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Chard is the bouquet of the Garden!  Whether it is all green, a white stemmed Fordhook Giant, or Bright Lights/Neon from white to neon pink, bright oranges and reds, brilliant yellow, it is glorious!  And it’s not just another pretty face, it’s a prodigious producer, Cut-&-Come-Again, and again, and again!  In our SoCal clime, it acts as a perennial, sometimes living for several venerable years!  Low calorie, it is packed with vitamins K, A, C, E, and B6.  Chard is also very good source of copper, calcium, phosphorus, and a good source of thiamin, zinc, niacin, folate and selenium!

Chard is a top producer per square foot!  It is a fast prolific crop maturing in only 55 days!  It tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes.  But it likes a rich sandy loam soil – well manured and composted with worm castings added.  It likes lots of consistent water, full sun, and plenty of space!  A healthy chard, will take a 2 to 3’ footprint, more if it is a Fordhook Giant!  At 28” tall, it makes a shadow, so plant accordingly!  Some varieties, like Fordhook, have crumpled leaves, lots of leaf per space, like curly leaf kale, lots of return per area used.  Others have a flatter leaf.  Rhubarb chard has a narrower midrib.

Chard seeds are actually a cluster of seeds (like beets) and will produce more than one plant, so thinning and/or micro greens is part of the story!  Spacing will determine the size of your plants.  Too crowded, shading each other, they will be smaller.  With full space, they will produce to feed an army!  If you are harvesting baby chard leaves on a regular basis, space them 2″-4″ apart, or 8″-10″ if you plan to harvest less often.  Generally, row planting chard is not your best choice because of leafminers.  See below….  Plant them here and there; interplant with stinky herbs!  Sow chard seeds ½” deep; germination will take 5-16 days.

Leafminers are the bane of chard, spinach and beets.  Plant so your neighboring plants leaves don’t touch each other.  This is NOT a plant to row crop.   Leafminers flies just lay eggs from one plant to the next.  Separate your plants into different areas, biodiversely; interplant with herbs.  They are so pretty I put them where they can be seen the most!  You know you have leafminers when you see their trails or brown patches on the leaves as the miners burrow between the leaf’s layers.  Remove those sections and badly infested leaves immediately.  Keep your chard harvested and well watered to keep it growing and producing fast, sometimes outgrowing the leafminers.  Give it plenty of worm castings both in the surrounding soil and on the surface.  Cover the surface with a thin layer of straw to keep the castings moist.  Some say soft fast growth is perfect habitat for the miners, but chard is meant to be a fast grower with plenty of water to keep it sweet!  So if you can’t eat it all, find a friend or two who would appreciate some and share your bounty!  Or remove plants until you have what you can keep up with.  Plant something else delicious in your new free space!

Details from U of Illinois Extension:  Spinach and Swiss chard leafminer flies are 1/2 inch long and gray with black bristles. This leaf miner lay eggs on the underside of the leaves side by side singly or in batches up to five.  One larva may feed on more than one leaf.  After feeding for about two weeks, the larvae drop from the leaves onto the ground where it pupates and overwinters in the soil as pupae. In spring, they appear from mid April to May and they cause serious damage compared to the other generations that appear later.  [The life cycle is only 2 weeks long, and they can have five to ten generations per year!  That’s why you immediately want to remove infected parts of your plant, to stop the cycle!]   Cornell Cooperative Extension

Slugs & snails are chard’s other not best friends.  Irregular holes in the leaves, that’s the clue.  Remove by hand, checking the undersides of leaves and down in the center area where new leaves are coming.  I chuck ’em where our crows gourmet on them.  Or use Sluggo or the cheaper store brand of the same stuff.

Harvest chard quickly, rinse, pack loosely, get it into the fridge.  Do not store with fruits, like apples, and vegetables that produce ethylene gas.

Let your most wonderful chard go to seed!  It will likely get as tall as you are!  Let the flowering clusters turn brown and hand harvest your anticipated number of seeds you would like, plus some extras in case, and some for giveaway or trade!  The seeds are viable for 4 to 5 years if you keep them cool and dry.

Chard is young-leaf tender in salads, mature-leaf tasty steamed and in stews, sautéed, and in stir fries.  Some people eat the leaf midrib, others cut it out, use it like celery, stuff and serve.  And there’s always chard lasagna….

6-Large Leaf Chard Lasagna 

Oil your baking pan
Lay in flat uncooked lasagna noodles to fit, cover bottom
Remove stems, lay in 3 unchopped chard leaves, more if your pan is deep enough
Sprinkle with chopped fresh basil leaves Sprinkle with chopped onion, garlic bits
Spread with flavorful cheese of your choice
Spread with zesty tomato/pizza sauce of your choice
Repeat.  Pile it high because the chard wilts down
Top with onion slices, tomato slices, or whatever pleases you
Sprinkle with Parmesan

Bake at 375 for 45 mins
Let cool for 20 mins, EAT!

If you don’t eat it all, freeze serving sizes

Instead of chard, you can use spinach, fine chopped kale, strips or slices of zucchini or eggplant!

Have a tasty day!

Next week, Garden Tools Specially for Women!

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Sunflowers at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

The Next Three Months….

August is keeping your soil water absorbent, sidedressing, harvesting, plant a last round of summer favorites, start cool-season seedlings, time to preserve your abundance for winter eating, to take stock and make notes for next year’s summer planting!

