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Posts Tagged ‘drainage’

Soil Building Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Santa Barbara Peat Manure
Kevin Smith making great soil at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

Summer soils need to be fat and rich for the warming spring temps fast growth your plants put on, then they need to be fed to sustain that fast pace and bountiful production in hot weather.

Cooling Fall/Winter SoCal soils don’t need to be quite as rich nor your plants need to be sidedressed (fed during the season) but maybe once, if at all. However, winter plants are hard workers and prodigious! They are mainly leaf crops, leaf after leaf after leaf! Think curly leaf kale and the remarkable amount of foliage being produced! How big those broccolis and cauliflower leaves! Amazing monster chard leaves! Lettuces are pumping out the leaves. Cabbages are growing from the inside, as the outer leaves are expanding to accommodate that dense growth, leaf after leaf tightly packed!

After you install gopher wire protection, there are three steps to soil careFirst is general basic area amending – compost, manure, growing green manure cover crops. Amending areawide ensures micro feeder roots find food out away from the Mother plants. Second is adding specific amendments to planting holes per the plant that will be grown there. Third is at planting time. When planting transplants, pat that mycorrhizal fungi onto the exposed roots of plants that interact with it – Brassicas don’t. This gets seedlings off to a great start, strong and disease resistant! If you are planting seeds, add 25% worm castings to the surface to increase germination time and speed growth! Mycorrhiza and castings are not necessary but do make a difference.

Start winter gardening by tending your precious soil. Gather last seeds, clear away finished summer plants. Use clean plants in your compost. Remove and use clean summer straw mulch as compost layers now. Or forget the straw, do pit/trench composting. It’s a lot faster! We want soil to get a little warmer. Compost will finish faster in late summer and fall heat.

Generally add compost and manure to your soil. Get the best compost you can buy if you don’t make your own. Get the ones with worm castings, mycorrhizal fungi, etc. Get manure blends to get the best results, especially mixes that include cow (not steer) manure. This area wide amending assures your plants roots will grow wide from your plant, securing it from winter winds, and letting it feed fully to and even past the dripline! Plus, compost adds water holding capacity.

The exceptions are pea and carrot areas. If a bed is a little tired, add some food for the peas, otherwise, they, legumes, gather their own Nitrogen from the air and deposit on their roots! No manure at all for carrots, and give them regular watering, though not too much, to prevent them being hairy and forking or splitting.

Some plants, like strawberries and blueberries, need slightly acidic soil. When their soil is right, they fend off diseases better and produce like crazy. So get the right compost, the azalea, camellia type. They like to be moist, add a little peat too if needed, and dig it in a good 8″ deep. Some strawberries don’t have deep roots, but others do, so shovel depth deep is great. The variety Seascape, a prolific large berried strawberry bred at UCSB for SoCal production, does have long roots. They feed well, reach deep for water, and it shows! Plant runner babies Oct/Nov or transplants mid-January for May production.

Special soil for seed beds! In addition to the above, incorporate Worm Castings for all your plantings, but seeds benefit a lot! They germinate more quickly, seedlings grow faster! Leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. Vermicompost suppresses several diseases of cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, and it also significantly reduces pests – parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealybugs and mites! Who could ask for more?! These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal! If you don’t have enough for the entire garden, put castings in seedbeds first, planting holes second!

SideDressing  If your plants look like they need a little boost during winter, keep it light. In SoCal, feed 1/2 strength during cooler weather when uptake is slower. The most common time to feed your plants is when bloom time begins. For winter plants that’s when broccoli and cauliflower make heads and Brussels sprouts make itsy cabbages up the stalks! They are just about to go into their maximum production. Liquid fertilizers are easy for them to uptake quickly. Teas – compost, worm, manure, fish/kelp – are terrific.

If you won’t be planting this winter, a wise choice is to REST and RESTORE an AREA!

