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Dec Winter Veggies Colander Flowers Dan Boekelheide

A misty morning at the garden….

I’m so grateful for having all you garden friends in my life! I love sharing, gardening, learning, being outdoors in all kinds of weather together! Happy Holidays and please enjoy some lovely November images!

Harvest Brassicas of all sorts! The big ones, broccoli, cauliflower and if you live in a good chill area, Brussels sprouts, have grown big enough now and your earliest varieties are producing handsomely. Harvest your brocs and caulies while the heads are still tight. If you miss that, harvest asap, even the flowers and flower stalks are edible! After you take the main broccoli head, let your plant continue to grow so it will produce smaller side shoots. Some varieties produce large 3 to 4″ mini brocs and later smaller salad size ones right on through summer! Cauliflowers are a one time harvest though you can keep eating the greens. You might choose to pop in some beautiful chard, a potato patch, or quick growing mini cabbages in large open spots that become available. Some cabbages, especially the mini and early varieties, are headed tightly and ready to eat – slaw, steamed, dropped into soups. You can still replant some of them if you love them!

Deliciously fresh and nutritious winter heading lettuces, kale, celery, bok choy, cilantro, arugula and all manner of cut and come agains are in! Table onions scallions, chives and leeks can be snipped or cut off about 2″ above the ground and let to grow back 3 to 4 times! Do the same but at about 3″ with cilantro and arugula. Let some of your cilantro and arugula grow out for flowers to bring the bees, seeds for the birds and for you to plant more!

Winter brings a lot of tasty Root crops. Winter Cylindra Beets are colorful, and have cut and come again leaves too! Long winter radishes like Daikons are spicey! Carrots are splendid to eat at the garden, share with your pup, bunnies, shred into salads, add to winter soups and stews, slice/chop/stick and freeze for later! Grow some Parsnips too! Turnips have so unique a flavor you might want to eat them separately to just enjoy that flavor.

Harvest peas when they get to the size you want them, and be prompt with that harvesting to keep them coming! Plant more rounds if you love peas!

MAINTAINING

Sidedressing is like snacking. Some of your heavy leaf producers and big bodied Brassicas, may need a feeding now and again or just when they start to fruit. If they slow down, or just don’t look perky, slip them a liquid feed out to their dripline. Get your long spouted watering can nozzle under those low cabbage leaves. Lettuces love manures. Compost and manure teas, fish emulsion (when there are no digging predators), powdered box ferts, are all good. Winter feeds need to be easy for your plant to take up. Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings. Slow release is a wise consideration. An excellent way to get feeds to the roots is to push in a spade fork no more than 6″ deep. Push it in vertically (so as not to break the main tap roots), wiggle it back and forth just a bit, remove the fork, pour your foods into the holes, close ’em back up. Soil organisms will get right to work, your plant will stay healthy and be quite productive! Worm castings, though not food, work wonders with immunity, soil conditioning and help germination! Mix some in with your liquid feeds you pour around your plant.

The exceptions are carrots, peas and favas. Carrots get hairy and will fork with too much food! Over watering or uneven watering makes them split and misshapen. Your peas and favas are busy gathering Nitrogen from the air, feeding themselves.

A mini task is to keep covering the shoulders of carrots, beets, radishes, parsnips and turnips. They substantially push right up above ground as they grow. Planting their seeds deeper doesn’t compensate. It’s the nature of the veggie! Never hurts to put a handy little pile of extra soil near where you plant them. Uncovered shoulders look dry, are tough, sometimes bitter, and need peeling before cooking. Uncovered carrot shoulders don’t ripen but stay green, just like exposed parts of potatoes turn green. The green on potatoes is slightly poisonous, but not enough to do harm, but it doesn’t look good.

Watering is important even in cool weather. Also, some plants simply like being moist ie chard, lettuce and short rooted peas. No swimming, just moist. Finger check your soil after rains to see if your soil is moist deeply enough. Sometimes it is moistened only 1/4″ deep, needs more water! Also, be careful of too much water, that makes for an aphid tasty soft plant. Watch WEATHER reports in case of freezes, heavy winds, rain. After strong winds check right away to see if any plants have blown over and need staking, roots need covering with soil. See Rainy Day Tactics for Spectacular Veggies!

Santa Barbara’s average First Frost (fall) date AT THE AIRPORT is December 19, Last Frost (spring) date is (was?) January 22. That can vary from the coastal areas to the foothills, and our climate is changing generally to warmer, so these dates may not be viable guides much longer, if even now. And remember, these are average dates! See great tips – Protect Your Veggies from Freezing

Except for erosion control, in winter, we pull mulch back to let the soil warm up during the short winter days. The only areas we mulch are around lettuces and chard to keep mud splash off the leaves. Also, it’s good to remove pest habitat, let the soil dry a bit between rains to kill off wilts fungi. Bag up, or pile and cover, clean uninfested summer straw, mulches, to use as compost pile layers during winter. Do not keep straw from areas where there have been infestations.

When you put in seeds, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from vanishing upcoming seedlings overnight, making you think they never came up! No, they didn’t let you down. Killing off the creatures ahead of time saves the babies. It stops new transplants from being seriously damaged or entirely eaten while they are small. Do this a few times, to knock off the generations, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while.

Pests Birds Aviary Wire Cloches
Seedlings Cover Birds Bottles WireSeedlings Baby Lettuce Plastic Bottle Cloche
Seedlings Protection Bent Wire Row Cover

Don’t lose your crops to birds! Buy pre made covers, or get clever and cover seeded rows with DIY small openings wire tunnels or a patch cover bent that has sides bent to the ground to keep birds from pecking at little leaves or from plucking tiny seedlings right out of the ground! You can also use small plastic bottle sections to make mini sleeves that birds won’t go down into. Or for baby lettuces, make large plastic bottle self watering cloches though wire covers let more light in! Bird netting is inexpensive, tears easily, but is good to stretch over peas on a trellis.

