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German Chamomile Herb Bee Flower

Please do plant Chamomile to feed the bees!

Chamomile is downright heady scented on a warm morning and the tea is sweet.

Chamomile is in the Asteraceae family, making it a relative of Daisies. German Chamomile, Matricaria recutita, is upright, easily gets 2’+ tall and leggy, unruly! It has dainty feathery foliage, smells like pineapple or apple depending on who you talk with. Due to the shape of the yellow part of the flower is sometimes called Pineapple Plant! Roman Chamomile, Anthemis nobilis, is a ground cover with thicker foliage. For medicinal purposes they can be used interchangeably. Roman has bigger flowers, but German is easier to harvest and pretties up your garden!

Bodegold, Matricaria recutita, is an improved German variety from East Germany, where herbal remedies have been used for centuries. Bodegold is shorter, a more sturdy upright 18–24″ tall, so flowers several weeks before other varieties! It blooms through August, even a little more if there are rains! Bodegold has more and larger flowers per plant that have higher essential oil content. Its more uniform habit which makes harvesting easier. If you enjoy details, see a comparative study of 4 Chamomile cultivars including Bodegold.

PLANTING  It’s an annual that prefers cooler weather. In SoCal, plant by seed in fall or when the soil warms to about 65 degrees in spring for blooms starting in 65 days! It goes through midsummer or later. It’s lovely in containers! Maybe right by the door or below the kitchen or bedroom window! Full sun is best but in hotter areas partial shade may be ok. Plant as a border, use it to fill in spots where you need something bright and cheerful, as a companion pest-preventing plant by the plants that need its protection. Chamomile likes well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. Give mature plants ample even moisture.

There are four ways to plant!

  1. The easiest is to simply let babies sprout this year from fallen seeds if you had Chamomile last year!
  2. Also easy is to simply fling seeds about and forget about them! Let them come up when and where they will. It’s a miracle these super tiny seed beings can do this, but it does happen just like in nature! You can ‘weed’ and transplant them where you want them.
  3. If you are starting Chamomile for the first time and want to grow it from seed, get a packet from your local nursery or a reputable organic seed house. The seeds are husky, but tiny to say the least! The seedlings are tiny too! If you don’t start them indoors, mark where you planted them so you don’t step on them or pull them up thinking they are weeds. Be sure to clear that area of slugs and snails first by putting down something to kill them off before you plant your seeds. Once planted, cover to protect them from being vanished by birds.

    Put your seeds on the soil surface in slight separate depressions 3″ diameter so the seeds don’t float away and water stays where it is needed. Press lightly to settle, do not cover with soil. Your seeds need to be kept moist. That might be every day or twice a day depending on sun and wind. Water lightly and gently so as not to wash away your seeds, or damage tiny seedlings about to come up. They germinate in 7 to 14 days. Do cover the seedlings with netting, a wire cover or a cloche to protect them from birds.

    Here is what your tiny seedlings will look like when they first appear! You can easily see how you could step on them if the area isn’t marked, mistake them for a weed unless you know what to look for. And, how easily they can be overnight gourmet outdoors for slugs. When they are a tad bigger, they have teensy leaves.

    Delicate Chamomile, Anthemis, Seedlings need protection from slugs, snails, and birds!

    Photo by Jellaluna

  4. If direct seeding isn’t for you, get transplants as soon as your nursery has them. If you already have plants and like them right where they are, let some of your flowers dry on the plant. When you remove the dry plant, give it a good shaking, or squish the dry cones, roll them between your fingers, and let some of the seeds fall to the ground. Your Chamomile will likely self seed next season! That area can act as a nursery area and you can transplant some of the babies to other spots next year if you like. Or, gather a few dry flowers while you are harvesting your flower heads. Save extra seeds for the annual Seed Swap. Next spring plant the seeds you keep where the plants will do the most good for your garden. If your nursery doesn’t carry Chamomile, then you are back to planting from seed or asking another gardener if they have any babies they don’t need and transplant those!

ONE DISEASE, NO PESTS!

