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July is International Pest Month!

Just kidding! But it is the month so many of the little buggers come out in force! Taking good care of your plants during pest cycles goes with the territory!

Pest Prevention and taking care of your plants during pest cycles is a natural part of gardening!

Aphids & Whiteflies = Ants    Both ants and aphids exude a sugary ‘nectar,’ honeydew, that ants harvest from them.

Jet spray off the whiteflies! That’s those little clouds of tiny white insects that fly away when you bump your plant. Some of them transmit diseases to some veggies. Spray off dust that interferes with natural predators. Whiteflies like the heads of your broccoli side shoots, so keep those picked pronto! Smudge off any eggs you see on the undersides of leaves. Use a finer spray for bean leaves and be gentle, beans stems can break easily. White flies like humidity, so plant less densely, and keep check on the inner and lower leaves. Add a 1″ layer of worm castings out to the dripline of your plant. Water it in well. Insecticidal soaps or Neem oil can reduce populations. You really don’t want those tiny white flies, cute and adorable as they look, because they encourage black sooty mold and aphids that inject toxins and also carry diseases. Not good.

Some aphids are still lollying from April and June. Some are pretty little green tykes, others are dull gray, or black, usually numerous where they have decided to camp. Same principles. Keep vigilant watch so things don’t get out of hand, keep your veggies picked, and jet spray. Look inside curled leaves, under the leaves, and in newly leafing tops. See more about Aphids at UC IPM!

Ants tend aphids. Some say sprinkle cinnamon around your plant to keep the ants off it. Otherwise, use safe ant bait stakes. Be sure the stakes are the right kind for the ants you have and the time of year. ARGENTINE ants prefer sweet baits year-round. Protein baits are attractive to Argentine ants primarily in the spring. Chemical baits are not ok in our organic veggie community gardens. Instead, a simple remedy can be putting a few drops of dish soap around and filling the nest entrance. Pull mulch back from the stem of your plant and let that immediate soil dry a bit. Ants nest near water. See more about Ants at UC IPM!   See a lot more details about aphids and ants!

No mercy to those little green and black striped cucumber beetle cuties down in the cuke and squash flowers or simply strolling about! Squish. Or should we let a few pollinate our cucumbers and squashes even though they eat the flowers away? NO! Because they carry seriously nasty plant diseases.

Pick your outer lettuces leaves, cut & come again style. This guarantees you will find those morning slugs and snails. Poke around your beans gently and peek under squash and chard leaves for ambitious high altitude snail hikers. Scan your tomatoes for the varmints! Toss them someplace, the same place each time, so your local birds can gourmet on them. When the birds see you they will come for snacks! Use Sluggo, or the like, a few times to stop the generations, or hand pick if you can stand it.

Leafminers. Yuk. They chew on your chard and other veggies, get right between the layers of the leaf, making that section brown. External applications obviously can’t touch them. Pull away the infected sections of the leaf, remove badly infected leaves. There are several different kinds of leafminer insects that operate all at once. It’s their hatching season. Later summer there will be less. Keep harvesting to keep ahead of the miners.

Flea beetles in July? Yup. Those trillions of holes in the leaves? That’s who we’re talkin’ about. There are 3 to 4 generations per year, depending on weather, and the generation time is roughly 30 days. They look just like fleas, and are about impossible to catch. No mercy. Disturb their cycle by putting compost, manures, worm castings, under susceptible plants – eggplant, arugula, radish. They like radish the most, so plant it as a trap plant near other susceptible plants and let it grow out. Radish grows quickly, so plant it anytime! Turning the soil exposes the eggs and pupae to dry and die.

Keep the water coming so not only do cukes and lettuces stay sweet, the cukes and beans grow straight, but they grow fast and outgrow pests.

Unlike with insects, you don’t get a second chance with gophers.

Gophers are simply an ongoing pest for most gardeners. You mention them and gardeners groan. Now they are getting summer shiny and well fed on what you grow for them. It’s never too late to put in gopher barriers in any planting area. You can sink in an 18” to 2′ deep barrier, 6” above ground, perimeter, but better is to scoop out the area and lay the wire around and across the entire area, securing the wire edge to edge by weaving it with wire! Be sure neighboring edges are secure one way or another so there is no sneaking through. Hardware cloth will do the best job, lasts about 10 years, naturally is the most expensive. Chicken wire has too big an opening, and is easily gnawable. Aviary wire (1/2” opening), is the better choice,  and disintegrates in about 3 years, but is tons better than nothing at all!

If installing a barrier isn’t an option, then trapping is the most effective. It’s not hard to do, but I admit, it’s not entirely pleasant or even safe. Please do be careful setting traps, especially if you are gardening alone. I push the dead creature down the tunnel and close up the tunnel. Hopefully any newcomers to that tunnel system will plug that section off. Wire traps, like Macabees, are cheap and effective, need only a small hole dug to install, less digging, saves nearby plants. Box traps are perhaps more humane, and probably catch the fast small babies better, but do install two, one each direction, that’s what’s effective, you need a hole at least a foot in diameter. That usually requires a plant or more loss. The easy way to find tunnels, if you can’t find it at the fresh mound, is to push a small diameter ¼” to ½” stick into the surrounding ground at intervals until it gives when you push it in. That’s your tunnel location. The bigger the tunnel, the better your chances, especially if it goes off in two directions. Install your traps, one each direction. More on gophers!   UC Davis Integrated Pest Management  Good hunting.

Last option, but overall expensive per cost per an area, time and repeated installations, is wire baskets. You can buy them or make them. First check out how deep your plant’s roots are likely to grow and shop or make accordingly. If the roots grow through the basket they are likely to be nibbled.

We have talked about small nuisances and gophers. We haven’t talked about bunnies, mice,  deer, grasshoppers, skunks or others. But we can if you need to. Let me know.

Good gardening.  Vigilance, giving immediate care, are two good traits to have. Keep it organic. Remove pest habitat, keep working your soil, keeping your plants healthy and resistant. Floating row covers can be a good early season choice. But they have to be opened daily when it gets too hot, and opened daily or removed to allow pollination when your plants start flowering. At that point, they become more work than they are worth for pest prevention. Avoid overplanting that leads to neglect by not harvesting. If you’ve done it, remove plants you don’t use, give away if possible. Replace with something new, vigorous and inspiring! Sometimes a plant you love will simply successfully grow through the season of the pest, outgrow the part of the pest’s cycle that would bother your plant. Plant year round habitat for natural predators, beneficial insects. They are hungry hard workers! Don’t kill the spiders, welcome the lizards, put a safe bowl of water for the birds – safe means away from kitties and with a little ramp so lizards and mice, the tinies can get out.

Prevention is best! Select pest and disease resistant varieties. Use companion planting wisely!

  • Basil is great with tomatoes, and a pack of culinary dandelions! It is thought to repel white flies, mosquitoes, tomato hornworms, aphids, houseflies, and asparagus beetles. Smells great and tastes great!
  • Beans, Cukes, Dill, Radish Combo! Cukes and Beans are great on the trellis, one high, one low. Dill goes with your pickling cukes. Radishes to deter Cucumber beetles.
  • WHITE Potatoes with Zucchini to repel squash bugs.
  • Radish with eggplant, cukes & zukes act as trap plants for flea beetles and to repel cucumber beetles.
  • Carrots love being with cilantro and chamomile, and chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb!
  • Herbs are fabulous! Calendula, aka Pot Marigold, traps aphids, whiteflies, and thrips!
  • Marigolds are brilliant and called the workhorse of pest deterrents!

