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Posts Tagged ‘grow’

Disease Tomato Fusarium Wilt Fungi Resistant

You may have had your own tears, and understandably so. Late Blight of potatoes and tomatoes was the disease responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century. Spores are spread by rain/watering splash, insects, and wind, and through our hands and tools and through these mediums they can travel distances. Spore spread is most rapid during conditions of high moisture, marine layer days, and moderate temperatures, 60°-80°F.  Once established, the fungi can over-winter in your garden soil, on debris and weeds.

Fusarium Wilt is commonly found throughout the United States, is a soil-borne pathogen. Plants susceptible to Fusarium Wilt are cucumber, potato, tomato, eggplant, pepper and beans. Fusarium wilt causes foliage to yellow, brown spots on leaves, leaves to curve the length of the leaf, wilt, then turn brown and die. Your plants become stunted because they can no longer function properly.

The list of plants susceptible to Verticillium Wilt is impressive. You might have thought it was just tomatoes, but look: Peanut, Horseradish, Rutabaga, Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Pepper, Safflower, Hemp, Watermelon, citron Cantaloupe, honey dew, Pumpkin, Cotton, Okra, Mint, Radish, Rhubarb, Castor bean, Eggplant, Potato, Spinach, New Zealand spinach, SaIsify, Yard-long bean, Cowpea! Cucumber, tomatoes and strawberries are particularly susceptible.

Verticillium wilt is most active in humid climates. Cool nights and moist conditions, the kind that favors peas, tend to encourage it. It lives in the soil, entering plants through the roots and is drawn up to stems, leaves and fruit through water uptake. At the same time, it is robbing the plant of moisture. The first symptoms of verticillium are usually seen in wilting, yellowing and curling leaves. Discolored streaks are often seen in strawberry stems and runners, and in berry canes.

To determine if a plant is infected with bacterial wilt, press together two freshly cut sections of a stem and slowly pull them apart. If a “stringy” sap (bacterial growth and associated resins) extends between the cut ends, the plant has bacterial wilt.

Especially Tomatoes! And of those, Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts. Instead, get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In these drought conditions, consider getting only indeterminates. In the Mother Earth News tomato survey, they found gardeners chose heirlooms over hybrids if their soil is wilt/blight free. Otherwise, the longer the gardener has gardened, they more they chose wilt resistant toms if their soil has the fungi.

Western striped cucumber beetles are deadly to cucumbers. They are referred to as ‘plant-wounding insects’ and also transmit bacterial wilt. Feeding on blossoms and leaves, they carry the wilts and also spread it among squash, melons, and pumpkins. Cucumber beetles also vector viruses such as cucumber mosaic but do so much less efficiently than aphids. Spiders are one of the predators that eat the beetles. Let those spiders live! A tachinid fly and a braconid parasitoid wasp parasitize them. Grow plenty of flowers for these beneficial insects!

Radish have become my new religion! Radish repel the beetles! You do have to plant your radish ahead of installing your transplants or have it up before the seedlings start growing from seed. Grow your radish companion along where you will let the vine travel. The part of the vine growing up over an arch won’t be helped, so if you have space and infected soil, you may opt to keep your vines on the ground. Plant enough radish so you can eat some, but let  some grow out so the whole plant is big and protecting your cukes and other vines. Broccoli also repel cucumber beetles. Grow cucumbers under over summering Broccoli. Put in plenty of straw mulch to keep the brocs cool and the cukes off the ground. Whenever you see these beetles don’t fall for how cute they are. Squish.
Transplant rather than direct seed! Tiny seedlings are most susceptible to cucumber beetle feeding damage and to bacterial wilts.

Washington State Extension says:

Apply straw mulch! Straw mulch can help reduce cucumber beetle problems in at least 3 different ways. First, mulch might directly slow beetle movement from one plant to another. Second, the mulch provides refuge for wolf spiders and other predators from hot and dry conditions, helping predator conservation. Third, the straw mulch is food for springtails and other insects that eat decaying plant material; these decomposers are important non-pest prey for spiders, helping to further build spider numbers. It is important that straw mulch does not contain weed seeds and to make certain that it does not contain herbicide residues which can take years to fully break down.

Cucumber Beetles have their preferences! Bitter is their favorite. Not interested in watermelon at all, but watermelon does get the wilts, just from other sources! Anyway, see more details and rankings of varieties of different kinds of veggies. Varieties make a huge difference.

Planting and growing tips! 

  • Regarding soil fungi like Fusarium and Verticillium wilts/fungi, how you care for cukes and toms is super important! Cucumbers are even more susceptible than tomatoes to the wilts fungi, die pretty instantly, in about 3 days, if they get infected. So when you plant them, treat them similarly to your tomatoes if you have wilts fungi in your garden.
  • Plant cukes and toms on a raised mound/basin with the bottom of the basin above the regular soil level. This allows good drainage. Top that with a 1/2″ of compost, cover that with 1″ of straw to let in air and sun to dry the soil. Keep the LEAVES OFF THE GROUND from the get go. Leaves touching the soil is the main way toms get the wilts. Remove lower leaves that might touch soil when weighted with dew or water from watering. Keep a regular watch for new foliage at ground level and remove it. AVOID WATER SPLASH when watering at ground level. The fuzzy damp leaves of toms and eggplant are perfect fungi habitat.
  • When they are about a foot tall, water neighboring plants, but not your toms.  That keeps the soil drier near your plant, so the fungi can’t thrive there. Since toms have a deep taproot, they will get plenty of water from what you give neighboring plants. Water near them but not at them or on them. In fact there are farmers who dry farm tomatoes! Read more!
  • If you are comingling beans with cukes lower along a trellis, plant the beans between the raised cucumber mounds. Beans don’t get the wilts, but love the water, so lower is good. They are a big plant with continuous high production and short roots that need to be kept moist. Mulch ASAP with straw under cukes to keep leaves and fruit off the ground, and out of the insect zone. Put a stake in the middle of the basin so you know where to water when the leaves get dense. Water gently below the leaves at ground level, no splash. Keep those leaves dry. When your plant gets bigger you can remove lower leaves.
  • Since the fungi are airborne as well as soil borne, plant in different places as far apart as possible. Plant so leaves of one plant are not touching another plant. Remove sickened foliage ASAP to reduce fungi population and slow spreading. Prune on hot, dry, unwindy days, mid morning to midday, after dew has dried, so cuts can dry and heal with less chance of airborne fungi getting into them. Try not to touch the cuts after they have been made.  Use clippers for a clean cut. Wash your tools and hands often.

    Trimming away infected leaves is a sad and tedious process. It’s practically impossible not to spread the fungi as your touch leaves that have it and try to remove them without touching any other stems or leaves. The very cuts you make are open to fungi. Then, naked stems are susceptible to sunscald – see image below. You come back a few days later and more leaves are wilting. The disease is internal, has spread out to the leaves. At some point soon after that, a lot of gardeners pull the suffering plant. It’s done. Not good to leave it and let windborne fungi infect neighboring plants.

    Do not compost infected plants or trimmings. The fungi has amazing survival ability and being soil borne, it is right at home in your compost. Put it in the trash, carefully bagged so as not to spread or leave any trace. Wash your hands. If you can, burn the infected plants.

  • The wilts can’t be stopped. Sooner or later the plant leaves curl lengthwise, get the dark spots, turn brown then blacken and hang sadly. Plants can produce but the fruit doesn’t ripen properly if it does produce. It’s agonizing to watch. Sometimes they somewhat recover later in the season after looking totally dead. You had stopped watering them, summer heat dries the soil and kills enough of the fungi for the plant to be able to try again. But production is so little and fruits don’t ripen properly. It’s better to pull it, reduce the fungi population that can blow to other plants. The safest bet is to remove the entire plant. Get all of the root as best you can. The root is where the wilt’s mycelium first congregate and infected roots left in the ground will start the whole process again. Replant in a different place if possible.

Tomatoes pruned to remove diseased leaves of Fusarium and Verticilllium wilts are susceptible to sunscald.Preventive Foliar Mix that can help! 

Apply to newly installed transplants, and during the season every 2 to 3 weeks, so new growth will be covered. Wet both the undersides and tops of leaves. Per gallon add:

  • One dissolved regular strength aspirin
  • 1/4 Cup nonfat powdered milk
  • Heaping tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon mild liquid dish soap

After the tomatoes set, add some nitrogen. Boost your plant’s immune system with some worm castings at the same time. You don’t want to add too much nitrogen to your tomatoes before they set fruit. Too much nitrogen before fruiting leads to more leaves and less fruit. Add N only once. Stressed plants are the most susceptible to the fungus. Water regularly and deeply. Use well-balanced, slow-release organic fertilizers that aren’t overly heavy with nitrogen. A healthy plant tends to fight off the spores.

Blight can also be transmitted through seed, so NO seed saving from infected plants. Fresh seeds and resistant varieties are in order.

Remove volunteer tomatoes and potatoes. If they are a not a resistant or tolerant variety, when they get sick, they increase the chances of your resistant varieties having to fight harder to live, and your good dear plants may not win the battle.

Air circulation, plant staking and no touching. Air circulation allows the wind to blow through your plants. This allows the timely drying of leaves and it helps break up micro climates. If your plants are packed too tightly together, they themselves become barriers to drying. Staking your plants to poles and using cages helps them grow upright and it creates gaps between the tomato plants. You want wind and sun to reach through and around your plants. Moisture is needed for fungi to spread. Dry is good. Tomatoes should be planted with enough distance that only minor pruning is needed to keep them from touching each other.

Spray proactively. Wettable sulfur works. It is acceptable as an organic pesticide/fungicide, is a broad spectrum poison, follow the precautions. It creates an environment on the leaves the spores don’t like. The key to spraying with wettable sulfur is to do it weekly BEFORE signs of the disease shows. Other products also help stop the spread. Whatever you select, the key is to spray early and regularly.

