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Posts Tagged ‘Pests’

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 it is Summer Solstice festival and parade weekend!

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.

This year I’m trying another one of the Indigo series, Indigo Rose! Image at left. They are  high yielding two-inch round fruit that bears purple skin in areas exposed to light; the shaded areas start out green and turn deep red when mature. Virtually luminous! The flesh is red with multifaceted tomato flavor. Bred at Oregon State University by hort prof Jim Myers and students, “It is the first improved tomato variety in the world that has anthocyanins in its fruit.” Seed saved from self-pollinated plants will grow true and not produce hybrids. Seed saving is ON! Plus, they are bred to be high in Anthocyanins, antioxidants that are similar to the ones found in blueberries and other superfoods.

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 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, beans, 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. 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 finished. 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! Certain varieties of them don’t get mildew either! Their unique flavor keeps your table interesting. Plant Okra now, it grows quickly too! More eggplant and also tomatoes you have been waiting to put in 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 –  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!

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

When you put them in the ground, 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.

Here’s your tending list for Beauty and Bounty!

Summer Solstice Sunflower at Nell's!Water regularly so everyone is moist the way they like it! Seeds and seedlings daily. 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 it open enough so you can see if the soil is moist as deep as it needs to be. Watering at ground level, rather than overhead watering, keeps your plant dry. That means 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 and cucumbers 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 to make them less attractive to Whiteflies.

In spite of below average May temps in Santa Barbara area, the ground has heated up. Finally. if you haven’t yet, it’s time to mulch! MULCH and replenish tired mulch. No more than an inch of straw mulch with 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 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.

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! Help your tomatoes by giving the cages or the main stems a few sharp raps to help the flowers pollinate. Best time is about 11 AM, to make more pollination, more tomatoes. Honey bees don’t pollinate tomatoes, so 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 tomato 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!

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 some 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, a row of plants. I have already seen Cucumber beetles foraging Zucchini flowers. 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 beetlesSee 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 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 and other debris shortly after harvest to reduce overwintering sites.

If you are by 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.

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.

Don’t be shy; try Food not Lawn!

Charming Food Not Lawn Formal Veggie Garden

May You enjoy a super beautiful and juicy June!


See the entire June 2018 GBC Newsletter!
Please enjoy some wonderful images from Santa Barbara Community Gardens!

June! First Harvests, Sidedressing, Mulch!

Veggie Feeding Schedule for Your Delicious Summer Favorites!
Squashes! Prolific and Indomitable!

Upcoming Gardener Events! Mesa Harmony Crop Swap! Home & Garden Expo, Fairview Gardens Programs, Quail Springs Programs!

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

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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!

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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.

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!

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

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

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Seed Sprouting! Life!

Photo: USDA Flickr

Starting seeds yourself has two fabulous advantages! Seeds are cheaper than transplants, and you can grow far more varieties of veggies than you can buy at the local nursery! You can buy the best and order latest they may not have heard about yet. You can experiment and see for yourself. You can touch and taste these special varieties! You can even do a little research and hybridize some of your own!

The two main ways to work with seeds are to plant indoors or outdoors!

STARTING YOUR SEEDS OUTDOORS IN THE GROUND

Just like in Mother Nature, outdoor starts are blessed with whole nutrition from their very beginning and they don’t need transplanting!

Before you sow your seeds, amend your soil surface with worm castings! Castings speed germination and strengthen seedling immunity. Keep that planting space and those castings moist until you are ready to plant. A couple days before planting, water the soil so it is for sure semi moist on planting day.

Plant large hard seeds and seeds that are planted an inch deep before a rain. Wait until after the rain to plant little seeds that could be washed away or buried too deeply. Same for seeds that rot easily like bean seeds.

Prevent pests! Put down what you use to end slugs and snails before you sow your seeds!

While you are waiting for planting day, make tags. I put three things on my tags. 1) I put the planting date on the tag so I’ll know by when I should be seeing seedlings. 2) The name of the plant helps so you will know what they are and not a weed! If you are new to planting seeds, don’t worry, you will learn to recognize the little guys. If in doubt, let them grow a bit before you ‘weed’ them out. Look online for baby pictures! 3) The days to maturity cues me to when I should be expecting fruit and how well my plants did. And that varies per time of year, temps, weather, your soil, how well you cared for them.

Mark your planted areas as you go! When I plant the seeds I put a stick at the ends of the row, a triangle of sticks when there is a single area where the seeds are planted. Since I do a lot of interplanting with understories, companion planting special plants where they will do the most good, that keeps me from stepping on or disturbing the seeds.

Some seeds are big and fat like beans, others, like poppies and purslane, are so tiny if you dropped them you would never find them!

After how far apart should I plant my seeds, probably the most iffy thing about planting seeds is how deep do they need to be planted? Most seed packs have that info on them.

Chopsticks can be used in a couple helpful ways.

Mark one of them at 1/4, 1/2, and 1″ on the stick. That way you can get your seeds at the right planting depth. Using your marked stick keeps you mindful; planting goes fun and faster with less wondering and worrying!

If you are installing delicate sprouts, make a planting hole, and if you are good with chopsticks, grasp the sprout gently, carefully place it. Cover and smooth the soil, water gently. Check out Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas!

Teensy seeds are a challenge in so many ways!

First it’s a question of not dropping them. Hold the package over a dish? Something smooth and not wet or sticky. And keep your hands and that package dry! And don’t plant those tiny feathery seeds on a windy day!

Second is how to distribute them the right distance apart. Very carefully. Be careful not to crush or damage them by rolling them or squishing them between your fingers! Use a tiny spoon.

Since most tiny light seeds aren’t supposed to be buried, in nature they wouldn’t be, simply very lightly hand pat them to the soil.

Third is how to keep them from washing away when you water. You can make a tiny ‘trench’ or depression with mild slopes. Sometimes I just hand pat a little depression area with my fingers. Instead of the hose, use your watering can with nozzle that has fine holes. No flooding or standing water. Just moisten. Moisten them maybe 2 or 3 times so the soil gets moist a 1/4 to a 1/2 inch deep. Moisten once, water something else, come back and moisten again so the water can soak in a wee bit deeper. Repeat.

When you are weeding, have you noticed how many seeds come up by the edge of a pathway board, a plot border or a stepping stone? Put down a mini board, wide stick, where you want tiny seeds to grow, preferably in a slightly lower area, a depression that will hold a bit of moisture. Sprinkle the seeds around the board, along the stick. They will have the moisture and shelter they need to get started right at the side of the board or stick! Once they are started, remove the board, transplant some of them if you like.

It may be easier to plant a group of seeds in one place to get them started. That can be their nursery. Plant them far enough apart that you can get a small trowel in there to collect them to transplant. Transplant them where they are needed or to their permanent place when they get their second set of leaves.

Delicate seeds like Marigold need to be carefully laid down and cover the complete seed, but no more than 1/4″. The ‘tail’ of the seed acts like a wick to deliver moisture to the seed. Unprocessed home saved carrot seeds are fuzzy with wicks. They germinate much sooner than the processed naked ones in seed packs!

Lettuce seeds are planted on the surface OR 1/4″ deep depending on the variety. Read your seed pack!

Harder seeds like Cilantro can be exciting to handle since they roll around and jump for it any time they can! They often come up as nearby volunteers! That rolling about can make spacing a challenge. But you can see them and they are big enough to move where you want them. Radish are not exactly round, but they can be unpredictable too! If spacing means a lot to you, you can make or buy seed strips!

If you aren’t overplanting for greens from thinning, spacing does mean a lot! Plants too closely seeded and not thinned, get rootbound, root plants like radish, beets, carrots can’t make, won’t form their roots. Too closely planting lessens growth and production, weakens your plants since your plants are literally starving. Plants along the edge of a clump can reach out. Ones at the center can’t get their roots through to food.

Beet seeds are unique because each ‘seed,’ corm, is a cluster of three to four seeds! There is no escaping needing to thin them. OR, you can gently hand separate them to get four healthy plants! I separated beets I got from a nursery. When I finished 3 of the 6-pack compartments I had planted out 36 beets!

