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Garden Low Maintenance Wicker
Casual and comfy outdoor living/dining room. The owner says ‘…the wicker furniture in my garden was found —wearing a “free” sign— on the side of the road.’

I’ve been so serious about this due to the request of a friend, but I love how this gardener started her post: ‘The easiest way to keep vegetable gardening from being hard work is to pay someone else to do the work while you watch from the comfort of your air conditioning sipping on a cold beverage. (Well someone has to say it!) LOL’ And I have to laugh with her!

Whether you are super busy, as my friend is, or working, raising a family, doing dedicated community work, or are a senior taking it slower, or managing an estate, here are some helpful ideas to soothe your way.

As always, soil building is Number 1!

Start with a wide beeline path between your kitchen and the composter! Now that ‘beeline’ may be curvy, but make it the main pathway especially if your composting area is in a far corner. Consider putting your compost closer, centrally located, so you spend less time going to it, delivering compost from it. Add some solar lights for nighttime forays. Perhaps the composter can have a taller many flowered (for the bees) plant on the side to hide your compost area from view, but you know where that path leads. Make it sweet and easy to get there.

Make composting the simplest! Everyone has varying amounts of time and energy to compost. It can be a simple pile. Period. Just keep it moist.
  • If inclined, add a super simple divider like a piece of plywood jammed in the ground so you can turn the compost from one side to the other. That speeds up the process, aerates the pile. If you have compost type worms, throw in a handful and let them add precious castings to your pile. Decomposing will go faster.
  • If you love composting and like building, you can build a tidy 2 compartment setup.
  • Have one of those lightweight hard but thin rubber composters you can move about, enriching the soil at each spot you put it. Rather than spread the compost, plant right in it!
  • Save time and speed your compost by having a covered straw bale right next to your compost. If you don’t want it jutting out, break the bale in half, stack and cover or stand it on end between two hefty stakes, cover. Making compost is so easy. There will be no smells or flies if you layer. 1/2 Inch layers are ideal for fast decomposing, but do what you can. Every time you have non-seeding, disease free weeds or kitchen scraps (no meat – brings predators, no grain – brings mice & rats, little citrus – too acidic), lay it in, then cover it with a twice as thick layer of straw or dry brown waste (dry leaves) as the top layer. No smell, no flies, either!

Design makes a huge difference! And it all depends on how much space you have and how much time and energy YOU have! You want a veggie garden but the space is overwhelming?! Reduce the gardening space!

Garden Low Maintenance No Box Raised Bed The Gardener's Eden

  • As at The Gardener’s Eden, design your paths to be wide, almost as wide as this simple planting mound! Mounds are good in cool moist areas. Dug down beds, like Waffle Gardening, peripheral berms, are good for hot drought areas.
  • The purpose of wide deeply mulched pathways is to break up the space into smaller attractive patches. If your land is sloped, natural contour divisions may be obvious. The idea is to have less area to plant and tend. Same thing with the plant to camouflage your compost area. It takes up space you don’t have to repeatedly plant and repeatedly harvest. Three foot wide paths are fine! That gives you room to move your straw around to mulch under summer plantings, and to wheelbarrow in any bags of special amendments.

    And pathways become Black Gold! Deep straw is great in pathways. Dig down about 6″. You can lay down cardboard first to keep weeds at bay, water lightly, then lay on your straw, replenish as needed. It will be slippery at first, so be careful. If you want the path to become future garden space, omit the cardboard, keep adding straw as it flattens down. By the following summer, the straw will have decomposed, made rich soil. Move the path over one width, and plant in last year’s path!

  • Make a sweet little seating area that takes up more space you don’t have to plant ever again and is enjoyable to boot! It’s a one time job so you can watch your plants grow! Could be just for two, or for a few friends to join you upon occasion. A colorful folding adjustable tilt umbrella is lovely for summer shade. A tree stump table, a couple of comfy back supporting chairs, or bring over folding lawn chairs for summer night star watching! You can take them in during winter. Could be a clever way to ‘store’ another couple of straw bales, casual seating for kids. Do it your way. The simplest flooring is an attractive mulch. If you are a builder, put in a mini deck, squared or curvy as suits you and the space available.
  • Would you like a covered area for garden items storage? How about a little veggie processing table by the hose for processing plantings or your harvests? Maybe even a little greenhouse?! All these lovely amenities take up space you don’t have to garden but make gardening happy. Cleverness prevails!

Do these bits little by little. Might take a couple or three summers. All in good time.