  1. When it gets cooler, plant some hefty favas or a mix for green manures to boost soil Nitrogen. Especially plant them where you had summer’s heavy feeders like corn, eggplant, summer squash, tomatoes and/or where you will plant heavy feeders next summer. The mix can include legumes like Austrian peas, vetch and bell/fava beans, plus oats that break up the soil (they have deep roots). Favas are big, produce one of the highest rates of compostable organic material per square foot! If you change your mind, you can eat the beans! 🙂
  2. Or, cover an area you won’t be winter planting with a good 6″ to a foot and a half deep mulch/straw and simply let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. 1.5′ deep sounds like a lot, but it will sink down quickly, believe me! That’s called sheet composting or composting in place – no turning or having to move it when it’s finished. If you are vermicomposting, have worms, add a few handfuls to speed up and enrich the process. Next spring you will have rich nutritious soil for no work at all! Pull back any top layer that remains, add some finished compost, and plant, plant, plant!

Cultivate after rains! Cultivating does two important things. One, it’s an age old technique to aerate soil, let it dry out, kill off soil fungi. Two, it is also called, Dust Mulching. Simply cultivate about 2 or 3 inches deep. This disturbs the soil surface, interrupting the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation. Dry farmers use this technique during droughts.

Ingredients to build great soil!

Compost for feeding and water holding capacity. Now, before you go compost crazy, in Nature, organic matter, our equivalent is compost, only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), yet organic matter is absolutely essential. There is various thinking about what the right amount of compost is to use in a garden. Cornell University says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil! Research shows ideal soil contains 5% organic matter by weight, 10% by volume. Like with a lot of gardening, more is not better! For our veggie gardening, plants we want to produce a lot of fruits, incorporate a little more than 5%. Informative details from  Michigan.gov

Homemade compost is top of the line and you know what’s in it! Organic all the way. Fine texture. But the bark fines and other ‘forest products’ in commercial compost are necessary too. They give your compost more water holding capacity. As much as I am in favor of making your own, if I had to choose only one, here in drier SoCal I would choose the commercial compost. Plus, few homemade composts have worm castings in them unless you also grow worms and add their castings to your compost. As it is, I make some of my own compost, trench in a lot of kitchen waste, and use commercial compost!

See also Hugelkultur for an exceptional style of long term sustainable composting. It is self heating, extends your growing season, needs little water after it is started. Truly sustainable.

Manures are high in Nitrogen, the main ingredient plants need to grow! Cow is better than steer, blends are best. Lettuces love it!

Peat! I’ll tell you about peat, but it, itself, is not sustainable and I personally don’t use it anymore. It is said in drought areas, adding peat is excellent to increase water retention. Per Julie Day: …particularly Sphagnum peat, is a lightweight spongy material that’s great for making sandy soils more water absorbent. Peat will also loosen heavy clay soils, but you need to be careful it doesn’t make the soil too soggy. Peat decomposes slowly and is slightly acidic [good for strawberry beds]. Look for peat that’s harvested from sustainable peat bogs.

When I did use peat, the kind I used vanished in about 2 months. I can’t say it helped significantly in spite of what is said about it. Perhaps I should have used a LOT more, but then, why not just make or get some highly nutritious compost?! Peat has no nutritional value and Nitrogen, what plants use most, is spent decomposing it. If it works for your situation, great. Unless it is an emergency, I would test an area first before you make a heavy investment of money and labor.

If you are curious about Coconut Coir please read more here about what coir is, how it is made, pros and cons, best brands and why, plus how tos. The article starts out about hydroponics. Look at the very end for details on how to use with veggies. It lasts longer than peat, is repurposed waste product from a renewable resource, unlike the peat bogs where we get our peat moss. It can absorb up to 10x its weight in water, but it is expensive and you have to know how to use it.

Amazing Amendments to put right in the planting hole!

