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Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden now has ground squirrels.  Sadly, ground squirrels carry diseases, so trap and release is not even legal.  Dealing with them effectively is more involved than with gophers, and, of course, it requires carefulness not to injure or kill other animals – pets, birds.  Read all about squirrels and their management at the UCANR page.  The main thing is to trap immediately.  A smaller population is easier to deal with.

The most sure is protected beds, above and below ground.

If you have only gophers, 1/2 inch hardware cloth barriers work well.  You can put in an 18 inch to 2′ deep perimeter barrier, or dig out all the soil and install it across the entire underground area.  Just be sure to bind the overlapping areas so the gophers can’t push their way between the layers.  Immediately trap any that come in over ground.

1/2 Inch hardware cloth gopher barriers are long lasting and work well.

If you have overland travelers, ground squirrels, sometimes gophers, birds, build raised beds but don’t fill ’em with soil!  Cover them, leaving space for plants to grow tall!  It even protects from cabbage moths if you choose a small enough mesh!  From Empress of Dirt, this cover simply sits on top.  Easy to remove to tend your soil and plants.  A hinged cover is clever, but you can’t work on the side of the box where the hinges are, and eventually the hardware loosens.

Clearly, the days of long single row plantings are over.  It works better to interplant 3 types of plants closely together in blocks if you have limited covered area.  Plant no wider than you can reach to tend and harvest.

Raised garden bed with Gopher, Squirrel, Bird, and Moth protection!

The bed below has a vertical barrier, but it’s harder to remove or access your plants, and doesn’t protect from birds.  If you have strawberries, bird protection is a must!

Above ground gopher and squirrel barrier around a raised garden bed

For taller plants, try a hoop house!  The sides can be conveniently rolled up when you want to work or harvest.  Obviously, the perimeter needs to be secure at the ground when it’s down, or critters will sneak under the edge.  Hoop houses can be huge or humble, tall or low, covered with clear plastic, greenhouse film.  Be sure there is ventilation on hot days.  Hoops may be PVC, aluminum, rounded or angled, totally your preference, may depend on materials available.  Nice thing about hoop houses is they can shade your summer lettuces if you choose a shade cloth cover, or keep your summer plants warmer in fall, extend your growing season, and you can start your favorite summer plants in spring a tad sooner!

Gopher Squirrel Hoop House Garden Protection

If building isn’t in your picture book, simply make humble wire covers.  Get the size wire you want, fold it to fit your spot!  Voilà!  Instant.  OR, buy what you want ready made, a pop up with box, cover and all!  Just be sure there is easy access to tending and harvesting your plants, and ventilation.  This one is about $50, perfect for a mini lettuce patch!

Ready made pop up gopher, squirrel protection for your garden!

Bless us all, humans and creatures!

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HABITAT is the key word! If they and their babies don’t have a place to live all year long, and plenty to eat, they will die or move on. Make good homes for these garden heroes and heroines! Protect their children, educate fellow gardeners, your children and friends!

Insect Beneficial Ladybird Beetle Ladybug Life Stages

Ladybird Beetles eat aphids, scales and mites.  Both adults and larvae live on plants frequented by aphids, including roses, oleander, milkweed and broccoli. In the winter, the adults hibernate in large groups, often in mountains at high elevations. The female beetle lays eggs only where she knows aphids are present, more than 2000 in her year-long life.  The average 7 spot ladybird will eat more than 5000 aphids!  Yay!

Per Wikipedia:  Coccinellids also require a source of pollen for food and are attracted to specific types of plants. The most popular ones are any type of mustard plant, as well as other early blooming nectar and pollen sources, like buckwheat, coriander, red or crimson clover, and legumes like vetches, and also early aphid sources, such as bronze fennel, dill, [cilantro], coriander, caraway, angelica, tansy, yarrow, of the wild carrot family, Apiaceae. Other plants that also attract ladybugs include coreopsis, cosmos (especially the white ones), dandelions and scented geraniums.

