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Time to start compost for spring planting!   

Did you make rich fall soil?  If so, your bin and sheet composting is really paying off now!  If you have more compost available now, incorporate it with the soil in your new planting places, and plant another round!  Keep ‘em coming!  Now it is time to start the cycle again for your spring garden – start some more fat compost!  SOIL!  I’m always talking with you about soil because it’s the legs of your horse!  Can’t run without it!

When you restore, recondition soil, you can imagine how much the ground must be welcoming you, screaming up to you in its own way, how grateful it is to be so lovingly fed, organically to boot!!!  You are going to have wonderful soil, and very soon!  Just the act of planting adds life, the plant roots busting through, little creaturelets thriving!

There are so many ways to build wonderful soil!

  • Tuck kitchen trim in the top 6” of your soil, where the microbes and buglets are hard at work!
  • Make piles and fill bins with compost from kitchen trim, cuttings, leaves, straw for aeration.  Whack it up!  Smaller pieces, thinner layers decompose faster and fluffier.  Dry brown on the bottom, then up and up, alternating layers.  1 green wet, 2 dry brown, 1 green wet….
  • Sheet composting – build your compost in place, no moving later!  Lay down straw, cover with green and wet waste like kitchen trim, cover with straw.  That would be the simplest of all.  If you can, keep layering, up to 18” deep if you are starting raised beds, because you know that stuff is gonna sink down!  2 brown dry to 1 green wet is the formula.  Inoculate it with soil microorganisms by flinging a few handfuls of nearby soil onto it every couple of layers.  If you have them, put some red wriggler surface feeding worms in there.  They will chomp about and add their castings for free!  If you are seaside, chop up some seaweed for trace minerals!
  • Plant Nitrogen fixers – fava, peas, beans, clovers and other ground cover legumes.  At home plant Leucaena trees!  Not only do they fix N, and are drought tolerant, but the young pods are edible!  Be warned though, they grow FAST, and can be invasive – if you aren’t ready for that, like burning them for firewood, not a good choice.
  • Let your local livestock, goats, chickens, bunnies add their part!  Horse manure has more N than cow manure.  For excellent info and fun reading, check out the scoop on poop, Manure Matters! by Marion Owen, Co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul.

Margaret Frane, President of the California Rare Fruit Growers, reminds us, ‘FEED THE SOIL, AND THE PLANT!  When planting a garden, especially a fruit garden, don’t just focus on individual plants; remember the importance of looking after your soil.’  She further says, ‘…let the soil provide the nutrients. Don’t fertilize your plant; feed the soil and the soil will feed the plant. And for the most part, everything you need to feed your soil is already on your property!’

Frane says:  Trees benefit most from the nutrients available in their own leaves. Most leaves beat manure for mineral content; when incorporated into the soil, they add nutrients, improve aeration and soil structure and encourage earthworms. So don’t rake leaves up and throw them away! Leaves are not garbage, they are an important food for your soil!

Planting immediately and directly in your sheet composting, lasagna layers?  Of course!

Are you doing seeds? Ok, a little preparation is needed.  Time for a little potting soil.  It’s good to get the seedlings started – it has the water holding capacity they need – just like the little transplants you get at the nursery, which they feed, probably daily, kelp, fish emulsion mix, other concoctions.  After that, seedlings have to hit something with real nutrition in it, like a mix of compost and soil.  Most seeds are planted directly in soil, just like Mother Nature does the job.  That’s where they immediately get the most nutrition.  I would get a deep bowl, a bucket, put in ½ soil, then compost, mix it up.  Put the mix in the planting hole, make a little hole for the potting soil, and put your seeds in that.  No more potting soil than if you were filling up one of the little transplant containers.  Obviously, not a lot would be needed.  To keep the soil from falling through the lasagna layers below, you could line the hole with two or three sheets of newspaper, saturate them.  That will keep things where you want them until it all decomposes together, the newspaper, the lasagna.  It won’t hurt your drainage, and little roots will poke right through!  And you are only going to lightly sprinkle, water, your seeded areas, right?  You don’t want your seeds to wash away, get buried too deep or uncovered.  It’s a good thing to check seedlings after a rain.  Recover or rebury anyone who needs it.  If you are doing transplants, you just won’t need any potting soil.  Make your compost/soil mix and pop your cute little transplant right in there!

In the biggest sense, “We are part of the earth and it is part of us … What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.” — Chief Seattle, 1852

Take good care of yourself…and your soil.

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Powdery Mildew on Peas

Select powdery mildew resistant or tolerant varieties!

