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Posts Tagged ‘DIY’

Compost Tea Brew for Seedlings

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

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

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

Teas offer increased nutrient availability!

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

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

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

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

Communi-Tea Make your own Compost Tea!

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

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

TEA MAKING TIPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INGREDIENTS! Microbial diversity!

Add Compost

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

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

Add Manure

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

Add Worm Castings! 

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

Compost Tea Seaweed & Herbs - Borage Nettle Comfrey Brew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applying your finished tea!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When, How often?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Container Carrot Patio Planter Haxnicks

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

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xVegTrug Stand Up Gardening bed for people with disabilities

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

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Container Wall Cans! Any fence or wall will do!

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Any wall or fence will do! Be creative!

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Creative Container gardening on your Balcony!x

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

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On the ground Strawberries Pallet Gardenx

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Strawberries in Pallets on the ground…

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

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…to Rain Gutters overhead!

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

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LA Veggie Roof Garde, architect Norman Millar’s Arkhouse

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

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

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

Food Not Lawn Vegetable Garden Front Yard

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

Neighborhood Guerilla Garden Before After

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

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

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

Urban Community Garden, Fort Mason, San Francisco CA

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

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

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

National Heirloom Exposition Santa Rosa CA 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the entire July 2016 GBC Newsletter!

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Solitary Bee Hotel perfect for small garden!Bee Solitary Home Simple on Post

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! In addition, let a carrot or two, a celery, some cilantros and arugula flower up!

(Several excerpts from the UC California Agriculture Urban Bee Study)

California has 1600 native species of bees! Santa Barbara County has 5 families, 19 genera, 67 species! Solitary bees deserve a sweet space in our gardens and in our hearts!

Plant what they eat!

In an urban bee study by UC California Agriculture, California plants that got high counts of visits were easily accessible plants, cosmos (Cosmos spp.), lavender (Lavandula spp.) and catnip mint (Nepeta spp.), partly due to their long flowering periods. Of native bees throughout California, the two most attractive plant families to bees were Asteraceae (which provide pollen and nectar) and Lamiaceae (which provide nectar).

Bumble bees (Bombus spp.), small sweat bees (Halictidae) and honey bees all enjoy California Poppy. Honey bees and large carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp.) love palo verde (parkinsonia aculeata), wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and autumn sage (Salvia greggii/microphylla/cvs.). Digger bees (Anthophora edwardsii) forage faithfully on manzanita flowers (Arctostaphylos).

Blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora) and sunflower (Heianthus an-nuus) attract long-horn bees (Melissodes spp.) and honey bees.

Already you have learned the names of some of your bees, plus what they like to dine on! Plant different kinds of plants to bring more bee diversity!

Some 60 to 80 species were identified in each city; the ultra-green sweat bee (Agapostemon texanus) was among the most common. Top, a female on bidens (Bidens ferulifolia); above, a male on sea daisy (Erigeron glaucus).Some 60 to 80 species were identified in each city where study counts were done; the ultra-green sweat bee (Agapostemon texanus) was among the most common. Top, a female on bidens (Bidens ferulifolia); below, a male on sea daisy (Erigeron glaucus). Many bees lived here before urbanization; they and others have adapted. For example, honey bees (Apis mellifera), alfalfa leafcutting bees (Megachile ro-tundata), Megachile apicalis and Hylaeus punctatus. Megachile ro-tundata is a commercially important leafcutting bee. Honey bees, the most common yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii), the large carpenter bee (Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex) and the ultra-green sweat bee (Agapostemon texanus) live throughout California.

Severely wet winters and springs are hard on bees. They prefer warm, sunny mornings with little or no wind.

And, they need safe living quarters!

Bee hotels, a pollinator’s paradise, are small to large, simple to elaborate! Pollinators’ housing needs are hugely diverse! Bare soil, hollow twigs, big holes in trees, little holes of only a certain depth.

