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Design Your Beautiful Summer Garden!

Last chance to design, make changes to your summer garden layout! March is often first plantings, if not, it is last soil preps before full on April plantings!

Day lengths are still short. We want Night air temps steadily above 50 and soil temps 60 to 65 for starting our veggies well. Peppers, especially need these warmer temps. They don’t like cold feet. They do best with nighttime temps above 55°F and soil temps above 65°F. Average March night temps are right about 50°F.

MARCH through June Planting Timing  

Start MORE seedlings indoors NOW for late April/early May plantings – eggplant, peppers, and more tomatoes for transplanting into the garden in late April or early May. Also sow cucumbers, squash and sweet potatoes. The beauty of seeds is you can plant exactly what and how many you want! If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, get transplants and pop them in the ground per their right times! Plant Winter squash now so it will have a long enough season to harden for harvest and be done in time for early fall planting.

  • APRIL is true heat lovers time! Eggplant, limas, melons (wait until MAY for cantaloupe), peppers, pumpkins and squash! Many wait until April, even May or June, to plant tomatoes. Wait until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons.
  • Some gardeners wait until JUNE to plant okra. It really likes heat and grows quickly when happy. Choose early varieties like the standard Clemson Spineless, Annie Oakley F1, Perkins Long Pod or Cajun Delight! Choose faster maturing varieties for cool coastal SoCal. If YOU anticipate a HOT summer, plant a tad earlier, but be prepared to deal with it if summer is overcast as often is the case after all.

With our warming temp trends be on the safe side. Get bolt resistant/slow bolt varieties, heat, and especially drought tolerant varieties of everything!

Right now plant pepper transplants (at the right temps) and cold tolerant, early varieties if available. If you love your peppers and want some early, or have a short growing season, next year order seeds for ones that mature quickly and are cool weather adapted! Plant those transplants in the ground first and others more heat tolerant soon after to carry the length of the season. For cold tolerant sweet bell peppers, get seed for Ace, Lady Bell or King of the North! Obriy Ukrainian sweet red pepper is both cold and heat tolerant! For hotties that don’t mind cold, order up Early Jalapeno, Hungarian Hot Wax or Anaheim. Rocoto stands some cold but not a hard freeze. Manzano are reported to survive at 20°! The extraordinary feature of these two peppers, Capsicum pubescens (hairy leaves), is they grow into four-meter woody plants relatively quickly, and live up to 15 years! Truly sustainable! Now we need a bell pepper that can do that! If cold weather can happen anytime where you live, grow your peppers in pots; take them inside when it gets cold. Keep them on a cart or put the pots on roller wheels.

Plant determinate quick maturing early varieties of tomatoes – start with small fruited varieties and cherry toms – for soonest tomatoes for your table! The moist soil at Santa Barbara’s community gardens has residues of Verticillium and Fusarium wilts, so some gardeners wait until warmer drier June soil to plant tomatoes and other veggies, like cucumbers that are wilts susceptible – but remember, those fungi are also windborne. You can delay it, make it less, but not prevent or stop it. Cucumbers are especially susceptible and do quickly die from it, so if you love cukes, be prepared to plant 2nd and 3rd rounds, but do these successive rounds in different places! See more about how to avoid or slow down wilt and fungi problems! See about using BLEACH! See more about selecting tomatoes!

Outdoors sow or transplant beets, carrots, celery, chard, herbs, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces, green onions, bulb onion seed and sets (be sure to get summer maturing varieties), parsley, peas, peanuts (they do grow here!), potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, strawberries, and turnips. Transplant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi seedlings. Time for heat tolerant, bolt and tipburn resistant lettuces of all kinds! The fabulous Green Star, Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson are some. Tips for super Successful Transplanting!

This is the LAST MONTH to transplant artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale; also strawberry, blackberry, and raspberry roots so they’ll bear fruit well this year.

PLANT PLANTS THAT REPEL PESTS, WARD OFF DISEASE IN ADVANCE SO THEY WILL BE UP AND WORKING WHEN YOUR SEEDLINGS COME UP OR YOU INSTALL YOUR TRANSPLANTS! Those are radish, cilantro, potatoes, Borage.

  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, RADISH Combo! Depending on ground temps, tuck in some bean seeds where the peas are finishing, intermingled with cucumber seeds that will grow low along the trellis, below the beans, plus a few dill to go with the cukes! See more for bean/cuke planting tips. Plant radishes with the cukes to deter the Cucumber beetles. Borage repels tomato hornworm and is especially good with tomatoes, strawberries and squash!
  • Tomato Tips:  La Sumida has the largest tomato selection in the Santa Barbara area! Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts, Fusarium and Verticillium. 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 drought conditions, consider getting only indeterminates.

Succession planting makes such good sense. Put your seeds and transplants in at the same time. Seedlings will come along 6 to 8 weeks behind your transplants so you have a steady supply of yummy veggies! But if tending seedlings isn’t your cup of tea, just leave space and put in more transplants in 6 to 8 weeks after your first planting.

It is perfect to put in fast growers like lettuce, beets, turnips, arugula, to hold space until you are ready to plant bigger plants. When it’s time for the bigger ones, clear a space/harvest, pop in your seeds or transplants and let them grow up among the space holders. As the bigger plants start to shade out the littles, remove lower leaves so the littles get light too! The smaller plants act as living mulch under the bigger plants. No need to plant smaller plants in rows of their own. Think circles and understory! Plant them around and under the bigger plants! If you anticipate a HOT summer, plant heat sensitive littles only on the morning or shady side of larger plants.

Put in borders of slow but low growers like carrots, mini cabbages, in more permanent places, like on what will become the morning side of taller backdrop plants like peppers and eggplant.

Depending on what legumes you choose, figure 3 1/2 +/- to grow another round of green manure to enrich your soil Nitrogen. In warming weather and longer days, it grows faster. In 6 weeks to two months chop it down and chop up. Give it 2 days to 2 weeks to decompose on the surface, keeping it moist. Add amendments, turn it all under, allow 3 weeks to a month for it to integrate with your soil, and the area will be ready to plant again. Or, dig your planting holes as soon as you turn it under, put in some fine compost, a smidge of manure, your other favorite amendments like worm castings, bone meal, Jamaican guano, a mineral mix, and plant! The rest of the area will take care of itself! See much more – Living Mulch/Green Manure!

Consider not growing kale or chard over summer. Kale will grow, but really is happiest in Winter. If you harvest a lot of your kale in summer, it often has smaller dry looking leaves growing at the top of a tortured spindly stalk. I’ve seen them over 5′ tall. The leaves get tough, lack robust flavor, and lack that cool weather vibrancy. Fertilizing, watering really don’t do much at this point because the plant is just trying to survive. A different strategy is to harvest a lot less early on, let your plant branch and become bushy! Then you can harvest at several points, and the plant provides its own living mulch. Huge difference. Or maybe you need to plant a lot more kales so you don’t over harvest individual plants!

This is one kale plant in the image below! It has made all these branches, multiple harvest points, by April at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden! Look at that abundance! It thrives all summer!

Curly Leaf Kale Branching into Bush form!

Chard suffers in hot summers. It droops from midday heat, recovers, droops, recovers each day. That’s hard on a plant. It doesn’t produce much. Doesn’t seem reasonable to harvest when it is trying to stay alive. If you do choose to grow it, plant it where it will have a little shade in the hottest part of the day in summer or install some shade cloth for it. Plant shallow rooted living mulch plants around it. Keep it evenly moist. Flooding it isn’t what it needs when it droops from heat, and plants can literally drown. Chard is a fast grower. Why not harvest them mid to late spring? Plant something that will be more summer happy, then plant chard again in fall when things cool down.

Broccoli, on the other hand, depending on the variety, produces side shoots like crazy all summer long! Just be sure to stake them if your plant gets large and top heavy! And feed it now and then. It’s working hard. Deeply mulch brocs you intend to keep starting now while it’s still cool to keep them cool. Brocs are naturally a winter plant. Or encircle them with quick growing shallow rooted living mulch plants – lettuce (repels Cabbage butterfly), beets, etc. that won’t interfere with your broccoli’s roots. When you harvest those quick growers, when you have access to the soil, feed your broc, and plant more living mulch!