There is no need to build raised beds. You can make them by building up certain areas, like in the image above, by composting in place, but no walls/box are needed! Save yourself and your time. And it gives you more flexible usage of your space. Your soil is actually richer and you save water since less watering is needed and less soil ingredients are drained away. Higher areas are good for plants that like drainage, like strawberries. Save water by scooping up raised mounds with a well on top for tomatoes, cukes, squashes. Put a stake in the center of the well so you can see where to water when your plant’s leaves get big.

Preparing your Beds! NO DEEP DIGGING NEEDED! Usually. Annuals, that’s most veggies, use only the top 6 to 8″ of soil! Adding compost, manures, worm castings, may or may not be needed at all. If the soil has been resting, maybe all you need to do is weed and plant. If the soil is dead and dried out, amendments are probably needed, especially compost, to increase water holding capacity. Start watering to soften the soil and make your work easy, take less time. Get top of the line compost with everything in it. If you can find it, get a manure mix, especially if it has cow, not steer, manure in it. Worm castings are for your plant’s hormones and immunity to pests and diseases. Add all your amendments at the same time; turn them in. No stepping on your new beds and crushing the air out of them! Soil organisms need air to breathe just like we do! Put in stepping stones as needed. Better yet, make beds so narrow you don’t need to step in them at all!

Use any existing fencing, walls, for trellises. Install some permanent trellises, wire guides or hang a remesh panel on eye hooks. One time job. Tie your tomatoes to the fence, run your beans/peas up the trellises. Remesh can also be circled into sturdy easy access tomato cages!

Trellis Cage Remesh

Weed mat? My 20X20 garden is so active that I don’t find weed mat to be helpful. I like to rotate and plant successively, and not in the exact same places. Plus, I do understory plantings of small plants on the sunny sides of larger plants and they are always coming and going. Better I like deeper mulching that feeds the soil. I just pull the mulch aside and plant when and where I feel to do.

Drip lines? Similar answer. In my Southern California garden plants come and go, not only seasonally, but again, as I plant successively and biodiversely, deliberately mixing it up! I water when my plants need it, as much as each needs it. I find being there hand watering makes me see what’s needed and I take better care of my plants. Your circumstances may be different. Do what makes you happy to be there.

Wise Low Maintenance Plant Choices and Harvesting

  • Plant only your very favorite veggies that make you want to garden! Simply don’t plant others you or your family don’t eat up quickly that end up in the compost.
  • Plant from transplants! No growing from seeds that need daily watering then seedlings that need tender vigilant nursing.
  • Choose award winning veggie varieties like AAS 2015 Winners by region, non GMO. Get vibrant healthy transplants with staunch disease and pest tolerance and/or resistance, heat/drought tolerance, humidity tolerance or proper cold hardiness. Don’t lose time with questionable box store plants, spindly, puny, sometimes sick or pest infested, or root bound plants.
  • Choose plants that produce well in your soil and temps so you aren’t discouraged. For example, in the NW you might not choose plants that take a long time to produce; summer is just too short. Carefully choose sunnier locations with low wind and warmth from fencing. Ask around your neighborhood, at your LOCAL nursery for recommendations.
  • Plant fewer plants. Less Zucchini is a classic example. Instead of a vining Zucchini, get a bush/container variety. Plant less string beans. Harvesting, one, two beans at a time, is labor intensive, time consuming, to say the least, and they are prolific! Yes, you can give them away, but if you find yourself not gardening because it takes too much time….
  • Plant plants with large footprints and low maintenance! For example, rather than a 2′ diameter calendula that needs constant deadheading to look good, put in a 3′ to 4′ diameter Borage! Both are beautiful but the herb Borage uses more space, makes pretty, the flowers are edible, requires no maintenance, and, they generously reseed themselves!
  • Rather than gardening vertically to save space, plant ramblers and let them ramble! Put in a mound of 3 winter squash, or melons, and let them ramble a whole patch! All you do is watch and water. Or put in the biggest vining zucchini you can find. They produce a lot and take up a LOT of space you don’t otherwise have to maintain. Put a stake in the basin on the mound so you know where to water when the leaves get big.
  • Tuck in some hardy perennial herbs close to your kitchen at corners or entrances for quick convenient harvest, beauty, fragrance! Some are invasive, like Oregano, so sink in a bottomless 5 gal container to keep them where you want them. Again, less maintenance in the long run.
  • Instead of canning, do the simplest! Whack them into the size you like and freeze ’em in serving size bags or containers you can reuse!

Weed before they Seed! That’s the one thing you need to do like religion for less maintenance later! Otherwise you have a continuous supply of lots of weed babies. And don’t put seeding weeds in your ideal habitat compost! That weeding certainly doesn’t have to be done all at once. Each day or every few days, do a small area. It goes quickly that way and progress feels so good.

