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Posts Tagged ‘Organic’

Container Gardening - fence bags!

If you don’t have land, don’t want to or can’t join a community garden, Small Space Urban Farming, Sustainable Containables may be perfect for you! Check what the curbside use rules are for your city. You might be able to use that space too! The number of containers is completely flexible. Have as many as you have time and energy for.

I discovered container gardening through the amazing book Bountiful Containers by McGee & Stuckey. I first wrote about container gardening in November 2012. Now there is a feast of books written on the topic. Learning container gardening principles taught me a lot about how to use precious space productively in a small area!

Containers give you complete flexibility. Have as many or as few as you want, put them wherever you want, move them, remove them, replace them! If it’s too hot or too cold, bring ‘em inside!

Garden in anything! From grow bags, hanging bags to pots. There are containers of any size, shape, material or color, some are even self watering! Some are spiffy new, others are what you have around at the time, maybe an old favorite or an old wooden bucket, the wheelbarrow with holes in it.

Container Gardening gone Rampant!

Most of all, the Beauty of Using Containers is You can plant!

You can make them, paint them!
They can get you outdoors
There’s no digging
You eat better food, fresh basil for your fresh salad.
Often, no slugs or snails, avoids soil-borne fungal diseases
Rarely any weeds
You can give them away
You can instantly remove and replace problem plants, or redesign your layout!
You can move them around for more sun or shade, for warmer or cooler
You can take them with you when you move!
No packaging, or food miles!

Location, location, location – Garden anywhere!

Balcony, Rooftop, along Stairs
Patio, Deck
Along a Wall or Fence, on top of the wall!
Backdoor, Front door
By Kitchen, in a Window
Box hanging from fence, a basket hanging from the upstairs neighbor’s balcony or a tree

A lovely raised bed in plenty of sun is a large container!

What can you plant?! Light makes a difference! 6-8 hrs Sunlight 

Everyday edibles to fruit & nut trees, minis to full size! Flowering plants, water plants, and fruiting vegetables require eight hours of sunlight each day to grow well. Root vegetables can do well with six hours; leafy plants and herbs should get at least four hours.

As a general rule leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce can tolerate the most shade, while root crops such as beets and carrots will need more sun. Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers need the most sun.

If you don’t have enough light, paint a wall white, put a free standing white reflective screen behind your plants to capture light.

Put your planties on a rolling cart, table, on plant dollies and move them with the sun during the day!
Move them from your front porch to your backdoor during the rainy or cold season, or indoors during a frost. Dollies raise your plants so your wooden containers and deck don’t rot.

Too hot?  Double pot – one inside the other. Too cold? Use black containers, wrap your pot with dark fabric, a blanket, burlap.

  • Dwarf & semi-dwarf trees, shrubs, grapes
  • Beets, chard, cucumbers, dwarf sunflowers, eggplant, dwarf kales, bush beans, green onions, green peppers, leaf lettuce, mini melons, garden purslane, radishes, spinach, smaller varieties of summer & winter squash, strawberries, determinate tomatoes!
  • Herbs and edible flowers too!
  • Select smaller veggie varieties that are bred for productivity, disease and pest resistance, slow bolting, heat and/or cold tolerance
  • Pick varieties that tolerate your conditions – sun/shade, wind, water, time of year
  • Find plants that match your diligence, time available to care for – do you like to prune or deadhead?
  • You can plant a container Orchard! Dwarf is the key word! Dwarf figs, ‘cados, citrus, plums, etc! Grafting 3 types that come in early, midsummer and fall on one tree gives you all season fruit for the space of one tree!

Designing your Container Garden

Tiered Space Saving Container Gardening!

Container gardening is a way for people living in urban areas to enjoy the benefits of veggie gardening.

Questions & Options!

Will my deck, balcony or roof support the weight of watered plants?
Do I want to get a bunch of small containers or two really big ones, or a combo of sizes?!
Can I place pots around my regular garden? Would the pots look better on my deck or around my copper beech tree?
Can I grow herbs and flowers or should I stick with one type of plant?
Will someone trip over those small herb troughs near my narrow pathway or underneath my garden arbors?
What complementary plant colors will look best in my sunny office? Or in or around my house?
Are these plants pet and child safe?
Will the draining water rot wood, drip on my table, cause mold or mildew, be tracked indoors?  Drip on your neighbor’s patio or balcony downstairs?
Do most people like the scent of that herb, society garlic? Allergies?

Containers along a Spiral Staircase can be alternately planted with veggies, herbs, more flowers for pollinators!

Design for Beauty and fit There are wonderful design programs online! Or start with one container and see what happens from there.

If you want to, sketch it out – summer, winter layouts
Pencil in your largest plants first
Tall plants against the fence, wall, to the back, north if possible, short in front, vines spilling over front
Stagger the heights of containers
Elevate with concrete blocks
Purchase just a few containers at first to get the hang of it
Mix colors luxuriantly!
Mix veggies, edible flowers and herbs mercilessly!

The simplest space saver is to go Vertical! Hanging baskets & grow bags, tiered planters, strawberry pots, pallets, gutters affixed to a fence (slope to one end for drainage & cover the low end to keep the soil in), put a trellis in a rectangular basket or oblong galvanized container, hang planters on a fence or up a wall!

Each Container is a miniature garden! Select plants with the same watering requirements.

  1. Thrillers:  the tallest, most noticeable or unusual plant.  Put pots with melons, cukes, beans, near a trellis or fence.
  2. Spillers:  plants that “spill” over the edge of the pot. Even if you are using a spectacular container, you do not want all of the plant material to only go up.  Strawberries….
  3. Fillers:  plants that tie your container together, providing a backdrop for your thrillers to shine.

Theme Container Gardens can be oriented to bring wildlife!

Theme Gardens are special!

One color
Pink!  Chard, chives, dianthus – an edible flower, monarda – an herb, pansies, sage
One type plant – a lettuce box or basket
Ethnic
Asian — Japanese Eggplant, Chinese Cucumber, Sugar Lace Peas, Broccoli, Thai Chile Pepper, Chile de Arbol Pepper, Bell Pepper, Cabbage.
Greek and Middle East — Tomato, Eggplant, Cucumber, Shallots, Garlic, Onions.
An era like Victorian – Lavender, roses, sage, scented geraniums, thyme, tulips, with violets, violas, pansies
For kids! Radishes, Thumbelina small round carrots, pansies (cat faces), purple-podded beans, dwarf sunflowers, Wee-Be-Little pumpkins!
To attract pollinators, butterflies, wildlife, hummingbirds! POLLINATION is Vital & Easy to Do!  Grow a Pollinator Meadow at Home in Your Veg Garden!

Design for Companion Plantings for many reasons! Here are just a few to get you started! There are many more combinations you will discover!

Pest prevention  Some plants emit allelochemicals from their roots or leaves, which repel pests. Oregano repels insects that bother broccoli! Borage repels tomato hornworms.
Enhance each other: Oregano enhances the flavor of beans. Carrots stimulate peas (onions stunt peas). Chamomile is called the Plant Dr!
Some plants attract butterflies and bees to pollinate your plants! Feverfew repels bees.
Others are great trap plants – they are more attractive to pests than the plant you want to save. Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!

Colorful Glazed Ceramic Containers of Differing Heights Create Interest!

Choosing the perfect magical container …from found reusables, on the cheap, humble homemades, to extraordinaire, there are multitudes of beautiful materials!! Shop, scavenge, everywhere!

Start with the Standards

1.Traditional Terracotta: has good air circulation, dries out fast, degrades, and is easily breakable, charming old world outdoor look, least expensive.
2.Ceramic: hardier, retains moisture better if glazed, myriad of colorful choices and shapes.
3.Plastic, fiberglass: long lasting, lightweight, good for balcony & rooftop plantings or where weight is a factor. No air circulation. They can be inexpensive to very expensive. They are an excellent liner pot.
4.Untreated Wood Boxes/Barrels: natural look, dries out fast, line with water barrier or use a sealant, use peat for insulation & to hold moisture. If use a water barrier, cut holes for drainage.
5.Magical Metals: keep moisture in

Drainage holes are a must! Ask the nursery if they will make some for you if there aren’t any. Usually there is no charge. 

Pots, baskets, boxes, grow bags, nested burlap bags, shoe bags, plant sacks, bowls, buckets, plastic containers
Plant right in the compost bag!
Bathtubs, sinks
Drawers – use untreated wood, no paint
Drums, ½ whiskey barrels
Wheelbarrow, wagon
Built-in deck planter, top of rail/wall planter
Hanging, upside down toms
Recycled anything – old garden boots, laundry basket
Greenhouses themselves are the perfect winter container or for all year Veggies!

If you like wooden troughs or baskets, make sure that your wood is of a solid quality. Finish the wood with a veggie-safe preserver. If you use barrels, make sure that the hoops are secure. Wood containers fare well in colder weather, provide more insulation than clay pots.

To retain moisture and prevent freezing and cracking, seal your clay pots inside and out with a veggie safe sealant.

Lettuces, peas, beans and cukes require the least depth; tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, the most.

You’ll need some fail-proof saucers to capture that loose soil and dripping water that escapes from the bottom of any container. Plastic saucers don’t get damp as do terra cotta ones.

Your Very Own Pepper Nursery Container!

Making a Home for your Plants  Soil, Filling Your Container, Seeding, Transplanting

Terrific Vertical WorkStation to tend your Container Garden properly!

Soil Selection is critical, a workstation is optional but very nice!

A high-quality potting soil works, choose ones with time release nutrients!
Use all potting soil, or add the very best compost!
Topsoil alone is too heavy, doesn’t drain well, too dense for tiny roots to get through
Soilless mixes are two to three times lighter weight
Each year use fresh soil mix when you plant

Put drainage holes in your container if they aren’t there already. 3 to 5 is good, use your judgment.
For less weight on a balcony or the roof, line the bottom with capped plastic bottles or insert a smaller upside down pot, put your soil on top. It uses less soil, weighs a lot less, especially when wet .
OR, install a self watering system, sub irrigation.
Fill with your soil – lace it  with slow release organic fertilizer (and a ¼ cup lime for tomatoes)
Install trellises as needed for beans, cukes, toms, melons, squash, grapes
Anchor pots and trellises securely if your plant will get tall or is in a windy spot

Seeding, Transplanting

Partially fill your container, put your central or tall back plant in, fill around it. Add any peripheral plants.
Water gently so you don’t wash the soil away from the roots, add more soil if needed as the soil settles.
Plant seeds according to the instructions on their packet in 6 packs or right in your container!
Water again with a watering can so as not to wash the seeds away or cause them to get uncovered, or covered too deeply with soil. Keep them moist!
Top dress, mulch with wood chips or as you like, about 1” deep.  Less weeds, saves water, keeps your soil moist.  Keeps roots cool in summer, but remove in winter so your soil will be warmer. Cocoa mulch is toxic to dogsMulching ~ Why, When, With What, How Much?!

Container Gardening Self Watering Bowl or Pool!

 

Self watering, save-water Sustainable Container Technology!  You can use this in any small container to kiddie swimming pool containers used in rooftop gardening! The principles are the same. If you decide to purchase, there are multitudes of amazing, and even lovely, self watering containers available! Or get a DIY kit, or simply DIY!  There are various techniques.

 

 

 

If it is hot weather or you may be away, try these bottles with watering spikes to keep your plants moist.

 


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Fertilizing, Side-dressing

Since potting mixes drain water rapidly, fertilizer will be leached out of the container as you water.
Avoid contaminating vegetable plants with manures (use only if well aged and incorporated in your soil weeks in advance), teas, or organic emulsions. Do not use manure foliar teas on veggie leaves that you will eat, like lettuce. Not recommended by UC Master Gardeners. Instead, use a dilute liquid fertilizer with every other watering, maybe every two weeks. Liquid fish emulsion is smelly but good. Liquid seaweed/kelp are great plant boosters, add trace elements.

Remember that you need to provide your plants with a variety of nutrients.
Compost and/or worm castings are tasty additions!
Or use organic time release pellets when you build your soil!
Check the labels on the products in your garden center to be sure that they contain a complete, balanced solution that includes trace elements. Be sure to get a season or use specific mix. Early on you want Nitrogen for leaves, but not too much or you get all leaf, no bloom. Be a bit careful with phosphates for bloom…not all soils need it added.

Contact your local extension office to inquire about soil testing. Many municipalities offer soil testing free of charge.

Special Care for Your Tomatoes – the most popular container plant!

Scout around for a good container tomato soil mix or build your own! See Tomato Dirt! They do not recommend to scoop up your ground soil – ‘It compacts making it difficult to water and keep aerated by mid-season. Also, garden soil is infested with fungi, weed seeds, and pests, which can wreak havoc in your containers…’
IF your soil is acidic, add a ¼ cup lime (calcium) when making your soil mix
And a tablespoon of Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts), both to prevent blossom end rot
Secure your plant so it won’t topple in the wind
When the plants are flowering, give the stems a sharp rap about 11 AM to help pollination along.

Common Problems Help List – Be vigilant, Remove diseased plants ASAP! If you are trying to save a weakened plant, move it away from your other healthy plants. Weak plants are vulnerable to pests and diseases. 

Common Problems of Container Gardening Help List

Your harvest! Harvest, Seed Saving, Sharing the Bounty

DO harvest!  When the time is ripe, do it, don’t let it go to waste. If you don’t pick, ask yourself why.  You don’t like that veggie as much as you thought you would? You planted too many plants and you are tired of it! Your recipe is too time consuming or intimidating? Harvest is too labor intensive? This is all a natural part of the live & learn gardening experience. Plant something different, differently next year.

