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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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California’s 2013 was the driest year on record in 119 years.

Beautiful Pineapple Tomato Heirloom is drought tolerant, suitable for grafting!
This beauty is Territorial Seed’s heirloom Pineapple tomato – drought resistant, indeterminate, suited to grafting.

Drought won’t stop us from growing tomatoes, but we do need to adjust some of our veggie variety plant choices.

Herbs by nature are naturally drought tolerant since most of them are Mediterranean.

Veggies are generally not naturally drought tolerant. Most are seasonally advantageous short rooted annuals, not deep rooted perennials. They grow quickly, need water to do that. Period. To produce fruitfully, they need to be able to make generous leaves to support photosynthesis to produce generous fruits and lots of them. Yet there are more heat loving varieties that do thrive in dry areas.

Some of us very coastal gardeners will be quite happy for the heat! It will mean we can grow plants we couldn’t before, like melons, pumpkins, large fruited eggplants, okra, that gardeners further inland, in the hot foothills, or south of us have been enjoying all along! There are even drought tolerant varieties of melons like Blacktail Mountain.

One drought solution is to grow only super prolific plants for the most return per square foot, especially the drought and heat tolerant varieties! These 5 are a great backbone-of-your-garden veggies!

  • Indeterminate tomatoes produce all summer long from one plant! No need to replant determinates costing periods of time with no production and additional water usage. Of the heirlooms, Pineapple, per Bountiful Gardens is the most cold-hardy and drought resistant large tomato they have seen.
  • Pole beans!  Same issue with bush beans as with determinate toms. No need to replant bush beans costing periods of time with no production and additional water usage. Pole beans produce all summer long. Try Rattlesnake bean, aka Preacher Bean. 100-degree heat doesn’t stop them from producing lots of beans.
  • Zucchini  Dark Star, produces in only 50 days. It is the result of organic growers working together to grow an open-pollinated heirloom-type zucchini that could outdo the modern hybrids. The result is a zucchini with great performance in cooler soils and marginal conditions, along with a big root system that goes deep to find water and resist drought.
  • Giant Fordhook chard, BountifulGardens.org says it is tolerant of drought and heat in our research garden.
  • Kale! Curly leaf is super productive per its footprint! In our warmer weather Curly leaf kale, a favorite, is more susceptible to aphids, and those little devils are hard to get out of those convoluted leaves. One thing you can do is pick more frequently to keep new growth coming fast. And it will be a must to do frequent routine pest checks; keep flushing them away.1000 Thousand Head Kale Multiple Growth Points!But how about a heat tolerant flat leaf kale like Thousand Headed Kale?! It has multiple growth points instead of just one, so it puts out a lot more foliage and tender shoots. Huge plants make lots of food. A must for self-sufficiency.

    Edible Perennial Tree Collards from AfricaAnother super Brassica is perennial Tree Collards! From Africa to Los Angeles, TCs grow 6′ tall average, but up to 11 feet, live 4 to 5 years in continuous production! No lost harvest time because of needing to be replanted. TCs are high in Calcium, and unlike spinach, chard, and beet greens, collard greens don’t contain high amounts of oxalic acid, an anti-nutrient that can deplete your body of important minerals like Iron.

Check out Bountiful Gardens! They specialize in heirloom, untreated, open pollinated varieties for sustainable agriculture. In the drought tolerant section they say, ‘Please note that this does not mean that the crops listed don’t need some watering – these are crops that will grow with less water and all of these crops will need moisture to get established.’

Prickly Pear - Zapatas, have edible pads and fruits!Try new plants from arid countries. Maria Arroyo at our Santa Barbara Community Gardens office recommends a traditional local plant, zapatas, Prickly Pear! Both pads and the fruits are edible! The fruits, tunas, are used in brilliantly colored healthy anti inflammatory juices, uh, margaritas, a jelly candy, and jams. The pads, nopales, are used various ways. From Phoenix Arizona, here is Kymm Wills’ easy Nopales Recipe!  When & how to harvest those dangerous nopales! Or, check out your local Mexican market.

I have been thinking of the Santa Barbara Mission traditional La Huerta corn. The cobs are quite small. That is likely what happens generation after generation when there is little water. Bet the New Mexico/desert varieties have small production as well. In some instances we will need to adjust our expectations about how much yield to expect when we use less water. We may need more land to plant more for the same previous yield.

This is time to check out southern university sites in states like Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, maybe Florida, hot states, for their successful heat loving varieties. Please report in to me your location and ones you try that prove successful. Please save those seeds!

Our planting techniques need rethinking. One simple garden practice to change is to plant IN furrows and basins/wells, like Zuni waffle gardens, would keep water right and only where it is needed rather than randomly watering an entire area. A more refined furrow technique is to make a deep furrow, flatten the top, about 8 to 10″ wide, and make a mini furrow there on top! With gentle and careful hand watering, your water stays right at the top where seedling roots need it, rather than running off and eroding the sides of the furrow, lost to evaporation. The bottom of your furrow stays dry and you footwear doesn’t get muddy! Later on, as plants get bigger, roots go deeper, you can water in the main furrows.

Soil amended with compost, worm castings or Sphagnum peat moss has greater water holding capacity.

Grey-water is king. Think how much an apt building would make. Even a 10-minute shower with a low flow shower-head at 2.5 gallons per minute is 25 gallons of water used per shower.
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FYI  Feb 19 I attended the Farm Policy presentation. Here are some notes I took:
  • Santa Barbara County is #12 in California agriculture production.
  • Broccoli is our #2 crop (strawberries #1), 20% of US production! Most of what is exported goes to Japan, cut in special forms to their taste!
  • Farm production is up to 3B/yr.
  • We could be in a 500 year drought. Farming as we know it will be changing. Wells are drying up.
  • Nutrition is the base cause of noncommunicable diseases, 50+% overweight, 8% diabetes, our life expectancy now declining.
  • Amazingly, we import 95% of our fruits and vegetables. Yes, you read that right. Suggestions – increase local food distribution, grow more at home!
  • Mexico has the highest obesity rate in the world.
  • Europe now has a 50% reduction of meat and dairy use.
  • The Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue gleans a 2nd harvest of unused produce, ie misshapen, too small, from farms, farmers’ markets, for seniors, youth, and others in need. Wonderful story!

Which Landscape Plants to Save? TREES! 

Trees are long term plants, and they make shade. Shade means cooler, less evaporation, and though trees use water, they also preserve water.

I like Joan S Bolton’s thorough and thoughtful, informative professional post. HOW TO KEEP YOUR TREES HEALTHY DURING THE DROUGHT

Here are some more details at SB County Agriculture & Weights & Measures Newlsetter. See Page 4, Our Oaks are Thirsty by Heather Scheck.

Stay strong in these challenging times. Enjoy the changes. To your good health and happiness!


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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