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July is International Pest Month!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions! It is thought to repel white flies, mosquitoes, tomato hornworms, aphids, houseflies, and asparagus beetles. Smells great and tastes great!
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill goes with your pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes act as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Herbs are fabulous! Calendula, aka Pot Marigold, traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!

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

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

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

 

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Arch Trellis Squash Melon Cucumbers

Get those fruits off the ground! An arched trellis saves space and is magical! You can build one easily yourself. It will make shade when covered! Keep it narrow? Read more!

Kinds of squashies!

Summer: Zucchini, crookneck, Pattypan/scalloped, loofah.

Zucchini Squash Costata Romanesco Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden

 

 

Select heat tolerant Moschata type varieties or super productive types like Costata Romanesco! In the image at left, you can see that Italian variety makes a zucchini at every leaf!

Super Vibrant Crookneck Squash!

Besides different varieties of squashes, there are different sized plants! Zucchini, for example comes in the traditional vining type that will easily take up to 15′ in length, and in container or dwarf varieties that travel very little. Both do get good 1’+ wide leaves, so you still need to allot ample space!

Fig Leaf Squash, Chilacayote ~ Cucurbita ficifolia, a Mexican cuisine favorite!

 


Smooth south of the Border summer squash Chilacayote, aka Malabar or Fig Gourd, Cucurbita ficifolia grows 10-15 pound fruits, the vines are 50-70 feet and can produce 50 fruits. The fruits can be eaten young and tender or harvested at full maturity like the one in the image at left. See more!

Japanese Winter Squash Black Futsu


Winter
squash favorites are grown in summer but harden for winter storage! Winter squash, aka Waltham or butternut, and also Acorn and Pumpkins. Pumpkins are cosmic Beings, of course. There are tons of other exotic colors and forms including warty Hogwarts types like this Japanese Black Futsu Squash!

Plan for Companions!

Plant potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugsRadish with cukes & zukes to trap flea beetles and repel cucumber beetles.

Preplant the companions so they will be up to do their jobs when your seedlings are starting and especially before your squash (and cucumbers) start blooming.

Planting!

Start planting from seed in a SoCal warm winter in January after average last frost dates for your area. They are frost sensitive, so keep your seeds handy just in case you need to replant after a late frost.

Squashes grow best in full sun, days at least 70 degrees and nights to dip no lower than 40 degrees. They like rich well-drained soil, high in organic matter, and require a high level of feeding. Zucchini, in particular, produce a lot and get hungry!

PreSoak your seeds overnight 8 to 10 hours. 60 Degree soil works though they do better when it’s warmer, 70 – 95.

Spacing depends on what kind of squash you are planting, whether it will be going up a trellis. If you are in a drought area, make a basin as big as the anticipated feeder root growth area expected. Make the basin lower than the surrounding soil level so moisture is retained. Put in a 5′ tall stake where your plant root grows from so you know where to water when the leaves get big and obscure the area. Water only there unless your plant’s leaves get dusty. If they need a bath, preferably spritz them in the morning so they are dry by evening. Mulch the basin well. Replenish time to time as needed.

If you don’t trellis your butternuts, put an aluminum pie tin upside down underneath them. The tin reflects light and heat up to the squash, and keeps it off the ground so it won’t be nibbled or damaged.

Pests

The mighty pests of squashes are squash bugs and cucumber beetles. Plant potatoes, insect repelling herbs, and radish among your squash. Let them grow up through the squash plant leaves wafting their scents adrift through warm foliage discouraging the pests. Check out this IPM page.

Ants/aphids and whiteflies may put in appearances. Hose away until they are gone. Sprinkle the ground with cinnamon to repel aphid-tending ants. Remove any yellowing leaves throughout your garden that attract whiteflies. Water less. Remove unhealthy leaves that may lay on the ground and harbor pests or diseases. Thin some leaves away to improve air circulation.

Lay down some Sluggo or the house brand to stop snails and slugs. Two or three times and the generations of those pests will be gone.

Remove pest attracting weed habitat.