At the end of the season remove all infected debris, don’t compost. Don’t leave dead tomato, eggplant or peppers in the garden to spend the winter. Pull weeds because spores can over-winter on weed hosts. Many weeds, including dandelions and lambsquarters, are known to host verticillium wilt. During our winter season, turn your soil about 10 inches deep. Let the soil dry and the fungi die. Burying the spores helps remove them, it disturbs cucumber beetle eggs and exposes snail eggs to die!

If you have space, crop rotation is an important tool in fighting wilt. If you’ve had trouble with wilt, don’t plant potatoes, eggplant, or other solanaceous vegetables where any of them have grown for at least four years.

Practice prevention, be vigilant. If you don’t have wilts in your soil you are so blessed! 

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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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Broccoli, the Queen of Brassicas! Rancheria Community Garden Dec 2016

Radiant Calabrese Broccoli, Rancheria Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA Dec 2016!

Broccoli may be the most nutritious of all the cole crops, which are among the most nutritious of all vegetables. Researchers have reported that cruciferous vegetables contain potent natural anti-cancer agents if eaten rawThese nutrients typically are more concentrated in flower buds than in leaves, and that makes broccoli and cauliflower better sources of vitamins and nutrients than cole crops in which only the leaves are eaten. The anti-cancer properties of these vegetables are so well established that the American Cancer Society recommends that Americans increase their intake of broccoli and other cole crops.

Recent studies have shown that broccoli sprouts may be even higher in important antioxidants than the mature broccoli heads. Other research has suggested that the compounds in broccoli and other Brassicas can protect the eyes against macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older people. If you choose to eat broccoli leaves, you will find that there is significantly more vitamin A (16,000 IU per 100 grams) versus flower clusters – the heads (3,000 IU per 100 grams) or the stalks (400 IU per 100 grams).

They are also high in vitamin C, which may protect against atherosclerosis.  Four ounces of RAW broccoli contains twice the vitamin C in an equivalent amount of reconstituted orange juice. Cooking halves the amount of this vitamin.

Vegetarians rely heavily on broccoli because it’s high in calcium.

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, English HeirloomVARIETIES

Broccoli varieties vary considerably, tall, short, more heat tolerant or cold tolerant, have small heads, large heads, some make tons of side shoots, others less! For smaller heads, grow quick maturing varieties. They come in Green or purple! Purples turn green or blue when cooked. At left is an Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, a beautiful English Heirloom producing like crazy!

Besides regular brocs, there are fancies like Romanesco that grows in a spiral! It’s taste is mild and more like cauliflower than broccoli. Sprouting broccoli has a larger number of heads with many thin stalks. Broccoli Raab, aka Rapini, is fast-growing, also known as turnip broccoli, forms multiple small heads and tends to branch out.

Some favorite varieties:

DeCicco 48-65 days – Italian heirloom, bountiful side shoots. Produces a good fall crop, considered a spring variety.  Early, so smaller main heads.
Packman 53 days – early hybrid, 9” head! Excellent side-shoot production.
Green Comet 55 days – early; hybrid, 6” diameter head, very tolerant of diseases and weather stress. Heat tolerant.
Nutribud 55-70 days – is unusually high in free glutamine which is one of the building blocks of protein, a primary energy source of the brain and a major healing nutrient! Purple broccoli, in addition to this, contains anthocyanins which give it its colour. These have antioxidant effects, which are thought to lower the risk of some cancers and maintain a healthy urinary tract as well.
Cruiser 58 days – tolerant of dry conditions
Calabrese 58-90 days – Italian, large heads, many side shoots. Loves cool weather. Disease resistant.
Green Goliath 60 days – heavy producer, tolerant of extremes. Prefers cool weather, considered a spring variety.
Waltham 29  85 days – medium heads, late, cold resistant, prefers fall weather but has tolerance for late summer heat.

Broccoli is notorious for uneven maturity, so you will often see a range of days to maturity, like Calabrese above. So don’t expect clockwork. The advantage is they don’t come in all at once and you have table supply for an extended period, especially if you plant different varieties at the same time. After the main head is harvested, you will have an abundant supply of side shoots which will further extend your harvest time. Some varieties even produce mini side shoots at the same time as the main head!

Companion Plants Broccoli Lettuce repel Cabbage MothTasty image from GrowVeg!

COMPANIONS

Plant Lettuce amongst the Brassicas to repel cabbage moths. In hot summer, big brocs shelter and shade delicate lettuces. When it isn’t hot, put smaller companions on the sunny side of your brocs. Cut lower foliage off so they get sun. Mint nearby deters cabbage moths from laying eggs. Since mint is invasive, plant it in containers.

Cilantro makes broccoli grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!

To deter pests plant Onion family, plant Chamomile, Aromatic herbs, especially Catmint, Hyssop, Mint, Dill, Sage, Thyme, Lavender, Lemon Balm. Plant your herbs in containers so they can be moved around during the year to help specific seasonal plants.

Generally brocs are happy with Basil, Beans, Beets, Celery, Chard, Cucumber, Dill, Garlic, Lettuce, Marigold, Mint, Nasturtium, Onion, Potato,  Radish, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Tomato

Not happy with Tomatoes?, strawberry, lettuce?!, bush & pole beans.

In summer, plant cucumbers under them to reduce the attraction of striped cucumber beetles to the cukes.

Radish reduces green peach aphids.

Be advised! Dying parts of the Brassica family of plants produce a poison that prevents the seeds of some plants from growing.  Plants with small seeds, such as lettuce, are especially affected by the Brassica poison, so plant lettuces from transplants under them. A professor at the University of Connecticut says Brassica plants should be removed from the soil after they have produced their crop.

PLANTING

Brocs prefer full sun, though partial shade helps prevent bolting, but if they don’t get enough sun they will just grow tall. More sun helps make a tougher plant less attractive to aphids.

Broccoli plants will grow in almost any soil but prefer a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimum growth. A pH within this range will discourage clubroot disease and maximize nutrient availability. Well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter are ideal for broccoli plants and especially early plantings of broccoli. They LOVE recently manured ground.

If you will be planting by seed, per Cornell, best germination temperature is 45 F to 85 F, but will germinate at soil temps as low as 40 F.

Though those are best temps, in SoCal, if there are no Bagrada Bugs, fall plantings are started late July. While there is little space for big winter plants, small nursery patches can be planted. Leave enough room between seedlings so you can get your trowel in to lift them out to transplant later when space becomes available. If seeds and nurseries aren’t your thing, wait until your local nursery has transplants! If we aren’t having a heatwave, late August they might start trickling in. Labor Day weekend is a favorite planting time for some gardeners. October is just fine too!

Successive plantings may be done all winter long. If brocs are a favorite, the last round is usually planted in January because spring brings the interest in summer plants and we need room for them! We need space to amend soil for the next plantings, and time to let it settle and for the soil organisms to establish and flourish. The weather shifts, our body shifts with the seasons and we are looking forward to those summer treats again!

Seedlings should be 8″-10″ apart with 30″-36″ between the rows. Broccoli yields and the size of broccoli heads are affected by plant spacing. The tighter the spacing the better the yields, but the broccoli heads will be smaller. If you intend to keep your plants for side shoots, plant taller varieties to the northmost so they won’t shade shorter summer plants you will plant later on. Plant for plenty of air circulation to help avoid mildew.

The number of plants you choose to grow depends on your needs. If Broccoli is a staple for you, plant plenty so after the main heads are taken, you will get enough side shoots. When you need space for summer crops, and as other crops come in, you may decide to keep only 1 or 2 plants for side shoots to garnish your summer salads.

Cool weather is essential once the flower heads start to form. It keeps growth steady.

MAINTENANCE, IRRIGATION/MULCH

For year ’round growers, mulch early in spring to keep the ground cool and moist as well as reduce weed competition. In cool moist areas, forget the mulch. It brings slugs.

An even moisture supply is needed for broccoli transplants to become well established and to produce good heads. Never let the seedbed dry out. In sandy soils this may require two to three waterings per day. When they get up to about a foot tall, lay back on the water so the leaves aren’t too soft, attract aphids.

Compost/Fertilizer Put a ring of granular nitrogen around cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants for bigger heads.

The trick to producing excellent broccoli heads is to keep the broccoli plants growing at a steady pace. Top-dress the plants with compost or manure tea; or side-dress with blood-meal or fish emulsion; and water deeply. Repeat this process every 3-4 weeks until just before harvest.

PESTS & DISEASES

Pests

Research shows there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together! The plants mature at different rates. Aphids usually mean too soft a plant. Less feeding, less water. Immediately check curled leaves. Spray them away with a vigorous stream of water every day until gone, taking special care where new leaves are forming. Check the undersides of the leaves too. If the aphids have infested side shoots, remove the shoots. Some recommend sprinkling cinnamon on the ground to dissuade the ants that tend the aphids.

Cutworms, Flea Beetles, and Diamond Back Moth.

The nemesis is the green looper! This cabbage caterpillar makes your plants holey faster than thou can believe! Get Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis. It is sold in nurseries as Thuricide, Dipel, Bactus, Biological Worm Control, Leptox, SOK, Novabac or Tribacture.

Diseases

Club Root, Black Rot, Black Leg, Wirestem, Alternaria Leaf Spot, and Downy Mildew

Immediately when you plant your transplants, treat for mildew. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution.

Small or no heads? Weather can be the culprit. Per Bonnie Plants, “If transplants sit exposed to cold below 40 degrees for a week or two, the chilling injury triggers heads to form way too early.” A small head on a small plant means you won’t get a large head. A head may not form If the growing tip is injured by rough handling, insects or weather. Your broc is considered to have gone ‘blind.’ If you have enough growing season time left, start over with a transplant if possible.

HARVEST

Potentially you have five kinds of harvests! Leaves, heads, side shoots, flowers, seeds! Leaves are edible, same as collards!