To your low maintenance gardening pleasure!

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Zuni waffle gardens were extensive in New Mexico in 1873, and are still used today. Drought, a hot dry, maybe windy, climate requires creative response. Consider an old proven successful technique!

Waffle gardens at the Zuni Pueblo were planted near the river.
Photographer: T. H. O’Sullivan. Expedition of 1873.
xThe Zuni people developed this waffle-garden design, which is still used today as an ecological method of conserving water. Photo by Jesse Nusbaum, 1911 New Mexico.Planting a waffle garden, Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. Museum of New Mexico photo by Jesse Nusbaum, 1911

The Zuni people developed this waffle-garden design, which is still used today as an ecological method of conserving water. The garden was surrounded by a clay or adobe wall that rose 30-50 cm above the ground. The waffle plot may have had a gravel mulch as well. Both methods served to hold the water in the soil longer, to retard evaporation.

About those walls! Study this little airflow diagram…better to make a porous windbreak!
Study this little diagram...better to make a porous windbreak!

In a cooler climate, a wall, maybe of berry producing shrubs with dwarf fruit trees behind, can reduce cooling and drying winds, allowing the warmth of a food forest! The waffles still reduce water use. Mulch in summer keeps weeds down and the plant roots cool and moist though the plants are getting lots of heat.

Waffle gardens at the Zuni Pueblo were planted near the Zuni River. Sadly, today, it is an unreliable water source for sustainable farming, but if you live at the bottom of a drainage area, take advantage of it as they did. If you are selecting land, choose wisely.

Water Zuni River Watershed Waffle Garden

This Zuni field, below left, takes advantage of the shade of the trees. Notice that the pattern follows the contour of the land, and the waffles are not all square or the same size. Shape them as suits your needs. They don’t have to have straight lines! The rock border, below right, indicates the gardener is creating a waffle garden medicine wheel!

This Zuni waffle garden field takes advantage of the shade of the trees.Design Waffle Mixed Size Basins

OCTOBER 28, 2014 The University of Arizona plans a simple Community Garden that incorporates water conservation structure where the higher ground acts as waffle berms.

A modern Waffle Garden! University of Arizona plans a simple Community Garden that saves water.

June of 2002 the A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center had put in a waffle garden to help the children of Zuni understand the ways of their ancestors. July and August, Zuni usually experiences monsoon season with afternoon thunderstorms coming from the south, a common (hoped for, prayed for!) occurrence. When we visited Zuni in August we found that the garden had changed significantly and that there had been lots of growth to all the crops!

A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden!A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden in the rain!

A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden corn is flourishing!A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden corn is flourishing!

Use and modify your areas to good advantage. High berms deflect the prevailing drying wind. Deep basins hold water where it is needed.

Waffle Garden modification! High berms deflect the prevailing drying wind. Deep basins hold water where it is needed.

Teach! Visit local historic native gardens in your area. In Santa Barbara CA that would be our Mission Garden, called La Huerta, The Orchard. The City of Albuquerque collaborates with the nonprofit Open Space Alliance. Below is the Traditions Demonstration Garden, at the Open Space Visitor Center. It is a hands on volunteer effort learning feature designed to teach about historical foods and methods of farming in the Rio Grande Valley.

Design Waffle Albuquerque Open Space

Pointers

  • Your berms don’t need to be amended.
  • You don’t need berms, or very high berms, if you dig down and amend.
  • Generally, make your waffle 2′ or smaller square. Make them a size workable for you to comfortably reach across.
  • Make pathways close enough between patches so you can easily reach across to tend and harvest your plants, and haul in your amendments.
  • Plant sprawlers like squash, melons, at a corner.
  • Plant corn so it doesn’t shade plants that need full sun.
  • Lovely as the Three Sisters sounds, beans climbing corn, squash at the feet of the corn, some say the corn shades out the beans.
  • Put up a trellis along one edge if you are ok with breaking tradition a bit.

Squash and corn starting in a single dug down Waffle! Give it a try! You can do it anywhere!

Squash and corn starting in a single dug down Waffle Garden section!

And that, became this! Happy Planting!

Corn and squash in Waffle Garden space.

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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 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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Some start fall plantings from seed the last week of July. Now through September, early October is great time too, though the later you get it will go faster with transplants as the days get shorter, the weather cools! Varieties can make all the difference! If you are buying from the nursery, you get what they have got. Planting from seed gives you so many more choices!