Diseases

Best of all is to plant powdery mildew resistant varieties:

  • Cucumber: Diva
  • Yellow Summer Squash: Success, Sunray, Sunglo
  • Zucchini: Ambassador, Wildcat
  • Pumpkin: 18 Karat Gold, Gladiator

Otherwise, when you install transplants or your seedlings get about 4 to 6″ tall, treat them with your baking soda, powdered milk, aspirin foliar feed as prevention!  Water the soil not the leaves or blossoms. Avoid harvesting plants while they are wet. Water in the morning so plants can dry before damp evenings.

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. Chamomile tea and garlic teas are also used to fight mildew on cucumbers and squash. Compost tea inoculates your plants with a culture of beneficial microorganisms.

Harvest

With zucchini, check your plant frequently and look carefully! Overnight a monster can occur! Wait three days, and….OMG!!! Harvest when the fruits are small if you know you won’t be able to keep up and you have already given so many away people stay away from you now!

Store your Veggies under the bed!Storage

Winter squash and pumpkins, potatoes prefer room temp! Store them in clear containers so you can see what’s in ’em! Tasty veggies all winter long!

There is in-your-fridge storage, can’t wait to eat it! Extra summer squash love hanging out in the fridge, but not for long! They are more soft than carrots or peppers, so give away what you won’t use asap.

SAVING SEEDS!

Squashes from different species can be grown next to each other. Separate different squash varieties in the same species by at least 1/2 mile to ensure purity. Experienced, home, seed savers grow more than one variety in a single garden by using hand pollinating techniques. Squash flowers are large and relatively easy to hand pollinate.

Squash must be fully mature before harvested for seed production. This means that summer squashes must be left on the vine until the outer shell hardens. Chop open hard-shelled fruits and scoop out seeds. Rinse clean in wire strainer with warm, running water. Dry with towel and spread on board or cookie sheet to complete drying. Allow to cure 3-4 additional weeks after harvest to encourage further seed ripening. Their viability is 5-6 years.

Culinary Treats!

Nutrition varies considerably from a green summer zucchini to a butternut winter squash! Calories, vitamins, etc. Here is undated information from a non commercial site that may get you thinking.

Asian Winter Squash Kabocha Stew BowlKabocha Squash, aka Japanese pumpkin, are considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures! It makes a lovely Asian Winter Stew Bowl!

One of the most unusual squash foods is Squash Blossoms! Delicious fried or stuffed! Zucchini flowers are a great source of folic acid and are often “prescribed” for those who are lethargic, anemic or pregnant! You may be given a choice of male or female flowers. Both are edible but you’ll find that the femalesZucchini Squash Zoodles Kale Pesto Edamame Recipe are slightly more robust (with larger innards and a little zucchini for a stem) which just means they’ll need to cook a little longer. If you have the universal problem of more zucchini than friends who will accept them, then harvest the females! Tromboncino, Italian for Little Trumpet, summer squash make excellent squash blossoms for stuffing!

‘Long about late June, July, gardeners are starting to seek new ways to enjoy their Zucchini! Try ZOODLES! Here are 28 cool summer recipes on how to deliciously enjoy this common veggie in unique ways!

Pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie! Make Tasty Zucchini Chips. Stuff anything and everything! Broiled, Zuke-Cilantro soup, cornbread, fritters, rollups, pancakes, kabobs! Sticks, pickled, lasagna! Crispy fresh slices in salads! Simply steaming squashes is one of the all time summer garden favorites!

Summer Squash Pattypan Green and Yellow

One way or another, Squashes just keep you smiling! 

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

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

Read Full Post »

How to Harvest & Store Summer Veggies Abundance

HARVEST! Harvest at your veggie’s peak delicious moment! Juicy, crunchy, that certain squish in your mouth, sweet, full bodied flavor, vibrant texture, radiant, vitamin and mineral rich! Besides being delicious and beautiful, it keeps your plant in production. Left on the plant, fruits start to dry and your plant stops production, goes into seeding mode. The fruit toughens, withers, loses flavor, maybe rots, sometimes brings insect scavenger pests that clean up, but spread to other plants. So, harvest right on time and let that radiance fill you!