  • Nonfat powdered milk is a natural germicide and immediately boosts plant immune systems. A handful mixed into the planting hole soil does the job. Powdered milk is taken up by your plants immediately.
  • Bone meal takes about two months to become available to your plant. That’s just in time for flowering, fruit production! Add that to the planting holes at the same time you put the milk in. By increasing the phosphorous in the soil, bone meal works with other organic matter to ensure a more prolific root growth, winter hardiness and often hastens maturity.
  • Mycorrhizal fungi – Brassicas don’t dance with it, but other plants thrive. It links your plants’ roots with the soil, increases uptake of nutrients. Just sprinkle it on the roots of your transplant and give it a pat so it will stick. The roots and the fungi need to be connected!
  • If your soil has fungi problems, wilts, blights, add a tiny tad of coffee grounds. A 1/2 a percent does the job. Yes, you read right, that is a 1/2 a %!
  • Add Green Sand or some such for a mineral boost if you think your soil needs it.
  • Kelp Meal is terrific for trace minerals too.
  • If your plant is a heavy feeder grown for its leaves, add a little more manure, compost and castings.

How to feed your soil

Dig your amendments into the top 6 to 8 inches! Yum. Add a tasty blend all at once. Some compost, some manure, some castings and whatever else is needed or seems right for the location or what you will be planting, and what makes you happy!

Incorporate winter amendments, don’t add layers nor cover them with mulch. We want the soil to be warmer, so cooling mulches are pulled back in winter. Nitrogen off gases from uncovered layers, little N is delivered. A layer just dries out. Pulling back mulches removes moist habitat for overwintering summer pest eggs and diseases. Turn soil that has Fusarium and Verticillium wilts so the fungi die.

Spade Fork treatment! Push the spade fork in, wobble it front to back, pull it out leaving the holes. Pour compost/manure/worm tea down the holes! That feeds the roots. If you don’t have digging predators, you can add liquid fish/kelp too. Liquid root feeds are especially good to do when sidedressing at the beginning of bloom time and are quick and easy for your plant to take up. The easiest and best results, however come from foliar feeding. Just know, the tea microbes won’t brew well below 65 F. In winter, brew them in a warm garage or a sunny covered porch. Double your benefits by digging in great amendments followed by the spade fork treatment! Liquid tea feeds give immediate uptake; dug in amendments provide slow release feeding over time.

Planting Tips

Drainage. In soil infested with fungi or pest eggs, plant high so the soil drains and dries, the fungi and eggs die. Make basins so the bottom of the basin is above the general soil level. Make the basin large enough so the edges don’t degrade from the watering and your mature plant is sure to get enough water out to or just beyond its dripline.

Soil can only do so much. Don’t starve and stunt your plants by planting too closely. Give them room and access to the amount of soil space they need for natural healthy growth. Given more space they get bigger, produce more, are healthier, more disease resistant. Plant so their leaves don’t touch at maturity, giving access for disease and pests to spread from plant to plant.

However, some deliberate overplanting is pretty clever! If you row or batch plant, especially harvest, thin as they grow. That’s like getting two crops for one! For example, all the Brassica plant – Broccoli, Kale, Cauliflower, Collards – leaves are edible! Add the tender young leaves to your salads, or if bigger, steam over rice, stir fry or add to your stews! Do it with carrots. Tiny carrots are a delicacy, and my pup loves them too!

Consider this ‘esoteric’ factor, terroir, French for land, pronounced tehr/wahr or tɛːˈwɑ. It is ‘The complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.’ Said another way: the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown that give a wine its unique flavor and aroma. You can smell and taste terroir. Wine growers who use terroir as their guiding philosophical framework and focus on the importance of the soil are responsible for a disproportionately large share of the world’s most interesting wines. And it’s not just wine: there’s grass-fed beef with an Idaho terroir. Think about this as applies to your very special piece of this earth where you will grow your special veggies. Think about it as you amend your soil for planting, as you grow green manure to restore your land. How you treat your soil results in the unique wholesome terroir you get.

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

Updated annually

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. Santa Barbara’s three community gardens 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 August 2016 GBC Newsletter!

…and wonderful images of Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden in July!

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Healthy care and choices make the difference!

Give your plants a chance!

Not too much N (Nitrogen)  It imbalances your plants, just like too much sugar for us.  You get lots of leaf, no fruit, growth is too fast and ‘soft,’ inviting to pests and diseases.

