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Bowl of Tomatillos
Tasty image compliments of Rachel Steenland at The Plant Riot

Tomatillo, pronounced ‘toe-mah-tee-yo,’ means “little tomato,” but they aren’t a tomato. They grow in inedible papery husks, resembling small, straw-colored Japanese lanterns. Aficionados don’t substitute one for the other, but they are in the same family. Another variance from most plants is you need TWO to pollinate and get fruit!

CA Rare Fruit Growers says ‘There is considerable confusion in the literature concerning the various species. Hybrids between them are also known.’ Here’s their list! 

Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana L.), Ground Cherry (Physalis heterophylla), Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa), Purple Ground Cherry (P. philadelphica), Strawberry Tomato (P. pruinosa), Ground Cherry, Husk Tomato (P. pubescens), Sticky Ground Cherry (P. viscosa).

Cape gooseberry, also known as ground cherry, produces small, sweet fruit inside papery husks. Tomatillo, also called husk tomato, produces similar but larger fruit that is a staple in Mexican cooking.  It is tart/tangy and crisp, used in gazpacho, guacamole and salsas, especially salsa verde. They are also used in lighter moles, like mole verde and mole amarillo. 

Here’s another comparison from WeCanGrowIt. Tomatillos and ground cherries both belong to the nightshade family, and although they taste very different, they look very similar. Both fruits grow like paper lanterns, enclosed in an inedible husk. Tomatillos are medium sized, while ground cherries produce a cherry-sized fruit and closely resemble their distant relative, the cape gooseberry.

Luscious Varieties!

Beautiful Yellow Tomatillo Blossom!

Fruits come in yellow, red, green, or purple and the flowers come in several colors too, including white, light green, bright yellow, and sometimes purple. Flowers may or may not have purple spots at the center. The fruits come in 1/2″ to 4″ grandes or gigantes!

Green Tomatillos are the standard.

BIG is Better? Some say the big ones, gold ball size or more, lack flavor and can taste bitter. But there are clearly gardeners who love them and some gardeners love bitter flavors! Try a few different ones. Remember to plant by twos, for pollination, of each variety, to see which you like! There are different varieties and sizes of the of green ones as well!

Tomatillo Variety Mexican Stain Yellow GrandeLook at these beauties! Horticulturist Jessica Walliser, says the fruits of YELLOW variety, Mexican Strain, are almost twice as large as green and purple types – usually 2″, and she finds they’re more flavorful after they fall from the plant. She adds them to homemade spaghetti sauce and tomato soup and has had excellent results. They’re very meaty. Territorial Seed says ‘These tasty summer treats are even more mineral-dense than tomatoes, packed with unique phytochemicals and flavonoids.’

If you are looking for a cold tolerant yellow, try Yellow Amarylla, bred to thrive in the cooler summer conditions of inland Eastern Europe.

Purple Tomatillo in the Husk and cut open to see the Seeds!Purple Tomatillos! Caribbean Garden Seed says theirs are a rare variety with smaller 1″ fruit that has a sweeter flavor than green tomatillos. Easy to grow, less sticky! One gardener says ‘Purple Tomatillos can be eaten fresh off the vine, though we much prefer to grill them or make purple salsa.’ There is also a larger Purple Strain variety. Purple Tomatillos, more sweet, are used in jams and preserves.

Tomatillo rare Variety Queen of Malinalco Stephen Smith of Roughwood Seed Collection!Many Tomatillos have a long history and great stories! Specialty heirloom grower Stephen Smith says this about his 2019 Queens: I was so impressed with these “Queen of Malinalco” husk tomatoes we grew this year. While dubbed “Queen of Malinalco”, this is not the true name of this landrace. Locally they are called “acorazado or acorazonado” meaning heart shaped”. This landrace is found in the old Aztec village/town of Malinalco, named after the Aztec goddess Malinalxóchitl . It is said that Huitzlipochtli abandoned his sister Malinalxóchitl because she was practicing evil witchcraft. While she slept, he left her in the middle of the forest. When she woke, she was furious at having been abandoned by her brother. She gathered people loyal to her and marched off to settle in what is now Malinalco. I suspicion back then these were utilized in special ceremonies and were most certainly a food of the deities. Very productive, 3-6 foot tall plants yield long, pear-heart shaped fruits that begin green and ripen to a golden yellow and push through their husk. The largest tomatillo we have ever seen. Amazingly fruity tasting fruits are excellent in pies, jams, etc. Get seeds at Roughwood 

Baker Creek Heirloom Rare Seeds says this Tomatillo is more like a sweet paste tomato! The fruit grow up to an awesome 4 inches long and the plants are very productive.  

Tomatillos originated in Mexico and were cultivated in the pre-Columbian era. The Aztecs are credited with domesticating them. They were more important than the tomato.

Companion Plants can make a marked difference!

Plan ahead to include helpful plants where your Tomatillos will be planted. Plant those plants well before you plant your tomatillos so the companions will be working as soon as you plant your tomatillos. Plant with Borage to repel tomato hornworms. Basil is a classic with tomato type plants, also helps repel hornworms. Be mindful of differing water needs.

Nasturtiums (caution if you have snails) and Marigolds, attract pollinators. Marigolds repel nematodes in the soil; nasturtiums deter whiteflies! You can plant your Tomatillos with Peppers, Tomatoes, Sunflower, Onion – repels beetles, spider mites and ants, Garlic, Cabbage, Kale and Carrot. Basil, mint, chives, sage, parsley, garlic repel insect pests. Parsley in bloom also attracts hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids and predatory wasps that eat other pests!

Incompatible! Kohlrabi stunts tomatillos. Corn (not recommended as a food) attracts pests that harm tomatillos. Potatoes and eggplants attract potato beetles and potato aphids that tomatillos are also susceptible to. Dill and Fennel have oils that inhibit root development and can kill neighboring plants.

Companion planting is not an exact ‘science.’ There are contradictions online, so try it for yourself. There are so many soil variations, different planting times of year per temps, distances between plants, differing plant varieties that have different hardiness or tolerance. Note how far apart you plant companions/not companions from your Tomatillos. Is your Tomatillo growth slowed, then when they get bigger things are fine? Have you planted a ‘good’ companion close enough to your tomatillos to do them good?

GROWING Details!

Half-Black Bumblebee on Tomatillo Flower
Half-Black BumbleBee (Bombus vagans) on Tomatillo Flower

Tomatillos are in the Solanaceae family like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant. Honeybees DO NOT pollinate them, Bumblebees DO! It’s called buzz pollination! If you are inclined, make homes and habitat for wild bees! It’s easy!

You need 2 or more plants placed close together for cross pollination.

Bonnie Plants says ‘Plan for each plant to produce about a pound of fruit over the season. However, most recipes call for ½ pound to make sauce, so plan to grow a minimum of 2 to 3 plants to have enough fruit ready to eat at one time. You may need more if you like them a lot.’Choose full sun, except in hot climates where some afternoon shade is recommended.

Soil & Water: Tomatillos love fertile loamy soil rich in organic matter. Add plenty of compost prior to planting. Preferred soil pH is between 5.5-7.0. If you have heavy clay soil, grow them in raised beds. They grow well in containers as long as watering is kept regular.

