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Posts Tagged ‘Nitrogen’

Brilliant Purple Long Bean, Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis

Splendid Long Beans grown by Green Team Farm in Salt Lake City, Utah.

That title is just a bunch of names for a lot of fun! Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis, is a subspecies of the cowpea, grown around the world. It is a pleasure to grow, every inch of the way!

Long beans have a distinct flavor all their own you may need to get used to. Since they are a heat loving bean, I wait to plant mine in June after my other beans are producing. The long beans come in later when the other beans are finishing and long beans don’t mind the last of summer heat. Just when I’m getting tired of the regular beans, there come my Long beans, tweaking my palate!

If you have a good hot summer, they grow that impossible 16 to 20″ fast and prolifically, great production per square foot! Grow them in full sun and overnight, you will get oodles of Noodles! Depending on your soil and how many you plant, you can harvest handfuls almost daily! You will be giving them away to people with an adventurous palate to delighted oohs and ahhs! Don’t neglect daily harvest when they are at peak season, or your plant will think it is done and stop producing.

Luscious Varieties!

Long beans are grown everywhere and there are a lot of kinds of them! They are grown extensively in Asia and India. Per ‘KnowYourVegetables’ Long beans are a traditional food plant in Africa, this little-known vegetable has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable land-care.

They come in pink and yellow. Green, red, purple, or all these three colors in one bean in the variety Mosaic! Mosaic seed can be purchased from Kitazawa Seed Company of Oakland CA.

The Spruce recommends these varieties for various reasons!

  • Liana: A day-neutral variety that starts producing early in the season. It is also recommended as a fall crop in warm climates. (70 days)
  • Purple podded: Good for hot seasons. Retains most of its color when stir-fried. (90 days)
  • Red noodle: Similar to purple podded, but more flavorful with a crunchier texture. (95 days)
  • Stickless wonder: An unusual dwarf variety [that means it can be a container variety!]. The vines only grow to about 30 inches tall and do not need trellising. Plants start flowering early (40 days) but, like many bush beans, they don’t have as long a season as taller vining varieties. (54 days)
  • Yard long (white seeded, black seeded, red seeded, extra long): Often you will only find seed packets labeled as Yard Long Beans, but there are subtle differences between varieties. Any of the green varieties would be a good place to start experimenting. (90 days)

If your planting area is a 6 hours of sun area or your weather is unseasonably cool, it will take longer for production to start and your season will likely be shorter, so plant earlier if possible. Do your research for early varieties and ones that don’t get or are mildew resistant.

Prolific crop of Green Long Beans! Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis

Prolific crop of Green Long Beans!

PLANTING AND CARE

Companions Beans don’t mind sharing but not with onion family plants. Instead, put cucumbers at their feet, and trellis the cukes too. Keeps them clean and free of ground insects. Add some radishes to discourage Cucumber beetles – those cute little green with black dots insects. Remove them instantly. Squish, stomp, whatever it takes. Bad news, they carry bacterial diseases and viruses from plant to plant, such as bacterial wilt and mosaic virus. White potatoes repel Mexican Bean Beetles. Put potatoes on both sides of your trellis.

Soil The variety of soil needed is not strict, but well-drained soil is good. Organic matter is good, but not too much Nitrogen since as a legume, they make their own! Too much and you get leaf, no to few beans. Plant seeds about 1 inch deep about 6 inches apart. In warm zones, you can plant 2 to 3 times, at 2-week intervals, and is definitely a late summer or fall crop. Keep them moist. Fertilize as needed.

Believe me, a vertical support, trellis, wire, fence, are good for a clean harvest, otherwise your beans are on the ground, and they aren’t always easy to see among the foliage and you are stepping on them! Put your trellis up when you plant! The babies can grow quickly making it difficult to install your support system later.

Once your seedlings are up with 2 to 4 leaves, give them the royal treatment ASAP! One regular Aspirin, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap (surfactant), per gallon of water. While you are at it, add a 1/4 C nonfat powdered milk and Tablespoon of Baking Soda as well. Aspirin, triggers a defense response and stimulates growth! Nonfat powdered milk is a natural germicide and boosts the immune system. Baking Soda makes the leaves alkaline and inhibits fungal spores – that’s MILDEW, the nemesis of beans that aren’t resistant! Use especially on your young bean plants, all your cucurbits – cukes, zukes, any mildew prone plant like zucchini. Use a watering can that has a rose (nozzle) that turns upward to get the undersides of leaves as well as their tops. Prevention is better than a remedy, believe me. So feel free to treat your babies after rains, once a week or as often as you can if you just can’t do once a week.

Beans are legumes, and legumes grab N, Nitrogen, right out of the air and deposit in little nodules on their roots! But. They are enthusiastic heavy producers, so a little light feeding of liquid fish/kelp mix is good at flowering time, maybe every couple of weeks. A Tablespoon in a full watering can, and later in the season too if you see the leaves yellowing. They are hungry. If you get lots of leaf and no flowers, lay off the N; rebalance your soil by adding some P, Phosphorous. P is for rapid growth, strong roots, more flower, fruit, and seed production.

Long Beans bloom in lovely pairs. Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis

Once you get blooms, tiny beans will soon be forming. Sometimes they aren’t quite strong enough, for example when the weather is cooler, and aren’t able to push the bloom off. Give the flower a little tug and the bean will be free!

Keep your beans harvested or your plant will think it has done its job and stop producing. Harvest while they are more young for tender, crunchy juicy beans – snap! Be a little careful when harvesting so you don’t damage your plantie and open it to diseases.

Pests & Diseases

Bless aphids. Hose them off or use a spray mix that kills them and the ants but not your plant! Just test that mix on a leaf or two to know if your plant can tolerate it. I use a 1/2 and 1/2 water/alcohol mix with a dash to a 1/2 t liquid dish soap, preferably Dawn. I kill the aphids and the ants that support them. Spray sparingly.

The Mexican Bean Beetle is a species of lady beetle, looks like one too. It is a notorious agricultural pest, one of the few lady beetles that feed on plants rather than other insects. They are yellowish-brown, 1/4-inch beetles with 16 black spots on their wing covers. They bother green beans more than Long beans. Growing your rows of beans between rows of potatoes helps. See all about them at Mother Earth News!

The other bean pest is white flies. Ugh. Spray those little buggers away with your hose and invite them to not come back! Check daily until they are GONE. See IPM

Mildew is a common disease, but there are varieties that have NO mildew at all. This was proven to me when two kinds of green long beans were grown at our community garden at the same time, 16′ away from each other. We had a Chinese gardener and a Vietnamese gardener. At the time I had no particular interest in long beans, and didn’t know the significance of the difference. Oh, how I wish I had. I would have gotten the names of the varieties. One of them had no mildew whatsoever! I highly recommend you search for the mildewless varieties! See the prevention mix above!

Delicious Red Noodle Long Beans! Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalisHarvests! There are two kinds!

First are those tasty fresh handfuls you carry to the kitchen!

Second is at the end of the season when you save seeds from your healthiest monster producing plants! They are the most localized to your garden space and you. It’s as simple as waiting for the pods to dry on the vine, collecting the seeds, and completely drying them again, well before storing in jars in a cool place. Check on those jars a week or two later to be sure no insects have hatched.

Plentiful GOOD FOOD!

Nutritious! Beans are high in fiber, have diverse antioxidant carotenoids, give a quarter of your day’s requirements of vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that’s important for healthy bones and blood clotting, and are a good source of absorbable silicon.

Long Beans are luscious and can be prepared variably to your happiness! They taste good right off the vine, young and slender or chop dropped in a cool summer salad with a special dressing! They are yummy lightly steamed, buttered or drizzled with olive oil, or a sauce of your choosing. Chop in very short sections, add to omelettes. Chop in 2″ diagonal sections for soups, stews! Pickle or go probiotic! Go Southern-style with ham or bacon and butter, roasted, chilled in salads, stir fried or sautéed with sauces and garlic! Hungry?! Mix ’em in your mashed potatoes or with fermented bean curd! Add them to breakfast omelets or a special quiche!

Super tasty International Options! You can use your long beans interchangeably with green beans, but they give dishes that different mysterious flavor that Long Beans have! Snake River Seed Cooperative says ‘Delicious, uniquely flavored beans add authenticity to Asian stir fries and curries. A staple in Thai curries, they’re also delicious lightly steamed on their own.’ Try in the popular Szechuan dish ‘Dryfried Beans.’ In Malaysia, they are stir fried with chillies and shrimp paste (sambal) or put in cooked salads (kerabu). In the Philippines yardlong beans are usually boiled, cooked in coconut milk with cubes of squash, or cooked adobo style with soy sauce and optionally a meat like pork. Try all these recipes! Freeze some for quick tasty winter meals!  

May your Long Beans be Many and Long!

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter 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.

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

Feeling inspired? Get the word out! Sharing is caring ~

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Soil Makes a Difference, Abundance

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

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

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

SEASONS

Fall – Put Summer to Bed – Clean up! Remove debris, any infested habitat. Clear places where unwanted pests or diseases might overwinter. Remove mulch so the soil can warm up when the sun is low and there is less day length. In Southern areas, amend your soil for winter planting. See how to prep your soil for super winter growing! SoCal Fall/Winter Veggie Soil Tips for Delicious Returns!

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

In SoCal End of Winter, Early Spring

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

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

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

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

Preparing Planting Beds for Seeds

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

See more at Soil Care for Spring Planting! 

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

Planting Hole Amendments for Transplants

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

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

Summertime!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Amendment Biochar Applying

Charcoal-like biochar improves soil hydration and enhances agricultural production while it curtails nutrient leaching, increases nitrogen available to plants and reduces the release of gas pollutants. A new study by researchers at Rice University and North Dakota State University gathers current and potential sources of government support to promote the production and use of biochar. Credit: Ghasideh Pourhashem, from the January 11, 2019, Rice University post. Read more Biochar holds promise for sequestering carbon and cleansing polluted air.

Fans rave about its virtues. Some are skeptical but want to learn more. So, wanting to learn, possibly use, I typed in ‘2018 2019 Biochar pros cons’…carefully read the latest noncommercial posts and their comments threads.

A few years ago a knowledgeable gardener I know raved about biochar. Now, some years later, recently a friend sent an article that turned the tables enough to make me want to check it out. One is how it was compared with natural soil that is replenished with biochar by forest fires. Two is how Biochar has several soil sustainable features, but foremost is how it keeps Carbon in our soil hundreds, maybe even 1000s of years! And that is to say nothing of its water holding capacity! Carbon is the foundation of our soil ecosystem. Three: Also, I recalled how amazingly my winter and summer garden plants grew last year. It started with a collusion of happenstance. I planted quite late, Dec 10, 2018 during the Thomas Fire ash fall. The ground was literally solid white with ash and chunks. But this winter my plants didn’t do nearly as well. Hmm… Granted, the ash is not biochar, but it’s a relative – it came from the high heat of a forest fire.

Right now, planet wide, by many, Biochar is considered crucial to our planet’s sustainability. Using it is a regenerative practice that will help our plants not only weather extreme conditions, but thrive!  

BIOCHAR RESEARCH

There are technical discussions, both pro and con, in a language all their own, to simple explanations for the home gardener. The main research is in consideration of farmers with vast tracts of land that could have significant impact on climate change.

CONSIDERATIONS

Nov 29, 2018 From a field day presentation at California State University-Fresno, here are some points from Suduan Gao, a research soil scientist with the USDA San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier. She talked of the potential of applying a biochar amendment to help in water and nutrient management.

Biochar is charcoal used as a soil amendment. It is made from biomass through thermal decomposition [fire]. Gao said it increases water use efficiency and nitrogen retention, reduces leaching, cuts nitrous oxide emissions and reduces ammonia emissions.

Gao said nitrogen dynamics are influenced by biochar and are highly affected by irrigation levels.

She said ammonia volatilization loss was substantially higher when fertilizer was applied only a few times in a larger amount than when it was applied more frequently in smaller amounts.

“Soil accumulates more nitrogen at lower irrigation levels than at higher irrigation levels,” Gao said. “The accumulated nitrogen, however, can be all leached during the rain system.” [Fertilizing after rains is more better!]

She said there were no significant biochar effects on ammonia, nitrous oxide and soil nitrate concentration, but there was a significant interaction between biochar and irrigation.

PROBLEMS WITH BIOCHAR? Fabulous or Fantasy? Is it too good to be true? There are extensive rebuttals to its use, even warnings that it’s not all the fans say, can even cause harm!

Nov 18, 2010 DR MAE-WAN HO said ‘Turning bioenergy crops into buried charcoal to sequester carbon does not work, and could plunge the earth into an oxygen crisis towards mass extinction.’ She further says: …implementing the biochar initiative could be dangerous, basically because saving the climate turns out to be not just about curbing the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere that can be achieved by burying carbon in the soil, it is also about keeping oxygen (O2) levels up. Keeping O2 levels up is what only green plants on land and phytoplankton at sea can do, by splitting water to regenerate O2 while fixing CO2 to feed the rest of the biosphere.’

