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Tasty Red Bell Pepper, Tomatoes, Edible Garlic Flowers!

Edible Garlic chive blossoms on beautiful thick walled red bell pepper!
Image by super gardener Kenny Point in Pennsylvania

Peppers are not just food, they are an adventure that spices your life! They are not just a veggie, but an edible garden beauty in your landscape!

Peppers Come in an Amazing Array! 

Mini to Mammoth! Tiny brain wrecking hot chilis, dainty mini to humongous sweet Bells! Early maturing thin walled, later thick walled. Short, long – pointy, round. Ones that hang down, others that point up!

Peppers come in colors you won’t believe! How about these super thick walled Jupiter Sweet Burgundy! On the right are 8″ colossal beauties Yellow Monster Peppers! Really sweet, meaty, great fresh, fried or roasted!

Peppers Varieties - Burgundy Bell, Yellow Monsters, Fish, HOT Chile Numex Twilight

Striped, one of the prettiest peppers ever, Fish Pepper, above left, is an African-American heirloom that predates the 1870s. It starts out an unusual cream color striped with green, the fruits ripen to orange with brown stripes, before turning all red. Super for containers! At right is beautiful Numex Twilight. It can produce more than 100 small pretty pods! At 100,000 Scoville Units, it’s HOT! Respect.

Smart Choices!

  • Disease resistant If your land is moist, hybrids are probably going to do better for you than heirlooms. In coastal Santa Barbara CA we usually have a late spring/summer fog belt/marine layer, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Choose Resistant varieties per the list below and also Potato Yellow Mosaic Virus, Pepper Mottle Virus and  Cucumber Mosaic Virus.
    x
    Pepper Resistance Codes:(BLS 1-3) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1-3)
    (BLS 1-2) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1, 2)
    (PC) Phytophthora Root Rot
    (PVY) Potato Virus Y
    (TEV) Tobacco Etch Virus
    (TM 0-2) Tobamovirus (Races 0-2)
    (TM 0-3) Tobamovirus (Races 0-3)
    (TMV) Tobacco Mosaic VirusHere are recommended varieties by UC Davis in California. TMV is Tobacco Mosaic Virus, PVY is Potato Virus Y. AAS is a super plus! It is an All America Selections winner!
    x
    Hotx
    Tam Mild Jalapeno (mild heat with Jalapeno flavor) PVY
    Jalapeno M (very hot)
    Anaheim TMR 23 (chili pepper, moderately hot) TMV
    Anaheim (standard hot chill)
    Cayenne Long Red Slim (hot)
    Hungarian Yellow Wax (popular for canning, moderately hot)
    Serrano Chili Pepper (tabasco type)

    Sweet Bell
    Bell Boy AAS, TMV
    California Wonder TMV
    Yolo Wonder TMV
    Keystone Resistant Giant TMV
    Jupiter TMV
    Golden Summer Hybrid (yellow when fully mature) TMV
    Golden Bell (yellow when fully mature)
    Early Pimento (used fresh or for canning) AAS
    Sweet Yellow or Cubanelle Sweet Banana AAS
    Gypsy AAS, TMV
    Hy-Fry
    Cubanene
    x

