also choose an area, maybe near the compost, for your worm box if you will be growing them for their valuable castings. Mine take full sun all year. See more

Decide if you want to do a no dig Lasagna type bed or your soil is fine and you can just get to planting right now! But first, either way, install gopher protection wire!

Think about your choices for permanent residents! Plant perennial herbs by the kitchen door, at corner points or gates. The perennial Dragon Fruit along the fence. An amazing chayote needs tons of room. Artichokes are big, and grow 10 years! Set aside an all year area for flowering plants for bees, beneficials, butterflies and birds!

Where will biggies like that Winter Hubbard Squash, pumpkin, squash or melon, artichoke fit or is there really enough space for it per its production footprint?

What plants do you want? Will you judge by nutritional value first, return per square foot? Will you really eat them or has your family just always grown it? Will you be biodiversely companion planting or monoculture row planting?

Are you growing for food or seed or both? Waiting for plants to flower to seed takes time, and the space it takes is unavailable for awhile. But bees, beneficial predator insects, butterflies and birds come.

Will you be planting successive rounds of favorites throughout the season? If you plant an understory of fillers – lettuces, table onions, radish, beets, carrots, etc – you won’t need separate space for them. If you trellis, use yard side fences, grow vertical in cages, you will need less space. See Vertical Gardening, a Natural Urban Choice! If you plant in zig zags, rather than in a straight line, you can usually get one more plant in the allotted space.

Would be lovely to put in a comfy chair to watch the garden grow, see birds, listen to the breeze in the leaves.

Social at Davie Village Community Garden in Vancouver's West EndOr a social area, table, chairs, umbrella. Have candlelight summer salads in the garden with friends. This is at Davie Village Community Garden in Vancouver’s West End.

Plant sizes, time to maturity  There are early, dwarfs, container plants that produce when they are smaller, have smaller fruits. There are long growing biggies that demand their space, over grow and outgrow their neighbors! Maybe you don’t need huge, but just enough for just you since it’s only you in your household. Or it’s not a favorite, but you do like a taste! The time it takes to mature for harvest depends on weather, your soil, whether you feed it or not along the way. The size depends on you and the weather also, but mainly on the variety you choose. You can plant smaller varieties at the same time you plant longer maturing varieties for a steady table supply. How long it takes to maturity, and the footprint size of your mature plant is critical to designing your garden, making it all fit.

Vertical and Horizontal Spacing!

  • Vertical Space – More plants per square foot!
    • One method is to double trellis up! Cucumbers below beans!
    • The other is to plant in ‘layers!’ Plant an understory of ‘littles’ and fillers below larger taller plants ie Lettuce under Broccoli.
  • Horizontal Space – Give them room to thrive at MATURE SIZE!
    • Pests and diseases go right down the row of plants of the same kind that touch each other. You may lose them all ~ better is Biodiversity! Interplant with pest repelling edible companion plants!
    • Plants too closely seeded/not thinned, get rootbound. That lessens growth and production, weakens your plants since your plants are literally starving.

Look up each of your plant choices. Make a list – name, variety, days to maturity, mature spacing. The mature spacing gives a good indication how tall your plant might get and if it will shade out other plants. If you put your list on your computer you can click on the column to reorganize the list per footprint space/height or days to maturity.

Your purpose may be for your and your family’s daily food, as a chef for your clients, for a Food Bank. Fruit and nut trees may be part of your long term plan.

Now that we know how much space you have and your purpose for growing each plant, we can estimate how many plants of each you need, how many seeds you will need if you plant from seeds. Know that Mama Nature has her own schedule – lots of rain, no rain. Wind. Hail. Heat. Birds love picking seeds you planted and slugs are perpetually hungry. We won’t speak about gophers. Add to your number of seeds to account for surprises and gardener error. Get enough for succession plantings.

If you are a SoCal gardener, you may plant several times over a season. If you are canning, plant bush bean varieties and determinate tomatoes to harvest all at once. If you want a steady table supply all season long, also plant pole bean varieties and indeterminate tomatoes. If you have a Northern short season summer window, you may choose cold tolerant early bush and determinate varieties for quicker intense production.

Take into account the number of people you are feeding and their favorites!

Graph paper, sketches, a few notes jotted on the back of an envelope, in your head. It all works and is fun!

Here’s to many a glorious nutritious feast – homegrown organic, fresh and super tasty!

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

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

Read Full Post »

Soil No Till Lasagna Compost in Place, Sheet Mulching,

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

Grow Green Manure – legumes for Nitrogen, oats to loosen the soil down deep. It takes two to three months. When it starts to bloom, chop it down and chop it up, turn it under. If you have heavy clay soil, add Sphagnum Peat Moss to both loosen your soil and increase water holding capacity if you are in a drought or dry, windy area. Let it sit until you no longer see the green ingredients. Keep it moist so the soil organisms will work all the way to the top.

