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

Beautiful Scarlet Runner Bean Seeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to know plucked from the web….  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Have you already seen Part 1?  Why soak or presprout, all about seeds, how seed coats function; soaking times, seed soaking solutions.

Soaking Pea Seeds - Floaters are Dead, Sinkers You Plant!

Scarify Seeds  Scarify pea seeds to speed up absorption of water, and therefore, germination.  Rub them between sheets of coarse sandpaper, or clip them with a nail clipper by making a slice through the seed coat, not the seed, with a nail clipper [not removing a chunk]! This happens naturally in nature when a mouse with muchies comes along and nibbles seeds.

EZ Planting Techniques!  

1.  You will find that small wet seeds do not sow as well as dry seeds. They cling to your fingers, and tend to drop in gobs. This can easily be remedied by laying the seed on a paper towel for a little while. Not only will they be really easy to see, but the surface water will be drawn off, and the shell of the seed will continue to remain soft and moist until you have time to plant them.  They germinate in 2 days usually!

2.  Nutsy but fun!  With smaller seeds, you can make seed tapes if you plant in rows or if you plant in blocks, you can even just glue them to a thin paper napkin with some Elmers glue (the white, water soluble kind) to ensure the spacing you want without having to thin them. Purely optional though.  Maybe the kids could do it for you, or as a class project?!

3.  Carl Wilson, Denver County Cooperative Extension Agent, Horticulture says pre-germinating seed indoors is helpful in early spring because sprouted seed will grow in soils too cool for germination. It’s easy to sprout seeds on moistened paper towels sealed in a plastic bag for a few days. The difficult part is to sow fragile young seedlings without injury to them. The solution is sowing in a fluid gel, called fluid seeding.

To make a gel for planting seeds, add one tablespoon cornstarch to one cup of water and bring to a boil. Cool the starch mixture to room temperature before pouring it into a plastic sandwich bag. Gently ease your germinated seeds into the gel and close the bag with a twist tie. If the weather is not right for planting, store the gel bags in the refrigerator for a few days until conditions improve. To plant, snip the corner off the plastic bag and squeeze the gel and seedlings into the planting furrow as you would toothpaste from a tube.  [Great for carrot seeds!]

4.  The easiest method for sowing seeds after soaking is to put them in a plastic squeeze bottle along with some water. If you keep swishing the solution in the bottle as you hold it in an upturned position, you can get an even distribution of seeds. This, of course, is for fine seeds such as parsley, onion, celery, asparagus, and carrots.

Hot weather seed tricks:  Water furrow deeply before planting. After planting, place a board over it to keep soil moist and cooler. Requires regular peeking for signs of germination. Presoak your seeds. Plant deeper. Space farther apart.

You can plant carrots, parsley, celery, lettuce, coriander, etc. in 100-degree temperatures. Keep the soil cool, reduce light intensity and maintain soil moisture. Add humus to soil first.

Carrots, parsnips, peas don’t like recently manured ground but the cabbage family, fennel, onions, lettuce and late squash and corn love it.

Water the garden area thoroughly the day before planting. Moist seeds, moist soil = quicker germination. After that, you have to watch your seedlings and make sure they don’t dry out or that they are not drowned by over-enthusiastic watering.  [Practice until you get it right.  Don’t give up if you don’t get any seedlings the first time, even the first few times you try – be sure your seeds are viable.]

Au Naturel!  From Glib at iVillage Garden Web:  In my view, a better technique involves watching the weather forecast at the appropriate time of the year. When 80%+ rain is forecast, abandon any other project and seed the hell out of the garden. There are a few windows of opportunity during the year when direct seeding is easy.  Part of the art is knowing when the time is right for direct seeding. It is not just the rain but also the overcast skies that help.

This works well in spring and early summer around here (Michigan). Rains are fairly frequent, and seedlings “know” that if they emerge and the air temp is a bit low they should stick close to the ground for a while. There will be no transplant shock, and the workload is truly minimal (minimal work is always interesting to me). When the temps increase, they are 100% ready and take off.

In August this does not work so well, if you have to plant your kale for Fall and winter. Then soaking, followed by twice a day misting, is the least worst technique. Still, if you have your seedlings coming up under a searing sun it is not good. You still want to look at the forecast and see if you can catch a cloudy day or two. Lacking that, keep those Ikea cardboard boxes around, opened flat. They can cover a bed in mid day if needed.  [Or pole up some garden shade cloth, or prop up some of those latticed plastic flats, the ones with the 1/4” lattice.]

There you have it!  Take your pick or don’t!  If you do, let me know your successes…and failures.  

Please also see Part 1! Why soak or presprout, all about seeds, how seed coats function; soaking times, seed soaking solutions.

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Have you noticed dug up spots?  Have areas of your yard or garden been dug up night after night?   

Did you know?!  Skunks are excellent at rodent (mice, moles, rats) and insect control.  Their omnivorous diet includes black widow spiders and scorpions, SNAILS & SLUGS, lizards, frogs, snakes, eggs and some plant materials, pet food.  But they eat earthworms too, and skunks are one of the primary predators of the honeybee, relying on their thick fur to protect them from stings.  The skunk scratches at the front of the beehive and eats the guard bees that come out to investigate.  Being carrion eaters, they help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean.  With their slow, waddling gait and bushy tail, these gentle mammals are delightful to see from a distance, and play an important role in keeping nature in balance – the natural way.   

However.  Several of us at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden have had major skunk problems.  Plants dug up, areas where seeds are planted dug up, earthworms eaten.  Every night.  Gets wearing.   

In Santa Barbara, Animal Control is no longer trapping due to budget cuts.  They are concentrating on animal abuse cases.  They referred me to Steve of Eradicators, who said he is scheduled 3 months out, and charges for his services.  Officer Demming at Animal Control also mentioned some trappers work with Wildlife Care Network.  I talked with Dan there. He recommends prevention:   

  • Ammonia soaked rags – smell dissipates quickly
  • Cayenne pepper, the powdery type, that will get up their nose, in their eyes. Sprinkle it on the area the skunks are bothering. The animal won’t be permanently injured.
  • Shake Away, an inexpensive form of fox urine available at feed stores.
  • Moth balls in a container that will keep it from getting into the soil. Isn’t it ironic? Skunks don’t like bad smells!
  • Vary the deterrents so the skunks do not become used to them.

Dan says the disadvantage of trapping is that as soon as one skunk is gone, another usually takes its place.  Poisoning is not a good thing since other animals may ingest it or get it second-hand by eating an animal that has.   

Two sites for information are the Humane Society – Skunks and Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network – Skunks   

I’m going to try a combo of moth balls because I think they will last longer, and pepper, as a backup.  But it depends on which is the cheapest remedy overall.  Let us know what has worked for you!   

Cute Hungry Skunks! Trouble Times Three!

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Small Bites, Big Problems! May/June PESTS!

Flea Beetles! For the first time, I got down close to my poor perforated eggplants, lifted the leaves, and, ugh, there they were, flea beetles! The ones I saw are tiny, about one-sixteenth of an inch, shiny black beetles with enlarged hind legs that enable them to jump like fleas, just a bit bigger than our pet’s fleas, easy to see, and, they are buggers to catch! They DO jump, vigorously. And they are not particular. They munch on eggplant, potato, tomato, sweet corn, peppers, radish, Brassicas, and, you’ve seen all those pinholes in your arugula leaves? That just drains your plant’s energy. You can imagine what they can do to a tiny plant just coming up. It’s a race to see if the plant survives, outgrows how fast the beetles feed.

Flea Beetle bitten Arugula

Here’s a cure from Maria Coombs, Plot 37, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden:

‘When I realized my eggplant was losing a battle between life and death against flea beetles, I began my search for a viable organic pest solution. I studied several gardening books: old, new, traditional, and organic to help me. After an unfruitful search, I searched the good ol’ web and found several organic tips. However, one stood out from the rest: a concoction of chili and garlic. Based on the fact I had ingredients to make it, I decided to give it a try. The tip didn’t come with a recipe, I made it up. So, you could potentially use any chili you have….. it would be interesting to see if anyone tries a different type and if it does/does not work!

The simple home recipe is: 1 cup boiling water, 1 Thai chili (cut lengthwise), 3 garlic cloves (shredded)

Place chili and garlic in cup of boiling water. Let it steep until cool and strain. I felt it necessary to put the chili and garlic in boiling water to help release the oils, but you may not have to. I put the concoction in a spray bottle and drenched the plant, tops and undersides of leaves, and the soil around it.

Dousing is needed every 3 days to kill newly emerging fleas (there were fleas again on the 4th day), until you don’t find them anymore. However, I would recommend checking the plant every day for awhile, then spot check from time to time. The potency of chili and garlic will vary, and temps may affect hatching, which may change the timeframe.

Good Luck fellow eggplant growers!’

Thanks to Maria for inspiring me to get over my fear of looking for the flea beetles, then actually doing something about it! Every year I make progress.

Cucumber Beetles? Cute, but NO, NO, NO! One morning Kevin Smith, Plot 44, at the Terrace, showed me these small creatures publicly procreating in our zucchini blossoms! Take a look down into the center of your zuch flowers, you may be shocked – at how many of them there are! Not only cucs & squashes, and beans, but eggplant suffer too! Thought it was flea beetles on your eggplant? See for sure. Here’s what cuc beetles look like, this one below is on an eggplant. The simplest remedy is to remove them by hand. Learn more at Vegetable Gardener.

Cucumber Beetle on Eggplant

THE LARGER SOIL PEST – GOPHERS

Pests Gopher Wire Installation Rancheria Community Garden

Installation of Gopher prevention wire in progress, 10X20′ plot, going well. Another 3′ was cleared today and the wire rolled out further, more soil backfilled. 11.25.17 Rancheria Community Garden

We have been plagued, the gophers have thrived this year. 3 helpful ideas!

When install gopher wire protection? Anytime! But if you are waiting for seasonal crops to finish, in SoCal, it’s fall before winter plantings, or very early spring before you get itchy and can’t wait to plant! If you are in rainy areas, do it when the soil is less wet and heavy and you will do the least damage to your soil structure. If you are in northern snow and soil freeze areas, do it when you can first work the soil, or just before winter sets in and the soil is too hard to work any longer. Same for desert areas, but go by the heat not the freeze. Spring for the desert starts in the fall when it is cooler. By actual spring, it gets too hot and there is no more planting until fall again, so do it before the heat sets in.

1) If you decide to use wire barriers, you could do small areas at a time as they become available. You could purchase, or make, wire ‘baskets,’ very small to quite large, for areas that you want to plant gopher favorites like lettuce, beans, cukes, chard – soft bodied plants. My other thought is to install a border of wire vertically to see if that works, rather than digging up the whole plot and laying wire underneath. I’ve seen two places where people installed these boundaries and the gopher piled soil outside their plot where the barrier stopped them. They didn’t go underneath it.

But, there are times that just doesn’t work and though it takes time and help from the Angels, wiring the whole area underneath and perimeter, is the wise real choice. If you are going to do that, remember, aviary wire lasts about 3 years. 1/2″ Hardware cloth/hog wire lasts about 10 years. Big difference. Builder supply yards often carry several wire roll widths and they will cut just the length you need. When measuring, decide on the length/width you need, plus the amount you will need to get up the sides and maybe 6″ more so overland gopher travelers don’t come in over the top. Remember AVIARY wire. NOT chicken wire! Gophers go right through the chicken wire…

The depth you choose depends on what plants you choose. Veggies are primarily annuals with roots 6 to 8″ deep. Tomatoes have long deep roots. Also, if you are vigorous with your shovel, the average shovel blade length is 10″, install your wire deeply enough that when you are amending your soil you don’t puncture your wire! Gophers are strong little earth movers and can push through such a break. NO, NO, NO! The last time I installed wire I laid it 16″ deep – beyond my average digging depth, and well beyond where the annuals’ roots live.

That super tiny animal strength is why you bind your lengths of side by side rolls of wire together, if you are using several widths, and overlap them a good 8″ or more. Be sure to fix it to the board that borders your planting area.  Especially if you are only going to board height, not having some of the wire extend above the board.

Word to the wise. Install your wire so it surfaces OUTSIDE the board from the space that will be planted. That way weeds that get tangled in it will be outside your planting area!

Yes, hardware cloth is hard to work with. It’s hard to get it to corner. I sat down in the bottom of the area and shoved and kicked it into place with my boots! It’s easier if there are two people. When you roll up your wire, if you are doing a lengthy area, tie the inner loops of the wire together at the edges. Otherwise, the moment you let go of the roll, the whole things sprongs out and unrolls itself! That’s worth a few strong words ’cause it was hard enough to roll it up in the first place!

But let me tell you, every bit of the time and energy it takes will make you a very happy gardener. I’ve seen grown humans, women and men, cry at losing a wonderful special plant they tenderly raised from a baby. Once your wire is installed, heartily congratulate yourself!

Pests Gopher Wire Installation neary completed - Rancheria Community Garden

All soil now to the right. It took 12 days to get to this point, 10X20′ plot. I was so tired. This image shows how the side wire that was folded in, unfolded as the wire was rolled out. You can see the dark spot where a gopher had previously tunneled along the perimeter trying to get in. 12.2.17 Rancheria Community Garden 

If it’s all you can do or afford, make baskets! Easiest, if you have only a few plants, is to buy ready-made wire baskets. They come in lots of sizes! See Peaceful Valley Farm Supply’s selection! Several people at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden have made varieties of custom sizes of wire baskets – see Hillary’s Plot 24, Marion Freitag’s, Plot 19, Hoanh’s Plot 45. Hoanh installed black plastic flats vertically around his plot as a barrier as well. He said to use the small patterned grid flats. The gophers can go right through the large grid flats.

2) If your soil is too hard to dig, too sandy or something, you want to grow veggies where your lawn is, you want to avoid soil fungi issues, or your back or knees can’t get down to the ground like they used to, raised bed boxes with wire stapled to the bottom! In the case of the lawn, maybe lay down plywood cut to fit to extend beyond the box base, so you don’t have to deal with grass getting into your new raised bed.

See Bob Berdan’s Plot 30, Ginny Woliver Plots 5-7. Nice thing about this option is you can take the boxes with you if you have to change plots when the lottery comes, or you can take them with you if you leave the garden, or you can give them to someone when you no longer need them. Easy to empty and transport. Some of them got sold when these gardeners left. They were good boxes. Yes, boxes and wire degrade over time and will eventually need repairs or replacement. If you anticipate moving, build with light wood. If you are in a permanent location, spend a little more. Go for weight, insect and rot resistance, and durability.

3) If you want to use traps (UC IPM), get someone to show you how to use them. There are a few tips that you learn with experience. And, really, they are dangerous, so respect them completely. Best choice is to set them when other people are around to help you in case of a bad oops. Traps are a temporary solution because gophers have children.

One of the tips I would give, is trap immediately if you decide to trap. I have caught them in 20 minutes, while I was working in the plot! You can hear the trap snap. That means no more plants are eaten or damaged, at least by that gopher! Otherwise, they just mow plant after plant.

At the community garden, essentially the gophers know you. No need to worry about your scent on the traps. Nor do you need ‘bait.’ The gophers come to plug the hole because air is coming into their tunnel, and as far as they are concerned that shouldn’t be, so they come to fix it.

The cheaper little Macabee wire traps, not the large ‘black hole’ tunnel kind, need much smaller holes to insert. That’s less damage to existing plants, less need to remove any plants to make room for the traps. But the big traps might have a better success rate with smaller gophers. Gopher Hawks work well. All kinds of traps are dangerous to humans – DO NOT SET THEM UNTIL THE HOLE IS READY FOR YOU TO INSTALL THEM. Do not leave them lying about once they are set.  Not a project to do with children about. Cover the holes with boards and put heavy rocks/stepping stones on top so visiting kitties, doggies or toddlers don’t get into them and be hurt.

Many gardeners could never use traps. I understand. Gophers are beautiful little beings. Barriers are 100% humane.

4) You can use a combination of the 3 ideas above.

Beeper repellent stakes  Battery operated is expensive – price it out, you’ll see, or do the recharge dance.  Solar beepers on sale are better and they last 2, 3 years.  They work best in ‘open’ areas where the sound can carry, like lawns.  If you put one in an area planted with tall dense plants, it won’t do much good.  But if those plants are special and you want them protected, that works.  Be sure the solar panel gets a lot of sun, doesn’t get shaded by your plant growing over it.  If it is shaded, it fades to no beeping.  Underground critters depend on hearing and vibration to alert them to danger, so take careful notice of the radius the beeper says it will cover per the area you need to work for.  Heavier soils such as clay are superior transmitters of sound and vibrations than are sandier soils, so our loose garden soil isn’t going to get great mileage.

Poison is not a good choice because of neighborhood pets, birds like owls that prey on gophers, and children. They could somehow ingest the poison, or an animal that has been poisoned. There have been instances where people found only partial remains in traps that had been dug up by predators after the gopher had been caught.

Very funny, sometimes touching, dialogue at the Garden Web Forum!  The more I read, the more I laughed, and I must say some tears came to my eyes too. I had great empathy with many of the writers, real people with their various experiences!  Worth the read.

Some gardeners say they plant enough for the birds, the insects, gophers too, but in a 10X20′ community garden plot, or a small space at home, you may not have enough space to satisfy that option. Nor is it kind to other gardeners, neighbors, who don’t choose that option. Gophers have children, and in time that option may not be feasible unless you have owls and hawks to keep the balance.

So your decision is based on who you are. Be true to your heart. It depends on your budget, the time of year. Your strength. Get help if you need it. It can be a big project. Very virtuous.

Updated 7.29.18

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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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.

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