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Greenhouse Henry Ford Hospital Michelle Lutz

Michigan’s Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital upgraded the condition of its food by adding a greenhouse. Michelle Lutz oversees production of vegetables, fruits and herbs, used in preparations such as braised romaine salad. / Photos courtesy of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital

Greenhouse seedlings, transplants are ready six to eight weeks early and you can grow Out-of-Season Treats in winter! Pest and disease free equals greater production! For institutions like hospitals, greenhouses are workhorses! A greenhouse is a most valuable part of a productive home garden. Seedlings are ready for earlier planting. Hospitals want the best food possible for the health of their patients, and can’t afford to be weather dependent.

As a home gardener in coastal SoCal areas you may question the need for a greenhouse. Though unheated, ours at our mile-from-the-beach community garden is well used! We often run out of space for everyone’s seedlings as we get closer to planting time or the weather warms! Even unheated, an enclosed space is heated by the sun during the day and doesn’t get so cold at night, no chilling winds or late freezes in there! Seedlings are protected from marauding pests, birds, walkabout creatures. Foothills and inland gardeners get more heat and more COLD! They really can use greenhouses to advantage.

Greenhouse Long CucumbersIn addition to starting preseason transplants, in a heated greenhouse you can grow out of season tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, cucumbers, beans, eggplant, zucchini, cantaloupe! Herbs, chard, raspberries and strawberries! And winter crops too if you just have too much snow outside!

Your greenhouse doesn’t need to be huge or showy. It just needs to do the job.

Super options!

Our land is flat, but yours might have slopes and you could choose to have an earth shelter space complete with indoor shower! See also Heating Greenhouses Without Electricity!

Greenhouses come in a vast variety of shapes from squares to pillowdomes! Buy a premade kit or design and build it yourself entirely to your specs.
You can have a 2′ wide up against the chimney mini to a palatial entire rooftop greenhouse with an elegant view!
You may have a built in the ground greenhouse cousin, a cold frame, or an indoor kitchen window box.

Materials vary from hoop frames to the fanciest filigree and glass, cob or strawbale! They can be spanking new, made of have-arounds, or be recycled from demolition sites! Covering materials can be poly films, panels, glass and glazing. There are so many new products, techniques, new research, all the time, and each person’s needs are so different, it is wise to check these things out for yourself. Talk with several ‘experts’ on each topic. Read up online. Compare. See what you really want. See what will do the best job for your needs.

If you have space for a larger greenhouse, consider gardening some of your crops in it! Hoop houses, or high tunnel farming is a recent invention. They are certainly the larger version of traditional row covers! There are huge commercial installations. Yet home made hoop houses can be no bigger than 8X8, so easy to put up a child can do it!

  • Season extension is the #1 advantage. 30 days on the front end and 30 days on the back end of the growing season is equivalent to moving your farming operation 400 miles to the south!
  • Yields increase when your plants are protected from excessive rain and wind. When a more ideal growing temperature is maintained, a reduction in temperature-related stress, fruit set, fruit size increases.
  • There is no bolting, so no loss of your plant’s production.
  • Because temperatures are maintained, you can plant when you want to, not have to wait until conditions are favorable.
  • Soil conditions are more controlled, less moist, less to no fungi – wilts, blights.
  • No pests, no pesticides! No birds, small mammals.
  • Plus, they are movable!

Greenhouse Energy Efficient Attached Lean ToEnergy efficient attached greenhouses make a lot of sense. The home, and these bricks, help heat the greenhouse for free! Some attached greenhouses are beautiful walkin sunrooms, garden rooms, conservatories!

If you decide to build a greenhouse yourself, first check on local ordinances and with your neighbors. Place it conveniently, near electrical and water access if possible. Choose a location with a winter angle for maximum light, as much sun as possible. Use trees for windbreaks if necessary.

Know your prevailing wind direction, be sure it is well anchored. Use concrete blocks with eye hook attachments, sink posts or anchoring stakes, or use sand, not rocks, on the windward base cover.

Your roof choice tells us what kind of weather you have! Steep slopes and insulated lower areas tell us you are in high cold country with snow and need to decrease your heating costs. Medium slopes with rounded shoulders are good in windy and rainy areas. An extended slope on one side that faces the sun tells us you may get a lot of shade from trees on one side.

Doors make a difference. If you are in a windy area, you might choose sliding doors that can be secured and weather stripped versus velcroed flaps, zippers or swing out doors that blow away or animals could get through.