Make Compost!

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

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

In these SoCal drought times, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Sphagnum Peat Moss can be added, but not too much because it can make your soil slightly acidic.

Compost is totally easy to make. There are many methods, but the simplest, is making layers, 1″ green/wet to 2″ brown/dry. You can turn it or not. Research shows not turning it has more Nitrogen. There are many different compost devices. You can use one or just make a pile wherever it makes sense, but do put it in the sun and keep it slightly moist so it stays active and you actually get some compost! Compost making methods!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add Manure

Cow manure is better than steer manure if you can get it. Chicken manure is good. Less of it does more. Be careful of free horse manure. It can be salty, and if the stalls have been sprayed to repel flies, you’ve got toxins. All manures need to be very well composted, except bunny poo, which you can sometimes get free at shelters. Bird guanos do different things. See more soil tips and about quanos.

Worm Castings! 

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

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

The worms used for making castings are surface feeders, red wigglers. If you trench your compost, add some worms. If you do sheet composting – composting in place, set up a no-dig Lasagna Garden, install some worms! Add a handful of worms to your compost pile and keep the pile moist. In dry times cover composting ground areas with mulch so the compost will be dark and moist, safe from birds.

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

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

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

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

Here’s another recipe and instructions from Shelle

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

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

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

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

Soil pH

Most veggies do best with slightly alkaline soil. Acidic soil lovers are strawberries, blueberries, cranberries. Composts for camellias, azaleas, are perfect!

Do or Buy!

Three of the main components of top grade soil are ones you can grow/make on your own – green manure, compost, worm castings. Teas you can make from compost and castings. For most urban gardeners it is a trip to the nursery for manures, but you can certainly make your own tea with it! Compost and castings are totally available, some from organic local venders. I emphasize doing your own when possible. You will know what’s in it and it’s 100% fresh and alive!

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

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

A few more tips!

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

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

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

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

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Vermicomposting Workshop Vancouver

Since 1990, City Farmer and the City of Vancouver have held worm composting workshops for City of Vancouver residents who live in apartments. For $25 participants get a worm bin, 500 worms (1 lb), Mary Appelhof’s book “Worms Eat My Garbage”, a trowel, bedding and a one-hour class. Now that’s a deal!

Worm Castings are true BLACK GOLD to your garden soil, and high quality store-bought castings are just about as expensive! For good reasons. Worm castings are literally living!  Worm castings host ten to twenty times as much microbial activity than plain soil! They cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits and vegetables are produced. Castings contain 5 times the available nitrogen, 7 times the available potash and 1 1/2 times more calcium than that found in 12″ of topsoil. These nutrients are also water-soluble and immediately available to the plant. Most potting soils have a nutrient life for 2 to 5 days, where worm castings will last up to 6 times as long.

Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

The right kind of worms are RED WIGGLERS! They forage on debris at the surface. They are smaller than earthworms that live IN the earth. Fishermen use them for bait. Ask your fellow gardeners to give you a handful to get started, go to the bait shack, ask at the farmers market, or support your local organic worm dealer! The little guys live 1 to 2 years. My clew (colony) has been going strong for 15 years now.

Worms are easy to raise or you can use a complex system. You can start them anytime, indoors or out depending on temps. Here in SoCal Santa Barbara mine live outside all year in full sun, brief freezes. They are more active when they are warmer. Soy inked newspaper is often used for bedding to start a clew. Worms are 90% water, so keep the bedding moist. My worms get all the moisture they need from the juicy kitchen bits I feed them and I cover them with their black plastic blankie inside the container to keep them moist! If your bin is stinky, you may be overfeeding or watering too much. Maybe increase the size of the air openings or put your bin where there is more circulation, or out of the shade into a sunny area.

Though you can start your worms anytime, two good times to start them are January and July. January will give you a well established clew and supply of castings for spring plantings starting in SoCal March. July gives a good supply for September, October fall plantings.

Vermicomposting Easy Bin Children Worms

Housing! This bin is great for at home gardeners or children’s school projects! The worms are safe from predators, access is easy, any liquid, leachate, worm tea, drains into the lid below. I use a longer bin about the same height.

Since Red Wigglers, Eisenia Foetida, are surface foragers, these worms need width, not depth. Mine live in a low 4′ by 2′ opaque dark grey storage container. I put holes in the bottom to allow the leachate to drain out and from time to time I move the bin to another location to enrich the soil there, each area getting some of that good stuff! I put holes about 6 to 8″ apart along the sides near the top. The wormies get air flow and on hot days hot air vents out. Inside the container I cover them with a large black plastic bag to keep it moist and dark for them. They feed all the way to the top because they feel safe in the dark where no birds can see them!

I do have a shaped-to-the-base piece of 1/4″ hardware cloth, a wire mesh, around the bottom of my box to prevent predator pests like mice or rats from gnawing into the holes in the bottom of the box. Worms are gourmet for them! Sprinkle cinnamon about if you have ants.

