Denise and Lindsay's Iris

Denise and Lindsay's Iris
Photo by J Hulse

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Another article on the whos, whats, whens, wheres and hows of spectacular gardening

Soil and amendments, methods of mixing, styles of planting

Bountiful harvests depend on perfect soil.  It's what makes the world go around (literally.  If you're really interested the inter-connectedness of soil and man, you can become one of our friendly  gaia principle devotees.
For those of you in a hurry, just continue reading below. 

You have taken the first step and decided that you want to grow your own organic vegetable garden. But, where do you start? You begin from the ground up, of course. The most important part of growing a successful fruit and vegetable garden is making sure you have the absolute best soil possible.

There is nothing better than the taste of food  grown in good ole organic "Mother Earth"; rich, friable, moisture-retentive dirt.  (But don't let any of my horticultural friends hear you using the "D" word.  We must call it soil.  Dirt is something one sweeps off the floor. And, believe it or not, there is a scientific explanation of the difference, according to Dr. Elaine Ingrahm, of the Rodale Institute.  She has scientific proof that, once soil is tracked into the house, or blown in, or thrown in, as it were, the basic biology of the soil is killed.  All those mycorrhizae and beneficial bacteria can't compete on a kitchen floor.  She spells it all out in a 15 minute video, for those of you who like the minutiae)  There are as many recipes for great soil as there are for southern-fried chicken.  And as you wander down the edible path, you're sure to pick up some of your own hints,  remember some trials and tribulations, and bask in your bumper crops.  All the while, you're filing away and remembering what works best for you.  There will come a point when YOU will take charge of the health of your wards (all those baby radishes and brussels sprouts, etc).  And you will have developed your own,  guesswork-free Black Gold.  When you're running low, and In the meantime, I will be introducing my favorite recipe for all-purpose garden soil in the next few months.  It's suitable for Top-dressing those tired old perennial borders, for mulching your roses in winter, for amendments to your in-ground vegetable garden, and, ful strength for raised beds and pots of all sorts.  I think I'll even use it to revive an old lawn or two next spring.  It will bear the name GARDENBEAR ORGANIC, of course, and you'll know it it by the gigantic green 'G'
on a yellow background.   Coming soon to an Organic, or organic-friendly, nursery near you.  I will eventually offer it here on my products page.

Following are some soil recipes fThese may be modified to fit your needs.  Try to maintain the same proportions I've mentioned, is all I ask.   Here's how I handle the task of soil preparation:

  • For seedlings.  First, you'll need either 6-pack cells (what most store-bought seedlings come in, either the little one's or 'contractor's six-packs, or 18 packs, which contain a little more soil, or flats. Flats are those rectangular plastic trays you carry plants to your car with from the nursery.   Then, if you plan on moving plants up to continue growing them before the final planting, you'll need a good supply of 4 inch pots and then gallon size. It's great to have a potting shed!  Oh, this information is taking me back to my greenhouse management days.  On days when it was raining, my staff and I would sit in the headhouse (the greenhouse office) and scrub pots in soapy, slightly vinegary hot water, to rid them of moss, and fungus, and dirt, and any pathogens that came along with the previous plants.  We would wash pots by the hundreds.  We grew 45,000 annuals per year, so we really needed them!

There are other necessary items for starting plants correctly

A soaker tray.  Ideally, it should be big enough to handle two flats, with a little wiggle room.  The perfect size (if you have a tinsmith who can rustle you up one made of galvanized tin) would be 36" X 24" X 4" tall.  A germination heating mat Amazon's list of heating mats today.

Another good thing to have for seedling soil is a medium fine strainer.  One that can hold a couple of quarts of soil product would be spectacular.  Smaller is fine.  (It's used to sift soil lightly over seeds in the trays or 6-packs.  Very fine soil that will encourage the seeds to sprout ever-so-quickly and easily. 

Some old newspapers or magazines to line the flats. Please line them BEFORE you put the soil in.  LOL.

A plastic children's wading pool ($10).  This is a great mixing bowl.  If you're in a confined space, buy a pre-mixed organic seedling mix.  Be certain that it is OMRI listed.  It will say it on the label. 

For your own mix (and this will make enough to last through a dozen flats, or 96 six-packs.  (Keep the leftovers in a labeled garbage can). 

