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Posts Tagged ‘Plant’

Earth Day Green Gear Boots Kids

Green gear in honor of Earth Day 2018! Plant a garden. Grab the kids, a shovel and some seeds and hit the dirt with your family. Whether you plant one tomato plant in a pot or a large garden of fruits and veggies, gardening with your kids will teach them about the cycles of nature and the beauty of growing your own food. ~ Mother Nature Network

Soil Thermometer for Veggies!The soil is warming, soon it will be the ideal time to start Peppers!

Recently Santa Barbara area night air temps have been steadily in the early 50s. Soil temps in the sun are now just 51° – 56°. 60° to 65° are what we are looking for. PEPPERS especially need warmer temps, nighttime temps above 55°F and soil temps above 65°F. If planted too soon, sometimes they miss their natural sequence of production, and never produce. Check out the Quick Guide to Summer Veggie Soil & Temp Preferences!

APRIL through June Planting Timing

APRIL is true heat lovers time! Start MORE seedlings indoors NOW for successive June plantings. Sow seeds. If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, get transplants and pop them in the ground per their right times! April 1 or as close to it as you can, start your Jicama seeds! Winter squash for sure. It needs time to grow big and harden for winter storage. MAY for cantaloupe, peppers, pumpkins and squash! Wait until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons. Many wait until May, some even June, to plant tomatoes to avoid soil fungi. Some gardeners wait until JUNE to plant okra. Okra really likes heat and grows quickly when happy. Choose faster maturing varieties for coastal SoCal. Long beans need warm temps to start from seeds. If YOU anticipate a HOT summer, plant a tad earlier, but be prepared to deal with it if summer is overcast as often is the case after all.

While we are waiting for the right temps, do soil preps that may still be needed. Weed out plants that won’t help your summer lovers. Make your soil fluffy with water holding compost, only 5 to 10%, while also adding tasty well aged manure!

Keep COMPOSTING! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, feeds slowly just perfectly! And if you made it, you know what’s in it! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place! In place takes the least time, is the most efficient, is a worm buffet! Move the top 6″+ of soil to the side, put in your ingredients, chop fine, sprinkle with well aged manure, mix in some soil so the chopped bits don’t form an impervious mat, cover with the remaining soil you removed. Give it 2 to 3 weeks and you are ready to plant! Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist. Giving back to Mama Earth is nature’s natural way! And, like Will Allen says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins.

Put in last minute amendments, soil preps for May plantings of cantaloupe, okra, more tomatoes. About Manures

Heat lovers are eggplant, limas, okra and peppers, pumpkins! Transplant early-maturing varieties of beans, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Sow and/or transplant asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, chard, corn, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, heat-tolerant leaf lettuce, okra, summer-maturing onions, parsley, peanuts, the last peas (choose a heat-tolerant variety such as Wando), white potatoes with zucchini, radishes (with cukes to repel cuke beetles, and with eggplant to repel flea beetles), rhubarb, and spinach.

Choose heat and drought tolerant varieties when you can. For example, why wait when it gets HOT and your tomato stops setting fruit?! Get heat tolerant varieties the heat doesn’t bother! Check out this nifty page of options at Bonnie Plants!  See Tomatoes are the Fireworks of Your Summer Garden!

Tomatoes! Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts, Fusarium and Verticillium. Instead, get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In Santa Barbara area continued drought conditions, consider getting only indeterminates. In the Mother Earth News tomato survey, they found gardeners chose heirlooms over hybrids if their soil is wilt/blight free. Otherwise, the longer the gardener has gardened, they more they chose wilt resistant toms if their soil has fungi. La Sumida has the largest tomato selection in the Santa Barbara area! See Special Planting and growing tips for your Tomatoes and Cucumbers! If you are interested in the Indigo family of tomatoes, Terra Sol will be having them again this year! Call ahead to see when they will arrive – save space for them!

Time for heat-resistant, bolt-resistant lettuces of all kinds! Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson are some. Green Star wins the beauty award! Tips for super Successful Transplanting!

Alyssum Garden Companion Flower Yellow Chard Border repels Cabbage Butterfly

Strengthen your garden! Remember, plant your Companions! Keep the biodiversity rolling! Plant pest deterring plants first so they will be up and working when you put in your seeds or transplants!

  • Alyssum, in the image, is a great old fashioned pretty border plant, an understory living mulch. And white Alyssum repels the cabbage butterfly.
  • Basil repels several unwanted insects, is great near tomatoes but not in the basin with the tom. The tom needs less water.
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill to go with pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!
  • Lettuce and carrots make a great understory below larger plants like peppers, eggplant. They act as living mulch! If you already have enough lettuce and carrots, scatter a living mulch, soil feeding legume seed mix under those plants. At the end of the season you can turn it all under – aka Green Manure. Or remove the larger plants, open up spots and put in winter plants! See much more – Living Mulch/Green Manure!

Keep ’em coming! If you have already done some planting, mid to late April, schedule to pop in another round! Poke in some bean seeds where your very last peas are finishing, add cucumber seeds or transplants between the beans, plus dill at each end of the trellis to be there when you pickle those cukes! Plant more radishes to deter the Cucumber beetles, repel flea beetles. Fill in spots that could use a helper companion plant like calendula or chamomile. Succession planting makes such good sense. Put your seeds and transplants in at the same time. Seedlings will come along 6 to 8 weeks behind your transplants so you have a steady supply of yummy veggies! But, again, if tending seedlings isn’t your cup of tea, just leave space and put in more transplants in 6 to 8 weeks after your first planting.

It is perfect to put in fast growers like lettuce, beets, turnips, arugula, to hold space until you are ready to plant bigger plants. When it’s time for the bigger ones, clear a space/harvest, pop in your seeds or transplants and let them grow up among the littles. As the bigger plants start to shade out the littles, remove strategic lower leaves of the big plant so the littles get light too! If you anticipate a HOT summer, plant littles on the morning light side of larger plants.

Put in borders of slow but low growers like carrots, mini cabbages, in more permanent placements, like on what will become the morning side of taller backdrop plants like peppers and eggplant.

Natural Disease & Pest Prevention!

  1. Be wise and pick the right plant varieties for your temps and conditions! Get heat tolerant, bolt resistant, drought tolerant, disease tolerant/resistant. If you are just starting, just start! You will learn as you go. Our climate is changing, so we are all adjusting and plants will be being hybridized, and hybridize naturally, for new climates. We can get varieties from other areas that are already used to conditions we will be having. Together we will do this. Locally, save seeds from plants that do the best with the heat and share some of those seeds at the Seed Swap and with other gardeners.
  2. Think biodiversity! Plant companion plants that repel pests, enhance each other’s growth so they are strong and pest and disease resistant. Mix it up! Less planting in rows, more understories and intermingling. Split up groups so pests won’t go from one plant to the next, and the next. Allow enough room for air space between, no leaves of mature plants touching each other. That breaks up micro pest and disease habitats.
  3. Make top notch soil!
  4. In planting holes
    – Add worm castings for your plants’ excellent health. 25% is best; 10% will do if that’s all you got.
    – Add a tad more tasty properly aged manure mixes where manure lovers will be planted.
    – Add non-fat powdered milk for immediate immune system support at planting time
    – Put in a finely ground bone meal for 2 months later uptake when your plant gets to flowering time.
    – Add Jamaican guano high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time. It helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Its NPK ratio is 1-10-0.2, takes 4 months to become available to your plants. Other quanos don’t have this particular NPK ratio.
    – Add an eency tad of coffee grounds (a 1/2 of a %) if you have wilts in your soil
    – Sprinkle mycorrhizae fungi directly on transplant roots, all but Brassicas, at planting time to increase their uptake of nutrients and water.
    – Use acidic compost in strawberry patches and work in a little where you will be planting celery and string beans.
  5. Immediately drench your transplants, foliar feed, with a non-fat powdered milk, baking soda, aspirin, soap mix to jazz up their immune systems. Specially give your peppers an Epsom salt and soap mix bath for a taste of sulfur. More details and all the recipes.
  6. Maintenance! Keep your plants strong while they are working hard! Be ready to do a little cultivating composts and manures in during the season (called sidedressing), or adding fish/kelp emulsion mixes if you don’t have predator pests like skunks! Keep your plants watered and vibrant, but not so much as to make their leaves soft and inviting to munching insect pests like aphids. Trap gophers immediately if you are able.
  7. Harvest promptly. Insects and diseases know when plants are softening and losing strength as they age. Insects are nature’s cleaner uppers, and they and disease organisms are hungry! If leaves are yellowing or not looking up to par, remove them. Whiteflies are attracted to yellow.
  8. Prevention A frustrating typical spring disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on late peas, Curly Leaf kales, broccoli, cucumbers and zucchini. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day if transplanting. A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! See Aspirin Solution.

