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Soil No Till Lasagna Compost in Place, Sheet Mulching,

No Till Gardening aka Lasagna Gardening… Beds are finished. Push aside grass clippings to plant seeds or seedlings. Read the story, get the details! Start making living soil asap! 

Grow Green Manure – legumes for Nitrogen, oats to loosen the soil down deep. It takes two to three months. When it starts to bloom, chop it down and chop it up, turn it under. If you have heavy clay soil, add Sphagnum Peat Moss to both loosen your soil and increase water holding capacity if you are in a drought or dry, windy area. Let it sit until you no longer see the green ingredients. Keep it moist so the soil organisms will work all the way to the top.

Make Compost!

No time for Green Manure? First week of January might be the latest time you want to start growing your green manure so you can plant earliest late March, first two weeks of April. So if you won’t be planting by then, add your home grown organic compost or the best you can buy that has worm castings, mycorrhizal fungi for spring planting, some peat to help make humus to keep your soil loose.

Some nurseries, especially locals that depend on your business, are quite trustworthy about what they stock for you. Box stores, nurseries that sell for volume, may just want you and it out the door. Really take a good look at that ingredients list. If there is no list, you likely aren’t getting a very whole food for your veggies. Look at what is in that compost bag when you open it. If there are chunks of recognizable materials, you need to find out if the compost has been nitrogen stabilized – they’ve added enough nitrogen to balance the carbon. Otherwise, Nitrogen required for decomposition is robbed from your plants. No ammonia smell that indicates immature compost that might damage your plants. The only smell you want coming from that bag is for it to be like the forest floor, sweet and earthy.

In these SoCal drought times, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Sphagnum Peat Moss can be added, but not too much because it can make your soil slightly acidic.

Compost is totally easy to make. There are many methods, but the simplest, is making layers, 1″ green/wet to 2″ brown/dry. You can turn it or not. Research shows not turning it has more Nitrogen. There are many different compost devices. You can use one or just make a pile wherever it makes sense, but do put it in the sun and keep it slightly moist so it stays active and you actually get some compost! Compost making methods!

Tasty soil is loaded with nutrients! What you put in your compost makes a difference. High quality organic kitchen scraps sure beats cardboard. Same thing with your worms. Newspaper isn’t exactly food, doesn’t occur in nature. As is said, ‘You are what your food eats.’ Give your compost the best you have or can get. Prevail on your neighbors or family to save their waste for your compost or to feed your worms. Make it easy for them to do the process. Some will deliver it to you because they believe in it and want to help. You may have to make a pickup from others.

No till, no dig, gardening a.k.a. Lasagna Gardening ~ Another way to Compost!

You can do this on top of your lawn, or do a raised bed in the garden you already have! A word to the wise! First, install gopher protection.

If you have the time and materials, composting in place, sheet mulching, has the single most advantage of not having to haul anything anywhere once done! It’s already right where you want it! Lay down your compost materials. Put the ones that would act like tea at the top so when the pile is watered that good stuff drizzles down. The smaller the bits, the faster the decomposition.

Depending on your materials you may choose to turn the pile a couple times to blend and mix the materials in the layers. Rather than using a shovel, a spade fork or pitchfork might work, better. If you have them, put in some worms that will add their castings for you! If you decide to turn the pile, add worms afterwards so they won’t be injured. Possibly, ‘inoculate’ your pile with a wee bit of already processing compost or top rate soil that has working soil organisms in it. Know that an 18″ pile will soon become a 9″ pile, so don’t be afraid to build high!

If you want it sooner, cover and ‘cook’ it with black plastic for 6 weeks results when temps are high enough. Worms will be ok. They will go to the bottom of the pile. Depending on availability and preferences, what you layer on may vary from someone else’s project, but your garden bed is made! Now you wait. Let it sit. The hard work is at the front, the rest is ‘low maintenance!’ Done ‘right’ you have less weeds and it needs less water! Read the story that goes with the image above – get more ideas and all the details!

Another terrific way to make a sustainable pile is to do it Hugelkultur style! Your pile starts with logs! The logs and branches soak up water and hold it, so less water to none is needed after the first year. The right hardwood logs will give your plants steady nutrition for 20 or more years! You can do this with many variables depending on materials available and your needs – from containers to the hill method! See more and see how!

