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California’s 2013 was the driest year on record in 119 years.

Beautiful Pineapple Tomato Heirloom is drought tolerant, suitable for grafting!
This beauty is Territorial Seed’s heirloom Pineapple tomato – drought resistant, indeterminate, suited to grafting.

Drought won’t stop us from growing tomatoes, but we do need to adjust some of our veggie variety plant choices.

Herbs by nature are naturally drought tolerant since most of them are Mediterranean.

Veggies are generally not naturally drought tolerant. Most are seasonally advantageous short rooted annuals, not deep rooted perennials. They grow quickly, need water to do that. Period. To produce fruitfully, they need to be able to make generous leaves to support photosynthesis to produce generous fruits and lots of them. Yet there are more heat loving varieties that do thrive in dry areas.

Some of us very coastal gardeners will be quite happy for the heat! It will mean we can grow plants we couldn’t before, like melons, pumpkins, large fruited eggplants, okra, that gardeners further inland, in the hot foothills, or south of us have been enjoying all along! There are even drought tolerant varieties of melons like Blacktail Mountain.

One drought solution is to grow only super prolific plants for the most return per square foot, especially the drought and heat tolerant varieties! These 5 are a great backbone-of-your-garden veggies!

  • Indeterminate tomatoes produce all summer long from one plant! No need to replant determinates costing periods of time with no production and additional water usage. Of the heirlooms, Pineapple, per Bountiful Gardens is the most cold-hardy and drought resistant large tomato they have seen.
  • Pole beans!  Same issue with bush beans as with determinate toms. No need to replant bush beans costing periods of time with no production and additional water usage. Pole beans produce all summer long. Try Rattlesnake bean, aka Preacher Bean. 100-degree heat doesn’t stop them from producing lots of beans.
  • Zucchini  Dark Star, produces in only 50 days. It is the result of organic growers working together to grow an open-pollinated heirloom-type zucchini that could outdo the modern hybrids. The result is a zucchini with great performance in cooler soils and marginal conditions, along with a big root system that goes deep to find water and resist drought.
  • Giant Fordhook chard, BountifulGardens.org says it is tolerant of drought and heat in our research garden.
  • Kale! Curly leaf is super productive per its footprint! In our warmer weather Curly leaf kale, a favorite, is more susceptible to aphids, and those little devils are hard to get out of those convoluted leaves. One thing you can do is pick more frequently to keep new growth coming fast. And it will be a must to do frequent routine pest checks; keep flushing them away.1000 Thousand Head Kale Multiple Growth Points!But how about a heat tolerant flat leaf kale like Thousand Headed Kale?! It has multiple growth points instead of just one, so it puts out a lot more foliage and tender shoots. Huge plants make lots of food. A must for self-sufficiency.

    Edible Perennial Tree Collards from AfricaAnother super Brassica is perennial Tree Collards! From Africa to Los Angeles, TCs grow 6′ tall average, but up to 11 feet, live 4 to 5 years in continuous production! No lost harvest time because of needing to be replanted. TCs are high in Calcium, and unlike spinach, chard, and beet greens, collard greens don’t contain high amounts of oxalic acid, an anti-nutrient that can deplete your body of important minerals like Iron.

Check out Bountiful Gardens! They specialize in heirloom, untreated, open pollinated varieties for sustainable agriculture. In the drought tolerant section they say, ‘Please note that this does not mean that the crops listed don’t need some watering – these are crops that will grow with less water and all of these crops will need moisture to get established.’

Prickly Pear - Zapatas, have edible pads and fruits!Try new plants from arid countries. Maria Arroyo at our Santa Barbara Community Gardens office recommends a traditional local plant, zapatas, Prickly Pear! Both pads and the fruits are edible! The fruits, tunas, are used in brilliantly colored healthy anti inflammatory juices, uh, margaritas, a jelly candy, and jams. The pads, nopales, are used various ways. From Phoenix Arizona, here is Kymm Wills’ easy Nopales Recipe!  When & how to harvest those dangerous nopales! Or, check out your local Mexican market.

I have been thinking of the Santa Barbara Mission traditional La Huerta corn. The cobs are quite small. That is likely what happens generation after generation when there is little water. Bet the New Mexico/desert varieties have small production as well. In some instances we will need to adjust our expectations about how much yield to expect when we use less water. We may need more land to plant more for the same previous yield.

This is time to check out southern university sites in states like Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, maybe Florida, hot states, for their successful heat loving varieties. Please report in to me your location and ones you try that prove successful. Please save those seeds!

Our planting techniques need rethinking. One simple garden practice to change is to plant IN furrows and basins/wells, like Zuni waffle gardens, would keep water right and only where it is needed rather than randomly watering an entire area. A more refined furrow technique is to make a deep furrow, flatten the top, about 8 to 10″ wide, and make a mini furrow there on top! With gentle and careful hand watering, your water stays right at the top where seedling roots need it, rather than running off and eroding the sides of the furrow, lost to evaporation. The bottom of your furrow stays dry and you footwear doesn’t get muddy! Later on, as plants get bigger, roots go deeper, you can water in the main furrows.

Soil amended with compost, worm castings or Sphagnum peat moss has greater water holding capacity.

Grey-water is king. Think how much an apt building would make. Even a 10-minute shower with a low flow shower-head at 2.5 gallons per minute is 25 gallons of water used per shower.
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FYI  Feb 19 I attended the Farm Policy presentation. Here are some notes I took:
  • Santa Barbara County is #12 in California agriculture production.
  • Broccoli is our #2 crop (strawberries #1), 20% of US production! Most of what is exported goes to Japan, cut in special forms to their taste!
  • Farm production is up to 3B/yr.
  • We could be in a 500 year drought. Farming as we know it will be changing. Wells are drying up.
  • Nutrition is the base cause of noncommunicable diseases, 50+% overweight, 8% diabetes, our life expectancy now declining.
  • Amazingly, we import 95% of our fruits and vegetables. Yes, you read that right. Suggestions – increase local food distribution, grow more at home!
  • Mexico has the highest obesity rate in the world.
  • Europe now has a 50% reduction of meat and dairy use.
  • The Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue gleans a 2nd harvest of unused produce, ie misshapen, too small, from farms, farmers’ markets, for seniors, youth, and others in need. Wonderful story!

Which Landscape Plants to Save? TREES! 

Trees are long term plants, and they make shade. Shade means cooler, less evaporation, and though trees use water, they also preserve water.

I like Joan S Bolton’s thorough and thoughtful, informative professional post. HOW TO KEEP YOUR TREES HEALTHY DURING THE DROUGHT

Here are some more details at SB County Agriculture & Weights & Measures Newlsetter. See Page 4, Our Oaks are Thirsty by Heather Scheck.

Stay strong in these challenging times. Enjoy the changes. To your good health and happiness!


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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Mediterranean Understory & Guild Plants for Food Forests – Part 2

Please SEE Part 1 before you read this list!


Here is what a young Food Forest can look like in a part of your urban yard!

Linda’s List is intended for a Mediterranean climate like coastal Southern California has, one of only 5 in the world. The list in your area may be different. Check out your local gardeners’ successes, check with your local nursery. This list is not tree specific yet. We’re working on that!

More than a list of plants, Linda’s List gives tips for good growing, eating, and usage!
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Once our fruit trees are planted in their water-saving basins in a budding Mediterranean food forest, it’s now time to think about what else to plant in these usually moist wells and swales. Or up the trees? Or nearby? We need these companion plants to increase our food and medicine yield, and also to enrich the soil, provide habitat, pull up minerals and other nutrients from deep in the earth, draw nitrogen from the air and bring it into the soil, attract beneficial insects to control pests, create shade for delicate roots — and to provide beauty, a critical psychological and spiritual yield in every garden.

Thanks to the members of the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club for their ideas and input. Additions and corrections are welcome.  Please email lbuzzell@aol.com.  Especially welcome would be input on what plants do best under specific fruit trees – so far I don’t have much information on that.

BERRIES
Blueberry. To grow well here, they need acid soil, so a container is often the best solution, since Santa Barbara soil and water tend to be alkaline. One gardener we know waters hers with a very dilute solution of white vinegar, plus puts pine needles, coffee grounds around the plant. Best in Mediterranean climates are the low-chill varieties like ‘Misty,”O’Neal,’ ‘Sharpblue’
Cane berries. Upright cane berries are fun to pop in here and there as understory plants and they take some shade. But we found out the hard way that you probably don’t want to put in sprawling, thorny berries (especially blackberry) that sucker underground – they pop up all over the yard and are hard to eradicate. When we buy new berries we limit ourselves to thornless varieties and our current favorites are ‘Navajo’ and ‘Apache,’ although the thorny varieties that still linger in our garden – and will probably be there for hundreds of years as they’re ineradicable – taste best. So we live with them and enjoy the berries.
Elderberry. Shrub. There is a California native variety. Produces edible fragrant white flowers (used to make elderberry syrup and wine) and edible small blue berries that the birds love. Ripe berries are safe to eat but leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots are toxic. Has medicinal uses. We use our elderberry as a sacrificial plant attracting birds away from other fruit trees.
Lemonade Berry (native). Rhus integrifolia. Can also control erosion.

BULBS AND ROOT CROPS
Placement of these may take special care, as you don’t want to plant them too close to delicate tree roots.
Carrots
Edible canna. Canna edulis –Achira. Flowers are smaller than most cannas and the root is edible, can be chopped and sautéed like potato.
Onions
Potato and sweet potato

EDIBLE FLOWERS (note: most fruit trees, veggies and herbs also have edible flowers. Always triple check the safety of any flower before eating!
Daylilies. Hemerocallis species. Buds are used in Chinese stir fry, Petals in salad.
Nasturtium (flowers, young leaves and buds that may be pickled like capers) Let the plants die back in place. They will reseed and form a straw mulch.
Roses (yield petals for salads, sandwiches, syrups, desserts; rose hips for tea, syrups, jam)
Scarlet runner bean
Scented geranium

HERBS (most have edible flowers in addition to other uses)
Borage
Chili peppers, including tree chili
Cilantro
Garlic
Italian parsley
Lavender
Lemon balm
Lemon verbena. A drought tolerant shrub with delicious leaves for tea.
Mint. Some fear its vigorous, spreading roots, but we welcome it into drier areas as ground cover, autumn bee food and a source of fresh leaves for cooking and tea.
Mustard (young leaves can be stir fried, flowers are edible, plus seeds for making mustard)
Pineapple sage (leaves and flowers make delicious herbal tea)
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage

SHRUBS/Understory trees
Guava. Psidium Tropical shrubs native to Mexico, Central and South America that yield white, yellow or pink fruit. Not to be confused with Pineapple Guava (Feijoa) Psidium guajava (apple guava) is one tasty variety. Also try lemon guava and strawberry guava.

VEGGIES (there’s no way to name them all – it’s fun to experiment to see what likes the soil under and around your fruit trees. Our favorites are those that overwinter and/or reseed themselves)
Artichokes. Plant away from tree roots, in baskets as the gophers love them.
Brassicas like broccoli, kale, collard greens.
Chard.
Dandelions. Leaves are great in salads and so good for us. Small birds like the seed heads.
Fava beans and other beans.
New Zealand spinach.

VINES
We often forget about vertical space in the garden, but it’s nice to increase your yield by growing edible vines up fruit trees, on walls and over arbors, fences and hedges.
Grapes. Note: the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara has a separate list of recommended table and wine grapes for our area. Contact lbuzzell@aol.com for details
Passion Fruit. A garden member says “mine is simply rampant, productive and trouble-free; gets little to no supplemental water.” The juice can be used to make a spectacular salad dressing (served at Los Arroyos on Coast Village Road in their tropical salad).

MISCELLANEOUS
Bamboo. Use clumping instead of running kinds to avoid it taking over your garden. Bamboo shoots are a delicacy in Asia.
Pepino melon.
Sacrificial plants. In permaculture designs we often plant trees, shrubs and other plants that are nitrogen-accumulators, “nurse” plants or fruit-providers for animals that might otherwise eat our crops. When they have performed their function, we “chop and drop” them around our fruit trees as a nutritious mulch.
Yucca. We’ve read that yucca yields edible fruit and flower buds. Anyone have more info on this?

BENEFICIAL ATTRACTORS AND NUTRIENT ACCUMULATORS
Ceanothus. Shrubs and ground covers that fix nitrogen in the soil.
Salvia, ornamental. These are treasures in the Mediterranean forest garden.
Tagetes lemmonii. Golden color is lovely in fall.

GROUND COVER
Easy-to-grow succulents can provide temporary ground cover for delicate roots. They can act as a living mulch until other plants take over that function. This crop is often free, as gardeners who have ground-cover sedums always have too many and are glad to share.
Pelargoniums and lantana are other easy, colorful ground cover that can be removed as needed.
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#1 Home Permaculture book in the world for seven years!

Per PatternLiteracy.com, Toby Hemenway’s home site, Gaia’s Garden has been the best-selling permaculture book in the world for the last 7 years. The enlarged, updated 2nd edition is the winner of the 2011 Nautilus Gold Medal Award.

The first edition of Gaia’s Garden sparked the imagination of America’s home gardeners, introducing permaculture’s central message: Working with nature, not against her, results in more beautiful, abundant, and forgiving gardens. This extensively revised and expanded second edition broadens the reach and depth of the permaculture approach for urban and suburban growers.

Treat yourself and your land to this incredibly efficient way of gardening. Wisely use ALL the space available to you in a good way. Nature is the Master Gardener – follow her lead.

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