Seed Sowing Depth: ¼” deep   Germination: 7-14 days

Starting Indoors:  Sow 6-8 or 8-10 weeks before last frost. Sow in flats/cells/pots. Provide 70-80ºF or 75-85ºF soil temperatures. Those are optimum, but they can be planted at 59ºF! Cooler soil temperatures increase germination time. If your Tomatillos don’t germinate, supply bottom heat to the plants, and cover them with a dome or plastic. This will definitely help.

Thin to 2″ apart after the first true leaves appear. Fertilize the seedlings every 7-10 days with a liquid or water soluble fertilizer (diluted to ¼ of suggested measurement). Transplant seedlings 24-48” apart after last frost.

Sowing Outdoors: Not recommended, especially in short season northern areas. Because of Tomatillos long growing season, this shortens their production time by as much as 2 months. 

Plastic Bottle Cloche

It helps to use row covers early in the season, giving the plants extra warmth, especially in the north. Or use cloches to protect and keep young plants warm. A simple cloche can be any large plastic container with its bottom cut off, with or without the cap. Not only does it keep your plant warm, but protects it from bird damage. On hot days be sure to remove that cap! 

If you have good hot summer temps, lay down a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch to preserve moisture and keep weeds down. If you have less than optimal hours of sun, are in a northern area or are in a cool area (our community garden is seaside cooler), don’t apply soil cooling mulch.

Days To Maturity: Depends on the variety and your local temps, but generally 65 to 100 days after transplanting.

Tomatillos can be compact and upright OR are highly-branched and sprawling, semi-indeterminate, with a more open canopy. Trellis or stake those plants for support. Staking the plants will ease harvest and keep fruit off of the ground, which reduces slug and other damage to the fruit and husk. It also enhances air circulation and discourages fungus problems on the foliage during periods of high humidity. If allowed to sprawl on the ground, the stems will rootand the plants will require more space than you may have anticipated, so be sure to use a trellis or tomato cage – unless you have the room and want more tomatillos!

Maintenance!


Tomatillos work hard making all those little lanterns! They are heavy feeders and will benefit from regular fertilization. Others say they are hardy and too much food gives you leaves and little fruit! If your soil is poor, feed ’em. If your soil is rich, let them alone. Probably is
wise to do the standard side dress when the flowers begin to form. 

Soak the soil 4-6″ deep at 7-day intervals. Like with any fuzzy leaved plants and tomatoes, avoid wetting the foliage when watering. Water at ground level. Keep the soil consistently moist. Overwatering can cause fruit to crack.

Pests & Diseases

Prolific Tomatillos and Flea Beetle Damage

Not only can you see how prolific Tomatillos are but also the Flea Beetle damage! See all the little holes in the leaves?! Plants are usually vigorous enough that the damage is merely cosmetic.

Pests: Aphids, cutworms, snails, slugs, flea beetles, European corn borer, mites, fruit worms, whiteflies, tomato hornworm, leafminers.

Diseases: Fungal leaf spots and early and late blights, powdery mildew, viruses, Bacterial soft rot. As possible, do a 3-4 year rotation, remove vines at the end of the year. as of 2017 two diseases have been documented, tomato yellow leaf curl virus associated with whiteflies, and turnip mosaic virus associated with aphids – see the last listing on this page. What turnip mosaic looks like.

Harvest Pointers Vary!

When to Harvest your Tomatillos
Thanks to Bonnie Plants for the image! 

 

Cutting is better than pulling them from and damaging your plant. Ripe fruits often fall to the ground, where they can be collected and taken to the kitchen. You can place some type of cloth under the plants for an easier harvest. These babies are prolific! harvest every two to three days.

Harvest when the fruit fills the husk, botanically called a calyx. Harvest lasts 1 to 2 months or until first frost. In that short time, your plant can produce 60 to 200 fruits within a single growing season! That means harvesting daily is common.

Some say the fruits should be hard, while others say they should feel slightly soft. Still others say the best time to pick for salsa is when husks turn brown & begin to open. They can be several colors when ripe, including yellow, red, green, or even purple depending on the variety. With some varieties the plump fruit will bust right through the husk, and that is when you can tell that it is ready to harvest. You can just twist the fruit right off the vine at this point. 

For the green variety in the image, the bright green color on the right is ripe. The left is overripe, turning yellow because it was left too long on the plant. Overripe is not as good for cooking, as they lack the firm flesh and tart flavor of the green tomatillos. For Salsa Verde, tart is right! With additional time, they will become more seedy, but sweeter, for eating raw.

One gardener says Tomatillos are often ripe when the husk splits, the husk turns tan or dry, and the fruit is still green. However, some fruits fill the husk but do not cause splitting. Some experience with harvest will be necessary to assess ripeness per various varieties and your location.

How do you store them?

Simply gather them up and keep them at room temperature in a basket without removing their husks. Tomatillos will last for up to two weeks this way, 1 to 2 months in a cool dry place. For best flavor, do not refrigerate! If you must, store tomatillos in their husks for 2 to 3 weeks in a paper bag in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. Wiki says ‘They keep even longer with the husks removed and the fruit refrigerated in sealed plastic bags.’

For longer storage, you have to freeze them, whole or sliced, or can them.

Tomatillos are prolific! They can easily be frozen! Remove the husk, rinse and dry. Arrange the tomatillos, not touching, on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer. As soon as the tomatillos freeze (takes about 2 hours), pack the tomatillos in freezer bags. Freezing separately first prevents them from sticking together. Double bagging is a good idea to prevent freezer burn. Label the bags with the date and place them immediately in the freezer. Frozen tomatillos will be sweet when thawed, perfect for use in salsas, sauces, and soups. Tomatillos should keep in the freezer for up to a year.

SEEDSAVING!

Tomatillo SeedSaving
Thanks to Howard Parker for these images.

Per Seed Savers Exchange, Tomatillos are outcrossers, meaning that their flowers cross-pollinate and are incapable of self-pollination. So, if you have a favorite tomatillo variety for turning into salsa verde and want to save seeds, make sure you give it plenty of space from other varieties! If genetic preservation of a variety is the goal, Seed Savers Exchange says “the isolation distance should be increased to 1-2 miles.”

Keeping that in mind, let your green tomatillos ripen until they become bright yellow. Their seeds are tiny! If you aren’t needing a lot of seeds, try it like this with the tip of a small pointy knife!

As FOOD there is nothing like them! 

Salsa Verde made with Tomatillos!

I’m not sure Tomatillos have any whopping special nutritional features. Martha Rose Shulman, author of “The Very Best of Recipes for Health,” says ‘Tomatillos are a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, as well as dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, potassium and manganese.’ There are so many wonder veggies, does it matter whether Tomatillos contribute highly? They’re a treat!

First, when you remove the husks, you find their skin has a sticky, sappy-like coating. The film has chemical compounds in it called withanolides that taste bad to pests, so the pests leave the tommies alone in the field! Leave it there, until you are ready to use them, it helps protect them while in storage. No worries. A quick rinse, a little vinegar if needed, and it’s gone!  

Tomatillos contain a pectin-like substance and can be used to thicken soups, stews or sauces when cooked. They can also be eaten raw, sliced and added to salads, guacamole, and fresh salsas. When slicing, use a serrated knife to easily cut through the skin without bruising. They can also be baked, dried, fried or pickled whole as a cold meat accompaniment, added to curries and stir fries. Serve grilled! Make marmalade and dessert sauce. The fruits, canned whole in Mexico, are sold domestically there and in the western United States.

Enjoy Salsa Verde as a dip, savoury sauce over enchiladas, tacos, eggs, as salad dressing, drizzle over chorizo, grilled fish, chicken, refried beans, rice, toast, and baked potato! As a marinade, in a burger! Use it as a dip for anything, including your bagel! Use it with Italian and French cuisines! 

Quick Basic Salsa Verde recipe! Emphasize your favorite ingredients as you wish! Tomatillos are the start. Add spicy HOT jalapeño peppers or not! Your choice. Fewer if you want less heat. Onion, garlic, lime juice, and cilantro! Rachel Steenland at The Plant Riot gives you all the juicy details!

More Recipes! Dan noSowitz says, don’t be limited to Mexican cuisine! Make a Raw Tomatillo And Spring Vegetable Salad, or Pasta With Tomatillo, Ricotta, And Sunflower Seed! Fried Tomatillos With Labneh And Za’atar. He says they’re [tomatillos] a really spectacular, unique ingredient, and the U.S. is unusual in that they are a very common sight throughout the entire country. (Just try finding tomatillos in France.) See his tasty recipes!

Tomatillo Fairy Lanterns and Blossoms

In addition to the terrific recipes, thanks to Dan noSowitz for this sweet image by Tim Lewisnm

May your garden grow deliciously with magical Fairy Lanterns! 

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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.

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

Feeling inspired? Get the word out! Sharing is caring ~

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Tasty Red Bell Pepper, Tomatoes, Edible Garlic Flowers!

Edible Garlic chive blossoms on beautiful thick walled red bell pepper!
Image by super gardener Kenny Point in Pennsylvania

Peppers are not just food, they are an adventure that spices your life! They are not just a veggie, but an edible garden beauty in your landscape!

Peppers Come in an Amazing Array! 

Mini to Mammoth! Tiny brain wrecking hot chilis, dainty mini to humongous sweet Bells! Early maturing thin walled, later thick walled. Short, long – pointy, round. Ones that hang down, others that point up!

Peppers come in colors you won’t believe! How about these super thick walled Jupiter Sweet Burgundy! On the right are 8″ colossal beauties Yellow Monster Peppers! Really sweet, meaty, great fresh, fried or roasted!

Peppers Varieties - Burgundy Bell, Yellow Monsters, Fish, HOT Chile Numex Twilight

Striped, one of the prettiest peppers ever, Fish Pepper, above left, is an African-American heirloom that predates the 1870s. It starts out an unusual cream color striped with green, the fruits ripen to orange with brown stripes, before turning all red. Super for containers! At right is beautiful Numex Twilight. It can produce more than 100 small pretty pods! At 100,000 Scoville Units, it’s HOT! Respect.

SMART CHOICES!

Disease resistant If your land is moist, hybrids are probably going to do better for you than heirlooms. In coastal Santa Barbara CA we usually have a late spring/summer fog belt/marine layer, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Choose Resistant varieties per the list below and also Potato Yellow Mosaic Virus, Pepper Mottle Virus and  Cucumber Mosaic Virus.
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Pepper Resistance Codes:(BLS 1-3) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1-3)
(BLS 1-2) Bacterial Leaf Spot (Races 1, 2)
(PC) Phytophthora Root Rot
(PVY) Potato Virus Y
(TEV) Tobacco Etch Virus
(TM 0-2) Tobamovirus (Races 0-2)
(TM 0-3) Tobamovirus (Races 0-3)
(TMV) Tobacco Mosaic Virus Here are recommended varieties by UC Davis in California. TMV is Tobacco Mosaic Virus, PVY is Potato Virus Y. AAS is a super plus! It is an All America Selections winner!
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Hot
Tam Mild Jalapeño (mild heat with Jalapeño flavor) PVY
Jalapeño M (very hot)
Anaheim TMR 23 (chili pepper, moderately hot) TMV
Anaheim (standard hot chill)
Cayenne Long Red Slim (hot)
Hungarian Yellow Wax (popular for canning, moderately hot)
Serrano Chili Pepper (tabasco type)

Sweet Bell
Bell Boy AAS, TMV
California Wonder TMV
Yolo Wonder TMV
Keystone Resistant Giant TMV
Jupiter TMV
Golden Summer Hybrid (yellow when fully mature) TMV
Golden Bell (yellow when fully mature)
Early Pimento (used fresh or for canning) AAS
Sweet Yellow or Cubanelle Sweet Banana AAS
Gypsy AAS, TMV
Hy-Fry
Cubanene

GROWING CONDITION CHOICES

Location!
If you have a short summer season or are cooler and coastal perhaps, choose earlier smaller fruited varieties than ones that need a long hot summer to fully mature and if necessary change color too.

Cold Tolerant! 
If you love your peppers and want some early, or have a short growing season, order ones that mature quickly and are cool weather adapted! Plant those first and others more heat tolerant soon after to carry the length of the season. For 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 Jalapeño,  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! If cold weather can happen anytime where you live, grow your peppers in pots; take them inside when it gets cold.

Heat Tolerant! Peppers are a Solanacea like tomatoes, and like tomatoes they produce poorly during high temperatures. Banana, ‘Gypsy’ and pimento produce very well, despite the heat. Jessie Keith says ‘super spicy classic jalapeño ‘Tula’, wonderfully flavorful pasilla-type pepper ‘Holy Molé’ (2007 AAS Winner), and classic spicy sweet red bell pepper ‘Mexibell’ (1988 AAS Winner). Of the sweet bell peppers nothing beats the tough, [thick walled] disease-resistant ‘Orange Blaze’ (2011 AAS Winner) and its crisp, bright orange peppers.’ Heirloom Olympus (65 days green, 85 days red) has large bell peppers on medium-sized plants with good leaf cover. They are high-yielding plants, are heat tolerant and can set fruit under a wide range of conditions. MG Seed Stock. If you planted varieties that are more heat susceptible, put up a shade cloth cover. Depending on the density you select, shade cloth can lower the temperature by approximately 5-15 degrees. If you live in a hot area, bell pepper transplants can be planted in August for fall production when the weather cools down.

Drought tolerant Look for the terms drought tolerant, drought resistant, dry farmed when searching for the best variety for your garden. It’s important to know that drought tolerant doesn’t necessarily mean heat tolerant and vice versa, so stay alert if you need both. When you are buying seeds, consider the location of the seed company. Perhaps local seed houses will understand your needs best. Check in with local farmers to see which varieties they are growing, remembering that some of their standards are different than a home gardener. For those of you in water critical areas, one way to help the situation is to pick pepper varieties with fewer days to maturity. You get peppers, you can freeze some, your plants are done before the highest heat and driest times. The UC Sonoma County list is short, only two varieties, Jupiter Red Bell and Ordoño.

Pepper HOT Cayenne Blend Eden BrothersHAPPY COMPANIONS! 

Sweet Peppers like: Basil, tomato, rhubarb, eggplant, lettuce, asparagus, parsley, silver beet, spinach, carrot, onion, beans, cabbage, peas, marigold and okra.

Hot Pepper plants do well alongside eggplant, tomato, okra, Swiss chard, escarole, squash and cucumbers.

At left, Cayenne Mix at Eden Brothers Seeds, Scoville Scale: 30,000-50,000 Units
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PLANTING

Peppers are Temp Particular! Peppers grow best in daytime air temperatures 65° to 85°F. Transplant when night time temperatures stay above 50 degrees, 55 is better. Below that plants grow very slowly, have yellowish, puckered leaves, and look sickly, often don’t recover. Night temps between 60° and 70° are best. The ideal temperature for peppers is a daytime temperature around 75°F and a nighttime temperature around 62°F.

At soil temperatures above 65 degrees, pepper growth accelerates. If either the soil or air temperature is much below 55 degrees, blossoms of transplants may drop off. The plants may survive and more blossoms will appear. But it is more likely plants will become stunted and never recover. If your plant is puny and showing no growth, best to compost it and replant when it is warmer.

  • Nighttime temperatures below 60 F or above 75 F can reduce fruit set. In daytime temperatures greater than 85°F, peppers may drop their blossoms although set fruit will ripen. When daytime temps reach 90 F and above, and stay there, just like with tomatoes, the blossoms seldom set fruit. Not to worry. Just give them some time after temps are lower.
  • Plumping up! Gardeners in hot regions will need to be especially patient with big bells and sweet roasting peppers. Both of these tend to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up. These folks may want to plant banana peppers or sweet non-bells, which will ripen in time to use with those bumper crops of tomatoes and basil. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh, so pack your patience.
  • Color Changes! Mother Earth News says: After reaching their maximum size, green peppers that are meant to turn red, will develop red pigments in 10 to 28 days, if daytime temperatures are between 65 degrees and 75 degrees. In southern regions where temperatures exceed that range, peppers turn yellowish and may acquire an off-color pallor that is not attractive. Below the optimum temperature range, color development slows dramatically; below 55 degrees, it stops completely. If soil temperatures drop below 68 degrees, pigment production declines and eventually ceases.

Peppers love sun, but a bit of shade is good for the fruit. I planted a Poblano between two big tomato plants. For a while I thought it was a goner, shaded out, then, it just grew and grew! It got almost 4′ tall and produced like crazy and I gave giant peppers away!

Peppers need VERY RICH SOIL, are heavy feeders! Place compost for water holding capacity, worm castings, rotted manure under them when transplanting. Mix in Maxi Crop and Island Seed & Feed Landscape Mix. Sandy soils are preferred for the earliest plantings because they warm more rapidly in the spring. Heavier soils can be quite productive, provided they are well drained and irrigated with care.

Epsom Salts! Rather than in the soil, do foliar Epsom Salts! A cheap home remedy that can keep plants greener and bushier, enhance production of healthier fruit later in the season, and potentially help reduce blossom-end rot. You could apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each transplant, but research has shown a foliar spray of a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts + a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Dawn) per gallon of water at transplanting, first flowering, and fruit set is more effective! As a foliar spray, Epsom salts can be taken up quickly by plants, otherwise, it is sometimes hard for the plant to get it out of the soil because of calcium competition.

Plant your peppers about a foot to 18″ apart.  A healthy pepper will get big and top heavy with fruit! It is wise to put small tomato cages over thick wall bell pepper varieties when you plant, to support the weight when they are heavy with fruit.

Though a perennial, they are very susceptible to freeze. With Bell peppers, I have heard a lot of people say their peppers overwintered and produced just fine the following year, but I have not seen that to be true at the community gardens. They are never as robust nor do they produce the big healthy fruits first year plants do. If you are one of the lucky ones, by all means, protect them when there are freezes.

Hot peppers are another story. They seem to do a lot better overwinter, depending on the variety, and I have seen them carry on wonderfully!

CARE

Personal Mulch! Solanaceae, that’s peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, like mulch from their own leaf litter, so just let the leaves fall and accumulate. In hot summer weather your peppers will appreciate a heavy mulch. Several inches of straw or dried grass clippings will keep the soil cooler and reduce moisture evaporation. Continually moist ground is a necessity for peppers, as they, like tomatoes, suffer from blossom end rot, a physiological disease caused by a calcium deficiency. Most soils contain ample calcium, but the mineral relies on water to transport it to the plant’s root system. When the soil lacks moisture, the calcium can’t reach the plants and a tell-tale black leathery spot forms on the blossom end of developing fruit. Heavy Nitrogen fertilizer applications can also induce a transient calcium deficiency. I emphasize that you give your peppers plenty of compost for water holding capacity and keep them well mulched!

Peppers, have shallow roots, need even wateringKeep the soil moist, not soggy, to encourage root development and prevent blossom wilting and bitter-tasting peppers. Moisture stress during bloom can cause substantial reduction in fruit set.

Later on, however, as a friend from Farmers Market pointed out: ‘Red & yellow peppers are green peppers that have been ripe for a while. So you are asking an already ripe fruit to stay on a vine longer to change color. Too much water, and the pepper will start to turn brown and rot. So we switched to watering a LOT less frequently and the results have been outstanding.’

Sidedressing Peppers need fertilizer in small doses, a rich organic fertilizer when blooms appear. If you scratch in some compost, be careful not to damage their shallow roots. Liquid chicken manure is high in nitrogen and potassium for heavy feeders like peppers. Big, sweet peppers require a continual source of nutrition. The easiest way to fertilize them is to incorporate gradual-release fertilizer in the ground at planting. Fish-meal pellets, alfalfa pellets or cottonseed meal are all good organic choices. You also can foliar-feed plants every week or two with a fish/seaweed soluble fertilizer, spraying the tops and bottoms of leaves, or water the ground with the same mixture.

Replenish mulch as needed throughout summer! You might schedule a mulch check for them and all your plants once a month.

ANNUAL OR PERENNIAL? Technically peppers are perennials, grow year after year – in the right climate. Some chiles overwinter well in Santa Barbara. Bell peppers are another story. Geographically, in Santa Barbara CA they are temp sensitive annuals! I’ve heard claims about them overwintering in the garden successfully, but I have yet to see it. If you like to do it, better to pot your pepper before any frosts and take it indoors by a sunny window or into your fine greenhouse! You have a couple choices. Prune it ruthlessly, or keep it growing, even producing, with lights and bloom sprays. There are many online threads about overwintering your peppers. Check out tips from several experts to make your efforts count!

Personally, there are so many tasty fresh winter foods that grow well here in our SoCal ‘winter,’ that I am more than happy to replant peppers in spring!

PESTS & DISEASES

For Blossom End Rot, see above under Care.

Early Blight and Verticillium Wilt are a problem at all the Santa Barbara Community Gardens. Please see more about them and what to do here.

See more about Pepper pests and diseases at the UC Davis IPM page.

Choose Resistant varieties.

California Wonder Peppers changing color!  Eden Brothers Seeds image.

California Wonder Peppers Changing Color - Eden Brothers imageHARVEST

Bell peppers are at their sweetest and are highest in Vitamins A,  C and carotenoids when fully mature! When choosing bell peppers for eating, select those that are firm, heavy for their size with shiny, bright and vibrant richly colored skin! The bell pepper’s sweetness increases as their color changes from green to their final color if they are a color changing variety.

Their stems should be green and fresh looking. To avoid breaking branches, use a sharp knife to cut, instead of pulling.

