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Posts Tagged ‘tomato’

Super Healthy stout and strong Cherry tomato seedling!

Fine stout strong cherry tomato seedling grown by Jessica of Bountiful Backyard!

You went to the Seed Swap, have gotten your seeds from the catalog or nursery, and are itching for the right temps to plant!

Planning now is important because not all spring/summer plants are installed at the same timePlanting in the right places now makes a difference. Zucchini, cool tolerant tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and corn can be started now, by seed, in the ground. March is a little warmer and early variety plants get a better start. April is most everything – cucumber, pepper, squash, beans, more tomatoes, watermelon. May is the true heat lovers, cantaloupe, okra (June may be better yet), eggplant. Some gardeners wait to plant tomatoes until May and June to avoid the soil fungi of earlier months. I hold that space by planting something temporary there in March. June is good for okra, eggplant and long beans!

Summer garden planning tips emphasizing needing less water! Companions!

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

  • If you are not going to be canning, indeterminate tomatoes are the excellent choice! These are the vining tomatoes that produce all summer! This saves time and water because determinate, bush tomatoes produce quickly, all at once, then you have to replant and wait for more production. determinate toms do produce sooner, so for an earlier table production, plant them to hold you until your indeterminates are producing. Also, for earlier production, plant cherry tomatoes! Yum! Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of dandelions!
  • Choose more prolific plants and varieties of them so you get more production for less water.
  • Plant tall plants to the North unless you anticipate a scorching summer. If you think it will be HOT, plant tall to the west to shade shorter plants, keep your soil cooler, use less water.
  • Plan to put cucumbers up on trellises to keep them disease free and clean, and so they ripen evenly all the way around. Co-plant with beans! Beans above, cukes below. Japanese Long cukes give a generous supply per water used!
  • Next, intermingle mid height plants, bush beans, determinate tomatoes, tall peppers like Big Jim Anaheim or Polanos, zucchini – try the prolific heirloom, star shaped Costata Romanesco! Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs. Plant Radish ahead of cukes & zukes to repel cucumber beetles. Eat a few, but let several grow up by and through the plants you are protecting.
  • Leave a winter broccoli or two for salad side shoots. Mulch well under your brocs right now! We want to keep these cool loving plants in cool. They help repel cucumber beetles, so push the mulch back, plant cucumbers underneath them. The mulch does double duty, keeping the cukes clean off the soil and insect free above the bug zone!
  • Leave a couple of winter kale to provide over summer. Heat tolerant 1000 Headed Kale is a prolific choice that harbors less aphids on its FLAT leaves. Plant lettuces on the sunny side under your brocs and kale.
  • Snuggle eggplant among tall chards, maybe some curly leaf kale! Radishes with eggplants/cucumbers as a trap plant for flea beetles.
  • Lowest are the ‘littles’ or fillers! Mindful of companions, scatter beets and carrots, lettuce, radish, here and there among, alongside, under larger plants on their sunny side. Bunch onions away from beans. Some of them will be done before the bigger plants leaf out. When the bigger plant leaves start shading out the littles, harvest strategic large lower leaves. There isn’t really a need to allot separate space for littles except strawberries! They need a separate patch with more acidic soil to keep them healthy and be more prolific producers!
  • If you love cabbages, plant a few more, but they take up a fair footprint for what they produce and they take quite awhile to do it. Plant quick maturing mini varieties.
  • SEED SAVING SPACE! Leave room for some arugula, cilantro, chamomile, a carrot or two, and a celery to go to flower to bring bees and beneficials! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next plantings. Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile!
  • Pumpkin, melon, winter squash vines require some thoughtfulness. Pumpkin and winter squash vine leaves get as huge as healthy zucchini leaves, easily a foot wide! Mini melons have dainty 2″ wide little leaves, can be trellised, are definitely low to the ground, can be quite smaller than strawberry plants! A healthy winter squash vine can easily be 3′ to 4′ wide, 30′ long plus side vines, and produce a major supply of squash! You can use them as a border, as a backdrop along a fenceline. In SoCal, unless you are a squash lover, or won’t be gardening in winter, there is question as to why you would grow winter squash at all. Greens of all kinds grow prolifically here all winter long, giving a fresh and beautiful supply of Vitamin A.

Super use of your space! As winter plants finish, in spaces needing to be held for later, ie if you are planting okra in June, grow plants that are quick and prolific producers grown for their leaves, until it’s the right time to plant those heat lovers! They produce continuously, and can be removed when you want the space. You will have lush harvests while you are waiting. Think of kales, chard, lettuce, beets, crops grown for their leaves, even mini dwarf cabbages. Perhaps you will leave some of them as understory plants and plant taller peppers like Poblanos or Big Jim Anaheims, and tomatoes among them. When the larger plants overtake the understory, either harvest the smaller plants, or remove or harvest lower leaves of larger plants and let the smaller ones get enough sun to keep producing.

Hardly anyone can resist planting early tomatoes! In this early cooler time, plant your leafies to the sunny side of where the toms will be planted. Pop your tomato seeds in when soil temps are good, or put your transplants in as you get them. That way you have table food soonest and your heart is happy too! Here are a couple tips from James M Stephens at Florida University Extension: Tomato plants 4–5 weeks old grow and yield better than older transplants. He also says when setting your transplant into the soil, do not compress the soil around the roots; gently pour water into the hole to settle the soil around the roots. After the transplanting water has dried a bit, cover the wet spot with dry soil to reduce evaporation. Check! See Tomatoes at Cornell!

Choose early cold tolerant varieties. Ones with northern names, in SoCal that could be Oregon Spring, or Siberian. Stupice from Czechoslovakia is very early! Bellstar, from Ontario Canada, is larger and earlier than other plum tomatoes. Early Girl is a favorite! And SunGold cherry tomatoes are almost always a winner! Cherry toms are small and will ripen when other tomatoes just stay green for the longest!

Soil Thermometer For Veggies!Hopefully, the weather will warm rapidly. It’s been COLD in Santa Barbara area! The January 30  9 AM ground temp at Rancheria was 48 degrees. Though the soil may become fairly warm quickly in days to come, day length is still important. No matter how early you plant some plants, they still won’t produce fruit until they have enough hours of sun, and for some, warmth including day and/or night and/or ground temps. If they miss their window, they may never produce at all…better to pull and replant. Keep growing those leafy producers – lettuce, chard, kale – in that space and plant the right plants at the right good time! See Best Soil Temps

Start seedlings indoors now for March/April plantings. If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, just wait, get transplants and pop them right in the ground per their right times!