  • Heat tolerant
    x
    Peppers are a Solanacea like tomatoes, and like tomatoes they produce poorly during high temperatures. Banana, ‘Gypsy’ and pimento produce very well, despite the heat. Jessie Keith says ‘super spicy classic jalapeno ‘Tula’, wonderfully flavorful pasilla-type pepper ‘Holy Molé’ (2007 AAS Winner), and classic spicy sweet red bell pepper ‘Mexibell’ (1988 AAS Winner). Of the sweet bell peppers nothing beats the tough, [thick walled] disease-resistant ‘Orange Blaze’ (2011 AAS Winner) and its crisp, bright orange peppers.’ Heirloom Olympus (65 days green, 85 days red) has large bell peppers on medium-sized plants with good leaf cover. They are high-yielding plants, are heat tolerant and can set fruit under a wide range of conditions. MG Seed Stock.If you planted varieties that are more heat susceptible, put up a shade cloth cover. Depending on the density you select, shade cloth can lower the temperature by approximately 5-15 degrees.If you live in a hot area, bell pepper transplants can be planted in August for fall production when the weather cools down.
    x
  • Drought tolerant Look for the terms drought tolerant, drought resistant, dry farmed when searching for the best variety for your garden. It’s important to know that drought tolerant doesn’t necessarily mean heat tolerant and vice versa, so stay alert if you need both. When you are buying seeds, consider the location of the seed company. Perhaps local seed houses will understand your needs best. Check in with local farmers to see which varieties they are growing, remembering that some of their standards are different than a home gardener.For those of you in water critical areas, one way to help the situation is to pick pepper varieties with fewer days to maturity. You get peppers, you can freeze some, your plants are done before the highest heat and driest times.The UC Sonoma County list is short. Only two varieties, Jupiter Red Bell and Ordoño.

Location! If you have a short summer season or are cooler and coastal perhaps, choose earlier smaller fruited varieties than ones that need a long hot summer to fully mature and if necessary change color too.

Pepper HOT Cayenne Blend Eden BrothersHappy Companions!

Sweet Peppers like:  BasilTomato, rhubarb, eggplant, Lettuce, Asparagus, Parsley, Silver Beet, Spinach, carrot, onion, beans, cabbage, peas, marigold and okra.

Hot Pepper plants do well alongside Eggplant, Tomato, Okra, Swiss Chard, Escarole, Squash and cucumbers.

At left, Cayenne Mix at Eden Brothers Seeds, Scoville Scale: 30,000-50,000 Units

Planting

Peppers are Temp Particular! Peppers grow best in daytime air temperatures 65° to 85°F. Transplant when night time temperatures stay above 50 degrees, 55 is better. Below that plants grow very slowly, have yellowish, puckered leaves, and look sickly, often don’t recover. Night temps between 60° and 70° are best. The ideal temperature for peppers is a daytime temperature around 75°F and a nighttime temperature around 62°F.

At soil temperatures above 65 degrees, pepper growth accelerates. If either the soil or air temperature is much below 55 degrees, blossoms of transplants may drop off. The plants may survive and more blossoms will appear. But it is more likely plants will become stunted and never recover. If your plant is puny and showing no growth, best to compost it and replant when it is warmer.

  • Nighttime temperatures below 60 F or above 75 F can reduce fruit set. In daytime temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. When daytime temps reach 90 F and above, and stay there, just like with tomatoes, the blossoms seldom set fruit. Not to worry. Just give them some time after temps are lower.
  • Plumping up! Gardeners in hot regions will need to be especially patient with big bells and sweet roasting peppers. Both of these tend to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up. These folks may want to plant banana peppers or sweet non-bells, which will ripen in time to use with those bumper crops of tomatoes and basil. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh, so pack your patience.
  • Color Changes! Mother Earth News says: After reaching their maximum size, green peppers that are meant to turn red, will develop red pigments in 10 to 28 days, if daytime temperatures are between 65 degrees and 75 degrees. In southern regions where temperatures exceed that range, peppers turn yellowish and may acquire an off-color pallor that is not attractive. Below the optimum temperature range, color development slows dramatically; below 55 degrees, it stops completely. If soil temperatures drop below 68 degrees, pigment production declines and eventually ceases.

Peppers love sun, but a bit of shade is good for the fruit. I planted a Poblano between two big tomato plants. For awhile I thought it was a goner, shaded out, then, it just grew and grew! It got almost 4′ tall and produced like crazy and I gave giant peppers away!

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

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

Plant your peppers about a foot to 18″ apart.  A healthy pepper will get big and top heavy with fruit! It is wise to put small tomato cages over thick wall bell pepper varieties when you plant, to support the weight when they are heavy with fruit.

