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DSC00723 Lettuce Frost Hard Freeze
Chilly 2012 Winter Solstice morning, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

Cold season things to know about your veggies!

  • Fertilize.  Healthy plants can withstand more cold. But. From August on, if you anticipate a cold winter, avoid applying fertilizer with Nitrogen, apply at half your summer rate, until after the last frost, to prevent a flush of tender growth that can be damaged by the cold.
  • Cool season crops, such as broccoli, cabbage, peas, and onions, originated in northern areas, and can tolerate frost and light freezes of short durations with little damage, plant cold hardy varieties. But other tender morsels often die literal black deaths from killing freezes. Lettuces, marigolds, your fragrant basil, and peppers are usually the first to go.
  • Better taste!  Cool-season vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, produce their best flavor when they mature during cool weather. They react to cold conditions and frost by producing sugars, making them taste sweet, especially Brussels sprouts and kale, but also parsnips and leeks! Ask the folks at the farmer’s market stands if their farms have gotten a frost yet – farms in the country often get frost long before the cities.
  • When there are several days at low temps, cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) and onion sets, produce a seed stalk, called bolting. Unless you want to save seeds, at that point, harvest good leaves for greens, give the remaining plant to your compost.
  • Early spring planting! I’ve often said, ‘Who can resist early planting?!’ Cold spells do come after last average freeze dates. Most of our plants will be fine, but some plants are really sensitive. Bell peppers don’t like cold. If you have them as transplants, keep them inside for the duration. Many seeds may not germinate during this period. Water them sparingly so they don’t rot. Early planted Beans, Cucumbers and Zucchinis may not make it. Early variety tomatoes should be fine. If your lettuce gets frosty, not to worry. They amazingly usually make it ok. Good luck to you and your planties!

Frost we understand, but what’s a Hard Freeze?! When temperatures drop below 32° Fahrenheit (0° Centigrade) and remain there for several hours, even only 2 hours will do it, typically killing seasonal vegetation. Several hours at 25 to 28 degrees, ice crystals form not only on your plant, but in your plant, damaging the cell walls. The coldest time of day is  just before daybreak. Clouds at night can absorb and reflect heat back to the earth. Wind can mix the ascending warm air with the descending cold air. Calm, clear nights pose the greatest danger of frost. WIND:  If it is windy, less worryCold air must settle to form frost and any wind will usually prevent this. Or, a wind may dry your plants, making them more susceptible to freezing!

Floating Row Cover, Winter Frost Blanket, over Tomato Cages – see how they are staked in place by the cages? One gardener calls these Plant Pajamas!

Frost or freeze survival….

Before!

  • Watch your weather forecast religiously! Weather has no mercy.
  • Water early in the dayWet soil insulates and protects roots. The water warms up during the day and releases heat slowly during the night. The upper part of a plant may die, but the roots may be strong enough to push up new growth!
  • Move frost tender plants under eaves, a spreading tree, into greenhouses, garage. Key word here is UNDER.
  • Haunt yard sales, the thrift shop, for old bed sheets, blankets, tablecloths, curtains, towels, shower curtains, burlap sacks, tarps – many end their lives covering garden plants for frost protection! Use newspaper with clothes pins so it won’t blow around. Plastic can be worse than nothing if it touches the plant. Prop up an unused trellis, get creative! Use those wire tomato cages to support your covers! Lay them down among short plants, stand them around taller plants. At home you can lay out a folding chaise lounge chair, or lawn chairs, and cover them!! Secure the edges with stakes, rocks, bricks, or cover with soil. You can use upside down plant pots only if they are large enough that the plants they will cover don’t touch the pot. Put a rock on top to keep them from blowing over! That’s called a hot-cap! The beauty of floating row covers (see image), also called frost or winter blankets, is they can be left in place during the day! Cover the plants mid- to late-afternoon if possible, before temperatures start to drop.
  • Set up windbreaks.
  • What you can’t cover, that is not frost hardy, harvest. Root crops such as carrots and radishes should be harvested or mulched heavily before a hard freeze.

