Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘plastic’

Container Gardening - fence bags!

If you don’t have land, don’t want to or can’t join a community garden, Small Space Urban Farming, Sustainable Containables may be perfect for you! Check what the curbside use rules are for your city. You might be able to use that space too! The number of containers is completely flexible. Have as many as you have time and energy for.

I discovered container gardening through the amazing book Bountiful Containers by McGee & Stuckey. I first wrote about container gardening in November 2012. Now there is a feast of books written on the topic. Learning container gardening principles taught me a lot about how to use precious space productively in a small area!

Containers give you complete flexibility. Have as many or as few as you want, put them wherever you want, move them, remove them, replace them! If it’s too hot or too cold, bring ‘em inside!

Garden in anything! From grow bags, hanging bags to pots. There are containers of any size, shape, material or color, some are even self watering! Some are spiffy new, others are what you have around at the time, maybe an old favorite or an old wooden bucket, the wheelbarrow with holes in it.

Container Gardening gone Rampant!

Most of all, the Beauty of Using Containers is You can plant!

You can make them, paint them!
They can get you outdoors
There’s no digging
You eat better food, fresh basil for your fresh salad.
Often, no slugs or snails, avoids soil-borne fungal diseases
Rarely any weeds
You can give them away
You can instantly remove and replace problem plants, or redesign your layout!
You can move them around for more sun or shade, for warmer or cooler
You can take them with you when you move!
No packaging, or food miles!

Location, location, location – Garden anywhere!

Balcony, Rooftop, along Stairs
Patio, Deck
Along a Wall or Fence, on top of the wall!
Backdoor, Front door
By Kitchen, in a Window
Box hanging from fence, a basket hanging from the upstairs neighbor’s balcony or a tree

A lovely raised bed in plenty of sun is a large container!

What can you plant?! Light makes a difference! 6-8 hrs Sunlight 

Everyday edibles to fruit & nut trees, minis to full size! Flowering plants, water plants, and fruiting vegetables require eight hours of sunlight each day to grow well. Root vegetables can do well with six hours; leafy plants and herbs should get at least four hours.

As a general rule leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce can tolerate the most shade, while root crops such as beets and carrots will need more sun. Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers need the most sun.

If you don’t have enough light, paint a wall white, put a free standing white reflective screen behind your plants to capture light.

Put your planties on a rolling cart, table, on plant dollies and move them with the sun during the day!
Move them from your front porch to your backdoor during the rainy or cold season, or indoors during a frost. Dollies raise your plants so your wooden containers and deck don’t rot.

Too hot?  Double pot – one inside the other. Too cold? Use black containers, wrap your pot with dark fabric, a blanket, burlap.

  • Dwarf & semi-dwarf trees, shrubs, grapes
  • Beets, chard, cucumbers, dwarf sunflowers, eggplant, dwarf kales, bush beans, green onions, green peppers, leaf lettuce, mini melons, garden purslane, radishes, spinach, smaller varieties of summer & winter squash, strawberries, determinate tomatoes!
  • Herbs and edible flowers too!
  • Select smaller veggie varieties that are bred for productivity, disease and pest resistance, slow bolting, heat and/or cold tolerance
  • Pick varieties that tolerate your conditions – sun/shade, wind, water, time of year
  • Find plants that match your diligence, time available to care for – do you like to prune or deadhead?
  • You can plant a container Orchard! Dwarf is the key word! Dwarf figs, ‘cados, citrus, plums, etc! Grafting 3 types that come in early, midsummer and fall on one tree gives you all season fruit for the space of one tree!

Designing your Container Garden

Tiered Space Saving Container Gardening!

Container gardening is a way for people living in urban areas to enjoy the benefits of veggie gardening.

Questions & Options!

Will my deck, balcony or roof support the weight of watered plants?
Do I want to get a bunch of small containers or two really big ones, or a combo of sizes?!
Can I place pots around my regular garden? Would the pots look better on my deck or around my copper beech tree?
Can I grow herbs and flowers or should I stick with one type of plant?
Will someone trip over those small herb troughs near my narrow pathway or underneath my garden arbors?
What complementary plant colors will look best in my sunny office? Or in or around my house?
Are these plants pet and child safe?
Will the draining water rot wood, drip on my table, cause mold or mildew, be tracked indoors?  Drip on your neighbor’s patio or balcony downstairs?
Do most people like the scent of that herb, society garlic? Allergies?

Containers along a Spiral Staircase can be alternately planted with veggies, herbs, more flowers for pollinators!

Design for Beauty and fit There are wonderful design programs online! Or start with one container and see what happens from there.

If you want to, sketch it out – summer, winter layouts
Pencil in your largest plants first
Tall plants against the fence, wall, to the back, north if possible, short in front, vines spilling over front
Stagger the heights of containers
Elevate with concrete blocks
Purchase just a few containers at first to get the hang of it
Mix colors luxuriantly!
Mix veggies, edible flowers and herbs mercilessly!

The simplest space saver is to go Vertical! Hanging baskets & grow bags, tiered planters, strawberry pots, pallets, gutters affixed to a fence (slope to one end for drainage & cover the low end to keep the soil in), put a trellis in a rectangular basket or oblong galvanized container, hang planters on a fence or up a wall!

Each Container is a miniature garden! Select plants with the same watering requirements.

  1. Thrillers:  the tallest, most noticeable or unusual plant.  Put pots with melons, cukes, beans, near a trellis or fence.
  2. Spillers:  plants that “spill” over the edge of the pot. Even if you are using a spectacular container, you do not want all of the plant material to only go up.  Strawberries….
  3. Fillers:  plants that tie your container together, providing a backdrop for your thrillers to shine.

Theme Container Gardens can be oriented to bring wildlife!

Theme Gardens are special!

One color
Pink!  Chard, chives, dianthus – an edible flower, monarda – an herb, pansies, sage
One type plant – a lettuce box or basket
Ethnic
Asian — Japanese Eggplant, Chinese Cucumber, Sugar Lace Peas, Broccoli, Thai Chile Pepper, Chile de Arbol Pepper, Bell Pepper, Cabbage.
Greek and Middle East — Tomato, Eggplant, Cucumber, Shallots, Garlic, Onions.
An era like Victorian – Lavender, roses, sage, scented geraniums, thyme, tulips, with violets, violas, pansies
For kids! Radishes, Thumbelina small round carrots, pansies (cat faces), purple-podded beans, dwarf sunflowers, Wee-Be-Little pumpkins!
To attract pollinators, butterflies, wildlife, hummingbirds! POLLINATION is Vital & Easy to Do!  Grow a Pollinator Meadow at Home in Your Veg Garden!

Design for Companion Plantings for many reasons! Here are just a few to get you started! There are many more combinations you will discover!

Pest prevention  Some plants emit allelochemicals from their roots or leaves, which repel pests. Oregano repels insects that bother broccoli! Borage repels tomato hornworms.
Enhance each other: Oregano enhances the flavor of beans. Carrots stimulate peas (onions stunt peas). Chamomile is called the Plant Dr!
Some plants attract butterflies and bees to pollinate your plants! Feverfew repels bees.
Others are great trap plants – they are more attractive to pests than the plant you want to save. Calendula traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!

Colorful Glazed Ceramic Containers of Differing Heights Create Interest!

Choosing the perfect magical container …from found reusables, on the cheap, humble homemades, to extraordinaire, there are multitudes of beautiful materials!! Shop, scavenge, everywhere!

