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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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Fine Bright Lights Chard

To start, especially tomatoes, 4 things!

  • First, throw a big handful of bone meal in your planting hole and mix it in with your soil.  Bone meal is high in Phosphorous (for blooming) and takes 6 to 8 weeks before it starts working – perfect timing!  It is also high in calcium, which helps prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes.  Water regularly or it won’t help.  Fine ground bone meal releases quicker, coarse ground lasts longer.
  • Second, throw in a handful of nonfat powdered milk!  It’s also high in calcium, that your plant can uptake right away, but more importantly, it is a natural germicide, and boosts your plant’s immune system!!!
  • And what about tossing in some worm castings?  They have special plant-growth hormones in the humic acids of the castings.
  • This is indirect, but makes sense.  Sprinkle mycorrhizal fungi ON the roots of your transplants when you plant them!  To live, the fungi need the sugars the roots give.  The fungi, in turn, make a wonderful web of filaments, mycelium, that work in harmony with your plant, increasing its uptake of nutrients and water, reducing transplant shock, and helps with disease and pathogen suppression!  One of the great things mycorrhiza does is assist Phosphorus uptake.  Of the NPK on fertilizers, P is Phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop.  Buy them fresh at Island Seed & Feed.  Ask them, they will weigh out whatever amount you want.  A quarter pound would be $4.99 (2-24-11/Matt).  Mycorrhiza & Farmers video

When your plants start blooming

  • Sidedress them with seabird quano (NOT bat guano) that is high in phosphorus, stimulates blooms, more blooms!  More blooms, more tomatoes!
  • Foliar drench or spray with Epsom Salt mix – 1 Tablespoon/watering can.  Fastest way to feed plant, and often the most efficient, is to foliar feed it.  Epsom Salt, right from your grocery store or pharmacy, is high in magnesium sulfate.  Peppers love it too.  It really gives your plants a boost, and fruits are bigger, peppers are thicker walled.  I drench all my Solanaceaes – toms, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, tomatillos – with Epsom salt.  Some say apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, or spray a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salt per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set.

Fish/kelp mixes are for light feeding, are well balanced, but stinky, even when the fish emulsion is deodorized.  If you want a more potent mix, use the hydrolyzed powder.  Maxicrop is great stuff!

Along the way, if leaves start yellowing, green ‘em up quick with emergency doctoring!  Bloodmeal!  It’s very high in quickly usable Nitrogen (N).  Dig it lightly into the top soil, water well.  Be aware, it and fish/kelp mixes are stinky and bring predators.

Give everybody a little manure, dig into the top 6” of soil, but only on two sides of your plant.  We want most of the near-the-surface roots to be undisturbed. Steer manure is cheap.   Chicken stores in less space per what it can do, but it can be hot (burn your plants’ roots), so go lightly with it.  Lettuces like manures.  Compost is good stuff but sometimes not strong enough on N.  Sometimes you can get FREE compost from the city.

Again, indirect, but organic mulch not only keeps your soil cool, moist and weed free, but feeds your soil as it decomposes.  Apply coarse mulch that decomposes slowly so it doesn’t use up your plants’ Nitrogen in the decomposition process.

Well fed and maintained plants are more disease and pest resistant, are lusty and productive – they pay back with abundant  larger tasty fruits and potent seeds for the next generation!

“Earth turns to Gold in the hands of the Wise” Rumi

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Tomatoes, Fusarium Wilt, and Dandelion, a Virtuous Plant!

Culinary Dandelion Whole Plant Root Allelopathic Fusarium

It turn out that culinary Dandelions are super Companion Plants for Tomatoes! Canadian researchers have discovered that the dandelion weed can protect tomato plants from fusarium disease. Fusarium attacks the plant roots. It reduces the number of tomatoes that the plant produces. Dandelion roots produce cichoric acid. This acid prevents the disease from getting iron from the soil. Fusarium needs iron to survive.

Here is a link to the extensive and fascinating abstract on Dandelion in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science , 2002, 82(4): 825-853. It says ‘Taraxacum officinale possesses allelopathic properties that can reduce germination of other plant species (Falkowski et al. 1990). In addition, phenolic compounds produced by T. officinale are considered responsible for allelopathic biological control of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. radicis-lycopersici in greenhouse tomato plantings in Canadian experiments (Kasenberg and Traquair 1988). Satisfactory control of this pathogen was achieved when residues of T. officinale were incorporated into sterilized greenhouse soil. The mode of action is unknown but it may act directly by secretion of allelochemicals or promotion of antagonistic microflora (Jarvis 1989).

In this case, allelopathic is good! Allelopathic can happen 3 ways. 1) Release of chemical compounds from their roots into the soil. 2) Release of allelochemicals in gaseous forms. 3) Like with Brassicas dying/dead leaves that fall, gaseous allelochemicals are released from the small pores of their leaves. In fact, Brassica species are so potent they are grown for weed management by using them as cover crops, companion crops, and intercrops, for mulching and residue incorporation, or simply by including them in crop rotations. However! Some seeds can’t germinate there – that’s one reason why we remove dead Brassica leaves ASAP.

Allelopathy is great for weed suppression, but be mindful. Permaculture News advises CAUTION! They explain that ‘residues of allelochemicals may exist in the soil for a long time after the plant is removed; which results in soil sickness and makes some sites unsuitable for general plant growing.’

Do know that many weeds, including dandelions and lambsquarters, are known to host verticillium wilt. Remove them. When your crops are done, don’t let these weeds overwinter or leave them lying about.

Clearly this is a very careful game to play to keep a healthy balance. 1) You might not want to put Brassicas or dandelions in your compost? 2) As a gardener carefully choose where you will plant dandelions or Brassicas. In a greenhouse is one thing, but in the ground is another. If you have space you might dedicate a special area for your Dandelions – a place where you don’t plan to plant something else later.

Not only are Dandelions dandy tomato savers, but also dandelion greens have superior nutritional and medicinal properties, 4 times the Vitamin A in spinach, in fact, the highest of all greens! The cultivated dandelion variety, Taraxacum officinale, is said to be far superior to the rest in taste! It has broad upright leaves that seem to multiply in great stands right before your eyes.  These dandelions like rich, moist soil. Commercial varieties include Thick Leaf, Improved Thick Leaf, and Arlington Thick Leaf. Don’t be confused! Most American dandelion growers cultivate San Pasquale and Catalogn chicories, but call them dandelion greens, which are similar. Oh, and after a frost, their protective bitterness disappears. Grow your own, 100% organic! In Santa Barbara area Island Seed & Feed has some seeds!

What a beauty! Perennial Italian Red Rib Heirloom Dandelion!

ITALIAN RED RIB DANDELION, Heirloom Variety, perennial, 30-70 Days

Wild Man Steve Brill says: ‘The leaves are more nutritious than anything you can buy. They’re higher in beta-carotene than carrots. The iron and calcium [more than milk!] content is phenomenal, greater than spinach. You also get vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.’ Low in calories, a terrific liver cleanser, people have eaten dandelions for centuries. The name comes from the French, who called them dent de lion, or “lion’s teeth” because of their sharp, serrated leaves. All parts of the dandelion are edible, but the youngest leaves, less bitter before blooms form, are most commonly eaten, in salads, sautéed or steamed. Drizzle with a deliciously tangy vinaigrette made of honey, Dijon mustard, orange juice, and fresh rosemary. Or toss with garlic, olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper, or with bacon fat (pancetta if you prefer) and a little wine vinegar.

There are many super ways of eating them! In breads, pasta dishes, soups and stews, quiche, omelets, fat sandwiches, avocado/dandelion wraps, sautéed, stir fried and wilted, tea and tarts, fritters and pancakes, pesto, and, of course, Dandelion Wine!

More Tomato Tips! 

Buy toms that are tagged VFN, or just VF – that’s Verticillium Wilt and Fusarium resistant. When they are about a foot tall, water their neighboring plants, but not them.  That keeps a drier soil the fungi can’t thrive in. Once a plant has the diseases, the leaves curl lengthwise and black spots appear on the lower stems and leaves, pull it and start over. Months of lost production time and poor production are not worth it. If your plant gets diseased, but is producing and you decide to keep it, don’t prune out the suckers (the little branches that are between the main stalk and a branch) because blight can enter your plant through these cuts.

For more pollination, tap your stakes and cages, or the main stalk, to shake the flowers – around 11 AM is best! If your toms aren’t well pollinated, they may be strangely shaped! Make homes for wild bees!

Plant toms quite apart from each other so 1) they don’t hybridize on the spot 2) their leaves don’t touch and the wilts can’t spread from one plant to the next.

Since toms are true heat lovers, if your planting area is a bit cool, you can plant a U perimeter of tall plants, leaving the South side open, and plant your toms in the warm center of the U! Water those neighbor plants, but not the toms directly. Water regularly so your tomato’s tap root can gets its regular water. That prevents blossom-end rot. The wilts like moist soil, so the idea is to keep the soil right next to your tom dry. Let them get their water by their tap root below the moist upper soil level where the wilt lives. See more wilt prevention tips!

See also Wilts & Cucumber Beetles, Tomatoes & Cukes! for special planting details!

Between wonderful companion plant Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, and your specialized growing techniques here and at those links, the Wilts may become history!

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Last updated 12.23.19



Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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. In 2018 they lasted into September and October! Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

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