Prevention and removal! Keep an eye out for pests and diseases and take quick action! A typical disease is Powdery mildew. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. For mildew apply your baking soda mix. The best combo is 1 regular Aspirin, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. 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. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution. Hose away aphids and whiteflies, mildew. Remove yellowing Brassica leaves. Yellow attracts whiteflies. In general, plant further apart for air circulation, water and feed just a little less to let those leaves harden up a bit. Soft fat leaves are an invitation to aphids and mildew!

Chard and beets gets Leafminers. Where they have eaten looks terrible but the good part of the leaves is perfectly safe to eat. Plant chard so mature leaves don’t touch, remove infested leaves immediately to reduce spread! Beets are not a permanent crop, so they are planted closely. Simply harvest them at their leaves’ prime – ahead of the Leafminers.

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants.

Windy days are prime time to gather leaves to add to compost or process for Leaf Mold, Mulch or Compost! Leaf Mold is low in nutrients, but makes a superb soil improver, conditioner for vegetable and flower beds. Leaf mulch is free for the making! Leaf Compost processes faster when made the right way! See more!

PLANT JUDICIOUSLY NOW

Per square foot, fast growing cut-and-come-again Lettuce, Chard and Kale are by far the top winter producers! Plant more big plants like brocs and cauliflower, but remember, with cooler weather, they will grow more slowly. That may interfere with early spring plantings in March because you will need time to let added compost, manures, worm castings and Sphagnum peat moss (increases water holding capacity) become part of the soil organism community. If you do plant them, better to get transplants if you can, and shave six weeks of their needed gowing time to maturity. Select faster maturing varieties now.

As lettuces tire, and other plants like carrots and beets are removed, add more of them and any ‘littles’ you love on the sunny side and between the big plants. If they need more sun, remove large lower leaves of the big plants. Mild tasting littles include bok choy, kohlrabi, garden purslane, arugula, mizuna, watercress, young parsnips and turnips, Daikon winter radishes, and Napa cabbage. Otherwise, go for those dark green kales, mustard, rutabaga and turnip greens! Try some culinary dandelions for super nutrition! These are plants that will take you through February, March and leave enough time to add compost and to let sit until major spring planting begins in April.

Believe me, you are going to get spring planting fever along about March, so plan ahead for it!!! Start seeds the first three weeks of January for early March plantings! Choose varieties that are cold tolerant and are early maturers for the soonest table eats!

If you have enough seeds, over planting is fair game! Thin your beets, carrots, chard, kale, mustard, turnips. Take out the smaller, weaker plants. They are great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves. Plant patches of Mizuna and mow it!

Remember your winter companion planting tips:

  1. Carrots enhance peas, onion family stunts peas
  2. Carrots thrive when Cilantro, Chamomile, Marigold are planted with them.
  3. Onions, leeks and chives help repel the carrot root fly. But remember you can’t put the onion family near peas!
  4. Lettuces repel cabbage butterflies
  5. Cilantro enhances Brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, kale and repels aphids on them!

Besides beautiful bareroot roses, decide now where you will be buying any January bareroot veggies you want! Consider: grape vines; artichokes; short-day (sweet) globe onions; strawberries; cane berries such as raspberries (get low-chill types); low-chill blueberries; and rhubarb (be cautious where you plant it, it can be poisonous to humans – children, dogs and chickens), asparagus, and horseradish. Artichoke pups need 3’ to 4’ space, 6′ is more a reality! They are hefty growers and live 10 years! If you keep them watered, and there is enough space, they are a great street strip plant!

SPRING PREPS

Seeds for Spring & Summer planting! Perfect time to sit with seed catalogs, do online research. Get your summer garden layout in mind. First choose what is good for your excellent health! Next might be how much plant you get per square foot if you have limited space and want to feed several people. Since we are in drought conditions, water could be a strong consideration ~ choose heat and drought tolerant varieties. Get some early varieties, for earliest harvests along with later maturing varieties for a continuous table supply. Earlier variety fruits are generally smaller, but Yum! Cherry tomatoes come in first. Place your order for the entire year, while seeds are still available. The Santa Barbara Seed Swap is Jan 29, very soon! Get your seeds ready to share, and prepare your ‘shopping’ list!

Delicious choices to consider:  Perennial  Heat & Drought Tolerant – per Southern Exposure ~

Summer Lettuce Varieties: In summer you want a stronger lettuce, heat tolerant & slow bolting! Lettuce Leaf Red Sails is a beauty. Jericho Romaine from Israel has become the classic summer romaine for warm regions. Sierra, Nevada. Parris Island is slow bolting. Green Towers Romaine tolerates moderate summer heat and has some resistance to tip burn and bolting. Black Seeded Simpson. And there are more – try several!

Definitely start building compost for spring planting. You could plant green manure where you will grow heavy summer feeders like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, strawberries. Or plant it if you want a break! Just lay in some green manure seed mix – vetch, bell beans, Austrian peas and oats. In Santa Barbara area get the mix and inoculant at Island Seed & Feed. Let it grow two to three months to bloom stage, chop down, chop up and turn under, let sit two weeks to two months. Your choice. Let the herds of soil organisms do their work! I usually do about 3 weeks. Or, lay on as many layers of compost material as you can get for an up to 18″ deep area where you will be planting. Put in some surface feeding red wiggler worms. The BEST soil enhancer!