Watering practices make a difference.  Overhead watering is not good for most plants, but especially not for fuzzy plants that like it dry – tomatoes, eggplant.  Too much nighttime wet equals mildews and more slugs and snails, more remedies and pest prevention, more costly.  Plants drink during the day – water in the AM when you can.  Make furrows, water deep, let it soak in laterally.  Make basins to keep water where you want it.  Drip systems usually don’t work in a veggie garden you are planting biodiversely, mixing things up.  Also, veggies come and go pretty quickly in an active garden.  If you are row or patch planting, if the area is long or big enough, a drip system could work well. 

  • Water soaked soil is dead soil.  Soil organisms, soil builders, simply drown.  If in a low spot, check your drainage options; build a raised bed.  Add organic water holding compost, water less no matter how much fun it is!
  • Dry soil is dead soil.  Nitrogen off gases, your soil organisms die or go away.  See if you can channel some water to that area.  Install furrows or build soil walls or basins to keep water where it is needed, avoid wasteful runoff.  Again, add organic water holding compost.  Water deeply.  If you are gardening at home, busy and forgetful, perhaps you could install drip irrigation on a timer. 

Avoid spreading viruses that can spread diseases.  Really check those plants you buy at the discount nursery.  Remove diseased plants and don’t compost diseased plants.  This is a tough decision when it comes to disease tolerant plant varieties.  They can have a disease yet still produce.  They are bred to do that.  Is that ethical?  If you are gardening at home and make that choice, that is one thing.  If you are in a community garden, and the disease is windborne, is it fair to your garden neighbors?  Maybe we all need to get tolerant varieties.  

Some diseases lurk in garden border weeds.  Or you can bring them into the garden by walking through weeds.  Insects bring some diseases and so do animals, like our skunks, raccoons, possums.  If the ‘weeds’ are habitat for beneficial insects, be careful what you remove, consider the balances. 

Ants.  Whether you mind them or not probably depends on how many there are and what they are doing.  If they are tending aphids, no!  Not only are there ants with aphids, but white flies are attracted to the aphid honeydew as well.  Otherwise, ants are virtuous hard working cleaner uppers!  The take away dead insects.  Balance is the key. 

Varieties matter.  Planting a variety out of season makes that plant struggle and be vulnerable to pests and diseases it can’t handle.  In Santa Barbara we have the cool damp ocean areas and the hot dry foothills.  Different varieties will thrive in one and not the other.  Planting too early or too late, your plant will try, but may not be able.  Some gardeners are totally pro Heirloom, against hybrids.  But Nature herself hybridizes, it is a natural process.  It occurs naturally by area and plants that grow there do the best there.  In a way, we subtly do a similar thing ourselves when we select seed from our best plants.  I think being flexible in your choices will get the best all around results. 

Planting at the Right Time makes a big difference.  Sometimes you just won’t get germination if it is too cold or hot.  Or a plant thrives in temporary weather, but dies when it goes cold again, or too, too hot.  They need certain temps and day length.  Some may survive, but never thrive later.  That is sad to see.  So respect them.  Know them well enough to honor their needs.  Planted at the wrong time, pests they aren’t equipped to handle may eat them alive.  If you are a big risk taker and financially don’t mind a few losses, go ahead.  Some will succeed, for sure.  You may or may not get earlier production.  Sometimes plants can be planted a month apart, but the later one will ‘catch up,’ and produce at the same time as the earlier plant!  Same can be true of smaller and larger transplants because it all depends on temps and day length.

Once your plants are going, sidedressing keeps them going!  Sidedressing usually starts when your plants start to bloom, make fruits.  Scatter and lightly dig in a little chicken manure and/or lay on a ½” of tasty compost, some worm castings, water on some fish emulsion, blood meal if they are yellowing and could use a quick Nitrogen boost.  Water well.

Plant appropriate varieties on time, water and amend well, keep watch on pests and diseases.  Robust happily producing plants are worth it, and a joy to watch!