After! 

  • If you didn’t cover, wash your plants off before the sun gets on them. Sometimes that will counteract the freeze burn.
  • If you did cover, take the covers off, before the sun hits the beds, so everybody can get their sun quotient for the day! Winter days are short!
  • Dry out your covers, keep them handy.
  • Damaged leaves appear dark green and water soaked at first, later becoming black. If your plant is totally gone, it’s compost, replace your plant. Except potatoes! They will resprout, give ‘em 10 to 14 days!
  • Should you trim the ugly damaged stuff off and give your plant a lot of fertilizer to help it? Whoa, Nelly! That’s a NO! The damaged part is protecting the now undamaged part. If you trim and add a lot of fertilizer, tender new growth will form, and that will be toast if there is another frost or freeze. Wait to trim until no more frost is predicted, feed lightly.

Was that groaning, whining I heard? Stop it. Just go out there and cover your plants, no fooling around, you hear?! You will be glad you did, it’s your plants’ lives you are saving! Besides, reviving is harder than covering, and regrowing takes all that time all over again. Also, many will be well past the window for replanting, so cover, cover, cover! Better to have a yard full of ghosts (sheet covers) and look silly, than lose your plants.

Repeat, Religion! Watch WEATHER reports in case of freezes, heavy winds, rain. Santa Barbara’s average First Frost (fall) date AT THE AIRPORT is December 19, Last Frost (spring) date is (was?) January 22. That can vary from the coastal areas to the foothills, and our climate is changing generally to warmer, so these dates may not be viable guides much longer, if even now….

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Updated 12.16.15


The Green Bean Connection newsletter 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!

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

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June blooms mean tasty veggies!

The first tomatoes have now been eaten at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, and one bell pepper!

June is not so much a planting month as a maintenance month and getting those first veggies!  You can continue to plant more rounds of your summer plants, especially the ones that don’t have continuous production like indeterminate tomatoes that will produce all season long.  Stoke up your soil, replace plants that didn’t make it, that are done already – mature or bolted chard, cilantro, lettuce, arugula, beets, or are ailing. 

Special Strawberry Tips!  Don’t let them dry out, they will stop producing.  Mulching is good.  This month they tend to grow more leaves, send out runners.  Clip off the runners for now, later we will let them grow.  Give your strawberries a little fertilizer in the 0-10-10 proportions; that’s phosphorus and potassium for strong roots and uptake of nutrients, blooms and fruits!  They love pine needle mulch, if you have some about, because they prefer slightly acidic soil.  Use the  cones to drape your berries over to keep them off the ground, away from chewing creatures. 

Same as last month….

Water deeply, specially as each plant needs.  That’s more frequently for short rooted beans, cucs and strawberries, thirsty lettuces.  Irregular watering = funky shapes; too dry = bitter, production can stop.  Water seeds/seedlings daily.  If they dry out once, they’re dead.  Immediately after planting and watering your new little plant in, sprinkle on some Sluggo.  Sprinkle Sluggo just before your seedlings come up.  Tiny tender plants are irresistibly delicious!

Side dress/fertilize, especially if leaves are looking pale or your plant is puny or slowing down.  Blood meal for a quick fix, otherwise, compost, a little manure raked in, liquid kelp & fish emulsion mix.  Epsom salts for your peppers, once when they bloom and again ten days later. Go very gently with beans, tomatoes and strawberries.  These are not leaf crops, you want fruit!  Too much N (nitrogen), and you get a lot of leaf, little production.  If your planting bed was too rich or you over fertilized, bee bop on out to Island Seed & Feed (if you are in the Santa Barbara CA area) and pick up some Seabird Guano (NOT Bat Guano!).  The Seabird Guano is high in phosphorus, promotes healthy root growth, greatly increases the number of flowers, increases the available phosphorus in the soil and enhances beneficial bacteria activity in the soil!  It is good to use generally just before your plants flower or you see the first flowers!  This inexpensive treatment is a wonder!  Imagine how many beans, strawberries….Yes! 

