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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biodegradable, soil building!

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

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

  • If you are using found manures as mulch, check if animals have been fed hormones, eat pesticide sprayed hays, or pesticides have been sprayed on the manures to reduce flies. It is much safer to get nursery bought bagged manures from a reputable nursery and a reputable brand.
  • Cardboard or simple overlapped sheets of newspaper…about 6 will do the job of suppressing light germinating seeds.
  • Strawberries Board MulchUntreated Boards as mulch! Your strawberries like slightly acidic soil, and acidic mulch – redwood or pine needles. Also, you can lay down boards between mini rows of strawberries to keep the soil moist under the boards, the soil between the rows that the berry roots have access to. It’s a variation on pallet gardening. The advantages of using boards are you can space or remove your boards so you can easily access the soil to weed or add amendments, you can add or remove boards to make a bigger or smaller patch, you can make the boards the length you need or want, space them as needed per the plant. Planting between boards can be used for lots of other plants too if you won’t be planting an understory! As for your strawberries, they leaf out and get bigger, and in addition to the boards, they become living mulch for themselves!
  • Grow your own organic mulch! Comfrey is a great choice! It is a plant with long roots that bring up nutrients from deep in the soil. It has abundant large leaves, and you can spread them about by your tomatoes and peppers. Chop and drop covered with another kind of mulch lets more of the comfrey goodness to permeate your soil. Comfrey has lovely blue flowers for pollinators, other beneficial insects, and hummingbirds. It’s best use, however, is as a compost nutrient and speeder upper! Turn in a few chopped leaves!

Not Biodegradable but still good!

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

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

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

COMPOSTING IN PLACE!  One of the nifty tricks of using deeply mulched areas is to build soil right where you need it! Tuck kitchen waste out of sight under your mulch, where you will plant next or simply to feed the soil there! Sprinkle with a little healthy soil if you have some to spare. That inoculates your pile with soil organisms; pour on some compost tea to add some more! Throw on some red wriggler surface feeder worms. Grow yarrow or Russian comfrey (Syphytum x uplandicum) for leaves to put down first, then add your kitchen stuff. Comfrey speeds decomposition. What you put under your mulch will compost quickly, no smells, feeds your soil excellently! If you keep doing it in one place, a nice raised bed will be built there with little effort!

Mulch Straw, Plant Now!Deepest mulch can act like a compost pile that heats up. It can extend your growing season. By installing it early you may be able to plant earlier. You don’t have to wait to plant! Just make an opening, add finished compost, amendments of your choice, and plant! There are two schools of thinking about fall mulch. 1) As fall cools, mulch keeps the soil insulated, warmer longer, extending your fall growing as well! 2) Or, late summer, as cooling starts, you may find removing mulch is better so the soil is again warmed by the Sun. Get out your soil thermometer and test it for yourself and let me know, please!

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

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

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

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

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

End of Season 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Pollinator Plant Cosmos Drought Tolerant Long Season Ca Native Bees

Lovely many colored drought-tolerant Cosmos blooms spring through first frost!

The most fabulous choices to grow are a diversity of flowering multipurpose companion plants with your veggies! If that includes being a native plant, hallelujah! 

Companion Planting maximizes your connections!

Companions plants may be other vegetables, like Radish! It is grown for the bulb, can be planted as a living mulch understory, can be let to grow up among cukes and zukes to repel cucumber beetle, is a trap for flea beetles, makes lovely edible flowers! We eat Cilantro leaves, it repels aphids, it’s flowers attract pollinators, the seeds become Coriander on your spice shelf. 

Some companions are colorful! Calendula! Chamomile is bright beauty. Arugula and radish flowers are delicate and detailed! Some flowers are total dainty princesses – cilantro, carrot and celery, the three Cs! Let arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery go to flower summer through fall to bring bees, butterflies and beneficial insects – pollinators! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next year’s plantings, to share at the seed swap, give as gifts! Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!