No denial allowed! Be observant and take immediate action. Carry on, good garden soldiers!

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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!

 

Read Full Post »

JULY – The Rewards of Your Fine Gardening!

July Abundance Veggie Harvest Basket

Stand proud when they call your name and thank you for all the work you have done and the abundance you have shared!

In SoCal, July is maintaining and feeding, and harvest, seedsaving and storage, share month, the beginnings of fall planting preparations for late July!

July is Tomato month! A few turned red, their mature colors, in late June, especially those tasty little cherry toms! Even some of the bigger varieties, but by the 4th, they will definitely be coming in good numbers! Super salads on the way!

July usually brings your greatest variety of table fresh veggies and herbs! It’s colorful and full of great textures. This is giveaway time if you don’t can. It’s giveaway time if you have so much there is enough canned for you and your family and then some! Other than some special favorite summer veggies, some of us SoCal gardeners don’t can at all because our fall, winter crops are so nutritious and freshly abundant there is no need!

Sharing is a blessing to people who don’t have access to fresh organic food. Fresh foods last so much longer than store bought, and have so much better taste! Start with family, friends, neighbors. Give to senior communities and those who prepare food for them. Give to any organization that helps people in need, the FoodBank, maybe your local women’s shelter. When we eat better we think more clearly, our body heals, our Soul mends. Thank you and bless you for caring so much.

Sidedressing

General sidedressing, during season feeding times, are when baby plants are just up 5, 6 inches tall, when vines start to run, at bud time, and first fruiting. From then on it varies per plant! Late July when some plants are near the end of production, extend their fruiting with a good feed – in the ground, or foliar, preferably both! See more!

  • Manure feeds are especially great for lettuce, and all others except for beans, beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet and white potatoes, and tomatoes, or there’ll be more foliage than fruit! Lettuce loves chicken manure but only about a 1/4 inch gently dug in.
  • Give your peppers and solanaceaes, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, Epsom Salt/Magnesium foliar treatments.
  • Every couple of weeks your strawberries would love a light fish emulsion/kelp drench.
  • Or you can foliar feed everyone some tea! Make a super duper mixed tea – no compost is needed in that mix for plants whose soil was well composted before planting. First make your tea. When it is ready, make your spade fork holes and apply a good compost/worm castings mix, then foliar feed with your tea! Drippings will help moisten your mulch and compost/castings on the ground below! Last, water well with a low flow water wand underneath your plant so everything stays where you put it and you don’t wash away your foliar feed. Do that before the sun gets on your plants or while it is still cool in the day and plants have plenty of time to dry during the day. Low flow also lets water and tea and compost/castings drippings drizzle down into the spade fork holes! THAT is a super feed!

    Mixed teas feed and help prevent pests and diseases. They serve up beneficial living microbes to your plant and provide trace minerals it may needUse foliar tea more frequently for plants that are ailing or in recovery. On an immediate basis, foliar feeding is 8 to 20 times more potent than ground feeding, and your plant takes it up in as little as an hour! Plants in immediate need can be helped right away! Compost supplies the organic matter that tea doesn’t supply, so it is critical in and of itself, plus it has many times more nutrients than a diluted tea. On and in the ground it decomposes slowly, feeds your plant steadily and it and castings have great water holding capacity. Do both whenever you can!

  • Compost is always super, remember to use acidic compost for strawberries! Pull back the mulch. Grab your spade fork, insert it, rock it gently, remove the fork leaving the holes. Stay 8″ away from the central stem, go out to the dripline. Gently scratch up only one or two separate areas around your plant out to the dripline, even a little further to encourage roots to extend, and to feed the feeder roots that are in progress growing out further. Avoid breaking a substantial number of tiny surface feeder roots, otherwise your plant will be slowed down by being in recovery for lack of food due to its inability to uptake it. Mix in your compost and lay on a 1/2″ to an inch of compost on top of areas you didn’t dig up. While you are at it, be sure your basins are retaining their shape out to the dripline. Put your mulch back, add more (straw) if it needs replenishing. Gently water well. Keep the area moist for a few days so soil organisms can multiply! Make your own compost!
  • Save yourself some time by adding 25% Worm castings to your compost and applying them together. Especially apply that mix to any ailing plants or plants in recovery. Castings help our plants uptake soil nutrients and boost your plant’s immune system. When your plant is taxed producing fruit in great summer conditions, it also is peaking out for the season and fighting pests and diseases are harder for it. Adding compost and castings may prolong and up the quantity and quality of late summer fruits. However, sometimes a plant is just done. No amount of coaxing will have effect. It worked hard. Thank it. Let it produce its seeds for seedsaving, or take it to the compost altar.

If you prefer organic granulated fertilizer, sprinkle it around evenly per instructions, and water in well. Just know you will have to do that more frequently, and it doesn’t provide the water holding capacity that compost and castings do.

Feeding your plants can be plant specific or in general. For example, Tomatoes and Peppers (and Roses – edible petals), do well with a little sulfur. It is easily applied – a Tablespoon of Epsom salts, and a 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap as a surfactant (so your application sticks to the leaves), in a gallon watering can is all it takes. If the nozzle turns up to get under those leaves, all the better. Apply before the sun hits your plants or while it is still cool.

If any of your plants are looking puny, have yellowing leaves, might give them a bit of blood meal for a quick Nitrogen pick me up. Add compost and castings too so your plant has steady food after the blood meal (an expensive feed) is used. If you have predator creatures, forgo stinky fish emulsions and blood meal.

Zucchini Squash Zoodles Kale Pesto Edamame RecipeLate July, gardeners are starting to want new ways to enjoy their Zucchini! ZOODLES! Zucchini Zoodles Kale Pesto Edamame Recipe! Here are 28 cool summer variations on how to include this common veggie in a unique way!

Take care of pests and diseases asap! You don’t want them to spread or increase, lose the fruit of all your efforts and time. July brings hot weather, water stress, the stress of continued production. Though you may be a bit tired with all your tending and harvesting, this is not the time to interrupt your care. The heat will bring hatchings; tired plants may get overwhelmed by diseases. Be consistent with your watering. Stay on it with your harvest to keep your plants in production, sidedress (feed) as needed. Mercilessly squash the cucumber beetles, the green/yellow and black striped jobs. They give your plants fatal diseases. Put down pellets for slugs & snails, use sulfur and soap in foliar feeds to keep back aphids. See more! Keep plants susceptible to Whiteflies free from dust and Ants well supplied with worm castings. Hose the flies away, and remove infected leaves or the whole plant if it gets them repeatedly. Insecticidal soaps or Neem oil can reduce populations.

I found refraining from watering my strawberries but once a week, more in exceptionally hot or windy weather, and not mulching under my strawberries keeps the slugs and snails at bay. They don’t like dry soil. I’m growing the Seascape variety that has deep roots, so it works well. Do put down organic slug/snail bait where you will be sprouting seeds and while the seedlings are coming up. Aphids don’t thrive in a dryer environment either. Water the plants susceptible to them a little less. Remove yellowing leaves asap. Yellow attracts whiteflies. Leafminers love temps in the 70s! Remove damaged areas of leaves immediately. Mice and rats love tomato nibbles and they are well equipped to climb! A garden kitty who loves to hunt is a good helper; keep your compost turned so they don’t nest in it; remove debris piles and ground shrub or hidey habitat. Please don’t use baits that will in turn kill kitties or animals or birds that would feed on a poisoned animal. That includes Gophers. For gophers, install wire barriers. See more!

