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Soil Makes a Difference, Abundance

In Warrenville, IL, Shawna Coronado transformed her front yard to edible landscaping!

Super Soil Makes all the Difference! Great soil grows healthy plant roots and powerful veggies! Here are important seasonal soil care tips…first let’s consider your land.

The Lay of your Land! The shape of your land has a lot to do with the condition of your soil. If you are on a slope, do a little terracing to preserve your precious topsoil from erosion. Use the water saving principles, Slow, Spread, Sink! In lower areas, berms, raised borders, are a simple way to keep your water where it is best used. The berms also allow airflow to go over an area rather than drying the soil there. See Zuni Waffle Gardening! So shape your space! Plant according to what your land can support. Put drought tolerant heat lover plants in drier hotter places. Put water needing veggies in partial shade, in lower water collecting areas, by a spigot. Plant tall heat lovers in the West so not so heat tolerant shorter plants can be shaded from the hottest afternoon sun. If they all like Sun, plant tall to the east and north.

SEASONS

Fall – Put Summer to Bed – Clean up! Remove debris, any infested habitat. Clear places where unwanted pests or diseases might overwinter. Remove mulch so the soil can warm up when the sun is low and there is less day length. In Southern areas, amend your soil for winter planting.

WinterIn SoCal, feed 1/2 strength during cooler weather when uptake is slower. Raise Green Manures, soil feeding cover crops to restore your soil. Cultivate after rains! It’s an age old technique to aerate soil, let it dry out, kill off soil fungi. It is also called, Dust Mulching. Simply cultivate about 2 or 3 inches deep. This disturbs the soil surface, interrupting the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation.

In SoCal End of Winter, Early Spring

Compost well. Compost has excellent water holding capacity and your seeds need to be kept moist for germination. Homemade compost especially thrives with living organisms. Worms are happy and make castings! Add other amendments you prefer at the same time.

Some plants, like strawberries, need slightly acidic soil. When their soil is right, they fend off diseases better and produce like crazy. They like to be moist, so get the right compost, the kind for shade plants, and dig it in. Strawberries don’t have deep roots, so shovel-depth deep is great.

Now, before you go compost crazy, in Nature, organic matter, our equivalent is compost, only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), yet organic matter is absolutely essential. There is various thinking about what the right amount of compost is to use in a veggie garden that is pumping out those veggies! Cornell University says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil! Research shows ideal soil contains 5% organic matter by weight, 10% by volume. Like with a lot of gardening, more is not always better, nor necessary!

Depending on what you are planting where, add well aged manure. Hard working leaf crops like lettuces love manure, so do peppers. Heavy feeders like large plants, indeterminate tomatoes, might like a little more. Just be careful not to add so much your crop goes to leaf and no fruits! If you do, there are remedies for that, but you lose production time when that happens. Peas and beans draw their own Nitrogen from the air, and carrots will grow hairy and fork if their soil is too rich. No additional manure is needed for them.

Preparing Planting Beds for Seeds

In addition to the above, incorporate Worm Castings for all your plantings, but, seeds benefit a lot! They germinate more quickly, seedlings grow faster! Leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. Vermicompost suppresses several diseases of cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, and it also significantly reduces parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealybugs and mites! Who could ask for more?! These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

See more at Soil Care for Spring Planting! 

At Planting Time – Using these specific ingredients below may not be your personal choice, but consider adding equivalent goodies. Every plant has different needs. Planting holes are a truly plant specific spots!

Planting Hole Amendments for Transplants

  • Nonfat powdered milk is a natural germicide and immediately boosts plant immune systems. A handful does the job.
  • Worm Castings for rapid growth, disease suppression, reduce insect pests! 25% is ideal.
  • Bone Meal is high in P, Phosphorus – blooms! Uptake is about two months, right at bloom time. It is also high in calcium, which helps prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes. I plop in a generous handful.
  • Adding Jamaican bat guano high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Its NPK ratio is 1-10-0.2, takes 4 months to become available to your plants.
  • Well aged Manure to boost Nitrogen – especially for manure lovers like eggplant, melons, peppers, big indeterminate tomatoes, winter squash and hard working leaf plants like lettuces.
  • Mycorrhizal fungi – Brassicas don’t dance with it, but other plants thrive. It links your plants’ roots with the soil, increases uptake of nutrients. Just sprinkle it on the roots of your transplant and give it a pat so it will stick. The roots and the fungi need to be in contact!
  • Compost if your soil needs a little boost right where you are planting. Remember, your plant has a circle of tiny feeder roots out to the mature dripline and sometimes beyond. That’s where the majority of feeding takes place when your plant gets big. Be sure to compost far enough out for them to be well nourished. Your plant will do better longer.
  • If your soil has fungi problems, wilts, blights, add a tiny tad of coffee grounds. A 1/2 a percent does the job. Yes, you read right, that is a 1/2 a %!
  • Add Green Sand or some such for a long term mineral boost if you think your soil needs it. Kelp works quickly.

