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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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Garden Markers Personalized

Whether you make it or buy it, silly to sensible, it will be so appreciated! If you shop, Shop Green! Support your local businesses, nurseries and events as much as possible. Have fun, make new good friends!

Keep these lists handy for the holidays, Mother’s and Father’s Days, birthdays, Summer Solstice, any special occasion! It’s wonderful and rewarding to share for a good green cause!

Gifts From Your Garden, Heart to Heart!

Fresh holiday table veggies ie Sweet Potatoes!
A fresh gathered Bouquet Garni tied with a bright ribbon
Seeds! Grow transplants as gifts ~
Plants, with a bow on the container, a cut-and-come-again lettuce bowl
Canned or dehydrated favorites, dated and labeled
Colorful super tasty organic preserves make them want more!
Herbal seasonings, teas, dusting powders, salves
Herbal shampoo – sage darkens your hair, chamomile lightens
Herbal pillows, sachets
Selection of scented candles, lovely herbal soaps
Herbed vinegars & oils are simple to make, and beautiful! In white wine or rice vinegars:

  • Lavender is rose red
  • Nasturtium flowers release neon orange
  • Sage in flower & purple basil are magenta!

Classic spicy Orange Pomander balls
Lovely Winter Wreath, a fall dried bouquet

Special gift for a really busy person who wants to eat right! Fresh organic salad in a Mason jar? Yum!

Super delicious nutritious Mason Jar meals!

Gifts To Your Favorite Gardener with Love!

  • A Gift Certificate offering your precious time weeding, turning in amendments, planting edible flowers, offer to haul that straw bale – you must kneel down and do as you are told! Just kidding! But it could be a lot of fun….
  • Local services, like an hour of time on something that takes a little more doing than one person would like to do alone, or a consult with your local sustainable landscaper! Hey, it’s a win/win!  It’s sustainable and makes you all happy! Trifecta!
  • A Gift Certificate to a garden supply house, favorite nursery!
  • Garden supplies – Easy ready-made bags or some of your genuine homemade organic compost, worms or worm castings! Special potting mixes, fertilizers, compost. Straw Bales. A composter!
  • Catalogs for Organic Seeds – it’s soon to be ordering time!!!
  • Seeds for any SoCal season! Packets, or gather from your own garden! Put in pretty little jars – label and tie with a bright festive bow. Some may be used for seasoning, some for planting!
  • Get that pretty trellis they have been eyeing!
  • Garden tools – Fiskars pruning shears, a long snouted Dramm watering can? A garden tool apron, tool pail? Kneeling bench!
  • A fantastic Garden Basket
  • Fashionable garden garb – colorful muck boots, clogs, comfy knee pads, colorful gloves, a lovely hat!
  • Lovely resting chair with umbrella, seating area furniture. Ah…and garden plates and mugs.
  • That adorable scarecrow!
  • The perfect lightweight but strong workhorse wheelbarrow
  • Buy or build them a greenhouse!
  • Take them to that out-of-town nursery or fabulous botanic garden they always wanted to visit!
  • Send your friend to a green seminar or conference
  • Give a magazine/ezine subscription or some wished for books – cookbooks, historic gardens, how tos, California Master Gardener Handbook!
  • A garden club membership. Stand them the Community Garden fee!

So many rewarding options ~ and there are many more!

Oh, and don’t forget to leave your own garden shopping list lying about the house…. If someone tries to discourage you from buying something on the list, let them. Who knows what will show up with a bow on it?!

Garden love and support to all you givers and receivers! As Will Allen of Growing Power says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins. I agree. Let’s stay in touch.

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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 community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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Container Vegetable Living Gift - Lettuces Edible Flowers

What more wonderful than a living gift?!