Though a perennial, they are very susceptible to freeze. With Bell peppers, I have heard a lot of people say their peppers overwintered and produced just fine the following year, but I have not seen that to be true at the community gardens. They are never as robust nor do they produce the big healthy fruits first year plants do. If you are one of the lucky ones, by all means, protect them when there are freezes.

Hot peppers are another story. They seem to do a lot better overwinter, depending on the variety, and I have seen them carry on wonderfully!

Care

Personal Mulch! Solanaceae, that’s peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, like mulch from their own leaf litter, so just let the leaves fall and accumulate. In hot summer weather your peppers will appreciate a heavy mulch. Several inches of straw or dried grass clippings will keep the soil cooler and reduce moisture evaporation. Continually moist ground is a necessity for peppers, as they, like tomatoes, suffer from blossom end rot, a physiological disease caused by a calcium deficiency. Most soils contain ample calcium, but the mineral relies on water to transport it to the plant’s root system. When the soil lacks moisture, the calcium can’t reach the plants and a tell-tale black leathery spot forms on the blossom end of developing fruit. Heavy Nitrogen fertilizer applications can also induce a transient calcium deficiency. I emphasize that you give your peppers plenty of compost for water holding capacity and keep them well mulched!

Peppers, have shallow roots, need even wateringKeep the soil moist, not soggy, to encourage root development and prevent blossom wilting and bitter-tasting peppers. Moisture stress during bloom can cause substantial reduction in fruit set.

Later on, however, as a friend from Farmers Market pointed out: ‘Red & yellow peppers are green peppers that have been ripe for a while. So you are asking an already ripe fruit to stay on a vine longer to change color. Too much water, and the pepper will start to turn brown and rot. So we switched to watering a LOT less frequently and the results have been outstanding.’

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

Replenish mulch as needed throughout summer! You might schedule a mulch check for them and all your plants once a month.

Annual or Perennial? Technically peppers are perennials, grow year after year – in the right climate. Some chiles overwinter well in Santa Barbara. Bell peppers are another story. Geographically, in Santa Barbara CA they are temp sensitive annuals! I’ve heard claims about them overwintering in the garden successfully, but I have yet to see it. If you like to do it, better to pot your pepper before any frosts and take it indoors by a sunny window or into your fine greenhouse! You have a couple choices. Prune it ruthlessly, or keep it growing, even producing, with lights and bloom sprays. There are many online threads about overwintering your peppers. Check out tips from several experts to make your efforts count!

Personally, there are so many tasty fresh winter foods that grow well here in our SoCal ‘winter,’ that I am more than happy to replant peppers in spring!

Pests & Diseases

For Blossom End Rot, see above under Care.

Early Blight and Verticillium Wilt are a problem at both Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria Community Gardens in Santa Barbara. Please see more about them and what to do here.

See more about Pepper pests and diseases at the UC Davis IPM page.

Choose Resistant varieties.

California Wonder Peppers changing color!  Eden Brothers Seeds image.

California Wonder Peppers Changing Color - Eden Brothers imageHarvest

Bell peppers are at their sweetest and are highest in Vitamins A,  C and carotenoids when fully mature! When choosing bell peppers for eating, select those that are firm, heavy for their size with shiny, bright and vibrant richly colored skin! The bell pepper’s sweetness increases as their color changes from green to their final color if they are a color changing variety.

Their stems should be green and fresh looking. To avoid breaking branches, use a sharp knife to cut, instead of pulling.

It’s nice to know that if not optimally ripe vitamin C and carotenoids in bell peppers will actually increase with refrigerator storage over the next 10 days!

Storage

For maximum flavor, eat peppers on the same day they are picked! Room temp is best for peppers, leave them on a kitchen counter for a day or two to ripen further. Rinse with cold water just before you use them. Bell peppers are very sensitive to ethylene gas so don’t store them with fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas. If you put them in the fridge, do it only 1-3 days and use immediately upon taking out of the fridge. Don’t remove their cores because they are quite susceptible to moisture loss. Peppers are warm-weather fruits that don’t store well in cold temps. If you have too many peppers, consider the following storage options.