Start with the Standards

1. Traditional Terracotta: has good air circulation, dries out fast, degrades, and is easily breakable, charming old world outdoor look, least expensive.
2. Ceramic: hardier, retains moisture better if glazed, myriad of colorful choices and shapes.
3. Plastic, Resin, Fiberglass: long lasting, lightweight, good for balcony & rooftop plantings or where weight is a factor. No air circulation. They can be inexpensive to very expensive. They are an excellent liner pot. Be sure what you choose is FDA approved for growing food.
4. Untreated Wood Boxes/Barrels: natural look, dries out fast, line with water barrier or use a sealant, use peat for insulation & to hold moisture. If use a water barrier, cut holes for drainage.
5. Magical Metals: keep moisture in

Drainage holes are a must! Ask the nursery if they will make some for you if there aren’t any. Usually there is no charge.
Grow Bags: Complete Guide to Fabric Pots 4

Pros/cons of Fabric containers  Select bags made of breathable and strong fabrics. Some are washable, reusable and biodegradable. Avoid ones made with plastics. Fold and store for later! They generally last 2-3 years. They need lots of watering, which can leach nutrients from your soil. However, the chance of root rot is little.

Excerpts adapted from SpringPot: The most unique feature of fabric containers is the prevention of plants becoming root bound, they call it ‘air pruning.’ In pots, the roots of plants tend to grow in circles entangling themselves leading to less water and nutrient intake. This increases the likelihood of having oxygenation or water stagnation issues, especially in larger pots that lack proper drainage. In fabric grow bags when the roots meet the edges of the fabric pot, they sense the drier soil that is exposed to the air. At this point, they know they have reached their growth limit. The roots become “air pruned” which is vital to growing healthy plants in containers. You will also get many more fibrous roots when air pruned. A more fibrous root system (many small root tips) allows the plants to take in more nutrients and water.

If you want prettier, most of the bags are black or gray, Simply put it in another larger container! If not protected in a container, the black ones can get too hot, put shade cloth around them (added expense and time), but you have healthy roots!

Be creative! Use what you have at hand or experiment!

Pots, baskets, boxes, grow bags, nested burlap bags, shoe bags, plant sacks, bowls, buckets, plastic containers
Plant right in the compost bag!
Bathtubs, sinks
Drawers – use untreated wood, no paint
Drums, ½ whiskey barrels
Wheelbarrow, wagon
Built-in deck planter, top of rail/wall planter
Hanging, upside down toms
Recycled anything – old garden boots, laundry basket
Greenhouses themselves are the perfect winter container or for all year Veggies!

If you like wooden troughs or baskets, make sure that your wood is of a solid quality. Finish the wood with a veggie-safe preserver. If you use barrels, make sure that the hoops are secure. Wood containers fare well in colder weather, provide more insulation than clay pots.

To retain moisture and prevent freezing and cracking, seal your clay pots inside and out with a veggie safe sealant.

Lettuces, peas, beans and cukes require the least depth; tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, the most.

You’ll need some fail-proof saucers to capture that loose soil and dripping water that escapes from the bottom of any container. Plastic saucers don’t get damp as do terra cotta ones.

Your Very Own Pepper Nursery Container!

Making a Home for your Plants  Soil, Filling Your Container, Seeding, Transplanting

Terrific Vertical WorkStation to tend your Container Garden properly!

Soil Selection is critical, a workstation is optional but very nice!

A high-quality potting soil works, choose ones with time release nutrients!
Use all potting soil, or add the very best compost!
Topsoil alone is too heavy, doesn’t drain well, too dense for tiny roots to get through
Soilless mixes are two to three times lighter weight
Each year use fresh soil mix when you plant

Put drainage holes in your container if they aren’t there already. 3 to 5 is good, use your judgment.
For less weight on a balcony or the roof, line the bottom with capped plastic bottles or insert a smaller upside down pot, put your soil on top. It uses less soil, weighs a lot less, especially when wet .
OR, install a self watering system, sub irrigation.
Fill with your soil – lace it  with slow release organic fertilizer (and a ¼ cup lime for tomatoes)
Install trellises as needed for beans, cukes, toms, melons, squash, grapes
Anchor pots and trellises securely if your plant will get tall or is in a windy spot

Seeding, Transplanting

Partially fill your container, put your central or tall back plant in, fill around it. Add any peripheral plants.
Water gently so you don’t wash the soil away from the roots, add more soil if needed as the soil settles.
Plant seeds according to the instructions on their packet in 6 packs or right in your container!
Water again with a watering can so as not to wash the seeds away or cause them to get uncovered, or covered too deeply with soil. Keep them moist!
Top dress, mulch with wood chips or as you like, about 1” deep.  Less weeds, saves water, keeps your soil moist.  Keeps roots cool in summer, but remove in winter so your soil will be warmer. Cocoa mulch is toxic to dogsMulching ~ Why, When, With What, How Much?!

Container Gardening Self Watering Bowl or Pool!


Self watering, save-water Sustainable Container Technology!
  You can use this in any small container to kiddie swimming pool containers used in rooftop gardening! The principles are the same. If you decide to purchase, there are multitudes of amazing, and even lovely, self watering containers available! Or get a DIY kit, or simply DIY!  There are various techniques.

 

 

 

If it is hot weather or you may be away, try these bottles with watering spikes to keep your plants moist.

 

 


.
Fertilizing, Side-dressing

Since potting mixes drain water rapidly, fertilizer will be leached out of the container as you water.
Avoid contaminating vegetable plants with manures (use only if well aged and incorporated in your soil weeks in advance), teas, or organic emulsions. Do not use manure foliar teas on veggie leaves that you will eat, like lettuce. Not recommended by UC Master Gardeners. Instead, use a dilute liquid fertilizer with every other watering, maybe every two weeks. Liquid fish emulsion is smelly but good. Liquid seaweed/kelp are great plant boosters, add trace elements.

Remember that you need to provide your plants with a variety of nutrients.
Compost and/or worm castings are tasty additions!
Or use organic time release pellets when you build your soil!
Check the labels on the products in your garden center to be sure that they contain a complete, balanced solution that includes trace elements. Be sure to get a season or use specific mix. Early on you want Nitrogen for leaves, but not too much or you get all leaf, no bloom. Be a bit careful with phosphates for bloom…not all soils need it added.

Contact your local extension office to inquire about soil testing. Many municipalities offer soil testing free of charge.

Special Care for Your Tomatoes – the most popular container plant!

Scout around for a good container tomato soil mix or build your own! See Tomato Dirt! They do not recommend to scoop up your ground soil – ‘It compacts making it difficult to water and keep aerated by mid-season. Also, garden soil is infested with fungi, weed seeds, and pests, which can wreak havoc in your containers…’
IF your soil is acidic, add a ¼ cup lime (calcium) when making your soil mix
And a tablespoon of Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts), both to prevent blossom end rot
Secure your plant so it won’t topple in the wind
When the plants are flowering, give the stems a sharp rap about 11 AM to help pollination along.

Common Problems Help List – Be vigilant, Remove diseased plants ASAP! If you are trying to save a weakened plant, move it away from your other healthy plants. Weak plants are vulnerable to pests and diseases. 

Common Problems of Container Gardening Help List

Your harvest! Harvest, Seed Saving, Sharing the Bounty

DO harvest!  When the time is ripe, do it, don’t let it go to waste. If you don’t pick, ask yourself why.  You don’t like that veggie as much as you thought you would? You planted too many plants and you are tired of it! Your recipe is too time consuming or intimidating? Harvest is too labor intensive? This is all a natural part of the live & learn gardening experience. Plant something different, differently next year.

Keep picking, especially beans, cukes and peas, or your plant thinks it is done and stops producing.  Pick daily, don’t ‘store’ on your plant. Cut & come again plants are a true value! Take lower lettuce leaves and the plant will grow more; cut off onions 1-2″ above ground and they will grow back! Several times!  Chards and kales too! When the radishes are pulled, plant more or something else right away!

Seed saving is your 2nd harvest!

If you have a plant, that does terrifically, you might want to save some of its seeds! Or sow them immediately for continuous harvest!

