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Design a Fabulous Raised Bed Veggie Garden!

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

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

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

MARCH through June Planting Timing 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curly Leaf Kale Branching into Bush form!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finish your Summer Gardening preparations!

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

Complete your Soil Prep! 

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

Pests Reminders and Home Remedies!

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

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

Do not compost diseased or infested leaves or plants. 

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

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

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

Grass in Flower, soon to Seed

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

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

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

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

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

See the entire March 2018 GBC Newsletter!

March Planting, Thoughtful Garden Design & Choices!

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

Senior Veggie Gardening!

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

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

Read Full Post »

Greenhouse Henry Ford Hospital Michelle Lutz

Michigan’s Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital upgraded the condition of its food by adding a greenhouse. Michelle Lutz oversees production of vegetables, fruits and herbs, used in preparations such as braised romaine salad. / Photos courtesy of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital

Greenhouse seedlings, transplants are ready six to eight weeks early and you can grow Out-of-Season Treats in winter! Pest and disease free equals greater production! For institutions like hospitals, greenhouses are workhorses! A greenhouse is a most valuable part of a productive home garden. Seedlings are ready for earlier planting. Hospitals want the best food possible for the health of their patients, and can’t afford to be weather dependent.

As a home gardener in coastal SoCal areas you may question the need for a greenhouse. Though unheated, ours at our mile-from-the-beach community garden is well used! We often run out of space for everyone’s seedlings as we get closer to planting time or the weather warms! Even unheated, an enclosed space is heated by the sun during the day and doesn’t get so cold at night, no chilling winds or late freezes in there! Seedlings are protected from marauding pests, birds, walkabout creatures. Foothills and inland gardeners get more heat and more COLD! They really can use greenhouses to advantage.

Greenhouse Long CucumbersIn addition to starting preseason transplants, in a heated greenhouse you can grow out of season tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, cucumbers, beans, eggplant, zucchini, cantaloupe! Herbs, chard, raspberries and strawberries! And winter crops too if you just have too much snow outside!

Your greenhouse doesn’t need to be huge or showy. It just needs to do the job.

Super options!

Our land is flat, but yours might have slopes and you could choose to have an earth shelter space complete with indoor shower! See also Heating Greenhouses Without Electricity!

Greenhouses come in a vast variety of shapes from squares to pillowdomes! Buy a premade kit or design and build it yourself entirely to your specs.
You can have a 2′ wide up against the chimney mini to a palatial entire rooftop greenhouse with an elegant view!
You may have a built in the ground greenhouse cousin, a cold frame, or an indoor kitchen window box.

Materials vary from hoop frames to the fanciest filigree and glass, cob or strawbale! They can be spanking new, made of have-arounds, or be recycled from demolition sites! Covering materials can be poly films, panels, glass and glazing. There are so many new products, techniques, new research, all the time, and each person’s needs are so different, it is wise to check these things out for yourself. Talk with several ‘experts’ on each topic. Read up online. Compare. See what you really want. See what will do the best job for your needs.

If you have space for a larger greenhouse, consider gardening some of your crops in it! Hoop houses, or high tunnel farming is a recent invention. They are certainly the larger version of traditional row covers! There are huge commercial installations. Yet home made hoop houses can be no bigger than 8X8, so easy to put up a child can do it!

  • Season extension is the #1 advantage. 30 days on the front end and 30 days on the back end of the growing season is equivalent to moving your farming operation 400 miles to the south!
  • Yields increase when your plants are protected from excessive rain and wind. When a more ideal growing temperature is maintained, a reduction in temperature-related stress, fruit set, fruit size increases.
  • There is no bolting, so no loss of your plant’s production.
  • Because temperatures are maintained, you can plant when you want to, not have to wait until conditions are favorable.
  • Soil conditions are more controlled, less moist, less to no fungi – wilts, blights.
  • No pests, no pesticides! No birds, small mammals.
  • Plus, they are movable!

Greenhouse Energy Efficient Attached Lean ToEnergy efficient attached greenhouses make a lot of sense. The home, and these bricks, help heat the greenhouse for free! Some attached greenhouses are beautiful walkin sunrooms, garden rooms, conservatories!

If you decide to build a greenhouse yourself, first check on local ordinances and with your neighbors. Place it conveniently, near electrical and water access if possible. Choose a location with a winter angle for maximum light, as much sun as possible. Use trees for windbreaks if necessary.

Know your prevailing wind direction, be sure it is well anchored. Use concrete blocks with eye hook attachments, sink posts or anchoring stakes, or use sand, not rocks, on the windward base cover.

Your roof choice tells us what kind of weather you have! Steep slopes and insulated lower areas tell us you are in high cold country with snow and need to decrease your heating costs. Medium slopes with rounded shoulders are good in windy and rainy areas. An extended slope on one side that faces the sun tells us you may get a lot of shade from trees on one side.

Doors make a difference. If you are in a windy area, you might choose sliding doors that can be secured and weather stripped versus velcroed flaps, zippers or swing out doors that blow away or animals could get through.

Ventilation is key! Hot days are hot! In two shakes a greenhouse can to get up to 110 degrees! Doors and windows can be the vents if intruders are not an issue, otherwise, ceiling vents are best. Solar devices can be set to open when temps hit a high level. Fans may be needed.

