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Happy October, Month of Magic!

The next months…so you can plan ahead!       

October  Transplants of all fall crops, but specially of cabbages and artichokes.  Cut Strawberry runners off to chill for Nov planting.
November  Seeds of onions for slicing.  Wildflowers from seed (don’t let the bed dry out).  Strawberries in no later than Nov 5.  More transplants of winter veggies.
December is winter’s June!  Crops are starting to come in, it’s maintenance time!      

My campaign this fall is for garden cleanup, and turning the soil to expose the fungi that affects our tomatoes, and other plants, so the fungi dries and dies!     

Purple Broccoli, Bright Lights Chard, Cauliflower, Yellow Mangetout Snow Peas, Radishes or Beets of all colors, ‘Licous Red Lettuces!

This is Southern California’s second Spring!  Time to plant your winter garden, all the Brassicas, that’s, cabbage, brocs, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kales, plus celery, chard and peas, peas, peas!  All kinds!  And what I call the ‘littles,’ the veggies you plant all year, beets, bunch onions (the ones that don’t bulb), carrots (bonemeal yes, fresh manure no), radish, spinach, arugula, and, especially, all kinds of lettuces!   Plant gift plants or bowls or baskets for the holidays!  Start making holiday gifts, herbal wreaths, powdered herbs, pretty vinegars and oils, shampoos, soaps, or candles!      

Winter weather?  Bring it on!  Starting to cool down now!  Your plants will grow fast then start to slow down.  Less weeds and insects.  Aphids & White Flies are a winter crop problem (see below please).  Some people prefer the cool slower pace of winter gardening to the more phrenetic hot summer labor and work of big harvests, distribution, storage.  Harvesting cold hardy vegetables after they have been hit with a touch of frost can enhance the flavor and increase the sweetness of greens such as kale and collards.     

Extend the crop! Cut and come again!  Harvest your big greens – kale and collards, and lettuces leaf by leaf rather than cutting your plant down.  Many lettuces will ‘come back’ even if you cut them off an inch or two above ground.  Leave the stalk in the ground, see what happens!  Rather than pulling your bunch/table onions, cut them off about an inch to 2 inches above the ground.  They will come back 3 to 4 times.  Leave a potato in the ground to make more potatoes.  After you cut the main broccoli head off, let the side sprouts grow and snip them for your salads or steam them.  Cabbages?  Cut off right below the head, then let them resprout, forming several smaller heads at the leaf axils.     

Gather your last lingering seeds midday on a sunny dry day.  Dry a few seeds from your favorite tomatoes!  Sidedress continuing and producing plants.  Then cleanup!  Remove funky habitat for overwintering insect pests, fungi.       

Build wire bottomed raised beds for gopher protection.  For very useful information, please see University of California, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Pocket Gophers.     

Prepare your soil!      

  • If you are a new gardener at Pilgrim Terrace, ask other gardeners, or the previous person who had your plot, how the soil  was tended.  Some plots may need no amending, others may need a lot.  Add compost, manures, seaweeds, worm castings as needed.  Some people do the whole garden at once, others conserve valuable materials by preparing only where they will specifically plant, for example, a large plant like a broc.  If it is a lettuce bed that you will do repeated plantings in, you might opt to do the whole bed at once.
  • Since mulch keeps the soil cool, some people pull it to the side in winter, to let the sun heat the soil on cool days.
  • Simple soil test!  Test the soil by putting a drop of vinegar in a teaspoon or so. If it fizzes, it’s too alkaline. Then test it by putting in baking soda mixed with a little water. If it fizzes, it’s too acidic.