Big seeds are easy, but if you aren’t naturally a good measurer, it’s easy enough to plant too deep or not deep enough! Where are those chopsticks? If the seeds are an inch deep, you usually won’t wash them away when you water. Some seeds can be planted too deep make it, just rot and become compost. With others a little deep means it just takes longer to come up. Too shallow may not keep those seeds moist enough. 

Some batches of seeds are mixed sizes – maybe your green manure or living mulch mix. Some say broadcasting them is all you need to do – they are light germinating seeds. But soil contact and moisture is important. If you plant during a hot spell, get your soil as level as possible. Fling, toss, drizzle your seeds about. Lay a board or a piece of plywood on the soil to press them down for that contact. Immediately cover with bird net or aviary wire or many will be gone overnight, and birds will take tiny tasty tender seedlings that sprout! Gently water your seeds to keep them moist. In hot weather that may be two times a day. You can bury your seeds, but way fewer seeds make it. You only get a thin stand.

Protect your seeds! After your seeds are in, cover with bird netting or aviary wire. Birds love seeds and fresh seedlings! Animals like plowing through your soil looking for insects and seeds. Aviary wire is best for that, or an easily removed wire border so you have access for tending. You can use cloches for small spot plantings. When you can use them, they are excellent because wicked slugs and cut worms can’t get through!

Seedlings Transplants Cover Protection Birds Shade

Successive planting in summer heat has its own challenges, but it is doable! Set up shade cloth, use upturned flower pots or laundry baskets, cardboard boxes, or lightweight fabric held aloft with hoops. Shade cloth comes in different densities. You can water through it and it keeps birds and predator insects away. Remove it when your plants are up and strong. This image has lettuce, but you can start mixtures of other plants this way too. Use it as a nursery then transplant plants where you want them.

STARTING SEEDS INDOORS or IN YOUR COLD FRAME or GREENHOUSE

Seedlings Indoors Grow Lights

Starting seeds in a Container is a whole different territory! Your main advantage is getting a SIX WEEK headstart on planting! That’s food on your table a month and a half sooner!

It can be as simple as putting a few containers or 6 packs in your kitchen window or on top of the warm fridge, or doing something costly, elaborate and sophisticated! If you like starting seeds, choosing a permanent space, then installing lighting, warmth, and setting up a special overhead watering system on a timer may intrigue you. You might put up a greenhouse! You can install a wonderful bought or homemade cold frame on the sun facing hillside.

You can make your own special seed starter mix; it’s not too hard. But if you don’t want the mess, or don’t have time for that, you just buy a great mix at the nursery! While you are there, get a bag of vermiculite, or when you are at the grocery outlet, get a big container of cinnamon. Read on below….

Starting seeds indoors means there are no predator pests. Yay! Rain doesn’t matter. No drying or damaging winds. No hot scorching sun. No soil pre preps – yet.

Level starting medium is pretty easy to achieve. Gentle watering is still needed. Seeds and seedlings need to be kept moist.

Making tags is very useful, especially if you put different plants in the 6 pack compartments! You have a start date and you know when they should be up. And you can use the tags when you transplant the babies in the soil outdoors.

When the true leaves come on, the ones after the first two, the seedlings will need to be fed. Spritzing with a liquid feed is the usual answer.

Cinnamon for Seedling Damping Off Disease Prevention!

The nemesis is Damping off disease, a sad foe of seedlings. The baby just topples overnight and it’s over. A 2005 North Carolina State University study found it’s not the mixture but what’s on top of the soil that counts most. Damping off differences almost disappeared between commercial organic seed-starting mixtures and various homemade mixtures after all of the seeds were covered with vermiculite instead of a planting medium. Simple fix!

The super simplest prevention is Cinnamon! Just sprinkle it on the soil! Sprinkle on plant injuries and they will heal. It is a rooting hormone. And it repels ants! 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!

You do need to harden off seedlings. They need to be taken outside to get used to cooler temps, a bit of breeze to build their standing up muscles! The author of ‘Grocery Gardening’, Jean Ann Van Krevelen says, “Take your seedlings to a protected location outside for one hour for the first day.” She said, “Do this each day for a week. Add one hour for each day of the process. By the end of the week, you’ll be at 7 hours and the plants will be ready to be transplanted.” She doesn’t recommend direct sunlight or wind. Don’t take they out if it is windy and your seedlings could be broken. Just do it the next day where you left off. Keep your seedlings evenly moist.

Schlepping them back and forth may be a challenge, but doable. But if you grow them on a cart with wheels in the garage or near the patio, you can easily roll them out and back in each day.

Both indoor and outdoor planting have their necessities, special techniques, disadvantages and advantages! There’s no reason why you can’t do BOTH! Getting a healthy start in the ground is terrific! Others would never make it in cold or extreme heat and indoor babying is just right. Preseason indoor starting gets you there that six weeks sooner!

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Mother’s Day is May 8! Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts! Get living gifts started now! Click here

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!

Read Full Post »

July is International Pest Month!

Just kidding! But it is the month so many of the little buggers come out in force! Taking good care of your plants during pest cycles goes with the territory!

Pest Prevention and taking care of your plants during pest cycles is a natural part of gardening!

Aphids & Whiteflies = Ants    Both ants and aphids exude a sugary ‘nectar,’ honeydew, that ants harvest from them.

Jet spray off the whiteflies! That’s those little clouds of tiny white insects that fly away when you bump your plant. Some of them transmit diseases to some veggies. Spray off dust that interferes with natural predators. Whiteflies like the heads of your broccoli side shoots, so keep those picked pronto! Smudge off any eggs you see on the undersides of leaves. Use a finer spray for bean leaves and be gentle, beans stems can break easily. White flies like humidity, so plant less densely, and keep check on the inner and lower leaves. Add a 1″ layer of worm castings out to the dripline of your plant. Water it in well. Insecticidal soaps or Neem oil can reduce populations. You really don’t want those tiny white flies, cute and adorable as they look, because they encourage black sooty mold and aphids that inject toxins and also carry diseases. Not good.

Some aphids are still lollying from April and June. Some are pretty little green tykes, others are dull gray, or black, usually numerous where they have decided to camp. Same principles. Keep vigilant watch so things don’t get out of hand, keep your veggies picked, and jet spray. Look inside curled leaves, under the leaves, and in newly leafing tops. See more about Aphids at UC IPM!

Ants tend aphids. Some say sprinkle cinnamon around your plant to keep the ants off it. Otherwise, use safe ant bait stakes. Be sure the stakes are the right kind for the ants you have and the time of year. ARGENTINE ants prefer sweet baits year-round. Protein baits are attractive to Argentine ants primarily in the spring. Chemical baits are not ok in our organic veggie community gardens. Instead, a simple remedy can be putting a few drops of dish soap around and filling the nest entrance. Pull mulch back from the stem of your plant and let that immediate soil dry a bit. Ants nest near water. See more about Ants at UC IPM!   See a lot more details about aphids and ants!

No mercy to those little green and black striped cucumber beetle cuties down in the cuke and squash flowers or simply strolling about! Squish. Or should we let a few pollinate our cucumbers and squashes even though they eat the flowers away? NO! Because they carry seriously nasty plant diseases.

Pick your outer lettuces leaves, cut & come again style. This guarantees you will find those morning slugs and snails. Poke around your beans gently and peek under squash and chard leaves for ambitious high altitude snail hikers. Scan your tomatoes for the varmints! Toss them someplace, the same place each time, so your local birds can gourmet on them. When the birds see you they will come for snacks! Use Sluggo, or the like, a few times to stop the generations, or hand pick if you can stand it.

Leafminers. Yuk. They chew on your chard and other veggies, get right between the layers of the leaf, making that section brown. External applications obviously can’t touch them. Pull away the infected sections of the leaf, remove badly infected leaves. There are several different kinds of leafminer insects that operate all at once. It’s their hatching season. Later summer there will be less. Keep harvesting to keep ahead of the miners.