Watering in July is vital, along with Compost & Mulch. Water is essential for your plants to be able to uptake nutrients. Compost increases water holding capacity. Mulch shades soil, keeps it and your plant’s roots cooler, keeps soil more moist longer, less water needed. Steady water is a must to produce good looking fruits. Some water then none makes misshapen strawberries, called catfaced, curled beans and cukes, carrots lose their consistent shape. Tomatoes have more flavor when they are watered a tad less just before harvest. You can do that with bush varieties, determinates, but with indeterminate vining types you just have to see how it goes. Lots of tasty flavor tests may be in order! They have deep tap roots, so usually watering nearby plants is sufficient. Melons in cooler coastal areas don’t need mulch! They self shade and hot soil helps them produce better. Give them a good sized basin so tiny lateral feeder roots can fully supply your plant with water and nutrients. Put a stake in the center so you know where to water, and let them go! Short rooted plants like beans, beets, lettuces need frequent watering to keep moist. Some plants just need a lot of water, like celery.

Don’t be fooled by Temporary High Temps! Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, stop flowering and fruiting when temps rise above 85 to 90 degrees F for an extended time depending on humidity. Humidity causes pollen to stick and not fall to pollinate. Dry heat causes the pollen to fall and not stick! When weather cools, you will have blooms again and be back in production. Rattlesnake beans, on the other hand, keep right on producing at 100 degree temps! So choose heat tolerant veggie varieties, like Heatmaster and Solar tomatoes, from locales with hot weather. Wonderful heat tolerant varieties are out there!

Zucchini LasagnaCool summer evenings enjoy Zucchini Lasagna!

Though July is more a maintenance and harvest month, Yes you can plant more! At this point, transplants are best, but many plants will not still be being stocked at the nurseries, and it is a tad late to plant many plants from seed. What you can plant is beans! They grow quickly and if you grow bush beans and quickly maturing heat tolerant varieties you will still be eating beans in Sept and Oct if it doesn’t get cold early! Get patio container types of quick growing heat tolerant determinate tomatoes if you can find them. Previously planted tomatoes may be done producing, or bit the dust for one reason or another – likely a blight or wilt. Remove the old plants to reduce further spread of disease – do NOT compost them. Beef up the soil and plant your late tomatoes in an entirely different spot.

More lettuces! In summer you want a stronger lettuce, heat tolerant & slow bolting! Lettuce Leaf and Red Sails and Outredgeous are great. Jericho from Israel is great. Sierra, Nevada. Nevada is a Green Crisp/Batavian that grows BIG, doesn’t bolt, and is totally crispy! Green Star is ruffly, grows big around! Parris Island Romaine is slow bolting. Green Towers Romaine tolerates moderate summer heat and has some resistance to tipburn and bolting.

Transplant basil, celery, chard, cucumbers, dill, kale, leeks, summer lettuce, green onions, white potatoes, summer savory, New Zealand spinach. In our hot foothills and further south, go for more melons, okra, pumpkins, summer & winter squash. I’ve seen tomato transplants and bean seeds started in August produce plentiful crops into October! Rattlesnake pole beans do as they are supposed to, make beans in up to 100 degree weather! Yard long beans tolerate late summer weather and make magnificent beans! And some varieties of those don’t get mildew!

Corn is an exception – late plantings often develop smut. But. That smut, from a fungus called Ustilago maydis, is considered a delicacy by many.It’s insanely delicious and luxurious, like black truffles.’ In Mexico it is known as huitlacoche. – weet-la-COH-cheh. Your neighboring gardeners may especially not be pleased, however. See more!  

Fall transplants need babying! Transplant late afternoon or evening so plants have the whole night to begin to recover before they’re hit with a full day of sun and heat. Water well and provide shade from intense mid-day sun. Prop up and secure some of those plastic plant flats that have the finer grid pattern to filter the light. Keep your transplants moist for at least a month or until they’re well established. Mulch to save water unless they thrive on hot soil.

Harvesting has special little techniques and storage varies considerably from veggie to veggie! See details!

Be really patient with your big Bells and sweet roasting Peppers. Both like to wait until the nights are longer and cooler in late summer before fruiting and plumping up. Peppers need time on the plant to absorb nutrients and water and plump up their flesh. Some will still be needing to change color.

At the end of the month, SoCal gardeners start your winter crops! Sow carrots (they do best from seed), celery and Brassicas. Brassicas are arugula, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (especially red and savoy types, which resist frost better), cauliflower, and kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard, pak choi, radish, rutabaga, turnip. Keep the soil moist and shaded until they’re up, and then gradually allow them more sun over a week’s time.

Mid to late July start preparing by clearing areas for late July first fall plantings. Remove finishing weakened plants that attract pests and get diseases. Remove insect debris harboring areas. Remove mulch from under plants that were diseased and replace with clean mulch. Decide where you will plant your green manure patches. Add worm castings to mini nurseries areas you will be planting seedlings in. Castings speed germination. Leave enough space between the seedlings so they can be safely removed by a narrow trowel to their permanent place when they become big enough and space becomes available.

It’s time to get seeds if you don’t already have them! If seeds and mini nurseries aren’t your thing, wait until your local nursery starts having the transplants that make you happy! Late August they might start trickling in. Labor Day weekend is a favorite planting time for some gardeners. October is just fine too!

Recipe Zucchini Rolls

Tasty Zucchini Rolls made with Sunflower Seeds Pate, Sun Dried Tomatoes and Spinach! See complete recipe by Chris at Tales of a Kitchen!

If you are just starting, just got your first plot at one of the community gardens, while waiting for fall planting time, plant a few patches of fast growing, less water needing heat lovers, lots of summer heat tolerant lettuces for your salads! They may need a little shade cloth protection. Plan out your fall/winter layout, remembering tall to the north, short to the south. Winter plants don’t take up as much food in cooler weather, so use less compost. Remember, nature’s soil is naturally only 5% organic matter, but we are growing veggies, so a little more than that is perfect. Too much food and plants go to all leaf. But then a lot of winter veggies are just that, all leaf! Cabbage, Chard, Kale, Lettuces. Oh, lettuces thrive with manures, so put more in the lettuce patch areas, but none where the carrots or peas will grow. They don’t need it. If you plant your lettuces randomly as filler plants, add a little extra manure to the planting holes when you plant them.

Important Habitat! As plants finish, let some of them grow out to save seeds. A carrot, celery and cilantro produce masses of seeds! Besides being food for pollinators and beneficial predator insects, they are beautiful! Birds will have seeds for food and scour your plants for juicy cabbage worms, whiteflies, aphids, earwigs, grasshoppers, cucumber beetles and grubs fresh for their hatchlings! Chickadees even eat ants!

Seedsaving is really a no-nonsense game! Besides being our second harvest, it insures the purity of your line! It’s important to our world community, as Thomas Rainer says, to preserve our garden heritage & biodiversity! Besides, it’s fun! Keep some for you – some as spices & others for planting. Package as gifts, and reserve some to take to the Seed Swap in January!