Water wise veggie garden practices!

Water Wise Practices!

  • Please always be building compost. Compost increases your soil’s water holding capacity.
  • In California drought conditions consider planting IN furrows, where the moisture settles. Plant crosswise to the Sun’s arc so the plants’ root areas will be slightly shaded by the depth of the furrow in early AM and late afternoon. If you still want your plants on top of the furrow, make the raised part of your furrows wide enough that you can put a mini trench on top of it! That holds the water up at your plants’ feeder roots area and if you water carefully, your furrow won’t degrade from water washing the sides away.
  • Make mounds with basins on top. For virus sensitive plants like toms and cukes, make sure the bottom of the basin is higher than the level of the surrounding soil level. Rather than losing water to evaporation from overhead watering, put the water right where it will do the most good and nowhere else. Make the mound to the dripline of your plant so small surface feeder roots get moisture for food uptake. For larger leaved plants, put a stake in the center of the basin so you know where to water. With a long watering wand you can water under the leaves rather than on them ~ unless they need a bath to remove dust. Fuzzy leaved plants like tomatoes and eggplant don’t like wet leaves.
  • And, once your soil is heated up, PLEASE MULCH! Straw, Self Mulch or plant soil feeding living mulch. It keeps your soil cooler, more moist, less water needed. And it stops light germinating weed seeds! See more on Mulching right for each plant!Straw is dead, but has its advantages. It gets fruits up off the ground and keeps soil from splashing up on lettuce leaves! Straw mulch can help reduce cucumber beetles 3+ different ways. 1) Mulch might directly slow beetle movement from one plant to another. 2) The mulch provides refuge for wolf spiders, daddy long legs and other predators from hot and dry conditions, helping predator conservation. 3) The straw mulch is food for springtails and other insects that eat decaying plant material; these decomposers are important non-pest prey for spiders, helping to further build spider numbers!Living Mulch, Self mulching, planting closely enough so your plants self shade, is tasty and uses your soil nutrients. It’s most efficient space use is planting effective smaller companion plants under, beside, among, around larger plants.Soil feeding Living Mulch You can up the amps by tossing a mix of legume seeds under your plants to feed your soil as well! You may decide to do both. Plant the small plants you need, grow legumes under the rest along with the right companion plants per the crop there.
  • Sprinkle and pat on Mycorrhiza fungi right on the roots of your transplants when you put them in the ground. It increases uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for it bulk at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta.
  • Dust Mulching, cultivation, weeding, is perfect to break up exposed soil surface. That keeps the water from wicking to the surface and evaporating. Do it especially after rains. If you use a hula hoe you do two things at once! Just a half to one inch depth cuts off weed sprouts that use water. Indeed, it turns the soil a tad, all that’s needed. More weeds will follow, but it’s quick and easy to repeat the process. Two, three times, a few days apart, and there will be few weeds after that for awhile. Get ’em while they are small and easy to do. Smart gardening.

Plant Bee Food, Herbs and Flowers! Sow or transplant basil, borage, chervil, chamomile, chives, cilantro, comfrey, dill, fennel, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme. Be mindful where you plant them… Mediterranean herbs from southern France, like lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme, do well in hot summer sun and poor but well-drained soil with minimal fertilizer. On the other hand, basil, chives, coriander (cilantro), and parsley thrive in richer soil with more frequent watering. Wise planting puts chives by your broccoli, kale, but away from peas if you are still growing some. Cilantro, a carrot family workhorse, discourages harmful insects such as aphids, potato beetles and spider mites, attracts beneficial insects when in bloom. Dill is a natural right next to the cucumbers since you will use the dill if you make pickles. They mature about the same time. Let some of your arugula, carrots, lettuces, cilantro bloom! Bees, and insect eating birds and beneficial insect predators and pollinators love them and you will get some seeds – some for the birds, some for you, some to take to the seed swap! Grow beauty – cosmos, marigolds, white sweet alyssum – all benefit your garden in their own way! See Stripes of Wildflowers!

…each a miracle of seed and sun, I’ve always been one to enjoy tomato or cucumber right off the vine, with never a trip into the house—one magical wipe down a shirt-front and they’re ready.. ~ commenter Rachel


See the entire April 2018 GBC Newsletter!

April! Time for those Luscious Heat Lovers!
Quick Guide to Summer Veggie Soil & Temp Preferences!
Use Cover Crops to Improve Soil!
Virtuous Veggies Alkalize Your Body for Top Health!

Upcoming Gardener Events! Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Spring SALE! 48th Annual EARTH DAY Santa Barbara! SBCC ANNUAL PLANT SALE!

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

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

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Senior woman harvesting tomatoes in her garden

Why quit now?! Have a feisty life! Here are some tips that may renew or ignite your passion! If you have a senior in your life and think gardening might be a good part of their lives, read on for some ideas!

Or maybe you have never gardened before! I didn’t start veggie gardening until I was 57! I knew nothing. Never had houseplants…they died if I tried. But it became my time! I learned fast listening to community garden seniors who had gardened all their lives, and seeing 30+ other community gardener’s successes and failures opened my eyes! I intensely scoured the Internet and I asked questions at my local nurseries and every once in awhile at our Cooperative Extension office!

Gardening is one of the most healthy things you can do for yourself! Having gardened in a community garden that is next to a senior community, and becoming a wee bit older myself, I have seen the advantages to senior gardeners first hand!

Get outdoors and get that Vitamin Sunshine! You can eat 100% organic fresh vegetables and fruits! You get excited by a seedling bursting to life, and that seedling’s growth every day. You get invested in its wellbeing. And it’s fun! You learn more things and your mind stays sharp!

Friends! One way or another you get talking with others, making new friends and improving your outlook on life! If you garden with others, there is delightful camaraderie and a wealth of sharing! See if your area has any gardening clubs. If not, start one yourself!

May I introduce the Four Counties Gardening Club of Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware Counties of the state of Pennsylvania celebrating their 95th anniversary in 2017! Imagine the years of enjoyment that have been shared!

Garden Club Four Counties Pennsylvania 95 Yrs 2017

Right now, this spring, get out and start your garden! If you have never done before, you are in for a treat. Your plants don’t care how old you are, they just want some TLC! You will learn as they grow.

Be comfortable!

Choose some great garden shoes or mud boots.

Maybe you haven’t been getting out because you chill down easily. Check out the thrift shop or discount store for a snuggly work shirt, sweater or jacket. Wear layers. Take a thermos of a hot drink you like.

Too hot? Go a little earlier if possible. Take a cool drink with you and stay hydrated. Get a pretty sun hat and cool shades and you be stylin’!

Work easy! Lightweight wheelbarrows, tools and smaller watering cans can help a lot. Rather than working until you can’t, do a bit each day. Select a smaller patch to work. Go for quality.

Be happy! Have a smaller garden space that doesn’t overwork you, you leave feeling great! A lot can happen in a small space. Even a small space can do wonders! Get your plants up in cages and on trellises! Plant small plants, littles, on the sunny side below larger plants. Remove the larger plant’s lower leaves if they shade out the littles. No need for rows. Plant around, among or along the larger plants!

Nor do you need to garden all year. Some gardeners prefer cooler weather, so refreshing it perks you right up! Others love the hot sun, no heavy clothing, so relaxing. If you are in a northern single season area, you garden with vigor, then rest over winter. Same for hot desert areas only in reverse! Coastal, especially SoCal, all year may be quite enjoyable. Do please yourself.

Easy access! If you can’t get down, or back up, then don’t! Have beds on legs or that you can stand or sit at. Containers up on strong secure waterproof bases work well. Either way, no gophers!

You could invest in a self-watering VegePod Garden! It is a fancy container type gismo up on legs with a protective hood that keeps bad insects and animals out and gives shade. You do need to open it when your plants need pollinating and to get more sun when the temps are right. You can order the stands with wheels so you can move them around with the sun! The largest one is 3’X6′. See more details at Fertile Fields! See if any of your local nurseries carry them and support your local nursery. In Santa Barbara area La Sumida carries them! I’ve seen a closely planted super successful one in action! It might take three years to break even with organic veggies, but there is no price for the joy of the gardening and superb health of being outdoors!

Raised Bed VegePod!