Add Manure

Cow manure is better than steer manure if you can get it. Chicken manure is good. Less of it does more. Be careful of free horse manure. It can be salty, and if the stalls have been sprayed to repel flies, you’ve got toxins. All manures need to be very well composted, except bunny poo, which you can sometimes get free at shelters. Bird guanos do different things. See more soil tips and about quanos.

Worm Castings! 

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

The ideal ratio, depending on your soil, is 25% castings. You can see that is a lot of castings if you have a 10X20 foot area. Use your precious castings wisely. Use them in seed beds, planting holes, around ailing plants, or heavy producers.

The worms used for making castings are surface feeders, red wigglers. If you trench your compost, add some worms. If you do sheet composting – composting in place, set up a no-dig Lasagna Garden, install some worms! Add a handful of worms to your compost pile and keep the pile moist. In dry times cover composting ground areas with mulch so the compost will be dark and moist, safe from birds.

Compost Tea Bu's Brew Biodynamic Malibu BagTeas offer increased nutrient availability!

Why wait until your plants are in the ground to add teas?! Start feeding your soil soonest! Mix ’em up. Put compost, manure/fish emulsion, castings, chopped nutritious comfrey/borage/tansy leaves all in a bucket together – adding one volume of compost to 4-10 volumes of water. Let them sit overnight, a couple of days, stir a couple times, when you think of it. Get a spade fork, the kind with the short wide tines. Push it all the way into the soil, wiggle it back and forth to make holes, lift it straight up back out. Pour in your tea. Push soil in the holes. Your plants will thrive!

If you are foliar feeding, put your ingredients in a stocking, sock, or bag. Let the ingredients settle or strain it so it won’t clog up your gear. Use a watering can with a head that rotates so you can spray both on and under leaves, wetting the whole plant.

About that comfrey. It is especially nutritious! Mash it in a mortar & pestle. That makes it easier to stuff into a stocking, sock or bag, and speeds decomposition. Put the comfrey in loosely, not too firmly, so the water can circulate around it.

Here’s another recipe and instructions from Shelle

  1. 2 cups worm castings [or your choice of ingredients]
  2. 2 tablespoons corn syrup or molasses. Molasses feeds the bacterial growth in the brew and also contributes trace elements of iron, manganese, copper and potassium.
  3. 5 gallon bucket
  4. Old sock or pantyhose (no holes), a bag
  5. Water (rainwater is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate)
  • Put the castings (etc) in the sock and tie it closed
  • Submerge the stocking in water
  • Add the corn syrup and soak for 24 hours, stirring every few hours. Your mix should never be stinky. Like good compost, it should smell earthy.
  • Dilute to a 3 to 1 ratio, use within 48 hours

There are many tea making methods, from the simplest like above, to technical and elaborate with plenty of debate over different ways. Aerobic brewed teas have much higher microbe population densities than extracted teas and for this reason are the teas of choice. A good head of foam and scum on top signifies healthy microbe action! Try out different methods for youself if you have the time and the gear, and love researching. Whichever you choose, your soil will come alive again as the organisms start thriving. Your soil will have greater water holding capacity, a resiliency, the aeration it needs from the burrowing of soil creatures.

If you have your plant placements in mind, be sure to invest your teas out to the anticipated dripline so feeder roots will get some.

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

Soil pH

Most veggies do best with slightly alkaline soil. Acidic soil lovers are strawberries, blueberries, cranberries. Composts for camellias, azaleas, are perfect!

Do or Buy!

Three of the main components of top grade soil are ones you can grow/make on your own – green manure, compost, worm castings. Teas you can make from compost and castings. For most urban gardeners it is a trip to the nursery for manures, but you can certainly make your own tea with it! Compost and castings are totally available, some from organic local venders. I emphasize doing your own when possible. You will know what’s in it and it’s 100% fresh and alive!

There is some good ready made stuff you can get. There’s heroic satisfaction in toting those bags on your shoulder or filling the wheelbarrow and rolling it in, almost spilling the load on the way… Digging in your valuable ingredients gives you a feeling of worthiness, contributing. And oh how your garden grows!!!

At the same time, lay on your compost, manure, and Sphagnum, any other favorite amendments, and turn it in all at once, blending it with your soil. Castings are usually added separately unless you have enough for the whole area. Reserve some of your castings, compost and manure to make teas. Where you run out of materials, use the tea to help that soil.

A few more tips!

