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Tasty Red Bell Pepper, Tomatoes, Edible Garlic Flowers!

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

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

Peppers Come in an Amazing Array! 

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

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

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

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

Smart Choices!

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

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

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

Pepper HOT Cayenne Blend Eden BrothersHappy Companions!

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

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

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

Planting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pests & Diseases

For Blossom End Rot, see above under Care.

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

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

Choose Resistant varieties.

California Wonder Peppers changing color!  Eden Brothers Seeds image.

California Wonder Peppers Changing Color - Eden Brothers imageHarvest

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

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

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

Storage

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

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

To Tray Freeze Sweet Bell Peppers

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

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

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

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

Another form of drying is in brilliant wreaths and Ristras!

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

Seed Saving

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

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

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

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

Health

Pepper Hot Oil & Healing Spices

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

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

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

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

Absolute Culinary Delight!

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

Peppers! Salsa and Rellenos

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

Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

Tasty Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

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

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Feed Your Veggie Garden!

Purposes for Feeding, Sidedressing

General well being – Compost is the best general feed. It is rich with nutrition, has great water holding capacity, especially needed in summer and drought areas. Here are some possibilities. Pull back your mulch, scatter and lightly dig in a little chicken manure. If you prefer organic granulated fertilizer sprinkle it around evenly. At the same time, and/or lay on a ½” of tasty compost, topped with some worm castings. Or you can water on some fish emulsion. Water well and gently so things stay in place. Pull your mulch back in place. See more

Up production, extend harvests – Again, compost is a great pick-me-up. It’s gentle, balanced, and free if you make your own. Plants you have from saving seed are adapted to your special blend and just keep getting better! Some gardeners dig it in a bit, no deeper than the top 6″ for most summer veggies. Others simply pull back the mulch, lay on an inch of compost, water, then recover with the mulch. No need to cover an entire area if you are short on compost. Do only out to the dripline.

Less leaf/more blossoms – Studies show the ideal ratio of nutrients for flowering plants, tomatoes, squash, beans, peppers, melons, eggplant, is an NPK of 3-1-2. (That’s 3% Nitrogen, 1% phosphorus & 2% potassium.) So look for that ratio on the label of packaged fertilizers; anything close to a 3-1-2, a 6-2-4 or a 9-3-6 does the job. If you are getting way too much leaf, few to no blooms, no fruit, water like a fiend to wash away the too much N (Nitrogen) your soil has. Plus, though N makes for beautiful leaves, too much inhibits flowering and fruiting. You can add fertilizers high in Phosphorous for blooms, but at this point it needs to be super easy for quick uptake by your plant.

More foliage – Lettuce, chard, kale can use more N. They are doing nothing but make leaves and for those plants we don’t want flowers! They are good with higher ratios of N. Liquid fish and seaweed mix is good if you don’t have predator animals frequenting your garden! Fish and kelp have a nice balance of the basic nutrients and lots of essential trace elements. Pour some into your watering can, dilute it as directed and water it into the soil around the root zone to the dripline. If you prefer granulated stuff, pull back your mulch, sprinkle the granules around evenly, about 6″ from the plant stem. Lettuce thrives on chicken manure scratched into the top 2″, does wonders, especially in summer when your plants are working hard. Cover your mix or scratched in manure with compost or soil for faster uptake, and water in. Put your mulch back in place.

Green up the leaves – a super quick fix is to give your plants a tad of blood meal. It is easy for your plant to take up, and leaves get back to their beautiful Nitrogen rich dark green asap! Blood meal is an expensive high nitrogen fertilizer, 12-2-0, a very high number for a natural product, as are fish meal (and fish emulsion), horse and poultry manure ie chicken manure. Use it sparingly because it can burn flowers and foliage due to the ammonia content. And, remember, too much N inhibits flowering and fruiting. Blood meal is also toxic to animals.

Disease and Pest Resistance! Worm castings are tops! Raise your own worms or buy castings in a bag or fresh and potent at a local organic nursery!

Foliar Feeding - rose upturned

Foliar Feeding – Leaves

Not everyone can always get down on their hands and knees and dig about under their veggie plants. Maybe making compost, worm casting and/or manure teas will work for you! There are various methods, some simple, others time consuming and complex. Either way, they work! If you take the easy route, all you do is mix a handful of castings, a handful to a cup of compost, handful of manure, stir and let them soak overnight in a bucket. In the morning, swoosh it around in the bucket one more time, let it settle, then strain the top liquid into your long neck watering can, the one with the up turning rose. If you don’t have predators like skunks, stir in liquid Fish Emulsion, 6 tablespoons per gallon of water/Kelp, ¼ to ½ teaspoon per gallon of water, mix, and drench your plants! That’s a mix they won’t forget! Get a watering can that has a rose (spray end) that will swivel upward so you can apply that tasty mix to both the undersides and tops of the leaves, the whole plant. Since it has been found foliar feeding is in some cases more efficient that soil feeding, it makes good sense!