  1. She cites: A ten-year trial in Swedish forests showed that buried charcoal appear to promote the breakdown of humus, the decomposing plant matter on the forest floor, thus completely offsetting the carbon sequestered in the charcoal.
  2. She discusses examples of the stability of biochar stating that it isn’t always stable. [In a 2012 Mother Earth News post, Editor Dr. Kehres (Journal “Humus and Agriculture“) summed up a symposium: “Biochar appears over-rated — the biochar claim to 1,000 year stability is revised downwards to 10 to 100 years, roughly the same as compost.”]
  3. She warns that things that happen so fast now that we have the internet and huge commercial organizations, a lot goes on without public awareness or understanding and no testing. Since this one expressly claimed climate change remediation, it was touted to be necessary immediately. Some fads are found to be faulty later.
  4. She gets into comparisons of interest to gardeners, stating that Biochar effects on soil fertility are not always positive. Field trials were conducted on cleared secondary forest with 15 different amendment combinations of chicken manure (CM), compost (CO), forest litter, chemical fertilizer (F), and charcoal (CC) applied once on rice and sorghum, and followed over four cropping cycles. Chicken manure gave by far the highest yield over the four cycles (12.4 tonne/ha). Compost application came second at about half the yield, but was still four times higher than chemical fertilizer. The control, leaf litter (burnt and fresh), and charcoal treatments gave no grain yields after the second season, and were discontinued. Further, in combination with compost, charcoal amendment decreased yield by about 40 percent compared to compost alone, and only improved yield in combination with chemical fertilizer.

Read the comments on this page for rebuttals and further information. It is suggested Biochar is not THE answer, but part of a complex mix of possibilities.

This 2013 Mother Earth News post Biochar: Not All It’s Ground Up to Be? states the appropriate use of Biochar depends first on soil type. Some soils retain nutrients very well without any amendments like biochar. Tim Crews says: ‘If you’re cropping on soil types other than Ultisols or Oxisols and you manage your organic matter (residues, manure, compost, etc.) well, you don’t need biochar. It won’t do anything for your fertility.’

Second, a ‘situation in which biochar could provide benefits is on very sandy soils in arid climates, because of its ability to improve such soils’ water-holding capacity, reducing drought stress on plants. But making biochar requires large quantities of bulk plant material, and the biochar factory needs to be close to the source of that material; therefore, the product would have to be manufactured in or around highly productive lands or on vast areas of unproductive lands, and then be hauled long distances to the arid environments where it’s to be applied.’ Not only is the available quantity of crop residue per acre too small, but to haul residues off of cropland to a biochar plant would be to further rob the soil of organic matter, while paying a price in energy and other resources as well. After all that, some ‘studies that found yield increases with such heavy application found that after a few years, soil carbon was no higher in biochar-treated plots than in control plots.’

Biochar has been under discussion for years! When you are doing your own questing about it online, look for current posts and research. Note whether the post is on a commercial site, a university, posted by a farmer, if the poster is knowledgeable, what their credentials are or aren’t, if they have experience. Remember that universities make money from research grants on popular topics and sometimes the donation is made by a company. Go to permaculture sites for a look at possible long term possibilities, concerns. Look for pros and cons.

In 2018, the agriculture application segment accounted for 71.1% of the total biochar demand. That makes sense because they have the biggest land holdings. [But it also means 28.9% is used by others, including home gardeners! That’s a big % considering the sizes of their small gardens!] Quoted from a Biochar fan, he says ‘However, a large number of farmers still lack in knowledge about the product and its benefits.’ My question back to him was ‘Do you know what % of farmers use biochar?’

Amendment BioChar and Compost + Manure Yields Great Results!

Some say Biochar alone added to poor soil has little benefit to plants, but when used in combination with compost and organic fertilizers, it can dramatically improve plant growth while helping retain nutrients in the soil.

When would you, a home veggie gardener, use biochar?

First, are wood ash and biochar the same thing? Yes and no. Biochar is made at 450 °C/842 degrees F with low oxygen and wood ash is made at 870 °C from the same mixed hardwood. What about BBQ charcoal? Not the same thing as wood ash or biochar! Not recommended for garden use.

How do you even know if you need Biochar? Was there a forest fire ever there and you already have it? They say biochar comes from such fires and lasts 100 to 1000 years, or 10 to 100 depending on where you read… That translates to the question whether Biochar is considered to be stable or not and under what circumstances.

Have you been applying wood ash from your fireplace regularly? Some gardeners say Yes, used it for years, readily absorbed, amazing crops! Great substitute for lime to raise pH. Others say it’s grey death. It has a high pH that throws off the balance of your compost/soil, can kill off the microbes that are producing your compost. Poster Mr Bill says: ‘Charcoal chemically functions like a sponge, absorbing many organic compounds. When placed in nutrient rich soil, it absorbs the excess nutrients and traps them in the soil. As the carbon in the charcoal is annexed by fungal colonies, those nutrients are released over time. By tying these nutrients up in the soil with charcoal, they resist erosion and release at regular intervals, rather than the feast or famine spikes in levels that occur with manual fertilization by humans.

However, ‘…added to poor soil, or soil deficient in even one nutrient (which may not be obvious), the charcoal’s sponge-like absorption can compete with the roots of plants for the nutrients, leading to increased disease susceptibility or irregular growth hazardous to the plant.’ So it’s good with good soil, bad with deficient soil.

Lord knows even a 10X20′ community garden plot has varying soil content within the plot for many reasons. In my case, I trench in kitchen waste given to me by neighbors. One eats lots of bananas, hence peels. One is a super juicer, greens, carrots, etc. + lettuce and avocado. Another is a senior tea drinker, so little bags along with old snacking grapes, a few eggshells, a bit of coffee and citrus peels, etc. I get them when they have enough. They put them in a bucket outside my door. I take them to the garden and trench them in where compost is needed most. Sometimes a certain kind of plant never thrives in one area no matter what I do. It would take a lot of soil testing to sort out these small areas. I do my own remediation by adding store bought fluffy compost, and chicken manure in general. Most of the time it works fine.

FYI! If you are using or opt to use wood ash as an amendment, DO NOT mix the wood ash with nitrogen fertilizer; a reaction can occur releasing ammonia gas.

Be careful with your choice to use biochar. Is your garden flourishing because it is high on temporary soil amendments that will be spent this season? Is one area doing great, another adjacent area not doing so well; great for one plant but not another? Does your summer or winter garden do well and the other season doesn’t? Plus, all Biochar is not created equal. Its pH and ash content vary depending on the temp it was created at and the feedstock (what was burned) used, whether that was contaminated or not. In general Biochar raises soil pH. You need to use the right amounts. In a community garden 10X20′ plot, where the soil pH varies within the plot, you don’t have room to test/experiment. The increase in soil pH with alkaline biochar will be higher in acid soils than in originally alkaline soils. However! If a biochar has less ash content it will decrease soil pH because of the organic matter content.

Clearly, fireplace ash that is added every season or spring, doesn’t function the same as biochar that lasts 100 to 1000 years. It is either used up or leached away by watering, otherwise, your garden would have the highest pH in history! If biochar can’t be removed from your soil, and lasts for 100 to 1000 years, and your soil is unfavorably balanced, you may need to adjust your soil for a long time. Ironically, it works best where you already have a super flourishing garden!

Note, the type of fire makes another difference. There is increased growth after a forest fire, but slash and burn techniques have a long term bad effect in just a few years. Definitely not sustainable. Wildfires get much hotter, average over 1600°F, than farmer-made controlled burn fires kept under 1000°F to clear a field. Wood burns differently at different temps; the coals have a different structure. Forest fires burn hot at the center with low oxygen and you get Biochar. Big difference. All fires are not equal.

Mr Bill made a convenient list for us home gardeners!

• Use on rich soil with no deficiencies
• Use to correct acidic soils, or amend the pH of the char before application
• Never use on acid loving plants like blueberries [strawberries, celery, beans]
• Add to compost after composting has finished, not during composting. The recommendation for application is about ½ cup per cubic foot of finished compost. [That’s not a lot!]
• Use in moderation
• Never use char from pressure-treated or painted wood.
• Don’t use petroleum based fire starters or fluids if you intend to use the ash.
• Fires started with alcohol or non-paraffin wax are acceptable for garden use.
• Be mindful of your nutrient levels and pH when using char, test regularly for best results.
• Not all char is equal, refuse from wood gasifiers or efficient wood stoves is preferable to that from your campfire, fireplace or grill, but all are acceptable for use given the correct use of your discretion.

Making Your Own Biochar Amendment in Place!

HOW to MAKE OUR OWN BIOCHAR?! 

Though it’s been many years since the Biochar cure has been offered and raved about, using biochar on a mass basis has not been implemented to an extent that is making a planet wide difference. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use it individually. The simplest way to do it is right where you will use it, just like the Amazon Indians did 2000 years ago.

First check your legal situation before you go for it! Per the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District where I live: A burn permit is required for all outdoor burning activity except recreational (campfires) and cooking (BBQ). This includes: Agricultural Burning (see definition) … Residential backyard burning (permitted only in the unincorporated areas of the Santa Ynez Valley)

Highly flammable gases are released during pyrolysis, so make it outside, well away from buildings, animals and people!

Barbara Pleasant, famed author of 5 garden books, throws in her two cents! ‘Last year, I committed one of the great sins of gardening: I let weeds go to seed. Cleaning up in fall, I faced down a ton of seed-bearing foxtail, burdock and crabgrass. Sure, I could compost it hot to steam the weed seeds to death, but instead I decided to try something different. I dug a ditch, added the weeds and lots of woody prunings, and burned it, thus making biochar. It was my new way to improve soil—except the technique is at least 3,000 years old.’

Barbara words the process more simply… What’s biochar? Basically, it’s organic matter that is burned slowly, with a restricted flow of oxygen, and then the fire is stopped when the material reaches the charcoal stage. Unlike tiny tidbits of ash, coarse lumps of charcoal are full of crevices and holes, which help them serve as life rafts to soil microorganisms. The carbon compounds in charcoal form loose chemical bonds with soluble plant nutrients so they are not as readily washed away by rain and irrigation. Biochar alone added to poor soil has little benefit to plants, but when used in combination with compost and organic fertilizers, it can dramatically improve plant growth while helping retain nutrients in the soil.

She speaks of the Amazonian ‘dark earths,’ terra preta, that ‘hold plant nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium, much more efficiently than unimproved soil. Even after 500 years of tropical temperatures and rainfall that averages 80 inches a year, the dark earths remain remarkably fertile…’ They were produced this very way, burning. …composts and other soil-enriching forms of organic matter last longer. …increased productivity by making nutrients already present in the soil better available to plants. …organically enriched soil retains nutrients for decades rather than for a couple of seasons. This charcoal releases its carbon 10 to 100 times slower than rotting organic matter. See the details  See Twin Oaks Forge for making charcoal in a barrel!

Why buy commercial Biochar? 

Jeremy Menefee says, first, because they use more advanced tools and techniques than the home producer can easily acquire, commercially-produced biochar is usually more consistent in composition and charred under ideal temperatures.

Second, they are able to produce inoculant tailored to specific uses. Vermont Biochar, for example, produces (by hand) several versions ideally suited for either leafy annuals, root crops, or shrub or woody perennials. Each uses a different composition of inoculant to tailor it for the specific application.

Experienced permaculturist Jeremy also says to Biocharge your Biochar! Even commercial biochar producers say their products benefit from being biocharged again once it’s on your property, to tailor it to your site conditions. Here are two easy methods he recommends.

1) Compost charging Even if you buy inoculated biochar, rather than producing it on-site, it will be improved by maturing in your compost. You can use as much biochar as you want, up to about an even 1:1 ratio with the compost, so don’t worry too much about overdoing it. The Biochar doesn’t break down in the process. You may have shorter compost times! Some experts recommend adding both manure and bones.

Quick tip: If you have time, a great way to get the most out of your biochar is to spread it an inch thick or less into your farm animal bedding. Then, when the bedding is spent, add it to the compost pile. [LOL Black Sheep?!] The biochar is essentially ‘double-charged’ in this way. Also, in addition to stacking functions of your animal bedding, this can help reduce odors. Anecdotal evidence suggests it can also reduce illness among your animals!

2) Rapid Charging! The other way to inoculate your biochar is a bit more labor-intensive, but you can complete the process in hours or days, not months. First, fill a 55 gallon (210 litre) drum with fresh water and biochar. If you are using municipal treated water, let it sit for a couple days to remove any chlorine. Then add compost tea or worm castings and leachate to the barrel with some soil from the area where you will use the finished biochar. For example, if you are going to apply the biochar to your fruit orchard, add some soil from around a robust and healthy tree in that orchard. This will help charge the biochar with the ideal microbiology for your specific orchard.

Once everything is well mixed, insert a long tube such as a length of PVC pipe into the barrel and direct air from a blower into the tube, or use a pond aerator and air stones. Aeration supercharges the inoculant and gives the beneficial microbes a massive head start, and helps them adhere to the biochar. Continue this for 12-24 hours.

Safety when applying Biochar amendmentBe careful when applying dry Biochar!

Wear a dust mask such as the 3M™ 8511 Particulate Respirator – N95 to protect your lungs. Moistening biochar can help a lot with dust control. Some Biochar is shipped with about 30% moisture content to help with dust control. Protective eyewear will reduce the chance of getting dust in your eyes. Wear gloves! Wear rubber boots that can be cleaned easily! Apply evenly on a dry, windless day. Mix thoroughly into the soil before planting.

How much do you apply? Doing it right depends on what kind of soil you have and it’s tested content, its pH, how much you want to raise the pH if at all. And, of course, none, if you don’t need it or your situation isn’t right for it!

There are different answers!

