Fall Planting

It’s time to plant for Fall, y’all!

Now, I know you might be saying, “It is still 8000 degrees and it feels like the surface of the sun outside.” Well, guess what? The Pumpkin Spice Latte is being served at a Starbucks near you, so that means its officially Fall regardless of what the thermometer says. Truthfully, though, the night time highs are dropping in to the 70’s even if the daytime highs are staying in the 90’s-100’s. This means, it’s time for SEEDS!!!

The vast majority of Fall crops can be grown directly in your garden from seed. No need to transplant! Not only is it fun, it's cheap, too!

 

We have the great privilege of year round growing here in the desert Southwest! I will often tell first time gardeners that Fall is a much more forgiving season here in the desert. You can grow something anytime here, but Fall/Winter is easier than any other season.

Fall is the season for roots and leaves! What does that mean? Well, think about the foods you eat. Which veggies are you eating leaves? Lettuce, cabbage, kale, chard, arugula, mustard. bok choy…things like that. Which veggies are you eating roots? Carrots, radishes, beets, parsnips, turnips…. Of course there are exceptions. Peas are a cool season crop. Sow peas near a trellis to climb and the seeds will come up when the time is right. Also things like broccoli, cauliflower and Romanesco grow great this time of year. Tomatoes and peppers tend to be categorized as summer veggies, but they actually thrive in our warm Fall weather here in the desert Southwest. While tomatoes and peppers will live through summer with lots of water and mulching, they will almost go dormant. Not producing much past about mid June. But, come Fall, these plants will often flower and begin fruiting again. So, either baby your plants through the summer and get a second harvest in Fall, or put new transplants in mid August through mid September and enjoy peppers and tomatoes before winter sets in.

Fall is also a great time to put in some herbs. Herbs that are good to plant in fall are Parsley, Sage, Thyme, Oregano, Rosemary, Fennel, Mint, Lemon Balm, Sorrel and Feverfew. You have time to put in Basil transplants, although Basil will be killed by the first frost so be sure to harvest when frosts are forecast and make lots of pesto to freeze.

In the edible flower department, Fall is a great time to seed in Nasturtiums, Sweet Alyssum, Snap Dragons and Borage.

Some Swiss Chard and Sweet Banana peppers growing in my fall garden.

Hopefully you have prepped your beds, but if not, pull any weeds, and then use your spading fork to dig in some manure and compost. Fall crops tend to love lots of nitrogen, so you might even consider adding some blood meal this time of year. You don’t need to spend lots of money on soil amendments. If you only have $5 to spend, buy a bag of steer manure and a few packets of seeds. Happy Gardening!

New Potatoes

You might remember this post about how I experimented with growing potatoes in blue Ikea bags. This is an older video taken at the end of May when I dug my first bag of potatoes and found not one…but then I found some new potatoes in the other bags. Sorry that I am just now getting around to posting it, but I have been in a heat induced stupor for about a month. Thought this might be fun to watch a video of when it was simply hot at the end of May rather than deathly hot like it is now in July!

The Hatching

The day had finally come and boy were we excited! Get ready for the most chaotic video in the history of Cultivating Dust…

We started hearing peeping coming from the eggs on Friday, and this video was taken the next day on Saturday.  By late Friday night, that egg had started to pip, so we knew that hatching would be soon! The first chick, Tootsie, hatched in the middle of the night sometime.The fluffy chick in the video, we found under mama hen when we woke up at dawn on Saturday morning.

What?!? What's that we hear under Coco? And why is there broken egg-shell in the nest?!?

 

I see a fluffy little head and beak sticking out!

Look what we found!

Working on coming out!

Pushing harder!

Hatching is hard work. A tired wet chick pops out of the egg! It's sibling says, "Hi!"

Hi! My name is Brownie!

 

The last egg has begun to pip!

The last chick has begun to hatch! Mama Coco clucks gently to cheer the chick on!

Push!

PUSH!!!

Yeah!! Meet Puddle!

By the end of the day on Saturday, all 3 chicks had hatched and were fluffy and active! It was such a fun experience!

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The 5 “P’s” of Hatching*:

1. Peeping- you begin to hear peeping from inside the egg, and may see or feel the egg shimmy.

2. Pipping- this is where the chick pecks a tiny hole in the egg from the inside. This is the point of no return for the hatch similar to when a woman’s water breaks. Mama hen may help a bit and make the hole a bit bigger.

3. Pecking- the chick slowly spins its body inside the egg and pecks all around the circumference of the egg. This is exhausting to the chick, but it is very important that we don’t help them. This physical exertion is vital to their future survival.

4. Popping- after the chick has pecked through the entire egg, it pushes its way out until the egg pops open and the chick falls out!