Flea beetles in July? Yup. Those trillions of holes in the leaves? That’s who we’re talkin’ about. There are 3 to 4 generations per year, depending on weather, and the generation time is roughly 30 days. They look just like fleas, and are about impossible to catch. No mercy. Disturb their cycle by putting compost, manures, worm castings, under susceptible plants – eggplant, arugula, radish. They like radish the most, so plant it as a trap plant near other susceptible plants and let it grow out. Radish grows quickly, so plant it anytime! Turning the soil exposes the eggs and pupae to dry and die.

Keep the water coming so not only do cukes and lettuces stay sweet, the cukes and beans grow straight, but they grow fast and outgrow pests.

Unlike with insects, you don’t get a second chance with gophers.

Gophers are simply an ongoing pest for most gardeners. You mention them and gardeners groan. Now they are getting summer shiny and well fed on what you grow for them. It’s never too late to put in gopher barriers in any planting area. You can sink in an 18” to 2′ deep barrier, 6” above ground, perimeter, but better is to scoop out the area and lay the wire around and across the entire area, securing the wire edge to edge by weaving it with wire! Be sure neighboring edges are secure one way or another so there is no sneaking through. Hardware cloth will do the best job, lasts about 10 years, naturally is the most expensive. Chicken wire has too big an opening, and is easily gnawable. Aviary wire (1/2” opening), is the better choice,  and disintegrates in about 3 years, but is tons better than nothing at all!

If installing a barrier isn’t an option, then trapping is the most effective. It’s not hard to do, but I admit, it’s not entirely pleasant or even safe. Please do be careful setting traps, especially if you are gardening alone. I push the dead creature down the tunnel and close up the tunnel. Hopefully any newcomers to that tunnel system will plug that section off. Wire traps, like Macabees, are cheap and effective, need only a small hole dug to install, less digging, saves nearby plants. Box traps are perhaps more humane, and probably catch the fast small babies better, but do install two, one each direction, that’s what’s effective, you need a hole at least a foot in diameter. That usually requires a plant or more loss. The easy way to find tunnels, if you can’t find it at the fresh mound, is to push a small diameter ¼” to ½” stick into the surrounding ground at intervals until it gives when you push it in. That’s your tunnel location. The bigger the tunnel, the better your chances, especially if it goes off in two directions. Install your traps, one each direction. More on gophers!   UC Davis Integrated Pest Management  Good hunting.

Last option, but overall expensive per cost per an area, time and repeated installations, is wire baskets. You can buy them or make them. First check out how deep your plant’s roots are likely to grow and shop or make accordingly. If the roots grow through the basket they are likely to be nibbled.

We have talked about small nuisances and gophers. We haven’t talked about bunnies, mice,  deer, grasshoppers, skunks or others. But we can if you need to. Let me know.

Good gardening.  Vigilance, giving immediate care, are two good traits to have. Keep it organic. Remove pest habitat, keep working your soil, keeping your plants healthy and resistant. Floating row covers can be a good early season choice. But they have to be opened daily when it gets too hot, and opened daily or removed to allow pollination when your plants start flowering. At that point, they become more work than they are worth for pest prevention. Avoid overplanting that leads to neglect by not harvesting. If you’ve done it, remove plants you don’t use, give away if possible. Replace with something new, vigorous and inspiring! Sometimes a plant you love will simply successfully grow through the season of the pest, outgrow the part of the pest’s cycle that would bother your plant. Plant year round habitat for natural predators, beneficial insects. They are hungry hard workers! Don’t kill the spiders, welcome the lizards, put a safe bowl of water for the birds – safe means away from kitties and with a little ramp so lizards and mice, the tinies can get out.

Prevention is best! Select pest and disease resistant varieties. Use companion planting wisely!

  • Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions! It is thought to repel white flies, mosquitoes, tomato hornworms, aphids, houseflies, and asparagus beetles. Smells great and tastes great!
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill goes with your pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini 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!
  • Herbs are fabulous! Calendula, aka Pot Marigold, traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!

No denial allowed! Be observant and take immediate action. Carry on, good garden soldiers!

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

MY cucumbers! Cassie lives in Indiana and usually has dirt under her fingernails.

Some people LOVE Cucumbers! Dice ’em or slice ’em, put slices on your eyes, make a soothing skin cream, hair tonic! Sulphur in cucumbers helps stimulate the growth of hair and makes it thick and healthy. Although less nutritious than most fruit, cukes are delicious and good for your health in many ways. 

  • Magnesium, potassium, and the mineral silicon in Cucumbers keep your skin beautiful! The juice cleans your pores by removing dirt, bacteria and excess oil. Cucumbers have a natural cooling effect and reduce the redness, inflammation of blemishes. Their Vitamin E fights free radicals and heals scars. They treat bad breath, so you will look and smell good!
  • Cucumbers will help heal stomach ulcers. Drinking two glasses of cucumber juice every day can cure heartburn. Cukes help reduce your blood pressure. And they lower blood sugars, helping with diabetes.
  • Cucumber contains polyphenols called lignans, and phytonutrients called cucurbitacins. They help prevent the growth of breast, uterus, and prostate cancers.
  • They help get rid of excess uric acid in the body and help maintain healthy kidneys and bladder conditions, even prevent the formation of kidney stones. They also help digestion and reduce constipation!
  • Vitamin B and electrolytes in the cucumber will be useful to help relieve headaches.
  • Weight loss! Cucumbers are 95% water and low calorie! They will help keep you hydrated and delay hunger, as well as improve your joint health and reduce bad cholesterol!

Cucumbers belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes squashes (including pumpkins), luffas, melons, and watermelons. Cucumbers grew wild in India over 4000 years ago and have since traveled worldwide! They have been traded by empires, eaten every day by emperors, brought to Haiti by Columbus in 1494, banned as deadly at times! In 2010 worldwide cucumber production was 57.5 million tons, with majority of the world’s production and export being located in China (40.7 million tons)! As of a 2013 article, In the United States, consumption of pickles has been slowing, while consumption of fresh cucumbers is rising!

Huge Selection of Extraordinary Varieties!

Cucumber Melothria Scabra Mouse Melon TreatsSizes from itsy tiny watermelon-like heirloom Mexican Sour Gherkin AKA Mouse Melons, sandia de raton, to small bumpy pickling types, substantial juicy slicers, to longs like wonderful Chinese Suyos!

Cucumbers can be green, white, golden orange, healthy bitter red orange spiky Gaks, up to 3 meter long brown Kigelias, brilliant red Dragon’s Eggs! You just haven’t lived until you’ve tried a few exotics!

The different shapes are a treat! Mouse Melons, round lemon cucumbers, the standard long shapes, fat Hmongs, African Horned Cucumbers!

You can get big viners, or bush type patio container types with smaller leaves at shorter intervals. Compact yet lots of production!

Now we have varieties producing all female flowers (gynoecious types) that produce seedless fruit earlier have more concentrated production, a longer shelf life. No bees are needed. In experimental trials the following varieties have produced high yields and have resistance or tolerance to common diseases: Burpee Hybrid, Comet A II, Dasher II, Marketmore 80, Slice Master, Sprint 440 II, and Victory!

Disease Resistant Varieties

Read the notes about these varieties! These are features you want to see when picking varieties!

Long Green Slicing

Burpless (hybrid – 62 days to harvest; the original sweet, long, Chinese-type hybrid; does well on a trellis
Marketmore 76 – 68 days; very uniform, dark green, straight fruit; multiple disease resistance
Straight 8 – 58 days; AAS winner; long-time favorite; excellent flavor; evenly dark green fruit

Long Green Slicing (compact plant)

Bush Crop – 55 days to harvest; delicious; 6-8 inch fruit on dwarf, bushy plants
Fanfare – hybrid – 63 days; AAS winner; great taste; high yield; extended harvest; disease resistant
Salad Bush – hybrid – 57 days; AAS winner; uniform 8 inch fruit on compact plants; tolerant to a wide variety of diseases
Marketmore 97 – 55 days. One of the best early northern cucumbers producing long dark green fruit, non bitter. This excellent slicing cucumber variety is tolerant of powdery mildew, cucumber mosaic virus and resistant to scab, providing a good crop under adverse conditions. Very dark green, looks thick skinned, bumpy.

Best of all is to plant powdery mildew resistant varieties like AAS winner gynoecious and parthenocarpic Diva!