  • A company says: From everything we have seen in our own use and through the research of others a good “rule of thumb” is 10% of the planting area should be biochar. If your soil is absolutely horrible you should probably start with a 50/50 mix of biochar and compost and apply about 1/4 lb per square foot.
  • Typically home gardeners use 5-10% biochar in the top 6 inches of their soil.
  • A gardener says: If bought, follow the instructions on the bags, but I would suggest 50/50 with soil and the same for containers, and see your results the first season before you adjust quantities.
  • Farmer Jeremy Menefee says: It takes about 10 pounds of biochar to properly cover 100 square feet. For potted plants, use pure biochar at a ratio of about 1:16 with your potting soil – about ½ cup per gallon of soil. This ratio is good for raised beds as well, one gallon of biochar per 16 gallons of soil. If you inoculated your biochar in compost (at ratios up to 1:1), just apply compost as normal – the presence of biochar doesn’t change the amount of compost used.

How to apply? Simple!

  1. Made your own in place? Just add amendments of your choice, especially compost, and till it in.
  2. Purchased, preferably inoculated? Lay on about 1/4″, amendments and till it in. If you don’t have much, spread it out and add more each time you amend.
  3. If you’re not able to till, spread out your inoculated Biochar, cover with mulch to hold it in place, let Nature do the work for you.

Coast of Maine Biochar Amendment raised bed mix

Biochar IS big business. There is university research devoted to it for sustainable reasons. They make huge grant monies from it. Yale and Cornell, Ames Iowa, Delaware, Missouri, North Dakota, Rice U in Houston Tx to name just a few schools. Government is in on it too, for example the USDA’s Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans. There are subsequent conferences, magazines, books, products at your nursery.

USBI Biochar 2019 – is the largest event in North America dedicated to advancing the sustainable production and use of biochar through scientific and engineering research, policy development, field practice, and technology transfer. It will focus on bridging scientific, industrial, practitioner, and policy gaps in biomass utilization for biochar and bioenergy production. June 30 – July 3 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins Colorado.

BIOMASS Magazine – Beyond the Hype

Check out the BioChar Journal …we want our readers to be confident that what is written in the Biochar Journal is based on sound science and practicality.

Local gardeners might see various products at their nursery. A blend in snowy Maine might be quite different than in SW SoCal droughty areas. Before you order up online, take this into consideration. When buying locally, look on the package to see where it was made, then check out those ingredients. The bag shown here is definitely intended as a pH raiser; it has biochar and lime!

For those of us gardening at community gardens, we need to think of what the next gardener’s soil needs might be after you leave. What if they primarily want to plant acid loving plants, those blueberries, strawberries, celery or beans? In keeping with rotating crops, planting in a different place each year, to avoid soil diseases various plants are susceptible to, we may need to stay flexible – amend each season or year with regular or acidic compost per patch as we go.

If you have a good size parcel of land for veg gardening, that you plan to keep for many years, soil test different areas. You might coordinate your Biochar choices with the land’s own natural flow, plant accordingly. Some sites say it takes about a year for the Biochar/soil relationship to be fully established. If you are planting in raised beds/containers, where soil is leached of nutrients due to higher soil temps, drying, in those structures and frequent watering to compensate, replacing spent soil/compost each year, Biochar isn’t going to work for you.

Making your own Biochar is cheap, but a lengthy process you hope you do right. Probably wise to have someone experienced with you when you do your first processes. First there is gathering the right materials, selecting the right place and technique for the kind of results you want, doing the burning. Then there is the biocharging process for it to do its best work. Buying Biochar can be pricey if you get the best, inoculated. If you put it where it can be used to best advantage, that is worth the one-time expense.

Your final decision to use or not use Biochar may be based on your instinct. You may decide not to use it at your current location or in a specific area of your garden. You might move, or be visiting in another gardener’s location and feel it is the right choice for that place. Maybe you will decide to wait and see. Honor your feelings. You might not save the planet today, or maybe you will by using succinct educated choices.

Bless you for being a garden guardian, a caring Earth Steward.

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter 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!

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

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Mulch Living Missoula Montana Permaculture Sustainable FarmLast month we looked at Leaf Mold, Mulch or Compost. That’s from the end of life of tree leaves. This month I would like you to take a think about Living Mulch! It is by contrast, an ongoing sustainable green process that produces more and more Nitrogen right where you can use it. It’s generally a faster process by far! You may be a little challenged to figure out how to use it in your specific garden, and you may choose not to, but it may be a perfect option for many reasons.

I use it for my strawberry patch each year. When weather cools and the berries produce little, I pull them, plant my living mulch, green manure, close to Oct 1 for mid January bareroot berry planting. If I have a soil area that is producing less than spectacularly, I plant that area about Dec 1 in time to be ready for early spring planting mid March. Clearly, if you are in northern snow zones, you may need to rotate areas, plant living mulch in an area every three years maybe. In SoCal you might forego planting a ‘winter’ garden and instead plant living mulch. It will need watering, but while it’s working hard to make great soil, you can have a wee rest.


Looking to find what plants to grow as a Living Mulch under Rat’s Tail Radishes started my inquiry! I was delighted to find this permaculture farm site with these terrific details based on experience with references to university (non commercial) research. It’s the real deal since their income depends on successful sustainable growing near Missoula, Montana in a northern short season!

Living mulch can easily be done by planting closely and letting the leaves of the plants completely shade your soil keeping it cool and moist. In summer, living mulch might look like beets or carrots, or differently colored lettuces planted a little more densely on the sunny side under a larger plant like peppers, or at the base of your bean trellis. In SoCal winter it could be cilantro, beets, carrots and lettuce under your broccoli or surrounding your kale, at the feet of your pea trellis. Or if you can’t eat that much, you could toss a mix of legume seeds under your plants to feed your soil as well!

What else could you do? You might like to prepare your current pathway for crop rotation – using it to plant in next season. Maybe you have an area you would like to convert to a veggie garden, or you have a patch where you want to restore the soil before planting again.

When you read this, you will think like a farmer! After you’ve got it, then think how to apply this info to your own garden. These excerpts from http://www.veganicpermaculture.com/agroecology.html have some more technical language and information, but take it slowly. Sometimes I have to read one paragraph at a time, several times, when I’m taking in new dense information. It’s worth the read. You won’t be the same afterwards, and there are some surprises. Go directly to their page to get the whole read, see all the backup images and videos! But read this too, because I’ve made comments for home gardeners and SoCal timing along the way and at the end….


You can grow your own fertilizer with living mulches. Living plants used as mulches have an advantage over dead mulches, such as straw and hay. They affect soils both above and below the ground. They grow with and around main crops and are usually green, succulent, and full of nutrients, with a well-developed root system. This root system works its way into the earth, opens up the soil, and feeds the soil food web all season long, if living mulches are managed properly.

Over time, living mulches improve soils and build the skeletal framework which holds plant nutrients so that they are available when plants need them. This is because living mulches add organic material into the soil without disturbing it. When mowed regularly or tilled into the soil, living mulches add plant nutrients for free, including the big three: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as sulfur, calcium, and micronutrients. When compared to plants grown without mulch in bare soil, legume living mulches produce higher vegetable yields. Leaf cover and yields of bush green beans was higher when planted into a killed stand of hairy vetch. Corn yields were higher in red clover that had been killed in strips. Though fruit maturity was delayed, yields of tomatoes grown in hairy vetch were higher and fruit weights were greater than in bare soil treatments.

Soil organic matter acts like a big sponge soaking up water and releasing it slowly when needed. However, in the short term, most living mulches steal soil water from crops when both are actively growing, especially early spring through early summer. Living mulches hold onto and recycle soil water when NOT actively growing. In one study, corn grown in mowed hairy vetch struggled for water during the first 1 to 4 weeks after planting. But, by two to four weeks after planting, soil moisture levels were the same as in bare soil treatments. Soil water levels were higher than in bare soil after four weeks. In other words, over time living mulches can conserve moisture in your garden, but in the short term, especially right after planting, they compete with crops for soil water.

Living mulches provide diversity and a legume crop rotation which is the foundation of disease suppression in all organic gardens and farming systems. In my 17-year living mulch vegetable production system, disease problems simply dropped off the radar, including cabbage worms. In a 2- year study, we discovered that the living mulch was providing a home for many kinds of predators who were controlling cabbage worms in our commercial plantings of broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.

IMPORTANT to know! In cold, wet soil, living mulches may encourage disease and some pests such as slugs or snails. Researchers from South Dakota found lower seedling emergence and survival and higher amounts of disease-causing fungi in clover and hairy vetch mulched fields, when crops were planted during cool weather. But many other studies indicate that several insect pests are controlled in living mulch as compared to bare soil plots. Several species of both specific and generalist predator and parasite populations [the good guys] have been shown to increase in living mulch plots.

When hairy vetch and rye residues covered at least 90% of the soil in one study, weed density was decreased by 78%. Living mulches can fight weeds by “smothering” them, and by utilizing all the water and nutrients so that weeds are starved and cannot invade. Combinations of grasses and legumes are best for smothering weeds.

When to plant your Living Mulch – There are 3 kinds!

  1. ANNUAL LIVING MULCHES. Plant in the spring. In cold climates they are killed by below freezing winter temperatures.
  2. BIENNIAL LIVING MULCHES Plant in the spring. Will grow foliage the first season, overwinter and then flower, set seed, and die the next growing season.
  3. PERENNIAL LIVING MULCHES Plant in late summer/early fall or in spring

You want to read this! For fascinating details on which plants to plant at which times and details about each so you make the very best choice, see their page.

Important points! Once you have chosen the right living mulch for your particular area and need, develop a management plan. You can keep living mulches from becoming too competitive by mowing, lightly tilling, rolling, or keeping them dry (withholding irrigation).

  • Mulches should be mowed and left to sit on the soil surface for two days to two weeks before incorporating into the soil. Your management timing affects pest management.
  • Keep mulches short in wet, humid weather to avoid disease.
  • Mow mulches if annual weeds begin to pop their heads through in order to avoid weed seed production.
  • For FAST plant nutrient cycling, till living mulches into the soil in late spring 2-4 weeks before planting.

Ok, so when you plant living mulch, say for your annual mid Jan bareroot strawberry patch…here’s the schedule:

  1. Oct 1 plant your living mulch – put this on your garden calendar! If Bell beans are in your seed mix, or are your choice, they take a couple months to mature.
  2. About Dec 1 chop down/mow, chop up your living mulch and let it lay on the surface two weeks. If Bell beans are in the mix, chop the mix down and into small pieces when the beans flower and the stalks are still tender. Keep your chopped mulch moist, not wet, until it is tilled in. Being moist aids decomposition.
  3. Mid Dec till in your living mulch for mid January bareroot planting. The little white balls on the roots are like a beautiful little string of pearls. Those are the Nitrogen nodules legume plants make that we are growing them for! At this time add any other amendments you want. Strawberries like slightly acidic soil, so I add store bought Azalea/Camellia acid compost. It’s fluffy and adds water holding capacity.

If you are preparing for early SoCal spring planting mid March, that translates to planting your living mulch, again based on your choice of plant(s), right about Dec 1. If you miss that window, plant a faster grower! Clovers and vetch grow quickly and vigorously, or ask your local nursery, feed store person or farmers what they have or what plant will do the job.

Legumes are prime living mulch choices because they make (fix nitrogen from the atmosphere) for other crops. But, they only give up that fixed nitrogen when they die or are tilled into the soil, or over time if they are mowed and the residue is left on the soil surface as a mulch. Actively growing legumes do not USE as much nitrogen as non-legumes, but they do not GIVE UP nitrogen to the soil or other plants when they are actively growingLegumes do not fix nitrogen at equal rates, or under all conditions. Nitrogen fixation rates are decreased by low (< 40 to 50o F) soil temperatures and stop at freezing temperatures. Nitrogen fixation rates vary among legume species. For example, clovers, sweet clovers, medics, and vetch provide 0.1 to 2.5 lbs of nitrogen per 100 sq ft. Alfalfa provides six pounds of nitrogen per 100 sq ft.!

I use Island Seed & Feed’s Harmony mix – Bell beans, Austrian Peas, Vetch and Oats. Oats grow deep into the soil opening air and water channels, bring up nutrients. Get the inoculant that goes with it. After you broadcast your seeds, roll them or if a small space, lay down a piece of plywood or a board and press them into the soil so the seeds have good soil contact and will stay more moist longer when watered. Water gently overhead with a fine spray so soil isn’t washed away and soil contact lost, seeds aren’t swooshed to a low spot. Immediately cover with raised aviary wire, or your choice of material, to keep them from being bird food! How quickly that can happen! Keep them moist, especially if there is hot weather.

You can plant living mulch at any time, depending on your climate, among your existing plants. Living mulch plants shade the soil, some suppress weeds, while they are living, then feed the soil when you till them in after your plants are done. Just choose ones for the right time of year. Plant your garden pathways with ones that can stand being walked on. Till that in and plant there next season!

HOW AND WHEN TO CONTROL YOUR LIVING MULCH

The way living mulches are managed in our [Montana] gardens determines what benefits we derive from them. Legumes contribute most to soil fertility if they are mowed or tilled into the soil. Nutrient release is much slower if the living mulch is mowed and not tilled in. But, some studies indicate that nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium levels are best increased in the soil over the long term when crop residues are left on the surface, rather than tilled into the soil. Nitrogen release by cover crops depends on temperatures and humidity levels. The warmer the weather, the more quickly residues will release their nitrogen. Studies at North Carolina State indicate that 75% of the nitrogen in some legume cover crops is released within seven to ten weeks after mowing if residues are left on the surface. If the residues are tilled under, nitrogen release is quicker and may be accomplished within four to eight weeks. In cooler weather, nitrogen release can take much longer. In my experiments in Montana in a very microbially active soil, nitrogen release occurred 2 to four weeks after tilling red clover into the soil. There is a lag time of at least two weeks during which nitrogen and phosphorus will be tied up in the soil food web digesting wheel (This lag is called immobilization because soil microbes are using the same nutrients that plants need and thus immobilizing them, or making them temporarily unavailable to plants). Plan for this and wait two to four weeks after mowing or tilling the living mulch before planting main crops. Waiting at least two weeks to plant will also reduce the chance of increased disease organisms, which can be favored by an addition of fresh (particularly succulent and green) residue.