WINTER VEGGIES STORAGE

This is such a great post by Anthony Reyes at FarmScape Gardens, here is the link! Winter Vegetable Storage, Part 2
For veggies in your kitchen, here is the UCDavis Quick Guide to Fruits & Vegetables Storage:

Storage - Which veggies and fruits to Refrigerate or Countertop!

BEE FOOD! Plant wildflowers now from seed for early spring flowers! Germination in cooler weather takes longer, so don’t let the bed dry out.

Santa Barbara’s 10th Annual Seed Swap is January 28! The last Saturday of January every year is National Seed Swap Day! Look in your area for an event, and if you don’t find one, collaborate with your local garden club or permaculture group to get one going!

Wonderful Gardener Style Holiday Gifts!

Please be generous with your time these holidays. Rather than just serving food, maybe show someone how to grow veggies, give them seeds with instructions, give them and the kids a tour of your garden – eat carrots together!

Layer up, enjoy these crisp days. Let the wind clear your Spirit, the rain cleanse and soften your Soul.

Happy December Gardening!

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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 November 2017 GBC Newsletter!

December Winter Garden Harvests!
Salanova® Lettuces! Super Production per Space!
It’s the Season for Leaf Mold, Mulch or Compost!
Selecting the Right Seeds for Your Annual Plantings!

Upcoming Gardener Events! 3 January La Sumida Nursery events, 10th Annual Santa Barbara Seed Swap!

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

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Calendula Biodiversity Companion Plant Sage Strawberry Chard

Beautiful biodiversity! Calendula – yellow, Pineapple Sage – red, Strawberries, Scarlet Chard in back.

Calendula is a terrific January on herb that brightens SoCal Gardens most of the year though they do prefer cool weather and tolerate frost. Yellow, orange, white or bicolor! Spiffy green, green leaves! One blogger refers to them as Sunshine Incarnate! Aka Pot, English or Poet’s Marigold ~ Calendula Officinalis, not to be confused with the Tagetes Marigolds used for Nematode suppression. See the Tagetes details

Be ready to give them some room! They grow up to 2′ tall and can take up a good 3′ footprint, plus they self seed, given time will spread if you let them. Plant well back from narrow pathways, or soon you won’t be able to get through!

Calendula Frost Pilgrim Terrace Community GardenIt’s easy to grow. If you still have plants from last year, gather seeds, drop them here and there in well drained areas when soil temperatures reach 60 degrees or after last frosts. Cover with about a 1/4″ of soil, and the ones that like that spot will grow themselves! Or transplant babies. They aren’t too picky about their soil and are cold hardy to 25 degrees. Scorching heat is not good, so plant sooner or later. They do great in containers! Put them in accent places or where you can see them a lot of the time!

Remove browning lower leaves to keep them looking fresh and let air circulate. They are susceptible to mildew. Deadhead to keep getting flowers!

GARDEN WORKHORSE COMPANION PLANT

Most insects avoid the plants, which is in keeping with one of its old uses as the basis for insect sprays, contains pyrethrum. The idea of brewing up calendula tea from the plants’ flowers and leaves, and using it as an insecticidal spray, is getting renewed attention based on several recent studies. In Poland, growing calendulas among cabbage resulted in fewer problems with aphids, cabbage worms, and diamondback moths. A recent study in India showed that calendula extract reduced feeding by tobacco cutworms.

The Mexican beetle avoids Bean rows that have Marigold/Calendula growing among them. Calendula repels a number of unwanted soil nematodes and asparagus beetles, but may attract slugs. Plant Calendula with tomatoes and asparagus. Calendula attracts a wide range of pollinators because it provides nectar over the whole growing season.

It is a super trap crop for aphids, whiteflies, and thrips because it exudes a sticky sap that they find more appealing and delicious than nearby crops.

Calendula flowers attract pollinator bees and butterflies! The nectar–along with the pests that it traps–attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs, hoverflies, and lacewings. Black flies that are attracted are followed by predatory hoverflies that feast on insect pests.

Calendulas also benefit the garden below ground, where they form partnerships with soil-borne fungi that turn the plants into soil-cleaning machines. In China and the USA, calendula has been found to be useful in the restoration of soil contaminated with high levels of cadmium. In Columbia and Spain, cover crops of calendula were found to suppress root-knot nematodes.

Calendula is an excellent multi-functional plant for permaculture fruit tree guilds.

Calendula grows thick and makes a great cover crop. Seed an area, let it grow, turn it under.

Plant Calendula right in the middle of things, between, next to any plant you want to help!

PESTS & DISEASES

Pests are Aphids, snails, slugs, whiteflies and the cabbage looper. Wash away aphids, remove infested leaves if necessary. Use a vinegar solution to kill them. Toss some organic snail/slug bait around two or three times to remove generations of snails. Where there are holes in the leaves, seek and remove loopers.

The disease is Powdery mildew. No Overhead watering. Mildew can be a problem on a plant you have pinched back to get dense bushy foliage with little air circulation. Best to prevent mildew by including it in your baking soda applications. UC IPM Powdery mildew  UC IPM Calendula

SEEDSAVING

Herb Calendula Seed HeadsCalendula seeds have personality! No two are alike. Saving them is simple! Let them dry on the plant for the most nutrition the mother plant can give them. Select plants with the color you want. Hold a bag underneath the dried flower head, gently break off the seeds. If the seeds don’t want to break off easily, let them dry a little longer. Lay them out in a dry place for two to three days to dry completely off the plant.