Teas have no drawbacks. They can be applied to good avail every couple of weeks if you wish.

Peppers, Toms, Eggplant & ROSES respond really well to Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salts) foliar feeding. Apply it when they are seedlings, when you transplant.

  • Magnesium is critical for seed germination and the production of chlorophyll, fruit, and nuts. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improves plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.  Magnesium deficiency in the soil may be one reason your tomato leaves yellow between the leaf veins late in the season and fruit production slows down.
  • Sulfur, a key element in plant growth, is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes. Sulfur is probably the oldest known pesticide in current use. It can be used for disease control (e.g., powdery mildews, rusts, leaf blights, and fruit rots), and pests like mites, psyllids and thrips. Sulfur is nontoxic to mammals, but may irritate skin or especially eyes.
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    CAUTION Sulfur has the potential to damage plants in hot (90°F and above), dry weather. It is also incompatible with other pesticides. Do not use sulfur within 20 to 30 days on plants where spray oils have been applied; it reacts with the oils to make a more phytotoxic combination.
  • Epsom Salts are easy to do!  Buy some Epsom Salts, what you soak your feet in, at the grocery store, mix a tablespoon per gallon, foliar feed! Foliar feeding is simply sprinkling leaves with your solutions, and works better than applying to the soil! Get a long snouted watering can that has a turnable sprinkler head. That long spout comes in handy, reaching well into your plant! Turn the head so the water shoots up under the leaves then falls back on the tops! The long arc of the handle gives lots of maneuvering ability and saves your back! Feed your plants once when they bloom, and again ten days later. The results, attributed to magnesium in the salts, are larger plants, more flowers, more fruit, thicker walled peppers! I use this mix on all my Solanaceaes: eggplant, pepper, tomato, tomatillo. Roses love it too!

Broad Fork Garden Baby Blue!Soil Feeding – Roots

Plants have lots of little feeder roots near the surface of the soil, at least out to their dripline. When you cultivate or scratch up the soil, those little roots are broken and they can no longer feed your plant. Scratch up the soil on two sides only at most. Leave plenty of undisturbed soil so the feeder roots can continue to feed your plant. Your plant may even slow down after a feeding until it grows more feeder roots back. Give it a little time for recovery.

Seedlings need to be fed close to the plant because they don’t have an array of feeder roots yet.

Lettuces love a bit of chicken manure, but ixnay for strawberries. They don’t like the salts.

If you enjoy making those tea/fish/kelp mixes, and want to feed your plants but minimize damage to their roots and soil structure, get yourself a spade fork, or if you have a lot of territory, a broad fork like in the image! Push it down into the soil, rock it back and forth slightly to make holes, pour in your soup! You will hear the soil organisms dancing!

Know your guanos! Besides being expensive, bat and Seabird Guanos are not a quick fix; they take awhile to break down. Some say they are better applied as foliar teas, but still, the release time per Colorado University Extension is FOUR MONTHS even for powdered guano! Guanos vary hugely in NPK percents! 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. But Mexican bat is high N (leaf growth, plant vigor) 10-2-1. Peruvian seabird is high in N and P (leaf and bloom) 10-10-2.

Worm castings?! OH, YES! Though they are not nutrients they do cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced! Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, APHIDS, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

Up production, extend your growing time, enjoy seeing your plants’ radiant health, and be blessed with scrumptious meals!

See also Soil Building!

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Choose the right manure for your Veggie Garden!

Manure is an organic amendment. Organic matter improves soil aeration, water infiltration, and both water- and nutrient-holding capacity. Well aged organic matter is an important energy source for bacteria, fungi and earthworms that live in the soil. All your soil needs is 3% organic matter! You can see how adding too much manure can upset your soil balance really quickly. Sometimes soils are ‘poor’ because they are over amped!

Fresh manure is a no, no! Ammonia is not good for your plants. A minimum of 6 months to a year of aging is recommended. Composting manure changes it – ammonia off gasses, there is less Nitrogen, but more phosphorus, potassium, and salts. If salt levels are high in your garden, no adding manures! Home composting simply doesn’t get hot enough to get rid of pathogens. That’s why manures are not recommended for veggie gardens, especially for soil touching root crops like carrots, radishes, and lower lettuce leaves. Yet manures have been used for centuries for growing veggies. But, be warned, ok? Organic farmers follow strict guidelines when using manures. If you have plenty of time, in winter simply till it into the soil and wait for Mama nature to do her work; plant in spring! The exceptions are rabbit or goat, sheep that compost in place quickly. Dig ’em right in.