Plant a planter box, a cut and come again lettuce bowl
Give her a growing tower, garden gear
Give her seedlings and seeds
Plant edible flowers for her that she will love
Offer her some of your time weeding, turning in amendments
Maybe she could use some of your homemade organic compost or worm castings
Pony up for the Community Garden fee!
Or the garden book she has been wanting….
That trip to the amazing garden she’s been wanting to see
Gift Certificate to a seed catalog company of her choice!

Special gift! Fresh organic salad in a Mason jar for busy Moms! Yum!

Super delicious nutritious Mason Jar meals!

A fresh gathered Bouquet Garni tied with a hearts ribbon
Bundles of fresh herbs she can hang and dry in her kitchen
Herbed oils and vinegars in pretty bottles
How about some easy-to-make cucumber night cream?!

Maybe ‘she’ is a Dad Mom! There are a lot of guy Moms out there, busy single dads who love to garden!

(Moms, do give big hints or leave your bucket list lying about!)

A Happy & Green Mother’s Day to all you loving people!

Mother's Day Garden Gifts

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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 community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

 

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Hose Clothes, Leopard!  Black Friday Nov 29, Gardeners' Green Friday!
No, no, no?!  Yes, yes, yes!  It’s actually hose clothes!  A sassy slip on cover, and per dirt couture, especially if you have dark furniture and steamy tropical plants, and want to put a bit of grrrrr in your garrrrden!  LOL!  Naturally, they are sold out.

Now, Treat your favorite Gardener!

Make herbal flavored oils, creams, candles, teas
Give gardening tools, bags of amendments
Give a gift certificate at your gardener’s favorite nursery
Get that trellis they have been eyeing!
Grow transplants or mature plants as gifts
Give an organic seed catalog with a gift certificate
Stand them the Community Garden fee
Make a holiday wreath, a fall dried bouquet
Offer some of your time and expertise
Give some digging or weeding time – you must kneel down and do as you are told!  Just kidding!
Offer to haul that straw bale
Take them to that out-of-town nursery or botanic garden they always wanted to visit!
Buy them a greenhouse!
Send your friend to a seminar or conference
Give a magazine subscription or some wished for books
Bless your loved one with spicy fashionable garden garb – boots, clogs, apron, garden tool carry belt, colorful gloves, a lovely hat!

Shop Green!  Support your local businesses and events as much as possible.  Have fun!

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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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Time to start compost for spring planting!   

Did you make rich fall soil?  If so, your bin and sheet composting is really paying off now!  If you have more compost available now, incorporate it with the soil in your new planting places, and plant another round!  Keep ‘em coming!  Now it is time to start the cycle again for your spring garden – start some more fat compost!  SOIL!  I’m always talking with you about soil because it’s the legs of your horse!  Can’t run without it!

When you restore, recondition soil, you can imagine how much the ground must be welcoming you, screaming up to you in its own way, how grateful it is to be so lovingly fed, organically to boot!!!  You are going to have wonderful soil, and very soon!  Just the act of planting adds life, the plant roots busting through, little creaturelets thriving!

There are so many ways to build wonderful soil!

  • Tuck kitchen trim in the top 6” of your soil, where the microbes and buglets are hard at work!
  • Make piles and fill bins with compost from kitchen trim, cuttings, leaves, straw for aeration.  Whack it up!  Smaller pieces, thinner layers decompose faster and fluffier.  Dry brown on the bottom, then up and up, alternating layers.  1 green wet, 2 dry brown, 1 green wet….
  • Sheet composting – build your compost in place, no moving later!  Lay down straw, cover with green and wet waste like kitchen trim, cover with straw.  That would be the simplest of all.  If you can, keep layering, up to 18” deep if you are starting raised beds, because you know that stuff is gonna sink down!  2 brown dry to 1 green wet is the formula.  Inoculate it with soil microorganisms by flinging a few handfuls of nearby soil onto it every couple of layers.  If you have them, put some red wriggler surface feeding worms in there.  They will chomp about and add their castings for free!  If you are seaside, chop up some seaweed for trace minerals!
  • Plant Nitrogen fixers – fava, peas, beans, clovers and other ground cover legumes.  At home plant Leucaena trees!  Not only do they fix N, and are drought tolerant, but the young pods are edible!  Be warned though, they grow FAST, and can be invasive – if you aren’t ready for that, like burning them for firewood, not a good choice.
  • Let your local livestock, goats, chickens, bunnies add their part!  Horse manure has more N than cow manure.  For excellent info and fun reading, check out the scoop on poop, Manure Matters! by Marion Owen, Co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul.

