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I love Val Webb’s image and she and I both love COMPOST!  She says:  There’s an irresistible alchemy involved when you can start with garbage and end up with a wildly nutrient-rich substance that has been likened to Ghirardelli chocolate for earthworms.

Composting is EASY! Start Now!  Get your soil fat!  The sooner you plant, and plant in tasty soil, the sooner you get a great harvest!

There’s compost and vermicompost, hot and cold compost, compost in place, trenching, to name a few.  You have options!

Compost is decayed organic matter – poops – that’s manures, dry leaves and straw/alfalfa, wet grasses and kitchen wastes. Compost has a variable amount of Nitrogen in it depending on what has been composted and how the compost was made. Some studies show unturned compost has more Nitrogen than turned compost. Homemade compost can be up to 4 N, as is fish emulsion and chicken manure. Steer is 2, horse 1.7. If you need a quick boost for a yellowing N starved plant, go for bat guano, or easily assimilable blood meal, both at 10 N! Be careful with that bat guano, it’s hot and can burn your plants. And both are pricey. Get just the amount you need at Island Seed and Feed’s bulk bins.

Vermicompost is worm poop. Politely, worm castings. Simple as that. Red wriggler worms are easy to raise, will eat lots of things but do best with tender stuff, your green kitchen waste. They love cantaloupe and melon rinds, nesting in avocado shells, egg shells keep their pH neutral. Wrigglers are surface feeders not earthworms. If you put wrigglers in the soil, they die. Worm castings (vermicompost) have negligible N, about .05, are NOT A FERTILIZER, but do a lot of other good things for your plants. Highly recommended.

Hot compost has to be made carefully, have just the right mix, be tended like a baby, and defies many attempts to get it hot! If you don’t get the combo of your materials right, you are cold composting. The advantage of hot composting is it is fast, kills bad creatures and weed seeds. Also kills the good guys. But. Only in the parts of the pile that actually get that hot. The whole pile never gets that hot, like the outside of the pile. Even if you turn it so the outside goes inside, it’s hard to guarantee it will all get that hot, so be advised. It’s pretty cute to see all those little plants that spring up in the pile….

Cold compost is just throwing your done plants or trim, preferably not diseased or pest infested, into a pile or your compost enclosure, layering with some wet or dry material as needed. It might get hot, it likely won’t. It will decompose if you keep it moist. If not you have dead dry stuff, no nutrients.  Some studies have shown that cold compost is more nutritious than hot compost.  Makes sense since you aren’t burning off Nitrogen and other goodies including beneficial insects and microorganisms.  If your stuff doesn’t turn black and fluffy and smell good when it is decomposed to unrecognizable pieces, you don’t have compost. Perhaps you could use it as mulch?

Composting in place, sheet composting, Lasagna Gardening, is a time saver, no moving later. Chop and drop on the spot, add dry/wet materials as needed, amendments, red wrigglers, let nature do the work.  Especially add some chicken manure before you add your layers, because decomposition uses Nitrogen!  If you are starting on top of turf, using cardboard as your bottom layer, be sure to SATURATE the cardboard.  Don’t rush this part.  Really saturate it.  You want it to last long enough for the grass underneath it to die, to keep the grass from growing up through your pile; you also want your cardboard to decompose so your plants’ roots can grow through it when your pile sinks as the pile decomposes.

Trenching kitchen trim is traditional – cover it and forget it! Crushed eggshells, torn tea bags, coffee grounds. Six inches deep is all you need to do. Cover with the soil, water as usual, your stuff will disappear in about a week! Don’t put in meats or oils that attract digging predators, or grains or cereals that will attract mice. Leave out citruses and spicy foods.

Start Now! 10 Easy Steps to Make RICH COMPOST!

Make the most out of your finished plants or trim; use them for compost, organic fertilizer! A compost enclosure is a fine garden investment! Keep it humming! Dig your compost in around your plants, plant IN your new compost! Surface compost Nitrogen just off gases, so put a layer of soil over your compost to keep the Nitrogen right where you need it, in the soil feeding your plants.