Early Varieties

Marketmore 80
BETH ALPHA – 58 days Heirloom. The original Middle-East type. Often a parent for the wonderful high-end Slicing hybrid cucumbers. Probably the best all round cuke. Early, productive over long season, mild. Thin skin, wonderful taste with no ‘bitter ends’.
Dasher II  Early, dark green; concentrated set
Very early:   Lightning, Speedway, Thunder

Heat/Cold, Drought Tolerant Varieties

If your area has short cool summers, go for early, cold tolerant, smaller fruited varieties, container types. In hot areas, enjoy those big slicers and Japanese longs! Sometimes heat and drought go together, or you would just like to save water. Here’s a great page at SFGate that lists six heat tolerant varieties with all their details! Little Leaf H-19 (parthenocarpic) and Suyo Longs are terrific! Ashley withstands heat and has good downy mildew resistance.

Choosing Companion Plants

Your climate, soil and many, many other factors determine how well plants grow together. I’ve seen gardeners make exact opposite claims with the pictures to prove it. Bottom line is try things for yourself!

Companion plants enhance each other’s growth, repel pests! Adding companion plants adds a whole new dimension to planning your garden! Spacing changes. Locations change. Your plants are healthier, there is more production, your growing season is extended. By intermingling companion plants, biodiversity happens naturally. For example, rather than having a separate herb area, spread them throughout your garden. Put those herbs to work beside veggie plants they help and favor! Plant 4 or 5 plants with an herb at the hub of the wheel! The herb will serve all those plants at once!

Cucumbers & Dill! This is a companion combo based on timing and usage! Plant Dill at the same time as your cukes, and with your cucumbers so they will mature at the same time for pickling, probiotics, and you have convenience of harvest! Another natural combination is basil and tomatoes!

A super spatial combo is trellising Cucumbers below, letting pole beans grow up, through and above the cukes!

RADISHES get the gold star award! They repel a variety of beetles, including the nasty disease carrying Cucumber Beetle! Plant Radishes, followed by Cucumbers so the radishes will be up and running when your cucumbers need them! Let the radishes grow out. It’s not like you are planting a crop of radishes there. You want them to mingle among your cukes. You won’t need very many radishes to do this. If you didn’t get them in before planting time, get them up and growing ASAP!

Other helpers! Basil or summer savory, and dwarf marigolds, can mask cucumbers from cucumber pests like striped or spotted cucumbers beetles. 

INCOMPATIBLE Plants

Potato, super aromatic herbs like Sage.

Planting for Pleasure!

Long Cucumbers hanging from Overhead Trellis!

First decide how you will grow your Cukes! On the ground, trellising or overhead?!

That determines how you layout your garden! Overhead may require separate additional space, or you might install it over your patio but not so tall that you can’t reach to harvest! Unique! Trellises will make varying kinds of shade depending on what kind of trellis you use. You might like some shade for summer lettuces. A simple vertical trellis still makes shade, but less if you install it along the direction of the summer sun’s path! If you have already planted other plants and don’t want to shade them, you might choose smaller varieties of cucumbers that will grow to less heights, have smaller leaves.

Small pickling cucumbers are easy on a vertical trellis. If you are growing heavy slicers, a vertical trellis is still good. If you are growing a LOT of long cukes, you might grow them on an overhead, let them hang for easy harvesting. Cucumbers up on trellises will ripen all the way around while ground growing might leave an unripened yellow area on their down side.

Choose trellis shapes that give you easy picking access and that will give ample space for the variety of cucumber you choose!
Arch Trellis Squash Melon CucumbersTrellis Cucumber Slanting

Getting your cucumbers off the ground keeps them out of the nibbling insect zone, but it is a little cooler up there and may delay growth a bit. If you are in a cool windy coastal area, you might decide to grow low shrub porous windbreaks to shelter an area, and leave your cukes on the ground. Mulch with only an inch layer of straw to keep them off the ground and the insects happy under the mulch. The thin straw layer allows aeration and some light through to keep the soil warm.

Sun, Soil, Spacing

Full summer sun! Cucumber is not a ‘winter’ plant, they grow best at 81 F to 101! They will do alright at 60 degrees at night, and above 70 degrees during the day. If you are coastal cool, if possible, find a SHELTERED spot for them so they can be good and warm! In the garden plant them on the sunny side of corn, beans or tomatoes. Look for a light colored wall, west facing, with no chilling wind that whips by. A light, sandy loam soil works well for early production. Cucumbers thrive in well drained, fertile soil and need a pH above 6.0.

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

Incorporate a layer of worm castings at the top of your planting area if you are planting seeds. Castings improve and speed germination, improve water holding capacity to keep your seedlings moist longer!

Spacing depends on which varieties you plant and whether you trellis or not. For trailing cucumbers on the ground, plant 3 to 4 seeds in hills, spacing the hills 3 to 4 feet apart in the row and space rows 5 feet apart. If you plan to trellis your cucumbers, space the hills 2 feet apart in the row and thin to one plant per hill. If you use a vertical trellis, as your plants grow, be prepared to gently weave them up the trellis or tie them in place. Cukes are not like beans or peas that do it by themselves and bend easily.

Hilling or Basins?! If you live in a wet summer rainy area, hilling is great for drainage, though sometimes toward the end of summer, salts accumulate on the top of the soil and water simply runs off. Or the hill flattens from watering, roots are exposed, you need to replenish the soil. Laying on compost mulch covered with a straw mulch will help that. In hot Mediterranean summer dry areas like SoCal, a dripline-wide basin corrals the water right where your plant needs it. Put a stake in the center of the basin so you know where to water. If your soil is infected with wilts or blights, make a hill, put the basin on top, with the bottom of the basin above the regular soil level. This waters your plant, allows drainage and some drying, reducing the fungi. Mulch with only 1″ of straw to allow airflow, but to keep leaves from touching soil. 

Germination

Cucumbers are frost tender. Wait to plant until the soil has warmed up to 65° degrees or above.

Pre sprouting is smart! Soak your seeds in water for 5 to 10 hours, drain. Put them on damp paper towels wrapped loosely in an unsealed plastic bag and put in a warm spot. 70-85 degrees is optimum. Check the bags every day – keep the towels moist. The seeds will sprout in a few days. It saves time and guarantees you will have a plants in every space! You won’t waste time waiting for failed seeds in the ground. Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips Plant your sproutlings very gently. 
 
Transplant Technique Separating Lemon Cucumbers - John Kohler

Selecting Transplants to save money! Not everyone wants to plant from seed! Not everyone wants to spend a ton of bucks on transplants either! Ok, so do it John Kohler style! See this video of him separating out ELEVEN lemon cucumbers from one 4″ container he purchased for $1.79 – those were the days, ha, ha! I didn’t believe it, but he did it easy! And I’ll bet they all grew! You can use this technique with many plants. 

Tag your seedlings and transplants with the date planted, variety name, # of days to maturity. Having your plant date and days to maturity tells you at a glance how well they are doing per how long they have been in the ground. If your seeds don’t germinate, you know your seed is compromised or too old. If there are no fruits when expected, are you over fertilizing and your plant is going to leaf and no fruit, or are they slow due to cooler weather than usual? When the season is done, how did that variety do for you? Should you save some seeds? Put a note in your records of what to do better next year, for selecting next year’s purchases, how many to plant. Also, jot down where you got that transplant or the seeds. 

If you are planting non gynoecious types, all female flowers, not to worry if first flowers don’t make baby cukes! Male blossoms come first so they can fertilize the female blooms unless you have an all female no pollination needed gynoecious and parthenocarpic variety. Cucumber vines will produce the greatest amount of female flowers when day length shortens to approximately 11 hours per day. Plant a round at the time you can hit that window!

Successive Planting

If you have poor or fungi infected soil, two plantings may make sense. The first planting may not last long depending on whether you planted a resistant variety or not. A later second planting, when the soil has heated and dried, may be more successful. To help keep the soil drier, use an open mulch like straw, only 1″ is best, for airflow. 

Planting smaller shorter fruited varieties is good early on. A month or two later you might plant long varieties that need good heat to make those big babies! 