How to Start! Select your container or system.

  • If you choose a container, get one made of opaque material, a dark color if it is available. Worms like dark, just like under the leaves, in the topsoil, in nature. Make 1/4″ or less diameter holes in the bottom and near the top of the sides or as needed. If you put holes in the container lid, rainwater will go in, perhaps flooding your worms. A hot stove flame heated very large screwdriver blade is quick and perfect for making holes in plastic containers. Push the screwdriver in and twist. If your container will be indoors, you will need a tray underneath to collect drippings.
  • Put in 4 to 6″ of moist shredded soy ink newspaper bedding, no bleached office papers. Soak the paper overnight, then wring it out so it is moist like a wrung out sponge, fluff it up. Add some leaves if you have them, and what kitchen trim you might have been saving. If the kitchen stuff is a little funky that’s best because your worms feed on bacteria!
  • Add your worms!
  • Feed your worms slowly at first. As your worms multiply, give them more chow. Bury food scraps to keep fruit flies away.
  • Your worms want dark and moist. Cover them with cardboard or another material so they will feed to the top. I tuck them in with a large black plastic garbage bag to keep them moist.
  • Mist the paper as needed to keep it from drying out.

They like decomposing kitchen waste with the exceptions of spicy, salty, acidic citrus, sulfuric onion, dairy makes the bin smell, oils and meats (too tough). No junk food. Coffee filters, grounds in moderation, lightly ripped teabags are good – the nylon kind don’t decompose, but not too many of those because they are acidic, and veggies like things a tad alkaline. Things cut into smaller pieces decompose faster. Harder or tougher items take a long time. No grape stems, corn cobs, avocado or mango pits. They do love the avo shells though and nest in them. Crushed egg shells keep the pH neutral. Cooked rice, bread, pastas and pizzas. Go wild with potato and carrot peelings, carrot tops, funky lettuce, squash, and, a favorite, melon rinds for dessert. Fridge clean outs are perfect for your worms! If you have doubt about an item, don’t. Moderation is a good word.

Rather than laying new food on top of the worms, I use a pitchfork, small tines, little damage to worms, to gently lift my worms from one side of the bin to the other. I lay in half their new food, then move the worms back, covering the new food. Then I do the other half. The new food will decompose faster when covered.

You can easily see when they have run out of food. Feed them sooner than that, or they might be hungry a few days, even die. They eat the bacteria on what you give them. They can’t eat raw food until it decomposes a bit, so feeding them sooner is crucial. If you find yourself wondering about how they are doing, check them!

Once your bin is started, there is absolutely no reason to continue to feed them newspaper or cardboard. The quality of what you feed your worms is the health of your worms and the quality of your castings. Real nutrients – kitchen scraps, plant trimmings – like the organic wastes of nature, give you excellent castings in return. Worms will eat non nutritious cardboard and lots of other things, but why? Better to recycle that in other ways.

If you are an indoor gardener, keep your clew small. If you are an outdoor gardener, you may be hard pressed to produce enough castings! Hit up your friends that juice and make smoothies for a steady supply of high quality fresh organic veg and fruit trims and bits. I have dedicated recycle friends who bring plastic bags and wide mouth containers of veggie trim. They tie bags loosely so it’s easy for me to open and feed to the kids. I, in turn, share veggies when I have extra, sometimes planting a little more, or one of their favorites for them.

Worm Red Wiggler Eisenia Foetida Castings

Harvest the bumpy like little castings – they look like fluffy coffee grounds. You’ve seen them, often after a rain…earthworms push them up in little piles. I use an old coffee container with a handle. Take the ‘blanket’ off your worms. Give them about 5 minutes to dive out of the light. Gather the castings at the top. Wait a few more minutes for them to dive again, then gather some more. Only the castings are taken; the worms are the workers!

Oh, are you spooked because worms are ‘slimy?’ Get some thin rubber gloves. No problem.

At times you will see little yellow eggs, cocoons among the castings. Each holds 4-6  1/2″ long teensy baby worms and hatches in about 23 days. It’s crazy to try to separate them all out. Nevermind. Some of them will hatch in your garden and you will have a small population of red wigglers there too! Do they mate? Yep, they have to so they can make eggs. Lucky for us, they are hermaphroditic and can mate with any other worm they meet!

Worm Castings after a rain

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

I walk about my garden to see who might need some castings, or where I plan to plant next. Scratch out a shallow area on one side of your plant, leaving as many tiny surface feeder roots intact as possible. Most veggie annuals do all their root growing in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Spread some castings in, cover them with the soil you dug out. After you have used all the castings, water the areas lightly so the castings stay covered and moist. It’s like making and giving them worm tea in place! Remember, 25% is the ideal ratio.