Garden Design       

  • In addition to planting your veggies, plan ahead to plant flowers, to always have some in bloom, to attract pollinators.  Borage is a lovely plant, blooms all year, has purple blue star flowers that are edible and good for you!  Toss a few on top of your salads!
  • Make habitat!  Plants for beneficial insects, poles for birds, rocks for lizards! 
  • Plant tall in the North, the mountain end of our plots; plant shorties in the South.  This is especially important in our winter gardens because of the low sun long shadows.
  • Give your big plants plenty of room to become big; plant fillers and littles (beets, bunch onions – the ones that don’t bulb, carrots, radish, spinach, arugula, lettuces) on their sunny south sides!
  • Put plants that like the same amount of water together (hydrozoning). 
  • Put plants together that will be used in the same way, for example, salad plants like lettuces, bunch onions, celery, cilantro.
  • Biodiversity.  Planting the same kind of plant in different places throughout your garden.  It can be more effective that row cropping or putting all of one plant in one place, where if disease or a pest comes, you lose them all as the disease or pest spreads from one to all.
  • Layering example:  Transplant peas at the base of any beans you still have.

How to plant!       

  • This is the time to put your mycorrhiza fungi to work!  One of the great things mycorrhiza does is assist Phosphorus uptake.  Of the N-P-K on fertilizers, P is Phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop.  Sprinkle it on the roots of your transplants when you plant them!  More about mycorrhiza:  http://www.mycorrhizae.com/index.php?cid=468&    http://www.mastergardeners.org/newsletter/myco.html      Island Seed & Feed carries it.
  • Use vigorous fresh seeds, choose vibrant not-fruiting transplants that preferably aren’t root bound (having a solid mass of roots).  If the transplant is pretty big for the container, pop it out of the container to make sure it isn’t root bound.  If it is the only one there, and you still want it, can’t wait, see what John R. King, Jr (2 min video) has to say on how to rehabilitate your plant!
  • Lay down some Sluggo (See Slugs & Snails below) right away, even before seedlings sprout, when you put your transplants in, so your plant isn’t overnight snail and slug smorgasbord! 

Strawberry Runners!  Mid Oct cut off runners, gently dig up if they have rooted, shake the soil off.  Clip all but two or three leaves off, tie ‘em together in loose bunches. Plastic bag them and put in the back of your fridge for 20 days.  Plant them Nov 5 to 10!  Prechilling your plants makes them think they had a cold winter.  When days get longer and warmer, they will produce fruit, not as much vegetative growth.  You can then either keep your plants that produced this year, or remove and compost them, start fresh with new plants!     

Watering – Morning when you can because plants drink during the day, and we want them to dry so they don’t mildew!  Water underneath, especially late beans, and your new peas, who are especially susceptible to mildew.  Except for your short and shallow rooted plants, once a week and deeply is good unless there is a hot spell or rain.  Then, check ’em.  Poke a stick in the ground to see if the soil is moist under the surface.     

Happy playing in the dirt!

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What’s happening with my tomatoes?! 

Early BlightFusarium Wilt, Verticillium WiltLate Blight

Tomato – Healthy SunGold!

Tomato – Verticillium Wilt, Yellow Flag effect

This?!                                                 Or this?

This is bar none, the most common summer question I get asked! Potatoes, tomatoes, and the various forms of lettuce are the top three favorite vegetables in the US, so you can see why this is THE question! Since fungi spread as simply as by the wind, I will be campaigning for more tomato plant care, starting with what people can do now to keep the fungi from overwintering, then in the spring to lessen its chances. There are more things that can be done than I knew! Read on!

About Fungi  To emphasize the potency of these fungi: Late Blight of potatoes and tomatoes, the disease that was responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century, is caused by the fungus-like oomycete pathogen Phytophthora infestans. It can infect and destroy the leaves, stems, fruits, and tubers of potato and tomato plants. Before the disease appeared in Ireland it caused a devastating epidemic in the early 1840s in the northeastern United States. Not only do the fungi feed on your tomato plants, but take a look at your potatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and beans! See those yellowing leaves? Remove and dispose of them ASAP! That removes zillions of spores so they can’t spread. The wilts and blights also affect trees! Sadly, not only do your plants look depressing, production is zilch, they die an unnatural death. Remove, replace. Be happy.

How do fungi work?  Spores are spread by rain/watering splash, insects, and wind, and through our hands and tools (wash your hands and tools after handling infected plants) and through these mediums, can travel distances. That’s why it is so important, in our community garden, to tend our plants, so our neighbors’ plants won’t also be infected.  Educate your plot neighbors, better yet, send this to them! 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 on debris and weeds.

What they look like on your plant: 

Tomato – Early Blight

15 Fungi Preventions!

Cultural control practices alone won’t prevent disease during seasons with wet, cool weather. However, the following measures will improve your chances of raising a successful crop.

Things you can still do this season!** Things you can do now to prepare for next season!**
  1. Buy toms that are tagged VFN, or just VF – that’s Verticillium Wilt and Fusarium resistant or tolerant. Varieties that set fruit early, at lower temps, are Early Girl Improved, Fourth of July, Enchantment. Excellent resistant varieties are Champion, Husky Red, Better Boy, Ace Hybrid, Celebrity.  
  2. Plant only healthy-appearing tomato transplants. Check to make sure plants are free of dark lesions on leaves or stems. If starting transplants from seed, air-dry freshly harvested seed at least 3 days.
  3. Plant cukes and toms on a special raised mound/basin with the bottom of the basin above the regular soil level. See more on this page in the section, Special Planting and Growing Tips!
  4. 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 plants may not win the battle.  Do not let volunteers grow, even on compost piles, cute as they are. Infected tomato refuse should be put in the trash, NOT in green waste or your compost.  
  5. **Create a soil barrier, mulch! Newspaper/cardboard covered with mulch or grass clippings doesn’t let the soil dry out. Moist soil is fungi habitat – we want that soil to dry. Use no more than one inch of straw. It is easy to lay on and allows light to get through and air to flow and dry the soil, stops the splash factor. Above all, you don’t want wet soil to contact your plant’s leaves. When that straw gets tired and flattens, trash it and replace with new clean light fluffy straw.   
  6. **Avoid wetting foliage when watering, especially in late afternoon and evening. Water at ground level! Watering the leaves creates a humid micro climate; the fungus produces spores. Dry leaves. Dry leaves. Dry leaves. No moisture, no spores.  
  7. **Air circulation, plant staking and no touching. Air circulation allows the wind to blow through your plants. This allows the timely drying of leaves and it helps break up micro climates. If your plants are packed too tightly together, they themselves become barriers to drying. Staking your plants to poles and using cages helps them grow upright and it creates gaps between the tomato plants. You want wind and sun to reach through and around your plants. And getting more sun, your toms will ripen sooner! 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. In the case of tomatoes, scattered interplanting, biodiversity, is always a better choice than row planting where disease easily spreads from plant to plant.  
  8. **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.  
  9. **When your toms are about a foot tall, water neighboring plants, but not your toms. Plant water loving companion plants, like Basil or the Plant Dr Chamomile, next to your toms; water them all you want! Make a basin around your toms to keep water OUT! That keeps the soil drier near your plant, so the fungi can’t thrive there. Your tomatoes will get plenty of water by their deep roots.  
  10. **Remove bottom leaves, again, no touching (the ground), and prune your plants. Barbara Pleasant at Mother Earth News says, ‘When the lowest leaves are removed just as the first leaf spots appear, you also remove millions (zillions) of spores. And, because the bases of pruned plants dry quickly, the spread of the disease is slowed because early blight fungi need damp leaves in order to germinate and grow.’ Create an 18 to 24 inch barrier gap or safe space between your garden soil or mulch and the first leaves of the tomato plant. If the spores can’t splash upwards and reach the leaves, they can’t take hold. The stem usually isn’t a place for the spores, though it can be. Best is to remove the bottom leaves before the spores start!
    .
    If you have large plants, you might consider thinning some branches to let the sun and wind blow through the main body of your tomato plant. But, some gardeners don’t recommend pruning or snipping the suckers, the mini branches formed between the trunk and branches, because spores can enter through these cuts. If you decide to prune, the less cuts the better. 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, in a rinse of water & alcohol, frequently so you don’t further infect healthy parts of your plant.  
  11. **Remove infected leaves immediately. A leaf should be completely green. Look for brown spots or yellow spots or distress. Remove leaves and prune when it is dry and sunny, not windy. Wash your tools and hands often.  
  12. After the tomatoes set, add some nitrogen. A healthy plant tends to fight off the spores. You don’t want to add too much nitrogen to your tomatoes before they set fruit. Too much nitrogen before fruiting leads to more leaves and less fruit. Add N only once.  
  13. **Rotate your crop if possible. Because fungi also affect other plants, rotation in small gardens isn’t practical or even possible. But if you have the room, move your tomatoes to areas that are fungi free.  
  14. ****At the end of the season remove & trash, don’t compost or put in green waste, all infected debris and surrounding debris. Pull all the weeds because spores can over winter on weed hosts. You want to reduce the number of spores laying in wait.  
  15. **The spores aren’t super spores. During our winter season, turn your soil about 10 inches, burying the spores helps remove them, and it also exposes snail eggs to die.

Preventive Foliar Mix that does wonders! 

Apply every 2 to 3 weeks, so new growth will be covered.  Wet under and over the leaves.  Per gallon add:

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

Water your plants with an aspirin?!  Salicylic acid, in aspirin, triggers a defense response in tomatoes and other plants as well! Adapted from eHow:  The main benefit of aspirin in planting involves aspirin’s ability to fend off potential plant diseases.

  1. Purchase regular strength aspirin. The brand does not matter; purchase the cheapest brand that is available.
  2. Mix together one aspirin with one gallon of water. Combine the ingredients well, so that the aspirin is distributed evenly throughout the liquid.
  3. Add a half teaspoon of mild liquid soap to the mixture. This is used as a way to help the aspirin water stick better to the tomato plants. Once the soap is added, attach a spray nozzle to the gallon jug and it is ready to use.
  4. Spray the tomatoes when you first set them in the ground. Aspirin sprayed directly on seeds improves germination, on plants it stimulates the growing process. There is no need to soak the area. A light and gentle spray will suffice.
  5. Continue to spray the aspirin mixture on the tomato plants every 2 to 3 weeks. You are going to notice that the plants stay healthier and attract fewer insects.

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 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.

Solarization  In the past ten years, some enterprising Israelis came up with solarizing. Moist soil is covered with transparent plastic film for four to six/eight weeks in the summer. It takes that long to heat the soil to a temperature and depth that will kill harmful fungi, bacteria, nematodes, weeds, and certain insects in the soil. Some gardeners won’t use solarizing because it kills beneficial soil organisms too… Solarization can be a useful soil disinfestation method in regions with full sun and high temperatures, but it is not effective where lower temperatures, clouds, or fog limit soil heating. Solarization stimulates the release of nutrients from organic matter present in the soil.

Solarization

Solarization also kills grass by heating up the soil when daily temperatures exceed 80°F. Weed eat or mow the area as short as possible. Moisten the soil and cover the area in clear plastic for 10-14 days, until the grass is dead. Although cloudy weather will slow things down by cooling the soil under the film, a few weeks of sunshine will improve your soil dramatically, easily, and inexpensively. If you live in an area with cool or cloudy summers, or if you just don’t want to wait all season, you can speed up the process by adding a second sheet of plastic. Using the hoops commonly used to elevate row covers or bird netting, raise the second sheet of plastic over the ground-level sheet. The airspace between acts as a temperature buffer zone during cloudy weather and the combination of the two sheets of plastic serves to raise the soil temperature an additional 6 degrees. The goal is to raise and maintain temperatures in the top 6 inches of soil to a level between 110 to 125 degrees F. After several days of sunshine, soil temperatures rise to as high as 140 degrees at the surface and well over 100 degrees as far down as 18 inches. Do not mix untreated soil into the solarized bed!

And please, do NOT compost diseased tomatoes, infected trimmings or removed leaves, or any other diseased plant. That’s how you spread soil borne fungi, let alone that they are also spread by wind, are airborne. Put them in the trash, not green waste. If your neighbor has a diseased plant, don’t be shy to respectfully and gently ask them to remove it. Remember, they raised that child. How hard was it for you to give up your plant? Especially the first time. See? They may not even know about wilts. Educate them if possible. Tell them how you learned about it. Offer to send them the link to this page.

Biofumigation  Biofumigation is a sustainable strategy to manage soil-borne pathogens, nematodes, insects, and weeds. Initially it was defined as the pest suppressive action of decomposing Brassica tissues, but it was later expanded to include animal and plant residues. 

Other Tomato Questions & Cures – Holes, spots, brown areas?  Here is an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) image page from UC Davis that is likely to answer your question! It includes diseases and pests. Do take a good look at it!

To the fattest, bestest tomatoes ever!!!! 

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Updated 6.11.19


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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Now, let’s look at July in more detail:  Definitely time to be gathering info about fall plant varieties, getting your seeds for August planting!  As plants finish, spaces become available, get that soil ready with compost and manures.  Get some hardware cloth and install some gopher barriers. 

Wise Harvesting!  Now that the initial rush of harvesting your new veggies has passed, and it has, at times, become a labor, it is not the time to slack off!  Harvest frequently to keep your crop coming!  Do not store on the vine.  Pick zuchs and cucs small and tender. 

Maintenance practices make a difference!  See June’s info for more details! 

  • Water & mulch.  Mulch for moisture, water deeply and less frequently.  Stick your fingers in the soil to see how moist it is.  Keep strawberries moist or they will stop producing.  Water short rooted plants, beans, lettuces, cucs, more frequently.  Keep seed beds moist, water twice a day if you need to.
  • Feeding!  Epsom salts your peppers, blood meal for yellowing Nitrogen needing plants.  Scratch in a little manure to keep lettuces fat and happy.  Seabird guano (NOT bat guano) keeps plants flowering and producing!
  • Pollinators!  That’s bats, bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, moths, and wind.  The creatures need year round food, shelter and clean water.  Selecting Plants for Pollinators – California Coastal Chaparral Forest and Shrub Province is a must see article!
  • Pests – insects and skunk prevention, gopher management.
  • Diseases – pick before you water, so you don’t spread disease.  Water in the AM to let leaves dry off to keep mildew at bay. 

Make compost, compost, compost now for fall planting!  Use trimmings, spent plants, plants that bolt, healthy but no longer wanted, in your compost!  In August we will start planting fall and winter crops, and they will be wanting your fine organic compost!  Chop things up so they degrade more quickly.  Keep your pile moist so it will decay.  A dry pile is a dead pile.  Add some red worms to the pile so you will get some worm castings as well, and your pile breaks down more fully.  Bring your kitchen trim!  Add a few sprigs of yarrow from time to time and that will speed decomposition.   

Instead of leaving the big air holes open in the rubber compost enclosures, you might decide to install a very large heavy mill plastic bag to keep your pile moist!  Put a few holes in the bottom for drainage.  When enough compost has formed, you can just remove the bag to a storage area out of the sun, or empty it where you want to plant next, incorporating it with the soil there.  Or if you don’t use a bag, just remove the enclosure and plant right there, right in your compost!

Bountiful Storage!  Freezing, canning, seed collecting, making medicinal products like creams and shampoos, teas, powdered herbs, candles, flavored oils & vinegars, or drying flowers, are all wonderful ways to extend the joy of what you grew, whether you keep them or give them as gifts!

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Have you noticed dug up spots?  Have areas of your yard or garden been dug up night after night?   