The center head produced by broccoli is always the largest. Harvest the main head while the buds are tight!  Broccoli heads should not have any yellow petals. Cut about 5” down the stem so fat side branches and larger side shoots will form. Cut at an angle so water will run off, not settle in the center and rot the central stalk.

Side heads will develop rapidly in some varieties after the main head has been harvested, some even before! Harvesting of the broccoli side heads may continue for several weeks or all summer! Side shoot heads are 1 to 3″ in diameter. Sidedressing with fertilizer can increase yields and size of these sprout shoots.

Broccoli is highly perishable. The respiration rate of freshly harvested broccoli is very high. Harvest it last, and get it into the fridge asap before it goes limp! Broccoli should not be stored with apples or pears, which produce substantial quantities of ethylene, because this gas accelerates yellowing of the buds. Freeze what you won’t use right away.

If you didn’t harvest your side shoots and your broccoli has gone to flower, harvest the flowers and sprinkle them over your salad, toss them in your stir fry for a little peppery flavor! Hold the stalk with one hand, zip your other hand along the stalk to gather the beautiful flowers! Clip off stalks you don’t need and you will likely get more side shoots!

Broccoli Seed SaveSAVING SEEDS

All varieties in this large species will cross with each other. Separate different varieties at least 1000 feet for satisfactory results or at least 1 mile for purity. Caging with introduced pollinators or alternate day caging is also recommended in small gardens. Because Brassicas are biennial, two year plants, plants to be left for seed production, if in cold climates, should be mulched in the fall or carefully dug, trimmed and stored for the winter in a humid area with temperatures between 35-40° F. In SoCal they can be left in the ground to overwinter. Flowering plants can reach 4′ in height and need at least 2′ to 3′ spacing, depending on the size of the variety, for good seed production.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kohlrabi grown for seed should not be trimmed for consumption. Brussels sprouts, collards and kale can be lightly trimmed for eating without affecting quality seed production. If small amounts of seeds are wanted, allow the fine little pods to dry to a light brown color before picking and opening by hand. Lower pods dry first followed by those progressively higher on the plant. Watch daily to get them before the birds do, or cover the plant with bird netting! For larger amounts of seeds pull the entire plant after a majority of pods have dried. Green pods rarely produce viable seeds even if allowed to dry after the plant is pulled.

Crush unopened pods in a cloth bag with a mallet or by walking on them. Chaff can be winnowed. Remove the seeds so no moisture will remain to rot them.

Viability  2 – 3 years, but up to 5 years in good cool and dry storage conditions.

CULINARY TREATS!

Broccoli is a popular raw hors d’œuvre vegetable for good reason! That is when it is most nutritious! Light and quick steaming is second best.

All Brassica leaves can be eaten the same as collard leaves! Steamed over rice, or toss in a wok with oil, sprinkled with soy sauce or a sauce of your choice. Dr. Amy Simmone, University of Florida Food Safety Specialist and native of Thailand, states that in her country broccoli leaves are stir-fried or sautéed with garlic and oyster sauce and served with rice. She says that broccoli leaves taste a bit like young tender collard greens.

Use to top pastas or even pizzas! Broccoli along with almonds makes a delish creamy soup. Cheese and Broccoli Quiche!

Broccoli Bright Beautiful Edible FlowersThe top portion of broccoli is actually flower buds. Given time each will burst into a bright beautiful yellow flower, which is why they are called florets. The small yellow edible flowers have a mild spiciness, mild broccoli flavor. They are quite pretty and terrific sprinkled on salads, and are delicious in a stir-fry or steamer.

Tarladalal of India says: Combine broccoli, baby corn, spinach and other vegetables of your choice, cook in a thick creamy white sauce or red sauce. Pour in a baking dish, garnish with cheese and bake to make au gratins. You can also use as lasagna sheets in this recipe.

Broccoli has been with us in the US since 1923, when two Italian brothers planted the first crop near San Jose, California. John Evans, of Palmer, Alaska, holds the 1993 world’s record for his 35 lb (no typo) broc!  He uses organic methods, including mycorrhizal fungi!  And, yes, moose eat broccoli!

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

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

Read Full Post »

Vermicomposting Workshop Vancouver

Since 1990, City Farmer and the City of Vancouver have held worm composting workshops for City of Vancouver residents who live in apartments. For $25 participants get a worm bin, 500 worms (1 lb), Mary Appelhof’s book “Worms Eat My Garbage”, a trowel, bedding and a one-hour class. Now that’s a deal!

Worm Castings are true BLACK GOLD to your garden soil, and high quality store-bought castings are just about as expensive! For good reasons. Worm castings are literally living!  Worm castings host ten to twenty times as much microbial activity than plain soil! They cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits and vegetables are produced. Castings contain 5 times the available nitrogen, 7 times the available potash and 1 1/2 times more calcium than that found in 12″ of topsoil. These nutrients are also water-soluble and immediately available to the plant. Most potting soils have a nutrient life for 2 to 5 days, where worm castings will last up to 6 times as long.

Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

The right kind of worms are RED WIGGLERS! They forage on debris at the surface. They are smaller than earthworms that live IN the earth. Fishermen use them for bait. Ask your fellow gardeners to give you a handful to get started, go to the bait shack, ask at the farmers market, or support your local organic worm dealer! The little guys live 1 to 2 years. My clew (colony) has been going strong for 15 years now.

Worms are easy to raise or you can use a complex system. You can start them anytime, indoors or out depending on temps. Here in SoCal Santa Barbara mine live outside all year in full sun, brief freezes. They are more active when they are warmer. Soy inked newspaper is often used for bedding to start a clew. Worms are 90% water, so keep the bedding moist. My worms get all the moisture they need from the juicy kitchen bits I feed them and I cover them with their black plastic blankie inside the container to keep them moist! If your bin is stinky, you may be overfeeding or watering too much. Maybe increase the size of the air openings or put your bin where there is more circulation, or out of the shade into a sunny area.

Though you can start your worms anytime, two good times to start them are January and July. January will give you a well established clew and supply of castings for spring plantings starting in SoCal March. July gives a good supply for September, October fall plantings.

Vermicomposting Easy Bin Children Worms

Housing! This bin is great for at home gardeners or children’s school projects! The worms are safe from predators, access is easy, any liquid, leachate, worm tea, drains into the lid below. I use a longer bin about the same height.

Since Red Wigglers, Eisenia Foetida, are surface foragers, these worms need width, not depth. Mine live in a low 4′ by 2′ opaque dark grey storage container. I put holes in the bottom to allow the leachate to drain out and from time to time I move the bin to another location to enrich the soil there, each area getting some of that good stuff! I put holes about 6 to 8″ apart along the sides near the top. The wormies get air flow and on hot days hot air vents out. Inside the container I cover them with a large black plastic bag to keep it moist and dark for them. They feed all the way to the top because they feel safe in the dark where no birds can see them!

I do have a shaped-to-the-base piece of 1/4″ hardware cloth, a wire mesh, around the bottom of my box to prevent predator pests like mice or rats from gnawing into the holes in the bottom of the box. Worms are gourmet for them! Sprinkle cinnamon about if you have ants.

How to Start! Select your container or system.

  • If you choose a container, get one made of opaque material, a dark color if it is available. Worms like dark, just like under the leaves, in the topsoil, in nature. Make 1/4″ or less diameter holes in the bottom and near the top of the sides or as needed. If you put holes in the container lid, rainwater will go in, perhaps flooding your worms. A hot stove flame heated very large screwdriver blade is quick and perfect for making holes in plastic containers. Push the screwdriver in and twist. If your container will be indoors, you will need a tray underneath to collect drippings.
  • Put in 4 to 6″ of moist shredded soy ink newspaper bedding, no bleached office papers. Soak the paper overnight, then wring it out so it is moist like a wrung out sponge, fluff it up. Add some leaves if you have them, and what kitchen trim you might have been saving. If the kitchen stuff is a little funky that’s best because your worms feed on bacteria!
  • Add your worms!
  • Feed your worms slowly at first. As your worms multiply, give them more chow. Bury food scraps to keep fruit flies away.
  • Your worms want dark and moist. Cover them with cardboard or another material so they will feed to the top. I tuck them in with a large black plastic garbage bag to keep them moist.
  • Mist the paper as needed to keep it from drying out.

They like decomposing kitchen waste with the exceptions of spicy, salty, acidic citrus, sulfuric onion, dairy makes the bin smell, oils and meats (too tough). No junk food. Coffee filters, grounds in moderation, lightly ripped teabags are good – the nylon kind don’t decompose, but not too many of those because they are acidic, and veggies like things a tad alkaline. Things cut into smaller pieces decompose faster. Harder or tougher items take a long time. No grape stems, corn cobs, avocado or mango pits. They do love the avo shells though and nest in them. Crushed egg shells keep the pH neutral. Cooked rice, bread, pastas and pizzas. Go wild with potato and carrot peelings, carrot tops, funky lettuce, squash, and, a favorite, melon rinds for dessert. Fridge clean outs are perfect for your worms! If you have doubt about an item, don’t. Moderation is a good word.

Rather than laying new food on top of the worms, I use a pitchfork, small tines, little damage to worms, to gently lift my worms from one side of the bin to the other. I lay in half their new food, then move the worms back, covering the new food. Then I do the other half. The new food will decompose faster when covered.

You can easily see when they have run out of food. Feed them sooner than that, or they might be hungry a few days, even die. They eat the bacteria on what you give them. They can’t eat raw food until it decomposes a bit, so feeding them sooner is crucial. If you find yourself wondering about how they are doing, check them!

Once your bin is started, there is absolutely no reason to continue to feed them newspaper or cardboard. The quality of what you feed your worms is the health of your worms and the quality of your castings. Real nutrients – kitchen scraps, plant trimmings – like the organic wastes of nature, give you excellent castings in return. Worms will eat non nutritious cardboard and lots of other things, but why? Better to recycle that in other ways.