Manures and grass clippings decompose quickly, days to weeks. Compost takes longer, 6 months, depending on the system you use and how you do it. When applying to your garden, a combination will give immediate and long term improvement. Sheet composting can be speeded up by using THIN layers of chopped green wet materials in combination with straw brown dry layers. Remember, manures and compost are not quick fixes for ailing yellowing plants low in Nitrogen. If you need quick, blood meal and fish emulsions will work faster.

The word on Cow Manures! Hold your nose. They contain methane. What goes in comes out, that could be hormones, chemicals. That’s not organic. It’s less ‘hot’ than chicken manure. Dairy cow manure is more water holding than steer manure. Ask if there is straw or sawdust mixed in. That’s good for composting, but not if the nutrient content is reduced by waste water and urine also mixed in.

Buy manures bagged, or find a local source.

  • Ask what the creature has been eating. If a horse, you may get lots of weed seeds if they field forage. They only digest about 1/4 of all the grass and grains they consume. Cows, on the other hand, have 4 stomachs, so their manure is more digested, equals less seeds.
  • Ask if the animals or chickens have been given any hormones or drugs like antibiotics.
  • Has any of their food or bedding had an herbicide used on it?
  • Ask if the manure pile has been sprayed with insecticide to kill flies or keep them away.

Rabbit or goat, sheep? Rabbit! It’s twice as high in Nitrogen, 3.5%!  Work any of these three manures, these fab little pellets, fresh right into the top 2” of your soil! All that area that’s exposed makes them compost right in place quickly, and they don’t burn your plants! With bedding they are great in compost piles!

Cat, dog or pig manure are not good. They can have infectious parasites. Cat manure can be harmful to unborn babies.

One of the oldest, safest sources of Nitrogen, urea breaks down fast in your soil, compost pile or compost tea. The human NPK ratio is almost 45-0-0!  Be careful, it’s potent. Dilute it, a lot, unless you use it along perimeters to discourage predators or gophers.

All raw bird manure is premixed with urine and manure.

  1. That would be bat and seabird guanos. Bird guanos are not a quick fix; they take awhile to break down in your soil. Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time is perfect timing for when your plants are ready to bloom! Some say they are better applied as foliar teas, but still, the release time per Colorado University Extension is FOUR MONTHS even for powdered guano! Know your guanos! Guanos vary hugely in NPK percents! Mexican bat is high N (leaf growth, plant vigor) 10-2-1. Jamaican bat is high phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2. Peruvian seabird is high in N and P (leaf and bloom) 10-10-2.
  2. Chicken! Besides eggs, they make grand hot manure for the dollar! Perfect for high production leaf crops like lettuces. And, it suppresses nematodes.  3-4-2 Strawberries don’t like the salts in chickie manure.
  3. Pigeon?!  Yes, prized in Europe as super manure!  It’s the winner at 4.2-3-1.4  And, if you find it available, it’s likely free!

Vermicompost – worm manure!  According to Rhonda Sherman, North Carolina State University:

‘Earthworm casts are covered with mucus from their intestinal tract; this layer provides a readily available carbon source for soil microbes and leads to a flush of microbial activity in fresh casts. Vermicompost improves soil structure, reduces erosion, and improves and stabilizes soil pH. In addition, vermicompost increases moisture infiltration in soils and improves its moisture holding capacity.

Plant growth is significantly increased by vermicompost, whether it is used as a soil additive, a vermicompost tea, or as a component of horticultural soilless container media. Vermicompost causes seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, and more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40 percent of the total volume of the plant growth medium in which it is incorporated. Vermicompost also decreases attacks by plant pathogens, parasitic nematodes and arthropod pests.’  The Soil Ecology Center at Ohio State University is the leading vermicomposting research laboratory in the United States. it includes scientific papers on vermicomposting.

Worms are easy to tend, use your green waste, you know what they have been fed.  The more quality stuff you feed them, the more quality comes out!

Green Manure – Grow Your Own! Over winter, or when you soil will be unplanted for a time, legumes, like favas and clovers, and blue lupines, peas, clover, buckwheat, Lucerne, oats, broad beans and wheat, are perfect to plant. Not only are they a living mulch, but legumes feed your soil, gathering N from the air, depositing it in little nodules on their roots! Chop and drop your crop, dig it into the top 6” if you want to, leave all those nodules right where they will do the most good! Presto! Plant your crop in about 2 to 3 weeks!

Pellets or piles, be knowledgeable in your choices. A combination works best, providing the various nutrients your plants need for their overall health! Sometimes FREE is not a good choice.  Ask questions and if you still don’t feel right about it when the ‘right’ answers are given, trust yourself. Could be the stuff is good but not the right thing for your plants right at that time. Or maybe the answers weren’t completely honest. Wait. Do something else. Or nothing. Your plants’ lives depend on you.

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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 city’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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Happy Winter Solstice/Yule, Dec 21st!

I like this saying I found at the Old Farmers Almanac:  Old Frost, the Silversmith has come:  His crisping touch is on the weeds.  – Charles Dawson Shanly

And, bless him, his touch will soon be on our veggies!  Some will love it; kales are said to taste better after a good frost.  Basils, some peppers and other tender plants will fold and die.  Gather seeds while you still can.  It’s tuck & roll time –  ready a stack of covers in case we get some hard freezes.  Keep a diligent weather watch.  Watering the evening before an anticipated freeze will help your plants withstand damage.

December is winter’s June, harvest time! 

Brocs, cauliflowers, peas, are all coming in now, especially if you planted in August, September!

Lettuces are thriving, keep plucking the lower leaves.

Keep harvesting your chard and beet leaves to keep ahead of the leafminers.  Don’t over water making the leaves too soft and inviting.

Cabbages take time to get to the stage to form that super head of tight fitted leaves.  Don’t despair, they are working on it.  Lay down Sluggo or do slug/snail maintenance around your cabbages to keep the pests from damaging your beauties.  Can you imagine what the plant would look like if the leaves were spaced out on a stalk?!  Pretty tall.  Feed lightly during winter to make Nitrogen easily available.  It’s cooler, so uptake is slower.

Your favas are busy gathering Nitrogen from the air, putting it into little nodules on their roots.  So are your peas, both legumes.  They do that!  Little to no feeding for them, they make their own N.

If you tuck in kitchen veggie trim, don’t be surprised if a few potatoes (they look like tomatoes, same family) pop up here and there.  If you like ‘em, let ‘em come if you have space!

If you have everbearer strawberries you may have few berries after a few warm days.  Even a single berry is such a treat!

Collards, kohlrabi and kales are very happy, providing excellent nutrition.  You can eat the leaves of all your Brassicas – brocs, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, and, of course, cabbages!

Carrots are coming!  Plant another round near your peas!  All kinds!  Mix the seeds up for surprises later!

Yes, you can still plant!  Start a new garden with or put in successive rounds of artichoke (give them 3’ to 4’ space), arugula, asparagus – Pat Welsh (Southern California Gardening) recommends UC-157, beets, brocs, Brussels sprouts, bunch onions, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, head and leaf lettuces, mesclun, peas, potatoes, radishes, and turnips!  As soon as one is done, plant another!

Put in some little bunch onion patches here and there but not by your peas!  Plant some of those little  Italian red ones – so pretty in your salad!  How about some garlic chives?  Mmm….

Remember, this is THE time to be planting your largest garlic cloves – they need twice the fertilizer, so make a super rich soil for them.  If you are so inspired, many plant on Winter Solstice day, Dec 21!  Plant skins on, or for more mojo, quicker sprouting, here is the way to prep your cloves Bob Anderson style:

  • Soak in water and baking soda for 16-24 hours before planting.  Soak separate strains separately. (One T soda to 1 gallon water, or a half teaspoon in a cup of water).  Remove the skins – start at the bottom being careful not to damage the growing tip OR the bottom, because that’s where the roots grow from!
  • Just before planting soak nude cloves in rubbing alcohol for 3-5 minutes and plant immediately.

SideDressing – seedlings up 2 to 3 inches get hungry!  Liquid fertilizer once a week is quick and easy for them to uptake.  Feed your other plants every 6 weeks.  That means, sprinkle fertilizer around your plants or down a row, and dig it in a little, especially before a rain!  Water it in.  Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings.  We don’t want a lot of tender new growth that a frost would take.  Some people love their manures, others love Island Seed & Feed’s Landscape Mix, and some love their stuff that comes in a pretty box!  Plants love a fish/kelp mix.  Try the powdered version for a little less stink.  If you decide to do foliar teas, pick a warm, dry, or breezy morning so your plants will dry well before evening.  Do what makes you and your plants happy!  If you haven’t been fertilizing, think about how hard your plant is working.  Big brocs, for example.  When it starts to head, when plants start to produce, that’s your cue to help them along.

Gophers.  You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after the rains.  If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.
Aphids?  Watch for curled leaves, squish or wash any or the colony away immediately.
White flies.  Flush away, especially under the leaves.  They are attracted to yellow, so keep yellowing, yellowed leaves removed.
Slimy Slugs, Snails.  Sluggo before they even get started, right when your seedlings begin to show, when you put your transplants in!  Once stopped, there will be intervals when there are none at all.  If you notice tiny children snails, lay down another round.

Make Organic, Sustainable Holiday Garden Gifts!  Plants themselves make wonderful gifts!  Start perusing catalogs for your Spring planting!

Happy Holidays, of all kinds, to you and yours! 
Garden Blessings, Cerena

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I love Val Webb’s image and she and I both love COMPOST!  She says:  There’s an irresistible alchemy involved when you can start with garbage and end up with a wildly nutrient-rich substance that has been likened to Ghirardelli chocolate for earthworms.

Composting is EASY! Start Now!  Get your soil fat!  The sooner you plant, and plant in tasty soil, the sooner you get a great harvest!

There’s compost and vermicompost, hot and cold compost, compost in place, trenching, to name a few.  You have options!

Compost is decayed organic matter – poops – that’s manures, dry leaves and straw/alfalfa, wet grasses and kitchen wastes. Compost has a variable amount of Nitrogen in it depending on what has been composted and how the compost was made. Some studies show unturned compost has more Nitrogen than turned compost. Homemade compost can be up to 4 N, as is fish emulsion and chicken manure. Steer is 2, horse 1.7. If you need a quick boost for a yellowing N starved plant, go for bat guano, or easily assimilable blood meal, both at 10 N! Be careful with that bat guano, it’s hot and can burn your plants. And both are pricey. Get just the amount you need at Island Seed and Feed’s bulk bins.

Vermicompost is worm poop. Politely, worm castings. Simple as that. Red wriggler worms are easy to raise, will eat lots of things but do best with tender stuff, your green kitchen waste. They love cantaloupe and melon rinds, nesting in avocado shells, egg shells keep their pH neutral. Wrigglers are surface feeders not earthworms. If you put wrigglers in the soil, they die. Worm castings (vermicompost) have negligible N, about .05, are NOT A FERTILIZER, but do a lot of other good things for your plants. Highly recommended.

Hot compost has to be made carefully, have just the right mix, be tended like a baby, and defies many attempts to get it hot! If you don’t get the combo of your materials right, you are cold composting. The advantage of hot composting is it is fast, kills bad creatures and weed seeds. Also kills the good guys. But. Only in the parts of the pile that actually get that hot. The whole pile never gets that hot, like the outside of the pile. Even if you turn it so the outside goes inside, it’s hard to guarantee it will all get that hot, so be advised. It’s pretty cute to see all those little plants that spring up in the pile….

Cold compost is just throwing your done plants or trim, preferably not diseased or pest infested, into a pile or your compost enclosure, layering with some wet or dry material as needed. It might get hot, it likely won’t. It will decompose if you keep it moist. If not you have dead dry stuff, no nutrients.  Some studies have shown that cold compost is more nutritious than hot compost.  Makes sense since you aren’t burning off Nitrogen and other goodies including beneficial insects and microorganisms.  If your stuff doesn’t turn black and fluffy and smell good when it is decomposed to unrecognizable pieces, you don’t have compost. Perhaps you could use it as mulch?

Composting in place, sheet composting, Lasagna Gardening, is a time saver, no moving later. Chop and drop on the spot, add dry/wet materials as needed, amendments, red wrigglers, let nature do the work.  Especially add some chicken manure before you add your layers, because decomposition uses Nitrogen!  If you are starting on top of turf, using cardboard as your bottom layer, be sure to SATURATE the cardboard.  Don’t rush this part.  Really saturate it.  You want it to last long enough for the grass underneath it to die, to keep the grass from growing up through your pile; you also want your cardboard to decompose so your plants’ roots can grow through it when your pile sinks as the pile decomposes.

Trenching kitchen trim is traditional – cover it and forget it! Crushed eggshells, torn tea bags, coffee grounds. Six inches deep is all you need to do. Cover with the soil, water as usual, your stuff will disappear in about a week! Don’t put in meats or oils that attract digging predators, or grains or cereals that will attract mice. Leave out citruses and spicy foods.

Start Now! 10 Easy Steps to Make RICH COMPOST!

Make the most out of your finished plants or trim; use them for compost, organic fertilizer! A compost enclosure is a fine garden investment! Keep it humming! Dig your compost in around your plants, plant IN your new compost! Surface compost Nitrogen just off gases, so put a layer of soil over your compost to keep the Nitrogen right where you need it, in the soil feeding your plants.

1. Get or make your enclosure, a good working size for you, then layer, layer, layer! Half inch layers are ideal, but do what you can.  A pile 3′ by 3′ is your best minimum if you want a hot pile.  Enclosures can be free pallets on Craigs List tied together, plastic beehive types to keep the rats and mice out, the circular hard black rubber kind, to expensive rolling types, garbage cans with bottoms removed, holes made in their sides!  Do what works for you!
2. Dry stuff first so it will get wet from the stuff you put on top.  That’s ‘brown’ – dry ingredients such as dead leaves, wetted newspaper or cardboard, alfalfa/straw.  The formula is 2 dry, brown to 1 wet, ‘green.’
3. Layer up with your kitchen waste you saved, undiseased green waste from your garden or greens recycle bin. Avoid hard woody stems and seeding weed plants. Cut up large items, halve whole items like apples, potatoes. Tear teabags, crush eggshells.
4. Lay in a few yarrow leaves to speed decomposition. Grow yarrow by your composter for handy use.
5. Inoculate with a sprinkle of soil, living micro organisms, that multiply, munch and speed composting.
6. Sprinkle your layers with aged manure (keep a bucketful next to your composter) to enrich it.
7. Keep layering up to 3’ high or until you run out of materials.
8. Keep your composting materials moist, to keep them live and decomposing.  Don’t let them dry out – dry is dead, nothing happens, nutrients are lost, time and space wasted.
9. Cover with a large piece of *folded heavy mil black plastic to keep your compost moist, and dark so any worms that take up residence work up through the whole pile, to the top .
10. Keep adding to it, stir or turn often to oxygenate, weekly if you can.  Composting organisms need lots of air to operate.  Keep it moist but not drippy and drowning.  Some studies show compost is more Nitrogen rich if you DON’T turn it!  Hmm…read on.

If you are not able to do that much heavy turning or don’t want to take the time, simply, push a long stick into your compost, several times, in different places, to let oxygen in.  Or, if you are inclined, at intervals in your pile, as you build it, you can insert, horizontally or vertically, 2″ PVC pipes, that have had holes drilled in them every 6″ for aeration.  If you are going to insert horizontally, make your holes on one side only; put the holes side down to keep them from clogging.  Make sure both ends stick out so there is air flow through the pipes.  If you insert vertically, drill holes all around the pipe.  If you use a larger diameter, line it with wire mesh to keep it from filling with debris.  Once made, you can use your PVC over and over.  Other alternatives are to make wire mesh cylinders or tie a bundle of twigs together.

Your compost is finished when you no longer recognize the individual materials that went into it. If you are have a small compost batch, when ready, lay out your *folded plastic cover, pitchfork the still decomposing stuff on top of your pile onto your plastic.  Use that good stuff at the bottom where you want it. Or plant in the nutrient rich spot where your composter was!  Put your composter in a new spot, fork the stuff still decomposing back in, add new materials, recover, do it again!  The process slows down in winter, speeds up in summer, generally you have some compost in 6 to 8 weeks.

If you have time, throw a cup or so of compost in a bucket, fill with water, let sit overnight, voila, compost tea! Soak your seeds in it before planting!  Pour it round your plants or use your watering can to spray it on their leaves, both tops and bottoms – foliar feeding.  Your veggies will thrive!  If you have a lawn, make aeration holes with your spade fork and pour the tea down them.  You soil will start to live again!

Your soil and your plants thank you!

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Foliar plant care is so easy!
Use a
Dramm Can, the Perfect Foliar Machine!

Worm Castings, Compost, Manure Tea, Fish Emulsion/Kelp for FEEDING – All in ONE!

You can easily make this tea!  A handful of castings, a handful to a cup of compost, handful of manure, stir and let them soak overnight in a bucket.  In the morning, swoosh it around in the bucket one more time, let it settle, then pour the top liquid into your watering can, the one with the up turning rose.  Add a Tablespoon Fish Emulsion/Kelp, mix, and drench your plants in the morning!  Yum!

Epsom Salts, Magnesium Sulfate, Your Solanaceaes, Peppers especially, and Roses!

Magnesium is critical for seed germination and the production of chlorophyll, fruit, and nuts. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improves plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.  Magnesium deficiency in the soil may be one reason your tomato leaves yellow between the leaf veins late in the season and fruit production slows down.

Sulfur, a key element in plant growth, is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes.  Sulfur is probably the oldest known pesticide in current use. It can be used for disease control (e.g., powdery mildews, rusts, leaf blights, and fruit rots), and pests like mites, psyllids and thrips. Sulfur is nontoxic to mammals, but may irritate skin or especially eyes.  Sulfur has the potential to damage plants in hot (90°F and above), dry weather. It is also incompatible with other pesticides. Do not use sulfur within 20 to 30 days on plants where spray oils have been applied; it reacts with the oils to make a more phytotoxic combination.

Epsom Salts are easy to do!  Buy some Epsom Salts, what you soak your feet in, at the grocery store, mix a tablespoon per gallon, foliar feed!  Foliar feeding is simply sprinkling leaves with your solutions, and works better than applying to the soil!  Get a Dramm 5 liter long snouted watering can that has a turnable sprinkler head.  That long spout comes in handy, reaching well into your plant!  Turn the head so the water shoots up under the leaves then falls back on the tops!  The long arc of the handle gives lots of maneuvering ability!  Feed your plants once when they bloom, and again ten days later. The results, attributed to magnesium in the salts, are larger plants, more flowers, more fruit, thicker walled peppers!  I use this mix on all my Solanaceaes: eggplant, pepper, tomato, tomatillo.  Roses love it too! 

Baking Soda & Nonfat Powdered Milk for PREVENTION!

The bicarbonate of soda makes the leaf surface alkaline and this inhibits the germination of fungal spores. Baking soda prevents and reduces Powdery Mildew, and many other diseases on veggies, roses, and other plants!  It kills PM within minutes.  It can be used on roses every 3 to 4 days, but do your veggie plants every 5 to 10 days, or after significant rains, as the plant grows, because these new plant tissues are not yet protected yet by your fungicide.  Irrigate well 2 days before use; on a sunny day spray off as much of the PM as you can from plants in sunny locations.  A heaping Tablespoon baking soda to a gallon of water, with a 1/2 Teaspoon of a surfactant – insecticidal or dish soap or salad oil, does the job.  It is not effective without the surfactant to spread it and make it stick.  You can add a liquid fertilizer with it if you want.   Cautions:  1)  I have had no trouble using it on my veggies, but it may burn the leaves of some other plants, so try it on a few leaves first.  2)  Don’t apply during hot midday sun that can burn the leaves.  3)  Avoid over use – it is a sodium, salt.  For a definitive discussion of Baking Soda usage and research, see https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/bakingsoda.html.   The article is an easy read, nicely summarized, has references, includes cautions and info on commercial preparations.  Best of all is to plant powdery mildew resistant varieties:

  • Cucumber:  Diva
  • Yellow Summer Squash:  Success, Sunray, Sunglo
  • Zucchini:  Ambassador, Wildcat
  • Pumpkin:  18 Karat Gold, Gladiator

Add nonfat powdered milk to your Baking Soda fungicide!  Powdered milk is a natural germicide, boosts your plant’s immune system!  Apply right away on young bean plants, all your cucurbits – cukes, zuchs, any mildew prone plant.  A 1/4 c milk in your gallon of water.  Get under those leaves, early morning so the leaves dry and the habitat is less humid.

Also add Salicylic acid, an aspirin to the mix! It triggers a defense response in tomatoes and other plants as well, and stimulates growth!  One regular strength dissolved/gallon does the job.

Healthy plants and abundant production are so rewarding!  Just take a few minutes to give your plants a boost with these simple treatments!  Whether Dramm, or another can, get yourself a good one!  Make it easy to get up under those leaves!  Otherwise, you are treating only 1/2 your plant!

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Strawberry Tips for Tasty Super Berries!

  • Strawberries are in the Rose family.
  • The average berry has 200 seeds, the only fruit whose seeds are on its exterior surface!  The seeds are really the fruit!
  • Usually grown from runner daughters, they will grow from seed.  Just throw down caps you bit the berry from.  Sooner or later, you will have a plant you didn’t ‘plant.’  Strawberry seed saving is simple.
  • Eight out of 10 strawberries grown in the U.S. are grown in California!
  • Strawberries came in second to blueberries in the USDA’s analysis of antioxidant capacity of 40 fruits and vegetables. They are also rich in dietary fiber and manganese, and contain more vitamin C than any other berry.

Image courtesy of StrawberryPlants.org

When do I plant strawberries?  Not now, NOVEMBER 1 to 10!  Yes, it’s that specific for winter chill at the perfect time!  They start producing runners now, but cut them off until early July!  Then let them grow, and cut off the new baby plants mid October for November planting.  Or, just let them grow to fill spots where, for one reason or another, a plant has gone missing, needs replacing, and/or another could fit in.  When those needs are taken care of, cut off the rest of the runners.  These runner plant babies will grow so fast you will be getting berries from them late summer and fall if you have everbearers/day neutral types!!

My plant isn’t producing….  

Variety
 – If it is an everbearer, day neutral, variety it will produce almost all year.  June/spring bearers put out a prolific batch in June, then it’s over.  No amount of care or feeding is going to make that plant have berries after June.  Sorry.  Best to get the varieties your local nursery carries.  Or talk with them about special ordering well in advance, so they can get the ones you want.
Temps – cold weather slows down pollinators.
Shaded – believe me, strawberries like all-day sun!  If you are going to tuck them in among other plants, be sure to put them on the sunny side!
Hungry – think about it!  A strawberry plant is often pumping out several berries at a time!  They are using up soil nutrition, so feed them!  Try a light solution of fish emulsion/kelp every other week over some sprinkled seabird guano or a well aged manure.  Give your strawberries a little fertilizer in the 0-10-10 proportions; that’s lots of phosphorus and potassium for strong roots and uptake of nutrients, blooms and fruits!
Water – don’t let them dry out, they will stop producing.  This month they tend to grow more leaves, send out runners.  Clip off the runners for now, so they don’t take your plant’s energy away from producing berries, unless you want more plants right away.
Mulching is good.  They love pine needle mulch, if you have some about, because they prefer slightly acidic soil.  Drape your berries over pine cones to keep them off the ground, out of the slug zone.
Age – First year plants and 3rd year plants don’t produce as well.