Mowed cover crop residue left on the surface to decompose needs to be kept moist (but not wet!) for at least the first five to seven weeks after mowing to enhance decomposition.

Some living mulches may need light tillage. Light tillage equates to walking your rototiller quickly over the surface of the living mulch. Do not let the tiller tines go into the soil more than one to two inches. If residue is buried deeper than several inches below the soil surface, decomposition time will be longer and anaerobic conditions may occur. Remember that soil microorganisms require oxygen to do their job.

Cover crops can also be managed with a rake. Rake the cover crop vigorously until the soil is exposed. Cornell University research indicates that disturbing living mulch cover crops by using light tillage is most successful in July. This is also the time when most summer crops are particularly resource demanding and hence it is a time when living mulches are most likely to compete with crops.

RIGHT INOCULANT FOR YOUR LEGUME COVER CROPS

Inoculation of legume cover crops is suggested. Inoculants consist of species-specific bacteria that associate with legume roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Use the correct inoculants for the cover crop. Alfalfa and yellow and white sweet clovers share the same inoculants; true clovers share another; peas and hairy vetch share a third; garden beans and field beans share a fourth. Purchase inoculants when purchasing seed.

Some living mulches are allelopathic. This means that they biochemically inhibit the growth of other plants. Mustard family types, such as rape and black mustard, are good examples of allelopathic living mulches. Allelopathy can be used to help control weeds; on the other hand, crops can be adversely affected, particularly seeded crops [meaning seeds don’t germinate well or at all].

Seeded crops, like lettuce, can be inhibited by some living mulches, such as mustard, but usually only if the living mulch is tilled into the soil and a crop seeded immediately after. The allelopathic reaction dissipates in time. For example, the compound in plants from the mustard family [includes Brassicas] that is most responsible for its allelopathic reaction loses 80 percent of its punch within two weeks. Plant main crops three to five weeks after mowing or turning under any living mulches suspected of exhibiting allelopathy.


Living Mulch is a superior choice. Give it some thought. Carefully read up on it. Keep your notes. Every gardener’s situation is different – what you grow, your weather, how much time you have, how much production you need. Living mulch is a sustainable choice.

There are two SoCal standard times to plant living mulch to do soil restoration. One is early October to be in time for January bareroot strawberry and berry vine plantings. The other is December/January for early spring plantings. Or you can opt to not plant an area for production that year and plant living mulch anytime if you live in an area that freezes in winter.

In Santa Barbara area, Island Seed & Feed carries legume seeds and mixes by the pound and the inoculants you need. Plus, it’s a fun place to visit! They also carry LOTS of other seeds and local organic seeds as well! (Pet supplies too!)

You don’t need to do a large area. Do a test run. This year try a pathway with living mulch you can walk on instead of a board, concrete steps or straw! If you do a pathway, mound it up before you plant so when it compacts as you walk on it, it will stay level rather than dipping lower and collecting water, making mud. Restore an area where you will grow heavy feeders next spring. When you are eating bigger tomatoes right off the plant you will be happy and feel quite virtuous.

Excerpts from http://www.veganicpermaculture.com/agroecology.html


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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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Dec Winter Veggies Colander Flowers Dan Boekelheide

A misty morning at the garden….

I’m so grateful for having all you garden friends in my life! I love sharing, gardening, learning, being outdoors in all kinds of weather together! Happy Holidays and please enjoy some lovely November images!

Harvest Brassicas of all sorts! The big ones, broccoli, cauliflower and if you live in a good chill area, Brussels sprouts, have grown big enough now and your earliest varieties are producing handsomely. Harvest your brocs and caulies while the heads are still tight. If you miss that, harvest asap, even the flowers and flower stalks are edible! After you take the main broccoli head, let your plant continue to grow so it will produce smaller side shoots. Some varieties produce large 3 to 4″ mini brocs and later smaller salad size ones right on through summer! Cauliflowers are a one time harvest though you can keep eating the greens. You might choose to pop in some beautiful chard, a potato patch, or quick growing mini cabbages in large open spots that become available. Some cabbages, especially the mini and early varieties, are headed tightly and ready to eat – slaw, steamed, dropped into soups. You can still replant some of them if you love them!

Deliciously fresh and nutritious winter heading lettuces, kale, celery, bok choy, cilantro, arugula and all manner of cut and come agains are in! Table onions scallions, chives and leeks can be snipped or cut off about 2″ above the ground and let to grow back 3 to 4 times! Do the same but at about 3″ with cilantro and arugula. Let some of your cilantro and arugula grow out for flowers to bring the bees, seeds for the birds and for you to plant more!

Winter brings a lot of tasty Root crops. Winter Cylindra Beets are colorful, and have cut and come again leaves too! Long winter radishes like Daikons are spicey! Carrots are splendid to eat at the garden, share with your pup, bunnies, shred into salads, add to winter soups and stews, slice/chop/stick and freeze for later! Grow some Parsnips too! Turnips have so unique a flavor you might want to eat them separately to just enjoy that flavor.

Harvest peas when they get to the size you want them, and be prompt with that harvesting to keep them coming! Plant more rounds if you love peas!

MAINTAINING

Sidedressing is like snacking. Some of your heavy leaf producers and big bodied Brassicas, may need a feeding now and again or just when they start to fruit. If they slow down, or just don’t look perky, slip them a liquid feed out to their dripline. Get your long spouted watering can nozzle under those low cabbage leaves. Lettuces love manures. Compost and manure teas, fish emulsion (when there are no digging predators), powdered box ferts, are all good. Winter feeds need to be easy for your plant to take up. Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings. Slow release is a wise consideration. An excellent way to get feeds to the roots is to push in a spade fork no more than 6″ deep. Push it in vertically (so as not to break the main tap roots), wiggle it back and forth just a bit, remove the fork, pour your foods into the holes, close ’em back up. Soil organisms will get right to work, your plant will stay healthy and be quite productive! Worm castings, though not food, work wonders with immunity, soil conditioning and help germination! Mix some in with your liquid feeds you pour around your plant.

The exceptions are carrots, peas and favas. Carrots get hairy and will fork with too much food! Over watering or uneven watering makes them split and misshapen. Your peas and favas are busy gathering Nitrogen from the air, feeding themselves.

A mini task is to keep covering the shoulders of carrots, beets, radishes, parsnips and turnips. They substantially push right up above ground as they grow. Planting their seeds deeper doesn’t compensate. It’s the nature of the veggie! Never hurts to put a handy little pile of extra soil near where you plant them. Uncovered shoulders look dry, are tough, sometimes bitter, and need peeling before cooking. Uncovered carrot shoulders don’t ripen but stay green, just like exposed parts of potatoes turn green. The green on potatoes is slightly poisonous, but not enough to do harm, but it doesn’t look good.

Watering is important even in cool weather. Also, some plants simply like being moist ie chard, lettuce and short rooted peas. No swimming, just moist. Finger check your soil after rains to see if your soil is moist deeply enough. Sometimes it is moistened only 1/4″ deep, needs more water! Also, be careful of too much water, that makes for an aphid tasty soft plant. Watch WEATHER reports in case of freezes, heavy winds, rain. After strong winds check right away to see if any plants have blown over and need staking, roots need covering with soil. See Rainy Day Tactics for Spectacular Veggies!

Santa Barbara’s average First Frost (fall) date AT THE AIRPORT is December 19, Last Frost (spring) date is (was?) January 22. That can vary from the coastal areas to the foothills, and our climate is changing generally to warmer, so these dates may not be viable guides much longer, if even now. And remember, these are average dates! See great tips – Protect Your Veggies from Freezing

Except for erosion control, in winter, we pull mulch back to let the soil warm up during the short winter days. The only areas we mulch are around lettuces and chard to keep mud splash off the leaves. Also, it’s good to remove pest habitat, let the soil dry a bit between rains to kill off wilts fungi. Bag up, or pile and cover, clean uninfested summer straw, mulches, to use as compost pile layers during winter. Do not keep straw from areas where there have been infestations.

When you put in seeds, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from vanishing upcoming seedlings overnight, making you think they never came up! No, they didn’t let you down. Killing off the creatures ahead of time saves the babies. It stops new transplants from being seriously damaged or entirely eaten while they are small. Do this a few times, to knock off the generations, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while.

Pests Birds Aviary Wire Cloches
Seedlings Cover Birds Bottles WireSeedlings Baby Lettuce Plastic Bottle Cloche
Seedlings Protection Bent Wire Row Cover

Don’t lose your crops to birds! Buy pre made covers, or get clever and cover seeded rows with DIY small openings wire tunnels or a patch cover bent that has sides bent to the ground to keep birds from pecking at little leaves or from plucking tiny seedlings right out of the ground! You can also use small plastic bottle sections to make mini sleeves that birds won’t go down into. Or for baby lettuces, make large plastic bottle self watering cloches though wire covers let more light in! Bird netting is inexpensive, tears easily, but is good to stretch over peas on a trellis.

Prevention and removal! Keep an eye out for pests and diseases and take quick action! A typical disease is Powdery mildew. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. For mildew apply your baking soda mix. The best combo is 1 regular Aspirin, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day if transplanting. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution. Hose away aphids and whiteflies, mildew. Remove yellowing Brassica leaves. Yellow attracts whiteflies. In general, plant further apart for air circulation, water and feed just a little less to let those leaves harden up a bit. Soft fat leaves are an invitation to aphids and mildew!

Chard and beets gets Leafminers. Where they have eaten looks terrible but the good part of the leaves is perfectly safe to eat. Plant chard so mature leaves don’t touch, remove infested leaves immediately to reduce spread! Beets are not a permanent crop, so they are planted closely. Simply harvest them at their leaves’ prime – ahead of the Leafminers.

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants.

Windy days are prime time to gather leaves to add to compost or process for Leaf Mold, Mulch or Compost! Leaf Mold is low in nutrients, but makes a superb soil improver, conditioner for vegetable and flower beds. Leaf mulch is free for the making! Leaf Compost processes faster when made the right way! See more!

PLANT JUDICIOUSLY NOW

Per square foot, fast growing cut-and-come-again Lettuce, Chard and Kale are by far the top winter producers! Plant more big plants like brocs and cauliflower, but remember, with cooler weather, they will grow more slowly. That may interfere with early spring plantings in March because you will need time to let added compost, manures, worm castings and Sphagnum peat moss (increases water holding capacity) become part of the soil organism community. If you do plant them, better to get transplants if you can, and shave six weeks of their needed gowing time to maturity. Select faster maturing varieties now.

As lettuces tire, and other plants like carrots and beets are removed, add more of them and any ‘littles’ you love on the sunny side and between the big plants. If they need more sun, remove large lower leaves of the big plants. Mild tasting littles include bok choy, kohlrabi, garden purslane, arugula, mizuna, watercress, young parsnips and turnips, Daikon winter radishes, and Napa cabbage. Otherwise, go for those dark green kales, mustard, rutabaga and turnip greens! Try some culinary dandelions for super nutrition! These are plants that will take you through February, March and leave enough time to add compost and to let sit until major spring planting begins in April.

Believe me, you are going to get spring planting fever along about March, so plan ahead for it!!! Start seeds the first three weeks of January for early March plantings! Choose varieties that are cold tolerant and are early maturers for the soonest table eats!

If you have enough seeds, over planting is fair game! Thin your beets, carrots, chard, kale, mustard, turnips. Take out the smaller, weaker plants. They are great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves. Plant patches of Mizuna and mow it!

Remember your winter companion planting tips:

  1. Carrots enhance peas, onion family stunts peas
  2. Carrots thrive when Cilantro, Chamomile, Marigold are planted with them.
  3. Onions, leeks and chives help repel the carrot root fly. But remember you can’t put the onion family near peas!
  4. Lettuces repel cabbage butterflies
  5. Cilantro enhances Brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, kale and repels aphids on them!

Besides beautiful bareroot roses, decide now where you will be buying any January bareroot veggies you want! Consider: grape vines; artichokes; short-day (sweet) globe onions; strawberries; cane berries such as raspberries (get low-chill types); low-chill blueberries; and rhubarb (be cautious where you plant it, it can be poisonous to humans – children, dogs and chickens), asparagus, and horseradish. Artichoke pups need 3’ to 4’ space, 6′ is more a reality! They are hefty growers and live 10 years! If you keep them watered, and there is enough space, they are a great street strip plant!

SPRING PREPS

Seeds for Spring & Summer planting! Perfect time to sit with seed catalogs, do online research. Get your summer garden layout in mind. First choose what is good for your excellent health! Next might be how much plant you get per square foot if you have limited space and want to feed several people. Since we are in drought conditions, water could be a strong consideration ~ choose heat and drought tolerant varieties. Get some early varieties, for earliest harvests along with later maturing varieties for a continuous table supply. Earlier variety fruits are generally smaller, but Yum! Cherry tomatoes come in first. Place your order for the entire year, while seeds are still available. The Santa Barbara Seed Swap is Jan 29, very soon! Get your seeds ready to share, and prepare your ‘shopping’ list!

