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Super Healthy stout and strong Cherry tomato seedling!

Fine stout strong cherry tomato seedling grown by Jessica of Bountiful Backyard!

You went to the Seed Swap, have gotten your seeds from the catalog or nursery, and are itching for the right temps to plant!

Planning now is important because not all spring/summer plants are installed at the same timePlanting in the right places now makes a difference. Zucchini, cool tolerant tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and corn can be started now, by seed, in the ground. March is a little warmer and early variety plants get a better start. April is most everything – cucumber, pepper, squash, beans, more tomatoes, watermelon. May is the true heat lovers, cantaloupe, okra (June may be better yet), eggplant. Some gardeners wait to plant tomatoes until May and June to avoid the soil fungi of earlier months. I hold that space by planting something temporary there in March. June is good for okra, eggplant and long beans!

Summer garden planning tips emphasizing needing less water! Companions!

PLANT PLANTS THAT REPEL PESTS IN ADVANCE SO THEY WILL BE UP AND WORKING WHEN YOUR SEEDLINGS COME UP OR YOU INSTALL YOUR TRANSPLANTS!

  • If you are not going to be canning, indeterminate tomatoes are the excellent choice! These are the vining tomatoes that produce all summer! This saves time and water because determinate, bush tomatoes produce quickly, all at once, then you have to replant and wait for more production. determinate toms do produce sooner, so for an earlier table production, plant them to hold you until your indeterminates are producing. Also, for earlier production, plant cherry tomatoes! Yum! Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of dandelions!
  • Choose more prolific plants and varieties of them so you get more production for less water.
  • Plant tall plants to the North unless you anticipate a scorching summer. If you think it will be HOT, plant tall to the west to shade shorter plants, keep your soil cooler, use less water.
  • Plan to put cucumbers up on trellises to keep them disease free and clean, and so they ripen evenly all the way around. Co-plant with beans! Beans above, cukes below. Japanese Long cukes give a generous supply per water used!
  • Next, intermingle mid height plants, bush beans, determinate tomatoes, tall peppers like Big Jim Anaheim or Polanos, zucchini – try the prolific heirloom, star shaped Costata Romanesco! Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs. Plant Radish ahead of cukes & zukes to repel cucumber beetles. Eat a few, but let several grow up by and through the plants you are protecting.
  • Leave a winter broccoli or two for salad side shoots. Mulch well under your brocs right now! We want to keep these cool loving plants in cool. They help repel cucumber beetles, so push the mulch back, plant cucumbers underneath them. The mulch does double duty, keeping the cukes clean off the soil and insect free above the bug zone!
  • Leave a couple of winter kale to provide over summer. Heat tolerant 1000 Headed Kale is a prolific choice that harbors less aphids on its FLAT leaves. Plant lettuces on the sunny side under your brocs and kale.
  • Snuggle eggplant among tall chards, maybe some curly leaf kale! Radishes with eggplants/cucumbers as a trap plant for flea beetles.
  • Lowest are the ‘littles’ or fillers! Mindful of companions, scatter beets and carrots, lettuce, radish, here and there among, alongside, under larger plants on their sunny side. Bunch onions away from beans. Some of them will be done before the bigger plants leaf out. When the bigger plant leaves start shading out the littles, harvest strategic large lower leaves. There isn’t really a need to allot separate space for littles except strawberries! They need a separate patch with more acidic soil to keep them healthy and be more prolific producers!
  • If you love cabbages, plant a few more, but they take up a fair footprint for what they produce and they take quite awhile to do it. Plant quick maturing mini varieties.
  • SEED SAVING SPACE! Leave room for some arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery to go to flower to bring bees and beneficials! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next plantings. Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile!
  • Pumpkin, melon, winter squash vines require some thoughtfulness. Pumpkin and winter squash vine leaves get as huge as healthy zucchini leaves, easily a foot wide! Mini melons have dainty 2″ wide little leaves, can be trellised, are definitely low to the ground, can be quite smaller than strawberry plants! A healthy winter squash vine can easily be 3′ to 4′ wide, 30′ long plus side vines, and produce a major supply of squash! You can use them as a border, as a backdrop along a fenceline. In SoCal, unless you are a squash lover, or won’t be gardening in winter, there is question as to why you would grow winter squash at all. Greens of all kinds grow prolifically here all winter long, giving a fresh and beautiful supply of Vitamin A.

Super use of your space! As winter plants finish, in spaces needing to be held for later, ie if you are planting okra in June, grow plants that are quick and prolific producers grown for their leaves, until it’s the right time to plant those heat lovers! They produce continuously, and can be removed when you want the space. You will have lush harvests while you are waiting. Think of kales, chard, lettuce, beets, crops grown for their leaves, even mini dwarf cabbages. Perhaps you will leave some of them as understory plants and plant taller peppers like Poblanos or Big Jim Anaheims, and tomatoes among them. When the larger plants overtake the understory, either harvest the smaller plants, or remove or harvest lower leaves of larger plants and let the smaller ones get enough sun to keep producing.

Hardly anyone can resist planting early tomatoes! In this early cooler time, plant your leafies to the sunny side of where the toms will be planted. Pop your tomato seeds in when soil temps are good, or put your transplants in as you get them. That way you have table food soonest and your heart is happy too! Here are a couple tips from James M Stephens at Florida University Extension: Tomato plants 4–5 weeks old grow and yield better than older transplants. He also says when setting your transplant into the soil, do not compress the soil around the roots; gently pour water into the hole to settle the soil around the roots. After the transplanting water has dried a bit, cover the wet spot with dry soil to reduce evaporation. Check! See Tomatoes at Cornell!

Choose early cold tolerant varieties. Ones with northern names, in SoCal that could be Oregon Spring, or Siberian. Stupice from Czechoslovakia is very early! Bellstar, from Ontario Canada, is larger and earlier than other plum tomatoes. Early Girl is a favorite! And SunGold cherry tomatoes are almost always a winner! Cherry toms are small and will ripen when other tomatoes just stay green for the longest!