5.) Pooping- once the chick has dried and become fluffy, it will start to become active, eat, drink and eventually poop. This is the final step to knowing that “all systems are go” for the new hatchling!

*The 5 “P’s” of Hatching were taught to us by our friend Jean who has taught us so much, and also gave us these fertile eggs that Coco sat on to hatch! Thanks Jean.

Candleing Eggs

When a hen is sitting on a clutch of eggs, the last thing you want to have happen is for a rotten egg to explode under her and soil her and all the other eggs. Eggs can become rotten during a hatch either because they were never fertile to begin with and never developed, or because they were fertile and started to develop, but the embryo died for whatever reason. During the process, bacteria can get into the egg and start to form gasses that eventually cause the egg to rupture.

Exploding rotten egg=no fun.

They way that you can avoid this is to candle your eggs. This is sort of like an egg “ultrasound” to allow you to see if an egg is developing or not. It takes some practice, but at about day 15, it should be very obvious which eggs are developing and which aren’t and you should be confident enough at that time to discard any eggs with no development.

You will need a strong LED flashlight, and you will want to do this at night. It will probably make mama hen very nervous, so you will want to work swiftly, but carefully so that you don’t crack any eggs. To candle the eggs hold them horizontally in one hand and use the other hand to put the flashlight behind the egg. You will need to wrap your hand around the bulb area of the flashlight to seal any light from escaping out the sides and force all the light to shine into the egg.

A developing egg.

This egg has a chick in it. The light part is the air sack and the darkness is the chick! I candled the night prior to taking this picture and I could see the chick moving and the heart beating. Tonight they’ve grown so much they can’t move!

Developing egg from another angle.

This is another developing egg. If you were seeing it with your own eyes, you would see blood vessels and a bit of slow squirming. When they get this developed, just like a human baby, they have a hard time moving around.

This egg is not developing either because it was infertile or not viable.

By contrast, this is one of Coco’s eggs that isn’t developing. You can see through it completely because the embryo doesn’t block any light. You cannot see a pronounced air sack.  If you were to candle an egg from your refrigerator, it would look similar to this.

Keep in mind, that I started candleing eggs at about day 15 of a 21 day gestation period and then candled periodically up to hatching. If you candle earlier, you won’t see as distinct a contrast between developing and undeveloped eggs. I waited until the differences were very obvious and I felt sure about discarding the undeveloped eggs.

This candleing was done just a few days before hatching, and in my next post, we will show a video and some photos of the hatch!

 

Breaking a Broody Hen

Since this video was filmed, Coco, the hen in the cage was released from solitary confinement still broody. It looks like for her, this method wasn’t effective, although she was only in for 2 days. I spoke with a friend of mine who has kept hens a long time, and she suggested I just try to let her hatch out some fertile eggs. She keeps roosters so her eggs are all fertile. She let me take that day’s fertile eggs, so Coco is happily sitting on her clutch! I have candled the eggs, and several are developing nicely, so we should have chicks in a few weeks!

Coco's Fertile Clutch of Eggs

A quiet nest for Coco.

She's such a cute little Mommy in waiting!

After we let Coco sit on her clutch, another one of our hens Noodle, decided that she also wanted to sit on eggs…in fact, she wanted to sit on Coco’s eggs. With her. In the same nest. That wasn’t going to happen, so Noodle went into “solitary” and after 4 days (I know, it killed me to keep her in there that long) she has come out and has no interest in sitting on eggs anymore. The verdict? It seems to work sometimes, and maybe I just didn’t leave Coco long enough. Definitely something to try!

 

Growing Blueberries in the Desert Garden

 

Did you know you can grow blueberries in the desert? You can if you follow these three non-negotiable rules.

1.) You must plant Southern Highbush varieties (there are many.) These are low enough chill and will be heat tolerant enough to survive. Even some “low chill” varieties may reqire more chill hours then you get. In Phoenix proper, you need to look for varieties that are under 350. The lower, the better.

2.) You can never plant them in the ground. They are a container plant only and even then they require an acidic soil mixture with lots of peat moss and soil sulfer. No native desert soil. They require an pH of 4.5-5.5. Native soil here is about an 8. No matter how much you ammend our soil, it will never be acidic enough for long enough to keep the berry bush healthy and thriving. Remember, berry bushes are a long term plant. You want many, many years of production out of them. You might get a bush to live in the native soil for a season, but it will die eventually. Alright, enough about that.

3.) They are very sensitive to nitrate based nitrogen fertilizer. It will kill them quick. Be very sure you know the origin of any nitrogen in fertilizer and be sure the soil mixture you use doesn’t have any added in.