Watering/Mulch  Compost   Fertilizer  Sidedressing

Cucumbers have short roots and need consistent water, kept moist, to never dry out. Pick first, water afterwards. Avoid wetting the plants and water in AMs if possible to avoid mildew. Plant mildew resistant varieties like Diva. Apply your baking soda mix to alkalize the leaves.Some say most granular fertilizers leach from the soil rather quickly due to watering. That is why the instructions say you should reapply periodically through the season, even once a week. Time release pellets do better. But adding organic material, compost, to your soil not only adds nutrients, it loosens the soil, attracts worms and other soil building critters and helps your soil retain moisture and nutrients.

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

Since Cucumbers are short rooted, be very careful if you dig in fertilizer or compost. Dig only on one side so as not to break off all the tiny surface feeder roots. Better to add a 1″ layer of compost, some worm castings if you have them, in the planting basin, cover with straw and water well. Foliar feeding mixed teas feeds the whole plant with no harm to the roots at all! Do both the compost and foliar!

Fruits will be aborted during dry spells and very hot weather. Keep your plants watered, moist, regularly, and don’t worry if your plant temporarily stops flowering and producing. When the weather cools, you will be back in business!

Common Diseases

Mildew is #1. 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 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! IPM on Powdery mildew

Common Pests

Cucumber Beetle Western Striped SpottedStriped/Spotted Cucumber Beetles are the nemesis of Cucumbers. Squish. Cucumber Beetles get in cucumber, squash and melon blossoms. They aren’t picky. They are yellow greenish with black stripes or dots about the size and shape of a Ladybug. They are cute but are the very worst garden pest. They carry bacterial diseases and viruses from plant to plant, such as bacterial wilt and mosaic virus, deadly to cukes. Radish repels them, is a champion plant, a hero of the garden! Plant enough radish for you to eat and to let others just grow, be there permanently or at least until the beetles are done, gone. IPM data

Squash Bugs like your Zucchini and other squash, cucumber and melons. Plant WHITE potatoes among these plants to repel the bugs. You will get two crops instead of just one! IPM info

Whitefly infestations leave a parasitic fungus called black sooty mold, and that attracts aphids/ants and aphids add to the black problem. Hose ‘em, several days in a row to get rid of them, being sure to get under the leaves! Sprinkle the ground with cinnamon to repel aphid-tending ants. Remove any yellowing leaves throughout your garden that attract whiteflies. Water a tad less. Remove unhealthy leaves that may lay on the ground and harbor pests or diseases. Thin some leaves away to improve air circulation. IPM on Whiteflies
 
Bill Finch has written a detailed, educated and humorous account about using summer horticultural oil on whiteflies! It’s worth the read.

Maturity

Most cucumber varieties will start to bloom in about 60 to 65 days after they germinate. They have male and female blooms on the same plant. Only the female bloom produces fruit. Insects are necessary for cross pollination. Grow lots of bee food! If it is necessary to apply insecticides it is best to apply them as late in the afternoon as possible, when bees are less active. Parthenocarpic varieties having all female flowers, don’t need bees. 

Harvest & Storage

Cucumber Pickles And Dill Jars

Mexican Gherkins/Mouse Melons, are ripe when they fall to the ground! Lemon cukes are best eaten while still young and pale green. Other Cucumbers mature rapidly and once in production check every other day for ones ready to harvest. No storing on the vine or your plant thinks it’s done and stops producing. Cut, clip or carefully twist off while holding the vine. Cukes are old if they are large, puffy, dull and yellow. Use care not to step on vines during harvest. 
 
Pickles are the only real way of storing cukes, and there are the cuke varieties that are specific for that purpose! Probiotic pickling is the healthiest way of doing it. 

Cucumbers are another room temp veggie. University of California, Davis, says cukes are sensitive to temperatures below 50°F. They thrive and last longer at room temp. However, cucumbers, eggplant and peppers can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 days if they are used soon after removal from the refrigerator.

Seed Harvest, SeedSaving, Inbreeding Depression.  When, Seed Saving Process, Viability

If you are in a short summer cool climate, don’t have a long enough summer to save seed, buying seed may be your only option.

Parthenocarpic means your plant produces without pollination, makes NO seeds. Like with hybrids, saving seeds is not an option. However, there are reports of saving seeds from parthenocarpic plants! Some flowers do get pollinated. Soak the seed like usual, keep only the sinkers that look the most like your original seed! You might not get many, but probably enough!

If you have non parthenocarpic varieties and want to save cucumber seed, plant only one variety! They cross breed like crazy! Experienced home seed savers can grow more than one variety at a time in a single garden by using hand pollinating techniques. If you don’t hand pollinate, separate two different cucumber varieties by at least 1/2 mile to ensure purity. Inbreeding Depression, reduced vigor due to breeding related plants, is not usually noticeable in cucumbers. Seeds should be saved from at least 6 cucumbers on 6 different plants.

You may ask what if I plant non and Parthenocarpic varieties together? Parthenocarpic cucumbers grow fruits without pollination, developed for commercial greenhouse production – no bees. As a home gardener, if pollinated they will have seeds. If you don’t mind seeds, then interplanting is not a problem. But these seeds will be hybrids. Experimenting can be fun, or disappointing if you want what you had before.

Saving the seeds of Cukes, Eggplant, Melon, Pepper, Squash, Tomatoes, and Zukes is super easy.

Leave the best or last of your cukes to get old on the vine to reap all they can from the Mother plant. Leave them at least 5 weeks after the eating stage, until they have turned a golden color. Now is the time we want those old large, puffy, dull and yellow ones! In northern areas the first, light frost of the season will blacken vines and make cucumbers easier to find. Undamaged fruits can be stored in cool, dry place for several weeks to finish ripening. 

Slice your cucumbers lengthwise and scrape seeds out with spoon. Put them in warm water no more than two days. Scrape any scum off. Let the contents settle and begin pouring out the water along with pieces of pulp and immature seeds floating on top. Viable seeds, sinkers, are heavier and settle to the bottom of the jar. Repeat this process until water being poured out is almost clear and clean seeds line the bottom of the container. Pour these clean seeds into a strainer that has holes smaller than the seeds. Let the excess water drip out and invert the strainer onto paper towel or piece of newspaper. Allow the seeds to dry completely (usually a day or two). Break up the clumps into individual seeds, label with date and variety, store in a packet or plastic bag. Check them in a week or two to be sure there is no mold or any insect infestations.

The drier the seeds, the longer they will store ~ about 5 years for cucumbers, 2 – 10 maybe. 


Cucumbers are easy to eat! 

Cucumber Open Sandwich Dill Garnish

Some cucumbers simply never make it home from the garden. Next best fresh is in a tasty greens salad!

Eat cukes and yogurt! Raita, an Indian dish, is pretty and a very nice cooling summer dish. It can also be used as a sauce over falafels, as a veggie dip or salad dressing! Chicken, lettuce & cucumber slice sands!

Make a pale green egg salad with fresh minced basil, green onions, and crunchy cucumbers. Tuck it into pita pockets. Mmm…..

In Asia cucumbers are often stir-fried and are quite tasty. Give it a try! Toss cold noodles with sauce, cucumber, and scallion or coriander. Sprinkle noodles with sesame seeds.

How about a delicious Pineapple Cucumber Smoothie?! Add blueberries for blue, Strawberries for pink! Or do Cucumber, Apple & MInt! With Kale. Watermelon! Do a flavor a day – just add Cucumber!

  1. Add cucumber, pineapple, frozen banana, light coconut milk, water, lime zest, lime juice, greens, and ice cubes to a blender and blend on high until creamy and smooth, scraping down sides as needed.
  2. For a thicker smoothie, add more ice. For a thinner smoothie, add more liquid of choice. …

Pickles are prime! Do probiotics for the very best nutrition! Add carrot sticks, hot peppers, garlic, dill, whatever tickles your tastebuds!

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

Stay cool!

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

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

Read Full Post »

Seedling growth stages. Great Soil equals success!

Delicious winter garden harvests continue! You may not feel like eating salads in this cooler time, but veggie soups and stews are super nutrition and great for sharing!