Solitary (nonsocial) bees will nest in a variety of substrates in urban gardens. The digger bee (Anthophora edwardsii) nests in bare dirt. About 70% of solitary bees nest in the ground! Solitary means a male and a female bee mate, and the female constructs a nest and lays an egg in each single cell she creates, with 3 to 10 cells per nest depending on space; there is no hive, division of labor or social structure as in the social honey bees and bumble bees.

Many of these solitary bees prefer to construct their nests in soils with specific characteristics, such as composition, texture, compaction, slope and exposure. Nesting habitat can be provided for these bees in gardens by leaving bare soil and providing areas of specially prepared soil, from sand to heavy clay to adobe blocks. Make a Miner bee nest! Excessive mulching with wood chips will greatly discourage ground-nesting bees, which need bare soil or a thin layer of natural leaf litter.

How to Recognize Solitary Miner Bee Nests in SoilIf you see soil like this, DO NOT WALK ON IT, rope it off so others don’t either. The Miner bee nests in colonies of separate tunnels excavated into hard clay. Females construct the nest, softening the hard clay with regurgitated water and removing clay particles with their mandibles.

Other bees nest in pre-existing cavities. Honey bees nest in large tree cavities, underground and in human structures such as the spaces between walls, chimneys and water-meter boxes. Bumble bees commonly nest in abandoned rodent burrows and sometimes in bird nest boxes. Most cavity-nesting solitary bees such as Hylaeus (Colletidae), and most leafcutting bees and mason bees (Osmia [Megachilidae]) prefer beetle burrows in wood or hollow plant stems. Nest habitats for these bees can be supplemented by drilling holes of various diameters (especially 3/16 to 5/16 inches) in scrap lumber or fence posts, or by making and setting out special wooden domiciles in the garden. Once occupied by bees, these cavities must be protected from sun and water exposure until the following year, when adult bees emerge to start new generations. Neglecting to protect drilled cavities occupied by bees can lead to bee mortality. Some people tuck them back in old mailboxes. You will find some excellent bee care tips at Wings in Flight!

A special note about the importance of Bumble bees! Honey bees don’t pollinate tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant or blueberries, but bumble bees DO! They do what is called buzz pollination, sonication! Please see all about in Sue Rosenthal’s post at Bay Nature! And Bumblebees can harvest pollen from flowers 400 times faster than honey bees can!
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Bee Solitary Various Nesting Needs

Solitary Bee Nests in 4X4s and Bamboo

Hollow twigs, bamboo, various size holes drilled in logs and 4X4s.

Solitary Mason Bee Adult Emerging from Nest Bee Solitary Mason Nests
Left, sealed nursery chambers. Right, adult emerging from nest.

Bee Solitary Nesting Materials
Image by French photographer Franck Barske

Some bees are big, others need very tiny spaces!

Large carpenter bees (Xylocopa) excavate their nest tunnels in soft wood such as redwood arbors or fences, and small carpenter bees (Ceratina) use pithy stems such as elderberry or old sunflower stalks. Partitions between the brood cells are usually composed of bits of excavated material.

Solitary Bee Farm Size Nest!

How good does it get?! This is an epic weather protected, farm-size community for solitary bees that opens to both sides!

How about this Pollinator Condo?! [It needs weather protection….] Lower larger holes are for Bumblebees. Bumblebees will also nest in old bird houses.

Solitary Bee Home, Pollinator Condo!

What a creative beauty this one is and uses so many natural materials!

Solitary Bee House, artsy crafty DIY Homemade, Gourd and Gorgeous!

You can buy bee homes, even bee home making kits, but if you are even a little bit crafty, why not make one?! It could be big, it could be on a post, or small and decorated hung among the tomatoes! Please check out these super important detailed tips here!

The bees will love you!

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

Want to expand your growing space, or you don’t have growing space?!

Vertical gardening in a 55 gallon barrel is a great solution! Cost-efficient, space-efficient! One barrel can be virtually an entire garden in itself – plant the sides in strawberries, lettuce, potatoes, herbs, carrots, beets, and hundreds of other plants, and a tomato and pepper in the top! In fact, an average 55-gallon drum can hold 72 plants in the sides alone, or fewer as you wish, depending on smaller or larger plant choices. Either way, it’s a good return per square foot.