Greenhouse sloped for lots more Solar energy!Electrical! Get advice from a greenhouse experienced professional because of the extreme conditions: heat, wet, cold. Make sure that person knows local codes
Consider solar lights, vent openers, fans or simply long sloped sides to have lots more solar energy as in the image!
Growlights? Yes!
Night light to see by
Computer monitor

Irrigation tips! Put your timer OUTSIDE! Make & see your adjustments without getting wet! Mini drop down sprayers or foggers at varying adjustable heights along an overhead line are fabulous! Consider recycling your water – is it legal to use grey water where you live? Collect rainwater.

A word about Damping Off. Damping off is a common problem with seedlings started in containers, indoors or in greenhouses. Per Planet Natural: ‘Several fungi can cause decay of seeds and seedlings including species of rhizoctonia, fusarium and phytophthora. However, species of the soil fungus pythium are most often the culprit. Damping off typically occurs when old seed is planted in cold, wet soil and is further increased’ by poor soil drainage.

Disease Cinnamon Damping Off PreventionThe super simplest prevention is Cinnamon! Just sprinkle it on the soil! Sprinkle on plant injuries and they will heal. It is a rooting hormone. Mildew, mold, fungal diseases? Mix 4 tablespoons cinnamon in a half gallon warm water, shake it vigorously, steep overnight. Strain through a sieve or coffee filter and put it in a spray bottle. Add ¼ teaspoon liquid dish soap as a surfactant, lightly spritz your plants, undersides and tops of leaves! (In Santa Barbara area buy it in big containers at Smart & Final.) Also, it repels ants!

Pathway and Flooring best for your plants and feet! Have a sturdy pathway that stands up to wheelbarrow use. A non muddy pathway saves your greenhouse floor. A raised flooring keeps you from having a muddy mess. Drainage is necessary so there is no rot or mold. Heated flooring is the best. There are great options, more and less expensive! Concrete, rubber matting saves your feet. Dirt, my last choice, and/or pavers. Decomposed granite, pea gravel, raised wooden slats, pallets, straw, chips – use weed mat underneath! Use pest protection wire under weed mat and soft flooring choices. No gophers, no mice, squirrels, bunnies or snakes, thank you.

Greenhouse Shelving FanShelves and Worktable

Make your work table a good working height for you
Shelving needs to be safe and well supported
Construct your shelves wire covered like the top shelves in the image, or like the lower shelves, out of spaced boards so water drains, the boards dry, there is no mildew or mold.
Enough space between boards makes it easy to clean
Or use open wire metal shelving that allows drainage and dries
If there is lower shelving, slant it down from back to front

  • so you can see what is in the back
  • It is easier to get items in back out – keep heavier items to front
  • No water clings to it – stays dry, no rot or mold

OR some say don’t have bottom shelves so there is no nesting space for mice or chipmunks – they WILL eat your plants! You want to be able to SEE the ground! Depends on how critter secure your house is.

Rather than just the greenhouse, consider a 4 part working complex! A storage shed, the greenhouse, a covered work area and hardening off area.

Tool & Gear Storage could hold your tools and supplies!

Wheelbarrow, all tools – shovel, rake, pitchfork, spade fork
Small tools – trowel, clippers, sprayers
Bags of compost, potting mixes etc
Plug trays, biodegradable containers, labels
Gloves, apron, work boots, jacket
Greenhouse gear & replacement materials

Greenhouse Support Supplies!

Heating gear – heaters, heating mats
Cooling systems – fans
Irrigation, misting items
Lighting – grow light, night light
Thermostat, humidity (no mold), temperature   devices, CO2 generators
Secure, safe-for-children and pets, dry storage containers

Your Workspace needs a sun shade top and wind screen side. It would be a good place for your composter, worm bin and might be a good place for your rain collector barrels

Care and Maintenance

Seasonal checks, reset watering needs, replace brittle coverings
Routine cleaning inside and out
Equipment
Sterilize propagation area
Ventilation – Heat, condensation. Insulation – Frost
Deal with pests and diseases immediately!

Greenhouse Reused Doors and WindowsGreenhouses made of reused doors and windows are much more green than recycling!

Sustainable Greenhouses are often compost or solar heated!
They have heated benches and floor because root zone temperatures are more critical to plant growth than leaf temperatures. By maintaining an optimum root zone temperature, greenhouse air temperatures can be lowered 15° F!
LED’s balance good light, cooler temps
Hydroponics (preferably aeroponics) remove excess heat and water vapor
CO2 is recycled by breaking down old plant debris in a digester
Soluble components of the plant debris can be incorporated back into the nutrient solutions.

5 Sustainable Sources to stir your thinking!

  1. Eco-Friendly Greenhouses
  2. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service:  Greenhouse Production
  3. Sustainable Architecture, Greenhouse Book & Video List
  4. Kiva’s straw bale greenhouse – the time & money it takes
  5. The Ghandi of Greenhouses – The Greenhouse Biz

Rooftop greenhouse with a view of the city! Germany Fraunhofer UMSICHT

Fresh City Tomatoes, Any Time! On his way home from the office, the computer scientist harvests tomatoes from his company‘s rooftop greenhouse. No food miles! Why not produce lettuce, beans and tomatoes where most of the consumers are to be found: in the city? The flat roofs of many buildings are well-suited for growing vegetables. Rooftop greenhouses can also make use of a building‘s waste heat and cleaned waste water. Solar modules can do the rest. This uptown rooftop greenhouse urban garden is in Germany. Image courtesy of Fraunhofer UMSICHT.