Tie ribbon around a plant you choose to save seeds from to remind you once it has stopped producing you don’t accidentally remove it.
Let it flower – the bees love it, let it seed.
Let the seeds, or your bean pods, dry on the plant. Tomatoes get a different treatment. SeedSaving! An Easy Annual Ritual & Celebration!
Harvest the seeds midday on a dry sunny day.
Label your envelope – save date, plant name.
Store in a cool, dry place.
Some seeds have a short shelf life, only 1 season, so check to see if you should be sure to plant them next year or give them away to someone who will!
If you have extra, share your seeds at a neighborhood garden exchange, Seed Swap, or give some away as holiday or birthday gifts!
Organize your garden seeds during our cool season. It is an inspiration for spring planting!

Container Gardening can be one of the most creative experiences you will ever have! Exercise your options! Have fun and be healthy!

The Beauty & Pleasures of Container Gardening! Pattypan Squash!

Wherever you are, enjoy growing the most colorful tasty organic veggies!

Last updated 7.31.20.


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

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

Back to Top

Read Full Post »

Mulch Types make a difference!
Mulch is what covers the soil. Compost goes in the soil and feeds it.

According to Texas A&M University, a well-mulched garden can yield 50% more vegetables than an unmulched garden space! Mulching brings soil organisms to enrich the top of your soil, where the plant’s feeder roots are! And, oh, yay, prevents light germinating hungry weed seeds from sprouting! Less time weeding! Healthy soil suppresses diseases! In addition to that, mulching cools your soil, keeps plant roots functioning optimally when it’s hot, keeps moisture in. Even only a two-to-four inch layer of mulch decreases evaporation from the soil by 70 percent or more! Water well before applying your mulch, or you will insulate dry soil rather than moist soil. Mulch prevents erosion, keeps your crop clean above the soil and above the soil predator zone, and in the long-term, if biodegradable, feeds your soil! Gardeners.com says University field tests have shown that mulch can increase (or decrease) yields by as much as 30 percent.’ Either way, 30% or 50% on the plus side is a significant amount!

I used to be a total indiscriminate mulcher, covered my whole veggie garden. I’ve adjusted my coastal SoCal mulch thinking to match the plant and the season! Here are important considerations about mulching that make a difference!

If you are north you mulch in winter and maybe summer depending on how hot things are where you live. In cold, cold winters, you use mulch like a blanket to keep the soil as warm as possible, maybe prevent it from freezing, extend your season, keep plants from freezing. And maybe it will all freeze anyway!

In SoCal, south, in our ‘winter’ rainy season, pull mulch away to let the sun warm the soil, reduce moist slug and snail habitat, let soil dry so fungi die, to remove pest habitat. Gardeners generally start mulching late April, May, in summer for sure, unless you are super coastal cool, or your garden is shaded. Then you mulch a little later, if at all. Mulching for us is to keep the soil cooler, keep it moist/use less water, keep roots from burning or drying out, reduce weeds.

The first plant you mulch in spring, well before May, is any Brassica – broccoli, kale – that you will be over summering. Brassicas like cool soil, so pile your mulch on good and deep, 4 to 6″! Sweet Peppers are quite the reverse, the last plants you mulch. They like soil temps above 65. Mulch keeps the soil cooler, so use your soil thermometer to see if your soil is up to that happy 65 yet. Mulch may be too cooling for your peppers, slowing their growth.

Beans and plants that have short roots that need to stay moist, you mulch. Strawberries get big pretty quickly and self mulch pretty soon though you could mulch them just enough to keep the berries clean and above the ground level predator zone. Chard likes moist and much cooler, so mulch. Zucchini, doesn’t care. They are a huge leaved plant, greedy sun lovers, that are self mulching.

Some like it HOT! Fact is, some veggies/fruits do better with no mulch at all! If you are coastal SoCal, in the marine layer zone, your mulch, or composting in place, may be slowing things down a lot more than you realize. The biggest most abundant melons I’ve ever seen grown at cool & coastal Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden were on bare hot dry soil in a plot that had a lower soil level than most of the other plots. The perimeter boards diverted any wind right over the top of the area, the soil got hot! It was like an oven! So, let it be bare! No mulch under melons, your winter squash, pumpkins except under the fruits to keep them off the ground up from insect predators, clean. Clearly, no mulch, more heat, equals more water needed. Raised beds and some containers also need more water since the beds are hotter. Water leaches the soil nutrients away, so you will need to feed, sidedress, those plants during the season.

Don’t trellis your melons or fruits that need heat. It’s cooler up on that trellis where most any breeze lowers the temps. Do put up a low wind barrier – straw bales, a perimeter of densely foliated plants, a big downed log, be creative. Let your peppers and jicama get hot! Eggplant is a Mediterranean heat lover! Okra is full sun Southern hot happy plant! Winter squash needs a full hot season to get their full growth and develop that protective hard shell.

Mulch can be many different materials as you can see in the image above. Keep them an inch away from your plant’s stem to avoid rot and fungal problems. Be garden smart! When possible, use an organic degradable mulch that feeds your soil too!

Biodegradable, soil building!

  • Straw is one of the simplest, fastest, easiest to use, readily available – some feed stores will let you sweep it up for free! It allows air circulation, water to get through. Apply 4″ deep or more, enough to keep the light from getting through to light germinating weed seeds, or if you want your soil to stay quite cool and damp underneath. Be sure it is the seed free kind!!!1″ Deep is good where you want no splash, like on lettuce, or to avoid soil splash on fungi susceptible leaves of tomatoes and cucumbers. Straw is the best choice for them because it allows air to circulate, letting the soil dry and the fungi die! For cucumbers, research shows straw might slow cucumber beetle movement from one plant to another! Plus, it is great shelter for wolf spiders, daddy long legs and other predators, helping predator conservation. The more spidies, the healthier your garden! More about successfully growing Tomatoes!It’s important to remove, throw away, not compost, tired mulch from under disease susceptible plants like tomatoes and cucumbers, then replace with fresh uninfected straw. Keeping it moist creates habitat the fungi do well in. If you keep forgetting to replace it, just remove it entirely and let that soil dry. As best you can, remove any soil-touching drooping leaves like religion!
  • Grass clippings need to be dried before use so they don’t form an impervious slimy mat. Spread them out, run a rake through them a few times. 24 hours and you’re in business. Once they are brown, the Nitrogen is gone, so they are no longer food, just mulch. Be sure no herbicides have been used on the grass.
  • Pine needles, deep downed leaves gathered after a windstorm. Use only leaves that have been aged at least nine months. This allows the growth-inhibiting phenols to be leached out. Run over the leaves with a mower or stomp them in a bag to break them down so they will be at soil level, available to the soil, and not blow away. See more! Know that pine needles can make your soil acidic over time.
  • A thick layer of compost is often used as mulch though when it is used it is usually covered with straw to keep it from totally drying out, off gassing Nitrogen, nutrients lost. Why waste any of it? Dig it into the soil.
  • Simple chop and drop! As you are gardening, have your clippers handy to cut up discarded disease and seed and pest free green waste. It can be mulch, or pull back your mulch, chop in your stuff, pull your mulch back over to cover it. If you have time, use your spade fork to put holes in the soil. Insert the fork, rock it back and forth a bit. Spread very well-aged manures. Cover with your chop and drop to compost in place. It acts as mulch while they decompose. When you water, it’s like compost or manure tea to the ground underneath. If you don’t like the look of that, cover it with some pretty purchased undyed mulch you like. Let it feed your soil.
  • LIVING MULCH, SELF MULCHING is triple productive! It mulches, provides companion plant advantages, and is a crop all at the same time! Closely planted beets, carrots, garden purslane, radish, strawberries, turnips act as living mulch to themselves and when used as an understory they are living mulch for the bigger plants too! The dense canopy their leaves make lets little light in, keeps things moist. Thin them out as they get larger. Eat the tasty tinys! Put plants like these, on the sunny side, around the bases of larger plants. Two crops from the same space!
  • Living Mulch Legume soil feeding understory! Aka cover crop, green manure! Fling a legume seed mix about under your taller plants, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, kale and let it grow. As some of the plants die, the Nitrogen nodules they form on their roots become available to your soil. At the end of the season you can turn it under for a super feed – add some manure if you wish, but not much is needed. OR, you can clear back spots to plant more large plants of the next season! Just slice in a hole through the legume roots, pop in your plant and you’re off! FREE except for the cost of the seeds! In SoCal White Clover is a good choice under summer plants. Be sure to plant companion plants that help your plants before you plant the plant you want to be helped. Add the Clover to fill in; it grows quickly and isn’t too tall.
  • Sawdust, Shavings, Wood bark/chips from disease and pesticide free trees. Ask a trustworthy arborist to deliver chips only from healthy trees. Specify the size of chips you want. They save dump fees. If you are growing organically avoid dyed materials. Generally chips and bark, called perpetual mulches, are used for pathways rather than on veggie beds.