Smart choices

You don’t have to plant from seed unless you are used to it and like to. Nurseries take a lot of the worry out of life. Most of them have plants that do well locally at the right time of year. Chains and box stores are chancy. Transplants are easiest to do. Start with easy plants to care for. Plant part of the patch; save room for a second round of planting for a steady table supply. Even then, you may choose not to plant the entire area. Plants take tending and need harvesting. Do what works for you. Less may be an excellent choice.

Save time and energy. Choose efficient plants per square feet of production! Leafy chard and kales, and peas are cool weather winners. And you can plant a lot of beets in a small place – eat their greens and beets both! Summer squash, Zucchini grow enough for giveaways that are refused! Everyone else has too many too! Pole Beans keep making beans. Asian Suyo Long cucumbers grow so many so long so fast you can’t believe it! Lettuces are prodigious and Tomatoes light up our eyes! In addition grow one or two of your own super other favorites!

Container gardening is excellent! You can have as few or as many containers as works perfectly for you!

If you are gardening in the ground, do install gopher wire protection from the get go whether that is the bottom of a raised bed or a patch you dig up and install protective wire. If you are container gardening, no problem.

Teach the youngers the wisdom you have learned! It makes a huge difference to gardeners just getting started. It did to me. Years later now, I still remember them with respect and a little awe.

SAFETY ALWAYS

Get help with heavy lifting – bags of amendments.

Get help with any large scale digging that needs doing.

If you have any health jeopardy, share gardening with a friend or your family so you are not alone. Good health to you both, all of you! Gardens are healing places.

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes!

To start your own Veggie Gardening Revolution all it takes is YOU & ONE SEED (or transplant)! May you garden with happy abandon!

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Mother’s Day is May 8, 2018! Here are some wonderful ideas for green and loving gifts! Get living gifts started now! Click here

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

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Seed Sprouting! Life!

Photo: USDA Flickr

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

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

STARTING YOUR SEEDS OUTDOORS IN THE GROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chopsticks can be used in a couple helpful ways.

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

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

Teensy seeds are a challenge in so many ways!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seedlings Transplants Cover Protection Birds Shade

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

STARTING SEEDS INDOORS or IN YOUR COLD FRAME or GREENHOUSE

Seedlings Indoors Grow Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cinnamon for Seedling Damping Off Disease Prevention!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

Design a Fabulous Raised Bed Veggie Garden!

How quickly could you put this together, or something close to it, plus planted for good summer crops this year?! With or without finished paths wheelbarrow wide. The possibilities are endless!  

Last chance to design, make changes to your summer garden layout! March is often first plantings, if not, it is last soil preps before full on April plantings!

Recent Santa Barbara temps have been close to freezing, a few plants lost. Day lengths are still short. We want Night air temps steadily above 50 and soil temps 60 to 65 for starting our plants well. Peppers, especially need these warmer temps. They do best with nighttime temps above 55°F and soil temps above 65°F. Average March night temps are in the mid 40s. The soil temp now is 51-53°F at Rancheria Community Garden.

MARCH through June Planting Timing 

Start MORE seedlings indoors NOW for late April/early May plantings – eggplant, peppers, and more tomatoes for transplanting into the garden in late April or early May. Also sow cucumbers, squash and sweet potatoes. The beauty of seeds is you can plant exactly what and how many you want! If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, get transplants and pop them in the ground per their right times! Plant Winter squash now so it will have a long enough season to harden for harvest and be done in time for early fall planting.

  • APRIL is true heat lovers time! Eggplant, limas, melons (wait until MAY for cantaloupe), peppers, pumpkins and squash! Many wait until April, even May or June, to plant tomatoes. Wait until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons.
  • Some gardeners wait until JUNE to plant okra. It really likes heat and grows quickly when happy. Choose faster maturing varieties for coastal SoCal. If YOU anticipate a HOT summer, plant a tad earlier, but be prepared to deal with it if summer is overcast as often is the case after all.

With our warming temp trends, get bolt resistant/slow bolt varieties, heat, and especially drought tolerant varieties.

Right now plant pepper transplants (at the right temps) and cold tolerant, early varieties if available. If you love your peppers and want some early, or have a short growing season, next year order seeds for ones that mature quickly and are cool weather adapted! Plant those transplants in the ground first and others more heat tolerant soon after to carry the length of the season. For cold tolerant sweet bell peppers, get seed for Ace, Lady Bell or King of the North! Obriy Ukrainian sweet red pepper is both cold and heat tolerant! For hotties that don’t mind cold, order up Early Jalapeno,  Hungarian Hot Wax or Anaheim. Rocoto stands some cold but not a hard freeze. Manzano are reported to survive at 20°! The extraordinary feature of these two peppers, Capsicum pubescens (hairy leaves), is they grow into four-meter woody plants relatively quickly, and live up to 15 years! Truly sustainable! Now we need a bell pepper that can do that! If cold weather can happen anytime where you live, grow your peppers in pots; take them inside when it gets cold. Keep them on a cart or put the pots on roller wheels.

Plant determinate quick maturing tomatoes – start with small fruited varieties and cherry toms – for soonest tomatoes for your table! The moist soil at Santa Barbara’s community gardens has residues of Verticillium and Fusarium wilts, so some gardeners wait until warmer drier June soil to plant tomatoes and other veggies that are wilts susceptible – but remember, those fungi are also windborne. You can delay it, make it less, but not prevent or stop it. Cucumbers are especially susceptible and do quickly die from it, so if you love cukes, be prepared to plant 2nd and 3rd rounds, but do these successive rounds in different places! See more about how to avoid or slow down wilt and fungi problems! See more about selecting tomatoes!

Outdoors sow or transplant beets, carrots, celery, chard, herbs, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces, green onions, bulb onion seed and sets (be sure to get summer maturing varieties), parsley, peas, peanuts (they do grow here!), potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, strawberries, and turnips. Transplant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi seedlings. Time for heat tolerant, bolt and tipburn resistant lettuces of all kinds! The fabulous ruffly Green Star, Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson are some. Tips for super Successful Transplanting!

PLANT PLANTS THAT REPEL PESTS IN ADVANCE SO THEY WILL BE UP AND WORKING WHEN YOUR SEEDLINGS COME UP OR YOU INSTALL YOUR TRANSPLANTS!

  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, RADISH Combo! Depending on ground temps, tuck in some bean seeds where the peas are finishing, intermingled with cucumber seeds that will grow low along the trellis, below the beans, plus a few dill to go with the cukes! See more for bean/cuke planting tips. Plant radishes with the cukes to deter the Cucumber beetles.
  • Tomato Tips:  La Sumida has the largest tomato selection in the Santa Barbara area! Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts, Fusarium and Verticillium. Instead, get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In these drought conditions, consider getting only indeterminates.
  • This is the LAST MONTH to transplant artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale; also strawberry, blackberry, and raspberry roots so they’ll bear fruit well this year.

Succession planting makes such good sense. Put your seeds and transplants in at the same time. Seedlings will come along 6 to 8 weeks behind your transplants so you have a steady supply of yummy veggies! But if tending seedlings isn’t your cup of tea, just leave space and put in more transplants in 6 to 8 weeks after your first planting.

It is perfect to put in fast growers like lettuce, beets, turnips, arugula, to hold space until you are ready to plant bigger plants. When it’s time for the bigger ones, clear a space/harvest, pop in your seeds or transplants and let them grow up among the space holders. As the bigger plants start to shade out the littles, remove lower leaves so the littles get light too! The smaller plants act as living mulch under the bigger plants. No need to plant smaller plants in rows of their own. Think circles and understory! Plant them around and under the bigger plants! If you anticipate a HOT summer, plant heat sensitive littles only on the morning or shady side of larger plants.

Put in borders of slow but low growers like carrots, mini cabbages, in more permanent places, like on what will become the morning side of taller backdrop plants like peppers and eggplant.

Depending on what legumes you choose, figure 3 1/2 +/- to grow another round of green manure to enrich your soil Nitrogen. In warming weather and longer days, it grows faster. In 6 weeks to two months chop it down and chop up. Give it 2 days to 2 weeks to decompose on the surface, keeping it moist. Add amendments, turn it all under, allow 3 weeks to a month for it to integrate with your soil, and the area will be ready to plant again. Or, dig your planting holes as soon as you turn it under, put in some fine compost, a smidge of manure, your other favorite amendments like worm castings, bone meal, a mineral mix, and plant! The rest of the area will take care of itself! See much more – Living Mulch/Green Manure!