In soil with fungi, plant high so the soil drains and dries, the fungi dies. Make basins so the bottom of the basin is above the general soil level. If a plant with a lot of large leaves, put a stake in the center of the basin so you know where to water. Make the basin large enough so the edges don’t degrade from the watering and your large plant is sure to get enough water to it’s dripline, where the lateral surface roots feed. Many plants uptake more food and from these lateral roots than the central deep roots.
Special Soil Berm Basin Level for Tomatoes and Cucumbers

When Your Soil Heats Up, Mulch! A two-to-four inch layer of mulch decreases evaporation from the soil by 70 percent or more! Mulch prevents light germinating weed seeds from sprouting. You save your soil nutrients and time in the garden weeding! Water well before applying the mulch, or you will insulate dry soil rather than moist soil. Be garden smart – when possible use a mulch that decomposes and feeds your soil. But if all you have is gravel, use it!

SideDressing – Between summer watering and keeping up with harvesting, sidedressing often is neglected. But your plants work hard and need some chow! Feed your plants at bloom time. They are just about to go into their maximum production. Liquid fertilizers are easy for them to uptake. Teas – compost, worm, manure, fish/kelp – are terrific. Foliar feeding, sprinkling the leaves, upper and under, with some Epsom Salts/sulfur mix is super for Solanaceae – eggplant, pepper, tomato, tomatillo, and roses, but especially peppers! This care increases your bounty, extends your growing season.  

High to Late Summer – High summer replenish low mulch. Remove and trash mulch where plants have had pests or disease; replace with clean mulch. Keep your soil consistently moist. If you are off on vacation, choose a dependable person to tend your plants. Be sure to have them keep your plants harvested so your plants don’t quit producing. Late summer feed your plants if they aren’t looking so perky and if you still want crop. But if your plant is done, no amount of feeding will matter. They know when the days are getting shorter… Late Summer, as cooling starts, remove mulch so the soil is again warmed by the Sun. 

Words on Watering from water challenged Los Angeles! This is written by Master Gardeners representing the University of California Cooperative Extension:

  • Use the shovel test to know when to water: soil should be moist to the base of the shovel when inserted into the soil.
  • Deep watering is important. Water is not getting deep enough if you sprinkle your garden every day. It is best to water to the point of run-off, and water as frequently as needed to meet the shovel test. Also, with too much run-off, you are wasting water.
  • Teach your plants to grow deeply for moisture. In spring, for average soils, water deeply only every 2-3 weeks. By the time that summer’s heat arrives, plant feeder roots will be growing deeply for moisture, and the plants won’t need watering more frequently than once a week during very hot spells.
  • One inch of irrigated water will soak down to different depths, depending on how heavy your soil is: 12″ deep in sandy soil, 9″ deep in loamy soil, but only 3″ deep in clay soil. Plant root zones generally reach from 2-12″ down, but larger plants like tomatoes may reach 3′ down. Clay soil, because it is so compact, can be watered a little each day for two to three days to allow absorption down that far, rather than a lot of runoff by watering once for a long time.
  • The ideal time to water is in the morning before the sun is high. This avoids evaporation and also gives the plants time to dry off before sunset, which deters mildews.
  • Refrain from overhead watering when the evenings remain warm, especially when leaves can’t dry off by sunset. Fungal diseases thrive when temperatures remain between 70 and 80 degrees; and they need only 2-4 hours of moist, warm conditions to develop. Overwatering is the cause of most plants dying. Too much water drowns the roots.
  • Occasionally you should overhead water in order to clean both sides of leaves.
  • Avoid walking in your garden after watering so that you do not compact the soil. Use stepping stones, boards, or straw or mulch paths. Never step into raised beds. Healthy living soil is 25% air, 25% water. It needs to breathe and be moist for the soil organisms to do their work.

ALL Year Make Compost! It is your single most bestest amendment of all! If you could choose only one, this would be it. It’s nutritious, has super water holding capacity, and steadily releases nutrition to your soil!

When your soil looks good enough to eat, you probably have it right! 