    What you don’t see in the image at top is large bark chips. Yes, larger pieces decompose more slowly, and use up Nitrogen as they decompose. This is not so good in a veggie garden since that decomp uses the Nitrogen veggies need. Same problem when we do continuous sheet composting/lasagna gardening. The process takes N from the soil; our plants may not thrive the first year or so until a soil base is established unless you use a good bit of compost in your planting holes. If you are using chips from your local arborist, know that oaks have tannins, and eucalyptus and tea trees have aromatic oils that inhibit plant growth. Be careful how you use those chips, even in your landscaping, especially if you want to introduce veggies among your ornamentals. Check to see what is in bagged commercial mulches, how they have been processed and if they are dyed.Redwood fiber is acidic, good for shade plants, but you need acidic compost IN the soil for acid loving vegetable plants – strawberries, celery, beans. Please use redwood fiber as a last resort. Please save our beautiful trees. They take a long time to grow.

  • If you are using found manures as mulch, check if animals have been fed hormones, eat pesticide sprayed hays, or pesticides have been sprayed on the manures to reduce flies. It is much safer to get nursery bought bagged manures from a reputable nursery and a reputable brand.
  • Cardboard or simple overlapped sheets of newspaper…about 6 will do the job of suppressing light germinating seeds.
  • Strawberries Board MulchUntreated Boards as mulch! Your strawberries like slightly acidic soil, and acidic mulch – redwood or pine needles. Also, you can lay down boards between mini rows of strawberries to keep the soil moist under the boards, the soil between the rows that the berry roots have access to. It’s a variation on pallet gardening. The advantages of using boards are you can space or remove your boards so you can easily access the soil to weed or add amendments, you can add or remove boards to make a bigger or smaller patch, you can make the boards the length you need or want, space them as needed per the plant. Planting between boards can be used for lots of other plants too if you won’t be planting an understory! As for your strawberries, they leaf out and get bigger, and in addition to the boards, they become living mulch for themselves!
  • Grow your own organic mulch! Comfrey is a great choice! It is a plant with long roots that bring up nutrients from deep in the soil. It has abundant large leaves, and you can spread them about by your tomatoes and peppers. Chop and drop covered with another kind of mulch lets more of the comfrey goodness to permeate your soil. Comfrey has lovely blue flowers for pollinators, other beneficial insects, and hummingbirds. It’s best use, however, is as a compost nutrient and speeder upper! Turn in a few chopped leaves!

Not Biodegradable but still good!

  • Gravel, Rocks of a size and color that pleases you, though this would be easier to use for permanent landscaping rather than veggies that change seasonally. But if it’s all you have…it works. If you live in a windy or desert area, your garden is on a slope, rocks might be best. Rocks were used in Zuni, Hopi and Navajo waffle gardens.
  • Plastic. It works, a lot of commercial growers use it, but it doesn’t feed your soil. There are reasons to use different colors for specific crops, ie red works best with tomatoes! In an urban yard garden there might not be enough of that crop to warrant its use. You must put in a drip system underneath it; rainwater can’t get into the soil. It might work best in a windy area, on a hillside, where other mulch would be blown or washed away. Be careful with it because it is also used in the solarization process to heat the soil to kill weeds, read also the roots of your plants.  The biggest negative is it also kills beneficial soil organisms like worms. If it works for your situation, secure it with garden staples.

Other than rocks, too much mulch would be hard to do. Too little doesn’t do the job. Replenish thinning late summer mulch. Deep mulch really protects the soil and brings soil organisms to the surface where the mulch layer meets the earth. Worms thrive in moist cool soil. Deep mulch feeds the soil and decomposes within the pile too.

If you are going to mulch, do it justice. Put on 4 to 6 inches minimum. Less than that may be cheaper and pretty, but simply makes great habitat for those little grass and weed seeds! Mulch makes moist soil, where a rich multitude of soil organisms can thrive, including great fat vigorous earthworms if you keep your soil wet enough! You see them, you know your soil is well aerated, doing great!

COMPOSTING IN PLACE!  One of the nifty tricks of using deeply mulched areas is to build soil right where you need it! Tuck kitchen waste out of sight under your mulch, where you will plant next or simply to feed the soil there! Sprinkle with a little healthy soil if you have some to spare. That inoculates your pile with soil organisms; pour on some compost tea to add some more! Throw on some red wriggler surface feeder worms. Grow yarrow or Russian comfrey (Syphytum x uplandicum) for leaves to put down first, then add your kitchen stuff. Comfrey speeds decomposition. What you put under your mulch will compost quickly, no smells, feeds your soil excellently! If you keep doing it in one place, a nice raised bed will be built there with little effort!

Mulch Straw, Plant Now!Deepest mulch can act like a compost pile that heats up. It can extend your growing season. By installing it early you may be able to plant earlier. You don’t have to wait to plant! Just make an opening, add finished compost, amendments of your choice, and plant! There are two schools of thinking about fall mulch. 1) As fall cools, mulch keeps the soil insulated, warmer longer, extending your fall growing as well! 2) Or, late summer, as cooling starts, you may find removing mulch is better so the soil is again warmed by the Sun. Get out your soil thermometer and test it for yourself and let me know, please!

Mulching is double good on slopes and hillsides. Make your rock lined water-slowing ‘S’ terrace walk ways snaking along down the hillside. Cover your berms well and deeply to prevent erosion and to hold moisture when there are drying winds. Use a mulch that won’t blow away or be sure to cover it with plastic or netting and anchor it in windy areas – biodegradable anchor stakes and ‘extra tall’ stakes are available. Carolyn Csanyi has some clever ideas on how to keep your mulch on a slope. Plant fruit trees, your veggies on the sunny side under them, on the uphill side of your berms. Make your terrace wide enough so you don’t degrade the berms by walking on them when you harvest.

Keep your Mulch topped! Cover bare spots and replenish where your mulch is getting thin. 4 -6″ is a good depth. Preferably use light colored mulches, like straw, that reflect the sunlight. If your mulch has meshed into a tight layer, use a watering spike so water gets to the roots of your plants or make holes with your spade fork. Insert it, rock it back and forth, water. Straw, rather than a meshing mulch, is better for your veggies.

Remove and trash mulch where plants have had pests or disease; replace with clean mulch. Do NOT compost it or put it in green waste for city pickup. In general, remove overwintering pest habitat – old straw, weeds and piles of debris.

Any organic mulch will decompose. It really becomes sheet composting or composting in place! An 18″ deep pile becomes about 9″ high in 3 days to a week depending on temps, how wet it is, what kinds and sizes of pieces are used! Such a grand deep pile of mulch can easily become a super nutritious raised bed!