Keep an eye on weather reports! We are still in the frost – freeze time in Santa Barbara until the last average frost date January 22 – measured at the airport. Have old sheets, light blankets, old towels handy. If a freeze is predicted, for small plants, like tender lettuces, just lay tomato cages on their sides and put your coverings over them. Secure coverings well so wind doesn’t blow them around and damage your plants. Remove them when the sun comes out! No cooking your plants before their time! Dates vary from the coastal areas to the foothills, and our climate is changing generally to warmer, so these dates may not be viable guides much longer, if even now. Find out the frost dates for your Zip Code! See the details – Protect Your Veggies from Freezing!

ring-bell-weedWe have been blessed with recent rains,
so this is easy time to weed, weed, weed! Do it before the roots get bigger and you lose your soil when you pull them out. Weed before taproots get deep and hard to remove. Get those clover roots out all the way down and before grass makes its frilly little seed heads. Remove any weed that is flowering, making seeds soon, first! Anything that is not seeding may be cold composted, or you can use them as mulch where there is bare ground not in your garden.

Time to check beds and berms! Install trenches to capture rainwater. Mulch to prevent erosion and soil splash on leafy greens. Add soil on carrot shoulders and exposed beet and potato bodies. See Rainy Day Tactics for Spectacular Veggies! Do the finger-in-the-soil check to be sure your plants are getting enough water. A light rain may not be enough…

Once the weeds are out, you have choices to make. Plant very last rounds of winter plants or start making soil for spring planting!

January Plantings If you love your winter crops, and aren’t necessarily in a rush to do spring/summer, amend your soil immediately and plant one more round, from transplants if you can get them or the starts you have begun on your own. See December In cooler January weather, plantings will start slowly, but they will mature faster than usual as days get longer, temps are warmer. Most January plantings will be coming in March, April. That’s still in good time for soil preps in April for the first spring plantings in April/May.

Plant MORE of these delicious morsels now! Arugula, beets, brocs, Brussels sprouts if you get winter chill, bunch onions, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, culinary dandelions, garden purslane, kale, kohlrabi, head and leaf lettuces, Mesclun, peas, potatoes, radishes – especially daikons, and turnips!

For us SoCal gardeners, besides beautiful bareroot roses, this month is bareroot veggies time! They don’t have soil on their roots, so plant immediately or keep them moist! Grape vines; artichokes; short-day (sweet) globe onions; strawberries; cane berries such as raspberries (get low-chill types); low-chill blueberries; and rhubarb, asparagus, and horseradish. Bare root planting is strictly a JANUARY thing. February is too late.

Continue to make the most of winter companion planting! Carrots enhance peas, onion family stunts peas. Cilantro enhances Brassicas and repels aphids on them! Lettuce repels Cabbage moths. Onions, leeks and chives help repel the carrot root fly. Carrots thrive when Cilantro, Chamomile, Marigold are planted with them. Companion planting is also a size strategy. Keep planting smaller plants, especially lettuce, on the sunny under sides of Brassicas! Take off a couple lower leaves to make room.

Planting summer crops early isn’t always a gain. Even if the plant lives, some won’t produce fruit until they have enough hours of sun, and for some, warmth including day/night and/or ground temps. And some plants set in too early will never produce. That waiting time for enough sun, enough warmth, interrupts the plant’s natural cycle and the production window is lost. Better to pull and replant.

Peppers are a classic example. For some gardeners peppers take forever…………. For others the standard couple of weeks and seeds are seedlings! If you have experience, you probably know which it is for you. A lot of Latinos start their peppers in January and let them grow slowly until April. If you plant from transplants, I would not try for an early start. Peppers just don’t like cold feet. Whenever you start, plant two rounds, two to three weeks apart. That way you have a better chance of hitting the magic window! Soil Temps are critical for root function. Peppers need 60 degrees + for happiness. A gardeners’ soil thermometer is an inexpensive handy little tool to own.

You can use area that becomes open for quick plants, chard, kale, lettuce, spinach, crops grown for their leaves, until it’s the right time to plant heat lovers. These plants can be removed at any time and you still shall have had lush harvests. However, hardly anyone can resist planting early tomatoes! Another strategy is plant your leafies to one side, leaving room to plant your toms where the toms would be planted if the leafy plants weren’t there. Plant tomatoes on the sunny sides of the leafies! Remove lower leaves of taller plants that would shade the transplants. That way you have table food and your heart is happy too!

Choose early cold tolerant varieties. Ones with northern names, in SoCal that could be Oregon Spring, or Siberian. Stupice from Czechoslovakia is very early! Bellstar, from Ontario Canada, is larger and earlier than other plum tomatoes. Early Girl is a favorite! And SunGold cherry tomatoes are almost always a winner! Cherry toms are small and will ripen when other tomatoes just stay green for the longest!

Summer Garden Design is important right now! You can do diagrams on paper or just give it a good think to see if there are any changes this year, and carry it in your head. That layout is what you need to make your seed list! Seeds from catalogs, seeds from the Jan 29 Seed Swap! Catalogs give you the best selection and of plants your nursery doesn’t carry or isn’t able to get. Check for drought and heat tolerant varieties or look in southern states or world areas that have desert low water needs plants and order up! The seeds of these types may need to be planted deeper and earlier than more local plants for moisture they need. They may mature earlier. Be prepared to do second plantings and use a little water. See Choosing Seeds: Catalogs to Seed Swaps!

The Seed Swap is free, fun and random, a good way to try plants you might have never considered, and they are adapted to your area!

Later January is time to sow for mid to late March early plantings. If you will be doing succession plantings, sow in succession! If those fail, it’s to the nursery you go for transplants! Avoid box stores that bring plants from elsewhere that may not be timely for your area. Select local nurseries that order conscientiously for local timing. Check at farmer’s markets, with local farmers to see what they plant when.

Check out  Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas! If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, wait and get transplants and pop them right in the ground per their right times! No fuss, no muss.

For us SoCal gardeners, besides beautiful bareroot roses, this month is bareroot veggies time! They don’t have soil on their roots, so plant immediately or keep them moist! Grape vines; artichokes; short-day (sweet) globe onions; strawberries; cane berries such as raspberries (get low-chill types); low-chill blueberries; and rhubarb, asparagus, and horseradish. Bare root planting is strictly a JANUARY thing. February is too late.

Prevention  A typical disease is Powdery mildew. 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 teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution.

Standard Winter Garden Veggie Predators Keep a keen watch for pests and diseases and take quick action!

  • Gophers  You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after the rains. If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.
  • Aphids  Watch for leaves unnaturally curled along the length of the leaf, particularly broccolis, cauliflowers, kale, cabbages. Squish or wash any or the colony away immediately, and keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed. After that, water less so plant leaves will be less tender and inviting.
  • White flies  Flush away, especially under the leaves. They are attracted to yellow, so keep those Brassica yellowing, yellowed leaves removed pronto. Again, a little less water.
  • Leafminers  Keep watch on your chard and beet leaves. Pull away those blotchy sections the leafminers make; immediately remove whole leaves that are too funky for rescue. Harvest the bigger outer lower leaves more often to stay ahead of the miners, especially the leaves that touch another plant. Water and feed just a little less to make those leaves less inviting. Plant so mature leaves don’t touch. Rather than row plant, interplant here and there.
  • Slugs, Snails  When you put in new transplants, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from seriously damaging or disappearing them while they are small. Before you anticipate your seedlings coming up, sprinkle some pellets around the plant, along both sides of rows. That keeps the creatures from mowing them overnight, making you think they never came up! Do this a few times, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while. If you notice tiny children snails, lay down another couple rounds.

If you need more robust soil, do something absolutely yummy with it! This is perfect timing to put in some green manure for March & April plantings. Put it where you will plant heavy summer feeders – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard. Or you can ‘rest’ an area by covering it with a good 6″ to a foot deep of mulch/straw! That will flatten down in no time at all! Simply let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. That’s called sheet composting, sheet mulching or composting in place – no turning or having to move it when it’s finished. If you are vermicomposting, have worms, add a few handfuls to speed up and enrich the process. Come spring you will have rich nutritious soil for no work at all! See more

COMPOST always! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost is easy to make, and if you make it, you know what’s in it! Added to your soil, made or purchased, it increases water holding capacity, is nutritious, soil organisms flourish, it helps with immunity, your soil lives and breathes! It feeds just perfectly! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist.