Keep picking, especially beans, cukes and peas, or your plant thinks it is done and stops producing.  Pick daily, don’t ‘store’ on your plant. Cut & come again plants are a true value! Take lower lettuce leaves and the plant will grow more; cut off onions 1-2″ above ground and they will grow back! Several times!  Chards and kales too! When the radishes are pulled, plant more or something else right away!

Seed saving is your 2nd harvest!

If you have a plant, that does terrifically, you might want to save some of its seeds! Or sow them immediately for continuous harvest!

Tie ribbon around a plant you choose to save seeds from to remind you once it has stopped producing you don’t accidentally remove it.
Let it flower – the bees love it, let it seed.
Let the seeds, or your bean pods, dry on the plant. Tomatoes get a different treatment. SeedSaving! An Easy Annual Ritual & Celebration!
Harvest the seeds midday on a dry sunny day.
Label your envelope – save date, plant name.
Store in a cool, dry place.
Some seeds have a short shelf life, only 1 season, so check to see if you should be sure to plant them next year or give them away to someone who will!
If you have extra, share your seeds at a neighborhood garden exchange, Seed Swap, or give some away as holiday or birthday gifts!
Organize your garden seeds during our cool season. It is an inspiration for spring planting!

Container Gardening can be one of the most creative experiences you will ever have! Exercise your options! Have fun and be healthy!

The Beauty & Pleasures of Container Gardening! Pattypan Squash!

Wherever you are, enjoy growing the most colorful tasty organic veggies!
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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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June Garden Wedding Lyons Farmette CO

What’s a garden for? Fertility and good living! Bridgette and Hoyt got married on a supermoon evening at Lyons Farmette & River Bend, Lyons CO! 

June is Midsummer Magic month! Divine small Faery beings will be celebrating your garden!
June 21, 24, 25 or a date close to the Summer Solstice, any day June 19–24, is celebrated as Midsummer Night; June 24 is Faery Day! In Santa Barbara the 2020 Summer Solstice festival and parade will be virtual starting June 20!

Abundance is flowing, harvests are happening!

Tomato Indigo Rose Purple AnthocyaninsTomatoes are coloring up nicely, their sidekick basil is potent delish, golden zucchini and lettuces of all kinds are being eaten, purple pole beans are being harvested by adults and children! I’ve seen some big fat full size cukes and humongous Seascape strawberries! Be careful with some of your harvests. Clip rather than break away and damage or pull your plant up.

Cherry tomatoes come in first. Fertilize your toms with a slow release fertilizer once the fruiting begins.

Last year I had the pleasure of growing Pink Boar Tomatoes, from the Wild Boar series bred by farmer/breeder Brad Gates. As High Mowing says, ‘Deep pink skin is stunning with contrasting olive stripes and luscious deep red flesh,’ and it was!

Unexpected benefit! Reviewer Rebecca of Old Mosses Secret Garden said: I bought [Brad Gates Blue Berries] tomatoes for my whimsical choice. My experiences were similar to others opinion, they are abundant, vigorous and salad enhancing, plus they make a wonderful antioxidant jam spread. What I wanted to share about the blue berry tomatoes is that they are top of the menu choices for BATS. Bats were not on our urban radar, four years later five thousand bats have moved in and troll the garden where the fence lines are abundant with these little tasty gems, which get devoured . This plant is the greatest organic gardening boon ever sprouted. For fair reveal though I have hundreds of evergreen spruce that also get bat vacuumed for more meaty choices, so Thank you Baker seed, your diligence to excel is my secret weapon for a fantastic garden.

Harvest at your veggie’s peak delicious moment! Juicy, crunchy, that certain squish in your mouth, sweet, full bodied flavor, radiant, vitamin and mineral rich! Besides being delicious and beautiful, it keeps your plant in production. Left on the plant, fruits start to dry and your plant stops production, goes into seeding mode. The fruit toughens or withers, maybe rots, sometimes brings cleanup insect pests that spread to other plants. Keep beans picked, no storing cucumbers on the vine. Give away or store what you can’t eat. Freezing is the simplest storage method. Cut veggies to the sizes you will use, put the quantity you will use in baggies, seal and freeze. Whole tomatoes, chopped peppers, cut beans, diced onions. Probiotic pickle your cukes. Enjoy your sumptuous meals! Sing a song of gratitude and glory!

Plant more! Try some new ones too!

In those empty spots you have been saving, plant more rounds of your favorites! Check your lettuce supply. Put in more bolt resistant, heat and drought tolerant varieties now. Some heat tolerant lettuce varieties are Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson. That ruffly little beauty queen Green Star has excellent tolerance to hot weather, bolting, and tipburn. Rattlesnake beans keep right on producing when temps get up to 100 degrees! Plant more of everything except winter squash, big melons, pumpkins, unless you live in the hot foothills.

Put in plants that like it hotter! Long beans grow quickly from seed now. They grow later in the season when your other beans are finishing. They make those enormously long beans in the ample late summer heat. Keep watch on them, in spite of their size they grow quickly. Harvest promptly, usually daily! Certain varieties of them don’t get mildew either! Their unique flavor keeps your table interesting. Plant Okra now, it grows quickly in this warmer weather! More eggplant and also tomatoes you have been waiting to put in the now drier fungi free ground. Plant mini melons like Sugar Baby watermelons!

For those of you that are plagued with fungi diseases in your soil, the drier soil now makes this a better time to plant. Select wilt and blight resistant Tomatoes. Remember, when you plant your tomatoes and cukes, build a mound and make a basin whose bottom is higher than the surrounding soil. You want drainage and a wee bit of drying to reduce the potential of fungi – verticillium and fusarium wilts, blights. More Special Planting and growing tips for your Tomatoes and Cucumbers!

Plant WHITE potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs, radishes with cukes and Zucchini to repel cuke beetles, and radishes with eggplant, potatoes and arugula to repel flea beetles.

If you have more space or you lost a plant here or there, think on putting in some perfect companion plants! One of the Three Cs are super!

  1. Calendula – so many medicinal uses, bright flowers, and traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips! Yep. Plant Calendula by tomatoes and asparagus.
  2. Chamomile –  is called the Plant Dr! It heals neighboring plants and improves the flavor of any neighboring herb! The flowers make a lovely scent and the tea is sweet.
  3. Comfrey – aka Knitbone, is an amazing medicinal herb, a super nutritious compost speeder upper! Plant it by your compost area.

Tasty herbs – chives, parsley, or more permanent perennials like rosemary, oregano (invasive), thyme are flavorful choices.

Pat Mycorrhiza fungi right on the roots of all your transplants except Brassicas. It increases uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for it bulk at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta. Support your local nurseries.

Here’s your tending list for Beauty and Bounty!

Summer Solstice SunflowerWater regularly so everyone is moist the way they like it! Seeds and seedlings daily, even twice daily on super hot days. Shading them may save their lives. Peppers like moist, so as they need it. Others not so water critical on average need an inch a week; water beans, cukes, lettuces and short rooted varieties of strawberries more frequently – lettuces could be daily on hot windy days. To double check use the old finger test or push your shovel in and wedge the soil open enough so you can see if it is moist as deep as it needs to be. Watering at ground level, rather than overhead watering, keeps your plant dry. That means less mildew, less fungal diseases, especially for fuzzy leaved plants like toms and eggplant.

If at all possible, water in the AM before 10:30 to let leaves dry before evening to prevent mildew – beans, cucumbers and squashes are especially susceptible. Plant fewer beans further apart for air flow. If your plants are near a street or there has been a dusty wind storm, wash the dust off your plants so they can breathe, and to make them less attractive to Whiteflies.

Some plants need MULCH now, and if the mulch is tired and flat, replace it with fresh clean mulch. No more than an inch of straw mulch under toms and cukes. They need airflow so the soil can dry a bit and reduce harmful fungi. Otherwise, put on 4 to 6 inches minimum to keep light germinating seeds from sprouting. Mulch any Brassicas you are over summering – broccoli, kale – 4 to 6 inches deep for them too. They need cool soil. Melons and winter squash – Butternuts, acorn, pumpkins – need heat! They are the exception – no mulch for them if you are coastal. Yes, they will need more water, so be sure their basin is in good condition and big enough so they get water out to their feeder roots. Put a stake in the center of the basin so you know where to water when the leaves get big. The only place for straw for them is right under the melons. See more at Mulching ~ Why, When, With What, How Much?!

Keep a sharp eye on tomatoes. Remove leaves touching the ground or will touch the ground if weighted with water! Trim so neighboring plants don’t touch and spread diseases like the wilts or blights. Remember, the wilts are spread by wind as well as water, so neighboring plants are very likely to give it to one another. Try planting other plants between. You can still do rows, just mix up the plants! Your healthier tomatoes will produce more and longer.

POLLINATION is vital & easy to do!

Pollination Cucurbits Male Female Flowers     Pollination by Hand Cucurbits Male Stamen to Female Stigma

Hand Pollination of Cucurbits! In left image, male flower on left, female right.

Improve your tomato, eggplant and pepper production by giving the cages or the main stems a few sharp raps, or gently shake the stems, to help the flowers self pollinate. Midday is the best time. Honey bees don’t pollinate tomatoes, or other Solanaceae! Build solitary bee condos for native bees. Native bees, per Cornell entomology professor Bryan Danforth, are two to three times better pollinators than honeybees, are more plentiful than previously thought and not as prone to the headline-catching colony collapse disorder that has decimated honeybee populations. The very best Solanaceae pollinator is a Bumblebee!!! See more! Plant plenty of favorite bee foods!

While you are helping your tomatoes pollinate, if you are growing them in cages, also very gently help them up through the cages. Remove any bottom leaves that might touch the ground when weighted with water. Remove any diseased leaves ASAP!

Squashes, melons and monoecious cucumbers can easily be hand pollinated. Cukes are notorious for needing help being pollinated! Cucurbits have male and female blooms on the same plant. If there are not enough pollinators about, we need to help. Also, multiple visits from the bees are required for good fruit set and properly shaped cucumbers. Male flowers open in the morning and pollen is only viable during that day. Hand pollinate during the morning hours, using only freshly opened flowers. You can use a small pointy paint brush, a cotton swab, Q-tip, your finger, and move pollen from the male stamen to the center of the female flower. Or the best, most complete method is to take the male flower off the plant, pull the petals off, and gently roll the male flower anther around and over the female stigma in the center of the female flower. The pollen is sticky, so it may take some time. One male anther can pollinate several females. Repeat. Female blooms will simply drop off the plant if they are not pollinated or not pollinated adequately. So when your cukes are in production, you need to do this daily for more fruits.

Don’t be confused by the little fruit forming under the female flowers and think pollination has already happened. The flower needs to be fertilized, and adequately, or the fruit just falls off. Flowers not pollinated enough, that don’t abort, make misshapen fruits. That goes for corn having irregular to lacking kernels. Strawberries are called cat-faced. Squash and cucumbers can be deformed. On an unwindy day, tilt the stalk so the corn tassels are over the silks and tap the stalk. You will see a shower of pollen fall on the silks. You may need to do it from one plant to another so you don’t break the stalk trying to get the pollen to fall on silks on the same plant.

Planting a lot of plants close together stresses the plants. At higher densities, plants compete for water, nutrients, and sunlight, and the resulting stress can lead to a higher proportion of male flowers, less female flowers, the ones that produce. If you really want more fruit, give them room to be fruitful. The same goes for other stresses – damage from insects or blowing soil, low light intensities, or water stress – less female flowers are produced.

Weather affects pollination. Sometimes cool overcast days or rain, when bees don’t fly, there is no pollination. High humidity makes pollen sticky and it won’t fall. Not good for wind pollinated veggies like tomatoes. Drought is a problem for corn pollination. Too high nighttime temps, day temps 86°F and above, will keep your tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables from setting fruit unless they are high temp tolerant varieties. Too windy and the pollen is blown away. See Pollination: Honeybees, Squash Bees & Bumblebees!

If it is your cucumbers that are not pollinating well each year, try parthenocarpic varieties. Parthenocarpic varieties produce only female flowers and do not need pollination to produce fruit. This type of cucumber is also seedless. Try a few varieties and see if you like them.

Did you know? Flowers can hear buzzing bees—and it makes their nectar sweeter!

SIDEDRESSING! This IS the time! Feeding when your plants start to bloom and produce is a pretty standard recommendation. But if your baby is looking peaked, has pale or yellowing leaves, an emergency measure could be blood meal. Foliar feeding a diluted fish emulsion/kelp is easy for your plant to uptake. Foliar feeding a tea mix per what each plant might need, is the ultimate feed and it’s not hard to make tea mixes! Your lettuces love it if you scratch in a 1/4″ chicken manure, but no manure in a tea on leaves you will be eating! Pull your mulch back, top with a 1/2″ of compost and some tasty worm castings! If you prefer organic granulated fertilizer, easy to apply, sprinkle it around evenly. But remember, that has to be repeatedly applied. Recover with your mulch, straw, then water well and gently so things stay in place. That’s like making compost and worm tea in place!