A variation of that is to first plant green manure, a legume and oat mix, let it grow, cut it down at first bloom, chop into pieces, let it sit on top 3 weeks, turn under, then cover that with deep mulch and let it be. If you have them, add some surface feeding worms, red wigglers. Your soil is fed, soil organisms are enriching it, excellent soil structure is being created. In a warm SoCal ‘winter’ you can do this anytime. The whole process can take 3.5 months depending on which plants you choose to grow. See more!

End of Season 

Soil resting and restoration! At the end of summer, depending on the type of materials you used, and if your soil has no disease fungi, the mulch was not under a plant that had pest infestations or disease, you can rest and feed that area of your soil by simply digging your old mulch in. Cover that area with a good deep layer of new mulch, or put on layers of materials and compost in place! Let the soil organisms party out. Leave it alone until your next planting time. It will become living vigorous nutritious soil!

It there have been pests or disease, trash that mulch, literally. Again, Do NOT compost it or put it in green waste for city pickup. In general, remove overwintering pest habitat – old straw, weeds and piles of debris.

So, you see, there are times to mulch and times not to mulch. Using less saves money, saves work. Using it well gives you a better crop!

Mulch is magic when done right! Enjoy that 30 to 50% increased yield!


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

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

Back to Top

Read Full Post »

May is for Cantaloupe & more Melons! Honeydew Fruit Bowl Flowers

Melons are total beauty queens! Their outsides are marvelous, no two alike! You can grow minis to monsters! The insides are beautiful colors! If you couldn’t see in color, their tastes would make up for it! Textures are plentiful! Some of them slither, others crunch! Warm and drizzly down your chin at the garden, ice cold on a hot day! Fruit salsa! You can cut them in a thousand ways, from cubes to balls, slices, astonishing intricate veggie art! They can be eaten with your fingers, put in smoothies, as part of creamy ambrosia. Sprinkle with spices, toss with mint. Add coconut or walnuts!

Besides all these delightful features, Melons are good for you!
CANTALOUPE (American) – 100% of Vitamin A, and 24% of Vitamin C
HONEYDEW – 53% of Vitamin C

Melons, like pumpkins, need heat! Melons are native to Africa, and the trick to getting the best-quality fruit in cooler climates is to duplicate the continent’s hot sun and sandy soil as best you can. Light, fluffy soils warm faster than do clay ones, and melons love loose, well-drained dirt! Amend with compost or leaf mold. Ideally, you would wait to sow seed until the soil has warmed to 70°F before planting squash and melons, but SoCal hits 60+ degree soil in April and you can plant transplants successfully then! Start seedlings indoors to get the soonest start, but don’t start the seedlings too soon! They grow quickly!

You in cooler coastal areas really need the heat. Naked unmulched soil heated by hot sun does the job!

Put your melons in an area where they are sheltered or there is a windbreak so they get good and hot! Remember the tricks about windbreaks. A porous windbreak works best. In a cooler climate, a wall, maybe of berry producing shrubs with dwarf fruit trees behind, can reduce cooling and drying winds, allowing the warmth of a food forest!Windbreak Effectiveness Diagram Porous

Use clear or black plastic to heat up the ground. They absorb heat, warm the soil early, conserve moisture, control weeds, keep some pests and diseases away, and make harvesting a whole lot easier and cleaner. Or, use black landscape cloth instead of black plastic! The cloth allows the soil to breathe and water to pass through. Combine that with spun polyester row covers over transplants to give them a fast start. They increase the temperature by 5 to 8 degrees, and conserve moisture. Spun polyester is also handy because you can water straight through it. Or you can use a clear plastic film over seeds or young plants to generate more heat, and late melons can be ripened under plastic, too. Row covers must be removed when plants start to bloom so pollinating insects can reach the flowers.

If you choose the black plastic, and you don’t garden over winter, lay it over the future melon garden in late winter to start warming the soil. Weigh down the edges so it doesn’t take flight. When you are ready to plant, make five-inch, x-line cuts at least four feet apart on 6 to 8 foot centers depending on the size of the melon you are growing – if you are growing several plants in rows. If you commingle edibles and ornamentals, allow at least three feet in all directions around the cut-plastic x. Pull the plastic back and create a hill of soil (amended with lots of organic matter).

Green plastic film mulch For your consideration, green mulch is to melons, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins and squash what red plastic film mulch is to tomatoes. According to reports of research trials in the Northeast and Oregon, cooler areas, it stimulates earlier and heavier yields of fruits. One person reported the green film was very thin. As a deterrent to weeds, it didn’t come close to black plastic. And at the end of the season it wasn’t reusable, so they had to discard it. Maybe things have changed since then or it comes in different weights.

If you have super good heat, keep your melons off the ground with super thick mulch and even then, put them up on sturdy upside down containers. You want them out of the munching bug and soil diseases zone. They will color up more evenly, consistently, and you can save space, if grown on trellises, making little slings to hold the fruits up. But if your area doesn’t get super hot, on the ground is better than up on a cooling wind exposed trellis.

If you mulch, put a stake where the center of the planting basin is so when you water, the water goes where the central roots are. Save water by not watering the rest of the area that doesn’t need it and that would cool the ground. Make your basin large enough that tiny lateral feeder roots get water too. Melons like to be kept moist.

Fabulous varieties!

In cooler coastal areas consider growing mini melons that don’t take as long to mature, or early melons, container varieties, that mature in 85 days or less. Consider growing spicy sweet Green Nutmeg, which has been around more than 150 years. Jenny Lind is another green-fleshed cantaloupe that weighs about a pound, 70 days. Early varieties have compact foliage. Vines and the distance between leaves (nodes) are shorter than larger, long-season melons. They flower early and have smaller fruits.

Heat and drought tolerant varieties per Southern Exposure Seed Exchange are:

Melons: Top Mark, Sweet Passion, and Kansas all have extra disease and/or pest tolerances. Edisto 47 is particularly recommended for hot, humid summers where fungal disease is an issue. Missouri Gold produces well through droughty conditions. [If you live in SoCal coastal foothills, plant away. If you are in the cooler beach areas, if you think we will have a HOT summer, take a chance, plant if you have room! It’s recommended to wait until May to plant cantaloupe.]

Watermelon: Crimson Sweet and Strawberry watermelon are good choices where heat and humidity make fungal diseases a problem.

**A clever strategy for instant succession planting, if you have space, is to plant melons that mature at different times. Growing small fast maturing melons AND late large melons = 2 harvests!

Soil  Slightly acid light, sandy loam with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5 is preferred. You might guess melons are very heavy feeders, they are making a lot of plant and a large fruit! Before planting, add in a little extra compost, and leaf mold, some well rotted manure, cow manure if you can get it. Put bonemeal in at planting time so it will decompose for uptake by when your plant starts to flower! Also add Jamaican bat guano at planting time. Jamaican takes 4 months to decompose for uptake, helps your plants continue to bloom late in the season! It is high in P – phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2.

Plant! Seed soaking and presprouting definitely speed up germination! Plant three to five seeds two inches apart and about one inch deep. Keep them moist and watch them grow! Once the vines have two sets of true leaves, thin out the smaller or weaker vines, leaving the two strongest to grow on.

Male flowers come first so they can pollinate the females when they arrive! Not to worry if you don’t get fruit set at first.

Valuable Companions  At the same time you plant your melons, put in radish, marigold, maybe nasturtium to repel Cucumber and flea beetles, squash bugs. Nasturtium can harbor snails, so you are warned….

Water! You are going to see a lot of recommendations to plant on mounds. Here in Santa Barbara CA when we are in drought conditions or you need to save water, I recommend to plant in basins like the Zuni desert waffle gardens technique. You don’t need to make berms, just dig a basin lower than the surrounding soil. All the water goes to your plant, less is lost to evaporative wind across the top of a mound, less water is needed. Stake the center of your basin so you know where to water once the leaves get big and cover the area. If in a cooler coastal area, your plant is sheltered from cooling wind, produces more in the heat.