Freezing This is the easiest storage method. Peppers freeze well without blanching. Thawed peppers still retain some crispness and can be used in cooked dishes or raw in uncooked preparations. Their flavor is retained, so use frozen peppers primarily for adding ‘spice’ to soups, stews, and sauces. If you stuff the peppers before freezing, you’ll have a ready-made dinner, perfect for the microwave.

To Tray Freeze Sweet Bell Peppers

Wash and core peppers. Chop, dice or slice according to how you plan to use them.
Spread in a single layer on a tray of a cookie sheet. Place tray in the freezer for an hour or longer. Loosen pepper pieces from the tray and pour into zip closure freezer bags. Immediately place sealed bags in the freezer. The pepper pieces will remain separated for ease of measuring. Simply remove as many as you need, reseal the bag and return to the freezer. Or bag them separately in the amounts you plan to use them.

Pickling/Canning Peppers are low-acid fruits so require canning under pressure. It’s easier to pickle peppers as you would cucumbers in a crock filled with a simple brine of four cups of water, four cups of vinegar, and 1/2 cup of pickling salt. Add a clove or two of garlic and some fresh herbs for delicious added flavor.

Sweet Banana, Sweet Hungarian, Cubanelle are long, narrow tapering down to one, two or three lobes. They are thin walled, Cubanelle the thinnest. They are usually picked when light yellow or green. Because they have less water content than bells, they are perfect for frying. ‘Sweet Banana’ was the 1941 All America Selections Winner!

Pepper! Colorful Decorative Ristras!Drying This method works best with thin-walled peppers, particularly the smaller varieties that can be dried whole right on the plant. The key to drying peppers is doing it slowly to retain their color and flavors. Perfect for spicing up bland backpacking meals!

Another form of drying is in brilliant wreaths and Ristras!

You can grind chiles into culinary or medicinal powders! They retain their lovely colors! Paprika is a dried powdered form of bell pepper, and though we are used to seeing red paprika, a paprika can be made from any color of bell pepper and it will end up being that same color. Both the decorative forms and these potent powders make sensational gifts!

Seed Saving

To prevent cross-pollination, hot pepper plants should not be planted near sweet or bell pepper plants. TRUE! Plant at least 400 feet between varieties to ensure absolute purity. That’s important info for seed savers!

Harvest mature, fully-ripe peppers for seed. Most bell peppers turn red when fully mature. If frost threatens before peppers mature, pull entire plant and hang in cool, dry location until peppers mature.

  • There are two methods to process pepper seeds, dry and wet. The dry method is adequate for small amounts. Cut the bottom off the fruit and carefully reach in to strip the seeds surrounding central cone. In many cases, seeds need no further cleaning.
  • To process the seed from large amounts of peppers, cut off the tops just under the stem, fill a blender with peppers and water and carefully blend until good seeds are separated and sink to bottom. Pepper debris and immature seeds will float to the top where they can be rinsed away. Spread clean seeds on paper towel and dry in cool location until seed is dry enough to break when folded.

FYI Birds are not sensitive to capsaicin, the heat factor in chilli peppers, and are therefore the main dispersers of the seeds!

Health

Pepper Hot Oil & Healing Spices

Remedies: Hot Oil! Healing Spices. The countless health benefits claimed are exciting and enormous! Cayenne is said to stop heart attacks. Hot oil works wonders on knees.

Nutrition: I’m not sure people really eat peppers for nutrition, LOL! Peppers are in a food category all their own! Choices are made according to the Scoville Scale, how hot or not they are! At the lower end of the scale, nutrition may factor in somewhat, but it is more likely a visual choice, shape and color, whether for salad or type of cooking you will use the pepper for.

Sweet luscious Bell Peppers have a whopping 169% of the daily value of Vitamin C we need, but who thinks of peppers as a source of Vitamin C?! More we think of low calories, but most of all, that delicious taste! But look, here’s more! Absorption of dietary iron is significantly increased when consumed with fruits or vegetables that are high in vitamin C. Eating raw bell peppers with iron-rich foods like meat or spinach, may help increase your body’s iron stores, cutting the risk of anemia. Eat peppers!

Peppers in a Row Luscious Colors! Johnny's Seeds image

Absolute Culinary Delight!

Mexican recipes are classic! Salsa! Chile Rellenos! Add to burritos, roll-ups and tacos. Stuff and eat fresh, hot pockets! Roasted, grilled on the barbie! Pickled. Fine chopped in tuna or chicken salad! Go Cajun by sautéing with celery and onion, then mix with tempeh, chicken, seafoods. Stir fry some bits in the wok with cashews, shrimp and Oriental veggies. Puree in summer zucchini soups, hot or cold. Add color and crunch to your dip tray, make a pureed pepper dip! Pizza topping. Fresh slices in a cool Romaine, cucumber, avocado salad – add black beans for protein!

Peppers! Salsa and Rellenos

Roasted Poblano Salsa, and by chef Rick Bayliss, Grilled Shrimp Chile Rellenos in Corn Husks

Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

Tasty Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

To your great health and a happy palate! Stay cool when it’s hot!

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Water is the driver of Nature.  –   Leonardo da Vinci

When, Who, How, & How Much to Water

Midday, on a hot day, watering will burn the leaves.
Evening watering promotes mildew, fungus growth.  Plants drink during the day, so AM watering is best.

Plants that need little or no water and why:
Onions, garlic, that are flowering, going to bulb, needing to dry
End of season tomatoes that you want to have a stronger flavor
Tomatoes in soil with Fusarium and Verticillium Wilt fungi in the soil.  Fungi don’t do well in dry soil.

Plants that need water almost daily, sometimes twice daily 
Shallow rooted beans, beets, bunch onions, cucumbers, peas, strawberries
Celery and chard, lettuce, arugula – leaf crops, to keep them growing fast, tender and tasting sweet.
Planted seeds, seedlings, newly planted transplants, must be kept moist; if they dry, they die.  Put up temporary shade.

Use a watering can for seeds and tender seedlings so seeds aren’t washed away or seedlings broken.

Most plants need only an inch of water once a week unless it is hot and/or windy weather.  Most gardeners over water by two times as much as is needed!  Overwatering drowns plants, and kills micro soil organisms; they don’t get oxygen.  Soil structure is destroyed as air spaces cave in.  Overwatering also causes poor root growth making it difficult to move enough water to the leaves during hot weather.

Irregular watering results in misshapen fruits, tomato flower drop, can stop production

Fuzzy plants like tomatoes, eggplant, don’t do well with watering on their leaves.  Water underneath please.

Plants that are mulched generally need less water.  Poke your finger in the soil to see how deeply it is moist.  More on mulching next week.

Water and Pests & Diseases 

Overhead watering contributes to mildew on beans, squash, peas.  It spreads Strawberry Leaf Spot and other waterborne diseases 

Tomatoes:  stop watering when about a foot tall.  Water around them, but not right at them.  Keep back about a 2’ perimeter to reduce Fusarium and Verticillium Wilt fungi.  If you do water them, on mature plants, cut off the lower leaves, up to 18” high, to prevent soil splash when watering.  The fungi are especially taken up by leaves touching the ground.

Flush off aphids and the undersides of broccoli leaves and broc side shoots, kale leaves, especially the curly varieties.

Flush white flies from the undersides of broccoli leaves, kale, beans

BE JUICY!

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They really are, aren’t they?!  The most common summer veggie question I get asked is, ‘What’s wrong with my tomatoes?’  So here are reminders, tips to keep your plants healthy and in strong production!

In areas with wilts in the soil, plant only toms that have resistance or tolerance to the wilts; avoid heirlooms.  Jetsetter, an early season tom, is grand.  Click here for a list of excellent varieties! 

If you have the wilts or blights in your soil  1) Don’t pinch off the lower leaves to plant your transplant deeper!  Those open pinch wounds would then be in the soil where the fungi are.  They say the fungi is taken up by the leaves, but an open wound, in the soil?  NO.  2) Do not pinch out the suckers (the little branches between a big branch and the main stem) as your plant grows because that makes wounds where the airborne fungi can enter your plant.  3) When your plants get taller, DO prune off lower branches that water having soil borne fungi could splash onto.  This is obviously a trade off – no splash on leaves versus wounds open to wind borne fungi.

Do not let plants touch each other and spread the wilts.

When your plant gets about a foot tall, water around your plant but not at its central stem.  It has a good deep root and can get water below the fungi zone.  Some people simply dry farm toms, especially when they start producing, saying that makes the flavor more intense.

Keep your soil evenly moist.  It avoids blossom-end rot.

Rap the tom cage or trellis, central stem, sharply, middayish, to increase pollination!  Not only do you get more tomatoes, but they are the right shape!  More pollination makes more seeds.  Plant plenty of flowering plants for pollinators!  If you want less seeds, let nature take its course – no rapping.

Temps are crucial!  Tomatoes are not happy when there are

High daytime temperatures (above 85 F)
High Nighttime Temperatures (above 70 F)
Low Nighttime Temperatures (below 55 F)

True, tomatoes are heat lovers, but per the University of NV, temperatures over 104 F, for only four hours, the flowers abort! Your plant goes into survival mode, stops production. Why wait when it gets HOT and your tomato stops setting fruit?! Get heat tolerant varieties! Check out this nifty page of options at Bonnie Plant! Plant “heat set” varieties like Florasette, Heat Wave, Solar Set, Sunchaser, Sunmaster, Sunpride, Surfire. If you didn’t plant a heat tolerant variety, don’t think is a quitter and pull it. When things cool down, it will start making flowers and setting fruit again. Whew!

High nighttime temps are even worse than high daytime temperatures because your plant never gets to rest.

Conversely, in the spring, wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55 F or protect them with a cover at night.  Choose early maturing varieties like Early Girl, Legend, Matina, Oregon Spring, Polar Baby, Silvery Fir Tree, Jetsetter.

Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes.  What would life be like without home grown tomatoes? Only two things that money can’t buy.  That’s true love and home grown tomatoes. (John Denver)

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APRIL is for Heat Lovers! Pull back your mulches, let soil heat up, PLANT!

Why not start with an AAS (All America Selections) 2011 Winner?!
Pepper ‘Orange Blaze’ F1  Early ripening orange variety, very sweet flavor, multiple disease resistances!

AAS 2011 Winner - Orange Blaze F1 Pepper

Get out last year’s garden notes if you made any, and review for varieties you liked, where you got ‘em, how much to plant!

CORN!
Plant in blocks, not rows, for pollination.  When tassels bloom, break off pieces and whap them on the silks!  Each silk is one kernel, each needs one grain of pollen!
Corn hybridizes – plant only one variety, or varieties that don’t have pollen at the same time.  This is pretty much not doable at a community garden since everyone is planting all kinds at any time, so if you harvest seeds, don’t expect true results!

Heat tolerant, tipburn resistant lettuces – Nevada, Sierra, Black Seeded Simpson, Jericho Romaine
     Slo bolt cilantro, arugula in semi shade (among your corn?!)
Eggplant love humidity and heat.  Tuck ‘em in between, right up against, other plants.  Near the cooler coast plant the longer length varieties that mature earlier.
Jicama, limas, melons, okra, peppers, seed potatoes, pumpkins
From Seed:  basil (Nufar is wilt resistant), chard, green beans (while peas finishing), beets, carrots, corn, endive, New Zealand spinach, parsley, radish, squash – summer & WINTER, sunflowers, turnips.  Coastal gardeners, get your winter squash in NOW so it will have ample time to mature.
The radish variety French Breakfast holds up and grows better than most early types in summer heat if water is supplied regularly.