Ventilation is key! Hot days are hot! In two shakes a greenhouse can to get up to 110 degrees! Doors and windows can be the vents if intruders are not an issue, otherwise, ceiling vents are best. Solar devices can be set to open when temps hit a high level. Fans may be needed.

Greenhouse sloped for lots more Solar energy!Electrical! Get advice from a greenhouse experienced professional because of the extreme conditions: heat, wet, cold. Make sure that person knows local codes
Consider solar lights, vent openers, fans or simply long sloped sides to have lots more solar energy as in the image!
Growlights? Yes!
Night light to see by
Computer monitor

Irrigation tips! Put your timer OUTSIDE! Make & see your adjustments without getting wet! Mini drop down sprayers or foggers at varying adjustable heights along an overhead line are fabulous! Consider recycling your water – is it legal to use grey water where you live? Collect rainwater.

A word about Damping Off. Damping off is a common problem with seedlings started in containers, indoors or in greenhouses. Per Planet Natural: ‘Several fungi can cause decay of seeds and seedlings including species of rhizoctonia, fusarium and phytophthora. However, species of the soil fungus pythium are most often the culprit. Damping off typically occurs when old seed is planted in cold, wet soil and is further increased’ by poor soil drainage.

Disease Cinnamon Damping Off PreventionThe super simplest prevention is Cinnamon! Just sprinkle it on the soil! Sprinkle on plant injuries and they will heal. It is a rooting hormone. Mildew, mold, fungal diseases? Mix 4 tablespoons cinnamon in a half gallon warm water, shake it vigorously, steep overnight. Strain through a sieve or coffee filter and put it in a spray bottle. Add ¼ teaspoon liquid dish soap as a surfactant, lightly spritz your plants, undersides and tops of leaves! (In Santa Barbara area buy it in big containers at Smart & Final.) Also, it repels ants!

Pathway and Flooring best for your plants and feet! Have a sturdy pathway that stands up to wheelbarrow use. A non muddy pathway saves your greenhouse floor. A raised flooring keeps you from having a muddy mess. Drainage is necessary so there is no rot or mold. Heated flooring is the best. There are great options, more and less expensive! Concrete, rubber matting saves your feet. Dirt, my last choice, and/or pavers. Decomposed granite, pea gravel, raised wooden slats, pallets, straw, chips – use weed mat underneath! Use pest protection wire under weed mat and soft flooring choices. No gophers, no mice, squirrels, bunnies or snakes, thank you.

Greenhouse Shelving FanShelves and Worktable

Make your work table a good working height for you
Shelving needs to be safe and well supported
Construct your shelves wire covered like the top shelves in the image, or like the lower shelves, out of spaced boards so water drains, the boards dry, there is no mildew or mold.
Enough space between boards makes it easy to clean
Or use open wire metal shelving that allows drainage and dries
If there is lower shelving, slant it down from back to front

  • so you can see what is in the back
  • It is easier to get items in back out – keep heavier items to front
  • No water clings to it – stays dry, no rot or mold

OR some say don’t have bottom shelves so there is no nesting space for mice or chipmunks – they WILL eat your plants! You want to be able to SEE the ground! Depends on how critter secure your house is.

Rather than just the greenhouse, consider a 4 part working complex! A storage shed, the greenhouse, a covered work area and hardening off area.

Tool & Gear Storage could hold your tools and supplies!

Wheelbarrow, all tools – shovel, rake, pitchfork, spade fork
Small tools – trowel, clippers, sprayers
Bags of compost, potting mixes etc
Plug trays, biodegradable containers, labels
Gloves, apron, work boots, jacket
Greenhouse gear & replacement materials

Greenhouse Support Supplies!

Heating gear – heaters, heating mats
Cooling systems – fans
Irrigation, misting items
Lighting – grow light, night light
Thermostat, humidity (no mold), temperature   devices, CO2 generators
Secure, safe-for-children and pets, dry storage containers

Your Workspace needs a sun shade top and wind screen side. It would be a good place for your composter, worm bin and might be a good place for your rain collector barrels

Care and Maintenance

Seasonal checks, reset watering needs, replace brittle coverings
Routine cleaning inside and out
Equipment
Sterilize propagation area
Ventilation – Heat, condensation. Insulation – Frost
Deal with pests and diseases immediately!