Consider not growing kale or chard over summer. Kale will grow, but really is happiest in Winter. If you harvest a lot of your kale in summer, it often has smaller dry looking leaves growing at the top of a tortured spindly stalk. I’ve seen them over 5′ tall. The leaves get tough, lack robust flavor, and lack that cool weather vibrance. Fertilizing, watering really don’t do much at this point because the plant is just trying to survive. A different strategy is to harvest a lot less early on, let your plant branch and become bushy! Then you can harvest at several points, and the plant provides its own living mulch. Huge difference. Or maybe you need to plant a lot more kales so you don’t over harvest individual plants!

This is one kale plant in the image below! It has made all these branches, harvest points, by April at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden! Look at that abundance! It thrives all summer!

Curly Leaf Kale Branching into Bush form!

Chard suffers. It droops from midday heat, recovers, droops, recovers each day. That’s hard on a plant. It doesn’t produce much. Doesn’t seem reasonable to harvest when it is trying to stay alive. If you do choose to grow it, plant it where it will have a little shade in the hottest part of the day in summer or install some shade cloth for it. Plant shallow rooted living mulch plants around it. Keep it evenly moist. Flooding it isn’t what it needs when it droops from heat, and plants can literally drown. Chard is a fast grower. Why not harvest them mid to late spring? Plant something that will be more summer happy, plant chard again in fall when things cool down.

Broccoli, on the other hand, depending on the variety, produces side shoots like crazy all summer long! Just be sure to stake them if your plant gets large and top heavy! And feed it now and then. It’s working hard. Mulch brocs you intend to keep, deeply starting now while it’s still cool to keep them cool. Brocs are naturally a winter plant. Or encircle them with quick growing shallow rooted living mulch plants – lettuce (repels Cabbage butterfly), beets, etc. that won’t interfere with your broccoli’s roots. When you harvest those quick growers, when you have access to the soil, feed your broc, and plant more living mulch!

Tall: Indeterminate tomatoes in cages, pole beans in cages or on trellises. Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions! Tall varieties of broccoli you keep for summer side shoots. Cucumbers are great on the trellis below the beans.

Middle height: Determinate tomatoes, bush beans, okra, tall peppers like Big Jim Anaheim or Poblanos, zucchini. White potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugsRadish with cukes and squashes to repel cucumber beetles, with cukes, squashes and eggplant to trap flea beetles! Large Winter Squash vines and pumpkins are middle height, while some mini melons would fall to the lower mid height zone. Put in zucchini and vines, sweet potatoes, to take up space if you don’t want to do a lot of tending, but do know, you must keep those zucchini picked! If your zucchini is dense, and you miss seeing it, an unpicked zuke can become a 6″ diameter 2′ long monster in as little as 5 days!

Lower plants like eggplant, like a lot of heat. Put them on the sunny side, slightly in front of every other slightly taller plant. Leave a couple kale that will get taller. But, if they are leafless stalks with pom pom tops, they aren’t going to give any shade, so they could be left anywhere actually. Since they are a winter plant, mulch them deeply or plant lettuces or leafy plants around their base as a living mulch and keep the soil there moist and cooler, and feed them. Or grow the heat tolerant flat leaf kale like Thousand Headed Kale! It has many growing points instead of just one and self mulches!

Shorties & Littles: A lot of shorties will be in front of or the understory of taller plants, in some instances a living mulch, so there is no need to allocate, use up separate space just for them. Your plants all help each other. When the bigger plant leaves start shading out the littles below, harvest strategic large lower leaves to allow light and airflow.

Put beets and carrots in the short zone, as an understory, between and among big plants. Bunch onions away from beans, great with other short rooted plants like lettuces that need to be kept moist. Summer small bulbed variety radishes give a great spike of hot flavor to a cool summer salad! Some delicious mini melons are quite small leaved and low to the ground, are easily trellised though it is cooler up on that trellis….

Flowers & Seeds! Let arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery go to flower to bring bees, butterflies and beneficial insects – pollinators! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next year’s plantings, to share at the seed swap, give as gifts! Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!

While you are thinking where to put things, select permanent spots for herbs, gateway points for flowers and edible flowers! Designate a permanent patch for year round flower habitat for bees. Cilantro is both tasty and has lovely feathery leaves and flowers in breeze, great bee food. Chamomile is downright heady scented on a warm morning. Comfrey, Knitbone, is both healing (arthritis/bones) and speeds your compost, is high in soil nutrition. Poppies are beautiful; humble white Sweet Alyssum is dainty and attracts beneficial insects. Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips! Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents! Cosmos is cosmic! See Stripes of Wildflowers!

Finish your Summer Gardening preparations!

  • Install a greywater, rain capture system
  • Install gopher wire protection.
  • Install pathways, berms.
  • Waffle Garden, basins & windbreaks, Water Garden. Excellent drought choices.
  • Gather cages & trellises
  • Terrace slopes – capture water runoff, prevent topsoil loss, mulch it
  • Build creative raised beds, try Hugelkultur
  • Get new containers, pallets, boards, net or wire for bird protection
  • Organize where you will keep straw bales for summer mulch
  • Setup Compost and worm box areas

Complete your Soil Prep! 

  • Add compost, only 5 to 10%, & other amendments to your soil all at the same time.
  • Add well aged manure as appropriate. Less in spring because you want fruit production, not leaf, unless it is a plant grown for its leaves, like lettuce, kale or cabbage! None for carrots, peas or beans.
  • Add 25% worm castings. As little as 10% works. They are potent, help with seedling germination, boost immunities to disease.
  • Adding Jamaican guano high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Its NPK ratio is 1-10-0.2, takes 4 months to become available to your plants.
  • Sprinkle with a tad of coffee grounds to reduce wilts fungi. Add only a ½ a % to your soil or compost. A tiny bit goes a long way!
  • Don’t cover with mulch yet unless you need it for erosion control. Covered soil is cooler. Let your winter cool soil warm up. The exceptions are broccoli, cabbage, chard, and kale! Mulch ASAP because they like/need cooler soil.
  • Water your prepped areas when you water your other veggies. Soil organisms need moist soil to live.
  • Sidedressing! Hard working plants need fuel and water. As broccoli starts to head, give it a fish/kelp tonic! After the main head is cut, your side shoots will flourish!

Pests Reminders and Home Remedies!

  • Before you put in seeds, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from vanishing upcoming seedlings overnight, making you think they never came up! No, they didn’t let you down. Killing off the creatures ahead of time saves the babies. It stops new transplants from being seriously damaged or entirely eaten while they are small. Do this a few times, to knock off the generations, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while.
  • Pull away those blotchy sections the leafminers make on chard and beet leaves. Remove whole leaves that are too funky for rescue. Harvest the bigger outer lower leaves more often to stay ahead of the miners. Water a tad less so leaves are less soft and inviting.
  • Hose APHIDS off chard, kale, brocs, cabbages. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed and new generations. Nearby, plant Calendula as a trap plant, radish to repel them. When you see unnaturally curled leaves, you will likely find aphids. Check both upper and undersides of the leaves and the tiny leaves at the central growth point.For hard to get at places, down the centers of chard, crinkly kale leaves, get out that spray bottle! Treat once, wait a couple days, treat the ones that got away and newborns.I tried it, it WORKS! The simplest is to spray with 2 Parts alcohol, 2 parts water, 1 part  soap. DO NOT use on seedlings, it will kill some of them. Spritz lightly rather than drenching or you may kill your bigger plant too! However. If the infestation is just over the top, with chard you can cut off the whole plant about 1 1/2″ above ground and simply let it regrow, though it may never be as healthy or lush as a newly grown plant. Sometimes it’s just better to start over, and not in the same place. Hose away any reappearing or lingering aphids post haste! Check out the ant situation.
  • Regularly remove any yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies.
  • Gophers You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after any rains. If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.

Prevention A frustrating typical disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on Curly Leaf kales, squashes, beans. Plant leaving plenty of space for air circulation. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! Do this the same or next day if transplanting. A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Not only is prevention so much better than after mildew has set in, but this mix stimulates your plant’s growth! See Aspirin Solution.

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants. 

Thin any plants you intentionally over plant – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, mustard. If you planted too close together, take out the shorter, weaker plants. They are all great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves.

Watering & Weeding Wind and sun dry soil quickly and short rooted plants like peas, or seedlings, need to be kept evenly moist.

Dust Mulching, cultivation, is perfect to break up the soil surface, especially after a rain! That keeps the water from wicking to the surface and evaporating. If you use a hula hoe you do two things at once! Just a half to one inch depth cuts off weed sprouts. Indeed, it turns the soil a tad, all that’s needed. More weeds will follow, but it’s quick and easy to repeat the process. Two, three times, a few days apart, and there will be little weeds after that for a while. Get ’em while they are small and easy to do. Smart gardening.