Melons need plenty of water to support quick vine growth in early summer! The rule of thumb is a minimum of 1-inch of water a week, 2 inches is likely better. If you use plastic mulch, it will retain moisture so check the soil under the plastic to see when watering is really required. Once the first fruit ripens, stop all watering. Too much water at ripening time dilutes the fruit’s sugars and ruins the sweet flavor. The melons don’t need the water because they develop a deep root system soon after they start to flower.

Sidedressing  Melons are a lot of plant and hungry! Fertilize every two to three weeks, using an organic all-purpose 5-5-5 fertilizer. In the root zone, put some spade fork holes around your plant. Add several inches of compost to root areas monthly. Water it in and it’s like giving your plant compost tea as the water and compost drizzle down in the holes! Especially sidedress melons when blooming starts and every 6 weeks after.

Diseases

  • Fungus diseases, include Alternaria leaf spot, powdery mildew, anthracnose, and downy mildew.
  • Water melons in the morning, ideally at soil level, so leaves dry before evening, preventing fungal diseases.
  • Apply the home remedy Mildew mix! As soon as your little plants are up about 3″ or you put transplants in the ground, mix a heaping tablespoon of Baking Soda, 1/4 cup non-fat powdered milk, 1 regular aspirin, 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap in a watering can. Apply foliarly, both under and on top of leaves. The main ingredient is the bicarbonate of soda! It makes the leaf surface alkaline and this inhibits the germination of fungal spores. Baking soda prevents and reduces Powdery Mildew, and many other diseases on veggies, roses, and other plants! It kills PM within minutes. It can be used on roses every 3 to 4 days, but do your veggie plants every 5 to 10 days, or after significant rains, as the plant grows, because new plant tissues are not yet protected by your fungicide. See more details!
  • To prevent powdery mildew, spray the leaves with wettable sulphur during late summer when the nights begin to cool down.
  • At the first sign of disease, remove infected parts; remove and discard the mulch around the plant and replace it with fresh, clean mulch.

Pests  Spun polyester row covers are excellent for controlling cucumber beetles and vine borers. Vine borers are the worst melon pest in some states, but not in California. Check the IPM at the ag university nearest to your location. Though it may be written with squash in mind, just think melon, another cucurbit, as you read it. Remember, row covers must be removed when plants start to bloom so pollinating insects can reach the flowers. Once the row covers are removed, sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the leaves to protect the plants from cucumber beetles. Plant Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes, and melons to repel wilt-carrying spotted or striped cucumber beetles. Eat some of the radishes, but leave others to grow full size. Plant your radish before you plant your susceptible plants so the radish will be up when you put your susceptible plants in.

Maturity, When and How to Harvest

On very hot days melons can over ripen on the vine, giving them a waterlogged appearance. Most summer melons are fragrant when ripe. Sniff the skin; if you smell the flavor of the melon (the senses of smell and taste are interrelated), it is ripe for the picking. Another indicator for ripeness is when the stem separates (slips) easily where the vine attaches to the fruit. Cantaloupes are mature when the rind changes from green to tan-yellow between the veins.

Honeydew, crenshaw, and other winter melons are ready to harvest when they turn completely white or yellow, and the blossom end is slightly soft to touch. Since they do not slip, cut the melons from the vine. They will continue to ripen for several days at room temperature once they are picked.

The sweetest and most flavorful melons are those picked ripe from the vine and eaten right away. They may not be icy cold, but the fresh flavor and perfume more than make up for the temperature difference. Go ahead, open a melon and eat it right in the garden—without utensils—and let the sweet nectar run down your chin. That’s the true taste of summer!

Poor Flavor? It may be the weather: cloudy during ripening, too hot, too much or too little water, it rained a lot before harvest, or a combination of factors.

Saving Seeds is easy! When you save and store seeds, you help to continue the genetic line of plant varieties, leading to greater biodiversity in garden plants and preventing extinction of different varieties. A word to the wise! Like other cucurbits, melons easily crossbreed, so allow a ½ mile for reliable distance isolation between different types or cultivars. To be completely safe from any accidental cross-pollination, keep them away from other melons or family members including cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins. Baker Creek Heirlooms says: To ensure pure seed, isolate different melon varieties by 1⁄2 mile or try caging and hand pollinating.

  • Pick melons for seed saving when the tendril nearest the melon is completely dried, then store the harvested melon intact for another 3 weeks before removing and cleaning the seeds. Scoop out the seeds, put them into a wire mesh sieve, then with running water over the seeds rub them gently against the mesh, using it to loosen and remove the stringy fibers. The final test: Healthy seeds will sink to the bottom of a bowl of water, while dead seeds and most of the pulp will float. Get your seeds as clean as possible to keep them from sticking to whatever surface you dry them on.
  • Drain them in a strainer. Pat the bottom of the strainer with a cloth towel to pull extra water from the seeds after they have drained. Spread them on a piece of glass or a shiny ceramic plate to dry (they will stick to paper, even waxed paper). Place the glass or ceramic plate in a cool, dry shady spot for several days. After the seeds are dry, they can be carefully removed from the glass or plate and final-dried before being stored in jars.
  • Your seeds will keep for up to 5 years if stored in a cool dry place, however, the shorter the storage time, the better. Date and Name your seed jar. Dry seeds well to avoid mildew. Fluctuation in temperature or moisture levels of stored seeds lowers their longevity significantly. Prevent insect infestations by adding diatomaceous earth, it’s non toxic, to the stored seeds in their jars. Add a few pinches to the seeds in a bowl and gently stir to thoroughly cover each seed.

All melons are flavorful enough on their own, yet you can enhance them with a sprinkle of ginger or salt. A squirt of lemon or lime juice will bring out the melon’s sweetness.

A popular treat offered by Los Angeles push cart vendors is fresh fruit sprinkled with salt, chili powder and a squeeze of fresh lime juice! it makes a quick, healthy snack or a vibrant side for a barbecue! 

Mexican Fruit Salad with Chili Powder

Recipe Mexican Fruit Salad with Chili Powder

Choose 1, 2, 3 or more fruits and/or vegetables—here are some that work well:

  • mango
  • pineapple
  • watermelon
  • cantaloupe or other melon
  • cucumber or fresh pickles
  • jicama

lime juice
chili powder
salt, to taste or not at all! If you use salt, assemble your salad at the last minute—the salt begins leeching juice from the fruit right away.

May your life be sweet and spicy, and melon juice drizzle down your chin!


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

The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. We are very coastal, during late spring/summer 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.

Back to Top

Read Full Post »

I love Val Webb’s image and she and I both love COMPOST!  She says:  There’s an irresistible alchemy involved when you can start with garbage and end up with a wildly nutrient-rich substance that has been likened to Ghirardelli chocolate for earthworms.

Composting is EASY! Start Now!  Get your soil fat!  The sooner you plant, and plant in tasty soil, the sooner you get a great harvest!

There’s compost and vermicompost, hot and cold compost, compost in place, trenching, to name a few.  You have options!

Compost is decayed organic matter – poops – that’s manures, dry leaves and straw/alfalfa, wet grasses and kitchen wastes. Compost has a variable amount of Nitrogen in it depending on what has been composted and how the compost was made. Some studies show unturned compost has more Nitrogen than turned compost. Homemade compost can be up to 4 N, as is fish emulsion and chicken manure. Steer is 2, horse 1.7. If you need a quick boost for a yellowing N starved plant, go for bat guano, or easily assimilable blood meal, both at 10 N! Be careful with that bat guano, it’s hot and can burn your plants. And both are pricey. Get just the amount you need at Island Seed and Feed’s bulk bins.

Vermicompost is worm poop. Politely, worm castings. Simple as that. Red wriggler worms are easy to raise, will eat lots of things but do best with tender stuff, your green kitchen waste. They love cantaloupe and melon rinds, nesting in avocado shells, egg shells keep their pH neutral. Wrigglers are surface feeders not earthworms. If you put wrigglers in the soil, they die. Worm castings (vermicompost) have negligible N, about .05, are NOT A FERTILIZER, but do a lot of other good things for your plants. Highly recommended.