Soil Thermometer For Veggies!Hopefully, the weather will warm rapidly. It’s been COLD in Santa Barbara area! The January 30  9 AM ground temp at Rancheria was 48 degrees. Though the soil may become fairly warm quickly in days to come, day length is still important. No matter how early you plant some plants, they still won’t produce fruit until they have enough hours of sun, and for some, warmth including day and/or night and/or ground temps. If they miss their window, they may never produce at all…better to pull and replant. Keep growing those leafy producers – lettuce, chard, kale – in that space and plant the right plants at the right good time! See Best Soil Temps

Start seedlings indoors now for March/April plantings. If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, just wait, get transplants and pop them right in the ground per their right times!

Right now, from seed in the ground, sow beets, caraway, celery, carrots, chard, chervil, chives, collards, cilantro (coriander), dill, endive, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces, mustards, green onions, bulb onion sets, flat-leafed parsley, peas – mildew resistant varieties, white potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, and turnips. Get bolt resistant/slow bolt varieties, and especially heat and drought tolerant varieties.

Along with deciding plant locations, get ready for Summer Gardening!

  • Install gopher barriers.
  • Get netting or bendable wire like aviary or 1/2″ hardware cloth for bird protection.
  • Install or repair pathways, berms. Lay in straw, boards, pallets, stepping stones.
  • Waffle Garden, basins & windbreaks, Water Garden. Excellent drought choices.
  • Gather cages & trellises
  • Terrace slopes to prevent water runoff and topsoil loss
  • Build raised beds, Hugelkultur
  • Get new containers
  • Setup Compost areas – enclosures, area to compost in place
  • Organize where you will keep straw bales for summer mulch, compost layers

Spring planting soil prep! Add all your amendments at the same time! See more

  • Compost! The amount of compost to use varies, depending on your soil’s condition, plant selection, compost quality, and availability. A guideline offered by Cornell University (veggies – bottom of Pg 4) says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil!
  • Add well aged manure as appropriate. Less in spring because you want fruit production, not leaf, unless it is a plant grown for its leaves, like lettuce, kale or cabbage! None for carrots, peas or beans.
  • Add 25% worm castings. As little as 10% works. They are potent – increase germination, faster seedling growth, help with plant immunities to disease.
  • Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Jamaican bat is high P phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2.
  • Sprinkle with a tad of coffee grounds to reduce fungal rots and wilts!! Grounds are more potent than they have a right to be! 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less is all that is needed or wanted!
  • Don’t cover with mulch unless you need it for erosion control. Covered soil is cooler. Let your winter cool soil warm up. Do mulch under broccoli and kale you will be keeping over summer. They do best with cool conditions.
  • Water your prepped areas when you water your other veggies. Moist, not flooded, soil is rampant with soil organisms enriching your soil for free!

Keep COMPOSTING! You are going to need it for summer plants! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, soil organisms flourish, it feeds just perfectly! And if you made it, you know what’s in it! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist. See more

One more round of green manure is doable where you will plant late April, May. Grow it where you will grow heavy summer feeders like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard. Green manure can be beautiful favas, bell beans, or a vetch mix to boost soil Nitrogen. Favas are big and you get a lot of green manure per square foot. With our warming weather, longer days, your green manure will grow quickly! As soon as it begins to flower, whack it down, chop into small bits and turn under. It’s more tender to chop while it’s smaller. Taller is not better. It takes 2 to 2 1/2 months to grow. Cut and turn. Wait two to three weeks then plant, plant, plant!

Sidedressing! Hard working plants need fuel and water. As broccoli starts to head, give it a fish/kelp tonic or compost/casting/manure tea! After the main head is cut, your side shoots will flourish!Pests!

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

Pull away those blotchy sections the leafminers make on chard and beet leaves. Remove whole leaves that are too funky for rescue. Harvest the bigger outer lower leaves more often to stay ahead of the miners. Rather than row plant, interplant here and there. Water a tad less so leaves are less soft and inviting.

Aphids Watch for leaves unnaturally curled along the length of the leaf, particularly broccolis, cauliflowers, kale, cabbages. Hose aphids off chard, kale and brocs. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed. A little less water.

  • For hard to get at places, down the centers of chard, crinkly kale leaves, get out that spray bottle! Treat once, wait a couple days, treat the ones that got away and newborns.
  • I tried it, it WORKS! The simplest is to spray with 2 Parts alcohol, 2 parts water, 1 part  soap. DO NOT use on seedlings, it will kill some of them. Spritz lightly rather than drenching or you may kill your bigger plant too!

White flies Flush away, especially under the leaves. Remove any yellowing leaves, especially on your Brassicas, that attract white fly. Again, a little less water.Prevention  A frustrating typical disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on Curly Leaf kales. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day if transplanting. A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! See Aspirin Solution.

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants.

Soil Checks! Especially after our recent rains, check beets, carrots, radish, potatoes, turnips, in general, for low soil. Soil naturally compacts with watering. Some of these veggies naturally push right up above ground as they grow. Planting their seeds deeper doesn’t compensate. It’s the nature of the veggie! Never hurts to put a handy little pile of extra soil near where you plant them. Cover their exposed shoulders to keep them from drying, getting tough, needing peeling, losing the nutrients in their skins. Uncovered carrot shoulders don’t ripen but stay green. Same with potatoes.

Watering & Weeding is important after rains. Winds dry soil quickly and short rooted plants like peas, or seedlings, need to be kept moist.

  • Thinning is a form of weeding! Thin plants that need it, like beets that naturally start in foursomes! Thin plants you intentionally over planted – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, mustard! If you planted too close together, take out shorter, smaller weaker plants. They are all great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves.
  • Dust Mulching, cultivation, breaks up the soil surface, keeps water from wicking to the surface and evaporating. If you use a hula hoe you do two things at once! Just a half to one inch depth cuts off weed sprouts. Indeed, it turns the soil a tad, all that’s needed. More weeds will follow, but it’s quick and easy to repeat the process. Two, three times, a few days apart, and there will be little weeds after that for awhile. Get ’em while they are small and easy to do. Smart gardening.