Sidedressing  Heavy leaf producers and big bodied Brassicas, may need a feeding now. Heading is your cue to help them along. If they slow down, or just don’t look perky, slip them a liquid feed that quickly waters into the root zone. Stinky fish/kelp is easy for them to uptake in cooler weather. Get your nozzle under low cabbage leaves and feed/water out to the drip line. Lettuces love manures. Compost and manure teas, fish emulsion (when there are no digging predators), pretty powdered box ferts, are all good. Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings. Slow release is a wise consideration. Worm castings, though not food, work wonders! Also, be careful of ‘too much’ fertilizer, too much water, that makes for an aphid tasty soft plant. That said, another way to get goodness to the roots is push in a spade fork vertically, wiggle it back and forth, remove the fork, pour your foods into the holes, close ’em back up. Soil organisms will get right to work, your plant will stay healthy and be quite productive!

Especially feed your cabbages, lightly, time to time, because they are making leaf after leaf, dense heads, working hard. I often see kales lose their perk. You would too if someone kept pulling your leaves off and never fed you. Feed them too, please, while feeding your cabbages.

It’s a New Year! Some of you will make serious gardening resolutions, others will take it as it comes, one day at a time as usual. But I do recommend you secure your seeds for the year ahead! Some are now less plentiful with droughts and storms, GMO threats, new laws. Recently much needed seed banks, libraries have sprung up. We want to use our seeds with reverence and seed save our best as they adapt to different climate change conditions, assure their goodness for future generations. At Seed Swaps, take only what you need. If many people grow them, there will be more adapted to our localities. Before there were seed shops, seeds were often used as money. They are as precious today as they have always been, maybe even more so.

See December images at Rancheria Community Garden!

See the entire January New Year Newsletter!
January – Soil, Planning and Seeds!
Easy to Grow Broccoli, the Queen of Brassicas!
Make Soil for Spring Planting – Amendments, Castings, Teas!
Smart Design for Your Spring & Summer Garden
Other Community Gardens – China Gardens, Big Bear Lake CA 

Events! TWO Permaculture Courses at Santa Barbara City College! January 29 Santa Barbara 9th Annual SEED SWAP!

Happy New Year 2017 Gardening!

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

Read Full Post »

Vermicomposting Workshop Vancouver

Since 1990, City Farmer and the City of Vancouver have held worm composting workshops for City of Vancouver residents who live in apartments. For $25 participants get a worm bin, 500 worms (1 lb), Mary Appelhof’s book “Worms Eat My Garbage”, a trowel, bedding and a one-hour class. Now that’s a deal!

Worm Castings are true BLACK GOLD to your garden soil, and high quality store-bought castings are just about as expensive! For good reasons. Worm castings are literally living!  Worm castings host ten to twenty times as much microbial activity than plain soil! They cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits and vegetables are produced. Castings contain 5 times the available nitrogen, 7 times the available potash and 1 1/2 times more calcium than that found in 12″ of topsoil. These nutrients are also water-soluble and immediately available to the plant. Most potting soils have a nutrient life for 2 to 5 days, where worm castings will last up to 6 times as long.

Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

The right kind of worms are RED WIGGLERS! They forage on debris at the surface. They are smaller than earthworms that live IN the earth. Fishermen use them for bait. Ask your fellow gardeners to give you a handful to get started, go to the bait shack, ask at the farmers market, or support your local organic worm dealer! The little guys live 1 to 2 years. My clew (colony) has been going strong for 15 years now.

Worms are easy to raise or you can use a complex system. You can start them anytime, indoors or out depending on temps. Here in SoCal Santa Barbara mine live outside all year in full sun, brief freezes. They are more active when they are warmer. Soy inked newspaper is often used for bedding to start a clew. Worms are 90% water, so keep the bedding moist. My worms get all the moisture they need from the juicy kitchen bits I feed them and I cover them with their black plastic blankie inside the container to keep them moist! If your bin is stinky, you may be overfeeding or watering too much. Maybe increase the size of the air openings or put your bin where there is more circulation, or out of the shade into a sunny area.

Though you can start your worms anytime, two good times to start them are January and July. January will give you a well established clew and supply of castings for spring plantings starting in SoCal March. July gives a good supply for September, October fall plantings.

Vermicomposting Easy Bin Children Worms

Housing! This bin is great for at home gardeners or children’s school projects! The worms are safe from predators, access is easy, any liquid, leachate, worm tea, drains into the lid below. I use a longer bin about the same height.

Since Red Wigglers, Eisenia Foetida, are surface foragers, these worms need width, not depth. Mine live in a low 4′ by 2′ opaque dark grey storage container. I put holes in the bottom to allow the leachate to drain out and from time to time I move the bin to another location to enrich the soil there, each area getting some of that good stuff! I put holes about 6 to 8″ apart along the sides near the top. The wormies get air flow and on hot days hot air vents out. Inside the container I cover them with a large black plastic bag to keep it moist and dark for them. They feed all the way to the top because they feel safe in the dark where no birds can see them!

I do have a shaped-to-the-base piece of 1/4″ hardware cloth, a wire mesh, around the bottom of my box to prevent predator pests like mice or rats from gnawing into the holes in the bottom of the box. Worms are gourmet for them! Sprinkle cinnamon about if you have ants.

How to Start! Select your container or system.

  • If you choose a container, get one made of opaque material, a dark color if it is available. Worms like dark, just like under the leaves, in the topsoil, in nature. Make 1/4″ or less diameter holes in the bottom and near the top of the sides or as needed. If you put holes in the container lid, rainwater will go in, perhaps flooding your worms. A hot stove flame heated very large screwdriver blade is quick and perfect for making holes in plastic containers. Push the screwdriver in and twist. If your container will be indoors, you will need a tray underneath to collect drippings.
  • Put in 4 to 6″ of moist shredded soy ink newspaper bedding, no bleached office papers. Soak the paper overnight, then wring it out so it is moist like a wrung out sponge, fluff it up. Add some leaves if you have them, and what kitchen trim you might have been saving. If the kitchen stuff is a little funky that’s best because your worms feed on bacteria!
  • Add your worms!
  • Feed your worms slowly at first. As your worms multiply, give them more chow. Bury food scraps to keep fruit flies away.
  • Your worms want dark and moist. Cover them with cardboard or another material so they will feed to the top. I tuck them in with a large black plastic garbage bag to keep them moist.
  • Mist the paper as needed to keep it from drying out.

They like decomposing kitchen waste with the exceptions of spicy, salty, acidic citrus, sulfuric onion, dairy makes the bin smell, oils and meats (too tough). No junk food. Coffee filters, grounds in moderation, lightly ripped teabags are good – the nylon kind don’t decompose, but not too many of those because they are acidic, and veggies like things a tad alkaline. Things cut into smaller pieces decompose faster. Harder or tougher items take a long time. No grape stems, corn cobs, avocado or mango pits. They do love the avo shells though and nest in them. Crushed egg shells keep the pH neutral. Cooked rice, bread, pastas and pizzas. Go wild with potato and carrot peelings, carrot tops, funky lettuce, squash, and, a favorite, melon rinds for dessert. Fridge clean outs are perfect for your worms! If you have doubt about an item, don’t. Moderation is a good word.

Rather than laying new food on top of the worms, I use a pitchfork, small tines, little damage to worms, to gently lift my worms from one side of the bin to the other. I lay in half their new food, then move the worms back, covering the new food. Then I do the other half. The new food will decompose faster when covered.

You can easily see when they have run out of food. Feed them sooner than that, or they might be hungry a few days, even die. They eat the bacteria on what you give them. They can’t eat raw food until it decomposes a bit, so feeding them sooner is crucial. If you find yourself wondering about how they are doing, check them!

Once your bin is started, there is absolutely no reason to continue to feed them newspaper or cardboard. The quality of what you feed your worms is the health of your worms and the quality of your castings. Real nutrients – kitchen scraps, plant trimmings – like the organic wastes of nature, give you excellent castings in return. Worms will eat non nutritious cardboard and lots of other things, but why? Better to recycle that in other ways.