2-2cu ft. bags of organic compost (or Gardenbear Organic Garden Soil, if available).  1 10 lb bag of builder's sand,  and 1.5 C of sunflower hull ash, .  Mix all ingredients well in the wading pool with a small spade.  You may need to pull on some rain boots so you can get right on in there with it and play.  It should smell good! 

Now, you're ready to fill your vessels.  Fill all vessels to the top with this soft, fluffy mix, then gently tamp it down to re-compact it a little.  In the flats, you'll need either a dibble board
 or a good finger will do.  A dibble board is made to just fit inside the flat, with little pegs on one side in 6 rows of 8 pegs for a total of 48 pegs. This one is a little bigger, 6 pegs by 10 pegs, but you gt th idea.   Dibbles are just for making little holes in which to nestle the seeds.  Remember where these plants will ultimately go.  You may not have enough room to plant 4 dozen heads of lettuce.  Give away the excess when they're ready.  All your friends will love you to pieces.  After you've sprinkled a seed (or two or three, depending on how tiny they are, the tinier, the more per hole)  in each hole, it's time to sift more of the same soil on top of everything.  I'd say this will take you a few minutes.  Because, not too much comes through the strainer at a time.  It's kind of like powdered sugar. Except that you'll need about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of sifted soil on top.  Then gently tamp it down and float the flats and 6 packs in the soaker tray half full of water.  Be sure that the water has been sitting in the tray for half an hour, in order for any chlorine in the city water to dissipate before coming into contact with the seeds.  Place everything on a heating mat on your potting bench, or water-friendly table. Cover with plastic wrap to retain moisture for the first week.  Most vegetable seedling sprout best at 72 degrees.  No sun is necessary, until you begin to see leaves.  This usually takes about 5-7 days, sometimes longer.  (Patience is a virtue).  Remember all of this for the fabulous Heirlooms you will have saved! Once you've removed the plastic wrap, and the seedlings are up, you may introduce them to morning sun for a couple of days.  Then transfer them to a sunnier spot.  Flats and 6-packs should be soaked (after germinating) daily, in the morning. If the weather is warm, an additional soaking may be required.  Be attentive.  After two weeks, you will probably see a second type of leaf appearing.  The first ones would have been the cotyledons.  The second set would be called the true leaves.  Once you've seen these leaves, keep a lookout for roots coming out of the container.  This would happen when you have maybe 8  or 10 sets of leaves on the plants.  After a total of 4 weeks (for most plants) things will be ready for transplant to either move them up for continued individual care, like anything in the solanum family such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, or planted in their final location, like brassicacea (cabbage family), or leguminacea (beans and peas), or asteraceae (lettuce).

  • Potting soil 1 (for moving up seedlings) This will be enough for 16 flats of 4 inch pots, or 64 quart size, or 16 one gallon plants.  This soil is for the juveniles: these need to start receiving their nutrients!

  As with the seedling mix, store your excess Potting soil 1 in a covered and labeled garbage can.

Mix 2-2 cubic ft. bales of peat moss with 2- 2cubic ft. bags of organic garden soil.
Add an additional 10 lbs of earthworm castings, 2 C of dolomitic limestone, and mix the whole thing up really well.  Like this:

You can sweep up a patio or garage and work there on a tarp, or you can use my favorite, the plastic wading pool for kids.  Some gardeners have been known to rent a cement mixer to cut down on the physical labor. Whatever method you use, all that matters in the end is that you get the ingredients mixed properly.

  • Potting Soil #2 For planters and earth pots, and oak barrels, and beautiful terra cotta pots, and for smart pots, etc.  While you are welcome to use Potting Soil #1 for this, be aware that it is a light soil mix and will dry out frequently in full sun.  This mix is heavier, and will hold the water longer.  

Mix 1-3cubic ft bale of peat moss with 3- 2cubic ft bags of organic planting mix.  Add 1-1 Cubic ft bag of chicken manure, 5 lbs of dolomitic lime, 2 C of greensand, 7 lbs of rock phosphate (I prefer this over soft phosphate, because it's slower to break down), 5 lbs of 10-10-10 bat guano, and 2 C Epsom salts.    This mix is pure DY-NO-MITE! It's enough for 6 earth boxes, or 4 half wine barrels, or half of a 4X4X 18 inch Raised bed.  (I like to mix it outside the raised bed.  Because I usually line the bed with wire cloth to deter gophers, moles, voles and shrews. And it's difficult not to mangle the wire cloth when you're powering down on the mixing process with brute strength.)

  • In ground Vegetable bed.   Prepare your bed by removing all debris.  Top with either 4 inches of compost, or 4 inches of  Gardenbear Oranic Garden soil.  (Do this once a year!)  Add 5 lbs each, of Dolomitic lime, blood meal, bone meal and alfalfa meal per 100 sq ft.  1/2 as much epsom salts should be added as well.  Spade everything in, turning the soil 2 or three times, if your up to it.  Then rake the entire bed flat with a hard (rock) rake.  Get the kids to do this.  Tell them it's only to improve their health.   And you're ready to plant.  Nothing should burn.  Never plant Solanacea (That's tomatoes, peppers, eggplant,  potatoes) in the same spot every year.  It's good to rotate all your plants to that the soil remains more balanced over the course of several years. 

A word about tillers.  I was taught, by my mentor in Connecticut, that tillers are great for 500 sq ft or less.  However, don't make more than two full passes over the bed.  More than this will pulverize the soil.  The soil requires a few pebbles and rocks, and sticks to give it structure and keep it arable, with pockets for oxygen, water, nutrients and roots to pass through.  So,  say"no" to powder.  Yes to a few clumps and pebbles. 

And remember that every $5 plant needs a $50 hole! 

Friday, October 4, 2013

My li'l Punkin'!


 They're popping out all over the place.  All the vines are shriveling up to a powdery mildewy mess.  And removing them without gloves is torture.  But those beautiful, hard-skinned squashes that have been hidden for so long are out in all their glory. 

Take a look at this, the world's LARGEST!!!!!  And native to North America.  And think about pumpkin pie (usually made with Hubbard squash.  And, oh, there are any number of fabulous vegan recipes for this pie), Thai curried pumpkin, calabasa con pollo, roasted seeds (prostrate magic), stuffing for ravioli, Tempura.  They cook and eat the leaves in China and Kenya.  (That would seem to me to be a thorny proposition!)

Of all the continents, only Antarctica is incapable of producing pumpkins. 
As one of the most popular crops in the United States, 1.5 billion pounds (680,000,000 kilograms) of pumpkins are produced each year.  The top pumpkin-producing states include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio Pennsylvania and California. 

Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop that is usually planted in early July. The specific conditions necessary for growing pumpkins require that soil temperatures three inches (7.6 cm) deep are at least 60 degrees farenheit (15.5 °C) and soil that holds water well. Pumpkin crops may suffer if there is a lack of water or because of cold temperatures (in this case, below 65 °F (18.3 °C); frost can be detrimental), and sandy soil with poor water retention or poorly drained soils that become waterlogged after heavy rain. Pumpkins are, however, rather hardy, and even if many leaves and portions of the vine are removed or damaged, the plant can very quickly re-grow secondary vines to replace what was removed.

I LOVE you, punkin'!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

GET GOING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Prepare for Spring)

The roses are pruned, sprayed (copper), fertilized (chicken manure) and ready to go.  In fact, they're already leafing out here in Northern California.  Hardenbergia, Camelia japonica, Acacia, Flowering pears, Ornamental Plum trees, Magnolia soulangiana are all in splendid full bloom.  I have tulips and daffodils and the rhubarb leaves are a good 6 inches wide.  I've even seen a few peach blossoms in the neighborhood.

We're (all of us, plants and gardeners) raring to go!!!!!  It's a good time to sow a few peas and lettuces, spinach, bitter greens, I've even seen a few heirloom tomatoes in the stores.  I dare say, it's still too early for the warm weather crops.  (I think the retailers are trying to cash in on the spring fever here in California).  The plants will, more than likely, sit there, in suspension, for about a month (which is when I would start planting those crops.)  So, amend your soil.  Everywhere!.  Gather some organic compost from your local recycling center.  Make certain it's labelled 'organic'.  It will be warm and exceedingly fragrant, so be prepared for the perfume, at least a week.  AND, water it in after you mix it with your existing soil.  Add a little limestone for veggies.  It's great by itself for perennial borders or under rhodies, camelias and azaleas. 

Get out there!  It's great to be alive!