If you have had rain, wait until your soil is not so wet that it sticks to your shovel. If you are digging your amendments in, do minimal digging; leave clumps when you can to maintain soil structure. Disturb soil organisms, worms, the least possible. We want to leave their air and water channels intact so your soil stays aerated and moist. Make beds in your garden that are comfortably reachable without stepping on your soil. Make pathways, either with boards that distribute your weight or lay down straw or other organic material to make a pathway that will decompose and become rich soil for next year’s plantings when you move the path! In other words, don’t compact and crush your fluffy healthy soil!

Soil Building and Care is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden.

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

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

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Zucchini Costata Romanesco Kelly Armful Harvest Annie's Annuals

Smile and be wild! Be healed.

Kelly Kilpatrick, Horticulturalist at Annie’s Annuals says:

‘My favorite squash ever! Zucchini ‘Costata Romanesco’ is lovely with dark green flecked flesh & strong ribbing. It doesn’t produce a ton of fruits, so you won’t be swimming in zucchinis you don’t know what to do with but the ones you do get are so much better tasting. The fruit is firm & tasty & a bit nutty-flavored. Produces a lot of male blossom buds that are great for stuffing. A robust plant, give it plenty of space – 3-4’ around should do. Better air circulation will help prevent mildew of the leaves, to which squash can be susceptible. I like to let the fruits grow gigantic (they don’t get spongy!) & then cut them into rounds & throw them on the grill. The grilled patties make the yummiest sandwiches, just get a good loaf of bread, slather it with pesto, add a patty & sprinkle with parmesan. Yum! I’m so hungry now!’

I got into Romanescos when I was photographing at Santa Barbara’s Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. The production was incredible, a zuke at every leaf junction! Others say the plant is prolific as well. Kelly’s experience must be comparing it with yet another even more prolific variety! Here is the May 16, 2016 image I took at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden!

Zucchini Costata Romanesco Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden

At this stage, while the ribs are prominent, shave or slice the small zukes crosswise, the raw slices are star shaped! Perfect for your pasta sauce or to adorn your salad!

Planting Romanescos is like with other zukes.

Zukes are frost sensitive, but I saw them started from seed in the ground successfully in January at our Santa Barbara community garden several years! Start early indoors and transplant when temps are safe.

Full Sun and plenty of space!

Soak seeds overnight, 8 to 10 hours. Equisetum tea is the sovereign remedy for fighting fungus – especially damp-off disease on young seedlings. Spray on the soil as well as plant.

Right proper Companions! Plant potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugsRadish with cukes & zukes to repel flea beetles and cucumber beetles.

Rather than planting on a mound, consider planting in a basin. That will keep their soil more moist in these hot dought times in southern California. Put a stake in the center of the basin, water only at the stake. Make your basin large to serve the many mini lateral feeder roots.

Zucchini require a high level of feeding. Best planted in rich well-drained soil, high in organic matter, kept moderately moist.

Mulch heavily – up to 6″ deep. This keeps fruit off the ground and helps to avoid rot.

Powdery Mildew is the bane of zucchini plants. Deter diseases such as mildew by watering the soil not the leaves (also avoid handling plants). Water in the morning so plants can dry before damp evenings. Use your baking soda, powdered milk, aspirin foliar feed as prevention! It can be used on roses every 3 to 4 days, but do your veggie plants every 5 to 10 days, or after significant rains, as the plant grows, because these new plant tissues are not yet protected yet by your fungicide. Chamomile and garlic teas are also used to fight mildew on cucumbers and squash. Compost tea itself is very beneficial as inoculates the plants with a culture of beneficial microorganisms. Best of all is to plant powdery mildew resistant varieties:

  • Cucumber: Diva
  • Yellow Summer Squash: Success, Sunray, Sunglo
  • Zucchini: Ambassador, Wildcat
  • Pumpkin: 18 Karat Gold, Gladiator

How many?! ONLY ONE Zuke plant is allllll I need.  A plant per person is plenty! Believe me! Harvest small, if you can’t keep up. Those are bite size when you cook them or slice for fresh in salads. ‘They’ say grow at least 2 plants to improve fertilization, but I have never had a problem with just one!

Harvest from 50 days. Zucchini flowers will come sooner, of course….

Zucchini Flowers Male FemaleZucchini flowers
are a great source of folic acid and are often “prescribed” for those who are lethargic, anemic or pregnant! Both male and female flowers are edible but you’ll find that the females are slightly more robust.