If you are an indoor gardener, keep your clew small. If you are an outdoor gardener, you may be hard pressed to produce enough castings! Hit up your friends that juice and make smoothies for a steady supply of high quality fresh organic veg and fruit trims and bits. I have dedicated recycle friends who bring plastic bags and wide mouth containers of veggie trim. They tie bags loosely so it’s easy for me to open and feed to the kids. I, in turn, share veggies when I have extra, sometimes planting a little more, or one of their favorites for them.

Worm Red Wiggler Eisenia Foetida Castings

Harvest the bumpy like little castings – they look like fluffy coffee grounds. You’ve seen them, often after a rain…earthworms push them up in little piles. I use an old coffee container with a handle. Take the ‘blanket’ off your worms. Give them about 5 minutes to dive out of the light. Gather the castings at the top. Wait a few more minutes for them to dive again, then gather some more. Only the castings are taken; the worms are the workers!

Oh, are you spooked because worms are ‘slimy?’ Get some thin rubber gloves. No problem.

At times you will see little yellow eggs, cocoons among the castings. Each holds 4-6  1/2″ long teensy baby worms and hatches in about 23 days. It’s crazy to try to separate them all out. Nevermind. Some of them will hatch in your garden and you will have a small population of red wigglers there too! Do they mate? Yep, they have to so they can make eggs. Lucky for us, they are hermaphroditic and can mate with any other worm they meet!

Worm Castings after a rain

Feeding Your Plants ~ Optimum growth is in a soil ratio of 1:4, that’s 25% castings, 75% soil. However it has been shown that even 10% of wormcast shows significant difference in plant growth. Using over 40% castings, plant growth performance is stunted and may even appear worse off than having no wormcast at all. A wise gardener knows more is not always better. And, your precious castings will go further.

I walk about my garden to see who might need some castings, or where I plan to plant next. Scratch out a shallow area on one side of your plant, leaving as many tiny surface feeder roots intact as possible. Most veggie annuals do all their root growing in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Spread some castings in, cover them with the soil you dug out. After you have used all the castings, water the areas lightly so the castings stay covered and moist. It’s like making and giving them worm tea in place! Remember, 25% is the ideal ratio.

How Castings Work! Castings are not exactly a fertilizer, ie their available N, Nitrogen, content is only 1.80 – 2.05 %, yet their NPK value is much higher than soil! NPK are the main minerals your plants need. The NPK in castings is locked in the cast, and slowly released as micro-organisms break it down. This is much better for plants, because it takes time for them to uptake nutrients. They can’t do it all at once. What they do uptake, they can do easily and immediately.

Vermicompost nutrients and minerals are significantly higher (with Nitrates up to 9 times higher) than garden soil. This creates electro-conductivity, in turn creating more salts in vermicompost. When there is too much salt in soil, it sucks water from plant roots resulting in the ‘burning’ of plants. Although there aren’t enough salts in vermicompost to do that (it is much more common in chemical fertilizers), using too much wormcast can stunt plant growth.

Worm castings have much higher percentages of humus than either soil or compost, which helps the castings hold more water and stay aerated, while also providing binding sites for micronutrients that would otherwise wash out of soil during heavy rains. Mineral clusters that castings form combine in such a way that they can withstand water erosion and compaction, and, increase water retention! Castings hold 2 to 3 times their weight in water! If you are in a drought area, especially add them when you add compost or Sphagnum peat moss. All three increase water holding capacity. In summer, mulching keeps your soil moist also!

A clever gardener will make a drain at one end of the worm box and collect the worm tea! Check out Bentley’s post for some of the finer details to consider and how to process your leachate for maximum results. If you aren’t doing worm tea, move your worm box from time to time so that juice can drip into your soil, making it rich and nutritious at each location. Plants will grow like crazy in those spots!

Here’s another way ~ Per Rodale, ‘One excellent use of castings is in a liquid plant tonic. Put 1 pint/2 cups of castings in a bucket. Add a gallon of warm water and a spoonful of molasses. Stir this well, and stir it frequently over the course of 24 to 48 hours. Dilute the resulting liquid at the ratio of 1 part tea to 4 parts water and use it to water container plants and fruit trees. You can use it in your vegetable beds, but they should already be well nourished by compost and thus don’t need it as much. It’s best to use all of your worm tea in a week or so.’ Another simple way is 1 cup Worm Castings for every gallon of water and wait 1 week.

Broad Fork Garden Baby Blue! Compost, Worm Castings, fish/kelp tea mixes!

A good tip! If you enjoy making worm castings, compost, fish/kelp tea mixes, and want to feed your plants but minimize damage to their roots and soil structure, get yourself a spade fork, or if you have a lot of territory, a broad fork like in the image! Push it down into the soil, rock it back and forth slightly to make holes, pour in your soup! You will hear the soil organisms dancing!

Plant recovery testimonial! L.A. Times, 5/27/00, Julie Bawden Davis: “Convinced that nothing could help a whitefly infested hibiscus in my garden that had been struggling for two years, I spread a one inch layer of worm castings around the plant. A month later I noticed that the whitefly population had dwindled. Three weeks later there were absolutely no whiteflies on the plant. It’s now back to its healthy self and producing lots of blooms.”

To my delight, visitors often wonder if I have named my worms! We all laugh and I show them more worms! Oh, and how do you get more worms?! Worms are hermaphrodites, meaning each worm has both male and female reproductive parts. The worm does have to mate in order to reproduce, but, every worm they meet is a potential mate. When a worm gets to be about six weeks old it forms a white band around its head, called a clitellum, this is where their reproductive organs are located.

Under ideal circumstances, worm populations can double in  a month. They begin breeding at 2 months old, are capable of producing 96 babies each month. Worms have a brain and five hearts. Worms breathe through their skin. They have neither eyes nor ears but are extremely aware of vibrations such as thumps or banging on the composter. Please try not to disturb them unnecessarily. Worms are odorless and free from disease.

Keep the depth of your clew between 6 and 8 inches. If you reach capacity, give some to friends starting vermicomposting, feed some to the chickens, or just turn ’em loose in nature. But, another way to put your worms to work is to add handfuls to areas where you are composting in place or right into your composter! I keep my compost pile covered with thick opaque plastic amendments bags so the worms will work at the top of the pile too! Them and compost speeding herbs like comfrey and yarrow will perk your compost right up. Just keep the pile or area moist.

Those little yellow lemon-shaped beads are worm cocoons. Your worms are happy and breeding. Decomposers – mites, pot worms and tiny black beetles – may join the family. That’s good. They’re all doing the same work, and the worms don’t mind the company.

Vacation?! Feed them well, and add fresh bedding if they need it. That will hold them for a couple weeks.

Worm Economics and Education! Vermiculture has become common practice. Private Worm Farms abound! Universities and schools have educational programs, cities have programs, zoos, private organizations proudly tell their story. Websites assist you about raising your own or starting your own business.

Buying Castings! No time for one more thing to do?! Get your castings from a reputable organic seller, support local worm cast sellers. There are many great companies with high quality castings today. Don’t confuse an amendment with castings in the ingredient list, with a bag or bucket of pure castings. Remember, a little bit of the right stuff goes a long way. Give them to your indoor plants too.

Whether for prevention, abundant growth, recovery or economics, worm castings are fabulous. Worms work for free, and are permaculture sustainable! They can consume about 1/2 of their weight each day, turning our food waste into a high quality powerful garden amendment!

The Urban Worm Anna de la Vega

I love Anna de la Vega’s site name, The Urban Worm! The name reminds us everyone can raise worms, whether at your garden or in a special system in your kitchen! Castings can be used outdoors or in your favorite indoor container plantings! Your plants will be healthier, blooms prolific!

I was more than surprised to find myself raising worms! But the rewards are wonderful and I have come to cherish the amazing little creatures! If you have hovered over the thought of becoming a worm steward, perhaps now is a good time to start!

Names or not, love your worms!

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2.23.16 Revised and expanded from 5.17.14 post


The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal 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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