If you are an indoor gardener, keep your clew small. If you are an outdoor gardener, you may be hard pressed to produce enough castings! Hit up your friends that juice and make smoothies for a steady supply of high quality fresh organic veg and fruit trims and bits. I have dedicated recycle friends who bring plastic bags and wide mouth containers of veggie trim. They tie bags loosely so it’s easy for me to open and feed to the kids. I, in turn, share veggies when I have extra, sometimes planting a little more, or one of their favorites for them.

Worm Red Wiggler Eisenia Foetida Castings

Harvest the bumpy like little castings – they look like fluffy coffee grounds. You’ve seen them, often after a rain…earthworms push them up in little piles. I use an old coffee container with a handle. Take the ‘blanket’ off your worms. Give them about 5 minutes to dive out of the light. Gather the castings at the top. Wait a few more minutes for them to dive again, then gather some more. Only the castings are taken; the worms are the workers!

Oh, are you spooked because worms are ‘slimy?’ Get some thin rubber gloves. No problem.

At times you will see little yellow eggs, cocoons among the castings. Each holds 4-6  1/2″ long teensy baby worms and hatches in about 23 days. It’s crazy to try to separate them all out. Nevermind. Some of them will hatch in your garden and you will have a small population of red wigglers there too! Do they mate? Yep, they have to so they can make eggs. Lucky for us, they are hermaphroditic and can mate with any other worm they meet!

Worm Castings after a rain

Feeding Your Plants ~ Optimum growth is in a soil ratio of 1:4, that’s 25% castings, 75% soil. However it has been shown that even 10% of wormcast shows significant difference in plant growth. Using over 40% castings, plant growth performance is stunted and may even appear worse off than having no wormcast at all. A wise gardener knows more is not always better. And, your precious castings will go further.

I walk about my garden to see who might need some castings, or where I plan to plant next. Scratch out a shallow area on one side of your plant, leaving as many tiny surface feeder roots intact as possible. Most veggie annuals do all their root growing in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Spread some castings in, cover them with the soil you dug out. After you have used all the castings, water the areas lightly so the castings stay covered and moist. It’s like making and giving them worm tea in place! Remember, 25% is the ideal ratio.

How Castings Work! Castings are not exactly a fertilizer, ie their available N, Nitrogen, content is only 1.80 – 2.05 %, yet their NPK value is much higher than soil! NPK are the main minerals your plants need. The NPK in castings is locked in the cast, and slowly released as micro-organisms break it down. This is much better for plants, because it takes time for them to uptake nutrients. They can’t do it all at once. What they do uptake, they can do easily and immediately.

Vermicompost nutrients and minerals are significantly higher (with Nitrates up to 9 times higher) than garden soil. This creates electro-conductivity, in turn creating more salts in vermicompost. When there is too much salt in soil, it sucks water from plant roots resulting in the ‘burning’ of plants. Although there aren’t enough salts in vermicompost to do that (it is much more common in chemical fertilizers), using too much wormcast can stunt plant growth.

Worm castings have much higher percentages of humus than either soil or compost, which helps the castings hold more water and stay aerated, while also providing binding sites for micronutrients that would otherwise wash out of soil during heavy rains. Mineral clusters that castings form combine in such a way that they can withstand water erosion and compaction, and, increase water retention! Castings hold 2 to 3 times their weight in water! If you are in a drought area, especially add them when you add compost or Sphagnum peat moss. All three increase water holding capacity. In summer, mulching keeps your soil moist also!

A clever gardener will make a drain at one end of the worm box and collect the worm tea! Check out Bentley’s post for some of the finer details to consider and how to process your leachate for maximum results. If you aren’t doing worm tea, move your worm box from time to time so that juice can drip into your soil, making it rich and nutritious at each location. Plants will grow like crazy in those spots!

Here’s another way ~ Per Rodale, ‘One excellent use of castings is in a liquid plant tonic. Put 1 pint/2 cups of castings in a bucket. Add a gallon of warm water and a spoonful of molasses. Stir this well, and stir it frequently over the course of 24 to 48 hours. Dilute the resulting liquid at the ratio of 1 part tea to 4 parts water and use it to water container plants and fruit trees. You can use it in your vegetable beds, but they should already be well nourished by compost and thus don’t need it as much. It’s best to use all of your worm tea in a week or so.’ Another simple way is 1 cup Worm Castings for every gallon of water and wait 1 week.

Broad Fork Garden Baby Blue! Compost, Worm Castings, fish/kelp tea mixes!

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

Plant recovery testimonial! L.A. Times, 5/27/00, Julie Bawden Davis: “Convinced that nothing could help a whitefly infested hibiscus in my garden that had been struggling for two years, I spread a one inch layer of worm castings around the plant. A month later I noticed that the whitefly population had dwindled. Three weeks later there were absolutely no whiteflies on the plant. It’s now back to its healthy self and producing lots of blooms.”

To my delight, visitors often wonder if I have named my worms! We all laugh and I show them more worms! Oh, and how do you get more worms?! Worms are hermaphrodites, meaning each worm has both male and female reproductive parts. The worm does have to mate in order to reproduce, but, every worm they meet is a potential mate. When a worm gets to be about six weeks old it forms a white band around its head, called a clitellum, this is where their reproductive organs are located.

Under ideal circumstances, worm populations can double in  a month. They begin breeding at 2 months old, are capable of producing 96 babies each month. Worms have a brain and five hearts. Worms breathe through their skin. They have neither eyes nor ears but are extremely aware of vibrations such as thumps or banging on the composter. Please try not to disturb them unnecessarily. Worms are odorless and free from disease.

Keep the depth of your clew between 6 and 8 inches. If you reach capacity, give some to friends starting vermicomposting, feed some to the chickens, or just turn ’em loose in nature. But, another way to put your worms to work is to add handfuls to areas where you are composting in place or right into your composter! I keep my compost pile covered with thick opaque plastic amendments bags so the worms will work at the top of the pile too! Them and compost speeding herbs like comfrey and yarrow will perk your compost right up. Just keep the pile or area moist.

Those little yellow lemon-shaped beads are worm cocoons. Your worms are happy and breeding. Decomposers – mites, pot worms and tiny black beetles – may join the family. That’s good. They’re all doing the same work, and the worms don’t mind the company.

Vacation?! Feed them well, and add fresh bedding if they need it. That will hold them for a couple weeks.

Worm Economics and Education! Vermiculture has become common practice. Private Worm Farms abound! Universities and schools have educational programs, cities have programs, zoos, private organizations proudly tell their story. Websites assist you about raising your own or starting your own business.

Buying Castings! No time for one more thing to do?! Get your castings from a reputable organic seller, support local worm cast sellers. There are many great companies with high quality castings today. Don’t confuse an amendment with castings in the ingredient list, with a bag or bucket of pure castings. Remember, a little bit of the right stuff goes a long way. Give them to your indoor plants too.

Whether for prevention, abundant growth, recovery or economics, worm castings are fabulous. Worms work for free, and are permaculture sustainable! They can consume about 1/2 of their weight each day, turning our food waste into a high quality powerful garden amendment!

The Urban Worm Anna de la Vega

I love Anna de la Vega’s site name, The Urban Worm! The name reminds us everyone can raise worms, whether at your garden or in a special system in your kitchen! Castings can be used outdoors or in your favorite indoor container plantings! Your plants will be healthier, blooms prolific!

I was more than surprised to find myself raising worms! But the rewards are wonderful and I have come to cherish the amazing little creatures! If you have hovered over the thought of becoming a worm steward, perhaps now is a good time to start!

Names or not, love your worms!

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2.23.16 Revised and expanded from 5.17.14 post


The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal 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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Green Cabbage after the rain at Rancheria Community Garden, Santa Barbara! Anti Cancer!

Gorgeous Cabbage, Rancheria Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA Nov 27 after the rain.

Cabbages have high fiber content, low calories! They have terrific disease-fighting compounds – cancer prevention, are high in Vitamins C and K, and have a host of minerals. They are not a cut and come again veggie like local chard or super Vitamin A kale or purslane with its Omega 3s. But they will grow back in mini foursomes or up to six if you cut the head off close to the bottom of the head, leaving the lower leaves. Work some rich manure into the first inch of soil, then treat your plant like you normally would! The new heads are always smaller. Perhaps it’s better to remove and compost larger lower leaves, restore the soil and plant something new. But if your growing season is too short for multiple crops, this is a way of getting just a little more cabbage, and it is super tender!

We love that cabbage makes those super heads in a glorious profusion of amazing leaves! It has its own unique crunchy texture. Consider that they do take up a fair footprint for a one time crop. Some say cabbage is cheap, why grow it? Cause it’s organic and it tastes terrific right from the ground! To some its sulfurous scent while cooking is overpowering (see below for ways to reduce that); to others it is heaven, what their family has always done! If you love it, you love it, and you might even get used to it!

Cabbage is in the cruciferous family, genus Brassica. The word “brassica” translates in Latin as “cabbage.” Other brassicas are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens.

Tasty shredded Red CabbageTantalizing Startlingly Different Cabbage VARIETIES!
As climate changes, look for heat and drought tolerant varieties if you will be growing them over summer.

Classic gorgeous greens

Red cabbage by far outdoes other cabbages in its cancer prevention properties. They have a concentration of anthocyanin polyphenols, which contribute to red cabbage containing significantly more protective phytonutrients than green cabbage. Interest in anthocyanin pigments continues to intensify because of their health benefits as dietary antioxidants, as an anti-inflammatory, and their potentially protective, preventative, and therapeutic roles in a number of human diseases.

Early Maturing Minis or HUGE! Plant what you and your family can eat. Plant early for soonest treats, and longer maturing larger varieties to come in later. A couple delightful minis that can also be grown in containers are green Pixie Baby, and Red Express – 2 to 4 lb head, relatively split tolerant, only 63 days!