Hot compost has to be made carefully, have just the right mix, be tended like a baby, and defies many attempts to get it hot! If you don’t get the combo of your materials right, you are cold composting. The advantage of hot composting is it is fast, kills bad creatures and weed seeds. Also kills the good guys. But. Only in the parts of the pile that actually get that hot. The whole pile never gets that hot, like the outside of the pile. Even if you turn it so the outside goes inside, it’s hard to guarantee it will all get that hot, so be advised. It’s pretty cute to see all those little plants that spring up in the pile….

Cold compost is just throwing your done plants or trim, preferably not diseased or pest infested, into a pile or your compost enclosure, layering with some wet or dry material as needed. It might get hot, it likely won’t. It will decompose if you keep it moist. If not you have dead dry stuff, no nutrients.  Some studies have shown that cold compost is more nutritious than hot compost.  Makes sense since you aren’t burning off Nitrogen and other goodies including beneficial insects and microorganisms.  If your stuff doesn’t turn black and fluffy and smell good when it is decomposed to unrecognizable pieces, you don’t have compost. Perhaps you could use it as mulch?

Composting in place, sheet composting, Lasagna Gardening, is a time saver, no moving later. Chop and drop on the spot, add dry/wet materials as needed, amendments, red wrigglers, let nature do the work.  Especially add some chicken manure before you add your layers, because decomposition uses Nitrogen!  If you are starting on top of turf, using cardboard as your bottom layer, be sure to SATURATE the cardboard.  Don’t rush this part.  Really saturate it.  You want it to last long enough for the grass underneath it to die, to keep the grass from growing up through your pile; you also want your cardboard to decompose so your plants’ roots can grow through it when your pile sinks as the pile decomposes.

Trenching kitchen trim is traditional – cover it and forget it! Crushed eggshells, torn tea bags, coffee grounds. Six inches deep is all you need to do. Cover with the soil, water as usual, your stuff will disappear in about a week! Don’t put in meats or oils that attract digging predators, or grains or cereals that will attract mice. Leave out citruses and spicy foods.

Start Now! 10 Easy Steps to Make RICH COMPOST!

Make the most out of your finished plants or trim; use them for compost, organic fertilizer! A compost enclosure is a fine garden investment! Keep it humming! Dig your compost in around your plants, plant IN your new compost! Surface compost Nitrogen just off gases, so put a layer of soil over your compost to keep the Nitrogen right where you need it, in the soil feeding your plants.

1. Get or make your enclosure, a good working size for you, then layer, layer, layer! Half inch layers are ideal, but do what you can.  A pile 3′ by 3′ is your best minimum if you want a hot pile.  Enclosures can be free pallets on Craigs List tied together, plastic beehive types to keep the rats and mice out, the circular hard black rubber kind, to expensive rolling types, garbage cans with bottoms removed, holes made in their sides!  Do what works for you!
2. Dry stuff first so it will get wet from the stuff you put on top.  That’s ‘brown’ – dry ingredients such as dead leaves, wetted newspaper or cardboard, alfalfa/straw.  The formula is 2 dry, brown to 1 wet, ‘green.’
3. Layer up with your kitchen waste you saved, undiseased green waste from your garden or greens recycle bin. Avoid hard woody stems and seeding weed plants. Cut up large items, halve whole items like apples, potatoes. Tear teabags, crush eggshells.
4. Lay in a few yarrow leaves to speed decomposition. Grow yarrow by your composter for handy use.
5. Inoculate with a sprinkle of soil, living micro organisms, that multiply, munch and speed composting.
6. Sprinkle your layers with aged manure (keep a bucketful next to your composter) to enrich it.
7. Keep layering up to 3’ high or until you run out of materials.
8. Keep your composting materials moist, to keep them live and decomposing.  Don’t let them dry out – dry is dead, nothing happens, nutrients are lost, time and space wasted.
9. Cover with a large piece of *folded heavy mil black plastic to keep your compost moist, and dark so any worms that take up residence work up through the whole pile, to the top .
10. Keep adding to it, stir or turn often to oxygenate, weekly if you can.  Composting organisms need lots of air to operate.  Keep it moist but not drippy and drowning.  Some studies show compost is more Nitrogen rich if you DON’T turn it!  Hmm…read on.

If you are not able to do that much heavy turning or don’t want to take the time, simply, push a long stick into your compost, several times, in different places, to let oxygen in.  Or, if you are inclined, at intervals in your pile, as you build it, you can insert, horizontally or vertically, 2″ PVC pipes, that have had holes drilled in them every 6″ for aeration.  If you are going to insert horizontally, make your holes on one side only; put the holes side down to keep them from clogging.  Make sure both ends stick out so there is air flow through the pipes.  If you insert vertically, drill holes all around the pipe.  If you use a larger diameter, line it with wire mesh to keep it from filling with debris.  Once made, you can use your PVC over and over.  Other alternatives are to make wire mesh cylinders or tie a bundle of twigs together.

Your compost is finished when you no longer recognize the individual materials that went into it. If you are have a small compost batch, when ready, lay out your *folded plastic cover, pitchfork the still decomposing stuff on top of your pile onto your plastic.  Use that good stuff at the bottom where you want it. Or plant in the nutrient rich spot where your composter was!  Put your composter in a new spot, fork the stuff still decomposing back in, add new materials, recover, do it again!  The process slows down in winter, speeds up in summer, generally you have some compost in 6 to 8 weeks.

If you have time, throw a cup or so of compost in a bucket, fill with water, let sit overnight, voila, compost tea! Soak your seeds in it before planting!  Pour it round your plants or use your watering can to spray it on their leaves, both tops and bottoms – foliar feeding.  Your veggies will thrive!  If you have a lawn, make aeration holes with your spade fork and pour the tea down them.  You soil will start to live again!

Your soil and your plants thank you!

Back to top

Read Full Post »

Strawberry Tips for Tasty Super Berries!

  • Strawberries are in the Rose family.
  • The average berry has 200 seeds, the only fruit whose seeds are on its exterior surface!  The seeds are really the fruit!
  • Usually grown from runner daughters, they will grow from seed.  Just throw down caps you bit the berry from.  Sooner or later, you will have a plant you didn’t ‘plant.’  Strawberry seed saving is simple.
  • Eight out of 10 strawberries grown in the U.S. are grown in California!
  • Strawberries came in second to blueberries in the USDA’s analysis of antioxidant capacity of 40 fruits and vegetables. They are also rich in dietary fiber and manganese, and contain more vitamin C than any other berry.

Image courtesy of StrawberryPlants.org

When do I plant strawberries?  Not now, NOVEMBER 1 to 10!  Yes, it’s that specific for winter chill at the perfect time!  They start producing runners now, but cut them off until early July!  Then let them grow, and cut off the new baby plants mid October for November planting.  Or, just let them grow to fill spots where, for one reason or another, a plant has gone missing, needs replacing, and/or another could fit in.  When those needs are taken care of, cut off the rest of the runners.  These runner plant babies will grow so fast you will be getting berries from them late summer and fall if you have everbearers/day neutral types!!

My plant isn’t producing….  