Plant those in a year-round combination, and you will see more eggs, and the larvae!  Do not disturb the eggs; they are laid near their food source.  The larvae do the most work for us!  You’ve seen them….
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Syrphid fly adult, eggs, larvae!  Plant habitat for them all year long!  They are great little predators of insects you don't want to eat your veggie plants!

Syrphid Flies, Flower Flies, Hoverflies larvae prey upon pest insects, including aphids and the leafhoppers which spread some diseases like curly top. They are seen in biocontrol as a natural means of reducing the levels of pests!  They mimic wasps and bees.

Larvae are often found in stagnant water. Adults are often found near plants, their principal food source being nectar and pollen, so they pollinate as well as control insect pests. Their favorite gardener type plants are thought to be alyssum, Iberis umbellata, statice, buckwheat, chamomile, parsley, and yarrow.

Alyssum is a terrific plant because it grows readily, flowers quickly and abundantly, lasts for months, including over winter, under-sow it as a living mulch, it self seeds!  Besides being food for beneficials, it has other advantages as well.  Plant the white alyssum – it attracts predator wasps that feed on the cabbage white butterfly caterpillar, that little green soft naked one that’s so hard to see.  You have seen that little white butterfly, black dots on its wings, fluttering about your plants.  It lays yellow eggs on the undersides of leaves.  Chase it off, uh, smack it down, check your plant leaves & remove those eggs!  It’s a quick story – the caterpillars feed 2-3 weeks, there are 3 to 6 generations per season, leaving many ragged holes on your plant leaves!  And, alyssum as a trap plant, reduces diamondback moth populations on cabbage and lures lygus bugs from strawberries!  Alyssum germination does best at 55-75 degree ground temps. April, May is perfect planting time.  Besides, it’s pretty!
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Delicate beauty, Lacewing adult, eggs, larvae.  Yet, they are powerful predators of unwanted veggie garden insects!

 

 

 

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Green Lacewings, Stinkflies, Aphid Lions,
 are a beautiful bright green, delicately winged, eat insect and mite pests.  They put out an ugly smell when handled, and have good hearing.  When they hear bats they fold their wings and drop to the ground!  Their eggs are laid on fine stalks.  It is the eggs that are distributed for biocontrol since the larvae are voracious and cannibalistic when in close quarters.  The larvae can inject a digestive secretion that dissolves the organs of an aphid in 90 seconds!  Excellent.

Chrysopidae are attracted mainly by Asteraceae – e.g. calliopsis (Coreopsis), cosmos (Cosmos), sunflowers (Helianthus) and dandelion (Taraxacum) – and Apiaceae such as dill (Anethum) or angelica (Angelica).

  1. If you see alligatorish mini creatures, larvae, stalking about your garden, let them!  They are the do business phase.
  2. Admire the adults, protect the eggs!
  3. Two of our Beneficials like Cosmos, they all like the Apiaceae family.  Plant generously.

We are so grateful for our little garden companions! Plant lots of delicacies for our little friends! Plant so they have food and habitat all year!

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Now IS still a good time to start your seeds, especially your true heat lovers – eggplant, limas, melons, okra, peppers and pumpkins, and for you SoCal coastal marine layer gardeners, tomatoes!

Beautiful Scarlet Runner Bean Seeds

When you start them, for your sanity, label your seedlings with their name and date!   

Hmph.  How hard could it be, soaking seeds?!  It isn’t, but it turns out there are lots of options and some specifics for better results!

Whether you only soak your seeds, or go on to presprouting, is your choice.  For me, I found once they started sprouting, growth was rapid!  At that stage, they can’t dry out or be too wet and rot, so you have to be ready to plant!  Also, it is more difficult to very carefully plant sprouted seeds.  They are delicate!  So if you are at all bull-in-the-China-shop like I am, it may pay to only presoak!