Right now, from seed in the ground, sow beets, caraway, celery, carrots, chard, chervil, chives, collards, cilantro (coriander), dill, endive, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuces, mustards, green onions, bulb onion sets, flat-leafed parsley, peas – mildew resistant varieties, white potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, and turnips. Get bolt resistant/slow bolt varieties, and especially heat and drought tolerant varieties.

Along with deciding plant locations, get ready for Summer Gardening!

  • Install gopher barriers.
  • Get netting or bendable wire like aviary or 1/2″ hardware cloth for bird protection.
  • Install or repair pathways, berms. Lay in straw, boards, pallets, stepping stones.
  • Waffle Garden, basins & windbreaks, Water Garden. Excellent drought choices.
  • Gather cages & trellises
  • Terrace slopes to prevent water runoff and topsoil loss
  • Build raised beds, Hugelkultur
  • Get new containers
  • Setup Compost areas – enclosures, area to compost in place
  • Organize where you will keep straw bales for summer mulch, compost layers

Spring planting soil prep! Add all your amendments at the same time! See more

  • Compost! The amount of compost to use varies, depending on your soil’s condition, plant selection, compost quality, and availability. A guideline offered by Cornell University (veggies – bottom of Pg 4) says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil!
  • 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 – increase germination, faster seedling growth, help with plant immunities to disease.
  • Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom LATE in the season! Jamaican bat is high P phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2.
  • Sprinkle with a tad of coffee grounds to reduce fungal rots and wilts!! Grounds are more potent than they have a right to be! 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less is all that is needed or wanted!
  • Don’t cover with mulch unless you need it for erosion control. Covered soil is cooler. Let your winter cool soil warm up. Do mulch under broccoli and kale you will be keeping over summer. They do best with cool conditions.
  • Water your prepped areas when you water your other veggies. Moist, not flooded, soil is rampant with soil organisms enriching your soil for free!

Keep COMPOSTING! You are going to need it for summer plants! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost keeps your soil aerated, has great water holding capacity, soil organisms flourish, it 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. See more

One more round of green manure is doable where you will plant late April, May. Grow it where you will grow heavy summer feeders like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard. Green manure can be beautiful favas, bell beans, or a vetch mix to boost soil Nitrogen. Favas are big and you get a lot of green manure per square foot. With our warming weather, longer days, your green manure will grow quickly! As soon as it begins to flower, whack it down, chop into small bits and turn under. It’s more tender to chop while it’s smaller. Taller is not better. It takes 2 to 2 1/2 months to grow. Cut and turn. Wait two to three weeks then plant, plant, plant!

Sidedressing! Hard working plants need fuel and water. As broccoli starts to head, give it a fish/kelp tonic or compost/casting/manure tea! After the main head is cut, your side shoots will flourish!Pests!

When 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. Rather than row plant, interplant here and there. Water a tad less so leaves are less soft and inviting.

Aphids Watch for leaves unnaturally curled along the length of the leaf, particularly broccolis, cauliflowers, kale, cabbages. Hose aphids off chard, kale and brocs. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed. A little less water.

  • 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!

White flies Flush away, especially under the leaves. Remove any yellowing leaves, especially on your Brassicas, that attract white fly. Again, a little less water.Prevention  A frustrating typical disease is Powdery mildew. It’s common on Curly Leaf kales. 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 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.

Soil Checks! Especially after our recent rains, check beets, carrots, radish, potatoes, turnips, in general, for low soil. Soil naturally compacts with watering. Some of these veggies naturally push right up above ground as they grow. Planting their seeds deeper doesn’t compensate. It’s the nature of the veggie! Never hurts to put a handy little pile of extra soil near where you plant them. Cover their exposed shoulders to keep them from drying, getting tough, needing peeling, losing the nutrients in their skins. Uncovered carrot shoulders don’t ripen but stay green. Same with potatoes.

Watering & Weeding is important after rains. Winds dry soil quickly and short rooted plants like peas, or seedlings, need to be kept moist.

  • Thinning is a form of weeding! Thin plants that need it, like beets that naturally start in foursomes! Thin plants you intentionally over planted – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, mustard! If you planted too close together, take out shorter, smaller weaker plants. They are all great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves.
  • Dust Mulching, cultivation, breaks up the soil surface, keeps 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 awhile. Get ’em while they are small and easy to do. Smart gardening.

Grass in Flower
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, and don’t put them in your compost!

Have a wonderful February! May your seedlings grow well!

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See the entire February Newsletter! (Sign up for it if you like!)

February – Final Plans, Preps, 1st Spring Plantings!
Calendula ~ Edible, Medicinal, Good for Your Garden, Easy to Grow!
January, February Seeds or Transplants, Pros & Cons
Other Community Gardens – Virginia Avenue Community Garden, Washington DC 
Events! CEC EARTH DAY Celebration 2017!
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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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

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SeedSaving SeedSavers Exchange - Passing on Our Garden Heritage
Founded in 1975, this non-profit organization was a pioneer in the heirloom seed movement.

In the days before seed companies, saving seeds was done without a thought, a fundamental garden practice. If you didn’t save seeds, you had none to plant the next year. If there was a weather disaster and you lost your crop, trading for seeds became vital. Seeds were traded with newcomers, travelers, and at markets. It was the earliest form of commodities trading! When people moved off farms into the cities, they still wanted to grow veggies, but didn’t have room or time to let the plants seed out. That’s when seed companies came into being in the 1860s. Today there are Seed Banks and ONLINE seed sharing to preserve our heritage seeds!

Your SECOND HARVEST is SEEDS! As summer or ‘winter’ in SoCal finishes, let your very best plants produce but don’t harvest the fruits. Beans get lumpy with seeds and will dry completely. Let them dry on the vine for full nutrition from the mother plant. Let a cucumber yellow and dry. Let the corn cob dry and the kernels get hard. Cukes, peppers, melons, okra and squash seeds are easy to process. Just remove the seeds and let them dry. Uh, do label the drying trays! Tomatoes are a tiny bit of a process but not hard at all. See more!

Save enough seeds for your own planting, for several rounds of planting across next year’s season, for replanting when there are losses, and some to give away or share at a seed swap. Keep the race going.

Saving Seeds is Easy!

1. Simple Gathering ~ Beets, Carrot, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Onion
Just separate the seed from the chaff with rolling pins, sieves, colanders!

Seeds - Gathering Fernleaf Dill is easy!Seeds Gathering Fernleaf Dill

2. Removing from pods ~ Arugula, Basil, Beans, Broccoli, Peas, Radish is super simple!

Seeds - Remove Beans from their Pods is super simple!Fat Radish seed pods!

