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Veggies pH Scale. Alkalize Your Body for Top Health!
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Soil pH is important for your soil, the health of your veggies. Your body’s pH is vital to you! Too much, too little are not fun. Acid forming foods drop you down. Alkalizing foods bring you up! Simplified, foods high in protein such as meat and cheese, and cereal products are acidifying. Fruits and veggies alkalize. If you are well, keep well. If not, shift your diet to get better sooner! In 1931, Dr Otto Warburg won the Nobel Prize for proving that cancer cannot survive in an alkaline, oxygen-rich environment. Seriously, an acidic balance will decrease your body’s ability to absorb minerals and other nutrients, decrease the energy production in the cells, decrease its ability to repair damaged cells, decrease its ability to detoxify heavy metals, make tumor cells thrive, and make it more susceptible to fatigue and illness.

One site says: Experts recommend a diet of 30% acid forming foods and 70% alkaline forming foods to maintain health, or a diet of 20% acidic and 80% alkaline foods if you are trying to recover your health. Others contend that while this a good ratio for active people (exercise creates a lot of acid), less active people can handle a diet with a ratio of two parts alkaline to one part acid.

An odd little bit about this process is that it’s what the food does in your body that makes the difference. Meat is alkaline, but acidifies your body. Lemons and vinegars, are acidic, but alkalize your body!

The pH graph above will give you ideas which are best of all. In the top category, #10, it is all veggies, including that cute little radish, with one fruit – a Lemon! At #9, Avos rank high, along with celery and grapes. Nanas, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries are on the good side.

There are wonderful lists online with some that give the exact pH. See Medinat for example. Some rank the items listed, others alphabetize, but all will get you started. The lists include Fruits & Veggies, Nuts & Seeds, Beans/Peas, Grains, Seasonings/Dressings, Oils, Meat/Dairy, Beverages and others! Some specify Highly Acidic or Alkaline foods. That can be a quick help.

Several sites show these three lists, Extremely, Highly, and Moderately:

1) Extremely Acidic Foods to reduce or eliminate…

Artificial sweeteners, beef, beer, breads, brown sugar, carbonated soft drinks, cereals (refined), chocolate, cigarettes and tobacco, coffee, cream of wheat (unrefined), custard (with white sugar), deer, drugs, fish, flour (white, wheat), fruit juices with sugar, jams, jellies, lamb.

Liquor, maple syrup (processed), molasses (sulphured), pasta (white), pastries and cakes from white flour, pickles (commercial), pork, poultry, seafood, sugar (white), table salt (refined and iodized), tea (black), white bread, white vinegar (processed), whole wheat foods, wine, and yogurt (sweetened).

2) Highly Alkaline Forming Foods to keep you healthy, restore your health…

Baking soda, sea salt, mineral water, pumpkin seed, lentils, seaweed, onion, taro root, sea vegetables, lotus root, sweet potato, lime, lemons, nectarine, persimmon, raspberry, watermelon, tangerine, and pineapple.

3) Moderately Alkaline Forming Foods to choose…

Apricots, spices, kambucha, unsulfured molasses, soy sauce, cashews, chestnuts, pepper, kohlrabi, parsnip, garlic, asparagus, kale, parsley, endive, arugula, mustard green, ginger root, broccoli, grapefruit, cantaloupe, honeydew, citrus, olive, dewberry, carrots, loganberry, and mango. Ketchup, Mayonnaise, Butter, Apple, Apricot, Banana, Blackberry, Blueberry, Cranberry, Grapes, Mango, Mangosteen, Orange, Peach, Papaya, Pineapple, Strawberry, Brown Rice, Oats, Rye Bread, Wheat, Wholemeal Bread, Wild Rice, Wholemeal Pasta, Ocean Fish.

Take a good look. You may find some surprises! There are differences. For example, some bread is badder than other bread. Whole wheat is 1.8 acidic; white is 3.7. Sprouted grains are alkaline! White rice is 4.6, while brown rice is 5.12! If you gotta have your bread or rice, make the better choice if it is important to alkalize your body. In general, increase use of the more alkaline one. Comparing citruses, oranges don’t rank well because of all their sugar. Bananas and lots of fruits are high in sugar! See more about sugary fruits and combining them with healthy fats in smoothies.

There are contradictions about some foods on the net and right here on this page! Some sites put an asterisk by the item in question. Just make sure a good percentage of the foods you eat are for sure alkaline. How it affects YOU is what is important. If your health is at risk, choose the more dependable options. Here are foods that are questionable:

Brazil Nuts
Brussel Sprouts
Buckwheat
Cashews
Chicken
Corn
Cottage Cheese
Eggs
Flax Seeds
Green Tea
Herbal Tea
Honey
Kombucha -probiotic
Lima Beans
Maple Syrup
Milk
Nuts
Organic Milk (unpasteurized)
Potatoes, white
Pumpkin Seeds
Quinoa
Sauerkraut
Soy Products
Sprouted Seeds
Squashes
Sunflower Seeds
Tomatoes
Yogurt – probiotic

Happily for us gardeners, all vegetables are alkaline forming, just some more than others! Alfalfa, Barley grass, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, garlic, green beans, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, peas, peppers, pumpkin, radishes, sea veggies, spinach, sprouts, squash, sweet potatoes, wheatgrass, wild greens!

Salads may be high on your list! They can be loCal and delicious all year long. The general dressing recipe is to use an alkaline oil, citrus juice of your choice, a tad of sea salt (alkaline) plus the veggie or fruit of the day! Feel free to adjust these recipes to your needs or taste…

Lemon Vinaigrette
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp. of sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of one half lemon
1/4 tsp fine Himalayan sea salt
1/4 avocado
2 tbsp sunflower seeds, soaked for 10-15 mins
1 cup Mango, chopped
1/4 cup Grapeseed Oil
2 tbsp. Lime Juice
1/4 tsp. Sea Salt
1 cup Cucumber
1/4 cup Avocado (Oil)
1 tbsp. Lime Juice
2 tsp. Agave
2 Plum Tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp. Sesame Seeds
1 tbsp. Agave
1 tbsp. Lime Juice
Lemon, crushed garlic, mustard (a little) and olive oil (mixed together)
Olive oil, lemon juice and pomegranate Surprisingly, stirring an alkaline hummus through a salad makes a great thick and creamy dressing

Holidays, special events & parties, traveling are vulnerable times when we often have more stress in our lives. Sometimes we just eat what we eat out of habit and how we did growing up with our family. Perhaps pop a list or small card, your own personal pocket guide, of your best choices and foods to avoid the most into your pocket, with your credit cards. Before you go out to eat, take a look at it to remind yourself. Ask your server if you can substitute one for the other. Choose places that generally serve more alkaline foods or take them with you to the potluck!