Beets are so beautiful, amazing varieties, your choice! There are numerous colors, a combo seed pack may be perfect for you to try. Tops and roots are both nutritious! In salad as chopped greens, shredded roots. Grated over kale salad. Root soup! Steamed slices or sticks. Cold cubes with a dash of Balsamic! Plant them on the sunny side, just barely under, larger plants like broccoli or kale, at the base of peas. Plant a beet patch alternated with pretty little red bunch onions!

Brassicas  That’s our broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts, arugula, mustard greens, Mizuna, radish.

With all the large Brassicas, broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts, I highly recommend succession, staggered plantings, even of the same type plant. Several of us at the Community Garden planted around  the same time. The plants thrived, but months later had never produced fruits! It was the weather. We just planted at the ‘wrong’ time. Plant some, then 3 weeks to a month later plant some more. And that’s not a bad idea if you can’t eat all those big broc and cauli heads at once! If you have a small garden, plant three of a six pack, give three away. Plant three more later on. Cabbages can be ‘stored’ in the field, but fresher is more tender.

  • Broccoli! My personal favorite varieties are All Season F1 even though it doesn’t come in purple, and Green Comet! They are short varieties about a foot and a half tall, produce a big main head followed by large 3″ diameter side heads, and later on a plentiful supply of smaller ones! They continue to grow side branches, so the plant needs room to expand. The most radically different than those varieties I ever grew was 5′ tall with trillions of little 1″ side shoots that I got really tired cutting and finally took the plant down. These days I cut side shoots off down the stem several leaves below, to the second to lowest producing junction, which slows things down so I have time to eat what I got before the next harvest is ready.Research has shown there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together! Buy mixed 6 packs of brocs when they are available if you like the varieties in it, or plant a mix of seeds of varieties you like. At least plant two different kinds, one of each on one place, then in other places. This keeps diseases and pests from spreading one plant to another.UC study explains If you like the scent, winter, early spring are good times for cilantro. It doesn’t bolt so fast. Summer it bolts, winters it will freeze, so replants go with the territory. Cilantro makes brocs grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!

    Broccoli vitamins and nutrients typically are more concentrated in the flower buds than in leaves. That makes broccoli and cauliflower better sources of vitamins and nutrients than Cole crops in which only the leaves are eaten, like kale, collards or Brussels sprouts. The anti-cancer properties of these vegetables are so well established that the American Cancer Society recommends that Americans increase their intake of broccoli and other Cole cropsBroc is high in bioavailable Calcium too. That’s good for elder women.

  • Brussels Sprouts are iffy in our 1 mile-from-the-coast climate. They like colder. If you don’t mind small 1″ fruits, go for it. But in 2018 it wasn’t colder and local gardeners got fine fat crops! They certainly are tasty, like mini cabbages! Buy local varieties recommended by your neighbors or nursery.
  • Cabbages grow huge, depending on the variety, an easy 2′ to 3′ footprint, but slowly. If you love cabbage but can’t eat a huge head, select varieties that mature sooner, harvest when smaller or grow minis! Mini Pixie Baby is a white; Red Acre Express is a red, both tasty! Plant any variety cabbage you like, though red and savoy types, resist frost better! It is said lettuces repel cabbage moths. Put a few of them between the cabbages. Plant lettuces from transplants because dying parts of Brassicas put out a poison that prevents some seeds, like tiny lettuce seeds, from growing. Red cabbage shreds are pretty in winter salads. If you are making probiotic sauerkraut, let the heads get very firm so your sauerkraut is good and crunchy!
  • Cauliflower comes in traditional white, also yellow, green and purple! It comes in the traditional head shapes, and also the castle green spiral variant, Romanesco! It’s a visual choice! The colors do have varying antioxidant qualities if that is a factor for you. Once that main head is cut, unlike broccoli, cauliflower doesn’t make side shoots. Unless you eat the greens, your plant is done. It’s compost time.
  • Kale, the Queen of Nutrition! Kale’s attractive greenery packs over ten times the vitamin A as the same amount of iceberg lettuce, has more vitamin C per weight than orange juice! Kale’s calcium content is in the most bioavailable form – we absorb almost twice as much calcium from kale than we do from milk! Also, kale is one of the foods that lowers blood pressure naturally.There are several varieties! Dense curly leaf, a looser curly leaf, Lacinato – Elephant/Dinosaur long curved bumpy leaf, Red Russian flat leaf, Red Bor a medium curly leaf, and Red Chidori, an edible ornamental kale! And there are more amazing choices! Plants with more blue green leaves are more cold hardy and drought tolerant!