Grass in Flower
When grass has those frilly little green tops, it is blooming and seeding! Remove it ASAP. Better yet is to remove weeds before they seed! If at the seeding stage, gently pull, don’t shake the soil loose from the roots and spread seeds all over, and don’t put them in your compost!

Have a wonderful February! May your seedlings grow well!

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See the entire February Newsletter! (Sign up for it if you like!)

February – Final Plans, Preps, 1st Spring Plantings!
Calendula ~ Edible, Medicinal, Good for Your Garden, Easy to Grow!
January, February Seeds or Transplants, Pros & Cons
Other Community Gardens – Virginia Avenue Community Garden, Washington DC 
Events! CEC EARTH DAY Celebration 2017!
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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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How to Harvest & Store Summer Veggies Abundance

HARVEST! Harvest at your veggie’s peak delicious moment! Juicy, crunchy, that certain squish in your mouth, sweet, full bodied flavor, vibrant texture, radiant, vitamin and mineral rich! Besides being delicious and beautiful, it keeps your plant in production. Left on the plant, fruits start to dry and your plant stops production, goes into seeding mode. The fruit toughens, withers, loses flavor, maybe rots, sometimes brings insect scavenger pests that clean up, but spread to other plants. So, harvest right on time and let that radiance fill you!

Tomatoes can be harvested when they are green or when they get the color you chose! Bend cherry toms back so you get the cap and stem. This keeps them from splitting open. O’ course, if they split, you absolutely must eat them on the spot so they don’t spoil! 🙂 No fridging! Keep toms at room temp. Pink tomatoes ripen to a better taste and red color if they are left at room temperature. They do not turn red in the refrigerator, and red tomatoes kept in the refrigerator lose their flavor. If you want a tom to ripen, place it in a paper bag with an apple. No problem freezing toms whole! Just remove the stem core. You can blanch them and remove the skins first, or not…your choice.

Cucumbers – no storing on the vine. Your plant thinks it’s done and stops producing. Cut, clip or carefully twist off while holding the vine. Probiotic pickle your cukes. Cucumbers are another room temp veggie. University of California, Davis, says cukes are sensitive to temperatures below 50°F. They thrive and last longer at room temp. However, cucumbers, eggplant and peppers can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 days if they are used soon after removal from the refrigerator.

Sweet Peppers – depends on the pepper. Let them stay on the plant if you planted ones for pretty colors. Cut or clip them off so not to damage your plant. Only wash them right before you plan on eating them; wetness decreases storage time. Store in a cool area, or only 1 to 3 days in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of refrigerator, separate from fruit. Green peppers will usually stay fresh longer than orange or red peppers. Quick-freeze ones you won’t be using right away! Slice, dice, and freeze in baggies in the amounts you anticipate using in a stir fry or stew.

String Beans Harvest just about daily. If they bulge with seeds and start to dry, your plant thinks it’s done and stops producing. Pick, pick, pick! Get them to the fridge vegetable drawer. If you have too many at once or want some for after season use, cut them to bite size pieces or freeze whole! Put as many per bag as you will use for the kind of meal you will use them for. If for a stew you will feast on for several days, you may want a larger quantity bag.

Carrots Check the shoulders of your carrots to see if they are the size you are wanting. A big carrot is not necessarily tough and woody. If you want tender snacking types, pull while they are smaller. Water well the day before pulling, dig down beside them to loosen them if necessary so they don’t break off in the ground. Carrots go limp if you leave them lying about. Cut the tops off to keep them fresh longer. Get them cooled off in the fridge veggie drawer in a closed container with plenty of moisture, either wrapped in a damp towel or dunk them in cold water every couple of days if they’re stored that long. Be creative with your cuts if you freeze some. Go diagonal, rippled, cubed, curled, sticks, or even whole!

Summer Squash, Zucchini Harvest in self defense! They get BIG, FAST! Some of you came from big families and like stuffing and baking them and would never think of harvesting them until they are huge, lotsa bang for your buck! Others have a family of 1, can’t possibly eat all that zuke, so harvest them quite small, fresh salad slicing size. The ridged types make pretty little star shaped slices! They like hanging out in the fridge, but not for long! They are more soft than carrots or peppers. Give away what you won’t use asap.

Lettuce can be harvested at just about any size, but definitely needs to be harvested before it bolts, puts up a stalk, or immediately after. It can be harvested several ways. Eat the thinnings of a group you may have deliberately overplanted! If it is at a size you like, pick lower leaves and take them to the kitchen immediately. Wash, spin dry if you have a spinner, put them in a bag in the fridge veggie drawer. Feast daily until they are gone, go harvest some more. If harvesting a bit at a time drives you nutty, give it a whack about 2 ” above the ground and leave the root there. Take that lovely beauty home and process as usual. Good chance the root in the ground will regrow more lettuce if you keep the area moist! It won’t likely be as big as the original plant, but you will have more lettuce. Or pull that root and toss it in the compost. Plant more lettuce! Your choice. If your plant has bolted, take the whole plant and the leaves that are still good.

Sweet Corn When the silks turn brown and you push your fingernail in a kernel and it squirts milky juice, it’s ready for harvest! It holds its sweetness only 2 to 5 days! Harvest early in the day, make time to your fridge or the barbie because the sugars turn to starch very quickly! If you can’t eat them right away, pop them in the freezer, husks on!

Melons Harvest sooner by placing ripening melons on upside down aluminum pie pans or cans to keep them off the damp soil. The reflected heat and light will help them ripen evenly and sooner than when they are shaded by foliage. Watermelons lose their flavor and deep red color if they are stored for longer than 3 days in the refrigerator. If you can’t eat them big ones fast enough, plant smaller size varieties, like container types, or harvest as soon as possible. Uncut, store in a cool dry place, out of the sun up to a couple weeks. Cut melons should be in the fridge, an open container is fine. In general, melons prefer your countertop. Really, no storing melons. Just eat ’em!