PreSoak and/or PreSprout for 100% success!  Click here for details!  Per eHow:  How to Soak Watermelon Seeds in Milk Before Growing.  Sometimes the seed coat carries a virus, and the proteins in milk will also help deactivate the virus.  Read more 

Transplants:  cucumbers (hand pollinate?), tomatoes, watermelon
WAIT FOR MAY to plant cantaloupe
Herbs from transplants – oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme 

Plant successively!  If you put in transplants now, also put in seeds for an automatic 6 week succession!  Plant different varieties (except of corn if you want true seed – see above)! 

If you overplant, thin for greens, or transplant when they are about 2 to 3 inches high.  Lettuce, carrots, onions.  Too many stunt each other.  OR, this from Santa Barbara Westsiders Lili & Gabor:  Overplant mesclun on purpose, then mow the little guys!  If you are at home, plant densely in a planter bowl, cut off, leaving 1 ½” of stem still in your soil.  They will regrow, you will have several months’ supply of tasty baby greens.  Plant two or three bowls for more people or more frequent harvest!  Give a bowl as a gift! 

Tomatoes
Plant for excellence
 – Throw a handful of bone meal in your planting hole along with a handful of nonfat powdered milk, worm castings, compost/manures, mix it all up with your soil.  Sprinkle the roots of your transplant with mycorrhizal fungi!  That’ll do it!  Stand back for bounty!
REMOVE LOWER LEAVES OF TOMATOES  Wilt prevention.  Water sparingly or not at all after about a foot tall.  Wilt comes from the ground up the leaves and is airborne. Remove any leaves that touch the ground or could get water splashed.  Don’t remove suckers – airborne fungi can enter open wounds.
Sorry, NO HEIRLOOMS if you know the soil has the wilts.  Heirlooms don’t have resistance.  Get varieties with VF on the tag or that you know have resistance/tolerance.
Mid day, rap tomato cages or the main stem, to help pollination.  55 degrees or lower, higher than 75 at night, or 105 in daytime = bud drop.  Not your fault.  Grow early varieties first that tolerate cooler temps.
Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Kevin and Mary Smith have had successes with 2 blight resistant/tolerant determinate varieties, New Hampshire Surecrop, a 78 day, great tasting slicer/canner, and Legend, a very early 68 day!  Ask for them, and more Jetsetters, with unbelievable VFFNTA resistance/tolerance, at your nursery.  See Tomatoes and Wilts here at the Green Bean Connection Blog for a list of additional resistant/tolerant varieties and tips!   

Maintenance!  Sidedress when blooms start.  Fish/kelp, foliar feed Epsom salt for Solanaceaes, seabird guano (not bat) for more blooms, manures for lettuces and leaf crops like chard, collards.

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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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AUGUST is WATER SPECIFIC month! 

Keep it steady!

The Southern California coastal ‘June Glooms’ may continue, or alternate with hot days in August.  That calls for your attention; there just isn’t a routine, so water with passion!  Feel how your veggie must be feeling!  Thirsty plants need their water to continue to grow and produce.  Most plants need consistent water.  If they don’t get it they make misshapen fruits, or stop producing at all, thinking summer or production time is over.  Oops.  If you need to be gone, ask someone reliable and experienced, who knows what your plants need, to water for you.  General courtesy and gratitude is you offer to let them pick what ripens while they are tending your veggies.    

Think like a plant!  Pretend you are a short rooted plant, like a strawberry, lettuce, onion, bean, cucumber. You can’t go get the hose yourself, but you need to stay moist or your toes dry up.  You are hoping your gardener will check, stick their finger in the ground, to see just how moist your soil is and how deep the moisture goes.  Think like a tall big corn making fat cobs – needs water from bottom to top!  Giant leafy plants like chard, kales with tons of curls, zucchinis, need a lot of water to fill up those leaves!  Plants that are in full production, especially of watery fruits like zucchinis, cucumbers, and tomatoes need steady water to make those fruits.  You need more water because you are working hard, and there is a lot of you!  If you are a little seed or seedling, you need tender gentle watering so you won’t be swept away or broken!  Remember, fuzzy plants, like tomatoes and eggplant prefer dry leaves, so water them underneath.  Although with tomatoes, better to water their neighbors or nearby rather than right at or under them.  That’s to let the soil near the roots be dry, to not harbor the Verticillium and Fusarium Wilts.  The water your tomatoes can then get is from their lower roots below the topsoil fungus area.      

