Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘farmer’

Permaculture Design Food Forest Apple Tee Guild Community Gaia's Garden Toby Hemenway

Beautiful fruit tree guild/community from Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

Permaculture is more than growing food; it includes how we live with each other, how we live with the land. It’s living sustainably, a way of life!

It started in the modern sense with Australian Bill Mollison, researcher, author, scientist, teacher and biologist. His legacy was carried on by his student David Holmgren. Bill’s most famous book is the 1991 Introduction to Permaculture, still a great read today!

Geoff Lawton has taken Permaculture to over thirty countries around the world, to teach, to restore deserts. Permaculture uses nature’s ways of bringing land back to life. It has been done on many continents. The UK and China recently announced ambitious projects to plant millions of trees in an effort to create new forests. Feb 13, 2018 – China has reportedly reassigned over 60,000 soldiers, and some of their police force, to plant trees in a bid to combat pollution by increasing the country’s forest coverage.

High altitudes Austrian Sepp Holzer is another hero. His book is Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening. One admirer says: ‘Sepp’s approaches to horticulture and agriculture generally sound CRAZY! And then you hear the logic behind it and see the amazing results. The dude is a genius!’ He’s great to hear in person. It is said he was doing permaculture before he ever heard the word! And I’ll bet some of you are too!  

Gaia’s Garden, the best-selling permaculture book in the world, by Toby Hemenway brought permaculture to the average American veggie gardener, urban and suburban growers. His chapter on living SOIL changed my life! It woke me to how gardening is a 100% living adventure!

His book explains how ‘many people mistakenly think that ecological gardening—which involves growing a wide range of edible and other useful plants—can take place only on a large, multiacre scale. As Hemenway demonstrates, it’s fun and easy to create a “backyard ecosystem” by assembling communities of plants that can work cooperatively and perform a variety of functions, including:

  • Building and maintaining soil fertility and structure
  • Catching and conserving water in the landscape
  • Providing habitat for beneficial insects, birds, and animals
  • Growing an edible “forest” that yields seasonal fruits, nuts, and other foods’

‘[The] revised and updated edition features a new chapter on urban permaculture, designed especially for people in cities and suburbs who have very limited growing space. Whatever size yard or garden you have to work with, you can apply basic permaculture principles to make it more diverse, more natural, more productive, and more beautiful. Best of all, once it’s established, an ecological garden will reduce or eliminate most of the backbreaking work that’s needed to maintain the typical lawn and garden.’ That’s quite a claim, but it’s true!

How I got to know permaculture was the large scale version, first selecting the land – ideally choosing an area that has higher land that drains to a lower area, a creek is lovely. You can have hillside terracing, your veggies are watered, and you have fish ponds below that water and fertilize veggies there! Food forests can be a part of this setup with the seven levels of plants. First you plant core trees, install shrubs as undergrowth, on down to ground covers and lowest level veggies. Trees, like other plants and us, get along with some plants, not others. Tree guilds, communities, are important to establish. Depending on how much land you have, select your trees wisely.

Here are three basic diagrams to help your decision making:

1) Wind protection, keeping your garden warm in a cool climate or dryer in a moist shore area climate, or conversely, more sheltered from drying winds in a dry climate! This U shaped keyhole garden lets the warmest southern sunshine in. Adjust it to your needs.

Garden Design U-Shaped Sun Trap Keyhole Permaculture

2) Food Forests – Guilds/Communities!

Food Forest - Forest Garden 7 Level Design
There are variations! Every gardener’s situation and wants are different. This is a guide to stir your thinking. If you have a lot of wind, the shrub layer can be super important to the veggies. Adjust as makes sense. IE # 3, the shrub layer height depends on what you choose. I like blueberries, and blackberries are a lot taller!!!

A remarkable feature of Forest Gardens is when many who have never seen such a thing before see them for the first time, not being familiar with the food plants of an area, they don’t know it is a garden! Indigenous peoples ‘gardens’ blend so perfectly with nature, unknowing visitors think that area is simply the nearby perimeter undergrowth surrounding the village!

3) Here is an Apple Tree guild/community example. Look how much can happen there! If you don’t do that, put in a legume and oats cover crop to feed and condition the soil. Maybe you would do that the first year. Here’s a more extensive post Living Mulch! When, Which and Why?!
Design Guild Community Apple Tree Permaculture
Another permie principle is to be as self sufficient as possible. Select soil enhancing legume trees, trees for quick growing firewood, trees with nuts for protein. Have fish and chicken for protein and manures! Raise bunnies, goats and sheep for fur/wool for clothing, and poop and meat. Make your own energy.