Cornell University’s lists of Disease Resistant Varieties

  • Longbeans
  • Green beans:  Provider, Merpatim, Parkit, Perkutut, Sriti
  • Cucumber: Diva, Cumlaude, Media F1.  Slicers:  Cornell’s list
  • Muskmelon:  Ambrosia F1, Primo (western type), Sun Jewel
  • Pea:
    • Ambassador – Resistant to powdery mildew, entation virus and fusarium wilt
    • Cavalier – Good resistance to powdery mildew.
    • Greenshaft – Resistant to downy mildew and fusarium wilt
    • Rondo – Resistant to fusarium wilt
    • Downy Mildew resistant peas:  Kelevdon Wonder, Oasis, Twinkle, Avola, Hurst Greenshaft, Ambassador, Cavalier and Peawee.
  • Pumpkin: 18 Karat Gold, Gladiator
  • Winter Squash:  almost all varieties
  • Yellow Summer Squash: Success, Sunray, Sunglo
  • Zucchini: Ambassador, Wildcat, Cornell’s list

Healthy Practices Make a Difference!

Plant in full sun!
Plant so leaves of one plant don’t touch another and spread the spores.
Remove any debris or dead leaves breeding habitat.
Remove and don’t compost infected leaves.  If  you don’t remove them, you reinfect your plant each time you water. 
Wash tools and your hands before you go from one plant to the next.
Water in the AM, at ground level.  No overhead watering.
BEFORE you have mildew, while your plants are still babies, drench the leaves with a baking soda/milk mix.  Tablespoon Soda, ¼ cup nonfat milk powder, drop of liquid dish detergent in a watering can.
Drench weekly with your mix.  But if you think you aren’t going to be able to get rid of the mildew, sadly, do the one cut prune.  Remove that plant so it won’t infect others – yours or your neighbors’.  Do this sooner than later.  Mildew is windborne, so the more mildew, the more is spread.

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Have you already seen Part 1?  Why soak or presprout, all about seeds, how seed coats function; soaking times, seed soaking solutions.

Soaking Pea Seeds - Floaters are Dead, Sinkers You Plant!

Scarify Seeds  Scarify pea seeds to speed up absorption of water, and therefore, germination.  Rub them between sheets of coarse sandpaper, or clip them with a nail clipper by making a slice through the seed coat, not the seed, with a nail clipper [not removing a chunk]! This happens naturally in nature when a mouse with muchies comes along and nibbles seeds.

EZ Planting Techniques!  

1.  You will find that small wet seeds do not sow as well as dry seeds. They cling to your fingers, and tend to drop in gobs. This can easily be remedied by laying the seed on a paper towel for a little while. Not only will they be really easy to see, but the surface water will be drawn off, and the shell of the seed will continue to remain soft and moist until you have time to plant them.  They germinate in 2 days usually!

2.  Nutsy but fun!  With smaller seeds, you can make seed tapes if you plant in rows or if you plant in blocks, you can even just glue them to a thin paper napkin with some Elmers glue (the white, water soluble kind) to ensure the spacing you want without having to thin them. Purely optional though.  Maybe the kids could do it for you, or as a class project?!

3.  Carl Wilson, Denver County Cooperative Extension Agent, Horticulture says pre-germinating seed indoors is helpful in early spring because sprouted seed will grow in soils too cool for germination. It’s easy to sprout seeds on moistened paper towels sealed in a plastic bag for a few days. The difficult part is to sow fragile young seedlings without injury to them. The solution is sowing in a fluid gel, called fluid seeding.

To make a gel for planting seeds, add one tablespoon cornstarch to one cup of water and bring to a boil. Cool the starch mixture to room temperature before pouring it into a plastic sandwich bag. Gently ease your germinated seeds into the gel and close the bag with a twist tie. If the weather is not right for planting, store the gel bags in the refrigerator for a few days until conditions improve. To plant, snip the corner off the plastic bag and squeeze the gel and seedlings into the planting furrow as you would toothpaste from a tube.  [Great for carrot seeds!]

4.  The easiest method for sowing seeds after soaking is to put them in a plastic squeeze bottle along with some water. If you keep swishing the solution in the bottle as you hold it in an upturned position, you can get an even distribution of seeds. This, of course, is for fine seeds such as parsley, onion, celery, asparagus, and carrots.

Hot weather seed tricks:  Water furrow deeply before planting. After planting, place a board over it to keep soil moist and cooler. Requires regular peeking for signs of germination. Presoak your seeds. Plant deeper. Space farther apart.

You can plant carrots, parsley, celery, lettuce, coriander, etc. in 100-degree temperatures. Keep the soil cool, reduce light intensity and maintain soil moisture. Add humus to soil first.

Carrots, parsnips, peas don’t like recently manured ground but the cabbage family, fennel, onions, lettuce and late squash and corn love it.

Water the garden area thoroughly the day before planting. Moist seeds, moist soil = quicker germination. After that, you have to watch your seedlings and make sure they don’t dry out or that they are not drowned by over-enthusiastic watering.  [Practice until you get it right.  Don’t give up if you don’t get any seedlings the first time, even the first few times you try – be sure your seeds are viable.]

Au Naturel!  From Glib at iVillage Garden Web:  In my view, a better technique involves watching the weather forecast at the appropriate time of the year. When 80%+ rain is forecast, abandon any other project and seed the hell out of the garden. There are a few windows of opportunity during the year when direct seeding is easy.  Part of the art is knowing when the time is right for direct seeding. It is not just the rain but also the overcast skies that help.