OR! Make melon sorbet! Simplest recipe: one melon, juice of one lime, a few squirts of honey (some ppl use sugar) blend and freeze. Tasty and healthy on a hot day! Use an ice cream machine if you like. Variations might be a dusting of salt, syrup steeped with mint. Serve with fresh blackberries, blueberries, raspberries. Mmm…..

Potatoes are ready for digging when the plant flowers and after. Wet up the soil until muddy, feel about for the biggest ones, leaving the others to get sizable for another harvest later. Store garlic, onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes in a well ventilated area in the pantry. Protect potatoes from light to avoid greening; a paper bag works well.

Okra! If your summer has been hot enough you got some! They must be harvested before they get tough. Letting them get bigger simply doesn’t pay. So look carefully for mature fruits and take ’em! I grow the burgundy and ruby types, slice them fresh over my salads. Pretty little stars. Okra really is best fresh. Very fresh. Eat okra within a few days of buying it. Store okra loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the fridge veggie drawer.

Strawberries Pick them when they are red! Don’t let them hang out on the plant where soil creatures or birds will nibble on them. Storing them is a little different. Quickly as possible, store fresh picked berries in a container lined with a paper towel or in a paper bag in the coldest part of your fridge. They will last about a week, but it’s more fun to eat them sooner!

The counter storage area should be away from direct sunlight to prevent produce from becoming too warm. And don’t put them in sealed plastic bags that don’t let them ripen and increase decay.

Per UC Davis: Refrigerated fruits and vegetables should be kept in perforated plastic bags in the produce drawers of the refrigerator. You can either purchase perforated plastic bags or make small holes with a sharp object in unperforated bags (about 20 pin holes per medium-size bag). Separate fruits from vegetables (use one drawer for each group) to minimize the detrimental effects of ethylene produced by the fruits on the vegetables. Use all refrigerated fruits and vegetables within a few days since longer storage results in loss of freshness and flavor.

Your SECOND HARVEST is SEEDS! As July goes on or in August, when you or your plant are ready, let your very best plants produce but don’t harvest the fruits. Beans get lumpy with seeds and will dry completely. Let them dry on the vine for full nutrition from the mother plant. Let a cucumber yellow and dry. Let the corn cob dry and the kernels get hard. Cukes, peppers, melons, okra and squash are easy. Just remove the seeds and let them dry. Label the drying containers with year and name! Tomatoes are a tiny bit of a process but not hard at all. See more!

Save enough seeds from your best plants for your own planting, for several rounds of planting across the next season, for replanting when there are losses, and some to give away or share at a seed swap. Keep the race going.

Give away or store what you can’t eat. Freezing is the simplest storage method. Cut veggies to the sizes you will use, put the quantity you will use in baggies, seal and freeze. Whole tomatoes, chopped peppers, beans, onions. If you need more than your freezer can hold, get into canning! Learn about it from a pro and do it right! Probiotic pickle your cukes and cabbages and anything else you want to! That is a super healthy option!

See also Simple & Easy Storage Ideas for your Harvest Bounty! Nothing wasted, inexpensively made, thankfully eaten!

Enjoy your sumptuous meals! Sing a song of gratitude and glory!

Here’s a quickie convenient reference graphic from UC Davis!

Storage - Which veggies to Refrigerate or Counter top Fruits Vegetables

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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!

Read Full Post »

Summer Solstice 2016 Santa Barbara CA by artist Lynn Fogel
Wonderful painting by Lynn Fogel inspired by the Santa Barbara CA Summer Solstice Parade!

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

May brought tasty zucchinis, the first cherry tomatoes were eaten. Lettuces. Peppers appeared. Eggplants are blossoming. Potatoes and carrots were harvested and Beans on the bush and vine. A cucumber, many more babies coming! Huge Seascape strawberries! Put harvesting containers on stakes near what you will harvesting there. Convenient and saves time.

Continue your harvesting, plant more! Definitely time for another round! Okra starts better now, eggplant is happy, and long beans started now like the heat of late summer when they produce those long grand beans as other beans finish! If a plant or two aren’t coming along well, replace them. A healthy plant will grow well and quickly in the warmer time coming.

Extend your harvest later into summer by planting more of everything except winter squash, melons, pumpkins, unless you live in the hot foothills. Seeds are fine, transplants are faster. From transplants, more celery, corn, eggplant, leeks, limas, okras, peanuts, peppers, soybeans, squashes, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Choose bolt resistant, heat and drought tolerant varieties. Time for Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson lettuces. Plant another round of anytime fillers: beets, carrots, chicory, chives, slo-bolt cilantro, leeks, green onions, small summer radish, warm season spinach.

Pat Mycorrhiza fungi right on the roots of all your transplants except Brassicas, when you put them in the ground. The fungi increase uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for it bulk at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta.

Remember these excellent companions! Combining them often gives two crops in the same place!

  • Pop in some tasty white potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Add some quick growing radish with zukes, and trellised together beans/cukes to repel cucumber beetles, the little guys with yellow/green stripes.
  • Also plant radishes with eggplants/cucumbers and zucchini act as a trap plant for flea beetles
  • Plant a flock of carrots intermingled with cilantro and chamomile! Just plain pretty.
  • Basil is a natural with tomatoes, smells great and is super nutritious! Super nutritious Culinary dandelions are thought to repel white flies, mosquitoes, tomato hornworms, aphids, houseflies, and asparagus beetles.

Flowering plants starting to produce need another feed, sidedressing. Give them a deep drink of tea or fish emulsion. Spade fork in some holes, pour your tea down them. if you don’t have skunks or other predators, give them a good fish emulsion/kelp liquid feed down those holes! Or pull back the mulch, scratch in a little chicken manure – especially with lettuces. Top with a 1/2″ of compost and some tasty worm castings! If you prefer organic granulated fertilizer sprinkle it around evenly. Recover with your mulch, straw, then water well and gently so things stay in place. That’s like giving them manure/compost/worm tea in place. If any of your plants are looking puny, have yellowing leaves, might give them a bit of blood meal for a quick pick me up.