However, if you are gardening at a community garden in a 10X20′ plot like I am, you scale down to the most simple applications of the principles. You take sun/shade, high/low areas, wind direction, into account, plant cover crops when the soil needs refurbishing. You might install a small water pool or plant water loving plants in a low area near the hose. Plant companions to enhance growth, protect from pests and diseases. Intentionally include habitat for beneficial insects, birds and animals in your space or nearby. Install wild bee homes and owl houses.

Row or monoculture planting, like farm plantings, are ‘unnatural,’ not as useful as biodiversity like in nature. Research has shown home gardeners efficiently produce more per square foot than farms do! We don’t need tractor or harvest machinery space. Plants can be grown side by side, trellised above and grown under the biggers, around and among! Even in rows, ie lettuce, carrots, onion, kale can grow all together, from tall to short, harvesting is no problem! If you plant along the sun’s path of the day, you can grow on both sides of the tallest plants!

Companion Planting

Organic growers are combining strips of bright flowers and legumes among their plantings to bring bees, enhance their soil, interrupt pest patterns, eliminate the need for pesticides! We can do that on a smaller scale, and not necessarily in rows! In drought areas savvy farmers are using land differently, following the contours of hillsides, along canyon walls, like farmers all over the world have done for centuries. They are resurrecting old tricks like cultivating after a rain to prevent evaporation.

Pest Pesticides Reduction Flower Stripes Habitat in Fields

Seed Saving is clearly a vital part of permaculture. In the old days, isolated people’s lives depended on it. Saving our local seeds, from our best plants, each year, yields super plants with improved production. Those plants love that location, that soil. They love you and how you garden! Seed Saving is still a very vital ritual.

Getting a Permaculture Design Certificate, PDC, is most admirable, recognized around the world. In Santa Barbara CA area Santa Barbara City College offers a right smart course by two savvy instructors! Nearby Quail Springs Permaculture Farm offers a 2 week intensive taught by well-known instructors. You live-on-the-land, applying the principles as you learn them. It is a treasured experience. Getting your certificate with the world renowned Larry Santoyo, water specialist, is much coveted.

There are many permaculture publications, including ecopsychology!

There are events worldwide! This site lists events important to those of us interested in permaculture. This page by Oregon State University lists permaculture organizations worldwide!

The idea is to get maximum return per the land’s ability to support it in harmony with nature and each other.

Permaculture applies to all facets of your life. Being thoughtful about growing fruitful relationships with people is part of permaculture. We are all part of the greater ecosystem. Humans need specific care. Special kindnesses, sharing, to be able to secure our needs in times of stress – illnesses, injury, losing a loved one, crop failure, hard seasons or years. Collaborating like companion plants certainly enhances our chances. Plants can’t go walkabout, but we can. We can do good for many other humans and spread the good word. We can share our abundance. At times we can trade one thing for another.

Stand way back. Get a good look at the big picture. Take time to be thoughtful. The earliest facets of your Permaculture choices, like the selection of trees, are the most permanent, that shape the long term plan, the backdrop for years to come. Let go of artificial time limits. Wait. Have patience, learn more. If you don’t feel quite sure yet, talk with more others. ‘Mistakes,’ like growing the ‘wrong’ tree, could have 20 or 30 year consequences. Ask others why and how they got started, what mistakes they made, how, if they could be, repaired. What were their successes that have done well for them. Search online for the pros and cons of your ideas. If you are on totally new ground you may just have to fly by the seat of your pants! Take images to document your experiences. Make a few reminder notes as to why you made that decision at that time.

The most natural times to establish a new permaculture garden in southern climates are at season changes, but, of course, there are variables for many reasons. Start when you can. In northern areas we’re looking at spring. Well before that time, be researching and designing – notice nature’s ways with your land and let that be part of what shapes your plans. Smaller shrubs, veggies, can be adjusted along the way all year every year.

Permaculture isn’t really something new. It is way more complicated than these few words. I hope you look into it further for yourself. We are each so different, no two situations quite the same, each are making our own unique contribution. It takes a village. Please make comments, leave a trail of knowledge for others to follow. Blog your experiments and experiences. That is like fertile soil to our minds that translates to our gardens.

Live in as good a way as possible in ultimate harmony with nature! 