Gather enough for yourself and to share as gifts or package up for your local Seed Swap! Label your packet, store in a dry cool dark place.


HYPO-ALLERGENIC MEDICINAL

An account, written in 1699, states “The yellow leaves of the flowers are dried and kept throughout Dutchland against winter to put into broths, physicall potions and for divers other purposes, in such quantity that in some Grocers or Spicesellers are to be found barrels filled with them and retailed by the penny or less, insomuch that no broths are well made without dried Marigold.” Marigold is another name for Calendula.

Calendula Infused Oil Hypo-allergenic MedicinalMedicinal, of course, depends on whether you like doing that with your plants. I’m not too patient about building my own remedies, though one of these days I might do it. I know Calendula from tubes of goo I buy at the health food store. It’s a natural remedy for skin ailments, minor cuts and burns, sunburn, insect bites, diaper rash, dandruff! Use for skin and tummy ailments with dogs, horses, and cows, ear mites in doggies.

Sore throat? It doesn’t matter whether it is viral or bacterial infection because Calendula is effective against both! Gargle your tea 2-3 times a day or sip warm calendula tea slowly to get immediate relief. For children, mix honey with the tea and give spoonfuls of it several times a day.

Calendula infused oil Recipe by Ashley

It increases blood flow to the skin cells, provides antioxidant protection that reduces the appearance of wrinkles and age spots, and even the visibility of scars. Calendula tea is great!

The easiest way to make the tea is to put about a tablespoon of dried calendula flowers in a heat proof mug and pour boiling water over them. Cover with a saucer and let steep for around 15 to 20 minutes.

It has antibacterial properties that make it good in toothpastes, mouthwashes, soaps, and shampoos. It is very effective in killing bacteria that cause everything from gingivitis to cavities. Research has shown that calendula has antioxidant compounds that directly impact your vision, helps prevent macular degeneration and the development of cataracts. Calendula can significantly reduce inflammation discomfort from a cough, joint pain, upset tummy. Add some calendula oil to your skin balm.

If you need a lot of flowers for your remedies, fertilizers high in phosphorus help. Jamaican bat guano is great, but needs to be added to your soil 4 months in advance of planting so it has time to break down for your plant to uptake. Plant densely and deadhead.

Warning: Some people have allergic reactions to high doses of calendula oil. Consult a trained herbalist or medical professional to avoid any major side effects.

EDIBLE LANDSCAPING – COOKING WITH CALENDULA!

Petals of single flowered varieties have better flavor! It’s spicy leaves and flowers are added to soups, sprinkled on salads, used as garnishes, in salsas, burritos, scrambled eggs, and frittatas! The yellow pigment of the flowers is used in place of saffron, in fact is called ‘Poor man’s saffron.’ It is tasty good looking in quiche, cake frosting, rice, butter, in or on cream cheese! Add to bread, syrups and conserves. You can dry the flowers and leaves for longer storage, to make winter tea and tonics.

There are tons of calendula varieties with different flower shapes, color combos, dwarfs for containers and borders, single to multi heads! Prince is heat resistant. Pacific Beauty is heat tolerant, has long stems for cutting!

Orange Calendula Flower at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden
Orange Calendula Flower at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

We are charmed by its beauty and it serves us well. Thank you dear plant.

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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’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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International Year of Pulse Crops 2016

2016 International Permaculture Day is using this phrase: feed soil and people with pulses! What are Pulses and what do they do?!

Pulse crops Pulse: from the Latin puls meaning thick soup or potage, pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Technically, the term “pulse” is reserved for crops harvested solely for DRY SEED.That would be DRIED peas, edible beans, lentils and chickpeas/garbanzo. Pulses are very high in protein and fibre, low in fat.

Importantly, pulses are nitrogen-fixing crops that improve the environmental sustainability of annual cropping systems. Many of you know that means they take Nitrogen from the air, ‘fix’ it in little nodules on their roots, in essence, gather their own Nitrogen, N being what plants need to live and grow. Planting these crops densely feeds your soil.

There’s more!!! Pulse Canada has gathered the data!

  • Pulse crops produce a number of different compounds that feed soil microbes and benefit soil health.
  • Pulse crops have a significant impact on soil biology, increasing soil microbial activity even after the pulses are harvested.
  • Pulses have also been shown to exude greater amounts and different types of amino acids than non-legumes and the plant residues left after harvesting pulse crops have a different biochemical composition (e.g. Carbon/Nitrogen ratio) than other crop residues.
  • The ability of pulses to feed the soil different compounds has the effect of increasing the number and diversity of soil microbes.

Definitely crops grow better in soils that are more “alive” with a diverse array of soil organisms! These organisms break down and cycle nutrients more efficiently, feeding the crops as they grow, helping crops to access nutrients.

In addition, a large, diverse population of soil organisms ‘crowds out’ disease-causing bacteria and fungi, making for healthier plants. Growing pulses breaks disease, weed and insect cycles. But of course!

Growing pulse crops in ROTATION with other crops enables the soil environment to support these large, diverse populations of soil organisms. That’s why we grow ‘green manure’ crops – bell beans (a small variety of fava), Austrian peas, vetch mixes – over winter to feed upcoming summer crops. When you remove plantings of peas or beans, cut them off at ground level rather than pull and remove those roots with the valuable nodules!

When & Where to Plant Other than for food, plant pulse soil feeding cover crops, green manure, when you want to take a break. Don’t just let your land go, give it something to do while you are away. Let it feed and restore itself! It’s so easy to do. Just wet the seed with an inoculant & fling the seed about! Keep the seedlings moist until they are up a bit, then all you have to do is water once a week or so, the plants will do the rest. If your climate is warm enough, plant one area each winter. Let it rest from other soil using crops. Plant where you will grow heavy feeders like tomatoes the following summer.