1. Get or make your enclosure, a good working size for you, then layer, layer, layer! Half inch layers are ideal, but do what you can.  A pile 3′ by 3′ is your best minimum if you want a hot pile.  Enclosures can be free pallets on Craigs List tied together, plastic beehive types to keep the rats and mice out, the circular hard black rubber kind, to expensive rolling types, garbage cans with bottoms removed, holes made in their sides!  Do what works for you!
2. Dry stuff first so it will get wet from the stuff you put on top.  That’s ‘brown’ – dry ingredients such as dead leaves, wetted newspaper or cardboard, alfalfa/straw.  The formula is 2 dry, brown to 1 wet, ‘green.’
3. Layer up with your kitchen waste you saved, undiseased green waste from your garden or greens recycle bin. Avoid hard woody stems and seeding weed plants. Cut up large items, halve whole items like apples, potatoes. Tear teabags, crush eggshells.
4. Lay in a few yarrow leaves to speed decomposition. Grow yarrow by your composter for handy use.
5. Inoculate with a sprinkle of soil, living micro organisms, that multiply, munch and speed composting.
6. Sprinkle your layers with aged manure (keep a bucketful next to your composter) to enrich it.
7. Keep layering up to 3’ high or until you run out of materials.
8. Keep your composting materials moist, to keep them live and decomposing.  Don’t let them dry out – dry is dead, nothing happens, nutrients are lost, time and space wasted.
9. Cover with a large piece of *folded heavy mil black plastic to keep your compost moist, and dark so any worms that take up residence work up through the whole pile, to the top .
10. Keep adding to it, stir or turn often to oxygenate, weekly if you can.  Composting organisms need lots of air to operate.  Keep it moist but not drippy and drowning.  Some studies show compost is more Nitrogen rich if you DON’T turn it!  Hmm…read on.

If you are not able to do that much heavy turning or don’t want to take the time, simply, push a long stick into your compost, several times, in different places, to let oxygen in.  Or, if you are inclined, at intervals in your pile, as you build it, you can insert, horizontally or vertically, 2″ PVC pipes, that have had holes drilled in them every 6″ for aeration.  If you are going to insert horizontally, make your holes on one side only; put the holes side down to keep them from clogging.  Make sure both ends stick out so there is air flow through the pipes.  If you insert vertically, drill holes all around the pipe.  If you use a larger diameter, line it with wire mesh to keep it from filling with debris.  Once made, you can use your PVC over and over.  Other alternatives are to make wire mesh cylinders or tie a bundle of twigs together.

Your compost is finished when you no longer recognize the individual materials that went into it. If you are have a small compost batch, when ready, lay out your *folded plastic cover, pitchfork the still decomposing stuff on top of your pile onto your plastic.  Use that good stuff at the bottom where you want it. Or plant in the nutrient rich spot where your composter was!  Put your composter in a new spot, fork the stuff still decomposing back in, add new materials, recover, do it again!  The process slows down in winter, speeds up in summer, generally you have some compost in 6 to 8 weeks.

If you have time, throw a cup or so of compost in a bucket, fill with water, let sit overnight, voila, compost tea! Soak your seeds in it before planting!  Pour it round your plants or use your watering can to spray it on their leaves, both tops and bottoms – foliar feeding.  Your veggies will thrive!  If you have a lawn, make aeration holes with your spade fork and pour the tea down them.  You soil will start to live again!

Your soil and your plants thank you!

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Healthy Summer Feeding, Watering, Disease & Pest Prevention!

Feeding.  It’s heating up, your plants are growing fast, they’re hungry and need more water!  Give your leaf crops like lettuce lots of Nitrogen.  Don’t overfeed beans, strawberries or tomatoes or you will get lots of leaf, no crop!  If you do, did, give your plants some seabird guano (bat guano is too hot sometimes).  Fertilizers high in P Phosphorus bring blooms – more blooms = more fruit!  Get it in bulk at Island Seed & Feed.  It’s easy to apply, just sprinkle, rough up your soil surface, water in.  Go lightly with your applications to young plants that could get burned.  When blooming starts, give your plants phosphorus fertilizers once a week, a month, as the package says, as you feel, to keep the blooms coming!  Foliar feed your peppers, solanaceaes – toms, eggplant, and your roses with Epsom Salts!  Only 1 Tablespoon per gallon of water does the job!

Water deeply.  Poke your finger down into the soil to see how deeply your watering has penetrated.  Get one of those gurgler devices to keep the water from blasting a hole in your soil; put the hose under your veggies.  Try to remember to keep moving it.  That’s the main reason I don’t do that myself, I just get carried away with weeding or tending, or harvesting, chatting, and, uh oh, woops, forget, and it’s flood time.  Maybe I’ll carry a pocket sized timer and experiment with the right timing per water flow?  Still, it’s a nuisance to have to keep moving the durn thing.  The advantage of standing there watering is you notice what’s happening in your garden and think on what to do next.  Flooding isn’t good because it drowns your soil organisms, and your plants drown too, not able to get their oxygen quota.  What’s weird is that some wilting plants, like chard, may not be needing water at all!  Some plants just naturally wilt in midday heat.  They are doing a naturely thing, their version of shutting down unneeded systems, and watering them isn’t what they need at all!  Also, flooding kinda compacts your soil as the life is washed down the drain so to speak, natural healthy soil oxygen channels cave in.  You see, it’s the balance you need.  Water underneath rather than overhead to keep from spreading diseases like strawberry leaf spot.  Harvest first while bean plants are dry so you don’t spread mildew, then water.  Wash your hands if you handle diseased plants, before you move on to other plants.

Disease & Pest Prevention

  • Ok, May is one of our mildew months.  Get out the nonfat powered milk, throw some in your planting hole.  Drench your plantlets, especially beans, melons and zucchini, while they are small, maybe every couple of weeks after that with ¼ Cup milk/Tablespoon baking soda mix, to a watering can of water.  Get it up under the leaves as well as on top.  That gives their immune system a boost, makes unhappy habitat for the fungi.
  •  Sluggo for snails/slugs –  put down immediately upon planting seeds, and when transplants are installed!  Remove tasty habitat and hiding places
  • Trap gophers (or do what you do) immediately before they have children
  • Spray off black and gray aphids, white flies – get up underneath broccoli leaves, in the curls of kale leaves.  Spray the heads of broc side shoots, fava flower heads.  Remove badly infested parts or plants. NO ANTS.
  • Leafminers – remove blotched areas of the leaf or remove infested leaves from chard, beets. Don’t let your plants touch each other.  Except for corn that needs to be planted closely to pollinate, plant randomly, biodiversely, rather than in blocks or rows.  If you are planting a six-pack, split it up, 3 and 3, or 2, 3, 1, in separate places in your garden.  Then if you get disease or pests in one group, they don’t get all your plants!  Crunch those orange and black shield bugs, and green and black cucumber beetles (in cucumber & zuch flowers).  Sorry little guys.
  • Plant year round habitat for beneficial insects, pollinators – lacewings, ladybird beetles, hover flies.  Let some arugula, broccoli, carrot, cilantro, mustards, parsley go to flower.  Plant Borage.  Bees love its beautiful edible blue star flowers, and they are lovely tossed on top of a cold crisp summer salad!

 Love your Garden, it will love you back!

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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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Strawberry!

It’s Mid October, just the right time, so I am posting this reminder!

Strawberry Runners!  Mid Oct cut off runners, gently dig up if they have rooted, shake the soil off.  Clip all but two or three leaves off, tie ‘em together in loose bunches. Plastic bag them and put in the back of your fridge for 20 days.  Plant them Nov 5 to 10! 

Prechilling your plants makes them think they had a cold winter.  When days get longer and warmer, they will produce fruit, not as much vegetative growth.  You can then either keep your plants that produced this year, or remove and compost them, start fresh with new plants!  Online you will read to pluck the flowers from first year plants, letting them get well established, then getting a great 2nd year crop.  Commercial growers plant new plants every year and harvest those first year plants. 

Can you plant strawberries from seed?  Sure!  When I eat strawberries at the garden, I leave a little flesh on my strawberry tops, toss them into a dampish spot in the garden.  When the birds or bugs have gotten to one too much for me to eat, or I missed it under leaves, and it is too past its prime, I push back the soil right at the surface, pop the strawberry in, leaving the top of it just barely covered.  Just like planting tiny lettuce seeds, just barely covered.  The decaying fruit is a perfect medium for growth!   Here and there, later on, I find new plants starting that didn’t come from runners!  The more deliberate way of doing this might be to take a package of strawberries you didn’t eat in time, slice ’em, if they are still sliceable, and plant them. 

Or, just buy a pack of seeds at the nursery and go for it, September and April being the best times of year to plant them!  First, put them in the fridge or freezer for 2 weeks.  This will improve the percentage of seeds that will germinate, when you plant them. Freezing stimulates the natural process of the seed going through the winter months and will help jump start the strawberry seeds when you plant them.  Since the seeds are tiny, and sprouts will be very tiny, be sure to mark off that area so you will water very gently there, with your sprinkler can, so you don’t wash them away.  No flooding, ok?  Just keep them moist.

How many seeds are on the average strawberry?  200!  Save your own!  J Smith says:  ‘Looking at a strawberry, you can see on average about 200 “seeds” per strawberry, which sit in its skin around the outside. To a botanist, however, these are not seeds but tiny individual fruits. Still, the strawberry is not considered to be a true berry because it does not have its seeds on the inside, like other berries do.’

Transplants are easier and more sure; seeds are less expensive.  Either way, happy eating – strawberries are low in calories, high in Vitamin C!

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AUGUST is WATER SPECIFIC month! 

Keep it steady!

The Southern California coastal ‘June Glooms’ may continue, or alternate with hot days in August.  That calls for your attention; there just isn’t a routine, so water with passion!  Feel how your veggie must be feeling!  Thirsty plants need their water to continue to grow and produce.  Most plants need consistent water.  If they don’t get it they make misshapen fruits, or stop producing at all, thinking summer or production time is over.  Oops.  If you need to be gone, ask someone reliable and experienced, who knows what your plants need, to water for you.  General courtesy and gratitude is you offer to let them pick what ripens while they are tending your veggies.    

Think like a plant!  Pretend you are a short rooted plant, like a strawberry, lettuce, onion, bean, cucumber. You can’t go get the hose yourself, but you need to stay moist or your toes dry up.  You are hoping your gardener will check, stick their finger in the ground, to see just how moist your soil is and how deep the moisture goes.  Think like a tall big corn making fat cobs – needs water from bottom to top!  Giant leafy plants like chard, kales with tons of curls, zucchinis, need a lot of water to fill up those leaves!  Plants that are in full production, especially of watery fruits like zucchinis, cucumbers, and tomatoes need steady water to make those fruits.  You need more water because you are working hard, and there is a lot of you!  If you are a little seed or seedling, you need tender gentle watering so you won’t be swept away or broken!  Remember, fuzzy plants, like tomatoes and eggplant prefer dry leaves, so water them underneath.  Although with tomatoes, better to water their neighbors or nearby rather than right at or under them.  That’s to let the soil near the roots be dry, to not harbor the Verticillium and Fusarium Wilts.  The water your tomatoes can then get is from their lower roots below the topsoil fungus area.      

Rebuild water basins that have degraded to be sure to capture the water your plant needs.  Use some pretty shells or rocks to hold the soil in place.      

A sure sign there isn’t enough moisture is if the water just runs off the top of the soil to low spots.  That soil needs a deep thorough soaking to wash away accumulated surface salts.   Water deeper and less frequently.   Mulch can help, keep it a couple inches away from the veggie stem.  One of the simplest things is to take healthy trim, chop and drop.       

On these overcast days, water at ground level and in the AM so leaves aren’t wet, mildewing.  Cut off bottom leaves so they don’t transmit funguses from the soil up into your plants, and keep fruit up off the soil to prevent bug nibbles.      

Winter Weather  Predictions are mild to cooler and dry.  Cooler means slower growth, so this fall, perhaps a bit more manures – as they rot they create heat and nutrients for your plants.  Plant a tad more densely in a row for more crop, and to keep the plants warmer together.  But, do leave plenty of space between the rows for air flow to keep down diseases.  Do you follow the Farmers’ Almanac planting dates?      

Tomato Questions & Cures – Holes, spots, brown areas?  Here is an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) image page from UC Davis that is likely to answer your question!  It includes diseases and pests.      

How to Get RID of those cute pesky digging Skunks!  http://www.howtogetridofstuff.com/pest-control/how-to-get-rid-of-skunks/

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