Delicious choices to consider:  Perennial  Heat & Drought Tolerant – per Southern Exposure ~

Summer Lettuce Varieties: In summer you want a stronger lettuce, heat tolerant & slow bolting! Lettuce Leaf Red Sails is a beauty. Jericho Romaine from Israel has become the classic summer romaine for warm regions. Sierra, Nevada. Parris Island is slow bolting. Green Towers Romaine tolerates moderate summer heat and has some resistance to tip burn and bolting. Black Seeded Simpson. And there are more – try several!

Definitely start building compost for spring planting. You could plant green manure where you will grow heavy summer feeders like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, strawberries. Or plant it if you want a break! Just lay in some green manure seed mix – vetch, bell beans, Austrian peas and oats. In Santa Barbara area get the mix and inoculant at Island Seed & Feed. Let it grow two to three months to bloom stage, chop down, chop up and turn under, let sit two weeks to two months. Your choice. Let the herds of soil organisms do their work! I usually do about 3 weeks. Or, lay on as many layers of compost material as you can get for an up to 18″ deep area where you will be planting. Put in some surface feeding red wiggler worms. The BEST soil enhancer!

WINTER VEGGIES STORAGE

This is such a great post by Anthony Reyes at FarmScape Gardens, here is the link! Winter Vegetable Storage, Part 2
For veggies in your kitchen, here is the UCDavis Quick Guide to Fruits & Vegetables Storage:

Storage - Which veggies and fruits to Refrigerate or Countertop!

BEE FOOD! Plant wildflowers now from seed for early spring flowers! Germination in cooler weather takes longer, so don’t let the bed dry out.

Santa Barbara’s 10th Annual Seed Swap is January 28! The last Saturday of January every year is National Seed Swap Day! Look in your area for an event, and if you don’t find one, collaborate with your local garden club or permaculture group to get one going!

Wonderful Gardener Style Holiday Gifts!

Please be generous with your time these holidays. Rather than just serving food, maybe show someone how to grow veggies, give them seeds with instructions, give them and the kids a tour of your garden – eat carrots together!

Layer up, enjoy these crisp days. Let the wind clear your Spirit, the rain cleanse and soften your Soul.

Happy December Gardening!

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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!

See the entire November 2017 GBC Newsletter!

December Winter Garden Harvests!
Salanova® Lettuces! Super Production per Space!
It’s the Season for Leaf Mold, Mulch or Compost!
Selecting the Right Seeds for Your Annual Plantings!

Upcoming Gardener Events! 3 January La Sumida Nursery events, 10th Annual Santa Barbara Seed Swap!

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

Read Full Post »

SideDressing your veggie garden with Ewe Poo and Pea Straw in Australia!

It’s mid-season now, so this weekend I’m giving the garden a boost by side dressing everything with some ewe poo and topping it off with fresh pea straw… [I think this is in Australia. It took a moment before I got it that it is sheep poo!]x

May, June, starts feeding time! First let’s go over some general considerations and methods of sidedressing, then we’ll go through the summer favorites Feeding Schedule, in detail, plant by plant. 

Local Conditions  Super soil, short summer, no feeding necessary. But if you have a long growing season of heat tolerant varieties like here in SoCal, plants making big leaves and lots of fruits, or plants that are harvested for their leaves, like summer lettuces, they need food! And that all depends on your micro niche where you are growing at home – some spots are hotter than others, maybe get more sun. Your plant produces more or less, needing more or less feeding. If your soil is not the best, feeding more frequently makes sense. And, so, give the best kinds of feeding you can – quality compost you made yourself if possible. If you plant densely, your plants are competing for nutrients, they will likely need more fuel, more frequently!

Varieties make a difference too! Long season indeterminate tomatoes, will likely do better with late season feeding. Early varieties, determinate tomatoes or bush beans, may not need feeding at all. Heavily and continuously producing pole beans make their own Nitrogen, but that may not be quite enough near their end of season or in very poor soil. If they start to slow down, the leaves yellow a bit, try a feed and see if they perk up. Near the end of the season feeding may not help.

Seasonal Timing Classic times to feed are at transplanting, blooming and just after fruit sets. Baby plants need more Nitrogen. They need to grow big, have a strong body to support all that fruit and make leaves! When it comes to blooming and fruiting your plant is beginning to work hard. We don’t need a lot of leaves now. Lay back on N and give your plants a good feed of more PK, Phosphorus for blooms and Potassium for disease resistance. NPK needs to be highest in P now.

Later in the season, if/when your plants are looking tired, slowing down, a feed can perk them up, extending their production time. Be sure other factors are well tended. Keep plants weeded so weeds don’t siphon off your plants’ food, especially when your plants are babies. Separate or thin young plants so they aren’t struggling for the same food. Early on use dark mulch to warm your soil, keep the soil moist, prevent light germinating weed seeds from starting. Weed out what does come up. Later in the season lay down reflective mulch like straw so your plants’ roots stay cool.

Your plants need adequate soil moisture so their roots can take up nutrients. Water after you feed and keep your soil as moist as that plant needs.

Feeding Methods aka Sidedressing

There are a couple ways to feed. Feeding your soil feeds your plants. Here are some equivalents: One handful of good compost per plant. That is equal to about one tablespoon of 5-10-10 fertilizer. Liquid fertilizer, ie fish emulsion, in your watering can is an easy way to side dress. Compost tea is redundant, since you already put compost in your soil, but a cupful of a mixed tea adds all sorts of things your compost doesn’t have.

Foliar feeding garden tea blends is a super enrichment that offers more options of trace factors. Even if proper nutrients are present in the soil, some nutrients cannot be absorbed by plants if the soil pH is too high or too low. Compost corrects soil pH issues and is one of the best ways to maintain the 6.5 ideal. Foliar feeding saves your plants while compost is doing its job. Foliar feeding is an immediate way to revive and stimulate stressed, tired, or diseased plants. If you have an ailing plant, repeated treatments can get your plant up to par soonest! See Teas! Compost, Manure, Worm Castings Brews!

Foliar Feeding Facts per Planet Natural:

• Tests have shown that foliar feeding can be 8 to 10 times more effective than soil feeding.
• Up to 90% of a foliar-fed solution can be found in the roots of a plant within 1-hour of application.
• Foliar supplements are an effective way to compensate for soil deficiencies and poor soil’s inability to transfer nutrients to the plant.

Foliar Feeding - rose upturnedIf you are container gardening, or have seedlings, use a spray bottle. If you are growing in the ground, get a watering can with a nozzle that rotates to spray UP under your plants’ leaves where some pests live. What goes up between the leaves will fall down and do the tops of the leaves at the same time! In other words, foliar feed your whole plant!

Applying granular fertilizers:  Scatter 8 inches away from the base of the plant on the side of the row or around the plant to just beyond the plant’s drip line to encourage root growth. Apply evenly. Raking the fertilizer into the soil is better than just applying on top of the soil, but rake very gently and not deeply to avoid breaking tiny surface feeder roots.x

Summer Feeding Schedule Details for Your Favorites!

Beans   Cucumbers   Eggplant   Lettuces   Melons   Peppers
Squash – Summer/Winter   Strawberries   Tomatoes

Vegetable Gardening Gone Vertical - Trellis of beans and cucumbers!

Beans

Beans make their own Nitrogen, though sometimes not enough when they are in heavy production and it is toward the end of summer. They don’t make their own Phosphorous or Potassium. They make a huge plant from a small short set of roots. A light balanced feed may be in order for them to keep their perk and production up as summer goes on. 

Yellowing, mildew, white flies, ants and aphids? Pests may set in when a plant is stressed or weakened, but pests also like plants in peak condition! Do Aspirin and powdered milk sprays to up their immune system. Add baking soda to alkalize their leaves for mildew prevention. Best to do these treatments every couple of weeks, after significant rains and before trouble arrives! See more!

Tea mixes are good for improving their general health. Just imagine, with all those leaves, what foliar feeding can do! Same for those cucumbers below the beans in the image!

Fabulous Array of Cucumber VarietiesCucumbers

Some gardeners prepare their cukes, melons, squash, peppers and tomato soil well in advance, in fall for spring! Compost in place – pile on manure, chopped leaves and grass, sprinkle on coffee grounds and kitchen scraps, wood ashes from winter fires, etc. In spring dig a foot square hole, fill with your luscious compost, plant your seed right in that compost! Lasts all season if you live in a short season area, and no compost is wasted where no plant is planted! As long as you get that compost out to just beyond the feeder root area your mature plant will have, it’s good.

Some say most granular fertilizers leach from the soil rather quickly due to watering. That is why the instructions say you should reapply periodically throughout the season. Time release pellets do better. But adding organic material to your soil not only adds nutrients, it loosens the soil, attracts worms and other soil building critters and helps your soil retain moisture and nutrients.

Feed your cukes when they first begin to run (form vines and sprawl); again when blossoms set. A big vined short rooted, long fruited variety of cucumber, in a long summer is a heavy feeder, so some gardeners recommend to fertilize once a week! A small fruited, small leaved patio type container cucumber may need little to no feeding.

Since Cucumbers are short rooted, be very careful if you dig in fertilizer or compost. Dig only on one side so as not to break off all the tiny surface feeder roots. Better to add a 1″ layer of compost, some worm castings if you have them, in the planting basin, cover with 1″ of straw and water well. Foliar feeding mixed teas feeds the whole plant with no harm to the roots at all! Cucumbers are quite susceptible to mildews so do the Mildew Mix as well – Powdered Milk, Baking Soda, Aspirin, Soap – add liquid fertilizer if you like, maybe fish/kelp emulsion. Do both the compost and foliar feeding – alternate the Tea with the Mildew Mix every other week or so!

For cucumbers, straw mulch might slow cucumber beetle movement from one plant to another! Plus, it is great shelter for wolf spiders, daddy long legs and other predators. The more spidies the more healthy your garden!x

Exotic Eggplant

Eggplant Purple Long Shiny Harvest Basket

Those eggplant beauties need extra compost and a bit of well-rotted manure at planting time. Dig it in! Apply a general purpose fertilizer in the spring when you till the soil. Add additional applications every three to four weeks. Side dress frequently, especially when the plant begins to bloom. Or sidedress with a Nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are half grown and again immediately after harvest of the first fruits. Or, depending on your soil, feed your eggplants 3 weeks after planting and at blossom set. Given sufficient moisture and good food, eggplant thrives in the heat of summer!

Epsom Salts, Sulfur, is a cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. You could apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is more effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition.

Sulfur, a key element in plant growth, is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes. Sulfur is probably the oldest known pesticide in current use. It can be used for disease control (e.g., powdery mildews, rusts, leaf blights, and fruit rots), and pests like mites, psyllids and thrips. Sulfur is nontoxic to mammals, but may irritate skin or especially eyes. CAUTIONS! Sulfur has the potential to damage plants in hot (90°F and above), dry weather. It is also incompatible with other pesticides. Do not use sulfur within 20 to 30 days on plants where spray oils have been applied; it reacts with the oils to make a more phytotoxic combination.

This mix is super for tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and roses!x

Cut & Come Again Lettuce is a hard working plant!

Lettuces Tasty Varieties, Edible Flowers

It likes water and manure! Regularly. Water just about every day, even twice a day on the hottest or hot windy summer days. Hand scratch in some 1/2″ deep grooves, with one of those little 3 prong scratcher cultivator tools, drizzle chicken manure into the grooves, cover back up and water gently. If your lettuce is planted densely that’s going to be a little challenge. A Tea Mix might work better for you. Use the spout of your watering can and get it under the leaves so the soil is moistened. DO NOT do a foliar application of any tea mix that has animal poo in it on any plant you eat the leaves of! If you have space between your plants, and no fish loving predators like raccoons, a fish emulsion/kelp feed is good – just keep it off the leaves.

Feed three weeks after germination, or transplant.
Loose-leaf after second and third cuttings for cut-and-come again crops.
If head lettuce, when the head starts forming.x

Luscious Melons

May is for planting Melons for eating all SUMMER! Goldfarb & Page-Mann Regional Fruition Seeds - Juicy Watermelon!

Unless you are planting mini Melons, container varieties, Melons are a big plant, big leaves, big fruits, on a long vine! 

Before planting large melon varieties, add in a little extra compost, and leaf mold, some well rotted manure, cow manure if you can get it.

Fertilize big melons every two to three weeks before blooming starts, using an all-purpose 5-5-5 fertilizer. If you are using mulch, pull it back, sprinkle on some worm castings and add several inches of compost to root areas monthly. Put the mulch back and water it in. It’s like giving your plant compost/worm tea as the water and compost/worm juice drizzle down into your soil! Better yet is 2 to 3 days before you sidedress, make a mixed tea sans compost! When the tea is ready, put some spade fork holes in the root zone around your plant. Fill the holes with compost/castings. Foliar feed the tea to your plant and pour tea into the spade fork holes! Of course, the very best is to do both – layers of compost and castings plus the tea and spade fork holes!! Especially sidedress melons when blooming starts and every 6 weeks after.

Another method is to feed when they begin to run; again a week after blossom set; again three weeks later. This probably works well for mini melons too.

Once the first fruit ripens, stop all watering. Too much water at ripening time dilutes the fruit’s sugars and ruins the sweet flavor. The melons don’t need the water because they develop a deep root system soon after they start to flower. This means you stop fertilizing just before then. Your plants need soil moisture so their roots can take up nutrients, so there is no point in fertilizing after you stop watering.

See also Cucumbers above!x

Peppers Varieties - Burgundy Bell, Yellow Monsters, Fish, HOT Chile Numex TwilightFabulous Peppers!

