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Posts Tagged ‘Practices’

Mulch ~ save water, reduce weeds, keep fruits above bug level and clean!

I used to be a total mulcher, covered my whole veggie garden. I’ve adjusted my coastal SoCal *mulch thinking to match the plant! Same goes for composting in place. That’s a good idea for some areas of your garden, other areas not 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 best 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, clean, up from insect predators.

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 Mediterranean, maybe coastal, because they like a little humidity, interplant them closely with other plants, but still they are heat lovers! Okra is full sun Southern hot!

Tomatoes need dryer soil to avoid the verticillium and fusarium wilt fungi if your soil has it. Plant them in a basin that keeps the water out! Make the basin on top of a mound with the basin bottom level above the surrounding soil level. Let ‘em dry nearby; water a foot or more away from the central stem. Let that tap-root do its job, get the water below the fungi, wilt/blight zone, the top 6 to 8 inches. Drier soil is not comfy for slugs.

Get cucumbers up on a trellis, then you won’t need mulch to keep the cukes clean and bug free, but rather because they have short roots. Cukes are susceptible to fungi wilts/blight too, so keep the leaves from touching bare ground. As soon as they are big enough, clip off lower leaves that might touch the ground when weighted with water in case they get wet. They are a fuzzy plant, so better to water at the root, not on the leaves anyway. Plant heat tolerant lettuces at their feet to act as living mulch. They both like plenty of water to keep them growing fast and sweet, so they are great companions. In that case you will need to use a little Sluggo or its equivalent if you feel comfortable to use it.

WATER  Clearly, no mulch, more heat, equals more water needed. In drought areas, plant in basins below the surrounding soil level. Use your long low flow water wand to water only in the basin at the roots of your plant. Fuzzy leaved plants, tomatoes, cucumber and eggplant, prefer not being watered on their leaves anyway. Since there is no raised mound, there is no maintenance needed for berms surrounding a basin though there is natural settling so you do need to clear the basin occasionally. If you are in a wet area, make those mounds with the bottoms of basins above the surrounding soil level for good drainage and check the berms from time to time to be sure they are holding up. These are variations on age old Waffle Gardening.

LIVING MULCH  Closely planted beets, carrots, garden purslane, radish, strawberries, turnips act as living mulch to themselves. The dense canopy their leaves make lets little light in, keeps things moist. If you cage or trellis your beans, most of the plant is up getting air circulation, keeping them dryer, more mildew free, if you don’t plant too densely. They, cucumbers and strawberries, also have short feet that need to stay moist, so do mulch them – your beans and cukes with clean chop and drop or purchased mulch. Chard likes moist and cooler, so mulch. Zucchini, doesn’t care. They are a huge leaved plant, greedy sun lovers, that are self mulching. But, you can do what some do. Feed their vine up through the largest tomato cages, stake them well, that plant is heavy. Cut off the lower leaves and plant a family of lettuces, carrots, onions, salad bowl fixin’s or basil on the sunny side underneath! If you are in a hot drought zone, plant them in the filtered shade underneath. All of them like plenty of water, so everyone is happy.

If you are going to mulch, do it justice. Besides wanting to cool your soil, keep moisture in, prevent erosion, keep your crop off the soil and away from bugs, and in the long-term, feed your soil, mulching is also to prevent light germinating seeds from sprouting. Put on 4 to 6 inches minimum. Less than that may be pretty, but simply make 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! You see them, you know your soil is well aerated, doing great!

If you live in a cold climate, cold, cold winters, mulch can protect your soil and keep it warm in winters. In SoCal, pull mulch away in ‘winter’ to let the sun warm the soil, remove overwintering pest habitat, let soil dry so fungi die. Pile it near your compost area and use it in compost layers if it is pest and disease free.

Mulching is double good on hillsides. Make your rock lined water-slowing ‘S’ terrace walkways 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 garden staple down some plastic. Plant fruit trees, your veggies on the uphill side of your berms.

Mulch with an organic degradable mulch that feeds your soil too! Chop and drop disease and pest free plants to compost in place, spread dry leaves. Spread very well-aged manures. When you water, it’s like compost or manure tea to the ground underneath. Lay out some seed free straw – some feed stores will let you sweep it up for free! If you don’t like the look of that, cover it with some pretty purchased undyed mulch you like. Use redwood fiber only in areas you want to be slightly acidic, like for strawberries.

COMPOSTING IN PLACE  Build soil right where you need it. Where you do put mulch, tuck kitchen waste out of sight under it, where you will plant next. Sprinkle with a little 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) near your compost area so you can conveniently add a few sprigs to your pile to speed decomposition. It will compost quickly, no smells, feeding your soil excellently! If you keep doing it in one place, a nice raised bed will be built there with little effort!

You don’t have to wait to plant! Pull back a planting space, add compost you have on hand or purchased compost, maybe mix in a little aged manure mix, worm castings, specific amendments to the kind of plant you will be planting. Sprinkle some mycorrhizal fungi on your transplant’s roots, and plant! Yes!

A caution:  The debris pile of composting in place may be habitat for overwintering insect pests, so put it safely away from plants that have had or might suffer infestations. To break a pest’s growing cycle, put no piles at all where there have been pests before.

In SoCal and southern states, when temps are 85 degrees or above for 3 to 4 days in a row, check for BAGRADA BUGS on any Brassica plants you have – broccoli, kale, collards, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, nor Mizuna, mustard, radish, arugula or turnips. If Bagradas are there, some gardeners immediately remove all Brassicas and all the surrounding mulch to remove Bagrada habitat, stop them laying eggs in the soil. Those gardeners then wait for cool weather again before planting any more Brassicas.

In the fall most SoCal gardeners remove tired mulch to remove habitat for overwintering pests or diseases, to let the soil warm up on short sunny ‘winter’ days. Some toss it completely away, dig it into landscaped areas to feed the soil. If clean they compost it. If you are in a snow zone, you would keep it on to keep the soil as warm as possible, cover and protect plants from freezing.

So, you see, there are times for mulch and times not for mulch. Using less saves money, saves work.

Mulch is magic when done right!

*Mulch is when you can see distinct pieces of the original materials.  Finished compost is when there are no distinct pieces left, the material is black and fluffy and smells good.

Updated from June 11, 2011 post

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Summer Veggies Box
Love your Mother! Plant more bee food! Eat less meat. Grow organic!

Keep ’em coming! That means almost daily harvesting of beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes to get them while tender and at max flavor! If you don’t harvest, for example, storing on the vine, your plant thinks it has done its job and slows down, may even quit producing. Fruits left too long are less juicy, get tough sometimes, may have an off flavor, and may get seedy. No greedy thinking like ‘I wonder how big it would grow? I want more bigger.’ Nope, that confuses your plant.

Transplant basil, celery, chard, cucumbers, dill, kale, leeks, summer-maturing lettuce, green onions, white potatoes, summer savory, New Zealand spinach. In our hot foothills and further south, go for more melons, okra, pumpkins, summer & winter squash. Corn is an exception – late plantings often develop smut. I’ve had tomato transplants and seen bean seeds started in August produce plentiful crops into October!

Transplant late afternoon or evening so plants have the whole night to begin to recover before they’re hit with a full day of sun and heat. Water well and provide shade from intense mid-day sun. Prop up and secure some of those plastic plant flats that have the finer pattern to filter the light. Keep your transplants moist for at least a month or until they’re well established. Mulch well so they stay more moist while getting started.

Keep your heavy producers well fed with two exceptions. Eggplant like only a little chow at a time but throughout their growing time, and beans make their own Nitrogen from outta the air, so toward the end of their season, a light feeding helps them maintain their vigor. Manure can be applied as a mulch directly onto globe artichokes, asparagus, cabbages and other cole crops, cucumbers, melons, sweet corn, and squash–but don’t let it touch the stems or foliage, as it will burn them. Keep high-nitrogen fertilizers away from beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet and white potatoes, and tomatoes, or there’ll be more foliage than fruit.

Big plants need a lot of water!  Tomatoes and other large plants may need about one inch of water every three days of hot dry weather. Rinse the undersides of leaves with water to discourage spider mites. Water and fertilize melons deeply once a week for juicy, fleshy fruits. Hold off irrigating melons about a week before they will ripen so their sugars will concentrate.

While all the rest is happening, replenish straw mulches that have thinned and shrunk down. Be sure any exposed roots or carrot or beet tops are covered with soil. Fall can be hot. Knock back what weeds have come along. Keep the compost humming, especially use any disease free summer plants when they are done, and seed free weeds! Keep your compost covered to keep it moist and active. Layer it just like lasagna – 2″ dry (straw), 1″ wet – that’s fresh pulled green plants and/or kitchen scraps.

Protect vine crop fruits like melons and squash from snails and slugs by lifting the fruits or vegetables onto cans, berry baskets, or boards.  Metal cans speed ripening and sweetening of melons by concentrating the sun’s warmth and transferring it to the melons.  Place ripening melons onto 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.

Want more tomatoes?! When you walk by, whap the central stems, or the cage they are in, sharply, a quick whap or two or three. That shakes up the pollen and more flowers are pollinated! Around 11 AM is the best time!

Though you are busy as a skunk on a log keeping up with harvesting, feeding, watering, in your shadow thoughts, your mind is already thinking where and when your fall plantings will start happening. Late July, August, are prime time to start fall plants for warm weather fast growth and earlier fall harvests that will last throughout winter. At the end of July, get the earliest start possible on your fall plants! Sow carrots (they do best from seed), celery and cole crops–broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (especially red and savoy types, which resist frost better), cauliflower, and kohlrabi. Keep the soil moist and shaded until they’re up, and then gradually allow them more sun over a week’s time. If you don’t make these earlier plantings, don’t miss Labor Day weekend!

Where the big fall anchor plants, broccoli, cabbages, kales, will go is what your plans will need to hinge on. Some of your summer plants got planted later and need more time for their run. Some are your favorites and you want them to keep producing. A few of your very best you will want to let seed out and that takes more time and their space. As late season plants finish off, start removing some of the lower leaves for sunshine space to plant those fall babies. The fall kids can come up while your late summer plants are finishing up. The babies might not mind a little protection.

First, second week or so of July, start your fall soil preps. Get some not quite finished compost into those fall planting spots. Put in 25% worm castings, add some of Island Seed & Feed’s super landscape mix, a handful of bone meal and powdered milk. A tad of chicken manure is good for all except where the peas will go, and none for your strawberries. They don’t like the salts. Keep onions and peas away from each other.

SEEDS!  Get your fall plant seeds if you don’t already have them, and get them started! SAVE seeds of your best plants for spring planting!

Canning and Probiotic food storage are all-year long blessed second benefits of bountiful production. Good reasons to baby your plants and harvest on time.

If you are gardening at home, put up some fine raised beds, including gopher protection. If the soil in the beds is dead, spent, toss it out. Use it as mulch somewhere else. Replace it for late summer and lusty fall plantings.

May the juices of morning fruits run down your chin, cool midday salads refresh your palate, flavorful veggies adorn your evening platter! Stand tall, Love deep, Live well!

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Hydroponic Warehouse Farm, Reminders to Save Water
Heroes abound! Check out this inner city farm!

Water Wise Practices! The Santa Barbara City Council recently declared a Stage Two drought, triggering drought-related water use regulations. Please be mindful of your choices.

  1. Please always be building compost. Compost increases your soil’s water holding capacity.
  2. This California drought year consider planting IN low sloped furrows, where the moisture settles and the plants’ root areas will be slightly shaded. Rather than losing water to evaporation from overhead watering, use a low flow water wand or a burbler and put the water right where it will do the most good and nowhere else.
  3. And, PLEASE MULCH. It keeps your soil cooler, moister, less water needed.
  4. Sprinkle Mycorrhizal fungi right on the roots of your transplants when you put them in the ground. They increase uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for them at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta.
  5. Install Grey Water systems, and for those of you who are future-minded, rain collection systems! They will increase your property value.
  6. Here is a 6 page PDF on plant and plant variety choices and garden practices that has a lot of Water Conservation info! It’s a quick read, organized so you can go right to what you are interested in. Thank you and bless you for doing your part.

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