Grass in Flower, soon to Seed

When grass has those frilly little green tops, it is blooming and seeding! Remove it ASAP. Better yet is to remove weeds before they seed! If at the seeding stage, gently pull, don’t shake the soil loose from the roots and spread seeds all over, if possible, and don’t put them in your compost!

Keep COMPOSTING! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, feeds just perfectly! And if you made it, you know what’s in it! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist. Giving back to Mama Earth is nature’s natural way! And, like Will Allen says ….there is something very Spiritual about touching the soil, that’s where life begins.

The good work you do now will pay off with abundant summer harvests!

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

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

See the entire March 2018 GBC Newsletter!

March Planting, Thoughtful Garden Design & Choices!

Stripes of Wildflowers!
Clever Seed Planting Tips Indoors or Outdoors!

Senior Veggie Gardening!

Upcoming Gardener Events! Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Spring SALE! 48th Annual EARTH DAY Santa Barbara!

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

Read Full Post »

German Chamomile Herb Bee Flower

Please do plant Chamomile to feed the bees!

Chamomile is downright heady scented on a warm morning and the tea is sweet.

Chamomile is in the Asteraceae family, making it a relative of Daisies. German Chamomile, Matricaria recutita, is upright, easily gets 2’+ tall and leggy, unruly! It has dainty feathery foliage, smells like pineapple or apple depending on who you talk with. Due to the shape of the yellow part of the flower is sometimes called Pineapple Plant! Roman Chamomile, Anthemis nobilis, is a ground cover with thicker foliage. For medicinal purposes they can be used interchangeably. Roman has bigger flowers, but German is easier to harvest and pretties up your garden!

Bodegold, Matricaria recutita, is an improved German variety from East Germany, where herbal remedies have been used for centuries. Bodegold is shorter, a more sturdy upright 18–24″ tall, so flowers several weeks before other varieties! It blooms through August, even a little more if there are rains! Bodegold has more and larger flowers per plant that have higher essential oil content. Its more uniform habit which makes harvesting easier. If you enjoy details, see a comparative study of 4 Chamomile cultivars including Bodegold.

PLANTING  It’s an annual that prefers cooler weather. In SoCal, plant by seed in fall or when the soil warms to about 65 degrees in spring for blooms starting in 65 days! It goes through midsummer or later. It’s lovely in containers! Maybe right by the door or below the kitchen or bedroom window! Full sun is best but in hotter areas partial shade may be ok. Plant as a border, use it to fill in spots where you need something bright and cheerful, as a companion pest-preventing plant by the plants that need its protection. Chamomile likes well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. Give mature plants ample even moisture.

There are four ways to plant!

  1. The easiest is to simply let babies sprout this year from fallen seeds if you had Chamomile last year!
  2. Also easy is to simply fling seeds about and forget about them! Let them come up when and where they will. It’s a miracle these super tiny seed beings can do this, but it does happen just like in nature! You can ‘weed’ and transplant them where you want them.
  3. If you are starting Chamomile for the first time and want to grow it from seed, get a packet from your local nursery or a reputable organic seed house. The seeds are husky, but tiny to say the least! The seedlings are tiny too! If you don’t start them indoors, mark where you planted them so you don’t step on them or pull them up thinking they are weeds. Be sure to clear that area of slugs and snails first by putting down something to kill them off before you plant your seeds. Once planted, cover to protect them from being vanished by birds.

    Put your seeds on the soil surface in slight separate depressions 3″ diameter so the seeds don’t float away and water stays where it is needed. Press lightly to settle, do not cover with soil. Your seeds need to be kept moist. That might be every day or twice a day depending on sun and wind. Water lightly and gently so as not to wash away your seeds, or damage tiny seedlings about to come up. They germinate in 7 to 14 days. Do cover the seedlings with netting, a wire cover or a cloche to protect them from birds.

    Here is what your tiny seedlings will look like when they first appear! You can easily see how you could step on them if the area isn’t marked, mistake them for a weed unless you know what to look for. And, how easily they can be overnight gourmet outdoors for slugs. When they are a tad bigger, they have teensy leaves.

    Delicate Chamomile, Anthemis, Seedlings need protection from slugs, snails, and birds!

    Photo by Jellaluna

  4. If direct seeding isn’t for you, get transplants as soon as your nursery has them. If you already have plants and like them right where they are, let some of your flowers dry on the plant. When you remove the dry plant, give it a good shaking, or squish the dry cones, roll them between your fingers, and let some of the seeds fall to the ground. Your Chamomile will likely self seed next season! That area can act as a nursery area and you can transplant some of the babies to other spots next year if you like. Or, gather a few dry flowers while you are harvesting your flower heads. Save extra seeds for the annual Seed Swap. Next spring plant the seeds you keep where the plants will do the most good for your garden. If your nursery doesn’t carry Chamomile, then you are back to planting from seed or asking another gardener if they have any babies they don’t need and transplant those!

ONE DISEASE, NO PESTS!

Though Chamomile is pest and disease resistant, it can/does get mildew when mildew temps, 60° to 80°F, arrive. Chamomile gets 2′ tall and a good 2′ diameter! Leave plenty of room. Best to leave enough space so mature plant’s leaves don’t touch each other or another plant and spread the mildew. But it often does lay over and lean on neighboring plants, so stake it up. Tie it loosely to the stake if the area is windy. No overhead watering. Mildew can be a problem on a plant you have pinched back to get dense bushy foliage with little air circulation. When you treat your other plants for mildew prevention, treat it too.

IT’S A SUPER COMPANION PLANT!

Traditionally chamomile is known as the “plant doctor,” chamomile has been known to revive and revitalize plants growing near it. Chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb and it’s just plain pretty.

CARROTS thrive with Chamomile, Cilantro, and Marigold. Plant a flock of carrots intermingled with, along with them or around a central plant!

Chamomile flowers attract hoverflies and wasps, both pollinators and predators that feed on aphids and other pest insects.

One of the colors bees see is yellow! Chamomile blooms are perfect! Please plant Bee Food, Herbs and Flowers! Sow or transplant basil, borage, chervil, chamomile, chives, cilantro, comfrey, dill, fennel, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme. Let a carrot or two, and a celery to go to flower to bring bees, butterflies and beneficial insects! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next year’s plantings, to share at the seed swap, give as gifts!

Chamomile, comfrey and yarrow are compost speeder uppers. Plant them near your compost area! Sprinkle your compost with a handful or two of living moist soil to inoculate your pile, and add a few handfuls of your decomposer herbs.

Some think Equisetum (Horsetail) tea is the sovereign remedy for fighting fungus — especially damp-off disease on young seedlings. Spray on the soil as well as plant. (I sprinkle with Cinnamon powder.) Chamomile tea and garlic teas are also used to fight mildew on cucumbers and squash. Try it on other plants that get mildew too!

Chamomile Herb Medicinal
MEDICINAL USES

German Chamomile is a productive and highly medicinal herb, a staple of every herb pantry. Photo by Fotolia/gitusik

Mother Earth News says: It is an anti-inflammatory nervine that has a calming effect on the nervous and digestive systems, and it’s safe for children and adults who are in a weakened state. Chamomile has antiseptic properties and is used topically in washes for skin, eyes and mouth. Its essential oil is useful in creams, oils and salves. When brewed as a tea – affectionately called ‘cammy tea,’ the sweet little blossoms bring a sense of well-being. Chamomile can also be formulated with other herbs and taken in extract form as a digestive, a sleep aid and an overall nerve tonic.

In an herbal shampoo – sage darkens your hair, chamomile lightens!

HOW and WHEN TO HARVEST the FLOWERS! 

Many large commercial growers of chamomile sacrifice quality for expediency by using combines to harvest the flowers. Hand-harvesting is easy and retains more of the essential oils and medicinal compounds. Pick on a dry day when the flowers are nearly fully open, after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is high, before the sun beats down on them and volatile oils lost. Definitely harvest before the petals fall back (go back down). In this early morning image you can see flowers with their petals down, others fully open. Most are mature, others just starting to petal up!

May 2016 Chamomile

Image by Cerena Childress, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

As your plants grow, you can pick the flower heads by running your fingers through the plants, palm up, fingers spread wide enough to allow the flower stems to get between them, taking the flowers as you sweep across. Of course, you can pick them one by one as well if you want only the very best. You only want the flower head – cone and petals, not the stem, which some people taste as bitter. One efficient way to do this is to cut off a stem that has several flowers on it. Shake it well to remove any insects. Remove the flowers with your fingernail or scissors or as you wish. The purpose for taking the stem with the group of flowers is so you don’t have to trim remaining flower stems away after you take the flowers.