Peppers need VERY RICH SOIL, are heavy feeders! Place compost for water holding capacity, worm castings, rotted manure under them when transplanting. Mix in Maxi Crop, and Island Seed & Feed Landscape Mix if you are in Santa Barbara area. Sandy soils are preferred for the earliest plantings because they warm more rapidly in the spring. Heavier soils can be quite productive, provided they are well drained and irrigated with care.

Epsom Salts! Rather than in the soil, do foliar Epsom Salts! A cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. You could apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is quite effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition. See Eggplant above

Sidedressing  Peppers need fertilizer in small doses, a rich organic fertilizer when blooms appear. If you scratch in some compost, be careful not to damage near-the-surface lateral feeder roots. Liquid chicken manure is high in nitrogen and potassium for heavy feeders like peppers. Big, sweet peppers require a continual source of nutrition. The easiest way to fertilize them is to incorporate gradual-release fertilizer in the ground at planting. Fish-meal pellets, alfalfa pellets or cottonseed meal are all good organic choices. You also can foliar feed plants every week or two with a fish/seaweed soluble fertilizer, spraying the tops and bottoms of leaves, or water the ground with the same mixture.

At least, feed at three weeks after transplant; again after first fruit set.x

Super Squash

Zucchini Costata Romanesco Kelly Armful Harvest Annie's AnnualsAnother vining plant, like melons, huge leaves and vine, or patio minis! Big squash plants have the biggest leaves in the garden. They aren’t shy about growing 30′ or more!

Summer – Soft, Zucchini types, Chilacayote

We all know how prolific Zucchini is! That is a hard working plant! Some varieties make more fruit than others. Costata Romanesco, in the image, makes a zuke at every leaf join! Huge Chilacayote vines don’t quit! Even patio container varieties work their little hearts out!

Feed them when plants are about 6 inches tall; again when they bloom. That’s standard, but later in the season, if you still want more fruit, feed them again. If you are so tired of summer squash, never mind.

Like Cucumbers and Melons, summer and winter squash are also  susceptible to mildew, so do the Mildew Mix  for them too – Powdered Milk, Baking Soda, Aspirin, Soap – add liquid fertilizer if you like, maybe fish/kelp emulsion. Alternate the Tea with the Mildew Mix every other week or so!

See also Cucumbers and Melons above

Winter – Hard, Butternut, Acorn, Pumpkins

Give them a fat start with soil amended with well-rotted manure and compost prior to planting. These babies run all summer long, first making the dense fruits, then hardening the fruits. A healthy plant will make a lot of fruits, an ample supply for all winter long!

Feed them when the vine starts to run; again at blossom set.

See also Cucumbers and Melons abovex

Strawberries

Sidedressing Strawberries Tricia Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

Perfectly adorable image by Tricia at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

And that’s true! At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we had a first time gardener that fed exactly that mix to his strawberries every 2 weeks and he was so proud to tell us he was harvesting strawberries by the shoebox full! His patch was not so big, but it was prolific with good sized berries! He later went on to sell his fine famed strawberries at Farmers’ Markets!

Juicy Luscious TOMATO!
Tomatoes

Another heavy feeder, making zillions of tomatoes! If your plant is indeterminate, it will make fruit all summer long!

Before planting add plenty of well-rotted manure/compost.

AFTER planting, add a weak solution of complete fertilizer or fish emulsion to the soil around them. Continue to feed them two to three weeks after transplant; blossom time, again before first picking; again two weeks after first picking. Blossom time and after, go light on nitrogen or you will have a lot of leaf, no fruit!

Leaves curled lengthwise with patches of brown on them? Wilts or blights? Foliar feed with potent Tea Mix!!! When plant surfaces are occupied by beneficial microbes, there simply is no room for pathogens! The plant will suffer little or no blight, mold, fungus or wilt! That’s a huge claim! But even if it doesn’t entirely work, your plant will likely have a much improved existence for a longer period of time. Beneficial microbes compete with disease causing microbes. Go tigers! The live microbes enhance your soil and in turn, up the immune system of your plants.

If your plant is diseased or pest infested, you may need to apply your mixed tea every five to seven days. Otherwise, make your tea applications every two weeks until your plants start to flower. We want our plants to make fruit then, not foliage!

A dramatic treatment requiring less work than making tea is bleach once a week. It works! See about it!

This Table will help you save time! See at a glance which plants to feed at the same time with the same food. Copy and print, cover with clear waterproof tape, put it on your tool bucket for quick reference! See timing details above, plant by plant!

Summer Veggies Feeding.jpg

With any foliar feeds remember to add that 1/2 teaspoon of dish soap, surfactant, so the feed will ‘stick’ to your plant!

Stand back and take a look at your garden. See who’s the slowest, behind in production, lacks perk, and who looks vibrant, reaching for the sky! Grab a barrow of compost, make a super tea mix, go for the gusto! You could even note your feed date, then mark down about when to do it again!

To another super plentiful and most joyful summer!

Updated annually


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

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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Soil Germination Temperatures Veggies Parsons

We can thank Dr Jerry Parsons, Extension Horticulturist at the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, for the temps info in this great chart!

The graph above is of best soil temps for seed sowing! And even then, some seeds are more cold or heat tolerant, so get enough seeds to try again should there be some kind of fail.

Challenging conditions can be shady areas, or if you are intermingling veggies in your landscape, areas shaded by permanent ornamental plants. Transplants are already up and more hardy, sun reaching sooner, so your wise choice may be to start with transplants, not seedlings started outside. If you are container gardening, move your container to follow the sun during the day. Use one of those little plant dolly thingies if it is a heavy container.

Bushel of tasty String Beans in a Basket!STRING BEANS 

DARK AND LIGHT-SEEDED BEANS: Dark-seeded beans are more resistant to rotting in cool soil than light-seeded beans. Beans need a minimum soil temperature of 65°F to germinate well, otherwise rotting may occur.

Beans are crazy to grow! They will give you a good crop in soil that’s loamy, sandy, rocky, rich or poor and even in clay as long as it has good drainage. They do prefer slightly acid soil. Though beans do need regular water for their short roots, still, avoid planting them in shade with soil that stays wet.

When growing beans in a new garden site! Special tip from Bountiful Container: ‘With inoculant, the critical bacteria that enhance the plant’s ability to convert Nitrogen from air into N in the soil, are added to the soil. Either powder the inoculant on wet seed or sprinkle granules in the soil along with seeds. Grow stronger, produce more beans.’ Even simpler, if available, scatter a few spadesfuls of soil from last year’s bean patch into new planting sites.

Beans like days to be at least 70° and nights to dip no lower than 40°. It’s worthwhile to wait until those conditions are met. Otherwise, you’ll have spotty germination and stunted, spindly plants. Beans grow so quickly that waiting for ideal temperatures will be worth some patience.

Cucumber VarietiesCUCUMBERS

Warm, light, sandy loam soils are preferred for early production. Compost and composted manure is good. Cukes like moist well drained, fertile soil and need a pH above 6.0. A farmer says: Apply 6 to 10 pounds of fertilizer for each 100 foot of row, using care not to bring fertilizer into contact with the seed. A home gardener says: When I plant cukes, I dig out a hole, about a foot square, fill it with compost, and plant my seed right into the compost. No fertilizing the rest of the season and you’re not wasting fertilizer in soil between plants that the roots never touch.

A tropical vegetable, cucumbers thrive when the weather is hot and water is plentiful. If the weather is unseasonably cool, wait a while to mulch until the ground is warmed by the sun.

Sow seeds directly in the garden when daytime temperatures are at least 65° to 75°. They are frost tender and should not be planted until the soil has warmed up to 65°, some say 70°! Cukes grow well in daytime temperatures in the 70’s, best at 81° F to 101°.

Mini FYI: The inside of a cucumber can be up to twenty degrees cooler than the outside temperature. This is where the saying cool as a cumber came from!

Eggplant Purple Long Shiny Harvest BasketEGGPLANT

Wherever you plant them, the key word for eggplant soil is ‘rich.’ Sandy loam or loam is lovely. Eggplants are greedy feeders; ideal eggplant soil is well-drained, rich in organic matter, including lots of well-rotted manure, and has about a neutral in pH. During the season, sidedress with extra compost. Keep the soil moist to promote maximum growth.

Eggplant do NOT thrive in very humid areas. Pollination is difficult when the weather conditions are very wet, overly humid or excessively hot.

The minimum soil temp needed for seed germination is 60° F. The optimum range is 75-90° F. 
Transplant at soil temp that is minimum 65°F.

Place transplants in the garden slightly deeper than they were in their pot. Cold soil will shock the plant and set it back several weeks.

Eggplants are more susceptible than tomato plants to injury from low temperatures and do not grow until temperatures warm. They like temps to remain above 68°, 70° to 85° F is even better.

Critical temperature for setting out eggplants isn’t the daytime high, but the nighttime low. Cool evenings will set back the seedlings’ growth and make them more susceptible to diseases. Wait until the evening temperatures are above 65° before putting in seedlings. Cold temperatures will stop plant and root growth reducing plant vigor and yields. If your crop is still producing in the fall, cover them on cold evenings to extend the harvest.

Don’t be in a rush to mulch. Mulching too early in the season keeps the soil cool, resulting in slow growth, poor fruit set, and shallow rooting.

California Wonder Peppers Changing Color - Eden Brothers imagePEPPERS, either hot or bell, need VERY RICH SOIL, are heavy feeders!  Place compost, worm castings, rotted manure under them when transplanting. Mix in 1 T Epsom Salts, Maxi Crop, Landscape Mix. Sandy soils are preferred for the earliest plantings because they warm more rapidly in the spring. Heavier soils can be quite productive, provided they are well drained and irrigated with care.

Rather than in the soil, do foliar Epsom Salts! A cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. Apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is more effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition.

Peppers are Temp Particular! Hot peppers grow best in daytime air temperatures 65° to 85°F. Transplant when night time temperatures stay above 50°, 55° is better. Below that plants grow very slowly, have yellowish, puckered leaves, and look sickly, often don’t recover. Night temps between 60° and 70° are best. In temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. The ideal temperature for peppers is a daytime temperature around 75°F and a nighttime temperature around 62°F.

At soil temperatures above 65°, pepper growth accelerates. Plants may become stunted and never recover if either the soil or air temperature is much below 55°.

  • Nighttime temperatures below 60° F or above 75° F can reduce fruit set.
  • Plumping up! Gardeners in hot regions will need to be especially patient with big bells and sweet roasting peppers. Both of these tend to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up. These folks may want to plant banana peppers or sweet non-bells, which will ripen in time to use with those bumper crops of tomatoes and basil. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh, so pack your patience.
  • Color Changes! Mother Earth News says: After reaching their maximum size, green peppers that are meant to turn red, will develop red pigments in 10 to 28 days, if daytime temperatures are between 65° and 75°. In southern regions where temperatures exceed that range, peppers turn yellowish and may acquire an off-color pallor that is not attractive. Below the optimum temperature range, color development slows dramatically; below 55°, it stops completely. If soil temperatures drop below 68°, pigment production declines and eventually ceases.

Zucchini Summer Squash YellowSQUASHES grow best in full sun! They like rich well-drained soil, high in organic matter, and require a high level of feeding. Zucchini, in particular, produce a lot and get hungry!

Days need to be at least 70° and nights to dip no lower than 40°. Summer squashes grow best in air temperatures ranging from 60° to 75°F.

Plant in a warm soil. If the soil is below 60° F, summer squash seeds are more likely to rot in the ground before sprouting. The ideal soil temperature for germination is 70-90° F. A doable temp is 65-70°F.

Tomatoes, Red Slicers and Cherries!

TOMATOES

I add a good dose of animal manures and compost, and my usuals to the planting hole –- a huge handful of bone meal – for blossoms, Jamaican guano high in P, Phosphorus helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Its NPK ratio is 1-10-0.2, takes 4 months to become available to your plants. I add a handful of non-fat powdered milk – for the immune system,  25% worm castings – immune system, a tad of coffee grounds. This robust combo works well. As they decompose, coffee grounds appear to suppress some common fungal rots and wilts, including FUSARIUM! Go VERY LIGHTLY on the coffee grounds. Too much can kill your plants. It was found in studies, what worked well was coffee grounds part of a compost mix, was in one case comprising as little as 0.5% of the material. That’s only 1/2 a percent! During the season, sprinkle them very lightly on top of your soil, then scratch in.

Temps are crucial! Tomatoes are not happy when there are

High daytime temperatures – above 85° F – select heat tolerant varieties
High Nighttime Temperatures – above 70° F – select heat tolerant varieties
Low Nighttime Temperatures – below 55° F, except those very early varieties!

True, tomatoes are heat lovers, but per the University of NV, temperatures over 104° F, for only four hours, causes the flowers to abort! If you expect high summer temps, plant heat tolerant (“heat set”) varieties: Florasette, Heat Wave, Solar Set, Sunchaser, Sunmaster, Sunpride, Surefire. When temps are out of your tomatoes’ happiness range, they abort fruit set and go into survival mode, stop production. That’s why your plant may make no tomatoes for a period of time. Don’t think it is a quitter and pull it. It will start up again when temps lower.

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

In the spring, wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55° F or protect your plants with a cover at night.

Soil Thermometer VeggiesMany seeds can be presprouted. Presprouting is super and clever because you know you have plants! Germination in the soil can be spotty, so get fresh seed from a reliable source and presprout! It’s easy and terrific fun to watch the little ones appear! See more

Regions have huge variances in planting time strategies, and even in the same yard there are micro niches that vary considerably, so get a thermometer and plant in the right place at the right time!