Huge varieties you can grow easily are Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage, Stein’s Early Flat Dutch – 8 inch and larger heads weighing 10-12 pounds, a favored variety for kraut. If you really do want to grow giants, 80 lbs!, try Flatpol, Northern Giant, Giant Russian, OS Cross or Megaton!

Earth tasting Savoy Cabbage bursting with health and nutrition!Earthy tasting bumpy Savoys or Super Smooth leaved… 
Savoy cabbage in particular—turns out to be an especially good source of sinigrin. Sinigrin is one of the cabbage glucosinolates that has received special attention in bladder, colon, and prostate cancer prevention research. Savoys are quite frost tolerant.

Brussels Sprouts, like mini Cabbages. Brassica

Brussels sprouts are the most recent historically, appearing on our tables by 1785. Really, they are mini cabbages conveniently along a stem! Santa Barbara weather generally doesn’t get frosty enough to make B Sprouts happy, the sprouts are quite small. But if you don’t mind the harvest time per the return, and you just love them, may they grace your table!

Chinese or Napa Cabbage - GreenChinese Cabbages are another Brassica, but are not cabbages though they sure look like it! Napa cabbage is SO elegant! Very beautiful, all those long, pale leaves with ruffled edges. Try the beautiful, Scarlette F1** shown below left! Bok Choy, or pak choi, is another leafy upright cabbageish plant eaten fresh in salads or steamed delicately. A lot of cabbage lovers love these plants too!
Chinese or Napa Cabbage Scarlette F1 Red
GROWING Your Cabbages!

Cabbages are easy to grow. Those seeds are so tiny you can hardly believe that great big plant came from one! Full sun and fat soil make them happy. In acidic soil, Red cabbage leaves grow more reddish, in neutral soils they will grow purple, while an alkaline soil will produce rather greenish-yellow colored cabbages!

Select your planting area to accommodate your cabbages and their Companions! We have lots of tasty choices!

  • Plant lettuces among your cabbages on the sunny side. Lettuces repel cabbage moths.
  • Tomatoes and celery repel cabbage worms, but many sites say not to plant cabbies with toms.
  • Nasturtium (attracts snails), onions, garlic, dill and borage act as an insect trap or repel harmful insects.
  • Mustard greens among cabbage establishes a “trap” for moths and leafwebbers.
  • Cabbage is not happy with Strawberries.
  • Plant mint near peas, cabbage or tomatoes to improve their health and flavor, and mint oil repels insects. Plant the mint in a container! It’s invasive.
  • Chamomile attracts hoverflies and wasps, both pollinators and predators that feed on aphids and other pest insects.
  • Cilantro repels aphids, potato beetles, and spider mites and makes cabbages/Brassicas grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller!

NOTE: Dying parts of the brassica family of plants, includes cabbages, produce a poison that prevents the seeds of some plants from growing. Plants with small seeds, such as lettuce, are especially affected by the brassica poison, so use lettuce transplants among your cabbages. A professor at the University of Connecticut said brassica plants should be removed from the soil after they have produced their crop.

SOIL In SoCal, you can plant cabbages year round. They do better in cooler fall/winter weather though and frosts are no problem. Prepare your soil well in advance if you are in cold challenged areas. Often soil prep is done in fall rather than losing time getting ready in spring if you have a short summer. In Alaska, long 20 hour days compensate for their very short growing season!

Cabbies are heavy feeders producing all those leaves! They like rich soil and steady attention! Composted manure, Chicken manure, timed-release vegetable ferts are terrific. Cabbages need steady weather and regular watering for steady growth. Too much N (Nitrogen), too much water, makes the plant tender and weak – susceptible to pests. 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week does the job if it doesn’t rain. But an Alaskan planter says her cabbages will take a gallon of water on a long hot day when fully growing. Depends on where you are and how big your plant is. She grows giants.

Here’s her cabbage soil planting hole recipe! Peat moss (holds water), a pail of sand (if soil is heavy remove some before mixing), 2 cups bone meal, 4-6 cups of composted steer manure, 2 cups wood ashes, a couple heaping tablespoons of Epsom salt (Magnesium) & powdered milk (calcium), maybe a little lime (to raise pH to deter clubroot). Your soil is likely different and you aren’t likely growing giants, so do your own formula, but if you are raising giants, be generous, they are going to need it plus feedings!

After she plants… When it’s all watered and settled sprinkle a good cup of wood ashes around the new stem and nearby. This helps with bugs early when plants are at first weaker. Then I sprinkle Blood meal around in the moat off and on all summer, as it’s a quick nitrogen fix. I also use a little composted manure soaked in the water can and generous amount of fish emulsion in the summer watering. Fish is a slower acting fertilizer but cabbages seem to love it!

Here’s a tip from UK giant grower David Thomas: Water lodging in the base of the leaf? Rather than removing a huge leaf that contributes to your plant’s growth, his way around this is to simply poke a hole in the lowest part of the leaf to let the water drain away (not through the main vein).

SPACING If you are planting minis, 2′ spacing is good. If you are going for giants, 8′ spacing is needed! If you want maximum size, give them plenty of room. Crowding stunts plants as they shade each other out. Depending on the variety you plant, done right, in 82 days (3 months) you can get a 30 to 50 lb cabbage! In 2012, Scott Robb of Palmer, Alaska, broke the world record for heaviest cabbage at 138.25 lbs! He holds five current world records for his large vegetables.

Select your seeds. Remember, AAS, All America Selections winners are prime! 2016’s cabbage winner is Katarina F1, an early maturing green 4″ mini, container variety – but you can plant it in the ground too!

Get transplants from your local nursery. Locals are better than box stores because they select varieties that do well in your area and they want your success and your repeat business means a lot to them. Transplanting tips from David Thomas: I tear off all of the roots that are swirling around in the shape of the pot, this sounds a bit drastic and I would never treat a pumpkin plant in this way but on a cabbage it actually increases root growth. I plant the cabbage up to the base of the lowest leaf, the buried stem will also send out roots.

Plant smart! Succession! Plant seeds and transplants of minis and bigger longer maturers at the same time to have a grand succession of fresh cabbages for your table.

PESTS

Water regularly, less if it rains. But, too much watering makes for a soft plant that invites sucking pests like those aphids. Keep a look out for any curling leaves. Get in there and look, front and back of leaves, and in the new leaf zone in the center. Hose them away immediately and keep doing it day after day until they are gone. If you see ants about tending the aphids sprinkle cinnamon around. Aphids can totally runt your plants, they often don’t recover, so don’t ignore them and just hope they will go away. See all about them UC – IPM

  • Pick off any yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies that get into your other plants. UC – IPM  Worm castings work well against whiteflies.
  • Slugs love getting into the lower leaves of cabbage heads. The slugs are so protected in there. Grrrr…. Early on lay on a Sluggo like pellet to stop them before they get started! When your cabbage head is right around its maturity date and the head is good and firm, harvest it! When a plant is past its prime, diseases, pests and birds start doing their own harvesting.
  • Holes in cabbage’s leaves are a sure sign that cabbage worms or cabbage loopers may be attacking your plant. Look for these camouflaged green pests on the underside of leaves and pick them off.
  • Tiny holes? Flea beetles – Dust with wood ash or flour dust.

SIDEDRESSING If you think they need it, give your cabbies a feed when they start to head up. It may be that if you put a ring of granular nitrogen around cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants, you will be able to grow bigger heads of vegetables than you would without the nitrogen. Usually though, your soil will be ample.

HARVEST promptly! I put the plant date and days to maturity on my plant id tags so I can check to see when to expect mature heads. The squeeze test tells you if it is firm and ready. Storing them on the plant a short time is okay, but otherwise the slugs, etc., get to them, the leaves start losing their verve, the head dries a bit and doesn’t have that bursting fresh feel! If you wait too long, the head may crack or split. If it cracks, take it immediately and salvage what you can. Cut the heads off, don’t bruise them by pulling them.

STORE your cabbies in the fridge! Anthony Reyes at FarmScape Gardens says: Remove any loose surrounding leaves and keep just the compact head. It is important to note that the quality of the stem diminishes after being stored and tends to get slightly woodier the longer it is stored. Therefore, if you would like to eat the stem (which is delicious!) do so before freezing/storing for prolonged periods (it will still be good to eat, just a little bit woodier and sometimes stringy). Place in a paper or plastic bag with some holes in it to let moisture escape. This is important as you want to keep an aerobic environment to prevent excess moisture, condensation from transpiration, and mold from forming.

Brassica Bok Choy BoltingSEEDSAVING Cabbage must be kept separated from other cole crops by a mile to prevent cross-pollination. That is impossible in a community garden. Better there to buy new seed each year. Another factor to consider is cabbages are mostly self-infertile. For seedsaving purposes they need to be planted in groups of at least 10 or more. For most of us that isn’t going to happen. Then, you need two years to do it! Cabbages, like all the Brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts – are biennials. So unless you have some extreme weather shifts, and they flower early, you wait overwinter. A week of hot weather and these cabbages above quickly bolted from no heads yet to flowering stalks. If you have had the opportunity to save seeds, lucky you! They are viable 2 – 4 years.

Red Cabbage bolting in second year

Red Cabbage bolting in second year

In normal conditions, after overwintering, in spring, new cabbage shoots burst strangely out of the unharvested cabbage heads, flower stalks form, then seeds are made in their second year. The seeds are easy to harvest, but get them before the birds do! Collect the dry seed pods. In a baggie, rub them between your hands to pop them open to release the seeds.

DELICIOUS WAYS TO EAT CABBAGE!

In one recent study (post undated), short-cooked and raw cabbage were the only types of cabbage to show cancer-preventive benefits – long-cooked cabbage failed to demonstrate measurable benefits.