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Onions:  Are sensitive to temperature and day length, are photothermoperiodic!  Whew!  They start bulbing only after enough daylight for a certain number of days.  To avoid bolting, in SoCal we need to plant seeds of short day onions in fall, or intermediate varieties in late winter.  Most sets are long-day types and won’t work.  Plant Grano, Granex, & Crystal Wax seeds in the ground Nov 1 to Nov 10, or bare root in January.  Granex stores a little better, all of them are sweet like Vidalia and Maui.  If you miss this window, plant intermediate onions in Feb.  Onion seeds sprout very easily!

Garlic LOVERS, if your garlic plants haven’t been as vibrant and robust as these in the image, really amend your soil, put them in full sun, feed them!  Sometimes add a tad boron and zinc to give them great taste!  Give them ample drainage and 24” deep watering.

Garlic is in the genes, I mean, the lily family, related to chives and onions.  So pretty!  Did you know roses make more pungent perfume, and more perfume, when interplanted with garlic and onions?!  Tuck some garlic in among your other flowers and veggies, but NOT with your legumes!  Like onions, garlic stunts peas and beans.

Research indicates garlic aids in lowering cholesterol, reducing cardiovascular disease, cancer prevention, relieving cold and flu symptoms.

Planting in the November/December will produce bigger cloves, but you can also plant garlic in the early spring – who can resist more fresh garlic?!  Gilroy CA, 30 miles south of San Jose, just up the road from Santa Barbara, is called The Garlic Capital of the World!  Gilroy’s Christopher Ranch was, and remains, the largest shipper of garlic in the world!  Take note that the 2012 Gilroy Garlic Festival will be July 27, 28, and 29th!  So their prime festival garlic roses had to be growing all winter and spring!  Count that backwards 7 months, and you have a Dec planting!  That means they have more daylight growing time after Winter Solstice as the days lengthen, and more growing time during warmer months!  Makes sense, yes?!  Garlic takes time – a long growing season and plenty of sun.  Be warned that overcast coastal weather may not go well with your garlic aspirations.  Also, pause, do you want to tie up that sunny land that long for such a small return?  Less insects, no vampires?  Ok, read on.  Some traditionally plant, not in late October, early November, but on Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, for harvest on the longest day of the year, Summer Solstice, or in July!  Your garlic will grow slowly all ‘winter,’ making huge bulbs!  It likes the cooler moist weather, and freezes are good for it!  You just have to be willing to feed them fat, and wait for them!

Here in SoCal, why not plant some in all the fall months?! That’s three rounds, Oct, Nov, Dec! See what works best in your microniche. If some fail, you will have others!

The garlic most of us are familiar with, commonly found in our grocery stores, are the soft-necked varieties, Artichoke and Silverskin, grown in milder climates with longer days.

California Early and California Late varieties need cold exposure of around 6 weeks below an average of about 40F for proper bulbing and clove development. It is the classic, white skinned ‘artichoke garlic’ of the supermarkets.  Continental garlic is more of a generic term covering various white or purple striped hard neck types adapted to more Mediterranean growing conditions.  That’s us.

Garlic needs choice generously amended nutritious soil, to be watered deeply, 24”, in fact!  Garlic World, at Gilroy CA, says garlic needs twice as much fertilizer as other veggies! And they need feeding during growing.  Visualize those hungry bulbs underground.  Heavy soil restricts their growth, so you want rich, loose – not water-logged, fertile!  When you drive through garlic growing country you can SMELL them!  That’s how alive they need to be!

The bigger the seed/clove, the bigger and healthier your plant will become, so plant the huge cloves, reserve the smaller ones for eating and seasoning!  Divide them just before planting.  Plant pointy end up, 2” deep, 4” apart.  Some people plant them 6” deep, others plant them just under the surface.  I’ve had them grow both ways, but to keep the bulbs moist and happy, it makes sense to give them at least that 2” depth.

When the tops start to fall over, stop watering, let the smelly little guys dry a week or two, still in the ground.  Clever harvesting means to carefully loosen the soil with a spade fork, and not bruise the bulb when you remove it.  Let it dry some more in a shady airy place 2 to 3 weeks.