Face up to pests! It’s easier to deal with them when there are only a few rather than losing your whole plant or a row of plants. I have already seen Cucumber beetles foraging on Zucchini flowers, on Tomatillos. They are deadly to cucumbers because they transmit bacterial wilt and squash mosaic virus and cucumbers are the most susceptible to the wilts than any other garden veggie. Squish those beetles. Put one hand under where the beetle is, reach for it with the other hand. Be prepared! They are fast and can see you coming! See more Here are tips for Beetle prevention for organic gardeners:

  • If possible plant unattractive-to-cucumber beetle varieties. In 2012 U of Rhode Island trials, best pickling choices are Salt and Pepper and H-19 Little LeafMarketmore 76 was tops for slicing cukes. If you find more current research on best varieties, please let me know!
  • Plant from transplants! The youngest plants are the most susceptible.
  • Interplant! No row planting so beetles go from one plant to another.
  • Delay planting! In our case, most of us already having planted cucumbers, can plant another round late June or when you no longer see the beetles. Start from seeds at home now since transplants may no longer be available in nurseries later on.
  • Plant repellent companion plants BEFORE you plant your cukes. Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes act as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles. Radish are the fastest growers, so get them in ASAP if you didn’t before.
  • Natural predators are Wolf Spiders, daddy long legs and Ground Beetles! Let them live! They eat beetle eggs and larvae. And there is a tachinid fly and a braconid parasitoid wasp that parasitize striped cucumber beetle, and both sometimes have large impacts on striped cucumber beetles. When you see a dark hairy fly, don’t swat it! It is doing important garden business!
  • Here is a super important reason to use straw mulch! Per UC IPM ‘Straw mulch can help reduce cucumber beetle problems in at least 3 different ways. First, mulch might directly slow beetle movement from one plant to another. Second, the mulch provides refuge for wolf spiders and other predators from hot and dry conditions, helping predator conservation. Third, the straw mulch is food for springtails and other insects that eat decaying plant material; these decomposers are important non-pest prey for spiders, helping to further build spider numbers. It is important that straw mulch does not contain weed seeds and to make certain that it does not contain herbicide residues which can take years to fully break down.’
  • Organic mulches foster diverse populations of beneficial soil microorganisms that trigger the plant’s internal defenses.
  • At the end of the season or when your plants are done, remove garden trash, tired mulch and other debris shortly after harvest to reduce overwintering sites.

If you are by a road or in a dusty windswept area, rinse off the leaves to make your plants less attractive to whiteflies. Also, asap remove yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies. Pests adore tasty healthy plants just like we do. They also make us see which plants are weak or on their way out. Give those plants more care or remove them. Replace them with a different kind of plant that will do well now and produce in time before the season is over. Don’t put the same kind of plant there unless you have changed the conditions – enhanced your soil, installed a favorable companion plant, protected from wind, terraced a slope so it holds moisture, opened the area to more sun. Be sure you are planting the right plant at the right time! Remove mulch from under plants that were diseased and replace with clean mulch. Do not compost that mulch or put it in green waste. Trash it.

Please always be building compost and adding it, especially near short rooted plants and plants that like being moist. Compost increases your soil’s water holding capacity.

Reduce your carbon footprint! Grow local!

Summer Garden Mary Alice Ramsey in her North Carolina backyard

Mary Alice Ramsey in her North Carolina backyard. Photo by Hector Manuel Sanchez

May You enjoy a super beautiful, bountiful & juicy June!

Oh, and please see more about Tomatoes in February’s Newsletter!

Updated annually  



Summer Solstice is June 20, Father’s Day June 21! Congratulations to Grads and their families!
 Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts for any and all! You can even start some seeds now! Click here

Veggies and Flowers, Birds & Bees! Please enjoy a delightful array of early summer images at Rancheria Community Garden! You may get some ideas for those Father’s and Grad’s prezzies! Happy gardening!

Check out the entire June 2020 Newsletter!
It includes these and more!

  • Veggie Feeding Schedule for Your Delicious Summer Favorites!
  • Success with Eggplant, Aubergine!
  • Container Gardening, Garden Anywhere!
  • Special Treat! Sweet Summer Magic: Solstice Honey Cookies!


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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Mulch Types make a difference!
Mulch is what covers the soil. Compost goes in the soil and feeds it.

According to Texas A&M University, a well-mulched garden can yield 50% more vegetables than an unmulched garden space! Mulching brings soil organisms to enrich the top of your soil, where the plant’s feeder roots are! And, oh, yay, prevents light germinating hungry weed seeds from sprouting! Less time weeding! Healthy soil suppresses diseases! In addition to that, mulching cools your soil, keeps plant roots functioning optimally when it’s hot, keeps moisture in. Even only a two-to-four inch layer of mulch decreases evaporation from the soil by 70 percent or more! Water well before applying your mulch, or you will insulate dry soil rather than moist soil. Mulch prevents erosion, keeps your crop clean above the soil and above the soil predator zone, and in the long-term, if biodegradable, feeds your soil! Gardeners.com says University field tests have shown that mulch can increase (or decrease) yields by as much as 30 percent.’ Either way, 30% or 50% on the plus side is a significant amount!

I used to be a total indiscriminate mulcher, covered my whole veggie garden. I’ve adjusted my coastal SoCal mulch thinking to match the plant and the season! Here are important considerations about mulching that make a difference!

If you are north you mulch in winter and maybe summer depending on how hot things are where you live. In cold, cold winters, you use mulch like a blanket to keep the soil as warm as possible, maybe prevent it from freezing, extend your season, keep plants from freezing. And maybe it will all freeze anyway!

In SoCal, south, in our ‘winter’ rainy season, pull mulch away to let the sun warm the soil, reduce moist slug and snail habitat, let soil dry so fungi die, to remove pest habitat. Gardeners generally start mulching late April, May, in summer for sure, unless you are super coastal cool, or your garden is shaded. Then you mulch a little later, if at all. Mulching for us is to keep the soil cooler, keep it moist/use less water, keep roots from burning or drying out, reduce weeds.

The first plant you mulch in spring, well before May, is any Brassica – broccoli, kale – that you will be over summering. Brassicas like cool soil, so pile your mulch on good and deep, 4 to 6″! Sweet Peppers are quite the reverse, the last plants you mulch. They like soil temps above 65. Mulch keeps the soil cooler, so use your soil thermometer to see if your soil is up to that happy 65 yet. Mulch may be too cooling for your peppers, slowing their growth.

Beans and plants that have short roots that need to stay moist, you mulch. Strawberries get big pretty quickly and self mulch pretty soon though you could mulch them just enough to keep the berries clean and above the ground level predator zone. Chard likes moist and much cooler, so mulch. Zucchini, doesn’t care. They are a huge leaved plant, greedy sun lovers, that are self mulching.

Some like it HOT! Fact is, some veggies/fruits do better with no mulch at all! If you are coastal SoCal, in the marine layer zone, your mulch, or composting in place, may be slowing things down a lot more than you realize. The biggest most abundant melons I’ve ever seen grown at cool & coastal Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden were on bare hot dry soil in a plot that had a lower soil level than most of the other plots. The perimeter boards diverted any wind right over the top of the area, the soil got hot! It was like an oven! So, let it be bare! No mulch under melons, your winter squash, pumpkins except under the fruits to keep them off the ground up from insect predators, clean. Clearly, no mulch, more heat, equals more water needed. Raised beds and some containers also need more water since the beds are hotter. Water leaches the soil nutrients away, so you will need to feed, sidedress, those plants during the season.

Don’t trellis your melons or fruits that need heat. It’s cooler up on that trellis where most any breeze lowers the temps. Do put up a low wind barrier – straw bales, a perimeter of densely foliated plants, a big downed log, be creative. Let your peppers and jicama get hot! Eggplant is a Mediterranean heat lover! Okra is full sun Southern hot happy plant! Winter squash needs a full hot season to get their full growth and develop that protective hard shell.

Mulch can be many different materials as you can see in the image above. Keep them an inch away from your plant’s stem to avoid rot and fungal problems. Be garden smart! When possible, use an organic degradable mulch that feeds your soil too!

Biodegradable, soil building!

  • Straw is one of the simplest, fastest, easiest to use, readily available – some feed stores will let you sweep it up for free! It allows air circulation, water to get through. Apply 4″ deep or more, enough to keep the light from getting through to light germinating weed seeds, or if you want your soil to stay quite cool and damp underneath. Be sure it is the seed free kind!!!1″ Deep is good where you want no splash, like on lettuce, or to avoid soil splash on fungi susceptible leaves of tomatoes and cucumbers. Straw is the best choice for them because it allows air to circulate, letting the soil dry and the fungi die! For cucumbers, research shows straw might slow cucumber beetle movement from one plant to another! Plus, it is great shelter for wolf spiders, daddy long legs and other predators, helping predator conservation. The more spidies, the healthier your garden! More about successfully growing Tomatoes!It’s important to remove, throw away, not compost, tired mulch from under disease susceptible plants like tomatoes and cucumbers, then replace with fresh uninfected straw. Keeping it moist creates habitat the fungi do well in. If you keep forgetting to replace it, just remove it entirely and let that soil dry. As best you can, remove any soil-touching drooping leaves like religion!
  • Grass clippings need to be dried before use so they don’t form an impervious slimy mat. Spread them out, run a rake through them a few times. 24 hours and you’re in business. Once they are brown, the Nitrogen is gone, so they are no longer food, just mulch. Be sure no herbicides have been used on the grass.
  • Pine needles, deep downed leaves gathered after a windstorm. Use only leaves that have been aged at least nine months. This allows the growth-inhibiting phenols to be leached out. Run over the leaves with a mower or stomp them in a bag to break them down so they will be at soil level, available to the soil, and not blow away. See more! Know that pine needles can make your soil acidic over time.
  • A thick layer of compost is often used as mulch though when it is used it is usually covered with straw to keep it from totally drying out, off gassing Nitrogen, nutrients lost. Why waste any of it? Dig it into the soil.
  • Simple chop and drop! As you are gardening, have your clippers handy to cut up discarded disease and seed and pest free green waste. It can be mulch, or pull back your mulch, chop in your stuff, pull your mulch back over to cover it. If you have time, use your spade fork to put holes in the soil. Insert the fork, rock it back and forth a bit. Spread very well-aged manures. Cover with your chop and drop to compost in place. It acts as mulch while they decompose. When you water, it’s like compost or manure tea to the ground underneath. If you don’t like the look of that, cover it with some pretty purchased undyed mulch you like. Let it feed your soil.
  • LIVING MULCH, SELF MULCHING is triple productive! It mulches, provides companion plant advantages, and is a crop all at the same time! Closely planted beets, carrots, garden purslane, radish, strawberries, turnips act as living mulch to themselves and when used as an understory they are living mulch for the bigger plants too! The dense canopy their leaves make lets little light in, keeps things moist. Thin them out as they get larger. Eat the tasty tinys! Put plants like these, on the sunny side, around the bases of larger plants. Two crops from the same space!
  • Living Mulch Legume soil feeding understory! Aka cover crop, green manure! Fling a legume seed mix about under your taller plants, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, kale and let it grow. As some of the plants die, the Nitrogen nodules they form on their roots become available to your soil. At the end of the season you can turn it under for a super feed – add some manure if you wish, but not much is needed. OR, you can clear back spots to plant more large plants of the next season! Just slice in a hole through the legume roots, pop in your plant and you’re off! FREE except for the cost of the seeds! In SoCal White Clover is a good choice under summer plants. Be sure to plant companion plants that help your plants before you plant the plant you want to be helped. Add the Clover to fill in; it grows quickly and isn’t too tall.
  • Sawdust, Shavings, Wood bark/chips from disease and pesticide free trees. Ask a trustworthy arborist to deliver chips only from healthy trees. Specify the size of chips you want. They save dump fees. If you are growing organically avoid dyed materials. Generally chips and bark, called perpetual mulches, are used for pathways rather than on veggie beds.

    What you don’t see in the image at top is large bark chips. Yes, larger pieces decompose more slowly, and use up Nitrogen as they decompose. This is not so good in a veggie garden since that decomp uses the Nitrogen veggies need. Same problem when we do continuous sheet composting/lasagna gardening. The process takes N from the soil; our plants may not thrive the first year or so until a soil base is established unless you use a good bit of compost in your planting holes. If you are using chips from your local arborist, know that oaks have tannins, and eucalyptus and tea trees have aromatic oils that inhibit plant growth. Be careful how you use those chips, even in your landscaping, especially if you want to introduce veggies among your ornamentals. Check to see what is in bagged commercial mulches, how they have been processed and if they are dyed.Redwood fiber is acidic, good for shade plants, but you need acidic compost IN the soil for acid loving vegetable plants – strawberries, celery, beans. Please use redwood fiber as a last resort. Please save our beautiful trees. They take a long time to grow.

  • If you are using found manures as mulch, check if animals have been fed hormones, eat pesticide sprayed hays, or pesticides have been sprayed on the manures to reduce flies. It is much safer to get nursery bought bagged manures from a reputable nursery and a reputable brand.
  • Cardboard or simple overlapped sheets of newspaper…about 6 will do the job of suppressing light germinating seeds.
  • Strawberries Board MulchUntreated Boards as mulch! Your strawberries like slightly acidic soil, and acidic mulch – redwood or pine needles. Also, you can lay down boards between mini rows of strawberries to keep the soil moist under the boards, the soil between the rows that the berry roots have access to. It’s a variation on pallet gardening. The advantages of using boards are you can space or remove your boards so you can easily access the soil to weed or add amendments, you can add or remove boards to make a bigger or smaller patch, you can make the boards the length you need or want, space them as needed per the plant. Planting between boards can be used for lots of other plants too if you won’t be planting an understory! As for your strawberries, they leaf out and get bigger, and in addition to the boards, they become living mulch for themselves!
  • Grow your own organic mulch! Comfrey is a great choice! It is a plant with long roots that bring up nutrients from deep in the soil. It has abundant large leaves, and you can spread them about by your tomatoes and peppers. Chop and drop covered with another kind of mulch lets more of the comfrey goodness to permeate your soil. Comfrey has lovely blue flowers for pollinators, other beneficial insects, and hummingbirds. It’s best use, however, is as a compost nutrient and speeder upper! Turn in a few chopped leaves!

Not Biodegradable but still good!