Greenhouse Conferences! Tradeshows, sustainable, educational. Local, international! If you love greenhouses, might want to do urban agriculture business, just want to get involved, check these out online. There are different sponsors, different locations each year!

Whatever your special connection is, in SoCal, before our winter rains and cooler weather, late summer, early fall are perfect for getting your very own fine greenhouse up and running! If you miss that window, very early in the new year is good so you can start seedlings for early March plantings!

You might decide to sleep in it the first night!


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

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

 

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Vermicomposting Workshop Vancouver

Since 1990, City Farmer and the City of Vancouver have held worm composting workshops for City of Vancouver residents who live in apartments. For $25 participants get a worm bin, 500 worms (1 lb), Mary Appelhof’s book “Worms Eat My Garbage”, a trowel, bedding and a one-hour class. Now that’s a deal!

Worm Castings are true BLACK GOLD to your garden soil, and high quality store-bought castings are just about as expensive! For good reasons. Worm castings are literally living!  Worm castings host ten to twenty times as much microbial activity than plain soil! They cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits and vegetables are produced. Castings contain 5 times the available nitrogen, 7 times the available potash and 1 1/2 times more calcium than that found in 12″ of topsoil. These nutrients are also water-soluble and immediately available to the plant. Most potting soils have a nutrient life for 2 to 5 days, where worm castings will last up to 6 times as long.

Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

The right kind of worms are RED WIGGLERS! They forage on debris at the surface. They are smaller than earthworms that live IN the earth. Fishermen use them for bait. Ask your fellow gardeners to give you a handful to get started, go to the bait shack, ask at the farmers market, or support your local organic worm dealer! The little guys live 1 to 2 years. My clew (colony) has been going strong for 15 years now.

Worms are easy to raise or you can use a complex system. You can start them anytime, indoors or out depending on temps. Here in SoCal Santa Barbara mine live outside all year in full sun, brief freezes. They are more active when they are warmer. Soy inked newspaper is often used for bedding to start a clew. Worms are 90% water, so keep the bedding moist. My worms get all the moisture they need from the juicy kitchen bits I feed them and I cover them with their black plastic blankie inside the container to keep them moist! If your bin is stinky, you may be overfeeding or watering too much. Maybe increase the size of the air openings or put your bin where there is more circulation, or out of the shade into a sunny area.

Though you can start your worms anytime, two good times to start them are January and July. January will give you a well established clew and supply of castings for spring plantings starting in SoCal March. July gives a good supply for September, October fall plantings.

Vermicomposting Easy Bin Children Worms

Housing! This bin is great for at home gardeners or children’s school projects! The worms are safe from predators, access is easy, any liquid, leachate, worm tea, drains into the lid below. I use a longer bin about the same height.

Since Red Wigglers, Eisenia Foetida, are surface foragers, these worms need width, not depth. Mine live in a low 4′ by 2′ opaque dark grey storage container. I put holes in the bottom to allow the leachate to drain out and from time to time I move the bin to another location to enrich the soil there, each area getting some of that good stuff! I put holes about 6 to 8″ apart along the sides near the top. The wormies get air flow and on hot days hot air vents out. Inside the container I cover them with a large heavy mil black plastic bag to keep it moist and dark for them. They feed all the way to the top because they feel safe in the dark where no birds can see them!

I do have a shaped-to-the-base piece of 1/4″ hardware cloth, a wire mesh, around the bottom of my box to prevent predator pests like mice or rats from gnawing into the holes in the bottom of the box. Worms are gourmet for them! Sprinkle cinnamon about if you have ants.

How to Start! Select your container or system.

  • If you choose a container, get one made of opaque material, a dark color if it is available. Worms like dark, just like under the leaves, in the topsoil, in nature. Make 1/4″ or less diameter holes in the bottom and near the top of the sides or as needed. If you put holes in the container lid, rainwater will go in, perhaps flooding your worms. A hot stove flame heated very large screwdriver blade is quick and perfect for making holes in plastic containers. Push the screwdriver in and twist. If your container will be indoors, you will need a tray underneath to collect drippings.
  • Put in 4 to 6″ of moist shredded soy ink newspaper bedding, no bleached office papers. Soak the paper overnight, then wring it out so it is moist like a wrung out sponge, fluff it up. Add some leaves if you have them, and what kitchen trim you might have been saving. If the kitchen stuff is a little funky that’s best because your worms feed on bacteria!
  • Add your worms!
  • Feed your worms slowly at first. As your worms multiply, give them more chow. Bury food scraps to keep fruit flies away.
  • Your worms want dark and moist. Cover them with cardboard or another material so they will feed to the top. I tuck them in with a large black plastic garbage bag to keep them moist.
  • Mist the paper as needed to keep it from drying out.

They like decomposing kitchen waste…

YES! Things cut into smaller pieces decompose faster. My worms do love avo shells and nest in them. Crushed egg shells keep the pH neutral – you don’t need very many. Go wild with potato and carrot peelings, carrot tops, funky lettuce, squash, and, a favorite, melon rinds for dessert. The pulp from fruit/veg drinks. Fridge clean outs are perfect for your worms! If you have doubt about an item, don’t. Moderation is a good word.