This works well in spring and early summer around here (Michigan). Rains are fairly frequent, and seedlings “know” that if they emerge and the air temp is a bit low they should stick close to the ground for a while. There will be no transplant shock, and the workload is truly minimal (minimal work is always interesting to me). When the temps increase, they are 100% ready and take off.

In August this does not work so well, if you have to plant your kale for Fall and winter. Then soaking, followed by twice a day misting, is the least worst technique. Still, if you have your seedlings coming up under a searing sun it is not good. You still want to look at the forecast and see if you can catch a cloudy day or two. Lacking that, keep those Ikea cardboard boxes around, opened flat. They can cover a bed in mid day if needed.  [Or pole up some garden shade cloth, or prop up some of those latticed plastic flats, the ones with the 1/4” lattice.]

There you have it!  Take your pick or don’t!  If you do, let me know your successes…and failures.  

Please also see Part 1! Why soak or presprout, all about seeds, how seed coats function; soaking times, seed soaking solutions.

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First of two posts!   See 2nd post, 4.22.10
Clever Space Saving Strategies for Your Urban Garden!             

To some, a 10′ X 20′ Community Garden plot is daunting, to others it is not near enough space!  To get a tasty variety and enough production to keep your table steadily supplied all year, to have some to put in the freezer or can, here are some tips we Community Gardeners have learned to up our production!          

Plan Ahead for Scrumptious Returns!

Plan ahead for 3 seasons, maybe even four:  a cool-season crop, a warm-season crop, and then finishing with another cool-season crop. Careful attention to days to maturity for each crop grown will establish the ideal rotation period.

Raised beds without framing—plant on top and sides. Higher yield than on flat ground.  

Companion Planting—some plants actually kill others or stunt their growth. Onions stunt peas, but others thrive with each other, i.e. carrots enhance peas!   

Stacking—does your plant serve multiple functions, table food, fiber, dye, herb.   

Layering—  

  • Put plants under each other at different levels, lettuce that may need summer shade under a taller plant, or used as a trap plant for Brassicas.
  • Classic radish, carrots combo—short fast growing radishes dovetail nicely with long slow growing carrots!
  • Start plants that will succeed another, for example, beans after peas, while the peas are finishing, you plant your beans at their bases.
  • Interplant fast maturing crops such as lettuce, spinach and radishes with slower crops such as beans, squash and melons. By the time the slow crop grows to fill the space, the quick crop will be harvested. Or beans, radishes, green onions, spinach, or leaf lettuce may be planted between rows of tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, or corn. 

Go Vertical!  

  • Trellising, cages, staking, using fences – peas, beans, cucumbers, melons.
  • Pole beans versus bush beans = more beans for a longer time!
  • Plant different varieties of the same plant that mature at different times, or entirely different kinds of plants, on either side of your trellis. They can grow simultaneously, but give a more continuous supply from that area of your garden.

On the other hand, for more variety, today’s gardener can also choose select bush varieties of beans, cucumbers, melons and squash that require much less space than standard varieties. For example:  

  • Little Leaf Cucumber: This compact plant variety got its name because its leaves are only half the size of regular cucumber leaves.
  • Burpee’s Butterbush Butternut Squash: These plants only need 1/4 the space that traditional sprawling winter squash varieties need. About nine square feet is as much space as this plant will need in order to produce its bell-shaped fruits. This variety also matures relatively quickly and produces 1 1/2 pound butternut squashes about 75 days after you seed it. 

Maximum production will require that you disregard standard row and plant spacing and utilize wide rows or beds for planting. For instance, seeds of many crops, such as leaf lettuce or beets, can be broadcast in a bed 1 to 3 feet across and thinned to obtain proper spacing—tasty little greens for your salad! Other crops, such as cabbage or broccoli, can be planted closely in wide rows so that their outer leaves will touch one another when the plants are about three-fourths mature. These tender thinnings can be stir fried or steamed! These methods reduce space wasted as aisles, and often provide such dense shade that weed growth is inhibited and evaporation of soil moisture is reduced.   

Container Garden, a Plot in a Pot! Hang baskets in tiers, on hooks on your fence, hang window boxes on your balcony, from a balcony – see images! On your roof, up your wall, on your deck. Grow lettuce and herbs in your windows! Use shelves. Espalier fruit trees. Mix veggies among ornamentals around your property. Although tomato and cucumber plants are the ones most commonly grown upside down, a wide assortment of plants can benefit from upside-down gardening, from vegetables to herbs and a variety of flowers.  

Hay Bale Garden
  • Consider a Hay Bale Garden!  One gardener says ‘You can grow so much in a hay bale garden – lettuce, peas, flowers, strawberries and much more.  Don’t limit yourself to planting just the top – tuck edible nasturtiums, creeping thyme or fragrant alyssum into the sides.’  Total instructions by Rose Marie Nichols McGee, co-author of Bountiful Container! 
  • Although tomato and cucumber plants are the ones most commonly grown upside down, a wide assortment of plants can benefit from upside-down gardening, from vegetables to herbs and a variety of flowers.

Plant smart!  May you have many healthful and muy delicioso meals! 

 

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