No gophers, moles, or weeds, and few soil insect pests. Water usage is less because the system lowers evaporation since it’s enclosed. Water not used at the top trickles down to water plants below. A drain at the bottom collects any excess nutrient dense water, that is like a compost/worm casting tea, that you can pour right back on top of your barrel garden. Plants grow faster! 

Here’s the barrel building process! Select a clean barrel, make the pockets, set up a manual or automatic watering system, mix the fertilizer, plant, harvest, maintain.  

Get a food grade plastic barrel (if you are ok with plastic) from any food processing company, used on craigslist, from your local honey processor! 

DIY! Mark and make slits in the side with a buzz saw, open the slits with a soldering iron to soften the plastic, hammer a wedge in to open the slits to the dimension you want. OR, a jig saw, heat gun, crowbar, two by four. Use what you got. Some places you buy the barrels from will cut them for you for a little extra. Worth it for the long term investment you are making and the amazing production you will get from it.

The number of slits might be 48. If you are doing bigger plants, leave more space between the rows of slits around your barrel.

In the center install a 4 to 6″ worm tube! Put your worm food in there, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, stuff safe for them to eat. Drill holes into the tube so the worms can come and go, aerating your soil, leaving their castings as they meander. At the bottom of the barrel, make a hole that you can screw a plug into at the bottom of your worm tube. Put your barrel up on cinder blocks so when you remove the plug, the worm castings fall down into a container below. Put a cap on top of the tube to keep out critters like mice, and rain.

If your barrel will have a permanent location, sunny on all sides, you can attach legs, or put it up on cinder blocks. If you need to move it around or turn it for sun and shade, pop your barrel up on a plant dolly. Put the drum in its permanent location, or on your dolly, before filling the container with soil and plants because then it may be too heavy to move afterwards.

Check out Half-Pint Homestead’s video on how to make your own barrels! How to install automatic watering, a drip system in your barrels. John Kohler shows you how to set up a Garden Tower and plant your plants in it. He is a strong advocate of super soil with powerful amendments! And why not?! Makes a lot of sense. Lots of healthy plants in a small space are chomping up those nutrients right and left. What you put in is what you get back. The video is done in his inimitable way, quickly with lots of animation!

If you don’t want to build one yourself, get one in from a small company in Bloomington Indiana called Garden Tower Project! Their new custom terracotta colored, USDA food grade, UV-stabilized v1.1 Garden Towers are $269 (Feb 2014), versus the Tower Gardens, the tall white skinny towers, that start at $525 for a structure that grows only 20 plants. The foot print is about the same, but these don’t have to be anchored and your plants whipped about around a small diameter when there is high wind. And there are certain plants, like peppers, with vertical stems, that don’t do well in Tower Gardens. Garden Towers recycle your kitchen scraps, do worm composting, and your plants are grown in soil. 

If you are planting on a deck, balcony or rooftop, be sure the weight of either one can be accommodated safely. Be sure your water source is convenient and there won’t be water damage to your space or neighbors below or near you.

Plant placement! Smaller plants to the top, vining plants at the bottom. Put upright plants like tomatoes, peppers, bigger tall plants, carrots that need to grow straight, in the top of your barrel. Or plant the whole thing to strawberries! Perennials are not your best choice because they can become root bound. 

Maintenance is pretty simple. From time to time, you add some of your collected castings, and replenish your compost as soil settles, gets used. Replant when space becomes available.

In Eugene OR, the students are making start up barrels to sell, and getting a community garden going this year! Perfect!

Alex at Garden Tower Project tells the story pretty quickly and makes the big points!  It’s way less expensive and complicated than hydroponics. You can put them anywhere. Perfect for seniors, no weeding! Oh, and the barrels come in different colors – green, red, white and blue, and now, that lovely natural looking terracotta!

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