Variety
 – If it is an everbearer, day neutral, variety it will produce almost all year.  June/spring bearers put out a prolific batch in June, then it’s over.  No amount of care or feeding is going to make that plant have berries after June.  Sorry.  Best to get the varieties your local nursery carries.  Or talk with them about special ordering well in advance, so they can get the ones you want.
Temps – cold weather slows down pollinators.
Shaded – believe me, strawberries like all-day sun!  If you are going to tuck them in among other plants, be sure to put them on the sunny side!
Hungry – think about it!  A strawberry plant is often pumping out several berries at a time!  They are using up soil nutrition, so feed them!  Try a light solution of fish emulsion/kelp every other week over some sprinkled seabird guano or a well aged manure.  Give your strawberries a little fertilizer in the 0-10-10 proportions; that’s lots of phosphorus and potassium for strong roots and uptake of nutrients, blooms and fruits!
Water – don’t let them dry out, they will stop producing.  This month they tend to grow more leaves, send out runners.  Clip off the runners for now, so they don’t take your plant’s energy away from producing berries, unless you want more plants right away.
Mulching is good.  They love pine needle mulch, if you have some about, because they prefer slightly acidic soil.  Drape your berries over pine cones to keep them off the ground, out of the slug zone.
Age – First year plants and 3rd year plants don’t produce as well.

My berries are really tiny! 
Strawberry varieties vary from mammoth chocolatiers, to midget but mighty tasty alpines.  If it isn’t a variety issue, it may be diseased.  See below please.

Misshapen berries or split in two sections with a hole in the center 
Irregular watering  Your berry grows fast when it has water, then is restricted when it doesn’t….
Western Tarnished Plant Bugs,
feed on the flowers and developing surface seeds that stimulate growth causing misshapen berries, hard clusters of yellow seeds on the tip of the fruit.  Clean up debris.  Once you see this, you are too late to prevent it any further.  Bummer.  UC Davis IPM Integrated Pest Management on Lygus Hesperus.  Image of typical cat-faced berries.
Pollination Strawberry flowers are usually open and attractive to bees only a day or less.  Temperatures below 60F, low night temperatures, & high humidity result in inadequate pollination, low yields of small or misshapen fruit.  Strawberries require multiple pollination for perfect fruit formation. Generally, as the number of pollinator visits increases, there will be an increase in fruit set, number of seed per fruit, fruit shape, and fruit weight.  ABOUT BEES:  per NCSU ‘Bees rarely fly when the temperature is below 55°F. Flights seldom intensify until the temperature reaches 70°F. Wind speed beyond 15 miles per hour seriously slows bee activity. Cool, cloudy weather and threatening storms greatly reduce bee flights. In poor weather, bees foraging at more distant locations will remain in the hive, and only those that have been foraging nearby will be active.  Pumpkin, squash, and watermelon flowers normally open around daybreak and close by noon; whereas, cucumbers, strawberries, and muskmelons generally remain open the entire day.’  So if the weather isn’t right THE DAY OR MORNING your flower opens…..

Whole plant has yellow leaves.  The most common cause is nutrient deficiencies due to overwatering.  Overwatering causes poor root growth making it difficult to move enough water to the leaves during hot weather.  Lay back on watering; give your babies some Nitrogen –fish emulsion/kelp.

Strawberry Pests
Pecked   If birds are pecking your berries, put bird netting or a wire dome over them.

Rebecca & David Barker, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Plot 41, staked the chicken wire in place, push it up to harvest, down to just the right height when done!

Holes in them, Chewed  Silvery slime trails are the giveaway!  Use the pine cones to drape your berries over to keep them off the ground.  Put down some Sluggo or the like, to kill off night-time nibblers, slugs, snails.  Harvest regularly before the berry gets soft and smelly, just before the buglets are attracted!  Those little black pointy worms?  I’m trying to find out what they are.  If you know, let me know, ok?!
Uprooted  Sad to say, that sounds like ‘possums, raccoon, or skunk.  They are looking for your earth worms or grubs.  Just like bunnies, these critters won’t jump a low barrier.  They just go around it.  So install a foot tall perimeter of wire pieces, black plastic plant flats, old trellis parts, whatever you have around, or go get something that looks good to you so you will be happy.  Relocating the critters is a good choice because, they do have children, that have children, that…

Strawberry Diseases  StrawberryPlants.org for full list of diseases.  Here’s a link to the 3 Most common leaf diseases with images.

Angular Leaf Spot – exactly that.  Spotted leaves.  A cosmetic problem until it isn’t.  Your plant will produce, but it won’t thrive.  Spread by water, harvest before you water, water under the leaves, remove badly spotted leaves, don’t use them as mulch, wash your hands before going on to another plant.
Strawberry Blight – the fungus is often confused with angular leaf spot, overwinters in old leaves, remove them.  Remove old leaves from runner plants before setting.  All day sun, well-drained soil, in an area with circulation, equals less fungus.  For good air circulation, plant far enough apart, remove weeds, remove, replant and/or give away runner baby sets.  Plant resistant varieties for your area of your state.  Discussion of SoCal varieties.  When you buy new plants be sure they are certified from a disease-free nursery.  If you use a fungicide, spray the underside of leaves as well as the tops.

Successful SoCal varieties!

Chandler is the most widely commercially grown strawberry in California.  High yield, early producer, large southern berry.  It’s a June bearer, so if you want year round supply, this is not your berry.
Seascape is an ever-bearing, big day neutral, all year strawberry, harvests are more abundant in late spring. High yield, resistant to most diseases except leaf spot.  Reliable producer in fall, performs well in hot, dry climates.  Berry is bright red inside and out!
Oso Grande Another June bearer, high yield big berry, good in warm climates.

Eat your red  plump strawberries!  Fresh from your garden, strawberry Sundae, strawberry sauce, strawberry pie, cake, bread, strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, yoghurt, cream cheese, cheesecake, strawberry shake, chocolate dipped, strawberry lemonade, strawberry Syrah, and, as always, the traditional, Strawberry Shortcake!! 

Read Full Post »

Strawberry!

It’s Mid October, just the right time, so I am posting this reminder!

Strawberry Runners!  Mid Oct cut off runners, gently dig up if they have rooted, shake the soil off.  Clip all but two or three leaves off, tie ‘em together in loose bunches. Plastic bag them and put in the back of your fridge for 20 days.  Plant them Nov 5 to 10! 

Prechilling your plants makes them think they had a cold winter.  When days get longer and warmer, they will produce fruit, not as much vegetative growth.  You can then either keep your plants that produced this year, or remove and compost them, start fresh with new plants!  Online you will read to pluck the flowers from first year plants, letting them get well established, then getting a great 2nd year crop.  Commercial growers plant new plants every year and harvest those first year plants. 

Can you plant strawberries from seed?  Sure!  When I eat strawberries at the garden, I leave a little flesh on my strawberry tops, toss them into a dampish spot in the garden.  When the birds or bugs have gotten to one too much for me to eat, or I missed it under leaves, and it is too past its prime, I push back the soil right at the surface, pop the strawberry in, leaving the top of it just barely covered.  Just like planting tiny lettuce seeds, just barely covered.  The decaying fruit is a perfect medium for growth!   Here and there, later on, I find new plants starting that didn’t come from runners!  The more deliberate way of doing this might be to take a package of strawberries you didn’t eat in time, slice ’em, if they are still sliceable, and plant them. 

Or, just buy a pack of seeds at the nursery and go for it, September and April being the best times of year to plant them!  First, put them in the fridge or freezer for 2 weeks.  This will improve the percentage of seeds that will germinate, when you plant them. Freezing stimulates the natural process of the seed going through the winter months and will help jump start the strawberry seeds when you plant them.  Since the seeds are tiny, and sprouts will be very tiny, be sure to mark off that area so you will water very gently there, with your sprinkler can, so you don’t wash them away.  No flooding, ok?  Just keep them moist.

How many seeds are on the average strawberry?  200!  Save your own!  J Smith says:  ‘Looking at a strawberry, you can see on average about 200 “seeds” per strawberry, which sit in its skin around the outside. To a botanist, however, these are not seeds but tiny individual fruits. Still, the strawberry is not considered to be a true berry because it does not have its seeds on the inside, like other berries do.’

Transplants are easier and more sure; seeds are less expensive.  Either way, happy eating – strawberries are low in calories, high in Vitamin C!

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: