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Amendment Biochar Applying

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

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

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

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

BIOCHAR RESEARCH

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

CONSIDERATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amendment BioChar and Compost + Manure Yields Great Results!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Bill made a convenient list for us home gardeners!

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

Making Your Own Biochar Amendment in Place!

HOW to MAKE OUR OWN BIOCHAR?! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why buy commercial Biochar? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safety when applying Biochar amendmentBe careful when applying dry Biochar!

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

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

There are different answers!

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

How to apply? Simple!

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

Coast of Maine Biochar Amendment raised bed mix

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

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

BIOMASS Magazine – Beyond the Hype

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Veggies pH Scale. Alkalize Your Body for Top Health!
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Soil pH is important for your soil, the health of your veggies. Your body’s pH is vital to you! Too much, too little are not fun. Acid forming foods drop you down. Alkalizing foods bring you up! Simplified, foods high in protein such as meat and cheese, and cereal products are acidifying. Fruits and veggies alkalize. If you are well, keep well. If not, shift your diet to get better sooner! In 1931, Dr Otto Warburg won the Nobel Prize for proving that cancer cannot survive in an alkaline, oxygen-rich environment. Seriously, an acidic balance will decrease your body’s ability to absorb minerals and other nutrients, decrease the energy production in the cells, decrease its ability to repair damaged cells, decrease its ability to detoxify heavy metals, make tumor cells thrive, and make it more susceptible to fatigue and illness.

One site says: Experts recommend a diet of 30% acid forming foods and 70% alkaline forming foods to maintain health, or a diet of 20% acidic and 80% alkaline foods if you are trying to recover your health. Others contend that while this a good ratio for active people (exercise creates a lot of acid), less active people can handle a diet with a ratio of two parts alkaline to one part acid.

An odd little bit about this process is that it’s what the food does in your body that makes the difference. Meat is alkaline, but acidifies your body. Lemons and vinegars, are acidic, but alkalize your body!

The pH graph above will give you ideas which are best of all. In the top category, #10, it is all veggies, including that cute little radish, with one fruit – a Lemon! At #9, Avos rank high, along with celery and grapes. Nanas, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries are on the good side.

There are wonderful lists online with some that give the exact pH. See Medinat for example. Some rank the items listed, others alphabetize, but all will get you started. The lists include Fruits & Veggies, Nuts & Seeds, Beans/Peas, Grains, Seasonings/Dressings, Oils, Meat/Dairy, Beverages and others! Some specify Highly Acidic or Alkaline foods. That can be a quick help.

Several sites show these three lists, Extremely, Highly, and Moderately:

1) Extremely Acidic Foods to reduce or eliminate…

Artificial sweeteners, beef, beer, breads, brown sugar, carbonated soft drinks, cereals (refined), chocolate, cigarettes and tobacco, coffee, cream of wheat (unrefined), custard (with white sugar), deer, drugs, fish, flour (white, wheat), fruit juices with sugar, jams, jellies, lamb.

Liquor, maple syrup (processed), molasses (sulphured), pasta (white), pastries and cakes from white flour, pickles (commercial), pork, poultry, seafood, sugar (white), table salt (refined and iodized), tea (black), white bread, white vinegar (processed), whole wheat foods, wine, and yogurt (sweetened).

2) Highly Alkaline Forming Foods to keep you healthy, restore your health…

Baking soda, sea salt, mineral water, pumpkin seed, lentils, seaweed, onion, taro root, sea vegetables, lotus root, sweet potato, lime, lemons, nectarine, persimmon, raspberry, watermelon, tangerine, and pineapple.

3) Moderately Alkaline Forming Foods to choose…

Apricots, spices, kambucha, unsulfured molasses, soy sauce, cashews, chestnuts, pepper, kohlrabi, parsnip, garlic, asparagus, kale, parsley, endive, arugula, mustard green, ginger root, broccoli, grapefruit, cantaloupe, honeydew, citrus, olive, dewberry, carrots, loganberry, and mango. Ketchup, Mayonnaise, Butter, Apple, Apricot, Banana, Blackberry, Blueberry, Cranberry, Grapes, Mango, Mangosteen, Orange, Peach, Papaya, Pineapple, Strawberry, Brown Rice, Oats, Rye Bread, Wheat, Wholemeal Bread, Wild Rice, Wholemeal Pasta, Ocean Fish.

Take a good look. You may find some surprises! There are differences. For example, some bread is badder than other bread. Whole wheat is 1.8 acidic; white is 3.7. Sprouted grains are alkaline! White rice is 4.6, while brown rice is 5.12! If you gotta have your bread or rice, make the better choice if it is important to alkalize your body. In general, increase use of the more alkaline one. Comparing citruses, oranges don’t rank well because of all their sugar. Bananas and lots of fruits are high in sugar! See more about sugary fruits and combining them with healthy fats in smoothies.

There are contradictions about some foods on the net and right here on this page! Some sites put an asterisk by the item in question. Just make sure a good percentage of the foods you eat are for sure alkaline. How it affects YOU is what is important. If your health is at risk, choose the more dependable options. Here are foods that are questionable:

Brazil Nuts
Brussel Sprouts
Buckwheat
Cashews
Chicken
Corn
Cottage Cheese
Eggs
Flax Seeds
Green Tea
Herbal Tea
Honey
Kombucha -probiotic
Lima Beans
Maple Syrup
Milk
Nuts
Organic Milk (unpasteurized)
Potatoes, white
Pumpkin Seeds
Quinoa
Sauerkraut
Soy Products
Sprouted Seeds
Squashes
Sunflower Seeds
Tomatoes
Yogurt – probiotic

Happily for us gardeners, all vegetables are alkaline forming, just some more than others! Alfalfa, Barley grass, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, garlic, green beans, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, peas, peppers, pumpkin, radishes, sea veggies, spinach, sprouts, squash, sweet potatoes, wheatgrass, wild greens!

Salads may be high on your list! They can be loCal and delicious all year long. The general dressing recipe is to use an alkaline oil, citrus juice of your choice, a tad of sea salt (alkaline) plus the veggie or fruit of the day! Feel free to adjust these recipes to your needs or taste…

Lemon Vinaigrette
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp. of sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of one half lemon
1/4 tsp fine Himalayan sea salt
1/4 avocado
2 tbsp sunflower seeds, soaked for 10-15 mins
1 cup Mango, chopped
1/4 cup Grapeseed Oil
2 tbsp. Lime Juice
1/4 tsp. Sea Salt
1 cup Cucumber
1/4 cup Avocado (Oil)
1 tbsp. Lime Juice
2 tsp. Agave
2 Plum Tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp. Sesame Seeds
1 tbsp. Agave
1 tbsp. Lime Juice
Lemon, crushed garlic, mustard (a little) and olive oil (mixed together)
Olive oil, lemon juice and pomegranate Surprisingly, stirring an alkaline hummus through a salad makes a great thick and creamy dressing

Holidays, special events & parties, traveling are vulnerable times when we often have more stress in our lives. Sometimes we just eat what we eat out of habit and how we did growing up with our family. Perhaps pop a list or small card, your own personal pocket guide, of your best choices and foods to avoid the most into your pocket, with your credit cards. Before you go out to eat, take a look at it to remind yourself. Ask your server if you can substitute one for the other. Choose places that generally serve more alkaline foods or take them with you to the potluck!

And it’s not just your food! Your mental and spiritual health literally affect your body’s pH too!

Take good care of yourself and your garden!

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

The Green Bean Connection 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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SideDressing your veggie garden with Ewe Poo and Pea Straw in Australia!

It’s mid-season now, so this weekend I’m giving the garden a boost by side dressing everything with some ewe poo and topping it off with fresh pea straw… [I think this is in Australia. It took a moment before I got it that it is sheep poo!]
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Right NOW, June, starts feeding time! First let’s go over some general considerations and methods of sidedressing, then we’ll go through the summer favorites Feeding Schedule, in detail, plant by plant

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

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

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

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

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

Feeding Methods aka Sidedressing

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

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

Foliar Feeding Facts per Planet Natural:

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

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

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

Summer Feeding Schedule Details for Your Favorites!

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

Vegetable Gardening Gone Vertical - Trellis of beans and cucumbers!

Beans

Beans make their own Nitrogen, though sometimes not enough when they are in heavy production and it is toward the end of summer. They don’t make their own Phosphorous or Potassium.

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

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

Fabulous Array of Cucumber VarietiesCucumbers

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

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

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

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

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

Exotic Eggplant

Eggplant Purple Long Shiny Harvest Basket

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

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

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

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

Cut & Come Again Lettuce is a hard working plant!

Lettuces Tasty Varieties, Edible Flowers

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

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

Luscious Melons

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

Melons are a big plant, big leaves, big fruits, on a long vine! Or you may be doing mini container varieties.

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

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

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

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

See also Cucumbers above!x

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

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

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

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

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

Super Squash

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

Summer – Soft, Zucchini types, Chilacayote

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

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

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

See also Cucumbers and Melons above

Winter – Hard, Butternut, Acorn, Pumpkins

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

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

See also Cucumbers and Melons abovex

Strawberries

Sidedressing Strawberries Tricia Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

Perfectly adorable image by Tricia at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

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

Juicy Luscious TOMATO!
Tomatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Veggies Feeding.jpg

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

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

Here’s to a super plentiful and most joyful summer ever!

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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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Soil No Till Lasagna Compost in Place, Sheet Mulching,

No Till Gardening aka Lasagna Gardening… Beds are finished. Push aside grass clippings to plant seeds or seedlings. Read the story, get the details! Start making living soil asap! 

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

Make Compost!

No time for Green Manure? First week of January might be the latest time you want to start growing your green manure so you can plant late March, first two weeks of April. So if you won’t be planting by then, add your home grown organic compost or the best you can buy that has worm castings (especially for planting seeds – speeds germination), mycorrhizal fungi for spring planting, some peat to help make humus to keep your soil loose.

Some nurseries, especially locals that depend on your business, are quite trustworthy about what they stock for you. Box stores, nurseries that sell for volume, may just want you and it out the door. Really take a good look at that ingredients list. If there is no list, you likely aren’t getting a very whole food for your veggies. Look at what is in that compost bag when you open it. If there are chunks of recognizable materials, you need to find out if the compost has been nitrogen stabilized – they’ve added enough nitrogen to balance the carbon. Otherwise, Nitrogen required for decomposition is robbed from your plants. It should have no ammonia smell that indicates immature compost that might damage your plants. The only smell you want coming from that bag is for it to be like the forest floor, sweet and earthy.

In SoCal drought times, or garden in a dry, windy area, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Sphagnum Peat Moss or coir can be added, but not too much peat because it can make your soil slightly acidic. If you have heavy clay soil, they will also loosen your soil.

Compost is totally easy to make. There are many methods, but the simplest and fastest technique has always been putting fine chopped kitchen waste and healthy garden trim in mini 6 to 8″ deep trenches or areas! Soil organisms are at work and it completely disappears in less than 2 weeks, and you don’t have to move it, it’s already in place and ready to plant in! If the soil there is too dense, you can add store bought compost that has a little fluff, more water holding capacity.

If you need to collect a little compost in place, there are no open trenching spaces available right now, you can make layered compost in a compost enclosure or pit if you wish. 1″ green/wet to 2″ brown dry. You can turn it or not. Research shows not turning it has more Nitrogen. There are many different compost devices. You can use one or just make a pile wherever it makes sense, but do put it in the sun and keep it slightly moist so it stays active and you actually get some compost! Compost making methods!

Tasty soil is loaded with nutrients! What you put in your compost makes a difference. High quality organic kitchen scraps sure beats cardboard and newspaper. Same thing with your worms. Newspaper isn’t exactly food, doesn’t occur in nature. As is said, ‘You are what your food eats.’ Give your compost the best you have or can get. Prevail on your neighbors or family to save their waste for your compost or to feed your worms. Make it easy for them to do the process. Some will deliver it to you because they believe in it and want to help. You may have to make a pickup from others.

No till, no dig, gardening a.k.a. Lasagna Gardening ~ Another way to Compost!

You can do this on top of your lawn, or do a raised bed in the garden you already have! A word to the wise! First, install gopher protection.

If you have the time and materials, composting in place, sheet mulching, has the single most advantage of not having to haul anything anywhere once done! It’s already right where you want it! Lay down your compost materials. Put the ones that would act like tea at the top so when the pile is watered that good stuff drizzles down. The smaller the bits, the faster the decomposition. Chop ’em up!

Depending on your materials you may choose to turn the pile a couple times to blend and mix the materials in the layers. Rather than using a shovel, a spade fork or pitchfork might work, better. If you have them, add worms after all turning is done so they won’t be injured. The worms will add their castings for you! Possibly, ‘inoculate’ your pile with a wee bit of already processing compost or top rate soil that has working soil organisms in it. Know that an 18″ pile will soon become a 9″ pile, so don’t be afraid to build high!

If you want it sooner, cover and ‘cook’ it with black plastic for 6 weeks results when temps are high enough. Worms will be ok. They will go to the bottom of the pile. Depending on availability and preferences, what you layer on will undoubtedly vary from someone else’s project, but your garden bed is made! Now you wait. Let it sit. The hard work is at the front, the rest is ‘low maintenance!’ Done ‘right’ you have less weeds and it needs less water! Read the story that goes with the image above – get more ideas and all the details!

Another terrific way to make a sustainable pile is to do it Hugelkultur style! Your pile starts with logs! The logs and branches soak up water and hold it, so less water to none is needed after the first year. The right hardwood logs will give your plants steady nutrition for 20 or more years! You can do this with many variables depending on materials available and your needs – from containers to the hill method! See more and see how!

Add Manure

Cow manure is better than steer manure if you can get it. Chicken manure is good. Less of it does more. Be careful of free horse manure. It can be salty, and if the stalls have been sprayed to repel flies, you’ve got toxins. All manures need to be very well composted, except bunny poo, which you can sometimes get free at shelters. Different bird guanos do different things per NPK, but mainly they take a long time in the ground before they become available to your plant. Study up on them before applying them.

Worm Castings! 

In nature, worms are a natural part of moist soil. In addition to soil nutrients, it’s smart to add worm castings. They speed germination of your seeds, seedlings grow faster. Worm castings help your plant’s immune system, and you have measurably more produce! Plants like strawberries, that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew! Growing your own worms and harvesting vibrant fresh castings is ideal, but if you don’t have time, simply buy the best organic, local if possible, castings you can get! More about growing worms!

The ideal ratio, depending on your soil, is 25% castings. You can see that is a lot of castings if you have a 10X20 foot area. Use your precious castings wisely. Use them in seed beds, planting holes, around ailing plants, or heavy producers.

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

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

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

Why wait until your plants are in the ground to add teas?! Start feeding your soil soonest! Mix ’em up. Put compost, manure/fish emulsion, castings, chopped nutritious comfrey/borage/tansy leaves all in a bucket together – adding one volume of compost to 4-10 volumes of water. Let them sit overnight, a couple of days, stir a couple times, when you think of it. Get a spade fork, the kind with the short wide tines. Push it all the way into the soil, wiggle it back and forth to make holes, lift it straight up back out. Pour in your tea. Push soil in the holes. Your plants will thrive!

If you are foliar feeding, put your ingredients in a stocking, sock, or bag. Let the ingredients settle or strain it so it won’t clog up your gear. Use a watering can with a head that rotates so you can spray both on and under leaves, wetting the whole plant.

About that comfrey. It is especially nutritious! Mash it in a mortar & pestle. That makes it easier to stuff into a stocking, sock or bag, and speeds decomposition. Put the comfrey in loosely, not too firmly, so the water can circulate around it.

Here’s another recipe and instructions from Shelle

  1. 2 cups worm castings [or your choice of ingredients]
  2. 2 tablespoons corn syrup or molasses. Molasses feeds the bacterial growth in the brew and also contributes trace elements of iron, manganese, copper and potassium.
  3. 5 gallon bucket
  4. Old sock or pantyhose (no holes), a bag
  5. Water (rainwater is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate)
  • Put the castings (etc) in the sock and tie it closed
  • Submerge the stocking in water
  • Add the corn syrup and soak for 24 hours, stirring every few hours. Your mix should never be stinky. Like good compost, it should smell earthy.
  • Dilute to a 3 to 1 ratio, use within 48 hours

There are many tea making methods, from the simplest like above, to technical and elaborate with plenty of debate over different ways. Aerobic brewed teas have much higher microbe population densities than extracted teas and for this reason are the teas of choice. A good head of foam and scum on top signifies healthy microbe action! Try out different methods for yourself if you have the time and the gear, and love researching. Whichever you choose, your soil will come alive again as the organisms start thriving. Your soil will have greater water holding capacity, a resiliency, the aeration it needs from the burrowing of soil creatures.

If you have your plant placements in mind, be sure to invest your teas out to the anticipated dripline so feeder roots will get some.

Teas are perfect for container gardens, right?! You can buy ready made tea bags. No digging, just feeding.

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

Soil pH

Most veggies do best with slightly alkaline soil but will be ok a little to one side or the other. Definite acidic soil lovers are strawberries, blueberries, cranberries. Composts for camellias, azaleas, are perfect!

Do or Buy!

Three of the main components of top grade soil are ones you can grow/make on your own – green manure, compost, worm castings. Teas you can make from compost and castings. For most urban gardeners it is a trip to the nursery for manures, but you can certainly make your own tea with it! Compost and castings are totally available, some from organic local venders. I emphasize doing your own when possible. You will know what’s in it and it’s 100% fresh and alive!

There is some good ready made stuff you can get. There’s heroic satisfaction in toting those bags on your shoulder or filling the wheelbarrow and rolling it in, almost spilling the load on the way… Digging in your valuable ingredients gives you a feeling of virtue – LOL, worthiness, contributing. And oh how your garden grows!!!

At the same time, lay on your compost, manure, and Sphagnum, any other favorite amendments, and turn it in all at once, blending it with your soil. Castings are usually added separately unless you have enough for the whole area. Reserve some of your castings, compost and manure to make teas. Where you run out of materials, use the tea to help that soil.

A few more tips!

If you have had rain, wait until your soil is not so wet that it sticks to your shovel. If you are digging your amendments in, do minimal digging; leave clumps when you can to maintain soil structure. Disturb soil organisms, worms, the least possible. We want to leave their air and water channels intact so your soil stays aerated and moist. Make beds in your garden that are comfortably reachable without stepping on your soil. Make pathways, either with boards that distribute your weight or lay down straw or other organic material to make a pathway that will decompose and become rich soil for next year’s plantings when you move the path! In other words, don’t compact and crush your fluffy healthy soil!

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

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

Updated 12.27.18

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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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Seed Starting Soil Mix

Starting Seedlings is a sacred art all its own! It starts with the ‘soil’ they are planted in.

Number 1 is in the Earth herself!

Whether as is, or amended, planting in the ground, in good loose loamy soil, is just about as nutritious as it gets! The soil organisms, mycorrhizal fungi, oxygen, moisture, bird, animal poop and worm castings, and decayed leaves/plants, minerals, create a rich humus. Humus holds water. Tiny roots find their way through and a thriving plant is born.

Worm castings are a special addition because they help with immunity and, they speed germination!

The advantage of starting seeds in the earth is they don’t have to be transplanted later. Some seedlings have super delicate root systems, others, like carrots, put down tap roots instantly and transplanting can damage those important roots. In the case of carrots, that quick root IS the carrot!

You need to wait until the last average frost date, and start them when both air and soil temps are right for that plant. You can always take a chance and plant earlier in the ground, that there won’t be a stretch of exceptionally cold weather and no freezes. Of course when we say ‘average,’ you are still taking a chance. If there is a late freeze, you either start all over again or head to your local nursery for transplants. Some gardeners, who especially want that particular variety (that they can’t get at nurseries) do backup indoor starts just in case this very thing happens.

DIY Seed Starting Mixes

If it isn’t a year round in-the-ground plant, you get a 6 to 8 week’s time advantage by starting seedlings earlier indoors or in greenhouses before the last average frost date. It is important to get indoor early-started seedlings in the ground when they are mature enough. One way to remedy that problem is to plant two or three rounds. One will be right when conditions outdoors are right.

Start with peat moss or coir. Blend it with treated compost that has been heated to 150 degrees to kill off pathogens/weed seeds. Add worm castings, no more than 10% by volume.

Damping off, kinda like crib death, is a sad foe of seedlings. No fix, no cure. 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.

Cinnamon for Seedling Damping Off Disease Prevention!

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

What is Vermiculite?! It is composed of two natural minerals, absorbs and retains several times its own weight in moisture while still holding some oxygen.

Rodale’s April Johnson says seedlings need a loose, well-drained fine medium. Don’t use potting soil – often, it’s too rich, doesn’t drain well enough. April, who has experimented many years, prefers this mix:

4 parts screened compost
1 part perlite
1 part vermiculite
2 parts coir

Barb Fick, consumer horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, explains that our typical backyard soil is too compacted, full of weed seeds and it is not pasteurized, causing seedling diseases and death, often doesn’t drain as well as seedling mixes. It can develop a crust that prevents seedlings from pushing through the soil. Barb’s recipe is

one-third pasteurized soil or finished compost
one-third sand, vermiculite or perlite
one-third peat moss

Or, just use half peat moss and half perlite, vermiculite or sand.

You can see from this last combination, that soil or compost is not needed to get a seed started! However, if you don’t use compost, when your seedling gets true leaves (the first two after the cotyledons), it gets hungry as the nutrition in the seed is used up! Give it a spritz of half strength fish emulsion. Some nurseries lace their planting mixes with those little tiny fertilizer pellets. Your baby plant gets nutrition when it needs it.

Before planting, clean your pots, trays and flats. Rinse them in one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water solution to kill plant disease microorganisms that could weaken or kill your tender young seedlings.

Wet your soil before you plant. Keep adding your starter mix until you get the level you want. Leave enough room to add a thin layer of vermiculite on top after you plant your seeds.

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 faster with less wondering! Seeds planted too shallow can dry out, too deep they take longer or never come up – they can use up all their nutrients before they make it.

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

Rather than top watering, causing your seeds to be washed, bunched to the side, buried too deep, or uncovered, or tiny just-starting seedlings to be damaged, you can put your planting containers in a tray with water in it and let the water wick up into your seedling mix. Wicking is good; all the soil gets wetted. Keep a spray bottle handy for any top watering you think they need. Set it on mist to start.

Here are another couple recipes!

4 parts fine compost
2 parts coir or peat moss
1 part vermiculite
1/2 part perlite

If you don’t want to sift compost:

3 parts peat moss or coir
1 part vermiculite
1/2 part perlite
1/4 tsp lime/gallon peat moss (don’t add if using coir)

You see gardeners have their preferences, even the pros differ! Go by your own intuition. Maybe you will use one mix for some plants, another mix for others. You own mix might be different than any of these. Experiment, but maybe try an old standard at the same time just in case your mix doesn’t work. Might take you a few seasons to find what works best for the particular plants you grow.

Readymade Seed Starting Mix

Pre-made mixes have advantages! First, mainly that they are premade! Just go get ’em! But, just in case, do read the ingredients list. They come in small or large bags. The mix is pasteurized. Some of them have wetting agents. Yes! Others have lime for pH balance to stop damping off. Instead of buying all kinds of bags, then storing all the extra leftover stuff, you use what you use, store the one bag, and that’s it! Unless you have a large scale operation and have specific needs, premade mixes are perfect!

Have fun raising your baby plants!

Updated 12.23.18

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

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Broccoli! Beautiful and valuable to your health!

Broccoli may be the most nutritious of all the cole crops, which are among the most nutritious of all vegetables. Broccoli and cauliflower (and other members of the genus Brassica) contain very high levels of antioxidant and anticancer compounds. These  nutrients typically are more concentrated in flower buds than in leaves, and that makes broccoli and cauliflower better sources of vitamins and nutrients than cole crops in which only the leaves are eaten. The anti-cancer properties of these vegetables are so well established that the American Cancer Society recommends that Americans increase their intake of broccoli and other cole crops. Recent studies have shown that broccoli sprouts may be even higher in important antioxidants than the mature broccoli heads. Other research has suggested that the compounds in broccoli and other Brassicas can protect the eyes against macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older people.  If you choose to eat broccoli leaves, you will find that there is significantly more vitamin A (16,000 IU per 100 grams) versus flower clusters – the heads (3,000 IU per 100 grams) or the stalks (400 IU per 100 grams).

Vegetarians rely heavily on broccoli because it’s high in calcium.

Tasty Image from PlantGrabber.com – Bonanza Hybrid Broccoli

IN YOUR GARDEN….

  • Companions:  Cilantro makes it grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!  Lettuce amongst the Brassicas confuses Cabbage Moths which dislike Lettuce.
  • Brocs prefer full sun, though partial shade helps prevent bolting (suddenly making long flower stalks).
  • Brocs LOVE recently manured ground.  Well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter are ideal.  Broccoli plants will grow in almost any soil but prefer a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimum growth. A pH within this range will discourage clubroot disease and maximize nutrient availability.
  • Seedlings should be 8″-10″ apart with 30″-36″ between the rows.  Broccoli yields and the size of broccoli heads are affected by plant spacing. The tighter the spacing the better the yields, but the broccoli heads will be smaller. If you intend to keep your plants for side shoots, plant taller varieties to the northmost so they won’t shade shorter summer plants you will soon be planting.
  • Mulch will help keep the ground cool and moist as well as reduce weed competition.
  • An even moisture supply is needed for broccoli transplants to become established and to produce good heads. Never let the seedbed dry out. In sandy soils this may require two to three waterings per day.
  • Put a ring of nitrogen around cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants, to grow bigger heads.
  • The center head produced by broccoli is always the largest. The secondary sprouts produce heads about the size of a silver dollar. Sidedressing with fertilizer can increase yields and size your side shoots.
  • Cool weather is essential once the flower heads start to form. It keeps growth steady.

Brocs are truly susceptible to aphids.  Yuk.  Grayish greenish soft little leggy things that blend right in with the side shoot florettes.  If you snap your fingers on the side shoot, you will see the aphids go flying.  Those side shoots I remove.  If aphids are in curled leaves, I hold the leaf open and hose them away with a strong burst of water!  Then I keep my eagle eyes on them, each day, checking to get rid of them before another colony forms.

Important planting tip: There are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together!

Broccoli varieties vary considerably, tall, short, more heat tolerant or cold tolerant, some make tons of side shoots, small heads, large heads!  For smaller heads, grow quick maturing varieties.  Packman is the exception!

Cruiser 58 days to harvest; tolerant of dry conditions
Calabrese 58 – 80 days; Italian, large heads, many side shoots. Loves cool weather. Does best when transplanted outside mid-spring or late summer.  Considered a spring variety.  Disease resistant.
DeCicco 48 to 65 days; Italian heirloom, bountiful side shoots. Produces a good fall crop, considered a spring variety.  Early, so smaller main heads.
Green Comet 55 days; early; hybrid, 6” diameter head, very tolerant of diseases and weather stress. Heat tolerant.
Green Goliath 60 days; heavy producer, tolerant of extremes.  Prefers cool weather, considered a spring variety.
Nutribud, per Island Seed & Feed, is the most nutritious per studies, having significant amounts of glutamine, one of the energy sources for our brains!  Purple broccoli, in addition to this, contains anthocyanins which give it its colour. These have antioxidant effects, which are thought to lower the risk of some cancers and maintain a healthy urinary tract as well.
Packman 53 days; early hybrid, 9” head!  Excellent side-shoot production.
Waltham 29 85 days; late, cold resistant, prefers fall weather but has tolerance for late summer heat.

If you still want to plant broccoli now, January, be mindful of the days to maturity, and when you think you will be wanting space to start your spring for summer plants.  When it gets late in their season, cut lower foliage off so small summer plants can start under them while you are still harvesting your winter plants.  The days to maturity on seed packs starts with when you put the seed in the soil.  The days to maturity on transplants is from the time of transplant.  And broccoli is notorious for uneven maturity, so you will often see a range of days to maturity, like DeCicco above.  So don’t expect clockwork.

Harvest the main head while the buds are tight!  Cut about 5” down the stem so fat side branches and larger side shoots will form.  Cut at an angle so water will run off, not settle in the center and rot the central stalk.

The respiration rate of freshly harvested broccoli is very high, so get it in the fridge asap or it goes limp!  It should not be stored with fruits, such as apples or pears, which produce substantial quantities of ethylene, because this gas accelerates yellowing of the buds.

Dying parts of the Brassica family of plants produce a poison that prevents the seeds of some plants from growing.  Plants with small seeds, such as lettuce, are especially affected by the Brassica poison.  A professor at the University of Connecticut says Brassica plants should be removed from the soil after they have produced their crop.

If you didn’t harvest your side shoots and your broccoli has gone to flower, harvest the flowers and sprinkle them over your salad, toss them in your stir fry for a little peppery flavor!  You won’t get any more side shoots, but if you want seeds, leave the flowers, let the seeds come.  Fine long little pods will form.  Let them stay on the plant until dry, then harvest your seeds.  Pop the pods, remove the seeds so no moisture will remain to rot them.  This large species crosses easily though, so probably best to buy sure seeds unless you don’t mind mystery results!

The trick to producing excellent broccoli heads is to keep the broccoli plants growing at a strong steady pace. Top-dress the plants with compost or manure tea; or side-dress with blood-meal or fish emulsion; and water deeply. Repeat this process every 3-4 weeks until just before harvest!  John Evans, of Palmer, Alaska, holds the world’s record for his 1993 35 lb (no typo) broc!  He uses organic methods, including mycorrhizal fungi!  And, yes, moose eat broccoli!

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