Let some beans go until they are completely dry in their pods; let corn dry until the kernels are hard on the cob. Let a cucumber turn yellow and tough. Save some seeds from your favorite and best tomatoes. Dry them further in home, put in an envelope, label with date, variety name, any other info you think you might need. See more about SeedSaving!

Do it now to be ready for winter rain! If you garden at home, please look into water capture and gray water systems – shower to flower, super attractive bioswale catchments. In Santa Barbara County there are rebates available! Call (805) 564-5460 today to schedule a FREE water system checkup! Check out the Elmer Ave retrofit!

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes. ~ Author Unknown 

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See wonderful June images of Pilgrim Terrace and Rancheria Community Gardens, Santa Barbara CA! Veggies, flowers, birds plus gardening tips!

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

JULY – The Rewards of Your Fine Gardening!
Harvesting & Storage Tips for Our Summer Favorites!
Veggie Pests – Aphid and Ants!
More about Pests! July is International Pest Month!

Other Community Gardens – Fall Creek Gardens, Indianapolis IN 

Events! American Community Gardening Association 38th Annual National Conference, National Heirloom Exposition, Soil Not Oil Intl Environmental Conference!

 


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!

Read Full Post »

Gorgeous Kale - Purple Curly Leaf
There’s kale and there’s kale! This truly tasty purple curly leaf kale image is by Steve!

Last Harvests are being collected and stored! Some of you have started seedling nurseries or starts at home, many have prepped their soil and harvested seeds! If you didn’t yet, make your fall planting beds extra yummy – add 5-10% compost, 25% worm castings, manures – the amount depending on the type of manure. We want rich soil for those big winter plants. Seeds do especially better with worm castings! We want lots of those marvelous leaves for greens. Winter plants like brocs, collards, cauliflower, chard, are heavy producers, need plenty of food.

BUT NOT CARROTS! Too good a soil makes them hairy and they fork.  And over watering, irregular watering, can make them split. Build your beds up so they drain well, are above the coldest air that settles low down. PEAS, the winter legume, make their own Nitrogen, so feed only lightly if at all

Some of you carry your layout plan in your head, others draw and redraw, moving things around until it settles and feels right. Do add a couple new things just for fun! Try another direction. Add some herbs or different edible flowers. Stand back, take a deep breath and ask yourself why you plant the way you do. Anything been tickling the back of your mind you are curious about?

If you need to skip a beat, take some time off from the garden, let it rest, but let nature rebuild while it’s resting!

  1. You can cover it deeply with all the mulch materials you can lay your hands on up to 18′ deep. Believe me, it will settle quickly. 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. Next spring you will have rich nutritious living layers of whole soil soil for no work at all!
  2. You can plant it with green manure. Laying on lots of mulch is a ton of work when you do it, just gathering the materials can be a challenge. Green manure takes some work too, but it has awesome results as well. You broadcast a seed mix of legumes and oats and let them grow. Bell beans, Austrian peas, vetch and oats from Island Seed & Feed Goleta is an excellent choice. Legumes gather Nitrogen from the air and store it in nodules on their roots! N is the main ingredient your plants need for their growth! The oat roots break up the soil. They dig deep and open channels for water and air.

Kale Flat Leaf High Mowing.jpgIf you decide to plant, unless you have Bagrada Bugs, it’s Brassica time! They are the mainstay of winter gardens! Their leaves are edible – Kales the Queens! Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, Cauliflower and collard greens! Then there are all the mini Bs, the fillers and littles – arugula, bok choy, mizuna, kohlrabi, mustards, radish, turnips. Rather than plant six pack transplants, put in seed when possible and stagger your plantings of the large Brassicas. Rather than all six cauliflower coming in at once, plant two now, two later and so on. Adjust that, of course, if you have a large area available to plant and a lot of people to feed! Another way to do it is to get varieties with early, middle and late maturity dates and plant them all at once! Plant both mini and monster cabbages at the same time! Minis come in sooner, monsters later!

Finicky eaters may enjoy a marvelous selection! Fall veggies come in lots of shapes and colors! Kales are renowned for their beauty and varieties – classic curly leaf, Red Russian, Elephant, Red Bor, that is really purple, are just a few! Cauliflower comes in traditional shape and spiral, classic white and yellow and purple and green! Get seed packs of them all and mix them together! Carrots already come in color mix seed packets! Circus Circus is a fun choice, especially when your kids are planting! Beets are terrific fun! Yellows, reds, pinks, whites and Chioggias (circles of colors)! You can get them in rainbow mixes just like getting rainbow chard mixes! Rather than have your finicky eater say no, open up that catalog or take them shopping a the nursery and let them pick what they would like to try!

More veggies that love cooler weather are beets, carrots, celery, chard, cilantro, leeks, spinach and especially lettuce – tender butter leafs and heading lettuce! If you anticipate a hot Sep, plant more heat tolerant lettuce.

  • The winter legume is PEAS! Peas are like beans, they come in bush and pole types. And those come in three main types – shelling, eating snap peas and flat China/snow peas! They are super easy to sprout! Dampen the paper towel; spray the towel to keep it moist. Takes 2 to 4 days. Pop them into the garden by the trellis – if it is hot, devise some shade for them. You just need to be careful as you plant them so you don’t break the sprout off. Definitely plant some every month or so. They don’t live all season long. When they are done, they’re done. It is true that picking peas, just like picking beans, is labor intensive. I eat a lot of mine before they get home, so I don’t mind. Bush peas come in first and pretty much all at once; pole come on later and continue to produce. On the first round it makes sense to plant both at once!
  • Onions For the biggest, sweetest harvests, late summer and early fall are the prime times to sow seeds of short- or intermediate-day onions. Fall-sown short- and intermediate-day onions tend to yield more and are larger and sweeter than those seeded or transplanted in early spring.

Image result for long beets cylindraVarieties that do better in winter are long beets like Cylindras, long radishes like Daikons, pretty China Rose and handsome Long Black Spanish! Plant small beets like Dutch Baby Ball for quick beets while your Cylindras are growing twice to three times bigger!

Combos make a difference! Carrots enhance peas, onions stunt peas. Plant the carrots on the sunny side feet of pole beans. Combos can use space wisely! Carrots grow down, peas grow up, perfect! Cabbage babies need to be planted 12 to 28″ apart! A healthy plant will take up much closer to that 28″. They take a long while to grow, head, head tight! Plant lettuces that repel cabbage moths, or other fillers, that mature sooner, in the space between them. You can do this at home amongst your ornamentals, and/or in containers too! Fillers can be onion/chive types, beets. Short quickest growing winter radishes can be among the long slower growing carrots among the slowest growing, your cabbages. Cilantro makes brocs grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener! Research has shown there are less aphids when you plant different varieties of brocs together!

No need to plant patches or rows, unless you want to. Scatter them about on the sunny side between larger plants as an understory! Plant different varieties to keep your table exciting. Don’t plant them all at once, but rather every week or two for steady table supply. If you would enjoy a quick payback on your table, select the earliest maturing varieties.

If you have lots of seeds, overplanting is an age old practice. Plant too, too many, then thin them with tiny pointy scissors, aka harvest the young, and eat ’em! Young radish sprouts, teeny carrots, little Brassicas of all kinds are wonderful in a salad! If they get a little big, steam them or add to stir fries and stews. Another way to do it is plant flats of lettuces, mesclun mixes, and mow them! Tender baby greens! They will grow back 3, 4 times.