  • Gravel, Rocks of a size and color that pleases you, though this would be easier to use for permanent landscaping rather than veggies that change seasonally. But if it’s all you have…it works. If you live in a windy or desert area, your garden is on a slope, rocks might be best. Rocks were used in Zuni, Hopi and Navajo waffle gardens.
  • Plastic. It works, a lot of commercial growers use it, but it doesn’t feed your soil. There are reasons to use different colors for specific crops, ie red works best with tomatoes! In an urban yard garden there might not be enough of that crop to warrant its use. You must put in a drip system underneath it; rainwater can’t get into the soil. It might work best in a windy area, on a hillside, where other mulch would be blown or washed away. Be careful with it because it is also used in the solarization process to heat the soil to kill weeds, read also the roots of your plants.  The biggest negative is it also kills beneficial soil organisms like worms. If it works for your situation, secure it with garden staples.

Other than rocks, too much mulch would be hard to do. Too little doesn’t do the job. Replenish thinning late summer mulch. Deep mulch really protects the soil and brings soil organisms to the surface where the mulch layer meets the earth. Worms thrive in moist cool soil. Deep mulch feeds the soil and decomposes within the pile too.

If you are going to mulch, do it justice. Put on 4 to 6 inches minimum. Less than that may be cheaper and pretty, but simply makes great habitat for those little grass and weed seeds! Mulch makes moist soil, where a rich multitude of soil organisms can thrive, including great fat vigorous earthworms if you keep your soil wet enough! You see them, you know your soil is well aerated, doing great!

COMPOSTING IN PLACE!  One of the nifty tricks of using deeply mulched areas is to build soil right where you need it! Tuck kitchen waste out of sight under your mulch, where you will plant next or simply to feed the soil there! Sprinkle with a little healthy soil if you have some to spare. That inoculates your pile with soil organisms; pour on some compost tea to add some more! Throw on some red wriggler surface feeder worms. Grow yarrow or Russian comfrey (Syphytum x uplandicum) for leaves to put down first, then add your kitchen stuff. Comfrey speeds decomposition. What you put under your mulch will compost quickly, no smells, feeds your soil excellently! If you keep doing it in one place, a nice raised bed will be built there with little effort!

Mulch Straw, Plant Now!Deepest mulch can act like a compost pile that heats up. It can extend your growing season. By installing it early you may be able to plant earlier. You don’t have to wait to plant! Just make an opening, add finished compost, amendments of your choice, and plant! There are two schools of thinking about fall mulch. 1) As fall cools, mulch keeps the soil insulated, warmer longer, extending your fall growing as well! 2) Or, late summer, as cooling starts, you may find removing mulch is better so the soil is again warmed by the Sun. Get out your soil thermometer and test it for yourself and let me know, please!

Mulching is double good on slopes and hillsides. Make your rock lined water-slowing ‘S’ terrace walk ways snaking along down the hillside. Cover your berms well and deeply to prevent erosion and to hold moisture when there are drying winds. Use a mulch that won’t blow away or be sure to cover it with plastic or netting and anchor it in windy areas – biodegradable anchor stakes and ‘extra tall’ stakes are available. Carolyn Csanyi has some clever ideas on how to keep your mulch on a slope. Plant fruit trees, your veggies on the sunny side under them, on the uphill side of your berms. Make your terrace wide enough so you don’t degrade the berms by walking on them when you harvest.

Keep your Mulch topped! Cover bare spots and replenish where your mulch is getting thin. 4 -6″ is a good depth. Preferably use light colored mulches, like straw, that reflect the sunlight. If your mulch has meshed into a tight layer, use a watering spike so water gets to the roots of your plants or make holes with your spade fork. Insert it, rock it back and forth, water. Straw, rather than a meshing mulch, is better for your veggies.

Remove and trash mulch where plants have had pests or disease; replace with clean mulch. Do NOT compost it or put it in green waste for city pickup. In general, remove overwintering pest habitat – old straw, weeds and piles of debris.

Any organic mulch will decompose. It really becomes sheet composting or composting in place! An 18″ deep pile becomes about 9″ high in 3 days to a week depending on temps, how wet it is, what kinds and sizes of pieces are used! Such a grand deep pile of mulch can easily become a super nutritious raised bed!

A variation of that is to first plant green manure, a legume and oat mix, let it grow, cut it down at first bloom, chop into pieces, let it sit on top 3 weeks, turn under, then cover that with deep mulch and let it be. If you have them, add some surface feeding worms, red wigglers. Your soil is fed, soil organisms are enriching it, excellent soil structure is being created. In a warm SoCal ‘winter’ you can do this anytime. The whole process can take 3.5 months depending on which plants you choose to grow. See more!

End of Season 

Soil resting and restoration! At the end of summer, depending on the type of materials you used, and if your soil has no disease fungi, the mulch was not under a plant that had pest infestations or disease, you can rest and feed that area of your soil by simply digging your old mulch in. Cover that area with a good deep layer of new mulch, or put on layers of materials and compost in place! Let the soil organisms party out. Leave it alone until your next planting time. It will become living vigorous nutritious soil!

It there have been pests or disease, trash that mulch, literally. Again, Do NOT compost it or put it in green waste for city pickup. In general, remove overwintering pest habitat – old straw, weeds and piles of debris.

So, you see, there are times to mulch and times not to mulch. Using less saves money, saves work. Using it well gives you a better crop!

Mulch is magic when done right! Enjoy that 30 to 50% increased yield!


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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Self Mulching Delicious Summer Edible Landscaping 2020!

Self Mulching Delicious Summer Edible Landscaping!

In view of COVID-19, many of you want to start growing 100% fresh organic food right at your own doorstep! Here are some great tips to get you going!

Fast Plants to Grow Indoors or Out! Clearly, you need that food soonest! Fast has a very different meaning when you are talking about growing veggies! Here is a mini list of days to maturity to give you the idea:

  • Arugula | Rocket | 20-40 days
  • Beets | 40-70 days | tops and roots, harvest when small
  • Broccoli Raab/Rapini/Rabi | 40-60 days| leaves and tops are edible
  • Kale | 30-65 days | the baby greens are much more tender than mature kale
  • Leaf lettuce | 40-60 days
  • Mesclun Greens | 30-45 days
  • Onion greens | 40-50 days | grow micro-onion greens, baby bulbs, or onion stalks
  • Peas | 50-60 days | pea shoots are sweet and delicious! (Winter in SoCal)
  • Radishes | 21-30 days | Radish tops are mild and add nice flavor to salads
  • Spinach | 30-55 days
  • Swiss Chard | 30-60 days
  • Turnips | 35-50 days | Leaves and root are edible

Of course these timings vary per location and climate! In SoCal we have more leeway and many crops can be grown year round. However, if you are in the desert, a lot of community gardens close for the summer – just too hot. With careful management and lighting, you could do indoor container gardening. Try a walapini, a dug out earth shelter greenhouse! It’s cool in summer, warm in winter!

Greenhousing is an art! In super cold winter areas others of you may also need to rely on indoor container gardening and installing lighting, and well insulated greenhouses. For ideas and tips:  Greenhouses – the Six Weeks Advantage!   Heating Greenhouses Without Electricity!

If growing your own is too daunting, do support your local CSA, Community Supported Agriculture! Many are organic and you can ask if they deliver. Many do, especially now. You might start with this post on Santa Barbara County CSAs! I didn’t see a date for the post, so some of the info may be out of date, but you get the idea. Also great places to support are the Santa Barbara area Farmer Markets!

Combining supporting CSAs and Farmer Markets AND your own gardening will give you the best of the best while you are learning! Farmer Markets are a great place to ask your very local gardening questions! First, ask where their farm is! It might be in a different climate or a town or even further away. Sometimes there are Master Gardener question tables at Farmer Markets! Sign up for their events or get on their email list!

CONSIDERATIONS BEFORE YOU START

There will be water expenses.

6-8 Hours of Full Sun really is best. Shade is slow, disappointing production, small size results, plants can just fail.

Soil matters. A lot. Urban soils have often been abused or neglected. Maybe you have limited location choices with accessible water. If you are super fortunate, you may have a place with great soil for veggie gardening. Slightly alkaline loam is terrific. Do some soil testing before you get started to see if any adjustment is needed.

You may want to build a raised bed on a lawn. Raised beds can be rather instantaneous wooden boxes or an area piled with nutritious premade booster soil, compost, manure, worm castings. No need for digging. Raised beds can be built in place layer by layer, composted in place. That might be done in the fall for spring planting. You can do both, the quick one first, the spring one in progress. Actually you can start a composted raised bed anytime and continue building it forever! Add kitchen waste, cover with a 1/2″ layer of straw, repeat, repeat, repeat! If you want to plant in your unfinished pile, open a hole, throw in compost, a little manure, whatever amendments make you happy and plant!

However, when you are getting started, there is no need to immediately make compost or hunt for manure. You can buy it inexpensively, safely processed, in convenient bags at the nursery! Once you get your plants growing, if you want to, you can add composting to your talents, find SAFE manure sources.

Container Vegetable Living Gift - Lettuces Edible FlowersThere are plenty of places to grow veggies once you have decided to give it a go!

– At home indoors or out, wherever there is the most sun. You might replace part of your lawn if it is the sunniest location or comingle veggies and landscape plants – edible landscaping!
– In a Greenhouse, on the roof!
– Share space with a neighbor
– Start a container garden in your home, on your patio, your balcony, porch – best directions are East, South, West facing.
– Join a Community Garden. Some of them have waiting lists, so get on the list ASAP. You can always refuse a plot if you change your mind or have found other garden space by the time your name comes up.

If you have little space, go Vertical! Use trellises and cages, pallets on their sides, fences, hanging baskets, towers, strawberry pots, shelves, the roof! Vertical Gardening, a Natural Urban Choice!  Vertical Veggie Garden in a 55 Gallon ‘Drum!’

Gardeners start their plants from seed, just like their parents and grandparents did, or go to the local nursery and get transplants! Transplants are the fastest choice; seeds get you varieties not available at nurseries. Be a little careful at box stores because they don’t always sell plants in season for your locality or part of town. For example, Santa Barbara has cooler beach front properties and hot, dry foothills properties that can be hot in day, cold at night, desert like!

Seeds can be planted at the same time you install transplants to get you a continuous supply for your table. Read the seed packets carefully before you purchase them, and if you buy them, again at planting time! Buy from reputable seed houses, preferably organic. Be sure they are appropriate to your location at the time you would like to plant them. Ask around. Talk with your neighbors, local nursery people knowledgeable about veggies, your farmers market.

Heirlooms? You may think heirlooms are the virtuous way to go. It depends on the plant, your location, the condition of your soil. If you are unsure, go with hybrids. Nothing wrong with hybrids. Some of them are well bred, have set a high standard, and worth the money! Mother Nature does her own hybridizing! Here are mind opening surveys that were conducted by Mother Earth News on Tomatoes & the Most Productive Garden Crops! They concluded: ‘Many respondents declared an “heirlooms only” stance on tomatoes, especially in climates that are kind to tomatoes. Disease-resistant hybrids won more favor in stressful growing situations. Additionally, our survey showed that interest in better disease resistance increases with years of tomato-growing experience.’

Edible Landscape Tomatoes and Flower Companions! (1)
SELECTING YOUR PLANTS!

Best if you like that plant or you will not treat it as well or even somehow neglect to harvest it. But it is a good choice to select some plants others in your household like even if you don’t!

Think of Nutrition. Though you may not like a particular good-for-you plant in the most popular ways, see if there might be a way you could fix it that you would enjoy. I’m not a kale fan, but I eat it happily added to soups and stews! I like shredded beets and their greens stir fried! 

Smart choices may involve choosing plants high in production per square foot! SoCal in Summer: Zucchini, Green Beans on a trellis, Fordhook Giant Chard, Kale, Tomatoes. In winter, kales and broccoli with greens planted underneath, elegant Chard, and colorful carrots thrive with trellised peas.

Quickest to Harvest! The fastest are radishes, lettuces, arugula, spinach, greens of all kinds, chard. Beets and turnips are two for one crops – you can eat the greens and the roots!

For soonest production select mini varieties, like baby carrots, small beets or cucumbers, eggplants, cherry tomatoes. Select bush varieties of beans and tomatoes. They mature more quickly. At the same time plant pole and vining indeterminate tomato varieties for all season production to follow.

Companion Planting Set, excellent use of space!
Marvelous GARDEN DESIGN!

If you need a lot of food in a small space then Companion Planting is the number one technique and makes terrific sense! You can combine helping plants and herbs for greater health and output. See more Herbs to support your garden.

Here is a super SUMMER companion list! 

  • Alyssum is a great old fashioned pretty border plant, an understory living mulch. And WHITE Alyssum repels the cabbage butterfly.
  • Basil repels several unwanted insects, is great near tomatoes but not in the basin with the tom. The tom needs less water. Plant the Basil beside the tom basin. The deeper tomato roots will get water used to water the Basil!
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill to go with pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini & Cukes to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes act as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Chamomile is a love! Pretty, great tea, known as the “plant doctor,” chamomile has been known to revive and revitalize plants growing near it. That’s especially good to know for plants that are susceptible to diseases. Plant it by plants that are wilts susceptible, like your tomatoes & cucumbers .
  • Cosmos is for pollinators! More at SFGate
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!
  • Lettuce and carrots make a great understory below larger plants – in summer peppers, eggplant, in winter below Broccoli and Kales. They act as living mulch! Leave a little open space to lightly dig in some compost or manure later in the season. If you already have enough lettuce and carrots, scatter a living mulch, soil feeding legume seed mix under those plants. At the end of the season you can turn it all under – aka Green Manure. Or remove the larger plants, open up spots in the living mulch and put in winter/summer plants! See much more – Living Mulch/Green Manure!