Pulse Nutrition!

Pulses provide a number of nutritional benefits that positively impact human health! Pulse is gluten-free, can reduce “bad” cholesterol, has a low glycemic index, and virtually no fatSee more!

Pulses taste great. Rich in fiber and protein, they also have high levels of minerals such as iron, zinc, and phosphorous as well as folate and other B-vitamins. High in protein, they reduce the environmental footprint of our grocery carts. Put it all together? Healthy people and a healthy planet.

Pulses come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours and can be consumed in many forms including whole or split, ground into flours or separated into fractions such as protein, fibre and starch. That could be delicious red bean salsa, chiles, split pea soup, plain or spiced hummus, falafel balls! Dairy free pulse cakes and cheesecakes, ice cream!

Pulses do not include fresh beans or peas. Although they are related to pulses because they are also edible seeds of podded plants, soybeans and peanuts differ because they have a much higher fat content, whereas pulses contain virtually no fat.

There are delish recipes online, and Pulse recipe books – main dishes, desserts and baked goods! Put more of these good foods in your life! Check out http://www.cookingwithpulses.com/ !

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

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I love Val Webb’s image and she and I both love COMPOST!  She says:  There’s an irresistible alchemy involved when you can start with garbage and end up with a wildly nutrient-rich substance that has been likened to Ghirardelli chocolate for earthworms.

Composting is EASY! Start Now!  Get your soil fat!  The sooner you plant, and plant in tasty soil, the sooner you get a great harvest!

There’s compost and vermicompost, hot and cold compost, compost in place, trenching, to name a few.  You have options!

Compost is decayed organic matter – poops – that’s manures, dry leaves and straw/alfalfa, wet grasses and kitchen wastes. Compost has a variable amount of Nitrogen in it depending on what has been composted and how the compost was made. Some studies show unturned compost has more Nitrogen than turned compost. Homemade compost can be up to 4 N, as is fish emulsion and chicken manure. Steer is 2, horse 1.7. If you need a quick boost for a yellowing N starved plant, go for bat guano, or easily assimilable blood meal, both at 10 N! Be careful with that bat guano, it’s hot and can burn your plants. And both are pricey. Get just the amount you need at Island Seed and Feed’s bulk bins.

Vermicompost is worm poop. Politely, worm castings. Simple as that. Red wriggler worms are easy to raise, will eat lots of things but do best with tender stuff, your green kitchen waste. They love cantaloupe and melon rinds, nesting in avocado shells, egg shells keep their pH neutral. Wrigglers are surface feeders not earthworms. If you put wrigglers in the soil, they die. Worm castings (vermicompost) have negligible N, about .05, are NOT A FERTILIZER, but do a lot of other good things for your plants. Highly recommended.

Hot compost has to be made carefully, have just the right mix, be tended like a baby, and defies many attempts to get it hot! If you don’t get the combo of your materials right, you are cold composting. The advantage of hot composting is it is fast, kills bad creatures and weed seeds. Also kills the good guys. But. Only in the parts of the pile that actually get that hot. The whole pile never gets that hot, like the outside of the pile. Even if you turn it so the outside goes inside, it’s hard to guarantee it will all get that hot, so be advised. It’s pretty cute to see all those little plants that spring up in the pile….

Cold compost is just throwing your done plants or trim, preferably not diseased or pest infested, into a pile or your compost enclosure, layering with some wet or dry material as needed. It might get hot, it likely won’t. It will decompose if you keep it moist. If not you have dead dry stuff, no nutrients.  Some studies have shown that cold compost is more nutritious than hot compost.  Makes sense since you aren’t burning off Nitrogen and other goodies including beneficial insects and microorganisms.  If your stuff doesn’t turn black and fluffy and smell good when it is decomposed to unrecognizable pieces, you don’t have compost. Perhaps you could use it as mulch?

Composting in place, sheet composting, Lasagna Gardening, is a time saver, no moving later. Chop and drop on the spot, add dry/wet materials as needed, amendments, red wrigglers, let nature do the work.  Especially add some chicken manure before you add your layers, because decomposition uses Nitrogen!  If you are starting on top of turf, using cardboard as your bottom layer, be sure to SATURATE the cardboard.  Don’t rush this part.  Really saturate it.  You want it to last long enough for the grass underneath it to die, to keep the grass from growing up through your pile; you also want your cardboard to decompose so your plants’ roots can grow through it when your pile sinks as the pile decomposes.

Trenching kitchen trim is traditional – cover it and forget it! Crushed eggshells, torn tea bags, coffee grounds. Six inches deep is all you need to do. Cover with the soil, water as usual, your stuff will disappear in about a week! Don’t put in meats or oils that attract digging predators, or grains or cereals that will attract mice. Leave out citruses and spicy foods.

Start Now! 10 Easy Steps to Make RICH COMPOST!

Make the most out of your finished plants or trim; use them for compost, organic fertilizer! A compost enclosure is a fine garden investment! Keep it humming! Dig your compost in around your plants, plant IN your new compost! Surface compost Nitrogen just off gases, so put a layer of soil over your compost to keep the Nitrogen right where you need it, in the soil feeding your plants.