Garden Design assures your veggies get the sunlight they need! Plant tall in the North, short South is the general rule. If you area is semi shaded or half day shaded, plant tall on the shady side, short where there is the most sun.

Tall: Indeterminate tomatoes in cages, pole beans in cages or on trellises. Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions! Tall varieties of broccoli you keep for summer side shoots. Cucumbers are great on the trellis below the beans.

Middle height: Determinate tomatoes, bush beans, okra, tall peppers like Big Jim Anaheim or Poblanos, zucchini. White potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugsRadish with cukes and squashes to repel cucumber beetles, with cukes, squashes and eggplant to trap flea beetles! Large Winter Squash vines and pumpkins are middle height, while some mini melons would fall to the lower mid height zone. Put in zucchini and vines, sweet potatoes, to take up space if you don’t want to do a lot of tending, but do know, you must keep those zucchini picked! If your zucchini is dense, and you miss seeing it, an unpicked zuke can become a 6″ diameter 2′ long monster in as little as 5 days!

Lower plants like eggplant, like a lot of heat. Put them on the sunny side, slightly in front of every other slightly taller plant. Leave a couple kale that will get taller. But, if they are leafless stalks with pom pom tops, they aren’t going to give any shade, so they could be left anywhere actually. Since they are a winter plant, mulch them deeply or plant lettuces or leafy plants around their base as a living mulch and keep the soil there moist and cooler, and feed them. Or grow the heat tolerant flat leaf kale like Thousand Headed Kale! It has many growing points instead of just one and self mulches!

Shorties & Littles: A lot of shorties will be in front of or be the understory of taller plants, in some instances a living mulch, so there is no need to allocate, use up separate space just for them. Your plants all help each other. When the bigger plant leaves start shading out the littles below, harvest strategic large lower leaves to allow light and airflow.

Put beets and carrots in the short zone, as an understory, between and among big plants. Bunch onions away from beans, great with other short rooted plants like lettuces that need to be kept moist. Summer small bulbed variety radishes give a great spike of hot flavor to a cool summer salad! Some delicious heat lover mini melons are quite small leaved and do best on the ground. They are easily trellised, but put that trellis in a sunny hot spot because it is cooler up on an open trellis.

Flowers & Seeds! Let arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery go to flower to bring bees, butterflies and beneficial insects – pollinators! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next year’s plantings, to share at the seed swap, give as gifts! Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of and helps any neighboring herb. It is called the Plant Dr!

See Smart Garden Design Leads to Excellent Plant & Seed Selection! for more tips!

While you are thinking where to put things, select permanent spots for herbs, gateway points for flowers and edible flowers! Designate a permanent patch for year round flower habitat for bees. Cilantro is both tasty and has lovely feathery leaves and flowers, great pollinator food. Chamomile is downright heady scented on a warm morning. Comfrey, Knitbone, is both healing (arthritis/bones) and speeds your compost, is high in soil nutrition. Poppies are beautiful; humble white Sweet Alyssum is dainty and attracts beneficial insects. Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips! Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents! Cosmos is cosmic! See Stripes of Wildflowers!

Finish your Summer Gardening preparations!

  • Install a greywater, rain capture system
  • Install gopher wire protection.
  • Install pathways, berms.
  • Waffle Garden, basins & windbreaks, Water Garden. Excellent drought choices.
  • Gather cages & trellises
  • Terrace slopes – capture water runoff, prevent topsoil loss, mulch it
  • Build creative raised beds, try Hugelkultur
  • Get new containers, pallets, boards, net or wire for bird protection
  • Organize where you will keep straw bales for summer mulch
  • Setup Compost and worm box areas

Complete your Soil Prep! 

  • Add compost, only 5 to 10%, & other amendments to your soil all at the same time.
  • Add well aged manure as appropriate. Less in spring because you want fruit production, not leaf, unless it is a plant grown for its leaves, like lettuce, kale or cabbage! None for carrots, peas or beans.
  • Add 25% worm castings. As little as 10% works. They are potent, help with seedling germination, boost immunities to disease.
  • Adding Jamaican guano high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Its NPK ratio is 1-10-0.2, takes 4 months to become available to your plants.
  • Sprinkle with a tad of coffee grounds to reduce wilts fungi. Add only a ½ a % to your soil or compost. A tiny bit goes a long way!
  • Don’t cover with mulch yet unless you need it for erosion control. Consider planting a living mulch like White Clover instead. Covered soil is cooler. Let your winter cool soil warm up. The exceptions are broccoli, cabbage, chard, and kale! Mulch ASAP because they like/need cooler soil.
  • Water your prepped areas when you water your veggies. Soil organisms need moist soil.
  • Sidedressing! Hard working plants need fuel and water. As broccoli starts to head, give it a fish/kelp tonic! After the main head is cut, your side shoots will flourish!

Pests Reminders and Home Remedies!

  • Before you put in seeds, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from vanishing upcoming seedlings overnight, making you think they never came up! No, they didn’t let you down. Killing off the creatures ahead of time saves the babies. It stops new transplants from being seriously damaged or entirely eaten while they are small. Do this a few times, to knock off the generations, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while.
  • Pull away those blotchy sections the leafminers make on chard and beet leaves. Remove whole leaves that are too funky for rescue. Harvest the bigger outer lower leaves more often to stay ahead of the miners. Water a tad less so leaves are less soft and inviting.
  • Hose APHIDS off chard, kale, brocs, cabbages. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed and new generations. Nearby, plant Calendula as a trap plant, radish to repel them. When you see unnaturally curled leaves, you will likely find aphids. Check both upper and undersides of the leaves and the tiny leaves at the central growth point.For hard to get at places, down the centers of chard, crinkly kale leaves, get out that spray bottle! Treat once, wait a couple days, treat the ones that got away and newborns.I tried it, 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! However. If the infestation is just over the top, with chard you can cut off the whole plant about 1 1/2″ above ground and simply let it regrow, though it may never be as healthy or lush as a newly grown plant. Sometimes it’s just better to start over, and not in the same place. Hose away any reappearing or lingering aphids post haste! Check out the ant situation. Ants like being near water. Get rid of the ants.
  • Regularly remove any yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies.
  • Gophers You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after any rains. If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.

Prevention A frustrating typical disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on Curly Leaf kales, squashes, beans, cucumbers. 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 half teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! See Aspirin Solution.

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants.

Grass in FlowerWatering & Weeding Wind and sun dry soil quickly and short rooted plants like peas, or seedlings, need to be kept evenly moist.

Thinning is a form of weeding! Thin plants that need it, like beets whose seeds start in foursomes! Thin plants you intentionally over planted – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, radish, mustard! If you planted too close together, take out shorter, smaller weaker plants. They are all great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves. If you don’t thin, plants grown for their roots don’t have room or nutrition to grow that root. They are literally rootbound and starve each other out, stunted. So thin sooner than later. If you miss the window, thin or not, you won’t get your root – beet, carrot, radish, etc. Keep thinning as they get older. At mature size their leaves shouldn’t touch each other. That helps keep pests and disease from spreading from one to the next.

When you are weeding, remove blooming or seeding plants first!!! When grass has those pretty frilly little green tops, it is blooming and seeding! Remove it ASAP. Better yet is to remove weeds before they seed! If at the seeding stage, gently pull, don’t shake the soil loose from the roots spreading seeds all over, and don’t put them in your compost! Bag and trash.

Dust Mulching, cultivation, is perfect to break up the soil surface, especially after a rain! That keeps the water from wicking to the surface and evaporating. If you use a hula hoe you do two things at once! Just a half to one inch depth cuts off weed sprouts. Indeed, it turns the soil a tad, all that’s needed. More weeds will follow, but it’s quick and easy to repeat the process. Two, three times, a few days apart and there will be few weeds after that for a while. Get ’em while they are small and easy to do. Smart gardening.

Keep COMPOSTING! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, feeds just perfectly! And if you made it, you know what’s in it! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place! Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist. Giving back to Mama Earth is nature’s natural way! And, like Will Allen says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins.

The good work you do now will pay off with abundant summer harvests!

Oh, and see more in February’s Newsletter, especially about Tomatoes!

Updated annually

 


Please enjoy these February images at Santa Barbara CA’s Rancheria Community Garden! Soil, tiny Sprouts, magnificent Sage, to gorgeous Snapdragons and a surprise encounter with a Mockingbird, we had a fabulous February!