And what if they are not companions?! Grow beauty for the pollinators just because you love beauty and your special little friends! Flying insects are the most common pollinators. From Cornell: Native bees are two to three times more effective than honeybees! A special note about the importance of Bumble bees! Honey bees DON’T pollinate tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant or blueberries, but bumble bees DO! Bumblebees do what is called buzz pollination, sonication! Please see all about it in Sue Rosenthal’s post at Bay Nature! See the PBS Bumblebee Buzz Pollination video!

Be careful with those lovely hybrids, especially ‘double-blooms.’ A slight change in scent or shape and your pollinator may not be able to recognize them.

Design for Habitat and No Pesticides!

When you are thinking where to put things, select permanent spots for herbs, gateway points for flowers and edible flowers! Designate a permanent patch for year round flower habitat for bees. Cilantro is both tasty and has lovely feathery leaves and flowers in breeze, great pollinator food. Chamomile is downright heady scented on a warm morning. Comfrey, Knitbone, is both medicinal, healing (arthritis/bones), and speeds your compost, is high in soil nutrition. Poppies are beautiful; humble white Sweet Alyssum is dainty and attracts beneficial insects. Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips! Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents! Cosmos is cosmic! Breadseed Poppies will literally have your bees rolling in pollen!

Prairie Nursery in Westfield WI says: Pollinators are attracted to blooms that fit the pollinators’ physiological traits – specifically the length of their tongue. Some bees are generalists, flitting among flowers to drink nectar and collect pollen from many plant species. Flat or shallow blossoms, such as asters or coreopsis, attract a variety of bee species. But long-tongued bees will be attracted to plants with deeper nectaries and flowers with petals that form long tubes. The inclusion of a variety of floral shapes [and sizes] attracts a more diverse array of pollinators.

Grouping plants in clumps of three or more attracts bees to the plants and allows them to forage efficiently. And don’t forget the water. Pollinators get thirsty while they are working in the sun! They like shallow water sources. A shallow birdbath with stones in it is perfect!

Farmers are planting wildflower rows! See Stripes of Wildflowers! The stripy fields have been planted across England and other countries as part of a trial to boost the natural predators of pests that attack cereal crops and potentially cut pesticide spraying! Plant flowers among, alongside, your veggies! In fact, plant your flowers right in the center of things where they can serve several plants at once! Make that a short walk, or fly, for your beneficial insects! You may not plant stripes six metres wide, but do grow plenty of flowers the length of your area!

Pest Pesticides Reduction Flower Stripes Habitat in Fields

Current UCDavis research published Dec 18, 2018 says “Planting wildflowers is a key strategy promoted nationally to support wild and managed bees,” said Williams. “Successful adoption of these plantings in agricultural landscapes will require that they not only support pollinators but that they also avoid supporting too many pests. Plant selection going forward will need to balance multiple goals of pollinators pest management and other functions. This research is a first step on the path to identifying plants that will meet these goals.”

All Season Support! Text for images from UCDavis Arboretum postfor native California bees!

Some bee species are active all year, others only in April and May, still others in July and August, and all need food! New queens are born in the fall, and after breeding they may find a place to hibernate for the winter. When they emerge in spring, they need nectar and pollen sources—or they can’t start their colonies.

Renee's California Poppy Scatter Seed Can
Spring

California poppy, Eschscholzia californica is technically an annual, but did you know they will “perennial-ize” by sprouting the following year from their roots and lower stems or by re-seeding?! Look for sweat bees scrambling around the bottom of the flower and covering themselves with pollen.

Check out Renee’s California Poppy seed scatter can!