Fresh Cole Slaw is best! Make it your way! Your recipe might mix red cabbage, pepper, shredded carrots, onion, grated cheese, pineapple, or apple. Your dressing could be a vinaigrette, mayonnaise, sour cream or cream with celery seed added. Slaw shapes are different – finely minced pieces, shredded strips, or even small squares! Buttermilk coleslaw is a southern United States treat! Or you just might top your salad with a few shreds of red cabbage!

Boiled! If you don’t like that sulfur smell, do it quick! Cut into thin 1/4″ slices or wedges, drop into boiling water, simmer 10 to 15 minutes until just tender ~ or steam. Drain and serve right now! Or if you don’t need it right away, chill in ice water, drain, wrap for later. The European Sour version is to cook your cabbage in apple juice, cider, white wine or water and wine vinegar, using just enough liquid to cover the cabbage. You let the liquid cook away leaving tender richly flavored cabbage! When cooking red cabbage it will normally turn blue. To retain that marvelous red color add vinegar or acidic fruit.

Put chunks in Soups & Stews, Stuff Leaves filled with whatever your heart desires, pickle, do classic Sauerkraut or super healthy Probiotics!

I love the subtleties of cabbage. Their colors. Writer Edna Ferber says ‘…always, to her, red and green cabbages were to be jade and burgundy, chrysoprase and porphyry.’ Cabbages more or less ‘sit’ compared to other veggies, collecting power from the ground up, expanding slowly and quietly from the inside – called ‘hearting up.’ They are working astonishingly hard making so many leaves! Each leaf harmonizes completely with the leaf next to it so the head is firm.

**Note on Scarlette F1: I came across it at Bobby-Seeds, page written in English! I didn’t realize it was in Europe. I only find 3 other companies on Google’s page 1 search, all in the UK. It is 2.75 pounds, $3.46 US. One company says it isn’t bitter like other red Napas. Another says it is ‘Developed by a specialist breeder in Asia, Scarlette is being aimed towards the salad markets in the UK and Spain. It is expected to generate particular interest among chefs due to its distinctive appearance.’ So, there may be shipping costs, but worth it if you can save pure seeds and keep it going! Let’s ask some of our favorite US seed companies to stock it!

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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!

See the entire December 2016 GBC Newsletter!

December Winter Garden Harvests!
Magnificent Cabbages are Easy to Grow!
Grow Your Own Garden Worms, Harvest Valuable Castings!
Wonderful Gardener Style Holiday Gifts! 
Other Community Gardens – Lower Sioux Indian Community Garden 

Events! January 29 Santa Barbara 9th Annual SEED SWAP!

See the wonderful November images at Rancheria Community Garden!

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

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Read this carefully and see what new ideas you can use here in SoCal! I’ve added a few comments in brackets for our local gardeners….

WHAT TO GROW THROUGH VERY HOT SUMMERS by Lisa Dermer

“Heat-tolerant” and “drought-tolerant” are phrases to look for when selecting the best varieties to grow where summers are very hot. Humidity, especially warm, humid nights, leads to fungal diseases, so it’s also good to look for fungal disease resistance.

Some plants continue producing even during periods of extreme heat and humidity or heat and drought. Here are some of our recommendations:

Heat Lovers Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Dermer

Beans: If you want green beans and shelling beans throughout the summer, it’s best to expand your repertoire to a few different species. The common green bean, Phaseola vulgaris, doesn’t handle drought or high temperatures. But lots of classic Southern beans love our high-heat summers! Try growing Southern Peas (Cowpeas) like Whippoorwill, White Acre, and Pink Eye Purple Hull. Asparagus Beans (Yard Long Beans) also love heat and humidity – they’re slightly firmer than green beans and quite a bit longer. They’re commonly used in Thai curries. Green Pod Red Seed is the classic, reliable heirloom. If you’re in the Deep South, Chinese Red Noodle takes advantage of the long season and is more heat tolerant. Lima Beans (Butterbeans) are generally very reliable in heat, humidity, and drought. [In Santa Barbara area Rattlesnake beans, aka Preacher Bean, produce fabulously in 100 degree weather!]

Tomatoes: Look for tomatoes that come from the Deep South, especially those bred by the universities. The large red slicer Tropic VFN (from the University of Florida) produces through very hot summers. Ozark Pink VF (from the University of Arkansas) is highly recommended for very hot climates. These blemish-free medium-sized tomatoes have very bright, crisp flavor. For market growers looking for reliability in heat and humidity, Neptune (also from the University of Florida) is a great choice. This medium-large red slicer recently did very well in trials conducted at the University of Georgia. [Try these, but in SoCal, cherry tomatoes are often your best choice.]

Eggplant: Take advantage of your summer heat by growing an eggplant that requires it: the flavorful French/Italian heirloom Listada de Gandia thrives in hot weather.  The better known heirloom Black Beauty is also dependable in the South. The long, narrow Asian eggplants like Ping Tung Long also produce well through intense heat. [Long eggplant does better in cool coastal areas because it takes less time to develop. Terra Sol Garden Center in Goleta has been carrying Ping Tung Longs!]

Peppers: Nematode resistant bell peppers are the best choices for Southern gardeners. Carolina Wonder and Charleston Belle are both excellent. Hot peppers generally thrive in heat and humidity. (Lots of hot places use hot peppers in their cuisines – perhaps because these plants grow so well in hot climates!) Sweet, spicy Aji Dulce peppers have an unusual, complex flavor, with just a hint of heat. They’re generally unaffected by pests and diseases, but they take a little longer to mature than most peppers.

Cucumbers:   Find out which diseases are problems in your area and use the resistance codes to help you choose what to grow. Little Leaf H-19 (from the University of Arkansas) has excellent disease resistance and is well adapted to very hot summers. It’s classified as a pickler, but it’s also very tasty sliced and in salads. Ashley is a slicer particularly recommended where disease is a problem, but my favorite choice for a heat-loving slicer is Suyo Long (the long, slender fruits are best grown on trellises). [Island Seed & Feed in Goleta is growing Suyo Longs!]

Summer Squash and Zucchini: We recommend growing Moschata type summer squash if you have trouble growing summer squash and zucchini in your hot climate. The Moschata types have better pest and disease tolerance and produce well straight through very hot summers.Tromboncino summer squash has the extra advantage of also making excellent squash blossoms for stuffing. Waltham Butternut winter squash can be harvested small (3-5”) for eating like summer squash.  (Moschata types need nights above 60 degrees F to grow well.) You might also try edible Luffa gourds. When harvested small, they’re a great summer squash alternative.

Winter Squash and Pumpkins: As with summer squash, we recommend choosing moschata types when growing winter squash and pumpkins in the South. (Avoid pepo and maxima types.) Pretty much any moschata will thrive through hot summers, but particularly productive varieties are Seminole Pumpkin, Waltham Butternut, and Tan Cheese. Green-Striped Cushaw is from another type of squash altogether (argyrosperma or mixta). We know Southern gardeners who won’t grow anything but Cushaws: they’re super productive through our summers and their seeds are very large and tasty. The flesh tastes a little different than most winter squash and not as sweet, but it can be used in pies if you add extra sweetener.

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.

Okra: Choose older and heirloom varieties of okra with deeper root systems. The deep roots give these plants resistance to nematodes and improved drought and heat tolerance, but these varieties also usually take longer to mature. Gold Coast is a variety particularly noted for its deep roots, but Stewart Zeebest and Beck’s Big Buck also are excellent heirlooms for the Deep South.

Greens: Lettuce is very difficult to grow outside when it’s hot, and spinach is pretty much impossible, but don’t give up on summer salads and cooked greens. [In coastal Santa Barbara we successfully grow heat tolerant Romaines – Sierra, Nevada, Jericho are some.]

For cooked greens, Swiss chard and turnip greens are the best choices in the South. These plants are biennials, which means they usually won’t bolt (go to seed) until they’ve gone through their first winter. So they stay tender and mild all summer. [In Santa Barbara the chard suffers so from the heat I can’t bear it. I compost it and plant again in the fall.] Sweet potato greens, New Zealand summer spinach, and the young leaves and shoot tips of squash can all be used for cooking greens.

For salads, buckwheat leaves add an unusual nutty flavor. Grain amaranths like Mayo Indian are very productive in high heat and humidity. Many heat-loving herbs add flavor to salads, including roselle, anise-hyssop, dill, & basil.

We strongly recommend Red Malabar summer spinach to anyone who hasn’t tried growing it yet. The crisp, slightly succulent leaves stay mild in high heat and maintain healthy growth all summer. The gorgeous red vines need to be trellised or caged, but this keeps the leaves clean. They’re excellent as cooking greens and in salad mixes.

See their Growing Guides & Library, remembering that planting times may vary from their location in Mineral VA and yours! Support them by buying seeds from them! Thank you!

I highly recommend subscribing to their blog for more super tips on growing your favorite veggies and trying some new ones!

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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 April GBC Newsletter

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Chard, the Bouquet of the Garden
Chard is the bouquet of the Garden! Plant it for pretty! Plant it as a centerpiece, at the front, by the entrance. Contrast it with frillys like carrots or dill.

Chard is fabulous in containers on the balcony, mingled with ornamentals in your landscape, and brightens any veggie garden, especially in Mediterranean winter gardens! 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, only 35 calories per cup, it is packed with vitamins K, A, C, E, and B6, a valuable food for maintaining strong bones. Chard is also very good source of copper, calcium, phosphorus, and a good source of thiamin, zinc, niacin, folate and selenium!

In a sense, Chard, Beta vulgaris, is a relatively new vegetable that is thought to have first been described in the mid-18th century. It is also known as Swiss chard, silverbeet, spinach beet, and even spinach in different parts of the world. It is in the same family as beets, but doesn’t make a bulb like they do.

Chard, an all season plant in SoCal, is one of the top 5 veggie producers 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. Besides being a beauty, having a blazing array of colors, leaf after leaf it feeds a family! Though the colorful hybrids are stunning, and your shopping list is delighted with their magical names, the older green forms tend to outproduce them and are more tolerant of both cold and heat. The mammoth white stemmed Fordhook Giant can’t be beat! It grows up to and more than 2′ tall and feeds an army, with heavy yields even in hot weather!