September is exciting because it is the first month to plant fall veggies!  Do your final harvesting, preserving, clean up, chop and compost, and plant on Labor Day weekend!

October is considered by many to be the best planting month of the year!!  Time to take up strawberry daughters (runners) for November planting, clean up to break pest and disease cycles, plant your winter veggies, plant more veggies if you started in September!

…but specially in August:

Plant another round of your summer favs if you want, but keep in mind that Sep/Oct are the best fall planting months, so check those dates to maturity!  The sooner you start your winter plants, the faster start they have, the sooner you have winter veggies.  Things get slower as it gets cooler, so a head start makes sense.  And, heat lovers started now will have a shorter harvest period.  Just saying.

Watering:  Keep your veggies well watered, daily on extra hot days.  Seedlings may need water 2 to 3 times a day!  Keep strawberries moist or they will stop producing.  It tomatoes dry out, they drop their blossoms.  Water short rooted plants, beans, lettuces, cukes, more frequently.  They like lots of water, steady water! 

Mulch short rooted plants, beans, cukes, lettuces and strawberries, and deeper rooted chard, to keep them cool and moist.  More about summer mulching.

Feeding:  Get out your fish emulsion, get some manures, and feed your plants!  Foliar feed with compost, manure, worm casting tea.  Epsom salts your peppers.  Seabird guano (NOT bat guano) keeps plants flowering and producing!  See about aspirin in my upcoming 8.11.11 post!

Harvest like crazy!  Be thorough to keep your crop coming, and be gentle to keep your plants undamaged so they aren’t open to pests and diseases.  Be specially careful around your trellised or caged cuke’s brittle leaves.  You can hear them snap if you push against them too much or accidentally back into them.

Save seeds from your very best plants!

Pests and Diseases:  Stay with your prevention programs, and clear away debris, spent or unhealthy plants.  Mini tip:  Keep a 5 gal bucket, or wheel barrow, near you to collect debris as you work.

Prep your fall beds!

  • Start making compost for fall planting.  Chop into small pieces for faster decomposition.
  • Set safe spots aside for seedling nurseries.
  • Install gopher wire barriers in your new planting beds, redo an old bed.
  • Incorporate manures, worm castings, and already-made compost into your soil.
  • Top with mulch, maybe straw mixed with nitrogen rich alfalfa, to keep feeding your soil and keep the under layer moist.

Get the best varieties of seeds for starts now for Sep/Oct planting, or to put in the ground then!

Let strawberry runners grow now.

Enjoy your harvests!  Preserve or Give Away your bounty!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start Now! 10 Easy Steps to Make RICH COMPOST!

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

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

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

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

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

Your soil and your plants thank you!

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July is not so much a planting month as water, sidedressing, harvest, and making compost – soil prep for September & October fall plantings! Get seeds!
August is keeping your soil water absorbent, sidedressing, harvesting, plant a last round of summer favorites, start cool-season seedlings, time to preserve your abundance for winter eating, to take stock and make notes for next year’s summer planting!
September is exciting because it is the first month to plant fall veggies! Do your final harvesting, preserving, clean up, chop and compost, and plant on Labor Day weekend!
October is considered by many to be the best planting month of the year!! Time to take up strawberry daughters (runners) for November planting, clean up to break pest and disease cycles, plant your winter veggies, plant more veggies if you started in September!

Tomato-Hot Juicy July!

Plant another round of your summer favs if you want, but keep in mind that Sep/Oct are the best fall planting months, so check those dates to maturity! The sooner you start your winter plants, the faster start they have, the sooner you have winter veggies. Things get slower as it gets cooler. And, heat lovers started now will have a shorter harvest period. Just saying.
Watering  Keep your veggies well watered, daily on extra hot days. Seedlings may need water 2 to 3 times a day! Keep strawberries moist or they will stop producing. It tomatoes dry out, they drop their blossoms. Water short rooted plants, beans, lettuces, cukes, more frequently. They like lots of water!
Mulch short rooted plants, beans, lettuces and strawberries, and deeper rooted chard, to keep them cool and moist. More about summer mulching.
Feeding  Get out your fish emulsion, get some manures, and feed your plants! Foliar feed with compost, manure, worm casting tea. Epsom salts your peppers. Seabird guano (NOT bat guano) keeps plants flowering and producing!  Blood meal is a quick Nitrogen fix for yellowing leaves.
Prep your fall raised beds! Start making compost for fall planting. Chop into small pieces for faster decomposition.
Install gopher wire barriers in your new beds. Incorporate manures and already-made compost into your soil.
Get the best varieties of seeds for Sep/Oct planting!
Let strawberry runners grow now.
Harvest!
Do keep up so your plants keep producing.  What you can’t eat or preserve, give away!  It will be so appreciated!

I’m passing this along from a Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club post:

This article is by Robyn Francis, one of Australia’s top permaculturists.  She’s also a pioneer in rethinking international aid.

“While mental health experts warn about depression as a global epidemic, other researchers are discovering ways we trigger our natural  production of happy chemicals that keep depression at bay, with surprising results. All you need to do is get your fingers dirty and harvest your own food.  “In recent years I’ve come across two completely independent bits of research that identified key environmental triggers for two important chemicals that boost our immune system and keep us happy – serotonin and dopamine.  What fascinated me as a permaculturist and gardener were that the environmental triggers happen in the garden when you handle the soil and harvest your crops…”

Smile and be wild!
Cerena

Next week, Composting Made EASY! 

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