 

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Pollinator Gaillardia × grandiflora Blanket Flower

Summer

Blanket flower,  × grandiflora is a colorful daisy-type flower popular with a number of native bees. In the Valley they attract long-horned bees like Melissodes which can be easily observed collecting nectar and pollen from the showy orange and yellow flowers. This plant may be short-lived in heavy soils. Image by Cerena Childress, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden
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Pollinator Plant Germander Sage, Salvia chamaedryoides Native CA Bees
Fall

Germander sage, Salvia chamaedryoides blooms with beautiful dark blue flowers from late spring to early summer and again in fall. It is a primary nectar source for a number of bee types. Male carder bees may be most noticeable as they set up territories around flowering patches and knock into other bees that enter their area. Deadheading spent flowers in early summer will help the blossoms (and the bees) return in fall.
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Pollinator PLant Goodwin Creek lavender, Lavandula × ginginsii ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ Heat Drought Tolerant Long SeasonWinter

Goodwin Creek lavender, Lavandula × ginginsii ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ hybrid lavender is a tough and long-blooming sub-shrub that can be used to provide winter structure to your pollinator planting. Blooming early and lasting into summer, it is popular with large carpenter bees and a range of other smaller bees for its nectar. It can be pruned to shape, to increase branching, or to keep a compact form. Image at UCDavis Arboretum

Grow host plants for butterfly & moth caterpillars too! Some are quite particular, even to only one kind of plant.

Other special pollinators!

Don’t forget the other littles! Butterflies, midges, beetles! Wasps, ants and flies, even slugs! Some of them will make you more happy than others, but thank them too for pollinating!

Bird pollination even has a name, Ornithophily! In the US, hummingbirds are key in wildflower pollination.

About 87% of flowering plants are pollinated by animals. These include wild flowers and those used by people for food and medicine. While many ground plants benefit from small mammals’ pollination, some flowering trees rely on similar relationships with tree-dwelling or flying mammals. Bats are probably the best known mammal pollinators. Hundreds of plants rely on these busy, flying nectar lovers to spread their pollen at night.

The ‘little dragons,’ lizards and skinks, not only pollinate, but eat insect pests!

Where your pollinators live!

Flowers are much more than a pretty face! They are habitat. That means food and shelter, moisture – the morning dew, and for many wild bees, a place to sleep at night! You don’t always see them because they generally get up earlier than Honeybees.

First and foremost, just because your flowers are done, doesn’t mean beneficial insects don’t still need food and living quarters. Be more conscious about planting permanent habitat for them. Plus, if you have year ’round habitat, they will be ready to work for you as soon as your plants are up!

Stripes of Wildflowers says they plant oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot. Likely they carefully chose those plants for the results hoped for. This combination probably serves the majority of common beneficial predators, large to small, needed to replace those pesticides.

  • Oxeye daisy is a pretty little perennial – grows year after year, no replanting necessary.
  • Depending on your climate, Red Clover, a legume, is a perennial that has the added advantage that as they die they also feed the soil the flowers are growing in!
  • Common knapweed is a tall, thistle-like grassland perennial that doesn’t like wet areas or acidic soil.
  • Wild carrot (Daucus carota), also known as Queen Anne’s lace, is a biennial plant in the parsley family. The flower head has trillions of tiny flowers! It is perfect for smaller beneficial insects, strongly attracts Syrphid flies aka Hoverflies!

The common factor here is by planting perennials and self-seeders, there is always habitat, and no replanting necessary! Though Wild carrot is a biennial, it self-seeds like crazy, keeping a constant supply of flowers! Your choice of flowers, that insects love, that bloom all year long and are there all the time, is garden wisdom!

Honey bees have their hives, but native bees don’t. Most species of wild bees are solitary, and some 70 percent of them dig a nest in the ground to raise their young—something they can’t do if mulch is in the way. Leave a little bare ground and protect it from being stepped on! No mulch needed! They favor a slight slope or well drained site.

Install some living quarters, a bee block or bee hotel, which are available online or at some garden stores. Bee hotels are a pollinator’s paradise! Pollinators’ housing needs are hugely diverse! Bare soil, hollow twigs, big holes in trees, little holes of only a certain depth. You could also drill holes of varying sizes in a dead tree that’s still standing (if beetles haven’t already done it for you). You can easily build them yourself! They can be simple and small or a luxury condo like this one! See more!  Please see these super useful detailed tips here!