It’s nice to know that if not optimally ripe, vitamin C and carotenoids in bell peppers will actually increase with refrigerator storage over the next 10 days!

STORAGE can be really fun with peppers! So many options!

For maximum flavor, eat peppers on the same day they are picked! Room temp is best for peppers, leave them on a kitchen counter for a day or two to ripen further. Rinse with cold water just before you use them. Bell peppers are very sensitive to ethylene gas so don’t store them with fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene gas. If you put them in the fridge, do it only 1-3 days and use immediately upon taking out of the fridge. Don’t remove their cores because they are quite susceptible to moisture loss. Peppers are warm-weather fruits that don’t store well in cold temps. If you have too many peppers, consider the following storage options.

Freezing This is the easiest storage method. Peppers freeze well without blanching. Thawed peppers still retain some crispness and can be used in cooked dishes or raw in uncooked preparations. Their flavor is retained, so use frozen peppers primarily for adding ‘spice’ to soups, stews, and sauces. If you stuff the peppers before freezing, you’ll have a ready-made dinner, perfect for the microwave.

To Tray Freeze Sweet Bell Peppers

Wash and core peppers. Chop, dice or slice according to how you plan to use them.
Spread in a single layer on a tray of a cookie sheet. Place tray in the freezer for an hour or longer. Loosen pepper pieces from the tray and pour into zip closure freezer bags. Immediately place sealed bags in the freezer. The pepper pieces will remain separated for ease of measuring. Simply remove as many as you need, reseal the bag and return to the freezer. Or bag them separately in the amounts you plan to use them.

Pickling/Canning Peppers are low-acid fruits so require canning under pressure. It’s easier to pickle peppers as you would cucumbers in a crock filled with a simple brine of four cups of water, four cups of vinegar, and 1/2 cup of pickling salt. Add a clove or two of garlic and some fresh herbs for delicious added flavor.

Sweet Banana, Sweet Hungarian, Cubanelle are long, narrow tapering down to one, two or three lobes. They are thin walled, Cubanelle the thinnest. They are usually picked when light yellow or green. Because they have less water content than bells, they are perfect for frying. ‘Sweet Banana’ was the 1941 All America Selections Winner!

Pepper! Colorful Decorative Ristras!Drying This method works best with thin-walled peppers, particularly the smaller varieties that can be dried whole right on the plant. The key to drying peppers is doing it slowly to retain their color and flavors. Perfect for spicing up bland backpacking meals!

Another form of drying is in brilliant wreaths and Ristras!

You can grind chiles into culinary or medicinal powders! They retain their lovely colors! Paprika is a dried powdered form of bell pepper, and though we are used to seeing red paprika, a paprika can be made from any color of bell pepper and it will end up being that same color. Both the decorative forms and these potent powders make sensational gifts!

SEED SAVING

To prevent cross-pollination, hot pepper plants should not be planted near sweet or bell pepper plants. TRUE! Plant at least 400 feet between varieties to ensure absolute purity. That’s important info for seed savers!

Harvest mature, fully-ripe peppers for seed. Most bell peppers turn red when fully mature. If frost threatens before peppers mature, pull entire plant and hang in cool, dry location until peppers mature.

  • There are two methods to process pepper seeds, dry and wet. The dry method is adequate for small amounts. Cut the bottom off the fruit and carefully reach in to strip the seeds surrounding central cone. In many cases, seeds need no further cleaning.
  • To process the seed from large amounts of peppers, cut off the tops just under the stem, fill a blender with peppers and water and carefully blend until good seeds are separated and sink to bottom. Pepper debris and immature seeds will float to the top where they can be rinsed away. Spread clean seeds on paper towel and dry in cool location until seed is dry enough to break when folded.

FYI Birds are not sensitive to capsaicin, the heat factor in chilli peppers, and are therefore the main dispersers of the seeds!

HEALTH

Pepper Hot Oil & Healing Spices

Remedies: Hot Oil! Healing Spices. The countless health benefits claimed are exciting and enormous! Cayenne is said to stop heart attacks. Hot oil works wonders on knees.

Nutrition: I’m not sure people really eat peppers for nutrition, LOL! Peppers are in a food category all their own! Choices are made according to the Scoville Scale, how hot or not they are! At the lower end of the scale, nutrition may factor in somewhat, but it is more likely a visual choice, shape and color, whether for salad or type of cooking you will use the pepper for.

Beautiful Red on Yellow striped Bell Peppers from the Netherlands!

From the Netherlands, marvelous Red on Yellow, AKA Flame, Enjoya, and Aloha!

Sweet luscious Bell Peppers have a whopping 169% of the daily value of Vitamin C we need, but who thinks of peppers as a source of Vitamin C?! More we think of low calories, but most of all, that delicious taste! But look, here’s more! Absorption of dietary iron is significantly increased when consumed with fruits or vegetables that are high in vitamin C. Eating raw bell peppers with iron-rich foods like meat or spinach, may help increase your body’s iron stores, cutting the risk of anemia. Eat peppers!

Absolute Culinary Delight!

Mexican recipes are classic! Salsa! Chile Rellenos! Add to burritos, roll-ups and tacos. Stuff and eat fresh, hot pockets! Roasted, grilled on the barbie! Pickled. Fine chopped in tuna or chicken salad! Go Cajun by sautéing with celery and onion, then mix with tempeh, chicken, seafoods. Stir fry some bits in the wok with cashews, shrimp and Oriental veggies. Puree in summer zucchini soups, hot or cold. Add color and crunch to your dip tray, make a pureed pepper dip! Pizza topping. Fresh slices in a cool Romaine, cucumber, avocado salad – add black beans for protein!

Peppers! Salsa and Rellenos

Roasted Poblano Salsa, and by chef Rick Bayliss, Grilled Shrimp Chile Rellenos in Corn Husks

Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

Tasty Buddha Bowl with Red Peppers

To your great health and a happy palate! Stay cool when it’s hot!

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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 city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

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

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Disease Tomato Fusarium Wilt Fungi Resistant

Tomato variety selection makes a huge difference.

You may have had your own tears, and understandably so. Late Blight of potatoes and tomatoes was the disease responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century. Spores are spread by rain/watering splash, insects, and wind, and through our hands and tools and through these mediums they can travel distances. Spore spread is most rapid during conditions of high moisture, marine layer days, and moderate temperatures, 60°-80°F.  Once established, the fungi can over-winter in your garden soil, on debris and weeds.

Fusarium Wilt is commonly found throughout the United States, is a soil and wind-borne pathogen. Plants susceptible to Fusarium Wilt are cucumber, potato, tomato, eggplant, pepper and beans. Fusarium wilt causes foliage to yellow, brown spots on leaves, leaves to curve the length of the leaf, wilt, then turn brown and die. Your plants become stunted because they can no longer function properly.

Verticillium Wilt is also a soil and wind-borne pathogen. The list of plants susceptible to Verticillium Wilt is impressive. You might have thought it was just tomatoes, but look: Peanut, Horseradish, Rutabaga, Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Pepper, Safflower, Hemp, Watermelon, citron Cantaloupe, honey dew, Pumpkin, Cotton, Okra, Mint, Radish, Rhubarb, Castor bean, Eggplant, Potato, Spinach, New Zealand spinach, Salsify, Yard-long bean, Cowpea! Cucumber, tomatoes and strawberries are particularly susceptible.