RECIPES?  Fries, ice cream, pasta, sauces, soups, salsa, dips, bread, gift braids, pickled, jellied, roasted, cheese, dressings, potatoes, hummus, powdered.  Garlic cookies?!  At your pleasure.  Confessions of a Garlic Festival Food Judge  If you both love garlic, know that a couple can celebrate their anniversary by sharing the Forty Clove Garlic Chicken at The Stinking Rose in San Francisco or Beverly Hills!

Next Week:  Delicious December, Winter’s June!

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

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FIRST WEEK OF MARCH!  

Tasty Provider Beans, Powdery Mildew Resistant

Go get your seeds, transplants, any amendments that make you happy, clear your space, and go for it!  Poke bean seeds in at the base of finishing peas, tomatoes, artichokes from transplants, corn, New Zealand spinach, cucumbers, summer and winter squash!  [Pilgrim Terrace gardeners, those of you in the lottery section this year, get your winter squash in early so they have plenty of time to mature and harden on the vine.]  If you have room and want to, plant last rounds of cool-season crops – broccoli (with cilantro & lettuce), cabbage, potatoes.  Add more year-rounds, beets, carrots, chard, bunch onions, radish, turnips.  Remember to leave space for your succession plantings!  

True heat lovers next month  – eggplant, limas, melons, okra, peppers and pumpkins.  Wait, wait…you can do it.  Unless you live in the foothills with a south facing wall, many wait to plant tomatoes until next month.  That means if you haven’t already, get those babies started in the greenhouse to get a head start!    

Keep in mind our June gloom that we had all summer last year.  Think about planting heat lovers within a south facing ‘U’ shape of taller plants to give them more captured heat.  The sides of the U act as a windbreak, and hold the heat in.  You could wedge the U sides a little, angled like outspread wings.  Maybe get more determinate toms, with different dates to maturity so you have a steady supply.  The shorter determinates will be closer to the ground in your U shape ‘enclosure,’ and the whole plant will stay warmer.  Be careful to plant far enough apart that the tomato leaves aren’t touching, lessening the spread of Verticillium and Fusarium wilts.  Eggplants may especially like this warm U shaped  environment because they like a little humidity.  Plant them closer to the plants behind them so they can snuggle happily.  If you plant in rows, stagger them one plant in from the end of a row.  The outmost/endmost plants are usually drier.  Just like with strawberries, don’t plant them right near a hot wicking wood bordered edge.  The board heats, dries the neighboring soil.  Strawberries like water, good drainage, not dry baked roots.

Or if you anticipate a coolish summer,  just love winter plants, keep planting them!

Plant flowers, chamomile for tea, poppy for seeds, veggie starts (hot peppers), to give as Mother’s Day living gifts!  That’s 9 weeks from now.  Plant a little extra all the time for ready gifts for any occasion!

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February! SOIL & SEED Month!

Please see February 2010 for tips on aphids/white flies, slugs/snails, gophers, soil, seed starting basics! 

When there are warm days, it is ever so tempting to plant up summer veggies!  Don’t do it.  Not yet.  Start seeds. 

Depending on how much space you have, plant a last round of your very favorite winter crops – lettuces, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, radishes, turnips.  Bare-root asparagus and artichokes.  I forgot to tell you last month, you could start zucchini!  At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we had an elder gardener who always started his in January, early February, and had great zucchini way before everyone else!  Other than zuchs, really look at those days to maturity, and add the number of days you expect for harvest duration.  If you plant a long maturing plant that would be harvested for some time, think if you would rather have that space for an early round of a summer veggie you love more.  Choose mildew and disease resistant varieties for your late peas.  

Keep sidedressing your producing plants, protect your tasty lettuces from slugs and snails.  Keep watch for aphids, and, if you disturb your plant and a little cloud of white things fly off, you have white flies.  Spray those little buggers off asap so they don’t spread to your other plants or someone else’s!  Keep up with your harvesting.  Wait until it warms up some more to prune frost damaged plants.  Even wait until next month to fertilize.  