Greenhouse Reused Doors and WindowsGreenhouses made of reused doors and windows are much more green than recycling!

Sustainable Greenhouses are often compost or solar heated!
They have heated benches and floor because root zone temperatures are more critical to plant growth than leaf temperatures. By maintaining an optimum root zone temperature, greenhouse air temperatures can be lowered 15° F!
LED’s balance good light, cooler temps
Hydroponics (preferably aeroponics) remove excess heat and water vapor
CO2 is recycled by breaking down old plant debris in a digester
Soluble components of the plant debris can be incorporated back into the nutrient solutions.

5 Sustainable Sources to stir your thinking!

  1. Eco-Friendly Greenhouses
  2. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service:  Greenhouse Production
  3. Sustainable Architecture, Greenhouse Book & Video List
  4. Kiva’s straw bale greenhouse – the time & money it takes
  5. The Ghandi of Greenhouses – The Greenhouse Biz

Rooftop greenhouse with a view of the city! Germany Fraunhofer UMSICHT

Fresh City Tomatoes, Any Time! On his way home from the office, the computer scientist harvests tomatoes from his company‘s rooftop greenhouse. No food miles! Why not produce lettuce, beans and tomatoes where most of the consumers are to be found: in the city? The flat roofs of many buildings are well-suited for growing vegetables. Rooftop greenhouses can also make use of a building‘s waste heat and cleaned waste water. Solar modules can do the rest. This uptown rooftop greenhouse urban garden is in Germany. Image courtesy of Fraunhofer UMSICHT.

Greenhouse Conferences! Tradeshows, sustainable, educational. Local, international! If you love greenhouses, might want to do urban agriculture business, just want to get involved, check these out online. There are different sponsors, different locations each year!

Whatever your special connection is, in SoCal, before our winter rains and cooler weather, late summer, early fall are perfect for getting your very own fine greenhouse up and running! If you miss that window, very early in the new year is good so you can start seedlings for early March plantings!

You might decide to sleep in it the first night!


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

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

 

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Soil Building Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Santa Barbara Peat Manure

Everybody makes soil their own way for different purposes at different times. At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA, this happy gardener is lowering his soil pH by adding peat and upping nutrition with manure.

Spring may be early again. If so, we need to be thinking of soil prep now. Perhaps layout a loose summer plan, or make notes for areas you really know what you will want there. If we have a hot summer again, your soil is going to need a lot of water holding capacity, and planting low for retaining water will make a big difference in water usage.

Soil care is for making fat plants and big harvests! We want nutrition, good texture that allows air flow and plenty of water holding capacity.

Clean Up First, free your soil of debris that may harbor pests or diseases. Remove old boards. Weed out neglected areas that may even shade out some areas. Thin out thick tree branches at the right time. Schedule it.

Cultivate! An age old technique to aerate soil, let it dry out, kill off soil fungi. It is also called, Dust Mulching. Simply cultivate about 2 or 3 inches deep. This disturbs the soil surface, interrupting the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation. Do it after rains or irrigating.

Compacted Soil If your soil is compacted, it needs lots of organic matter, composted plant and animal materials, to loosen it up. Or grow a green manure crop! Annual rye,  winter wheat or oats put down deep roots opening channels for airflow, compost or worm teas, liquid fertilizers and water to trickle down.

Resist working your soil when it is wet! That compacts it, making it difficult for plant roots to grow, and it drains more slowly. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze. If it stays in a ball, wait! Crumbly is what we want. As B. Rosie Lerner of Purdue Extension says, ‘…soothe that gardening itch by sketching garden plans, browsing online and mail-order catalogs, and making a shopping list for your local garden center.’

Bed Shapes

Raised Beds If we SoCal gardeners get El Nino rains, I’m recommending to make raised beds with berms, cover the berms with straw to prevent them from eroding. Leave the interior of the raised bed open to let winter sun heat up your soil. If you are planting in spring, raised beds heat up sooner. You can make them with or without walls. No permanent walls gives you complete flexibility of shape and location, and if you have too much rain, you can open a berm to release water. They are great for plants that need well drained soil. Make low spots or plant in trenches for plants that thrive on more water, like fast growing lettuces, chard. Short rooted plants, beans/peas, radish, beets, onions, strawberries, can be grown in mild trenches. Or, boards can be lain between rows to keep the soil moist underneath them. Space them per the need of your plant. Roots will seek the moisture under the boards. Overall, you will use less water. It’s a variation on pallet gardening.