3. Removing & Drying – Cukes, Eggplant, Melon, Pepper, Squash, Tomatoes, Zukes

Tomatoes require a wee bit of processing and tad of time, but it’s easy! Heirlooms are true, hybrids are unpredictable but fun. Put the little seeds in water, let sit no more than 2 days. Recent studies show tomato seed germination is best when seeds are soaked for only one to two days before they are rinsed and dried. Fermentation times longer than three days substantially lower the germination rate from 96% to only 74% on the 4th day! Word. Scrape the scum off. Rinse, add water, do it again, until you have clean seed. Dry. See all the tips and details!

Seeds Remove Process Dry TomatoSeeds Remove Dry Melon

Storage ~ Each year keep your best! Scatter some about, called broadcasting, if they would grow successfully now! Store your keepers in a cool dry place for next year’s better than ever plantings. Airtight Canisters, Jars, Plastic Containers, Baggies. Or in envelopes just like at your nursery. Out of the light. Freeze if you want.

Viability Seeds vary greatly in their length of time of viability.

•The drier the seeds, the longer they will store.

•The harder the seeds, the longer they will store.

Veggie Seeds Viability varies by Years!

YOU can learn LOTS more about SeedSaving! Each year in July Seed Savers Exchange hosts an intimate gathering of leaders in the seed and garden movement at Heritage Farm in Decorah, IA.

Start a Seed Swap in Your Area! In Santa Barbara we had our 7th Annual Seed Swap in January! They are sponsored by our local Permaculturists. If there are none where you live, if you are willing, please, please, please, contact local permaculturists, garden groups/clubs, to see about starting one!

Remember, your seeds are adapted to you and your locality. If you are willing, take your extras to a local Seed Bank or Seed Library! While you are there, pick up some of your favorites and some new ones to try out! Santa Barbara’s FoodBank has a Seed Library at their warehouse, and teaches recipients how to grow their own food. The seeds are free!

Unregulated Biodiversity is Key, essential, so our agriculture remains adaptable to climate change, new pests and diseases. Heirloom seeds are vital to our continued nutritious future, and for our children’s healthy futures! And, as Ashley Glenn says…gardens have potential far beyond the plants in the ground. They are ancient classrooms, innovative laboratories….

SeedSaving Blessing Peru
Francisca Bayona Pacco, 37, is Papa Arariwa, Guardian of the Potato, Paru Paru in Pisac, Cuzco, Peru. She brings a coca leaves offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) asking protection from frost.

We give thanks. Plants, Seeds, Food, Beauty, Being Here Today Together.



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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Summer Solstice 2016 Santa Barbara CA by artist Lynn Fogel
Wonderful painting by Lynn Fogel inspired by the Santa Barbara CA Summer Solstice Parade!

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

May brought tasty zucchinis, the first cherry tomatoes were eaten. Lettuces. Peppers appeared. Eggplants are blossoming. Potatoes and carrots were harvested and Beans on the bush and vine. A cucumber, many more babies coming! Huge Seascape strawberries! Put harvesting containers on stakes near what you will harvesting there. Convenient and saves time.

Continue your harvesting, plant more! Definitely time for another round! Okra starts better now, eggplant is happy, and long beans started now like the heat of late summer when they produce those long grand beans as other beans finish! If a plant or two aren’t coming along well, replace them. A healthy plant will grow well and quickly in the warmer time coming.

Extend your harvest later into summer by planting more of everything except winter squash, melons, pumpkins, unless you live in the hot foothills. Seeds are fine, transplants are faster. From transplants, more celery, corn, eggplant, leeks, limas, okras, peanuts, peppers, soybeans, squashes, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Choose bolt resistant, heat and drought tolerant varieties. Time for Sierra, Nevada, Jericho, Black Seeded Simpson lettuces. Plant another round of anytime fillers: beets, carrots, chicory, chives, slo-bolt cilantro, leeks, green onions, small summer radish, warm season spinach.

Pat Mycorrhiza fungi right on the roots of all your transplants except Brassicas, when you put them in the ground. The fungi increase uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for it bulk at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta.

Remember these excellent companions! Combining them often gives two crops in the same place!

  • Pop in some tasty white potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Add some quick growing radish with zukes, and trellised together beans/cukes to repel cucumber beetles, the little guys with yellow/green stripes.
  • Also plant radishes with eggplants/cucumbers and zucchini act as a trap plant for flea beetles
  • Plant a flock of carrots intermingled with cilantro and chamomile! Just plain pretty.
  • Basil is a natural with tomatoes, smells great and is super nutritious! Super nutritious Culinary dandelions are thought to repel white flies, mosquitoes, tomato hornworms, aphids, houseflies, and asparagus beetles.

Flowering plants starting to produce need another feed, sidedressing. Give them a deep drink of tea or fish emulsion. Spade fork in some holes, pour your tea down them. if you don’t have skunks or other predators, give them a good fish emulsion/kelp liquid feed down those holes! Or pull back the mulch, scratch in a little chicken manure – especially with lettuces. Top with a 1/2″ of compost and some tasty worm castings! If you prefer organic granulated fertilizer sprinkle it around evenly. Recover with your mulch, straw, then water well and gently so things stay in place. That’s like giving them manure/compost/worm tea in place. If any of your plants are looking puny, have yellowing leaves, might give them a bit of blood meal for a quick pick me up.

Please always be building compost and adding it, especially near short rooted plants and plants that like being moist. Compost increases your soil’s water holding capacity.

Summer WATERING is a skill! The key to good looking fruits is regular watering and enough water. After you water stick your finger in the soil and see if is wet below or just at the surface. A general rule is an inch a week. Summer plants often need more during hot weather. If plants don’t get enough water, production is sporadic, fruits misshapen, they are susceptible to pests and diseases. Too much water brings ‘soft’ plants susceptible to aphids and leafminers.

  • Water early AM when possible to let plants dry off, avoid mildew.
  • Water at ground level with a long wand with a shut off valve, rather than overhead watering unless you plant is dusty. Dust brings whiteflies.
  • Keep seeds and emerging and young seedlings moist. Lay down some Sluggo type stuff, as soon as you have seeded, to jam up the slugs and snails before they have a chance to eat your prize babies.
  • Irregular watering makes beans and cucumbers curl, strawberries to have irregular shapes.
  • Chard needs plenty of water to make those big sweet leaves. However, chard naturally shuts down and droops in the heat of the day. Don’t mistakenly drown it!
  • Water beans, cukes, lettuces and short rooted varieties of strawberries more frequently. They are all workhorses producing fast and repeatedly, cukes making a watery fruit even. Lettuces need to put on growth fast to stay sweet. Heavy producers like beans need plenty, especially if they are closely planted.
  • Tomatoes have deep tap roots and can make do with little water. In fact, dry farming concentrates their taste!
  • Big plants like corn and zucchini need ample water as do huge vines like winter squash, melons, pumpkins. Stake the centers of vine basins so you know where to water the roots.