Back to top



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.

Read Full Post »

Mulch Living Missoula Montana Permaculture Sustainable FarmLast month we looked at Leaf Mold, Mulch or Compost. That’s from the end of life of tree leaves. This month I would like you to take a think about Living Mulch! It is by contrast, an ongoing sustainable green process that produces more and more Nitrogen right where you can use it. It’s generally a faster process by far! You may be a little challenged to figure out how to use it in your specific garden, and you may choose not to, but it may be a perfect option for many reasons.

I use it for my strawberry patch each year. When weather cools and the berries produce little, I pull them, plant my living mulch, green manure, close to Oct 1 for mid January bareroot berry planting. If I have a soil area that is producing less than spectacularly, I plant that area about Dec 1 in time to be ready for early spring planting mid March. Clearly, if you are in northern snow zones, you may need to rotate areas, plant living mulch in an area every three years maybe. In SoCal you might forego planting a ‘winter’ garden and instead plant living mulch. It will need watering, but while it’s working hard to make great soil, you can have a wee rest.


Looking to find what plants to grow as a Living Mulch under Rat’s Tail Radishes started my inquiry! I was delighted to find this permaculture farm site with these terrific details based on experience with references to university (non commercial) research. It’s the real deal since their income depends on successful sustainable growing near Missoula, Montana in a northern short season!

Living mulch can easily be done by planting closely and letting the leaves of the plants completely shade your soil keeping it cool and moist. In summer, living mulch might look like beets or carrots, or differently colored lettuces planted a little more densely on the sunny side under a larger plant like peppers, or at the base of your bean trellis. In SoCal winter it could be cilantro, beets, carrots and lettuce under your broccoli or surrounding your kale, at the feet of your pea trellis. Or if you can’t eat that much, you could toss a mix of legume seeds under your plants to feed your soil as well!

What else could you do? You might like to prepare your current pathway for crop rotation – using it to plant in next season. Maybe you have an area you would like to convert to a veggie garden, or you have a patch where you want to restore the soil before planting again.

When you read this, you will think like a farmer! After you’ve got it, then think how to apply this info to your own garden. These excerpts from http://www.veganicpermaculture.com/agroecology.html have some more technical language and information, but take it slowly. Sometimes I have to read one paragraph at a time, several times, when I’m taking in new dense information. It’s worth the read. You won’t be the same afterwards, and there are some surprises. Go directly to their page to get the whole read, see all the backup images and videos! But read this too, because I’ve made comments for home gardeners and SoCal timing along the way and at the end….


You can grow your own fertilizer with living mulches. Living plants used as mulches have an advantage over dead mulches, such as straw and hay. They affect soils both above and below the ground. They grow with and around main crops and are usually green, succulent, and full of nutrients, with a well-developed root system. This root system works its way into the earth, opens up the soil, and feeds the soil food web all season long, if living mulches are managed properly.

Over time, living mulches improve soils and build the skeletal framework which holds plant nutrients so that they are available when plants need them. This is because living mulches add organic material into the soil without disturbing it. When mowed regularly or tilled into the soil, living mulches add plant nutrients for free, including the big three: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as sulfur, calcium, and micronutrients. When compared to plants grown without mulch in bare soil, legume living mulches produce higher vegetable yields. Leaf cover and yields of bush green beans was higher when planted into a killed stand of hairy vetch. Corn yields were higher in red clover that had been killed in strips. Though fruit maturity was delayed, yields of tomatoes grown in hairy vetch were higher and fruit weights were greater than in bare soil treatments.

Soil organic matter acts like a big sponge soaking up water and releasing it slowly when needed. However, in the short term, most living mulches steal soil water from crops when both are actively growing, especially early spring through early summer. Living mulches hold onto and recycle soil water when NOT actively growing. In one study, corn grown in mowed hairy vetch struggled for water during the first 1 to 4 weeks after planting. But, by two to four weeks after planting, soil moisture levels were the same as in bare soil treatments. Soil water levels were higher than in bare soil after four weeks. In other words, over time living mulches can conserve moisture in your garden, but in the short term, especially right after planting, they compete with crops for soil water.

Living mulches provide diversity and a legume crop rotation which is the foundation of disease suppression in all organic gardens and farming systems. In my 17-year living mulch vegetable production system, disease problems simply dropped off the radar, including cabbage worms. In a 2- year study, we discovered that the living mulch was providing a home for many kinds of predators who were controlling cabbage worms in our commercial plantings of broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.

