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Posts Tagged ‘raised bed’

Senior woman harvesting tomatoes in her garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garden Club Four Counties Pennsylvania 95 Yrs 2017

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

Be comfortable!

Choose some great garden shoes or mud boots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raised Bed VegePod!

Smart choices

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

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

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

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

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

SAFETY ALWAYS

Get help with heavy lifting – bags of amendments.

Get help with any large scale digging that needs doing.

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

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes!

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

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

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

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Design a Fabulous Raised Bed Veggie Garden!

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

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

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

MARCH through June Planting Timing 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curly Leaf Kale Branching into Bush form!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finish your Summer Gardening preparations!

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

Complete your Soil Prep! 

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

Pests Reminders and Home Remedies!

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

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

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants. 

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

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

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

Grass in Flower, soon to Seed

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

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

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

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

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

See the entire March 2018 GBC Newsletter!

March Planting, Thoughtful Garden Design & Choices!

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

Senior Veggie Gardening!

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

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

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Soil Building Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Santa Barbara Peat Manure

Everybody makes soil their own way for different purposes at different times. At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA, this happy gardener is lowering his soil pH by adding peat and upping nutrition with manure.

Spring may be early again. If so, we need to be thinking of soil prep now. Perhaps layout a loose summer plan, or make notes for areas you really know what you will want there. If we have a hot summer again, your soil is going to need a lot of water holding capacity, and planting low for retaining water will make a big difference in water usage.

Soil care is for making fat plants and big harvests! We want nutrition, good texture that allows air flow and plenty of water holding capacity.

Clean Up First, free your soil of debris that may harbor pests or diseases. Remove old boards. Weed out neglected areas that may even shade out some areas. Thin out thick tree branches at the right time. Schedule it.

Cultivate! An age old technique to aerate soil, let it dry out, kill off soil fungi. It is also called, Dust Mulching. Simply cultivate about 2 or 3 inches deep. This disturbs the soil surface, interrupting the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation. Do it after rains or irrigating.

Compacted Soil If your soil is compacted, it needs lots of organic matter, composted plant and animal materials, to loosen it up. Or grow a green manure crop! Annual rye,  winter wheat or oats put down deep roots opening channels for airflow, compost or worm teas, liquid fertilizers and water to trickle down.

Resist working your soil when it is wet! That compacts it, making it difficult for plant roots to grow, and it drains more slowly. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze. If it stays in a ball, wait! Crumbly is what we want. As B. Rosie Lerner of Purdue Extension says, ‘…soothe that gardening itch by sketching garden plans, browsing online and mail-order catalogs, and making a shopping list for your local garden center.’

Bed Shapes

Raised Beds If we SoCal gardeners get El Nino rains, I’m recommending to make raised beds with berms, cover the berms with straw to prevent them from eroding. Leave the interior of the raised bed open to let winter sun heat up your soil. If you are planting in spring, raised beds heat up sooner. You can make them with or without walls. No permanent walls gives you complete flexibility of shape and location, and if you have too much rain, you can open a berm to release water. They are great for plants that need well drained soil. Make low spots or plant in trenches for plants that thrive on more water, like fast growing lettuces, chard. Short rooted plants, beans/peas, radish, beets, onions, strawberries, can be grown in mild trenches. Or, boards can be lain between rows to keep the soil moist underneath them. Space them per the need of your plant. Roots will seek the moisture under the boards. Overall, you will use less water. It’s a variation on pallet gardening.

In summer, if we have another hot one, lowered beds with thick berms will work well. Water will be held within the berms. In deep beds berms will act as mini wind breaks and well mulched beds will stay moist longer. See Zuni Waffle Gardens

Containers include some bordered raised beds and those pretty pots on your deck or balcony. If things are looking tired, replace that old spent stuff. Do your special soil for small containers per the type of plant you will grow there, being extra conscious of water holding capacity. If we have a hot summer, double pot adding insulation between the pots so the inner pot soil keeps cooler, more moist.

Pathways Healthy soil is about 25 percent air! Rather than compacting, crushing the air and life out of your soil, lay down something dry that feeds the soil, like leaves, straw, then top that with something like a board to distribute your weight. Do boards harbor slugs? Yes, but as you put down something like Sluggo (SLUGGO is 1% Iron Phosphate (FePO₄) in a yeast/noodle base, non toxic to all non mollusks, certified organic and extremely effective if used as directed. (Thanks, William!)), two or three times to kill off the generations, those go away too when they come out for their midnight snacks. Some gardeners use stepping stones and put kitchen trim into the soil under the straw. Next season they move the path over and plant in the old path, now rich soil!

Green Manure is a natural wonder mimicking Nature! During the seasons, leaves are dropped, animals come by and fertilize, things grow and die, laying in place giving their bodies to next year’s seedlings. Well, we are choosing that option. Legumes are a natural choice since they pull N (Nitrogen) out of the air and deposit it in nodules on their roots. N is the main food your plants need for prime growth. Legumes often chosen are Bell Beans (a small type of Fava), Austrian Peas and Vetch. Oats are a favorite of dry farmers because the oat roots go deep opening the soil for air and water flow letting nutrients drain down! When the beans start to flower, cut the patch down, chop everything up into small bits, turn them under. Wait 2 to 3 weeks, until you can’t see the bits anymore, then plant!

Composting

In Nature, organic matter, our equivalent is compost, only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), yet organic matter is absolutely essential. There is various thinking about what the right amount of compost is to use in a garden. Cornell University says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil! Research shows ideal soil contains 5% organic matter by weight, 10% by volume.

Using the Method of your Choice! There are hot and cold composting methods, hot is faster. Making your own compost means you know what’s in it! The easiest of all composting, hands down, is composting in place, an age old method, but in recent years called Lasagna gardening. Whether you are doing hot or cold composting or composting in place, the principles are the same: put down brown/dry layers, your green/wet layers on top. Two brown to one green. The thinner the layers, the smaller the chop, the faster the result. Add Yarrow or Comfrey leave to make it go even faster! When composting in place put the layers right where you want your garden to be! If it isn’t ready in time, get some store bought compost, pull back a planting hole, plant! The rest of the garden will catch up! If you have worms, throw some on so they can help!

Hugelkultur, hill mound, is a long term sustainable variation of ‘composting’ in place. After the 2nd year the beds don’t need water, and the system will last up to 10 years! It can be above and/or below ground and takes a lot more energy to start but what a payoff! Get some big logs, branches. If you are doing it above ground, lay two logs closely side by side, put a lot of bigger to smaller branches between them, then go for it! Add leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available. Add some red wriggler casting worms if you have them. As possible add your materials in thin 1/2 to 1″ layers, dry, wet, dry, wet until the area is filled. Lay a third log on top of them and if you have sod you peeled up, lay it on top of the whole pile upside down and do it again! Top the turf with grass clippings, seaweed, compost, aged manure, straw, green leaves, mulch, etc. Top that with soil and plant your veggies! If you did it right, you end up with a steep sided tall pyramid pile and veggies planted at easy picking heights. See a LOT more and example variations at permaculture, practical solutions for self-reliance.

Purchase No shame in purchasing compost. It saves a lot of time and is sometimes better than you could make! Buy the best you can afford, with as many tasty items listed as possible. We do want to see worm castings and mycorrhizal fungi in the mix! You can get some quite pricey magical sophisticated blends!

Acidic blends are for strawberries, and shade type landscaping plants. It’s quick and easy to change your soil pH by digging in a serious amount. Strawberries can be grown in the same soil as other veggies, but they get diseases and production is pitiful compared to magnificent strawberries grown in their right soil conditions.

Favorite Additional Amendments

Manures – Chicken, Cow/Steer, Bunny Poop, Horse – all add tons of N to your soil.

  • Bunny poop is supreme. It needs no composting, will not harm your plants in any way.
  • Horse often has salt. It needs to be well aged, from horses that ate pesticide free grass, free of insect spray used to keep flies off the manure.
  • Chicken manure used to be too HOT, but now, nursery chicken manure is a mixed bag literally. It is ‘diluted’ and safe to use right out of the bag. If friends are giving you chickie poop, know that it needs composting before you use it.
  • Steer manure can be cheap! But cow manure is better. The more you pay for specialty soil mixes at a nursery that carries them, the more you will find cow manure in that mix. Yes, you will pay more.

Worm Castings are referred to as Black Gold for good reason. They are not a food, but work with the hormones and immune systems of your plants. Just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is optimum! You can certainly grow your own easily! Again, this means you know what they were fed. What goes in is what comes out. Feed ’em newspaper and that’s the kind of castings you will get. Feed them a healthy variety of kitchen trim and you will have serious quality castings!

Minerals are from rocks in nature. And are of all kinds from everywhere for every purpose! Chat about with experts, look online.

Coffee Grounds are free from local coffee shops,  and wonderful because they suppress fungal rots and wilts!! Our garden has wilts, so remember, coffee and cultivating! Grounds are more potent than they have a right to be! 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less is all that is needed or wanted! Be very careful with fresh grounds. They have mojo that can kill your plant or make your soil infertile!

Seasonal amendments are for upping bloom and fruiting! During flowering, we want lower nitrogen and higher phosphorous, that’s the P in NPK! Look for fertilizers higher in P, intended for flowering and fruiting. Know your guanos! Besides being expensive, bat and Seabird Guanos are not a quick fix; they take awhile to break down. Some say they are better applied as foliar teas, but still, the release time per Colorado University Extension is FOUR MONTHS even for powdered guano! Guanos vary hugely in NPK percents! Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Jamaican bat is high P phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2. But Mexican bat is high N (leaf growth, plant vigor) 10-2-1. Peruvian seabird is high in N and P (leaf and bloom) 10-10-2.

Soil Testing If you have some doubts, concerns about your soil pH, content or balance, you can get DIY soil testing kits or have a professional company do the job for you. They will want samples from several areas and that is wise. Soil can vary significantly in just a few feet!

Soil Building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden.

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Veggies growing in homemade compost!

Veggies growing in homemade compost! Photo by Rod Zimmer

Compost is the single most best thing you can do for your soil! It feeds your plants, adds water holding capacity, and much more! 

Anytime we have a season change, compost becomes more important. In summer most of us are thinking how can I do it all?! Harvesting takes more time than waiting for the plants to produce. There’s more watering to do in summer. Yet, fall is soon upon us and though making compost takes a wee bit more time, it is so needed to give our plants a good start! In winter, making compost is essential for spring planting!

Here are some possibilities!

There are 3 basic kinds of compost, cold and hot and composting in place.

Of the cold kind….

The kind that finishes the quickest is the kitchen veggie waste that gets chopped vigorously with the shovel every few days, turned and turned again. Small bits decompose faster. The pile is kept moist. The dry brown material in the pile isn’t usually harder to ‘chop’ straw; it’s more like leaves, some already chopped, partially decomposed mulch type stuff. The right leaves have nutrient value. See more. In a community garden you might not have space for such a pile. If you do, toss a thin layer of soil over it to keep flies away, and to keep it from being unsightly to visitors cover it with a light layer of straw or plastic to keep it out of sight. That will keep it moist and it will decompose better rather than off gas the Nitrogen, dry and die. The cover is instantaneous to remove, then you can have at that pile with gusto! With that kind of pile, you have a fairly steady supply of compost. Most of the time some of it is ready to put here and there.

Compost Sifting‘Every day I fill the wheelbarrow with rich screened compost. It really smells quite delicious; nutty with a spicy note.’ Sifting your compost is a piece of cake! Grab your wheelbarrow or bucket, get a piece of hardware cloth/hogwire or a nursery plant flat with a smaller weave to it, like in the image, and sift away! You can build a lovely framed sifter or buy great rolling devices. Choose the size opening you want. Or, don’t sift at all. I like a little texture to my compost. 

Have your compost pile handy, nearby, warm in the sun for speedy decomposition! Keep it moist, cover it when it needs it – in hot/dry or rainy weather, turn it! Compost that gets turned regularly often gets raided before it’s completely finished. You can still make out some of what the stuff is that’s there. That works just fine because  finishes quickly, in the ground, at home with all the lovely soil organisms.

If there comes a time when you compost has been sadly neglected, spread the stuff out as a mulch and start over, or let it go and just buy what you need. No shame in that.

Hot Compost is PDF, pretty darn fast!

It can heat up to amazing temps, so hot it makes ash and you cannot put your hands in it without getting burned. You can see it steaming on a winter morning! The point is to kill diseases, pests, weed seeds. Well that almost gets done, because, you see, the heat is in the middle of the pile. So they say turn it so the hot part goes to the outside and the cool part to the inside. That, my friends, is easier said than done. But, at least some of it happens.

Two interesting points here. My cold compost pile gets that hot! Yep, it does. A well-built pile with thin layers will cook quite happily no matter your intention. It’s nature. The other thing is I don’t put diseased plants or seeding weeds in my pile, so I don’t need it to get hot. Sure, some pest eggs probably make it. However, what happens most is veggie seeds sprout when I put the compost in to amend my soil! I swear, I can’t see those seeds when it is compost. It all looks dark and yummy. But lots of times I’m glad that happens! The plants get a terrific start and I get surprises! This year I enjoyed two elegant celery plants that came up about a foot and a half from each other and everyone complimented how beautiful they were, robust, with gorgeous long dark green stalks!

Whether you do hot or cold compost is your choice. I’ve tried it both ways. Sincerely. Got a long thermometer, built cubic yard piles and turned them. Now I have cold compost and turn it. No way around that turning if you want results sooner than later. It doesn’t matter what size I build it. I’ve seen 1 cubic foot piles heat up just fine! If it gets hot, it’s hot. If it doesn’t that’s fine with me. Taking care of it, turning, keeping it moist, making thin layers gets the job done. The layers are more a measuring device – 1 dry to 2 wet. Once they are in, mix up the material so the straw is moistened and the wet just doesn’t make a mass. My friend who chops and turns his with vigor gets much faster results, and I may take that up too.

Composting in place

No dig composting in place is an age old technique more recently called Lasagna Gardening. It takes some prep time, that is often done with a group of friends, but once that is done, you’re home free! There’s no turning, no carrying finished compost about because it is already where you want it! Materials may take longer to decompose. It is a cold pile, but if your pile is directly on the earth, soil organisms happily munching makes things happen quickly. It takes a lot of materials to start depending on the size you want your garden to be. You can start with a small area, add more later.

The beauty is it can be done on top of a lawn to form a raised bed, with or without a box border. If you have lawn where you want to plant, peel back the lawn or not, lay down cardboard or newspaper to kill off the lawn, prevent it growing back, up into your bed. If you choose cardboard, water a LOT to soak that cardboard. Layer to your heart’s content until you run out of materials. You can make beds 18″ high to start. They will settle a lot. That 18″ can easily become 9″ in two or three days in warm weather! You can plant instantly! Just pull back a planting hole, add some ready or nursery-bought compost and any other amendments right for your plant, and plant! Your amazing ‘lasagna’ will decompose and make beautiful soil without you doing a thing more! Add more materials as you acquire them to any spots you want to build up or if you want more compost or a bigger or another bed!

If you are doing composting in place while gardening, you just put on the layers, between the plants or down a row, with the materials you have on hand until you run out. The smaller the chop, the pieces, the faster the decomp. Keep them moist so they will decompose faster.

Trench it and forget it! Trenching has always been the simplest technique of all! It’s a super simple way of putting chopped veggie kitchen wastes to work.  Put your kitchen waste on the ground, grab the shovel and vigorously chop it into fine pieces. If you don’t feel like chopping it, don’t! Dig, pull back a 6″ trench, no deeper. Soil organisms live at the top. Put in the stuff, cover with the soil you pulled back, and forget it. Period. Done. A week later you can dig in that area and find no trace of it. Soil organisms are intelligent and hungry.

If you have massive amounts of stuff to compost, the fastest way of all, record time, is to use maggots! Cities use them and sell the compost! See all about it!

Hugelkultur Sepp Holzer Diagram Cross Section

Hugelkultur is a long term choice. Hugelkultur, hill mound, is the quintessential sustainable variation of ‘composting’ in place. It can be above and/or below ground and takes a lot more energy to start but what a payoff! Get some big logs, branches. If you are doing it above ground, lay two logs closely side by side, put a lot of bigger to smaller branches between them, then go for it! Woods that work best are alders, apple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, maple, oak, poplar, willow (make sure it is dead or it will sprout). Add leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available. Add some red wiggler casting worms if you have them. As possible add your materials in thin 1/2 to 1″ layers, dry, wet, dry, wet until the area is filled. Lay a third log on top of them and if you have sod you peeled up, lay it on top of the whole pile upside down and do it again! Top the turf with grass clippings, seaweed, compost, aged manure, straw, green leaves, mulch, etc. Top that with soil and plant your veggies! If you did it right, you end up with a steep sided tall pyramid pile and veggies planted at easy picking heights. See a LOT more and example variations at permaculture, practical solutions for self-reliance.

Raised bed Hugelkultur Lasagna Combo Buckman StyleIf you are starting a raised Hugelkultur bed, dig down about a foot or more, lay in the big logs, big branches around them, smaller branches on top, layer as above to the height you want, allowing for settling. The difference is that this is a flat top raised bed. You can also dig deeper and make the top of the bed flush with your soil! Also, you can do terracing with a Hugelkultur substructure.

Container gardeners you can do your own mini Hugelkultur version as well. A 1/2 beer barrel, a five gallon can, kid’s swimming pool, whatever you have, can be repurposed! Just be sure there are drainage holes. Double purpose your container by making it a self-watering system as well!

Hugelkultur is an excellent long term sustainable choice!

~ The heat from decomposition gives your plants a terrific early start or extends your growing season. You do need to be careful of freezes if you live in a cold area.
~ The right hardwood logs will give your plants steady nutrition for 20 or more years!
~ If you do the above ground version, you have more planting space because it is tall and vertical!
~ Nearby fruit trees are also fed.
~ The logs and branches soak up water and hold it, so less water to none is needed after the first year.

More clever tips!

  1. At intervals, near the center of your compost pile, place handfuls of old compost or fresh rich soil, as an infusion, an inoculant of soil making organisms.
  2. In dry SoCal, I cover my compost pile to keep it from drying out, and I never need to water it.
  3. When cold composting and composting in place, add red wriggler worms to chomp up materials. They add worm castings that help your plants’ immune systems and uptake of nutrients. If you will be turning the compost, kindly use a pitchfork so there will be the least damage to your worms.
  4. Be smart, add herbs! Penny Woodward says: ‘Regular handfuls of chamomile, dandelion and yarrow leaves and flowers will all speed up decomposition of the compost with YARROW being the most effective. Yarrow also adds copper, nitrates, phosphates and potash while chamomile adds calcium and ‘sweetens’ the mixture. Dandelions contribute copper, iron and potash. Nettles are problem weeds but they actually improve the quality of the soil they are growing in and when added to the compost they contribute iron and nitrogen. Tansy adds potassium, which is very important for plant growth while Valerian increases the phosphorus content so essential for good flowers and fruits [but is invasive!]. The most nutritious compost plant is COMFREY and it grows most of the year in SoCal coastal climate. The leaves are rich in potassium, nitrogen, calcium and phosphates. I keep a clump growing next to the compost. It grows like crazy, and I layer on a handful of leaves whenever I throw in kitchen scraps.
Stemilt's World Famous compost!

Fine finished Stemilt World’s Famous Compost!

Mix it up! Do any version or combo of compost versions that work for you or as you have the materials available to do what you want! Do more than one method at the same time! Super soil is the Number 1 thing you can do for your garden and compost makes the difference! When your compost smells great and you could just about eat it, you know you made it right!

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All that said,  if building your own compost isn’t your choice, support your local nursery and get the best from them! Have a good dirty time of it!

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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!

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Say what?!  Why is Hugelkultur, ‘hoogel kultoor,’ considered a Permaculture* technique? It resuses logs – freshly downed or old, wood debris right in place. It fits the needs of the land – less to no water, self fertilizing soil building! ‘Hugel’ means hill in German.  In this case, steep is good, tall makes for easier harvesting!  It is another form of composting in place, or building a raised bed, with more benefits, concentrating heat and nutrients!  Sepp Holzer has used the technique, but never called it Hugelkultur.  His wonderful method is diagrammed in the image.

Holzers version of Hugelkultur, hill planting, is now adopted by Permaculture gardeners.

Paul Wheaton at RichSoil.com explains it simply:

‘Hugelkultur is nothing more than making raised garden beds filled with rotten wood. This makes for raised garden beds loaded with organic material, nutrients, air pockets for the roots of what you plant, etc. As the years pass, the deep soil of your raised garden bed becomes incredibly rich and loaded with soil life. As the wood shrinks, it makes more tiny air pockets – so your hugelkultur becomes sort of self tilling. The first few years, the composting process will slightly warm your soil giving you a slightly longer growing season. The woody matter helps to keep nutrient excess from passing into the ground water – and then refeeding that to your garden plants later. Plus, by holding SO much water, hugelkultur could be part of a system for growing garden crops in the desert with no irrigation.’ He does caution about what kinds of woods not to use, and recommends the best ones to use.

Hugelkultur as diagrammed at Paul Wheaton's site RichSoil.comHolzer’s diagram shows one log.  At Wheaton’s site the diagrams show a veritable lumber yard pile!  Gradually the pile decomposes making super nutrients!  Lay down your logs – don’t be shy, stack ’em deep, twigs, branches as per the images. Fill with dry brown leaves if you have them. If you are taking up sod, turf, lay it over the top of the logs upside down, cover with soil! Plant!

You can make borders if you wish – dense hardwood logs, stones you removed from the soil you gathered.  There are so many terrific ways to vary making a Hugelkultur garden! Use what you have about, do what fits your site needs. With urban neighbors nearby or woodlands, street side to backyard, it works! Start small, add some each year, or do huge if you have the materials available!

This might not be a project to start at the beginning of a rainy season. Now would be excellent! Get some plants on the mound right away. Vines with big leaves are terrific to protect the soil from washing away, let the soil settle, get the system percolating. Squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins. Use some allysum as filler.

Perfect in areas short on water because after it’s established, the first two years, it needs NO irrigation!  It is self feeding, no fertilizer needed!

Lawns to slopes! Hugelkultur terraces act like mini bioswales to slow, spread and sink rainwater!  That’s Hugelkultur farmer Glenn Kangiser’s planted slope in the image below!  Would love to see your images if you give it a go!

Hugelkultur farmer Glenn Kangiser's planted slope!See all the details, and Paul Wheaton’s thoughtful therapy on how to talk with your skeptical friends and neighbors, and tons of images!  Click on every image to go to a thread about it! Marvelous inspiring ideas!  I used to say garden anywhere, now I’m saying Garden EVERYwhere!

* “Permaculture uses ecological design to build self-sufficient human systems that meet our needs while regenerating and healing the natural environment. Central to the practice of permaculture are three core ethics, taken from the study of cultures which have traditionally lived in balance with nature: care for the earth, care for people, share the surplus.” Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara, sbperm2006@googlegroups.com

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Healthy care and choices make the difference!

Give your plants a chance!

Not too much N (Nitrogen)  It imbalances your plants, just like too much sugar for us.  You get lots of leaf, no fruit, growth is too fast and ‘soft,’ inviting to pests and diseases.

Watering practices make a difference.  Overhead watering is not good for most plants, but especially not for fuzzy plants that like it dry – tomatoes, eggplant.  Too much nighttime wet equals mildews and more slugs and snails, more remedies and pest prevention, more costly.  Plants drink during the day – water in the AM when you can.  Make furrows, water deep, let it soak in laterally.  Make basins to keep water where you want it.  Drip systems usually don’t work in a veggie garden you are planting biodiversely, mixing things up.  Also, veggies come and go pretty quickly in an active garden.  If you are row or patch planting, if the area is long or big enough, a drip system could work well. 

  • Water soaked soil is dead soil.  Soil organisms, soil builders, simply drown.  If in a low spot, check your drainage options; build a raised bed.  Add organic water holding compost, water less no matter how much fun it is!
  • Dry soil is dead soil.  Nitrogen off gases, your soil organisms die or go away.  See if you can channel some water to that area.  Install furrows or build soil walls or basins to keep water where it is needed, avoid wasteful runoff.  Again, add organic water holding compost.  Water deeply.  If you are gardening at home, busy and forgetful, perhaps you could install drip irrigation on a timer. 

Avoid spreading viruses that can spread diseases.  Really check those plants you buy at the discount nursery.  Remove diseased plants and don’t compost diseased plants.  This is a tough decision when it comes to disease tolerant plant varieties.  They can have a disease yet still produce.  They are bred to do that.  Is that ethical?  If you are gardening at home and make that choice, that is one thing.  If you are in a community garden, and the disease is windborne, is it fair to your garden neighbors?  Maybe we all need to get tolerant varieties.  

Some diseases lurk in garden border weeds.  Or you can bring them into the garden by walking through weeds.  Insects bring some diseases and so do animals, like our skunks, raccoons, possums.  If the ‘weeds’ are habitat for beneficial insects, be careful what you remove, consider the balances. 

Ants.  Whether you mind them or not probably depends on how many there are and what they are doing.  If they are tending aphids, no!  Not only are there ants with aphids, but white flies are attracted to the aphid honeydew as well.  Otherwise, ants are virtuous hard working cleaner uppers!  The take away dead insects.  Balance is the key. 

Varieties matter.  Planting a variety out of season makes that plant struggle and be vulnerable to pests and diseases it can’t handle.  In Santa Barbara we have the cool damp ocean areas and the hot dry foothills.  Different varieties will thrive in one and not the other.  Planting too early or too late, your plant will try, but may not be able.  Some gardeners are totally pro Heirloom, against hybrids.  But Nature herself hybridizes, it is a natural process.  It occurs naturally by area and plants that grow there do the best there.  In a way, we subtly do a similar thing ourselves when we select seed from our best plants.  I think being flexible in your choices will get the best all around results. 

Planting at the Right Time makes a big difference.  Sometimes you just won’t get germination if it is too cold or hot.  Or a plant thrives in temporary weather, but dies when it goes cold again, or too, too hot.  They need certain temps and day length.  Some may survive, but never thrive later.  That is sad to see.  So respect them.  Know them well enough to honor their needs.  Planted at the wrong time, pests they aren’t equipped to handle may eat them alive.  If you are a big risk taker and financially don’t mind a few losses, go ahead.  Some will succeed, for sure.  You may or may not get earlier production.  Sometimes plants can be planted a month apart, but the later one will ‘catch up,’ and produce at the same time as the earlier plant!  Same can be true of smaller and larger transplants because it all depends on temps and day length.

Once your plants are going, sidedressing keeps them going!  Sidedressing usually starts when your plants start to bloom, make fruits.  Scatter and lightly dig in a little chicken manure and/or lay on a ½” of tasty compost, some worm castings, water on some fish emulsion, blood meal if they are yellowing and could use a quick Nitrogen boost.  Water well.

Plant appropriate varieties on time, water and amend well, keep watch on pests and diseases.  Robust happily producing plants are worth it, and a joy to watch!

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Poly Floating Row Cover - slits for daytime ventilation. GreenHouseWorld.com

Have you ever used these?  Why not?!  Your family never did?  The cost factor?  They sound great!  They’re not just for big farmers, you can get them from nurseries and most seed catalogs!  I’m going to give them a try this year.

USES  Use for warming your plants both for starting spring crops early, and to ripen finishing fall fruits.  Use for frost protection, spring and fall.  Keep away harmful insects that eat or lay eggs, spread viruses.  Keep out birds and bunnies.  A caution:  ‘Colorado State University entomologists have found that overwintering insects can be trapped under the covers next to their favorite plants and be ready for action in spring. Some of these insects are tomato hornworm, onion and other root maggots, flea beetles and the [Colorado] potato beetle. Cultivate the soil before planting to reduce the number of surviving insects. Better yet, rotate crops so the survivors do not find their favorite plants nearby.’  OK?

How they work!  If for heat and growth, lay down black plastic mulch for soil warming and weed prevention. Make your slits in the plastic, plant. Put on your row cover. You can put it over hoops, over tomato cages or wires like hardware cloth bent into an arc, tented, or laid right on your plants, installing enough so your plants have room to grow up underneath. Anchor it well so no marauders can walk under or slither in. You can water right through it. Cover a row, or cover your entire raised bed!  If you are using the garden cloth row covers for freeze or grasshopper prevention, don’t let the covers touch your plants.  Since they are good both to keep your plants warmer when planting early, and help with cool weather frosts and freezes, this is one time you can have it both ways!  🙂

They come in lots of varieties – ask questions, shop around.  Select for your needs.  Get a rig that’s easy to lift for tending, and harvesting, especially if you use them to protect your strawberries from birds.

Garden Cloth, easy to install at home using tomato cages - U of Maryland Extention

Insect protection

  • The surest way to protect plants from hungry grasshoppers is to cover them with a barrier, such as a floating row cover or lightweight cloth. Be sure to hold the covers above plants with hoops or stakes, because grasshoppers are more likely to eat their way inside if leaves are pushing against the fabric.
  • Beets & Chard  Leafminers are the most common pest.  Cover plants with fine netting or cheesecloth or floating row cover to protect them from adult flies.
  • Effective in controlling cucumber beetles, squash borer and squash bugs.
  • Flea beetles on arugula, cucumber, eggplant, radish.

Double up under the covers!  Plant your main crop you want to protect, interplant with a smaller understory plant on the sunny side!  You might put in some eggplant with arugula and radish interplanted on their sunny side.

Remove and store when no longer needed! 

Lay right on your plants! Burpee.com

Danger of frost is past
The insect’s cycle is over.  Know your insect.
You no longer need more warmth
To allow pollination.  Especially melons, cucumbers and squash, that depend on insects for pollination. 

Sustainable.  Pesticides need to be applied weekly and/or after every rain, but with row covers they can be avoided completely.  Keep your soil clean, and our ocean safe.  Not only that, they save the time it takes to apply any formulas you may concoct, and if you are careful, you can lovingly reuse your row covers!  You can use them several times a year, per weather need, as different plants need protection as insects cycle, and next year too!  This is the best kind of ‘dirty laundry!’

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