Margaret Frane, President of the California Rare Fruit Growers, reminds us, ‘FEED THE SOIL, AND THE PLANT!  When planting a garden, especially a fruit garden, don’t just focus on individual plants; remember the importance of looking after your soil.’  She further says, ‘…let the soil provide the nutrients. Don’t fertilize your plant; feed the soil and the soil will feed the plant. And for the most part, everything you need to feed your soil is already on your property!’

Frane says:  Trees benefit most from the nutrients available in their own leaves. Most leaves beat manure for mineral content; when incorporated into the soil, they add nutrients, improve aeration and soil structure and encourage earthworms. So don’t rake leaves up and throw them away! Leaves are not garbage, they are an important food for your soil!

Planting immediately and directly in your sheet composting, lasagna layers?  Of course!

Are you doing seeds? Ok, a little preparation is needed.  Time for a little potting soil.  It’s good to get the seedlings started – it has the water holding capacity they need – just like the little transplants you get at the nursery, which they feed, probably daily, kelp, fish emulsion mix, other concoctions.  After that, seedlings have to hit something with real nutrition in it, like a mix of compost and soil.  Most seeds are planted directly in soil, just like Mother Nature does the job.  That’s where they immediately get the most nutrition.  I would get a deep bowl, a bucket, put in ½ soil, then compost, mix it up.  Put the mix in the planting hole, make a little hole for the potting soil, and put your seeds in that.  No more potting soil than if you were filling up one of the little transplant containers.  Obviously, not a lot would be needed.  To keep the soil from falling through the lasagna layers below, you could line the hole with two or three sheets of newspaper, saturate them.  That will keep things where you want them until it all decomposes together, the newspaper, the lasagna.  It won’t hurt your drainage, and little roots will poke right through!  And you are only going to lightly sprinkle, water, your seeded areas, right?  You don’t want your seeds to wash away, get buried too deep or uncovered.  It’s a good thing to check seedlings after a rain.  Recover or rebury anyone who needs it.  If you are doing transplants, you just won’t need any potting soil.  Make your compost/soil mix and pop your cute little transplant right in there!

In the biggest sense, “We are part of the earth and it is part of us … What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.” — Chief Seattle, 1852

Take good care of yourself…and your soil.

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Chard is the bouquet of the Garden!  Whether it is all green, a white stemmed Fordhook Giant, or Bright Lights/Neon from white to neon pink, bright oranges and reds, brilliant yellow, it is glorious!  And it’s not just another pretty face, it’s a prodigious producer, Cut-&-Come-Again, and again, and again!  In our SoCal clime, it acts as a perennial, sometimes living for several venerable years!  Low calorie, it is packed with vitamins K, A, C, E, and B6.  Chard is also very good source of copper, calcium, phosphorus, and a good source of thiamin, zinc, niacin, folate and selenium!

Chard is a top producer per square foot!  It is a fast prolific crop maturing in only 55 days!  It tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes.  But it likes a rich sandy loam soil – well manured and composted with worm castings added.  It likes lots of consistent water, full sun, and plenty of space!  A healthy chard, will take a 2 to 3’ footprint, more if it is a Fordhook Giant!  At 28” tall, it makes a shadow, so plant accordingly!  Some varieties, like Fordhook, have crumpled leaves, lots of leaf per space, like curly leaf kale, lots of return per area used.  Others have a flatter leaf.  Rhubarb chard has a narrower midrib.