IMPORTANT to know! In cold, wet soil, living mulches may encourage disease and some pests such as slugs or snails. Researchers from South Dakota found lower seedling emergence and survival and higher amounts of disease-causing fungi in clover and hairy vetch mulched fields, when crops were planted during cool weather. But many other studies indicate that several insect pests are controlled in living mulch as compared to bare soil plots. Several species of both specific and generalist predator and parasite populations [the good guys] have been shown to increase in living mulch plots.

When hairy vetch and rye residues covered at least 90% of the soil in one study, weed density was decreased by 78%. Living mulches can fight weeds by “smothering” them, and by utilizing all the water and nutrients so that weeds are starved and cannot invade. Combinations of grasses and legumes are best for smothering weeds.

When to plant your Living Mulch – There are 3 kinds!

  1. ANNUAL LIVING MULCHES. Plant in the spring. In cold climates they are killed by below freezing winter temperatures.
  2. BIENNIAL LIVING MULCHES Plant in the spring. Will grow foliage the first season, overwinter and then flower, set seed, and die the next growing season.
  3. PERENNIAL LIVING MULCHES Plant in late summer/early fall or in spring

You want to read this! For fascinating details on which plants to plant at which times and details about each so you make the very best choice, see their page.

Important points! Once you have chosen the right living mulch for your particular area and need, develop a management plan. You can keep living mulches from becoming too competitive by mowing, lightly tilling, rolling, or keeping them dry (withholding irrigation).

  • Mulches should be mowed and left to sit on the soil surface for two days to two weeks before incorporating into the soil. Your management timing affects pest management.
  • Keep mulches short in wet, humid weather to avoid disease.
  • Mow mulches if annual weeds begin to pop their heads through in order to avoid weed seed production.
  • For FAST plant nutrient cycling, till living mulches into the soil in late spring 2-4 weeks before planting.

Ok, so when you plant living mulch, say for your annual mid Jan bareroot strawberry patch…here’s the schedule:

  1. Oct 1 plant your living mulch – put this on your garden calendar! If Bell beans are in your seed mix, or are your choice, they take a couple months to mature.
  2. About Dec 1 chop down/mow, chop up your living mulch and let it lay on the surface two weeks. If Bell beans are in the mix, chop the mix down and into small pieces when the beans flower and the stalks are still tender. Keep your chopped mulch moist, not wet, until it is tilled in. Being moist aids decomposition.
  3. Mid Dec till in your living mulch for mid January bareroot planting. The little white balls on the roots are like a beautiful little string of pearls. Those are the Nitrogen nodules legume plants make that we are growing them for! At this time add any other amendments you want. Strawberries like slightly acidic soil, so I add store bought Azalea/Camellia acid compost. It’s fluffy and adds water holding capacity.

If you are preparing for early SoCal spring planting mid March, that translates to planting your living mulch, again based on your choice of plant(s), right about Dec 1. If you miss that window, plant a faster grower! Clovers and vetch grow quickly and vigorously, or ask your local nursery, feed store person or farmers what they have or what plant will do the job.

Legumes are prime living mulch choices because they make (fix nitrogen from the atmosphere) for other crops. But, they only give up that fixed nitrogen when they die or are tilled into the soil, or over time if they are mowed and the residue is left on the soil surface as a mulch. Actively growing legumes do not USE as much nitrogen as non-legumes, but they do not GIVE UP nitrogen to the soil or other plants when they are actively growingLegumes do not fix nitrogen at equal rates, or under all conditions. Nitrogen fixation rates are decreased by low (< 40 to 50o F) soil temperatures and stop at freezing temperatures. Nitrogen fixation rates vary among legume species. For example, clovers, sweet clovers, medics, and vetch provide 0.1 to 2.5 lbs of nitrogen per 100 sq ft. Alfalfa provides six pounds of nitrogen per 100 sq ft.!

I use Island Seed & Feed’s Harmony mix – Bell beans, Austrian Peas, Vetch and Oats. Oats grow deep into the soil opening air and water channels, bring up nutrients. Get the inoculant that goes with it. After you broadcast your seeds, roll them or if a small space, lay down a piece of plywood or a board and press them into the soil so the seeds have good soil contact and will stay more moist longer when watered. Water gently overhead with a fine spray so soil isn’t washed away and soil contact lost, seeds aren’t swooshed to a low spot. Immediately cover with raised aviary wire, or your choice of material, to keep them from being bird food! How quickly that can happen! Keep them moist, especially if there is hot weather.