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

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

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I would like to share this article with you.  Lovingly written, applies to all gardening!  Linda Buzzell, co-founder of Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club, has a true communion with plant beings, and I’m hoping we, you and I, will all work on bettering our connections with them as well.  Long before I started veggie gardening, less than a decade ago, I read Findhorn Garden and was impressed way back then, by the relationship the gardeners had with the land and the plants and how successful that was for them both.  Bless you for your kind attention. 

Mystic Rose at Rosaflora.net

A WINTER MEDITATION ON PRUNING

Linda Buzzell-Saltzman

Winter and early spring are the seasons when many gardeners, orchardists and farmers — fancying themselves surgeons — approach their trees, shrubs and roses with knives, pruning shears and saws in hand, seemingly unaware that these plants are, as the Buddhists would say, sentient beings.

Most pruning is less a conversation between two of nature’s creatures and more an act of ruthless domination under the guise of necessity.

For some reason over the last few millennia we have come to believe that plants are unable to survive, bloom and fruit properly without human intervention. And while much of the painstaking breeding and hybridizing by our ancestors has provided us with an extraordinary variety of edible plants, it may be time to question some of the time-honored Western methods of plant care.

What’s shocking to many people is that scientific research is beginning to reveal the utter lack of necessity for most of the one-sided surgery we call pruning.  For example, a British study showed that rose bushes pruned with hedge clippers yielded as many flowers as those carefully manicured with hand pruners – and that roses left alone yielded still more!

Where did we get the arrogant idea that we know better than the plant itself how to maximize its productivity and health? Such a strange notion, when you think about it… perhaps part of the larger delusion that nature is here merely for us to exploit without thought of the damage we may be doing to individual living beings or our biosphere.

So when might our pruning interventions actually be helpful rather than hurtful? And for whom?

The first principle of permaculture is “observe and interact” – admirable advice in the present instance.  Taking time to respectfully see how the plant itself intends to grow, bloom and fruit allows us greater insight into if, how and when to intervene.

Vintage Gardens Nursery’s Gregg Lowery, heritage rose expert extraordinaire, points out that mostly we prune for our own reasons that have nothing to do with the plant in question. It’s a one way conversation. For instance, we may prune to make a plant look better to our eyes, our sense of what’s beautiful or “tidy.” Or we may need to prune for space, when a tree or bush begins to outgrow its allotted place – probably because we made the mistake of not allowing for full, natural growth when we planted it – our error, not the plant’s!

Rather than remove such a plant entirely, we may need to first apologize, and then gently shape it.  Not just to suit our ideas of aesthetics (again, to please us, not the plant), but hopefully to benefit both the plant and our space needs.

If so, we might want to observe that traditional pruning times and methods were usually designed for Northern conditions, to protect a tender plant from winter frosts. In a warm-winter climate this isn’t necessary, and yet many of us who live in Mediterranean climate zones dutifully hack away at our roses in usually-wet winters, reducing them to stubs and weakening them with radical surgery.  In fact, it’s usually better to do any pruning for size in the summer if possible, when lack of rain may ensure more sanitary conditions.

This whole “do no harm” philosophy of pruning owes a great debt to Japanese philosopher-farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, author of a hugely influential book called One Straw Revolution, who advocated what he called “natural farming” or what some have dubbed “The Zen of Farming,” in which we refrain from digging, cutting or intervening unnecessarily in natural soil and plant systems which we truly don’t understand. We also may need to refine our view of what’s beautiful, to appreciate nature’s own gardening style rather than the control-heavy European aesthetic.

If we do prune, perhaps we might initiate a respectful dialogue with our plants and trees, rather than a monologue. What might be helpful to the plant?  Perhaps the removal of a dead or diseased limb?  A limb that is rubbing against another in the wind?  A sucker from below the graft (if we have a grafter plant) that is draining energy from the top growth?

Observation is the key. And listening.  If we take the time to really get to know our plants, they will guide us in our care for them.

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Young Food Forest Fruit Tree Guild by the Resilliency Institute
This is a single tree young simple mini system designed by Joshua Reynolds at 
Texas Edible Landscapes. He sells these PODS, self-sustaining micro eco-systems, that can come with lots of variables per the plants you pick. July 2019 prices – Ready made, $550; custom is $750. Food Forests and Guilds are catching on!

If you want to grow your own, if your land already has plants growing naturally on it, sit down with them. Maybe a bit each day for a few days. Let the land talk with you. Notice the lay of the land, how it flows.