But do prepare your soil for March summer veggie planting.  Dig if you must – I’m a no-dig, no weed person who leaves the living soil structure intact [see Gaia’s Garden, 2nd edition, chapter on soil].  Instead, prepare your soil by layering good stuff on top, called Lasagna Gardening, sheet composting, composting in place, or on-the-ground composting!  Garden smart!  If it is already there, you don’t have to move it from the compost pile to where it is needed!  Build your soil in place or in your new raised beds!  If you are putting raised beds on top of your lawn, lay down several layers of heavy cardboard first, to stop the grass and weeds, thoroughly soak it, then layer, layer, layer!  When they get there, your plant’s roots will easily poke their way through the cardboard.  Definitely attach gopher proof wire mesh to the bottom of your raised bed frame before you start filling it, unless you are creating your garden on top of concrete or a roof.  If you are container gardening, check out Patricia Lanza’s book Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces: A Layering System for Big Results in Small Gardens and Containers: Garden in Inches, Not Acres. 

Healthy layering should be 2 dry/Carbon to 1 wet/Nitrogen. 

Carbon – carbon-rich matter (like branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust, shredded brown paper bags, coffee filters, conifer needles, egg shells, hay, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light, fluffy body.
Nitrogen – nitrogen or protein-rich matter (manures, food scraps, leafy materials like lawn clippings and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes. 

  • Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
  • ADD dry materials – straw, leaves and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.  Fine chopped, smaller materials decompose faster.
  • Lay on manure, green manure ( clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass ) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.  Put on rinsed seaweed for minerals, scatter some yarrow sprigs to further speed decomposition, and, of course, your kitchen food waste. 
  • Think how that pile is going to decompose lower and lower.  Build enough layers to get the amount of soil you need.  Could be 18” high.
  • If you like, sprinkle some microbe rich topsoil over it all to ‘inoculate’ with living soil organisms that will immediately go to work.  Add a few handfuls of red wriggler compost worms.  Add any other amendments that make you happy.
  • Install some pathways.  Don’t walk on your oxygen rich breathing brew and squeeze the life out of it, or crush your worms and soil structure!  Keep things fluffy for good soil aeration and water absorption.   
  • If you need to, for aesthetic reasons, cover the compost with a pretty mulch that will break down slowly.  Spread it aside when you are ready to plant.  It could be down leaves; if you need your soil in that area to be slightly acidic, cover with pine needles (strawberries).
  • If things get stinky, add more carbon.
  • You want to plant NOW, or the same day you layer?  Can do!  Or your instant soil wasn’t so instant?  OK, here’s the instant remedy.  Make planting holes in your layers, put in some compost you purchased or have on hand, mycorrhizal fungi, and plant!  The rest will catch up, and the heat from the composting material underneath will warm your plants!  You WILL have a fine garden!  

If you do also need a traditional compost pile for spot needs, consider “No-turn” composting!  The biggest chore with composting is turning the pile from time to time. However, with ‘no-turn composting’, your compost can be aerated without turning.  The secret is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material, like straw – little air tubes, when building the pile. The compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly, and studies show that the nitrogen level may be even higher than turned compost.  With ‘no-turn’ composting, add new materials to the top of the pile, and harvest fresh compost from the bottom of the bin.

So here are 3 ways to save garden time and your back!  1)  No digging!  2)  Compost in place, no moving it.  3) No compost turning!  Uh huh.

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Rainy Day Harvesting!

Anticipate! 

Fertilize before a rain so the fertilizer will soak in.
Take the cover off your compost to let it get wet.
Tie or stake plants that may topple from wind or weight.
Set up to harvest rainwater for later use! 
Make raised beds, mounds, to help with drainage issues.
Mulch to keep soil from splashing up on your plants, keeping your harvest clean, holding water in place to soak in, and keep soil from eroding.
Make ‘permanent’ pathways with boards, stepping stones, straw bedding, so you won’t be compacting your planting area soil when it is wet or dry!
Plant for air circulation so foliage dries quickly.  Plants too closely spaced, make a warmer micro environment, tend to get mildew easier.
Choose mildew resistant plants! 
Drench your young plants with a mix of a heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a 1/4 cup of nonfat (so it won’t rot and stink) powdered milk in a large watering can of water for mildew prevention and abatement.  It works for certain other diseases as well!
Water less frequently and at ground level, not overhead.