You can plant living mulch at any time, depending on your climate, among your existing plants. Living mulch plants shade the soil, some suppress weeds, while they are living, then feed the soil when you till them in after your plants are done. Just choose ones for the right time of year. Plant your garden pathways with ones that can stand being walked on. Till that in and plant there next season!

HOW AND WHEN TO CONTROL YOUR LIVING MULCH

The way living mulches are managed in our [Montana] gardens determines what benefits we derive from them. Legumes contribute most to soil fertility if they are mowed or tilled into the soil. Nutrient release is much slower if the living mulch is mowed and not tilled in. But, some studies indicate that nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium levels are best increased in the soil over the long term when crop residues are left on the surface, rather than tilled into the soil. Nitrogen release by cover crops depends on temperatures and humidity levels. The warmer the weather, the more quickly residues will release their nitrogen. Studies at North Carolina State indicate that 75% of the nitrogen in some legume cover crops is released within seven to ten weeks after mowing if residues are left on the surface. If the residues are tilled under, nitrogen release is quicker and may be accomplished within four to eight weeks. In cooler weather, nitrogen release can take much longer. In my experiments in Montana in a very microbially active soil, nitrogen release occurred 2 to four weeks after tilling red clover into the soil. There is a lag time of at least two weeks during which nitrogen and phosphorus will be tied up in the soil food web digesting wheel (This lag is called immobilization because soil microbes are using the same nutrients that plants need and thus immobilizing them, or making them temporarily unavailable to plants). Plan for this and wait two to four weeks after mowing or tilling the living mulch before planting main crops. Waiting at least two weeks to plant will also reduce the chance of increased disease organisms, which can be favored by an addition of fresh (particularly succulent and green) residue.

Mowed cover crop residue left on the surface to decompose needs to be kept moist (but not wet!) for at least the first five to seven weeks after mowing to enhance decomposition.

Some living mulches may need light tillage. Light tillage equates to walking your rototiller quickly over the surface of the living mulch. Do not let the tiller tines go into the soil more than one to two inches. If residue is buried deeper than several inches below the soil surface, decomposition time will be longer and anaerobic conditions may occur. Remember that soil microorganisms require oxygen to do their job.

Cover crops can also be managed with a rake. Rake the cover crop vigorously until the soil is exposed. Cornell University research indicates that disturbing living mulch cover crops by using light tillage is most successful in July. This is also the time when most summer crops are particularly resource demanding and hence it is a time when living mulches are most likely to compete with crops.

RIGHT INOCULANT FOR YOUR LEGUME COVER CROPS

Inoculation of legume cover crops is suggested. Inoculants consist of species-specific bacteria that associate with legume roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Use the correct inoculants for the cover crop. Alfalfa and yellow and white sweet clovers share the same inoculants; true clovers share another; peas and hairy vetch share a third; garden beans and field beans share a fourth. Purchase inoculants when purchasing seed.

Some living mulches are allelopathic. This means that they biochemically inhibit the growth of other plants. Mustard family types, such as rape and black mustard, are good examples of allelopathic living mulches. Allelopathy can be used to help control weeds; on the other hand, crops can be adversely affected, particularly seeded crops [meaning seeds don’t germinate well or at all].

Seeded crops, like lettuce, can be inhibited by some living mulches, such as mustard, but usually only if the living mulch is tilled into the soil and a crop seeded immediately after. The allelopathic reaction dissipates in time. For example, the compound in plants from the mustard family [includes Brassicas] that is most responsible for its allelopathic reaction loses 80 percent of its punch within two weeks. Plant main crops three to five weeks after mowing or turning under any living mulches suspected of exhibiting allelopathy.


Living Mulch is a superior choice. Give it some thought. Carefully read up on it. Keep your notes. Every gardener’s situation is different – what you grow, your weather, how much time you have, how much production you need. Living mulch is a sustainable choice.

There are two SoCal standard times to plant living mulch to do soil restoration. One is early October to be in time for January bareroot strawberry and berry vine plantings. The other is December/January for early spring plantings. Or you can opt to not plant an area for production that year and plant living mulch anytime if you live in an area that freezes in winter.

In Santa Barbara area, Island Seed & Feed carries legume seeds and mixes by the pound and the inoculants you need. Plus, it’s a fun place to visit! They also carry LOTS of other seeds and local organic seeds as well! (Pet supplies too!)