Plant a tree thinking in terms of a food forest, guild! Trees are your master plant. Think carefully what tree that will be. It will be there a long time. What effect will the mature tree have? What about shading your area, the neighbor’s area? Do you want it to be a windbreak so the land will be warmed for veg planting? What does your space accommodate? Do you want full grown trees? Or would your space and palate do better with an array of different kinds of dwarf trees, mixed semidwarf trees at fruit picking reachable height? You don’t have to have tall trees…

Food Forest at Alan Day Community Garden, Norway, Maine
Food Forest at Alan Day Community Garden, Norway, Maine

December, January are a great time to install native plants and fruit trees! Nurseries stock them bare-root then! See if any of this info affects where and how you place them. A large food forest can be anchored by a south opening ‘U’ shaped planting of trees that captures heat for growing veggies in its center area. It can start with a single tree in your backyard. Read Toby Hemenway’s book ‘Gaia’s Garden,’ especially the chapter on Designing Garden Guilds. Toby says “…biological support replaces human intervention, shifting the garden’s burden onto the broad back of nature.” If you have time and inclination, see Linda & Larry’s Food Forest Video! Besides their suburban Santa Barbara yard being a food forest, it is the epitome of edible landscaping!  

*Guild plants are plants that grow well together. It’s a LOT more than companion planting by twos, two plants that like, enhance, or help each other, though that is wonderful too. Happy plants make more food! Guilds are systems of plants starting with a tree if you have the space! Generally that tree is a fruit or nut tree that provides food too. For lots of great ideas, check out Permies.com on Guilds. If you love the idea of guilds, and apples, check out the details at this Apple Tree Guild! – image at left. A super functioning guild utilizes both vertical space and horizontal overlapping circles!

Food forests are naturally occuring in nature. Permaculturists think of them designed in layers. From Wiki, adapted to one person’s Apple Guild example, running vertically from the top down:

  1. The canopy – the treetops.
  2. The understory or low tree layer – anything under about 4.5 metres. Our apple trees will be in this zone but in our neighbourhood they’ll be some of the highest plants around so nothing will be competing with them for light.
  3. Shrubs – our raspberries, broad beans, and blackcurrants are in this layer. Being larger, the vicinity of the apple tree will only sustain a few of these. Broad beans are a good bet since their roots fix nitrogen from the air and get it into the soil where the tree and other plants can use it.
  4. Herbaceous layer – lettuces, dill, thyme, cabbage, rhubarb and so on. Anything that flowers with the apple blossom will attract insects which will help to pollinate the tree (without which, no apples).
  5. Rhizosphere – root crops like carrots and potatoes grow here, so need to be kept far from the shallow roots of an apple tree.
  6. Soil surface – home of our strawberries, sedum and clover. Clover is another soil feeding nitrogen-fixing plant.
  7. Vertical layer – our hops, cucumbers, sweetpeas and vines grow here. Sweetpeas fix nitrogen in their roots, which can be left in the ground after they have died back – but they climb and have thick foliage, so only suitable for larger trees.
  8. Some people include the underground network of some fungi as an eighth layer. In our garden the edible fungi include puffballs, though somehow we never catch them before they are football-sized.

That’s the vertical plane – there’s also a horizontal plane. An apple tree’s root spread is one-and-a-half times the diameter of its canopy and its principle feeding roots lie close to the surface, which tends to be where most of the soil’s nutrients are.

Blended Mature Food Forest by William Horvath

Your Food Forest might look like William Horvath’s when it is mature. As your food forest grows, fills in, there will be no obvious layers. It will look just like nature does, blended, each plant getting sunlight per it’s height. William Horvath has ongoing experience with Food Foresting! See his detailed May 5, 2017 post and read the comments! 

When you are reading online, remember to pay attention to where the guild example is. There are super wet northern guilds, snowy mountains, humid areas, hot and dry south western desert types, snowy northern plains and central US flatlands. All will require their own special treatment. Your best guide will be Mother Nature herself. If you are a native plant fan, the ones in your area may be the most sustainable choice of all per water needs. What did the indigenous peoples eat there?

If you are growing for income, research to find the most productive trees and crops in your area will be key. If you want self reliance, diversity is key – what grows super well together. You want crops coming in all year – fresh potent nutrition makes for healthy lives, and  crops that store well if you don’t have the all year option! Some gardeners opt for a combination of in-the-ground plants interspersed with greenhouses.

I am in hopes you will talk this up to your apartment owner, install it on your own property. No matter what the size, model your veggie garden after it, share it with every gardener anywhere, of any kind that you know. This principle is so important in many ways. Guild lists can be made for every area, plant zone, specific for every tree! Guild planting makes sense.

  • It’s economical.  Plants grow densely, produce more for less work. We are making on prem food forests when times are hard and may get harder.
  • Ecologically we are restoring native habitat when we plant and support those plants that use our water more wisely.
  • It is sustainable –  produces more food on less land, cuts food miles, no fuel, packaging.
  • Health is prime as we eat organic, much more nutritious food that hasn’t been depleted by shipping, storage and processing.

Our list [SEE IT!] author is Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, M.A., MFT, co-editor with Craig Chalquist of the anthology Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, Sierra Club Books (May 2009). She is a psychotherapist and ecotherapist in Santa Barbara, where she specializes in helping clients with career issues, financial challenges and the transition to a simpler, more sustainable and nature-connected lifestyle. Linda is an heirloom rose lover, current board member of the Santa Barbara Rose Society, founder of the International Assn for Ecotherapy and co-founder of the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club! She cares.

Linda’s List is intended for a Mediterranean climate like coastal Southern California has, one of only 5 in the world. The list in your area may be different. Check out your local gardener’s successes, check with your local nursery. This list is not tree specific yet. We’re working on that!

More than a list of plants, Linda’s List gives tips for good growing, eating, and usage!

SEE PART 2, the List!

Updated 7.1.19

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

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

Read Full Post »

From the LA Examiner.com Pasta with fried zucchini, teardrop tomatoes and walnut pesto!

Four of the highest yield summer plants per square foot are indeterminate tomatoes, pole beans, zucchinis, and chard!  Three of these crops can be grown up, on trellises, in cages, so your land need is small.  Chard is prolific, cut and come again all year long!

Tomatoes are classically grown UP!  They have their own little support systems, tomato cages!  Some people trellis them, grow them against the fence, espalier them, even grow them upside down!  At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we have two foot diameter cages we build out of two remesh panels – if you are local, drop by to see them on the job!  

We use those same structures for pole beans!  Pole beans love growing on trellises, any kind!  Those simple tripods tied at the top work fine.  Or let them shinny up your sunflower Jack-in-the-Beanstalk style!  I feed them across my remesh panel horizontally so they remain at harvest height!

For zuchs, the easiest thing is to grab the largest strongest tomato cage you have and feed the zuch leaves up though it as your zuch grows! Let some of the outmost leaves stick out so the plant is more open for easier harvesting in the center, air flows to allow cooler conditions to prevent mildews. Cut the bottommost leaves off as the plant gets taller and well foliated, plant other plants underneath! As your zuch vines more, put in another cage, or two, right next to the first one. Let your vine grow right over the top of them, above the other plants already growing there. Put in as many cages as you need as your vine grows.  This is one time when it really doesn’t pay to let your zuchs get huge on the vine, break the plant from their weight, fall on plants below!  Harvest small and salad tender.  If you see one coming, don’t neglect to check on it in a maximum of 2 days.  In prime conditions they are FAST growers!  

If you are growing butternuts/winter squash, or gourds, pop in a well staked sturdy trellis – simplest is remesh 4′ X 7′ panels from Home Depot or OSH, or an arbor. Remesh can be bent whimsically or cut to fit a spot perfectly, or green wire tied together to make cage sizes that suit your needs. Tie your vine, 10′ for squash, 25′ for gourds, to the trellis, or to a southwest facing fence so your squash get plenty of heat and light. Use that flat green garden tie that expands with your plant as your plant grows.  Heavy fruits will need to be supported. Use cloth twine, net veggie bags ie onion bags, old panty hose, old sheets, towels, colorful cloth scraps, parts of old clothes. Have fun with it! 

That said, another ‘vertical’ trick, that doesn’t require tying, is to put up an upside down ‘U’ shaped device. Take one of those remesh panels, or a trellis and lay it over the top of sawhorses or any way you can devise, cinder blocks staked with rebar, whatever you have around. Be sure to support anyplace that needs it so the structure won’t sag. Plant your plants, cucumbers, melons, beans, outside the ends of your ‘arbor’; let them grow up and over. Your fruits will be supported by the remesh or trellis! Don’t make your structure too wide, and make it high enough – you want easy access to tend and harvest other plants that you will grow underneath, like summer lettuces that need a little shade!  Or it can be a kid play place and they will harvest the beans for you! 

Trellises?! Buying them readymade is time saving. Some gardeners would never dream of buying one. They build their own! Some make the simplest, three poles tied together at the top. Others go into fastidious detail and artistic ritual, creating works of beauty! To them, gardening wouldn’t BE gardening without doing that. 

Blessings on your way.  Up you go!

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