Though Chamomile is pest and disease resistant, it can/does get mildew when mildew temps, 60° to 80°F, arrive. Chamomile gets 2′ tall and a good 2′ diameter! Leave plenty of room. Best to leave enough space so mature plant’s leaves don’t touch each other or another plant and spread the mildew. But it often does lay over and lean on neighboring plants, so stake it up. Tie it loosely to the stake if the area is windy. No overhead watering. Mildew can be a problem on a plant you have pinched back to get dense bushy foliage with little air circulation. When you treat your other plants for mildew prevention, treat it too.

IT’S A SUPER COMPANION PLANT!

Traditionally chamomile is known as the “plant doctor,” chamomile has been known to revive and revitalize plants growing near it. Chamomile improves the flavor of any neighboring herb and it’s just plain pretty.

CARROTS thrive with Chamomile, Cilantro, and Marigold. Plant a flock of carrots intermingled with, along with them or around a central plant!

Chamomile flowers attract hoverflies and wasps, both pollinators and predators that feed on aphids and other pest insects.

One of the colors bees see is yellow! Chamomile blooms are perfect! Please plant Bee Food, Herbs and Flowers! Sow or transplant basil, borage, chervil, chamomile, chives, cilantro, comfrey, dill, fennel, lavender, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme. Let a carrot or two, and a celery to go to flower to bring bees, butterflies and beneficial insects! Besides being beautiful and having lovely scents, let them seed out for seeds for next year’s plantings, to share at the seed swap, give as gifts!

Chamomile, comfrey and yarrow are compost speeder uppers. Plant them near your compost area! Sprinkle your compost with a handful or two of living moist soil to inoculate your pile, and add a few handfuls of your decomposer herbs.

Some think Equisetum (Horsetail) tea is the sovereign remedy for fighting fungus — especially damp-off disease on young seedlings. Spray on the soil as well as plant. (I sprinkle with Cinnamon powder.) Chamomile tea and garlic teas are also used to fight mildew on cucumbers and squash. Try it on other plants that get mildew too!

Chamomile Herb Medicinal
MEDICINAL USES

German Chamomile is a productive and highly medicinal herb, a staple of every herb pantry. Photo by Fotolia/gitusik

Mother Earth News says: It is an anti-inflammatory nervine that has a calming effect on the nervous and digestive systems, and it’s safe for children and adults who are in a weakened state. Chamomile has antiseptic properties and is used topically in washes for skin, eyes and mouth. Its essential oil is useful in creams, oils and salves. When brewed as a tea – affectionately called ‘cammy tea,’ the sweet little blossoms bring a sense of well-being. Chamomile can also be formulated with other herbs and taken in extract form as a digestive, a sleep aid and an overall nerve tonic.

In an herbal shampoo – sage darkens your hair, chamomile lightens!

HOW and WHEN TO HARVEST the FLOWERS! 

Many large commercial growers of chamomile sacrifice quality for expediency by using combines to harvest the flowers. Hand-harvesting is easy and retains more of the essential oils and medicinal compounds. Pick on a dry day when the flowers are nearly fully open, after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is high, before the sun beats down on them and volatile oils lost. Definitely harvest before the petals fall back (go back down). In this early morning image you can see flowers with their petals down, others fully open. Most are mature, others just starting to petal up!

May 2016 Chamomile

Image by Cerena Childress, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, Santa Barbara CA

As your plants grow, you can pick the flower heads by running your fingers through the plants, palm up, fingers spread wide enough to allow the flower stems to get between them, taking the flowers as you sweep across. Of course, you can pick them one by one as well if you want only the very best. You only want the flower head – cone and petals, not the stem, which some people taste as bitter. One efficient way to do this is to cut off a stem that has several flowers on it. Shake it well to remove any insects. Remove the flowers with your fingernail or scissors or as you wish. The purpose for taking the stem with the group of flowers is so you don’t have to trim remaining flower stems away after you take the flowers.