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

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

Worm castings have much higher percentages of humus than either soil or compost, which helps the castings hold more water and stay aerated, while also providing binding sites for micronutrients that would otherwise wash out of soil during heavy rains. Mineral clusters that castings form combine in such a way that they can withstand water erosion and compaction, and, increase water retention! Castings hold 2 to 3 times their weight in water! If you are in a drought area, especially add them when you add compost or Sphagnum peat moss. All three increase water holding capacity. In summer, mulching keeps your soil moist also!

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

Here’s another way ~ Per Rodale, ‘One excellent use of castings is in a liquid plant tonic. Put 1 pint/2 cups of castings in a bucket. Add a gallon of warm water and a spoonful of molasses. Stir this well, and stir it frequently over the course of 24 to 48 hours. Dilute the resulting liquid at the ratio of 1 part tea to 4 parts water and use it to water container plants and fruit trees. You can use it in your vegetable beds, but they should already be well nourished by compost and thus don’t need it as much. It’s best to use all of your worm tea in a week or so.’ Another simple way is 1 cup Worm Castings for every gallon of water and wait 1 week.

Broad Fork Garden Baby Blue! Compost, Worm Castings, fish/kelp tea mixes!

A good tip! If you enjoy making worm castings, compost, fish/kelp tea mixes, and want to feed your plants but minimize damage to their roots and soil structure, get yourself a spade fork, or if you have a lot of territory, a broad fork like in the image! Push it down into the soil, rock it back and forth slightly to make holes, pour in your soup! You will hear the soil organisms dancing!

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

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

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

Keep the depth of your clew between 6 and 8 inches. If you reach capacity, give some to friends starting vermicomposting, feed some to the chickens, or just turn ’em loose in nature. But, another way to put your worms to work is to add handfuls to areas where you are composting in place or right into your composter! I keep my compost pile covered with thick opaque plastic amendments bags so the worms will work at the top of the pile too! Them and compost speeding herbs like comfrey and yarrow will perk your compost right up. Just keep the pile or area moist.

Those little yellow lemon-shaped beads are worm cocoons. Your worms are happy and breeding. Decomposers – mites, pot worms and tiny black beetles – may join the family. That’s good. They’re all doing the same work, and the worms don’t mind the company.

Vacation?! Feed them well, and add fresh bedding if they need it. That will hold them for a couple weeks.

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

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

Whether for prevention, abundant growth, recovery or economics, worm castings are fabulous. Worms work for free, and are permaculture sustainable! They can consume about 1/2 of their weight each day, turning our food waste into a high quality powerful garden amendment!

The Urban Worm Anna de la Vega

I love Anna de la Vega’s site name, The Urban Worm! The name reminds us everyone can raise worms, whether at your garden or in a special system in your kitchen! Castings can be used outdoors or in your favorite indoor container plantings! Your plants will be healthier, blooms prolific!

I was more than surprised to find myself raising worms! But the rewards are wonderful and I have come to cherish the amazing little creatures! If you have hovered over the thought of becoming a worm steward, perhaps now is a good time to start!

Names or not, love your worms!

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2.23.16 Revised and expanded from 5.17.14 post


The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal 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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Green Cabbage after the rain at Rancheria Community Garden, Santa Barbara! Anti Cancer!

Gorgeous Cabbage, Rancheria Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA Nov 27 after the rain.

Cabbages have high fiber content, low calories! They have terrific disease-fighting compounds – cancer prevention, are high in Vitamins C and K, and have a host of minerals. They are not a cut and come again veggie like local chard or super Vitamin A kale or purslane with its Omega 3s. But they will grow back in mini foursomes or up to six if you cut the head off close to the bottom of the head, leaving the lower leaves. Work some rich manure into the first inch of soil, then treat your plant like you normally would! The new heads are always smaller. Perhaps it’s better to remove and compost larger lower leaves, restore the soil and plant something new. But if your growing season is too short for multiple crops, this is a way of getting just a little more cabbage, and it is super tender!

We love that cabbage makes those super heads in a glorious profusion of amazing leaves! It has its own unique crunchy texture. Consider that they do take up a fair footprint for a one time crop. Some say cabbage is cheap, why grow it? Cause it’s organic and it tastes terrific right from the ground! To some its sulfurous scent while cooking is overpowering (see below for ways to reduce that); to others it is heaven, what their family has always done! If you love it, you love it, and you might even get used to it!

Cabbage is in the cruciferous family, genus Brassica. The word “brassica” translates in Latin as “cabbage.” Other brassicas are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens.

Tasty shredded Red CabbageTantalizing Startlingly Different Cabbage VARIETIES!
As climate changes, look for heat and drought tolerant varieties if you will be growing them over summer.

