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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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They really are, aren’t they?! The most common summer veggie question I get asked is, ‘What’s wrong with my tomatoes?’ So here are reminders, tips to keep your plants healthy and in strong production!

In areas with wilts in the soil, plant only toms that have resistance or tolerance to the wilts; avoid heirlooms. Jetsetter, an early season tom, is grand. Click here for a list of excellent varieties! 

If you have the wilts or blights in your soil 1) Do not pinch out the suckers (the little branches between a big branch and the main stem) as your plant grows because that makes wounds where the airborne fungi can enter your plant.  2) Right from the beginning, pinch off lower branches that would touch soil, or will when they are weighted with dew, water. When your plants get taller, DO promptly prune off lower branches that water having soil borne fungi could splash onto. This is obviously a trade off – no splash on leaves versus wounds open to wind borne fungi. Lay on only an inch of straw to avoid splash and let the soil breathe and dry between waterings.

Do not let plants touch each other and spread the wilts. Remove branches when they get near enough to touch.

Make a special planting basin for tomatoes and cucumbers. Make the base of the basin above the surrounding soil level. We want drainage and some drying to make your soil unfriendly to the fungi.
Special Soil Berm Basin Level for Tomatoes and Cucumbers
When your plant gets about a foot tall, water plants near your tomato but not at its central stem. It has a good deep root and can get water below the fungi zone. Some people simply dry farm toms, especially when they start producing, saying that makes the flavor more intense.

This all said, keep your nearby soil evenly moist. It avoids blossom-end rot.

Rap the tom cage or trellis, central stem, sharply, middayish, to increase pollination! Honey bees do not pollinate tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant or blueberries, but bumble bees DO! They do buzz pollination, called sonification! When you rap the stems, you are helping pollination the same way the bumble bees do! About 11 AM is the best time of day to do it. The flowers are warm and open. Not only do you get more tomatoes, but they are the right shape! More pollination makes more seeds. Plant plenty of flowering plants for pollinators! If you don’t mind less tomatoes, and want less seeds, let nature take its course – no rapping.

Please see all about buzz pollination in Sue Rosenthal’s post at Bay Nature! And Bumblebees can harvest pollen from flowers 400 times faster than honey bees can!
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Temps are crucial!  Tomatoes are not happy when there are

High daytime temperatures (above 85° F)
High Nighttime Temperatures (above 70° F)
Low Nighttime Temperatures (below 55° F)

True, tomatoes are heat lovers, but per the University of NV, temperatures over 104° F, for only four hours, the flowers abort! Your plant goes into survival mode, stops production. Why wait when it gets HOT and your tomato stops setting fruit?! Get heat tolerant varieties! Check out this nifty page of options at Bonnie Plants! Plant “heat set” varieties like Florasette, Heat Wave, Solar Set, Sunchaser, Sunmaster, Sunpride, Surfire. If you didn’t plant a heat tolerant variety, don’t think is a quitter and pull it. When things cool down, it will start making flowers and setting fruit again. Whew!

High nighttime temps are even worse than high daytime temperatures because your plant never gets to rest.

Conversely, in the spring, wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55° F or protect them with a cover at night. Choose early maturing varieties like Early Girl, Legend, Matina, Oregon Spring, Polar Baby, Silvery Fir Tree, Jetsetter.

‘Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes. What would life be like without home grown tomatoes? Only two things that money can’t buy. That’s true love and home grown tomatoes.’  – John Denver

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

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

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Strawberry!

It’s Mid October, just the right time, so I am posting this reminder!

Strawberry Runners!  Mid Oct cut off runners, gently dig up if they have rooted, shake the soil off.  Clip all but two or three leaves off, tie ‘em together in loose bunches. Plastic bag them and put in the back of your fridge for 20 days.  Plant them Nov 5 to 10! 

Prechilling your plants makes them think they had a cold winter.  When days get longer and warmer, they will produce fruit, not as much vegetative growth.  You can then either keep your plants that produced this year, or remove and compost them, start fresh with new plants!  Online you will read to pluck the flowers from first year plants, letting them get well established, then getting a great 2nd year crop.  Commercial growers plant new plants every year and harvest those first year plants. 

Can you plant strawberries from seed?  Sure!  When I eat strawberries at the garden, I leave a little flesh on my strawberry tops, toss them into a dampish spot in the garden.  When the birds or bugs have gotten to one too much for me to eat, or I missed it under leaves, and it is too past its prime, I push back the soil right at the surface, pop the strawberry in, leaving the top of it just barely covered.  Just like planting tiny lettuce seeds, just barely covered.  The decaying fruit is a perfect medium for growth!   Here and there, later on, I find new plants starting that didn’t come from runners!  The more deliberate way of doing this might be to take a package of strawberries you didn’t eat in time, slice ’em, if they are still sliceable, and plant them. 

Or, just buy a pack of seeds at the nursery and go for it, September and April being the best times of year to plant them!  First, put them in the fridge or freezer for 2 weeks.  This will improve the percentage of seeds that will germinate, when you plant them. Freezing stimulates the natural process of the seed going through the winter months and will help jump start the strawberry seeds when you plant them.  Since the seeds are tiny, and sprouts will be very tiny, be sure to mark off that area so you will water very gently there, with your sprinkler can, so you don’t wash them away.  No flooding, ok?  Just keep them moist.

How many seeds are on the average strawberry?  200!  Save your own!  J Smith says:  ‘Looking at a strawberry, you can see on average about 200 “seeds” per strawberry, which sit in its skin around the outside. To a botanist, however, these are not seeds but tiny individual fruits. Still, the strawberry is not considered to be a true berry because it does not have its seeds on the inside, like other berries do.’

Transplants are easier and more sure; seeds are less expensive.  Either way, happy eating – strawberries are low in calories, high in Vitamin C!

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