Varieties Cornell lists 49 chard entries!

Five Star ratings go to Burpee’s Rhubarb Chard, Verte a Carde Blanche and Verde da Taglio.
Bright Lights is an All America Selection winner!
Umania is a Japanese chard that tolerates heat and cold, is slow bolting.

Flat leaved or bumpy?! Bumpy, called Savoyed, leaves give more chard per square inch, but they can also hide aphids. Narrow or wide ribs. Green, crimson or purple leaves! Rib colors galore, from white to neon to the darkest reds!

Chard Purple Leaves Gold Ribs Savoyed.jpg

 

 


You can see why chard is frequently used in flower gardens!

Check out Nan Ondra’s post! She grows a designer quality garden in Pennsylvania! Nan says ‘As the season progresses, the leaves of some of the orange- to red-stemmed chards darken to bronzy green or even a deep purple-red.’

Chard, an amazing array of leaf and rib colors!

 

 

 

 

Do you like that purple one with the yellow rib?! The beauty on the left is Prima Rossa! The cooler the weather the deeper the color!
Chard Perpetual Spinach Scottish heirloom MacGregor

 

 

Perpetual Spinach varieties and container sorts make leaf after leaf, and behave themselves. Maybe you would like some red leaves and red ribs! Try Scottish heirloom MacGregor Swiss Chard! It does not get colossal, is more tender than other chards. Pot of Gold is also a charming dwarf variety!x

Grow It!

28 Days for tender little leaves, only 55 days or so to maturity.

Chard likes a rich sandy loam soil – well manured and composted with worm castings added. It is sensitive to soil acidity. A low soil pH results in stunted growth. 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!

Soak seeds overnight or presprout! Direct seed into the garden 3-5 weeks before the last frost date, or you can start seedlings indoors around the same time. Transplant seedlings after your last frost. Chard seeds germinate best in soil temps around 75°F-85°F (not air temps) but 50°-55°degrees will do, and is practical. Avoid seeding during daytime air temps of 80°F or more. In SoCal, one of the best times to plant is mid August for production all winter long. Plant then in the shade, on the north or east sides, of taller plants that will be replaced by fall plants or will finish soon. Chard seeds don’t mind those hot August soil temps, but Chard plants here do best in cool weather, wilting pitifully midday in hot summer temps. Check your soil to see your plant really needs water or is reacting to the heat.

Germination will take 5-16 days. Chard seeds are actually a cluster of seeds and will produce more than one plant. Spacing will determine the size of the plants. Space plants at 4″-6′ apart within rows spaced at 18″-24″ apart. When the young plants are 4 inches high, thin them to stand 8 inches apart. If you are pest and disease conscious, keep right on thinning so adult leaves don’t touch each other!

Depending on your space and needs/wants, avoid planting in rows, plant far enough apart that mature leaves don’t touch leaves of another chard plant. Interplant here and there. That way Leafminers, aphids and diseases can’t go plant to plant. if you have space, you can broadcast your seeds in sections of the garden to create a bed of tender leaves and thinned to 4 inches apart as they mature. Otherwise, plant your seeds 1/4-3/4 in. deep. That will give you a steady table supply of tasty little greens!

Mulch in summer keeps roots cool and moist. In So Cal winters it keeps rain from splashing soil up onto the leaves.

Water Chard, like Lettuce, likes plenty of water regularly to keep it sweet. It’s putting up big leaves again and again. Weed early and often!

Feeding! Since Chard is a prolific producer, it needs feeding from time to time. In summer it can use a little compost and a tad of manure. Some worm castings would make it even happier! Late summer spread a little compost over the root zone, drench with a water-soluble organic fertilizer. They will make a strong comeback early fall. In winter a light feed of fish emulsion is easy to apply, and easy for it to uptake.

Pests & Diseases

  • Hose APHIDS off Chard, kale and brocs. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed. For hard to get at places, down the centers of chard and in crinkly kale leaf crevices, get out that spray bottle! Treat once, wait a couple days, treat the ones that got away and newborns.I tried this home remedy, it WORKS! The simplest is to spray with 2 parts alcohol, 2 parts water, 1 part  soap. DO NOT use on seedlings, it will kill some of them. Spritz lightly rather than drenching or you may kill your bigger plant too! If the aphids are totally out of control and you can’t get to them down in the center of the plant, if you are very brave, cut the whole plant off a couple inches above the crown, let it produce new leaves.
  • Leafminers are the bane of chard, spinach and beets, going from plant to plant. These are not plants to row crop! 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. 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!
    x
    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  UC – IPM
  • 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 snails and slugs where our crows gourmet on them. Or use Sluggo or the cheaper store brand in the cardboard box of the same stuff. Lay down Sluggo two or three times to kill the generations then you won’t need to do it again for quite awhile.
  • Beets, Chard and Spinach get Cercospora leaf spot, light brown patches surrounded by purple halos. Promptly remove infected leaves. Late fall or early spring plantings are most likely to be affected. Late summer when conditions are favorable (high temperatures, high humidity, long leaf wetness periods at night) is the worst. It grows on infected crop residues, so immediately remove leaves that collapse on the ground. It is carried by wind or rain to host leaves. This is one case where AM watering really makes sense to reduce humidity. Plant less densely for more airflow, thinnings are tasty! Planting only every 3 years in the same spot often isn’t possible if there is too little garden space, so cultivating, turning and drying the soil between plantings is good. See more

Harvest & Storage

Cut or twist off stems of outer leaves while still tender, 1-2 inches above the soil surface. Leaves are of best quality just when fully expanded or slightly smaller. Chard loses water very quickly after harvest, so give it a rinse, shake off excess water, pack loosely in a plastic bag, get it into the fridge. Use ASAP, 3-4 days! Do not store with fruits, like apples, and vegetables that produce ethylene gas. Blanch and freeze leaves if you like; use in soups and stews later.

Chard seeds look exactly like Beet seeds!Like other biennial plants, chard produces flowers and seeds in the spring of its second year, after it has been through winter. Let your favorite chard make a flowering stalk, seed and dry. The seed is super easy to harvest. Just hold your fingers close to the stalk, zip them along the stalk and put the seed in an airtight container. Label it right then and there because you can’t tell chard seed from beet seed! Same family. If you want that variety of colors, and don’t have room or the time to let all of them seed out, just get a packet at your local nursery or online from your favorite seed house. Keep your seeds cool and dry, viability 3+ years. Harvest plenty for you, gifts for friends, seed swaps!

Culinary Satisfaction

When preparing your chard, if you are eating it for the Vitamin A, trim the leaf from the rib. You can eat the rib, it just takes a little longer to cook unless you chop it up into little pieces. Ribs have healing factors all their own due to their colors! Here’s a surprise – use stems like celery! Stuff and serve! Or pickle them, or the crisp ribs can be steamed or grilled like asparagus!

Small leaves in salad, drizzle with a sauce or dressing of your choice. Larger leaves chopped, steamed over rice or in stews. Toss with olive oil and stir fry with your favorite veggies and protein. Layer in lasagna or a casserole of scalloped potatoes or turnips. Everyone has their favorites! Deb Elliott of Helena AL loves hers in chard soup, beginning with chicken bouillon, Italian sausage, onions and little red potatoes. Chopped chard leaves are added toward the end, as it only takes a few minutes for them to cook.

Chard can be used as a substitute for spinach in most dishes and goes well with roasted meats, cream sauces, nutty cheeses, and tomatoes. Try adding chard to au gratin or serving it alongside Jamaican Jerk chicken with red beans and rice. Squeeze out excess water, and use the cooked chard in casseroles, quiches, or as a succulent side dish.

Or try this Vegetarian Stuffed Chard Oregon Style from Organic Authority!

Chard Stuffed Oregon Style, Scandinavian Recipe

Cabbage is substituted by chard in this Pacific Northwestern version of a Scandinavian recipe. Light, nutritious and deliciously healthy, the chard leaves are stuffed with a grain of choice alongside Oregonian staples like hazelnuts, dried cranberries, goat cheese and late summer veggies for a satisfying and wholesome dish. The red, pink, white and yellow veins of rainbow chard leaves are an excellent choice for this chard recipe, especially if you are looking for visual appeal. Serve it as a main vegetarian dish with a side of yogurt sauce, homemade chutney or lemons wedges, or make smaller ones to serve as pop-in-your-mouth appetizers.

Serves 3-5

Happy growing, happy eating!

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SeedSaving - Advocates and Laws
Peasant seeds – the pillar of food production – are under attack everywhere. Under corporate pressure, laws in many countries increasingly limit what farmers can do with their seeds. Seed saving, which has been the basis of farming for thousands of years, is quickly being criminalised. What you can do.

It’s a New Year! Some of you will make serious gardening resolutions, others will take it as it comes, one day at a time as usual. But I do recommend you secure your seeds for the year ahead! Some are now less plentiful with droughts and storms, GMO threats, new laws. Recently much needed seed banks, libraries have sprung up. We want to use our seeds with reverence and seed save our best as they adapt to different conditions, assure their goodness for future generations. At Seed Swaps, take only what you need. If many people grow them, there will be more adapted to our localities. Before there were seed shops, seeds were often used as money. They are precious today as they have always been, maybe even more so.

Santa Barbara’s average last frost date is January 22 – and that is measured at the Airport! This isn’t to say there might not be another frost after that… With early plantings, know that you are taking your chances. If you lose ’em just replant! Guarantee your success by starting another round of seeds in two weeks to a month or so, both for backup and succession planting. Find out the frost dates for your California Zip Code! See the details – Protect Your Veggies from Freezing!