Classic gorgeous greens

Red cabbage by far outdoes other cabbages in its cancer prevention properties. They have a concentration of anthocyanin polyphenols, which contribute to red cabbage containing significantly more protective phytonutrients than green cabbage. Interest in anthocyanin pigments continues to intensify because of their health benefits as dietary antioxidants, as an anti-inflammatory, and their potentially protective, preventative, and therapeutic roles in a number of human diseases.

Early Maturing Minis or HUGE! Plant what you and your family can eat. Plant early for soonest treats, and longer maturing larger varieties to come in later. A couple delightful minis that can also be grown in containers are green Pixie Baby, and Red Express – 2 to 4 lb head, relatively split tolerant, only 63 days!

Huge varieties you can grow easily are Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage, Stein’s Early Flat Dutch – 8 inch and larger heads weighing 10-12 pounds, a favored variety for kraut. If you really do want to grow giants, 80 lbs!, try Flatpol, Northern Giant, Giant Russian, OS Cross or Megaton!

Earth tasting Savoy Cabbage bursting with health and nutrition!Earthy tasting bumpy Savoys or Super Smooth leaved… 
Savoy cabbage in particular—turns out to be an especially good source of sinigrin. Sinigrin is one of the cabbage glucosinolates that has received special attention in bladder, colon, and prostate cancer prevention research. Savoys are quite frost tolerant.

Brussels Sprouts, like mini Cabbages. Brassica

Brussels sprouts are the most recent historically, appearing on our tables by 1785. Really, they are mini cabbages conveniently along a stem! Santa Barbara weather generally doesn’t get frosty enough to make B Sprouts happy, the sprouts are quite small. But if you don’t mind the harvest time per the return, and you just love them, may they grace your table!

Chinese or Napa Cabbage - GreenChinese Cabbages are another Brassica, but are not cabbages though they sure look like it! Napa cabbage is SO elegant! Very beautiful, all those long, pale leaves with ruffled edges. Try the beautiful, Scarlette F1** shown below left! Bok Choy, or pak choi, is another leafy upright cabbageish plant eaten fresh in salads or steamed delicately. A lot of cabbage lovers love these plants too!
Chinese or Napa Cabbage Scarlette F1 Red
GROWING Your Cabbages!

Cabbages are easy to grow. Those seeds are so tiny you can hardly believe that great big plant came from one! Full sun and fat soil make them happy. In acidic soil, Red cabbage leaves grow more reddish, in neutral soils they will grow purple, while an alkaline soil will produce rather greenish-yellow colored cabbages!

Select your planting area to accommodate your cabbages and their Companions! We have lots of tasty choices!

  • Plant lettuces among your cabbages on the sunny side. Lettuces repel cabbage moths.
  • Tomatoes and celery repel cabbage worms, but many sites say not to plant cabbies with toms.
  • Nasturtium (attracts snails), onions, garlic, dill and borage act as an insect trap or repel harmful insects.
  • Mustard greens among cabbage establishes a “trap” for moths and leafwebbers.
  • Cabbage is not happy with Strawberries.
  • Plant mint near peas, cabbage or tomatoes to improve their health and flavor, and mint oil repels insects. Plant the mint in a container! It’s invasive.
  • Chamomile attracts hoverflies and wasps, both pollinators and predators that feed on aphids and other pest insects.
  • Cilantro repels aphids, potato beetles, and spider mites and makes cabbages/Brassicas grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller!

NOTE: Dying parts of the brassica family of plants, includes cabbages, produce a poison that prevents the seeds of some plants from growing. Plants with small seeds, such as lettuce, are especially affected by the brassica poison, so use lettuce transplants among your cabbages. A professor at the University of Connecticut said brassica plants should be removed from the soil after they have produced their crop.

SOIL In SoCal, you can plant cabbages year round. They do better in cooler fall/winter weather though and frosts are no problem. Prepare your soil well in advance if you are in cold challenged areas. Often soil prep is done in fall rather than losing time getting ready in spring if you have a short summer. In Alaska, long 20 hour days compensate for their very short growing season!

Cabbies are heavy feeders producing all those leaves! They like rich soil and steady attention! Composted manure, Chicken manure, timed-release vegetable ferts are terrific. Cabbages need steady weather and regular watering for steady growth. Too much N (Nitrogen), too much water, makes the plant tender and weak – susceptible to pests. 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week does the job if it doesn’t rain. But an Alaskan planter says her cabbages will take a gallon of water on a long hot day when fully growing. Depends on where you are and how big your plant is. She grows giants.

Here’s her cabbage soil planting hole recipe! Peat moss (holds water), a pail of sand (if soil is heavy remove some before mixing), 2 cups bone meal, 4-6 cups of composted steer manure, 2 cups wood ashes, a couple heaping tablespoons of Epsom salt (Magnesium) & powdered milk (calcium), maybe a little lime (to raise pH to deter clubroot). Your soil is likely different and you aren’t likely growing giants, so do your own formula, but if you are raising giants, be generous, they are going to need it plus feedings!