Tomatoes can be harvested when they are green or when they get the color you chose! Bend cherry toms back so you get the cap and stem. This keeps them from splitting open. O’ course, if they split, you absolutely must eat them on the spot so they don’t spoil! 🙂 No fridging! Keep toms at room temp. Pink tomatoes ripen to a better taste and red color if they are left at room temperature. They do not turn red in the refrigerator, and red tomatoes kept in the refrigerator lose their flavor. If you want a tom to ripen, place it in a paper bag with an apple. No problem freezing toms whole! Just remove the stem core. You can blanch them and remove the skins first, or not…your choice.

Cucumbers – no storing on the vine. Your plant thinks it’s done and stops producing. Cut, clip or carefully twist off while holding the vine. Probiotic pickle your cukes. Cucumbers are another room temp veggie. University of California, Davis, says cukes are sensitive to temperatures below 50°F. They thrive and last longer at room temp. However, cucumbers, eggplant and peppers can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 days if they are used soon after removal from the refrigerator.

Sweet Peppers – depends on the pepper. Let them stay on the plant if you planted ones for pretty colors. Cut or clip them off so not to damage your plant. Only wash them right before you plan on eating them; wetness decreases storage time. Store in a cool area, or only 1 to 3 days in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of refrigerator, separate from fruit. Green peppers will usually stay fresh longer than orange or red peppers. Quick-freeze ones you won’t be using right away! Slice, dice, and freeze in baggies in the amounts you anticipate using in a stir fry or stew.

String Beans Harvest just about daily. If they bulge with seeds and start to dry, your plant thinks it’s done and stops producing. Pick, pick, pick! Get them to the fridge vegetable drawer. If you have too many at once or want some for after season use, cut them to bite size pieces or freeze whole! Put as many per bag as you will use for the kind of meal you will use them for. If for a stew you will feast on for several days, you may want a larger quantity bag.

Carrots Check the shoulders of your carrots to see if they are the size you are wanting. A big carrot is not necessarily tough and woody. If you want tender snacking types, pull while they are smaller. Water well the day before pulling, dig down beside them to loosen them if necessary so they don’t break off in the ground. Carrots go limp if you leave them lying about. Cut the tops off to keep them fresh longer. Get them cooled off in the fridge veggie drawer in a closed container with plenty of moisture, either wrapped in a damp towel or dunk them in cold water every couple of days if they’re stored that long. Be creative with your cuts if you freeze some. Go diagonal, rippled, cubed, curled, sticks, or even whole!

Summer Squash, Zucchini Harvest in self defense! They get BIG, FAST! Some of you came from big families and like stuffing and baking them and would never think of harvesting them until they are huge, lotsa bang for your buck! Others have a family of 1, can’t possibly eat all that zuke, so harvest them quite small, fresh salad slicing size. The ridged types make pretty little star shaped slices! They like hanging out in the fridge, but not for long! They are more soft than carrots or peppers. Give away what you won’t use asap.

Lettuce can be harvested at just about any size, but definitely needs to be harvested before it bolts, puts up a stalk, or immediately after. It can be harvested several ways. Eat the thinnings of a group you may have deliberately overplanted! If it is at a size you like, pick lower leaves and take them to the kitchen immediately. Wash, spin dry if you have a spinner, put them in a bag in the fridge veggie drawer. Feast daily until they are gone, go harvest some more. If harvesting a bit at a time drives you nutty, give it a whack about 2 ” above the ground and leave the root there. Take that lovely beauty home and process as usual. Good chance the root in the ground will regrow more lettuce if you keep the area moist! It won’t likely be as big as the original plant, but you will have more lettuce. Or pull that root and toss it in the compost. Plant more lettuce! Your choice. If your plant has bolted, take the whole plant and the leaves that are still good.

Sweet Corn When the silks turn brown and you push your fingernail in a kernel and it squirts milky juice, it’s ready for harvest! It holds its sweetness only 2 to 5 days! Harvest early in the day, make time to your fridge or the barbie because the sugars turn to starch very quickly! If you can’t eat them right away, pop them in the freezer, husks on!

Melons Harvest sooner by placing ripening melons on upside down aluminum pie pans or cans to keep them off the damp soil. The reflected heat and light will help them ripen evenly and sooner than when they are shaded by foliage. Watermelons lose their flavor and deep red color if they are stored for longer than 3 days in the refrigerator. If you can’t eat them big ones fast enough, plant smaller size varieties, like container types, or harvest as soon as possible. Uncut, store in a cool dry place, out of the sun up to a couple weeks. Cut melons should be in the fridge, an open container is fine. In general, melons prefer your countertop. Really, no storing melons. Just eat ’em!

OR! Make melon sorbet! Simplest recipe: one melon, juice of one lime, a few squirts of honey (some ppl use sugar) blend and freeze. Tasty and healthy on a hot day! Use an ice cream machine if you like. Variations might be a dusting of salt, syrup steeped with mint. Serve with fresh blackberries, blueberries, raspberries. Mmm…..

Potatoes are ready for digging when the plant flowers and after. Wet up the soil until muddy, feel about for the biggest ones, leaving the others to get sizable for another harvest later. Store garlic, onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes in a well ventilated area in the pantry. Protect potatoes from light to avoid greening; a paper bag works well.

Okra! If your summer has been hot enough you got some! They must be harvested before they get tough. Letting them get bigger simply doesn’t pay. So look carefully for mature fruits and take ’em! I grow the burgundy and ruby types, slice them fresh over my salads. Pretty little stars. Okra really is best fresh. Very fresh. Eat okra within a few days of buying it. Store okra loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the fridge veggie drawer.

Strawberries Pick them when they are red! Don’t let them hang out on the plant where soil creatures or birds will nibble on them. Storing them is a little different. Quickly as possible, store fresh picked berries in a container lined with a paper towel or in a paper bag in the coldest part of your fridge. They will last about a week, but it’s more fun to eat them sooner!

The counter storage area should be away from direct sunlight to prevent produce from becoming too warm. And don’t put them in sealed plastic bags that don’t let them ripen and increase decay.

Per UC Davis: Refrigerated fruits and vegetables should be kept in perforated plastic bags in the produce drawers of the refrigerator. You can either purchase perforated plastic bags or make small holes with a sharp object in unperforated bags (about 20 pin holes per medium-size bag). Separate fruits from vegetables (use one drawer for each group) to minimize the detrimental effects of ethylene produced by the fruits on the vegetables. Use all refrigerated fruits and vegetables within a few days since longer storage results in loss of freshness and flavor.

Your SECOND HARVEST is SEEDS! As July goes on or in August, when you or your plant are ready, let your very best plants produce but don’t harvest the fruits. Beans get lumpy with seeds and will dry completely. Let them dry on the vine for full nutrition from the mother plant. Let a cucumber yellow and dry. Let the corn cob dry and the kernels get hard. Cukes, peppers, melons, okra and squash are easy. Just remove the seeds and let them dry. Label the drying containers with year and name! Tomatoes are a tiny bit of a process but not hard at all. See more!

Save enough seeds from your best plants for your own planting, for several rounds of planting across the next season, for replanting when there are losses, and some to give away or share at a seed swap. Keep the race going.

Give away or store what you can’t eat. Freezing is the simplest storage method. Cut veggies to the sizes you will use, put the quantity you will use in baggies, seal and freeze. Whole tomatoes, chopped peppers, beans, onions. If you need more than your freezer can hold, get into canning! Learn about it from a pro and do it right! Probiotic pickle your cukes and cabbages and anything else you want to! That is a super healthy option!

See also Simple & Easy Storage Ideas for your Harvest Bounty! Nothing wasted, inexpensively made, thankfully eaten!

Enjoy your sumptuous meals! Sing a song of gratitude and glory!

Here’s a quickie convenient reference graphic from UC Davis!

Storage - Which veggies to Refrigerate or Counter top Fruits Vegetables

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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. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

See the entire July 2016 GBC Newsletter!

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This is your last chance to plant more rounds of winter veggies you love the most, and the littles that grow year round.  Peas are especially heat sensitive, but we Coastie pea lovers can get one more round!  At this time be sure they are mildew resistant varieties!  But it’s really time to think in terms of those summer treats you love too!  Space is an issue now unless you have fields!  Those of us in 10’ X 20’ Community Garden plots need to reserve space and prepare those soils.  I plant some of the smaller border plants, like lettuces, where they will be on the sunny side, then add the bigger plants that need more heat behind them in March.

Plant LETTUCE, beets, brocs, cabbages, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, radish, spinach, turnips.  Asparagus and artichoke bare-root.  Or put in asparagus from seed in March.

Clean things up.  Prune your trees, remove dead wood in your herbs.  Divide clumps of Society garlic.  On ground that needs more humus, lay down some bagged steer or well aged horse manure, let the rains wash the nutrients down, in about 2 months dig it in.

Continue with your harvesting, sidedress your producing plants, do your snail prevention.  After rains, foliar apply another batch of aspirin – stimulates growth, boosts the immune system, and baking soda and powdered milk to boost their immune system and act as a germicides.  Don’t forget to add a dash of liquid soap to make the mix stick!  Hold off on watering for a few days to let the potion do its job.  Your plants will thrive!

Select your plants Mindfully!  This takes more than a quick trip to the Nursery and buying whatever they have on hand.  But, hey, if that’s all the time you have, then go for it!  If you have the time, do some quick online comparisons at Universities that specialize in Mediterranean climates.  Check out this year’s All America Selections!  Ask at your local nursery why the varieties they have are their choices.

  • What pests or diseases did your plants have last year?  Select for resistance or tolerance.
  • Is that plant heat tolerant, bolt resistant?
  • What is the disease or pest cycle?  Can you plant at another time, just a few weeks later to avoid them?!
  • Is it a long producing pole plant, or a heavy one-time bush producer?
  • How much space will that amazing plant take up versus it’s return?
  • Is that variety better for canning or table eating?
  • Do you want a hybrid, or will you be seed saving and need an heirloom that plants true year to year?  In a community garden, with all kinds of plants close together, few true seeds can be saved.

Start Your Seedlings!  If you have a greenhouse, and it can be a very small humble enclosure, even a row cover setup, start your seedlings now to plant mid to late March!  At home?  Easy!  Use flats, peat pots, six packs,  punctured-for-drainage plastic containers reused from your kitchen.  Sterilized potting soil holds moisture and is easy for tiny roots to penetrate.  Put them in your greenhouse or with grow lights 7 to 10 inches above, on 14 to 16 hours a day.  Put a plant heating pad underneath, a heat cable, or a moisture protected 15/20 watt bulb in a ‘trouble light,’ for warmth, 70 degrees F.  For better germination, spray aspirin on your seeds before planting!  Another great trick is seed soaking and presprouting!

When they are ready, let them sit outdoors in the daytime shade for a week, then in the sun for a week, then all day the 3rd week.  That process is called hardening off.  The beauty of seeds is you can get the very best plants, and varieties your nursery doesn’t carry!

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Harvest, Replant, Maintenance, Spring Preps, SEEDS! 

Keep harvesting!  Plant consideringly.  That means, summer planting starts in March.  January, February are generally cold, so slow growth though day length is getting longer.  Keep in mind what space you want available in March for the March starts.  If you are a winter plant lover gardener, one way to do this is to plant another round of your favorite winter plants, then in March designate a ‘nursery’ area, and start your summer seeds there.  Transplant the babies to their permanent locations as the spaces become available.  That in mind, plant more broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes.  Plant an understory of all year favorites – beets, carrots, parsley, radish, and turnips, on the sunny sides of taller plants.  And LETTUCES!  They love January!

January IS bareroot month!  Start bareroot artichokes, short day globe onions, strawberries (if you missed November), asparagus, horseradish (Be warned! Invasive).  Depending on the weather, strawberry flowers may appear shortly after planting.  Remove them so more energy goes into root development.  Seascape, developed by UC Davis, is an everbearer strawberry that produces well in our moderate coastal climate most of the year. Sequoia is an large berried everbearer; Chandler is a June bearer – produces May/June, then done.  For those of you at home, plant bareroot cane berries, blueberries, roses, deciduous fruit trees!  Visit Bay Laurel Nursery in Atascadero!

Clear overwintering pest habitat, debris; weed.  Turn top soil to aerate and let the bad fungi die, pray for the good ones.  Sidedress your producing plants lightly – add some fish emulsion with kelp.  Sprinkle and lightly dig in cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal or fish meal.  Keep a weather watch; keep those old sheets and coverings about in case of hard freezes.  Farmers’ Almanac on Frost   Weather.com Frost Map  Make this one your home page during cold winter months.  No mulch this time of year; it keeps the soil cold.  Rain Tips!  Secure peas and tall plants.

If you have been growing favas, time to secure them from winds, rain.  Pop in a few stakes and tie them with that green stretchy stuff, or some twine.  If they have too much shade, water or fertilizer, they will go to leaf and no bean pods.  If that happens, pinch off the growing tips.  Take ‘em straight to your kitchen for steaming or stir fry!  Back at your garden, side-dress with a sprinkly organic box fertilizer or fish emulsion with kelp, or whatever your choice is, water well!  Takes about a week for the beans to appear.  Let them get 5 to 8 inches, filled with beans, and their yours – tasty and high in protein!  If you are growing for seed, let the pods blacken and dry.  Black?  Yep, I know, counter intuitive.

Make compost, start preparing your soil for spring planting.  Make raised beds.  Plan your spring garden; get seeds, wait until March to start planting your summer veggies.  Wait for it.  Plants planted out of season struggle with weather, day length, temps, and are susceptible to pests and diseases they aren’t naturally able to fend off.  Now, if you have a greenhouse….

No greenhouse?  Start Seeds Indoors – we are now the prerequisite six to eight weeks away from March!  Start tomatoes, marigolds, peppers, cosmos, zucchini, impatiens, salvia, basil, and others.  Especially start peppers!  They take longer than other veggies.  Otherwise, wait until all chance of freezing temperatures have passed and buy transplants at your favorite nursery.  I’ve seen zucchini started in the ground in January thrive.  If it doesn’t come up, no problem!  Put some more seeds in soon again!  Keep planting.  I haven’t seen it work with tomatoes, but Marshall Chrostowski of Pacifica Institute’s Garden starts his toms in January for late March picking!  He uses heat transmitting black row covers on the ground, and floating row covers above.  That’s clear plastic with holes over hoops.  They make the soil 15 degrees warmer, with 15-20% warmer air!  You can buy floating row covers at your nursery.  Give it a try! Eating garden fresh organic tomatoes late March?! Yum! Row covers will speed up your notorious slow-grower peppers too! Not only do floating row covers warm things up, but they keep flying pests away from your plants! Check out Digital Seed’s Planting Schedule!

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Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 1

Wolf Peach!!!!  Did you know – our tomato originated in South America and was originally cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas, came to Europe in the 1500s.  People were warned not to eat them until the 18th century!  Wolf Peach comes from German werewolf myths that said deadly nightshade was used to summon werewolves!  ‘Tis true, tomatoes are of the deadly nightshade family, and does have poisonous leaves.  But you would have to eat a LOT of them to get sick!  But they are not good for dogs or cats!  Smaller bodies, right?

Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 1

Tomato - Healthy SunGold!

Tomato – Verticillium Wilt

Above on the left is a very healthy Sun Gold cherry tomato and happy owner.  On the right is a verticillium wilt fatality, not old age.  Almost all of us have had tomato wilt fatalities.  Very sad to see, disappointing and frustrating as XXX!  Tomatoes are pretty dramatically affected, but many plants get the wilt, including your trees, shrubs and roses.  Veggies affected are cucumber, eggplant, pepper, potatoes, rhubarb, watermelon, artichoke, beet, broad bean, strawberries, raspberries.  Cool, damp weather, like we had here in Santa Barbara area ALL last summer, referred to as the ‘May grays’ and the  ‘June glooms,’ is the worst. 

The leaves fold along their length, the stems get brown/black spots/blotches on them, the leaves turn brown, dry and die.  It is a fungus in the soil that is also windborne.  There may be too much N (Nitrogen), too much manure – lots of gorgeous leaves but no flowers.  That’s an easy fix, add some Seabird (not Bat) guano to restore the balance, bring blooms, then fruit.  The wilt is tougher.  When the toms get about a foot tall, STOP WATERING!  Remove weed habitat and don’t mulch.  The fungus can’t thrive in drier soil. Water the toms’ neighboring plants, but not the toms.  Tomatoes have deep tap roots and they can get water from below the wilt zone.

It is better to pull infected plants, called the one-cut prune, because their production will be labored and little compared to a healthy plant that will catch up fast in warmer weather.  And you will be more cheerful looking at a healthy plant.  Heirlooms are particularly susceptible, so get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery, or are a known VFN variety.  The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes.  Ask a knowledgeable person if the tom doesn’t have a designation, or check online.  It’s just a bummer when plants get the wilt.  If you are one who removes the lower leaves and plants your transplant deeper, don’t let the lowest leaves touch the ground. When your plants get bigger, cut off lower leaves that would touch the ground BEFORE they touch the ground or leaves that can be water splashed – some say take all up to 18″ high!  The wilt gets into your plant through its leaves, not the stem.  Don’t cut suckers (branches between the stem and main branch) off because the cuts can be entry points for windborne wilts.  Wash your hands after working with each plant with the wilt so you don’t spread the wilts yourself.

Verticillium-resistant Tomato Varieties
AAS (All America Selections) are Starred & Bolded 
  • Ace
  • Better Boy
  • *Big Beef
  • *Celebrity
  • Champion
  • Daybreak
  • Early Girl
  • First Lady
  • *Floramerica
  • *Husky Gold
  • Husky Red
  • Italian Gold
  • Jet Star
  • Miracle Sweet
  • Pink Girl
  • Roma
  • Sunstart
  • Super Sweet 100
  • Ultra Sweet
  • Viva Italia

There’s little you can do for/to the soil to get rid of the wilt.  The only method I know that most of us can afford is Solarization.  Put black plastic tightly to the ground during a couple weeks of heat to kill it.  Problem is twofold.  1) That would be high summer to get that heat, so you can’t have your summer crop in that area.  If you have enough space, it’s doable.  If you only have a small space, that means no toms this year.  2) We are coastal and the temp needed to kill the wilt isn’t maintained over a two week period.  Sigh.  So we do our best, resistant varieties, little water, removal of lower leaves, remove infected plants.  A lot of smart local farmers dry farm tomatoes, and it’s water saving. 

You can use straw bale planting, or make raised box beds and fill them with soil that isn’t infected with the wilt.  That can help for awhile.  Here’s a link to my Green Bean Connection blog post on Plant a Lot in a Small Space that has a bit on hay/straw bale gardening!  It’s about 2/3s down the page, with link for instructions!  But.  Not only are the wilts soil borne, but airborne.  That you can’t do a lot about except ask everyone with infected plants to remove them.  

See Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 2, including Fava & Basil Tips

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February! SOIL & SEED Month!

Please see February 2010 for tips on aphids/white flies, slugs/snails, gophers, soil, seed starting basics! 

When there are warm days, it is ever so tempting to plant up summer veggies!  Don’t do it.  Not yet.  Start seeds. 

Depending on how much space you have, plant a last round of your very favorite winter crops – lettuces, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, radishes, turnips.  Bare-root asparagus and artichokes.  I forgot to tell you last month, you could start zucchini!  At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we had an elder gardener who always started his in January, early February, and had great zucchini way before everyone else!  Other than zuchs, really look at those days to maturity, and add the number of days you expect for harvest duration.  If you plant a long maturing plant that would be harvested for some time, think if you would rather have that space for an early round of a summer veggie you love more.  Choose mildew and disease resistant varieties for your late peas.  

Keep sidedressing your producing plants, protect your tasty lettuces from slugs and snails.  Keep watch for aphids, and, if you disturb your plant and a little cloud of white things fly off, you have white flies.  Spray those little buggers off asap so they don’t spread to your other plants or someone else’s!  Keep up with your harvesting.  Wait until it warms up some more to prune frost damaged plants.  Even wait until next month to fertilize.  

But do prepare your soil for March summer veggie planting.  Dig if you must – I’m a no-dig, no weed person who leaves the living soil structure intact [see Gaia’s Garden, 2nd edition, chapter on soil].  Instead, prepare your soil by layering good stuff on top, called Lasagna Gardening, sheet composting, composting in place, or on-the-ground composting!  Garden smart!  If it is already there, you don’t have to move it from the compost pile to where it is needed!  Build your soil in place or in your new raised beds!  If you are putting raised beds on top of your lawn, lay down several layers of heavy cardboard first, to stop the grass and weeds, thoroughly soak it, then layer, layer, layer!  When they get there, your plant’s roots will easily poke their way through the cardboard.  Definitely attach gopher proof wire mesh to the bottom of your raised bed frame before you start filling it, unless you are creating your garden on top of concrete or a roof.  If you are container gardening, check out Patricia Lanza’s book Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces: A Layering System for Big Results in Small Gardens and Containers: Garden in Inches, Not Acres. 

Healthy layering should be 2 dry/Carbon to 1 wet/Nitrogen. 

Carbon – carbon-rich matter (like branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust, shredded brown paper bags, coffee filters, conifer needles, egg shells, hay, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light, fluffy body.
Nitrogen – nitrogen or protein-rich matter (manures, food scraps, leafy materials like lawn clippings and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes. 

  • Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
  • ADD dry materials – straw, leaves and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.  Fine chopped, smaller materials decompose faster.
  • Lay on manure, green manure ( clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass ) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.  Put on rinsed seaweed for minerals, scatter some yarrow sprigs to further speed decomposition, and, of course, your kitchen food waste. 
  • Think how that pile is going to decompose lower and lower.  Build enough layers to get the amount of soil you need.  Could be 18” high.
  • If you like, sprinkle some microbe rich topsoil over it all to ‘inoculate’ with living soil organisms that will immediately go to work.  Add a few handfuls of red wriggler compost worms.  Add any other amendments that make you happy.
  • Install some pathways.  Don’t walk on your oxygen rich breathing brew and squeeze the life out of it, or crush your worms and soil structure!  Keep things fluffy for good soil aeration and water absorption.   
  • If you need to, for aesthetic reasons, cover the compost with a pretty mulch that will break down slowly.  Spread it aside when you are ready to plant.  It could be down leaves; if you need your soil in that area to be slightly acidic, cover with pine needles (strawberries).
  • If things get stinky, add more carbon.
  • You want to plant NOW, or the same day you layer?  Can do!  Or your instant soil wasn’t so instant?  OK, here’s the instant remedy.  Make planting holes in your layers, put in some compost you purchased or have on hand, mycorrhizal fungi, and plant!  The rest will catch up, and the heat from the composting material underneath will warm your plants!  You WILL have a fine garden!  

If you do also need a traditional compost pile for spot needs, consider “No-turn” composting!  The biggest chore with composting is turning the pile from time to time. However, with ‘no-turn composting’, your compost can be aerated without turning.  The secret is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material, like straw – little air tubes, when building the pile. The compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly, and studies show that the nitrogen level may be even higher than turned compost.  With ‘no-turn’ composting, add new materials to the top of the pile, and harvest fresh compost from the bottom of the bin.

So here are 3 ways to save garden time and your back!  1)  No digging!  2)  Compost in place, no moving it.  3) No compost turning!  Uh huh.

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