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Veggies growing in homemade compost!

Veggies growing in homemade compost! Photo by Rod Zimmer

Compost is the single most best thing you can do for your soil! It feeds your plants, adds water holding capacity, and much more! 

Anytime we have a season change, compost becomes more important. In summer most of us are thinking how can I do it all?! Harvesting takes more time than waiting for the plants to produce. There’s more watering to do in summer. Yet, fall is soon upon us and though making compost takes a wee bit more time, it is so needed to give our plants a good start! In winter, making compost is essential for spring planting!

Here are some possibilities!

There are 3 basic kinds of compost, cold and hot and composting in place.

Of the cold kind….

The kind that finishes the quickest is the kitchen veggie waste that gets chopped vigorously with the shovel every few days, turned and turned again. Small bits decompose faster. The pile is kept moist. The dry brown material in the pile isn’t usually  straw. Straw is hard to chop and takes a long time to decompose. It’s more like leaves, some already chopped, partially decomposed mulch type stuff. The right leaves have nutrient value. See more. With only a couple of turns, this whole process might take two weeks, usually less – even in cooler weather! It’s quick. For quick results it’s also best to put your compost in full sun. Shaded compost usually ends up untened. It’s in an out-of-the-way place, processes so slowly a lot of gardeners forget they ever made the pile. Neglected, the pile literally dies.

In a community garden or a small garden area you might not have space for such a pile. But if it’s a priority you probably will make the space! If you do, and if you want to keep it a bit contained, instead, make a shallow pit and put your ‘pile’ in there. Toss a thin layer of healthy soil over it and turn that in to inoculate your compost with soil organisms. They will speed the decomposition process. A thin layer of soil also keeps flies away and you have no smell. Cover it with a light layer of straw or plastic to keep it from being unsightly to visitors while it is in process. A wire cover over straw lets rain in, so I use a couple plastic bags left from manure. I put a light weight board over my cover and a concrete stepping stone on the board to keep it from blowing away. If it rains, the cover keeps your processing compost from getting too wet. If it’s dry weather, covering keeps it moist. It will decompose better rather than off gas the Nitrogen, dry and die. The cover is instantaneous to remove, then you can have at that pile with gusto! With that kind of pile, you have a fairly steady supply of compost. Most of the time some of it is ready to put here and there.

I am very grateful to three neighbors who give me their green kitchen waste. Since I also grow worms, I ask them to give me only what they imagine a worm could eat. Worms!

Compost Sifting‘Every day I fill the wheelbarrow with rich screened compost. It really smells quite delicious; nutty with a spicy note.’ Sifting your compost is a piece of cake! Grab your wheelbarrow or bucket, get a piece of hardware cloth/hogwire or a nursery plant flat with a smaller weave to it, like in the image, and sift away! You can build a lovely framed sifter or buy great rolling devices. Choose the size opening you want. Or, don’t sift at all. I like a little texture to my compost. 

Have your compost pile handy, nearby, warm in the sun for speedy decomposition! Keep it moist, cover it when it needs it – in hot/dry or rainy weather, turn it! Compost that gets turned regularly often gets raided before it’s completely finished. You can still make out some of what the stuff is that’s there. That works just fine because it finishes quickly, in the ground, at home with all the lovely soil organisms.

If there comes a time when you compost has been sadly neglected, spread the stuff out as a mulch and start over, or let it go and just buy what you need. No shame in that.

Hot Compost is PDF, pretty darn fast!

It can heat up to amazing temps, so hot it makes ash and you cannot put your hands in it without getting burned. You can see it steaming on a winter morning! The point is to kill diseases, pests, weed seeds. Well that almost gets done, because, you see, the heat is in the middle of the pile. So they say turn it so the hot part goes to the outside and the cool part to the inside. That, my friends, is easier said than done. But, at least some of it happens.

Two interesting points here. My cold compost pile gets that hot! Yep, it does. A well-built pile with thin layers will cook quite happily no matter your intention. It’s nature. The other thing is I don’t put diseased plants or seeding weeds in my pile, so I don’t need it to get hot. Sure, some pest eggs probably make it. However, what happens most is veggie seeds sprout when I put the compost in to amend my soil! I swear, I can’t see those seeds when it is compost. It all looks dark and yummy. But lots of times I’m glad that happens! The plants get a terrific start and I get surprises! This year I enjoyed two elegant celery plants that came up about a foot and a half from each other and everyone complimented how beautiful they were, robust, with gorgeous long dark green stalks!

Whether you do hot or cold compost is your choice. I’ve tried it both ways. Sincerely. Got a long thermometer, built cubic yard piles and turned them. Now I have cold compost and turn it. No way around that turning if you want results sooner than later. It doesn’t matter what size I build it. I’ve seen 1 cubic foot piles heat up just fine! If it gets hot, it’s hot. If it doesn’t that’s fine with me. Taking care of it, turning, keeping it moist, making thin layers gets the job done. The layers are more a measuring device – 1 dry to 2 wet. Once they are in, mix up the material so the straw is moistened and the wet just doesn’t make a mass. My friend who chops and turns his with vigor gets much faster results, and I may take that up too.

Composting in place

No dig composting in place is an age old technique more recently called Lasagna Gardening. It takes some prep time, that is often done with a group of friends, but once that is done, you’re home free! There’s no turning, no carrying finished compost about because it is already where you want it! Materials may take longer to decompose. It is a cold pile, but if your pile is directly on the earth, soil organisms happily munching makes things happen quickly. It takes a lot of materials to start depending on the size you want your garden to be. You can start with a small area, add more later.

The beauty is it can be done on top of a lawn to form a raised bed, with or without a box border. If you have lawn where you want to plant, peel back the lawn or not, lay down cardboard or newspaper to kill off the lawn, prevent it growing back, up into your bed. If you choose cardboard, water a LOT to soak that cardboard. Layer to your heart’s content until you run out of materials. You can make beds 18″ high to start. They will settle a lot. That 18″ can easily become 9″ in two or three days in warm weather! You can plant instantly! Just pull back a planting hole, add some ready or nursery-bought compost and any other amendments right for your plant, and plant! Your amazing ‘lasagna’ will decompose and make beautiful soil without you doing a thing more! Add more materials as you acquire them to any spots you want to build up or if you want more compost or a bigger or another bed!

If you are doing composting in place while gardening, you just put on the layers, between the plants or down a row, with the materials you have on hand until you run out. The smaller the chop, the pieces, the faster the decomp. Keep them moist so they will decompose faster.

Trench it and forget it! Trenching has always been the simplest technique of all! It’s a super simple way of putting chopped veggie kitchen wastes to work. Dig, pull back a 6″ trench, no deeper. Soil organisms live at the top. Put your kitchen waste in the trench, grab the shovel and vigorously chop the waste into fine pieces. If you don’t feel like chopping it, don’t! Put in the stuff, cover with some of the soil you pulled back. Turn that a couple times to mix in soil organisms to speed the decomp process, cover with the remaining soil and forget it. Period. Done. A week later you can dig in that area and find no trace of it. Soil organisms are intelligent and born hungry.

I combine trenching and a pit. If I have a spot needing compost, I trench it there. If there are no spots needing it right now, I put it in the pit and hold it until a spot needs it or a plant needs sidedressing (feeding mid season). In that case, in summer I also at a bit of manure or if it’s SoCal winter time, a little fish emulsion for easy and quick uptake.

NOTE! Compost you make isn’t the same as manure, nor nursery bought bagged compost. When you trench, you can add those at the same time if you wish. Manure is good ole down home stinky poopy stuff high in Nitrogen. You can also plant cover crops, living mulch, green manure for Nitrogen. You plant different areas to restore your soil, or in SoCal winter to make good soil for spring planting. Your soil also needs water holding capacity from bulk – what is called forest materials in nursery compost bags. Bagged nursery compost is fluffy. Air space. Your soil needs that too. Kitchen waste compost doesn’t have that. I buy bags of nursery compost – bulk and chicken manure – Nitrogen, as well and add them, sometimes to an area, definitely to my planting holes. Plants uptake a lot of their nutrition from tiny lateral feeder roots that often grow beyond the dripline of your plant, so if you can, do a whole area. Add special amendments to your planting hole. Make that planting hole a bit larger than you have been doing? Sometimes it depends on your budget how much materials you have available. Planting cover crops is cheaper, but it takes longer…

If you have massive amounts of stuff to compost, the fastest way of all, record time, is to use maggots! Cities use them and sell the compost! See all about it!

Hugelkultur Sepp Holzer Diagram Cross Section

Hugelkultur is a long term choice. Hugelkultur, hill mound, is the quintessential sustainable variation of ‘composting’ in place. It can be above and/or below ground and takes a lot more energy to start but what a payoff! Get some big logs, branches. If you are doing it above ground, lay two logs closely side by side, put a lot of bigger to smaller branches between them, then go for it! Woods that work best are alders, apple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, maple, oak, poplar, willow (make sure it is dead or it will sprout). Add leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available. Add some red wiggler casting worms if you have them. As possible add your materials in thin 1/2 to 1″ layers, dry, wet, dry, wet until the area is filled. Lay a third log on top of them and if you have sod you peeled up, lay it on top of the whole pile upside down and do it again! Top the turf with grass clippings, seaweed, compost, aged manure, straw, green leaves, mulch, etc. Top that with soil and plant your veggies! If you did it right, you end up with a steep sided tall pyramid pile and veggies planted at easy picking heights. See a LOT more and example variations at permaculture, practical solutions for self-reliance.

Raised bed Hugelkultur Lasagna Combo Buckman StyleIf you are starting a raised Hugelkultur bed, dig down about a foot or more, lay in the big logs, big branches around them, smaller branches on top, layer as above to the height you want, allowing for settling. The difference is that this is a flat top raised bed. You can also dig deeper and make the top of the bed flush with your soil! Also, you can do terracing with a Hugelkultur substructure.

Container gardeners you can do your own mini Hugelkultur version as well. A 1/2 beer barrel, a five gallon can, kid’s swimming pool, whatever you have, can be repurposed! Just be sure there are drainage holes. Double purpose your container by making it a self-watering system as well!

Hugelkultur is an excellent long term sustainable choice!

~ The heat from decomposition gives your plants a terrific early start or extends your growing season. You do need to be careful of freezes if you live in a cold area.
~ The right hardwood logs will give your plants steady nutrition for 20 or more years!
~ If you do the above ground version, you have more planting space because it is tall and vertical!
~ Nearby fruit trees are also fed.
~ The logs and branches soak up water and hold it, so less water to none is needed after the first year.

More clever tips!

  1. At intervals, near the center of your compost pile, place handfuls of old compost or fresh rich soil, as an infusion, an inoculant of soil making organisms.
  2. In dry SoCal, I cover my compost pile to keep it from drying out, and I never need to water it.
  3. When cold composting and composting in place, add red wriggler worms to chomp up materials. They add worm castings that help your plants’ immune systems and uptake of nutrients. If you will be turning the compost, kindly use a pitchfork so there will be the least damage to your worms.
  4. Be smart, add herbs! Penny Woodward says: ‘Regular handfuls of chamomile, dandelion and yarrow leaves and flowers will all speed up decomposition of the compost with YARROW being the most effective. Yarrow also adds copper, nitrates, phosphates and potash while chamomile adds calcium and ‘sweetens’ the mixture. Dandelions contribute copper, iron and potash. Nettles are problem weeds but they actually improve the quality of the soil they are growing in and when added to the compost they contribute iron and nitrogen. Tansy adds potassium, which is very important for plant growth while Valerian increases the phosphorus content so essential for good flowers and fruits [but is invasive!]. The most nutritious compost plant is COMFREY and it grows most of the year in SoCal coastal climate. The leaves are rich in potassium, nitrogen, calcium and phosphates. I keep a clump growing next to the compost. It grows like crazy, and I layer on a handful of leaves whenever I throw in kitchen scraps.
Stemilt's World Famous compost!

Fine finished Stemilt World’s Famous Compost!

Mix it up! Do any version or combo of compost versions that work for you or as you have the materials available to do what you want! Do more than one method at the same time! Super soil is the Number 1 thing you can do for your garden and compost makes the difference! When your compost smells great and you could just about eat it, you know you made it right!

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All that said, there are tons of composting devices available. Some work more or less, some work for one person but not another, for various reasons. Google for pros and cons of each one before you purchase. See if you think you will tend it as it needs to be tended, if it suits your needs, your location. Will you need additional tools. Imagine doing the process it requires. Would that really work for you. Worst is you buy and it fails. You can resell it, give it to someone who would be dedicated to the process it needs, donate it to a charity sale, or an organization that needs one. It’s ok.

All that said, if building your own compost isn’t your choice, support your local nursery and get the best from them! Otherwise, have a good dirty time of it!

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

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4th July US Flag Woman Garden Seeds Independence

Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw.  –  Henry David Thoreau

Important Habitat!

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Let a carrot or two, a celery, and some cilantro bloom out! The blooms will be food for and bring beneficial insect pollinators. Birds will have seeds for food and scour your plants for juicy cabbage worms, whiteflies, aphids, earwigs, grasshoppers, cucumber beetles and grubs fresh for their hatchlings! Chickadees even eat ants!

Planting!

Some planting is always doable in July, and very last rounds of summer favorites! Transplant basil, celery, chard, cucumbers, dill, kale, leeks, summer lettuce, green onions, white potatoes, summer savory, New Zealand spinach. In our hot foothills and further south, go for more melons, okra, pumpkins, summer & winter squash. Corn is an exception – late plantings often develop smut. I’ve seen tomato transplants and bean seeds started in August produce plentiful crops into October!

Fall transplants need babying! Transplant late afternoon or evening so plants have the whole night to begin to recover before they’re hit with a full day of sun and heat. Water well and provide shade from intense mid-day sun. Prop up and secure some of those plastic plant flats that have the finer pattern to filter the light. Keep your transplants moist for at least a month or until they’re well established. Mulch to save water unless you have Bagrada Bugs.

At the end of the month, sow carrots (they do best from seed), celery and, if no Bagrada Bugs, Brassicas. If you have the Bugs, wait until it cools in October. Brassicas are arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (especially red and savoy types, which resist frost better), cauliflower, and kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard, pac choi, radish, rutabaga, turnip. Keep the soil moist and shaded until they’re up, and then gradually allow them more sun over a week’s time.

Harvest and Storage Tips!

Pluck those tasty veggies when they mature.

String Beans Harvest just about daily. If they bulge with seeds and start to dry, your plant thinks it’s done and stops producing. Pick, pick, pick!
Corn When the silks turn brown and you push your fingernail in a kernel and it squirts milky juice, it’s ready! It holds its sweetness only 2 to 5 days! Harvest early in the day, make time to your fridge or the barbie because the sugars turn to starch very quickly!
Cucumbers – no storing on the vine. Your plant thinks it’s done. Cut, clip or carefully twist off while carefully holding the vine.
Melons Harvest sooner by placing ripening melons on upside down aluminum pie pans or cans to keep them off the damp soil. The reflected heat and light will help them ripen evenly and sooner than when they are shaded by foliage.
Okra! If your summer has been hot enough you got some! It must be harvested before it gets tough. Letting it get bigger simply doesn’t pay. So look carefully for mature fruits and take ’em! I grow the burgundy and ruby types, slice them fresh over my salads. Pretty little stars. 
Peppers
– depends on the pepper. Let them stay on the plant if you planted ones for pretty colors. Cut or clip them off so not to damage your plant. Quick-freeze ones you won’t be using right away! Slice, dice, and freeze in baggies in the amounts you anticipate using in a stir fry or stew.
Potatoes are ready for digging when the plant flowers. Wet up the soil and dig about for the biggest ones, leaving the others to get sizable for another later harvest.
Tomatoes when they are the color you chose. Bend cherry toms back so you get the cap and stem. This keeps them from splitting open. O’ course, if they split, you absolutely must eat them on the spot so they don’t spoil! No problem freezing toms whole! Just remove the stem core. You can blanch them and remove the skins first, or not…your choice.
Zucchini  Harvest in self defense! They get BIG, FAST! Some of you came from big families and like baking them and would never think of harvesting them until they are huge, lotsa bang for your buck! Others have a family of 1, can’t possibly eat all that zuke, so harvest them quite small, fresh salad slicing size. The ridged types make pretty little star shaped slices!

Strawberries are a little different. Quickly as possible, store fresh picked berries in a container lined with a paper towel in the coldest part of your fridge. They will last about a week, but it’s more fun to eat them sooner!

If you don’t need or want any strawberry runner babies, pinch off the runners so your plant’s energy goes to fruiting. If you want to start a new November bed, let the runners grow now to the size you want, put pots nearby, anchor the runner in place, let them root in the pot, container. When they are doing well on their own, clip the connection to the Mother plant. The babies nearest the Mother are the strongest. Clip off the ones further away. Start your new bed with them or give them away.

Your SECOND HARVEST is SEEDS! As July goes on or in August, when you or your plant are ready, let your very best plants produce but don’t harvest the fruits. Beans get lumpy with seeds and will dry completely. Let them dry on the vine for full nutrition from the mother plant. Let a cucumber yellow and dry. Let the corn cob dry and the kernels get hard. Cukes, peppers, melons, okra and squash are easy. Just remove the seeds and let them dry. Uh, do label the drying trays! Tomatoes are a tiny bit of a process but not hard at all. See more!

Save enough seeds for your own planting, for several rounds of planting across the next season, for replanting when there are losses, and some to give away or share at a seed swap. Keep the race going.

Keep up with Sidedressing and Watering

Compost and worm castings are important for more than as soil builders. Compost has super water holding capacity, and as some of us get tired toward the end of summer, and it is hotter, our soil needs compost more than ever, especially if you want to extend production time.

Worm castings help our plants uptake soil nutrients and boost your plant’s immune system. When your plant is taxed producing fruit in great summer conditions, it also is peaking out for the season and fighting pests and diseases are harder for it. And, sometimes a plant is just done. No amount of coaxing will have effect. It worked hard. Thank it and take it to the compost altar.

Manures are great for all but beans, beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet and white potatoes, and tomatoes, or there’ll be more foliage than fruit!
Give your peppers and solanaceaes, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, Epsom Salt/Magnesium treatments.
Every couple of weeks your strawberries would love a light fish emulsion/kelp drench.

Don’t be fooled by Temporary High Temps! Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, stop flowering and fruiting when temps rise above 85 to 90 degrees F (depending on humidity) for an extended time. Humidity causes pollen to stick and not fall to pollinate. Dry heat causes the pollen to fall and not stick! When weather cools, you will have blooms again and be back in production. Rattlesnake beans, on the other hand, keep right on producing at 100 degree temps! So choose heat tolerant veggie varieties, like Heatmaster and Solar Fire tomatoes, from locales with hot weather. They are out there!

Wise Watering  Keep up with even watering so fruits have their right shapes. Though June has the longest days of summer, July through September can be the hottest in SoCal. Be aware if you are overwatering. Plants vary in their needs and as temps vary. You can save 20 to 30% and have healthier plants!

Water being critical due to the drought, needs to be thoughtfully managed, just like for our lawns and landscapes. To mimic the Santa Barbara Stage 3 Drought Regs, see if you can apply these ideas to your garden. For example, build berms to keep water exactly where it does the most good. Berms need to go to the dripline of your plant so tiny feeder roots can fully supply your plant with water and nutrients as it needs.

  • Routinely check your irrigation system if you have one.
  • Hoses must be equipped with an automatic shut-off nozzle when in use. We can do that by using water wands with easy-to-use thumb valve shutoffs.
  • Irrigation with potable water is prohibited between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. for automatic systems. If manually operated, such irrigation is prohibited between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
  • Irrigation with potable water that causes runoff onto adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, private and public walkways, roadways, parking lots, or parking structures is prohibited.
  • Any excessive, unnecessary or unwarranted use of water is prohibited.
  • All leaks must be repaired as soon as reasonably possible.
  • Irrigation during and within 48 hours after measurable rainfall is prohibited.

If you garden at home, please look into water capture and gray water systems, super attractive bioswale catchments. In Santa Barbara County there are rebates available! Do it now to be ready for winter rain. Also there are FREE landscape workshops! And we have FREE water system checkups. Call (805) 564-5460 to schedule today! Just in June 23 in LA, Elmer Ave retrofit!

Fall Soil Preparation & Planting

Make compost with your finishing summer plants that are pest and disease free. Recycle that green gold! Make mini layers with that and veggie kitchen scraps that you and your friends save for you alternated with dry brown layers of straw or dried leaves. 1/2″ layers are the very best, 1″ layers are fine too. It goes one part wet/green to two parts dry/brown. The thinner the layers the faster your pile decomposes.

Soil Prep As your summer plants finish, spaces become available for fall planting prep. Amend your soil with what is needed for what you will plant there. Unless there are Bagrada Bugs, mulch the soil to protect what you have created, keep it moist. Remove mulch if Bagrada Bugs appear. They lay eggs in the soil and mulched soil is lovely safe habitat for them. Unless you have seen them in action, I can’t impress on you how quickly prolific they are.

Container and raised bed gardeners remove spent soil. Toss it out or use it as mulch somewhere else. Replace it and add tasty amendments – compost, manures, worm castings – for late summer and lusty fall plantings. The water warmer raised beds need washes nutrients away. How many times have you seen sunken dried up raised beds with only straggly plants remaining? If you decide to have a raised bed, you need to make the commitment. They are isolated from the natural daily goings on in ground level soil, so you have to help them. Ground level soils need amending, sometimes replacing, but much less than raised beds and containers.

Starting a Nursery Patch  It’s time to get seeds if you don’t already have them! While there is little space for big winter plants, small nursery patches can be planted. Leave enough room between seedlings so you can get your trowel in to lift them out to transplant later when space becomes available! If seeds and nurseries aren’t your thing, wait until your local nursery starts having the transplants that make you happy! August they might start trickling in. Labor Day weekend is a favorite planting time for some gardeners. October is just fine too!

Clean up funky pest habitat that the little buggers can overwinter in or while it is still hot they will multiply in.

July is a month to keep all your balls in the air! Planting, harvesting, caretaking, preparations! The payoff will be delicious harvests, and the promise of winter crops starting early in the season. Remember to leave space for second and third rounds for steady table supply. Plant quickly maturing veggies like lettuces and beets to have production in those waiting spaces until you are ready to plant those later rounds.

Think on when you want those October pumpkins and what you want on your table for ThanksGiving, maybe sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie! And at Christmas time, maybe a sauce over some of those delicious frozen beans or some fresh butterhead lettuce salad topped with cranberries. Plan for it!

May your table be bountiful and your Spirit radiant with exceptional health!

See the entire July GBC Newsletter! How to make super compost, Zucchini Fritters, and info about the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa CA!


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

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Harvesting veggies, especially tomatoes, is very satisfying!  :)

Veggie harvesting is very satisfying! 🙂

Harvest beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes at least every other day to keep them coming. It’s your summer religion!

Plant care is essential. Pull, twist, cut, but do it carefully. Broken plant tips can no longer produce and damaged spots open your plant to disease, either by you spreading it plant to plant, or from windborne diseases.

Cut onions off about an inch to two above ground. They will regrow several times. Harvest outer leaves of lettuces to keep your plant from bolting – growing vertically, going to flower.

For peak flavor, harvest your wonderful herbs just before flowering. Early AM, when dry, but before the heat of the day and you can smell them. Fresh or dried, for yourself or as gifts, herbs make your home and cooking a pleasure! Pinching them back makes them bush out and you get more!

Stop irrigating your onion and garlic if it hasn’t shown signs of quitting. Bend the stalks to the ground and let them dry a month or so. Harvest carefully so you don’t bruise them. Then they need to cure in a dry, well ventilated place. Use soft thick necks or bulbs first so they won’t spoil. Check once a week and use any that soften at all immediately.

Peppers need swift care. Quick-freeze ones you won’t be using right away! Slice, dice, spread on a cookie sheet, and freeze. They’re great in recipes to be cooked.

Cook or refrigerate your corn ASAP to stop the starching process! Cut some off the cob to add a dash of color to your salads or freeze to brighten winter stews!

Pick your chili peppers when they’re deep red, and hang them in a sunny place until they’re brittle. To dry other types of peppers, cut the larger ones in half or into pieces, or slit smaller-sized whole ones. Store in moisture and vapor proof containers in a cool, dry, dark place.

Freeze whole tomatoes for cooking later. After slight thawing, cut out the core, and squeeze from the blossom end. The pulp will emerge easily and can be used in any recipe.

Quick, thick tomato sauce! Puree whole, unpeeled tomatoes, and freeze the pulp in a narrow-topped container such as a plastic water jug. As it freezes, the clear liquid in the juice will separate and rise to the top of the container. When you’re ready to make the sauce, remove the cap and turn the container upside down in a bowl to defrost. The clear liquid will melt before the pulp does, and the longer you allow the liquid to drain, the thicker the sauce remaining in the jug will get. Use this nutrient-rich clear liquid as a soup base. This clever tip from Master Gardener Yvonne Savio!

Keep your strawberry beds well watered; feed them liquid fish/kelp every other week for continued production if you have ever bearers. Let the strawberry daughters, runners, grow now, to start a new patch, replace old plants.

May every bite delight you!

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Harvest Basket - Rainshadow Organics

July is ripe with harvests!  Harvest beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes at least every other day to keep them coming.  It’s your summer religion!

Hot as it is, it is a garden transition time.  You are already noticing the shorter day lengths.  Get and start seeds for your first fall plantings in August.  Build your new raised beds, make compost, install gopher barriers!  As plants finish, prepare your soils.  Add compost, worm castings, as appropriate for what you will be planting there next. Many think we will be having a long summer that some call an Indian Summer.  It has other names in other places.  St Martin’s Summer in Britain, Old Ladies’ Summer or Crone’s Summer in Belgium, Hungary & Lithuania (Norse origins); in China, this period is called “qiū lǎohǔ” (秋老虎), which literally means ‘a tiger in autumn’.  So, if you have particular summer favorites, it is likely worth the chance to plants just a few more!  🙂

Transplant basil, celery, chard, cucumbers, dill, kale, leeks, summer-maturing lettuce, green onions, white potatoes, summer savory, New Zealand spinach.  In our hot foothills and further south, go for more melons, okra, pumpkins, summer & winter squash.  Corn is an exception – late plantings often develop smut.  I’ve tomato transplants and seen bean seeds started in August produce plentiful crops into October!  See what’s growing at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden right now!  (Santa Barbara CA)

Transplant late afternoon or evening so plants have the whole night to begin to recover before they’re hit with a full day of sun and heat. Water well and provide shade from intense mid-day sun.  Prop up and secure some of those plastic plant flats that have the finer pattern to filter the light.  Keep your transplants moist for at least a month or until they’re well established. Mulch to save water.

At the end of the month, sow carrots (they do best from seed), celery and cole crops–broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (especially red and savoy types, which resist frost better), cauliflower, and kohlrabi. Keep the soil moist and shaded until they’re up, and then gradually allow them more sun over a week’s time.

Get better germination during summer’s heat.

  • Sow seeds thickly in flats or beds.
  • Mulch the seeds thinly with sifted compost instead of heavy soil, which easily crusts over.
  • Frequently sprinkle the flat or bed to keep it moist, or leave a mister on for several hours each day.
  • Shield the bed with a piece of burlap or plywood–this will keep the seeds cooler than the air temperature, give them the moisture they need, and keep the soil surface from crusting.
  • Remove the shade board or burlap after one-fourth of the seeds have germinated. Continue keeping the bed moist until most of the seedlings are up.
  • If flats are used, place them in an area with less than full-day sun, and pay close attention to keeping them moist.
  • Transplant the seedlings when the second set of true leaves develops. These are the ones that look like miniature versions of the mature plant.

Carrots, parsley, and other slow-comers need to be kept moist.  Sow seed on the north side of a furrow, or right in the bottom of the furrow where it’s most moist.  Make the sides of the furrow low sloping, and sprinkle with water so you don’t degrade the sides of the furrow.  Cover the seeds lightly with potting soil or fine compost, and shade with cheesecloth, windowscreening, or slats of wood until they start to come up.

Still producing plants are hungry!  Manure can be applied as a mulch directly onto globe artichokes, asparagus, cabbages and other cole crops, cucumbers, melons, sweet corn, and squash–but don’t let it touch the stems or foliage, as it will burn them. Keep high-nitrogen fertilizers away from beans, beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet and white potatoes, and tomatoes, or there’ll be more foliage than fruit.

Big plants need a lot of water!  Tomatoes and other large plants may need about one inch of water every three days of hot dry weather. Rinse the undersides of leaves with water to discourage spider mites.  Water and fertilize melons deeply once a week for juicy, fleshy fruits. Hold off irrigating melons about a week before they will ripen so their sugars will concentrate.

Protect vine crop fruits like melons and squash from snails and slugs by lifting the fruits or vegetables onto cans, berry baskets, or boards.  Metal cans speed ripening and sweetening of melons by concentrating the sun’s warmth and transferring it to the melons.  Place ripening melons onto upside down aluminum pie pans or cans to keep them off the damp soil. The reflected heat and light will help them ripen evenly and sooner than when they are shaded by foliage.

To your health and happiness!

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Onions:  Are sensitive to temperature and day length, are photothermoperiodic!  Whew!  They start bulbing only after enough daylight for a certain number of days.  To avoid bolting, in SoCal we need to plant seeds of short day onions in fall, or intermediate varieties in late winter.  Most sets are long-day types and won’t work.  Plant Grano, Granex, & Crystal Wax seeds in the ground Nov 1 to Nov 10, or bare root in January.  Granex stores a little better, all of them are sweet like Vidalia and Maui.  If you miss this window, plant intermediate onions in Feb.  Onion seeds sprout very easily!

Garlic LOVERS, if your garlic plants haven’t been as vibrant and robust as these in the image, really amend your soil, put them in full sun, feed them!  Sometimes add a tad boron and zinc to give them great taste!  Give them ample drainage and 24” deep watering.

Garlic is in the genes, I mean, the lily family, related to chives and onions.  So pretty!  Did you know roses make more pungent perfume, and more perfume, when interplanted with garlic and onions?!  Tuck some garlic in among your other flowers and veggies, but NOT with your legumes!  Like onions, garlic stunts peas and beans.

Research indicates garlic aids in lowering cholesterol, reducing cardiovascular disease, cancer prevention, relieving cold and flu symptoms.

Planting in the November/December will produce bigger cloves, but you can also plant garlic in the early spring – who can resist more fresh garlic?!  Gilroy CA, 30 miles south of San Jose, just up the road from Santa Barbara, is called The Garlic Capital of the World!  Gilroy’s Christopher Ranch was, and remains, the largest shipper of garlic in the world!  Take note that the 2012 Gilroy Garlic Festival will be July 27, 28, and 29th!  So their prime festival garlic roses had to be growing all winter and spring!  Count that backwards 7 months, and you have a Dec planting!  That means they have more daylight growing time after Winter Solstice as the days lengthen, and more growing time during warmer months!  Makes sense, yes?!  Garlic takes time – a long growing season and plenty of sun.  Be warned that overcast coastal weather may not go well with your garlic aspirations.  Also, pause, do you want to tie up that sunny land that long for such a small return?  Less insects, no vampires?  Ok, read on.  Some traditionally plant, not in late October, early November, but on Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, for harvest on the longest day of the year, Summer Solstice, or in July!  Your garlic will grow slowly all ‘winter,’ making huge bulbs!  It likes the cooler moist weather, and freezes are good for it!  You just have to be willing to feed them fat, and wait for them!

Here in SoCal, why not plant some in all the fall months?! That’s three rounds, Oct, Nov, Dec! See what works best in your microniche. If some fail, you will have others!

The garlic most of us are familiar with, commonly found in our grocery stores, are the soft-necked varieties, Artichoke and Silverskin, grown in milder climates with longer days.

California Early and California Late varieties need cold exposure of around 6 weeks below an average of about 40F for proper bulbing and clove development. It is the classic, white skinned ‘artichoke garlic’ of the supermarkets.  Continental garlic is more of a generic term covering various white or purple striped hard neck types adapted to more Mediterranean growing conditions.  That’s us.

Garlic needs choice generously amended nutritious soil, to be watered deeply, 24”, in fact!  Garlic World, at Gilroy CA, says garlic needs twice as much fertilizer as other veggies! And they need feeding during growing.  Visualize those hungry bulbs underground.  Heavy soil restricts their growth, so you want rich, loose – not water-logged, fertile!  When you drive through garlic growing country you can SMELL them!  That’s how alive they need to be!

The bigger the seed/clove, the bigger and healthier your plant will become, so plant the huge cloves, reserve the smaller ones for eating and seasoning!  Divide them just before planting.  Plant pointy end up, 2” deep, 4” apart.  Some people plant them 6” deep, others plant them just under the surface.  I’ve had them grow both ways, but to keep the bulbs moist and happy, it makes sense to give them at least that 2” depth.

When the tops start to fall over, stop watering, let the smelly little guys dry a week or two, still in the ground.  Clever harvesting means to carefully loosen the soil with a spade fork, and not bruise the bulb when you remove it.  Let it dry some more in a shady airy place 2 to 3 weeks.

RECIPES?  Fries, ice cream, pasta, sauces, soups, salsa, dips, bread, gift braids, pickled, jellied, roasted, cheese, dressings, potatoes, hummus, powdered.  Garlic cookies?!  At your pleasure.  Confessions of a Garlic Festival Food Judge  If you both love garlic, know that a couple can celebrate their anniversary by sharing the Forty Clove Garlic Chicken at The Stinking Rose in San Francisco or Beverly Hills!

Next Week:  Delicious December, Winter’s June!

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

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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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July is not so much a planting month as water, sidedressing, harvest, and making compost – soil prep for September & October fall plantings! Get seeds!
August is keeping your soil water absorbent, sidedressing, harvesting, plant a last round of summer favorites, start cool-season seedlings, time to preserve your abundance for winter eating, to take stock and make notes for next year’s summer planting!
September is exciting because it is the first month to plant fall veggies! Do your final harvesting, preserving, clean up, chop and compost, and plant on Labor Day weekend!
October is considered by many to be the best planting month of the year!! Time to take up strawberry daughters (runners) for November planting, clean up to break pest and disease cycles, plant your winter veggies, plant more veggies if you started in September!

Tomato-Hot Juicy July!

Plant another round of your summer favs if you want, but keep in mind that Sep/Oct are the best fall planting months, so check those dates to maturity! The sooner you start your winter plants, the faster start they have, the sooner you have winter veggies. Things get slower as it gets cooler. And, heat lovers started now will have a shorter harvest period. Just saying.
Watering  Keep your veggies well watered, daily on extra hot days. Seedlings may need water 2 to 3 times a day! Keep strawberries moist or they will stop producing. It tomatoes dry out, they drop their blossoms. Water short rooted plants, beans, lettuces, cukes, more frequently. They like lots of water!
Mulch short rooted plants, beans, lettuces and strawberries, and deeper rooted chard, to keep them cool and moist. More about summer mulching.
Feeding  Get out your fish emulsion, get some manures, and feed your plants! Foliar feed with compost, manure, worm casting tea. Epsom salts your peppers. Seabird guano (NOT bat guano) keeps plants flowering and producing!  Blood meal is a quick Nitrogen fix for yellowing leaves.
Prep your fall raised beds! Start making compost for fall planting. Chop into small pieces for faster decomposition.
Install gopher wire barriers in your new beds. Incorporate manures and already-made compost into your soil.
Get the best varieties of seeds for Sep/Oct planting!
Let strawberry runners grow now.
Harvest!
Do keep up so your plants keep producing.  What you can’t eat or preserve, give away!  It will be so appreciated!

I’m passing this along from a Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club post:

This article is by Robyn Francis, one of Australia’s top permaculturists.  She’s also a pioneer in rethinking international aid.

“While mental health experts warn about depression as a global epidemic, other researchers are discovering ways we trigger our natural  production of happy chemicals that keep depression at bay, with surprising results. All you need to do is get your fingers dirty and harvest your own food.  “In recent years I’ve come across two completely independent bits of research that identified key environmental triggers for two important chemicals that boost our immune system and keep us happy – serotonin and dopamine.  What fascinated me as a permaculturist and gardener were that the environmental triggers happen in the garden when you handle the soil and harvest your crops…”

Smile and be wild!
Cerena

Next week, Composting Made EASY! 

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