After she plants… When it’s all watered and settled sprinkle a good cup of wood ashes around the new stem and nearby. This helps with bugs early when plants are at first weaker. Then I sprinkle Blood meal around in the moat off and on all summer, as it’s a quick nitrogen fix. I also use a little composted manure soaked in the water can and generous amount of fish emulsion in the summer watering. Fish is a slower acting fertilizer but cabbages seem to love it!

Here’s a tip from UK giant grower David Thomas: Water lodging in the base of the leaf? Rather than removing a huge leaf that contributes to your plant’s growth, his way around this is to simply poke a hole in the lowest part of the leaf to let the water drain away (not through the main vein).

SPACING If you are planting minis, 2′ spacing is good. If you are going for giants, 8′ spacing is needed! If you want maximum size, give them plenty of room. Crowding stunts plants as they shade each other out. Depending on the variety you plant, done right, in 82 days (3 months) you can get a 30 to 50 lb cabbage! In 2012, Scott Robb of Palmer, Alaska, broke the world record for heaviest cabbage at 138.25 lbs! He holds five current world records for his large vegetables.

Select your seeds. Remember, AAS, All America Selections winners are prime! 2016’s cabbage winner is Katarina F1, an early maturing green 4″ mini, container variety – but you can plant it in the ground too!

Get transplants from your local nursery. Locals are better than box stores because they select varieties that do well in your area and they want your success and your repeat business means a lot to them. Transplanting tips from David Thomas: I tear off all of the roots that are swirling around in the shape of the pot, this sounds a bit drastic and I would never treat a pumpkin plant in this way but on a cabbage it actually increases root growth. I plant the cabbage up to the base of the lowest leaf, the buried stem will also send out roots.

Plant smart! Succession! Plant seeds and transplants of minis and bigger longer maturers at the same time to have a grand succession of fresh cabbages for your table.

PESTS

Water regularly, less if it rains. But, too much watering makes for a soft plant that invites sucking pests like those aphids. Keep a look out for any curling leaves. Get in there and look, front and back of leaves, and in the new leaf zone in the center. Hose them away immediately and keep doing it day after day until they are gone. If you see ants about tending the aphids sprinkle cinnamon around. Aphids can totally runt your plants, they often don’t recover, so don’t ignore them and just hope they will go away. See all about them UC – IPM

  • Pick off any yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies that get into your other plants. UC – IPM  Worm castings work well against whiteflies.
  • Slugs love getting into the lower leaves of cabbage heads. The slugs are so protected in there. Grrrr…. Early on lay on a Sluggo like pellet to stop them before they get started! When your cabbage head is right around its maturity date and the head is good and firm, harvest it! When a plant is past its prime, diseases, pests and birds start doing their own harvesting.
  • Holes in cabbage’s leaves are a sure sign that cabbage worms or cabbage loopers may be attacking your plant. Look for these camouflaged green pests on the underside of leaves and pick them off.
  • Tiny holes? Flea beetles – Dust with wood ash or flour dust.

SIDEDRESSING If you think they need it, give your cabbies a feed when they start to head up. It may be that if you put a ring of granular nitrogen around cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants, you will be able to grow bigger heads of vegetables than you would without the nitrogen. Usually though, your soil will be ample.

HARVEST promptly! I put the plant date and days to maturity on my plant id tags so I can check to see when to expect mature heads. The squeeze test tells you if it is firm and ready. Storing them on the plant a short time is okay, but otherwise the slugs, etc., get to them, the leaves start losing their verve, the head dries a bit and doesn’t have that bursting fresh feel! If you wait too long, the head may crack or split. If it cracks, take it immediately and salvage what you can. Cut the heads off, don’t bruise them by pulling them.

STORE your cabbies in the fridge! Anthony Reyes at FarmScape Gardens says: Remove any loose surrounding leaves and keep just the compact head. It is important to note that the quality of the stem diminishes after being stored and tends to get slightly woodier the longer it is stored. Therefore, if you would like to eat the stem (which is delicious!) do so before freezing/storing for prolonged periods (it will still be good to eat, just a little bit woodier and sometimes stringy). Place in a paper or plastic bag with some holes in it to let moisture escape. This is important as you want to keep an aerobic environment to prevent excess moisture, condensation from transpiration, and mold from forming.

Brassica Bok Choy BoltingSEEDSAVING Cabbage must be kept separated from other cole crops by a mile to prevent cross-pollination. That is impossible in a community garden. Better there to buy new seed each year. Another factor to consider is cabbages are mostly self-infertile. For seedsaving purposes they need to be planted in groups of at least 10 or more. For most of us that isn’t going to happen. Then, you need two years to do it! Cabbages, like all the Brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts – are biennials. So unless you have some extreme weather shifts, and they flower early, you wait overwinter. A week of hot weather and these cabbages above quickly bolted from no heads yet to flowering stalks. If you have had the opportunity to save seeds, lucky you! They are viable 2 – 4 years.