The main arguments for seed soaking are not only for a speedier garden [Sprouted seed will grow in soils too cool for germination, YES!, but also for more complete germination of all seeds planted. You can get germination results in 3 to 4 days, while without pre-soaking it may take 2 weeks of unfavorable germinating conditions, and you may get none.  Whether you plant directly in the ground, or for those of you at Pilgrim Terrace planning on using the greenhouse, here is some very useful info on seed soaking!

The Harrowsmith Country Life Book of Garden Secrets, by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent & Diane E. Bilberback:

The seed coat that surrounds the living seed sometimes does more than just protect it. The seed coats of many plants contain chemicals that inhibit germination of the seeds. This keeps them from germinating too early or when only briefly exposed to moisture. Some gardeners who are interested in rapid germination soak and wash their seeds to get around these germination inhibitors.

Some types of peppers, such as jalapenos, may germinate more rapidly if soaked in a couple of changes of lukewarm water before planting.

Beet and chard seeds also have a germination inhibitor; these strange-looking lumpy “seeds” are not really seeds at all but dried-up fruits of the plant, each of which contains several seeds. (That’s why beets and chard always need to be thinned.) The hard fruit covering contains a germination inhibitor, but if you soak the seed (fruit) overnight, it will absorb too much water, and you will still have poor germination.Seed coats play other important roles in the lives of plants. They regulate how much oxygen, water, and light the seeds receive.

You may have planted beans or corn in soil that was very moist but cool and were dismayed by subsequent poor germination. The seed coats of these crops can allow water to rush into the seeds too quickly, as with beets. This rapid water uptake can damage the tender cell membranes, permanently harming a young seedling so it grows slowly or preventing germination altogether. This process has been termed imbibitional shock, or soaking injury. Soaking injury can occur at any time with some crops, but cold temperatures make it worse.To avoid soaking injury, you can allow the seeds of sensitive crops such as beans, beets, and corn to soak up water gradually before planting them in the garden. This method is called seed moisturization.

One way to do this is to place them in moist vermiculite for eight to sixteen hours before planting. An easier method for most home gardeners is to place damp paper towels on a sheet of wax paper, sprinkle on the seeds you want to hydrate, and roll up the towels with the wax paper on the outside. Leave the seeds inside the paper for eight to sixteen hours at room temperature. Don’t let them sit for more than nineteen hours, or the delicate seedling root may begin to penetrate the seed coat, and you could damage it during planting.

Things to know plucked from the web….  

Start with viable seed.  Check the date on the seed pack to see when it was packaged for.

It won’t do you a bit of good, for example, to presoak lettuce seeds and expect them to germinate in a soil temp of 87 degrees, as they prefer a cooler-temperature. So start your pre-soaked seeds at the temperature and time you generally plant. Pre-soaking just gives you faster performance under normal conditions.

There are huge variations in the length of time people soak their seeds!

  1. Tomato and Pepper seeds are soaked 6 hours, no more that because they can suffocate from lack of air.
  2. overnight in tepid water. That is water that is warm, but not hot. I make sure that the seeds are covered at least twice their size with water. I don’t add anything to the water, but when planting them, I do water them in with manure tea.
  3. Soak them for 12 hours in compost tea, then rinse & drain. Rinse & drain each day, keeps the seeds moist until you have roots.  With beans, the roots emerge from the scar.  Plant the seed endwise, the root pointing down.  Plant roots and shoots at the soil surface, the bulk of the seed below the soil mix surface.  Keep moist.
  4. Soaked in tepid well water for six hours. The water was then poured off and the seeds were rinsed a couple times a day with some misting in between. The seeds were planted once they had visible roots.
  5. 12 hours in water, then drain and leave for 12 hours, then keep repeating the process until they split their skins and start showing a root. It normally only takes 2 or 3 days and then I plant out.
  6. Bean seeds may split if soaked for more than an hour or two. However, even this short soak will speed up germination
  7. When legume (peas/beans) seed coats split, the seeds may lose vital nutrients and fall prey to disease fungi when planted.  Drain them after they have been submerged for an hour.
  8. I do think I’ve oversoaked bean and pea seeds in the past, almost to the point where they are falling apart, and that it has weakened them. The soak time would depend on the size of the seed I would think, but never more than a few hours.
  9. I let them soak ‘til they are big and full, or ‘til they start to sprout a small root. Corn, beans, peas, squash (some) and pumpkins. Then I gently place them in the ground.  [Tweezers, please?!]
  10. OKRA !!!! (48 hours)  Or… I presoak my okra seed in 1 pint of warm water containing 1 tablespoon of household bleach to pre-soften the seed for 24 hours before planting.
  11. Cucurbita (cucs, luffas, melons, squash) seeds only needs to be soaked to loosen up the shell. Gourd seeds in particular are very tough and some people even scratch the sides of tips (scarify) to make it easier to germinate. I soaked them a little and also wrap them in wet toilet tissue before planting. This will help to keep them moist.