NO to harder or tougher items that take a long time. No grape stems, corn cobs, avocado, cherry or mango pits. Avoid harmful spicy, salty, acidic citrus, sulfuric onion. Dairy makes the bin smell, oils and meats are too tough – bring predators if your worms are outdoors. Cooked rice, bread, pastas and pizzas bring mice to outdoor worm bins. No junk food. Coffee filters, grounds in moderation, lightly ripped teabags are good – the nylon kind don’t decompose, but not too many of those because they are acidic, and veggies like things a tad alkaline.

Rather than laying new food on top of the worms, I use a pitchfork, small tines, little damage to worms, to gently lift my worms from one side of the bin to the other. I lay in half their new food, then move the worms back, covering the new food. Then I do the other half. The new food will decompose faster when covered.

You can easily see when they have run out of food. Feed them sooner than that, or they might be hungry a few days, even die. They eat the bacteria on what you give them. They can’t eat raw food until it decomposes a bit, so feeding them sooner is crucial. If you find yourself wondering about how they are doing, check them!

Once your bin is started, there is absolutely no reason to continue to feed them newspaper or cardboard. The quality of what you feed your worms is the health of your worms and the quality of your castings. Real nutrients – kitchen scraps, plant trimmings – like the organic wastes of nature, give you excellent castings in return. Worms will eat non nutritious cardboard and lots of other things, but why? Better to recycle that in other ways.

If you are an indoor gardener, keep your clew small. If you are an outdoor gardener, you may be hard pressed to produce enough castings! Hit up your friends that juice and make smoothies for a steady supply of high quality fresh organic veg and fruit trims and bits. I have dedicated recycle friends who bring plastic bags and wide mouth containers of veggie trim. They tie bags loosely so it’s easy for me to open and feed to the kids. I, in turn, share veggies when I have extra, sometimes planting a little more, or one of their favorites for them.

Worm Red Wiggler Eisenia Foetida Castings

Harvest the bumpy like little castings – they look like fluffy coffee grounds. You’ve seen them, often after a rain…earthworms push them up in little piles. I use an old coffee container with a handle. Take the ‘blanket’ off your worms. Give them about 5 minutes to dive out of the light. Gather the castings at the top. Wait a few more minutes for them to dive again, then gather some more. Only the castings are taken; the worms are the workers!

Oh, are you spooked because worms are ‘slimy?’ They aren’t really, but get some thin rubber gloves. No problem.

At times you will see little yellow eggs, cocoons among the castings. Each holds 4-6  1/2″ long teensy baby worms and hatches in about 23 days. It’s crazy to try to separate them all out. Nevermind. Some of them will hatch in your garden and you will have a small population of red wigglers there too! Do they mate? Yep, they have to so they can make eggs. Lucky for us, they are hermaphroditic and can mate with any other worm they meet!

Worm Castings after a rain

Feeding Your Plants ~ Optimum growth is in a soil ratio of 1:4, that’s 25% castings, 75% soil. However it has been shown that even 10% of wormcast shows significant difference in plant growth. Using over 40% castings, plant growth performance is stunted and may even appear worse off than having no wormcast at all. A wise gardener knows more is not always better. And, your precious castings will go further.

I walk about my garden to see who might need some castings, or where I plan to plant next. Scratch out a shallow area on one side of your plant, leaving as many tiny surface feeder roots intact as possible. Most veggie annuals do all their root growing in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Spread some castings in, cover them with the soil you dug out. After you have used all the castings, water the areas lightly so the castings stay covered and moist. It’s like making and giving them worm tea in place! Remember, 25% is the ideal ratio.

How Castings Work! Castings are not exactly a fertilizer, ie their available N, Nitrogen, content is only 1.80 – 2.05 %, yet their NPK value is much higher than soil! NPK are the main minerals your plants need. The NPK in castings is locked in the cast, and slowly released as micro-organisms break it down. This is much better for plants, because it takes time for them to uptake nutrients. They can’t do it all at once. What they do uptake, they can do easily and immediately.

Vermicompost nutrients and minerals are significantly higher (with Nitrates up to 9 times higher) than garden soil. This creates electro-conductivity, in turn creating more salts in vermicompost. When there is too much salt in soil, it sucks water from plant roots resulting in the ‘burning’ of plants. Although there aren’t enough salts in vermicompost to do that (it is much more common in chemical fertilizers), using too much wormcast can stunt plant growth.

Worm castings have much higher percentages of humus than either soil or compost, which helps the castings hold more water and stay aerated, while also providing binding sites for micronutrients that would otherwise wash out of soil during heavy rains. Mineral clusters that castings form combine in such a way that they can withstand water erosion and compaction, and, increase water retention! Castings hold 2 to 3 times their weight in water! If you are in a drought area, especially add them when you add compost or Sphagnum peat moss. All three increase water holding capacity. In summer, mulching keeps your soil moist also!

A clever gardener will make a drain at one end of the worm box and collect the worm tea! Check out Bentley’s post for some of the finer details to consider and how to process your leachate for maximum results. If you aren’t doing worm tea, move your worm box from time to time so that juice can drip into your soil, making it rich and nutritious at each location. Plants will grow like crazy in those spots!