Now plant heat tolerant and slow bolting varieties of cilantro, and lettuces – Nevada, Sierra, Jericho, Slobolt, Black Seeded Simpson.  Bolting, a natural maturing phenomena – the center of the plant shoots up and forms flowers, is caused by accumulated light hours, warm temps, and water stress.  Another thing to find is varieties that are leaf tip burn resistant.  Might plant them under a bit of a canopy or in the shade of a larger plant?  As your big plants get up, clear the lowest leaves and tuck some lettuce or dandelion greens underneath?

Harvesting is not just for food!  Just like deadheading flowers, when you harvest, they keep coming!  Eat little zuchs flowers and all!  Pull beans and cucs continuously while they are young and tender.  No storing on the vine, or you plant will think it is done!  Continue to harvest your broc side shoots.  Once it goes to flower (they are edible – sprinkle them on your salad!), no more side shoots.                                                      

* * Plant special flowers, herbs, or veggies for summer Hostess gifts!  Friends getting married in June?!  Why not give them plants for their new garden together?!  How symbolic!  Plant a little extra all the time for ready gifts for any occasion!  

 

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broccoli cauliflower Brassica

Brassicas: Broccoli & Cauliflower

 

–> Is cauliflower like broccoli in that after you cut off the head, smaller sprouts will appear?  Nope. 
No cauliflowerettes.  Sorry.              
 
 


–> So once I harvest the cauliflower, should I cut it all down and let it compost into the soil or plant something else there?   
 

NO!  Brassicas, includes cauliflower, brocs, kale, Brussels sprouts and collards, are not so good in the soil.  Look at the bottom two paragraphs on broccoli at this link.  Always remove their fallen leaves, and the plant when you are done with it.  While it is still growing, you can grow another crop underneath by removing the lower leaves to allow light for the new plants to start.  All Brassica leaves can be eaten like collard leaves – steamed, or tossed in a wok with oil, sprinkled with soy sauce or a sauce of your choice.  If it is a plant you will remove, like cauliflower after it has headed, or you don’t need as many brocs and need room for summer plants, leave enough room so when you remove the Brassica, pulling its roots out doesn’t overly disturb the newly growing plants underneath.  Brassicas are heavy feeders, so after you remove it, depending on what you have planted to take its place, you might incorporate a little manure and compost to beef up the soil again.  Then if you like, you are ready to plant a new center plant, maybe a tomato, or a pepper!                 

–> My cauliflower had a nice tight head (small) and then seems to have sprouted.  I’m not sure if it’s “flowering” or what.  Can you take a look and tell me if I should let it grow or what to do.  I’ve never grown one before, and I’m simply not sure what to do.                

Your cauli looks like the variety that makes a conical green head called a Broccoflower, not the white type!  It is said this ‘Green cauliflower is definitely something to try and is often said to have a much more satisfying taste than White cauliflower. It tastes of both broccoli and cauliflower – which helps to give it a sweet flavor. Green cauliflower can be cooked the same way as White cauliflower.’                 

Cauliflower Varieties - Broccoflower

Tasty Cauliflower Varieties - Broccoflower Center

I’m guessing yours is the center one in the image above.  Here is some more info about it.                  

–> I’ve pulled out my cauliflower plants.  Can I put peppers there now?  Tomatoes?                  

Yes, put in some manure/compost first because caulies and peppers/toms are all heavy feeders.  Put a handful of bone meal in the tomato planting hole, and worm castings if you have them, mix it up!  Sprinkle mycorrhizal fungi on the roots as you set your plant in.  Put small babies, lettuces, culinary dandelions, onions, garlic, basil, strawberries, around them, particularly on the side that gets the most sun.  As the bigger plants grow up, remove a few of the lower leaves so everybody gets plenty of light.  Basil is a companion for toms.  Peppers grow perversely slowly, bless them, so let them get a little height before you put fast growers underneath.  Lettuces thrive on manure and lots of water.               