Check out the entire March 2020 Newsletter!

It includes more about soil, unique veggies like Tomatillos and Long Beans! You might like to try them this summer! Also there are some important upcoming garden events!


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

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

 

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Bowl of Tomatillos
Tasty image compliments of Rachel Steenland at The Plant Riot

Tomatillo, pronounced ‘toe-mah-tee-yo,’ means “little tomato,” but they aren’t a tomato. They grow in inedible papery husks, resembling small, straw-colored Japanese lanterns. Aficionados don’t substitute one for the other, but they are in the same family. Another variance from most plants is you need TWO to pollinate and get fruit!

CA Rare Fruit Growers says ‘There is considerable confusion in the literature concerning the various species. Hybrids between them are also known.’ Here’s their list! 

Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana L.), Ground Cherry (Physalis heterophylla), Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa), Purple Ground Cherry (P. philadelphica), Strawberry Tomato (P. pruinosa), Ground Cherry, Husk Tomato (P. pubescens), Sticky Ground Cherry (P. viscosa).

Cape gooseberry, also known as ground cherry, produces small, sweet fruit inside papery husks. Tomatillo, also called husk tomato, produces similar but larger fruit that is a staple in Mexican cooking.  It is tart/tangy and crisp, used in gazpacho, guacamole and salsas, especially salsa verde. They are also used in lighter moles, like mole verde and mole amarillo. 

Here’s another comparison from WeCanGrowIt. Tomatillos and ground cherries both belong to the nightshade family, and although they taste very different, they look very similar. Both fruits grow like paper lanterns, enclosed in an inedible husk. Tomatillos are medium sized, while ground cherries produce a cherry-sized fruit and closely resemble their distant relative, the cape gooseberry.

Luscious Varieties!

Beautiful Yellow Tomatillo Blossom!

Fruits come in yellow, red, green, or purple and the flowers come in several colors too, including white, light green, bright yellow, and sometimes purple. Flowers may or may not have purple spots at the center. The fruits come in 1/2″ to 4″ grandes or gigantes!

Green Tomatillos are the standard.

BIG is Better? Some say the big ones, gold ball size or more, lack flavor and can taste bitter. But there are clearly gardeners who love them and some gardeners love bitter flavors! Try a few different ones. Remember to plant by twos, for pollination, of each variety, to see which you like! There are different varieties and sizes of the of green ones as well!

Tomatillo Variety Mexican Stain Yellow GrandeLook at these beauties! Horticulturist Jessica Walliser, says the fruits of YELLOW variety, Mexican Strain, are almost twice as large as green and purple types – usually 2″, and she finds they’re more flavorful after they fall from the plant. She adds them to homemade spaghetti sauce and tomato soup and has had excellent results. They’re very meaty. Territorial Seed says ‘These tasty summer treats are even more mineral-dense than tomatoes, packed with unique phytochemicals and flavonoids.’

If you are looking for a cold tolerant yellow, try Yellow Amarylla, bred to thrive in the cooler summer conditions of inland Eastern Europe.

Purple Tomatillo in the Husk and cut open to see the Seeds!Purple Tomatillos! Caribbean Garden Seed says theirs are a rare variety with smaller 1″ fruit that has a sweeter flavor than green tomatillos. Easy to grow, less sticky! One gardener says ‘Purple Tomatillos can be eaten fresh off the vine, though we much prefer to grill them or make purple salsa.’ There is also a larger Purple Strain variety. Purple Tomatillos, more sweet, are used in jams and preserves.

Tomatillo rare Variety Queen of Malinalco Stephen Smith of Roughwood Seed Collection!Many Tomatillos have a long history and great stories! Specialty heirloom grower Stephen Smith says this about his 2019 Queens: I was so impressed with these “Queen of Malinalco” husk tomatoes we grew this year. While dubbed “Queen of Malinalco”, this is not the true name of this landrace. Locally they are called “acorazado or acorazonado” meaning heart shaped”. This landrace is found in the old Aztec village/town of Malinalco, named after the Aztec goddess Malinalxóchitl . It is said that Huitzlipochtli abandoned his sister Malinalxóchitl because she was practicing evil witchcraft. While she slept, he left her in the middle of the forest. When she woke, she was furious at having been abandoned by her brother. She gathered people loyal to her and marched off to settle in what is now Malinalco. I suspicion back then these were utilized in special ceremonies and were most certainly a food of the deities. Very productive, 3-6 foot tall plants yield long, pear-heart shaped fruits that begin green and ripen to a golden yellow and push through their husk. The largest tomatillo we have ever seen. Amazingly fruity tasting fruits are excellent in pies, jams, etc. Get seeds at Roughwood 

Baker Creek Heirloom Rare Seeds says this Tomatillo is more like a sweet paste tomato! The fruit grow up to an awesome 4 inches long and the plants are very productive.  

Tomatillos originated in Mexico and were cultivated in the pre-Columbian era. The Aztecs are credited with domesticating them. They were more important than the tomato.

Companion Plants can make a marked difference!

Plan ahead to include helpful plants where your Tomatillos will be planted. Plant those plants well before you plant your tomatillos so the companions will be working as soon as you plant your tomatillos. Plant with Borage to repel tomato hornworms. Basil is a classic with tomato type plants, also helps repel hornworms. Be mindful of differing water needs.

Nasturtiums (caution if you have snails) and Marigolds, attract pollinators. Marigolds repel nematodes in the soil; nasturtiums deter whiteflies! You can plant your Tomatillos with Peppers, Tomatoes, Sunflower, Onion – repels beetles, spider mites and ants, Garlic, Cabbage, Kale and Carrot. Basil, mint, chives, sage, parsley, garlic repel insect pests. Parsley in bloom also attracts hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids and predatory wasps that eat other pests!

Incompatible! Kohlrabi stunts tomatillos. Corn (not recommended as a food) attracts pests that harm tomatillos. Potatoes and eggplants attract potato beetles and potato aphids that tomatillos are also susceptible to. Dill and Fennel have oils that inhibit root development and can kill neighboring plants.

Companion planting is not an exact ‘science.’ There are contradictions online, so try it for yourself. There are so many soil variations, different planting times of year per temps, distances between plants, differing plant varieties that have different hardiness or tolerance. Note how far apart you plant companions/not companions from your Tomatillos. Is your Tomatillo growth slowed, then when they get bigger things are fine? Have you planted a ‘good’ companion close enough to your tomatillos to do them good?

GROWING Details!

Half-Black Bumblebee on Tomatillo Flower
Half-Black BumbleBee (Bombus vagans) on Tomatillo Flower

Tomatillos are in the Solanaceae family like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant. Honeybees DO NOT pollinate them, Bumblebees DO! It’s called buzz pollination! If you are inclined, make homes and habitat for wild bees! It’s easy!

You need 2 or more plants placed close together for cross pollination.

Bonnie Plants says ‘Plan for each plant to produce about a pound of fruit over the season. However, most recipes call for ½ pound to make sauce, so plan to grow a minimum of 2 to 3 plants to have enough fruit ready to eat at one time. You may need more if you like them a lot.’Choose full sun, except in hot climates where some afternoon shade is recommended.

Soil & Water: Tomatillos love fertile loamy soil rich in organic matter. Add plenty of compost prior to planting. Preferred soil pH is between 5.5-7.0. If you have heavy clay soil, grow them in raised beds. They grow well in containers as long as watering is kept regular.

Seed Sowing Depth: ¼” deep   Germination: 7-14 days

Starting Indoors:  Sow 6-8 or 8-10 weeks before last frost. Sow in flats/cells/pots. Provide 70-80ºF or 75-85ºF soil temperatures. Those are optimum, but they can be planted at 59ºF! Cooler soil temperatures increase germination time. If your Tomatillos don’t germinate, supply bottom heat to the plants, and cover them with a dome or plastic. This will definitely help.

Thin to 2″ apart after the first true leaves appear. Fertilize the seedlings every 7-10 days with a liquid or water soluble fertilizer (diluted to ¼ of suggested measurement). Transplant seedlings 24-48” apart after last frost.

Sowing Outdoors: Not recommended, especially in short season northern areas. Because of Tomatillos long growing season, this shortens their production time by as much as 2 months. 