And it’s not just your food! Your mental and spiritual health literally affect your body’s pH too!

Take good care of yourself and your garden!

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

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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Heirloom Golden Detroit Beet 55 Days

Heirloom Golden Detroit Beet at Dust Bowl Seeds: High yield large orange round beet, non-bleeding, good bolt resistance, 55 days.

Beets are what I call a Two for One crop! The leaves are low cal and nutritious; the roots are a sweet treat with excellent benefits of their own!

Companion Plants Beets, with their quick growing flat dense foliage are almost more a living mulch plant than a companion per se. If you don’t eat the leaves, 25% magnesium, add them to your compost! They help bush beans, but stunt pole beans and pole beans stunt them! Grow them with lettuce, onions, Brassicas – especially kohlrabi, and at the foot of peas. Garlic and mints help beets, garlic improving their flavor, speeding their growth. Rather than growing invasive mint with them, grow your mint in a container elsewhere, chop up bits of it and sprinkle it around your beetroots.

Cylindra BeetVARIETIES, CHOICES ABOUND

Winter beets

Like long winter radishes, Daikons, Danish heirloom Cylindra are their beet equivalent. There are orange ones like in the image at left, or that gorgeous crimson red that beets are known for! It is a perfect uniform slicing beet, aka “Butter Slicer”! The flesh is very tender, easy to peel if you want to, is sweet with wonderful texture. The root grows up to 6″ long but many harvest at 3-4″ for fresh eating. 55-60 days These seeds are at Urban Farmer, non GMO.

Mini & Monsters

  • Little Ball (50 days; very uniform, small size; good shape; very tender; grows quickly to form smooth roots)
  • Red Mammoth Mangels are monsters, grow up to 20 lbs and 2′ long! Though generally used to feed stock, harvested small, they are delicious. Read this funny story and see a winning Mangel at Tales from Swallow Farm!

Colors

  • Standard deep reds, scarlets! Ruby Queen is an AAS winner! Early; round, tender, sweet, fine-grained, attractive, uniform roots, 60 days. If you are growing for the color of the leaves, Bull’s Blood has amazing dark, dark red leaves! Pick early and there is no oxalic acid taste at all.
  • Gourmet goldens stay tender-fleshed and particularly sweet and mild in taste, whether pulled very young or allowed to size up. 55 days. If you steam them with rice, the rice will look golden, like you cooked it with Saffron!
  • Striped di Chioggia is a beautiful scarlet-red Italian heirloom with interior rings of reddish-pink and white. It germinates strongly, matures quickly, 50 days, and does not get woody with age!

GREENS There are varieties that produce an abundance of greens, but why not just grow Chard for greens?! What’s different about beets is they make those fine fat roots! If you keep cutting the greens you slow their production. When you harvest your beets, then eat those greens!

Planting 

Beets are closely related to Swiss chard and spinach. The seeds look so much alike you can’t tell them apart! Avoid following these crops in rotation. Grow beets in full sun; beets for greens can be grown in partial shade if you must. Beets tolerate average to low fertility soil, but love tasty fertile soil. However, too much Nitrogen and you get more leaves than beets or no beets at all! They grow best in loose soil so they can swell easily. Add well-aged fluffy compost to the planting beds and keep beds free of clods, stones, and plant debris. Beets like well-drained soil, but keep them moist. If all your seeds don’t germinate, pop in some more right away, not too deep – about a 1/2″ to an inch, a tad deeper in hotter weather. Give cool weather plantings a  bit more time to come up.

Up to one third of the tasty beet greens can be harvested without damaging your plant, but if you want those beet roots, use less leaves, let your beets get their nutrition and grow quickly!

Beet seeds are clusters of seeds in a single fruit.Soak seeds overnight or presprout! Seedlings are established more easily under cool, moist conditions. Start successive plantings at 3 to 4 week intervals until midsummer for a continuous supply. The beet “seed” is actually a cluster of seeds in a dried fruit. Several seedlings may grow from each fruit. See the sprouts at left? Two from one seed is no surprise. Some seed companies are now singulating the seed for precision planting, by dividing the fruit. Plant seeds about 1/2 inch deep and one inch apart. Allow 12 to 18 inches between rows.

Poor stands are often the result of planting too deeply or soil crusting after a heavy rain. In fact, some gardeners don’t bury the seeds at all, but broadcast, throw them over an area, and let them do as and when they will. And they do! Seedlings may emerge at different times, making a stand of different sizes and ages of seedlings. It works as an automatic succession strategy! If you have slugs, an emerging stand can vanish overnight! You thought they never came up. So. Prepare the planting area by putting down a sluggo type stuff before you plant!!! Do it twice, a few days apart, to get two generations. If you forgot, or that didn’t happen, put down the sluggo type stuff right when you plant, then religiously about a week later if you found any dead slugs. You need to kill off the generations.

You can tell when seedlings are up because the tiny stems are red if you planted red beets, yellow if you planted goldens!

Beet - Red SeedlingsBeet - Gourmet Golden Seedlings

Planting Time Beets are a cool-season crop. Sow beets in the garden as early as 4 weeks before the last average frost date in spring. Succession crops can be planted every 2 weeks for a continuous harvest. In warm-summer regions, do not plant beets from mid-spring through mid-summer. Sow beets for fall harvest about 8 weeks before the average first frost date in fall. In mild-winter regions, beets can be sown until late autumn and can be left in the ground for harvest through the winter.  Avoid seeding during daytime temperatures of 80 degrees F, wait until it is cooler.