Did you know?!  Skunks are excellent at rodent (mice, moles, rats) and insect control.  Their omnivorous diet includes black widow spiders and scorpions, SNAILS & SLUGS, lizards, frogs, snakes, eggs and some plant materials, pet food.  But they eat earthworms too, and skunks are one of the primary predators of the honeybee, relying on their thick fur to protect them from stings.  The skunk scratches at the front of the beehive and eats the guard bees that come out to investigate.  Being carrion eaters, they help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean.  With their slow, waddling gait and bushy tail, these gentle mammals are delightful to see from a distance, and play an important role in keeping nature in balance – the natural way.   

However.  Several of us at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden have had major skunk problems.  Plants dug up, areas where seeds are planted dug up, earthworms eaten.  Every night.  Gets wearing.   

In Santa Barbara, Animal Control is no longer trapping due to budget cuts.  They are concentrating on animal abuse cases.  They referred me to Steve of Eradicators, who said he is scheduled 3 months out, and charges for his services.  Officer Demming at Animal Control also mentioned some trappers work with Wildlife Care Network.  I talked with Dan there. He recommends prevention:   

  • Ammonia soaked rags – smell dissipates quickly
  • Cayenne pepper, the powdery type, that will get up their nose, in their eyes. Sprinkle it on the area the skunks are bothering. The animal won’t be permanently injured.
  • Shake Away, an inexpensive form of fox urine available at feed stores.
  • Moth balls in a container that will keep it from getting into the soil. Isn’t it ironic? Skunks don’t like bad smells!
  • Vary the deterrents so the skunks do not become used to them.

Dan says the disadvantage of trapping is that as soon as one skunk is gone, another usually takes its place.  Poisoning is not a good thing since other animals may ingest it or get it second-hand by eating an animal that has.   

Two sites for information are the Humane Society – Skunks and Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network – Skunks   

I’m going to try a combo of moth balls because I think they will last longer, and pepper, as a backup.  But it depends on which is the cheapest remedy overall.  Let us know what has worked for you!   

Cute Hungry Skunks! Trouble Times Three!

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This post is the 2nd of how to plant a lot in your urban garden, and up your production in a small space!  Please also see the 4.17.10 post!  Thanks, and good planting to you!            

Gopher Basket

Gophers and other Blessed Pests First!   When I give this as a talk, you should hear the groans from my listeners when I say we must start by talking about gophers.  They know what I’m talking about.  I want to emphasize to take care of this before you even think of doing anything else.  I’ve seen so much heartache over lost plants, literally tears, some of them my own.  You lose the months it took your plant to grow, and the food you would have gotten from it.  All that work raising your little plant, having a personal relationship with it, and suddenly, with no mercy, our hungry little friend takes it, gone.  Just gone.  So, before you start planting, install 1/2″ aviary wire or hardware cloth barriers.  Aviary wire is cheaper, doesn’t last as long.  How long it lasts depends on your soil.  I’ve heard anywhere from 3 to 10 years.  Do what your budget lets you.  Not taking care of this means a lot of lost production time.  If you can’t do the whole bed, do parts, or buy or make gopher wire baskets, especially for your favorite plants you use all the time, the most.            

What to plant:  experiment with how much you need, KEEP RECORDS!  Over planting a veggie cuts down on space for variety, and may produce more than you can or want to eat.  In your records include where you got your plant, the name of its variety, planting and harvest dates, yield, what you liked about it, didn’t, could have done better for it, comparisons with other varieties of the same plant, other kinds of plants.              

Avoid loss of production time by choosing plants for success!             

  • Choose disease & pest resistant varieties for your area.
  • Choose slow bolting varieties for longer harvest per square foot.
  • Choose heat tolerant varieties that need less water, cold tolerant.
  • Choose tomato and pepper varieties that produce small fruit. The smaller the size of the fruit, the more fruit the plant will produce.
  • Choose a plant that produces year round, year after year.
  • Don’t raise onions, potatoes (unless you are Irish 🙂 ), winter squash and cabbage. Those crops are relatively cheap to buy and don’t rely on “just picked” freshness for quality.

When to plant:  In a small garden this becomes critical mass.  If you plant a seed when the ground is too cold for it, it rots, no plant, you lose time.  If you plant too soon, it may be too cold and no blooms are able to form, or if they do, no set fruit.  Learn your plants’ needs.              

Greenhouse, Lots of Solar

Greenhouse!  Getting a head start is an age-old planter’s trick, just about required repertoire for a gardener’s tool basket!  There are so many ways to do it!  Greenhouses are the cat’s meow!  But if you don’t have one, don’t let that stop you.  Dig a protected underground spot, cover with glass or plastic and raise your plant babies while the over head winds are howling!  Start ’em in your south-facing kitchen window, in the garage with grow lights, in a free-standing clear plastic wardrobe closet you pop into your garden, use a protected spot in your garden as a mini nursery!  Be creative!  While your winter or summer plants are finishing, start your next season’s plants!  You will be 6 to 8 weeks ahead!  Now that’s excellent use of production time!              

How much to plant:  Think of how much production per square foot you will get.  Will that serve your needs compared to the variety of the production of the entire garden, that plant itself?  For example, would a wide Romano bean be more productive than a slim bean?  Would a plant that has a longer production period be more useful?  Are you wanting to can and have a lot of harvest at once, or do you want table tomatoes all summer?             

Don’t plant too much of one vegetable. Two zucchini plants may produce more than enough.             

Or, plant a lot of what you grow well, grows well on your space, then trade for other goodies?             

Where to plant:  Do you need to assure having that plant?  Biodiversity, planting in different places throughout your garden, may be more effective that row cropping or putting all of one plant in one place where if disease or a pest comes, you lose them all as the disease or pest spreads from one to all.  See also Rotation, below.                          

Succession planting:  Limited by a small available area, choose your favorites that you want a steady supply of and use your self-discipline to wait to periodically plant another installment of your crop.  We have heard about spring planting, and most of us ask, ‘Did you plant your garden?’  With succession planting, part of your garden is going to be bare unless you have planted successively before, and each area that is finishing becomes available sequentially.  The question, ‘Did you plant your garden?’ no longer applies.              

If you have a short season garden, fast maturing plants like radishes, lettuces, can be planted successively as fillers in any spare spot.             

With succession crops, plant in the northmost area first; later plantings will not shade previous plantings too much as the first plantings finish.              

Rotation:  Hard to do in a small plot.  What is the size of a ‘small’ plot?  10′ X 20′ would be considered a small plot.  Small for what?  In a 10′ X 20′  plot, the length north to south, it is logical to put tall plants to the North, shorter to the South so they don’t shade each other.  That is especially true in winter when the sun is low in the South.  So where do you rotate your tall tomatoes too?!?              

You can space them with 2’ open space between them one year, plant in the open spaces the next year.  But is that enough tomatoes?  Do you want more?  In a small plot, dig your planting hole, fill with compost and worm castings and any other amendments you want to use, ie mycorrhizal fungi, then plant in the compost!  If your plant is a manure lover, add some.  As you water, the compost, etc., juices (compost tea), go down into the soil below feeding the roots as they grow.  You have to ‘build’ new soil as you go.             

If your 10′ X 20′  plot is lengthwise east to west, you have more ‘tall’ area to plant in the north.  But it is still hard to rotate in small plots.  Feed your soil well.             

Soil Depletion:  In a small plot, this is an issue.  The soil simply gets used up, turned into plants, pulled up with the roots.  If at all possible, make compost!  Bring in alfalfa/manure/fresh organic green trim and make a hot pile.  You can do this simply with a removable reusable chicken wire enclosure.  When not in use if folds up into little space.  You can plant where the compost was made.  Start your pile in enough time to use before major planting.              

  • Compost:  You put in your soil.  It contributes to the slow release of Nitrogen, the prime ingredient plants need for good growth.  It can also be used as mulch, 2” minimum, 4” better!  http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/hortcrop/h885w.htm           
  • Vermicompost:  Worm castings are very low in N (Nitrogen) but have special plant-growth hormones.  The humus in castings improves your soil’s capacity to hold water.  Castings suppress several diseases and significantly reduce parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites.
  • Mulch – You put on the surface to preserve your soil, keep it cool and moist, to prevent light germinating weed seeds from sprouting.  Organic mulches, like barks, straw, leaves, what you chop and drop, deliberately grown mulch plants that are then felled in place, can be nutritious to your soil as they decompose.  Mulch especially makes sense if you are a busy person since it cuts down on weeds.  Weeds use up your soil, nutrients your plants need.  So in the long run, as it prevents weeds and feeds your garden, you also have less expense feeding your soil. 

   

Irrigation:  In a tightly planted biodiverse veggie garden where things are changing rapidly, soaker hoses may not be the answer.  They are more useful for row planting and more permanent non-veggie plantings.  It is hard to tell how much water your plants are getting when water pressure varies much, not just from others using water at a community garden, but from the part of the hose nearest the spigot to the end of the hose.  If you use mulch it may be hard to tell how much water your plants are getting, and in time, the hoses can get buried more deeply than your most shallow rooted plants!  Plants that no longer need water, some tomatoes, mature onions that you want to dry, may get water you no longer want them to have and it may be difficult to move your hose far enough away unless  you plant at the end of the line, remove the hose, double it back on itself.  But all that finagling may be tiresome if not time-wasting.  If you are a vigorous farmer, you may cut your hose while digging.  And there are going to be times when the hose simply gets old and tired and the holes get bigger.  Repairs are easy, but it does take your time.   

Simple Sprayer

I have come to prefer hand watering and I find I have a closer relationship with my garden as I watch and water.  It is difficult to water underneath when you hand water, but keep it in mind to do, especially if you have just done some foliar feeding – don’t wash away all that food on the leaf.  Water plantings of small seeds very gently with a low flow, or by hand with a sprinkler can so seeds don’t get washed away, buried or unburied, or tiny seedlings damaged.             

That said, it is easy to lay soaker hoses in a small plot.  If you intend to leave them there once laid, put them about 8” apart,  so you can plant just about anywhere without relaying the hose.  Slightly bury or lay mulch on top of your hose, to prevent evaporation loss and to keep your plants from getting wet and mildewing, reduce snail/slug habitat!   Well laid hoses save time and water.  You can be watering while you do maintenance and harvesting.             

If you are really busy or are gone for periods of time, get an automatic timer.  Some water is better than no water.             

Pollination:  Put some buzz in your population by having a few bee attractor plants either in your garden or nearby!  Pollination equals production, so this is critical.  Otherwise, you hand pollinate.              

Managing Pests and Diseases:  First rules are to keep your plants healthy – well fed, make healthy soil, and reduce risky habitat.  Make habitat, plants for beneficial insects, poles for birds, rocks for lizards!                  

The small plot advantage is you can hand manage pests, cutting expenses.  You can track individual plants and see what they really need when they need it, remove immediately if necessary.  The disadvantage is it you lose it, it’s gone and you have to start over if there is time.  For some plants, if you miss the growing window, you are out of luck.              

Harvest:  In a small plot you can’t afford not to harvest plants that stop production if not harvested frequently, peas, beans, cucumbers.              

Seed Saving:  There may be little space or time to let plants grow to the seeding stage.  But if you have a very favorite plant – tasty crop, strong, exceptional production, it may pay to let it seed.             

Cover cropping:  If you need to miss a season or want to give your soil a rest and a boost, plant nitrogen fixers that as they grow, are living mulch, then later you knock down, chop into the soil, becoming green manure.              

Your rewards:  The freshest, most nutritious, tastiest organic veggies ever!  And the outdoor enjoyment, therapy, and relaxation a garden can give.
 
Go ahead, do it, turn off your cell.

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