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Amendment Biochar Applying

Charcoal-like biochar improves soil hydration and enhances agricultural production while it curtails nutrient leaching, increases nitrogen available to plants and reduces the release of gas pollutants. A new study by researchers at Rice University and North Dakota State University gathers current and potential sources of government support to promote the production and use of biochar. Credit: Ghasideh Pourhashem, from the January 11, 2019, Rice University post. Read more Biochar holds promise for sequestering carbon and cleansing polluted air.

Fans rave about its virtues. Some are skeptical but want to learn more. So, wanting to learn, possibly use, I typed in ‘2018 2019 Biochar pros cons’…carefully read the latest noncommercial posts and their comments threads.

A few years ago a knowledgeable gardener I know raved about biochar. Now, some years later, recently a friend sent an article that turned the tables enough to make me want to check it out. One is how it was compared with natural soil that is replenished with biochar by forest fires. Two is how Biochar has several soil sustainable features, but foremost is how it keeps Carbon in our soil hundreds, maybe even 1000s of years! And that is to say nothing of its water holding capacity! Carbon is the foundation of our soil ecosystem. Three: Also, I recalled how amazingly my winter and summer garden plants grew last year. It started with a collusion of happenstance. I planted quite late, Dec 10, 2018 during the Thomas Fire ash fall. The ground was literally solid white with ash and chunks. But this winter my plants didn’t do nearly as well. Hmm… Granted, the ash is not biochar, but it’s a relative – it came from the high heat of a forest fire.

Right now, planet wide, by many, Biochar is considered crucial to our planet’s sustainability. Using it is a regenerative practice that will help our plants not only weather extreme conditions, but thrive!  

BIOCHAR RESEARCH

There are technical discussions, both pro and con, in a language all their own, to simple explanations for the home gardener. The main research is in consideration of farmers with vast tracts of land that could have significant impact on climate change.

CONSIDERATIONS

Nov 29, 2018 From a field day presentation at California State University-Fresno, here are some points from Suduan Gao, a research soil scientist with the USDA San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier. She talked of the potential of applying a biochar amendment to help in water and nutrient management.

Biochar is charcoal used as a soil amendment. It is made from biomass through thermal decomposition [fire]. Gao said it increases water use efficiency and nitrogen retention, reduces leaching, cuts nitrous oxide emissions and reduces ammonia emissions.

Gao said nitrogen dynamics are influenced by biochar and are highly affected by irrigation levels.

She said ammonia volatilization loss was substantially higher when fertilizer was applied only a few times in a larger amount than when it was applied more frequently in smaller amounts.

“Soil accumulates more nitrogen at lower irrigation levels than at higher irrigation levels,” Gao said. “The accumulated nitrogen, however, can be all leached during the rain system.” [Fertilizing after rains is more better!]

She said there were no significant biochar effects on ammonia, nitrous oxide and soil nitrate concentration, but there was a significant interaction between biochar and irrigation.

PROBLEMS WITH BIOCHAR? Fabulous or Fantasy? Is it too good to be true? There are extensive rebuttals to its use, even warnings that it’s not all the fans say, can even cause harm!

Nov 18, 2010 DR MAE-WAN HO said ‘Turning bioenergy crops into buried charcoal to sequester carbon does not work, and could plunge the earth into an oxygen crisis towards mass extinction.’ She further says: …implementing the biochar initiative could be dangerous, basically because saving the climate turns out to be not just about curbing the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere that can be achieved by burying carbon in the soil, it is also about keeping oxygen (O2) levels up. Keeping O2 levels up is what only green plants on land and phytoplankton at sea can do, by splitting water to regenerate O2 while fixing CO2 to feed the rest of the biosphere.’

  1. She cites: A ten-year trial in Swedish forests showed that buried charcoal appear to promote the breakdown of humus, the decomposing plant matter on the forest floor, thus completely offsetting the carbon sequestered in the charcoal.
  2. She discusses examples of the stability of biochar stating that it isn’t always stable. [In a 2012 Mother Earth News post, Editor Dr. Kehres (Journal “Humus and Agriculture“) summed up a symposium: “Biochar appears over-rated — the biochar claim to 1,000 year stability is revised downwards to 10 to 100 years, roughly the same as compost.”]
  3. She warns that things that happen so fast now that we have the internet and huge commercial organizations, a lot goes on without public awareness or understanding and no testing. Since this one expressly claimed climate change remediation, it was touted to be necessary immediately. Some fads are found to be faulty later.
  4. She gets into comparisons of interest to gardeners, stating that Biochar effects on soil fertility are not always positive. Field trials were conducted on cleared secondary forest with 15 different amendment combinations of chicken manure (CM), compost (CO), forest litter, chemical fertilizer (F), and charcoal (CC) applied once on rice and sorghum, and followed over four cropping cycles. Chicken manure gave by far the highest yield over the four cycles (12.4 tonne/ha). Compost application came second at about half the yield, but was still four times higher than chemical fertilizer. The control, leaf litter (burnt and fresh), and charcoal treatments gave no grain yields after the second season, and were discontinued. Further, in combination with compost, charcoal amendment decreased yield by about 40 percent compared to compost alone, and only improved yield in combination with chemical fertilizer.

Read the comments on this page for rebuttals and further information. It is suggested Biochar is not THE answer, but part of a complex mix of possibilities.

This 2013 Mother Earth News post Biochar: Not All It’s Ground Up to Be? states the appropriate use of Biochar depends first on soil type. Some soils retain nutrients very well without any amendments like biochar. Tim Crews says: ‘If you’re cropping on soil types other than Ultisols or Oxisols and you manage your organic matter (residues, manure, compost, etc.) well, you don’t need biochar. It won’t do anything for your fertility.’

Second, a ‘situation in which biochar could provide benefits is on very sandy soils in arid climates, because of its ability to improve such soils’ water-holding capacity, reducing drought stress on plants. But making biochar requires large quantities of bulk plant material, and the biochar factory needs to be close to the source of that material; therefore, the product would have to be manufactured in or around highly productive lands or on vast areas of unproductive lands, and then be hauled long distances to the arid environments where it’s to be applied.’ Not only is the available quantity of crop residue per acre too small, but to haul residues off of cropland to a biochar plant would be to further rob the soil of organic matter, while paying a price in energy and other resources as well. After all that, some ‘studies that found yield increases with such heavy application found that after a few years, soil carbon was no higher in biochar-treated plots than in control plots.’

Biochar has been under discussion for years! When you are doing your own questing about it online, look for current posts and research. Note whether the post is on a commercial site, a university, posted by a farmer, if the poster is knowledgeable, what their credentials are or aren’t, if they have experience. Remember that universities make money from research grants on popular topics and sometimes the donation is made by a company. Go to permaculture sites for a look at possible long term possibilities, concerns. Look for pros and cons.

In 2018, the agriculture application segment accounted for 71.1% of the total biochar demand. That makes sense because they have the biggest land holdings. [But it also means 28.9% is used by others, including home gardeners! That’s a big % considering the sizes of their small gardens!] Quoted from a Biochar fan, he says ‘However, a large number of farmers still lack in knowledge about the product and its benefits.’ My question back to him was ‘Do you know what % of farmers use biochar?’

Amendment BioChar and Compost + Manure Yields Great Results!

Some say Biochar alone added to poor soil has little benefit to plants, but when used in combination with compost and organic fertilizers, it can dramatically improve plant growth while helping retain nutrients in the soil.

When would you, a home veggie gardener, use biochar?

First, are wood ash and biochar the same thing? Yes and no. Biochar is made at 450 °C/842 degrees F with low oxygen and wood ash is made at 870 °C from the same mixed hardwood. What about BBQ charcoal? Not the same thing as wood ash or biochar! Not recommended for garden use.

How do you even know if you need Biochar? Was there a forest fire ever there and you already have it? They say biochar comes from such fires and lasts 100 to 1000 years, or 10 to 100 depending on where you read… That translates to the question whether Biochar is considered to be stable or not and under what circumstances.

Have you been applying wood ash from your fireplace regularly? Some gardeners say Yes, used it for years, readily absorbed, amazing crops! Great substitute for lime to raise pH. Others say it’s grey death. It has a high pH that throws off the balance of your compost/soil, can kill off the microbes that are producing your compost. Poster Mr Bill says: ‘Charcoal chemically functions like a sponge, absorbing many organic compounds. When placed in nutrient rich soil, it absorbs the excess nutrients and traps them in the soil. As the carbon in the charcoal is annexed by fungal colonies, those nutrients are released over time. By tying these nutrients up in the soil with charcoal, they resist erosion and release at regular intervals, rather than the feast or famine spikes in levels that occur with manual fertilization by humans.

However, ‘…added to poor soil, or soil deficient in even one nutrient (which may not be obvious), the charcoal’s sponge-like absorption can compete with the roots of plants for the nutrients, leading to increased disease susceptibility or irregular growth hazardous to the plant.’ So it’s good with good soil, bad with deficient soil.

Lord knows even a 10X20′ community garden plot has varying soil content within the plot for many reasons. In my case, I trench in kitchen waste given to me by neighbors. One eats lots of bananas, hence peels. One is a super juicer, greens, carrots, etc. + lettuce and avocado. Another is a senior tea drinker, so little bags along with old snacking grapes, a few eggshells, a bit of coffee and citrus peels, etc. I get them when they have enough. They put them in a bucket outside my door. I take them to the garden and trench them in where compost is needed most. Sometimes a certain kind of plant never thrives in one area no matter what I do. It would take a lot of soil testing to sort out these small areas. I do my own remediation by adding store bought fluffy compost, and chicken manure in general. Most of the time it works fine.

FYI! If you are using or opt to use wood ash as an amendment, DO NOT mix the wood ash with nitrogen fertilizer; a reaction can occur releasing ammonia gas.

Be careful with your choice to use biochar. Is your garden flourishing because it is high on temporary soil amendments that will be spent this season? Is one area doing great, another adjacent area not doing so well; great for one plant but not another? Does your summer or winter garden do well and the other season doesn’t? Plus, all Biochar is not created equal. Its pH and ash content vary depending on the temp it was created at and the feedstock (what was burned) used, whether that was contaminated or not. In general Biochar raises soil pH. You need to use the right amounts. In a community garden 10X20′ plot, where the soil pH varies within the plot, you don’t have room to test/experiment. The increase in soil pH with alkaline biochar will be higher in acid soils than in originally alkaline soils. However! If a biochar has less ash content it will decrease soil pH because of the organic matter content.

Clearly, fireplace ash that is added every season or spring, doesn’t function the same as biochar that lasts 100 to 1000 years. It is either used up or leached away by watering, otherwise, your garden would have the highest pH in history! If biochar can’t be removed from your soil, and lasts for 100 to 1000 years, and your soil is unfavorably balanced, you may need to adjust your soil for a long time. Ironically, it works best where you already have a super flourishing garden!

Note, the type of fire makes another difference. There is increased growth after a forest fire, but slash and burn techniques have a long term bad effect in just a few years. Definitely not sustainable. Wildfires get much hotter, average over 1600°F, than farmer-made controlled burn fires kept under 1000°F to clear a field. Wood burns differently at different temps; the coals have a different structure. Forest fires burn hot at the center with low oxygen and you get Biochar. Big difference. All fires are not equal.

Mr Bill made a convenient list for us home gardeners!

• Use on rich soil with no deficiencies
• Use to correct acidic soils, or amend the pH of the char before application
• Never use on acid loving plants like blueberries [strawberries, celery, beans]
• Add to compost after composting has finished, not during composting. The recommendation for application is about ½ cup per cubic foot of finished compost. [That’s not a lot!]
• Use in moderation
• Never use char from pressure-treated or painted wood.
• Don’t use petroleum based fire starters or fluids if you intend to use the ash.
• Fires started with alcohol or non-paraffin wax are acceptable for garden use.
• Be mindful of your nutrient levels and pH when using char, test regularly for best results.
• Not all char is equal, refuse from wood gasifiers or efficient wood stoves is preferable to that from your campfire, fireplace or grill, but all are acceptable for use given the correct use of your discretion.

Making Your Own Biochar Amendment in Place!

HOW to MAKE OUR OWN BIOCHAR?! 

Though it’s been many years since the Biochar cure has been offered and raved about, using biochar on a mass basis has not been implemented to an extent that is making a planet wide difference. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use it individually. The simplest way to do it is right where you will use it, just like the Amazon Indians did 2000 years ago.

First check your legal situation before you go for it! Per the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District where I live: A burn permit is required for all outdoor burning activity except recreational (campfires) and cooking (BBQ). This includes: Agricultural Burning (see definition) … Residential backyard burning (permitted only in the unincorporated areas of the Santa Ynez Valley)

Highly flammable gases are released during pyrolysis, so make it outside, well away from buildings, animals and people!

Barbara Pleasant, famed author of 5 garden books, throws in her two cents! ‘Last year, I committed one of the great sins of gardening: I let weeds go to seed. Cleaning up in fall, I faced down a ton of seed-bearing foxtail, burdock and crabgrass. Sure, I could compost it hot to steam the weed seeds to death, but instead I decided to try something different. I dug a ditch, added the weeds and lots of woody prunings, and burned it, thus making biochar. It was my new way to improve soil—except the technique is at least 3,000 years old.’

Barbara words the process more simply… What’s biochar? Basically, it’s organic matter that is burned slowly, with a restricted flow of oxygen, and then the fire is stopped when the material reaches the charcoal stage. Unlike tiny tidbits of ash, coarse lumps of charcoal are full of crevices and holes, which help them serve as life rafts to soil microorganisms. The carbon compounds in charcoal form loose chemical bonds with soluble plant nutrients so they are not as readily washed away by rain and irrigation. Biochar alone added to poor soil has little benefit to plants, but when used in combination with compost and organic fertilizers, it can dramatically improve plant growth while helping retain nutrients in the soil.

She speaks of the Amazonian ‘dark earths,’ terra preta, that ‘hold plant nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium, much more efficiently than unimproved soil. Even after 500 years of tropical temperatures and rainfall that averages 80 inches a year, the dark earths remain remarkably fertile…’ They were produced this very way, burning. …composts and other soil-enriching forms of organic matter last longer. …increased productivity by making nutrients already present in the soil better available to plants. …organically enriched soil retains nutrients for decades rather than for a couple of seasons. This charcoal releases its carbon 10 to 100 times slower than rotting organic matter. See the details  See Twin Oaks Forge for making charcoal in a barrel!

Why buy commercial Biochar? 

Jeremy Menefee says, first, because they use more advanced tools and techniques than the home producer can easily acquire, commercially-produced biochar is usually more consistent in composition and charred under ideal temperatures.

Second, they are able to produce inoculant tailored to specific uses. Vermont Biochar, for example, produces (by hand) several versions ideally suited for either leafy annuals, root crops, or shrub or woody perennials. Each uses a different composition of inoculant to tailor it for the specific application.

Experienced permaculturist Jeremy also says to Biocharge your Biochar! Even commercial biochar producers say their products benefit from being biocharged again once it’s on your property, to tailor it to your site conditions. Here are two easy methods he recommends.

1) Compost charging Even if you buy inoculated biochar, rather than producing it on-site, it will be improved by maturing in your compost. You can use as much biochar as you want, up to about an even 1:1 ratio with the compost, so don’t worry too much about overdoing it. The Biochar doesn’t break down in the process. You may have shorter compost times! Some experts recommend adding both manure and bones.

Quick tip: If you have time, a great way to get the most out of your biochar is to spread it an inch thick or less into your farm animal bedding. Then, when the bedding is spent, add it to the compost pile. [LOL Black Sheep?!] The biochar is essentially ‘double-charged’ in this way. Also, in addition to stacking functions of your animal bedding, this can help reduce odors. Anecdotal evidence suggests it can also reduce illness among your animals!

2) Rapid Charging! The other way to inoculate your biochar is a bit more labor-intensive, but you can complete the process in hours or days, not months. First, fill a 55 gallon (210 litre) drum with fresh water and biochar. If you are using municipal treated water, let it sit for a couple days to remove any chlorine. Then add compost tea or worm castings and leachate to the barrel with some soil from the area where you will use the finished biochar. For example, if you are going to apply the biochar to your fruit orchard, add some soil from around a robust and healthy tree in that orchard. This will help charge the biochar with the ideal microbiology for your specific orchard.

Once everything is well mixed, insert a long tube such as a length of PVC pipe into the barrel and direct air from a blower into the tube, or use a pond aerator and air stones. Aeration supercharges the inoculant and gives the beneficial microbes a massive head start, and helps them adhere to the biochar. Continue this for 12-24 hours.

Safety when applying Biochar amendmentBe careful when applying dry Biochar!

Wear a dust mask such as the 3M™ 8511 Particulate Respirator – N95 to protect your lungs. Moistening biochar can help a lot with dust control. Some Biochar is shipped with about 30% moisture content to help with dust control. Protective eyewear will reduce the chance of getting dust in your eyes. Wear gloves! Wear rubber boots that can be cleaned easily! Apply evenly on a dry, windless day. Mix thoroughly into the soil before planting.

How much do you apply? Doing it right depends on what kind of soil you have and it’s tested content, its pH, how much you want to raise the pH if at all. And, of course, none, if you don’t need it or your situation isn’t right for it!

There are different answers!

  • A company says: From everything we have seen in our own use and through the research of others a good “rule of thumb” is 10% of the planting area should be biochar. If your soil is absolutely horrible you should probably start with a 50/50 mix of biochar and compost and apply about 1/4 lb per square foot.
  • Typically home gardeners use 5-10% biochar in the top 6 inches of their soil.
  • A gardener says: If bought, follow the instructions on the bags, but I would suggest 50/50 with soil and the same for containers, and see your results the first season before you adjust quantities.
  • Farmer Jeremy Menefee says: It takes about 10 pounds of biochar to properly cover 100 square feet. For potted plants, use pure biochar at a ratio of about 1:16 with your potting soil – about ½ cup per gallon of soil. This ratio is good for raised beds as well, one gallon of biochar per 16 gallons of soil. If you inoculated your biochar in compost (at ratios up to 1:1), just apply compost as normal – the presence of biochar doesn’t change the amount of compost used.

How to apply? Simple!

  1. Made your own in place? Just add amendments of your choice, especially compost, and till it in.
  2. Purchased, preferably inoculated? Lay on about 1/4″, amendments and till it in. If you don’t have much, spread it out and add more each time you amend.
  3. If you’re not able to till, spread out your inoculated Biochar, cover with mulch to hold it in place, let Nature do the work for you.

Coast of Maine Biochar Amendment raised bed mix

Biochar IS big business. There is university research devoted to it for sustainable reasons. They make huge grant monies from it. Yale and Cornell, Ames Iowa, Delaware, Missouri, North Dakota, Rice U in Houston Tx to name just a few schools. Government is in on it too, for example the USDA’s Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans. There are subsequent conferences, magazines, books, products at your nursery.

USBI Biochar 2019 – is the largest event in North America dedicated to advancing the sustainable production and use of biochar through scientific and engineering research, policy development, field practice, and technology transfer. It will focus on bridging scientific, industrial, practitioner, and policy gaps in biomass utilization for biochar and bioenergy production. June 30 – July 3 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins Colorado.

BIOMASS Magazine – Beyond the Hype

Check out the BioChar Journal …we want our readers to be confident that what is written in the Biochar Journal is based on sound science and practicality.

Local gardeners might see various products at their nursery. A blend in snowy Maine might be quite different than in SW SoCal droughty areas. Before you order up online, take this into consideration. When buying locally, look on the package to see where it was made, then check out those ingredients. The bag shown here is definitely intended as a pH raiser; it has biochar and lime!

For those of us gardening at community gardens, we need to think of what the next gardener’s soil needs might be after you leave. What if they primarily want to plant acid loving plants, those blueberries, strawberries, celery or beans? In keeping with rotating crops, planting in a different place each year, to avoid soil diseases various plants are susceptible to, we may need to stay flexible – amend each season or year with regular or acidic compost per patch as we go.

If you have a good size parcel of land for veg gardening, that you plan to keep for many years, soil test different areas. You might coordinate your Biochar choices with the land’s own natural flow, plant accordingly. Some sites say it takes about a year for the Biochar/soil relationship to be fully established. If you are planting in raised beds/containers, where soil is leached of nutrients due to higher soil temps, drying, in those structures and frequent watering to compensate, replacing spent soil/compost each year, Biochar isn’t going to work for you.

Making your own Biochar is cheap, but a lengthy process you hope you do right. Probably wise to have someone experienced with you when you do your first processes. First there is gathering the right materials, selecting the right place and technique for the kind of results you want, doing the burning. Then there is the biocharging process for it to do its best work. Buying Biochar can be pricey if you get the best, inoculated. If you put it where it can be used to best advantage, that is worth the one-time expense.

Your final decision to use or not use Biochar may be based on your instinct. You may decide not to use it at your current location or in a specific area of your garden. You might move, or be visiting in another gardener’s location and feel it is the right choice for that place. Maybe you will decide to wait and see. Honor your feelings. You might not save the planet today, or maybe you will by using succinct educated choices.

Bless you for being a garden guardian, a caring Earth Steward.

Back to Top


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!

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

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Pollinator Plant Cosmos Drought Tolerant Long Season Ca Native Bees

Lovely many colored drought-tolerant Cosmos blooms spring through first frost!

The most fabulous choices to grow are a diversity of flowering multipurpose companion plants with your veggies! If that includes being a native plant, hallelujah! 

Companion Planting maximizes your connections!

Companions plants may be other vegetables, like Radish! It is grown for the bulb, can be planted as a living mulch understory, can be let to grow up among cukes and zukes to repel cucumber beetle, is a trap for flea beetles, makes lovely edible flowers! We eat Cilantro leaves, it repels aphids, it’s flowers attract pollinators, the seeds become Coriander on your spice shelf. 

Some companions are colorful! Calendula! Chamomile is bright beauty. Arugula and radish flowers are delicate and detailed! Some flowers are total dainty princesses – cilantro, carrot and celery, the three Cs! Let arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery go to flower summer through fall 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 any neighboring herb!

And what if they are not companions?! Grow beauty for the pollinators just because you love beauty and your special little friends! Flying insects are the most common pollinators. A special note about the importance of Bumble bees! Honey bees DON’T pollinate tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant or blueberries, but bumble bees DO! Bumblebees do what is called buzz pollination, sonication! Please see all about it in Sue Rosenthal’s post at Bay Nature! See the PBS Bumblebee Buzz Pollination video!

Be careful with those lovely hybrids, especially ‘double-blooms.’ A slight change in scent or shape and your pollinator may not be able to recognize them.

Design for Habitat and No Pesticides!

When 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 in breeze, great pollinator food. Chamomile is downright heady scented on a warm morning. Comfrey, Knitbone, is both medicinal, 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! Breadseed Poppies will literally have your bees rolling in pollen!

Prairie Nursery in Westfield WI says: Pollinators are attracted to blooms that fit the pollinators’ physiological traits – specifically the length of their tongue. Some bees are generalists, flitting among flowers to drink nectar and collect pollen from many plant species. Flat or shallow blossoms, such as asters or coreopsis, attract a variety of bee species. But long-tongued bees will be attracted to plants with deeper nectaries and flowers with petals that form long tubes. The inclusion of a variety of floral shapes [and sizes] attracts a more diverse array of pollinators.

Grouping plants in clumps of three or more attracts bees to the plants and allows them to forage efficiently. And don’t forget the water. Pollinators get thirsty while they are working in the sun! They like shallow water sources. A shallow birdbath with stones in it is perfect!

Farmers are planting wildflower rows! See Stripes of Wildflowers! The stripy fields have been planted across England and other countries as part of a trial to boost the natural predators of pests that attack cereal crops and potentially cut pesticide spraying! Plant flowers among, alongside, your veggies! In fact, plant your flowers right in the center of things where they can serve several plants at once! Make that a short walk, or fly, for your beneficial insects! You may not plant stripes six metres wide, but do grow plenty of flowers the length of your area!

Pest Pesticides Reduction Flower Stripes Habitat in Fields

Current UCDavis research published Dec 18, 2018 says “Planting wildflowers is a key strategy promoted nationally to support wild and managed bees,” said Williams. “Successful adoption of these plantings in agricultural landscapes will require that they not only support pollinators but that they also avoid supporting too many pests. Plant selection going forward will need to balance multiple goals of pollinators pest management and other functions. This research is a first step on the path to identifying plants that will meet these goals.”

All Season Support! Text for images from UCDavis Arboretum post for native California bees! 

Some bee species are active all year, others only in April and May, still others in July and August, and all need food! New queens are born in the fall, and after breeding they may find a place to hibernate for the winter. When they emerge in spring, they need nectar and pollen sources—or they can’t start their colonies.

Renee's California Poppy Scatter Seed Can
Spring

California poppy, Eschscholzia californica is technically an annual, but they will “perennial-ize” by sprouting the following year from their roots and lower stems or by re-seeding. Look for sweat bees scrambling around the bottom of the flower and covering themselves with pollen.

Check out Renee’s California Poppy seed scatter can!

 

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Pollinator Gaillardia × grandiflora Blanket Flower

Summer

Blanket flower,  × grandiflora is a colorful daisy-type flower popular with a number of native bees. In the Valley they attract long-horned bees like Melissodes which can be easily observed collecting nectar and pollen from the showy orange and yellow flowers. This plant may be short-lived in heavy soils. Image by Cerena Childress, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden
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Pollinator Plant Germander Sage, Salvia chamaedryoides Native CA Bees
Fall

Germander sage, Salvia chamaedryoides blooms with beautiful dark blue flowers from late spring to early summer and again in fall. It is a primary nectar source for a number of bee types. Male carder bees may be most noticeable as they set up territories around flowering patches and knock into other bees that enter their area. Deadheading spent flowers in early summer will help the blossoms (and the bees) return in fall.
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Pollinator PLant Goodwin Creek lavender, Lavandula × ginginsii ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ Heat Drought Tolerant Long SeasonWinter

Goodwin Creek lavender, Lavandula × ginginsii ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ hybrid lavender is a tough and long-blooming sub-shrub that can be used to provide winter structure to your pollinator planting. Blooming early and lasting into summer, it is popular with large carpenter bees and a range of other smaller bees for its nectar. It can be pruned to shape, to increase branching, or to keep a compact form. Image at UCDavis Arboretum

Grow host plants for butterfly & moth caterpillars too! Some are quite particular, even to only one kind of plant.

Other special pollinators!

Don’t forget the other littles! Butterflies, midges, beetles! Wasps, ants and flies, even slugs! Some of them will make you more happy than others, but thank them too for pollinating!

Bird pollination even has a name, Ornithophily! In the US, hummingbirds are key in wildflower pollination.

About 87% of flowering plants are pollinated by animals. These include wild flowers and those used by people for food and medicine. While many ground plants benefit from small mammals’ pollination, some flowering trees rely on similar relationships with tree-dwelling or flying mammals. Bats are probably the best known mammal pollinators. Hundreds of plants rely on these busy, flying nectar lovers to spread their pollen at night.

The ‘little dragons,’ lizards and skinks, not only pollinate, but eat insect pests!

Where your pollinators live!

Flowers are much more than a pretty face! They are habitat. That means food and shelter, moisture – the morning dew, and for many wild bees, a place to sleep at night! You don’t always see them because they generally get up earlier than Honeybees.

First and foremost, just because your flowers are done, doesn’t mean beneficial insects don’t still need food and living quarters. Be more conscious about planting permanent habitat for them. Plus, if you have year ’round habitat, they will be ready to work for you as soon as your plants are up!

Stripes of Wildflowers says they plant oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot. Likely they carefully chose those plants for the results hoped for. This combination probably serves the majority of common beneficial predators, large to small, needed to replace those pesticides.

  • Oxeye daisy is a pretty little perennial – grows year after year, no replanting necessary.
  • Depending on your climate, Red Clover, a legume, is a perennial that has the added advantage that as they die they also feed the soil the flowers are growing in!
  • Common knapweed is a tall, thistle-like grassland perennial that doesn’t like wet areas or acidic soil.
  • Wild carrot (Daucus carota), also known as Queen Anne’s lace, is a biennial plant in the parsley family. The flower head has trillions of tiny flowers! It is perfect for smaller beneficial insects, strongly attracts Syrphid flies aka Hoverflies!

The common factor here is by planting perennials and self-seeders, there is always habitat, and no replanting necessary! Though Wild carrot is a biennial, it self-seeds like crazy, keeping a constant supply of flowers! Your choice of flowers, that insects love, that bloom all year long and are there all the time, is garden wisdom!

Honey bees have their hives, but native bees don’t. Most species of wild bees are solitary, and some 70 percent of them dig a nest in the ground to raise their young—something they can’t do if mulch is in the way. Leave a little bare ground and protect it from being stepped on! No mulch needed! They favor a slight slope or well drained site.

Install some living quarters, a bee block or bee hotel, which are available online or at some garden stores. Bee hotels are a pollinator’s paradise! Pollinators’ housing needs are hugely diverse! Bare soil, hollow twigs, big holes in trees, little holes of only a certain depth. You could also drill holes of varying sizes in a dead tree that’s still standing (if beetles haven’t already done it for you). You can easily build them yourself! They can be simple and small or a luxury condo like this one! See more!  Please see these super useful detailed tips here!

Homemade Solitary Bee House with Gourd!

Put your bee home up in March or early April! This will offer prime nesting sites for solitary bees for laying their eggs. Soon they will be buzzing, hovering and feasting about your veggie garden! Plant their favorite flower foods in time to feed them! See more about their favorite food!

Jennifer S Holland, writes for National Geographic: Learn more about organizations that support pollinators and their habitats, such as Pollinator Partnership. You can also participate in citizen-science programs for pollinators such as Bumble Bee Watch (Xerces Society), The Great Sunflower Project (San Francisco State University), Fourth of July Butterfly Count (North American Butterfly Association), and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (Monarch Watch).

If you have questions, one wonderful resource is the National Gardening Association! State your location when requesting information. The National Gardening Association reaches more than 7.6 million gardeners a year, and during the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge recorded on its website:

• A 25% uptick in participation in its forum, “Gardening for Bees and Butterflies.
• A 45% increase in searches relating to pollination.
• 140,000 photos of pollinator-friendly plants and pollinators uploaded.

For those of you with space for shrubs and trees, find out the best varieties to seasonally support our precious pollinators all year long! If you don’t have big space, plant your mini bloomers in containers, on your apt balcony, wherever you can! Don’t forget to plant the street strip with drought tolerant abundantly flowering native plants, buckwheat might be one! Check with your local nurseries that support pollinators, local botanic gardens, master gardeners, for the best plant choices for your area.

Sharing is Caring!  Put up your conversation starter informative sign. Be proud & happy!

Pollinator Habitat Sign Cosmos Sunflower Bring Back the Pollinators

Plant significant, do-the-job flowers for bees, the colors they love the most! Plant for pollinators of all kinds, plant for the good-guy predators! Do it in your yard, in your veggie garden, along the street! Make your life a lovely Meadow!

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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!

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

Read Full Post »

Compost Tea Brew for Seedlings

Some of you are pros, literally, at making teas, others of us have never done it before, but interested, even willing to give it a try.

Why? Why make teas at all? Isn’t good soil enough? If you are just making compost tea, with compost you are already using in your garden, you may not notice much results. Every time you water, aren’t you making compost tea in place anyway?! But if you make a more diverse tea, with a lot of different ingredients, and it is made just right producing a lot of microbes, you are likely to get superb results! Research shows foliar feeding is more effective than soil drenching.

A lot of summer plants are what are called ‘heavy feeders.’ They are doing business 24/7 for several months using that soil right where they are at. They can’t go walkabout seeking new soil. Plants that produce leaf crops, lettuces, chard, kale, are using up soil nutrients just as fast as they can! Plants that produce a lot of crop, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, are feeding a big plant, foliage and fruits! Teas are a microbial inoculant that gives them a boost from leaf to root!

Teas offer increased nutrient availability!

Teas are a high grade fertilizer full of nutrients and minerals! The tea’s chelated micronutrients are easy for plants to absorb. The teas will never burn your plants. You can easily make them yourself from your own materials. You know exactly what’s in it. No chemicals, and they don’t add salt that commercial fertilizers can add to your soil. DIY! Save money!

Marvelously, tea microbes degrade toxic pesticides and other chemicals! Much better for beneficial insects, wildlife, plants, soil and humans. Your soil will come alive again as the organisms start thriving. Your soil will have greater water holding capacity, a resiliency, the aeration it needs from burrowing soil creatures.

Nutrients! Black liquid gold can feed your plants through their roots and their leaves. The beneficial microbes are fast acting and quickly absorbed. This whole plant treatment increases plant growth – more and bigger blooms, bigger size fruits and yields. The microbes produce plant growth hormones; mineralize a plant’s available nutrients, and fix nitrogen in the plant for optimal use.

Suppress diseases! When plant surfaces are occupied by beneficial microbes, there simply is no room for pathogens! The plant will suffer little or no blight, mold, fungus or wilt! That’s a huge claim! But even if it doesn’t entirely work, your plant will likely have a much improved existence for a longer period of time. Beneficial microbes compete with disease causing microbes. Go tigers! The live microbes enhance your soil and in turn, up the immune system of your plants. Your plants are healthier, more stress-tolerant.

Communi-Tea Make your own Compost Tea!

Making teas is fairly new, but is here to stay! Nowadays we know more about microbe power, soil and plant structures and processes. Researchers have determined exacting and scientific ways to brew teas, brewing equipment is available at garden centers or on the internet. Some garden centers are brewing in large batches so customers can conveniently draw-off what they need by the gallon!

There are many tea making methods, from the simplest home bucket method to technical and elaborate brewers with plenty of debate over different ways. Aerobic brewed teas have much higher microbe population densities than extracted teas and for this reason are the teas of choice. A good head of foam and scum on top signifies healthy microbe action! Try out different methods for yourself if you have the time and the gear, and love researching. Whichever you choose, your plants will benefit!

TEA MAKING TIPS

First of all, Temp and Timing matters, especially to the home gardener brewing outside, not using a brewing system. The microbes we want are the most happy at about 75 F, a comfy room temp for us too. Put your brew out of direct sunlight.

Based on Marc Remillards book “Compost Tea Making” temps/time are: 24 hrs @ 75, 36 hrs @70, 42 hrs @ 65 and 48 hrs @ 60. 95 and higher is a no go, just too hot! Your microbes go anaerobic. If you are using a brewing system, you can use an aquarium heater to ensure a constant brew temp especially if ambient is cooler at night. So it helps if night temps are 60 up.

Choose a clean 5 Gallon container or a size that suits your needs

The right water! Rain water is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate, or bubble water through an aerator for a minimum of 20 minutes. The chlorine will be released as a gas. Or, add a small amount of powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or humic acids. If you start with chlorinated water it will kill some of your microbes before you get started.

Compost Tea Bucket Straining Painter's Mesh BagStraining your Tea! There’s various thinking on how to strain your tea.

The easiest and simplest is to use a sock, cheesecloth bag, but let the sock be big enough to allow the ingredients you put in it room to move around as it is swished through the water. Clearly those will not accommodate a third of a 5 gallon bucket’s worth of compost plus whatever else you put in. If you will be foliar spraying your tea, sock or pillowcase fibers are too tight to allow the good fungi and nematodes to flow through.

So! Super easy but has a small price, is a painter’s bag, 400 microns, 5 gallon size (they come in different sizes). Perfect! You put it in the container you will use, the elastic top fits over the top of the bucket. When the tea is done you simply lift it out. It has a durable nylon mesh and can be used several times. Add your leftover solids to your compost pile or as a soil topper mulch. Rinse out and dry your bag ASAP.

Or if you already started your brew, just get a 400 micron mesh strainer that fits your bucket, put it over a second bucket, and pour your mix through.

INGREDIENTS! Microbial diversity!

Add Compost

CAUTIONS Unfinished compost or uncomposted manures may contain harmful pathogens and compost that is too old may be nutritionally deficient. COMPOST TEA and MANURE TEA ARE NOT THE SAME THING! Manure teas may be made the same way but are not generally recommended as foliar sprays for veggies and are not as nutritionally well-balanced.

Use well-aged, finished compost The best is good smelling, very dark, broken-down into minute particles like course cornmeal. Dig deep down inside your bin, near the bottom. This is where organic material will be most decomposed and fresh, teeming with life. All you need is a good shovelful or two, maybe a third of the bucket, for a 5-gallon bucket of compost tea.

Add Manure

Cow manure is better than steer manure if you can get it. Chicken manure is good. Less of it does more. Be careful of free horse manure. It can be salty, and if the horses ate pesticide sprayed hay, or the stalls have been sprayed to repel flies, you’ve got toxins. All manures need to be very well composted, except bunny poo, which you can sometimes get free at shelters. Bird guanos do different things. See more soil tips and about quanos. 1 cup of manure may be quite enough. Most importantly, DO NOT foliar feed leaves you will eat, like lettuce, with animal poo brews!

Add Worm Castings! 

In nature, worms are a natural part of soil. In addition to soil nutrients, it’s smart to add worm castings. They speed germination of your seeds, seedlings grow faster. Worm castings help your plant’s immune system, and you have measurably more produce! Plants like strawberries, that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew! Growing your own worms and harvesting vibrant fresh castings is ideal, but if you don’t have time, simply buy the best organic castings you can get, fresh and local if possible! More about growing worms! Add 2 cups to your 5 gal bucket.

Compost Tea Seaweed & Herbs - Borage Nettle Comfrey Brew

Seaweed and herbs – Nettles, Comfrey and Borage Tea at Milkwood Permaculture Blog

You can add all kinds of supplements at the same time! Put compost, manure/fish emulsion, worm castings, pond muck, powdered seaweed – 2 tablespoons kelp powder, 2-3 crushed Aspirin, rock dust, alfalfa pellets, chopped nutritious comfrey/borage/tansy leaves all in a bucket together – adding one volume of compost to 4-10 volumes of water. Let them sit overnight, a couple of days, stir a couple times, when you think of it. This turns the tea into a balanced organic fertilizer.

Compost Tea Bottle ComfreyComfrey, a dynamic accumulator, is especially nutritious! Having as much as a 20-30 feet deep root system, it bring minerals and trace nutrients up into its leaves that are unavailable to other plants. It is also the only plant that contains a form of vitamin B12. Mash it in a mortar & pestle, or use a big stone to break it down. That makes it easier to stuff into a stocking or 400 micron mesh bag, and speeds decomposition. Put comfrey in loosely, not too firmly, so the water can circulate around it. Even add a bit of healthy soil! You can make just a comfrey tea alone if that suits your needs. More about comfrey at Nantahala Farm & Garden

How long does it take? Add Sugar or Molasses! Aeration!

It has been shown that adding a simple aquarium pump to the bucket and letting it run to percolate the mixture will increase the potency of the finished mixture, and can be completed in as little as 12 hours to 2 days. If you want a super concentrate, let it brew a week, or more!

Recent research indicates that using some kind of aeration and adding a sugar source (unsulphured molasses works well) results in an excellent product that extracts the maximum number of beneficial organisms. 2 Tablespoons of unsulphured Molasses is good. An aerobic environment favors the aerobic microbes, physically pulls them off the compost and supplies air they need to multiply. This aeration is crucial to the formation of beneficial bacteria and the required fermentation process. It increases the absorption of the water and organisms. For the bucket-brewing method, you must stir the tea a few times during those hours or days it is brewing to aerate it. If you go over the time needed, you need to add more food for the microbes (sugar/molasses), and probably a little more compost.

Caution! Commenter Suburban Hobby Farmer on a compost tea post says: I’ve also read a study from a university extension service that says you shouldn’t use compost tea on indoor seedlings –especially if it has molasses —  because of increased damping off. According to the study, this is true even when watering from the bottom. A 2004 study says a more successful brew intended for seedlings has sufficient aeration, cuts back on the molasses, uses humic acid and kelp additives.

Anaerobic? You waited too long and your tea has gone anaerobic? Your tea should always have an “earthy” odor. If it smells bad, throw away the tea and don’t put it on your garden soil or compost pile.

Wash Your Gear Immediately! Bio-slimes build up inside your brewer or in your 5 gallon bucket. In a brewer this means walls, tubes, small crevices at the bottom. The pressure of hose water isn’t enough to remove it. It may take elbow grease, 3% hydrogen peroxide or a solution of 5% baking soda.

Here I’ve added a few notes to Shelle’s Quickie Recipe and instructions:

  1. 2 cups worm castings [or your choice of ingredients]
  2. 2 tablespoons corn syrup or unsulphured molasses. Molasses feeds the bacterial growth in the brew and also contributes trace elements of iron, manganese, copper and potassium.
  3. 5 gallon bucket
  4. Old pantyhose (no holes), a bag if you are doing soil drenching. Manure tea not recommended for foliar application.
  5. Water (rainwater is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate)
  • Put the castings (etc) in the sock and tie it closed
  • Submerge the stocking in water
  • Add the corn syrup and soak for 24 hours, stirring every few hours. Your mix should never be stinky. Like good compost, it should smell earthy.
  • Dilute to a 3 to 1 ratio, use within 48 hours

How long will my tea last? It is best to apply your compost tea immediately; however, it can still produce benefits if applied within 4-6 hours of removing the oxygen source if you are aerating. Remember we are talking about living organisms, trying to keep them in optimum health!

Applying your finished tea!

Diluting your tea. You can use your compost tea full strength on plants that are sickly or not growing well. Otherwise, it usually works well to dilute your tea half and half with de-chlorinated water (you can dechlorinate your water by letting it sit in an open container for a day). Another way of diluting it is until it looks like a slightly dark iced tea for soil/root drenching, weak iced tea for foliar feeding. Of course some teas are stronger than others depending on what’s in it and how much water is used. Work with it to find what works for you.

Will you use it as a soil drench or a foliar application? BOTH!

If using it as a soil drench, dilute or apply it full strength. If your tea is good, you really can’t overdo it! And you don’t need to strain it. But for young, delicate or houseplants try it diluted first. Amazingly, only 5 gallons of compost tea can be diluted to cover approximately one acre of land, and still produce benefits!

Tea to be used as a foliar application you must strain. Use a 400 micrometer mesh or screen. The mesh is big enough to allow the fungi and nematodes to flow through it, while trapping larger particulate matter that will eventually clog your sprayer.

Make sure that the sprayer you are using is designed for compost tea. Many sprayers apply with too much pressure, kill the microbes before they even make it to the plant surface. You need 70 pounds psi or less. Use a smooth, slightly-curved nozzle. With 90 degree bends in the nozzle, the microbes can be damaged. Try to arc or parachute, your application onto the leaves so the microbes land more gently, not head on.

Foliar Feeding - Rose Upturned to Moisten Undersides of LeavesApply with a watering can or a simple garden sprayer. Soak the soil to the dripline. When foliar feeding, be sure to add 1/8 to 1/2 tsp vegetable oil or mild dish-washing liquid per gallon to help it adhere to leaves. Use a watering can with a head that rotates so you can spray both on and under leaves. Minerals and nutrients are absorbed through the leaves and the roots – the WHOLE plant! Apply early in the day, avoid applying in direct sunlight. Ultraviolet (UV) rays kill microbes. If you must apply during sunlight time, do it before 10 am or after 3 pm, when UV rays are weakest.

If you do soil drenching, once you apply it, keep it moist for a few days to a week so the microorganisms have time to settle in, strengthen and multiply! Space out your applications a bit to give them time to get results. If you need a little more mojo deeper in your soil, down where the roots are, use your spade fork, the kind with the short wide tines that are spaced about two inches apart. Push your fork all the way into the soil, wiggle it back and forth to make holes, lift it straight up back out. Pour in your tea. Close the holes. Water a bit the next few days so your soil stays moist below and the organisms can thrive. Your plants will thrive as the root zone is so kindly treated!

When, How often?

Why wait until your plants are in the ground to add teas?! Start feeding your soil soonest! If you have your plant placements in mind, be sure to invest your teas out to the anticipated dripline so feeder roots will get some.

Make your tea applications every two weeks until your plants start to bud. We want our plants to make fruit, not foliage then! Some suggest to apply your tea at least four times per year, 1x spring, 2x summer, 1x fall. If you are trying to overcome disease, you may need to apply compost tea every five to seven days. If your soils have ever been sprayed with pesticides or otherwise compromised, apply more often.

Teas are perfect for container gardens, right?! You can buy ready made tea bags. You can buy Tea! No digging, just feeding.

Some tea making techniques are purposely biased toward bacterial, fungal or neutral predominance. It is speculated that one day we can selectively make teas focused to prevent/heal certain plant diseases or upset pest cycles, preventing infestations, and we are already making super teas to inoculate specific crops for super health and production. Eric in Denver says: ‘Now is our chance to get in on the ground floor of this exciting new science. Get a microscope (400x), learn to identify the main types of soil organisms, refine your brewing techniques, and set aside a place in your garden for experiments. It sounds much harder than it actually is, and there is plenty of work to be done.’

As of early 2011, there was very little evidence that proved the benefits of aerated compost teas; non-aerated teas seemed to fare a little better. That’s similar results as whether to turn compost or not. Turned compost processes faster, but unturned compost is higher in nitrogen! In the Journal of Plant Pathology 2015, Effect of Aerated Compost Tea on the Growth Promotion of Lettuce, Soybean, and Sweet Corn in Organic Cultivation, four types of compost were brewed and then the available nitrogen was determined, as well as the density of microbial communities, along with their effect on plant growth characteristics. Across the board it was shown that aerating compost tea released more nutrients, increased microbial counts, and helped plants grow!

Some practical points: When your tea hits the dirt, the water near the surface remains aerobic sustaining the aerobic species in the tea, and the water that soaks deeper becomes anaerobic sustaining those species. In other words, the soil microbe stratification remains the same as nature makes it. If you apply tea to your soil, made with the same compost you grow with, you are making extra work for yourself! But if you add biodiverse amendments to your tea, it supplies an array of tasty ingredients your compost likely doesn’t have. Compost supplies the organic matter that tea doesn’t supply, so it is critical in and of itself, plus it has many times more nutrients than a diluted tea. But teas are great for potted plants and lawns! And if you foliar feed your veggie plants, the uptake is greater and works within an hour!!! So think through why and how you will use teas and make them accordingly!

Here’s to a blessed summer of happy plants and abundant harvests!

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

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

Read Full Post »

Image result for seeds or transplants

Starting Sage & Lavender Indoors – Gary Pilarchik

Do both! Seeds and transplants! Here’s why and when!

If you are late planting seeds, it’s off to the nursery for transplants!
Some plants just don’t come in six packs, like radish. Seeds it is.

SEEDS

Watching seeds sprout and seedlings unfurl and grow is divine! It’s a miracle! Many have just never done it and find, to their delight, how easy and inspiring it is! Seeds can be started indoors at home or right where you want them, in the garden!

Pros:

  • The beauty of seeds is you can select plants your nursery doesn’t carry!
  • You can start them indoors 6 weeks earlier than you can plant seeds in the ground!
  • If you planted it right in the ground, you have saved yourself the step of transplanting!
  • Some plants just don’t like to be transplanted! Annuals, plants with large seeds, plants that require weathering, plants with fragile root systems and root crops – beets, carrots. Like snapdragons, nasturtiums, spinach, and peas.
    • Root crops like carrots need depth. If their tap root comes in contact with the bottom of a container it will fork or bend. Better to sow directly in your soil.
  • Plants that are quick to germinate, get up and get strong, are great to start from seed, like radishes, beans, peas, beets, and turnips.
  • If you are growing a lot or in succession, seeds are the most inexpensive way to grow your garden. Save seeds from your best veggies, flowers and herbs each year and you won’t need to buy any more! Plus they will be adapted to you and your soil!
  • Be prepared to thin your seedlings, which means pulling out a few plants so your crop is spaced apart enough. Beet seedlings need 2-4 inches apart, but the seed grows in fours, so each plant needs room to make a normal-sized beet. Crowded plants compete for light, water, and nutrients. Also, lack of airflow will encourage diseases. The pro here is those young tender seedlings are perfect in salads!
  • Seedlings thinned from over-crowded areas may be moved to fill in bare spots.
  • Growing seeds for transplants indoors are protected from the elements and garden pests while you can also control soil, moisture, fertility and heat.
  • You can select only the strongest seedlings to transplant.
  • All your plants are up when you plant them – no germination failures, empty spaces, no wondering, no replanting necessary, no lost time.
  • If you complete the circle by continually keeping the seeds from open-pollinated plants in your garden, you’ll create a vegetable strain (AKA: landrace) that thrives in your particular environment.
  • There is well deserved pride in growing your veggies from seed-to-plate!

Veggie Seeds Soil Planting Temps!
Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas!
Soil for Seed Starting! DIY, Pre-made

Cons:

  • Seed germination in the ground isn’t guaranteed. You wait to find out and if it doesn’t start, you lose time, possibly it gets beyond the planting window and it was not a plant your nursery carries. Starting a few seeds indoors as backup is wise.
  • The number of days to germinate in your garden could be very different than those given on a seed packet due to soil conditions, weather, whereas with a transplant, there’s no guessing.
  • Extra tender care and time is needed as seedlings germinate and get going. Transplants are sure, up and ready! All you have to do is go get them…
    • Seedlings need to be weeded so they aren’t overgrown.
    • Sometimes seedlings need protection from birds, pests – especially slugs, and freezes or hot sun.
    • Right watering must be done, you can’t miss.
    • Tomatoes like moving air to development well, if starting indoors you may need a fan.
  • Yes, there is a learning curve with seeds. Research is important so you can choose the best for your climate, soil and light conditions, the season – first and last frosts.
  • You’ll need a seed germinating space. Regular shop lights are fine for germinating seeds, but there usually is an initial investment of some kind, like maybe that fan!

Image result for veggie Transplant pepper seedlings

Super healthy homegrown Pepper seedlings at New Life on a Homestead

TRANSPLANTS

Oh it’s so much fun to select transplants! It gives you the option of trying new plants, varieties, sometimes getting another one if one has failed. While you are shopping, there are marvelous other gardening tools, amendments, flowers you can get! Who knows what you will come back with?! And you can plant in the garden the same day!

From the Nursery Pros:

  • Nursery transplants take a whole lot less time! You just go get them.
  • If you don’t have a place to grow seeds, transplants from the nursery are terrific. You can ask, they may be able to get special varieties you would like.
  • Some plants are just plum hard to get started from seed. A transplant is perfect, thanks.
  • Starts are especially perfect for beginning gardeners who would like to skip the part that includes vulnerable, infant plants. Starting and babying tiny plants may not be your cup of tea either! Let the experts do it!
  • With transplants the seed is germinated, it’s showing vigor and chances for a successful garden are more likely from the outset. This is particularly important when you have a limited number of warm summer days or you are planting late!
  • On average, transplants give you a SIX WEEKS jump start on the season, because they will mature sooner and give you an earlier harvest. Transplants give higher early yields, and, one gardener says, in the case of watermelons, give larger fruits.
  • Transplants can give you a great boost with succession planting, which means planting the same thing several times per season to ensure continuous harvest. For great results with lettuce, for example, you can start your first succession via transplants, and then follow every 2-3 weeks with lettuce seeds sown directly into your garden.
  • If your seeds have failed, you can get transplants at the nursery!
  • Transplants can be more resistant to insect pests, because they are more mature and stronger when you first put them into your garden. Many insect pests, like slugs, just love teeny tiny seedlings. Put down Sluggo or something like it even before you transplant, but definitely at the same time you install your plants. An overnight slug fest can remove an entire plant!
  • Planting transplants gives you immediate satisfaction. Who doesn’t love starting their garden and seeing all those baby plants?
  • Buying transplants can be more cost effective, and provides you with a great way to support local farmers and garden centers.
  • Conscientious local nurseries carry starts that are grown specifically for your area. So you don’t have to worry about planting a variety that doesn’t do well in your zone. Box stores are less likely to be region specific.
  • Having strong, young plants gives you some leeway per correct planting times. Transplants can be put in the ground earlier than seeds can be planted! If you miss a planting window, go get transplants from the nursery and you are back on time!

From Your Nursery at Home Pros:

  • Start 6 weeks before safe outdoor soil planting temps. Head start!
  • Sow seeds indoors during cool weather, harden off, then move outdoors, when weather warms up, not before.
  • Since the seedbed produces many more plants than needed, choose only the very best plants!
  • Reduce loss. The disease and pest free, precise environment of indoor planting is more protected than seeds germinated and seedling growth in the ground.
  • You can plant exactly as many as you need.
  • You know they are organic all the way, seed and soil, feeds.

Importantly, if you are growing your own transplants indoors, harden them off well. Expose them to slightly cooler temps and some dryer conditions before putting them out. Most transplants have been raised in warm, favorable temperatures, spoiled with plenty of water. They may suffer transplant shock from suddenly changing those conditions. They may wilt or even die with cooler night temperatures, lots of temperature fluctuation, or drier conditions.

How to Transplant for Super Successful Returns!

Cons:

  • Starts from the nursery are the most expensive way to plant a garden. Prices can vary drastically depending on where you shop.
  • There is a carbon footprint. Yes, most do use plastic containers and you usually drive to the nursery.
  • Your variety choices are limited to the plants the nursery or garden center selects from their grower, which may be local or not. Box stores often carry out of season veggies for your locality.
  • You have to buy more than you need, they only come in four or six packs.
  • The nursery runs out or doesn’t have as many as you need or the plants aren’t in good condition.
  • Consider that transplants can introduce weeds, pests and diseases into your garden. Most producers of transplants are very careful about this, especially with respect to diseases, but it is not uncommon to get a little grass or other weed seed into your transplant pack now and then. Carefully check for pests, the undersides of leaves.
  • Transplants you start yourself are time and labor intensive, and sometimes the whole batch fails. For more assurance, plant backup seeds every few days. If you end up with too many, share them with other gardeners who will be so grateful!

Veggies easy to direct seed – that’s right in the ground!

  • Beans
  • Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cauliflower, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi
  • Chard
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Melons, Watermelon
  • Okra
  • Peas
  • Root crops – beets, carrots, garlic, onion, radish, turnips
  • Spinach
  • Squashes
  • Sunflowers
  • Tomato grows rampantly from seed!
  • Zucchini

Veggies to transplant or start in trays or get at the nursery!

  • Celery
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes are fun to get at the nursery because there are often so many exotic varieties! In Santa Barbara, that nursery is La Sumida!

Know that different gardeners do better with one plant than another! Their peppers always do well, they never get eggplant! Their onions never get big, but they get super big juicy celery stalks!

Garden Magic! Self-sowers & Volunteers

I have a soft spot for volunteers! I love the variety, surprises the birds bring already fertilized and ready to grow! Plants that self seed are a gift! They know where to grow and come up at the perfect time. Let your plants live out their life cycle, make flowers for the bees, butterflies and beneficial insects, seeds for the birds, before cleaning up. Leave a few of your very best tomatoes and cucumbers to decompose in the garden. Let sunflowers, calendula, violas and other annuals drop their seeds and make pretty next year. These plants will have natural vigor. Transplant them to your convenience if you must, but let them grow as they naturally are whenever possible.

Experienced gardeners do a little seed planting in the ground, some grow their own transplants indoors, and at times buy transplants for various reasons! Maybe the nursery got a new plant and you gotta try it!

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See the entire February Newsletter! (Sign up for it if you like!)

February – Final Plans, Preps, 1st Spring Plantings!
Calendula ~ Edible, Medicinal, Good for Your Garden, Easy to Grow!
January, February Seeds or Transplants, Pros & Cons
Other Community Gardens – Virginia Avenue Community Garden, Washington DC 
Events! CEC EARTH DAY Celebration 2017!
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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for SoCal 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!

Read Full Post »

Ants and Aphids on Tomato Plant
Ants tending aphids on Tomato plant

Too many ants! Plants are seriously damaged by their aphids. Production is stalled, plants die. Not ok.

Bad year! Ants are on beans, cucumbers, okra, even tomatoes! It’s become clear the usual hosing off the aphids isn’t enough. Hosing uses too much water, it waters your plants too much, which the ants like! With big tomato plants jammed in cages, you can’t get to the center and fuzzy plants don’t like to be watered on their leaves anyway. The aphids the ants tend are almost impossible to get off those fuzzy backed leaves – especially the stiff haired cucumber leaves. You can’t hard spray them off cucumber flowers because it blows the flowers away too. Argh.

Where do those aphids come from?! Some farming ant species gather and store the aphid eggs in their nests over the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants. Queens that are leaving to start a new colony take an aphid egg to found a new herd of underground aphids in the new colony. As aphids feed, they often transmit plant viruses that can sometimes kill the plants, and the honeydew they make, that the ants feed on, favors the growth of sooty mold. This is a very destructive black fungus that spreads on plant leaves. Not only do ants protect and farm herds of aphids, but also cottony scales, mealybugs, soft-type scales, and whiteflies. Bad juju in the garden.

OK. So it’s either spray with a killer mix, or bait to end the colony. Enough already. Spraying is immediate; baiting takes a few days to a week. Do both to save your plants sooner.

Temporary Solutions

  • Insecticidal soaps are quick but temporary. Drench ant colonies with solutions of insecticidal soap, which are nearly non-toxic highly refined soap. It will not eliminate ants deep in the nest.
  • Neem Oil, organic, is a maybe. Some report it works and swear by it, others say it doesn’t work at all. Probably depends on what kind of ants you have. Some say premix works for them, others say get the 100% stuff. It is not long lasting, repeated sprayings are needed.
  • The Stinkies! Tea Tree Oil, herbs like Peppermint or Rosemary, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus sprays work and smell great! These can be used a couple of different ways. Crush the leaves, sprinkle on an ant line and they vanish. Or, use one cup of water to ¼ cup of peppermint or spearmint. Mix in your blender, strain into a handheld pump sprayer. Put it where you want it! Repeated sprayings needed. Some say you need less of Tea Tree and less frequent sprayings.
  • Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is fossilized remains of plankton; it looks like an off-white talc powder. It kills insects with exoskeletons, all kinds of them! It is perfectly safe for mammals, in fact, is eaten daily by some humans. To work it has to get ON the ant, and if it is even dew dampened, doesn’t work. It doesn’t attract ants, so they don’t invite their friends, and it isn’t ‘shared’ with the other ants. So yes it works, and no it doesn’t. If your plants are suffering now, it’s too slow to use.
  • Vinegar A half to a liter down the hole kills, but the ones that escape merely move. Remember, vinegar is also an herbicide. Be careful.
  • Water? Ants can live submerged in water for several days. That’s why the hose down the hole doesn’t work. So you need a little fire power, boiling hot water, to kill them.

‘Permanent’ Solution! Borax, plain old grocery store 20 Mule Team Borax kills the colony. It really works without fail. It’s cheap, a little goes a long way, and you can use what’s left to do your laundry!

Spray Mix 1/2 cup of sugar with 1 teaspoon of borax (20 mule team) with 1 cup of water to make a spray and spray on their trail where they enter the house (garden) and in 3 days they will be gone. Spay around the windows and doors to keep them out. When the spray dries they eat the crystals and take them back to the nest and POOF they are gone. At the garden, do this on a WINDLESS DAY, and be very careful not to get it on your plants. It’s an herbicide.

Per April Sanders, here’s how the BAIT thing works: Worker ants only feed on liquids. They take solid food back to the nests, where it is given to larvae. Then, the larvae convert it to liquid and feed it back to the worker ants [all the worker ants!]. Straight boric acid or insecticide will kill ants, but the worker ants will eat it rather than taking it back to the nest because it is in liquid form. Making a paste ensures the poison will get to the nest.

The first bait recipes I found were sugar and Borax. So I tried it. I found a lot of dead ants, meaning the Borax was not getting back to the nest, but the Borax was definitely killing the ants. After reading April’s explanation, I am now adding cornmeal to the mix. It is a ‘solid’ the ants have to carry back to the nest for processing. So sugar to attract the ants, cornmeal to carry home, Borax to do the job.

Here’s the skinny on cornmeal! Neither cornmeal nor grits cause ants to explode or jam up and starve because ants don’t eat solids. Cornmeal does disrupt ants’ scent trails until they lay down new ones. Yes, the ants might move, due to disrupted trails, and that might be only a few feet away. It appears to stop ants, but they are merely feeding close to their nest at your expense! They take the stuff home, let the larvae convert it to liquid, and they get it back in the form they can eat.

April explains that cornmeal is a medium to carry the poison. ‘Mix cornmeal with a slow-acting liquid insecticide or boric acid to make a paste. Slow-acting insecticides are the most effective way of controlling ants, according to the Colorado State University Extension. Choose one made specifically for ants for best results, and add it a little at a time to the cornmeal until you have a thick paste.’

  • Sugar ants. Bait is serious. This means you are out to kill the colony, a ‘permanent fix.’ Bait is easy to make, a cup of very warm water, 1/2 c of sugar, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons Borax, make a paste. Set it out in a way birds, pets or children can’t get to it. Put it out AFTER you have watered, at the base of plants the ants and aphids are bothering. The ants will go for the sugar and lay off your plants. Scout ants take it home to the colony, and it is spread to all the ants. It isn’t an instant fix, but it works in a few days to a week. REMOVE while you water, replace afterwards.
  • For grease or protein ants, Golden Harvest Organics bait: Mix three parts peanut butter with two parts jelly and add one tablespoon of boric acid per six ounces of mix. Add cornmeal for your solid. Place the bait on pieces of paper or stuff it into large straws (safer so birds won’t get into it,) and place it where you see ants foraging.

Make your own SAFE bait containers!

Make your own Safe Ant Bait Containers!

  • Small diameters of pipe or unchewable tubing keeps bait safe from birds, pets and small animals. Swab the inside of the end of the tube with a Q-tip to be sure the paste is stuffed far enough away from the end of the tube for a small creature to reach. Place out of the sun, or make some shade for it, along the ant trail.
  • Make holes in a jar lid, toward the center, so if it gets wet, falls over or you lay it on its side, your bait doesn’t ooze out. Put your bait in the jar, put the lid on tight. Lay it on its side, butt end facing the direction you water from, so if you accidentally water, the water doesn’t get inside. Lay it on its side along the ant trail, but especially near a plant the ants have been tending, for their easy access. They will go to it and stop tending the aphids. Don’t put it in full sun so it won’t bake your bait or be too hot for the ants to want to get into. If the lid surface is too slick for purchase, sandpaper or scratch it with a rock so the ants can get a grip. Containers are safe for you to handle when you want to move them or add more bait or remove while you water. If you make holes in the sides, make them high so the bait doesn’t seep out.

When I say Borax really works, I mean it! BE VERY CAREFUL. Besides a bugacide, it is an herbicide, used to kill weeds! It can’t tell the difference between a weed and your veggie plants. When you put down your bait, do not water later, forgetting it is there, and get it in your soil or on your plants. Take up your baits before you water. Definitely don’t do it before rains.

More ant & Borax details from an undated UCCE article on ‘New Research’ by Nick Savotich says: ‘The Argentine ant, being a honeydew feeder, has a strong preference for high carbohydrate liquids. High sucrose-based baits, (50% solution), were found to be the most preferred. Various concentrations of boric acid as the toxicant were also tried in combination with the high sucrose baits. It was found that the lowest concentration of boric acid, 0.25%, was as acceptable to the ants as was the sugar solution alone. Higher concentrations, 0.5 – 2%, tended to inhibit acceptance. Boric acid is an excellent toxicant for ants. However the next step is to determine whether this very low concentration (0.25%) is adequate to destroy whole colonies of the Argentine ant.’ So you see, it doesn’t take much of that 20 Mule Team to do the job.

For best results lay out a fresh bait daily. Lay it in areas where you see regular activity and near their points of entry if you know them. Don’t be diligent washing away their trails, you want them to find the bait spots easily again and again. All the workers in the colony can follow each others trails, so even if you killed off the first foragers, their partners will follow the trail they left.

Stop them before they start! Maybe you have been over watering? Ants make their colonies near a water source, and soft over watered plants are aphid friendly. When you find ant colony entrances, put a few drops of dish soap around, down the nest hole, fill in/bury the nest entrance. If they have taken up residence in your compost pile, turn that compost more frequently and water it a little less!

Predators! Groundbeetles, humpback flies, parasitic wasps, praying mantids and the yellow-shafted flicker all dine on ants. Plant flowering plants like cilantro, celery, carrots, food to bring the beneficial insect predators. You are lucky if you have woodpeckers because they are voracious ant eaters.

Wear gloves, wash your hands when you are done working with any toxic stuff, and remove your baits promptly when you are done with them.

Next year, put down your baits before you do plantings the ants and aphids love. Knock back the ant population from the get go! No, dear garden friends, we will never be ant free, nor do we want to be. Ants aerate our soil, clean up scraps and seeds, feed on fleas, termites, and other pests, are a food source for birds and other insects. As with all creatures, they play an important part in a healthy planet. Balance is a practical peace.

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Mesa Harmony Garden Volunteer Planting & Maintenance
First Saturday of every month between 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., July 2
Bring shovels, wheel barrows, picks, etc. and a friend!

Sunday July 10 FREE DAY at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden!
YouTube link  Celebrating 85 years, perfect for summer guests!

Fairview Gardens, Urban Homesteading, Preserving the Harvest!

Beautiful image is header at SBCanning!

These 3 classes are taught by our Westsider list member, Certified Master Food Preserver, Cindy Shipp!  Sign up in advance for all these tasty classes!

All the classes will be hands on demonstrations of either water bath or pressure canning techniques. Every class will take home a jar of the recipes we make. For more information, or to sign up for these great classes, go to: http://www.fairviewgardens.org/PreservingtheHarvest.htm

July 23 Preserving the Harvest #1 9 am to 12 pm $40
August 20 Preserving the Harvest #2 9 am to 12 pm $40
September 17 Preserving the Harvest #3 9 am to 12 pm $40

International Permaculture Conference and Convergence, IPC10, will be held in Jordan across September 2011.  The theme is “Plan Jordan ~ Water”. http://www.ipcon.org/  The biennial International Permaculture Conference is the world’s premier permaculture gathering. Don’t miss it!

Enjoy!  Ride your bike or walk to these events when you can! 

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They really are, aren’t they?! The most common summer veggie question I get asked is, ‘What’s wrong with my tomatoes?’ So here are reminders, tips to keep your plants healthy and in strong production!

In areas with wilts in the soil, plant only toms that have resistance or tolerance to the wilts; avoid heirlooms. Jetsetter, an early season tom, is grand. Click here for a list of excellent varieties! 

If you have the wilts or blights in your soil 1) Do not pinch out the suckers (the little branches between a big branch and the main stem) as your plant grows because that makes wounds where the airborne fungi can enter your plant.  2) Right from the beginning, pinch off lower branches that would touch soil, or will when they are weighted with dew, water. When your plants get taller, DO promptly prune off lower branches that water having soil borne fungi could splash onto. This is obviously a trade off – no splash on leaves versus wounds open to wind borne fungi. Lay on only an inch of straw to avoid splash and let the soil breathe and dry between waterings.

Do not let plants touch each other and spread the wilts. Remove branches when they get near enough to touch.

Make a special planting basin for tomatoes and cucumbers. Make the base of the basin above the surrounding soil level. We want drainage and some drying to make your soil unfriendly to the fungi.
Special Soil Berm Basin Level for Tomatoes and Cucumbers
When your plant gets about a foot tall, water plants near your tomato but not at its central stem. It has a good deep root and can get water below the fungi zone. Some people simply dry farm toms, especially when they start producing, saying that makes the flavor more intense.

This all said, keep your nearby soil evenly moist. It avoids blossom-end rot.

Rap the tom cage or trellis, central stem, sharply, middayish, to increase pollination! Honey bees do not pollinate tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant or blueberries, but bumble bees DO! They do buzz pollination, called sonification! When you rap the stems, you are helping pollination the same way the bumble bees do! About 11 AM is the best time of day to do it. The flowers are warm and open. Not only do you get more tomatoes, but they are the right shape! More pollination makes more seeds. Plant plenty of flowering plants for pollinators! If you don’t mind less tomatoes, and want less seeds, let nature take its course – no rapping.

Please see all about buzz pollination in Sue Rosenthal’s post at Bay Nature! And Bumblebees can harvest pollen from flowers 400 times faster than honey bees can!
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Temps are crucial!  Tomatoes are not happy when there are

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

True, tomatoes are heat lovers, but per the University of NV, temperatures over 104° F, for only four hours, the flowers abort! Your plant goes into survival mode, stops production. Why wait when it gets HOT and your tomato stops setting fruit?! Get heat tolerant varieties! Check out this nifty page of options at Bonnie Plants! Plant “heat set” varieties like Florasette, Heat Wave, Solar Set, Sunchaser, Sunmaster, Sunpride, Surfire. If you didn’t plant a heat tolerant variety, don’t think is a quitter and pull it. When things cool down, it will start making flowers and setting fruit again. Whew!

High nighttime temps are even worse than high daytime temperatures because your plant never gets to rest.

Conversely, in the spring, wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55° F or protect them with a cover at night. Choose early maturing varieties like Early Girl, Legend, Matina, Oregon Spring, Polar Baby, Silvery Fir Tree, Jetsetter.

‘Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes. What would life be like without home grown tomatoes? Only two things that money can’t buy. That’s true love and home grown tomatoes.’  – John Denver

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

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

Read Full Post »

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