Storage beets need to be planted early in the season to give them plenty of time to make full size. But, you know you could start a second crop of early maturing smaller beets just for fresh fall eating!

Care  Do thin your beets! The most frequent cause for beet plants failing to develop beets is overcrowding. If you are using unseparated seed clusters to plant from, your beet seedlings commonly emerge in clusters. Hand thinning is always necessary. When the first true leaves form, thin with small scissors leaving the strongest seedling. Cut or pinch so you don’t disturb the roots of nearby seedlings Definitely thin at 5″ tall or less! At 4 to 5″ tall you get to eat those little seedlings in your salad! Thin 1″ up to 5″ apart depending of the size of the beet you want to grow.

Weeding is important because tiny beets have only that little tap root that becomes the fat root. Clearly, deep, or just about any, cultivation is a no, no. Weeds rob beets of nutrients, moisture, and flavor. Keep beets evenly moist for quick growth and best flavor.

Mulch is perfect in summer to conserve soil moisture, prevent soil compaction and help suppress weed growth. In hot weather install shade cloth to keep your beets from bolting. Mulch in winter keeps soil cool, and growth is slowed down.

Beets are heavy feeders and need to be fertilized at planting time, as well as a month later. A fertilizer with the analysis of 5-10-10 can be applied when you plant your seeds, and again when the plants are about three inches high.

Keep young roots covered with soil. When you water or it rains, the soil sinks, exposing part of the root. Add soil or the root may not bulb. Planting the seed deeper doesn’t help. The seedling still needs to be able to get up. Planting beets on lower soil rather than on a higher area, a mound, is better. Soil then has a chance to collect down around the roots rather than leaving them exposed. But always do check the roots anyway. Further drainage can wash that soil away. You might need to install a berm.

Beets, carrots, radish and turnips naturally Keep Beet shoulders covered with Soil!push right up above the ground! Plant in low sloped walled mini trenches. That way the seeds stay more moist longer, germination per cent is better. When the beet root starts to get above the soil level pull the sides of the trench onto the beet root shoulders! Avoid planting on a slope where normal watering washes the soil away. You can see in the image how crowding, not thinning, adds to the problem. Exposed areas toughen and have to be peeled, losing nutrients packed in the skin. Harvest sooner and a bit smaller for fresh tender roots! I have grown big 4-5″ beets though, and they are still tender! Just keep them moist and let them grow fast!

If you’re planning to serve your tender baby beets whole and unpeeled, try hilling the soil around their shoulders as they grow. This will keep the skin from hardening over and losing its smooth, red appearance.

Pests & Diseases

Flea beetles, leaf miners, aphids and Cercospora leaf spot are the usual. Regular inspection of your plants can help deter a major pest infestation. If you have the patience, the use of floating row covers will offer nearly 100% protection.

Biodiversity You almost always see beets planted in rows. The damage from leafminers is, uh, downright ugly. Rather than letting them walk right down the row, plant to plant, try planting your beets in small clusters here and there among your other plants. Another simple remedy, if you have the space, is plant so no plant leaves touch another’s when they are mature. The tastiest remedy is to deliberately overplant then harvest the tiny tasties between, and keep thinning as they get larger! If they still touch, harvest the between leaves first! Remove infested leaves ASAP! Water a tad less so the leaves aren’t quite so soft and inviting.

Flea beetles have a season. If your plant is healthy and growing fast, it will probably be bitten temporarily, then do ok. There will just be a lotta tiny holes in those leaves.

Aphids. Keep watch, spray ’em away before they get out of control. Remove badly infested leaves. Check for ants, water a tad less.

See more on these pests!

Disease - Cercospora Leaf Spot on Chard, Spinach & Beet leavesBeets, Chard and Spinach get Cercospora leaf spot – like the Chard at left. Sadly, no resistant cultivars of table beet are known. Late fall or early spring plantings are most likely to be affected. Late summer when conditions are favorable (high temperatures 75-85˚F, high humidity, long leaf wetness periods at night) is the worst. Beet roots fail to grow to full size when disease is severe. Successive plantings made close together can allow disease to move from one planting into the next. It grows on infected crop residues, so immediately remove leaves that collapse on the ground. It is spread by rain splash, wind, irrigation water, insects, workers, and equipment. This is one case where AM watering really makes sense to reduce humidity. UMASS Amherst recommends to ‘Avoid overhead irrigation if it will result in prolonged leaf wetness periods (e.g., through the night); irrigate mid-day when leaves will dry fully or use drip irrigation.’ If all that fails, use foliar fungicides. Plant less densely for more airflow, thinnings are tasty! In general, harvest more frequently so leaves don’t surpass their prime health. Planting only every 3 years in the same spot isn’t possible if there is too little garden space, so cultivating, turning and drying the soil between plantings is good. See more

Harvest & Storage 

Roots! Most varieties will mature within 55 to 70 days, but can be harvested at any time in their growth cycle. Young roots 1 1/2″ diameter can be harvested about 60 days after sowing. If you like them bigger, it won’t take much longer! After 3″, though, some can get tough if they weren’t kept moist so they could grow fast.

Best color and flavor develop under cool conditions and bright sun. When beets mature in warm weather, they are lighter colored, have less sugar and have more pronounced color zoning in the roots. Fluctuating weather conditions produce white zone rings in roots. Lift spring beets before daytime temperatures average greater than 70°F. Start the fall harvest when daytime temperatures are consistently in the 50s. If you live in cold climes, Pull up the last of your beets before the ground freezes.

Cut the tops off the beets one inch above the roots, to retain moisture and nutrients avoid bleeding during cooking. Greens quickly draw moisture from the root greatly reducing flavor and the beets become shriveled. Beets store best at 32°F and 95 percent humidity for about a week, three weeks in an airtight bag. Do not allow them to freeze. Use beets while they are still firm and fresh. Or, store some as naturally fermented pickled beets, whole or sliced!

For longer storage, don’t wash the dirt off your root crops. Just let it dry, then brush it off as much as possible. Keep at temperatures near freezing and with high humidity to prevent wilting. If you can’t eat all those beet greens, tops, right away, freeze them and use them in soup stocks!

Greens are best fresh in salads when four to six inches tall, but mature sized leaves are plenty tasty steamed over rice. Add them to stews. Stir fry with olive oil and a tad of garlic! Remember, they will wilt with cooking, so gather a few extra!

SAVING SEEDS

Beet Seeds drying on plant

Beets are biennials. Normally, they produce an enlarged root during their first season. Then after overwintering they produce a flower stalk. If they experience two to three weeks of temperatures below 45 F after they have formed several true leaves during their first season, a flower stalk may grow prematurely. If you are a seed saver, that is a lucky opportunity! Saving beet seeds is generally a two-year project because this biennial doesn’t flower and produce its seed clusters until the next growing season.

Tie the stalks to stakes when they become floppy, look for blossoms in June and July, harvest the seeds in August. if you want to speed the process a little, cut 4′ tall tops just above the root when the majority of flowering clusters have turned brown. Tops can be stored in cool, dry locations for 2-3 weeks to encourage further seed ripening. Strip off the seeds. When the seed clusters are thoroughly dry and brittle, they can be gently rolled to break them open. This will release the seed, usually 3 to 5 per cluster. LABEL the seed pack with name and year because beet & chard seeds look virtually the same! Beet seed will remain viable for about six years. Do a moonlight dance in gratitude!

Only let a single variety of beet, or chard, go to flower when you will be saving seeds. Beet seeds, being wind pollinated, have a talent for cross-pollination over distances of a mile or more. Many recommend a 2 mile separation distance. If you are in a community garden or and urban neighborhood, that means track your fellow gardeners to make sure they don’t have flowering beets or chard when you do.

Important tips per Everwilde Farms: ‘Beet plants must weather the winter in order to produce seed; in warmer climates, simply mulch the plants. In cooler climates, dig up the roots and store them in sand, without the roots touching, in a cool and humid location; plant them in early spring. In the spring, the plants will go to seed; wait until the seed heads are fully grown and dry before removing them. The seeds will readily come off the stems after they are completely dry. Store the seed in a cool, dry place for up to five years.’ You can see it is a lengthy, but worthy, process.

Fall Beets! Fistful of Tasty Happiness!A Fistul of Nutrition and Benefits!

Beets have my admiration! Drinking beet juice may help to lower blood pressure in a matter of hours, boost your exercise time by 16%! Beets have betaine, a nutrient that helps protects cells, proteins, and enzymes from environmental stress. It’s an anti-inflammatory, protects internal organs, improves vascular risk factors, enhances performance, and likely helps prevent numerous chronic diseases. Beets have phytonutrients that help ward off cancer. Beet powder reduces cholesterol. Check out more details at whFoods.com.

Beets are high in folate and manganese. Folate is a B9 vitamin that helps strengthen neural tubes, reduces the risk of neural defects in babies, and can help prevent gray hair! Manganese helps your body with blood-clotting factors, sex hormones, bones and connective tissue. It helps with calcium absorption, carbohydrate and fat metabolism, blood sugar regulation, and that your brain and nerves function at optimal levels. Manganese is an integral part of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase, that helps combat free radicals.

What makes beet greens unique is they are high in calcium and provide 25% of the daily magnesium we need, higher than turnip and mustard greens. Calcium is good for our bones, a gentle temperament, pain reduction. Magnesium is a mineral that maintains normal muscle and nerve function, keeps a healthy immune system, maintains heart rhythm, and builds strong bones.

Like other greens, they excel in Vitamins K and A. A is significant for eye health, prevents night blindness, strengthens your immune system, stimulating production of antibodies and white blood cells. The beta-carotene in vitamin A is a known antioxidant that fights free radicals, cancer and heart disease. Vitamin K has blood clotting properties, helps wards off osteoporosis, works with calcium to boost bone strength, and may also play a role in fighting Alzheimer’s disease. Beet greens have a higher iron content than spinach! And they are low in fat and cholesterol!

Comparison of Kale to Beet Greens. The comparison isn’t complete, so compare carefully to what is written here. Variety is good.

Practical CautionsBeet greens contain unusually high levels of oxalic acid though far less than Spinach and Purslane. Oxalic acid is a chelating compound that binds to minerals like calcium, phosphorous, etc which are then expelled unused from the body. Oxalic crystals can cause kidney stones when eaten in large quantities for very long periods. Use with caution and keep your water intake up.

Because of the greens’ high vitamin K content, patients taking anti-coagulants such as warfarin are encouraged to avoid these greens. Beets tops increase K concentration in the blood, which is what the drugs are attempting to lower.

Since beetroots have the highest sugar content of all vegetables, sugar beets are second only to sugarcane in sugar production, eat your beetroots in moderation! Two to three times a week is fine. Though beets are a veggie, see sugary fruits for how to best eat your beets if you need to keep your body alkaline! If you are making a salad with beets, check out the alkaline dressing recipes at the bottom of Virtuous Veggies!

Due to that sugar, candida overgrowth can be a problem, but beets are abundant in nitrates; great for your heart. They can increase exercise endurance, allowing people to exercise for 16% longer periods of time without tiring. The trick is to ferment them, drink them juiced with fiber! See the details at Body Ecology!

Fermented Beet KrautCulinary Treats! When preparing your beets for cooking, wash them carefully to avoid breaking the skin. Breaks and tears allow color and nutritional value to escape. They can be cooked whole, then sliced or diced. Shred fresh or cooked and cooled into salads. Ferment/probiotic. Beets are high in natural sugar and roasting brings out the natural sweetness. Borscht is a popular beet soup which can be served hot in winter and cold in summer. Beet Salsa! Cut your beets up into small bits, add sweet onion, apple cider vinegar, a touch of honey and some water. Pop the whole mix in the fridge and add to salads or eat alone as a tangy treat, dip! Make beet smoothies! Substitute the leaves for spinach. Put greens in soups, drinks, ravioli, pasta, on sandwiches, pizza, in omelets, stuffed in bread and puffs!

May your beets be sweet, beautifuland plentiful!

Updated Nov 26, 2018

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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!

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Ants and Aphids on Tomato Plant
Ants tending aphids on Tomato plant

Too many ants! Plants are seriously damaged by their aphids. Production is stalled, plants die. Not ok.

Bad year! Ants are on beans, cucumbers, okra, even tomatoes! It’s become clear the usual hosing off the aphids isn’t enough. Hosing uses too much water, it waters your plants too much, which the ants like! With big tomato plants jammed in cages, you can’t get to the center and fuzzy plants don’t like to be watered on their leaves anyway. The aphids the ants tend are almost impossible to get off those fuzzy backed leaves – especially the stiff haired cucumber leaves. You can’t hard spray them off cucumber flowers because it blows the flowers away too. Argh.

Where do those aphids come from?! Some farming ant species gather and store the aphid eggs in their nests over the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants. Queens that are leaving to start a new colony take an aphid egg to found a new herd of underground aphids in the new colony. As aphids feed, they often transmit plant viruses that can sometimes kill the plants, and the honeydew they make, that the ants feed on, favors the growth of sooty mold. This is a very destructive black fungus that spreads on plant leaves. Not only do ants protect and farm herds of aphids, but also cottony scales, mealybugs, soft-type scales, and whiteflies. Bad juju in the garden.

OK. So it’s either spray with a killer mix, or bait to end the colony. Enough already. Spraying is immediate; baiting takes a few days to a week. Do both to save your plants sooner.

Temporary Solutions

  • Insecticidal soaps are quick but temporary. Drench ant colonies with solutions of insecticidal soap, which are nearly non-toxic highly refined soap. It will not eliminate ants deep in the nest.
  • Neem Oil, organic, is a maybe. Some report it works and swear by it, others say it doesn’t work at all. Probably depends on what kind of ants you have. Some say premix works for them, others say get the 100% stuff. It is not long lasting, repeated sprayings are needed.
  • The Stinkies! Tea Tree Oil, herbs like Peppermint or Rosemary, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus sprays work and smell great! These can be used a couple of different ways. Crush the leaves, sprinkle on an ant line and they vanish. Or, use one cup of water to ¼ cup of peppermint or spearmint. Mix in your blender, strain into a handheld pump sprayer. Put it where you want it! Repeated sprayings needed. Some say you need less of Tea Tree and less frequent sprayings.
  • Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is fossilized remains of plankton; it looks like an off-white talc powder. It kills insects with exoskeletons, all kinds of them! It is perfectly safe for mammals, in fact, is eaten daily by some humans. To work it has to get ON the ant, and if it is even dew dampened, doesn’t work. It doesn’t attract ants, so they don’t invite their friends, and it isn’t ‘shared’ with the other ants. So yes it works, and no it doesn’t. If your plants are suffering now, it’s too slow to use.
  • Vinegar A half to a liter down the hole kills, but the ones that escape merely move. Remember, vinegar is also an herbicide. Be careful.
  • Water? Ants can live submerged in water for several days. That’s why the hose down the hole doesn’t work. So you need a little fire power, boiling hot water, to kill them.

‘Permanent’ Solution! Borax, plain old grocery store 20 Mule Team Borax kills the colony. It really works without fail. It’s cheap, a little goes a long way, and you can use what’s left to do your laundry!

Spray Mix 1/2 cup of sugar with 1 teaspoon of borax (20 mule team) with 1 cup of water to make a spray and spray on their trail where they enter the house (garden) and in 3 days they will be gone. Spay around the windows and doors to keep them out. When the spray dries they eat the crystals and take them back to the nest and POOF they are gone. At the garden, do this on a WINDLESS DAY, and be very careful not to get it on your plants. It’s an herbicide.

Per April Sanders, here’s how the BAIT thing works: Worker ants only feed on liquids. They take solid food back to the nests, where it is given to larvae. Then, the larvae convert it to liquid and feed it back to the worker ants [all the worker ants!]. Straight boric acid or insecticide will kill ants, but the worker ants will eat it rather than taking it back to the nest because it is in liquid form. Making a paste ensures the poison will get to the nest.

The first bait recipes I found were sugar and Borax. So I tried it. I found a lot of dead ants, meaning the Borax was not getting back to the nest, but the Borax was definitely killing the ants. After reading April’s explanation, I am now adding cornmeal to the mix. It is a ‘solid’ the ants have to carry back to the nest for processing. So sugar to attract the ants, cornmeal to carry home, Borax to do the job.

Here’s the skinny on cornmeal! Neither cornmeal nor grits cause ants to explode or jam up and starve because ants don’t eat solids. Cornmeal does disrupt ants’ scent trails until they lay down new ones. Yes, the ants might move, due to disrupted trails, and that might be only a few feet away. It appears to stop ants, but they are merely feeding close to their nest at your expense! They take the stuff home, let the larvae convert it to liquid, and they get it back in the form they can eat.

April explains that cornmeal is a medium to carry the poison. ‘Mix cornmeal with a slow-acting liquid insecticide or boric acid to make a paste. Slow-acting insecticides are the most effective way of controlling ants, according to the Colorado State University Extension. Choose one made specifically for ants for best results, and add it a little at a time to the cornmeal until you have a thick paste.’

  • Sugar ants. Bait is serious. This means you are out to kill the colony, a ‘permanent fix.’ Bait is easy to make, a cup of very warm water, 1/2 c of sugar, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons Borax, make a paste. Set it out in a way birds, pets or children can’t get to it. Put it out AFTER you have watered, at the base of plants the ants and aphids are bothering. The ants will go for the sugar and lay off your plants. Scout ants take it home to the colony, and it is spread to all the ants. It isn’t an instant fix, but it works in a few days to a week. REMOVE while you water, replace afterwards.
  • For grease or protein ants, Golden Harvest Organics bait: Mix three parts peanut butter with two parts jelly and add one tablespoon of boric acid per six ounces of mix. Add cornmeal for your solid. Place the bait on pieces of paper or stuff it into large straws (safer so birds won’t get into it,) and place it where you see ants foraging.

Make your own SAFE bait containers!

Make your own Safe Ant Bait Containers!

  • Small diameters of pipe or unchewable tubing keeps bait safe from birds, pets and small animals. Swab the inside of the end of the tube with a Q-tip to be sure the paste is stuffed far enough away from the end of the tube for a small creature to reach. Place out of the sun, or make some shade for it, along the ant trail.
  • Make holes in a jar lid, toward the center, so if it gets wet, falls over or you lay it on its side, your bait doesn’t ooze out. Put your bait in the jar, put the lid on tight. Lay it on its side, butt end facing the direction you water from, so if you accidentally water, the water doesn’t get inside. Lay it on its side along the ant trail, but especially near a plant the ants have been tending, for their easy access. They will go to it and stop tending the aphids. Don’t put it in full sun so it won’t bake your bait or be too hot for the ants to want to get into. If the lid surface is too slick for purchase, sandpaper or scratch it with a rock so the ants can get a grip. Containers are safe for you to handle when you want to move them or add more bait or remove while you water. If you make holes in the sides, make them high so the bait doesn’t seep out.

When I say Borax really works, I mean it! BE VERY CAREFUL. Besides a bugacide, it is an herbicide, used to kill weeds! It can’t tell the difference between a weed and your veggie plants. When you put down your bait, do not water later, forgetting it is there, and get it in your soil or on your plants. Take up your baits before you water. Definitely don’t do it before rains.

More ant & Borax details from an undated UCCE article on ‘New Research’ by Nick Savotich says: ‘The Argentine ant, being a honeydew feeder, has a strong preference for high carbohydrate liquids. High sucrose-based baits, (50% solution), were found to be the most preferred. Various concentrations of boric acid as the toxicant were also tried in combination with the high sucrose baits. It was found that the lowest concentration of boric acid, 0.25%, was as acceptable to the ants as was the sugar solution alone. Higher concentrations, 0.5 – 2%, tended to inhibit acceptance. Boric acid is an excellent toxicant for ants. However the next step is to determine whether this very low concentration (0.25%) is adequate to destroy whole colonies of the Argentine ant.’ So you see, it doesn’t take much of that 20 Mule Team to do the job.

For best results lay out a fresh bait daily. Lay it in areas where you see regular activity and near their points of entry if you know them. Don’t be diligent washing away their trails, you want them to find the bait spots easily again and again. All the workers in the colony can follow each others trails, so even if you killed off the first foragers, their partners will follow the trail they left.

Stop them before they start! Maybe you have been over watering? Ants make their colonies near a water source, and soft over watered plants are aphid friendly. When you find ant colony entrances, put a few drops of dish soap around, down the nest hole, fill in/bury the nest entrance. If they have taken up residence in your compost pile, turn that compost more frequently and water it a little less!

Predators! Groundbeetles, humpback flies, parasitic wasps, praying mantids and the yellow-shafted flicker all dine on ants. Plant flowering plants like cilantro, celery, carrots, food to bring the beneficial insect predators. You are lucky if you have woodpeckers because they are voracious ant eaters.

Wear gloves, wash your hands when you are done working with any toxic stuff, and remove your baits promptly when you are done with them.

Next year, put down your baits before you do plantings the ants and aphids love. Knock back the ant population from the get go! No, dear garden friends, we will never be ant free, nor do we want to be. Ants aerate our soil, clean up scraps and seeds, feed on fleas, termites, and other pests, are a food source for birds and other insects. As with all creatures, they play an important part in a healthy planet. Balance is a practical peace.

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Pea seedlings! Yes!

PEAS!  So many to choose from!

Peas are SoCal’s tasty winter legume! When I was first learning how to garden, I still remember an experienced gardener enthusiastically saying ‘You can never have too many peas!’ So if you too are a pea lover, or someone in your family is, plant lots then keep planting them throughout the season. Peas are not long lived and they know when they are done, and that’s it. So before the first batch is done, or you see them lagging, not as perky or as productive as they were, plant another round! When it gets near spring, if you are still wanting peas, plant heat tolerant varieties like Wando.

First decide if you want flat, snap or the peas themselves, or ALL of the above! Flat peas are called snow peas – perfect for stir-fries. Snap peas have a thick pod and often don’t make it home from the garden. They are eaten on the spot! Shelling peas have a tough thin shell, but the peas inside are delish! These might be your on-the-table steamed peas, although a fresh shelled pea is mighty tasty the moment it is shelled! Poor little helpless things.

Like beans, peas come in bush and tall pole varieties! Plant bush and pole at the same time – bush come in faster, production time is shorter. When they are done, those pole peas will be right there ready for the picking next! You container gardeners will find some great dwarf varieties listed below!

Snow Chinese Flat Peas Cashew Stir FryPisum savitum Mammoth Melting Sugar is a productive sweet-tasting SNOW PEA, Chinese PEA, FLAT PEA, ready to harvest in 68 days, resistant to Fusarium wilt. If you don’t want tall peas, there are several bush varieties to consider! Oregon Sugar Pod II has 20 to 30 inch vines, resistance to powdery mildew and Fusarium wilt, ready to harvest 65 days. Oregon Giant, growing to 30 inches tall, is resistant to most pea diseases as well. Remove the strings before eating fresh or preparing! See Cashew and Snow Pea Stir Fry!

Peas in a Pod Alderman ShellingPisum savitum ENGLISH SHELLING PEAS (bush and vine form) require more space and they have to be shelled. They have thin tough protective skins, and the peas are super easy to remove from the pods. Great pride goes with the bigger the number of peas per pod! There are dwarf and tall varieties and those that ripen early, mid- and late-season.  Dwarf vines are Little Marvel, Progress No. 9 (Laxton’s Progress) and Greater Progress. These are all resistant to Fusarium wilt.

Larger vines like Freezonian are resistant to most pea diseases, including Fusarium wilt; Green Arrow, which is resistant to downy mildew, Fusarium wilt and other viruses; and Maestro, which is resistant to Mosaic virus, Fusarium wilt and other viruses.

Snap Pea broken open shows thick pod!Pisum macrocarpon Of the SNAP PEAS (thick edible pods) Sugar Snap is the most widely planted commercially in California. It is resistant to most diseases, grows to a height of 6 feet and is ready to harvest in about 70 days. Super Sugar Snap, SSS, is Stringless and resistant to powdery mildew! Sugar Ann is a 15- to 24-inch dwarf that is resistant to most diseases, including powdery mildew. It is ready to harvest in ONLY 56 days! Sweet Snap (semi-dwarf), Sugar Rae (dwarf), and Sugar Daddy (stringless, dwarf) are all resistant to powdery mildew.

Sugar Mel, a 2- to 3-foot tall variety, has been reported to be more heat tolerant than other sugar snaps. Plant them in February. Unlike the others, this pea needs warmer conditions to sprout successfully. It is resistant to powdery mildew and is ready to harvest in 60 to 70 days. Pea Lovers, be sure to get the seeds well in advance so you will have late season peas in the spring! Mangetout, a pea eaten as a vegetable with an edible pod. Of them, Spring Blush may be the prettiest! 

Pea Snap - Mangetout Spring Blush is a pretty green with a pink blush!

You may have heard of Snow and Snap Peas as Mangetout, pronounce [MONJ] + [TOO] or mɑ̃ʒˈtu, a variety of pea eaten whole in its pod while still unripe. Spring Blush is lovely, a green snap pea with rose blush! The other amazing thing about the plants is their hyper-tendril habit—a new type in pea breeding. The tendrils are equally delicious to eat! You can get yellow and purple peas too! It’s fun for your mental palate to grow different colors!

Notice how many of these varieties are fusarium wilt resistant! All of Santa Barbara’s Community Gardens have this wilt in the soil, so be advised! The wilts are both soil and airborne.

If you are mindful of companions, you will find Peas are listed with several plants that in SoCal would be Summer plants whereas peas here are ‘Winter’ plants! Carrots are a great winter plant that enhance peas! Plant carrot seeds 3 weeks to a month before your peas. Carrots take awhile to germinate, and they grow slowly. Ideally you want them up before your peas. Peas grow up, carrots grow down. Frilly carrot leaves make living mulch for peas that have shallow roots and like moist soil. Water on the pea side of your planting. Too much water and carrots will split, but they both do like water. If you are just now planting and want those peas sooner than later, plant them both at once. The carrots will come along in time…

SOIL Peas have short roots, so soil has to be good for them right at the top, the first 4 to 6″! They like to be kept moist, so be sure you have added a goodly amount of compost in that 6″. Compost has water holding capacity. If your soil tends to dry out quickly, add some perlite. Follow the bag instructions. They need to be able to wiggle their roots, so a fertile, sandy loam is good, impermeable clay is not. Fertile but not overloaded with Nitrogen that makes more leaves than peas. Remember, legumes, like peas, pull Nitrogen right out of the air and deposit it on their roots! PDC – pretty darn clever! Wood ash and bone meal worked into the soil are good. Peas like that phosphorus and potassium.

Pea plants can grow in a range of soil pH levels, between 5.8, slightly acidic, and 7, neutral. A soil testing kit will tell you your soil pH. If too alkaline, add sulfur; if too acidic, add lime. You can do this!

Add your compost before planting to provide slow-release fertilizer for the entire growing season. Side dressing with compost midseason may extend your pea plants’ production time.

Young pea plants can take a light SoCal frost, but if you are growing peas in a snowy climate, please see The Old Farmer’s Almanac page!

For tall and vining pea varieties, set up poles or a trellis at the time of planting! Peas grow quickly and before you know it, putting up that trellis is not so easy anymore! In self defense, do it ASAP!

Presprouting your peas! The main good reason to do this is you are assured of sprouts! Peas planted where there were peas before have a natural inoculant in the ground and you are likely to get peas from seeds! If you are planting where none have been growing before, you need to buy and apply some inoculant to have better success. Or, you can sprout them at home so you can plant them with no empty spaces where ones didn’t come up. If any presprouts fail when planted, immediately presprout again to fill those spots! Transplants are no problem. They are already up. But if you want different varieties than available as transplants, you are back to starting from seeds.

Presprouting peas is super simple! Grab a plate, one piece of paper towel. Lay your towel so half of it is on the plate. Spritz it with good water, put your peas on the towel about an inch apart. Spritz them too! Fold the other half of the towel over them and spritz again. Put the plate in a warm place, not hot or in direct sunlight. Watch and wait. Keep them moist – not soaked, just moist or they may decompose/rot. Depending on temps, in about 4, 5 days you will have sprouts. Plan this ahead of time so they will be ready on the day you want to plant!

Verrry gently plant them carefully, root down, so you don’t break off the sprouts. Plant them no more than a quarter inch deep, just covered is even better, but not so watering washes the soil away. Water gently ~ more overhead than from the side so the soil cover and/or pea are not washed away. If you plant your peas in a about a 2″ deep trench with low sloping sides, the base of the trench keeps more moist. It makes it easy to cover the peas with some AVIARY wire, just lay it across the trench, to keep birds from plucking the seedlings up! If the weather is too warm for the new seedlings, lay a board on the wire over the trench. Let the board let some air flow in so the peas can get warm but not baked! Keep your seedlings and young plants consistently moist after planting.

If you are planting in fall, and there are still some hot days, plant your peas and carrots separately in 2 to 3″ deep slight trenches with low sloping sides so when you water, soil doesn’t wash down and cover the seeds too deep. Cover with aviary wire so the birds don’t pluck the pea seeds or seedlings of either away. Before expected hot days, cover the wire with boards to protect the pea seeds from being baked, the peas stay moist. Raise one side of the board enough for a little airflow underneath, so the seeds can be moist, yet not so moist they will rot.

Maintenance is pretty easy. Add mulch if your soil dries too much, too quickly. Weed very gently – either tease the weeds away or snip them off so as not to damage your pea’s roots. Keep their soil moist consistently from the first flower until harvest to develop full, flavorful pods.

Slugs and birds. Put down Sluggo or the like BEFORE you plant transplants or tiny precious seedlings or seeds! Slugs can mow them in one night. Pea seedlings are tender and carrots are so tiny! This is a time when over planting carrots is a good strategy. Theoretically the slugs can’t eat all your carrot seedlings…. A good thick row could act as a barrier, but, you will definitely be on your hands and knees thinning those little plants for your salad! If the pellets disappear, put down some more for second generation slugs. Keep watch.