Homemade Solitary Bee House with Gourd!

Put your bee home up in March or early April! This will offer prime nesting sites for solitary bees for laying their eggs. Soon they will be buzzing, hovering and feasting about your veggie garden! Plant their favorite flower foods in time to feed them! See more about their favorite food!

Jennifer S Holland, writes for National Geographic: Learn more about organizations that support pollinators and their habitats, such as Pollinator Partnership. You can also participate in citizen-science programs for pollinators such as Bumble Bee Watch (Xerces Society), The Great Sunflower Project (San Francisco State University), Fourth of July Butterfly Count (North American Butterfly Association), and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (Monarch Watch).

If you have questions, one wonderful resource is the National Gardening Association! State your location when requesting information. The National Gardening Association reaches more than 7.6 million gardeners a year, and during the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge recorded on its website:

• A 25% uptick in participation in its forum, “Gardening for Bees and Butterflies.
• A 45% increase in searches relating to pollination.
• 140,000 photos of pollinator-friendly plants and pollinators uploaded.

For those of you with space for shrubs and trees, find out the best varieties to seasonally support our precious pollinators all year long! If you don’t have big space, plant your mini bloomers in containers, on your apt balcony, wherever you can! Don’t forget to plant the street strip with drought tolerant abundantly flowering native plants, buckwheat might be one! Check with your local nurseries that support pollinators, local botanic gardens, master gardeners, for the best plant choices for your area.

Sharing is Caring!  Put up your conversation starter informative sign. Be proud & happy!

Pollinator Habitat Sign Cosmos Sunflower Bring Back the Pollinators

Plant significant, do-the-job flowers for bees, the colors they love the most! Plant for pollinators of all kinds, plant for the good-guy predators! Do it in your yard, in your veggie garden, along the street!

“When California was wild, it was one sweet bee garden throughout its entire length,
north and south, and all the way across from the snowy Sierra to the ocean.”
~John Muir, “The Bee Pastures”

Make your life a lovely Meadow!

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

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

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Ants and Aphids on Tomato Plant
Ants tending aphids on Tomato plant

Too many ants! Plants are seriously damaged by their aphids. Production is stalled, plants die. Not ok.

Bad year! Ants are on beans, cucumbers, okra, even tomatoes! It’s become clear the usual hosing off the aphids isn’t enough. Hosing uses too much water, it waters your plants too much, which the ants like! With big tomato plants jammed in cages, you can’t get to the center and fuzzy plants don’t like to be watered on their leaves anyway. The aphids the ants tend are almost impossible to get off those fuzzy backed leaves – especially the stiff haired cucumber leaves. You can’t hard spray them off cucumber flowers because it blows the flowers away too. Argh.

Where do those aphids come from?! Some farming ant species gather and store the aphid eggs in their nests over the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants. Queens that are leaving to start a new colony take an aphid egg to found a new herd of underground aphids in the new colony. As aphids feed, they often transmit plant viruses that can sometimes kill the plants, and the honeydew they make, that the ants feed on, favors the growth of sooty mold. This is a very destructive black fungus that spreads on plant leaves. Not only do ants protect and farm herds of aphids, but also cottony scales, mealybugs, soft-type scales, and whiteflies. Bad juju in the garden.

OK. So it’s either spray with a killer mix, or bait to end the colony. Enough already. Spraying is immediate; baiting takes a few days to a week. Do both to save your plants sooner.

