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Design Your Beautiful Summer Garden!

Designing your garden is an intricate and intimate process depending on a lot of factors. It will ‘look’ like you as you are at the time of your life that you do it. If you plant from seed, it leads to making a pretty accurate seed list.

Some of your choices will be the same as what your family always did. Or, you may be a permaculture type doing a Food Forest guild system. There is no right way. You are you, your situation unique. You may be the same the rest of your life, only influenced by drought, deluge, seasons or climate change. You may be research oriented and enjoy trying out new plants and practices from across the world, allowing volunteers the birds bring to grow. You might decide to leave an untouched wild area in the name of freedom or magic, or rest a section of your garden each winter! Or plant it to green manure!

Choose a sunny place with easy access to water! Bioswales may be part of your water capture plan. In SoCal consider a centuries old technique, a water saving Waffle GardenGreywater distribution location may determine where fruit and nut trees will be planted. Then how will their mature shade affect the rest of your garden? Use dwarfs?

Garden Design Slope HillsideMake your garden a shape that flows with the area, whether that be simply the space available, or contoured to the land. Use slopes and hillsides! (Image by Arterra LLP Landscape Architects) Grow permeable windbreak shrubs to slow wind. If you don’t have outdoor space, but do have a sunny doorstep or balcony, put those containers to work!

Layouts can be any design you want! Circles with cross points, spokes, concentric, spiral! Squares like a formal British royal garden. Wild like a cottage garden or food forest garden guild. Beds in blocks. Straw bales wherever you can put them! Terraced on a slope! S curves along an existing path interspersed with ornamentals! Maybe you would like to add a greenhouse this year, or you need a shed and convenient workspace.

Put in pathways – straw bedding, boards, gravel, pallets, as suits the spirit of the location, are safe and make you happy to be there!

Where is the summer and winter sun path? Where will you plant tall to short? A full 6 to 8 hours of sun is best for almost all veggies. You can do shade, but it’s slower and fruits are not as big or plentiful.

If you choose to make your own compost, select an easy access area for composting, near the kitchen, if you will be using it on an ongoing basis. Plant compost speeding herbs like comfrey or yarrow right next to it. Plant pretty calendula or borage to hide it and bring bees and butterflies! If you use straw layers, leave space beside your composter or compost area for a bale staked in place on its end.  See more

Also choose an area, maybe near the compost, for your worm box if you will be growing them for their valuable castings. Mine take full sun all year. See more

Decide if you want to do a no dig Lasagna type bed or your soil is fine and you can just get to planting right now! But first, either way, install gopher protection wire!

Think about your choices for permanent residents! Plant perennial herbs by the kitchen door, at corner points or gates. The perennial Dragon Fruit along the fence. An amazing chayote needs tons of room. Artichokes are big, and grow 10 years! Set aside an all year area for flowering plants for bees, beneficials, butterflies and birds!

Where will biggies like that Winter Hubbard Squash, pumpkin, squash or melon, artichoke fit or is there really enough space for it per its production footprint?

What plants do you want? Will you judge by nutritional value first, return per square foot? Will you really eat them or has your family just always grown it? Will you be biodiversely companion planting or monoculture row planting?

Are you growing for food or seed or both? Waiting for plants to flower to seed takes time, and the space it takes is unavailable for awhile. But bees, beneficial predator insects, butterflies and birds come.

Will you be planting successive rounds of favorites throughout the season? If you plant an understory of fillers – lettuces, table onions, radish, beets, carrots, etc – you won’t need separate space for them. If you trellis, use yard side fences, grow vertical in cages, you will need less space. See Vertical Gardening, a Natural Urban Choice! If you plant in zig zags, rather than in a straight line, you can usually get one more plant in the allotted space.

Would be lovely to put in a comfy chair to watch the garden grow, see birds, listen to the breeze in the leaves.

Social at Davie Village Community Garden in Vancouver's West EndOr a social area, table, chairs, umbrella. Have candlelight summer salads in the garden with friends. This is at Davie Village Community Garden in Vancouver’s West End.

Plant sizes, time to maturity  There are early, dwarfs, container plants that produce when they are smaller, have smaller fruits. There are long growing biggies that demand their space, over grow and outgrow their neighbors! Maybe you don’t need huge, but just enough for just you since it’s only you in your household. Or it’s not a favorite, but you do like a taste! The time it takes to mature for harvest depends on weather, your soil, whether you feed it or not along the way. The size depends on you and the weather also, but mainly on the variety you choose. You can plant smaller varieties at the same time you plant longer maturing varieties for a steady table supply. How long it takes to maturity, and the footprint size of your mature plant is critical to designing your garden, making it all fit.

Vertical and Horizontal Spacing!

  • Vertical Space – More plants per square foot!
    • One method is to double trellis up! Cucumbers below beans!
    • The other is to plant in ‘layers!’ Plant an understory of ‘littles’ and fillers below larger taller plants ie Lettuce under Broccoli.
  • Horizontal Space – Give them room to thrive at MATURE SIZE!
    • Pests and diseases go right down the row of plants of the same kind that touch each other. You may lose them all ~ better is Biodiversity! Interplant with pest repelling edible companion plants!
    • Plants too closely seeded/not thinned, get rootbound. That lessens growth and production, weakens your plants since your plants are literally starving.

Look up each of your plant choices. Make a list – name, variety, days to maturity, mature spacing. The mature spacing gives a good indication how tall your plant might get and if it will shade out other plants. If you put your list on your computer you can click on the column to reorganize the list per footprint space/height or days to maturity.

Your purpose may be for your and your family’s daily food, as a chef for your clients, for a Food Bank. Fruit and nut trees may be part of your long term plan.

Now that we know how much space you have and your purpose for growing each plant, we can estimate how many plants of each you need, how many seeds you will need if you plant from seeds. Know that Mama Nature has her own schedule – lots of rain, no rain. Wind. Hail. Heat. Birds love picking seeds you planted and slugs are perpetually hungry. We won’t speak about gophers. Add to your number of seeds to account for surprises and gardener error. Get enough for succession plantings.

If you are a SoCal gardener, you may plant several times over a season. If you are canning, plant bush bean varieties and determinate tomatoes to harvest all at once. If you want a steady table supply all season long, also plant pole bean varieties and indeterminate tomatoes. If you have a Northern short season summer window, you may choose cold tolerant early bush and determinate varieties for quicker intense production.

Take into account the number of people you are feeding and their favorites!

Graph paper, sketches, a few notes jotted on the back of an envelope, in your head. It all works and is fun!

Here’s to many a glorious nutritious feast – homegrown organic, fresh and super tasty!

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

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

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How to Harvest & Store Summer Veggies Abundance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storage - Which veggies to Refrigerate or Counter top Fruits Vegetables

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

See the entire July 2016 GBC Newsletter!

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May is for Cantaloupe & more Melons! Honeydew Fruit Bowl Flowers

Melons are total beauty queens! Their outsides are marvelous, no two alike! You can grow minis to monsters! The insides are beautiful colors! If you couldn’t see in color, their tastes would make up for it! Textures are plentiful! Some of them slither, others crunch! Warm and drizzly down your chin at the garden, ice cold on a hot day! Fruit salsa! You can cut them in a thousand ways, from cubes to balls, slices, astonishing intricate veggie art! They can be eaten with your fingers, put in smoothies, as part of creamy ambrosia. Sprinkle with spices, toss with mint. Add coconut or walnuts!

Besides all these delightful features, Melons are good for you!
CANTALOUPE (American) – 100% of Vitamin A, and 24% of Vitamin C
HONEYDEW – 53% of Vitamin C

Melons, like pumpkins, need heat! Melons are native to Africa, and the trick to getting the best-quality fruit in cooler climates is to duplicate the continent’s hot sun and sandy soil as best you can. Light, fluffy soils warm faster than do clay ones, and melons love loose, well-drained dirt! Amend with compost or leaf mold. Ideally, you would wait to sow seed until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons, but SoCal hits 60+ degree soil in April and you can plant transplants successfully then! Start seedlings indoors to get the soonest start, but don’t start the seedlings too soon! They grow quickly!

You in cooler coastal areas really need the heat. Naked unmulched soil heated by hot sun does the job!

Put your melons in an area where they are sheltered or there is a windbreak so they get good and hot! Remember the tricks about windbreaks. A porous windbreak works best. In a cooler climate, a wall, maybe of berry producing shrubs with dwarf fruit trees behind, can reduce cooling and drying winds, allowing the warmth of a food forest!Windbreak Effectiveness Diagram Porous

Use clear or black plastic to heat up the ground. They absorb heat, warm the soil early, conserve moisture, control weeds, keep some pests and diseases away, and make harvesting a whole lot easier and cleaner. Or, use black landscape cloth instead of black plastic! The cloth allows the soil to breathe and water to pass through. Combine that with spun polyester row covers over transplants to give them a fast start. They increase the temperature by 5 to 8 degrees, and conserve moisture. Spun polyester is also handy because you can water straight through it. Or you can use a clear plastic film over seeds or young plants to generate more heat, and late melons can be ripened under plastic, too. Row covers must be removed when plants start to bloom so pollinating insects can reach the flowers.

If you choose the black plastic, and you don’t garden over winter, lay it over the future melon garden in late winter to start warming the soil. Weigh down the edges so it doesn’t take flight. When you are ready to plant, make five-inch, x-line cuts at least four feet apart on 6 to 8 foot centers depending on the size of the melon you are growing – if you are growing several plants in rows. If you commingle edibles and ornamentals, allow at least three feet in all directions around the cut-plastic x. Pull the plastic back and create a hill of soil (amended with lots of organic matter).

Green plastic film mulch For your consideration, green mulch is to melons, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins and squash what red plastic film mulch is to tomatoes. According to reports of research trials in the Northeast and Oregon, cooler areas, it stimulates earlier and heavier yields of fruits. One person reported the green film was very thin. As a deterrent to weeds, it didn’t come close to black plastic. And at the end of the season it wasn’t reusable, so they had to discard it. Maybe things have changed since then or it comes in different weights.

If you have super good heat, keep your melons off the ground with super thick mulch and even then, put them up on sturdy upside down containers. You want them out of the munching bug and soil diseases zone. They will color up more evenly, consistently, and you can save space, if grown on trellises, making little slings to hold the fruits up. But if your area doesn’t get super hot, on the ground is better than up on a cooling wind exposed trellis.

If you mulch, put a stake where the center of the planting basin is so when you water, the water goes where the central roots are. Save water by not watering the rest of the area that doesn’t need it and that would cool the ground. Make your basin large enough that tiny lateral feeder roots get water too. Melons like to be kept moist.

Fabulous varieties!

In cooler coastal areas consider growing mini melons that don’t take as long to mature, or early melons, container varieties, that mature in 85 days or less. Consider growing spicy sweet Green Nutmeg, which has been around more than 150 years. Jenny Lind is another green-fleshed cantaloupe that weighs about a pound, 70 days. Early varieties have compact foliage. Vines and the distance between leaves (nodes) are shorter than larger, long-season melons. They flower early and have smaller fruits.

Heat and drought tolerant varieties per Southern Exposure Seed Exchange are:

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

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

A clever strategy for instant succession planting, if you have space, is to plant melons that mature at different times. Growing small fast maturing melons AND late large melons = 2 harvests!

Soil  Slightly acid light, sandy loam with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5 is preferred. You might guess melons are very heavy feeders, they are making a lot of plant and a large fruit! Before planting, add in a little extra compost, and leaf mold, some well rotted manure, cow manure if you can get it.

Water! You are going to see a lot of recommendations to plant on mounds. Here in California, and other places, we are in drought conditions so I am recommending to plant in basins like the Zuni desert waffle gardens techniques. All the water goes to your plant, less is lost to evaporative wind across a mound top, less water is needed. If in a cooler coastal area, your plant is sheltered from cooling wind, produces more in the heat.

Melons need plenty of water to support quick vine growth in early summer! The rule of thumb is a minimum of 1-inch of water a week, 2 inches is likely better. If you use plastic mulch, it will retain moisture so check the soil under the plastic to see when watering is really required. Once the first fruit ripens, stop all watering. Too much water at ripening time dilutes the fruit’s sugars and ruins the sweet flavor. The melons don’t need the water because they develop a deep root system soon after they start to flower.

Plant! Seed soaking and presprouting definitely speed up germination! Plant three to five seeds two inches apart and about one inch deep. Keep them moist and watch them grow! Once the vines have two sets of true leaves, thin out the smaller or weaker vines, leaving the two strongest to grow on.

Valuable Companions  At the same time you plant your melons, put in radish, marigold, maybe nasturtium to repel Cucumber and flea beetles, squash bugs. Nasturtium harbors snails, so you are warned….

Male flowers come first so they can pollinate the females when they arrive! Not to worry if you don’t get fruit set at first.

Sidedressing Melons are a lot of plant and hungry! Fertilize every two to three weeks before blooming starts, using an all-purpose 5-5-5 fertilizer. In the root zone, put some spade fork holes around your plant. If you are using mulch, pull it back and add several inches of compost to root areas monthly. Put the mulch back and water it in. It’s like giving your plant compost tea as the water and compost drizzle down in the holes! Especially sidedress melons when blooming starts and every 6 weeks after.

Diseases

  • Fungus diseases, include Alternaria leaf spot, powdery mildew, anthracnose, and downy mildew.
  • Water melons in the morning, ideally at soil level, so leaves dry before evening, preventing fungal diseases.
  • Apply the home remedy Mildew mix! As soon as your little plants are up about 3″ or you put transplants in the ground, mix a heaping tablespoon of Baking Soda, 1/4 cup non-fat powdered milk, 1 regular aspirin, 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap in a watering can. Apply foliarly, both under and on top of leaves. The main ingredient is the bicarbonate of soda! It 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 new plant tissues are not yet protected by your fungicide. See more details!
  • To prevent powdery mildew, spray the leaves with wettable sulphur during late summer when the nights begin to cool down.
  • At the first sign of disease, remove infected parts; remove and discard the mulch around the plant and replace it with fresh, clean mulch.

Pests  Spun polyester row covers are excellent for controlling cucumber beetles and vine borers. Vine borers are the worst melon pest in some states, but not in California. Additional practical info on vine borers from U of Georgia. Though written with squash in mind, just think melon, another cucurbit, as you read it. Remember, row covers must be removed when plants start to bloom so pollinating insects can reach the flowers. Once the row covers are removed, sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the leaves to protect the plants from cucumber beetles. Plant Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes, and melons to repel wilt-carrying striped cucumber beetles.

Maturity, When and How to Harvest

On very hot days melons can over ripen on the vine, giving them a waterlogged appearance. Most summer melons are fragrant when ripe. Sniff the skin; if you smell the flavor of the melon (the senses of smell and taste are interrelated), it is ripe for the picking. Another indicator for ripeness is when the stem separates (slips) easily where the vine attaches to the fruit. Cantaloupes are mature when the rind changes from green to tan-yellow between the veins.

Honeydew, crenshaw, and other winter melons are ready to harvest when they turn completely white or yellow, and the blossom end is slightly soft to touch. Since they do not slip, cut the melons from the vine. They will continue to ripen for several days at room temperature once they are picked.

The sweetest and most flavorful melons are those picked ripe from the vine and eaten right away. They may not be icy cold, but the fresh flavor and perfume more than make up for the temperature difference. Go ahead, open a melon and eat it right in the garden—without utensils—and let the sweet nectar run down your chin. That’s the true taste of summer!

Poor Flavor? It may be the weather: cloudy during ripening, too hot, too much or too little water, it rained a lot before harvest, or a combination of factors.

Saving Seeds is easy! When you save and store seeds, you help to continue the genetic line of plant varieties, leading to greater biodiversity in garden plants and preventing extinction of different varieties. A word to the wise! Like other cucurbits, melons easily crossbreed, so allow a ½ mile for reliable distance isolation between different types or cultivars. To be completely safe from any accidental cross-pollination, keep them away from other family members including cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins.

  • Pick melons for seed saving when the tendril nearest the melon is completely dried, then store the harvested melon intact for another 3 weeks before removing and cleaning the seeds. Scoop out the seeds, put them into a wire mesh sieve, then with running water over the seeds rub them gently against the mesh, using it to loosen and remove the stringy fibers. The final test: Healthy seeds will sink to the bottom of a bowl of water, while dead seeds and most of the pulp will float. Get your seeds as clean as possible to keep them from sticking to whatever surface you dry them on.
  • Drain them in a strainer. Pat the bottom of the strainer with a cloth towel to pull extra water from the seeds after they have drained. Spread them on a piece of glass or a shiny ceramic plate to dry (they will stick to paper, even waxed paper). Place the glass or ceramic plate in a cool, dry shady spot for several days. After the seeds are dry, they can be carefully removed from the glass or plate and final-dried before being stored in jars.
  • Your seeds will keep for up to 5 years if stored in a cool dry place, however, the shorter the storage time, the better. Date and Name your seed jar. Dry seeds well to avoid mildew. Fluctuation in temperature or moisture levels of stored seeds lowers their longevity significantly. Prevent insect infestations by adding diatomaceous earth, it’s non toxic, to the stored seeds in their jars. Add a few pinches to the seeds in a bowl and gently stir to thoroughly cover each seed.

All melons are flavorful enough on their own, yet you can enhance them with a sprinkle of ginger or salt. A squirt of lemon or lime juice will bring out the melon’s sweetness.

A popular treat offered by Los Angeles push cart vendors is fresh fruit sprinkled with salt, chili powder and a squeeze of fresh lime juice! it makes a quick, healthy snack or a vibrant side for a barbecue! 

Mexican Fruit Salad with Chili Powder

Recipe Mexican Fruit Salad with Chili Powder

Choose 1, 2, 3 or more fruits and/or vegetables—here are some that work well:

  • mango
  • pineapple
  • watermelon
  • cantaloupe or other melon
  • cucumber or fresh pickles
  • jicama

lime juice
chili powder
salt, to taste or not at all! If you use salt, assemble your salad at the last minute—the salt begins leeching juice from the fruit right away.

May your life be sweet and spicy!

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

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15 Super Tips for a Productive Summer Veggie Patch!

Asymmetrical Design

Whether you are tucking things into niches between ornamental landscape plants, planting a patio patch like in the image, setting up a first time summer garden patch, or replanning your annual garden, here are some great ideas to increase your production!

1. If you have space, and are creating a back, or front, yard food forest, always start with your tree placements first! Determine which veggies grow well with each kind of tree. Santa Barbara Mediterranean Food Forests

2. Keep in mind veggies need sun! 6 to 8 hours, preferably 8! They are making fruit, and often many! That takes energy.

3.  Put tall plants to the north (see image below), so they won’t shade the shorties. If there is a partially shaded area, plant your tallest plants on the shaded side so they can reach up to get some sun; put the shorter plants in decreasing heights, in front of them so all get as much light as they can. When you are planting rounds, another batch every few weeks, start in the north or the ‘back’ – the shaded area, and work your way forward.

4. Trellises and tall cages are terrific space savers and keep your plants off the ground out of harm’s way – pests, diseases, damage. Your veggies will be clean, and have more even ripening. Cucumbers, beans, tomatoes. Squashes and melons can be trellised if you provide support for heavy fruits. Even Zucchini can be grown up through cages leaving a lot of ground space for underplantings. Harvesting is a lot easier and certain when those fast growing zuchs are up where you can see them!

Inefficient Single Row Planting

5. There are rows and there are rows! Single row planting wastes space! Compare the images. If you do rows, plant 2 or 3 different plants in side by side rows, then have your walk way, then another 2 or 3 plants together. Whether you do 2 or 3, or even 4, depends on plant size, your reach, and ease of tending and harvest. Plant taller or medium size plants, like peppers and eggplant, by twos so you can reach in to harvest. Plant shorter smaller plants like lettuces, spinach, strawberries together since they are easy to reach across to harvest. If plants in the rows are the same size, plant the second row plants on the diagonal to the first row plants. That way your rows can be closer together and you can plant more plants!

Attractive Multi-row Veggie Amphitheatre around the Eden Project restaurant!

6. Rather than rows, biodiversity, mixing things up, confuses pests, stops diseases in their tracks, because they can’t just go from the same plant to the same plant down a row. Since we are not using tractors, there is no need for rows at all, but they can be lovely. The curved rows in the image are behind the Eden Project restaurant outdoor seating! Truly garden to table!

7. If you need only a few plants, rather than designating a separate space for lettuces and littles like radishes, tuck them in here and there on the sunny side under bigger plants! When it gets big enough, remove the sunny side lower leaves of the larger plant to let light in.

8. Plant what you like, and will really eat along with some extra nutritious chards, kales.

9. Plants with the same water needs are good together. Like a salad patch – lettuce, arugula, spinach, bok choy, bunch onions, radish, chards. Putting the things together that you will harvest together saves time! Put carrots at the foot of pole beans.

10. Overplanting can take the fun out of things. Too many zucchini in hot summers, and you are going crazy trying to give away the over large ones you didn’t harvest soon enough. Too many green beans are labor intensive harvesting, takes forever. Planting green beans too close together is hard to harvest, and they mildew more with low air circulation. Overplanting is delicious when you plant lots of lettuces, carrots then harvest what you thin out! That’s baby kales, chard, mini carrots. These are the eat-on-the-spot-in-the-garden types!

11. Traditionally, and if you lived in the North with cold winters, you planted the garden all at once in spring! If your parents did that, you are unthinkingly likely to do it as well. In our SoCal Mediterranean climate, we plant all year though there are warmer and cooler veggie seasons. But each of these seasons are longer, and overlap! It is easy to get 3 plantings in succession IN EACH SEASON! Some plants will grow all year, mostly the ‘winter’ plants in our coastal gardens, for example, beets, broccoli, onions and cabbages. It takes strength to leave open space for successive rounds. But you can do it. Mark that space off, plant temporary fast growers, nitrogen-fixing fava, or lay down some soil feeding mulch like seedless straw. That space will be super productive when its turn comes.

12. Pole plants, have a lot longer production period than bush, like beans! Indeterminate tomatoes are true vines, can last all season long, but are susceptible to Fusarium and Verticillium wilts/fungi diseases. Might be better to plant determinates, limited growth varieties, in succession. That’s plant a few, then in a few weeks a few more, and so on. Let the determinates produce like crazy all at once, pull them when they show signs of the wilts. If you have only a small space available, or want to do canning, then bush plants are for you!

13. Plants that act as perennials in our climate are smart money plants! Broccoli’s for their side shoots, continuous kales and chards.

14. Special needs or companions!

  • Eggplants, though heat lovers, love humidity, but not overhead watering. Put them among other medium height plants.
  • Basils are great on the sunny sides of tomatoes, and go to table together.
  • Corn needs colonies – plant in patches versus rows! Every silk needs pollination because each produces a kernel! The best pollination occurs in clusters or blocks of plants. Consider that each plant only produces 2 to 3 ears, usually 2 good ones. How many can you eat a once? Will you freeze them? The ears pretty much mature within a few days of each other! So, if you are a fresh corn lover, plant successively only in quantities you can eat.