In summer, if we have another hot one, lowered beds with thick berms will work well. Water will be held within the berms. In deep beds berms will act as mini wind breaks and well mulched beds will stay moist longer. See Zuni Waffle Gardens

Containers include some bordered raised beds and those pretty pots on your deck or balcony. If things are looking tired, replace that old spent stuff. Do your special soil for small containers per the type of plant you will grow there, being extra conscious of water holding capacity. If we have a hot summer, double pot adding insulation between the pots so the inner pot soil keeps cooler, more moist.

Pathways Healthy soil is about 25 percent air! Rather than compacting, crushing the air and life out of your soil, lay down something dry that feeds the soil, like leaves, straw, then top that with something like a board to distribute your weight. Do boards harbor slugs? Yes, but as you put down something like Sluggo (SLUGGO is 1% Iron Phosphate (FePO₄) in a yeast/noodle base, non toxic to all non mollusks, certified organic and extremely effective if used as directed. (Thanks, William!)), two or three times to kill off the generations, those go away too when they come out for their midnight snacks. Some gardeners use stepping stones and put kitchen trim into the soil under the straw. Next season they move the path over and plant in the old path, now rich soil!

Green Manure is a natural wonder mimicking Nature! During the seasons, leaves are dropped, animals come by and fertilize, things grow and die, laying in place giving their bodies to next year’s seedlings. Well, we are choosing that option. Legumes are a natural choice since they pull N (Nitrogen) out of the air and deposit it in nodules on their roots. N is the main food your plants need for prime growth. Legumes often chosen are Bell Beans (a small type of Fava), Austrian Peas and Vetch. Oats are a favorite of dry farmers because the oat roots go deep opening the soil for air and water flow letting nutrients drain down! When the beans start to flower, cut the patch down, chop everything up into small bits, turn them under. Wait 2 to 3 weeks, until you can’t see the bits anymore, then plant!

Composting

In Nature, organic matter, our equivalent is compost, only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), yet organic matter is absolutely essential. There is various thinking about what the right amount of compost is to use in a garden. Cornell University says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil! Research shows ideal soil contains 5% organic matter by weight, 10% by volume.

Using the Method of your Choice! There are hot and cold composting methods, hot is faster. Making your own compost means you know what’s in it! The easiest of all composting, hands down, is composting in place, an age old method, but in recent years called Lasagna gardening. Whether you are doing hot or cold composting or composting in place, the principles are the same: put down brown/dry layers, your green/wet layers on top. Two brown to one green. The thinner the layers, the smaller the chop, the faster the result. Add Yarrow or Comfrey leave to make it go even faster! When composting in place put the layers right where you want your garden to be! If it isn’t ready in time, get some store bought compost, pull back a planting hole, plant! The rest of the garden will catch up! If you have worms, throw some on so they can help!

Hugelkultur, hill mound, is a long term sustainable variation of ‘composting’ in place. After the 2nd year the beds don’t need water, and the system will last up to 10 years! It can be above and/or below ground and takes a lot more energy to start but what a payoff! Get some big logs, branches. If you are doing it above ground, lay two logs closely side by side, put a lot of bigger to smaller branches between them, then go for it! Add leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available. Add some red wriggler casting worms if you have them. As possible add your materials in thin 1/2 to 1″ layers, dry, wet, dry, wet until the area is filled. Lay a third log on top of them and if you have sod you peeled up, lay it on top of the whole pile upside down and do it again! Top the turf with grass clippings, seaweed, compost, aged manure, straw, green leaves, mulch, etc. Top that with soil and plant your veggies! If you did it right, you end up with a steep sided tall pyramid pile and veggies planted at easy picking heights. See a LOT more and example variations at permaculture, practical solutions for self-reliance.

Purchase No shame in purchasing compost. It saves a lot of time and is sometimes better than you could make! Buy the best you can afford, with as many tasty items listed as possible. We do want to see worm castings and mycorrhizal fungi in the mix! You can get some quite pricey magical sophisticated blends!

Acidic blends are for strawberries, and shade type landscaping plants. It’s quick and easy to change your soil pH by digging in a serious amount. Strawberries can be grown in the same soil as other veggies, but they get diseases and production is pitiful compared to magnificent strawberries grown in their right soil conditions.

Favorite Additional Amendments

Manures – Chicken, Cow/Steer, Bunny Poop, Horse – all add tons of N to your soil.