You don’t need to do a large area. Do a test run. This year try a pathway with living mulch you can walk on instead of a board, concrete steps or straw! If you do a pathway, mound it up before you plant so when it compacts as you walk on it, it will stay level rather than dipping lower and collecting water, making mud. Restore an area where you will grow heavy feeders next spring. When you are eating bigger tomatoes right off the plant you will be happy and feel quite virtuous.

Excerpts from http://www.veganicpermaculture.com/agroecology.html


Back to Top


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

Read Full Post »

I would like to share this article with you.  Lovingly written, applies to all gardening!  Linda Buzzell, co-founder of Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club, has a true communion with plant beings, and I’m hoping we, you and I, will all work on bettering our connections with them as well.  Long before I started veggie gardening, less than a decade ago, I read Findhorn Garden and was impressed way back then, by the relationship the gardeners had with the land and the plants and how successful that was for them both.  Bless you for your kind attention. 

Mystic Rose at Rosaflora.net

A WINTER MEDITATION ON PRUNING

Linda Buzzell-Saltzman

Winter and early spring are the seasons when many gardeners, orchardists and farmers — fancying themselves surgeons — approach their trees, shrubs and roses with knives, pruning shears and saws in hand, seemingly unaware that these plants are, as the Buddhists would say, sentient beings.

Most pruning is less a conversation between two of nature’s creatures and more an act of ruthless domination under the guise of necessity.

For some reason over the last few millennia we have come to believe that plants are unable to survive, bloom and fruit properly without human intervention. And while much of the painstaking breeding and hybridizing by our ancestors has provided us with an extraordinary variety of edible plants, it may be time to question some of the time-honored Western methods of plant care.

What’s shocking to many people is that scientific research is beginning to reveal the utter lack of necessity for most of the one-sided surgery we call pruning.  For example, a British study showed that rose bushes pruned with hedge clippers yielded as many flowers as those carefully manicured with hand pruners – and that roses left alone yielded still more!

Where did we get the arrogant idea that we know better than the plant itself how to maximize its productivity and health? Such a strange notion, when you think about it… perhaps part of the larger delusion that nature is here merely for us to exploit without thought of the damage we may be doing to individual living beings or our biosphere.

So when might our pruning interventions actually be helpful rather than hurtful? And for whom?

The first principle of permaculture is “observe and interact” – admirable advice in the present instance.  Taking time to respectfully see how the plant itself intends to grow, bloom and fruit allows us greater insight into if, how and when to intervene.

Vintage Gardens Nursery’s Gregg Lowery, heritage rose expert extraordinaire, points out that mostly we prune for our own reasons that have nothing to do with the plant in question. It’s a one way conversation. For instance, we may prune to make a plant look better to our eyes, our sense of what’s beautiful or “tidy.” Or we may need to prune for space, when a tree or bush begins to outgrow its allotted place – probably because we made the mistake of not allowing for full, natural growth when we planted it – our error, not the plant’s!

Rather than remove such a plant entirely, we may need to first apologize, and then gently shape it.  Not just to suit our ideas of aesthetics (again, to please us, not the plant), but hopefully to benefit both the plant and our space needs.

If so, we might want to observe that traditional pruning times and methods were usually designed for Northern conditions, to protect a tender plant from winter frosts. In a warm-winter climate this isn’t necessary, and yet many of us who live in Mediterranean climate zones dutifully hack away at our roses in usually-wet winters, reducing them to stubs and weakening them with radical surgery.  In fact, it’s usually better to do any pruning for size in the summer if possible, when lack of rain may ensure more sanitary conditions.

This whole “do no harm” philosophy of pruning owes a great debt to Japanese philosopher-farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, author of a hugely influential book called One Straw Revolution, who advocated what he called “natural farming” or what some have dubbed “The Zen of Farming,” in which we refrain from digging, cutting or intervening unnecessarily in natural soil and plant systems which we truly don’t understand. We also may need to refine our view of what’s beautiful, to appreciate nature’s own gardening style rather than the control-heavy European aesthetic.

If we do prune, perhaps we might initiate a respectful dialogue with our plants and trees, rather than a monologue. What might be helpful to the plant?  Perhaps the removal of a dead or diseased limb?  A limb that is rubbing against another in the wind?  A sucker from below the graft (if we have a grafter plant) that is draining energy from the top growth?