15. Consider herbs for corner, border, or hanging plants. They add a beautiful texture to your garden, are wonderfully aromatic, repel pests! Remember, some of them are invasive, like oregano, culinary thyme. Sage has unique lovely leaves. Choose the right type of rosemary for the space and look you want.

Please be CREATIVE! You don’t have to plant in rows, though that may be right for you. Check out this Squidoo Vegetable Garden Layout page! Check out the Grow Planner for Ipad from Mother Earth News! They may make you very happy! This is a perfectly acceptable way to play with your food.

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This is a great time to install native plants and fruit trees, so see if any of this info affects where and how you place them.  A food forest can be anchored by a south opening ‘U’ shaped planting of trees that captures heat for growing veggies in its center area.  It can start with a single tree.  Read Toby Hemenway’s book ‘Gaia’s Garden,’ especially the chapter on Designing Garden Guilds.  Toby says “…biological support replaces human intervention, shifting the garden’s burden onto the broad back of nature.”  If you have time and inclination, see Linda & Larry’s Food Forest Video!  Besides their suburban Santa Barbara yard being a food forest, it is the epitome of edible landscaping!  Your nursery will begin stocking bare-root trees this month!  Santa Barbarans, have you heard of Norm Beard?  He’s the man to see, past President of California Rare Fruit Tree Growers!  You will be amazed what we can grow here, and Norm knows the varieties and stocks the ones that grow best here!

*Guild plants are plants that grow well together.  It’s a LOT more than companion planting by twos, two plants that like, enhance, or help each other, though that is wonderful too.  Happy plants make more food!  Guilds are systems of plants starting with a tree if you have the space!  Check out Permies.com on Guilds  If you love the idea of guilds, and apples, check out this Apple Tree Guild! – image at left.  See the details at the link.  A super functioning guild utilizes both vertical space and horizontal overlapping circles!

I am in hopes you will talk this up to your apartment owner, install it on your own property, model your veggie garden after it, share it with every gardener anywhere, of any kind that you know.  This principle is so important in many ways.  Guild lists can be made for every area, plant zone, specific for every tree!  Guild planting makes sense.

  • It’s economical.  Plants grow densely, produce more.  We are making on prem food forests when times are hard and may get harder.
  • Ecologically we are restoring native habitat when we plant and support those plants that use our water more wisely.
  • It is sustainable –  produces more food on less land, cuts food miles, no fuel, packaging.
  • Health is prime as we eat organic, much more nutritious food that hasn’t been depleted by shipping, storage and processing.

Our list [SEE IT!] author is Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, M.A., MFT, co-editor with Craig Chalquist of the anthology Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, Sierra Club Books (May 2009).  She is a psychotherapist and ecotherapist in Santa Barbara, where she specializes in helping clients with career issues, financial challenges and the transition to a simpler, more sustainable and nature-connected lifestyle.  Linda is an heirloom rose lover, current VP of the Board of the Santa Barbara Rose Society, founder of the International Assn for Ecotherapy and co-founder of the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club!  She cares.

Linda’s List is intended for a Mediterranean climate like coastal Southern California has, one of only 5 in the world.  The list in your area may be different.  Check out your local gardener’s successes, check with your local nursery.  This list is not tree specific yet.  We’re working on that!

SEE PART 2, the List!

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Mediterranean Understory & Guild Plants for Food Forests – Part 2

Please SEE Part 1 before you read this list!


Here is what a young Food Forest can look like in a part of your urban yard!

Linda’s List is intended for a Mediterranean climate like coastal Southern California has, one of only 5 in the world. The list in your area may be different. Check out your local gardeners’ successes, check with your local nursery. This list is not tree specific yet. We’re working on that!

More than a list of plants, Linda’s List gives tips for good growing, eating, and usage!
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Once our fruit trees are planted in their water-saving basins in a budding Mediterranean food forest, it’s now time to think about what else to plant in these usually moist wells and swales. Or up the trees? Or nearby? We need these companion plants to increase our food and medicine yield, and also to enrich the soil, provide habitat, pull up minerals and other nutrients from deep in the earth, draw nitrogen from the air and bring it into the soil, attract beneficial insects to control pests, create shade for delicate roots — and to provide beauty, a critical psychological and spiritual yield in every garden.

Thanks to the members of the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club for their ideas and input. Additions and corrections are welcome.  Please email lbuzzell@aol.com.  Especially welcome would be input on what plants do best under specific fruit trees – so far I don’t have much information on that.