MULCH If you haven’t mulched yet, this is a good time to do it before we go into hot July, August, September. Replenish thin mulch. Use a soil feeding mulch, seedless straw works well. Use an inch or so under tomatoes. You want their soil to get a little air, the soil to dry some, and if you have it, the fungi to die. Otherwise you can put on, up to say, 6″ worth. The exception would be to leave soil under melons and other real heat lovers bare so the soil is good and HOT! Yes, they will need more water, so be sure your basin is in good condition and big enough so they get water out to their feeder roots. You can see the dripline of your plant by watering at the central area and seeing where the water falls off its leaves. Plus, mulch prevents light germinating seeds from starting – less weeds!

Pollination! On gray days, help your tomatoes by giving the cages or the main stems a few sharp raps to help the flowers pollinate. You can do that on sunny days too, best time is about 11 AM, to make more pollination, more tomatoes. Honey bees don’t pollinate tomatoes, so build solitary bee condos for native bees. Native bees, per Cornell entomology professor Bryan Danforth, are two to three times better pollinators than honeybees, are more plentiful than previously thought and not as prone to the headline-catching colony collapse disorder that has decimated honeybee populations. Plant plenty of favorite bee foods!

Pest prevention! One of the fastest things you can do is plant radish, a couple here, a couple there. They repel those cute but very nasty disease carrying cucumber beetles, are a trap plant for flea beetles. Plant enough for eating, leave one to grow up and protect your plants. If you are by road or in a dusty windswept area, rinse off the leaves to make your plants less attractive to whiteflies. Also, remove yellowing leaves that attract whiteflies. Smart pests adore tasty healthy plants just like we do. They also make us see which plants are weak or on their way out. Give those plants more care or remove them. Replace them with a different kind of plant that will do well now. Don’t put the same kind of plant there unless you have changed the conditions – enhanced your soil, installed a favorable companion plant, protected from wind, terraced a slope so it holds moisture, opened the area to more sun. Be sure you are planting the right plant at the right time!

Disease prevention. Water early AMs to give plants time to dry off. Use a long water wand with a shutoff valve and water underneath as possible. Choose excellent and appropriate plant varieties, using companion plants in wise combinations. Make super soil, at bloom start sidedress and later in the season to extend their production time. Regularly apply prevention formulas more details and all the recipes. Keep up on maintenance. These are the things that keep your plants in top form! They will be less likely to have diseases. See more in the April Newsletter

If your soil has disease fungi, remove any leaves that can or will touch the ground. Remove infected leaves ASAP, don’t let the leaves of one plant touch another. This especially goes for tomatoes. Remove alternate plants that have grown to overcrowded conditions. The remaining plants will grow bigger, produce more with ample space. See April’s chat on Tomato and Cucumber specifics – A word on the Wilts. Lay down a loose 1″ deep straw mulch blanket. Too much straw keeps the soil moist, which is good for some plants, not for others. Under maters and cukes, we want some air circulation and a bit of soil drying. In their case, the main purpose of mulch is to keep your plant’s leaves from being water splashed or in contact with soil, the main way they get fungi/blight diseases.

Keep your garden clean. Remove debris, weed. Remove mulch from under plants that were diseased and replace with clean mulch.

HARVEST! Harvest at your veggie’s peak delicious moment! Juicy, crunchy, that certain squish in your mouth, sweet, full bodied flavor, radiant, vitamin and mineral rich! Besides being delicious and beautiful, it keeps your plant in production. Left on the plant, fruits start to dry and your plant stops production, goes into seeding mode. The fruit toughens or withers, maybe rots, sometimes brings insect pests that spread to other plants. Keep beans picked, no storing cucumbers on the vine. Give away or store what you can’t eat. Freezing is the simplest storage method. Cut veggies to the sizes you will use, put the quantity you will use in baggies, seal and freeze. Whole tomatoes, chopped peppers, beans, onions. Probiotic pickle your cukes. Enjoy your sumptuous meals! Sing a song of gratitude and glory!

What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade. ~ Gertrude Jekyll

Gertrude was an influential British horticulturist, garden designer, artist and writer. She created over 400 gardens in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, and wrote over 1,000 articles for magazines such as Country Life and William Robinson’s The Garden. Jekyll has been described as “a premier influence in garden design” by English and American gardening enthusiasts. 1843- 1932

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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!

See the entire June GBC Newsletter!

JUNE Summer Garden Treats!
Common SoCal Summer Garden Pests – Aphids, Cucumber Beetles, Leafminers, Whiteflies
Tower or on the Ground Gardening?!
A Food Not Lawn Garden in Santa Barbara CA 
Events!  Home & Garden Expo, Summer Solstice Celebration! Fairview Farm – Summer Farm Camp!

…and wonderful images of Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden in May!

 

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Tomato Chef's Choice Pink F1 Beefsteak, 2015 AAS Vegetable Award WinnerTomato Chef’s Choice Pink F1 Beefsteak, 2015 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

The request I got was what are the best cherry, the best heirloom, the best standard and the best beefsteak to grow in our area?! Quite reasonable query.

Santa Barbara has such a range of zones! And, if you ask 5 gardeners they will have 5 answers! That’s my experience gardening at a community garden.

Best depends on WHEN you plant. If you plant early, you want ‘early’ producers that are more cold tolerant, the smaller varieties. A month later you can go for the bigger toms. Beefsteaks don’t do well on the Westside unless you have a hotspot. Gardeners at the Terrace don’t get the best results with them. They take too long to mature and often don’t get big like a beef steak should, take forever to redden, thus, low production.

Best depends on whether your soil has Verticillium or Fusarium wilts, which the Terrace does. And the wilts are wind borne as well as soil/water splash spread. Heirlooms generally have little resistance and die first at our garden. And whether heirlooms do well has a lot to do with what the gardener does with their soil and whether they help them out weekly/biweekly with an immune building foliar spray like the mix of powdered milk and aspirin. Soil needs worm castings, that help with the immune system, and at transplant time mycorrhizae fungi sprinkled on their roots for greater uptake of nutrients and water. Best for us are tomatoes that have VFN on their tags ~ Verticillium, Fusarium, Nematodes resistance. Resistance is exactly what it means. The plants do die sooner or later from the disease no matter how much you do, feed, spray, treat.