1. Get or make your enclosure, a good working size for you, then layer, layer, layer! Half inch layers are ideal, but do what you can.  A pile 3′ by 3′ is your best minimum if you want a hot pile.  Enclosures can be free pallets on Craigs List tied together, plastic beehive types to keep the rats and mice out, the circular hard black rubber kind, to expensive rolling types, garbage cans with bottoms removed, holes made in their sides!  Do what works for you!
2. Dry stuff first so it will get wet from the stuff you put on top.  That’s ‘brown’ – dry ingredients such as dead leaves, wetted newspaper or cardboard, alfalfa/straw.  The formula is 2 dry, brown to 1 wet, ‘green.’
3. Layer up with your kitchen waste you saved, undiseased green waste from your garden or greens recycle bin. Avoid hard woody stems and seeding weed plants. Cut up large items, halve whole items like apples, potatoes. Tear teabags, crush eggshells.
4. Lay in a few yarrow leaves to speed decomposition. Grow yarrow by your composter for handy use.
5. Inoculate with a sprinkle of soil, living micro organisms, that multiply, munch and speed composting.
6. Sprinkle your layers with aged manure (keep a bucketful next to your composter) to enrich it.
7. Keep layering up to 3’ high or until you run out of materials.
8. Keep your composting materials moist, to keep them live and decomposing.  Don’t let them dry out – dry is dead, nothing happens, nutrients are lost, time and space wasted.
9. Cover with a large piece of *folded heavy mil black plastic to keep your compost moist, and dark so any worms that take up residence work up through the whole pile, to the top .
10. Keep adding to it, stir or turn often to oxygenate, weekly if you can.  Composting organisms need lots of air to operate.  Keep it moist but not drippy and drowning.  Some studies show compost is more Nitrogen rich if you DON’T turn it!  Hmm…read on.

If you are not able to do that much heavy turning or don’t want to take the time, simply, push a long stick into your compost, several times, in different places, to let oxygen in.  Or, if you are inclined, at intervals in your pile, as you build it, you can insert, horizontally or vertically, 2″ PVC pipes, that have had holes drilled in them every 6″ for aeration.  If you are going to insert horizontally, make your holes on one side only; put the holes side down to keep them from clogging.  Make sure both ends stick out so there is air flow through the pipes.  If you insert vertically, drill holes all around the pipe.  If you use a larger diameter, line it with wire mesh to keep it from filling with debris.  Once made, you can use your PVC over and over.  Other alternatives are to make wire mesh cylinders or tie a bundle of twigs together.

Your compost is finished when you no longer recognize the individual materials that went into it. If you are have a small compost batch, when ready, lay out your *folded plastic cover, pitchfork the still decomposing stuff on top of your pile onto your plastic.  Use that good stuff at the bottom where you want it. Or plant in the nutrient rich spot where your composter was!  Put your composter in a new spot, fork the stuff still decomposing back in, add new materials, recover, do it again!  The process slows down in winter, speeds up in summer, generally you have some compost in 6 to 8 weeks.

If you have time, throw a cup or so of compost in a bucket, fill with water, let sit overnight, voila, compost tea! Soak your seeds in it before planting!  Pour it round your plants or use your watering can to spray it on their leaves, both tops and bottoms – foliar feeding.  Your veggies will thrive!  If you have a lawn, make aeration holes with your spade fork and pour the tea down them.  You soil will start to live again!

Your soil and your plants thank you!

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Have you already seen Part 1?  Why soak or presprout, all about seeds, how seed coats function; soaking times, seed soaking solutions.

Soaking Pea Seeds - Floaters are Dead, Sinkers You Plant!

Scarify Seeds  Scarify pea seeds to speed up absorption of water, and therefore, germination.  Rub them between sheets of coarse sandpaper, or clip them with a nail clipper by making a slice through the seed coat, not the seed, with a nail clipper [not removing a chunk]! This happens naturally in nature when a mouse with muchies comes along and nibbles seeds.

EZ Planting Techniques!  

1.  You will find that small wet seeds do not sow as well as dry seeds. They cling to your fingers, and tend to drop in gobs. This can easily be remedied by laying the seed on a paper towel for a little while. Not only will they be really easy to see, but the surface water will be drawn off, and the shell of the seed will continue to remain soft and moist until you have time to plant them.  They germinate in 2 days usually!

2.  Nutsy but fun!  With smaller seeds, you can make seed tapes if you plant in rows or if you plant in blocks, you can even just glue them to a thin paper napkin with some Elmers glue (the white, water soluble kind) to ensure the spacing you want without having to thin them. Purely optional though.  Maybe the kids could do it for you, or as a class project?!

3.  Carl Wilson, Denver County Cooperative Extension Agent, Horticulture says pre-germinating seed indoors is helpful in early spring because sprouted seed will grow in soils too cool for germination. It’s easy to sprout seeds on moistened paper towels sealed in a plastic bag for a few days. The difficult part is to sow fragile young seedlings without injury to them. The solution is sowing in a fluid gel, called fluid seeding.

To make a gel for planting seeds, add one tablespoon cornstarch to one cup of water and bring to a boil. Cool the starch mixture to room temperature before pouring it into a plastic sandwich bag. Gently ease your germinated seeds into the gel and close the bag with a twist tie. If the weather is not right for planting, store the gel bags in the refrigerator for a few days until conditions improve. To plant, snip the corner off the plastic bag and squeeze the gel and seedlings into the planting furrow as you would toothpaste from a tube.  [Great for carrot seeds!]

4.  The easiest method for sowing seeds after soaking is to put them in a plastic squeeze bottle along with some water. If you keep swishing the solution in the bottle as you hold it in an upturned position, you can get an even distribution of seeds. This, of course, is for fine seeds such as parsley, onion, celery, asparagus, and carrots.