Happy Weekend Gardening & Harvesting!  

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At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA, I believe the first bean, a fine Romano, was plucked April 27; a beauty it was!  Maria Heninger planted her beans early and we watched with green bean envy as they have grown their way up her trellis!  Those of us who planted in March are just about to have returns! 

Water deeply, specially as each plant needs.  That’s more frequently for short rooted beans, cucs and strawberries, thirsty lettuces.  Now that the ground is warm, lay down your mulch, a natural blanket that keeps light out, moisture in, soil cooler.  But don’t use cocoa shells, it can kill doggies.  Immediately after planting and watering your new little plant in, sprinkle on some Sluggo.  Tiny tender plants are irresistible!

Side dress/fertilize, especially if leaves are looking pale or your plant is puny or slowing down.  Blood meal for a quick fix, otherwise, compost, a little manure raked in, liquid kelp & fish mix.  Epsom salts for your peppers, once when they bloom and again ten days later. Go very gently with beans, tomatoes and strawberries.  These are not leaf crops, you want fruit!  Too much N (nitrogen), and you get a lot of leaf, little production.  If your planting bed was too rich or you over fertilized, bee bop on out to Island Seed & Feed and pick up some Seabird Guano (NOT Bat Guano!).  The Seabird Guano is high in phosphorus, promotes healthy root growth, greatly increases the number of flowers, increases the available phosphorus in the soil and enhances beneficial bacteria activity in the soil!  It is good to use generally just before your plants flower or you see the first flowers!  This inexpensive treatment is a wonder!  Imagine how many beans, strawberries….Yes! 

Now is the time to plant heat tolerant and slow bolting varieties of cilantro, and lettuces – Nevada, Sierra, Jericho, Slobolt, Black Seeded Simpson.  Bolting, a natural maturing phenomena – the center of the plant shoots up and forms flowers, is caused by accumulated light hours, warm temps, and water stress.  Another thing to find is varieties that are leaf tip burn resistant.  Might plant them under a bit of a canopy or in the shade of a larger plant?  As your big plants get up, clear the lowest leaves and tuck some lettuce or dandelion greens underneath?

If you left open space for successive planting, it’s time to fill those last spots!  Things are heating up and growth will be speedy this month!  Plant yet another round of any summer crops and year rounders you want!  Keep ‘em coming!   More eggplant, limas, melons, okra, peppers, pumpkins, beans, tomatoes, corn, New Zealand spinach, cucumbers, summer (fair warning, summer squash – zucchini, are prolific (maybe you don’t need another of these?) and winter squash!  Add more year-rounds, beets, carrots, chard, radish, turnips.  

See Quick Tips for Some Summer Plants!  Your Island Seed & Feed shopping list:  While you are getting your Seabird Guano, get some mycorrhiza fungi, Maxicrop – it’s amazing stuff, bone meal, and culinary dandelion seeds!  Oh, and some Sluggo!  The new containers labeled ‘organic’ have spinosad added to the pellets, otherwise BOTH are organic – meaning they aren’t made from chemicals, but a natural substance. Spinosad kills fruit flies, caterpillars, leafminers, thrips, sawflies, spider mites, fire ants, and leaf beetle larvae, while not killing beneficial organisms including ladybugs, green lacewings, minute pirate bugs, and predatory mites.  It would be worth it to me for killing the leafminers alone!  They are the ones that make the lines and brown/grey areas on your beet and chard leaves. 

Harvesting is not just for food!  Just like deadheading flowers, when you harvest, they keep coming!  Eat little zuchs flowers and all!  Pull beans and cucs continuously while they are young and tender.  No storing on the vine, or your plant will think it is done!  Continue to harvest your broc side shoots.  Once it goes to flower (they are edible – sprinkle them on your salad!), no more side shoots.

* Plant special flowers, herbs, or veggies for Mother’s Day gifts!  Friends getting married in June?!  Why not give them plants for their new garden together?!  How symbolic!  Plant a little extra all the time for ready gifts for any occasion!

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