How the gardener plants tomatoes makes a difference. Up on a mound with a basin on top. Top that with a 1/2″ of compost, cover that with 1″ of straw to let in air and sun to dry the soil but keep the leaves from touching the soil. Touching the soil is the main way toms get the wilts. Lower leaves that might touch soil when weighted with dew or by watering need to be removed ASAP.

The wilts can’t be stopped. Sooner or later the plant leaves curl lengthwise, get dark spots, turn brown, hang sadly. Plants can produce but it’s agonizing to watch. Sometimes they somewhat recover later in the season after almost looking totally dead. I think the summer heat drys the soil and kills enough of the fungi for the plant to be able to try again. When we think it is dead, we water it less. It’s better to water near a tomato, not right at its roots. It has a deep tap root and will find water from water you give to neighboring plants.

The best of each? Cherry, heirloom, standard, beefsteak? I believe often it is totally gardener preference. If they love that variety, they will pamper it like a baby and it grows and produces like crazy! Some gardeners love Lemon Boys that are practically tasteless to me. Some gardeners like a mushy almost grainy texture. Some gardeners far prefer taste to quantity of production. I personally don’t find heirlooms to be anymore tasty than the toms I choose, though I do love their color variations and odd shapes! I’ve chosen toms just because I like their name. And I don’t recommend doing that, LOL! Some plant that variety because that’s what their family planted, sentimental, and they swear it tastes better too! Genes, you know.

Other than that, if you want to get technical, AAS Winners are a total best bet! All America Selections is a non profit of 80 years standing! The 2014 tomato winner was a yummy looking orange heirloom! They are selected each year from the best that are produced, proven producers, disease and pest tolerance/resistance. Obviously color, size, taste and texture are personal choices and best becomes a moot point. I do a little of both. I primarily pick VFNs and let myself ‘experiment’ from time to time, and let at least one volunteer live out of pure curiosity! LOL

Mother Earth News has a great collection of gardener tomato variety preferences cross country. Check it out! For the Southwest, Sungold and other cherry tomatoes are the popular, practical choice. Those of us more coastal are very lucky to have a greater range of choice.

A technical point is some varieties of tomatoes are far better for tomato grafting than others.

So, best depends on best for what, when, where and who! Personal taste, soil conditions, when you plant, where you plant. A windless hot spot with lots of light even in a cool neighborhood works well so you have more choices of varieties that will succeed.

HEAT TOLERANT VARIETIES! Many plants start shutting down, dropping flowers, baby fruits, at about 85 degrees. But, like Rattlesnake green beans that produce wonderfully in temps up to 100 degrees, there are some terrific tomatoes that keep right on producing! Look at successful varieties grown in hot inland California, southern and desert areas to see their choices, not just in the US, but places like Israel too. In this SoCal drought heat, I highly recommend you take a good look at nursery tags! Query a knowledgeable nursery person if in doubt, and double check that variety online before you purchase. Best choices from now on, in the warmer winter and hotter California summers, needs to include heat tolerance! Key words in heat tolerant tomato names are heat, solar, fire, sun!

GardenWeb has some great discussions from around the country on heat tolerant varieties and gardener tips of all kinds! Best heat resistant tomato varieties? – GardenWeb

Happy Tasty Tomatoes to You!

 

 

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SeedSaving - Advocates and Laws
Peasant seeds – the pillar of food production – are under attack everywhere. Under corporate pressure, laws in many countries increasingly limit what farmers can do with their seeds. Seed saving, which has been the basis of farming for thousands of years, is quickly being criminalised. What you can do.

It’s a New Year! Some of you will make serious gardening resolutions, others will take it as it comes, one day at a time as usual. But I do recommend you secure your seeds for the year ahead! Some are now less plentiful with droughts and storms, GMO threats, new laws. Recently much needed seed banks, libraries have sprung up. We want to use our seeds with reverence and seed save our best as they adapt to different conditions, assure their goodness for future generations. At Seed Swaps, take only what you need. If many people grow them, there will be more adapted to our localities. Before there were seed shops, seeds were often used as money. They are precious today as they have always been, maybe even more so.

Santa Barbara’s average last frost date is January 22 – and that is measured at the Airport! This isn’t to say there might not be another frost after that… With early plantings, know that you are taking your chances. If you lose ’em just replant! Guarantee your success by starting another round of seeds in two weeks to a month or so, both for backup and succession planting. Find out the frost dates for your California Zip Code! See the details – Protect Your Veggies from Freezing!

Just in case, have old sheets, light blankets, old towels handy. If a freeze is predicted, for small plants, like tender lettuces, just lay tomato cages on their sides and put your coverings over them. Secure them well so wind doesn’t blow them around and damage your plants. Remove them when the sun comes out! No cooking your plants before their time!

Planting early isn’t always a gain. Even if the plant lives, some won’t produce fruit until they have enough hours of sun, and for some, warmth including day/night and/or ground temps. And some plants set in too early will never produce. That waiting time for enough sun, enough warmth, interrupts the plant’s natural cycle and the production window is lost.

While others are dancing with glee at their new plants so soon, don’t worry if you wait a bit for a more sure thing! You can use that area for quick plants, chard, kale, lettuce, spinach, grown for their leaves, until it’s the right time to plant heat lovers. These plants can be removed at any time and you still shall have had lush harvests. However, hardly anyone can resist planting early tomatoes! Another strategy is don’t remove your leaf producers; instead plant tomatoes here and there among them! Remove lower leaves on the sunny side of taller plants and put in some little transplants there. That way you have table food and your heart is happy too!

Choose early cold tolerant varieties. Ones with northern names, in SoCal that could be Oregon Spring, or Siberian. Stupice from Czechoslovakia is very early! Bellstar, from Ontario Canada, is larger and earlier than other plum tomatoes. Early Girl is a favorite! And SunGold cherry tomatoes are almost always a winner! Cherry toms are small and will ripen when other tomatoes just stay green for the longest!

We may or may not have El Niño here in Santa Barbara, SoCal. If it happens, if you haven’t gotten your land ready, be prepared to scramble to get your beds and berms up and secure. Have a good source of mulch, a kind that doesn’t wash away, in mind to quickly prevent erosion. Quickly install trenches to hold the rainwater, and do some terracing if you are on a slope! Our water goals have changed in recent years. Now we hope to keep every drop of water ON our land. Let the earth filter it, restore our water tables, let only clean water get to our ocean. The ocean provides food too ~ fishes, mineral rich seaweeds. Let’s give them a clean environment. See Rainy Day Tactics for Spectacular Veggies!

With your summer garden layout in mind, get SEEDS! Start them indoors NOW to be planted in March! After a HOT summer and fall that had even the heat lovers groaning, we have had a coolish November and December. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have another hot summer. Check your 2016 seed catalogs for drought and heat tolerant varieties or look in southern states or world areas that have desert low water needs plants and order up! The seeds of these types may need to be planted deeper and earlier than more local plants for moisture they need. They may mature earlier. Be prepared to do second plantings and use a little water.

This is THE time to start peppers from seed! Peppers take their time, much longer than other plants. They are super persnickety about soil temps – they need 60 degrees + for happiness. Soil Temps are critical for root function. Peppers will sit for agonizing months if they are too cool. When that happens they rarely take hold, never produce. Better not to plant at all, or pull and replant. A gardeners’ soil thermometer is an inexpensive handy little tool to own.

Check out  Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas! If seeds and tending seedlings aren’t for you, wait and get transplants and pop them right in the ground per their right times! No fuss, no muss.

If you love your winter crops, and aren’t necessarily in a rush to do spring/summer, amend your soil immediately and plant one more round, from transplants if you can get them or have starts of your own. In cooler January weather, plantings will mature slowly, but they will mature faster than usual as days get longer, temps are warmer. Most January plantings will be coming in March, April. That’s still in good time for soil preps in April for the first spring plantings in April/May.

Continue to make the most of winter companion planting! Carrots enhance peas, onion family stunts peas. Cilantro enhances Brassicas and repels aphids on them! Lettuce repels Cabbage moths. Onions, leeks and chives help repel the carrot root fly. Carrots thrive when Cilantro, Chamomile, Marigold are planted with them. Companion planting is also a size strategy. Keep planting smaller plants, especially lettuce, on the sunny under sides of Brassicas! Take off a couple lower leaves to make room.

For us SoCal gardeners, besides beautiful bareroot roses, this month is bareroot veggies time! They don’t have soil on their roots, so plant immediately or keep them moist! Grape vines; artichokes; short-day (sweet) globe onions; strawberries; cane berries such as raspberries (get low-chill types); low-chill blueberries; and rhubarb, asparagus, and horseradish. Bare root planting is strictly a January thing. February is too late.

Plant MORE of these delicious morsels now! Arugula, beets, brocs, Brussels sprouts if you get winter chill, bunch onions, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, culinary dandelions, garden purslane, kale, kohlrabi, head and leaf lettuces, Mesclun, peas, potatoes, radishes – especially daikons, and turnips!

When you put in new transplants, sprinkle a bit of Sluggo type stuff around immediately to keep snails and slugs from seriously damaging or disappearing them while they are small. Before you anticipate your seedlings coming up, sprinkle some pellets around the plant, along both sides of rows. That keeps the creatures from mowing them overnight, making you think they never came up! Do this a few times, and there will be no tiny vegetarian predators for a while.

Prevention  A typical disease is Powdery mildew. 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 teaspoon liquid dish soap per gallon/watering can. Reapply every 10 days or so, and after significant rains. Prevention is so much better than after mildew has set in. See Aspirin Solution.

If you need more robust soil, do something absolutely yummy with it! This is perfect timing to put in some green manure where you will plant heavy summer feeders – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, chilis, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and corn; hungry stalk vegetables like celery, fennel, rhubarb, and artichokes; or continually producing green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard. Or you can ‘rest’ an area by covering it with a good 6″ to a foot deep of mulch/straw! That will flatten down in no time at all! Simply let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. That’s called sheet composting or composting in place – no turning or having to move it when it’s finished. If you are vermicomposting, have worms, add a few handfuls to speed up and enrich the process. Come spring you will have rich nutritious soil for no work at all!

Repeat! Excellent Winter Garden Practices:

Thin any plants you intentionally over planted – carrots, beets, turnips, kale, chard, mustard. If you planted too close together, take out the shorter, weaker plants. Keep thinning beets as they get bigger, taking small ones from between the ones getting larger. Thinnings are great in your salads along with small tender Brassica leaves.

Sidedressing is like snacking. Some of your heavy leaf producers and big bodied Brassicas, may need a feeding now and again. Heading is your cue to help them along. If they slow down, or just don’t look perky, slip them a liquid feed that quickly waters into the root zone. Stinky fish/kelp is easy for them to uptake in cooler weather. Get your nozzle under low cabbage leaves and feed/water out to the drip line. Lettuces love manures. Compost and manure teas, fish emulsion (when there are no digging predators), pretty powdered box ferts, are all good. Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings. Slow release is a wise consideration. Worm castings, though not food, work wonders! Also, be careful of ‘too much’ fertilizer, too much water, that makes for an aphid tasty soft plant. That said, another way to get goodness to the roots is push in a spade fork vertically, wiggle it back and forth, remove the fork, pour your foods into the holes, close ’em back up. Soil organisms will get right to work, your plant will stay healthy and be quite productive!

Especially feed your cabbages, lightly, time to time, because they are making leaf after leaf, dense heads, working hard. I often see kales lose their perk. You would too if someone kept pulling your leaves off and never fed you. Feed them too, please, while feeding your cabbages.Don’t feed carrots, they will fork and grow hairy! Overwatering makes them split. Your peas and favas are busy gathering Nitrogen from the air, feeding themselves, so little to no feeding is needed for them.

Check beets, carrots, radish, potatoes, turnips, in general, for low soil, especially after rains. Soil naturally compacts with watering. Some of these veggies naturally push right up above ground as they grow. Planting their seeds deeper doesn’t compensate. It’s the nature of the veggie! Never hurts to put a handy little pile of extra soil near where you plant them. Cover their exposed shoulders to keep them from drying, getting tough, needing peeling, losing the nutrients in their skins. Uncovered carrot shoulders don’t ripen but stay green. Same with potatoes.

In SoCal, winter is not a time for mulching except for erosion control. Its purpose in summer is to keep the soil and plant roots cool, and retain moisture. In winter, we pull the mulch back to let the soil warm up during the short days. Also, it’s good to remove pest habitat, let the soil dry a bit between rains to kill off the wilts fungi, and let Bagrada bug eggs die. Do not keep straw from areas where there have been infestations. Bag up clean summer straw, mulches, for compost pile layers during winter or lay the straw under the boards in pathways to feed the soil there. Later, move the pathway over, left or right, and plant in that fertile soil that is now under the boards!

