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Compost Tea Brew for Seedlings

Some of you are pros, literally, at making teas, others of us have never done it before, but interested.

Why? Why make teas at all? Isn’t good soil enough? If you are just making compost tea, with compost you are already using in your garden, you may not notice much results. Every time you water, aren’t you making compost tea in place anyway?! But if you make a more diverse tea, with a lot of different ingredients, and it is made just right producing a lot of microbes, you are likely to get superb results! Research shows foliar feeding is more effective than soil drenching.

A lot of summer plants are what are called ‘heavy feeders.’ They are doing business 24/7 for several months using that soil right where they are at. They can’t go walkabout seeking new soil. Plants that produce leaf crops, lettuces, chard, kale, are using up soil nutrients just as fast as they can! Plants that produce a lot of crop, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, are feeding a big plant, foliage and fruits! Teas are a microbial inoculant that gives them a boost from leaf to root!

Teas offer increased nutrient availability!

Teas are a high grade fertilizer full of nutrients and minerals! The tea’s chelated micronutrients are easy for plants to absorb. The teas will never burn your plants. You can easily make them yourself from your own materials. You know exactly what’s in it. No chemicals, and they don’t add salt that commercial fertilizers can add to your soil. DIY! Save money!

Marvelously, tea microbes degrade toxic pesticides and other chemicals! Much better for beneficial insects, wildlife, plants, soil and humans. Your soil will come alive again as the organisms start thriving. Your soil will have greater water holding capacity, a resiliency, the aeration it needs from burrowing soil creatures.

Nutrients! Black liquid gold can feed your plants through their roots and their leaves. The beneficial microbes are fast acting and quickly absorbed. This whole plant treatment increases plant growth – more and bigger blooms, bigger size fruits and yields. The microbes produce plant growth hormones; mineralize a plant’s available nutrients, and fix nitrogen in the plant for optimal use.

Suppress diseases! When plant surfaces are occupied by beneficial microbes, there simply is no room for pathogens! The plant will suffer little or no blight, mold, fungus or wilt! That’s a huge claim! But even if it doesn’t entirely work, your plant will likely have a much improved existence for a longer period of time. Beneficial microbes compete with disease causing microbes. Go tigers! The live microbes enhance your soil and in turn, up the immune system of your plants. Your plants are healthier, more stress-tolerant.

Communi-Tea Make your own Compost Tea!

Making teas is fairly new, but is here to stay! Nowadays we know more about microbe power, soil and plant structures and processes. Researchers have determined exacting and scientific ways to brew teas, brewing equipment is available at garden centers or on the internet. Some garden centers are brewing in large batches so customers can conveniently draw-off what they need by the gallon!

There are many tea making methods, from the simplest home bucket method to technical and elaborate brewers with plenty of debate over different ways. Aerobic brewed teas have much higher microbe population densities than extracted teas and for this reason are the teas of choice. A good head of foam and scum on top signifies healthy microbe action! Try out different methods for yourself if you have the time and the gear, and love researching. Whichever you choose, your plants will benefit!

TEA MAKING TIPS

Clean 5 Gallon container or a size that suits your needs

The right water! Rain water is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate, or bubble water through an aerator for a minimum of 20 minutes. The chlorine will be released as a gas. Or, add a small amount of powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or humic acids. If you start with chlorinated water it will kill some of your microbes before you get started.

Temp matters. The microbes we want are the most happy at about 75 F, a comfy room temp for us too. Put your brew out of direct sunlight.

Compost Tea Bucket Straining Painter's Mesh BagStraining your Tea! There’s various thinking on how to strain your tea.

The easiest and simplest is to use a sock, cheesecloth bag, but let the sock be big enough to allow the ingredients you put in it room to move around as it is swished through the water. Clearly those will not accommodate a third of a 5 gallon bucket’s worth of compost plus whatever else you put in. If you will be foliar spraying your tea, sock or pillowcase fibers are too tight to allow the good fungi and nematodes to flow through.

So! Super easy but has a small price, is a painter’s bag, 400 microns, 5 gallon size (they come in different sizes). Perfect! You put it in the container you will use, the elastic top fits over the top of the bucket. When the tea is done you simply lift it out. It has a durable nylon mesh and can be used several times. Add your leftover solids to your compost pile or as a soil topper mulch. Rinse out and dry your bag ASAP.

Or if you already started your brew, just get a 400 micron mesh strainer that fits your bucket, put it over a second bucket, and pour your mix through.

INGREDIENTS! Microbial diversity!

Add Compost

CAUTIONS Unfinished compost or uncomposted manures may contain harmful pathogens and compost that is too old may be nutritionally deficient. COMPOST TEA and MANURE TEA ARE NOT THE SAME THING! Manure teas may be made the same way but are not generally recommended as foliar sprays for veggies and are not as nutritionally well-balanced.

Use well-aged, finished compost The best is good smelling, very dark, broken-down into minute particles like course cornmeal. Dig deep down inside your bin, near the bottom. This is where organic material will be most decomposed and fresh, teeming with life. All you need is a good shovelful or two, maybe a third of the bucket, for a 5-gallon bucket of compost tea.

Add Manure

Cow manure is better than steer manure if you can get it. Chicken manure is good. Less of it does more. Be careful of free horse manure. It can be salty, and if the horses ate pesticide sprayed hay, or the stalls have been sprayed to repel flies, you’ve got toxins. All manures need to be very well composted, except bunny poo, which you can sometimes get free at shelters. Bird guanos do different things. See more soil tips and about quanos. 1 cup of manure may be quite enough.

Add Worm Castings! 

In nature, worms are a natural part of soil. In addition to soil nutrients, it’s smart to add worm castings. They speed germination of your seeds, seedlings grow faster. Worm castings help your plant’s immune system, and you have measurably more produce! Plants like strawberries, that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew! Growing your own worms and harvesting vibrant fresh castings is ideal, but if you don’t have time, simply buy the best organic castings you can get, fresh and local if possible! More about growing worms! 2 cups

Compost Tea Seaweed & Herbs - Borage Nettle Comfrey Brew

Seaweed and herbs – Nettles, Comfrey and Borage Tea at Milkwood Permaculture Blog

You can add all kinds of supplements at the same time! Put compost, manure/fish emulsion, worm castings, pond muck, powdered seaweed – 2 tablespoons kelp powder, 2-3 crushed Aspirin, rock dust, chopped nutritious comfrey/borage/tansy leaves all in a bucket together – adding one volume of compost to 4-10 volumes of water. Let them sit overnight, a couple of days, stir a couple times, when you think of it.This turns the tea into a balanced organic fertilizer.

Compost Tea Bottle ComfreyComfrey, a dynamic accumulator, is especially nutritious! Having as much as a 20-30 feet deep root system, it bring minerals and trace nutrients up into its leaves that are unavailable to other plants. It is also the only plant that contains a form of vitamin B12. Mash it in a mortar & pestle, or use a big stone to break it down. That makes it easier to stuff into a stocking or 400 micron mesh bag, and speeds decomposition. Put comfrey in loosely, not too firmly, so the water can circulate around it. Even add a bit of healthy soil! You can make just a comfrey tea alone if that suits your needs. More about comfrey at Nantahala Farm & Garden

How long does it take? Add Sugar or Molasses! Aeration!

It has been shown that adding a simple aquarium pump to the bucket and letting it run to percolate the mixture will increase the potency of the finished mixture, and can be completed in as little as 12 hours to 2 days. If you want a super concentrate, let it brew a week, or more!

Recent research indicates that using some kind of aeration and adding a sugar source (unsulphured molasses works well) results in an excellent product that extracts the maximum number of beneficial organisms. 2 Tablespoons of unsulphured Molasses is good. An aerobic environment favors the aerobic microbes, physically pulls them off the compost and supplies air they need to multiply. This aeration is crucial to the formation of beneficial bacteria and the required fermentation process. It increases the absorption of the water and organisms. For the bucket-brewing method, you must stir the tea a few times during those hours or days it is brewing to aerate it. If you go over the time needed, you need to add more food for the microbes (sugar/molasses), and probably a little more compost.

Caution! Commenter Suburban Hobby Farmer on a compost tea post says: I’ve also read a study from a university extension service that says you shouldn’t use compost tea on indoor seedlings –especially if it has molasses —  because of increased damping off. According to the study, this is true even when watering from the bottom. A 2004 study says a more successful brew intended for seedlings has sufficient aeration, cuts back on the molasses, uses humic acid and kelp additives.

Keep watch that your tea hasn’t gone anaerobic. Your tea should always have an “earthy” odor. If it smells bad, throw away the tea and don’t put it on your garden soil or compost pile.

Wash Your Gear Immediately! Bio-slimes build up inside your brewer or in your 5 gallon bucket. In a brewer this means walls, tubes, small crevices at the bottom. The pressure of hose water isn’t enough to remove it. It may take elbow grease, 3% hydrogen peroxide or a solution of 5% baking soda.

Here I’ve added a few notes to Shelle’s Quickie Recipe and instructions:

  1. 2 cups worm castings [or your choice of ingredients]
  2. 2 tablespoons corn syrup or unsulphured molasses. Molasses feeds the bacterial growth in the brew and also contributes trace elements of iron, manganese, copper and potassium.
  3. 5 gallon bucket
  4. Old pantyhose (no holes), a bag if you are doing soil drenching. Manure tea not recommended for foliar application.
  5. Water (rainwater is best or let it sit out overnight to allow chemicals to dissipate)
  • Put the castings (etc) in the sock and tie it closed
  • Submerge the stocking in water
  • Add the corn syrup and soak for 24 hours, stirring every few hours. Your mix should never be stinky. Like good compost, it should smell earthy.
  • Dilute to a 3 to 1 ratio, use within 48 hours

How long will my tea last? It is best to apply your compost tea immediately; however, it can still produce benefits if applied within 4-6 hours of removing the oxygen source if you are aerating. Remember we are talking about living organisms, trying to keep them in optimum health!

Applying your finished tea!

Will you use it as a soil drench or a foliar application? BOTH!

If using it as a soil drench, dilute or apply it full strength. If your tea is good, you really can’t overdo it! And you don’t need to strain it. But for young, delicate or houseplants try it diluted first. Amazingly, only 5 gallons of compost tea can be diluted to cover approximately one acre of land, and still produce benefits!

Tea to be used as a foliar application you must strain. Use a 400 micrometer mesh or screen. The mesh is big enough to allow the fungi and nematodes to flow through it, while trapping larger particulate matter that will eventually clog your sprayer.

Make sure that the sprayer you are using is designed for compost tea. Many sprayers apply with too much pressure, kill the microbes before they even make it to the plant surface. You need 70 pounds psi or less. Use a smooth, slightly-curved nozzle. With 90 degree bends in the nozzle, the microbes can be damaged. Try to arc or parachute, your application onto the leaves so the microbes land more gently, not head on.

Foliar Feeding - Rose Upturned to Moisten Undersides of LeavesApply with a watering can or a simple garden sprayer. Soak the soil to the dripline. When foliar feeding, be sure to add 1/8 to 1/2 tsp vegetable oil or mild dish-washing liquid per gallon to help it adhere to leaves. Use a watering can with a head that rotates so you can spray both on and under leaves. Minerals and nutrients are absorbed through the leaves and the roots – the WHOLE plant! Apply early in the day, avoid applying in direct sunlight. Ultraviolet (UV) rays kill microbes. If you must apply during sunlight time, do it before 10 am or after 3 pm, when UV rays are weakest.

If you do soil drenching, once you apply it, keep it moist for a few days to a week so the microorganisms have time to settle in, strengthen and multiply! Space out your applications a bit to give them time to get results. If you need a little more mojo deeper in your soil, down where the roots are, use your spade fork, the kind with the short wide tines that are spaced about two inches apart. Push your fork all the way into the soil, wiggle it back and forth to make holes, lift it straight up back out. Pour in your tea. Close the holes. Water a bit the next few days so your soil stays moist below and the organisms can thrive. Your plants will thrive as the root zone is so kindly treated!

When, How often?

Why wait until your plants are in the ground to add teas?! Start feeding your soil soonest! If you have your plant placements in mind, be sure to invest your teas out to the anticipated dripline so feeder roots will get some.

Make your tea applications every two weeks until your plants start to bud. We want our plants to make fruit, not foliage then! Some suggest to apply your tea at least four times per year, 1x spring, 2x summer, 1x fall. If you are trying to overcome disease, you may need to apply compost tea every five to seven days. If your soils have ever been sprayed with pesticides or otherwise compromised, apply more often.

Teas are perfect for container gardens, right?! You can buy ready made tea bags. You can buy Tea! No digging, just feeding.

Some tea making techniques are purposely biased toward bacterial, fungal or neutral predominance. It is speculated that one day we can selectively make teas focused to prevent/heal certain plant diseases or upset pest cycles, preventing infestations, and we are already making super teas to inoculate specific crops for super health and production. Eric in Denver says: ‘Now is our chance to get in on the ground floor of this exciting new science. Get a microscope (400x), learn to identify the main types of soil organisms, refine your brewing techniques, and set aside a place in your garden for experiments. It sounds much harder than it actually is, and there is plenty of work to be done.’

As of early 2011, there was very little evidence that proved the benefits of aerated compost teas; non-aerated teas seemed to fare a little better. That’s similar results as whether to turn compost or not. Turned compost processes faster, but unturned compost is higher in nitrogen! In the Journal of Plant Pathology 2015, Effect of Aerated Compost Tea on the Growth Promotion of Lettuce, Soybean, and Sweet Corn in Organic Cultivation, four types of compost were brewed and then the available nitrogen was determined, as well as the density of microbial communities, along with their effect on plant growth characteristics. Across the board it was shown that aerating compost tea released more nutrients, increased microbial counts, and helped plants grow!

Some practical points: When your tea hits the dirt, the water near the surface remains aerobic sustaining the aerobic species in the tea, and the water that soaks deeper becomes anaerobic sustaining those species. In other words, the soil microbe stratification remains the same as nature makes it. If you apply tea to your soil, made with the same compost you grow with, you are making extra work for yourself! But if you add biodiverse amendments to your tea, it supplies an array of tasty ingredients your compost likely doesn’t have. Compost supplies the organic matter that tea doesn’t supply, so it is critical in and of itself, plus it has many times more nutrients than a diluted tea. But teas are great for potted plants and lawns! And if you foliar feed your veggie plants, the uptake is greater and works within an hour!!! So think through why and how you will use teas and make them accordingly!

Here’s to a blessed summer of happy plants and abundant harvests!

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

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

Read Full Post »

Design Your Beautiful Summer Garden!

Designing your garden is an intricate and intimate process depending on a lot of factors. It will ‘look’ like you as you are at the time of your life that you do it. If you plant from seed, it leads to making a pretty accurate seed list.

Some of your choices will be the same as what your family always did. Or, you may be a permaculture type doing a Food Forest guild system. There is no right way. You are you, your situation unique. You may be the same the rest of your life, only influenced by drought, deluge, seasons or climate change. You may be research oriented and enjoy trying out new plants and practices from across the world, allowing volunteers the birds bring to grow. You might decide to leave an untouched wild area in the name of freedom or magic, or rest a section of your garden each winter! Or plant it to green manure!

Choose a sunny place with easy access to water! Bioswales may be part of your water capture plan. In SoCal consider a centuries old technique, a water saving Waffle GardenGreywater distribution location may determine where fruit and nut trees will be planted. Then how will their mature shade affect the rest of your garden? Use dwarfs?

Garden Design Slope HillsideMake your garden a shape that flows with the area, whether that be simply the space available, or contoured to the land. Use slopes and hillsides! (Image by Arterra LLP Landscape Architects) Grow permeable windbreak shrubs to slow wind. If you don’t have outdoor space, but do have a sunny doorstep or balcony, put those containers to work!

Layouts can be any design you want! Circles with cross points, spokes, concentric, spiral! Squares like a formal British royal garden. Wild like a cottage garden or food forest garden guild. Beds in blocks. Straw bales wherever you can put them! Terraced on a slope! S curves along an existing path interspersed with ornamentals! Maybe you would like to add a greenhouse this year, or you need a shed and convenient workspace.

Put in pathways – straw bedding, boards, gravel, pallets, as suits the spirit of the location, are safe and make you happy to be there!

Where is the summer and winter sun path? Where will you plant tall to short? A full 6 to 8 hours of sun is best for almost all veggies. You can do shade, but it’s slower and fruits are not as big or plentiful.

If you choose to make your own compost, select an easy access area for composting, near the kitchen, if you will be using it on an ongoing basis. Plant compost speeding herbs like comfrey or yarrow right next to it. Plant pretty calendula or borage to hide it and bring bees and butterflies! If you use straw layers, leave space beside your composter or compost area for a bale staked in place on its end.  See more

Also choose an area, maybe near the compost, for your worm box if you will be growing them for their valuable castings. Mine take full sun all year. See more

Decide if you want to do a no dig Lasagna type bed or your soil is fine and you can just get to planting right now! But first, either way, install gopher protection wire!

Think about your choices for permanent residents! Plant perennial herbs by the kitchen door, at corner points or gates. The perennial Dragon Fruit along the fence. An amazing chayote needs tons of room. Artichokes are big, and grow 10 years! Set aside an all year area for flowering plants for bees, beneficials, butterflies and birds!

Where will biggies like that Winter Hubbard Squash, pumpkin, squash or melon, artichoke fit or is there really enough space for it per its production footprint?

What plants do you want? Will you judge by nutritional value first, return per square foot? Will you really eat them or has your family just always grown it? Will you be biodiversely companion planting or monoculture row planting?

Are you growing for food or seed or both? Waiting for plants to flower to seed takes time, and the space it takes is unavailable for awhile. But bees, beneficial predator insects, butterflies and birds come.

Will you be planting successive rounds of favorites throughout the season? If you plant an understory of fillers – lettuces, table onions, radish, beets, carrots, etc – you won’t need separate space for them. If you trellis, use yard side fences, grow vertical in cages, you will need less space. See Vertical Gardening, a Natural Urban Choice! If you plant in zig zags, rather than in a straight line, you can usually get one more plant in the allotted space.

Would be lovely to put in a comfy chair to watch the garden grow, see birds, listen to the breeze in the leaves.

Social at Davie Village Community Garden in Vancouver's West EndOr a social area, table, chairs, umbrella. Have candlelight summer salads in the garden with friends. This is at Davie Village Community Garden in Vancouver’s West End.

Plant sizes, time to maturity  There are early, dwarfs, container plants that produce when they are smaller, have smaller fruits. There are long growing biggies that demand their space, over grow and outgrow their neighbors! Maybe you don’t need huge, but just enough for just you since it’s only you in your household. Or it’s not a favorite, but you do like a taste! The time it takes to mature for harvest depends on weather, your soil, whether you feed it or not along the way. The size depends on you and the weather also, but mainly on the variety you choose. You can plant smaller varieties at the same time you plant longer maturing varieties for a steady table supply. How long it takes to maturity, and the footprint size of your mature plant is critical to designing your garden, making it all fit.

Vertical and Horizontal Spacing!

  • Vertical Space – More plants per square foot!
    • One method is to double trellis up! Cucumbers below beans!
    • The other is to plant in ‘layers!’ Plant an understory of ‘littles’ and fillers below larger taller plants ie Lettuce under Broccoli.
  • Horizontal Space – Give them room to thrive at MATURE SIZE!
    • Pests and diseases go right down the row of plants of the same kind that touch each other. You may lose them all ~ better is Biodiversity! Interplant with pest repelling edible companion plants!
    • Plants too closely seeded/not thinned, get rootbound. That lessens growth and production, weakens your plants since your plants are literally starving.

Look up each of your plant choices. Make a list – name, variety, days to maturity, mature spacing. The mature spacing gives a good indication how tall your plant might get and if it will shade out other plants. If you put your list on your computer you can click on the column to reorganize the list per footprint space/height or days to maturity.

Your purpose may be for your and your family’s daily food, as a chef for your clients, for a Food Bank. Fruit and nut trees may be part of your long term plan.

Now that we know how much space you have and your purpose for growing each plant, we can estimate how many plants of each you need, how many seeds you will need if you plant from seeds. Know that Mama Nature has her own schedule – lots of rain, no rain. Wind. Hail. Heat. Birds love picking seeds you planted and slugs are perpetually hungry. We won’t speak about gophers. Add to your number of seeds to account for surprises and gardener error. Get enough for succession plantings.

If you are a SoCal gardener, you may plant several times over a season. If you are canning, plant bush bean varieties and determinate tomatoes to harvest all at once. If you want a steady table supply all season long, also plant pole bean varieties and indeterminate tomatoes. If you have a Northern short season summer window, you may choose cold tolerant early bush and determinate varieties for quicker intense production.

Take into account the number of people you are feeding and their favorites!

Graph paper, sketches, a few notes jotted on the back of an envelope, in your head. It all works and is fun!

Here’s to many a glorious nutritious feast – homegrown organic, fresh and super tasty!

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

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

Read Full Post »

Broccoli, the Queen of Brassicas! Rancheria Community Garden Dec 2016

Radiant Calabrese Broccoli, Rancheria Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA Dec 2016!

Broccoli may be the most nutritious of all the cole crops, which are among the most nutritious of all vegetables. Researchers have reported that cruciferous vegetables contain potent natural anti-cancer agents if eaten rawThese nutrients typically are more concentrated in flower buds than in leaves, and that makes broccoli and cauliflower better sources of vitamins and nutrients than cole crops in which only the leaves are eaten. The anti-cancer properties of these vegetables are so well established that the American Cancer Society recommends that Americans increase their intake of broccoli and other cole crops.

Recent studies have shown that broccoli sprouts may be even higher in important antioxidants than the mature broccoli heads. Other research has suggested that the compounds in broccoli and other Brassicas can protect the eyes against macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older people. If you choose to eat broccoli leaves, you will find that there is significantly more vitamin A (16,000 IU per 100 grams) versus flower clusters – the heads (3,000 IU per 100 grams) or the stalks (400 IU per 100 grams).

They are also high in vitamin C, which may protect against atherosclerosis.  Four ounces of RAW broccoli contains twice the vitamin C in an equivalent amount of reconstituted orange juice. Cooking halves the amount of this vitamin.

Vegetarians rely heavily on broccoli because it’s high in calcium.

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, English HeirloomVARIETIES

Broccoli varieties vary considerably, tall, short, more heat tolerant or cold tolerant, have small heads, large heads, some make tons of side shoots, others less! For smaller heads, grow quick maturing varieties. They come in Green or purple! Purples turn green or blue when cooked. At left is an Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, a beautiful English Heirloom producing like crazy!

Besides regular brocs, there are fancies like Romanesco that grows in a spiral! It’s taste is mild and more like cauliflower than broccoli. Sprouting broccoli has a larger number of heads with many thin stalks. Broccoli Raab, aka Rapini, is fast-growing, also known as turnip broccoli, forms multiple small heads and tends to branch out.

Some favorite varieties:

DeCicco 48-65 days – Italian heirloom, bountiful side shoots. Produces a good fall crop, considered a spring variety.  Early, so smaller main heads.
Packman 53 days – early hybrid, 9” head! Excellent side-shoot production.
Green Comet 55 days – early; hybrid, 6” diameter head, very tolerant of diseases and weather stress. Heat tolerant.
Nutribud 55-70 days – is unusually high in free glutamine which is one of the building blocks of protein, a primary energy source of the brain and a major healing nutrient! Purple broccoli, in addition to this, contains anthocyanins which give it its colour. These have antioxidant effects, which are thought to lower the risk of some cancers and maintain a healthy urinary tract as well.
Cruiser 58 days – tolerant of dry conditions
Calabrese 58-90 days – Italian, large heads, many side shoots. Loves cool weather. Disease resistant.
Green Goliath 60 days – heavy producer, tolerant of extremes. Prefers cool weather, considered a spring variety.
Waltham 29  85 days – medium heads, late, cold resistant, prefers fall weather but has tolerance for late summer heat.

Broccoli is notorious for uneven maturity, so you will often see a range of days to maturity, like Calabrese above. So don’t expect clockwork. The advantage is they don’t come in all at once and you have table supply for an extended period, especially if you plant different varieties at the same time. After the main head is harvested, you will have an abundant supply of side shoots which will further extend your harvest time. Some varieties even produce mini side shoots at the same time as the main head!

Companion Plants Broccoli Lettuce repel Cabbage MothTasty image from GrowVeg!

COMPANIONS

Plant Lettuce amongst the Brassicas to repel cabbage moths. In hot summer, big brocs shelter and shade delicate lettuces. When it isn’t hot, put smaller companions on the sunny side of your brocs. Cut lower foliage off so they get sun. Mint nearby deters cabbage moths from laying eggs. Since mint is invasive, plant it in containers.

Cilantro makes broccoli grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener!

To deter pests plant Onion family, plant Chamomile, Aromatic herbs, especially Catmint, Hyssop, Mint, Dill, Sage, Thyme, Lavender, Lemon Balm. Plant your herbs in containers so they can be moved around during the year to help specific seasonal plants.

Generally brocs are happy with Basil, Beans, Beets, Celery, Chard, Cucumber, Dill, Garlic, Lettuce, Marigold, Mint, Nasturtium, Onion, Potato,  Radish, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Tomato

Not happy with Tomatoes?, strawberry, lettuce?!, bush & pole beans.

In summer, plant cucumbers under them to reduce the attraction of striped cucumber beetles to the cukes.

Radish reduces green peach aphids.

Be advised! Dying parts of the Brassica family of plants produce a poison that prevents the seeds of some plants from growing.  Plants with small seeds, such as lettuce, are especially affected by the Brassica poison, so plant lettuces from transplants under them. A professor at the University of Connecticut says Brassica plants should be removed from the soil after they have produced their crop.

PLANTING

Brocs prefer full sun, though partial shade helps prevent bolting, but if they don’t get enough sun they will just grow tall. More sun helps make a tougher plant less attractive to aphids.

Broccoli plants will grow in almost any soil but prefer a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimum growth. A pH within this range will discourage clubroot disease and maximize nutrient availability. Well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter are ideal for broccoli plants and especially early plantings of broccoli. They LOVE recently manured ground.

If you will be planting by seed, per Cornell, best germination temperature is 45 F to 85 F, but will germinate at soil temps as low as 40 F.

Though those are best temps, in SoCal, if there are no Bagrada Bugs, fall plantings are started late July. While there is little space for big winter plants, small nursery patches can be planted. Leave enough room between seedlings so you can get your trowel in to lift them out to transplant later when space becomes available. If seeds and nurseries aren’t your thing, wait until your local nursery has transplants! If we aren’t having a heatwave, late August they might start trickling in. Labor Day weekend is a favorite planting time for some gardeners. October is just fine too!

Successive plantings may be done all winter long. If brocs are a favorite, the last round is usually planted in January because spring brings the interest in summer plants and we need room for them! We need space to amend soil for the next plantings, and time to let it settle and for the soil organisms to establish and flourish. The weather shifts, our body shifts with the seasons and we are looking forward to those summer treats again!

Seedlings should be 8″-10″ apart with 30″-36″ between the rows. Broccoli yields and the size of broccoli heads are affected by plant spacing. The tighter the spacing the better the yields, but the broccoli heads will be smaller. If you intend to keep your plants for side shoots, plant taller varieties to the northmost so they won’t shade shorter summer plants you will plant later on. Plant for plenty of air circulation to help avoid mildew.

The number of plants you choose to grow depends on your needs. If Broccoli is a staple for you, plant plenty so after the main heads are taken, you will get enough side shoots. When you need space for summer crops, and as other crops come in, you may decide to keep only 1 or 2 plants for side shoots to garnish your summer salads.

Cool weather is essential once the flower heads start to form. It keeps growth steady.

MAINTENANCE, IRRIGATION/MULCH

For year ’round growers, mulch early in spring to keep the ground cool and moist as well as reduce weed competition. In cool moist areas, forget the mulch. It brings slugs.

An even moisture supply is needed for broccoli transplants to become well established and to produce good heads. Never let the seedbed dry out. In sandy soils this may require two to three waterings per day. When they get up to about a foot tall, lay back on the water so the leaves aren’t too soft, attract aphids.

Compost/Fertilizer Put a ring of granular nitrogen around cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants for bigger heads.

The trick to producing excellent broccoli heads is to keep the broccoli plants growing at a steady pace. Top-dress the plants with compost or manure tea; or side-dress with blood-meal or fish emulsion; and water deeply. Repeat this process every 3-4 weeks until just before harvest.

PESTS & DISEASES

Pests

Research shows there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together! The plants mature at different rates. Aphids usually mean too soft a plant. Less feeding, less water. Immediately check curled leaves. Spray them away with a vigorous stream of water every day until gone, taking special care where new leaves are forming. Check the undersides of the leaves too. If the aphids have infested side shoots, remove the shoots. Some recommend sprinkling cinnamon on the ground to dissuade the ants that tend the aphids.

Cutworms, Flea Beetles, and Diamond Back Moth.

The nemesis is the green looper! This cabbage caterpillar makes your plants holey faster than thou can believe! Get Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis. It is sold in nurseries as Thuricide, Dipel, Bactus, Biological Worm Control, Leptox, SOK, Novabac or Tribacture.

Diseases

Club Root, Black Rot, Black Leg, Wirestem, Alternaria Leaf Spot, and Downy Mildew

Immediately when you plant your transplants, treat for mildew. Apply your baking soda mix. Drench under and upper sides of the foliage of young plants to get them off to a great start! A super combo is 1 regular Aspirin dissolved, a 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk, heaping tablespoon of baking soda, a teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution.

Small or no heads? Weather can be the culprit. Per Bonnie Plants, “If transplants sit exposed to cold below 40 degrees for a week or two, the chilling injury triggers heads to form way too early.” A small head on a small plant means you won’t get a large head. A head may not form If the growing tip is injured by rough handling, insects or weather. Your broc is considered to have gone ‘blind.’ If you have enough growing season time left, start over with a transplant if possible.

HARVEST

Potentially you have five kinds of harvests! Leaves, heads, side shoots, flowers, seeds! Leaves are edible, same as collards!

The center head produced by broccoli is always the largest. Harvest the main head while the buds are tight!  Broccoli heads should not have any yellow petals. Cut about 5” down the stem so fat side branches and larger side shoots will form. Cut at an angle so water will run off, not settle in the center and rot the central stalk.

Side heads will develop rapidly in some varieties after the main head has been harvested, some even before! Harvesting of the broccoli side heads may continue for several weeks or all summer! Side shoot heads are 1 to 3″ in diameter. Sidedressing with fertilizer can increase yields and size of these sprout shoots.

Broccoli is highly perishable. The respiration rate of freshly harvested broccoli is very high. Harvest it last, and get it into the fridge asap before it goes limp! Broccoli should not be stored with apples or pears, which produce substantial quantities of ethylene, because this gas accelerates yellowing of the buds. Freeze what you won’t use right away.

If you didn’t harvest your side shoots and your broccoli has gone to flower, harvest the flowers and sprinkle them over your salad, toss them in your stir fry for a little peppery flavor! Hold the stalk with one hand, zip your other hand along the stalk to gather the beautiful flowers! Clip off stalks you don’t need and you will likely get more side shoots!

Broccoli Seed SaveSAVING SEEDS

All varieties in this large species will cross with each other. Separate different varieties at least 1000 feet for satisfactory results or at least 1 mile for purity. Caging with introduced pollinators or alternate day caging is also recommended in small gardens. Because Brassicas are biennial, two year plants, plants to be left for seed production, if in cold climates, should be mulched in the fall or carefully dug, trimmed and stored for the winter in a humid area with temperatures between 35-40° F. In SoCal they can be left in the ground to overwinter. Flowering plants can reach 4′ in height and need at least 2′ to 3′ spacing, depending on the size of the variety, for good seed production.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kohlrabi grown for seed should not be trimmed for consumption. Brussels sprouts, collards and kale can be lightly trimmed for eating without affecting quality seed production. If small amounts of seeds are wanted, allow the fine little pods to dry to a light brown color before picking and opening by hand. Lower pods dry first followed by those progressively higher on the plant. Watch daily to get them before the birds do, or cover the plant with bird netting! For larger amounts of seeds pull the entire plant after a majority of pods have dried. Green pods rarely produce viable seeds even if allowed to dry after the plant is pulled.

Crush unopened pods in a cloth bag with a mallet or by walking on them. Chaff can be winnowed. Remove the seeds so no moisture will remain to rot them.

Viability  2 – 3 years, but up to 5 years in good cool and dry storage conditions.

CULINARY TREATS!

Broccoli is a popular raw hors d’œuvre vegetable for good reason! That is when it is most nutritious! Light and quick steaming is second best.

All Brassica leaves can be eaten the same as collard leaves! Steamed over rice, or toss in a wok with oil, sprinkled with soy sauce or a sauce of your choice. Dr. Amy Simmone, University of Florida Food Safety Specialist and native of Thailand, states that in her country broccoli leaves are stir-fried or sautéed with garlic and oyster sauce and served with rice. She says that broccoli leaves taste a bit like young tender collard greens.

Use to top pastas or even pizzas! Broccoli along with almonds makes a delish creamy soup. Cheese and Broccoli Quiche!

Broccoli Bright Beautiful Edible FlowersThe top portion of broccoli is actually flower buds. Given time each will burst into a bright beautiful yellow flower, which is why they are called florets. The small yellow edible flowers have a mild spiciness, mild broccoli flavor. They are quite pretty and terrific sprinkled on salads, and are delicious in a stir-fry or steamer.

Tarladalal of India says: Combine broccoli, baby corn, spinach and other vegetables of your choice, cook in a thick creamy white sauce or red sauce. Pour in a baking dish, garnish with cheese and bake to make au gratins. You can also use as lasagna sheets in this recipe.

Broccoli has been with us in the US since 1923, when two Italian brothers planted the first crop near San Jose, California. John Evans, of Palmer, Alaska, holds the 1993 world’s record for his 35 lb (no typo) broc!  He uses organic methods, including mycorrhizal fungi!  And, yes, moose eat broccoli!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal 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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July is not so much a planting month as water, sidedressing, harvest, and making compost – soil prep for September & October fall plantings! Get seeds!
August is keeping your soil water absorbent, sidedressing, harvesting, plant a last round of summer favorites, start cool-season seedlings, time to preserve your abundance for winter eating, to take stock and make notes for next year’s summer planting!
September is exciting because it is the first month to plant fall veggies! Do your final harvesting, preserving, clean up, chop and compost, and plant on Labor Day weekend!
October is considered by many to be the best planting month of the year!! Time to take up strawberry daughters (runners) for November planting, clean up to break pest and disease cycles, plant your winter veggies, plant more veggies if you started in September!

Tomato-Hot Juicy July!

Plant another round of your summer favs if you want, but keep in mind that Sep/Oct are the best fall planting months, so check those dates to maturity! The sooner you start your winter plants, the faster start they have, the sooner you have winter veggies. Things get slower as it gets cooler. And, heat lovers started now will have a shorter harvest period. Just saying.
Watering  Keep your veggies well watered, daily on extra hot days. Seedlings may need water 2 to 3 times a day! Keep strawberries moist or they will stop producing. It tomatoes dry out, they drop their blossoms. Water short rooted plants, beans, lettuces, cukes, more frequently. They like lots of water!
Mulch short rooted plants, beans, lettuces and strawberries, and deeper rooted chard, to keep them cool and moist. More about summer mulching.
Feeding  Get out your fish emulsion, get some manures, and feed your plants! Foliar feed with compost, manure, worm casting tea. Epsom salts your peppers. Seabird guano (NOT bat guano) keeps plants flowering and producing!  Blood meal is a quick Nitrogen fix for yellowing leaves.
Prep your fall raised beds! Start making compost for fall planting. Chop into small pieces for faster decomposition.
Install gopher wire barriers in your new beds. Incorporate manures and already-made compost into your soil.
Get the best varieties of seeds for Sep/Oct planting!
Let strawberry runners grow now.
Harvest!
Do keep up so your plants keep producing.  What you can’t eat or preserve, give away!  It will be so appreciated!

I’m passing this along from a Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club post:

This article is by Robyn Francis, one of Australia’s top permaculturists.  She’s also a pioneer in rethinking international aid.

“While mental health experts warn about depression as a global epidemic, other researchers are discovering ways we trigger our natural  production of happy chemicals that keep depression at bay, with surprising results. All you need to do is get your fingers dirty and harvest your own food.  “In recent years I’ve come across two completely independent bits of research that identified key environmental triggers for two important chemicals that boost our immune system and keep us happy – serotonin and dopamine.  What fascinated me as a permaculturist and gardener were that the environmental triggers happen in the garden when you handle the soil and harvest your crops…”

Smile and be wild!
Cerena

Next week, Composting Made EASY! 

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