    Aphids and white fly love Kale, so you might want to choose varieties without those dense convolutions the insects can’t be gotten out of. But for the footprint per return, curly leaf kale can’t be beat. Keep watch. Spray those little devils away. Get rid of the ants, water a bit less so the plant is less soft. Remove yellowing leaves immediately. White flies are attracted to yellow. Take a look at this Mother Earth page for some good practical thinking and doing!

Chard has two main varieties, regular colorful size, and huge super prolific white Fordhook Giant heirloom size! Colorful chard is better than flowers ~ it especially brightens the winter garden! It has super nutrition, is low calorie. It produces like crazy, the most if it has loose, well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter. If you need nutrition per square foot, the Giant is the way to go! Fordhooks are a phenomena! One plant will amply feed a family!

Peas and Carrots, no onions, onion family, within several feet. Onions stunt peas. Carrots enhance peas!!! Carrots grow down, peas grow up, perfect! The frilly carrot foliage is lovely living mulch. Be sure your soil is soft for carrot growth, but not manured or they get hairy and sometimes fork. Peas make their own Nitrogen, and carrots get hairy if overfed. Peas need water, but over watering causes carrots to split. Plant the peas on a little lower ground than the carrots.

Peas come in two plant size varieties, bush and pole. Bush varieties produce sooner all at once; pole takes longer but produces continuously. A lot of gardeners plant both for an earlier and longer pea-loving harvest!

Peas come in three main kinds!

  • SNAP! Those are eaten off the plant, pod and all, tummy beans! Many, if any, ever make it into the kitchen! You can cook them, but why?! They are a quintessential snack, delightful bits in a fresh salad!
  • English are the originals, but are grown for the pea, not the pod! These are also called shelling peas since the peas need to be removed from the pod. These can come in impressive varieties 8″ long, full of tasty peas!
  • Chinese peas are the flat ones you get with those Oriental dishes, although many of them never get to the kitchen either!

The last thing to know about peas is they can be Stringless! Look for that on the seed package or transplant tag. Strings can be tough, get tangled in your teeth. It takes time to remove the strings before using. It’s a simple thing, but stringless peas take less time, makes a difference to your enjoyment.

You can go happily quite crazy picking veggie varieties! If you can’t make up your mind, if one is an All America Selection, AAS, go for it! They are generally superb. You may have a dilemma whether to go with heirlooms only or some hybrids too. Nature hybridizes plants all the time, so I feel good with both. GMOs are another story. Personally I am not in favor of them. Safe Seeds sellers list by state and country. Companies known to use GMO sources. Some may surprise you.

Get used to thinking in combinations! Happy plant communities help each other thrive! And speaking of communities, Brassicas don’t partner up with soil community forming mycorrhizal fungi. Other winter veggies do, so if you are buying compost, get the ones with the most mycorrhizal fungi, and sprinkle the roots of non-Brassica transplants with mycorrhizal fungi when you are planting!

May you and your garden enjoy each other’s company!

Updated Aug 2018

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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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.

 

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Topiary Woman Garden Dreams at Chelsea Flower Show, London 2006
Heather Yarrow at 2006 4Head Garden of Dreams co-designer, watering topiary sculpture designed by Sue and Peter Hill. Royal Horticultural Society, 84th Chelsea Flower Show, London

Heat lovers will flourish, you may feel like lazing about, but at times, some plants need your help! It’s a fine art!

Keep an eye on weather reports.

Water is key.

  • Water in advance when hot weather is predicted.
  • Water early in the day as possible so your plants have as much moisture as possible during the hottest time. On the hottest days, a second watering may be needed.
  • Don’t be confused by wilting. Some plants, like chard, shut down to conserve water when it is hot. They perk right back up by the next morning!
  • Water deep and occasionally. Frequent light watering encourages lush growth but also promotes shallower roots so that the plant is less prepared to cope when there is a reduction or no water coming on a hot day.
  • Remove water competitor weeds.
  • Harvest frequently and thoroughly; make it easier for your plants to keep up with the business of staying alive. Ripening fruits demand huge loads of water and nutrients.
  • Hydrozone – Plant water lovers, shallow rooted planties, together when compatible.
  • Strawberry tip: On a raised mound, lay down an untreated pallet, or 3 to 4 inch wide boards side by side separated about 3 to 4 inches apart. Fill the pallet with soil, plant your berries. As the berry leaves grow, they cover the boards, keeping them cool, the boards in turn keep the soil below cool and moist and the boards feed the soil as they decompose.