Do water! Watering is important even in cool weather. Also, some plants simply like being moist ie chard and lettuce, strawberries. No swimming, just moist.

Standard Veggie Predators Keep a keen watch for pests and diseases and take quick action!

  • Gophers  You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after the rains. If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.
  • Aphids  Watch for leaves unnaturally curled along the length of the leaf, particularly broccolis, cauliflowers, kale, cabbages. Squish or wash any or the colony away immediately, and keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed. After that, water less so plant leaves will be less tender and inviting.
  • White flies  Flush away, especially under the leaves. They are attracted to yellow, so keep  those Brassica yellowing, yellowed leaves removed pronto. Again, a little less water.
  • Leafminers  Keep watch on your chard and beet leaves. Pull away those blotchy sections the leafminers make; immediately remove whole leaves that are too funky for rescue. Harvest the bigger outer lower leaves more often to stay ahead of the miners, especially the leaves that touch another plant. Water and feed just a little less to make those leaves less inviting. Plant so mature leaves don’t touch. Rather than row plant, interplant here and there.
  • Slugs, Snails  Lay down Sluggo, or the like, before seedlings even get started, immediately when you put your transplants in! Once stopped, there will be intervals when there are none at all. If you notice tiny children snails, lay down another couple rounds.

COMPOST always! Soil building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden. Compost is easy to make, and if you make it, you know what’s in it! Added to your soil, made or purchased, it increases water holding capacity, is nutritious, soil organisms flourish, your soil lives and breathes! It feeds just perfectly! Make it HOT, Cold, or In place!  Dry is dead, so be sure it is always slightly moist.

Again, get your summer garden layout in mind NOW for January/February SEED SWAPS! Peruse seed catalogs and order up. Later on, many seeds will no longer be available, so wisely get your entire year’s supply now!

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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!

Love your Mother! Plant more bee food! Capture water. Grow organic!

December Garden Images! Western Bluebirds, the Fallen Tree, surprises!

See the entire January GBC Newsletter:

ALL About Beets, So Sweet!
Soil Care for Spring Planting
HEAL Community Garden for Sydney Children

Events!  January 31, 2016 Santa Barbara Seed Swap!

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Tomato Black Russian Cherry

I was thrilled this year when two volunteer tomatoes came up that were very different than my usual choices and I liked them! One was a 1+ inch diameter tomato that darkened to a deep dark green with a rose tinge! Lovely, great slightly tart taste, and prolific! I believe it is an heirloom, a Black Russian Cherry! The other is a PINK Pear! And I do mean pink, NOT red! There’s no real way I will know for sure what they are, so, of course I’m saving seeds! Here’s the how to!

To intentionally save pure tomato seeds, when planting, separate varieties with short styles (most modern varieties) by at least 10 feet. Varieties with long styles (heirlooms and older varieties) need at least 100 feet to ensure purity. If solitary bees are prevalent, separate all varieties at least 100 feet and place another flowering crop between. Getting that 100′ in a community garden is unlikely, but give it a try!

For your Mother Fruits, select your finest fruits, free of cracks or bug holes, entry points for disease microorganisms.

Fermenting! Cut the tomato into halves at its equator, opening the vertical cavities that contain the seeds. Gently squeeze out from the cavities the jelly-like substance that contains the seeds. If done carefully, the tomato itself can still be eaten or saved for canning, sun-drying or dehydrating.

Place the jelly and seeds into a small jar or glass. (Add a little water if you are processing only one or two small tomatoes.) Loosely cover the container and place in a warm location, 60-75° F. no more than two days. Stir each day. Recent studies show tomato seed germination is best when seeds are soaked for only one to two days before they are rinsed and dried. Fermentation times longer than three days substantially lower the germination rate from 96% to only 74% on the 4th day! Word.

In warm weather, on the second day, a layer of fungus will likely begin to appear on top of the water. Stir the seeds so fermentation is equal for all the seeds. This fungus not only eats the gelatinous coat that surrounds each seed and prevents germination, it also produces antibiotics that help to control seed-borne diseases like bacterial spot, canker and speck.

At no more than two days fill the seed container with warm water. Let the seeds settle and begin pouring out the water along with pieces of tomato pulp and immature seeds floating on top. Note: Viable seeds are heavier and settle to the bottom of the jar. Repeat this process until water being poured out is almost clear and clean seeds line the bottom of the container. Pour these clean seeds into a strainer that has holes smaller than the seeds. Let the excess water drip out. Spread them in a single layer on a screen, coffee filter or piece of newspaper, or a paper plate to dry. No ceramic or plastic. You want the water to wick away. They will stick to paper towels. Break up clumps, turn a few times to allow the seeds to dry completely, usually a day or two, five days if you want to be sure. Label with their name and date. Store in a packet or plastic bag out of sunlight.

NOT fermenting! Simple – simply squeeze tomato seeds onto a paper towel, spread them out a bit, and allow the towel to dry for a couple of weeks. When dry, the seed-bearing towel can be folded up and tucked into a labeled envelope for storage through winter. Or you can place the little tykes in groups of 3 on the towel, cut up the towel, and voilà, they are ready to plant by 3s next spring! This works for year to year planting, since the seeds only last a year processed this way.

Nature’s Way! If you know where you will plant your tomatoes next season, toss a few over there, cover with a couple inches of soil and mulch. Put in a stake with their name on it so you don’t forget your plan! Next spring, stir that soil a bit. If you want things to happen a tad sooner, cover with a cloche to warm the soil and wait for your happiness!

May the Tomato Fairy give you many blessings – bird gifts, mice carrying off tomatoes from somewhere else leaving tomato remains behind – seeds that will grow next spring! The seeds that make it have a certain strength and affinity for your special soil! Each year as you save seed from your best plants, they will grow in strength and be so delicious to your personal taste!

If I may convince you, please save some extra seeds for our January Seed Swap!

Merci! Bon tomate appétit!



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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Mulch ~ save water, reduce weeds, keep fruits above bug level and clean!

I used to be a total mulcher, covered my whole veggie garden. I’ve adjusted my coastal SoCal *mulch thinking to match the plant! Same goes for composting in place. That’s a good idea for some areas of your garden, other areas not at all!

If you are coastal SoCal, in the marine layer zone, your mulch, or composting in place, may be slowing things down a lot more than you realize. The best melons I’ve ever seen grown at cool & coastal Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden were on bare hot dry soil in a plot that had a lower soil level than most of the other plots. The perimeter boards diverted any wind right over the top of the area, the soil got hot!  It was like an oven! So, let it be bare! No mulch under melons, your winter squash, pumpkins except under the fruits to keep them off the ground, clean, up from insect predators.