During a rainy period….

If you didn’t before, get out there in your rain gear and add some manure or fertilizer!  Great excuse to play in the rain!
Check frequently to see how your plants are doing.  Secure any tall plants, trellises that need it.
If a plant is too low and in standing water, raise it.  Put your shovel deep under it, put some filler soil underneath the shovel!  
Add more mulch if it has shifted or wasn’t quite deep enough to keep mud spatter from your plants.
Be sure your wormbox worms are not doing the backstroke!
Rebuild any drainage channel that has weakened, clear if clogged.
Make sure all your rain harvest system is working well.  Kudos to you for harvesting!
Practice arm-chair gardening!  Read garden books, magazines, browse web sites, buy some seeds from mail-order catalogs, design your new garden layout!
Get some seeds, soilless potting mix, gather containers with, or make, drainage holes.  Start some seeds!
If the rain is prolonged, uh, do an aphid, snail and slug check as frequently as you can.  Sluggo works on snails  and slugs even when it is wet.  Hard to believe, but, yes, it does.
If the rain is prolonged, do harvest your fresh and crunchy produce!  Lettuces will flourish!  Check on fast maturing broccoli and cauliflower heads to cut at peak maturity!  Gather your luscious strawberries.  Keep your peas picked to keep them coming!

After the rain!  YES! 

Do some thinning for air circulation as makes sense.  Often there is a growth spurt, and you can see where thinning is needed.
Repair areas where soil has washed away exposing roots.  Put some mulch on.
It’s often warmer after a rain, and it is the warmth that mildew loves!   Drench mildew susceptible plants with your mildew mix immediately, early in the day so your plants can dry.  If you prune mildewed areas off, remove those prunings, wash your hands and pruners before you go on to other plants.
Do what you do about snails and slugs.  Keep checking for aphids – blast them away with water or remove infested leaves.
There is often more gopher activity after rain has softened the soil, so be ready! 
In later days, after the rain, harvest first, water second!  That’s the rule to keep from spreading diseases spread by moisture.

Enjoy the superlative rapid growth of your very happy plants!

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A wet winter?  Dry winter?

If you think that might happen, excellent time to establish native plants and ground covers in your landscape, make raised beds in your veggie garden!  They don’t have to have a frame, in fact, you can ‘make more space’ by planting on the sloped sides, preventing erosion!  The plants that don’t like soggy feet, or would simply drown from too much water, will have excellent drainage.  You can make your ‘bed’ as small as a furrowed area, or make it two feet wide.  Either way, same result, drainage, less water molds and fungi, keeps oxygen your plants need in the soil.  Put a thick layer of pine needles, leaves, straw, something that will feed the soil, in the pathways.  That’s sustainable and your shoes won’t get muddy.  Re-layer as needed.    

Powdery Mildew is creeping right along…. 

Powdery Mildew on Peas

Hmph.  Powdery Mildew is windborne, and UC Davis IPM (Integrated Pest Management) says ‘Powdery mildews generally do not require moist conditions to establish and grow, and normally do well under warm conditions.  Good thing it’s getting cooler.  Ok.  So prevention, prevention, prevention.  A general home recipe is baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, 1 Tablespoon to a gallon, ¼ cup nonfat powdered milk, 1 teaspoon cooking oil (canola, soya, whatever), a drop or two of dishwash or soft soap (to disperse the oil and make it stick).  Spray or use a watering can whose spout can be turned so the water goes UP under the leaves.  Drench your plant, top to bottom so those inner bottom leaves get plenty of chances to get soaked.  The drips go into your soil, helping from there as well.  Do it on a sunny morning so your plants can dry well during the day. 

Please!  Be a good neighbor.  Prevent this common fungus, don’t let it blow into your neighbor’s veggies! 

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