Red Cabbage bolting in second year

Red Cabbage bolting in second year

In normal conditions, after overwintering, in spring, new cabbage shoots burst strangely out of the unharvested cabbage heads, flower stalks form, then seeds are made in their second year. The seeds are easy to harvest, but get them before the birds do! Collect the dry seed pods. In a baggie, rub them between your hands to pop them open to release the seeds.

DELICIOUS WAYS TO EAT CABBAGE!

In one recent study (post undated), short-cooked and raw cabbage were the only types of cabbage to show cancer-preventive benefits – long-cooked cabbage failed to demonstrate measurable benefits.

Fresh Cole Slaw is best! Make it your way! Your recipe might mix red cabbage, pepper, shredded carrots, onion, grated cheese, pineapple, or apple. Your dressing could be a vinaigrette, mayonnaise, sour cream or cream with celery seed added. Slaw shapes are different – finely minced pieces, shredded strips, or even small squares! Buttermilk coleslaw is a southern United States treat! Or you just might top your salad with a few shreds of red cabbage!

Boiled! If you don’t like that sulfur smell, do it quick! Cut into thin 1/4″ slices or wedges, drop into boiling water, simmer 10 to 15 minutes until just tender ~ or steam. Drain and serve right now! Or if you don’t need it right away, chill in ice water, drain, wrap for later. The European Sour version is to cook your cabbage in apple juice, cider, white wine or water and wine vinegar, using just enough liquid to cover the cabbage. You let the liquid cook away leaving tender richly flavored cabbage! When cooking red cabbage it will normally turn blue. To retain that marvelous red color add vinegar or acidic fruit.

Put chunks in Soups & Stews, Stuff Leaves filled with whatever your heart desires, pickle, do classic Sauerkraut or super healthy Probiotics!

I love the subtleties of cabbage. Their colors. Writer Edna Ferber says ‘…always, to her, red and green cabbages were to be jade and burgundy, chrysoprase and porphyry.’ Cabbages more or less ‘sit’ compared to other veggies, collecting power from the ground up, expanding slowly and quietly from the inside – called ‘hearting up.’ They are working astonishingly hard making so many leaves! Each leaf harmonizes completely with the leaf next to it so the head is firm.

**Note on Scarlette F1: I came across it at Bobby-Seeds, page written in English! I didn’t realize it was in Europe. I only find 3 other companies on Google’s page 1 search, all in the UK. It is 2.75 pounds, $3.46 US. One company says it isn’t bitter like other red Napas. Another says it is ‘Developed by a specialist breeder in Asia, Scarlette is being aimed towards the salad markets in the UK and Spain. It is expected to generate particular interest among chefs due to its distinctive appearance.’ So, there may be shipping costs, but worth it if you can save pure seeds and keep it going! Let’s ask some of our favorite US seed companies to stock it!

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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!

See the entire December 2016 GBC Newsletter!

December Winter Garden Harvests!
Magnificent Cabbages are Easy to Grow!
Grow Your Own Garden Worms, Harvest Valuable Castings!
Wonderful Gardener Style Holiday Gifts! 
Other Community Gardens – Lower Sioux Indian Community Garden 

Events! January 29 Santa Barbara 9th Annual SEED SWAP!

See the wonderful November images at Rancheria Community Garden!

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

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Thomas Jefferson was a gardening enthusiast, but his passion for growing food went beyond his own backyard. Apparently he believed that America was incapable of true democracy unless 20 percent of its citizens were self-sufficient on small farms. This would enable them to be real dissenters, free to voice opinions and beliefs, without any obligation to food producers who might hold their survival at stake. ~ Katherine Martinko

Container Carrot Patio Planter Haxnicks

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You can start with any container you wish right outside your door, upstairs or downstairs, on the roof, for the freshest tasty organic veggies! (Haxnicks container)

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xVegTrug Stand Up Gardening bed for people with disabilities

Winner of the 2012 Green Thumb Award for Outstanding New Product, the Vegtrug’s back-saving design allows you to garden while standing. Bad knees, bad back? No problem! Get outside, raise your spirits, improve your health! There are no age limits to veggie gardening!

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Container Wall Cans! Any fence or wall will do!

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Any wall or fence will do! Be creative!

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Creative Container gardening on your Balcony!x

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Garden anywhere! The Balcony is perfect! Every which way but loose!

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On the ground Strawberries Pallet Gardenx

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Strawberries in Pallets on the ground…

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STRAWBERRIES, LOTS OF STRAWBERRIES! Overhead planted in rain gutters!x

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…to Rain Gutters overhead!

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Residential Tower Gardeningx
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Grow Fast food in space saver Tower Gardens at home, to feed the homeless, at the office or hospital!