Rebuild water basins that have degraded to be sure to capture the water your plant needs.  Use some pretty shells or rocks to hold the soil in place.      

A sure sign there isn’t enough moisture is if the water just runs off the top of the soil to low spots.  That soil needs a deep thorough soaking to wash away accumulated surface salts.   Water deeper and less frequently.   Mulch can help, keep it a couple inches away from the veggie stem.  One of the simplest things is to take healthy trim, chop and drop.       

On these overcast days, water at ground level and in the AM so leaves aren’t wet, mildewing.  Cut off bottom leaves so they don’t transmit funguses from the soil up into your plants, and keep fruit up off the soil to prevent bug nibbles.      

Winter Weather  Predictions are mild to cooler and dry.  Cooler means slower growth, so this fall, perhaps a bit more manures – as they rot they create heat and nutrients for your plants.  Plant a tad more densely in a row for more crop, and to keep the plants warmer together.  But, do leave plenty of space between the rows for air flow to keep down diseases.  Do you follow the Farmers’ Almanac planting dates?      

Tomato Questions & Cures – Holes, spots, brown areas?  Here is an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) image page from UC Davis that is likely to answer your question!  It includes diseases and pests.      

How to Get RID of those cute pesky digging Skunks!  http://www.howtogetridofstuff.com/pest-control/how-to-get-rid-of-skunks/

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If you didn’t mulch, didn’t mulch thick enough, or your mulch is thin and tired, now’s the time to put some down! It keeps your soil cooler, reduces evaporation, you use less water. Mulch prevents light germinating seeds from growing, using up soil nutrients and your soil.      

Big weeds – if healthy with no pests, chop and drop – that can also include your spent big plants, tops that have bolted, ones you no longer want. Toss the heavy stems into your long-term compost or green waste disposal. Chop and drop practice makes perfect pure guaranteed organic mulch. Remember, you won’t be doing chop and drop with Brassicas that have poisons that kill small seeds like lettuce seeds.      

Little weeds – get ‘em before they seed. If you see flowers, no matter how cute, pretty, and tiny, tiny seeds are very soon to follow. Every one of those is a new little weed that will need weeding, eats up your time weeding, again, and soil. Grass, with that pretty little plume? Those are flowering, seeding. The wind will blow them about. DO NOT pull and lay them on your soil to regrow right there. Remove them, not even into your compost pile, especially if you are not doing hot compost. Even then, it’s not likely every part of your compost pile will get hot enough to kill those little survivor seeds.      

Pigweed, Lamb's Quarter - Chenopodium, Nutrient Accumulator

When you pull little weeds, and you want to use them for mulch, leave them with their roots up, not down where they may grab what soil they can and grow again. One way to instant ‘weed’ tiny weeds in soft soil, is to use a knife, thin blade or stick, and poke/cut them down, push them into your soil. Instant mulch! Works better than raking or hoeing because that dries out your soil, and exposes more light germinating seeds so they can grow too, more weeding.      

Good weedsGardeners, we can reduce or eliminate fertilizer costs and improve soil naturally with plants that are “dynamic, or nutrient, accumulators.” Often they have long tap roots that gather nutrients deep in our soil and make them available to other plants. Some are very nutritious!  You can steam them or eat tasty young tender leaves in salads!      

Pigweed/lamb’s quarters, comfrey, dandelion, garlic, yarrow (also helps heat, decompose your compost more quickly!), fennel, purslane, buckwheat, parsley, peppermint, chamomile, stinging nettle, thistle, vetch, plantains, are all nutrient accumulators! Yes, several of those are ‘weeds,’ but now you will never think of them quite the same way again!

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