With your Soil Thermometer, and good gardener self discipline, get your seeds and plants in the ground at their most productive times for your location!

Here’s to super tasty abundant harvests!

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter 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.

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

 

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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  SoCal’s two best starting times are October 1st for mid January bare root plantings, and January 1 for April heat lover plantings! Adjust as you need for your own timing needs. Plant legumes for Nitrogen, oats to loosen the soil down deep. It takes two to three months depending on which plants you choose to grow. If bell beans are one of your choices in a mix, when it starts to bloom, chop your green manure down. Let it lay on top of the soil 2 to 3 weeks, keeping it moist. Add whatever other amendments you choose and turn it all under. Let it sit 2 to 3 weeks more so the soil organisms can decompose it and build soil structure. If you have heavy clay soil or are in a drought or dry, windy area, add Sphagnum Peat Moss to both loosen your soil and increase water holding capacity and more compost too. Probably the fluffy store bought compost with a lot of texture will do the best. Let the mix sit until you no longer see the green ingredients. Keep it moist, not muddy, so the soil organisms will work all the way to the top. See more: Cover Crops  Living Mulch

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 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 (especially for planting seeds – speeds germination), 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. It should have 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 SoCal drought times, or if you garden in a dry, windy area, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Sphagnum Peat Moss or coir can be added, but not too much peat because it can make your soil slightly acidic. Also, it decomposes quite quickly… If you have heavy clay soil, they will help loosen your soil.

Compost is totally easy to make. There are many methods, but the simplest and fastest technique has always been putting fine chopped kitchen waste and healthy garden trim in mini 6 to 8″ deep trenches or areas! Lay your kitchen stuff in. If the soil there is too dense, you can add store bought compost that has a little fluff, more water holding capacity. If you know you will be planting there right away, add any other amendments, maybe a little manure, at the same time you add the kitchen waste. Cover it partially with some of the soil you dug out. Turn it all a couple times to incorporate it with the soil, then add the remaining soil so all is covered. Turn again in a few days to a week. Soil organisms get to work and it completely disappears in less than 2 weeks, and you don’t have to move it, it’s already in place and ready to plant in! That soil will be so productive!

If you need to collect a little compost in place, there are no open trenching spaces available right now, you can make layered compost in a compost enclosure or pit if you wish. 1″ green/wet to 2″ brown dry. You can turn it or not. Research shows compost not turned 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 and newspaper. 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. Chop ’em up!

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, add worms after all turning is done so they won’t be injured. The worms will add their castings for you! 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 decay to 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 will undoubtedly 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! As they decay they create heat – you can plant sooner and have a longer season! 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. Different bird guanos do different things per NPK, but mainly they take a long time in the ground, minimum of 4 months, before they become available to your plant. Study up on them before applying them.

Worm Castings! 

In nature, worms are a natural part of moist 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, local if possible, castings you can get! 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 type of worms used for making castings are surface feeders, red wigglers. If you trench your compost, add some of them. If you do sheet composting – composting in place, set up a no-dig Lasagna Garden, install some worms! If you don’t turn your compost, add a handful of worms to your compost pile and keep the pile moist. If you turn your compost, don’t add them – you could injure or kill them. In dry times cover composting ground areas with mulch so the compost will be dark and moist, and your worms safe from birds. If your pile is moist enough, cover it before rains. Shade slows things down; put your compost in the sun!

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

First, Temp and Timing matters, especially to the home gardener brewing outside, not using a brewing system. The microbes we want are the most happy at about 75 F, a comfy room temp for us too. Put your brew out of direct sunlight. Making tea outdoors generally doesn’t work in winter, even in SoCal. So if you can, make it indoors. If you need to transport it, you may need to put it in smaller covered containers.

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 yourself 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.

See more important details about teas and tea making! Teas! Compost, Manure, Worm Castings Brews!

Soil pH

Most veggies do best with slightly alkaline soil but will be ok a little to one side or the other. Definite 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! Just don’t foliar feed manure tea on plants whose leaves you will eat! 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 virtue – LOL, 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.

See also SoCal Fall/Winter Veggie Soil Care Tips for Delicious Returns!

Last updated 12.25.19

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’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.

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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Lettuce Mizuna Leaves
Elegant Mizuna! See Jill Ettinger’s article at Organic Authority for great info on 15 Bitter Herbs and why we should eat them!

Congratulations on your Pumpkin harvests and Happy Halloween!

Fall/Winter is SoCal Brassica time! Most of the time when we think of Brassicas we think of the big ones – Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbages, Cauliflower, Kale. These are the backbone of your winter garden! But there are lots of littles too! For a more mild taste, plant bok choy, kohlrabi, arugula, mizuna, watercress, young turnips and radishes, and Napa cabbage. Otherwise, go for those dark green kales, mustard, rutabaga and turnip greens!

Plant longer maturing larger and taller varieties to the back, shorter early day varieties in front where they will get sun. Put littles on the sunny side of these. Plant your tall plants first, let them get up a bit. Then clip off the lower leaves and plant your littles. Or plant quick rounds of littles between the tall plants. They will be ready to harvest when the big plants would start shading them. A classic combo is lettuces among starting cabbages!

Mixes rule! Plant several varieties for maturity at different times and to confuse pests. Pests are attracted at certain stages of maturity. They may bother one plant but leave others entirely alone depending on temps and the pest’s cycle! There are less aphids on broccoli when you plant different varieties together. See Super SoCal Fall Veggies Varieties, Smart Companion Plantings!

Lettuce Salanova Dense, Loves Fall & WinterLettuces love cooler fall and winter to spring temps!
Heading types and tender butter leafs! There are all shapes and colors! Try super dense Salanova! (Image at left) Johnny’s says: Harvested as fully mature heads, the flavor and texture have more time to develop than traditional baby-leaf lettuces. The unique structure of the core produces a multitude of uniformly sized leaves, harvestable with one simple cut. Salanova is more than 40% higher yielding, has better flavor and texture, and double the shelf life of traditional baby-leaf lettuce, making it an excellent, more economical option. [Currently the seeds are pricey, but save some for free and you are in biz plus saving your best adapts the seeds to you and your locality! Later on, the prices will likely come down….]

Peas are the trellis plant of your winter garden! Or, plant bush peas in cages for quick peas; get an early variety and you will have them even sooner! Pole peas grow taller and longer, for a couple of months harvest. They usually don’t live the whole season, so it’s common to plant more than one round, once a month is good. Oh, and plant seeds, plus transplants of bush and pole all at the same time for them to come in one after the other. Your bush peas will produce first, then your pole peas, and likely your seeded peas will follow in short order. Soon as those bush peas are done, clip off the plant, leaving the roots with their Nitrogen nodules in the ground to feed your soil. Plant again, either from seeds or transplants, depending on when you think you will be wanting more! Generally transplants are six weeks ahead of seeds.

Golden Sweet Pea! Shelling or eat the young pod whole!Peas are shelling, snap or flat! Shelling means you eat the pea itself. Grow petites or fats. Yum. Snap is shell and all. Rarely do they make it to the kitchen. Flat is the same as Chinese or snow peas. String ’em or buy the stringless variety, and eat ’em right there, toss a few with your salad, steam or stew, add to stir fry! Try some Golden Sweet shelling peas this year! They can also be eaten young like flat peas! Love those mauve-purple blooms! Carrots enhance peas! Plant carrots around the cage or along the trellis.

PreSprouting peas is super simple. Paper towel on plate, lay out peas an inch apart, fold the paper towel, spritz with clean water, keep them moist. By +/- 5 days they will have sprouted. Get them into the ground, carefully so you don’t break the little roots.

Peas are winter’s legume. They and green manure mixes – legumes and oats, feed and replenish your soil because they take N (Nitrogen) out of the air and deposit it in little nodules on their roots! If an area in your garden needs a pep up, plant it to green manure. Plant it where next summer’s heavy feeders, like tomatoes, will be grown!

Winter sports great root crops! Parsnips are related to carrots and both love cool temps! Carrots come in a multitude of shapes, sizes and colors! Kids love them. They do take awhile, so plant some Thumbelinas or Little Fingers for an earlier harvest! Pop in some Cherry Belle radish and a few long winter radishes like Daikon and White Icicle! Winter is a great time for long Cylindra Beets! Put in some early and smaller varieties to eat while you are waiting for the Cylindras. Early Wonder Tall Tops are a tasty choice, or red cold hardy Flat of Egypt! Try a yellow, Touchstone Gold!

Yummy potatoes! Put in some Red Rose, Yukon Gold, Purple Majesty or your favorites. Try some heirloom French Fingerling potatoes! They have pink skins and yellow flesh with usually a little pinkish ring right under the skin. It is a great potato for roasting. Or Red Thumb Fingerlings with a bright red skin and pink flesh. Best boiled or roasted. A favorite among chefs.

Chard comes in marvelous bright colors, the flower of veggie plants! Celery is upright and elegant, an in-the-garden edible let alone low calorie! Later on, lovely cilantro, celery and a carrot or two can be let to grow out for their dainty flowers, then seeds.

Strawberry runner daughters can be clipped Oct 10 to 15, stored in the fridge for planting Nov 5ish. Remove any diseased soil where your beds will be; prep your beds with acidic compost like an Azalea mix. Commercial growers replace their plants every year. Some gardeners let them have two years but production tapers off a lot the second year. If you let them have two years, generously replenish the soil between the berries with acidic compost. Last year I laid down boards between the rows where my berries would be planted. The boards kept the soil moist underneath. I planted the berries just far enough apart that they self mulched (shaded the soil). Worked beautifully. I got the idea for the boards from a pallet gardener.

OR. Check with your favorite nurseries to see when and what kinds of bareroot strawberries they will bring in this year. My local choice is Seascape, bred at UCSB for our specific climate. They are strawberry spot fungi resistant. They have long drought tolerant roots, up to 8″, so they can seek food and water deeper down, less water required. They need only an inch a week, a little more if your finger test shows they need it, or during hotter or windy drying weather. Some nurseries get other varieties of bareroots in Nov, some get Seascapes in mid January. They go fast, so make your calls so you can be there ASAP after they get them.

Plant in super soil to get a good start! Clean up old piles of stuff, remove old mulches that can harbor overwintering pest eggs and diseases. Then add the best-you-can-get composts, manures, worm castings. In planting holes, toss in a handful of nonfat powdered milk in for immediate uptake as a natural germicide and to boost their immune system. Throw in a handful of bone meal for uptake at bloom time. If you have other treats you like to favor your plants with, give them some of that too! Go lightly on incorporating coffee grounds either in your compost or soil. In studies, what was found to work well was coffee grounds at only 0.5 percent of the compost mix. That’s only 1/2 a percent! See more details about soil building! If you have containers, dump that old spent stuff and put in some tasty new mix!

“Our most important job as vegetable gardeners is to feed and sustain soil life, often called the soil food web, beginning with the microbes. If we do this, our plants will thrive, we’ll grow nutritious, healthy food, and our soil conditions will get better each year. This is what is meant by the adage ‘Feed the soil not the plants.
― Jane Shellenberger, Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West (Colorado)

Winter watering in drought times is the same as for summer. Before 10:30 AM, after 4 PM. Watch which way water flows along the leaves. Some plants it flows to the center stem. Some drip water off the leaf tips in a circle around your plant, the dripline. Still others go both ways. Make berms just beyond where the mature plant’s water flows. If at the dripline, that’s where the tiny feeder roots take up moisture and nutrients. That’s why they call them feeder roots! If your garden has a low spot, plant your water loving plants – chard, lettuces, spinach, mizuna, mints – there or near a spigot.

Fall pests & Diseases

  • Brassicas, Peas  – Mildews, White Fly, Aphids/Ants. Right away when you have the 3rd, 4th leaves on seedlings or when you plant transplants, give your plants a bath. It’s a combo of disease prevention, boosting the immune system, and stimulating growth! The basic mix is 1 regular Aspirin, 1/4 c nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon Baking Soda, and a teaspoon of dish soap. Even old tired plants will perk right up!If Whiteflies and aphids/ants come along, give them a bath too! Get a good grip on your hose and wash them away when you first see them. Be sure to get hideaways under the leaves and in crevices!
  • Chard, Lettuces, Spinach – Slugs and snails are the bane of so many crops, but these especially. Lay down something like Sluggo immediately. Then do it again in a week or so. Kill the parents, kill the children. After about 3 times you rarely need it again anytime soon.
  • Biodiversity In general, avoid row planting where disease and pests wipe the plants out from one to the next to the next. Instead, plant in several different spots. If you can’t help yourself, because your family always planted in rows or that’s the way farm pictures show plantings, remember, this is YOUR garden! Also, leave room so mature plants’ leaves don’t touch. Give them room to breathe, get good big leaves that get plenty of sun and produce lots more big leaves and many big fruits! Stunted crowded rootbound plants just don’t perform as well and are more disease and pest susceptible.

Keep up with your maintenance. Weed so seedlings aren’t shaded out. Thin carrots, beets, cilantro, arugula, onions, any plants you overplanted, for salad treats! If you decide your plants need it give them a light sidedress of liquid feed, fish emulsion (if you don’t have predators) or a tasty tea mix – compost, worm castings, manure. Give your berms a check. Restore or add, shift as needed. Before wind or rain, double check cages and trellises, top heavy plants. Stake them, tie peas to the trellis or cage. Start gathering sheets, light blankets for possible cold weather to come.