Tasty WINTER Companions!

– Brassicas! That’s biggies like our broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts.

  • Cilantro makes brocs grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!
  • It is said lettuces repel cabbage moths. Install transplants on the sunny side under big plants. As the plants get bigger remove a few lower leaves if needed to let sun in; put a few between cabbages.
  • Aphids and whitefly love Kale, and other Brassicas, so along with that Cilantro, plant garlic and chives among your Brassicas! Remove yellowing Brassica lower leaves that attract whiteflies.
  • Though this is a pseudo companion idea, research has shown there are less aphids when you alternately plant different varieties of brocs together! 

Peas and Carrots, NO onions, onion family, within several feet. Onions stunt peas. Carrots enhance peas!!!

Somewhere along the line, do add some flowers for beauty, pure joy, and your pollinators! Some flowers are edible! Calendula See Grow a Pollinator Meadow at Home in Your Veg Garden!  “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”  ~ Claude Monet 

Garden Layout is Totally Individual Choice! Other than planting tall to the back, short to the front, so everyone gets sun, the sky’s the limit! Get some terrific ideas here!  Summer   Winter

For continuous harvests, sow or transplant your favorites or the fastest-growing crops every two weeks. That’s called succession planting. Adjust that as you find out what works for you and that plant, you and your family, your soil, sun/shade and temps!

If you are starting on a low budget, as many are, also see Veggie Gardening for NO $ at All! for some super tips and tricks!

Know that many have started gardening with no one to help them, trial and error their only teachers. That works but it can slow you down… If you have neighbors, elders that remember their gardens, ask questions! Get online and check several authors’ posts on the same topic – be sure to read the comments and threads! Often the best answers are in them! Make sure they are in your part of the country or have a climate like yours. Ask at your local nursery and farmer market! Their businesses depend on doing it right and giving you the right answers. It may sound a little crazy this early in the game, but start your own garden blog! When you teach others, you have to learn it to know what to say! Your knowledge will expand exponentially! Many will thank you!

Congratulations on your new venture! Happy Gardening!
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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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July basket of tasty summer veggies!

Thanks to Grow Veg for this delicious image! See their great post on ‘How to Tell When Fruits and Vegetables are Ready for Harvest’

Happy 4th of July to you all! Henry David Thoreau says ‘Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw.’ That’s us, growing the freshest, most nutritious, organic food there is! Enjoy your luscious tomatoes!

July is maintaining and feeding, harvesting, seedsaving, storage, share Month, the beginnings of fall planting preparations for late August!

July is Tomato month! Bush and cherry toms turned red in May and June, but the big indeterminate all-summer-long tomatoes come in July in big numbers! Super salads on the way!

July usually brings your greatest variety of table fresh veggies and herbs! It’s colorful and full of great textures. This is giveaway time if you don’t can. It’s giveaway time if you have so much there is enough canned and/or frozen for you and your family and then some! Some of us SoCal gardeners don’t can at all because our fall, winter crops are so nutritious and freshly abundant there is no need! Some feel eating with the seasons is the most natural and best for your body.

Sharing is a blessing to people who don’t have access to fresh organic food. Fresh foods last so much longer than store bought, and have so much better taste! Start with family, friends, neighbors. Give to senior communities and those who prepare food for them. Remember they often have special dietary needs and more fragile teeth. Less spicy and less crunchy. Give to any organization that helps people in need, the FoodBank, maybe your local women’s shelter. When we eat better we think more clearly, our body heals, our Soul mends. Thank you and bless you for caring so much.

Sidedressing is important now while plants are working hard!

General sidedressing, during season feeding times, are when baby plants are just up 5, 6 inches tall, when vines start to run, at bud time, and first fruiting. From then on it varies per plant! Late July when some plants are near the end of production, extend their fruiting with a good feed – in the ground, or foliar, preferably both, but foliar tops ground feeding for several reasons! See more!

  • Manure feeds are especially great for lettuce, and all others except for beans, beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet and white potatoes, and tomatoes, or there’ll be more foliage than fruit! Lettuce loves chicken manure but only about a 1/4 inch gently dug in. No teas with manure on foliage you will be eating.
  • Give your peppers and Solanaceae, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, Epsom Salt/Magnesium foliar treatments.
  • Every couple of weeks your strawberries would love a light fish emulsion/kelp drench.
  • Or you can foliar feed everyone some tea! Make a super duper mixed tea – no compost is needed in that mix for plants whose soil was well composted before planting. First make your tea. When it is ready, make your spade fork holes and apply a good compost/worm castings mix, then foliar feed with your tea! Less holes are better because you don’t want to damage too many of the lateral surface feeder foots. Drippings will help moisten your mulch and compost/castings on the ground below! Last, water well with a low flow water wand underneath your plant so everything stays where you put it and you don’t wash away your foliar feed. Do that before the sun gets on your plants or while it is still cool in the day and plants have plenty of time to dry during the day. Low flow also lets water and tea and compost/castings drippings drizzle down into the spade fork holes! THAT is a super feed!Mixed teas feed and help prevent pests and diseases. They serve up beneficial living microbes to your plant and provide trace minerals it may need. Use foliar tea more frequently for plants that are ailing or in recovery. On an immediate basis, foliar feeding is 8 to 20 times more potent than ground feeding, and your plant takes it up in as little as an hour! Plants in immediate need can be helped right away! Compost supplies the organic matter that tea doesn’t supply, so it is critical in and of itself, plus it has many times more nutrients than a diluted tea. On and in the ground it decomposes slowly, feeds your plant steadily. It and castings have great water holding capacity. Do both whenever you can!
  • Compost is always super. Remember to use acidic compost for strawberries and some other veggies that don’t mind a slight acidity! Pull back the mulch. Grab your spade fork, insert it, rock it gently, remove the fork leaving the holes. Stay 8″ away from the central stem, go out to the dripline. Gently scratch up only one or two separate areas around your plant out to the dripline, even a little further to encourage roots to extend, and to feed the feeder roots that are in progress growing out further. Avoid breaking a substantial number of tiny surface feeder roots, otherwise your plant will be slowed down by being in recovery for lack of food and ability to uptake water. Mix in your compost and lay on a 1/2″ to an inch of compost on top of areas you didn’t dig up. While you are at it, be sure your basins are retaining their shape out to the dripline. Put your mulch back, add more (straw) if it needs replenishing, replace it if it’s by a plant that has had pests or disease. Gently water well. Keep the area moist for a few days so soil organisms can multiply! See Composting Methods, Make it Your Way!
  • Save yourself some time by adding 25% Worm castings, and for plants that need it, a bit of manure, to your compost and apply them all together. Especially apply that mix to any ailing plants or plants in recovery. Castings help our plants uptake soil nutrients and boost your plant’s immune system. When your plant is taxed producing fruit in great summer conditions, it also is peaking out for the season and fighting pests and diseases are harder for it. Adding compost and castings may prolong and up the quantity and quality of late summer fruits. However, sometimes a plant is just done. No amount of coaxing will have effect. It worked hard. Thank it. Let it produce its seeds for seedsaving, or take it to the compost altar.

If you prefer organic granulated fertilizer sprinkle it around evenly per instructions, and water in well. Just know you will have to do that more frequently, and it doesn’t provide the water holding capacity that compost and castings do. 

Feeding your plants can be plant specific or in general. For example, Tomatoes and Peppers (and Roses – edible petals), do well with a little sulfur. It is easily applied – a Tablespoon of Epsom salts, and a 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap as a surfactant (so your application sticks to the leaves), in a gallon watering can is all it takes. If the nozzle turns up to get under those leaves, all the better. Apply before the sun hits your plants or while it is still cool.

If any of your plants are looking puny, have yellowing leaves, might give them a bit of blood meal for a quick Nitrogen pick me up. Add compost, castings and a tad of manure too so your plant has steady food after the blood meal (an expensive feed) is used. If you have predators creatures, especially skunks or raccoons, forgo stinky fish emulsions and blood meal.
Zucchini Squash Zoodles Kale Pesto Edamame RecipeLate July, gardeners are starting to want new ways to enjoy their Zucchini! ZOODLES! Zucchini Zoodles Kale Pesto Edamame Recipe! Here are 28 cool summer variations on how to include this common veggie in a unique way!

Take care of pests and diseases asap! You don’t want them to spread or increase, lose the fruit of all your efforts and time. July brings hot weather, water stress, the stress of continued production. Though you may be a bit tired with all your tending and harvesting, this is not the time to interrupt your care. The heat will bring hatchings; tired plants may get overwhelmed by diseases. Be consistent with your watering. Stay on it with your harvest to keep your plants in production, sidedress (feed) as needed. Mercilessly squash the cucumber beetles, the green/yellow and black striped jobs. They give your plants, especially cucumbers, deathly systemic diseases. Put down pellets for slugs & snails, use sulfur and soap in foliar feeds to keep back aphids. See more! Keep plants susceptible to Whiteflies free from dust and Ants, and well supplied with worm castings. Hose the flies away, and remove infected leaves or the whole plant if it gets them repeatedly. Insecticidal soaps or Neem oil can reduce populations.

The old one, two! If your area has Fusarium/Verticillium wilts or Mosaic Virus, first foliarly apply 1/4 C bleach to a gallon of water. Be sure to apply to both under and upper sides of the leaves, and the stems. The next day give your plants a boost with the immune booster/mildew prevention mix: 1/4 C nonfat powdered milk, 1 regular crushed aspirin, heaping tablespoon Baking Soda, 1/2 teaspoon dish soap, to a gallon of water.

I found refraining from watering my strawberries but once a week, more in exceptionally hot or windy weather, and not mulching under my strawberries keeps the slugs and snails at bay. They don’t like dry soil. Do put down organic slug/snail bait where you will be sprouting seeds and while the seedlings are coming up. Aphids don’t thrive in a dryer environment either. Water the plants susceptible to them a little less. Remove yellowing leaves asap. Yellow attracts whiteflies. Leafminers love temps in the 70s! Remove damaged areas of leaves immediately so they don’t spread. Plant so mature plant leaves don’t touch each other so pests and disease don’t go plant to plant. Mice and rats love tomato nibbles and they are well equipped to climb! A garden kitty who loves to hunt is a good helper. Keep your compost turned so mice don’t nest in it; remove debris piles and ground shrub or hidey habitat. Please don’t use rodenticides that in turn kill birds, pets, or animals that would feed on a poisoned animal. That includes Gophers. For gophers, install wire barriersSee more about pests! 

Watering in July is vital, along with Compost & Mulch. Compost increases water holding capacity. Mulch shades soil, keeps it and your plant’s roots cooler, keeps soil more moist longer, less water needed. Melons in cooler coastal areas don’t need mulch! They self shade and hot soil helps them produce better. Give them a good sized basin so tiny lateral feeder roots can fully supply that big plant with water and nutrients. Put a stake in the center of the basin so you know where to water when the area is covered with those big leaves! Replenish tired or missing mulch the birds might have scratched away. Steady water is a must to produce good looking fruits. Some water then none makes misshapen strawberries, called catfaced, curled beans and cukes, carrots lose their consistent shape. Tomatoes have more flavor when they are watered a tad less just before harvest. You can do that with bush varieties, determinates, but with indeterminate vining types you just have to see how it goes. Lots of tasty flavor tests may be in order! They have deep tap roots, so usually watering nearby plants is sufficient. Short rooted plants like beans, beets, lettuces need frequent watering to keep moist. Some plants just need a lot of water, like celery.

Don’t be fooled by Temporary High Temps! Non heat resistant or tolerant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, stop flowering and fruiting when temps rise above 85 to 90 degrees F for an extended time depending on humidity. Humidity causes pollen to stick and not fall to pollinate. Dry heat causes the pollen to fall and not stick! When weather cools, you will have blooms again and be back in production. Rattlesnake beans, on the other hand, keep right on producing at 100 degree temps! So choose heat tolerant veggie varieties, like Heatmaster and Solar tomatoes, from locales with hot weather. Wonderful heat tolerant varieties are out there!
Zucchini Lasagna! Eat it hot or cold on a summer evening!

Cool summer evenings enjoy Zucchini Lasagna! You can even eat it cold, and for breakfast!

Though July is more a maintenance and harvest month, Yes you can plant more! At this point, transplants are best, but many plants will not still be available at nurseries, and it is a tad late to plant many plants from seed. What you can plant is beans! They grow quickly and if you grow bush beans and quickly maturing heat tolerant varieties you will still be eating beans in Sept and Oct if it doesn’t get cold early! Get patio container types of quick growing heat tolerant determinate tomatoes if you can find them. Previously planted tomatoes may be done producing, or bit the dust for one reason or another – likely a blight or wilt. Remove the old plants to reduce further spread of disease – do NOT compost them. Beef up the soil and plant your late tomatoes in an entirely different spot.

More lettuces! In summer you want heat tolerant, slow bolting, tip burn resistant lettuce! Lettuce Leaf and Red Sails and Outredgeous are great. Jericho from Israel is great. Sierra, Nevada. Nevada is a Green Crisp/Batavian that grows BIG, doesn’t bolt, and is totally crispy! Green Star is ruffly, grows big around! Parris Island Romaine is slow bolting. Green Towers Romaine tolerates moderate summer heat and has some resistance to tipburn and bolting.

Transplant basil, celery, chard, cucumbers, dill, kale, leeks, summer lettuce, green onions, white potatoes, summer savory, New Zealand spinach. In our hot foothills and further south, go for more melons, okra, pumpkins, summer & winter squash. I’ve seen tomato transplants and bean seeds started in August produce plentiful crops into October! Rattlesnake pole beans do as they are supposed to, make beans in up to 100 degree weather! Yard long beans tolerate late summer weather and make magnificent beans! And some varieties of those don’t get mildew!

Corn is an exception – late plantings often develop smut. But. That smut, from a fungus called Ustilago maydis, is considered a delicacy by many. It’s insanely delicious and luxurious, like black truffles.’ In Mexico it is known as huitlacoche. – weet-la-COH-cheh. Your neighboring gardeners may especially not be pleased, however. See more!  

Fall transplants need babying! Transplant late afternoon or evening so plants have the whole night to begin to recover before they’re hit with a full day of sun and heat. Water well and provide shade from intense mid-day sun. Prop up and secure some of those plastic plant flats that have the finer grid pattern to filter the light. Keep your transplants moist for at least a month or until they’re well established. Mulch to save water unless they thrive on hot soil.

Harvesting has special little techniques and storage varies considerably from veggie to veggie! See more for details!

Be really patient with your big Bells and sweet roasting Peppers. Both like to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up – making their thick walls. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh. Some will still be needing to change color.

>> At the end of the month, SoCal gardeners start your winter crops! Sow Carrots (they  do best from seed), celery and Brassicas. Brassicas are arugula, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (especially red and savoy types, which resist frost better), cauliflower, and kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard, pak choi, radish, rutabaga, turnip.

Mid to late July start preparing by clearing areas for late July first fall plantings. Remove finishing weakened plants that attract pests and get diseases. Remove debris insects live in. Remove and trash mulch from under plants that were diseased and replace with clean mulch. Decide where you will plant your green manure patches. Add worm castings to mini nursery areas you will be planting seedlings in. Castings speed germination and add water holding capacity to help keep the soil moist. Leave space so the seedlings can be removed by a narrow trowel to their permanent place when they become big enough and space becomes available. Keep the soil moist and shaded until they’re up, and then gradually allow them more sun over a week’s time.

It’s time to get seeds if you don’t already have them! If seeds and mini nurseries aren’t your thing, wait until your local nursery starts having the transplants that make you happy! Late August they might start trickling in. Labor Day weekend is a favorite planting time for some gardeners depending on how hot it still is. October is just fine too! One year it stayed so hot we all planted the first couple weeks of November!

Delicious Healthy Recipe Zucchini Rolls

Tasty Zucchini Rolls made with Sunflower Seeds Pate, Sun Dried Tomatoes and Spinach! See complete recipe by Chris at Tales of a Kitchen!

If you are just starting, just got your first plot at one of the community gardens, first, prepare your soil! While waiting for fall planting time, plant a few patches of fast growing, less water needing, heat lovers, lots of summer heat tolerant lettuces for your salads! They may need a little shade cloth protection. Plan out your fall/winter layout, remembering tall to the north, short to the south. Winter plants don’t take up as much food in cooler weather, so use less compost and manure. Remember, nature’s soil is naturally only 5% organic matter, but we are growing veggies, so a little more than that is perfect. Too much food and plants go to all leaf, but then a lot of winter veggies are just that, all leaf! Cabbage, Chard, Kale, Lettuces. Oh, lettuces thrive with manures, so put more in the lettuce patch areas, but none where the carrots or peas will grow. They don’t need it.

Important Habitat! As plants finish, let some of them grow out to save seeds. A carrot, celery and cilantro produce masses of seeds! Besides being food for pollinators and beneficial predator insects, they are beautiful! Birds will have seeds for food and scour your plants for juicy cabbage worms, whiteflies, aphids, earwigs, grasshoppers, cucumber beetles and grubs! Chickadees even eat ants!

Seedsaving is really a no-nonsense game! Besides being our second harvest, it insures the purity of your line! They are from a plant that grew well at your place! It’s important to our world community, as Thomas Rainer says, to preserve our garden heritage & biodiversity! Besides, it’s fun! Keep some for you – some as spices & others for planting. Package as gifts, and reserve some to take to the Seed Swap in January!

Let some beans go until they are completely dry in their pods; let corn dry until the kernels are hard on the cob. Let a cucumber turn yellow and tough. Save some seeds from your favorite and best tomatoes. Dry them further in home. When ready, put in an envelope, label with their name/variety, date/year, any other info you think you would be helpful. See more about SeedSaving!

Be ready for winter rain! If you garden at home, please look into water capture and gray water systems – shower to flower, super attractive bioswale catchments. In Santa Barbara County there are rebates available! Call (805) 564-5460 today to schedule a FREE water system checkup! Check out the Elmer Ave retrofit!

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes. ~ Author Unknown

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See the entire July Newsletter!

Check out the Japanese Red Kuri Squash Adventure! Please enjoy these lively summer images at two of Santa Barbara CA’s community gardens, Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria! Happy gardening!

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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April 2019! Time for those Luscious Heat Lovers!

Earth Day Green Shovel and Rake! Boots and Kids!

Green gear in honor of Earth Day 2019! Plant a garden. Grab the kids, a shovel and some seeds and hit the dirt with your family. Whether you plant one tomato plant in a pot or a large garden of fruits and veggies, gardening with your kids will teach them about the cycles of nature and the beauty of growing your own food. ~ Mother Nature Network

Soil Thermometer for Veggies

Recently night air temps have been steadily in the early 50s. Soil temps in the sun are now just 51° – 56°. 60° to 65° are what we are looking for. PEPPERS especially need warmer temps, nighttime temps steadily above 55°F and soil temps above 65°F. If planted too soon, sometimes they miss their natural sequence of production, and never produce. Check out the Quick Guide to Summer Veggie Soil & Temp Preferences!

APRIL through JUNE Planting Timing  

APRIL is true heat lovers time! Start MORE seedlings indoors NOW for successive June plantings. Sow seeds. If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, get transplants and pop them in the ground per their right times! April 1 or as close to it as you can, start your Jicama seeds! Winter squash for sure. It needs time to grow big and harden for winter storage. MAY for cantaloupe, peppers, pumpkins and squash! Wait until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons. Many wait until May, some even June, to plant tomatoes to avoid soil fungi. Some gardeners wait until JUNE to plant okra. Okra really likes heat and grows quickly when happy. Choose faster maturing varieties for coastal SoCal. Long beans need warm temps to start from seeds. If YOU anticipate a HOT summer, plant a tad earlier, but be prepared to deal with it if summer is overcast as often is the case after all.

While we are waiting for the right temps, do soil preps that may still be needed. Weed out plants that won’t help your summer lovers. Make your soil fluffy with water holding compost, only 5 to 10%, while also adding tasty well aged manure!

Keep COMPOSTING! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, feeds slowly just perfectly! And if you made it, you know what’s in it! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place! In place takes the least time, is the most efficient, is a worm buffet! Make a trench in the top 6″+ of soil, put in your ingredients, chop fine, sprinkle with well aged manure, mix in some soil so the chopped bits don’t form an impervious mat, cover with the soil you removed. Give it 2 to 3 weeks and you are ready to plant! Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist. Giving back to Mama Earth is nature’s natural way! And, like Will Allen says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins.

Put in last minute amendments, soil preps for May plantings of cantaloupe, okra, more tomatoesAbout Manures

Heat lovers are eggplant, limas, okra and peppers, pumpkins! Transplant early-maturing varieties of beans, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Sow and/or transplant asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, chard, corn, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, heat-tolerant leaf lettuce, okra, summer-maturing onions, parsley, peanuts, the last peas (choose a heat-tolerant variety such as Wando), white potatoes with zucchini, radishes (with cukes to repel cuke beetles, and with eggplant to repel flea beetles), rhubarb, and spinach.

Choose heat and drought tolerant varieties when you can. For example, why wait when it gets HOT and your tomato stops setting fruit?! Get heat tolerant varieties the heat doesn’t bother! Check out this nifty page of options at Bonnie Plants!  See Tomatoes are the Fireworks of Your Summer Garden! 

Tomatoes! Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts, Fusarium and Verticillium. Instead, get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In Santa Barbara area continued drought conditions, consider getting only indeterminates. In the Mother Earth News tomato survey, they found gardeners chose heirlooms over hybrids if their soil is wilt/blight free. Otherwise, the longer the gardener has gardened, they more they chose wilt resistant toms if their soil has fungi. La Sumida has the largest tomato selection in the Santa Barbara area! See Special Planting and growing tips for your Tomatoes and Cucumbers! If you are interested in the Indigo family of tomatoes, Terra Sol will be having them again this year! Call ahead to see when they will arrive – save space for them! Please support your local nursery and their families.

Time for heat-resistant, bolt-resistant lettuces of all kinds! Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson are some. Green Star wins the beauty award and is super productive! Tips for super Successful Transplanting!

Alyssum Garden Companion Flower Yellow Chard Border repels Cabbage Butterfly

Strengthen your garden! Remember, plant your Companions! Keep the biodiversity rolling! Plant pest deterring plants first so they will be up and working when you put in your seeds or transplants!

  • Alyssum, in the image above, is a great old fashioned pretty border plant, an understory living mulch. And white Alyssum repels the cabbage butterfly.
  • Basil repels several unwanted insects, is great near tomatoes but not in the basin with the tom. The tom needs less water.
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill to go with pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!
  • Lettuce and carrots make a great understory below larger plants like peppers, eggplant. They act as living mulch! If you already have enough lettuce and carrots, scatter a living mulch, soil feeding legume seed mix under those plants. At the end of the season you can turn it all under – aka Green Manure. Or remove the larger plants, open up spots and put in winter plants! See much more – Living Mulch/Green Manure!

Keep ’em coming! If you have already done some planting, mid to late April, schedule to pop in another round! Poke in some bean seeds where your very last peas are finishing, add cucumber seeds or transplants between the beans, plus dill at each end of the trellis to be there when you pickle those cukes! Plant more radishes to deter the Cucumber beetles, repel flea beetles. Fill in spots that could use a helper companion plant like calendula or chamomile. Succession planting makes such good sense. Put your seeds and transplants in at the same time. Seedlings will come along 6 to 8 weeks behind your transplants so you have a steady supply of yummy veggies! But, again, if tending seedlings isn’t your cup of tea, just leave space and put in more transplants in 6 to 8 weeks after your first planting.

It is perfect to put in fast growers like lettuce, beets, turnips, arugula, to hold space until you are ready to plant bigger plants. When it’s time for the bigger ones, clear a space/harvest, pop in your seeds or transplants and let them grow up among the littles. As the bigger plants start to shade out the littles, remove strategic lower leaves of the big plant so the littles get light too! If you anticipate a HOT summer, plant littles on the morning light side of larger plants.

Put in borders of slow but low growers like carrots, mini cabbages, in more permanent placements, like on what will become the morning side of taller backdrop plants like peppers and eggplant.

Natural Disease & Pest Prevention!

  1. Be wise and pick the right plant varieties for your temps and conditions! Get heat tolerant, bolt resistant, drought tolerant, disease tolerant/resistant. If you are just starting, just start! You will learn as you go. Our climate is changing, so we are all adjusting and plants will be being hybridized, and hybridize naturally, for new climates. We can get varieties from other areas that are already used to conditions we will be having. Together we will do this. Locally, save seeds from plants that do the best with the heat and share some of those seeds at the Seed Swap and with other gardeners.
  2. Think biodiversity! Plant companion plants that repel pests, enhance each other’s growth so they are strong and pest and disease resistant. Mix it up! Less planting in rows, more understories and intermingling. Split up groups so pests won’t go from one plant to the next, and the next. Allow enough room for air space between, no leaves of mature plants touching each other. That breaks up micro pest and disease habitats.
  3. Make top notch soil!
  4. In planting holes
    – Add worm castings for your plants’ excellent health. 25% is best; 10% will do if that’s all you got.
    – Add a tad more tasty properly aged manure mixes where manure lovers will be planted.
    – Add non-fat powdered milk for immediate immune system support at planting time
    – Put in a finely ground bone meal for 2 months later uptake when your plant gets to flowering time.
    – Add Jamaican guano high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time. It 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. Other quanos don’t have this particular NPK ratio.
    – Add an eency tad of coffee grounds (a 1/2 of a %) if you have wilts in your soil
    – Sprinkle mycorrhizae fungi directly on transplant roots, all but Brassicas, at planting time to increase their uptake of nutrients and water.
    – Use acidic compost in strawberry patches and work in a little where you will be planting celery and string beans.
  5. Immediately drench your transplants, foliar feed, with a non-fat powdered milk, baking soda, aspirin, soap mix to jazz up their immune systems. Specially give your peppers an Epsom salt and soap mix bath for a taste of sulfur. More details and all the recipes.
  6. Thin baby plants you have deliberately or not overplanted! Many are great tiny salad greens. Most of all plants need space for their roots, or they struggle for soil food (can literally be rootbound in place), are weak and disease/pest susceptible, are not able to reach their full productive size. See this terrific post on Thinning Seedlings by DeannaCat!
  7. Maintenance! Keep your plants strong while they are working hard! Be ready to do a little cultivating composts and manures in during the season (called sidedressing), or adding fish/kelp emulsion mixes if you don’t have predator pests like skunks! Keep your plants watered and vibrant, but not so much as to make their leaves soft and inviting to munching insect pests like aphids. Trap gophers immediately if you are able.
  8. Harvest promptly. Insects and diseases know when plants are softening and losing strength as they age. Insects are nature’s cleaner uppers, and they and disease organisms are hungry! If leaves are yellowing or not looking up to par, remove them. Whiteflies are attracted to yellow.
  9. Prevention A frustrating typical spring disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on late peas, Curly Leaf kales, broccoli, cucumbers and zucchini. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. Apply your baking soda mix. 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. A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! See Aspirin Solution.

Water wise veggie garden practices!

Water Wise Practices!

  • Please always be building compost. Compost increases your soil’s water holding capacity.
  • To save water consider planting IN furrows, where the moisture settles. Plant crosswise to the Sun’s arc so the plants’ root areas will be slightly shaded by the depth of the furrow in early AM and late afternoon. If you still want your plants on top of the furrow, make the raised part of your furrows wide enough that you can put a mini trench on top of it! That holds the water up at your plants’ feeder roots area. If you make low slopes to your trenches, and you water carefully, your furrows won’t degrade from water washing the sides away. Nor will seeds or plants be buried too deeply.
  • Make mounds with basins on top. For virus sensitive plants like toms and cukes, make sure the bottom of the basin is higher than the level of the surrounding soil level. Rather than losing water to evaporation from overhead watering, put the water right where it will do the most good and nowhere else. Make the mound to the dripline of your plant so small surface feeder roots get moisture for food uptake. For larger leaved plants, put a stake in the center of the basin so you know where to water. With a long watering wand you can water under the leaves rather than on them ~ unless they need a bath to remove dust. Fuzzy leaved plants like tomatoes and eggplant don’t like wet leaves.
  • And, once your soil is heated up, PLEASE MULCH! Straw, Self Mulch, living mulch of understory plants like lettuce, or plant soil feeding living mulch legumes! It keeps your soil cooler, more moist, less water needed. And it stops light germinating weed seeds!  Mulching right for each plant!Straw is dead, but has its advantages. It gets fruits up off the ground and keeps soil from splashing up on lettuce leaves! Straw mulch can help reduce cucumber beetles 3+ different ways. 1) Mulch might directly slow beetle movement from one plant to another. 2) The mulch provides refuge for wolf spiders, daddy long legs and other predators from hot and dry conditions, helping predator conservation. 3) The straw mulch is food for springtails and other insects that eat decaying plant material; these decomposers are important non-pest prey for spiders, helping to further build spider numbers!

    Living Mulch, Self mulching, planting closely enough so your plants self shade, is tasty and uses your soil nutrients. It’s most efficient space use is planting effective smaller companion plants under, beside, among, around larger plants.

    Soil feeding Living Mulch You can up the amps by tossing a mix of legume seeds under your plants to feed your soil as well! You may decide to do both. Plant the small plants you need, grow legumes under the rest along with the right companion plants per the crop there.

  • Sprinkle and pat on Mycorrhiza fungi right on the roots of your transplants when you put them in the ground. It increases uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for it bulk at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta.
  • Dust Mulching, cultivation, weeding, is perfect to break up exposed soil surface. That keeps the water from wicking to the surface and evaporating. Do it especially after rains. If you use a hula hoe you do two things at once! Just a half to one inch depth cuts off weed sprouts that use water. Indeed, it turns the soil a tad, all that’s needed. More weeds will follow, but it’s quick and easy to repeat the process. Two, three times, a few days apart, and there will be few weeds after that for awhile. Get ’em while they are small and easy to do. Smart gardening.

Plant Bee Food, Herbs and Flowers! Sow or transplant basil, borage, chervil, chamomile, chives, cilantro, comfrey, dill, fennel, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme. Be mindful where you plant them… Mediterranean herbs from southern France, like lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme, do well in hot summer sun and poor but well-drained soil with minimal fertilizer. On the other hand, basil, chives, coriander (cilantro), and parsley thrive in richer soil with more frequent watering. Wise planting puts chives by your broccoli, kale, but away from peas if you are still growing some. Cilantro, a carrot family workhorse, discourages harmful insects such as aphids, potato beetles and spider mites, attracts beneficial insects when in bloom. Dill is a natural right next to the cucumbers since you will use the dill if you make pickles. They mature about the same time. Let some of your arugula, carrots, lettuces, cilantro bloom! Bees, and insect eating birds and beneficial insects love them and you will get some seeds – some for the birds, some for you, some to take to the seed swap! Grow beauty – cosmos, marigolds, white sweet alyssum – all benefit your garden in their own way! See Stripes of Wildflowers! Here are some special considerations – Courting Solitary Bees!

…each a miracle of seed and sun, I’ve always been one to enjoy tomato or cucumber right off the vine, with never a trip into the house—one magical wipe down a shirt-front and they’re ready.. ~ commenter Rachel



March images from two of Santa Barbara’s Community Gardens! The rains gods blessed us again and again! Some plants are the biggest we have ever seen! We have delicious organic food and beautiful flowers. Check out the local first year orchard shots.

2019 Mother’s Day is May 12! Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts! Get living gifts started now! Click here

See the entire April 2019 GBC Newsletter!

April! Time for those Luscious Heat Lovers!

Quick Guide to Summer Veggie Soil & Temp Preferences!
Use Cover Crops to Improve Soil!

Virtuous Veggies Alkalize Your Body for Top Health!
Biochar! Should I Use It?

Upcoming Gardener Events! 

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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Veggie Seed Catalogs 2019

Stop drooling…. Seeds of Change, Burpee, Seed Savers Exchange & Park Seeds are favorites for many! Others you may favor are High Mowing, Southern Exposure, Johnny’s, Annie’s, Renee’s, Seeds of Change, Territorial, Peaceful Valley & Baker Creek! And there are more!

December, January is one of the happiest times of year for veggie gardeners! The holidays are when you give yourself your seeds for your whole garden for the year to come! Catalogs are out, you supplement what you seed saved yourself. If you have some old iffy seeds that may not germinate, you might want to order some fresh ones to make sure you get good germination!

Here’s a checklist of considerations:

  • Beauty – what is the first plant you look at when you go to your garden?
  • Tastes great. You don’t usually neglect that plant and you thank it when you leave.
     .
  • Footprint can be critical if you have little space or a short growing season – there are some biggies like artichokes. Kales can get pretty big and if you are where you can grow them all year, think where they will fit permanently. Plants you put on the sunny side beside/under bigger plants or that can be fillers until a plant that will get bigger slower than the smaller plant (Lettuces under and among Brassicas), need no footprint calculation at all! Since they are a companion plant that repels Cabbage butterflies, you will need a fair amount of seed! I plant a lettuce between every two Brassicas.
  • You can order your plant in patio container size or huge! For example, there is a remarkable difference in cabbage sizes – 6” to well over 1’ in diameter.
     .
  • Is it a Bush or Pole variety – peas, beans
  • If a tomato, do you want determinate for canning or indeterminate for a whole summer supply, or some of each?! Determinates come in early, especially cold tolerant varieties.
  • And what about the size of those toms? Do you want cherry snackers, saladettes, or large slicers for burgers and sandwiches?
     .
  • Does it serve multiple functions – leaves, fruit, edible flowers and seeds, medicinal, a good compost enhancing ingredient. The entire Garden Purslane plant is edible.  Beets are terrific – tasty nutritious leaves, wonderful variety of colors of the bulbs. If your soil has a higher nitrogen content, then your beets will produce more lush top growth rather than bulb production. You can plant chard if you don’t want beets!
  • Companion plant – not only to protect another plant but enhance its growth as well, and is itself tasty to boot, or has edible flowers, is medicinal?! Like tasty Cilantro enhances Brassicas!
     .
  • Do you plant it because you like it or you ‘should’ grow it or everyone always has including your grandmam or mom??
     .
  • Right season – summer or winter or all year
  • How long does it take to mature? Can you do several plantings in a season for a steady table supply? What about planting different varieties with differing maturity times?
     .
  • Sun/Shade
  • Soil conditions – sandy, clay, loamy, mixed
  • Needs moist soil – short rooted plants, lettuces, celery, strawberries
  • Wind tolerant
  • Heat and drought tolerant
  • Frost/freeze tolerant
  • Dust conditions if roadside or in a wind channel
  • Is a good windbreak shrub like blueberries
     .
  • Disease and Pest resistance is one of your most important choices, especially for mildew and aphids.
     .
  • Low maintenance
  • Needs frequent harvesting to keep the supply coming? Peas and beans can keep you busy much longer than you wish. If you really don’t eat them that much but still would like some, plant fewer plants. Plant what you need, and that may take a few trials to find out! Same with cucumbers, especially long varieties.
  • Does the seed need cold stratification? Some seeds need cold time in the ground! Those seeds that overwinter and come up next spring all by themselves are examples. Seeds that you sow and rarely germinate though the seed pack is current may need cold scarification! Please see these links for a variety of information: Sow True Seed

Please do support your local seed shops, organic farms, friends who save seeds. When buying from catalogs, always consider where their company is located and where their seed trials are conducted. If drought and heat tolerance are needed, buy seeds from sellers that know those problems as part of the years of their growing. Their seeds are developed from those years and there may be special growing tips you need to know. Be careful about high and low humidity differences too. Be sure the catalog companies you choose are well respected among gardeners, have a tried and true reputation. If it makes a difference to you, see who owns the company or contributes seeds to it. 4 Ways to keep Monsanto out of your garden! (2015) Are they organic, heirloom, non-GMO?

How many seeds?! Allow a generous non-touching footprint between plants, that lets your plants thrive, produce more, and cuts down on disease and pest spread. Choose enough seeds for as many rounds (successive) of plantings you hope for. Depending on weather, you may get more rounds in, other years things go slowly. Get enough to cover losses. Those could be an erratic heat wave or a frost/freeze. Could be pests from slugs/snails, birds pecking out seedlings, to the local skunk or racoon uprooting your planting. Highly recommended to cover baby plants until they are up and strong, and BEFORE you install your seeds sprinkle something like Sluggo around your planting area at least twice (to kill the generations) .

Mother Earth News and Cornell University do wonderful studies on the this and thats of gardening. Do consult their articles. Usually quite complete, thorough with details. Mother Earth News, located in Topeka KS is a huge organization, so their studies include conscientious gardeners from many parts of the country and gardeners with varied experience from beginner to forever. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, caters to farmers and home gardeners! Universities advise farmers, so what they recommend is crucial to financial success of the farmers. Also check out permaculture writings online. They have some very clever insights about multitudes of gardening matters that save you tons of time and increase your production and happiness, even in a small garden! If you are in California and have never been to the Santa Rosa National Heirloom Festival, don’t miss it! It’s every SEPTEMBER and low cost! Seeds galore! Life changing experience! Children very welcome!

Seed swaps, or the like, usually have seed shares at the end of January in southern locations like SoCal. In northern areas it may be later. Seed swaps are exciting and wonderful, and are a random event! There may be seeds there you want, there may not be. They may be old non-viable seeds or fresh as they need to be! Guaranteed you will come home with some you want to try! Use Seed Swaps as fun backups to your seed catalog orders. Reliable seed companies have a reputation to uphold. You know what the seed is, how old it is. If you wait until after the Seed Swap, seed companies may be sold out of rare seeds or seeds that they only were able to get a few of due to weather last year and such. However, Seed Swaps ARE LOCAL – seeds of plants that grew well near you! Free seeds are frugal and enjoyable! Meet other gardeners, learn lots! If you are a beginner, you will get great tips to help you get started. Continue the race of super plants, especially heirlooms, adapted to your area! Consider online seed exchanges. You can get amazing rare seeds!

For further help making your decisions see:

Veggie Seed Saving Plant by Plant!
SeedSaving! An Easy Annual Ritual & Celebration!

Choosing Seeds: Catalogs to Seed Swaps!

Smart Design for Your Spring & Summer Garden, Seed Selection!
See also some of the bigger long term Permaculture choices for planning and designing your garden.

Do always be sure to support your local nurseries who answer your questions with good down to earth local experience! In Santa Barbara area Island Seed & Feed features several organic seed companies’ seeds and seeds from local growers by the teaspoon if that’s all you need! Find out who the veggie seed buyer is at your nursery, and who is also a grower up on new things too, and not afraid to make suggestions. If you have a special seed request, they may be able to help you! Talk with growers who supply your local farmers market!

All this said, do make a couple of experiments, try something just for the sheer fun of it and don’t look back!

Enjoy your seeds, happy planting, enjoy the most fresh delicious veggies!

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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. In 2018 they lasted into September and October! Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

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Use Cover Crops to Improve Soil

By the esteemed Barbara Pleasant!

Cover Crop Pleasant Crimson Clover Batchelor's Buttons

Colorful companion cover crops such as bachelor’s buttons and crimson clover will not only improve soil, they’ll beautify your garden beds [and feed the bees].

Intro! Legume cover crops are more than pretty, they improve your veggie garden soil, a lot! There are informed choices to be made. Cover crops are in the same categories as Living Mulch and Green Manure.

I’m copying the beginning of Barbara’s wonderful post and will link you to the rest. She says…

There are three main ways to improve soil: grow cover crops, mulch the surface with biodegradable mulches, and/or dig in organic soil amendments (such as compost, grass clippings, rotted manure or wood chips). All have their advantages and none should be discounted, but cover cropping is the method least likely to be practiced in home gardens. There is a reason for this: Information on using cover crops is tailored to the needs of farmers who use tractors to make short work of mowing down or turning under cover crops. But when your main tools for taking down plants have wooden handles and you measure your space in feet rather than acres, you need a special set of cover crop plants, and special methods for using them.

How Cover Crops Help

A cover crop is any plant grown for the primary purpose of improving the soil. Since the early 1900s, farmers have used cover crops to restore fertility to worn-out land. In addition to helping bulk up soil with organic matter, cover crops prevent erosion, suppress weeds, and create and cycle soilborne nutrients using the power of the sun. Recent advances in soil biology have revealed two more ways cover crops can improve soil.