Temporary Solutions

  • Insecticidal soaps are quick but temporary. Drench ant colonies with solutions of insecticidal soap, which are nearly non-toxic highly refined soap. It will not eliminate ants deep in the nest.
  • Neem Oil, organic, is a maybe. Some report it works and swear by it, others say it doesn’t work at all. Probably depends on what kind of ants you have. Some say premix works for them, others say get the 100% stuff. It is not long lasting, repeated sprayings are needed.
  • The Stinkies! Tea Tree Oil, herbs like Peppermint or Rosemary, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus sprays work and smell great! These can be used a couple of different ways. Crush the leaves, sprinkle on an ant line and they vanish. Or, use one cup of water to ¼ cup of peppermint or spearmint. Mix in your blender, strain into a handheld pump sprayer. Put it where you want it! Repeated sprayings needed. Some say you need less of Tea Tree and less frequent sprayings.
  • Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is fossilized remains of plankton; it looks like an off-white talc powder. It kills insects with exoskeletons, all kinds of them! It is perfectly safe for mammals, in fact, is eaten daily by some humans. To work it has to get ON the ant, and if it is even dew dampened, doesn’t work. It doesn’t attract ants, so they don’t invite their friends, and it isn’t ‘shared’ with the other ants. So yes it works, and no it doesn’t. If your plants are suffering now, it’s too slow to use.
  • Vinegar A half to a liter down the hole kills, but the ones that escape merely move. Remember, vinegar is also an herbicide. Be careful.
  • Water? Ants can live submerged in water for several days. That’s why the hose down the hole doesn’t work. So you need a little fire power, boiling hot water, to kill them.

‘Permanent’ Solution! Borax, plain old grocery store 20 Mule Team Borax kills the colony. It really works without fail. It’s cheap, a little goes a long way, and you can use what’s left to do your laundry!

Spray Mix 1/2 cup of sugar with 1 teaspoon of borax (20 mule team) with 1 cup of water to make a spray and spray on their trail where they enter the house (garden) and in 3 days they will be gone. Spay around the windows and doors to keep them out. When the spray dries they eat the crystals and take them back to the nest and POOF they are gone. At the garden, do this on a WINDLESS DAY, and be very careful not to get it on your plants. It’s an herbicide.

Per April Sanders, here’s how the BAIT thing works: Worker ants only feed on liquids. They take solid food back to the nests, where it is given to larvae. Then, the larvae convert it to liquid and feed it back to the worker ants [all the worker ants!]. Straight boric acid or insecticide will kill ants, but the worker ants will eat it rather than taking it back to the nest because it is in liquid form. Making a paste ensures the poison will get to the nest.

The first bait recipes I found were sugar and Borax. So I tried it. I found a lot of dead ants, meaning the Borax was not getting back to the nest, but the Borax was definitely killing the ants. After reading April’s explanation, I am now adding cornmeal to the mix. It is a ‘solid’ the ants have to carry back to the nest for processing. So sugar to attract the ants, cornmeal to carry home, Borax to do the job.

Here’s the skinny on cornmeal! Neither cornmeal nor grits cause ants to explode or jam up and starve because ants don’t eat solids. Cornmeal does disrupt ants’ scent trails until they lay down new ones. Yes, the ants might move, due to disrupted trails, and that might be only a few feet away. It appears to stop ants, but they are merely feeding close to their nest at your expense! They take the stuff home, let the larvae convert it to liquid, and they get it back in the form they can eat.

April explains that cornmeal is a medium to carry the poison. ‘Mix cornmeal with a slow-acting liquid insecticide or boric acid to make a paste. Slow-acting insecticides are the most effective way of controlling ants, according to the Colorado State University Extension. Choose one made specifically for ants for best results, and add it a little at a time to the cornmeal until you have a thick paste.’

  • Sugar ants. Bait is serious. This means you are out to kill the colony, a ‘permanent fix.’ Bait is easy to make, a cup of very warm water, 1/2 c of sugar, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons Borax, make a paste. Set it out in a way birds, pets or children can’t get to it. Put it out AFTER you have watered, at the base of plants the ants and aphids are bothering. The ants will go for the sugar and lay off your plants. Scout ants take it home to the colony, and it is spread to all the ants. It isn’t an instant fix, but it works in a few days to a week. REMOVE while you water, replace afterwards.
  • For grease or protein ants, Golden Harvest Organics bait: Mix three parts peanut butter with two parts jelly and add one tablespoon of boric acid per six ounces of mix. Add cornmeal for your solid. Place the bait on pieces of paper or stuff it into large straws (safer so birds won’t get into it,) and place it where you see ants foraging.