BERRIES
Blueberry. To grow well here, they need acid soil, so a container is often the best solution, since Santa Barbara soil and water tend to be alkaline. One gardener we know waters hers with a very dilute solution of white vinegar, plus puts pine needles, coffee grounds around the plant. Best in Mediterranean climates are the low-chill varieties like ‘Misty,”O’Neal,’ ‘Sharpblue’
Cane berries. Upright cane berries are fun to pop in here and there as understory plants and they take some shade. But we found out the hard way that you probably don’t want to put in sprawling, thorny berries (especially blackberry) that sucker underground – they pop up all over the yard and are hard to eradicate. When we buy new berries we limit ourselves to thornless varieties and our current favorites are ‘Navajo’ and ‘Apache,’ although the thorny varieties that still linger in our garden – and will probably be there for hundreds of years as they’re ineradicable – taste best. So we live with them and enjoy the berries.
Elderberry. Shrub. There is a California native variety. Produces edible fragrant white flowers (used to make elderberry syrup and wine) and edible small blue berries that the birds love. Ripe berries are safe to eat but leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots are toxic. Has medicinal uses. We use our elderberry as a sacrificial plant attracting birds away from other fruit trees.
Lemonade Berry (native). Rhus integrifolia. Can also control erosion.

BULBS AND ROOT CROPS
Placement of these may take special care, as you don’t want to plant them too close to delicate tree roots.
Carrots
Edible canna. Canna edulis –Achira. Flowers are smaller than most cannas and the root is edible, can be chopped and sautéed like potato.
Onions
Potato and sweet potato

EDIBLE FLOWERS (note: most fruit trees, veggies and herbs also have edible flowers. Always triple check the safety of any flower before eating!
Daylilies. Hemerocallis species. Buds are used in Chinese stir fry, Petals in salad.
Nasturtium (flowers, young leaves and buds that may be pickled like capers) Let the plants die back in place. They will reseed and form a straw mulch.
Roses (yield petals for salads, sandwiches, syrups, desserts; rose hips for tea, syrups, jam)
Scarlet runner bean
Scented geranium

HERBS (most have edible flowers in addition to other uses)
Borage
Chili peppers, including tree chili
Cilantro
Garlic
Italian parsley
Lavender
Lemon balm
Lemon verbena. A drought tolerant shrub with delicious leaves for tea.
Mint. Some fear its vigorous, spreading roots, but we welcome it into drier areas as ground cover, autumn bee food and a source of fresh leaves for cooking and tea.
Mustard (young leaves can be stir fried, flowers are edible, plus seeds for making mustard)
Pineapple sage (leaves and flowers make delicious herbal tea)
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage

SHRUBS/Understory trees
Guava. Psidium Tropical shrubs native to Mexico, Central and South America that yield white, yellow or pink fruit. Not to be confused with Pineapple Guava (Feijoa) Psidium guajava (apple guava) is one tasty variety. Also try lemon guava and strawberry guava.

VEGGIES (there’s no way to name them all – it’s fun to experiment to see what likes the soil under and around your fruit trees. Our favorites are those that overwinter and/or reseed themselves)
Artichokes. Plant away from tree roots, in baskets as the gophers love them.
Brassicas like broccoli, kale, collard greens.
Chard.
Dandelions. Leaves are great in salads and so good for us. Small birds like the seed heads.
Fava beans and other beans.
New Zealand spinach.

VINES
We often forget about vertical space in the garden, but it’s nice to increase your yield by growing edible vines up fruit trees, on walls and over arbors, fences and hedges.
Grapes. Note: the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara has a separate list of recommended table and wine grapes for our area. Contact lbuzzell@aol.com for details
Passion Fruit. A garden member says “mine is simply rampant, productive and trouble-free; gets little to no supplemental water.” The juice can be used to make a spectacular salad dressing (served at Los Arroyos on Coast Village Road in their tropical salad).

MISCELLANEOUS
Bamboo. Use clumping instead of running kinds to avoid it taking over your garden. Bamboo shoots are a delicacy in Asia.
Pepino melon.
Sacrificial plants. In permaculture designs we often plant trees, shrubs and other plants that are nitrogen-accumulators, “nurse” plants or fruit-providers for animals that might otherwise eat our crops. When they have performed their function, we “chop and drop” them around our fruit trees as a nutritious mulch.
Yucca. We’ve read that yucca yields edible fruit and flower buds. Anyone have more info on this?

BENEFICIAL ATTRACTORS AND NUTRIENT ACCUMULATORS
Ceanothus. Shrubs and ground covers that fix nitrogen in the soil.
Salvia, ornamental. These are treasures in the Mediterranean forest garden.
Tagetes lemmonii. Golden color is lovely in fall.

GROUND COVER
Easy-to-grow succulents can provide temporary ground cover for delicate roots. They can act as a living mulch until other plants take over that function. This crop is often free, as gardeners who have ground-cover sedums always have too many and are glad to share.
Pelargoniums and lantana are other easy, colorful ground cover that can be removed as needed.
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#1 Home Permaculture book in the world for seven years!

