6 Tips to Grow and Harvest Your Sunflower

Here are some tips to  help you grow sunflowers. Sunflower

  1. Water your sunflower seed start container every morning to keep the soil and sprouting seed moist.
  2. Once the sunflower sprout reaches a height of about 4 inches, transplant it directly into the soil. Sunflowers have long tap roots, so they don’t grow well in containers.
  3. Choose a spot that gets direct sunlight at least 6-8 hours each day.
  4. Give your sunflower plenty of water every morning, watering at the base of the plant. Try to avoid splashing water onto the leaves as excess moisture can cause powdery mildew and interfere with the growth of the plant.
  5. As the sunflower reaches its maximum height, it will begin to droop at the head. When petals fall off, the center florets dry up and the seed kernels begin to swell. At this stage, it’s best to cover your flower head with a mesh onion bag or loose burlap or paper bag. This keeps birds from eating your seeds.
  6. Cut the stalks at the base when the ripened seeds develop a hard shell. If you plan to eat your sunflower seeds or preserve them for your bird feeder, wait until the seeds are completely dry; then remove them by hand or by rubbing them over wire mesh into a basket. Store in tightly closed containers to maintain freshness and keep rodents away.

Would you like a more in-depth post on growing sunflowers?  Here it is  — compliments of Peter Weeks from The Daily Gardener.   Mahalo!

Composting in School Gardens

Tips on Composting from our ED & “Compost Queen” Kathy Becklin

This morning I was out at the Kihei Elementary school garden.  Since it was hot, I spent much time in my favorite (and shady) area…the composting area. Sadly our 6+ bins were all in pretty bad shape but I worked to turn our composting effort around!
The bin in the photo above is my home compost pile.  It is about the same size as the ones at Kihei El.  Some of our schools have a 3-bin system (on right) but personally I find those limiting unless you have a small garden as each bin is too small. I prefer a 5ʻ diameter wire bin any day! I can also move them around the garden easily.

My Favorite Tips for Successful Composting

  • Tend to your Compost every 1-2 weeks for best results. In a perfect world, you would turn the whole pile but that has never been feasible for me.  I “stir the pile.” I jab my spade fork in as deep as possible and stir. The whole pile should move. I have a hose and get moisture down into the pile. I move the spade fork 12” over and repeat until the pile is sufficiently “stirred”. I stir my pile before adding a lot of material. The piles at Kihei were very dry; compost should be damp but not dry. If you tend to them frequently, the fork goes in easy, sometimes steam comes up, the rodents stay away and it takes just a few minutes per pile.
  • Breaking the Structure of Material — You donʻt have to cut everything into tiny pieces to add to the pile. It will compost faster but it might not be practical to do each time.  What is encouraged is to break down the structure of the material.  We had lots of stacks of paper plates and stacked cups from our harvest parties.  Stacked they are not easy to break down; single items scrunched work much better. Stomp on dried leaves, fold up branches (I can take a big branch of a pigeon pea and fold it up, breaking the rigid structure to small size in a few seconds), and spread out the material.  I actually like leaving a few branches (< 1” diameter) long in the pile as they help the stirring to move everything around and let the air in.
  • Adding Layers — The classic composting advice is to add material in layers of 1 part green to 2 parts brown.  This is not precise science but do think in terms of browns and greens.  Greens are things that were recently living and growing — grass clippings, weeds, recent cut branches, kitchen scraps and live plant material.   Browns are branches, dried leaves, paper plates and shredded paper.  Yes, if you leave greens in the sun, they turn brown.  Do this if you have too many greens. Composting is much more effective with a nice mix.  The  top layer is usually browns to keep rodents and flies away.  You should not create any layer too thick that it will totally compact and be impermeable. I like thinking that the layer should cover the previous layer so it canʻt be seen –  about 3″ max unless you have dry fluffy leaves.  Be really careful with lawn clippings, thick vines and shredded paper as a thick layer can stop the composting process.  For example, there was some hay bale material in the Kihei Elementary bins but the chunks were not broken up enough…  it formed a thick mat that did not let air or water through.  Composters  (i.e. fungus, bacteria and invertebrates  – “FBI” ) do not work in an anaerobic  or dry environment!
  • Label your Bins: If you are fortunate enough to have multiple bins, label them! Otherwise you may have lots of bins but nothing is ready.  You must label your bins so everyone knows where to add material.  I recommend the following signs (maybe have 2 of each):  ADD LARGE MATTER HERE, ADD MATTER HERE,  RESTING and READY TO SIFT.  For Kihei Elementary Iʻm going to laminate 8×11 sheets, put in plastic sleeves with holes so  that they can be zip tied to each bin.  Painted signs work well too! The signs can be moved from bin to bin as the composting process evolves.

    I like keeping one bin for bigger items that take longer to break down.  Think palm branches, evil weeds, papaya or sugar cane stalks, branches > 1” diameter.  Please note that is is still good to include a good mix of greens and browns.  Also throw in an occasional layer of compost to really get it working.  If you donʻt have enough space or bins, then I recommend removing this material from the site.