If you are growing your own squashes and don’t want to disturb the production, harvest just the male flowers (leaving one behind for pollination). If, instead, you have the universal problem of more zucchini than friends who will accept them – then go ahead and harvest the females as well! The females are the ones with the little “zucchino” for a stem.

In the image, the male, on the right, has no zucchino and only one stamen. Don’t be alarmed if your zuke makes lots of boy flowers first! That’s Mother Nature’s way of making sure the girl flowers get pollinated right away!

Saving seeds! Squash must be fully mature before harvested for seed production. This means that summer squashes must be left on the vine until the outer shell hardens. Allow to cure 3-4 additional weeks after harvest to encourage further seed ripening. Chop open hard-shelled fruits and scoop out the seeds. Rinse clean in a wire strainer with warm, running water. Dry with towel and spread on board or cookie sheet to complete drying. Viability is 5-6 years.


DELICIOUS RECIPES!

‘Long about late June, July, gardeners are starting to seek new ways to enjoy their Zucchini! ZOODLES! Here are 28 cool summer variations on how to include this common veggie in a unique way! http://hurrythefoodup.com/zoodle-zucchini-pasta-recipes/

Zucchini Zoodles with Kale Pesto

Zucchini Recipe Zoodles with Kale Pesto

Food processor recipe makes 2 servings plus 1½ cups leftover pesto!

For the kale pesto:
3 cups chopped kale leaves
¾ cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts (toasted or raw)
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about ⅔ cup)

For the zucchini noodles:
4 medium zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil
⅓ cup kale pesto (above), plus more for serving
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and pepper
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about ½ cup), plus more for serving
Grated Parmesan, for serving

See all the instructions!

And, of course, make any changes to the recipe your heart or palate desires!

See also Zucchini Bites and ala the New York Times, Zucchini Lasagna!

May your world be round and delicious! 

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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!

See the entire April GBC Newsletter

 

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USCC Compost Conference January 2017 Los Angeles
Might you consider doing composting for a living?! See more!

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….

Some is never finished and never used. The pile is too far away, in shade, unwatered, unturned, the gardener doesn’t care how long it takes. It’s often just forgotten….

Then there is the ‘I turn it once in awhile’ type. That kind usually does get used, eventually, sorta. But old and dried out, nutrients leached away, there is no life in it. Spread the stuff out as a mulch and start over, or let it go and just buy what you need. No shame in that.

The kind that gets turned regularly often gets raided before completely finished. You can still make out some of what the stuff is that’s there. That works just fine because it decomposes, finishes quickly, in the ground, at home with all the lovely soil organisms.

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 worked! The dry brown material in the pile isn’t usually harder to ‘chop’ straw; it’s more like leaves, some already chopped, partially decomposed mulch type stuff. In a community garden you might not have space for such a pile. If you do, toss a thin layer of soil over it to keep flies away, and to keep it from being unsightly to visitors cover it with a light layer of straw to keep it out of sight. That will keep it moist and it will decompose better rather than off gas the Nitrogen, dry and die. The straw 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.

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. My friend who chops his with vigor gets 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, 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.

Trenching has always been the super simple way of putting chopped veggie kitchen wastes to work. Dig, pull back a 6″ trench, no deeper is needed for most annuals. Put in the stuff, cover and forget it. Period. A week later you can dig in that area and not find a trace of it. Soil organisms are intelligent and hungry.

Hugelkultur Sepp Holzer Diagram Cross Section

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! Add leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available. Add some red wriggler 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!

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 phosphorous 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 and layer on a handful of leaves whenever I throw in kitchen scraps.’
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,  if building your own compost isn’t your choice, support your local nursery and get the best from them! 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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Besides feeding your plants and adding water holding capacity, composting is important for two more good sustainable reasons. Composting helps to minimize the trash going to our landfill, but most importantly doesn’t contribute methane to our atmosphere. When we compost, an aerobic condition is created and the bacteria that thrive create a waste product of CO2. Yes, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, however methane is over 20 times more powerful in contributing to greenhouse gas effects.

Composting in summer’s heat is the fastest, just keep things moist! And there are several ways to do it!

In place composting

Hugelkultur Diagram Cross Section

Long term is Hugelkultur. I say long term because you use logs and branches. Not only are you making compost, but heat! You can plant sooner in spring, grow later in fall. Building up, you get more surface area for planting if space is limited. If space is not an issue and you don’t want raised areas, dig trenches fill with logs, branches, twigs. Cover with the soil you dug up and other stuff. Same excellent results! There are many ways to Hugelkultur! Some projects are gentile and mini, others are huge!