Hot weather seed tricks:  Water furrow deeply before planting. After planting, place a board over it to keep soil moist and cooler. Requires regular peeking for signs of germination. Presoak your seeds. Plant deeper. Space farther apart.

You can plant carrots, parsley, celery, lettuce, coriander, etc. in 100-degree temperatures. Keep the soil cool, reduce light intensity and maintain soil moisture. Add humus to soil first.

Carrots, parsnips, peas don’t like recently manured ground but the cabbage family, fennel, onions, lettuce and late squash and corn love it.

Water the garden area thoroughly the day before planting. Moist seeds, moist soil = quicker germination. After that, you have to watch your seedlings and make sure they don’t dry out or that they are not drowned by over-enthusiastic watering.  [Practice until you get it right.  Don’t give up if you don’t get any seedlings the first time, even the first few times you try – be sure your seeds are viable.]

Au Naturel!  From Glib at iVillage Garden Web:  In my view, a better technique involves watching the weather forecast at the appropriate time of the year. When 80%+ rain is forecast, abandon any other project and seed the hell out of the garden. There are a few windows of opportunity during the year when direct seeding is easy.  Part of the art is knowing when the time is right for direct seeding. It is not just the rain but also the overcast skies that help.

This works well in spring and early summer around here (Michigan). Rains are fairly frequent, and seedlings “know” that if they emerge and the air temp is a bit low they should stick close to the ground for a while. There will be no transplant shock, and the workload is truly minimal (minimal work is always interesting to me). When the temps increase, they are 100% ready and take off.

In August this does not work so well, if you have to plant your kale for Fall and winter. Then soaking, followed by twice a day misting, is the least worst technique. Still, if you have your seedlings coming up under a searing sun it is not good. You still want to look at the forecast and see if you can catch a cloudy day or two. Lacking that, keep those Ikea cardboard boxes around, opened flat. They can cover a bed in mid day if needed.  [Or pole up some garden shade cloth, or prop up some of those latticed plastic flats, the ones with the 1/4” lattice.]

There you have it!  Take your pick or don’t!  If you do, let me know your successes…and failures.  

Please also see Part 1! Why soak or presprout, all about seeds, how seed coats function; soaking times, seed soaking solutions.

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Or wear your awesome Sloggers!  With boots like these from Sloggers Garden Outfitters, No Problem!  Regrettably, their selection for men lags.  Oops, did I say that?!  No matter, buy some for your Sweetie!  Valentine’s Day is coming….

This is bare root time – plants without soil on their roots!  For us SoCal gardeners that’s cane berry bushes, deciduous fruit trees, strawberries, artichokes, asparagus, short day onions.  Think twice about horseradish.  It’s invasive as all getout!  If you do it, confine it to a raised bed or an area where it will run out of water.  Rhubarb, though totally tasty in several combinations, ie strawberry/rhubarb pie, has poisonous leaves!  That means to dogs, small children and unknowing people.  Either fence it off, or don’t grow it.  I don’t recommend it in community gardens because we can’t assure people’s safety.  Bare root planting is strictly a January thing.  February is too late. 

SoCal’s Lettuce Month!  They germinate quicker at cooler temps!  Grow special ones you can’t get at the store, or even the Farmers’ Market!  They like a soil mix of well aged compost, organic veggie fertilizers, chicken manure.  Lay your seeds in, barely, and I do mean barely, cover them, 1/8 inch, pat them in.  Water gently with a watering can, or use the mist setting on your sprayer.  Keep the bed moist.  That might mean watering even twice daily!  If it is going to rain heavily, cover the bed so the seeds don’t wash away.  Slug and snail cocktails (Sluggo) make sense or your seedlings may vanish.  If your seeds just don’t germinate, be sure your seed is fresh.  Feed the bed once a week.  Fast growth keeps it sweet; slow growth is bitter!  Eat the younglings you thin from the patch, or transplant them.  Pluck those larger lower leaves for robust winter salads!  Plant another patch in 2 weeks to a month to keep a steady supply! 

As you harvest your winter veggies, keep planting, from seeds or transplants.  Transplants will speed things up by a good 6 weeks if you can find them.  Your winter veggies are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, parsley, peas, chard.  Seeds of beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, radish, turnips, do well.  Pop in some short-day onions. 

Remember, harvest your cabbages by cutting them off close to the bottom of the head, leaving the bottom leaves.  New smaller cabbages will grow from those axils at the stem/leaf junctions.  You might get as many as four babies!  Do the same with lettuces!  Once you harvest your main broccoli head, let the side shoots form mini broccolettes!  The further down the stalk you cut, the fewer but fatter your side branches.  Pat Welsh, Southern California Organic Gardening, recommends the variety Bonanza.

The SideDress Dance continues – if you harvest, you fertilize.  That’s a good rule of thumb.  Sprinkle some fertilizer or drizzle your favorite liquid mix, especially before a rain.  Dig it in lightly, but not in a circle.  You don’t want to break all the tiny rootlets that spread out at the surface from your plant.  So do it on a couple sides max.  Dig it in a bit so the N (Nitrogen) doesn’t just float away into the air….  Use half strength of summer feedings to avoid a lot of tender growth a frost would take. 

Start seedlings of peppers!  They are notoriously slow growers, so to get them in the ground in March, start now!  Ask your Latino friends; they are experts!  When you see them planting, you do the same.  While you are at it, ask them if they happen to have any spare jicama seeds!  Fresh-from-the garden jicama is like nothing you have ever tasted! 

If you tossed wildflower seeds, keep their beds moist. 