    This is where the majority of items are added from the garden and kitchen.  This is a very active pile that goes up and down… process it and add, process and add.  Decomposition is happening! How do you know when to change the sign to “RESTING”?   If you are maintaining your piles and adding material in layers, you will reach a point where the bin is perpetually 3/4 to full.   You can add layers but it never goes below the 3/4 full mark.  That would be the time to let it rest.  In my home garden, where I only have 1 official bin, at this point I remove the wire that constitutes the “bin” and move it to a new place.  I let the pile rest a few months before I start to use. In the photo above, Iʻm almost ready to let it rest.

    During resting, continue to stir and water,  but quit adding new material.  You may need to stir less frequently.  When the bin is about 1/2 full (or half empty) and you can dig down about 6” and find beautiful compost then it is ready for sifting.  The outside may still show a lot of debris and dry material.  This is a great time for students to observe the composting process. Smell how beautiful it smells, observe the different types of bugs; they are part of the composting process.  The rest period should be no more than about 3 months.

    Sifting is a great workday activity. Make sure volunteers wear gloves and close-toed shoes. In my experience, centipedes are inevitable (Make a game out of counting them and carefully move them over to your add pile so they can keep working) and hope you donʻt see any rodents. Place a sifter over a wheelbarrow.  Start taking material from the compost pile and into the sifter.  Break up big chunks of compost and let the beautiful compost collect in the wheelbarrow.  Two people hold each end of the sifter and move back and forth (slow shake) is the most effective way to process quickly.  Ideally disperse composted material directly around the garden or create a “ READY TO USE” pile.  At first it seems like there is more being left in sifter than is composted but that changes fast.  Toss the unsifted material back into one of your ADD piles; the addition of compost will get those working even better.

If youʻve been filling all your bins for awhile like we have at Kihei El, there may be an enormous amount of good compost on the ground around the bins.  Get out your shovel and collect it for use in the garden beds.

Watch for future updates on vermi-composting and bokashi!
Please share your compost tips below.

Soil Building with Cover Crops

The hottest summer months in Kihei are tough on most garden plants, but it’s a great time to introduce cover crops for improving soil health and preparing for the next planting season. These crops also serve as great tools to teach students about nitrogen and its role in the life cycle.

All plants need nitrogen to make amino acids, proteins and DNA. Approximately 80 percent of the air surrounding the earth is nitrogen gas. However, nitrogen in gas form is not usable by most plants. First, nitrogen needs to be converted from its atmospheric gas form to ammonium compounds to become available to plants. To achieve this, many organic farmers use nitrogen-fixing cover crops. Cover crop benefits and tips include:

Boosting Soil Fertility & Nitrogen Fixing

Cover crops, also known as green manures, recycle nutrients and add organic matter to the soil.  The nutrients are absorbed and stored inside plants. When nutrients are needed for the next crop, the old plants are dug into the soil or used as mulch on top of the soil. We always explain to students, “old plants make food for new plants.”

Legumes – such as alfalfa, peas, beans, clover and vetch – are particularly beneficial to replenish nitrogen available to plants. During the process, called “nitrogen fixing,” rhizobial bacteria take residence in root nodules of legumes and convert biologically unavailable atmospheric nitrogen gas to a plant-available ammonium compound.

Inoculating Seeds for Better Nitrogen Fixing

There are multiple strains of nitrogen-fixing rhizobia, and each is specific to a certain type of legume. For instance, the rhizobia strain associated with vetch will also work with peas, but not alfalfa. When legumes are inoculated with the proper strain of rhizobial bacteria, they produce large, pink nodules on the roots of the host plant. The pinkish color indicates the presence of a hemoglobin-like molecule that is necessary for nitrogen fixation to occur.

Rhizobia live naturally in the soil. However, the strains already present may not always be compatible for your cover crop or in the amount necessary for effective nitrogen fixation. To increase the odds, many gardeners inoculate their cover crop seeds by lightly dusting them with the appropriate rhizobial bacteria strains prior to planting. Rhizobial bacteria powder may be found in or near the seed section at your local nursery. Check the label to ensure the inoculant matches your cover crop seed of choice. We’ve had difficulty finding inoculant on store shelves on Maui, so ordering online is the best option here. Peaceful Valley has a great selection of seed inoculants with instructions on proper use of each strain.

Improving Soil Structure & Habitat

Cover crops strengthen soil structure, letting more air into the soil, improving drainage, maintaining viable living space for beneficial microorganisms and insects. Cover crops can also help the sandy soils found in Kihei hold more water. While some cover crops are drought resistant, beneficial bacteria generally fare better with moisture.

Preventing Soil Erosion and Compaction

Cover crops help prevent soil from being carried away by wind and rain. The roots penetrate the soil and hold it in place. Having plants constantly growing in your gardening spaces also gives a visual cue to help deter kids from marching through and compacting the soil.

Controlling Weeds

Bare soil can become quickly overgrown with weeds, which can be difficult to remove once they’ve become established. A good ground cover can prevent weeds from growing by competing for nutrients, space and light.

Want to learn more? You’re invited to help us plant new cover crops and learn hands-on how to improve nitrogen availability for healthy new garden plants. Attend our upcoming Work & Learn Days or email info@GrowSomeGood.org for more information on participating in classes with Kihei Elementary & Lokelani Intermediate students.

What and When To Plant in South Maui

Here are a few pieces that we’ve gotten from various sources that may help others decide what to plant and when to plant it.

This one page summary tells what to plant by elevation.  (Source: Master Gardeners)

Vegetables in South Maui Chart  – This list was prepared and presented by Susan Wyche at a South Maui Sustainability session on growing in South Maui.

A few tips for beginners:

  • One of the easiest things to grow here is basil.  It works year round, sun or shade, in a container or in the ground.  Pinch off flowers to keep sweet flavor. Plant different types for culinary delight.  Take cuttings if plant starts looking tired, put them in water and plant the “new plant with roots” in about a week.
  • Cherry tomatoes are the easiest to grow here.
  • One issue during the summer is transpiration.  With our hot winds and sandy soil a plant may wilt in just hours. With watering they may actually perk up but if you see this happening, you may have to water twice a day!  Mulching helps as does adding more compost to the soil.
  • When plants “go to seed” before they are even ripe or full grown, it is often because our soil temperatures are high.  Spread mulch thick and recognize that some things just won’t grow during our hot seasons.

Garden Tip: Treating Slugs with Coffee

Garden Tip: Treating Slugs with Coffee
For an all natural, good for your soil and plants slug treatment, use your leftover morning coffee and coffee grounds around your vegetable garden plants. While different studies have shown varying degrees of success using coffee sprays and coffee grounds to treat for slugs, we’ve had great success using coffee in the Kihei Elementary School Garden project. It really works. Read more about the University of Hawaii study on treating slugs with caffeine.

Powdery Mildew and Other Fungal Diseases

Not many gardeners have gone a season without some powdery mildew. Even in dry areas, a sprinkler gone awry can cause this fungus to seemingly creep over a garden and destroy it in days. We got this tip for keeping powdery mildew under control from the keynote speaker Tane Datta at CTAHR’s  Organic Gardening Workshop.

Remember that powdery mildew is a fungus that usually appears as a white or gray powder on tops of leaves. The first sign is usually twisting and curling of young leaves on the lower part of the plant. You usually see it on beans, cucumbers, melons, mangos and squash but we’ve seen it on tomatoes and many ornamentals too. Although it rarely kills a plant, it causes poor growth and lower yields.

Prevention is the easiest way to manage any fungi by ensuring plants are healthy, get enough sunlight and have good air circulation. If you have had problems before, choose mildew resistant varieties. Make sure not to overfeed your plants as this severely stresses them.

Fungi spreads from the spores being flown around by wind or from just growing from one plant to another. Spores can live in the soil for a long time.

Always make sure to sanitize (remove) really bad areas. Be careful to not shake the foliage as that will spread the spores. It is ok to put plants with powdery mildew in your compost pile as long as the pile gets hot. Otherwise, discard in a sealed plastic bag.

So here’s the big tip — don’t try to treat Powdery Mildew the same way each time. Mix up different types of treatments and you’ll have a lot more success! Here are a few of the organic methods people report having success with.

  • Spray liquid seaweed onto your plant’s leaves. Research has shown that this has a powerful “booster” effect to your plant’s health and it helps fight off the powdery mildew.
  • Sulphur sprays are quite effective at stopping the spread of powdery mildew. They also destroy beneficial soil fungi as well so don’t spray too much.
  • Mix 1 heaping tablespoon of baking soda, 1 tablespoon of dormant oil, and ½ teaspoon of insecticidal or dish soap in one gallon of water.
  • Mix cow’s milk at a ratio of one part of milk to nine parts of water and spray weekly.
  • Pour one part of standard 3 percent-strength hydrogen peroxide with three parts water. Spray on plants daily until mildew subsides.
  • Kaligreen® is an organic solution with potassium Bicarbonate. Mix according to instructions.
  • SERENADE® is another organic product that comes in both a powder and liquid.
  • There are also fungicidal products on the garden center shelves featuring jojoba oil and neem oil.
  • Here a new one… one of the most effective measures in preventing and treating powdery mildew is to spray the foliage of your plants daily with plain water from the hose. Powdery mildew hates water! The only caveat with this method is to be sure you do it early in the day so that the foliage completely dries before cooler evening temperatures arrive, otherwise you may invite other fungal diseases, such as black spot, into your garden.

Happy Gardening
Reposted from South Maui Sustainability.org blog.