Put up a low wind barrier – straw bales, a perimeter of densely foliated plants, a big downed log, be creative. Let your peppers and jicama get hot! Eggplant is Mediterranean, maybe coastal, because they like a little humidity, interplant them closely with other plants, but still they are heat lovers! Okra is full sun Southern hot!

Tomatoes need dryer soil to avoid the verticillium and fusarium wilt fungi if your soil has it. Plant them in a basin that keeps the water out! Make the basin on top of a mound with the basin bottom level above the surrounding soil level. Let ‘em dry nearby; water a foot or more away from the central stem. Let that tap-root do its job, get the water below the fungi, wilt/blight zone, the top 6 to 8 inches. Drier soil is not comfy for slugs.

Get cucumbers up on a trellis, then you won’t need mulch to keep the cukes clean and bug free, but rather because they have short roots. Cukes are susceptible to fungi wilts/blight too, so keep the leaves from touching bare ground. As soon as they are big enough, clip off lower leaves that might touch the ground when weighted with water in case they get wet. They are a fuzzy plant, so better to water at the root, not on the leaves anyway. Plant heat tolerant lettuces at their feet to act as living mulch. They both like plenty of water to keep them growing fast and sweet, so they are great companions. In that case you will need to use a little Sluggo or its equivalent if you feel comfortable to use it.

WATER  Clearly, no mulch, more heat, equals more water needed. In drought areas, plant in basins below the surrounding soil level. Use your long low flow water wand to water only in the basin at the roots of your plant. Fuzzy leaved plants, tomatoes, cucumber and eggplant, prefer not being watered on their leaves anyway. Since there is no raised mound, there is no maintenance needed for berms surrounding a basin though there is natural settling so you do need to clear the basin occasionally. If you are in a wet area, make those mounds with the bottoms of basins above the surrounding soil level for good drainage and check the berms from time to time to be sure they are holding up. These are variations on age old Waffle Gardening.

LIVING MULCH  Closely planted beets, carrots, garden purslane, radish, strawberries, turnips act as living mulch to themselves. The dense canopy their leaves make lets little light in, keeps things moist. If you cage or trellis your beans, most of the plant is up getting air circulation, keeping them dryer, more mildew free, if you don’t plant too densely. They, cucumbers and strawberries, also have short feet that need to stay moist, so do mulch them – your beans and cukes with clean chop and drop or purchased mulch. Chard likes moist and cooler, so mulch. Zucchini, doesn’t care. They are a huge leaved plant, greedy sun lovers, that are self mulching. But, you can do what some do. Feed their vine up through the largest tomato cages, stake them well, that plant is heavy. Cut off the lower leaves and plant a family of lettuces, carrots, onions, salad bowl fixin’s or basil on the sunny side underneath! If you are in a hot drought zone, plant them in the filtered shade underneath. All of them like plenty of water, so everyone is happy.

If you are going to mulch, do it justice. Besides wanting to cool your soil, keep moisture in, prevent erosion, keep your crop off the soil and away from bugs, and in the long-term, feed your soil, mulching is also to prevent light germinating seeds from sprouting. Put on 4 to 6 inches minimum. Less than that may be pretty, but simply make great habitat for those little grass and weed seeds! Mulch makes moist soil, where a rich multitude of soil organisms can thrive, including great fat vigorous earthworms! You see them, you know your soil is well aerated, doing great!

If you live in a cold climate, cold, cold winters, mulch can protect your soil and keep it warm in winters. In SoCal, pull mulch away in ‘winter’ to let the sun warm the soil, remove overwintering pest habitat, let soil dry so fungi die. Pile it near your compost area and use it in compost layers if it is pest and disease free.

Mulching is double good on hillsides. Make your rock lined water-slowing ‘S’ terrace walkways snaking along down the hillside. Cover your berms well and deeply to prevent erosion and to hold moisture when there are drying winds. Use a mulch that won’t blow away or garden staple down some plastic. Plant fruit trees, your veggies on the uphill side of your berms.

Mulch with an organic degradable mulch that feeds your soil too! Chop and drop disease and pest free plants to compost in place, spread dry leaves. Spread very well-aged manures. When you water, it’s like compost or manure tea to the ground underneath. Lay out some seed free straw – some feed stores will let you sweep it up for free! If you don’t like the look of that, cover it with some pretty purchased undyed mulch you like. Use redwood fiber only in areas you want to be slightly acidic, like for strawberries.

COMPOSTING IN PLACE  Build soil right where you need it. Where you do put mulch, tuck kitchen waste out of sight under it, where you will plant next. Sprinkle with a little soil if you have some to spare, that inoculates your pile with soil organisms; pour on some compost tea to add some more! Throw on some red wriggler surface feeder worms. Grow yarrow or Russian comfrey (Syphytum x uplandicum) near your compost area so you can conveniently add a few sprigs to your pile to speed decomposition. It will compost quickly, no smells, feeding your soil excellently! If you keep doing it in one place, a nice raised bed will be built there with little effort!

You don’t have to wait to plant! Pull back a planting space, add compost you have on hand or purchased compost, maybe mix in a little aged manure mix, worm castings, specific amendments to the kind of plant you will be planting. Sprinkle some mycorrhizal fungi on your transplant’s roots, and plant! Yes!

A caution:  The debris pile of composting in place may be habitat for overwintering insect pests, so put it safely away from plants that have had or might suffer infestations. To break a pest’s growing cycle, put no piles at all where there have been pests before.

In SoCal and southern states, when temps are 85 degrees or above for 3 to 4 days in a row, check for BAGRADA BUGS on any Brassica plants you have – broccoli, kale, collards, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, nor Mizuna, mustard, radish, arugula or turnips. If Bagradas are there, some gardeners immediately remove all Brassicas and all the surrounding mulch to remove Bagrada habitat, stop them laying eggs in the soil. Those gardeners then wait for cool weather again before planting any more Brassicas.

In the fall most SoCal gardeners remove tired mulch to remove habitat for overwintering pests or diseases, to let the soil warm up on short sunny ‘winter’ days. Some toss it completely away, dig it into landscaped areas to feed the soil. If clean they compost it. If you are in a snow zone, you would keep it on to keep the soil as warm as possible, cover and protect plants from freezing.

So, you see, there are times for mulch and times not for mulch. Using less saves money, saves work.

Mulch is magic when done right!

*Mulch is when you can see distinct pieces of the original materials.  Finished compost is when there are no distinct pieces left, the material is black and fluffy and smells good.

Updated from June 11, 2011 post

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