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LA Veggie Roof Garde, architect Norman Millar’s Arkhouse

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At owner/architect Norman Millar’s Arkhouse in the Los Angeles area, the rooftop veggie garden gets plenty of SoCal sun in between polycarbonate panels. Photo: Robin Horton.

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It’s a “liberating DIY revolution,” as writer Megan Mayhew Bergman calls it. In her article “Democracy needs gardeners!” which is an inspiring call for Americans to dig up their lawns, convert empty spaces, and utilize available windowsills, Bergman urges Americans to start gardening as an act of patriotism.

The Back 40 or a gorgeous Food Not Lawn front yard! Do it!

Food Not Lawn Vegetable Garden Front Yard

Guerrilla Gardening has changed the face of many a landscape, raised neighborhood pride, and often feeds many!

Neighborhood Guerilla Garden Before After

Started in 2009, Seattle’s 7 acre, 2.5 miles from downtown Seattle, Beacon Food Forest includes an Edible Arboretum with fruits gathered from regions around the world, a Berry Patch for canning, gleaning and picking, a Nut Grove with trees providing shade and sustenance, a Community Garden using the p-patch model for families to grow their own food, a Gathering Plaza for celebration and education, a Kid’s Area for education and play and a Living Gateway to connect and serve as portals as you meander through the forest. It’s all done by volunteers and the food is free for foraging!

Small to large, Community Gardens, often urban, but not always, give landless apartment dwellers, children, disabled and seniors the blessed and grateful opportunity to garden, enjoy the outdoors, events – weddings, concerts, art exhibits, share friendship, learning and beauty with each other!

Urban garden, Fort Mason Community Garden, San Francisco, CA

Urban Community Garden, Fort Mason, San Francisco CA

Per the GrowNetwork.com: Only a few generations ago, our recent ancestors all kept their own seed supplies. I’m not talking about ancient history… I’m talking about your great-grandparents. They traded their favorite seeds with their friends and neighbors, and they passed on the best seeds to their children. In doing so, they bred vegetable varieties that were tailor-made for their local climates. And they maintained a healthy level of genetic diversity in their food supply.

Seeds Jars SeedsavingIt’s important we do the same! SeedSaving is as simple as collecting seeds from your best plants. Over the fence seed trading has always been done. These days it can be buying from online seed houses, seed exchanges, like Southern Exposure that intend to preserve heirloom plants. You might trade seeds online like at Seed Exchange – GardenWeb! You may want to contribute to a Seed Library 
or get started with free seeds from a Library. Santa Barbara CA’s Foodbank offers free seeds and instruction to people in need to help them grow their own food! Local annual Seed Swaps are usually held in January so gardeners can plan their gardens, have plenty of time to start seedlings for spring planting.

Seeds are a precious resource. Take good care of them. In any natural disaster, they are the first thing I would take with me other than my dog! If you are political, work to secure our right to have non GMO seeds and the right to collect our own seeds.

National Heirloom Exposition Santa Rosa CA 2016

Uncommon and common EVENTS! Local and international festivals, presentations, symposiums, exhibits and more! From Permaculture to rainwater catchment – graywater, soil building, seed gathering trainings, garden design, container gardening to farming, community gardens, vertical gardening, local food, edible flowers, bees, pests & diseases, organic, perennial vegetables, sustainability, to research! And then there are your favorite veggie & fruit festivals, the Gilroy Garlic Festival, The Avocado Festival, Pumpkins, Apples, Strawberries, Tomatoes! All bring out our very best and inspire more conscious gardening!

In the US, the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa CA is September 6th, 7th & 8th, 2016. There will be over 100 national and internationally acclaimed on-topic speakers. You can learn and grow with some of the top names in the pure food movement and young people speakers from age 17 up! Three Day Pass only $30, kids 17 and under free! 3 Days isn’t really enough! Three proud sponsors include the City of Santa Rosa, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Mother Earth News!

The terms Permaculture, then Food Forests/Forest Gardening, have come into use. They have changed the ways gardeners approach gardening and their interactions with each other! Simply put, permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

Forest gardening is a low maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables. Making use of plant guilds, companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers, to build a woodland habitat. Forest gardening is a prehistoric method of securing food in tropical areas. In the 1980s, Robert Hart coined the term “forest gardening” after adapting the principles and applying them to temperate climates. (Wiki)

The keyword here is sustainability! It’s a contribution to the planet. It makes living here a good quality option for our children. This is a revolution that makes sense and is well worth fighting for! Plant seeds today!

San Francisco Permaculture Guild Man with outspread arms standing in Mustard taller than he is!SAN FRANCISCO PERMACULTURE GUILD BLOG

Take super good care of yourself and your loved ones. Fuel your body, mind and Spirit with the very best!

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

See the entire July 2016 GBC Newsletter!

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