Have it in the back of your mind what summer plants you will be wanting, where you will plant them. Plant more permanent plants like a broccoli you keep for side shoots (All Season F1 Hybrid), a kale that will keep on going, where they will not be shaded out by taller indeterminate summer tomatoes.

Already be thinking of Santa Barbara’s January 29 Seed Swap! Start sorting and labeling seed baggies on coming cooler indoor evenings. The last Saturday of January every year is National Seed Swap Day! This year that happens to also be Chinese New Year of the Rooster, January 28! Look in your area for an event, and if you don’t find one, collaborate with your local garden club or permaculture group to get one going!

California Seed Sharing Bill Signed into Law
September 14, 2016

Seed sharing in California took a major step forward on Friday when Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Seed Exchange Democracy Act, an amendment to the California Seed Law. It’s the latest victory in a global movement to support and protect seed sharing and saving.

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

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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!

See the entire October 2016 GBC Newsletter!

October is a Fine Fall Planting Month!
Recipes! Get Ready to Eat Tasty Warm Winter Meals!
Fig Leaf Squash, Chilacayote – Curcurbita ficifolia
Community Garden Birds! 
Other Community Gardens – Clinton Community Garden, Manhattan NY 

Events! Permaculture talk & Book Signing with Starhawk, Lane Farms Pumpkin Patch! Happy Halloween! January 29 Santa Barbara SEED SWAP!

See the wonderful September images at Rancheria Community Garden!

 

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Soil Building Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Santa Barbara Peat Manure
Kevin Smith making great soil at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

Summer soils need to be fat and rich for the warming spring temps fast growth your plants put on, then they need to be fed to sustain that fast pace and bountiful production in hot weather.

Cooling Fall/Winter SoCal soils don’t need to be quite as rich nor your plants need to be sidedressed (fed during the season) but maybe once, if at all. However, winter plants are hard workers and prodigious! They are mainly leaf crops, leaf after leaf after leaf! Think curly leaf kale and the remarkable amount of foliage being produced! How big those broccolis and cauliflower leaves! Amazing monster chard leaves! Lettuces are pumping out the leaves. Cabbages are growing from the inside, as the outer leaves are expanding to accommodate that dense growth, leaf after leaf tightly packed!

After you install gopher wire protection, there are three steps to soil careFirst is general basic area amending – compost, manure, growing green manure cover crops. Amending areawide ensures micro feeder roots find food out away from the Mother plants. Second is adding specific amendments to planting holes per the plant that will be grown there. Third is at planting time. When planting transplants, pat that mycorrhizal fungi onto the exposed roots of plants that interact with it – Brassicas don’t. This gets seedlings off to a great start, strong and disease resistant! If you are planting seeds, add 25% worm castings to the surface to increase germination time and speed growth! Mycorrhiza and castings are not necessary but do make a difference.

Start winter gardening by tending your precious soil. Gather last seeds, clear away finished summer plants. Use clean plants in your compost. Remove and use clean summer straw mulch as compost layers now. Or forget the straw, do pit/trench composting. It’s a lot faster! We want soil to get a little warmer. Compost will finish faster in late summer and fall heat.

Generally add compost and manure to your soil. Get the best compost you can buy if you don’t make your own. Get the ones with worm castings, mycorrhizal fungi, etc. Get manure blends to get the best results, especially mixes that include cow (not steer) manure. This area wide amending assures your plants roots will grow wide from your plant, securing it from winter winds, and letting it feed fully to and even past the dripline! Plus, compost adds water holding capacity.

The exceptions are pea and carrot areas. If a bed is a little tired, add some food for the peas, otherwise, they, legumes, gather their own Nitrogen from the air and deposit on their roots! No manure at all for carrots, and give them regular watering, though not too much, to prevent them being hairy and forking or splitting.

Some plants, like strawberries and blueberries, need slightly acidic soil. When their soil is right, they fend off diseases better and produce like crazy. So get the right compost, the azalea, camellia type. They like to be moist, add a little peat too if needed, and dig it in a good 8″ deep. Some strawberries don’t have deep roots, but others do, so shovel depth deep is great. The variety Seascape, a prolific large berried strawberry bred at UCSB for SoCal production, does have long roots. They feed well, reach deep for water, and it shows! Plant runner babies Oct/Nov or transplants mid-January for May production.

Special soil for seed beds! In addition to the above, incorporate Worm Castings for all your plantings, but seeds benefit a lot! They germinate more quickly, seedlings grow faster! Leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. Vermicompost suppresses several diseases of cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, and it also significantly reduces pests – parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealybugs and mites! Who could ask for more?! These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal! If you don’t have enough for the entire garden, put castings in seedbeds first, planting holes second!

SideDressing  If your plants look like they need a little boost during winter, keep it light. In SoCal, feed 1/2 strength during cooler weather when uptake is slower. The most common time to feed your plants is when bloom time begins. For winter plants that’s when broccoli and cauliflower make heads and Brussels sprouts make itsy cabbages up the stalks! They are just about to go into their maximum production. Liquid fertilizers are easy for them to uptake quickly. Teas – compost, worm, manure, fish/kelp – are terrific.

If you won’t be planting this winter, a wise choice is to REST and RESTORE an AREA!

  1. When it gets cooler, plant some hefty favas or a mix for green manures to boost soil Nitrogen. Especially plant them where you had summer’s heavy feeders like corn, eggplant, summer squash, tomatoes and/or where you will plant heavy feeders next summer. The mix can include legumes like Austrian peas, vetch and bell/fava beans, plus oats that break up the soil (they have deep roots). Favas are big, produce one of the highest rates of compostable organic material per square foot! If you change your mind, you can eat the beans! 🙂
  2. Or, cover an area you won’t be winter planting with a good 6″ to a foot and a half deep mulch/straw and simply let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. 1.5′ deep sounds like a lot, but it will sink down quickly, believe me! That’s called sheet composting or composting in place – no turning or having to move it when it’s finished. If you are vermicomposting, have worms, add a few handfuls to speed up and enrich the process. Next spring you will have rich nutritious soil for no work at all! Pull back any top layer that remains, add some finished compost, and plant, plant, plant!

Cultivate after rains! Cultivating does two important things. One, it’s an age old technique to aerate soil, let it dry out, kill off soil fungi. Two, it is also called, Dust Mulching. Simply cultivate about 2 or 3 inches deep. This disturbs the soil surface, interrupting the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation. Dry farmers use this technique during droughts.

Ingredients to build great soil!

Compost for feeding and water holding capacity. Now, before you go compost crazy, in Nature, organic matter, our equivalent is compost, only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), yet organic matter is absolutely essential. There is various thinking about what the right amount of compost is to use in a garden. Cornell University says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil! Research shows ideal soil contains 5% organic matter by weight, 10% by volume. Like with a lot of gardening, more is not better! For our veggie gardening, plants we want to produce a lot of fruits, incorporate a little more than 5%. Informative details from  Michigan.gov

Homemade compost is top of the line and you know what’s in it! Organic all the way. Fine texture. But the bark fines and other ‘forest products’ in commercial compost are necessary too. They give your compost more water holding capacity. As much as I am in favor of making your own, if I had to choose only one, here in drier SoCal I would choose the commercial compost. Plus, few homemade composts have worm castings in them unless you also grow worms and add their castings to your compost. As it is, I make some of my own compost, trench in a lot of kitchen waste, and use commercial compost!

See also Hugelkultur for an exceptional style of long term sustainable composting. It is self heating, extends your growing season, needs little water after it is started. Truly sustainable.

Manures are high in Nitrogen, the main ingredient plants need to grow! Cow is better than steer, blends are best. Lettuces love it!

Peat! I’ll tell you about peat, but it, itself, is not sustainable and I personally don’t use it anymore. It is said in drought areas, adding peat is excellent to increase water retention. Per Julie Day: …particularly Sphagnum peat, is a lightweight spongy material that’s great for making sandy soils more water absorbent. Peat will also loosen heavy clay soils, but you need to be careful it doesn’t make the soil too soggy. Peat decomposes slowly and is slightly acidic [good for strawberry beds]. Look for peat that’s harvested from sustainable peat bogs.

When I did use peat, the kind I used vanished in about 2 months. I can’t say it helped significantly in spite of what is said about it. Perhaps I should have used a LOT more, but then, why not just make or get some highly nutritious compost?! Peat has no nutritional value and Nitrogen, what plants use most, is spent decomposing it. If it works for your situation, great. Unless it is an emergency, I would test an area first before you make a heavy investment of money and labor.

If you are curious about Coconut Coir please read more here about what coir is, how it is made, pros and cons, best brands and why, plus how tos. The article starts out about hydroponics. Look at the very end for details on how to use with veggies. It lasts longer than peat, is repurposed waste product from a renewable resource, unlike the peat bogs where we get our peat moss. It can absorb up to 10x its weight in water, but it is expensive and you have to know how to use it.

Amazing Amendments to put right in the planting hole!

  • Nonfat powdered milk is a natural germicide and immediately boosts plant immune systems. A handful mixed into the planting hole soil does the job. Powdered milk is taken up by your plants immediately.
  • Bone meal takes about two months to become available to your plant. That’s just in time for flowering, fruit production! Add that to the planting holes at the same time you put the milk in. By increasing the phosphorous in the soil, bone meal works with other organic matter to ensure a more prolific root growth, winter hardiness and often hastens maturity.
  • Adding Jamaican guano high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Its NPK ratio is 1-10-0.2, takes 4 months to become available to your plants.
  • Mycorrhizal fungi – Brassicas don’t dance with it, but other plants thrive. It links your plants’ roots with the soil, increases uptake of nutrients. Just sprinkle it on the roots of your transplant and give it a pat so it will stick. The roots and the fungi need to be connected!
  • If your soil has fungi problems, wilts, blights, sprinkle with a tiny tad of coffee grounds. Add only a ½ a % to your soil or compost. A tiny bit goes a long way!
  • Add Green Sand or some such for a mineral boost if you think your soil needs it.
  • A sprinkle of Kelp Meal is terrific for trace minerals too.
  • If your plant is a heavy feeder grown for its leaves, add a little more manure. Add less in spring because you want fruit production, not leaf, unless it is a plant grown for its leaves, like lettuce, kale or cabbage! None for carrots, peas or beans.
  • Add compost if you think more is needed, only 5 to 10%
  • Add 25% worm castings. As little as 10% works. They are potent, help with seedling germination, boost immunities to disease.

How to feed your soil

Dig your amendments into the top 6 to 8 inches! Yum. Add a tasty blend all at once. Some compost, some manure, some castings and whatever else is needed or seems right for the location or what you will be planting, and what makes you happy!

Incorporate winter amendments, don’t add layers nor cover them with mulch. We want the soil to be warmer, so cooling mulches are pulled back in winter. Nitrogen off gases from uncovered layers, little N is delivered. A layer just dries out. Pulling back mulches removes moist habitat for overwintering summer pest eggs and diseases. Turn soil that has Fusarium and Verticillium wilts so the fungi die.

Spade Fork treatment! Push the spade fork in, wobble it front to back, pull it out leaving the holes. Pour compost/manure/worm tea down the holes! That feeds the roots. If you don’t have digging predators, you can add liquid fish/kelp too. Liquid root feeds are especially good to do when sidedressing at the beginning of bloom time and are quick and easy for your plant to take up. The easiest and best results, however come from foliar feeding. Just know, the tea microbes won’t brew well below 65 F. In winter, brew them in a warm garage or a sunny covered porch. Double your benefits by digging in great amendments followed by the spade fork treatment! Liquid tea feeds give immediate uptake; dug in amendments provide slow release feeding over time.

Planting Tips

Drainage. In soil infested with fungi or pest eggs, plant high so the soil drains and dries, the fungi and eggs die. Make basins so the bottom of the basin is above the general soil level. Make the basin large enough so the edges don’t degrade from the watering and your mature plant is sure to get enough water out to or just beyond its dripline.

Soil can only do so much. Don’t starve and stunt your plants by planting too closely. Give them room and access to the amount of soil space they need for natural healthy growth. Given more space they get bigger, produce more, are healthier, more disease resistant. Plant so their leaves don’t touch at maturity, giving access for disease and pests to spread from plant to plant.

However, some deliberate overplanting is pretty clever! If you row or batch plant, especially harvest, thin as they grow. That’s like getting two crops for one! For example, all the Brassica plant – Broccoli, Kale, Cauliflower, Collards – leaves are edible! Add the tender young leaves to your salads, or if bigger, steam over rice, stir fry or add to your stews! Do it with carrots. Tiny carrots are a delicacy, and my pup loves them too!

Consider this ‘esoteric’ factor, terroir, French for land, pronounced tehr/wahr or tɛːˈwɑ. It is ‘The complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.’ Said another way: the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown that give a wine its unique flavor and aroma. You can smell and taste terroir. Wine growers who use terroir as their guiding philosophical framework and focus on the importance of the soil are responsible for a disproportionately large share of the world’s most interesting wines. And it’s not just wine: there’s grass-fed beef with an Idaho terroir. Think about this as applies to your very special piece of this earth where you will grow your special veggies. Think about it as you amend your soil for planting, as you grow green manure to restore your land. How you treat your soil results in the unique wholesome terroir you get.

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

See also Make Soil for Spring Planting – Amendments, Castings, Teas!

Updated annually

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. Santa Barbara’s three community gardens 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.

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

Feeling inspired? Get the word out! Sharing is caring ~

See the entire August 2016 GBC Newsletter!

…and wonderful images of Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden in July!

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