  • The classic is the three log triangle stack and hillock system. Put a bean trellis at the end of the pile!
  • Lay a bed of thick diameter branches, small branches, and twigs at the bottom of your raised bed.
  • Use logs to terrace your slope

Long term might be that pile in the back forty that you pay no attention to, other than dumping on more barrow loads from time to time and letting nature take its course. That can take years. But if your pile is warm in the sun and kept moist, at the bottom of that pile, eventually, not less than a year, you will get some fine leaf mold, and leaf mold is potent!

LASAGNA! Quick and dirty is composting right where you will grow things, and planting all along if you like! it’s the easiest on your back! If you have enough materials, all you do is chop and drop your disease free and seed free weed cuttings and lay your kitchen scraps right on the surface and let them decompose. Throw in some composting worms, red wrigglers. It will all go faster still, and you will have castings right where you need them! Throw some manures (no pet or human waste) about to ramp up the heat and Nitrogen plants need! Some people add other favorite amendments. Yes! Do keep things moist or thick/deep enough for the materials that contract the soil to decompose. To plant immediately, pull a space open, put already made compost in your planting holes and plant instantly! There’s no moving the compost you are making because it’s already where it is needed! There’s no turning, no space taken up by a composter. In summer it also acts as a mulch! Composting and mulch at once!

If you don’t have enough materials, do areas as you can, one at a time, each season another one. Consider giving your neighbors a container, or two, to collect their kitchen trim for you; ask for their landscape waste materials. Hooray, no trips to the dump!

Trenching kitchen scraps or burying garden trim 6″ to 8″ deep is really fast. Soil organisms get right to work! Again, keep that area slightly moist.

Composting in enclosures 

Compost Geobin

Quick might be in a babied system in an enclosure, chopping things into small pieces, deleafing tough stalks, feeding with high class chopped, even blender chopped, kitchen trim! Trim could include squshed eggshells (keeps pH balanced), 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less of coffee grounds (suppresses fungal rots and wilts!). You could add some compost worms, red wigglers, so their castings are precombined with your compost! Careful layering, alternating WET/Nitrogen – grass, green trim, kitchen trim, and DRY/Carbon – leaves, straw, dried spent plants, makes for a well balanced process. Straw aerates, wets moisten and decompose the straw. 1″ wet to 2″ dry is good, but you get it, it’s 1 wet to 2 dry. Easy.

To Turn or Not to Turn! If you decide to turn, you need either a permanent two enclosure side by side system, or a lightweight movable enclosure. You may need to make your system secure from pests like rats or squirrels.

Turning speeds things up a tad, but research shows unturned compost is a little more nutritious. I use the enclosures you can lift off the pile. The pile doesn’t fall apart, so I move the enclosure to a nearby spot and pitchfork the pile into the new location. When things are well decomposed you will need to use a shovel. The pile goes back and forth every couple of weeks or so, leaving a spot that is enriched from the pile’s drippings, a prime planting spot! Then I move the enclosure to another spot.

Covering your pile with a heavy mil plastic, like old compost bags or trash compactor bags, keeps the pile moist. Water the fresh straw or leaves you add just a bit. Also, covering makes the worms feel safe from birds to come and feed at the top of the pile. When you take the cover off, the worms dive to get out of sight of birds!

6 months is usual, but since I add-as-I-have, part of the pile is ready sooner than the rest. I use the part that is ready; the rest I let keep processing. You can use almost finished compost sooner just fine! Mix it into the soil in the new planting area a couple weeks before planting and Baby, you quickly have tasty soil! The soil organisms ramp up and things are integrated down to the micro dots! However, if your compost pile isn’t going as quickly as you like, get some compost accelerator at your nursery or grow a compost activator plant like yarrow or nutritious comfrey next to your composter for convenient use! Add a few leaves to each layer as available.

Also use your compost for sidedressing. If it is summer, pull back your mulch. Push your spade fork in and carefully rock it back and forth to make some holes around your plant – not too close to the main stem, and as you feel to do. Lay down two to three inches of compost as you have available. Put your mulch back in place. Water slowly and gently to let the compost moisten, melt and drizzle into the holes, feeding the root area of your plants. It’s like giving them compost tea! Give it a few days to take effect. It’s especially effective when your plant starts into production, or as a late summer feed when they are pooping out. It will extend your harvest.