Verticillium wilt is most active in humid climates. Cool nights and moist conditions, the kind that favors peas, tend to encourage it. It is windborne and lives in the soil, entering plants through the roots and is drawn up to stems, leaves and fruit through water uptake. At the same time, it is robbing the plant of moisture. The first symptoms of Verticillium are usually seen in wilting, yellowing and curling leaves. Discolored streaks are often seen in strawberry stems and runners, and in berry canes. Get resistant strawberry varieties like Seascape.

To determine if a plant is infected with bacterial wilt, press together two freshly cut sections of a stem and slowly pull them apart. If a “stringy” sap (bacterial growth and associated resins) extends between the cut ends, the plant has bacterial wilt.

Especially Tomatoes! And of those, Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts. 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. In the Mother Earth News tomato survey, they found gardeners chose heirlooms over hybrids if their soil is wilt/blight free. Otherwise, the longer the gardener has gardened, they more they chose wilt resistant hybrid toms if their soil has the fungi.

Cucumber Beetle Western Striped Spotted

Western striped cucumber beetles (on right in image) are deadly to cucumbers. They are referred to as ‘plant-wounding insects’ and also transmit bacterial wilt. Feeding on blossoms and leaves, they also spread it among squash, melons, and pumpkins which in turn spread it to nearby tomatoes. Cucumber beetles also vector viruses such as cucumber mosaic but do so much less efficiently than aphids. Spiders are one of the predators that eat the beetles. Let those spiders live! A tachinid fly and a braconid parasitoid wasp parasitize them. Grow plenty of flowers for these beneficial insects!

Radish have become my new religion! Radish repel the beetles! Best to plant your radish ahead of installing your transplants or have it up before the seedlings start growing from seed. Grow your radish companion along where you will let the vine travel, among squash and pumpkins, cucumbers and TOMATOES! The part of the vine growing up over an arch or up a trellis won’t be helped, so if you have space and uninfected soil, you may opt to keep your vines on the ground. If you do have infected soil, but choose to keep your vine on the ground, keep that area weeded and don’t lay on mulch. Weeds and mulch keep soil moist. The fungi dry and die on hot dry soil. Water only where you staked, at the planting basin. Plant enough radish so you can eat some, but as a beetle repellent, let it grow out so the whole plant is big and protecting your cukes, tomatoes and other vines.

Broccoli also repel cucumber beetles. Grow cucumbers under over summering Broccoli. Put in plenty of straw mulch to keep the brocs cool and the cukes off the ground. Whenever you see these beetles don’t fall for how cute they are. Anticipate how they drop to the ground when you reach for them so approach from below, hand open. Catch & Squish.

Transplant rather than direct seed! Tiny seedlings are most susceptible to cucumber beetle feeding damage and to bacterial wilts.

Apply straw mulch an inch thick! No more than that. You want light and air circulation, for the soil to dry some. Washington State Extension says: Straw mulch can help reduce cucumber beetle problems in at least 3 different ways.

  1. First, mulch might directly slow beetle movement from one plant to another.
  2. Second, the mulch provides refuge for wolf spiders and other predators from hot and dry conditions, helping predator conservation.
  3. Third, the straw mulch is food for springtails and other insects that eat decaying plant material; these decomposers are important non-pest prey for spiders, helping to further build spider numbers.

It is important that straw mulch does not contain weed seeds and to make certain that it does not contain herbicide residues which can take years to fully break down.

Cucumber Beetles have their preferences! Bitter is their favorite. Not interested in watermelon at all, but watermelon does get the wilts, just from other sources! Anyway, see more details and rankings of varieties of different kinds of veggies. Varieties make a huge difference.

Long story short, less C Beetles, less Wilts = healthier Tomatoes!

Special Planting and Growing Tips! 

Regarding soil fungi like Fusarium and Verticillium wilts/fungi, how you care for cukes and toms is super important! Cucumbers are even more susceptible than tomatoes to the wilts fungi, die pretty instantly, in about 3 days when they get infected. So when you plant them, treat them similarly to your tomatoes if you have wilts fungi in your garden.

  • Plant cukes and toms on a raised mound/basin with the bottom of the basin above the regular soil level. This allows good drainage. Make the basin low area as big as you tom’s feeder roots will grow to. Once planted, top the bottom of the basin with a 1/2″ of compost, cover that with only 1″ of straw to let in air and sun to dry the soil. Keep the LEAVES OFF THE GROUND from the get go. Leaves touching the soil is the main way toms get the wilts. Remove lower leaves that might touch soil when weighted with dew or water from watering. Keep a regular watch for new foliage sprouting at ground level and remove it on sight! AVOID WATER SPLASH when watering at ground level. The fuzzy damp leaves of toms and eggplant are perfect fungi habitat.

……..Special Soil Berm Basin Level for Tomatoes and Cucumbers

  • When your toms are about a foot tall, water neighboring plants, but not your toms. That keeps the soil drier near your plant, so the fungi can’t thrive there. Since toms have a deep taproot, they will get plenty of water from what you give neighboring plants. Water near them but not at them or on them. In fact there are farmers who dry farm tomatoes! Read more!
  • If you are comingling beans with cukes lower along a trellis, plant the beans between the raised cucumber mounds. Beans don’t get the wilts, but love the water, so lower is good. They are a big plant with continuous high production and short roots that need to be kept moist. Mulch ASAP with straw under cukes to keep leaves and fruit off the ground, and out of the insect zone. Put a tall enough stake in the middle of each basin so you know where to water later when the leaves get big and cover the area. Water gently BELOW the leaves at ground level, no splash. Keep those leaves dry. When your plant gets big enough you can remove lower leaves.
  • Since the fungi are airborne as well as soil borne, plant in different places as far apart as possible. Plant so leaves of one plant are not touching another plant. Remove sickened foliage ASAP to reduce fungi population and slow spreading. Prune on hot, dry, unwindy days, mid morning to midday, after dew has dried, so cuts can dry and heal with less chance of airborne fungi getting into them. Try not to touch the cuts after they have been made.  Use clippers for a clean cut. Wash your hands often, dip your tools in alcohol. Trimming away infected leaves is a sad and tedious process. It’s practically impossible not to spread the fungi as you touch leaves that have it and try to remove them without touching any other stems or leaves. The very cuts you make are open to fungi. Then, naked stems are susceptible to sunscald – see image below. You come back a few days later and more leaves are wilting. The disease is internal, has spread out to the leaves. At some point soon after that, a lot of gardeners pull the suffering plant. It’s done. Not good to leave it and let windborne fungi infect neighboring plants. Do not compost infected plants or trimmings. The fungi has amazing survival ability and being soil borne, it is right at home in your compost. Put it in the trash, carefully bagged so as not to spread or leave any trace. Wash your hands. If you can, burn the infected plants on a non windy day.
  • The wilts can’t be stopped. Sooner or later the plant leaves curl lengthwise, get the dark spots, turn brown then blacken, dry and hang sadly. Plants can produce but the fruit doesn’t ripen properly if it does produce. It’s agonizing to watch. Sometimes they somewhat recover later in the season after looking totally dead. You had stopped watering them, summer heat dries the soil and kills enough of the fungi for the plant to be able to try again. But production is so little and fruits don’t ripen properly. It’s better to pull it, reduce the fungi population that can blow to other plants. The safest bet is to remove the entire plant. Get all of the root as best you can. The root is where the wilt’s mycelium first congregate and infected roots left in the ground will start the whole process again. Replant in a different place if possible

    ….can’t be stopped. That said, consider this! Per a comment by Leroy Cheuvront at Heavy Petal blog:  I have had the blight and have stopped it from destroying my tomato plants. All you have to do is mix 1/4 cup of bleach to a gallon of water and drown the plant from top to bottom, it will not kill the plant. I do it every seven days and the blight has not returned.  — June 18, 2010. It sounds scary, but I bet it works! I would test this principle on ONE plant to be sure it is safe to use.

    The summer of 2019 I finally got up the courage to try Leroy’s Bleach mix! IT WORKED! I started after my plants were showing wilts signs, figured I had nothing to lose ~ totally scared it would kill my tom I tried it on first. Just like Leroy says, it did not kill the plant! Whew! I wasn’t religious with the weekly treatment but my plants vastly improved, there was plentiful production that other gardeners commented on, and they lasted months longer than usual!

Tomatoes pruned to remove diseased leaves of Fusarium and Verticilllium wilts are susceptible to sunscald.Preventive Foliar Mix that can help! 

Apply to newly installed transplants, and during the season every 2 to 3 weeks, so new growth will be covered. Wet both the undersides and tops of leaves. Per gallon add:

  • One dissolved regular strength aspirin
  • 1/4 Cup nonfat powdered milk
  • Heaping tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon mild liquid dish soap

After the tomatoes set, add some Nitrogen. Boost your plant’s immune system with some worm castings at the same time. You don’t want to add too much nitrogen to your tomatoes before they set fruit. Too much nitrogen before fruiting leads to more leaves and less fruit. Add N only once. Stressed plants are the most susceptible to the fungus. Water regularly and deeply. Use well-balanced, slow-release organic fertilizers that aren’t overly heavy with nitrogen. Alfalfa pellets will do the job. A healthy plant tends to fight off the spores.

Blight can also be transmitted through seed, so NO seed saving from infected plant fruits. Fresh seeds from a safe source and resistant varieties are in order.

Remove volunteer tomatoes and potatoes. If they are a not a resistant or tolerant variety, when they get sick, they increase the chances of your resistant varieties having to fight harder to live, and your good dear plants may not win the battle.

Air circulation, plant staking and no touching. Air circulation allows the wind to blow through your plants. This allows the timely drying of leaves and it helps break up micro climates. If your plants are packed too tightly together, they themselves become barriers to drying. Staking your plants to poles and using cages helps them grow upright, creates gaps between the tomato plants. Thin growth inside the cage if the leaves get too dense. You want wind and sun to reach through and around your plants. Moisture is needed for fungi to spread. Dry is good. Tomatoes should be planted with enough distance that only minor pruning is needed to keep them from touching each other.

Spray proactively. Wettable sulfur works. It is acceptable as an organic pesticide/fungicide, is a broad spectrum poison, follow the precautions. It creates an environment on the leaves the spores don’t like. The key to spraying with wettable sulfur is to do it weekly BEFORE signs of the disease shows. Other products also help stop the spread. Whatever you select, the key is to spray early and regularly.

At the end of the season remove all infected debris, don’t compost or put in green waste containers. Bag it and trash it. Don’t leave dead tomato, eggplant or peppers in the garden to spend the winter – especially if you are in a community garden. Pull weeds because spores can over-winter on weed hosts. Many weeds, including dandelions and lambsquarters, are known to host Verticillium wilt. During our winter season, turn your soil about 10 inches deep. Let the soil dry and the fungi die. Burying the spores helps remove them, it disturbs cucumber beetle eggs and exposes snail eggs to die!

If you have space, crop rotation is an important tool in fighting wilt. If you’ve had trouble with wilt, don’t plant potatoes, eggplant, or other Solanaceous vegetables where any of them have grown for at least four years.

Practice prevention, be vigilant. If you don’t have wilts in your soil you are so blessed! 

Updated 1.23.19, 12.23.19

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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 city’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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Healthy care and choices make the difference!

Give your plants a chance!

Not too much N (Nitrogen)  It imbalances your plants, just like too much sugar for us.  You get lots of leaf, no fruit, growth is too fast and ‘soft,’ inviting to pests and diseases.

Watering practices make a difference.  Overhead watering is not good for most plants, but especially not for fuzzy plants that like it dry – tomatoes, eggplant.  Too much nighttime wet equals mildews and more slugs and snails, more remedies and pest prevention, more costly.  Plants drink during the day – water in the AM when you can.  Make furrows, water deep, let it soak in laterally.  Make basins to keep water where you want it.  Drip systems usually don’t work in a veggie garden you are planting biodiversely, mixing things up.  Also, veggies come and go pretty quickly in an active garden.  If you are row or patch planting, if the area is long or big enough, a drip system could work well. 

  • Water soaked soil is dead soil.  Soil organisms, soil builders, simply drown.  If in a low spot, check your drainage options; build a raised bed.  Add organic water holding compost, water less no matter how much fun it is!
  • Dry soil is dead soil.  Nitrogen off gases, your soil organisms die or go away.  See if you can channel some water to that area.  Install furrows or build soil walls or basins to keep water where it is needed, avoid wasteful runoff.  Again, add organic water holding compost.  Water deeply.  If you are gardening at home, busy and forgetful, perhaps you could install drip irrigation on a timer. 

Avoid spreading viruses that can spread diseases.  Really check those plants you buy at the discount nursery.  Remove diseased plants and don’t compost diseased plants.  This is a tough decision when it comes to disease tolerant plant varieties.  They can have a disease yet still produce.  They are bred to do that.  Is that ethical?  If you are gardening at home and make that choice, that is one thing.  If you are in a community garden, and the disease is windborne, is it fair to your garden neighbors?  Maybe we all need to get tolerant varieties.  

Some diseases lurk in garden border weeds.  Or you can bring them into the garden by walking through weeds.  Insects bring some diseases and so do animals, like our skunks, raccoons, possums.  If the ‘weeds’ are habitat for beneficial insects, be careful what you remove, consider the balances. 

Ants.  Whether you mind them or not probably depends on how many there are and what they are doing.  If they are tending aphids, no!  Not only are there ants with aphids, but white flies are attracted to the aphid honeydew as well.  Otherwise, ants are virtuous hard working cleaner uppers!  The take away dead insects.  Balance is the key. 

Varieties matter.  Planting a variety out of season makes that plant struggle and be vulnerable to pests and diseases it can’t handle.  In Santa Barbara we have the cool damp ocean areas and the hot dry foothills.  Different varieties will thrive in one and not the other.  Planting too early or too late, your plant will try, but may not be able.  Some gardeners are totally pro Heirloom, against hybrids.  But Nature herself hybridizes, it is a natural process.  It occurs naturally by area and plants that grow there do the best there.  In a way, we subtly do a similar thing ourselves when we select seed from our best plants.  I think being flexible in your choices will get the best all around results. 