Start harvesting 3 days after flowering. Pick blossoms every seven to 10 days during peak bloom time. The more you harvest, the more your plant will bloom! Flowering may slow down during hot, dry spells and then resume when cool weather returns.

PRACTICAL CAUTION: Some of us have topical hypersensitivity to chamomile. If you are allergic to other members of the Asteraceae family, such as ragweed, if you develop a rash while picking chamomile flowers, avoid using them externally or internally. Please.

Chamomile Herb Dried Flowers Medicinal Glass Jar

You can use fresh blossoms immediately, but they’re also relatively easy to dry. Everyone has their own special method and tips!

To ensure the centers of the flowers are dried completely but volatile oils are not lost, dry at lower temperatures (85 to 95 degrees) somewhere with good airflow and limited light. Be sure your flowers don’t have any insects! You can tie and hang them, or spread out the flowers in a single layer on a paper plate and allow them to dry for 1 to 2 weeks in a dark, warm, dry space.

Image from Susy Morris/Flickr, via Hobby Farms  

If you have a lot of flowers to dry, you can build a screen frame and rest it over two sawhorses. With a frame, the flowers dry both from top and bottom. Make your frame lightweight so you can shake and flip the flowers to speed drying. Lay a white window sheer fabric over the screen so small bits of the drying flowers aren’t lost by falling through the screen.

Store in an airtight glass jar in a cool dark place until ready to use. Dried chamomile keeps its flavor for up to a year if it’s stored in an airtight glass or metal container, away from heat and humidity, and out of direct light. Put some in a small jar, tie a ribbon around it, add a label. Makes a super sweet gift!

Simplest TEA preparation: Before bed or anytime you need to relax, put a tablespoon dry or 2 tablespoons fresh, or as you prefer, into your tea ball/infuser. Put it into 6 to 8 ounces of hot water in a cup or teapot and steep for five minutes. Steeping for longer than the recommended time or boiling the blossoms can volatilize the essential oils in the plants, reducing the quality and negatively affecting taste and aroma.

Chamomile, being in the Daisy family, has those white ray petals. The yellow center cone has the disk flowers that produce the seeds! To harvest seeds, just pull the dry cone apart, and there are your seeds!

Author and Ethnobotanist Dawn Combs says it so well! ‘With so many great uses for the bright, sunny flower of chamomile, it’s well worth the time and effort to grow and harvest. The time I spend in the quiet of the garden on a summer day while picking the small blossoms do as much for me as if I were drinking a cup of the tea. We all need more excuses for these times of contemplation and peace. You might say growing chamomile is a way to grow your own meditation.’

Chamomile Herb Tea Cup Flowers

Bee good to yourself and Mother Earth! Plant Chamomile!

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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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Tomato Varieties Feast!

How many varieties are there? There are more than 3,000 varieties of heirloom or heritage tomatoes in active cultivation worldwide and more than 15,000 known varieties. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says there are 25,000 tomato varieties. The list constantly expanding. One current group being added is the Indigo series of tomatoes!

HEIRLOOMS VS HYBRIDS

Heirlooms are more lovely than words can say with their many shapes, sizes, and colors! But they are particularly susceptible to wilts and blights. Instead, get resistant hybrid varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In the Mother Earth News tomato survey, they found gardeners chose heirlooms over hybrids if their soil is wilt/blight free. Otherwise, the longer the gardener has gardened, they more they chose wilt resistant hybrid toms if their soil has the fungi. If you are gardening at home, you can strengthen your soil, and take practical measures to grow heirlooms successfully. If you are at a community garden that has the fungi in the soil, it’s virtually unavoidable because the wilts are not only in the soil, but are windborne as well. See Wilts & Cucumber Beetles, Tomatoes & Cukes!

Tomato Bush Determinate in Container CageDETERMINATE AND INDETERMINATE

The other two main categories are Determinate and Indeterminate. Determinate get about 3′ tall, produce prodigiously all at once. They are grown for two main reasons. Since they produce when they are shorter, they produce sooner. Since they produce a lot at once, they are great for canning. If you want to can a lot, grow several of them at the same time. If you want a large steady supply plant successively, like more plants each month or so. You can do that if you have the space.

Determinates are great for container growing! Pick varieties that have patio, dwarf or mini in their names. These will be more compact. Small tomatoes doesn’t necessarily mean the plant is small! Be sure you check that it is a determinate variety. Also check for height, that it will grow no taller than the support you will be putting it on. The Dwarf Tomato Project offers dozens of options, identified by gardeners from around the globe.

Indeterminate are vining tomatoes, grow 6′ to 10′! Grow them on a trellis or in a large substantial supporting cage; they will take up a lot less space. Or up against a wall, along a fence. But if they ramble, the fruits will be on or close to the ground, fungi and pest susceptible – slugs, mice, little birds. Indeterminates produce a little later, but continuously all season long! They have flowers, ripening fruit and mature fruit all at the same time. If you aren’t canning, these are terrific because you plant just once. When they start producing, there is no waiting time like with determinates, while you wait to grow another plant if you don’t have space to grow both at once.

TIME OF YEAR

In SoCal, spring’s first choice, February, is cold hardy determinates that produce and ripen in cool weather! That’s to get toms on your table soonest! When they are done, in their place, pop in some other favorite summer veggies that do better in that by then warmer weather. If you live in the north with a short growing season, go with these quick growers. Bush Early Girl and Oregon Spring are favorites.

In SoCal start your indeterminates at the same time as the cool producing toms! They will come in with red fruits about the 4th of July or a tad sooner. Czech heirloom variety Stupice is cold tolerant and comes in early. Early Girl indeterminate gives you a head start and gives high yields!

Later, April, May, plant whatever toms you want to your heart’s content! Just be sure you get resistant varieties if you have soil fungi. April is better if you are planting monster varieties like Big Boy – they need time to grow big! Big toms can grow to enormous proportions, winners can be up to 7+ lbs! The heaviest tomato was weighed in August 30 2016 at 8.61 lb, grown by Dan Sutherland, Walla Walla, Washington! The achievement was authenticated by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC).

In late summer, early fall, as most of your tomatoes are getting tired, southern gardeners can go back to planting quick growing cool type determinates. Weather in SoCal is starting to cool, day length is shorter, and the northern type varieties will do well again. Select petite varieties like bush cherries that mature more quickly.

Winter, though many toms may have tomatoes on them, they are slower to turn red if at all. Day lengths are shorter. Let go. Instead, plant other winter favorites that thrive in short day cold weather and are so nutritious! Kales and chards are prolific choices per their footprint. Start new vigorous tomatoes in spring.

LOCATION

In drought conditions, consider growing only indeterminates. If you are repeatedly growing determinates, there is the time it takes to regrow them, using water when there is no production.

There are super heat tolerant varieties of toms. Just look up those varieties at southern or desert locations. Check on local university recommendations, cooperative extension. See what the nurseries near you carry or what the farmers market farmers are growing successfully.

Humidity and wind are conditions to consider. You can open up an area to reduce humidity, or put in some shrubs to buffer winds.

Desert can be turned into an oasis using permaculture techniques! Jeff Lawton in Jordan

If your location is known for tomato hornworms, generously plant borage and/or calendula with your toms. They repel the worms!

Tomato Steakhouse Largest Beefsteak Buy Seeds Burpee!SIZE AND PURPOSE CHOICES

Cherry and Grape tomatoes for buffets and snacks. Saladettes for salad bites. Texas huge for slicing. Romas for canning, sauce and paste. The bigger the tomato the longer it takes to mature.

At left is a fine SteakHouse Hybrid, a meal in itself! Steakhouse are the largest Beefsteak Tomato there is! It is available at Burpee. com. They refer to it as a tomato titan! If you love huge toms, these fruits are enormous, up to 10 inches wide and as heavy as 3 lbs! Each plant will yield nine to 11 fruits.

COLOR, TASTE & SKIN!

Poetically, in Jim Duncan’s post Harvesting Sunlight he says ‘Different carotenoids give such fruits their red, yellow and orange colors. In photosynthesis, they trap certain waves of sunlight and funnel their energy into the chlorophyll system. In this sense, different colored tomatoes are packed with different waves of sunlight. Artists can’t look directly at the sun but tomatoes can and artists can look inside tomatoes.’

As an organic gardener you are an artist that looks to the health and wellbeing of us all. Your garden reflects who you are, tells your story. It creates beauty. It makes a difference.

There is no doubt color makes a difference. Blind people can feel which color it is! Colors have different frequencies. Just looking at them makes us change. We pick that color to wear today. Choose the colors that uplift your spirit!