Water if there has been a drying wind. Windy conditions can interfere with fruit set too, so if you can, create windbreaks. Use non heat radiating materials that allow some airflow so they won’t be blown over if you are in a wind pattern area. No air flow can make your garden a heat trap. In future, at planting times, anticipate winds, install trellises, planting them thinly to allow air flow. In SoCal ‘winters,’ they can block cold winds. In spring, put in some corn for filtered shade and as a windbreak. You may have to stake taller large bodied varieties of corn. Might choose varieties with less height that mature sooner, require less nutrients, and create less waste.

Keep your Mulch topped! Cover bare spots and replenish where your mulch is getting thin. 4 Inches is a good depth. Preferably use light colored mulches, like straw, that reflect the sunlight. If your mulch has meshed into a tight layer, use a watering spike so water gets to the roots of your plants. Straw, rather than a meshing mulch, is better for your veggies. But if you have Bagrada Bugs, REMOVE your mulch ASAP!

Water Spikes, a saving grace in Container Gardens

Container gardeners consider these terra cotta plant spike/bottle setups. Steady moisture right at the root zones! The adapter fits wine or plastic bottles! There are other variations. You can cut the bottom off a plastic bottle, for easy refilling! Cover with cloth and a rubber band to keep debris or insects from clogging your spike. One of the advantages of container gardening is plants can be moved into temporary shade if available if necessary.

Incorporate water holding compost into your soil, but also know that your soil only needs 5% humus, and over composting is not helpful.

WikiHow says: ‘In times of heat shock, a seaweed extract based liquid fertilizer treatment often reduces heat stress and it may help protect the plant in future.’ If your plant needs a feed, mix that kelp with some fish emulsion.

Shade Cloth over Remesh, easy, custom fit!If you have tender plants, maybe seedlings, set up some temporary shade. Safely prop up some nursery plants flats with the fine mesh, or use some scrap lattice. For an easy custom fit, a simple set up is remesh, bent to the shape you want, anchored, covered with shade cloth. The beauty of shade cloth is it comes in ‘shade factors,’ the degree of blocked sunlight, and can range from 25% – 90% ! Salad greens do well with 50 – 60% shade factor. Heat lovers like squash and beans do well under 30% shade cloth. Or, simply pop in a well anchored umbrella. Power up some shade sails, an old sheet or dust cloths. Just be sure there is air flow – no baking your plants! When the heat is over, remove your covers promptly so your plants won’t get used to having them and suffer at the time of their removal.

If you live in a hot area, consider permanent options like this beautiful sliding wire canopy at Desert Botanical Garden! Install it East to West for all day shade when needed. This image is used by permission from Rock Rose Blog! Thanks, Jenny, it’s lovely! Please see her post for more clever and beautiful shade ideas ~ love your garden, be creative!

Shade Sliding Canopy, used by permission from RockRose Blog! At Desert Botanical Garden.

Design well ahead of time for ‘shelter’ plantings! In late summer/early fall, winter transplants, having shallow roots, will do well in partial shade of mature plants that will soon be pulled. This way, the sun will be available to the little ones when they are better established. In spring, plant corn or leeks, tall onions, north to south, that later allow filtered light to plants that need a little shade later on. Corn planted June/July can shade peppers or strawberries at the hottest August/September weather.

Too much heat, water stress

  • Know that veggies have their own priorities. Some ‘bolt,’ go into flowering mode, at significant weather changes. They think the season has ended.
  • Some plants like 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! At those extremes, no amount of sharply rapping your plant or its cage will help pollination.
  • There are heat tolerant varieties, for example  Heatmaster and Solar Fire tomatoes are two. Heirlooms are more fussy, hybrids less. Cherry tomatoes and the Oregon State U-bred parthenocarpic tomatoes, including Gold Nugget, Oregon Spring, Oregon Star, Siletz and Legend, are the exception, as they will set fruit over a wider temperature range than most large-fruited types. Parthenocarpic and cherry tomatoes will fruit throughout the heat of summer, even in Tucson, according to the University of Arizona.
  • At 95 degrees, beans and peas simply drop their flowers. The exception is Rattlesnake beans that happily flower and fruit up to 100 degrees! At 100 degrees, corn tassels are killed, no pollination can happen and its all over for them.

When it cools down, your other plants will get back into production. Wait for it.

Here in SoCal we are facing more heat, less rainfall. Being mindful of how and when you use our water is important. Selecting heat tolerant varieties makes good sense. With long-term climate changes, we gardeners will become more skilled at hot weather gardening!

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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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Design Your Summer Veggie Garden! Plan for marvelous production!

Simple, humble, or elegant and intricate, gardens definitely say a lot about the Gardener! Just be you! Plant in rows, circles, squares, diagonal rays, or have no plan at all, jungle style! That’s a plan too, right?! Make your space plant accessible, with safely wide enough pathways, or stepping stones. Straw in pathways will compost in place. It may be a bit slippery until it settles in. Keep replenishing it.