When planting in hot fall weather, plant your outdoor seeds a tad deeper than you would in spring; soil is moister and cooler an extra inch or two down. It’s the law to keep them moist. If you plant successively for steady fresh table supply, plant a batch in September, again in October. Days will shorten and start cooling, but you are taking advantage of a fast start because your plants will grow quickly in the warmer weather now than later on. Sep plant from seeds, Oct from transplants.

Winter Feeding Lettuces like a light feed of chicken manure cultivated in. All the winter plants are heavy producers – lots of leaves, some of those leaves are monsters! Cabbages are packed tight, leaf after leaf! They may need a light feed. Remember, it’s cooler now, so their uptake is slower, so give them liquid feeds, teas, things easy for them to uptake.

Keep letting your strawberry runners grow for Oct harvest. Plant in October or plant new bareroot plants. If you replace your strawberries, in Santa Barbara try Seascape, bred at UCSB. Big plentiful berries, firm, tasty, strawberry spot resistant! They have long roots that gather plenty of nutrition and stay moist at deeper levels. Remember, strawberries like slightly acidic soil, so get Azalea/Camellia compost for their bed.

Pest and Disease Prevention  Drench young plants, ones you just transplanted, with Aspirin solution to get them off to a great start! Drench your seedlings when they get up a few inches. One regular Aspirin, 1/4 C nonfat powdered milk, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap (surfactant), per gallon of water. Aspirin, triggers a defense response and stimulates growth! Powdered milk is a natural germicide and boosts the immune system. Be sure to get under the leaves too!

Brassica pests! Lots of ants and lengthwise curling leaves are the giveaways for aphids. Aphids carry viruses. Aphids come in fat gray or small black. Avoid over watering that makes for soft plants, tender leaves that aphids thrive on, and ant habitat. Spray the aphids away, make the ants leave. Get up under those leaves, and fervently but carefully do the tender growth tips. Do it consistently until they don’t come back.

September is still Seed Saving time for some. Make notes on how your plants did, which varieties were the most successful. These seeds are adapted to you and your locality. Each year keep your best! Store your keepers in a cool dry place for next year’s plantings. Generously gather seeds for upcoming January Seed Swap!

Borage is a magical cool season plant with edible flowers, blue for bees! It has a large 3 to 4′ footprint, so allow for that or plan to keep clipping it back. Plant Sweet Peas for Christmas bloom!

Plant gift plants or bowls or baskets for the holidays! Fall bounty is on its way!

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

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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 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 September 2016 GBC Newsletter!

September Starts SoCal’s Second Season!
Designing Your SoCal Winter Veggie Garden! Think Big!
Two Mexican Herbs Used Instead of Cilantro!
Other Community Gardens – Cultiva Ciudad-helmed Huerto Tlatelolco, Mexico City 

Events! National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa CA, 6th Annual Fermentation Festival, Master Gardeners’ Year-Round Edibles from the Garden – Fall Planting!

…and wonderful August images at Rancheria Community Garden!

 

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Soil Building Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Santa Barbara Peat Manure
Kevin Smith making great soil at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

Summer soils need to be fat and rich for the warming spring temps fast growth your plants put on, then they need to be fed to sustain that fast pace and bountiful production in hot weather.

Cooling Fall/Winter Socal soils don’t need to be quite as rich nor your plants need to be sidedressed (fed during the season) but maybe once, if at all. However, winter plants are hard workers and prodigious! They are mainly leaf crops, leaf after leaf after leaf! Think curly leaf kale and the remarkable amount of foliage being produced! How big those broccolis and cauliflower leaves! Amazing chard. Lettuces are pumping out the leaves. Cabbages are growing from the inside, as the outer leaves are expanding to accommodate that dense growth, leaf after leaf tightly wrapped!

Start winter gardening by tending your precious soil. Clear away finished summer plants. Make compost. It will finish faster in late summer and fall heat. Add compost, worm castings and manure to your soil. Get the best compost you can buy if you don’t make your own. Get the ones with worm castings, mycorrhizal fungi, etc. Get manure blends to get the best results, especially mixes that include cow (not steer) manure.

The exceptions are pea and carrot areas. If a bed is a little tired, add some food for the peas, otherwise, they, legumes, gather their own Nitrogen from the air! No manure at all for carrots, and give them regular watering, though not too much, to prevent them being hairy and splitting.

Some plants, like strawberries and blueberries, need slightly acidic soil. When their soil is right, they fend off diseases better and produce like crazy. They like to be moist, so get the right compost, add a little peat, and dig it in a good 8″ deep. Some strawberries don’t have deep roots, but others do, so shovel depth deep is great. The variety Seascape, a prolific large berried strawberry bred at UCSB for SoCal production, does have long roots. They feed well, reach deep for water, and it shows! Plant them bareroot in October/November. Ask for their arrival time at your nursery so you be sure to get some. They go fast!

Special soil for seed beds! In addition to the above, incorporate Worm Castings for all your plantings, but seeds benefit a lot! They germinate more quickly, seedlings grow faster! Leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. Vermicompost suppresses several diseases of cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, and it also significantly reduces pests – parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealybugs and mites! Who could ask for more?! These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

SideDressing  If your plants look like they need a little boost during winter, keep it light. In SoCal, feed 1/2 strength during cooler weather when uptake is slower. The most common time to feed your plants is when bloom time begins. For winter plants that’s when broccoli and cauliflower make heads and Brussels sprouts make itsy cabbages up the stalks! They are just about to go into their maximum production. Liquid fertilizers are easy for them to uptake quickly. Teas – compost, worm, manure, fish/kelp – are terrific.

If you won’t be planting this winter, a wise choice is to REST and RESTORE an AREA!

  1. When it gets cooler, plant some hefty favas or a mix for green manures to boost soil Nitrogen. Especially plant them where you had summer’s heavy feeders like corn, eggplant, summer squash, tomatoes and/or where you will plant heavy feeders next summer. The mix can include legumes like Austrian peas, vetch and bell/fava beans, plus oats that break up the soil (they have deep roots). Favas are big, produce one of the highest rates of compostable organic material per square foot! If you change your mind, you can eat the beans! 🙂
  2. Or, if you don’t have Bagrada Bugs, cover an area you won’t be winter planting with a good 6″ to a foot deep mulch/straw and simply let the herds of soil organisms do their work over winter. A foot deep sounds like a lot, but it will sink down quickly. 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. Next spring you will have rich nutritious soil for no work at all! Pull back any top layer that remains and plant, plant, plant!

Cultivate after rains! Cultivating does two important things. One, it’s an age old technique to aerate soil, let it dry out, kill off soil fungi. Two, it is also called, Dust Mulching. Simply cultivate about 2 or 3 inches deep. This disturbs the soil surface, interrupting the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation. Dry farmers use this technique. It has been refined during recent droughts.

Ingredients to build great soil!

Compost for feeding and water holding capacity. Now, before you go compost crazy, in Nature, organic matter, our equivalent is compost, only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), yet organic matter is absolutely essential. There is various thinking about what the right amount of compost is to use in a garden. Cornell University says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil! Research shows ideal soil contains 5% organic matter by weight, 10% by volume. Like with a lot of gardening, more is not better! For our veggie gardening, plants we want to produce a lot of fruits, incorporate a little more than 5%.