Taste is often subjective. We know too that people genetically taste the same thing differently ie Cilantro! People describe different tomatoes as tasteless, robust, bland, mild, sweet, fruity, tangy, tart, mealy, meaty, watery, juicy, dry, firm, soft, mushy, smoky, musky, old-time, winey, perfect! Toms are like fine wine only in a different body! Taste is something you will need to try for yourself. While it was originally thought that certain regions on the tongue detected specific flavors, we now know this is not true. Smell is more predominant! So you smell it and swish the wine/tomato around in your mouth! Modern tasting techniques If you don’t have space to experiment, to garden several varieties at once, stick with the standards at first – or go to the nearest Farmers Market and buy one of each, the fresher the better! Have your own tasting – you and the others who will eat them with you!

Tomato skin thickness varies a lot! They can be thin and easily damaged, or so thick you can hardly take a bite and if you manage, the juice squirts out! Some you seriously need a knife for. If you are canning or making tomato paste you need to remove the skins for a smooth consistency! Roma VFA, Amish Paste and Super Marzano are excellent sauce toms, meaty with low water content, and improved disease resistance and taste.

HEALTH BENEFITS

Tomatoes contain a good amount of vitamins A, C, and K, folate and potassium along with thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, all of which are necessary to maintain good health. The best part is that tomatoes are naturally low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories.

Besides righteous colors that feed your Soul, and taste for your palate, varieties do vary a tad health wise. Here are some choice points:

  • The Kumato tomato is slightly higher in carbs than regular tomatoes. Compared to a standard red tomato, the Kumato contains a higher amount of fructose.
  • Grape tomatoes, despite their similarities to cherry tomatoes, have a thicker skin, less water content and smaller amounts of fructose. As a result, these tomatoes are probably slightly lower in carbs.
  • The colossal beefsteak Steakhouse, the largest variety of tomato, has more carbs as well as overall nutrients.

Colors and the different carotenoids associated with them give specific different benefits to our health. Indigo breeder Jim Myers says ‘The red pigment in tomatoes is lycopene. Orange tomatoes have beta-carotene or prolycopene, while yellow ones may have other carotenoids such as delta-carotene. Carotenoids have antioxidant properties and are thought to have health benefits similar to flavonoids.’

From fighting cancer to fighting wrinkles, the goal of the Indigo series of tomatoes is to breed the antioxidant purple anthocyanins into the flesh as well as the skin. Oregon State’s high-flavonoid breeding program breeder Jim Myers is almost there! Indigo Rose is the closest so far. It is an open pollinated variety, meaning seed saved from self-pollinated plants will grow true and not produce hybrids.

In the image below, is Blue Beauty bred by Bradley Gates of Wild Boar Farms in St. Helena CA. It is a self-pollinated variety, will grow fruit the same as the parent. The young blue tomato fruit appears amethyst purple and turns dark purple-black as it matures, with the skin of the darkest ones becoming almost jet black. Tomatoes hidden by leaves remain red. These are ‘modest beefsteak-type slicers,’ weighing up to 8 ounces. High in antioxidants. Brad says TOMATOES HAVE CHANGED MORE IN THE LAST 10 YEARS THAN THEY HAVE IN THEIR ENTIRE EXISTENCE. They are the Heirlooms of the Future! Check out Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomato at Baker Creek! Outrageous, I swear!

Tomato Indigo Blue Beauty Slicer 8 Oz

Culinary Breeding Network! Meet some breeders from around the US! They are working for our health, production excellence and just plain gardening enjoyment! Working together, brainstorming, improves the quality of their work, their results.

PURE DELIGHT!

Meanwhile, right here in your own garden…happiness is! Eating your favorite homegrown organic tomatoes at the garden! Cherry size poppers or huge drizzlers so big they are more than a meal! That beautiful color that just makes your heart sing! A shape that calls your name! This year I’m trying….

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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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Mulch Living Missoula Montana Permaculture Sustainable FarmLast month we looked at Leaf Mold, Mulch or Compost. That’s from the end of life of tree leaves. This month I would like you to take a think about Living Mulch! It is by contrast, an ongoing sustainable green process that produces more and more Nitrogen right where you can use it. It’s generally a faster process by far! You may be a little challenged to figure out how to use it in your specific garden, and you may choose not to, but it may be a perfect option for many reasons.

I use it for my strawberry patch each year. When weather cools and the berries produce little, I pull them, plant my living mulch, green manure, close to Oct 1 for mid January bareroot berry planting. If I have a soil area that is producing less than spectacularly, I plant that area about Dec 1 in time to be ready for early spring planting mid March. Clearly, if you are in northern snow zones, you may need to rotate areas, plant living mulch in an area every three years maybe. In SoCal you might forego planting a ‘winter’ garden and instead plant living mulch. It will need watering, but while it’s working hard to make great soil, you can have a wee rest.


Looking to find what plants to grow as a Living Mulch under Rat’s Tail Radishes started my inquiry! I was delighted to find this permaculture farm site with these terrific details based on experience with references to university (non commercial) research. It’s the real deal since their income depends on successful sustainable growing near Missoula, Montana in a northern short season!

Living mulch can easily be done by planting closely and letting the leaves of the plants completely shade your soil keeping it cool and moist. In summer, living mulch might look like beets or carrots, or differently colored lettuces planted a little more densely on the sunny side under a larger plant like peppers, or at the base of your bean trellis. In SoCal winter it could be cilantro, beets, carrots and lettuce under your broccoli or surrounding your kale, at the feet of your pea trellis. Or if you can’t eat that much, you could toss a mix of legume seeds under your plants to feed your soil as well!

What else could you do? You might like to prepare your current pathway for crop rotation – using it to plant in next season. Maybe you have an area you would like to convert to a veggie garden, or you have a patch where you want to restore the soil before planting again.

When you read this, you will think like a farmer! After you’ve got it, then think how to apply this info to your own garden. These excerpts from http://www.veganicpermaculture.com/agroecology.html have some more technical language and information, but take it slowly. Sometimes I have to read one paragraph at a time, several times, when I’m taking in new dense information. It’s worth the read. You won’t be the same afterwards, and there are some surprises. Go directly to their page to get the whole read, see all the backup images and videos! But read this too, because I’ve made comments for home gardeners and SoCal timing along the way and at the end….


You can grow your own fertilizer with living mulches. Living plants used as mulches have an advantage over dead mulches, such as straw and hay. They affect soils both above and below the ground. They grow with and around main crops and are usually green, succulent, and full of nutrients, with a well-developed root system. This root system works its way into the earth, opens up the soil, and feeds the soil food web all season long, if living mulches are managed properly.

Over time, living mulches improve soils and build the skeletal framework which holds plant nutrients so that they are available when plants need them. This is because living mulches add organic material into the soil without disturbing it. When mowed regularly or tilled into the soil, living mulches add plant nutrients for free, including the big three: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as sulfur, calcium, and micronutrients. When compared to plants grown without mulch in bare soil, legume living mulches produce higher vegetable yields. Leaf cover and yields of bush green beans was higher when planted into a killed stand of hairy vetch. Corn yields were higher in red clover that had been killed in strips. Though fruit maturity was delayed, yields of tomatoes grown in hairy vetch were higher and fruit weights were greater than in bare soil treatments.

Soil organic matter acts like a big sponge soaking up water and releasing it slowly when needed. However, in the short term, most living mulches steal soil water from crops when both are actively growing, especially early spring through early summer. Living mulches hold onto and recycle soil water when NOT actively growing. In one study, corn grown in mowed hairy vetch struggled for water during the first 1 to 4 weeks after planting. But, by two to four weeks after planting, soil moisture levels were the same as in bare soil treatments. Soil water levels were higher than in bare soil after four weeks. In other words, over time living mulches can conserve moisture in your garden, but in the short term, especially right after planting, they compete with crops for soil water.

Living mulches provide diversity and a legume crop rotation which is the foundation of disease suppression in all organic gardens and farming systems. In my 17-year living mulch vegetable production system, disease problems simply dropped off the radar, including cabbage worms. In a 2- year study, we discovered that the living mulch was providing a home for many kinds of predators who were controlling cabbage worms in our commercial plantings of broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.

IMPORTANT to know! In cold, wet soil, living mulches may encourage disease and some pests such as slugs or snails. Researchers from South Dakota found lower seedling emergence and survival and higher amounts of disease-causing fungi in clover and hairy vetch mulched fields, when crops were planted during cool weather. But many other studies indicate that several insect pests are controlled in living mulch as compared to bare soil plots. Several species of both specific and generalist predator and parasite populations [the good guys] have been shown to increase in living mulch plots.