Choose what you would like to eat! Think about nutrition. Some think that most corn isn’t really food, and it takes up a lot of space per square foot per production. Kale is super nutritious, but will you eat it, or do you need a different recipe? Are you growing something because your Mum did? It’s ok if you have the room and it makes you happy.

Right along with what you would eat, comes how much will you eat or can you eat?!

  • Over planting zucchini is the classic example! You better have a lot of hungry zucchini loving friends if you over plant it! You probably would rather freeze tomatoes or ferment pickles for probiotics, than take up space with zucchini, though you can ferment it too.  But what claim to fame does it have? Not a big taste. Only one to two zuke plants is likely plenty! If you over plant, in self defense, harvest when they are small. Fresh slices in salads give a crunch and color. It comes in greens and brilliant yellow! Plant both!
  • Pole beans are another commonly over planted veggie. They produce tons throughout the season, and are time intensive to harvest. At the end, you may just burned-out-on-beans stop picking. Canning them is easy; freezing even easier if you have freezer space.

Stored vs Fresh  In SoCal, if you want to take a winter break, you can store your veggies and live off them. But if you prefer fresh, we can grow table veggies here year ’round! I do very little storing of veggies, just some for emergency contingencies, so I plant only what I can eat. Having more space lets me grow more varieties, experiment, let that volunteer grow and see what it becomes! For me it puts Magic in the Garden!

How much space do you have? What is the footprint of a mature thriving plant? You especially need to know that if you are planting alternately. For example, peppers thrive with a tad of shade between tall tomato plants in cages. Will you need to be using upright space-saving cages and trellises? Almost all your summer plants can go upright – pole beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, even zucchini can go up and over structures so you can plant summer semi shade-needing lettuces underneath. Winter squash (grown in summer) just needs space on the ground, LOTS of space. It’s leaves are huge, and the thriving vine will go 45, 50′!

How long does your plant choice take to grow?

  • Bush beans produce faster. You can plant bush and pole beans at the same time, and remove the bush beans when they finish, leaving your pole beans to continue producing throughout the season.
  • Determinate tomatoes jump up quickly, take up less space, produce intensely then quit. Indeterminate tomatoes are vines that can easily grow healthily up to 12’+ and they produce all season long! Plant the determinate little guys for first and fast fruit. Plant several at once if you are canning. The indeterminates give you a summer long fresh table supply.
  • Patio and container varieties often produce quicker and wonderfully, and take up a smaller space. If you want more different kinds of plants, they are the way to go. To keep a steady supply, just keep planting them successively.
  • Some crops take a long time, like jicama. You plant them in late March if it’s quite warm, April 1 is the usual time, May if you miss April. If you remove the flowers, the roots enlarge in fall as days begin to grow shorter. A warm fall helps. Harvest will be in Sep/Oct depending on when you planted, how hot it has been. That’s 5/6 months. Many other plants will produce in 2 months from transplant. Let one plant flower for seed harvest. Jicama seeds can be hard to come by.
Succession Planting  Knowing how long your plant takes to produce is essential for succession planting. It takes will power of steel not to plant every space you can when spring arrives! Leave areas free for the next round of your favorite veggies!  Grow ‘littles’ there to hold space. Maybe some carrots, beets, radish, or arugula, turnips, lettuce varieties, bunch onions, garden purslane. Mark your dates to plant more on your calendar so you don’t miss your planting windows. When areas are done, compost what remains, add more compost you made and your favorite amendments to the new planting holes, plant what you want there now!Summer Companion Planting is a crucial part of your plan!
  • Cukes and dill. Dill needs a bit of room! Plant WHITE radishes with cucumbers to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Tomatoes – DANDELIONS FOR WILT. Dandelions produce cichoric (or chicoric) acid that ties up soil-bound iron needed by the disease called fusarium.  Plant them first, let them grow up, then put your tomatoes in amongst them. Chives enhance flavor and growth of your toms, and basil repels pests. Chamomile has been used to increase production of wheat, tomatoes and other herbs. It helps them to grow better and releases fungal inhibitors.
  • Beans – The Mexican beetle avoids bean rows that have Marigold, Calendula, or Petunia growing among them. Planting dill deters the Mexican bean beetle, which feeds on the foliage of bush and pole beans.

Direction to plant  Tall in the north or the most shaded area, gradually working to less and less tall plants to the South and least shaded areas.