Manures are high in Nitrogen, the main ingredient plants need to grow! Cow is better than steer, blends are best. Lettuces love it!

Worm Castings suppress diseases, reduce several insect populations, seeds germinate more quickly, seedlings grow faster! Leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. 25% is ideal.

Peat! In drought areas, adding peat is excellent to increase water retention. Per Julie Day: …particularly Sphagnum peat, is a lightweight spongy material that’s great for making sandy soils more water absorbent. Peat will also loosen heavy clay soils, but you need to be careful it doesn’t make the soil too soggy. Peat decomposes slowly and is slightly acidic [good for strawberry beds]. Look for peat that’s harvested from sustainable peat bogs.

Other Amazing Amendments

  • Nonfat powdered milk is a natural germicide and immediately boosts plant immune systems. A handful mixed into the planting hole soil does the job.
  • Mycorrhizal fungi – Brassicas don’t dance with it, but other plants thrive. It links your plants’ roots with the soil, increases uptake of nutrients. Just sprinkle it on the roots of your transplant and give it a pat so it will stick. The roots and the fungi need to be connected!
  • If your soil has fungi problems, wilts, blights, add a tiny tad of coffee grounds. A 1/2 a percent does the job. Yes, you read right, that is a 1/2 a %!
  • Add Green Sand or some such for a mineral boost if you think your soil needs it.

How to feed your soil

Dig your amendments into the top 6 to 8 inches! Yum. Add a tasty blend all at once. Some compost, some manure, some castings and whatever else is needed or seems right for the location or what you will be planting!

Incorporate winter amendments, don’t add layers nor cover them with mulch. We want the soil to be warmer, so cooling mulches are pulled back in winter. Nitrogen off gases from uncovered layers, little N is delivered. A layer just dries out. Pulling back mulches removes moist habitat for overwintering summer pest eggs and diseases. If you have/have had Bagrada Bugs you definitely want to remove mulches and turn your soil and let it dry. Also turn soil that has Fusarium and Verticillium wilts so the fungi die.

Spade Fork treatment! Push the spade fork in, wobble it, pull it out leaving the holes. Pour compost/manure/worm tea down the holes! That feeds the roots. If you don’t have digging predators, you can add liquid fish/kelp too. Liquid root feeds are especially good to do when sidedressing at the beginning of bloom time.

Double your benefits by digging in great amendments followed by the spade fork treatment! Liquid tea feeds give immediate uptake; dug in amendments feed for a period of time.

Planting Tips

Drainage. In soil infested with fungi or pest eggs, plant high so the soil drains and dries, the fungi and eggs die. Make basins so the bottom of the basin is above the general soil level. Make the basin large enough so the edges don’t degrade from the watering and your large plant is sure to get enough water out to its dripline.

Soil can only do so much. Don’t starve and stunt your plants by planting too closely. Give them room and access to the amount of soil space they need for natural healthy growth. Given more space they get bigger, produce more, are healthier. Plant so their leaves don’t touch at maturity, giving access for disease and pests to spread from plant to plant.

However, some deliberate overplanting is pretty clever! If you row or batch plant, especially harvest, thin as they grow. That’s like getting two crops for one! For example, all the Brassica plant – Broccoli, Kale, Cauliflower, Collards – leaves are edible! Add the tender young leaves to your salads, or if bigger, steam over rice, stir fry or add to your stews! Do it with carrots. Tiny carrots are a delicacy, and my pup loves them!

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. Santa Barbara’s three community gardens 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 August 2016 GBC Newsletter!

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

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Soil Building Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Santa Barbara Peat Manure

Everybody makes soil their own way for different purposes at different times. At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA, this happy gardener is lowering his soil pH by adding peat and upping nutrition with manure.

Spring may be early again. If so, we need to be thinking of soil prep now. Perhaps layout a loose summer plan, or make notes for areas you really know what you will want there. If we have a hot summer again, your soil is going to need a lot of water holding capacity, and planting low for retaining water will make a big difference in water usage.

Soil care is for making fat plants and big harvests! We want nutrition, good texture that allows air flow and plenty of water holding capacity.

Clean Up First, free your soil of debris that may harbor pests or diseases. Remove old boards. Weed out neglected areas that may even shade out some areas. Thin out thick tree branches at the right time. Schedule it.

Cultivate! An age old technique to aerate soil, let it dry out, kill off soil fungi. It is also called, Dust Mulching. Simply cultivate about 2 or 3 inches deep. This disturbs the soil surface, interrupting the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation. Do it after rains or irrigating.

Compacted Soil If your soil is compacted, it needs lots of organic matter, composted plant and animal materials, to loosen it up. Or grow a green manure crop! Annual rye,  winter wheat or oats put down deep roots opening channels for airflow, compost or worm teas, liquid fertilizers and water to trickle down.

Resist working your soil when it is wet! That compacts it, making it difficult for plant roots to grow, and it drains more slowly. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze. If it stays in a ball, wait! Crumbly is what we want. As B. Rosie Lerner of Purdue Extension says, ‘…soothe that gardening itch by sketching garden plans, browsing online and mail-order catalogs, and making a shopping list for your local garden center.’

Bed Shapes

Raised Beds If we SoCal gardeners get El Nino rains, I’m recommending to make raised beds with berms, cover the berms with straw to prevent them from eroding. Leave the interior of the raised bed open to let winter sun heat up your soil. If you are planting in spring, raised beds heat up sooner. You can make them with or without walls. No permanent walls gives you complete flexibility of shape and location, and if you have too much rain, you can open a berm to release water. They are great for plants that need well drained soil. Make low spots or plant in trenches for plants that thrive on more water, like fast growing lettuces, chard. Short rooted plants, beans/peas, radish, beets, onions, strawberries, can be grown in mild trenches. Or, boards can be lain between rows to keep the soil moist underneath them. Space them per the need of your plant. Roots will seek the moisture under the boards. Overall, you will use less water. It’s a variation on pallet gardening.

In summer, if we have another hot one, lowered beds with thick berms will work well. Water will be held within the berms. In deep beds berms will act as mini wind breaks and well mulched beds will stay moist longer. See Zuni Waffle Gardens

Containers include some bordered raised beds and those pretty pots on your deck or balcony. If things are looking tired, replace that old spent stuff. Do your special soil for small containers per the type of plant you will grow there, being extra conscious of water holding capacity. If we have a hot summer, double pot adding insulation between the pots so the inner pot soil keeps cooler, more moist.

Pathways Healthy soil is about 25 percent air! Rather than compacting, crushing the air and life out of your soil, lay down something dry that feeds the soil, like leaves, straw, then top that with something like a board to distribute your weight. Do boards harbor slugs? Yes, but as you put down something like Sluggo (SLUGGO is 1% Iron Phosphate (FePO₄) in a yeast/noodle base, non toxic to all non mollusks, certified organic and extremely effective if used as directed. (Thanks, William!)), two or three times to kill off the generations, those go away too when they come out for their midnight snacks. Some gardeners use stepping stones and put kitchen trim into the soil under the straw. Next season they move the path over and plant in the old path, now rich soil!

Green Manure is a natural wonder mimicking Nature! During the seasons, leaves are dropped, animals come by and fertilize, things grow and die, laying in place giving their bodies to next year’s seedlings. Well, we are choosing that option. Legumes are a natural choice since they pull N (Nitrogen) out of the air and deposit it in nodules on their roots. N is the main food your plants need for prime growth. Legumes often chosen are Bell Beans (a small type of Fava), Austrian Peas and Vetch. Oats are a favorite of dry farmers because the oat roots go deep opening the soil for air and water flow letting nutrients drain down! When the beans start to flower, cut the patch down, chop everything up into small bits, turn them under. Wait 2 to 3 weeks, until you can’t see the bits anymore, then plant!

Composting

In Nature, organic matter, our equivalent is compost, only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), yet organic matter is absolutely essential. There is various thinking about what the right amount of compost is to use in a garden. Cornell University says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil! Research shows ideal soil contains 5% organic matter by weight, 10% by volume.

Using the Method of your Choice! There are hot and cold composting methods, hot is faster. Making your own compost means you know what’s in it! The easiest of all composting, hands down, is composting in place, an age old method, but in recent years called Lasagna gardening. Whether you are doing hot or cold composting or composting in place, the principles are the same: put down brown/dry layers, your green/wet layers on top. Two brown to one green. The thinner the layers, the smaller the chop, the faster the result. Add Yarrow or Comfrey leave to make it go even faster! When composting in place put the layers right where you want your garden to be! If it isn’t ready in time, get some store bought compost, pull back a planting hole, plant! The rest of the garden will catch up! If you have worms, throw some on so they can help!

Hugelkultur, hill mound, is a long term sustainable variation of ‘composting’ in place. After the 2nd year the beds don’t need water, and the system will last up to 10 years! It can be above and/or below ground and takes a lot more energy to start but what a payoff! Get some big logs, branches. If you are doing it above ground, lay two logs closely side by side, put a lot of bigger to smaller branches between them, then go for it! Add leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available. Add some red wriggler casting worms if you have them. As possible add your materials in thin 1/2 to 1″ layers, dry, wet, dry, wet until the area is filled. Lay a third log on top of them and if you have sod you peeled up, lay it on top of the whole pile upside down and do it again! Top the turf with grass clippings, seaweed, compost, aged manure, straw, green leaves, mulch, etc. Top that with soil and plant your veggies! If you did it right, you end up with a steep sided tall pyramid pile and veggies planted at easy picking heights. See a LOT more and example variations at permaculture, practical solutions for self-reliance.

Purchase No shame in purchasing compost. It saves a lot of time and is sometimes better than you could make! Buy the best you can afford, with as many tasty items listed as possible. We do want to see worm castings and mycorrhizal fungi in the mix! You can get some quite pricey magical sophisticated blends!

Acidic blends are for strawberries, and shade type landscaping plants. It’s quick and easy to change your soil pH by digging in a serious amount. Strawberries can be grown in the same soil as other veggies, but they get diseases and production is pitiful compared to magnificent strawberries grown in their right soil conditions.

Favorite Additional Amendments

Manures – Chicken, Cow/Steer, Bunny Poop, Horse – all add tons of N to your soil.

  • Bunny poop is supreme. It needs no composting, will not harm your plants in any way.
  • Horse often has salt. It needs to be well aged, from horses that ate pesticide free grass, free of insect spray used to keep flies off the manure.
  • Chicken manure used to be too HOT, but now, nursery chicken manure is a mixed bag literally. It is ‘diluted’ and more safe to use right out of the bag. If friends are giving you chickie poop, try a little first to see how it goes. Be careful.
  • Steer manure can be cheap! But cow manure is better. The more you pay for specialty soil mixes at a nursery that carries them, the more you will find cow manure in that mix. Yes, you will pay more.

Worm Castings are referred to as Black Gold for good reason. They are not a food, but work with the hormones and immune systems of your plants. Just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is optimum! You can certainly grow your own easily! Again, this means you know what they were fed. What goes in is what comes out. Feed ’em newspaper and that’s the kind of castings you will get. Feed them a healthy variety of kitchen trim and you will have serious quality castings!

Minerals are from rocks in nature. And are of all kinds from everywhere for every purpose! Chat about with experts, look online.

Coffee Grounds are free from local coffee shops,  and wonderful because they suppress fungal rots and wilts!! Our garden has wilts, so remember, coffee and cultivating! 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! Be very careful with fresh grounds. They have mojo that can kill your plant or make your soil infertile!

Seasonal amendments are for upping bloom and fruiting! During flowering, we want lower nitrogen and higher phosphorous, that’s the P in NPK! Look for fertilizers higher in P, intended for flowering and fruiting. Know your guanos! Besides being expensive, bat and Seabird Guanos are not a quick fix; they take awhile to break down. Some say they are better applied as foliar teas, but still, the release time per Colorado University Extension is FOUR MONTHS even for powdered guano! Guanos vary hugely in NPK percents! 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. But Mexican bat is high N (leaf growth, plant vigor) 10-2-1. Peruvian seabird is high in N and P (leaf and bloom) 10-10-2.

Soil Testing If you have some doubts, concerns about your soil pH, content or balance, you can get DIY soil testing kits or have a professional company do the job for you. They will want samples from several areas and that is wise. Soil can vary significantly in just a few feet!

Soil Building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden.

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Seed Starting Soil Mix

Starting Seedlings is a sacred art all its own! It starts with the ‘soil’ they are planted in.

Number 1 is in the Earth herself!

Whether as is, or amended, planting in the ground, in good loose loamy soil, is just about as nutritious as it gets! The soil organisms, mycorrhizal fungi, oxygen, moisture, bird, animal poop and worm castings, and decayed leaves/plants, minerals, create a rich humus. Humus holds water. Tiny roots find their way through and a thriving plant is born.

DIY Seed Starting Mixes

For early planting, start your seedlings 6 to 8 weeks ahead of anticipated safe temps, indoor or in Greenhouses.

Start with peat moss or coir. Blend it with treated compost, that has been heated to 150 degrees to kill off pathogens/weed seeds. Add worm castings, no more than 10% by volume.

Damping off, kinda like crib death, is a sad foe of seedlings. No fix, no cure. The baby just topples overnight and it’s over. A 2005 North Carolina State University study found it’s not the mixture but what’s on top of the soil that counts most. Damping off differences almost disappeared between commercial organic seed-starting mixtures and various homemade mixtures after all of the seeds were covered with vermiculite instead of a planting medium.

What is Vermiculite?! It is composed of two natural minerals, absorbs and retains several times its own weight in moisture while still holding some oxygen.

Rodale’s April Johnson says seedlings need a loose, well-drained fine medium. Don’t use potting soil – often, it’s too rich, doesn’t drain well enough. April, who has experimented many years, prefers this mix:

4 parts screened compost
1 part perlite
1 part vermiculite
2 parts coir

Barb Fick, consumer horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, explains that our typical backyard soil is too compacted, full of weed seeds and it is not pasteurized, causing seedling diseases and death, often doesn’t drain as well as seedling mixes. It can develop a crust that prevents seedlings from pushing through the soil.Barb’s recipe is

one-third pasteurized soil or finished compost
one-third sand, vermiculite or perlite
one-third peat moss

Or, just use half peat moss and half perlite, vermiculite or sand.

You can see from this last combination, that soil or compost is not needed to get a seed started! However, if you don’t use compost, when your seedling gets true leaves (the first two after the cotyledons), it gets hungry as the nutrition in the seed is used up! Give it a spritz of half strength fish emulsion. Some nurseries lace their planting mixes with those little tiny fertilizer pellets. Your baby plant gets nutrition when it needs it.

Before planting, clean your pots, trays and flats. Rinse them in one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water solution to kill plant disease microorganisms that could weaken or kill your tender young seedlings.

Wet your soil before you plant. Keep adding your starter mix until you get the level you want. Leave enough room to add a thin layer of vermiculite on top after you plant your seeds.

Chopsticks can be used in a couple helpful ways. Mark one of them at 1/4, 1/2, and 1″ on the stick. That way you can get your seeds at the right planting depth. Using your marked stick keeps you mindful; planting goes faster with less wondering!

If you are installing delicate sprouts, make a planting hole, and if you are good with chopsticks, grasp the sprout gently, carefully place it. Smooth the soil, water gently. Check out  Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas!

Rather than top watering, causing your seeds to be washed to the side or seedlings to be damaged, you can put your planting containers in a tray with water in it and let the water wick up into your seedling mix. Wicking is good; all the soil gets wetted. Keep a spray bottle handy for any top watering you think they need.

Here are another couple recipes!

4 parts fine compost
2 parts coir or peat moss
1 part vermiculite
1/2 part perlite

If you don’t want to sift compost:

3 parts peat moss or coir
1 part vermiculite
1/2 part perlite
1/4 tsp lime/gallon peat moss (don’t add if using coir)

Readymade Seed Starting Mix

Pre-made mixes have advantages! First, mainly that they are premade! Just go get ’em! They come in small or large bags. The mix is pasteurized. Some of them have wetting agents. Yes! Others have lime for pH balance to stop damping off. Instead of buying all kinds of bags, then storing all the extra leftover stuff, you use what you use, store the one bag, and that’s it! Unless you have a large scale operation and have specific needs, premade mixes are perfect!

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Prepping Your Soil for Planting! Shovel, Spade Fork, Boots!

Soil Building is the single-most important thing you can do for your garden.

Green Manure is beautiful! It adds a wealth of organic matter! Where you will be planting summer heavy feeders, grow a Vetch, Austrian Peas, Bell beans mixed with oats patch. It is a super soil choice! The legumes take Nitrogen from the air and deposit it on their roots. That’s why you always leave legume roots in the soil when you remove bean and pea plants. Oats have deep roots opening channels down into your soil so nutrients drain down. After your mix is felled and chopped to the size you want it, sprinkle the mix with worm castings and any mineral amendments like green sand or powdered kelp, and turn it all in together at once.

Compost

I like what Kathy LaLiberte says: Although it only makes up a small fraction of the soil (normally 5 to 10 percent), organic matter is absolutely essential. It binds together soil particles into porous crumbs or granules which allow air and water to move through the soil. Organic matter also retains moisture (humus holds up to 90 percent of its weight in water), and is able to absorb and store nutrients. Most importantly, organic matter is food for microorganisms and other forms of soil life.

Kitchen scraps, clean garden waste, straw, animal manures are all quality ingredients! If you have visiting predators, no meats, bones, oils, even animal manures. And don’t fertilize with stinky predator-attracting fish emulsions. Compost is simple to make. Layer wet/greens with dry/browns inch after inch. The thinner your layers the faster you get your compost. Yes, you can wait for it to get fine and crumbly, but it’s also good to use it as soon as it decomposes to the point that you can’t tell what’s what anymore. That gives your soil organisms something to chomp on, makes a living soil! Kept moist, it is luscious habitat for worms.

Compost Mix Guide 

How much to use depends on many factors including the quality of the compost! Factors are soil, ie sandy or clay, site characteristics like slope or flat lowland, plant selection – heavy feeders or carrots, compost availability. Mature composts can be used in most planting situations without serious concern for precise amounts. God knows plants happily grow in your compost pile!

  • Container plants
    A 20 to 50 percent soil blend would be the best mixture to use for pots on a deck or patio, since potted plants tend to dry out quickly. A higher percentage of compost helps hold more moisture, decreasing the rate the soil dries. If you have clay pots that wick moisture more easily, use a higher percentage compost to soil blend.
  • Vegetable gardens
    ~ If you use a rototiller, which I hope you aren’t (it destroys soil structure), put one inch of compost on top of the soil and till it to a depth of five inches of soil.
    ~ If you are using a shovel to incorporate your compost, use one-fifth of an inch of compost for every inch of depth of the shovel. Sprinkle with worm castings and turn them both in at the same time. Cornell University says use 3 inches over the surface worked into the top 3-6 inches of soil! You can see there are varying thinkings. Research shows ideal soil contains 5% organic matter by weight, 10% by volume. That’s your basic guide. More than that and plants can actually have problems as well as unused ‘nutrients’ polluting our water!

Coffee Grounds Caution  As they decompose, coffee grounds appear to suppress some common fungal rots and wilts, including FUSARIUM!  But go VERY LIGHTLY on the coffee grounds. Too much can kill your plants. In studies, what worked well was coffee grounds part of a compost mix, was in one case comprising as little as 0.5 percent of the material. That’s only 1/2 a percent! More details and Study results adapted from the Washington State U report!

Worm Castings are not nutrients, but they do cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced! Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, aphids, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!

Turning soil? Less is best, don’t break up the clods except as needed. Exposing tiny soil organisms kills them. Mycorrhizal fungi networks are destroyed. Some turning is good, especially if you are incorporating amendments. It aerates your soil, loosens it for crops that need it, like carrots and potatoes. Digging deep is not necessary. Annuals generally grow in the top 6 to 8 inches. Rototilling is brutal. It destroys soil structure and compacts soil where it hits bottom. Shovels are great. Spade forks are for loosening soil without turning it. Push it in, rock it back and forth. Pour properly made

Garden Teas – compost, worm castings, manure teas, down the holes made by the tines. The organisms added immediately get to work, make your soil rich and alive! Your well fed plants will take off!

Soil Air  Healthy soil is about 25 percent air! Insects microbes, earthworms and soil life need that air to live. The air in soil is also an important source of the atmospheric nitrogen that plants use. Fine clay, tiny spaces, no air, your soil suffocates. Sandy soil with too much air can cause your organic matter to decompose too quickly. Add plenty of organic matter, don’t step in the growing beds or compact the soil with heavy equipment. Never work the soil when it is very wet.

Keep it moist!  Dry soil is dead soil. Soil organisms, the bacteria and fungi, protozoa and nematodes, mites, springtails, earthworms and other tiny creatures can’t do their jobs. Their excretions help to bind soil particles into the small aggregates that make a soil loose and crumbly. It’s our job to keep them happy! About 25 percent water with a combination of large and small pore spaces is perfect! Organic matter is their food, and it absorbs water and retains it until it is needed by plant roots.

Soil Tests! When in doubt, don’t add anything to your soil. Get a test. Go to your local Cooperative Extension University office. Or online find a reputable testing firm ~ Woods End Soil Labs , A & L Agricultural Labs, or Green Gems might do it for you. Your soil may surprise you. Sometimes something is missing, other times there is too much. Maybe you need to change an alkaline/acidic condition.

Feed your garden; it feeds you!

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