Just in case, have old sheets, light blankets, old towels handy. If a freeze is predicted, for small plants, like tender lettuces, just lay tomato cages on their sides and put your coverings over them. Secure them well so wind doesn’t blow them around and damage your plants. Remove them when the sun comes out! No cooking your plants before their time!

Planting early isn’t always a gain. Even if the plant lives, some won’t produce fruit until they have enough hours of sun, and for some, warmth including day/night and/or ground temps. And some plants set in too early will never produce. That waiting time for enough sun, enough warmth, interrupts the plant’s natural cycle and the production window is lost.

While others are dancing with glee at their new plants so soon, don’t worry if you wait a bit for a more sure thing! You can use that area for quick plants, chard, kale, lettuce, spinach, grown for their leaves, until it’s the right time to plant heat lovers. These plants can be removed at any time and you still shall have had lush harvests. However, hardly anyone can resist planting early tomatoes! Another strategy is don’t remove your leaf producers; instead plant tomatoes here and there among them! Remove lower leaves on the sunny side of taller plants and put in some little transplants there. That way you have table food and your heart is happy too!

Choose early cold tolerant varieties. Ones with northern names, in SoCal that could be Oregon Spring, or Siberian. Stupice from Czechoslovakia is very early! Bellstar, from Ontario Canada, is larger and earlier than other plum tomatoes. Early Girl is a favorite! And SunGold cherry tomatoes are almost always a winner! Cherry toms are small and will ripen when other tomatoes just stay green for the longest!

We may or may not have El Niño here in Santa Barbara, SoCal. If it happens, if you haven’t gotten your land ready, be prepared to scramble to get your beds and berms up and secure. Have a good source of mulch, a kind that doesn’t wash away, in mind to quickly prevent erosion. Quickly install trenches to hold the rainwater, and do some terracing if you are on a slope! Our water goals have changed in recent years. Now we hope to keep every drop of water ON our land. Let the earth filter it, restore our water tables, let only clean water get to our ocean. The ocean provides food too ~ fishes, mineral rich seaweeds. Let’s give them a clean environment. See Rainy Day Tactics for Spectacular Veggies!

With your summer garden layout in mind, get SEEDS! Start them indoors NOW to be planted in March! After a HOT summer and fall that had even the heat lovers groaning, we have had a coolish November and December. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have another hot summer. Check your 2016 seed catalogs for drought and heat tolerant varieties or look in southern states or world areas that have desert low water needs plants and order up! The seeds of these types may need to be planted deeper and earlier than more local plants for moisture they need. They may mature earlier. Be prepared to do second plantings and use a little water.

This is THE time to start peppers from seed! Peppers take their time, much longer than other plants. They are super persnickety about soil temps – they need 60 degrees + for happiness. Soil Temps are critical for root function. Peppers will sit for agonizing months if they are too cool. When that happens they rarely take hold, never produce. Better not to plant at all, or pull and replant. A gardeners’ soil thermometer is an inexpensive handy little tool to own.

Check out  Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas! If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, wait and get transplants and pop them right in the ground per their right times! No fuss, no muss.

If you love your winter crops, and aren’t necessarily in a rush to do spring/summer, amend your soil immediately and plant one more round, from transplants if you can get them or have starts of your own. In cooler January weather, plantings will mature slowly, but they will mature faster than usual as days get longer, temps are warmer. Most January plantings will be coming in March, April. That’s still in good time for soil preps in April for the first spring plantings in April/May.

Continue to make the most of winter companion planting! Carrots enhance peas, onion family stunts peas. Cilantro enhances Brassicas and repels aphids on them! Lettuce repels Cabbage moths. Onions, leeks and chives help repel the carrot root fly. Carrots thrive when Cilantro, Chamomile, Marigold are planted with them. Companion planting is also a size strategy. Keep planting smaller plants, especially lettuce, on the sunny under sides of Brassicas! Take off a couple lower leaves to make room.

For us SoCal gardeners, besides beautiful bareroot roses, this month is bareroot veggies time! They don’t have soil on their roots, so plant immediately or keep them moist! Grape vines; artichokes; short-day (sweet) globe onions; strawberries; cane berries such as raspberries (get low-chill types); low-chill blueberries; and rhubarb, asparagus, and horseradish. Bare root planting is strictly a January thing. February is too late.

Plant MORE of these delicious morsels now! Arugula, beets, brocs, Brussels sprouts if you get winter chill, bunch onions, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, culinary dandelions, garden purslane, kale, kohlrabi, head and leaf lettuces, Mesclun, peas, potatoes, radishes – especially daikons, and turnips!

When you put in new transplants, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from seriously damaging or disappearing them while they are small. Before you anticipate your seedlings coming up, sprinkle some pellets around the plant, along both sides of rows. That keeps the creatures from mowing them overnight, making you think they never came up! Do this a few times, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while.

Prevention  A typical disease is Powdery mildew. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day if transplanting. A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution.

If you need more robust soil, do something absolutely yummy with it! This is perfect timing to put in some green manure where you will plant heavy summer feeders – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard. Or you can ‘rest’ an area by covering it with a good 6″ to a foot deep of mulch/straw! That will flatten down in no time at all! Simply let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. That’s called sheet composting or composting in place – no turning or having to move it when it’s finished. If you are vermicomposting, have worms, add a few handfuls to speed up and enrich the process. Come spring you will have rich nutritious soil for no work at all!

Repeat! Excellent Winter Garden Practices:

Thin any plants you intentionally over planted – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, mustard. If you planted too close together, take out the shorter, weaker plants. Keep thinning beets as they get bigger, taking small ones from between the ones getting larger. Thinnings are great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves.

Sidedressing is like snacking. Some of your heavy leaf producers and big bodied Brassicas, may need a feeding now and again. Heading is your cue to help them along. If they slow down, or just don’t look perky, slip them a liquid feed that quickly waters into the root zone. Stinky fish/kelp is easy for them to uptake in cooler weather. Get your nozzle under low cabbage leaves and feed/water out to the drip line. Lettuces love manures. Compost and manure teas, fish emulsion (when there are no digging predators), pretty powdered box ferts, are all good. Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings. Slow release is a wise consideration. Worm castings, though not food, work wonders! Also, be careful of ‘too much’ fertilizer, too much water, that makes for an aphid tasty soft plant. That said, another way to get goodness to the roots is push in a spade fork vertically, wiggle it back and forth, remove the fork, pour your foods into the holes, close ’em back up. Soil organisms will get right to work, your plant will stay healthy and be quite productive!

Especially feed your cabbages, lightly, time to time, because they are making leaf after leaf, dense heads, working hard. I often see kales lose their perk. You would too if someone kept pulling your leaves off and never fed you. Feed them too, please, while feeding your cabbages.Don’t feed carrots, they will fork and grow hairy! Overwatering makes them split. Your peas and favas are busy gathering Nitrogen from the air, feeding themselves, so little to no feeding is needed for them.

Check beets, carrots, radish, potatoes, turnips, in general, for low soil, especially after rains. Soil naturally compacts with watering. Some of these veggies naturally push right up above ground as they grow. Planting their seeds deeper doesn’t compensate. It’s the nature of the veggie! Never hurts to put a handy little pile of extra soil near where you plant them. Cover their exposed shoulders to keep them from drying, getting tough, needing peeling, losing the nutrients in their skins. Uncovered carrot shoulders don’t ripen but stay green. Same with potatoes.

In SoCal, winter is not a time for mulching except for erosion control. Its purpose in summer is to keep the soil and plant roots cool, and retain moisture. In winter, we pull the mulch back to let the soil warm up during the short days. Also, it’s good to remove pest habitat, let the soil dry a bit between rains to kill off the wilts fungi, and let Bagrada bug eggs die. Do not keep straw from areas where there have been infestations. Bag up clean summer straw, mulches, for compost pile layers during winter or lay the straw under the boards in pathways to feed the soil there. Later, move the pathway over, left or right, and plant in that fertile soil that is now under the boards!

Do water! Watering is important even in cool weather. Also, some plants simply like being moist ie chard and lettuce, strawberries. No swimming, just moist.

Standard Veggie Predators Keep a keen watch for pests and diseases and take quick action!

  • Gophers  You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after the rains. If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.
  • Aphids  Watch for leaves unnaturally curled along the length of the leaf, particularly broccolis, cauliflowers, kale, cabbages. Squish or wash any or the colony away immediately, and keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed. After that, water less so plant leaves will be less tender and inviting.
  • White flies  Flush away, especially under the leaves. They are attracted to yellow, so keep  those Brassica yellowing, yellowed leaves removed pronto. Again, a little less water.
  • Leafminers  Keep watch on your chard and beet leaves. Pull away those blotchy sections the leafminers make; immediately remove whole leaves that are too funky for rescue. Harvest the bigger outer lower leaves more often to stay ahead of the miners, especially the leaves that touch another plant. Water and feed just a little less to make those leaves less inviting. Plant so mature leaves don’t touch. Rather than row plant, interplant here and there.
  • Slugs, Snails  Lay down Sluggo, or the like, before seedlings even get started, immediately when you put your transplants in! Once stopped, there will be intervals when there are none at all. If you notice tiny children snails, lay down another couple rounds.

COMPOST always! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost is easy to make, and if you make it, you know what’s in it! Added to your soil, made or purchased, it increases water holding capacity, is nutritious, soil organisms flourish, your soil lives and breathes! It feeds just perfectly! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist.

Again, get your summer garden layout in mind NOW for January/February SEED SWAPS! Peruse seed catalogs and order up. Later on, many seeds will no longer be available, so wisely get your entire year’s supply now!

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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!

Love your Mother! Plant more bee food! Capture water. Grow organic!

December Garden Images! Western Bluebirds, the Fallen Tree, surprises!

See the entire January GBC Newsletter:

ALL About Beets, So Sweet!
Soil Care for Spring Planting
HEAL Community Garden for Sydney Children

Events!  January 31, 2016 Santa Barbara Seed Swap!

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