Where can you plant?! Are you using fences as trellises, have movable containers on wheels, a narrow pathway that is in a summer sunlight corridor all day?! Be clever! Is your soil funky? Ha! Put in a raised bed with perfect soil. Keep laying on sheets of compost in areas you would like to revive and increase friability and water holding capacity. Plant green manures there. To get more sun, raise plants up on top of barrels, hang them high, up on the fence, install hydroponic towers!

Plant your roof! Plant in lightweight canvas containers or cover the entire roof with soil if it is strong enough! Energy-efficient rooftop gardens are great insulation from heat, give a 26% reduction in winter heat losses! They cool the environment between 6.5 and 20.3° F. It is common for the soil of a roof garden, built on a heated structure (home), to be at least 5C warmer than a conventional landscape. With home rooftops, you can plant sooner, the elevated temperature of the soil brings the plants into growth earlier in Spring and sustains their growth in the Autumn. The Philadelphia Water Dept says green roofs extend the lifetime of the roof by 100-200%! And we haven’t even talked about rainwater catchment! Have a greenhouse up there, do beekeeping, have chickies! Above all, pun intended, it’s your food, your organic food!

4 Rooftop Veggie Gardens
From simple to elaborate, even elegant, rooftop gardens have surprising and numerous advantages!

Successful summer garden design is complemented by choosing summer successful seeds/plants that have heat/drought tolerance, resistance/tolerance to summer diseases/pests. Heat tolerant, bolt and tip burn resistant lettuce varieties are good choices – Jericho, Sierra, Nevada, Black Seeded Simpson. Mildew resistant beans. Choosing the right plants keeps your design working and you get optimum production!

See February, March, April, May SoCal Veggie Garden Planning! for perspective on what exactly to plant when in the months to come! May you have happy dirty hands!

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First, let’s review the next months so you can plan ahead!

August  Depends on which you like most, summer crops or winter crops.  Plant more summer crops you can’t get enough of!  If you love winter crops, get a head start!  Improve your soil as plants finish, areas become available. Midmonth start cool season SEEDS – celery, Brassicas: cabbage, brocs, Brussels sprouts, collards, cauliflower, kales, are good – or wait until September, Labor Day Weekend is perfect!   Make notes about your summer crops in your garden journal.
September  First fall planting month, Labor Day weekend or bust!  Seeds are fun, transplants produce sooner.  Plant Sweet Peas for Christmas bloom!
October  Transplants of all fall crops, but specially of cabbages and artichokes.  Cut Strawberry runners off to chill for Nov planting.
November  Seeds of onions for slicing.  Wildflowers from seed (don’t let the bed dry out).  Strawberries in no later than Nov 5.  Transplants of winter veggies.
December is winter’s June!  Crops are starting to come in, it’s maintenance time!

Eight Fun August Garden Projects!

  1. Save your very best summer seeds
  2. Re/design your fall garden layout, checking your garden notes from last winter
  3. Get seeds for winter planting
  4. Build raised beds with wire protection to prevent gopher losses
  5. Prepare your soil – add manures, compost, appropriate amendments
  6. Remove funky garden debris, compost healthy green waste
  7. Do greenhouse winter maintenance, build a greenhouse for winter production
  8. Make wonderful preserves, dehydrate, freeze, harvest seeds, make herbed oil & vinegar gifts, powdered herbs, pesto ‘ice’ cubes, dill pickles, candles, organic cosmetics!

Now through October is the special time to take stock of your accomplishments, jot journal entries of what worked well, didn’t, how much you want to plant next spring, reminders what you would like to do differently or try next year.  Enter a reminder on your calendar to review these notes, say next Feb/March, when you will be planning your 2011 summer garden, buying spring seeds, getting starts going in the greenhouse!

Plant more of faster growing summer crops you love, like beans – you will just have a shorter harvest time.  If you love winter crops, improve your soil as plants finish.  As areas become available, plant seeds midmonth, or wait until Labor Day weekend to plant!  If you don’t have enough room yet, establish a little nursery in an open area to plant celery, your Brassicas:  cabbage, brocs, Brussels sprouts, collards cauliflower, kales – to later  transplant into other garden areas, or spread apart, late September and October.  Or start in containers for later transplanting.  If you don’t have the time to tend them, simply get transplants at the nursery when you want them.  However, the beauty of planting from seed is you can get the varieties you want, you can experiment with new varieties!  A seed catalog is a lovely and dangerous thing.

Plant peas at the base of your dying beans.  When you take your beans out, clip them off, leaving the roots, with the Nitrogen nodules legumes make, in the soil!  At the end of August, plant lettuces in shadier spots behind plants that will protect them during the September heat, but who will soon be done, allowing your lettuces full sun when it is cooler later on.  Remember, September can be HOT.

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