Planting at the Right Time makes a big difference.  Sometimes you just won’t get germination if it is too cold or hot.  Or a plant thrives in temporary weather, but dies when it goes cold again, or too, too hot.  They need certain temps and day length.  Some may survive, but never thrive later.  That is sad to see.  So respect them.  Know them well enough to honor their needs.  Planted at the wrong time, pests they aren’t equipped to handle may eat them alive.  If you are a big risk taker and financially don’t mind a few losses, go ahead.  Some will succeed, for sure.  You may or may not get earlier production.  Sometimes plants can be planted a month apart, but the later one will ‘catch up,’ and produce at the same time as the earlier plant!  Same can be true of smaller and larger transplants because it all depends on temps and day length.

Once your plants are going, sidedressing keeps them going!  Sidedressing usually starts when your plants start to bloom, make fruits.  Scatter and lightly dig in a little chicken manure and/or lay on a ½” of tasty compost, some worm castings, water on some fish emulsion, blood meal if they are yellowing and could use a quick Nitrogen boost.  Water well.

Plant appropriate varieties on time, water and amend well, keep watch on pests and diseases.  Robust happily producing plants are worth it, and a joy to watch!

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APRIL is for Heat Lovers! Pull back your mulches, let soil heat up, PLANT!

Why not start with an AAS (All America Selections) 2011 Winner?!
Pepper ‘Orange Blaze’ F1  Early ripening orange variety, very sweet flavor, multiple disease resistances!

AAS 2011 Winner - Orange Blaze F1 Pepper

Get out last year’s garden notes if you made any, and review for varieties you liked, where you got ‘em, how much to plant!

CORN!
Plant in blocks, not rows, for pollination.  When tassels bloom, break off pieces and whap them on the silks!  Each silk is one kernel, each needs one grain of pollen!
Corn hybridizes – plant only one variety, or varieties that don’t have pollen at the same time.  This is pretty much not doable at a community garden since everyone is planting all kinds at any time, so if you harvest seeds, don’t expect true results!

Heat tolerant, tipburn resistant lettuces – Nevada, Sierra, Black Seeded Simpson, Jericho Romaine
     Slo bolt cilantro, arugula in semi shade (among your corn?!)
Eggplant love humidity and heat.  Tuck ‘em in between, right up against, other plants.  Near the cooler coast plant the longer length varieties that mature earlier.
Jicama, limas, melons, okra, peppers, seed potatoes, pumpkins
From Seed:  basil (Nufar is wilt resistant), chard, green beans (while peas finishing), beets, carrots, corn, endive, New Zealand spinach, parsley, radish, squash – summer & WINTER, sunflowers, turnips.  Coastal gardeners, get your winter squash in NOW so it will have ample time to mature.
The radish variety French Breakfast holds up and grows better than most early types in summer heat if water is supplied regularly.

PreSoak and/or PreSprout for 100% success!  Click here for details!  Per eHow:  How to Soak Watermelon Seeds in Milk Before Growing.  Sometimes the seed coat carries a virus, and the proteins in milk will also help deactivate the virus.  Read more 

Transplants:  cucumbers (hand pollinate?), tomatoes, watermelon
WAIT FOR MAY to plant cantaloupe
Herbs from transplants – oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme 

Plant successively!  If you put in transplants now, also put in seeds for an automatic 6 week succession!  Plant different varieties (except of corn if you want true seed – see above)! 

If you overplant, thin for greens, or transplant when they are about 2 to 3 inches high.  Lettuce, carrots, onions.  Too many stunt each other.  OR, this from Santa Barbara Westsiders Lili & Gabor:  Overplant mesclun on purpose, then mow the little guys!  If you are at home, plant densely in a planter bowl, cut off, leaving 1 ½” of stem still in your soil.  They will regrow, you will have several months’ supply of tasty baby greens.  Plant two or three bowls for more people or more frequent harvest!  Give a bowl as a gift! 

Tomatoes
Plant for excellence
 – Throw a handful of bone meal in your planting hole along with a handful of nonfat powdered milk, worm castings, compost/manures, mix it all up with your soil.  Sprinkle the roots of your transplant with mycorrhizal fungi!  That’ll do it!  Stand back for bounty!
REMOVE LOWER LEAVES OF TOMATOES  Wilt prevention.  Water sparingly or not at all after about a foot tall.  Wilt comes from the ground up the leaves and is airborne. Remove any leaves that touch the ground or could get water splashed.  Don’t remove suckers – airborne fungi can enter open wounds.
Sorry, NO HEIRLOOMS if you know the soil has the wilts.  Heirlooms don’t have resistance.  Get varieties with VF on the tag or that you know have resistance/tolerance.
Mid day, rap tomato cages or the main stem, to help pollination.  55 degrees or lower, higher than 75 at night, or 105 in daytime = bud drop.  Not your fault.  Grow early varieties first that tolerate cooler temps.
Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Kevin and Mary Smith have had successes with 2 blight resistant/tolerant determinate varieties, New Hampshire Surecrop, a 78 day, great tasting slicer/canner, and Legend, a very early 68 day!  Ask for them, and more Jetsetters, with unbelievable VFFNTA resistance/tolerance, at your nursery.  See Tomatoes and Wilts here at the Green Bean Connection Blog for a list of additional resistant/tolerant varieties and tips!   

Maintenance!  Sidedress when blooms start.  Fish/kelp, foliar feed Epsom salt for Solanaceaes, seabird guano (not bat) for more blooms, manures for lettuces and leaf crops like chard, collards.

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Powdery Mildew on Peas

Select powdery mildew resistant or tolerant varieties!

Cornell University’s lists of Disease Resistant Varieties

  • Longbeans
  • Green beans:  Provider, Merpatim, Parkit, Perkutut, Sriti
  • Cucumber: Diva, Cumlaude, Media F1.  Slicers:  Cornell’s list
  • Muskmelon:  Ambrosia F1, Primo (western type), Sun Jewel
  • Pea:
    • Ambassador – Resistant to powdery mildew, entation virus and fusarium wilt
    • Cavalier – Good resistance to powdery mildew.
    • Greenshaft – Resistant to downy mildew and fusarium wilt
    • Rondo – Resistant to fusarium wilt
    • Downy Mildew resistant peas:  Kelevdon Wonder, Oasis, Twinkle, Avola, Hurst Greenshaft, Ambassador, Cavalier and Peawee.
  • Pumpkin: 18 Karat Gold, Gladiator
  • Winter Squash:  almost all varieties
  • Yellow Summer Squash: Success, Sunray, Sunglo
  • Zucchini: Ambassador, Wildcat, Cornell’s list

Healthy Practices Make a Difference!

Plant in full sun!
Plant so leaves of one plant don’t touch another and spread the spores.
Remove any debris or dead leaves breeding habitat.
Remove and don’t compost infected leaves.  If  you don’t remove them, you reinfect your plant each time you water. 
Wash tools and your hands before you go from one plant to the next.
Water in the AM, at ground level.  No overhead watering.
BEFORE you have mildew, while your plants are still babies, drench the leaves with a baking soda/milk mix.  Tablespoon Soda, ¼ cup nonfat milk powder, drop of liquid dish detergent in a watering can.
Drench weekly with your mix.  But if you think you aren’t going to be able to get rid of the mildew, sadly, do the one cut prune.  Remove that plant so it won’t infect others – yours or your neighbors’.  Do this sooner than later.  Mildew is windborne, so the more mildew, the more is spread.

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