The soaking solution varies…see compost tea, manure tea above.  And what about worm tea?!

  1. Last year I soaked my bean seeds in a kelp solution before planting and they sprouted in about 2 days.
  2. I would never use bleach in the soaking solution. If you are worried about contamination, try soaking in chamomile tea or 3% hydrogen peroxide instead. If the seed is purchased, I wouldn’t bother.
  3. Hydrogen peroxide, both in soak and rinse solutions:1 oz. of  3% H²O² to 1 pint of water.  Sprouts come up faster.  Some people have reported 3/4″ sprouts in 24 hours.   

When you plant the seedlings dig the hole and spray it with peroxide. Wet it good and then wet the roots of the seedlings or small plant.   

The vegetable that gave me a problem was the cabbage. I was determined to conquer the cabbageworm. Years ago I sprayed the cabbage plants with peroxide to no avail. This year I soaked the cabbage seeds before planting them. There were no signs of the bug until the cabbage plants were almost full grown, then I poured about a quarter of cup of 8% peroxide over the cabbage, letting it flow down into the layers of the leaves. That stopped the cabbage bugs. 

Please see more tips… Part 2!  Scarifying  your seed, how to plant wet seed, better hot weather germination, water tricks!

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DSC00723 Lettuce Frost Hard Freeze
Chilly 2012 Winter Solstice morning, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

Cold season things to know about your veggies!

  • Fertilize.  Healthy plants can withstand more cold. But. From August on, if you anticipate a cold winter, avoid applying fertilizer with Nitrogen, apply at half your summer rate, until after the last frost, to prevent a flush of tender growth that can be damaged by the cold.
  • Cool season crops, such as broccoli, cabbage, peas, and onions, originated in northern areas, and can tolerate frost and light freezes of short durations with little damage, plant cold hardy varieties. But other tender morsels often die literal black deaths from killing freezes. Lettuces, marigolds, your fragrant basil, and peppers are usually the first to go.
  • Better taste!  Cool-season vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, produce their best flavor when they mature during cool weather. They react to cold conditions and frost by producing sugars, making them taste sweet, especially Brussels sprouts and kale, but also parsnips and leeks! Ask the folks at the farmer’s market stands if their farms have gotten a frost yet – farms in the country often get frost long before the cities.
  • When there are several days at low temps, cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) and onion sets, produce a seed stalk, called bolting. Unless you want to save seeds, at that point, harvest good leaves for greens, give the remaining plant to your compost.
  • Early spring planting! I’ve often said, ‘Who can resist early planting?!’ Cold spells do come after last average freeze dates. Most of our plants will be fine, but some plants are really sensitive. Bell peppers don’t like cold. If you have them as transplants, keep them inside for the duration. Many seeds may not germinate during this period. Water them sparingly so they don’t rot. Early planted Beans, Cucumbers and Zucchinis may not make it. Early variety tomatoes should be fine. If your lettuce gets frosty, not to worry. They amazingly usually make it ok. Good luck to you and your planties!