Please always be building compost and adding it, especially near short rooted plants and plants that like being moist. Compost increases your soil’s water holding capacity.

Summer WATERING is a skill! The key to good looking fruits is regular watering and enough water. After you water stick your finger in the soil and see if is wet below or just at the surface. A general rule is an inch a week. Summer plants often need more during hot weather. If plants don’t get enough water, production is sporadic, fruits misshapen, they are susceptible to pests and diseases. Too much water brings ‘soft’ plants susceptible to aphids and leafminers.

  • Water early AM when possible to let plants dry off, avoid mildew.
  • Water at ground level with a long wand with a shut off valve, rather than overhead watering unless you plant is dusty. Dust brings whiteflies.
  • Keep seeds and emerging and young seedlings moist. Lay down some Sluggo type stuff, as soon as you have seeded, to jam up the slugs and snails before they have a chance to eat your prize babies.
  • Irregular watering makes beans and cucumbers curl, strawberries to have irregular shapes.
  • Chard needs plenty of water to make those big sweet leaves. However, chard naturally shuts down and droops in the heat of the day. Don’t mistakenly drown it!
  • Water beans, cukes, lettuces and short rooted varieties of strawberries more frequently. They are all workhorses producing fast and repeatedly, cukes making a watery fruit even. Lettuces need to put on growth fast to stay sweet. Heavy producers like beans need plenty, especially if they are closely planted.
  • Tomatoes have deep tap roots and can make do with little water. In fact, dry farming concentrates their taste!
  • Big plants like corn and zucchini need ample water as do huge vines like winter squash, melons, pumpkins. Stake the centers of vine basins so you know where to water the roots.

MULCH If you haven’t mulched yet, this is a good time to do it before we go into hot July, August, September. Replenish thin mulch. Use a soil feeding mulch, seedless straw works well. Use an inch or so under tomatoes. You want their soil to get a little air, the soil to dry some, and if you have it, the fungi to die. Otherwise you can put on, up to say, 6″ worth. The exception would be to leave soil under melons and other real heat lovers bare so the soil is good and HOT! Yes, they will need more water, so be sure your basin is in good condition and big enough so they get water out to their feeder roots. You can see the dripline of your plant by watering at the central area and seeing where the water falls off its leaves. Plus, mulch prevents light germinating seeds from starting – less weeds!

Pollination! On gray days, help your tomatoes by giving the cages or the main stems a few sharp raps to help the flowers pollinate. You can do that on sunny days too, best time is about 11 AM, to make more pollination, more tomatoes. Honey bees don’t pollinate tomatoes, so build solitary bee condos for native bees. Native bees, per Cornell entomology professor Bryan Danforth, are two to three times better pollinators than honeybees, are more plentiful than previously thought and not as prone to the headline-catching colony collapse disorder that has decimated honeybee populations. Plant plenty of favorite bee foods!

Pest prevention! One of the fastest things you can do is plant radish, a couple here, a couple there. They repel those cute but very nasty disease carrying cucumber beetles, are a trap plant for flea beetles. Plant enough for eating, leave one to grow up and protect your plants. If you are by road or in a dusty windswept area, rinse off the leaves to make your plants less attractive to whiteflies. Also, remove yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies. Smart pests adore tasty healthy plants just like we do. They also make us see which plants are weak or on their way out. Give those plants more care or remove them. Replace them with a different kind of plant that will do well now. Don’t put the same kind of plant there unless you have changed the conditions – enhanced your soil, installed a favorable companion plant, protected from wind, terraced a slope so it holds moisture, opened the area to more sun. Be sure you are planting the right plant at the right time!

Disease prevention. Water early AMs to give plants time to dry off. Use a long water wand with a shutoff valve and water underneath as possible. Choose excellent and appropriate plant varieties, using companion plants in wise combinations. Make super soil, at bloom start sidedress and later in the season to extend their production time. Regularly apply prevention formulas more details and all the recipes. Keep up on maintenance. These are the things that keep your plants in top form! They will be less likely to have diseases. See more in the April Newsletter

If your soil has disease fungi, remove any leaves that can or will touch the ground. Remove infected leaves ASAP, don’t let the leaves of one plant touch another. This especially goes for tomatoes. Remove alternate plants that have grown to overcrowded conditions. The remaining plants will grow bigger, produce more with ample space. See April’s chat on Tomato and Cucumber specifics – A word on the Wilts. Lay down a loose 1″ deep straw mulch blanket. Too much straw keeps the soil moist, which is good for some plants, not for others. Under maters and cukes, we want some air circulation and a bit of soil drying. In their case, the main purpose of mulch is to keep your plant’s leaves from being water splashed or in contact with soil, the main way they get fungi/blight diseases.

Keep your garden clean. Remove debris, weed. Remove mulch from under plants that were diseased and replace with clean mulch.

HARVEST! Harvest at your veggie’s peak delicious moment! Juicy, crunchy, that certain squish in your mouth, sweet, full bodied flavor, radiant, vitamin and mineral rich! Besides being delicious and beautiful, it keeps your plant in production. Left on the plant, fruits start to dry and your plant stops production, goes into seeding mode. The fruit toughens or withers, maybe rots, sometimes brings insect pests that spread to other plants. Keep beans picked, no storing cucumbers on the vine. Give away or store what you can’t eat. Freezing is the simplest storage method. Cut veggies to the sizes you will use, put the quantity you will use in baggies, seal and freeze. Whole tomatoes, chopped peppers, beans, onions. Probiotic pickle your cukes. Enjoy your sumptuous meals! Sing a song of gratitude and glory!

What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade. ~ Gertrude Jekyll

Gertrude was an influential British horticulturist, garden designer, artist and writer. She created over 400 gardens in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, and wrote over 1,000 articles for magazines such as Country Life and William Robinson’s The Garden. Jekyll has been described as “a premier influence in garden design” by English and American gardening enthusiasts. 1843- 1932

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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 June GBC Newsletter!

JUNE Summer Garden Treats!
Common SoCal Summer Garden Pests – Aphids, Cucumber Beetles, Leafminers, Whiteflies
Tower or on the Ground Gardening?!
A Food Not Lawn Garden in Santa Barbara CA 
Events!  Home & Garden Expo, Summer Solstice Celebration! Fairview Farm – Summer Farm Camp!

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

 

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Read this carefully and see what new ideas you can use here in SoCal! I’ve added a few comments in brackets for our local gardeners….

WHAT TO GROW THROUGH VERY HOT SUMMERS by Lisa Dermer

“Heat-tolerant” and “drought-tolerant” are phrases to look for when selecting the best varieties to grow where summers are very hot. Humidity, especially warm, humid nights, leads to fungal diseases, so it’s also good to look for fungal disease resistance.

Some plants continue producing even during periods of extreme heat and humidity or heat and drought. Here are some of our recommendations:

Heat Lovers Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Dermer

Beans: If you want green beans and shelling beans throughout the summer, it’s best to expand your repertoire to a few different species. The common green bean, Phaseola vulgaris, doesn’t handle drought or high temperatures. But lots of classic Southern beans love our high-heat summers! Try growing Southern Peas (Cowpeas) like Whippoorwill, White Acre, and Pink Eye Purple Hull. Asparagus Beans (Yard Long Beans) also love heat and humidity – they’re slightly firmer than green beans and quite a bit longer. They’re commonly used in Thai curries. Green Pod Red Seed is the classic, reliable heirloom. If you’re in the Deep South, Chinese Red Noodle takes advantage of the long season and is more heat tolerant. Lima Beans (Butterbeans) are generally very reliable in heat, humidity, and drought. [In Santa Barbara area Rattlesnake beans, aka Preacher Bean, produce fabulously in 100 degree weather!]

Tomatoes: Look for tomatoes that come from the Deep South, especially those bred by the universities. The large red slicer Tropic VFN (from the University of Florida) produces through very hot summers. Ozark Pink VF (from the University of Arkansas) is highly recommended for very hot climates. These blemish-free medium-sized tomatoes have very bright, crisp flavor. For market growers looking for reliability in heat and humidity, Neptune (also from the University of Florida) is a great choice. This medium-large red slicer recently did very well in trials conducted at the University of Georgia. [Try these, but in SoCal, cherry tomatoes are often your best choice.]

Eggplant: Take advantage of your summer heat by growing an eggplant that requires it: the flavorful French/Italian heirloom Listada de Gandia thrives in hot weather.  The better known heirloom Black Beauty is also dependable in the South. The long, narrow Asian eggplants like Ping Tung Long also produce well through intense heat. [Long eggplant does better in cool coastal areas because it takes less time to develop. Terra Sol Garden Center in Goleta has been carrying Ping Tung Longs!]

Peppers: Nematode resistant bell peppers are the best choices for Southern gardeners. Carolina Wonder and Charleston Belle are both excellent. Hot peppers generally thrive in heat and humidity. (Lots of hot places use hot peppers in their cuisines – perhaps because these plants grow so well in hot climates!) Sweet, spicy Aji Dulce peppers have an unusual, complex flavor, with just a hint of heat. They’re generally unaffected by pests and diseases, but they take a little longer to mature than most peppers.

Cucumbers:   Find out which diseases are problems in your area and use the resistance codes to help you choose what to grow. Little Leaf H-19 (from the University of Arkansas) has excellent disease resistance and is well adapted to very hot summers. It’s classified as a pickler, but it’s also very tasty sliced and in salads. Ashley is a slicer particularly recommended where disease is a problem, but my favorite choice for a heat-loving slicer is Suyo Long (the long, slender fruits are best grown on trellises). [Island Seed & Feed in Goleta is growing Suyo Longs!]

Summer Squash and Zucchini: We recommend growing Moschata type summer squash if you have trouble growing summer squash and zucchini in your hot climate. The Moschata types have better pest and disease tolerance and produce well straight through very hot summers.Tromboncino summer squash has the extra advantage of also making excellent squash blossoms for stuffing. Waltham Butternut winter squash can be harvested small (3-5”) for eating like summer squash.  (Moschata types need nights above 60 degrees F to grow well.) You might also try edible Luffa gourds. When harvested small, they’re a great summer squash alternative.

Winter Squash and Pumpkins: As with summer squash, we recommend choosing moschata types when growing winter squash and pumpkins in the South. (Avoid pepo and maxima types.) Pretty much any moschata will thrive through hot summers, but particularly productive varieties are Seminole Pumpkin, Waltham Butternut, and Tan Cheese. Green-Striped Cushaw is from another type of squash altogether (argyrosperma or mixta). We know Southern gardeners who won’t grow anything but Cushaws: they’re super productive through our summers and their seeds are very large and tasty. The flesh tastes a little different than most winter squash and not as sweet, but it can be used in pies if you add extra sweetener.

Melons: Top Mark, Sweet Passion, and Kansas all have extra disease and/or pest tolerances.Edisto 47 is particularly recommended for hot, humid summers where fungal disease is an issue. Missouri Gold produces well through droughty conditions. [If you live in SoCal coastal foothills, plant away. If you are in the cooler beach areas, if you think we will have a HOT summer, take a chance, plant if you have room! It’s recommended to wait until May to plant cantaloupe.]

Watermelon: Crimson Sweet and Strawberry watermelon are good choices where heat and humidity make fungal diseases a problem.

Okra: Choose older and heirloom varieties of okra with deeper root systems. The deep roots give these plants resistance to nematodes and improved drought and heat tolerance, but these varieties also usually take longer to mature. Gold Coast is a variety particularly noted for its deep roots, but Stewart Zeebest and Beck’s Big Buck also are excellent heirlooms for the Deep South.