Start harvesting 3 days after flowering. Pick blossoms every seven to 10 days during peak bloom time. The more you harvest, the more your plant will bloom! Flowering may slow down during hot, dry spells and then resume when cool weather returns.

PRACTICAL CAUTION: Some of us have topical hypersensitivity to chamomile. If you are allergic to other members of the Asteraceae family, such as ragweed, if you develop a rash while picking chamomile flowers, avoid using them externally or internally. Please.

Chamomile Herb Dried Flowers Medicinal Glass Jar

You can use fresh blossoms immediately, but they’re also relatively easy to dry. Everyone has their own special method and tips!

To ensure the centers of the flowers are dried completely but volatile oils are not lost, dry at lower temperatures (85 to 95 degrees) somewhere with good airflow and limited light. Be sure your flowers don’t have any insects! You can tie and hang them, or spread out the flowers in a single layer on a paper plate and allow them to dry for 1 to 2 weeks in a dark, warm, dry space.

Image from Susy Morris/Flickr, via Hobby Farms  

If you have a lot of flowers to dry, you can build a screen frame and rest it over two sawhorses. With a frame, the flowers dry both from top and bottom. Make your frame lightweight so you can shake and flip the flowers to speed drying. Lay a white window sheer fabric over the screen so small bits of the drying flowers aren’t lost by falling through the screen.

Store in an airtight glass jar in a cool dark place until ready to use. Dried chamomile keeps its flavor for up to a year if it’s stored in an airtight glass or metal container, away from heat and humidity, and out of direct light. Put some in a small jar, tie a ribbon around it, add a label. Makes a super sweet gift!

Simplest TEA preparation: Before bed or anytime you need to relax, put a tablespoon dry or 2 tablespoons fresh, or as you prefer, into your tea ball/infuser. Put it into 6 to 8 ounces of hot water in a cup or teapot and steep for five minutes. Steeping for longer than the recommended time or boiling the blossoms can volatilize the essential oils in the plants, reducing the quality and negatively affecting taste and aroma.

Chamomile, being in the Daisy family, has those white ray petals. The yellow center cone has the disk flowers that produce the seeds! To harvest seeds, just pull the dry cone apart, and there are your seeds!

Author and Ethnobotanist Dawn Combs says it so well! ‘With so many great uses for the bright, sunny flower of chamomile, it’s well worth the time and effort to grow and harvest. The time I spend in the quiet of the garden on a summer day while picking the small blossoms do as much for me as if I were drinking a cup of the tea. We all need more excuses for these times of contemplation and peace. You might say growing chamomile is a way to grow your own meditation.’

Chamomile Herb Tea Cup Flowers

Bee good to yourself and Mother Earth! Plant Chamomile!

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

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Alyssum Garden Companion Flower Yellow Chard

Beautiful image and planting by Amy at Tenth Acre Farm, a suburban homestead in Cincinnati, Ohio!

Interplant and select wonderful companion plant combinations to make beauty, glorious scent, biodiversity, to protect and enhance your vegetable garden! Plant for bees and beneficial insects and edible flowers for yourself. There are so many magical choices and personal preferences. Design in advance, or simply add as you go. Intuitively try new groupings. Mix and mingle to your heart’s content!

Alyssum is a pretty little ground cover, living mulch!

Attracts beneficial predator insects like hover flies, ladybugs and lacewings that eat mites, white flies, scale insects mealy bugs and thrips! White Alyssum repels cabbage butterflies. As Alyssum spread, they are a lovely living mulch, beauty for free. Your garden is sweetly scented all Summer and alyssum brings butterflies and pollinators! It is a favorite old fashioned border plant as in the image above.

Flower Bees Bachelor's Button Companion Plant BlueTall Bachelor’s Buttons & Cosmos!

Big Beauty in Blue, Bachelor’s Button attracts pollinators, and like Alyssum, they also attract beneficial insects that will prey on damaging insects like scales and thrips. Since it and Cosmos are tall open plants, 4-5′, they can let filtered light through to plants that don’t thrive in direct blasting midsummer midday sun.