Per PatternLiteracy.com, Toby Hemenway’s home site, Gaia’s Garden has been the best-selling permaculture book in the world for the last 7 years. The enlarged, updated 2nd edition is the winner of the 2011 Nautilus Gold Medal Award.

The first edition of Gaia’s Garden sparked the imagination of America’s home gardeners, introducing permaculture’s central message: Working with nature, not against her, results in more beautiful, abundant, and forgiving gardens. This extensively revised and expanded second edition broadens the reach and depth of the permaculture approach for urban and suburban growers.

Treat yourself and your land to this incredibly efficient way of gardening. Wisely use ALL the space available to you in a good way. Nature is the Master Gardener – follow her lead.

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In Santa Barbara area, today, this weekend, is the time to plant your bareroot strawberries you have had chilling in the fridge! If you just can’t do it now, do it before the 10th at the latest!  If you miss this window, wait until next spring, then plant transplants.

8 medium-sized strawberries contain 140% of the U.S. RDA for Vitamin C.  Bet our fresh organic ones have more!

Here is what some people think about bare root:  Bare root in simple terms, means a savings to the consumer of 40 to 60 percent, and in many cases a more vigorous specimen. With bare root planting, roots grow directly into native soil – the same soil they will remain in during the plant’s life-span. Hence, no transition, and no dissimilar soils. Containerized soil is sometimes too adverse for its to-be-planted environment. Roots may refuse to absorb moisture from surrounding soil. These adversities can cause death or slow root growth.  And they don’t use a plastic container.

However, most of the commercial literature online leans toward planting from ‘plugs.’  Advantages of plugs:  not exposed to plant pathogens, earlier fruits, need less water to get started, it’s not critical to get your plants in the ground the same day or ASAP.

It’s best to buy varieties that are known to do well here locally.  Our local nurseries carry those.  Planting time is critical. Studies by UC Ag Extension paid for by growers, have proved that berries planted between Nov 1 to 10 get winter chill at the precise moment in their growing schedule to trigger fruit  production rather than foliage.  When planted at the wrong time, they put out runners but little if any fruit.  Our local (Santa Barbara) growers plant Nov 1 – 5.  If that changes due to weather patterns, plant when they plant.

3 Types of Strawberries

Deciding on whether to plant June Bearing, Everbearing, or Day Neutral strawberries depends on your available space, size of preferred strawberries and how much work you want to put into the strawberries.

  • Everbearing (spring, summer, fall) and Day Neutral (unaffected by day length and will fruit whenever temperatures are high enough to maintain growth) are sweet. They will not need much space and both are great for plant hangers. If you choose to plant them in the garden, be prepared to spend time weeding and fertilizing the plants.  Everbearing:   Sequoia, medium, heavy producer   Day Neutral/Everbearing:  Seascape, large
  • June Bearing, mid June, strawberries produce a nice, large and sweet berry. Because they only produce for 2 to 3 weeks, there is not so much work to take care of them. You do, however, need space because of the many runners they produce.  They are classified into early, mid-season and late varieties.  Chandler, large, high yield, large quantities of small fruit later in season.  Short day, Camarosa is large. It can be picked when fully red though it isn’t ripe yet – good for commercial shipping, and still have a ‘long shelf life.’ This variety represents almost half of California’s current commercial acreage.  Short day, Oso Grande is a firm, large berry, with a steadier production period than Chandler.

Do not plant strawberries where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers or eggplant have been grown in the past four years, because these crops carry the root rot fungus Verticillium which also attacks strawberries.

Pine needles are perfect mulch for strawberries, since they like their soil slightly acidic.  The short needle type is easier to place among your plants if you didn’t lay it on before you planted.

Though strawberries like well manured and composted soil, no overfeeding!  You will get magnificent leaves, lots of runners, less or no fruit.  If you unknowingly make that mistake, water like crazy, maybe a good 45 minutes, 2, 3 times over the period of a week.  Rain and watering leach Nitrogen from the soil.

It is said to get the most berries, remove the flowers the first year, letting the plants get established.  The second year plants produce the most, third year production tapers off.  I don’t know anyone who removes the first year flowers!  It is just too tempting to simply eat the berries!   Commercial growers replace their plants each year.

And how many seeds does the average strawberry have?  200!  And can you plant them?  You betcha!  Strawberries are kinda like natural seedballs.  The easiest way to plant them is to just throw the bug-eaten or overripe ones where you think you would like a plant to grow and let them lay right there on the ground.  Nature takes over.  One day when you have forgotten all about it, there’s a strawberry plant!

Next week:  Herbs and Your Winter Veggies

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