My berries are really tiny! 
Strawberry varieties vary from mammoth chocolatiers, to midget but mighty tasty alpines.  If it isn’t a variety issue, it may be diseased.  See below please.

Misshapen berries or split in two sections with a hole in the center 
Irregular watering  Your berry grows fast when it has water, then is restricted when it doesn’t….
Western Tarnished Plant Bugs,
feed on the flowers and developing surface seeds that stimulate growth causing misshapen berries, hard clusters of yellow seeds on the tip of the fruit.  Clean up debris.  Once you see this, you are too late to prevent it any further.  Bummer.  UC Davis IPM Integrated Pest Management on Lygus Hesperus.  Image of typical cat-faced berries.
Pollination Strawberry flowers are usually open and attractive to bees only a day or less.  Temperatures below 60F, low night temperatures, & high humidity result in inadequate pollination, low yields of small or misshapen fruit.  Strawberries require multiple pollination for perfect fruit formation. Generally, as the number of pollinator visits increases, there will be an increase in fruit set, number of seed per fruit, fruit shape, and fruit weight.  ABOUT BEES:  per NCSU ‘Bees rarely fly when the temperature is below 55°F. Flights seldom intensify until the temperature reaches 70°F. Wind speed beyond 15 miles per hour seriously slows bee activity. Cool, cloudy weather and threatening storms greatly reduce bee flights. In poor weather, bees foraging at more distant locations will remain in the hive, and only those that have been foraging nearby will be active.  Pumpkin, squash, and watermelon flowers normally open around daybreak and close by noon; whereas, cucumbers, strawberries, and muskmelons generally remain open the entire day.’  So if the weather isn’t right THE DAY OR MORNING your flower opens…..

Whole plant has yellow leaves.  The most common cause is nutrient deficiencies due to overwatering.  Overwatering causes poor root growth making it difficult to move enough water to the leaves during hot weather.  Lay back on watering; give your babies some Nitrogen –fish emulsion/kelp.

Strawberry Pests
Pecked   If birds are pecking your berries, put bird netting or a wire dome over them.

Rebecca & David Barker, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Plot 41, staked the chicken wire in place, push it up to harvest, down to just the right height when done!

Holes in them, Chewed  Silvery slime trails are the giveaway!  Use the pine cones to drape your berries over to keep them off the ground.  Put down some Sluggo or the like, to kill off night-time nibblers, slugs, snails.  Harvest regularly before the berry gets soft and smelly, just before the buglets are attracted!  Those little black pointy worms?  I’m trying to find out what they are.  If you know, let me know, ok?!
Uprooted  Sad to say, that sounds like ‘possums, raccoon, or skunk.  They are looking for your earth worms or grubs.  Just like bunnies, these critters won’t jump a low barrier.  They just go around it.  So install a foot tall perimeter of wire pieces, black plastic plant flats, old trellis parts, whatever you have around, or go get something that looks good to you so you will be happy.  Relocating the critters is a good choice because, they do have children, that have children, that…

Strawberry Diseases  StrawberryPlants.org for full list of diseases.  Here’s a link to the 3 Most common leaf diseases with images.

Angular Leaf Spot – exactly that.  Spotted leaves.  A cosmetic problem until it isn’t.  Your plant will produce, but it won’t thrive.  Spread by water, harvest before you water, water under the leaves, remove badly spotted leaves, don’t use them as mulch, wash your hands before going on to another plant.
Strawberry Blight – the fungus is often confused with angular leaf spot, overwinters in old leaves, remove them.  Remove old leaves from runner plants before setting.  All day sun, well-drained soil, in an area with circulation, equals less fungus.  For good air circulation, plant far enough apart, remove weeds, remove, replant and/or give away runner baby sets.  Plant resistant varieties for your area of your state.  Discussion of SoCal varieties.  When you buy new plants be sure they are certified from a disease-free nursery.  If you use a fungicide, spray the underside of leaves as well as the tops.

Successful SoCal varieties!

Chandler is the most widely commercially grown strawberry in California.  High yield, early producer, large southern berry.  It’s a June bearer, so if you want year round supply, this is not your berry.
Seascape is an ever-bearing, big day neutral, all year strawberry, harvests are more abundant in late spring. High yield, resistant to most diseases except leaf spot.  Reliable producer in fall, performs well in hot, dry climates.  Berry is bright red inside and out!
Oso Grande Another June bearer, high yield big berry, good in warm climates.

Eat your red  plump strawberries!  Fresh from your garden, strawberry Sundae, strawberry sauce, strawberry pie, cake, bread, strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, yoghurt, cream cheese, cheesecake, strawberry shake, chocolate dipped, strawberry lemonade, strawberry Syrah, and, as always, the traditional, Strawberry Shortcake!! 

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