Greens: Lettuce is very difficult to grow outside when it’s hot, and spinach is pretty much impossible, but don’t give up on summer salads and cooked greens. [In coastal Santa Barbara we successfully grow heat tolerant Romaines – Sierra, Nevada, Jericho are some.]

For cooked greens, Swiss chard and turnip greens are the best choices in the South. These plants are biennials, which means they usually won’t bolt (go to seed) until they’ve gone through their first winter. So they stay tender and mild all summer. [In Santa Barbara the chard suffers so from the heat I can’t bear it. I compost it and plant again in the fall.] Sweet potato greens, New Zealand summer spinach, and the young leaves and shoot tips of squash can all be used for cooking greens.

For salads, buckwheat leaves add an unusual nutty flavor. Grain amaranths like Mayo Indian are very productive in high heat and humidity. Many heat-loving herbs add flavor to salads, including roselle, anise-hyssop, dill, & basil.

We strongly recommend Red Malabar summer spinach to anyone who hasn’t tried growing it yet. The crisp, slightly succulent leaves stay mild in high heat and maintain healthy growth all summer. The gorgeous red vines need to be trellised or caged, but this keeps the leaves clean. They’re excellent as cooking greens and in salad mixes.

See their Growing Guides & Library, remembering that planting times may vary from their location in Mineral VA and yours! Support them by buying seeds from them! Thank you!

I highly recommend subscribing to their blog for more super tips on growing your favorite veggies and trying some new ones!

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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 April GBC Newsletter

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

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

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

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

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

Temporary Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make your own SAFE bait containers!

Make your own Safe Ant Bait Containers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Longer shelf life for your Berries!  Blackberry Raspberry Blueberry Strawberry!

It started with 2 lbs of strawberries and a simple Google search ‘strawberries vinegar’ because I had recently read somewhere that giving them a vinegar/water bath would keep the fuzzy gray mold away and they would last longer. And, in fact that was the first type of response that came up, with great tips on how to do it. But the 7th search result came up with some completely different facts based on research, some quite surprising.

Water is still the king of clean! Research shows just plain old water can remove 98% of bacteria! Berries in general should never be wetted or soaked in water. It is detrimental to their health and will shorten their shelf-life. Wash them only just before use.

Vinegar and shelf lifeYes and no. How your produce was treated immediately after harvest until the time you get it, supermarket, farmers’ market, your own garden, makes a huge difference. A nice vinegar bath can’t help produce that has already been mishandled after harvesting.

Cooling your produce correctly is important. Tomatoes need the water to be the SAME TEMP as they are! If they are washed with cold water, they suck it in, including any microorganisms hanging about. Dry them. After they are dry, place them in a cool area, about 55 degrees. Same goes for summer squash, bell peppers and eggplant. The fridge is too cold!

FYI per Dr. Floyd Woods and Dr. Joe Kemble: ‘Most fruits (oranges, lemons, etc.) and vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, watermelons, etc.) of tropical and subtropical origin may be damaged by cool temperatures and develop a condition called chilling injury. Chilling injury results from prolonged exposure to low but not freezing temperatures. Symptoms of chilling injury include dark circular pits on the surface, shriveling, internal darkening, loss of the ability to ripen and the development of off-flavor and poor texture. Proper storage will help achieve a maximum post-harvest life.’

When they were picked is a factor that can’t be denied. If the end is nigh, just eat ’em! Share if you have to. Or, individually freeze, pop into a freezer bag. If it is berries, make fruit ice cream or smoothies at your convenience.

Vinegar or another similar treatment will extend your fruits and vegetables’ shelf life, only if they were handled correctly after harvest.

Vinegar and cleaning your fruits & veggies. The researched best ratio is 1:3, for example, 1 cup vinegar to 3 cups water. Gotta do what works or why waste your time and money? Not knowing what critters might be inhabiting your produce, commercial cleaners are geared for whatever might be there, any worst case scenario. Just wash your produce first so the power of the agent isn’t in any way reduced.

Now, for those berries! Here’s where there are 180 degree differences. The researchers say: ‘In the case of strawberries, blueberries and other berries, generally any wetting or direct contact with water is detrimental and will shorten their shelf-life. You should never place any of these into your sink to soak them. Before you store them, be sure that they are clean but do not wash them until you are ready to use them. Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries are natives of temperate climate and can be stored in your refrigerator. In fact, they should be stored as close to 32°F as possible to maintain their shelf-life. When stored properly, strawberries have a shelf-life of a week, blueberries can last up to two weeks, and blackberries and raspberries will last two to four days.’ OK.

Vinegar enthusiasts, however, report that after their vinegar bath, very soft berries last about a week, strawberries up to two weeks! If you want to try it, here’s what to do!

  • Wash gently with water their same temp
  • Make your bath mix 1:3 Vinegar to Water
  • Put your berries in, gently swish around
  • Drain, rinse, dry
    – Delicate berries like blackberries or raspberries lay on towel/paper towel, gently dry
    – Strawberries, blueberries – put in a paper towel lined salad spinner and gently spin dry
  • Store in paper towel lined container like the ones they come in from the store; leave the lid ajar if it is an airtight type container.

When you are buying those ‘spensive berry gems, keep the ‘cold chain.’ Chuck at Driscoll’s [great berries!] says buy only from refrigerated displays, keep ’em cold, and get ’em right into the coldest part of your fridge! Vinegar won’t help compromised berries; eat ’em in a day or two. It’s nature. Also he says shop at stores that sell a lot of produce, because you’re probably getting fruit closer to harvest, which means a longer shelf life for you.

So my strawberries are now languishing on the bottom shelf of the fridge with a paper towel under them in their package, unwashed. Depending on how that turns out, I may try that vinegar bath after all…. Enjoy every luscious bite!

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Beautiful Eggplant Variety Rosa Bianca

Meet Rosa Bianca, an Eggplant…and her photographer, Kim Grove, who Designs Gardens for People with Dementia.