Plastic Bottle Cloche

It helps to use row covers early in the season, giving the plants extra warmth, especially in the north. Or use cloches to protect and keep young plants warm. A simple cloche can be any large plastic container with its bottom cut off, with or without the cap. Not only does it keep your plant warm, but protects it from bird damage. On hot days be sure to remove that cap! 

If you have good hot summer temps, lay down a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch to preserve moisture and keep weeds down. If you have less than optimal hours of sun, are in a northern area or are in a cool area (our community garden is seaside cooler), don’t apply soil cooling mulch.

Days To Maturity: Depends on the variety and your local temps, but generally 65 to 100 days after transplanting.

Tomatillos can be compact and upright OR are highly-branched and sprawling, semi-indeterminate, with a more open canopy. Trellis or stake those plants for support. Staking the plants will ease harvest and keep fruit off of the ground, which reduces slug and other damage to the fruit and husk. It also enhances air circulation and discourages fungus problems on the foliage during periods of high humidity. If allowed to sprawl on the ground, the stems will rootand the plants will require more space than you may have anticipated, so be sure to use a trellis or tomato cage – unless you have the room and want more tomatillos!

Maintenance!


Tomatillos work hard making all those little lanterns! They are heavy feeders and will benefit from regular fertilization. Others say they are hardy and too much food gives you leaves and little fruit! If your soil is poor, feed ’em. If your soil is rich, let them alone. Probably is
wise to do the standard side dress when the flowers begin to form. 

Soak the soil 4-6″ deep at 7-day intervals. Like with any fuzzy leaved plants and tomatoes, avoid wetting the foliage when watering. Water at ground level. Keep the soil consistently moist. Overwatering can cause fruit to crack.

Pests & Diseases

Prolific Tomatillos and Flea Beetle Damage

Not only can you see how prolific Tomatillos are but also the Flea Beetle damage! See all the little holes in the leaves?! Plants are usually vigorous enough that the damage is merely cosmetic.

Pests: Aphids, cutworms, snails, slugs, flea beetles, European corn borer, mites, fruit worms, whiteflies, tomato hornworm, leafminers.

Diseases: Fungal leaf spots and early and late blights, powdery mildew, viruses, Bacterial soft rot. As possible, do a 3-4 year rotation, remove vines at the end of the year. as of 2017 two diseases have been documented, tomato yellow leaf curl virus associated with whiteflies, and turnip mosaic virus associated with aphids – see the last listing on this page. What turnip mosaic looks like.

Harvest Pointers Vary!

When to Harvest your Tomatillos
Thanks to Bonnie Plants for the image! 

Cutting is better than pulling them from and damaging your plant. Ripe fruits often fall to the ground, where they can be collected and taken to the kitchen. You can place some type of cloth under the plants for an easier harvest. These babies are prolific! harvest every two to three days.

Harvest when the fruit fills the husk, botanically called a calyx. Harvest lasts 1 to 2 months or until first frost. In that short time, your plant can produce 60 to 200 fruits within a single growing season! That means harvesting daily is common.

Some say the fruits should be hard, while others say they should feel slightly soft. Still others say the best time to pick for salsa is when husks turn brown & begin to open. They can be several colors when ripe, including yellow, red, green, or even purple depending on the variety. With some varieties the plump fruit will bust right through the husk, and that is when you can tell that it is ready to harvest. You can just twist the fruit right off the vine at this point. 

For the green variety in the image, the bright green color on the right is ripe. The left is overripe, turning yellow because it was left too long on the plant. Overripe is not as good for cooking, as they lack the firm flesh and tart flavor of the green tomatillos. For Salsa Verde, tart is right! With additional time, they will become more seedy, but sweeter, for eating raw.

One gardener says Tomatillos are often ripe when the husk splits, the husk turns tan or dry, and the fruit is still green. However, some fruits fill the husk but do not cause splitting. Some experience with harvest will be necessary to assess ripeness per various varieties and your location.

How do you store them?

Simply gather them up and keep them at room temperature in a basket without removing their husks. Tomatillos will last for up to two weeks this way, 1 to 2 months in a cool dry place. For best flavor, do not refrigerate! If you must, store tomatillos in their husks for 2 to 3 weeks in a paper bag in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. Wiki says ‘They keep even longer with the husks removed and the fruit refrigerated in sealed plastic bags.’

For longer storage, you have to freeze them, whole or sliced, or can them.

Tomatillos are prolific! They can easily be frozen! Remove the husk, rinse and dry. Arrange the tomatillos, not touching, on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer. As soon as the tomatillos freeze (takes about 2 hours), pack the tomatillos in freezer bags. Freezing separately first prevents them from sticking together. Double bagging is a good idea to prevent freezer burn. Label the bags with the date and place them immediately in the freezer. Frozen tomatillos will be sweet when thawed, perfect for use in salsas, sauces, and soups. Tomatillos should keep in the freezer for up to a year.

SEEDSAVING!

Tomatillo SeedSaving
Thanks to Howard Parker for these images.

Per Seed Savers Exchange, Tomatillos are outcrossers, meaning that their flowers cross-pollinate and are incapable of self-pollination. So, if you have a favorite tomatillo variety for turning into salsa verde and want to save seeds, make sure you give it plenty of space from other varieties! If genetic preservation of a variety is the goal, Seed Savers Exchange says “the isolation distance should be increased to 1-2 miles.”

Keeping that in mind, let your green tomatillos ripen until they become bright yellow. Their seeds are tiny! If you aren’t needing a lot of seeds, try it like this with the tip of a small pointy knife!

As FOOD there is nothing like them! 

Salsa Verde made with Tomatillos!

I’m not sure Tomatillos have any whopping special nutritional features. Martha Rose Shulman, author of “The Very Best of Recipes for Health,” says ‘Tomatillos are a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, as well as dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, potassium and manganese.’ There are so many wonder veggies, does it matter whether Tomatillos contribute highly? They’re a treat!

First, when you remove the husks, you find their skin has a sticky, sappy-like coating. The film has chemical compounds in it called withanolides that taste bad to pests, so the pests leave the tommies alone in the field! Leave it there, until you are ready to use them, it helps protect them while in storage. No worries. A quick rinse, a little vinegar if needed, and it’s gone!  

Tomatillos contain a pectin-like substance and can be used to thicken soups, stews or sauces when cooked. They can also be eaten raw, sliced and added to salads, guacamole, and fresh salsas. When slicing, use a serrated knife to easily cut through the skin without bruising. They can also be baked, dried, fried or pickled whole as a cold meat accompaniment, added to curries and stir fries. Serve grilled! Make marmalade and dessert sauce. The fruits, canned whole in Mexico, are sold domestically there and in the western United States.

Enjoy Salsa Verde as a dip, savoury sauce over enchiladas, tacos, eggs, as salad dressing, drizzle over chorizo, grilled fish, chicken, refried beans, rice, toast, and baked potato! As a marinade, in a burger! Use it as a dip for anything, including your bagel! Use it with Italian and French cuisines! 

Quick Basic Salsa Verde recipe! Emphasize your favorite ingredients as you wish! Tomatillos are the start. Add spicy HOT jalapeño peppers or not! Your choice. Fewer if you want less heat. Onion, garlic, lime juice, and cilantro! Rachel Steenland at The Plant Riot gives you all the juicy details!

More Recipes! Dan noSowitz says, don’t be limited to Mexican cuisine! Make a Raw Tomatillo And Spring Vegetable Salad, or Pasta With Tomatillo, Ricotta, And Sunflower Seed! Fried Tomatillos With Labneh And Za’atar. He says they’re [tomatillos] a really spectacular, unique ingredient, and the U.S. is unusual in that they are a very common sight throughout the entire country. (Just try finding tomatillos in France.) See his tasty recipes!

Tomatillo Fairy Lanterns and Blossoms

In addition to the terrific recipes, thanks to Dan noSowitz for this sweet image by Tim Lewisnm

May your garden grow deliciously with magical Fairy Lanterns! 

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter 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.

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Read Full Post »

Little girl eating Watermelon! Red!
Are you having fun?! Does your garden make you this happy?! PLANT MORE!
In SoCal it’s Cantaloupe planting time!

Recent night air temps have been in the low 50s, a 45, and a 48. Quite cool. Soil temps are low too. Peppers especially need warmer temps, nighttime temps above 55°F, some say 60, and soil temps above 65°F. It’s still a bit cool for peppers, but many gardeners, including me, have planted them already anyway. If planted too soon, sometimes they miss their natural sequence of production, and never produce. Let’s hope they do ok. See Best Planting Temps Per Veggie!