Make your own SAFE bait containers!

Make your own Safe Ant Bait Containers!

  • Small diameters of pipe or unchewable tubing keeps bait safe from birds, pets and small animals. Swab the inside of the end of the tube with a Q-tip to be sure the paste is stuffed far enough away from the end of the tube for a small creature to reach. Place out of the sun, or make some shade for it, along the ant trail.
  • Make holes in a jar lid, toward the center, so if it gets wet, falls over or you lay it on its side, your bait doesn’t ooze out. Put your bait in the jar, put the lid on tight. Lay it on its side, butt end facing the direction you water from, so if you accidentally water, the water doesn’t get inside. Lay it on its side along the ant trail, but especially near a plant the ants have been tending, for their easy access. They will go to it and stop tending the aphids. Don’t put it in full sun so it won’t bake your bait or be too hot for the ants to want to get into. If the lid surface is too slick for purchase, sandpaper or scratch it with a rock so the ants can get a grip. Containers are safe for you to handle when you want to move them or add more bait or remove while you water. If you make holes in the sides, make them high so the bait doesn’t seep out.

When I say Borax really works, I mean it! BE VERY CAREFUL. Besides a bugacide, it is an herbicide, used to kill weeds! It can’t tell the difference between a weed and your veggie plants. When you put down your bait, do not water later, forgetting it is there, and get it in your soil or on your plants. Take up your baits before you water. Definitely don’t do it before rains.

More ant & Borax details from an undated UCCE article on ‘New Research’ by Nick Savotich says: ‘The Argentine ant, being a honeydew feeder, has a strong preference for high carbohydrate liquids. High sucrose-based baits, (50% solution), were found to be the most preferred. Various concentrations of boric acid as the toxicant were also tried in combination with the high sucrose baits. It was found that the lowest concentration of boric acid, 0.25%, was as acceptable to the ants as was the sugar solution alone. Higher concentrations, 0.5 – 2%, tended to inhibit acceptance. Boric acid is an excellent toxicant for ants. However the next step is to determine whether this very low concentration (0.25%) is adequate to destroy whole colonies of the Argentine ant.’ So you see, it doesn’t take much of that 20 Mule Team to do the job.

For best results lay out a fresh bait daily. Lay it in areas where you see regular activity and near their points of entry if you know them. Don’t be diligent washing away their trails, you want them to find the bait spots easily again and again. All the workers in the colony can follow each others trails, so even if you killed off the first foragers, their partners will follow the trail they left.

Stop them before they start! Maybe you have been over watering? Ants make their colonies near a water source, and soft over watered plants are aphid friendly. When you find ant colony entrances, put a few drops of dish soap around, down the nest hole, fill in/bury the nest entrance. If they have taken up residence in your compost pile, turn that compost more frequently and water it a little less!

Predators! Groundbeetles, humpback flies, parasitic wasps, praying mantids and the yellow-shafted flicker all dine on ants. Plant flowering plants like cilantro, celery, carrots, food to bring the beneficial insect predators. You are lucky if you have woodpeckers because they are voracious ant eaters.

Wear gloves, wash your hands when you are done working with any toxic stuff, and remove your baits promptly when you are done with them.

Next year, put down your baits before you do plantings the ants and aphids love. Knock back the ant population from the get go! No, dear garden friends, we will never be ant free, nor do we want to be. Ants aerate our soil, clean up scraps and seeds, feed on fleas, termites, and other pests, are a food source for birds and other insects. As with all creatures, they play an important part in a healthy planet. Balance is a practical peace.

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