Watch your plants for heat and sun stress. Move them where they will get plenty of shade in the hottest part of the summer. This is an advantage to container plants, you can move them whenever you need to. Dave Wilson Nursery has a very helpful page about raising blueberries in a desert environment. Follow thier advice to the letter and you should be sucessful. Enjoy your blueberries!

First Time Gardeners| Maria’s Garden

I am doing a short little series here on the blog about first time gardeners. These posts will be different in that they won’t include a video. Instead, we’ll share photos and information about several first time gardeners who all have started their gardens in different ways and for different reasons. Hopefully, you’ll see a little of yourself in their stories.

Maria’s Garden

Maria and I have been friends for several years now. She and I have daughters the same age and we have found that rare blessing in that we are great friends, our kids are great friends, and our husbands are great friends. We often travel on vacation with them and they are truly a treasure. Maria is the type of person that, when she decides to do something, she goes for it. She doesn’t spend a lot of time hemming and hawing over details, she simply jumps in with both feet.

She recently expressed interest in starting a vegetable garden, and so on one of our “playdates” I looked over her area to determine what the best site was for a garden. They live in a beautiful neighborhood at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, but one challenge  is that there is a layer of granite about a foot down all over their property. When the pool was dug, and their citrus trees planted, the workers had to use jack hammers to get through the granite in order to dig. Now, she has a great pool, a few citrus trees and an awesome putting green in her backyard, but not a ton of usable gardening space.

That’s when I had a revelation. Anyone who has ever told me, or written to me saying that they want to garden but just don’t have the space, you have lost your last excuse.

Enter, the Earthbox. A self watering, self fertilizing garden in a box. You wouldn’t believe how much you can grow in one of these little babies!!

Plotting out the plants...

She chose to buy the trellis attachment for her Earthbox so that we could train the cucumbers that we planted up the trellis.

The Earthbox is on casters, so it can roll anywhere you want it. You simply fill it with soil per the directions, make a trench for the fertilizer (you can use organic,) cover the fertilizer with soil, and plant your veggies. Then, you fill the reservoir with water everyday and plants get just the amount of water and fertilizer that they need. You can’t overfill the reservoir because any excess comes out the overflow slot. One important piece of information for Arizona/desert gardeners is DO NOT use the plastic mulches that come with the Earthbox! They will turn the Earthbox into an oven and fry your plants. Now, you know how much I love mulching, so it pains me to say this, but the plastic mulch that makes all the difference for gardeners in cooler climates, will ruin your success in the desert. I think if you used a natural mulch like woodchips or straw, you wouldn’t have a problem, but the plastic is too much.

Planting! So easy!

In Maria’s Earthbox garden, we planted 1 yellow pear cherry tomato, zucchini, asian cucumbers, sweet basil, chives, thyme, cilantro and jalapeno’s. All of that in about 2 1/2 sq. ft.!!! A tip for making it easier to plant nursery starts into your Earthbox (you can grow from seed directly in the container if you want,) is to swish the roots of the plants gently in a bucket of water to wash off all the soil so that they are easier to fit into the compact space. All the plants can thrive in close quarters because the Earthbox design allows all the plants to get all the water and nutrients they need! A productive garden in a small, portable space. No excuses people!

Almost done planting!

I have owned an Earthbox for 2 years now and love it. I bought one when we lived in our condo so that I could scratch my gardening itch and provide some fresh produce for my family during that time. Now that I live on a larger property, the Earthbox still provides a reliable harvest every season.

Maria and I both bought our Earthboxes locally at Summer Winds Nursery in order to save on shipping cost. They cost around $60 and include the fertilizer and dolomite (a calcium supplement to prevent blossom end rot,) so I think it is a good value. The trellis attachment is an extra cost, but it is very easy to use and assemble. There are plenty of plans to make your own self watering containers on the internet if you are so inclined, but sometimes its nice to have a pre-packaged, aesthetically pleasing product. Remember, your Earthbox will last many seasons, so the cost is mitigated the longer you use it! I had so much fun planting Maria’s garden with her and her munchkins, I can’t wait to watch it grow and produce!

(I have no affiliation or financial arrangement with Earthbox. The opinions I share about their product are my own, established over several seasons of use. If Earthbox would like to advertise on my site or send me free stuff, I wouldn’t complain.)

Here are Maria’s answers to the questions I asked

Maria’s answers:

Have you ever grown vegetables before?  I have never grown veggies before or anything else for that matter.Why did you decide to start a garden this season? I decided to start a garden as I have changed my eating habits and introduced more of a raw food diet in my life. What are you most looking forward to harvesting from your garden? I can’t wait for the cucumbers, tomatoes and jalapeno to sprout:) What tips would you give another first time gardener? I look forward to reading the tips that others will post for 1st time gardeners:)

Ain't she purdy?

For more posts from first time gardeners, click here.