Here’s another way ~ Per Rodale, ‘One excellent use of castings is in a liquid plant tonic. Put 1 pint/2 cups of castings in a bucket. Add a gallon of warm water and a spoonful of molasses. Stir this well, and stir it frequently over the course of 24 to 48 hours. Dilute the resulting liquid at the ratio of 1 part tea to 4 parts water and use it to water container plants and fruit trees. You can use it in your vegetable beds, but they should already be well nourished by compost and thus don’t need it as much. It’s best to use all of your worm tea in a week or so.’ Another simple way is 1 cup Worm Castings for every gallon of water and wait 1 week.

Broad Fork Garden Baby Blue! Compost, Worm Castings, fish/kelp tea mixes!

A good tip! If you enjoy making worm castings, compost, fish/kelp tea mixes, and want to feed your plants but minimize damage to their roots and soil structure, get yourself a spade fork, or if you have a lot of territory, a broad fork like in the image! Push it down into the soil, rock it back and forth slightly to make holes, pour in your soup! You will hear the soil organisms dancing!

Plant recovery testimonial! L.A. Times, 5/27/00, Julie Bawden Davis: “Convinced that nothing could help a whitefly infested hibiscus in my garden that had been struggling for two years, I spread a one inch layer of worm castings around the plant. A month later I noticed that the whitefly population had dwindled. Three weeks later there were absolutely no whiteflies on the plant. It’s now back to its healthy self and producing lots of blooms.”

To my delight, visitors often wonder if I have named my worms! We all laugh and I show them more worms! Oh, and how do you get more worms?! Worms are hermaphrodites, meaning each worm has both male and female reproductive parts. The worm does have to mate in order to reproduce, but, every worm they meet is a potential mate. When a worm gets to be about six weeks old it forms a white band around its head, called a clitellum, this is where their reproductive organs are located.

Under ideal circumstances, worm populations can double in  a month. They begin breeding at 2 months old, are capable of producing 96 babies each month. Worms have a brain and five hearts. Worms breathe through their skin. They have neither eyes nor ears but are extremely aware of vibrations such as thumps or banging on the composter. Please try not to disturb them unnecessarily. Worms are odorless and free from disease.

Keep the depth of your clew between 6 and 8 inches. If you reach capacity, give some to friends starting vermicomposting, feed some to the chickens, or just turn ’em loose in nature. But, another way to put your worms to work is to add handfuls to areas where you are composting in place or right into your composter! I keep my compost pile covered with thick opaque plastic amendments bags so the worms will work at the top of the pile too! Them and compost speeding herbs like comfrey and yarrow will perk your compost right up. Just keep the pile or area moist.

Those little yellow lemon-shaped beads are worm cocoons. Your worms are happy and breeding. Decomposers – mites, pot worms and tiny black beetles – may join the family. That’s good. They’re all doing the same work, and the worms don’t mind the company.

Vacation?! Feed them well, and add fresh bedding if they need it. That will hold them for a couple weeks.

Worm Economics and Education! Vermiculture has become common practice. Private Worm Farms abound! Universities and schools have educational programs, cities have programs, zoos, private organizations proudly tell their story. Websites assist you about raising your own or starting your own business.

Buying Castings! No time for one more thing to do?! Get your castings from a reputable organic seller, support local worm cast sellers. There are many great companies with high quality castings today. Don’t confuse an amendment with castings in the ingredient list, with a bag or bucket of pure castings. Remember, a little bit of the right stuff goes a long way. Give them to your indoor plants too.

Whether for prevention, abundant growth, recovery or economics, worm castings are fabulous. Worms work for free, and are permaculture sustainable! They can consume about 1/2 of their weight each day, turning our food waste into a high quality powerful garden amendment!

The Urban Worm Anna de la Vega

I love Anna de la Vega’s site name, The Urban Worm! The name reminds us everyone can raise worms, whether at your garden or in a special system in your kitchen! Castings can be used outdoors or in your favorite indoor container plantings! Your plants will be healthier, blooms prolific!

I was more than surprised to find myself raising worms! But the rewards are wonderful and I have come to cherish the amazing little creatures! If you have hovered over the thought of becoming a worm steward, perhaps now is a good time to start!

Names or not, love your worms!

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2.23.16 Revised and expanded from 5.17.14 post


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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Veggies growing in homemade compost!

Veggies growing in homemade compost! Photo by Rod Zimmer

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

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

Here are some possibilities!

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

Of the cold kind….

The kind that finishes the quickest is the kitchen veggie waste that gets chopped vigorously with the shovel every few days, turned and turned again. Small bits decompose faster. The pile is kept moist. The dry brown material in the pile isn’t usually  straw. Straw is hard to chop and takes a long time to decompose. It’s more like leaves, some already chopped, partially decomposed mulch type stuff. The right leaves have nutrient value. See more. With only a couple of turns, this whole process might take two weeks, usually less – even in cooler weather! It’s quick. For quick results it’s also best to put your compost in full sun. Shaded compost usually ends up untened. It’s in an out-of-the-way place, processes so slowly a lot of gardeners forget they ever made the pile. Neglected, the pile literally dies.

In a community garden or a small garden area you might not have space for such a pile. But if it’s a priority you probably will make the space! If you do, and if you want to keep it a bit contained, instead, make a shallow pit and put your ‘pile’ in there. Toss a thin layer of healthy soil over it and turn that in to inoculate your compost with soil organisms. They will speed the decomposition process. A thin layer of soil also keeps flies away and you have no smell. Cover it with a light layer of straw or plastic to keep it from being unsightly to visitors while it is in process. A wire cover over straw lets rain in, so I use a couple plastic bags left from manure. I put a light weight board over my cover and a concrete stepping stone on the board to keep it from blowing away. If it rains, the cover keeps your processing compost from getting too wet. If it’s dry weather, covering keeps it moist. It will decompose better rather than off gas the Nitrogen, dry and die. The cover is instantaneous to remove, then you can have at that pile with gusto! With that kind of pile, you have a fairly steady supply of compost. Most of the time some of it is ready to put here and there.

I am very grateful to three neighbors who give me their green kitchen waste. Since I also grow worms, I ask them to give me only what they imagine a worm could eat. Worms!

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

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

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

Hot Compost is PDF, pretty darn fast!

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

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

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

Composting in place

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

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

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

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

I combine trenching and a pit. If I have a spot needing compost, I trench it there. If there are no spots needing it right now, I put it in the pit and hold it until a spot needs it or a plant needs sidedressing (feeding mid season). In that case, in summer I also at a bit of manure or if it’s SoCal winter time, a little fish emulsion for easy and quick uptake.

NOTE! Compost isn’t the same as manure, nor nursery bought bagged compost. When you trench, you can add those at the same time if you wish. Manure is good ole down home stinky poopy stuff high in Nitrogen. If you want Nitrogen, it’s another story, but you can plant cover crops, living mulch, green manure – all the same – for that. You plant different areas to restore your soil, or in SoCal winter to make good soil for spring planting. Your soil also needs water holding capacity from bulk – what is called forest materials in nursery compost bags. Bagged nursery compost is fluffy. Air space. Your soil needs that too. Kitchen waste compost doesn’t have that. I buy bags of nursery compost and chicken manure as well and add them, sometimes to an area, definitely to my planting holes.

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

Hugelkultur Sepp Holzer Diagram Cross Section

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

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

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

Hugelkultur is an excellent long term sustainable choice!

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

More clever tips!

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

Fine finished Stemilt World’s Famous Compost!

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

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All that said, there are tons of composting devices available. Some work more or less, some work for one person but not another, for various reasons. Google for pros and cons of each one before you purchase. See if you think you will tend it as it needs to be tended, if it suits your needs, your location. Will you need additional tools. Imagine doing the process it requires. Would that really work for you. Worst is you buy and it fails. You can resell it, give it to someone who would be dedicated to the process it needs, donate it to a charity sale, or an organization that needs one. It’s ok.
All that said, if building your own compost isn’t your choice, support your local nursery and get the best from them! Otherwise, have a good dirty time of it!

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

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Besides feeding your plants and adding water holding capacity, composting is important for two more good sustainable reasons. Composting helps to minimize the trash going to our landfill, but most importantly doesn’t contribute methane to our atmosphere. When we compost, an aerobic condition is created and the bacteria that thrive create a waste product of CO2. Yes, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, however methane is over 20 times more powerful in contributing to greenhouse gas effects.

Composting in summer’s heat is the fastest, just keep things moist! And there are several ways to do it!

In place composting

Hugelkultur Diagram Cross Section

Long term is Hugelkultur. I say long term because you use logs and branches. Not only are you making compost, but heat! You can plant sooner in spring, grow later in fall. Building up, you get more surface area for planting if space is limited. If space is not an issue and you don’t want raised areas, dig trenches fill with logs, branches, twigs. Cover with the soil you dug up and other stuff. Same excellent results! There are many ways to Hugelkultur! Some projects are gentile and mini, others are huge!

  • The classic is the three log triangle stack and hillock system. Put a bean trellis at the end of the pile!
  • Lay a bed of thick diameter branches, small branches, and twigs at the bottom of your raised bed.
  • Use logs to terrace your slope

Long term might be that pile in the back forty that you pay no attention to, other than dumping on more barrow loads from time to time and letting nature take its course. That can take years. But if your pile is warm in the sun and kept moist, at the bottom of that pile, eventually, not less than a year, you will get some fine leaf mold, and leaf mold is potent!

LASAGNA! Quick and dirty is composting right where you will grow things, and planting all along if you like! it’s the easiest on your back! If you have enough materials, all you do is chop and drop your disease free and seed free weed cuttings and lay your kitchen scraps right on the surface and let them decompose. Throw in some composting worms, red wrigglers. It will all go faster still, and you will have castings right where you need them! Throw some manures (no pet or human waste) about to ramp up the heat and Nitrogen plants need! Some people add other favorite amendments. Yes! Do keep things moist or thick/deep enough for the materials that contract the soil to decompose. To plant immediately, pull a space open, put already made compost in your planting holes and plant instantly! There’s no moving the compost you are making because it’s already where it is needed! There’s no turning, no space taken up by a composter. In summer it also acts as a mulch! Composting and mulch at once!

If you don’t have enough materials, do areas as you can, one at a time, each season another one. Consider giving your neighbors a container, or two, to collect their kitchen trim for you; ask for their landscape waste materials. Hooray, no trips to the dump!

Trenching kitchen scraps or burying garden trim 6″ to 8″ deep is really fast. Soil organisms get right to work! Again, keep that area slightly moist.

Composting in enclosures 

Compost Geobin

Quick might be in a babied system in an enclosure, chopping things into small pieces, deleafing tough stalks, feeding with high class chopped, even blender chopped, kitchen trim! Trim could include squshed eggshells (keeps pH balanced), 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less of coffee grounds (suppresses fungal rots and wilts!). You could add some compost worms, red wigglers, so their castings are precombined with your compost! Careful layering, alternating WET/Nitrogen – grass, green trim, kitchen trim, and DRY/Carbon – leaves, straw, dried spent plants, makes for a well balanced process. Straw aerates, wets moisten and decompose the straw. 1″ wet to 2″ dry is good, but you get it, it’s 1 wet to 2 dry. Easy.

To Turn or Not to Turn! If you decide to turn, you need either a permanent two enclosure side by side system, or a lightweight movable enclosure. You may need to make your system secure from pests like rats or squirrels.

Turning speeds things up a tad, but research shows unturned compost is a little more nutritious. I use the enclosures you can lift off the pile. The pile doesn’t fall apart, so I move the enclosure to a nearby spot and pitchfork the pile into the new location. When things are well decomposed you will need to use a shovel. The pile goes back and forth every couple of weeks or so, leaving a spot that is enriched from the pile’s drippings, a prime planting spot! Then I move the enclosure to another spot.

Covering your pile with a heavy mil plastic, like old compost bags or trash compactor bags, keeps the pile moist. Water the fresh straw or leaves you add just a bit. Also, covering makes the worms feel safe from birds to come and feed at the top of the pile. When you take the cover off, the worms dive to get out of sight of birds!

6 months is usual, but since I add-as-I-have, part of the pile is ready sooner than the rest. I use the part that is ready; the rest I let keep processing. You can use almost finished compost sooner just fine! Mix it into the soil in the new planting area a couple weeks before planting and Baby, you quickly have tasty soil! The soil organisms ramp up and things are integrated down to the micro dots! However, if your compost pile isn’t going as quickly as you like, get some compost accelerator at your nursery or grow a compost activator plant like yarrow or nutritious comfrey next to your composter for convenient use! Add a few leaves to each layer as available.

Also use your compost for sidedressing. If it is summer, pull back your mulch. Push your spade fork in and carefully rock it back and forth to make some holes around your plant – not too close to the main stem, and as you feel to do. Lay down two to three inches of compost as you have available. Put your mulch back in place. Water slowly and gently to let the compost moisten, melt and drizzle into the holes, feeding the root area of your plants. It’s like giving them compost tea! Give it a few days to take effect. It’s especially effective when your plant starts into production, or as a late summer feed when they are pooping out. It will extend your harvest.

Some gardeners just divide their compost into big piles, make a water holding bowl in the top, and plant directly in the compost for super growth! Works great for a giant tomato plant, plants that are heavy feeders like Goliath-size winter squash, melons, Mammoth cabbage! How many times have you let a compost pile go and come back to find little plants growing in it?! They know what’s good for them! Cover the piles with some light blocking mulch, like thick straw, to keep the pile from washing away. Stick a stake beside your plant so you know right where to water.

HOT or Cold compost There is always the curiosity whether to do cold or hot compost.
  • Hot is faster but more labor intensive, frequent turning a must to keep it going. Layering and balancing your ingredients is critical to get those temps. A thermometer is good to have, ideal temps 141°F to 155°F so weed seeds and disease pathogens die.
  • Cold compost can be as simple as pile and wait. And wait. No concern about the order of things. Nature takes her course.
  • My system is a hybrid system. I layer pretty carefully. My pile gets hot when I first layer in a new batch of stuff, but if I don’t turn it for a few weeks, that’s ok too.

Do what suits your needs or as you have materials, but compost, compost, compost! In these SoCal drought times, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Keep your soil healthy and lively, with excellent friability, so it makes the most of what moisture it does receive.

Tyler W at Crazy About Compost, says: Just the other week, I had filled the bin up to the edge with new material…and I look out there today after forgetting about it and it’s dropped nearly a foot! This is what I love about compost piles – I’ve been adding material to this thing on a weekly basis and it’s just a bottomless pit of degradation.

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

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Vermicomposting Workshop Vancouver

Since 1990, City Farmer and the City of Vancouver have held worm composting workshops for City of Vancouver residents who live in apartments. For $25 participants get a worm bin, 500 worms, Mary Appelhof’s book “Worms Eat My Garbage”, a trowel, bedding and a one-hour class. Now that’s a deal!

Worm Castings are like BLACK GOLD to your garden, and high quality store-bought castings are just about as expensive! For good reason. They cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed!

Worms are easy to raise or you can use a complex system. You can start them anytime, indoors or out depending on temps. Here in Santa Barbara mine live outside all year in full sun. They are more active when they are warmer. Non color inked newspaper is often used for bedding to start a clew (colony). Worms are 90% water, so keep the bedding moist. My worms get all the moisture they need from the juicy kitchen bits I feed them and that I cover them with their plastic blankie to keep them moist!

They like decomposing kitchen waste with the exceptions of spicy, acidic, and meats (too tough). No junk food. Coffee filters, grounds, lightly ripped teabags are good, but not too many of those because they are acidic, and veggies like things a tad alkaline. Things cut into smaller pieces decompose faster. Harder or tougher items take a long time. I don’t ‘feed’ mine avocado pits because they literally can’t eat them. They do love the avo shells though and nest in them. Egg shells keep the pH neutral.