Rhizodeposition is a special advantage to working with cover crops. Many plants actually release sugars and other substances through their roots. They are like little solar engines, pumping energy down into the soil. With vigorous cover crop plants, this process goes on much more deeply than you would ever dig — 6 feet for oats and rye! If you are leaving your garden beds bare in winter, you are missing the chance to use cold-hardy crops such as cereal rye or oats to solar-charge your soil. Thanks to this release of sugars, the root tips of many plants host colonies of helpful microorganisms, and as the roots move deeper, the microbes follow.

But so much for scientific talk. If you’ve experimented with cover crops, perhaps you have dug up young fava beans or alfalfa seedlings to marvel at the nitrogen nodules on their roots, or watched a stand of buckwheat go from seed to bloom in four weeks flat. Or how about this one: It’s April and the soil is warming up and drying out. After loosening a clump of fall-sown wheat with a digging fork, you pull up a marvelous mop of fibrous roots and shake out the soil. What crumb! The soil’s structure is nothing short of amazing! These are the moments an organic gardener lives for.

Cover Crop Root Channels for New Plant Roots Bio-drillingBio-drilling is what happens when you use a cover crop’s natural talents to “drill” into compacted subsoil. For example, you might grow oilseed or daikon radishes as a cover crop where their spear-shaped roots will stab deep into tight subsoil. Bio-drilling action also takes place when deeply rooted cover crop plants penetrate subsoil and die. Then, the next crop grown may actually follow the rooting network mapped out by the cover crop. Maryland researchers were able to track this process using special camera equipment (a minirhizotron), which took pictures of the interactions between cover crop (canola) and crop plant (soybean) roots. As the canola’s deep roots decomposed, soybean roots followed the trails they blazed in the subsoil, hand in glove. In addition to reduced physical resistance, the soybean roots probably enjoyed better nutrition and the good company of legions of soil-dwelling microcritters, compliments of the cover crop.

Dozens of plants have special talents as cover crops, and if you live in an extremely hot, cold, wet or dry climate, you should check with your local farm store or state extension service for plant recommendations — especially if you want to use cover crops under high-stress conditions. Also be aware that many cover crop plants can become weedy, so they should almost always be taken down before they set seed.

How to Take Cover Crops Down

Speaking of taking down…  Continue reading!

From here, Barbara talks about how to take the cover crops down, then, which cover crop to use, what time of year to start it in which zone, the pros & cons of each, her experiences, research.

Or, you may not want to take down your cover crop. If you planted a short ground cover type legume, late in the season you may simply want to remove the larger plants, open up spots in the living mulch and put in winter plants! Your cover crop will keep on working as the older plants die naturally and feed your soil.

Two for one and save time and money! If you choose edibles as a cover crop under larger plants, you get living mulch and food! If you choose legumes, they are working at the same time you are growing your large edible plants! I do hope you consider this 100% natural organic method of restoring or improving your soil, improving space you won’t be using right away! You will have less disease, less pests, less amendment expenses. Plant with flower combinations like Crimson clover to make habitat for wild bees/pollinators, and beneficial predatory insects, for simple beauty!

  • Spring and Summer, cover crops also act as living mulch while feeding your soil. Toss seeds around and under bigger plants.
  • In SoCal and southern areas, Fall and Winter, use cover crops as green manure to restore and improve your soil for spring ~ summer planting.

The better your soil, the more handsome your harvests. To your health and happiness!

See also Living Mulch! When, Which and Why?!

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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!

Read Full Post »

Tomato Varieties Feast!

How many varieties are there? There are more than 3,000 varieties of heirloom or heritage tomatoes in active cultivation worldwide and more than 15,000 known varieties. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says there are 25,000 tomato varieties. The list is constantly expanding. One current group being added is the Indigo series of tomatoes!

HEIRLOOMS VS HYBRIDS

Heirlooms are more lovely than words can say with their many shapes, sizes, and colors! But they are particularly susceptible to wilts and blights. Instead, get resistant hybrid varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In the Mother Earth News tomato survey, they found gardeners chose heirlooms over hybrids if their soil is wilt/blight free. Otherwise, the longer the gardener has gardened, they more they chose wilt resistant hybrid toms if their soil has the fungi. If you are gardening at home, you can strengthen your soil, and take practical measures to grow heirlooms successfully. If you are at a community garden that has the fungi in the soil, it’s virtually unavoidable because the wilts are not only in the soil, but are windborne as well. See Wilts & Cucumber Beetles, Tomatoes & Cukes!

Tomato Bush Determinate in Container CageDETERMINATE AND INDETERMINATE

The other two main categories are Determinate and Indeterminate. Determinate get about 3′ tall, produce prodigiously all at once. They are grown for two main reasons. Since they produce when they are shorter, they produce sooner. Since they produce a lot at once, they are great for canning. If you want to can a lot, grow several of them at the same time. If you want a large steady supply plant successively, like more plants each month or so. You can do that if you have the space.

Determinates are great for container growing! Pick varieties that have patio, dwarf or mini in their names. These will be more compact. Small tomatoes doesn’t necessarily mean the plant is small! Be sure you check that it is a determinate variety. Also check for height, that it will grow no taller than the support you will be putting it on. The Dwarf Tomato Project offers dozens of options, identified by gardeners from around the globe.

Indeterminate are vining tomatoes, grow 6′ to 10′! Grow them on a trellis or in a large substantial supporting cage; they will take up a lot less space. Or up against a wall, along a fence. But if they ramble, the fruits will be on or close to the ground, fungi and pest susceptible – slugs, mice, little birds. Indeterminates produce a little later, but continuously all season long! They have flowers, ripening fruit and mature fruit all at the same time. If you aren’t canning, these are terrific because you plant just once. When they start producing, there is no waiting time like with determinates, while you wait to grow another plant if you don’t have space to grow both at once.

TIME OF YEAR CHOICES!

In SoCal, spring’s first choice, February, March, is cold hardy determinates that produce and ripen in cool weather! That’s to get toms on your table soonest! When they are done, in their place, pop in some other favorite summer veggies that do better in that by then warmer weather. If you live in the north with a short growing season, go with these quick growers. Try Sophie’s Choice, a Canadian variety that produces a heavy crop of six to eight-ounce fruits about 55 days after planting. The compact plants grow to about 24 inches tall, making this a good option for container growing. Siberian (NOT Siberia) sets fruit at 38°, but is still not very frost hardy – popular in Alaska! Considered a determinate, but grows 48 to 60” tall. Bush Early Girl and Oregon Spring are favorites. You can start indeterminate cherry toms like Sungolds, because cherry toms ripen soonest while larger varieties are still growing.

In SoCal start your indeterminates at the same time as the cool producing toms! They will come in with red fruits about the 4th of July or a tad sooner. Czech heirloom variety Stupice is cold tolerant and comes in early. Early Girl indeterminate gives you a head start and gives high yields!

Later, April, May, plant whatever toms you want to your heart’s content! Just be sure you get resistant varieties if you have soil fungi. April is better if you are planting monster varieties like Big Boy – they need time to grow big! Big toms can grow to enormous proportions, winners can be up to 7+ lbs! The heaviest tomato was weighed in August 30 2016 at 8.61 lb, grown by Dan Sutherland, Walla Walla, Washington! The achievement was authenticated by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC).

June?! You betcha! Many tomato-loving gardeners wait until fungi laden soils are warmed and drying. Your plants have a better chance to get a healthier start. True that the Wilts are also windborne, but with less fungi in the soil your plant can better withstand the fungi.

In late summer, early fall, as most of your tomatoes are getting tired, southern gardeners can go back to planting quick growing cool type determinates. Weather in SoCal is starting to cool, day length is shorter, and the northern type varieties will do well again. Select petite varieties like bush, determinate cherries that mature more quickly.

Winter, though many toms may have tomatoes on them, they are slower to turn red if at all. Day lengths are shorter. Let go. Instead, plant other winter favorites that thrive in short day cold weather and are so nutritious! Kales and chards are prolific choices per their footprint. Start new vigorous tomatoes in spring.

LOCATION

In drought conditions, consider growing only indeterminates. If you are repeatedly growing determinates, there is the time it takes to regrow them, using water when there is no production.

There are super heat tolerant varieties of toms. Just look up those varieties at southern or desert locations. Check on local university recommendations, cooperative extension. See what the nurseries near you carry or what the farmers market farmers are growing successfully.

Humidity and wind are conditions to consider. You can open up an area to reduce humidity, or put in some shrubs to buffer winds.

Desert can be turned into an oasis using permaculture techniques! Jeff Lawton in Jordan

If your location is known for tomato hornworms, generously plant Borage and/or Calendula with your toms. They repel the worms!

Tomato Steakhouse Largest Beefsteak Buy Seeds Burpee!SIZE AND PURPOSE CHOICES

Cherry and Grape tomatoes for buffets and snacks. Saladettes for salad bites. Texas huge for slicing. Romas for canning, sauce and paste. The bigger the tomato the longer it takes to mature.

At left is a fine SteakHouse Hybrid, a meal in itself! Steakhouse are the largest Beefsteak Tomato there is! It is available at Burpee. com. They refer to it as a tomato titan! If you love huge toms, these fruits are enormous, up to 10 inches wide and as heavy as 3 lbs! Each plant will yield nine to 11 fruits.

COLOR, TASTE & SKIN!

Poetically, in Jim Duncan’s post Harvesting Sunlight he says ‘Different carotenoids give such fruits their red, yellow and orange colors. In photosynthesis, they trap certain waves of sunlight and funnel their energy into the chlorophyll system. In this sense, different colored tomatoes are packed with different waves of sunlight. Artists can’t look directly at the sun but tomatoes can and artists can look inside tomatoes.’

As an organic gardener you are an artist that looks to the health and wellbeing of us all. Your garden reflects who you are, tells your story. It creates beauty. It makes a difference.

There is no doubt color makes a difference. Blind people can feel which color it is! Colors have different frequencies. Just looking at them makes us change. We pick that color to wear today. Choose the colors that uplift your spirit!

Taste is often subjective. We know too that people genetically taste the same thing differently ie Cilantro! People describe different tomatoes as tasteless, robust, bland, mild, sweet, fruity, tangy, tart, mealy, meaty, watery, juicy, dry, firm, soft, mushy, smoky, musky, old-time, winey, perfect! Toms are like fine wine only in a different body! Taste is something you will need to try for yourself. While it was originally thought that certain regions on the tongue detected specific flavors, we now know this is not true. Smell is more predominant! So you smell it and swish the wine/tomato around in your mouth! Modern tasting techniques If you don’t have space to experiment, to garden several varieties at once, stick with the standards at first – or go to the nearest Farmers Market and buy one of each, the fresher the better! Have your own tasting & smelling – you and the others who will eat them with you!

Tomato skin thickness varies a lot! They can be thin and easily damaged, or so thick you can hardly take a bite and if you manage, the juice squirts out! Some you seriously need a knife for. If you are canning or making tomato paste you need to remove the skins for a smooth consistency! Roma VFA, Amish Paste and Super Marzano are excellent sauce toms, meaty with low water content, and improved disease resistance and taste.

HEALTH BENEFITS

Tomatoes contain a good amount of vitamins A, C, and K, folate and potassium along with thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, all of which are necessary to maintain good health. The best part is that tomatoes are naturally low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories.

Besides righteous colors that feed your Soul, and taste for your palate, varieties do vary a tad health wise. Here are some choice points:

  • The Kumato tomato is slightly higher in carbs than regular tomatoes. Compared to a standard red tomato, the Kumato contains a higher amount of fructose.
  • Grape tomatoes, despite their similarities to cherry tomatoes, have a thicker skin, less water content and smaller amounts of fructose. As a result, these tomatoes are probably slightly lower in carbs.
  • The colossal beefsteak Steakhouse, the largest variety of tomato, has more carbs as well as overall nutrients.

Colors and the different carotenoids associated with them give specific different benefits to our health. Indigo breeder Jim Myers says ‘The red pigment in tomatoes is lycopene. Orange tomatoes have beta-carotene or prolycopene, while yellow ones may have other carotenoids such as delta-carotene. Carotenoids have antioxidant properties and are thought to have health benefits similar to flavonoids.’

From fighting cancer to fighting wrinkles, the goal of the Indigo series of tomatoes is to breed the antioxidant purple anthocyanins into the flesh as well as the skin. Oregon State’s high-flavonoid breeding program breeder Jim Myers is almost there! Indigo Rose is the closest so far. It is an open pollinated variety, meaning seed saved from self-pollinated plants will grow true and not produce hybrids.

In the image below, is Blue Beauty bred by Bradley Gates of Wild Boar Farms in St. Helena CA. It is a self-pollinated variety, will grow fruit the same as the parent. The young blue tomato fruit appears amethyst purple and turns dark purple-black as it matures, with the skin of the darkest ones becoming almost jet black. Tomatoes hidden by leaves remain red. These are ‘modest beefsteak-type slicers,’ weighing up to 8 ounces. High in antioxidants. Brad says TOMATOES HAVE CHANGED MORE IN THE LAST 10 YEARS THAN THEY HAVE IN THEIR ENTIRE EXISTENCE. They are the Heirlooms of the Future! Check out Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomato at Baker Creek! Outrageous, I swear!

Tomato Indigo Blue Beauty Slicer 8 Oz

Culinary Breeding Network! Meet some breeders from around the US! They are working for our health, production excellence and just plain gardening enjoyment! Working together, brainstorming, improves the quality of their work, their results.

PURE DELIGHT!

Meanwhile, right here in your own garden…happiness is! Eating your favorite homegrown organic tomatoes at the garden! Cherry size poppers or huge drizzlers so big they are more than a meal! That beautiful color that just makes your heart sing! A shape that calls your name! This year I’m trying….

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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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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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