Start a garden journal, especially enter your genius thoughts!  Domestic harmony?  Clean up your shed/working space, or build one.   Build a greenhouse!  Plan your spring garden, order seeds.  Order fall seeds now too so they won’t be sold out later on.  Build your raised beds – that’s with frames if you want frames, and start building your soil. 

Great Rain Tips!  Please click here!  Mulch keeps your plants from getting mud splattered.

Frost Watch!  Keep an eye on your weather predictions!  If it starts getting down near 32 degrees, run for the covers! That’s your cheap sheets you got at the thrift shop, spare beach towels, old blankies, and cover your plants mid afternoon if possible!  For things to know about cold weather plants, and more tips on how to save your plants, click here!

Do I see green leaves sticking out of the corner of your mouth?

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DSC00723 Lettuce Frost Hard Freeze
Chilly 2012 Winter Solstice morning, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

Cold season things to know about your veggies!

  • Fertilize.  Healthy plants can withstand more cold. But. From August on, if you anticipate a cold winter, avoid applying fertilizer with Nitrogen, apply at half your summer rate, until after the last frost, to prevent a flush of tender growth that can be damaged by the cold.
  • Cool season crops, such as broccoli, cabbage, peas, and onions, originated in northern areas, and can tolerate frost and light freezes of short durations with little damage, plant cold hardy varieties. But other tender morsels often die literal black deaths from killing freezes. Lettuces, marigolds, your fragrant basil, and peppers are usually the first to go.
  • Better taste!  Cool-season vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, produce their best flavor when they mature during cool weather. They react to cold conditions and frost by producing sugars, making them taste sweet, especially Brussels sprouts and kale, but also parsnips and leeks! Ask the folks at the farmer’s market stands if their farms have gotten a frost yet – farms in the country often get frost long before the cities.
  • When there are several days at low temps, cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) and onion sets, producing a seed stalk, called bolting. At that point, harvest good leaves for greens, give the remaining plant to your compost.

Frost we understand, but what’s a Hard Freeze?! When temperatures drop below 32° Fahrenheit (0° Centigrade) and remain there for several hours, even only 2 hours will do it, typically killing seasonal vegetation. Several hours at 25 to 28 degrees, ice crystals form not only on your plant, but in your plant, damaging the cell walls. The coldest time of day is  just before daybreak. Clouds at night can absorb and reflect heat back to the earth. Wind can mix the ascending warm air with the descending cold air. Calm, clear nights pose the greatest danger of frost. WIND:  If it is windy, less worryCold air must settle to form frost and any wind will usually prevent this. Or, a wind may dry your plants, making them more susceptible to freezing!

Floating Row Cover, Winter Frost Blanket, over Tomato Cages – see how they are staked in place by the cages?

Frost or freeze survival….

Before!

  • Watch your weather forecast religiously! Weather has no mercy.
  • Water early in the dayWet soil insulates and protects roots. The water warms up during the day and releases heat slowly during the night. The upper part of a plant may die, but the roots may be strong enough to push up new growth!
  • Move frost tender plants under eaves, a spreading tree, into greenhouses, garage. Key word here is UNDER.
  • Haunt yard sales, the thrift shop, for old bed sheets, blankets, tablecloths, curtains, towels, shower curtains, burlap sacks, tarps – many end their lives covering garden plants for frost protection! Use newspaper with clothes pins so it won’t blow around. Plastic can be worse than nothing if it touches the plant. Prop up an unused trellis, get creative! Use those wire tomato cages to support your covers! Lay them down among short plants, stand them around taller plants. At home you can lay out a folding chaise lounge chair, or lawn chairs, and cover them!! Secure the edges with stakes, rocks, bricks, or cover with soil. You can use upside down plant pots only if they are large enough that the plants they will cover don’t touch the pot. Put a rock on top to keep them from blowing over! That’s called a hot-cap! The beauty of floating row covers (see image), also called frost or winter blankets, is they can be left in place during the day! Cover the plants mid- to late-afternoon if possible, before temperatures start to drop.
  • Set up windbreaks.
  • What you can’t cover, that is not frost hardy, harvest. Root crops such as carrots and radishes should be harvested or mulched heavily before a hard freeze.

After! 

  • If you didn’t cover, wash your plants off before the sun gets on them. Sometimes that will counteract the freeze burn.
  • If you did cover, take the covers off, before the sun hits the beds, so everybody can get their sun quotient for the day! Winter days are short!
  • Dry out your covers, keep them handy.
  • Damaged leaves appear dark green and water soaked at first, later becoming black. If your plant is totally gone, it’s compost, replace your plant. Except potatoes!  They will resprout, give ‘em 10 to 14 days!
  • Should you trim the ugly damaged stuff off and give your plant a lot of fertilizer to help it? Whoa, Nelly! That’s a NO! The damaged part is protecting the now undamaged part. If you trim and add a lot of fertilizer, tender new growth will form, and that will be toast if there is another frost or freeze. Wait to trim until no more frost is predicted, feed lightly.

Was that groaning, whining I heard? Stop it. Just go out there and cover your plants, no fooling around, you hear?! You will be glad you did, it’s your plants’ lives you are saving! Besides, reviving is harder than covering, and regrowing takes all that time all over again. Also, many will be well past the window for replanting, so cover, cover, cover! Better to have a yard full of ghosts (sheet covers) and look silly, than lose your plants.

Repeat, Religion! Watch WEATHER reports in case of freezes, heavy winds, rain. Santa Barbara’s average First Frost (fall) date AT THE AIRPORT is December 19, Last Frost (spring) date is (was?) January 22. That can vary from the coastal areas to the foothills, and our climate is changing generally to warmer, so these dates may not be viable guides much longer, if even now….

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Updated 12.16.15

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