Comfrey for Compost and Healing!

Comfrey is a superlative choice! It is nutrient accumulator, has more protein in its leaf structure than any other known member of the vegetable kingdom! It has more than three times the potash of farmyard manure and with a similar phosphorous content, has much the same balance of plant foods as a chemical potato and tomato fertilizer, and one of the first discoveries on the Comfrey Blossoms Nutrient Accumulator, Compost ActivatorHDRA trial was that it behaved exactly like such a fertilizer! In trials, adding 1.5 pounds of wilted comfrey to every foot of potato row doubled the yield! Comfrey is invasive, so put it in a bottomless pot to keep it from spreading too much. It likes moisture, so by or near the spigot is a great place for it.

Besides feeding your compost, it is also a superb compost activator – grow it conveniently near your compost area. Throw in a few leaves each time you add a layer to your compost.

Not only is it good for your veggies, but has many amazing proven health benefits as well! Check it out online as Comfrey or Knitbone.

Herbs! Rosemary, Blue for Bees!

When in flower, Rosemary attracts bees like crazy and the bees will pollinate your beans, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes. Being so aromatic, the fragrance of the rosemary messes with the ability of ‘bad bugs’ to detect delicious vegetables! And, of course, Rosemary is a tasty cooking herb! Other herbs, like Lavender, will do much the same for you as Rosemary. If they are perennials put them in more permanent places, corners, entryways, and use them all year long! Also, enjoy your Rosemary as edible flowers sprinkled on your salad!

Borage Herb Blue Star Flower Pilgrim Terrace Community GardenSupport your bees! Bees can’t see the same spectrum of colors as we do. For example, yellow flowers appear blue to bees. And bees seem particularly attracted to blue flowers (and the yellow flowers that appear blue to them). That’s why our bees love Borage so much too! Help restore their population by planting plenty of Asters, Scabiosa, Blue Larkspur and all those yellows we love. Stagger your times of bloom to feed your bees all summer long! See more about how to have happy bees at Life on the Balcony! Walk in Beauty.

“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”  ~ Claude Monet

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

See the entire April 2016 GBC Newsletter

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Container Vegetable Living Gift - Lettuces Edible Flowers

What more wonderful than a living gift?!

Plant a planter box, a cut and come again lettuce bowl
Give her a growing tower, garden gear
Give her seedlings and seeds
Plant edible flowers for her that she will love
Offer her some of your time weeding, turning in amendments
Maybe she could use some of your homemade organic compost or worm castings
Pony up for the Community Garden fee!
Or the garden book she has been wanting….
How about some easy-to-make cucumber night cream?!

Special gift! Fresh organic salad in a Mason jar for busy Moms! Yum!

Super delicious nutritious Mason Jar meals!

A fresh gathered Bouquet Garni tied with a hearts ribbon
Bundles of fresh herbs she can hang and dry in her kitchen
Herbed oils and vinegars in pretty jars

Maybe she is a he! There are a lot of guy Moms out there, busy single dads who love to garden!

A Happy & Green Mother’s Day to all you loving people!

Mother's Day Garden Gifts

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Happy Winter Solstice/Yule, Dec 21st!

I like this saying I found at the Old Farmers Almanac:  Old Frost, the Silversmith has come:  His crisping touch is on the weeds.  – Charles Dawson Shanly

And, bless him, his touch will soon be on our veggies!  Some will love it; kales are said to taste better after a good frost.  Basils, some peppers and other tender plants will fold and die.  Gather seeds while you still can.  It’s tuck & roll time –  ready a stack of covers in case we get some hard freezes.  Keep a diligent weather watch.  Watering the evening before an anticipated freeze will help your plants withstand damage.

December is winter’s June, harvest time! 

Brocs, cauliflowers, peas, are all coming in now, especially if you planted in August, September!

Lettuces are thriving, keep plucking the lower leaves.

Keep harvesting your chard and beet leaves to keep ahead of the leafminers.  Don’t over water making the leaves too soft and inviting.