  • Bunny poop is supreme. It needs no composting, will not harm your plants in any way.
  • Horse often has salt. It needs to be well aged, from horses that ate pesticide free grass, free of insect spray used to keep flies off the manure.
  • Chicken manure used to be too HOT, but now, nursery chicken manure is a mixed bag literally. It is ‘diluted’ and safe to use right out of the bag. If friends are giving you chickie poop, know that it needs composting before you use it.
  • Steer manure can be cheap! But cow manure is better. The more you pay for specialty soil mixes at a nursery that carries them, the more you will find cow manure in that mix. Yes, you will pay more.

Worm Castings are referred to as Black Gold for good reason. They are not a food, but work with the hormones and immune systems of your plants. Just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is optimum! You can certainly grow your own easily! Again, this means you know what they were fed. What goes in is what comes out. Feed ’em newspaper and that’s the kind of castings you will get. Feed them a healthy variety of kitchen trim and you will have serious quality castings!

Minerals are from rocks in nature. And are of all kinds from everywhere for every purpose! Chat about with experts, look online.

Coffee Grounds are free from local coffee shops,  and wonderful because they suppress fungal rots and wilts!! Our garden has wilts, so remember, coffee and cultivating! Grounds are more potent than they have a right to be! 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less is all that is needed or wanted! Be very careful with fresh grounds. They have mojo that can kill your plant or make your soil infertile!

Seasonal amendments are for upping bloom and fruiting! During flowering, we want lower nitrogen and higher phosphorous, that’s the P in NPK! Look for fertilizers higher in P, intended for flowering and fruiting. Know your guanos! Besides being expensive, bat and Seabird Guanos are not a quick fix; they take awhile to break down. Some say they are better applied as foliar teas, but still, the release time per Colorado University Extension is FOUR MONTHS even for powdered guano! Guanos vary hugely in NPK percents! Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Jamaican bat is high P phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2. But Mexican bat is high N (leaf growth, plant vigor) 10-2-1. Peruvian seabird is high in N and P (leaf and bloom) 10-10-2.

Soil Testing If you have some doubts, concerns about your soil pH, content or balance, you can get DIY soil testing kits or have a professional company do the job for you. They will want samples from several areas and that is wise. Soil can vary significantly in just a few feet!

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

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

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

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

As always, soil building is Number 1!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trellis Cage Remesh

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

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

Wise Low Maintenance Plant Choices and Harvesting

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

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

To your low maintenance gardening pleasure!

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February! SOIL & SEED Month!

Please see February 2010 for tips on aphids/white flies, slugs/snails, gophers, soil, seed starting basics! 

When there are warm days, it is ever so tempting to plant up summer veggies!  Don’t do it.  Not yet.  Start seeds. 

Depending on how much space you have, plant a last round of your very favorite winter crops – lettuces, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, radishes, turnips.  Bare-root asparagus and artichokes.  I forgot to tell you last month, you could start zucchini!  At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we had an elder gardener who always started his in January, early February, and had great zucchini way before everyone else!  Other than zuchs, really look at those days to maturity, and add the number of days you expect for harvest duration.  If you plant a long maturing plant that would be harvested for some time, think if you would rather have that space for an early round of a summer veggie you love more.  Choose mildew and disease resistant varieties for your late peas.  

Keep sidedressing your producing plants, protect your tasty lettuces from slugs and snails.  Keep watch for aphids, and, if you disturb your plant and a little cloud of white things fly off, you have white flies.  Spray those little buggers off asap so they don’t spread to your other plants or someone else’s!  Keep up with your harvesting.  Wait until it warms up some more to prune frost damaged plants.  Even wait until next month to fertilize.  

But do prepare your soil for March summer veggie planting.  Dig if you must – I’m a no-dig, no weed person who leaves the living soil structure intact [see Gaia’s Garden, 2nd edition, chapter on soil].  Instead, prepare your soil by layering good stuff on top, called Lasagna Gardening, sheet composting, composting in place, or on-the-ground composting!  Garden smart!  If it is already there, you don’t have to move it from the compost pile to where it is needed!  Build your soil in place or in your new raised beds!  If you are putting raised beds on top of your lawn, lay down several layers of heavy cardboard first, to stop the grass and weeds, thoroughly soak it, then layer, layer, layer!  When they get there, your plant’s roots will easily poke their way through the cardboard.  Definitely attach gopher proof wire mesh to the bottom of your raised bed frame before you start filling it, unless you are creating your garden on top of concrete or a roof.  If you are container gardening, check out Patricia Lanza’s book Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces: A Layering System for Big Results in Small Gardens and Containers: Garden in Inches, Not Acres. 