And you thought your eggplant were just being temperamental! Well that’s exactly right! TEMPeramental! Eggplant fruit set is best when night temps are 60 degrees or more. Our coastal Santa Barbara night temps are still in the 50s. BUT if you read an Oregon site, they say night temps for Solanaceae, toms, peppers, eggplant, fruit set need to be 50 or above. Since we have lots of tomatoes at 1 to 2″ diameters at our community garden right now, and our night temps have been in the 50s, I would say they are right! So you lucky gardeners with blooming eggies, are going to be having eggplant babies! The warmer the weather the deeper the purple color!

First plantings are usually in March; June is fine for last rounds of smaller fruited varieties. There are several types of eggplants, the big fat pear shaped Black Beauties, slender chic Japanese longs, and many new different colored varieties and shapes on the market. If you have a short growing season, or a cool location, choose early-ripening eggplant varieties and start with large transplants. My favorite is Japanese longs because I can cut them in perfect strips to layer my lasagna!

Blue Marble Hybrid and Millionaire Hybrid are best for container gardening or for closer spacing. Ichiban produces abundant, tender, sweet, purple-skinned fruit 4 to 6 inches long, is easy to grow. And there is a “tomato-fruited” variety! More fun by the minute!

Special care! Remember, eggies like humidity! Since they like humid, you can understand they don’t like wind. A little shelter is lovely. That’s why closer spacing or more closely planted among, between, other plants works well. Early mulches can be dark colored to bring heat. When it gets hot, lay on some reflective straw that when moistened makes a sauna effect, keeps soil cool, but is humid topside!

Soil  These beauties love well drained rich organic soil, well composted, as well as super organic fertilizer like blood meal, well-rotted manure, cottonseed meal or bat guano. Be sure to use the ‘right’ bat guano. They will root to a depth of 3 to 4 feet, so a barrier free (no rocks) sandy or silt loam is ideal.

Eggplants are hungry. They like to be fed, but small amounts spread over summer. Otherwise it’s all leaf and no fruit. Seabird guano, slow to breakdown to be available to your plants, is great to add at planting time for later blooming! Feed them for sure after your first fruits are harvested.

Oh, and they like lots of water too. To avoid flower and fruit drop, water deeply and regularly, especially during long, dry periods. For that fine eggplant taste, just like with lettuce, we want rapid growth and fruit maturity.

Healthy, generously producing eggplants often need support while they have those heavy fruits. Put small tomato cages over them when they are little plants for support later on. Also, some growers remove lower leaves and flowers so fruits can’t touch the ground and get fruit rot. Another reason to use cages. No slouching eggplants! Also remove those lover leaves to slow down the Verticillium wilt. Though the wilt is also wind borne, the main way it is taken up by your plant is from infected soil contact.

Disease, Eggplant Varieties Verticillium wilt is the main disease in eggplants. Sadly, there’s not much we can do about it. Leaves brown and die. All varieties are susceptible, some more than others. Oregon varieties that thrive in their cooler weather, are Dusky, Epic, Bambino (round), Cloud Nine, Black Bell, Calliope, Burpee Hybrid, Millionaire, (elongated), Megal, Bride, Orient Express. All of these varieties have shown tolerance to verticillium.

Pests Pest prevention can be rotating your crop every other year or so, if you have space. Keep pest habitat to a minimum. That means weed regularly and remove debris. Row covers help keep pests away. Plant trap crops the pests like better, like radish for flea beetles. Use insecticidal soaps to get rid of those frustrating pests if there are too many. Flea beetles may be tiny, but the little devils suck the life out of your plant, interrupt your plant’s life, lower it’s general health and definitely production. Boo. Other Pests are aphids, lace bugs, whiteflies, and red spider mites. See UC Davis Eggplant problems diagnosed.

Harvest Eggplants take about 11 weeks to make those beautiful fruits. Long skinny varieties take a little more time, and the small Easter egg types, less. To get them soonest, at planting time lay in some black plastic ground cover, or cover with a spun fabric row cover. As they grow, the row cover will also protect them from pests like flea beetles. As your eggplant grow, you can cover them with a cloche. Make your own cloche or hot cap by cutting out the bottom of a gallon plastic milk jug. Cover your plants until the first hot stretch of summer. Remember to uncover them during hot midday.

Harvest on time to keep them coming. When that fruit is firm and shiny, pick it! No storing on the plant. FYI Depending on the market and plant vigor, some commercial growers cut eggplants back to 18 inches for a second harvest in fall.

A common error is harvesting too late. Firm, vibrant and glossy is good. Dull is not. Depending on the variety, the calyx, the part holding the eggplant, should be green, not brown and drying. If it is brown and the fruit is spongy, the fruit is past peak, already drying internally, possibly bitter with hard seeds. With white and light-colored varieties yellow means they are over mature, compost. To keep your plant producing, cut off over mature fruit and see if it will produce any further. If you are done for the season, use over-ripe fruits for seed saving.

Seed Saving! Save seeds from your very best plant! It’s easy to do. Let the last one rot until very stinky. Oh, boy. Here is the Southern Agrarian, Stephen Clay McGehee’s way of doing it.

Eggplant Seed Saving

Storage They don’t store well, 14 days max depending on the variety. They get chilling injury in the fridge. 50 to 54 Degrees is best, and not with ethylene-producing fruits, apples, bananas, melons or tomatoes.

Burpee tip! ‘When eggplants are plentiful, make up a bunch of casseroles in foil pans and freeze them [for when the snow is blowing].’ They can be roasted, grilled, baked, stewed, stuffed, dried, braised, mashed, pickled, pureed, or breaded and fried!

China and India produce the most in the world; in the US, it’s Florida, with California being #3. If you want to, go to the Loomis CA Eggplant Festival! 2014

According to the American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening — Vegetables, “A 5th Century Chinese book contains one of the oldest references to eggplant. A black dye was made from the plant, and ladies of fashion used it to stain their teeth – which, when polished, gleamed like metal.” How strange and wonderful.

 

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