Chard seeds are actually a cluster of seeds (like beets) and will produce more than one plant, so thinning and/or micro greens is part of the story!  Spacing will determine the size of your plants.  Too crowded, shading each other, they will be smaller.  With full space, they will produce to feed an army!  If you are harvesting baby chard leaves on a regular basis, space them 2″-4″ apart, or 8″-10″ if you plan to harvest less often.  Generally, row planting chard is not your best choice because of leafminers.  See below….  Plant them here and there; interplant with stinky herbs!  Sow chard seeds ½” deep; germination will take 5-16 days.

Leafminers are the bane of chard, spinach and beets.  Plant so your neighboring plants leaves don’t touch each other.  This is NOT a plant to row crop.   Leafminers flies just lay eggs from one plant to the next.  Separate your plants into different areas, biodiversely; interplant with herbs.  They are so pretty I put them where they can be seen the most!  You know you have leafminers when you see their trails or brown patches on the leaves as the miners burrow between the leaf’s layers.  Remove those sections and badly infested leaves immediately.  Keep your chard harvested and well watered to keep it growing and producing fast, sometimes outgrowing the leafminers.  Give it plenty of worm castings both in the surrounding soil and on the surface.  Cover the surface with a thin layer of straw to keep the castings moist.  Some say soft fast growth is perfect habitat for the miners, but chard is meant to be a fast grower with plenty of water to keep it sweet!  So if you can’t eat it all, find a friend or two who would appreciate some and share your bounty!  Or remove plants until you have what you can keep up with.  Plant something else delicious in your new free space!

Details from U of Illinois Extension:  Spinach and Swiss chard leafminer flies are 1/2 inch long and gray with black bristles. This leaf miner lay eggs on the underside of the leaves side by side singly or in batches up to five.  One larva may feed on more than one leaf.  After feeding for about two weeks, the larvae drop from the leaves onto the ground where it pupates and overwinters in the soil as pupae. In spring, they appear from mid April to May and they cause serious damage compared to the other generations that appear later.  [The life cycle is only 2 weeks long, and they can have five to ten generations per year!  That’s why you immediately want to remove infected parts of your plant, to stop the cycle!]   Cornell Cooperative Extension

Slugs & snails are chard’s other not best friends.  Irregular holes in the leaves, that’s the clue.  Remove by hand, checking the undersides of leaves and down in the center area where new leaves are coming.  I chuck ’em where our crows gourmet on them.  Or use Sluggo or the cheaper store brand of the same stuff.

Harvest chard quickly, rinse, pack loosely, get it into the fridge.  Do not store with fruits, like apples, and vegetables that produce ethylene gas.

Let your most wonderful chard go to seed!  It will likely get as tall as you are!  Let the flowering clusters turn brown and hand harvest your anticipated number of seeds you would like, plus some extras in case, and some for giveaway or trade!  The seeds are viable for 4 to 5 years if you keep them cool and dry.

Chard is young-leaf tender in salads, mature-leaf tasty steamed and in stews, sautéed, and in stir fries.  Some people eat the leaf midrib, others cut it out, use it like celery, stuff and serve.  And there’s always chard lasagna….

6-Large Leaf Chard Lasagna 

Oil your baking pan
Lay in flat uncooked lasagna noodles to fit, cover bottom
Remove stems, lay in 3 unchopped chard leaves, more if your pan is deep enough
Sprinkle with chopped fresh basil leaves Sprinkle with chopped onion, garlic bits
Spread with flavorful cheese of your choice
Spread with zesty tomato/pizza sauce of your choice
Repeat.  Pile it high because the chard wilts down
Top with onion slices, tomato slices, or whatever pleases you
Sprinkle with Parmesan

Bake at 375 for 45 mins
Let cool for 20 mins, EAT!

If you don’t eat it all, freeze serving sizes

Instead of chard, you can use spinach, fine chopped kale, strips or slices of zucchini or eggplant!

Have a tasty day!

Next week, Garden Tools Specially for Women!

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