Healthy layering should be 2 dry/Carbon to 1 wet/Nitrogen. 

Carbon – carbon-rich matter (like branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust, shredded brown paper bags, coffee filters, conifer needles, egg shells, hay, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light, fluffy body.
Nitrogen – nitrogen or protein-rich matter (manures, food scraps, leafy materials like lawn clippings and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes. 

  • Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
  • ADD dry materials – straw, leaves and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.  Fine chopped, smaller materials decompose faster.
  • Lay on manure, green manure ( clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass ) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.  Put on rinsed seaweed for minerals, scatter some yarrow sprigs to further speed decomposition, and, of course, your kitchen food waste. 
  • Think how that pile is going to decompose lower and lower.  Build enough layers to get the amount of soil you need.  Could be 18” high.
  • If you like, sprinkle some microbe rich topsoil over it all to ‘inoculate’ with living soil organisms that will immediately go to work.  Add a few handfuls of red wriggler compost worms.  Add any other amendments that make you happy.
  • Install some pathways.  Don’t walk on your oxygen rich breathing brew and squeeze the life out of it, or crush your worms and soil structure!  Keep things fluffy for good soil aeration and water absorption.   
  • If you need to, for aesthetic reasons, cover the compost with a pretty mulch that will break down slowly.  Spread it aside when you are ready to plant.  It could be down leaves; if you need your soil in that area to be slightly acidic, cover with pine needles (strawberries).
  • If things get stinky, add more carbon.
  • You want to plant NOW, or the same day you layer?  Can do!  Or your instant soil wasn’t so instant?  OK, here’s the instant remedy.  Make planting holes in your layers, put in some compost you purchased or have on hand, mycorrhizal fungi, and plant!  The rest will catch up, and the heat from the composting material underneath will warm your plants!  You WILL have a fine garden!  

If you do also need a traditional compost pile for spot needs, consider “No-turn” composting!  The biggest chore with composting is turning the pile from time to time. However, with ‘no-turn composting’, your compost can be aerated without turning.  The secret is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material, like straw – little air tubes, when building the pile. The compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly, and studies show that the nitrogen level may be even higher than turned compost.  With ‘no-turn’ composting, add new materials to the top of the pile, and harvest fresh compost from the bottom of the bin.

So here are 3 ways to save garden time and your back!  1)  No digging!  2)  Compost in place, no moving it.  3) No compost turning!  Uh huh.

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A wet winter?  Dry winter?

If you think that might happen, excellent time to establish native plants and ground covers in your landscape, make raised beds in your veggie garden!  They don’t have to have a frame, in fact, you can ‘make more space’ by planting on the sloped sides, preventing erosion!  The plants that don’t like soggy feet, or would simply drown from too much water, will have excellent drainage.  You can make your ‘bed’ as small as a furrowed area, or make it two feet wide.  Either way, same result, drainage, less water molds and fungi, keeps oxygen your plants need in the soil.  Put a thick layer of pine needles, leaves, straw, something that will feed the soil, in the pathways.  That’s sustainable and your shoes won’t get muddy.  Re-layer as needed.    

Powdery Mildew is creeping right along…. 

Powdery Mildew on Peas

Hmph.  Powdery Mildew is windborne, and UC Davis IPM (Integrated Pest Management) says ‘Powdery mildews generally do not require moist conditions to establish and grow, and normally do well under warm conditions.  Good thing it’s getting cooler.  Ok.  So prevention, prevention, prevention.  A general home recipe is baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, 1 Tablespoon to a gallon, ¼ cup nonfat powdered milk, 1 teaspoon cooking oil (canola, soya, whatever), a drop or two of dishwash or soft soap (to disperse the oil and make it stick).  Spray or use a watering can whose spout can be turned so the water goes UP under the leaves.  Drench your plant, top to bottom so those inner bottom leaves get plenty of chances to get soaked.  The drips go into your soil, helping from there as well.  Do it on a sunny morning so your plants can dry well during the day. 

Please!  Be a good neighbor.  Prevent this common fungus, don’t let it blow into your neighbor’s veggies! 

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