May, June Planting Timing

MAY is time for cantaloupe, peppers, pumpkins and squash! Wait until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons. Many wait until May, some even June, for warmer drier soil, to plant tomatoes to avoid soil fungi. Some gardeners wait until JUNE to plant okra. Okra really likes heat and grows quickly when happy. Choose faster maturing varieties for coastal SoCal. If YOU anticipate a HOT summer, plant a tad earlier, but be prepared to deal with it if summer is overcast as often is the case after all.

Long beans are spectacular and love heat. Late May, June is the best time to start them. They grow quickly from seed. They will last longer than other beans, hitting their stride toward the end of summer. Certain varieties of them don’t get mildew either! Their unique flavor keeps your table interesting.

While we are waiting for the right temps, do soil preps that are still needed. Weed out plants that won’t help your summer lovers. Make your soil fluffy with water holding compost, only 5 to 10%, while also adding tasty well aged manure! Add worm castings to areas that will be seeded.

Plant another round of your favorite heat lovers! Might be eggplant, limas, peppers and pumpkins! Transplant or seed different varieties of beans, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes than you planted before! Sow and/or transplant asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, chard, corn, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, heat-tolerant leaf lettuce, summer-maturing onions, parsley, peanuts rhubarb and spinach! Add white potatoes and radish with zucchini, radishes with cukes to repel cuke beetles, and with eggplant to repel flea beetles. Add fillers and littles under bigger plants as living mulch! Put some color in your choices! Plant RED table onions, fancy lettuces! Tips for super Successful Transplanting!

Choose heat and drought tolerant varieties when you can. For example, why wait when it gets HOT and your tomato stops setting fruit?! Get heat tolerant varieties the heat doesn’t bother! Heat tolerant tomatoes  keep right on producing when temps get up to and above 85! Rattlesnake beans are a winner! They produce in up to 100 degree weather! They have a slightly nutty flavor. You do have to keep watch and pick almost daily because they get long and plump quickly – and are still tender!

Problem temps for tomatoes:

High daytime temperatures (above 85 F)
High Nighttime Temperatures (above 70 F)
Low Nighttime Temperatures (below 55 F)

Check out this nifty page of heat tolerant varieties at Bonnie Plant! If your plant is not heat tolerant, wait. When things cool down, it will start making flowers and setting fruit again. See also Tomatoes are the Fireworks of Your Summer Garden!

Time for heat and leaf tip burn resistant, bolt-resistant lettuces of all kinds! Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson are some. Green Star wins the beauty award!

Tomatoes! Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts, Fusarium and Verticillium. 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 Santa Barbara area continued 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 fungi. La Sumida has the largest tomato selection in the Santa Barbara area! See Special Planting and growing tips for your Tomatoes and Cucumbers! If you are interested in the Indigo family of tomatoes, in the Santa Barbara area, Terra Sol and La Sumida both have them this year!

Once you have these strong varieties installed particular maintenance will keep them healthy longer.

  • Remove any leaves that will touch the ground if weighted with rain, dew or by watering.
  • Remove infected leaves the curl the length of the leaf or get brown spots.
  • Lay down a loose 1″ deep straw mulch blanket to allow air circulation and the soil to dry. No friendly fungi habitat. The most important purpose of this mulch is to keep your plant’s leaves from being water splashed or in contact with soil, which is the main way they get fungi/blight diseases.
  • When the straw gets flat and tired, remove (don’t compost) and replace.

Delicious Companion Plants to grow with Tomatoes!

Flowers or veggies that are great companion plants for your tomatoes!

Companion Plants! Always be thinking what goes near, around, under, with, what enhances your plant’s growth and protects it from damaging insects and diseases, or feeds your soil! Keep the biodiversity rolling! Plant pest deterring plants first so they will be up and working when you put in your seeds or transplants! If you forget, you can always add your companions later.

  • Alyssum is a great old fashioned pretty border plant, an understory living mulch. And WHITE Alyssum repels the cabbage butterfly.
  • Basil repels several unwanted insects, is great near tomatoes but not in the basin with the tom. The tom needs less water.
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill to go with pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Cosmos is for pollinators! More at SFGate
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!
  • Lettuce and carrots make a great understory below larger plants like peppers, eggplant. They act as living mulch! Leave a little open space to lightly dig in some compost or manure later in the season. If you already have enough lettuce and carrots, scatter a living mulch, soil feeding legume seed mix under those plants. At the end of the season you can turn it all under – aka Green Manure. Or remove the larger plants, open up spots in the living mulch and put in winter/summer plants! See much more – Living Mulch/Green Manure!

Now is the time watering becomes critical!

Water wise veggie garden practices!

SEEDS need to be kept moist. If they dry they die and you either replant or if you don’t have time, just go get transplants. Of course, the advantage of seeds is you have a lot more variety choices than what you can get at the nursery if you aren’t too late in the season to get them if you don’t have any more… Always purchase extra seed for accidents and incidents, ie birds or insects.

TRANSPLANTS need to be kept moist the first few days until they acclimate to their new home. Gentle watering. I water once, then go back and do the whole area again, giving the first watering a chance to soak down. Flooding is not necessarily a good choice. Soil needs oxygen, and plants can literally drown.

THE SCHEDULE What schedule, LOL?! It all depends on the weather. In our area there are hot days, cool days, overcast days, not often windy. But very hot and windy together might mean watering twice a day, whereas cool and overcast might mean an inch of water a week could be just fine. Water beans, cukes, lettuces and short rooted varieties of strawberries more frequently – 2 to 3 times a week, daily in very hot or windy weather. Poke your finger in the ground after rains to see just how deep the water soaked in. Use your shovel and wedge a spot open to see if the soil is moist deeper.

Most plants need to be kept moist. Kept moist. Dry crusty soil keeps your soil from breathing. Compost, mulch and planting living mulch are all good answers. Compost has excellent water holding capacity. Work it in gently around the dripline of your plant so as to damage as few roots as possible. Maybe only do one or two sides of your plants so all the feeder roots are not destroyed. It will set your production back if your plant has to regrow them.

Living mulch has two advantages over dead mulch like bark or straw. 1) Living mulch can be an edible understory of small plants I call Littles. Their shade keeps the soil cool and moist. On balance they need water too, so you might use a wee bit of more water, but you also get 2 crops in the same space! 2) Living mulch can be soil feeding legumes under your bigger plants. They too shade and keep your soil moist and looser.

The plant that does well with straw is cucumbers! It keeps the fruits clean and soil free, and, drum roll, might slow cucumber beetle movement from one plant to another! Plus, it is great shelter for wolf spiders, daddy long legs and other predators. The more spidies the more healthy your garden!

The first plant you mulch is any Brassica – broccoli, kale – you are over summering. They like cool soil, so pile it on, good and deep, 4 to 6 inches. Peppers are quite the reverse, the last plants you mulch. They like soil temps above 65. Mulch keeps the soil cooler, so use your soil thermometer to see if the mulch is cooling it too much for your peppers.

If you live in a cool or coastal area, you may choose not to mulch melons at all! They do well on hot bare soil sheltered from cooling winds!

Furrows and basins are perfect for water capture, just like the SW indigenous peoples did with their waffle gardens. The water collects at the bottom, the wind goes over the berms. You can raise fungi susceptible plants, your tomato and cucumber basins onto the tops of your mounds so there is better drainage and your soil dries somewhat. For plants that are not wilt fungi vulnerable, dig your basins and furrows down. Let the normal soil level be the ‘berm’ for the wind to blow over.

Sprinkle and pat on Mycorrhiza fungi right on the roots of your transplants when you put them in the ground. It increases uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for it bulk at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta

Save water by using a long water wand to water under your plants, not the foliage. Use one with different settings so you use only what your plant needs, and an easy-to-use shut off valve so you use water only when you need to.

Garlic, bulb onions, and shallots naturally begin to dry this month. When the foliage begins to dry it’s time to stop watering them. Dry outer layers needed for long storage will form on the bulbs. When about half of the foliage slumps to the ground, bend the rest to initiate this maturing. The bulbs will be ready for harvest when the foliage is thoroughly dry and crisp.

Natural Disease & Pest Prevention!

  1. Be wise and pick the right plant varieties for your temps and conditions! Get heat tolerant, bolt resistant, drought tolerant, disease tolerant/resistant. If you are just starting, just start! You will learn as you go. Our climate is changing, so we are all adjusting and plants will be being hybridized, and hybridize naturally, for new climates. We can get varieties from other areas that are already used to conditions we will be having. Together we will do this. Locally, save seeds from plants that do the best with the heat and share some of those seeds at the Seed Swap and with other gardeners.
  2. Think biodiversity! Plant companion plants that repel pests, enhance each other’s growth so they are strong and pest and disease resistant. Mix it up! Less planting in rows, more understories and intermingling. Split up groups so pests won’t go from one plant to the next, and the next. Allow enough room for air space between, no leaves of mature plants touching each other. That breaks up micro pest and disease habitats.
  3. Make top notch soil!
  4. In planting holes
    – Add worm castings for your plants’ excellent health. 25% is best; 10% will do if that’s all you got.
    – Add a tad more tasty properly aged manure mixes where manure lovers will be planted.
    – Add non-fat powdered milk for immediate immune system support at planting time
    – Put in a finely ground bone meal for 2 months later uptake when your plant gets to flowering time.
    – Add Jamaican guano high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time. It helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Its NPK ratio is 1-10-0.2, takes 4 months to become available to your plants. Other quanos don’t have this particular NPK ratio.
    – Add an eency tad of coffee grounds (a 1/2 of a %) if you have wilts in your soil
    – Sprinkle mycorrhizae fungi directly on transplant roots, all but Brassicas, at planting time to increase their uptake of nutrients and water.
    – Use acidic compost in strawberry patches and work in a little where you will be planting celery and string beans.
  5. Immediately drench your transplants, foliar feed, with a non-fat powdered milk, baking soda, aspirin, soap mix to jazz up their immune systems. Specially give your peppers an Epsom salt and soap mix bath for a taste of sulfur. More details and all the recipes.
  6. Maintenance! Keep your plants strong while they are working hard! Be ready to do a little cultivating composts and manures in during the season (called sidedressing), or adding fish/kelp emulsion mixes if you don’t have predator pests like skunks! Keep your plants watered and vibrant, but not so much as to make their leaves soft and inviting to munching insect pests like aphids. Trap gophers immediately if you are able.
  7. Harvest promptly. Insects and diseases know when plants are softening and losing strength as they age. Insects are nature’s cleaner uppers, and they and disease organisms are hungry! If leaves are yellowing or not looking up to par, remove them. Whiteflies are attracted to yellow.
  8. Prevention A frustrating typical spring disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on late peas, Curly Leaf kales, broccoli, cucumbers and zucchini. 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 half teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! See Aspirin Solution.

The usual May culprits!

  • Cucumber Beetles get in cucumber, squash and melon blossoms. They aren’t picky. They are yellow greenish with black stripes or dots about the size and shape of a Ladybug. They are cute but are the very worst garden pest. They carry bacterial diseases and viruses from plant to plant, such as bacterial wilt and mosaic virus, deadly to cukes. Radish repels them, is a champion plant, a hero of the garden! Plant enough radish for you to eat and to let others just grow, be there permanently or at least until the beetles are done, gone. IPM data Straw mulch recommended.
  • Flea Beetles look like large black fleas and do hop mightily! They seem harmless enough, make tiny little holes in the leaves of eggplant, potatoes, arugula. But, those tiny holes add up. As the beetles suck out the juice of your plant they disrupt your plant’s flow of nutrients, open the leaves to disease, your plant is in a constant state of recovery, there is little production. Your plant looks dryish, lacks vitality. The trap plant for them, one that they like best, is radish! Thank goodness radish grow fast! Better yet, plant it ASAP when you put seeds and transplants in. IPM notes
  • Squash Bugs like your Zucchini and other squash, cucumber and melons. Plant radish and WHITE potatoes amongst them to repel the bugs. You will get three crops instead of just one! IPM info
  • Whiteflies do the honeydew thing like aphids do, leaving a nasty sticky black sooty mold or white fibers all over your plant’s leaves. The honeydew attracts ants, which interfere with the activities of Whitefly natural enemies. They are hard to get rid of, so keep a close watch on the undersides of leaves, especially if you see little white insects flying away when you jostle your plant. Whiteflies develop rapidly in warm weather, in many parts of California, and they breed all year. Prevent dusty conditions. Keep ants out of your plants. Hose them away immediately. See more Calendula is a trap plant for them.

Now is a the time to be thinking of soil prep for the future! Gather and dry good wood now for trial Hugelkultur composting at the end of summer, early fall! Woods that work best are alders, apple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, maple, oak, poplar, willow (make sure it is dead or it will sprout). Hugelkultur can be a simple huge pile or an elegant graceful design like this one. Could be right in your front yard! See more!

Beautiful graceful design of Hugelkultur style compost!

Plant Bee Food, Herbs and Flowers! Sow or transplant basil, borage, chervil, chamomile, chives, cilantro, comfrey, dill, fennel, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme. Be mindful where you plant them… Mediterranean herbs from southern France, like lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme, do well in hot summer sun and poor but well-drained soil with minimal fertilizer. On the other hand, basil, chives, coriander (cilantro), and parsley thrive in richer soil with more frequent watering. Wise planting puts chives by your broccoli, kale, but away from peas if you are still growing some. Cilantro, a carrot family workhorse, discourages harmful insects such as aphids, potato beetles and spider mites, attracts beneficial insects when in bloom. Dill is a natural right next to the cucumbers since you will use the dill if you make pickles. They mature about the same time.

Let some of your arugula, carrots, lettuces, cilantro bloom! Bees, and insect eating birds and beneficial insects love them and you will get some seeds – some for the birds, some for you, some to take to the seed swap! Grow beauty – cosmos, marigolds, white sweet alyssum – all benefit your garden in their own way! See Stripes of Wildflowers! Here are some special considerations – Courting Solitary Bees!

To plant a seed is to believe in tomorrow. Audrey Hepburn, born May 4, 1929


See the entire May 2018 GBC Newsletter!

May! Radiant Flowers and Tasty Veggies!

Cantaloupe!
Pollination à la Honeybees, Squash Bees & Bumblebees!
Mulching ~ When, With What, How Much?!

Upcoming Gardener Events! International Permaculture Day, Mesa Harmony Crop Swap 2018! SBCC ANNUAL PLANT SALE, Fairview Gardens Programs, Quail Springs Programs!

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

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter 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!

Read Full Post »

Greenhouse Henry Ford Hospital Michelle Lutz

Michigan’s Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital upgraded the condition of its food by adding a greenhouse. Michelle Lutz oversees production of vegetables, fruits and herbs, used in preparations such as braised romaine salad. / Photos courtesy of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital

Greenhouse seedlings, transplants are ready six to eight weeks early and you can grow Out-of-Season Treats in winter! Pest and disease free equals greater production! For institutions like hospitals, greenhouses are workhorses! A greenhouse is a most valuable part of a productive home garden. Seedlings are ready for earlier planting. Hospitals want the best food possible for the health of their patients, and can’t afford to be weather dependent.

As a home gardener in coastal SoCal areas you may question the need for a greenhouse. Though unheated, ours at our mile-from-the-beach community garden is well used! We often run out of space for everyone’s seedlings as we get closer to planting time or the weather warms! Even unheated, an enclosed space is heated by the sun during the day and doesn’t get so cold at night, no chilling winds or late freezes in there! Seedlings are protected from marauding pests, birds, walkabout creatures. Foothills and inland gardeners get more heat and more COLD! They really can use greenhouses to advantage.

Greenhouse Long CucumbersIn addition to starting preseason transplants, in a heated greenhouse you can grow out of season tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, cucumbers, beans, eggplant, zucchini, cantaloupe! Herbs, chard, raspberries and strawberries! And winter crops too if you just have too much snow outside!

Your greenhouse doesn’t need to be huge or showy. It just needs to do the job.

Super options!

Our land is flat, but yours might have slopes and you could choose to have an earth shelter space complete with indoor shower! See also Heating Greenhouses Without Electricity!

Greenhouses come in a vast variety of shapes from squares to pillowdomes! Buy a premade kit or design and build it yourself entirely to your specs.
You can have a 2′ wide up against the chimney mini to a palatial entire rooftop greenhouse with an elegant view!
You may have a built in the ground greenhouse cousin, a cold frame, or an indoor kitchen window box.

Materials vary from hoop frames to the fanciest filigree and glass, cob or strawbale! They can be spanking new, made of have-arounds, or be recycled from demolition sites! Covering materials can be poly films, panels, glass and glazing. There are so many new products, techniques, new research, all the time, and each person’s needs are so different, it is wise to check these things out for yourself. Talk with several ‘experts’ on each topic. Read up online. Compare. See what you really want. See what will do the best job for your needs.

If you have space for a larger greenhouse, consider gardening some of your crops in it! Hoop houses, or high tunnel farming is a recent invention. They are certainly the larger version of traditional row covers! There are huge commercial installations. Yet home made hoop houses can be no bigger than 8X8, so easy to put up a child can do it!

  • Season extension is the #1 advantage. 30 days on the front end and 30 days on the back end of the growing season is equivalent to moving your farming operation 400 miles to the south!
  • Yields increase when your plants are protected from excessive rain and wind. When a more ideal growing temperature is maintained, a reduction in temperature-related stress, fruit set, fruit size increases.
  • There is no bolting, so no loss of your plant’s production.
  • Because temperatures are maintained, you can plant when you want to, not have to wait until conditions are favorable.
  • Soil conditions are more controlled, less moist, less to no fungi – wilts, blights.
  • No pests, no pesticides! No birds, small mammals.
  • Plus, they are movable!

Greenhouse Energy Efficient Attached Lean ToEnergy efficient attached greenhouses make a lot of sense. The home, and these bricks, help heat the greenhouse for free! Some attached greenhouses are beautiful walkin sunrooms, garden rooms, conservatories!

If you decide to build a greenhouse yourself, first check on local ordinances and with your neighbors. Place it conveniently, near electrical and water access if possible. Choose a location with a winter angle for maximum light, as much sun as possible. Use trees for windbreaks if necessary.

Know your prevailing wind direction, be sure it is well anchored. Use concrete blocks with eye hook attachments, sink posts or anchoring stakes, or use sand, not rocks, on the windward base cover.

Your roof choice tells us what kind of weather you have! Steep slopes and insulated lower areas tell us you are in high cold country with snow and need to decrease your heating costs. Medium slopes with rounded shoulders are good in windy and rainy areas. An extended slope on one side that faces the sun tells us you may get a lot of shade from trees on one side.

Doors make a difference. If you are in a windy area, you might choose sliding doors that can be secured and weather stripped versus velcroed flaps, zippers or swing out doors that blow away or animals could get through.

Ventilation is key! Hot days are hot! In two shakes a greenhouse can to get up to 110 degrees! Doors and windows can be the vents if intruders are not an issue, otherwise, ceiling vents are best. Solar devices can be set to open when temps hit a high level. Fans may be needed.

Greenhouse sloped for lots more Solar energy!Electrical! Get advice from a greenhouse experienced professional because of the extreme conditions: heat, wet, cold. Make sure that person knows local codes
Consider solar lights, vent openers, fans or simply long sloped sides to have lots more solar energy as in the image!
Growlights? Yes!
Night light to see by
Computer monitor

Irrigation tips! Put your timer OUTSIDE! Make & see your adjustments without getting wet! Mini drop down sprayers or foggers at varying adjustable heights along an overhead line are fabulous! Consider recycling your water – is it legal to use grey water where you live? Collect rainwater.

A word about Damping Off. Damping off is a common problem with seedlings started in containers, indoors or in greenhouses. Per Planet Natural: ‘Several fungi can cause decay of seeds and seedlings including species of rhizoctonia, fusarium and phytophthora. However, species of the soil fungus pythium are most often the culprit. Damping off typically occurs when old seed is planted in cold, wet soil and is further increased’ by poor soil drainage.

Disease Cinnamon Damping Off PreventionThe super simplest prevention is Cinnamon! Just sprinkle it on the soil! Sprinkle on plant injuries and they will heal. It is a rooting hormone. Mildew, mold, fungal diseases? Mix 4 tablespoons cinnamon in a half gallon warm water, shake it vigorously, steep overnight. Strain through a sieve or coffee filter and put it in a spray bottle. Add ¼ teaspoon liquid dish soap as a surfactant, lightly spritz your plants, undersides and tops of leaves! (In Santa Barbara area buy it in big containers at Smart & Final.) Also, it repels ants!

Pathway and Flooring best for your plants and feet! Have a sturdy pathway that stands up to wheelbarrow use. A non muddy pathway saves your greenhouse floor. A raised flooring keeps you from having a muddy mess. Drainage is necessary so there is no rot or mold. Heated flooring is the best. There are great options, more and less expensive! Concrete, rubber matting saves your feet. Dirt, my last choice, and/or pavers. Decomposed granite, pea gravel, raised wooden slats, pallets, straw, chips – use weed mat underneath! Use pest protection wire under weed mat and soft flooring choices. No gophers, no mice, squirrels, bunnies or snakes, thank you.

Greenhouse Shelving FanShelves and Worktable

Make your work table a good working height for you
Shelving needs to be safe and well supported
Construct your shelves wire covered like the top shelves in the image, or like the lower shelves, out of spaced boards so water drains, the boards dry, there is no mildew or mold.
Enough space between boards makes it easy to clean
Or use open wire metal shelving that allows drainage and dries
If there is lower shelving, slant it down from back to front

  • so you can see what is in the back
  • It is easier to get items in back out – keep heavier items to front
  • No water clings to it – stays dry, no rot or mold

OR some say don’t have bottom shelves so there is no nesting space for mice or chipmunks – they WILL eat your plants! You want to be able to SEE the ground! Depends on how critter secure your house is.

Rather than just the greenhouse, consider a 4 part working complex! A storage shed, the greenhouse, a covered work area and hardening off area.

Tool & Gear Storage could hold your tools and supplies!

Wheelbarrow, all tools – shovel, rake, pitchfork, spade fork
Small tools – trowel, clippers, sprayers
Bags of compost, potting mixes etc
Plug trays, biodegradable containers, labels
Gloves, apron, work boots, jacket
Greenhouse gear & replacement materials

Greenhouse Support Supplies!

Heating gear – heaters, heating mats
Cooling systems – fans
Irrigation, misting items
Lighting – grow light, night light
Thermostat, humidity (no mold), temperature   devices, CO2 generators
Secure, safe-for-children and pets, dry storage containers

Your Workspace needs a sun shade top and wind screen side. It would be a good place for your composter, worm bin and might be a good place for your rain collector barrels

Care and Maintenance

Seasonal checks, reset watering needs, replace brittle coverings
Routine cleaning inside and out
Equipment
Sterilize propagation area
Ventilation – Heat, condensation. Insulation – Frost
Deal with pests and diseases immediately!

Greenhouse Reused Doors and WindowsGreenhouses made of reused doors and windows are much more green than recycling!

Sustainable Greenhouses are often compost or solar heated!
They have heated benches and floor because root zone temperatures are more critical to plant growth than leaf temperatures. By maintaining an optimum root zone temperature, greenhouse air temperatures can be lowered 15° F!
LED’s balance good light, cooler temps
Hydroponics (preferably aeroponics) remove excess heat and water vapor
CO2 is recycled by breaking down old plant debris in a digester
Soluble components of the plant debris can be incorporated back into the nutrient solutions.

5 Sustainable Sources to stir your thinking!

  1. Eco-Friendly Greenhouses
  2. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service:  Greenhouse Production
  3. Sustainable Architecture, Greenhouse Book & Video List
  4. Kiva’s straw bale greenhouse – the time & money it takes
  5. The Ghandi of Greenhouses – The Greenhouse Biz

Rooftop greenhouse with a view of the city! Germany Fraunhofer UMSICHT

Fresh City Tomatoes, Any Time! On his way home from the office, the computer scientist harvests tomatoes from his company‘s rooftop greenhouse. No food miles! Why not produce lettuce, beans and tomatoes where most of the consumers are to be found: in the city? The flat roofs of many buildings are well-suited for growing vegetables. Rooftop greenhouses can also make use of a building‘s waste heat and cleaned waste water. Solar modules can do the rest. This uptown rooftop greenhouse urban garden is in Germany. Image courtesy of Fraunhofer UMSICHT.

Greenhouse Conferences! Tradeshows, sustainable, educational. Local, international! If you love greenhouses, might want to do urban agriculture business, just want to get involved, check these out online. There are different sponsors, different locations each year!

Whatever your special connection is, in SoCal, before our winter rains and cooler weather, late summer, early fall are perfect for getting your very own fine greenhouse up and running! If you miss that window, very early in the new year is good so you can start seedlings for early March plantings!

You might decide to sleep in it the first night!


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

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

 

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Disease Tomato Fusarium Wilt Fungi Resistant

Tomato variety selection makes a huge difference.

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 and wind-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. Even with resistant varieties, production can be drastically reduced.

Verticillium Wilt is also a soil and wind-borne pathogen. 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, Salsify, 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 is windborne and 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. Get resistant strawberry varieties like Seascape.

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 hybrid toms if their soil has the fungi.

Cucumber Beetle Western Striped Spotted

Western striped cucumber beetles (on right in image) are deadly to cucumbers. They are referred to as ‘plant-wounding insects’ and also transmit bacterial wilt. Feeding on blossoms and leaves, they also spread it among squash, melons, and pumpkins which in turn spread it to nearby tomatoes. 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! Best to plant your radish before 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, among squash and pumpkins, cucumbers and TOMATOES! The part of the vine growing up over an arch or up a trellis won’t be helped, so if you have space and uninfected soil, you may opt to keep your vines on the ground. If you do have infected soil, but choose to keep your vine on the ground, keep that area weeded and don’t lay on mulch. Weeds and mulch keep soil moist. The fungi dry and die on hot dry soil. Water only where you staked, at the planting basin. Plant enough radish so you can eat some, but as a beetle repellent, let it grow out so the whole plant is big and protecting your cukes, tomatoes and other vines.

Broccoli also repel cucumber beetles. Grow cucumbers on the sunny side 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. Anticipate how they drop to the ground when you reach for them so approach from below, hand open. Catch & Squish.

Apply straw mulch an inch thick! No more than that. You want light and air circulation, for the soil to warm and dry some. Washington State Extension says: Straw mulch can help reduce cucumber beetle problems in at least 3 different ways.

  1. First, mulch might directly slow beetle movement from one plant to another.
  2. Second, the mulch provides refuge for wolf spiders and other predators from hot and dry conditions, helping predator conservation.
  3. 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.

Transplant rather than direct seed! Tiny seedlings are most susceptible to cucumber beetle feeding damage and to bacterial wilts.

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.

Long story short, less C Beetles, less Wilts = healthier Tomatoes!

Special Planting and Growing Tips! 

At the community gardens I have seen gardeners give up growing Toms and Cukes due to the wilts. But if you are willing, you can do it! Here’s how!

Regarding soil fungi like Fusarium and Verticillium wilts/fungi, how you plant and 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 when 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. Make the basin low area as big as your tom’s feeder roots will grow to. Once planted, top the bottom of the basin with a 1/2″ of compost, cover that with only 1″ of straw to let in air and sun to dry the soil. If you are planting early in cool moist soil, do not add the compost and straw layers………Special Soil Berm Basin Level for Tomatoes and Cucumbers
  • Keep ALL 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 sprouting at ground level and remove it on sight! AVOID WATER SPLASH when watering at ground level. The fuzzy damp leaves of toms and eggplant are perfect fungi habitat.
  • When your toms 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 lower leaves and fruit off the ground, and out of the insect zone. Put a tall enough stake in the middle of each basin so you know where to water later when the leaves get big and cover the area. Water gently BELOW the leaves at ground level, no splash. Keep those leaves dry. Keep removing lower leaves as your plant grows.
    .
  • 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. When possible, 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 hands often, dip your tools in alcohol. Trimming away infected leaves is a sad and tedious process. It’s practically impossible not to spread the fungi as you 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, dip your tools in alcohol. If you can, burn the infected plants on a non windy day.
  • The wilts can’t be stopped. Sooner or later the plant leaves curl lengthwise, get the dark spots, turn brown then blacken, dry 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….can’t be stopped.
    .


    That said, consider this! Per a comment by Leroy Cheuvront at Heavy Petal blog:  ‘I have had the blight and have stopped it from destroying my tomato plants. All you have to do is mix 1/4 cup of BLEACH to a gallon of water [add a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dish soap as a surfactant so it will ‘stick,’ and do it as early as possible in the day] and drown the plant from top to bottom, it will not kill the plant. I do it every seven days and the blight has not returned.’  — June 18, 2010. It sounds scary, but I bet it works! I would test this principle on ONE plant to be sure it is safe to use.

    The summer of 2019 I finally got up the courage to try Leroy’s Bleach mix! IT WORKED! I started after my plants were showing wilts signs, figured I had nothing to lose ~ totally scared it would kill my tom, I tried it on one, frightened to come the next day to see how it was. Just like Leroy says, it did not kill the plant! Whew! I wasn’t religious with the weekly treatment but my plants vastly improved, there was plentiful production that other gardeners commented on, and production lasted months longer than usual!
    .


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. Stressed plants are the most susceptible to the fungus. 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 because it leads to more leaves, less fruit. Add N only once. Water regularly and deeply. Use well-balanced, slow-release organic fertilizers that aren’t overly heavy with nitrogen. Alfalfa pellets will do the job. A healthy plant tends to fight off the spores.

Blight can also be transmitted through seed, so NO seed saving from infected plant fruits. Fresh seeds from a safe source 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, creates gaps between the tomato plants. Thin growth inside the cage if the leaves get too dense. 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 or put in green waste containers. Bag it and trash it. Don’t leave dead tomato, eggplant or peppers in the garden to spend the winter – especially if you are in a community garden. 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! 

Updated annually

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter 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.

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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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!

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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 WRIGGLERS, Eisenia foetida! 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 heavy mil 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 or keep your food scraps in a covered container to keep fruit flies away until you give them to your worms.
  • Your worms want dark and moist. Cover them inside their container with cardboard or another material so they will feed to the top. If it is light, they think the birds will get them and they stay away from the top! I tuck them in with a large black plastic garbage bag to keep them moist. If they get TOO moist, take the internal cover off/move it to one side, add shredded paper and don’t moisten the paper.
  • Mist the paper in as needed to keep it from drying out.

They like decomposing kitchen waste…

YES! Things cut into smaller pieces decompose faster. We just had a rainy winter, moist conditions day after day. In this case I didn’t cut the pieces up so decomposition would be slower and I fed them less. In this colder weather they slowed down and the added kitchen stuff started to rot rather than be eaten. I removed a few forksful and put them in the ground to reduce the moisture and restore balance. Since it was ‘muddy,’ I included what worms were in it. They are now off on new adventures in a different kingdom! The soil there will be extra rich!

My worms do love avo shells and nest in them. Crushed egg shells keep the pH neutral – you don’t need very many. Go wild with potato and carrot peelings, carrot tops, funky lettuce, squash, and, a favorite, melon rinds for dessert. The pulp from fruit/veg drinks. Fridge clean outs are perfect for your worms! If you have doubt about an item, don’t. Moderation is a good word.

NO to harder or tougher items that take a long time. No grape stems, corn cobs, avocado, cherry or mango pits. Avoid harmful spicy, salty, acidic citrus, sulfuric onion. Dairy makes the bin smell, oils and meats are too tough – bring predators if your worms are outdoors. Cooked rice, bread, pastas and pizzas bring mice to outdoor worm bins. 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 teabags/coffee grounds because they are acidic, and veggies like things a tad alkaline.

Rather than laying new food on top of the worms, I use a pitchfork or potato fork, 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 some of the worms back, mix them with the new food, then covering the new mix with the rest of the worms. Then I do the other half. The new food will decompose faster when mixed in and 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 ASAP!

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?’ They aren’t really, but 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 your plants 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!

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.

Depending on how much waste you need to reduce, and how quickly, if it is a lot and you want it gone, consider using BSFL, Black Soldier Fly larvae aka maggots! I know, ewwww! But actually they aren’t so bad afterall. Plus, they are incredibly fast! There are pros and cons. See Maggots in your Compost?! Two Surprising Answers!

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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Updated from time to time…


Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

The Green Bean Connection newsletter 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.

Read Full Post »

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