Cabbages take time to get to the stage to form that super head of tight fitted leaves.  Don’t despair, they are working on it.  Lay down Sluggo or do slug/snail maintenance around your cabbages to keep the pests from damaging your beauties.  Can you imagine what the plant would look like if the leaves were spaced out on a stalk?!  Pretty tall.  Feed lightly during winter to make Nitrogen easily available.  It’s cooler, so uptake is slower.

Your favas are busy gathering Nitrogen from the air, putting it into little nodules on their roots.  So are your peas, both legumes.  They do that!  Little to no feeding for them, they make their own N.

If you tuck in kitchen veggie trim, don’t be surprised if a few potatoes (they look like tomatoes, same family) pop up here and there.  If you like ‘em, let ‘em come if you have space!

If you have everbearer strawberries you may have few berries after a few warm days.  Even a single berry is such a treat!

Collards, kohlrabi and kales are very happy, providing excellent nutrition.  You can eat the leaves of all your Brassicas – brocs, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, and, of course, cabbages!

Carrots are coming!  Plant another round near your peas!  All kinds!  Mix the seeds up for surprises later!

Yes, you can still plant!  Start a new garden with or put in successive rounds of artichoke (give them 3’ to 4’ space), arugula, asparagus – Pat Welsh (Southern California Gardening) recommends UC-157, beets, brocs, Brussels sprouts, bunch onions, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, head and leaf lettuces, mesclun, peas, potatoes, radishes, and turnips!  As soon as one is done, plant another!

Put in some little bunch onion patches here and there but not by your peas!  Plant some of those little  Italian red ones – so pretty in your salad!  How about some garlic chives?  Mmm….

Remember, this is THE time to be planting your largest garlic cloves – they need twice the fertilizer, so make a super rich soil for them.  If you are so inspired, many plant on Winter Solstice day, Dec 21!  Plant skins on, or for more mojo, quicker sprouting, here is the way to prep your cloves Bob Anderson style:

  • Soak in water and baking soda for 16-24 hours before planting.  Soak separate strains separately. (One T soda to 1 gallon water, or a half teaspoon in a cup of water).  Remove the skins – start at the bottom being careful not to damage the growing tip OR the bottom, because that’s where the roots grow from!
  • Just before planting soak nude cloves in rubbing alcohol for 3-5 minutes and plant immediately.

SideDressing – seedlings up 2 to 3 inches get hungry!  Liquid fertilizer once a week is quick and easy for them to uptake.  Feed your other plants every 6 weeks.  That means, sprinkle fertilizer around your plants or down a row, and dig it in a little, especially before a rain!  Water it in.  Use ½ the strength of your summer feedings.  We don’t want a lot of tender new growth that a frost would take.  Some people love their manures, others love Island Seed & Feed’s Landscape Mix, and some love their stuff that comes in a pretty box!  Plants love a fish/kelp mix.  Try the powdered version for a little less stink.  If you decide to do foliar teas, pick a warm, dry, or breezy morning so your plants will dry well before evening.  Do what makes you and your plants happy!  If you haven’t been fertilizing, think about how hard your plant is working.  Big brocs, for example.  When it starts to head, when plants start to produce, that’s your cue to help them along.

Gophers.  You can still put in wire protective baskets or barriers, especially now while the soil is softer after the rains.  If you see a fresh mound, trap immediately.
Aphids?  Watch for curled leaves, squish or wash any or the colony away immediately.
White flies.  Flush away, especially under the leaves.  They are attracted to yellow, so keep yellowing, yellowed leaves removed.
Slimy Slugs, Snails.  Sluggo before they even get started, right when your seedlings begin to show, when you put your transplants in!  Once stopped, there will be intervals when there are none at all.  If you notice tiny children snails, lay down another round.

Make Organic, Sustainable Holiday Garden Gifts!  Plants themselves make wonderful gifts!  Start perusing catalogs for your Spring planting!

Happy Holidays, of all kinds, to you and yours! 
Garden Blessings, Cerena

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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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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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