When hairy vetch and rye residues covered at least 90% of the soil in one study, weed density was decreased by 78%. Living mulches can fight weeds by “smothering” them, and by utilizing all the water and nutrients so that weeds are starved and cannot invade. Combinations of grasses and legumes are best for smothering weeds.

When to plant your Living Mulch – There are 3 kinds!

  1. ANNUAL LIVING MULCHES. Plant in the spring. In cold climates they are killed by below freezing winter temperatures.
  2. BIENNIAL LIVING MULCHES Plant in the spring. Will grow foliage the first season, overwinter and then flower, set seed, and die the next growing season.
  3. PERENNIAL LIVING MULCHES Plant in late summer/early fall or in spring

You want to read this! For fascinating details on which plants to plant at which times and details about each so you make the very best choice, see their page.

Important points! Once you have chosen the right living mulch for your particular area and need, develop a management plan. You can keep living mulches from becoming too competitive by mowing, lightly tilling, rolling, or keeping them dry (withholding irrigation).

  • Mulches should be mowed and left to sit on the soil surface for two days to two weeks before incorporating into the soil. Your management timing affects pest management.
  • Keep mulches short in wet, humid weather to avoid disease.
  • Mow mulches if annual weeds begin to pop their heads through in order to avoid weed seed production.
  • For FAST plant nutrient cycling, till living mulches into the soil in late spring 2-4 weeks before planting.

Ok, so when you plant living mulch, say for your annual mid Jan bareroot strawberry patch…count back with me. Now this timing will vary depending on which living mulch plants you choose.

  1. Mid Dec till in your living mulch for mid January bareroot planting. The little white balls on the roots are like a beautiful little string of pearls. Those are the Nitrogen nodules legume plants make!
  2. About Dec 1 chop down/mow, chop up your living mulch and let it lay on the surface. If Bell beans are in the mix, chop when it flowers or the stalks will get too tough to easily chop into small pieces. Keep your chopped mulch moist, not wet, until it is tilled in. Being moist aids decomposition.
  3. Oct 1 plant your living mulch – put this on your garden calendar! Bell beans take that long if they are in the mix or are your choice.

If you are preparing for early SoCal spring planting mid March, that translates to planting your living mulch, again based on your choice of plant(s), right about Dec 1. If you miss that window, plant a faster grower! Clovers and vetch grow quickly and vigorously, or ask your local nursery, feed store person or farmers what they have or what plant will do the job.

Legumes are prime living mulch choices because they make (fix nitrogen from the atmosphere) for other crops. But, they only give up that fixed nitrogen when they die or are tilled into the soil, or over time if they are mowed and the residue is left on the soil surface as a mulch. Actively growing legumes do not USE as much nitrogen as non-legumes, but they do not GIVE UP nitrogen to the soil or other plants when they are actively growingLegumes do not fix nitrogen at equal rates, or under all conditions. Nitrogen fixation rates are decreased by low (< 40 to 50o F) soil temperatures and stop at freezing temperatures. Nitrogen fixation rates vary among legume species. For example, clovers, sweet clovers, medics, and vetch provide 0.1 to 2.5 lbs of nitrogen per 100 sq ft. Alfalfa provides six pounds of nitrogen per 100 sq ft.!

I use Island Seed & Feed’s Harmony mix – Bell beans, Austrian Peas, Vetch and Oats. Oats grow deep into the soil opening air and water channels, bring up nutrients. Get the inoculant that goes with it. After you broadcast your seeds, roll them or if a small space, lay down a piece of plywood or a board and press them into the soil so the seeds have good soil contact and will stay more moist longer when watered. Water gently overhead with a fine spray so soil isn’t washed away and soil contact lost, seeds aren’t swooshed to a low spot. Cover with raised aviary wire, or your choice of material, to keep them from being bird food! Keep them moist, especially if there is hot weather.

You can plant living mulch at any time, depending on your climate, among your existing plants. Living mulch plants shade the soil, some suppress weeds, while they are living, then feed the soil when you till them in after your plants are done. Just choose ones for the right time of year. Plant your garden pathways with ones that can stand being walked on. Till that in and plant there next season!

HOW AND WHEN TO CONTROL YOUR LIVING MULCH

The way living mulches are managed in our [Montana] gardens determines what benefits we derive from them. Legumes contribute most to soil fertility if they are mowed or tilled into the soil. Nutrient release is much slower if the living mulch is mowed and not tilled in. But, some studies indicate that nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium levels are best increased in the soil over the long term when crop residues are left on the surface, rather than tilled into the soil. Nitrogen release by cover crops depends on temperatures and humidity levels. The warmer the weather, the more quickly residues will release their nitrogen. Studies at North Carolina State indicate that 75% of the nitrogen in some legume cover crops is released within seven to ten weeks after mowing if residues are left on the surface. If the residues are tilled under, nitrogen release is quicker and may be accomplished within four to eight weeks. In cooler weather, nitrogen release can take much longer. In my experiments in Montana in a very microbially active soil, nitrogen release occurred 2 to four weeks after tilling red clover into the soil. There is a lag time of at least two weeks during which nitrogen and phosphorus will be tied up in the soil food web digesting wheel (This lag is called immobilization because soil microbes are using the same nutrients that plants need and thus immobilizing them, or making them temporarily unavailable to plants). Plan for this and wait two to four weeks after mowing or tilling the living mulch before planting main crops. Waiting at least two weeks to plant will also reduce the chance of increased disease organisms, which can be favored by an addition of fresh (particularly succulent and green) residue.

Mowed cover crop residue left on the surface to decompose needs to be kept moist (but not wet!) for at least the first five to seven weeks after mowing to enhance decomposition.

Some living mulches may need light tillage. Light tillage equates to walking your rototiller quickly over the surface of the living mulch. Do not let the tiller tines go into the soil more than one to two inches. If residue is buried deeper than several inches below the soil surface, decomposition time will be longer and anaerobic conditions may occur. Remember that soil microorganisms require oxygen to do their job.

Cover crops can also be managed with a rake. Rake the cover crop vigorously until the soil is exposed. Cornell University research indicates that disturbing living mulch cover crops by using light tillage is most successful in July. This is also the time when most summer crops are particularly resource demanding and hence it is a time when living mulches are most likely to compete with crops.

RIGHT INOCULANT FOR YOUR LEGUME COVER CROPS

Inoculation of legume cover crops is suggested. Inoculants consist of species-specific bacteria that associate with legume roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Use the correct inoculants for the cover crop. Alfalfa and yellow and white sweet clovers share the same inoculants; true clovers share another; peas and hairy vetch share a third; garden beans and field beans share a fourth. Purchase inoculants when purchasing seed.

Some living mulches are allelopathic. This means that they biochemically inhibit the growth of other plants. Mustard family types, such as rape and black mustard, are good examples of allelopathic living mulches. Allelopathy can be used to help control weeds; on the other hand, crops can be adversely affected, particularly seeded crops [meaning seeds don’t germinate well or at all].

Seeded crops, like lettuce, can be inhibited by some living mulches, such as mustard, but usually only if the living mulch is tilled into the soil and a crop seeded immediately after. The allelopathic reaction dissipates in time. For example, the compound in plants from the mustard family [includes Brassicas] that is most responsible for its allelopathic reaction loses 80 percent of its punch within two weeks. Plant main crops three to five weeks after mowing or turning under any living mulches suspected of exhibiting allelopathy.


Living Mulch is a superior choice. Give it some thought. Carefully read up on it. Keep your notes. Every gardener’s situation is different – what you grow, your weather, how much time you have, how much production you need. Living mulch is a sustainable choice.

There are two SoCal standard times to plant living mulch to do soil restoration. One is early October to be in time for January bareroot strawberry and berry vine plantings. The other is December/January for early spring plantings. Or you can opt to not plant an area for production that year and plant living mulch anytime if you live in an area that freezes in winter.

In Santa Barbara area, Island Seed & Feed carries legume seeds and mixes by the pound and the inoculants you need. Plus, it’s a fun place to visit! They also carry LOTS of other seeds and local organic seeds as well! (Pet supplies too!)

You don’t need to do a large area. Do a test run. This year try a pathway with living mulch you can walk on instead of a board, concrete steps or straw! If you do a pathway, mound it up before you plant so when it compacts as you walk on it, it will stay level rather than dipping lower and collecting water, making mud. Restore an area where you will grow heavy feeders next spring. When you are eating bigger tomatoes right off the plant you will be happy and feel quite virtuous.

Excerpts from http://www.veganicpermaculture.com/agroecology.html


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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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