You can easily see when they have run out of food. Feed them sooner than that, or they might be hungry a few days, even die. They eat the bacteria on what you give them. They can’t eat raw food until it decomposes a bit. Hit up your friends that juice for a high quality steady supply of fresh organic veg and fruit trims and bits. Avoid acidic citrus, sulfuric onion, pastas (not a fruit or veg), but go wild with carrot peelings and tops, funky lettuce, melon rinds. Fridge clean outs are perfect for your worms!

The quality of what you feed your worms is the quality of your castings. Real nutrients, like the organic wastes of nature, give you excellent castings in return. Worms will eat non nutritious cardboard and lots of other things, but why? Better to recycle that in other ways.

The right kind of worms are RED WRIGGLERS! They forage on debris above ground. They are smaller than earthworms that live IN the earth. Fishermen use them for bait. Ask your fellow gardeners to give you a handful to get started, or go to the bait shack, or a local organic worm dealer. The little guys live about 2 years. My clew has been going strong for 12 years now.

Housing! Since they are surface foragers, these worms need width, not depth. Mine live in a low 4′ by 2′ opaque grey storage container. I put holes in the bottom for drainage, holes in the cover to let hot air out in summer. Inside the container I cover them with a large black plastic bag to keep it moist and dark for them. They feed all the way to the top because they feel safe no birds can see them!

Harvest the bumpy like little castings, look like fluffy coffee grounds, they push up to the surface. You have seen castings, often after a rain. Earth worms push them up into little textured piles on the soil’s surface. I use an old coffee container with a handle. Take the ‘blanket’ off your worms. Give them about 5 minutes to dive out of the light. Gather the castings at the top. Wait a few more minutes for them to dive again, then gather some more.

Feeding your plants I walk about my garden to see who might need some castings, or where I plan to plant. Scratch out a shallow area. Most veggie annuals do all their root growing in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Spread some castings in, cover them with the soil you dug out. After you have used all the castings, water the areas lightly so the castings stay covered and moist. Remember, you don’t need but 10-40% castings of the total volume of what you are growing your plants in.

How Castings Work! Castings are not exactly a fertilizer, ie their available N, Nitrogen, content is only 1.80 – 2.05 %, yet their NPK value is much higher than soil! NPK are the main minerals your plants need. The NPK in castings is locked in the cast, and slowly released as micro-organisms break it down. This is much better for plants, because it takes time for them to uptake nutrients. They can’t do it all at once.

Vermicompost nutrients and minerals are significantly higher (with Nitrates up to 9 times higher) than garden soil. This creates electro-conductivity, in turn creating more salts in vermicompost. When there is too much salt in soil, it sucks water from plant roots resulting in the ‘burning’ of plants. Although there aren’t enough salts in vermicompost to do that (it is much more common in chemical fertilizers), using too much wormcast can stunt plant growth.

Optimum growth is in a soil ratio of 1:4, that’s 25% castings, 75% soil. However it has been shown that even 10% of wormcast shows significant difference in plant growth. Using over 40% castings, plant growth performance is stunted and may even appear worse off than having no wormcast at all. A wise gardener knows more is not always better. And, your precious castings will go further.

An even more clever gardener will make a drain at one end of the box and collect the worm tea! Check out Bentley’s post for some of the finer details to consider and how to process your leachate for maximum results. If you aren’t doing worm tea, move your worm box from time to time so that juice can drip into your soil, making it rich and nutritious. Plants will grow like crazy there!

Plant recovery! L.A. Times, 5/27/00, Julie Bawden Davis: “Convinced that nothing could help a whitefly infested hibiscus in my garden that had been struggling for two years, I spread a one inch layer of worm castings around the plant. A month later I noticed that the whitefly population had dwindled. Three weeks later there were absolutely no whiteflies on the plant. It’s now back to its healthy self and producing lots of blooms.”

To my delight, visitors often wonder if I have named my worms! We all laugh and I show them more worms! Oh, and how do you get more worms?! Worms are hermaphrodites, meaning each worm has both male and female reproductive parts. The worm does have to mate in order to reproduce, but, every worm they meet is a potential mate. When a worm gets to be about six weeks old it forms a white band around its head, called a clitellum, this is where their reproductive organs are located.

Under ideal circumstances, worm populations can double in a month. They begin breeding at 2 months old, are capable of producing 96 babies each month. Worms have a brain and five hearts. Worms breathe through their skin. They have neither eyes nor ears but are extremely aware of vibrations such as thumps or banging on the composter.  Please try not to disturb them unnecessarily. Worms are odorless and free from disease.

Worm Economics and Education! Vermiculture has become common practice. Private Worm Farms abound! Universities and schools have educational programs, cities have programs, zoos, private organizations proudly tell their story. Websites assist you about raising your own or starting your own business.

Buying Castings! No time for one more thing to do?! Get your castings from a reputable organic seller. There are many great companies with high quality castings today. Don’t confuse an amendment, with castings added, with a bag or bucket of pure castings. Remember, a little bit of the right stuff goes a long way. Give them to your indoor plants too.

Whether for prevention, nutrition, recovery or economics, worm castings are fabulous. Worms work for free, and are sustainable!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insect protection

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

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

Remove and store when no longer needed! 

Lay right on your plants! Burpee.com

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

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

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