Frost we understand, but what’s a Hard Freeze?! When temperatures drop below 32° Fahrenheit (0° Centigrade) and remain there for several hours, even only 2 hours will do it, typically killing seasonal vegetation. Several hours at 25 to 28 degrees, ice crystals form not only on your plant, but in your plant, damaging the cell walls. The coldest time of day is  just before daybreak. Clouds at night can absorb and reflect heat back to the earth. Wind can mix the ascending warm air with the descending cold air. Calm, clear nights pose the greatest danger of frost. WIND:  If it is windy, less worryCold air must settle to form frost and any wind will usually prevent this. Or, a wind may dry your plants, making them more susceptible to freezing!

Floating Row Cover, Winter Frost Blanket, over Tomato Cages – see how they are staked in place by the cages? One gardener calls these Plant Pajamas!

Frost or freeze survival….

Before!

  • Watch your weather forecast religiously! Weather has no mercy.
  • Water early in the dayWet soil insulates and protects roots. The water warms up during the day and releases heat slowly during the night. The upper part of a plant may die, but the roots may be strong enough to push up new growth!
  • Move frost tender plants under eaves, a spreading tree, into greenhouses, garage. Key word here is UNDER.
  • Haunt yard sales, the thrift shop, for old bed sheets, blankets, tablecloths, curtains, towels, shower curtains, burlap sacks, tarps – many end their lives covering garden plants for frost protection! Use newspaper with clothes pins so it won’t blow around. Plastic can be worse than nothing if it touches the plant. Prop up an unused trellis, get creative! Use those wire tomato cages to support your covers! Lay them down among short plants, stand them around taller plants. At home you can lay out a folding chaise lounge chair, or lawn chairs, and cover them!! Secure the edges with stakes, rocks, bricks, or cover with soil. You can use upside down plant pots only if they are large enough that the plants they will cover don’t touch the pot. Put a rock on top to keep them from blowing over! That’s called a hot-cap! The beauty of floating row covers (see image), also called frost or winter blankets, is they can be left in place during the day! Cover the plants mid- to late-afternoon if possible, before temperatures start to drop.
  • Set up windbreaks.
  • What you can’t cover, that is not frost hardy, harvest. Root crops such as carrots and radishes should be harvested or mulched heavily before a hard freeze.

After! 

  • If you didn’t cover, wash your plants off before the sun gets on them. Sometimes that will counteract the freeze burn.
  • If you did cover, take the covers off, before the sun hits the beds, so everybody can get their sun quotient for the day! Winter days are short!
  • Dry out your covers, keep them handy.
  • Damaged leaves appear dark green and water soaked at first, later becoming black. If your plant is totally gone, it’s compost, replace your plant. Except potatoes! They will resprout, give ‘em 10 to 14 days!
  • Should you trim the ugly damaged stuff off and give your plant a lot of fertilizer to help it? Whoa, Nelly! That’s a NO! The damaged part is protecting the now undamaged part. If you trim and add a lot of fertilizer, tender new growth will form, and that will be toast if there is another frost or freeze. Wait to trim until no more frost is predicted, feed lightly.

Was that groaning, whining I heard? Stop it. Just go out there and cover your plants, no fooling around, you hear?! You will be glad you did, it’s your plants’ lives you are saving! Besides, reviving is harder than covering, and regrowing takes all that time all over again. Also, many will be well past the window for replanting, so cover, cover, cover! Better to have a yard full of ghosts (sheet covers) and look silly, than lose your plants.

Repeat, Religion! Watch WEATHER reports in case of freezes, heavy winds, rain. Santa Barbara’s average First Frost (fall) date AT THE AIRPORT is December 19, Last Frost (spring) date is (was?) January 22. That can vary from the coastal areas to the foothills, and our climate is changing generally to warmer, so these dates may not be viable guides much longer, if even now….

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Updated 12.16.15


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

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

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