Some gardeners just divide their compost into big piles, make a water holding bowl in the top, and plant directly in the compost for super growth! Works great for a giant tomato plant, plants that are heavy feeders like Goliath-size winter squash, melons, Mammoth cabbage! How many times have you let a compost pile go and come back to find little plants growing in it?! They know what’s good for them! Cover the piles with some light blocking mulch, like thick straw, to keep the pile from washing away. Stick a stake beside your plant so you know right where to water.

HOT or Cold compost There is always the curiosity whether to do cold or hot compost.
  • Hot is faster but more labor intensive, frequent turning a must to keep it going. Layering and balancing your ingredients is critical to get those temps. A thermometer is good to have, ideal temps 141°F to 155°F so weed seeds and disease pathogens die.
  • Cold compost can be as simple as pile and wait. And wait. No concern about the order of things. Nature takes her course.
  • My system is a hybrid system. I layer pretty carefully. My pile gets hot when I first layer in a new batch of stuff, but if I don’t turn it for a few weeks, that’s ok too.

Do what suits your needs or as you have materials, but compost, compost, compost! In these SoCal drought times, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Keep your soil healthy and lively, with excellent friability, so it makes the most of what moisture it does receive.

Tyler W at Crazy About Compost, says: Just the other week, I had filled the bin up to the edge with new material…and I look out there today after forgetting about it and it’s dropped nearly a foot! This is what I love about compost piles – I’ve been adding material to this thing on a weekly basis and it’s just a bottomless pit of degradation.

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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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California’s 2013 was the driest year on record since this type of data has been recorded, in 119 years. 

Think water capturing, slow the flow, Bioswales & Furrows this year! Plant IN your furrows, where the moisture collects. Carefully take a look at Holzer’s Hugelkultur type diagram. The lower areas are wind and drying protected. In the case of a regular level garden, furrows can do the same thing, and when you water, you water in the furrows. If you don’t plant on top of the furrows or plant plants with deep roots, all your plants will get water, and soil that doesn’t need water doesn’t get it. Plant taller plants where they can cut the flow of prevailing drying winds. See how the furrow in the image is lined with stones? Besides storing heat, they keep the slope from degrading when you water.

If needed, install some mini wiers, check dams, to slow the rush of the water, to make it possible to give some sections more water, as needed, than others. In a small garden area you could lay in some halved lengthwise PVC with holes drilled in it to let water drain through – plant along each side of it. If you can, do mini Hugelkultur strategies, or do it with full blown zest! Get a log/s and go for it!

One homeowner said: We built a really cool bioswale and rainwater storage system to collect not only rainwater runoff from the green roof, but also to collect any irrigation water seeping from our terra cotta pots and the water we use to wash off shoes and our feet after working in the nursery or with the animals.

Get creative with ‘furrows!’ Curve them, make some deeper, wider than others as needed. If you can’t do furrows, do wells, basins. Keep that water corralled where it will do the most good. Be mindful of your fruit trees. Feed them well, out to the drip line, and water that food in. Natural leaf drop, mulch on top of the ground, isn’t decomposing as usual with our dry weather. Watch for leaf curl and yellowing.

Self Mulching!  This is the cheapest, easiest mulching technique! Plant or Transplant seedlings close enough so that the leaves of mature plants will shade the soil between the plants. That’s all there is too it! Roots are cool and comfy, less water needed. Natural mulches feed your soil as they decompose. Avoid any that have been dyed. Strawberries and blueberries like loose, acid mulches – pine needles or rotted sawdust. Raspberries and blackberries enjoy SEEDLESS straw. Mulch is just so clever!  Besides the underground advantages, above ground, it keeps plant leaves off the soil where snails, other critters, soil diseases, climb on board. It keeps leaves drier, less molds, mildew. It keeps fruits off the soil, clean to harvest.

If you are gardening at home, install a grey water system – it is now legal in California. Our water is so precious. Let’s use it well and do what we can to save, slow down the use of, depleted water tables. In Santa Barbara area, check with the experts at Sweetwater Collaborative. Their next Laundry to Landscape Workshop is on Sat Feb 15!

Consider Dry Farming. Sometimes it’s doable, sometimes not. Here are practical tips from different people who have done it!

Consider aquaponics. At its best, that’s growing crops and fish together in a re-circulating system. Sounds good. For me, I love being outdoors, getting dirty in soil, the surprise volunteers that come from visiting birds. I like insects and worms, small animals, even snails! It makes me think my plants are wholly nutritious in ways no chemical formula could ever make them be. And I like that the plants are different from year to year. It calls on me to pay keen attention. I love weather, anticipating and responding to nature’s rhythm. Makes me feel alive! But if you love tinkering with pumps, siphons, filters and formulas, I totally understand. You can’t grow root veggies, but it certainly takes less land and plants grow fast, really fast, and you can grow tender plants all year if your system is indoors! You can get expensive towers or do it yourself inexpensively, with or without fish. There are numerous ways to do it to fit your needs!

In general, select seeds and plants that are heat and drought tolerant that require less water. Ask your nursery to carry them. Check into seed banks in warmer drier areas of the country, and the world, for their successful plants.

Compost, compost, compost! Compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Also, alternate plantings of soil nourishing legumes, then other plants. Keep your soil healthy and lively, with excellent friability, so it makes the most of what moisture it does receive. More you can do!

Live your techniques; talk with and show others how to do it! Bless you for your kind considerations.

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Mycorrhizal Fungi, the Proof is in the Roots!

Mycorrhizal Fungi increase uptake of nutrients by increasing the surface absorbing area of roots 100 to a 1,000 times!  This is like having way more than a second set of roots!  They work in both natural soil and with fertilizers added, especially phosphorus. P is for  flowering, so increases production.  The fungi also release powerful enzymes into the soil that dissolve hard-to-capture nutrients, such as organic nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and other “tightly bound” soil nutrients.  The extra nutrients can fuel better growth and increase resistance to drought and disease.  Plants in soil with well-established mycorrhizal fungal root systems are better able to survive droughts and transplant shock, and the fungi’s ability to alleviate salt stress is well documented.

Two exceptions to using MF:  1) When the soil already has such ideal nutrient and moisture levels that the plants can scavenge enough on their own.  2) with Brassicas (members of the mustard family), because they do not allow the mycorrhizal fungi to colonize their roots!  Save your time and money!

There is so much more known now due to research the last 40 years!  David D. Douds, Ph.D., a microbiologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), notes that different species of plants have different tendencies toward developing mycorrhizal associations. For example, he has found that leeks greatly benefit from mycorrhizal association in most years, while tomatoes and peppers are more likely to benefit when they are more nutrient-or water-stressed. Brassicas such as turnips and radishes do not form mycorrhizal associations under any conditions.

Recent research shows mycorrhizal plants warn each other when disease or pest infestations occur.  ‘The uninfected ‘receiver’ plants also activated six defense-related genes!’  The infected or infested plant may die, but the others live!

Don’t kill your Mycorrhizal Fungi!

Day to day gardening can degrade and destroy delicate mycorrhizal fungi, and the mycorrhizae-forming potential of your soil.  Not good.  Tilling and hoeing, removal of topsoil, erosion, site preparation, compaction (removes air and damages filaments), fumigation, relentlessly removing weeds, and leaving soils fallow without a deep mulch covering, are some of the activities that can reduce or eliminate these beneficial soil fungi. Scientific studies indicate endo mycorrhizal fungal populations are slow to recolonize, unless there is close access to natural areas that can act as a source of mycorrhizal spores to repopulate the affected area.  Reintroducing mycorrhizal fungi in areas where they have been lost can dramatically improve plant performance with less water and fertilizer and at a reduced cost.

So, for example, if you just dug up an area to install gopher barriers, that area needs some babying, tender repopulating.  And you can see this is a huge reason to do lasagna gardening, or sheet composting.  Put the nutrients, compost on TOP of your soil.  Don’t dig up your soil and destroy the mycorrhizal network and soil structure of the micro herds of soil organisms, or the mini air tunnels earthworms make that let your soil breathe and moisture to soak in!  Don’t be shy!  Pile it all on a foot to 18″ deep!  Remember, that pile will rapidly settle to about 6 to 8″ deep.  For immediate planting, pull some holes open, add a tasty compost, and plant away!

Tips to Help your Mycorrhizal Fungi Flourish!

  • Add fungi!  Sprinkle dry or pour or spray liquid fungi right on the roots as you put in your transplants, except those Brassicas.  Use a core drill or auger and put liquid fungi down into your soil.  Not only does it help veggies, but your turf grass as well!  While you are at it, put in some compost tea in alternate holes to build your soil herds.  You will be amazed at the results from these amendments!
  • If your soil is already high in phosphorus (get a soil test), do not fertilize with a phosphorus-rich amendment, because too high phosphorus levels inhibit development of associations between plants and mycorrhizal fungi. Manures and manure-based composts can be high in phosphorus, so test these amendments before adding them.
  • Minimize digging (especially rototilling), as it can break mycorrhizal hyphae, preventing them from colonizing new plant roots and transporting nutrients.
  • Don’t let your soil dry out!  Cover it deeply with partially composted leaves and other organic material if you aren’t planting there right away.  Plant densely enough that your plants are living mulch.  Or, simply water anyway until you are ready to plant.  If it will be an extended time, best of all is to plant a quick growing soil-feeding cover crop!
  • Grow a diverse mix of plants in your soil for as much of the year as possible, because mycorrhizae need active plant roots in order to develop.
  • If you decide to use mycorrhizal inoculants, look for a company that produces the inoculant in your geographic region.

Elaine Levine suggests techniques to keep your mix diverse:

• Rotate crops each year (as long as there aren’t too many successive brassicas). Crop rotations are vital to mycorrhizal fungus populations because, in addition to providing a continuous succession of root hosts, different crops also tend to favor different species of mycorrhizal fungi.
• Plant a cover crop. In addition to adding organic matter and retaining soil nutrients, the cover crop offers host roots for the mycorrhizal fungi to colonize and helps them proliferate in preparation for your next planting. A good mix of crops above ground is the best way to support a mix of beneficial fungi below ground.
• Lighten up a bit on weed control, because, surprising as this may be, weed roots can also be excellent mycorrhizal hosts.

Santa Clara Master Gardener Elaine Levine says ‘These simple, no-cost steps help keep the soil’s native population of mycorrhizal fungi healthy and diverse, harnessing yet another gift of the natural environment to create a vibrant and abundant garden.’  She’s so right!

TheEarthProject.org says:  Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi [AMF] is the medium of soil structure, it determines the flow of water, nutrients, and air, directs the pathways of root growth, and opens channels for the movement of soil animals. As the moderator of the microbial community, it determines the metabolic processes of the soil. In other words, the mycorrhizal network is practically synonymous with ecosystem function.

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Raised bed Hugelkultur Lasagna Combo Buckman Style

Australian permaculturist Rosina Buckman has some terrific tank garden tips!  She says think of your raised bed as a compost pile!  That’s efficient!  Place it wisely to get the most sun, least cold wind.  This bottomless tank is a tidy look even for the front yard!
Rosina combines a mini Hugelkultur process and Lasagna layering, composting in place!

  • Hugelkultur puts logs, branches, twigs at the bottom of the pile.
  • Rosina puts a rough mulch on top of that.
  • Then she Lasagnas a layer of green/wet grass clippings, or the like, to dampen the dry layers below.
  • Newspaper or cardboard is next.  Make sure it is completely super soggy.
  • Lay compost on that.  Throw in a few handfuls of red worms!
  • A topping of Straw mulch allows aeration yet keeps the compost moist!

The beauty of branches and twigs at the bottom of your raised bed is the decomposition process, which takes a long time, heats the soil above, allowing earlier planting and extending your summer season into fall!
Neighbors contribute their high quality nutritious kitchen trim, which can be part of the ‘green’ layer or dug in anytime, anywhere!
Ms Buckman tells how to ‘wake up’ your soil with a ‘cocktail of Kelp or Seaweed extract which you can buy in concentrate form known as Maxicrop in the US or Seasol in Australia!’  You can do it yourself with a ‘small cup of each ingredient (liquid kelp/molasses) mixed with a bucket of water’ to speed up the growth of microorganisms.  [Why not add a 1/2 cup to a cup of fish emulsion too?!]

Admin at this site says:  One important point that needs to be made about this raised tank garden. There is NO metal Bottom to the Tank Garden. It has no base. The tank is just a hoop to hold all your organic matter in. Water is allowed to escape at the bottom and leach out into the surrounding soil. Do not use tanks with a metal base. If you have a tank with a metal base – consider turning it into a Wicking Bed Garden. Some people say wicking beds are the very best way to garden because you will never need to water your garden.  Read about how to make one here.

See more at EcoFilms

I’m always encouraging you to make good soil because it is the living foundation of your garden!  Healthy soil; an abundance of yummy veggies!

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