Again, cover your seedlings with AVIARY wire as soon as your seedlings are in the ground. Birds love those fresh green morsels. A small flock of hungry winter birds can take the whole lot in moments. Once the plants are up, 8″ to a foot, you can try removing the wire. In our garden the birds still peck the leaves of the bigger plants, so my enclosure is about 1 1/2′ tall on both sides at the bottom of the trellis. In years when food and water are slim for the birds you may have to enclose the entire trellis.

Swoosh away aphids or spray them with an insecticidal soap mixture or one of your own making! For diseases like wilts and powdery mildew, water in the morning if at all possible and select disease-resistant varieties.

Harvest tips! Once picked, peas lose their sugar within hours, so pick, shell and eat them as soon as possible. No problem.

Golden Snow Pea! Shelling or eat the young pod whole!

Pick peas regularly to extend your harvest. Be careful – use two hands to pick the peas, one to hold the stem, the other to pick the pod. There is nothing so sad as to pull a producing vine from the ground accidentally. You can’t replant them. And that’s why you stake your trellis or cage so strongly to prevent them from blowing over in winter winds! Don’t lag getting your trellis up or installing your cage. Peas grow quickly, and keeping them off the ground keeps them out of reach of ground feeding insects, soil diseases, and gives a clean harvest.

Plant lots of them, different kinds – maybe try these gold snow peas, successively, every month or two! Remember, LOL, ‘You can never plant too many peas!

From Monticello.org: The English or Garden pea is usually described as Thomas Jefferson’s favorite vegetable because of the frequency of plantings in the Monticello kitchen garden, the amount of garden space devoted to it (three entire “squares”), and the character-revealing playfulness of his much-discussed pea contests: according to family accounts, every spring Jefferson competed with local gentleman gardeners to bring the first pea to the table; the winner then hosting a community dinner that included a feast on the winning dish of peas. Among the nineteen pea varieties Jefferson documented sowing were Early Frame, which was planted annually from 1809 until 1824….  more

Peas 1908 Shelling Peas by Swedish artist Carl Larsson

1908 Shelling Peas by Swedish artist Carl Larsson. The artist’s wife Karin, dressed in a blue-patterned dress and white apron, shells peas with help from two of her children.

May you and your peas live long and prosper!

Updated annually

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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.

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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Select the best varieties of these 3 popular winter plants – Chard, Broccoli, Peas! 

Be gathering up your seeds now, start them mid August!  Your transplants will go in the ground late September or October.

1) Chard is a super producer per square foot, also highly nutritious, and low, low calorie!  Select early maturing varieties for eating sooner!  It’s a cut-and-come-again plant.  Keep taking the lower older leaves as they mature to the size you prefer!

    Fordhook Giant is a mega producer, and is truly Giant!

    Bright Lights/Neon Lights makes a winter garden brilliant with color!  Better than flowers!

Make-you-hungry image from Harvest Wizard!

Simple Mucho Delicious Sautéed Chard Recipe!

Melt butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic and onion, and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the chard stems and the white wine. Simmer until the stems begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chard leaves, and cook until wilted. Finally, drizzle with lemon juice, sprinkle with Parmesan or your favorite grated cheese, or throw in fish or chicken pieces, or bacon bits, or pine nuts and cranberries, and toss!  Salt or not to taste.  Oh, yes.

2)  Broccoli is super nutritious, a great antioxidant, and easy to grow. 

Considered to be all season:

    Cruiser (58 days to harvest; uniform, high yield; tolerant of dry conditions)

    Green Comet (55 days; early; heat tolerant)

    All Season F1 Hybrid is my current fav!  The side shoots are abundant and big, easier and faster harvesting!  The plants are low, they don’t shade out other plants, and compact, a very efficient footprint!

Sprouting Varieties:

    Calabrese:  Italian, large heads, many side shoots. Loves cool weather. Does best when transplanted outside mid-spring or late summer.  Considered a spring variety (matures in spring).  Disease resistant.  58 – 80 days

    DeCicco:  Italian heirloom, bountiful side shoots. Produces a good fall crop, considered a spring variety.  Early, so smaller main heads.  48 to 65 days

    Green Goliath:  Early heavy producer, tolerant of extremes.  Prefers cool weather, considered a spring variety.  53-60 days

    Waltham 29  Cold resistant, prefers fall weather but has tolerance for late summer heat.  Late 85 days.

    Green Comet:  Early-maturing (58 days) hybrid produces a 6-inch-diameter head and is very tolerant of diseases, heat tolerant.

    Packman:  Hybrid that produces a 9-inch-diameter main head in 53 days. Excellent side-shoot production.

3)  PEAS are because you love them!  They come in zillions of varieties.  Plant LOTS!  I plant some of each, the English shelling peas in a pod, snow or Chinese flat-pod peas, and the snap peas that are fat podded crisp snacks that usually don’t make it home from the garden!  Snow and snaps are great in salads.  Well, so are shelled peas!  Snow peas can be steamed with any veggie dish or alone.  Fresh English peas require the time and patience to hull them, but are SO tasty who cares?!

For more varieties info, click here

F
is Fusarium resistant, AAS is All America Selection, PM is Powdery Mildew resistant

China, snow, or sugar

F   Dwarf Grey Sugar

F   Mammoth Melting Sugar

Snap (thick, edible pods)

AAS, PM   Sugar Ann (dwarf)

PM   Sweet Snap (semi-dwarf)

PM   Sugar Rae (dwarf)

PM   Sugar Daddy (stringless, dwarf)

AAS   Sugar Snap

Whether you get these exact varieties or not, mainly, I’m hoping you will think about how different varieties are, of any kind of plant, whether that plant is suitable for your needs, if it has disease resistance/tolerance, heat/frost tolerance, if it is an All America Selection, what its days to maturity are.  A few extra moments carefully looking at that tag or seed pack can be well worth it.

Next week:  August in Your Garden! 

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

Cold season things to know about your veggies!

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

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

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

Frost or freeze survival….

Before!

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

After! 

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

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

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

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Updated 12.16.15


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

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

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