Observation is the key. And listening.  If we take the time to really get to know our plants, they will guide us in our care for them.

Read Full Post »

Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 1

Wolf Peach!!!!  Did you know – our tomato originated in South America and was originally cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas, came to Europe in the 1500s.  People were warned not to eat them until the 18th century!  Wolf Peach comes from German werewolf myths that said deadly nightshade was used to summon werewolves!  ‘Tis true, tomatoes are of the deadly nightshade family, and does have poisonous leaves.  But you would have to eat a LOT of them to get sick!  But they are not good for dogs or cats!  Smaller bodies, right?

Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 1

Tomato - Healthy SunGold!

Tomato – Verticillium Wilt

Above on the left is a very healthy Sun Gold cherry tomato and happy owner.  On the right is a verticillium wilt fatality, not old age.  Almost all of us have had tomato wilt fatalities.  Very sad to see, disappointing and frustrating as XXX!  Tomatoes are pretty dramatically affected, but many plants get the wilt, including your trees, shrubs and roses.  Veggies affected are cucumber, eggplant, pepper, potatoes, rhubarb, watermelon, artichoke, beet, broad bean, strawberries, raspberries.  Cool, damp weather, like we had here in Santa Barbara area ALL last summer, referred to as the ‘May grays’ and the  ‘June glooms,’ is the worst. 

The leaves fold along their length, the stems get brown/black spots/blotches on them, the leaves turn brown, dry and die.  It is a fungus in the soil that is also windborne.  There may be too much N (Nitrogen), too much manure – lots of gorgeous leaves but no flowers.  That’s an easy fix, add some Seabird (not Bat) guano to restore the balance, bring blooms, then fruit.  The wilt is tougher.  When the toms get about a foot tall, STOP WATERING!  Remove weed habitat and don’t mulch.  The fungus can’t thrive in drier soil. Water the toms’ neighboring plants, but not the toms.  Tomatoes have deep tap roots and they can get water from below the wilt zone.

It is better to pull infected plants, called the one-cut prune, because their production will be labored and little compared to a healthy plant that will catch up fast in warmer weather.  And you will be more cheerful looking at a healthy plant.  Heirlooms are particularly susceptible, so get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery, or are a known VFN variety.  The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes.  Ask a knowledgeable person if the tom doesn’t have a designation, or check online.  It’s just a bummer when plants get the wilt.  If you are one who removes the lower leaves and plants your transplant deeper, don’t let the lowest leaves touch the ground. When your plants get bigger, cut off lower leaves that would touch the ground BEFORE they touch the ground or leaves that can be water splashed – some say take all up to 18″ high!  The wilt gets into your plant through its leaves, not the stem.  Don’t cut suckers (branches between the stem and main branch) off because the cuts can be entry points for windborne wilts.  Wash your hands after working with each plant with the wilt so you don’t spread the wilts yourself.

Verticillium-resistant Tomato Varieties
AAS (All America Selections) are Starred & Bolded 
  • Ace
  • Better Boy
  • *Big Beef
  • *Celebrity
  • Champion
  • Daybreak
  • Early Girl
  • First Lady
  • *Floramerica
  • *Husky Gold
  • Husky Red
  • Italian Gold
  • Jet Star
  • Miracle Sweet
  • Pink Girl
  • Roma
  • Sunstart
  • Super Sweet 100
  • Ultra Sweet
  • Viva Italia

There’s little you can do for/to the soil to get rid of the wilt.  The only method I know that most of us can afford is Solarization.  Put black plastic tightly to the ground during a couple weeks of heat to kill it.  Problem is twofold.  1) That would be high summer to get that heat, so you can’t have your summer crop in that area.  If you have enough space, it’s doable.  If you only have a small space, that means no toms this year.  2) We are coastal and the temp needed to kill the wilt isn’t maintained over a two week period.  Sigh.  So we do our best, resistant varieties, little water, removal of lower leaves, remove infected plants.  A lot of smart local farmers dry farm tomatoes, and it’s water saving. 

You can use straw bale planting, or make raised box beds and fill them with soil that isn’t infected with the wilt.  That can help for awhile.  Here’s a link to my Green Bean Connection blog post on Plant a Lot in a Small Space that has a bit on hay/straw bale gardening!  It’s about 2/3s down the page, with link for instructions!  But.  Not only are the wilts soil borne, but airborne.  That you can’t do a lot about except ask everyone with infected plants to remove them.  

See Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 2, including Fava & Basil Tips

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: