Growing Blackberries in the Sonoran Desert

Did you know you can grow blackberries in your backyard in the desert? Just imagine, going out in the morning and gathering a bowl full of berries for your breakfast!

The varieties I have planted are Apache and Ebony King…both thornless varieties. They are supposed to be productive in Arizona according to the nursery I bought them from (not that they even know.) The others are an unknown variety that were given to me by a friend who has grown them in her garden for several years successfully. Blackberries spread through runners under the ground, and if you want to confine their growth to specific areas then you have to dig up the runners and offspring. Her blackberries are locally adapted and I anticipate they will be the most successful. We will monitor this experiment as time goes by. Here is the U of A Extension service’s advise on planting and caring for blackberries in Phoenix, Arizona and other desert climates.

http://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/az1450.pdf

 

Backyard Orcharding| Growing Fruit in Arizona

You wouldn’t believe all the delicious fruit you can grow in your own back yard! Lots of people have citrus trees in their yards in Arizona, and that’s because citrus does very well in our climate, is evergreen and makes a great landscaping tree, but it is far from the only fruit that is easy to grow in our dry, arid climate.

Some of the easiest, lowest maintenance fruit trees to grow in your backyard are:

Citrus

Pomegranates

Figs

Grapes

Pecans

(Date Palms grow easily and are all over the valley, but pollinating them and caring for and picking the fruit requires renting a “cherry picker.” Renting heavy equipment isn’t what I would consider easy.)

The above list requires very little maintenance once established. Regular deep irrigation, mulching, and pruning to control size are all that are needed. (Grapes need a specific method of pruning depending on type, either cane pruning or spur pruning, but once this is learned it will take you a few minutes every year.) Remeber that you aren’t the only one that will want your fruit. The birds will be after it too. That’s why it’s important to keep the trees to a size where you can throw bird netting easily over the tree. Also, you want to be able to pick the fruit by hand, and if the tree gets 15-20 feet tall, you won’t be able to, so keeping the tree 6-8 feet tall is recommended. The tree will still give you plenty of fruit for your family, and it will be easier to manage. Dave Wilson Nursery has a great YouTube channel, where their video’s teach you how to plant, prune and care for your trees to keep them manageable.

The following fruits require only slightly more maintenance because care needs to be taken in selecting types, as well as researching whether they are self-fruitful or if they need a pollinator. Varieties that need a pollinator will mean that you need more than one variety of tree, planted near each other to cross-pollinate. As a rule in the Phoenix area, select varieties that require less than 300 chill hours if you want fruit every year. If you don’t mind having years where they don’t bear much, you can choose cultivars that are up to 500 hours. The Fruit and Nut Guide document linked on my sidebar will list proven cultivars and their chill requirements. Here is the list of only slightly less easy fruits to grow in Arizona.

Stone Fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, pluots, apriums, plumcots and nectaplums)

Apples

Pears (Even though some are low chill, these seem to be fussier than other fruit trees.)

Asian Pears (not fussy like traditional pears)

Blackberries

Almonds

Quince

Persimmons

Jujubees

Guavas

Bananas

Papaya

These fruits are more difficult and need protection from wind, bright sun and frost:

Mango

Loquat

Avocado (just because you find these at Lowes, doesn’t mean they will grow easily or that they will ever fruit.)

Kiwi

Passion Fruit

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully you are encouraged that you can grow more than you would think in your own backyard!

Making Worm Tea

In this video I teach you how to make worm tea from the leachate of your vermicomposting bin. What? You don’t have a vermicomposting bin? Well, we’ll talk more about that later. All I will say right now is that vermicomposting, or worm composting, is a great way to turn all your kitchen scraps into the richest, most beneficial soil amendment that I know of. It’s easy and almost free.

So, let’s say you already have a worm bin. All the liquid that drains from your bin can be diluted with water and used as a great liquid fertililizer for all your plants.

Sorry for all the sniffling in this video, I was pushing through a sinus infection. Laying in bed and drinking tea doesn’t suit me, so I go out to the Back Fourty and make worm tea instead. But I don’t drink it.

The Importance of Mulching

If you only learn one thing about gardening in the desert (or anywhere else) it needs to be this: Never let the ground go naked. If you observe nature, no one rakes up the pine needles in the forest, or blows the leaves out from under the shrubs. The trees shed their leaves in Autumn, and there they lie. Year after year after year. The ultimate composted mulch.

Mulch does 4 important things:

1.) Controls weed growth.

2.) Retains moisture.

3.) Regulates soil temperature.

4.) Brings the soil back to life.

That fourth item might need a little more explanation… Putting a covering over the soil, like we observe in nature, allows the soil fungi, microbes and beneficial bacteria to thrive. The decomposing mulch provides food for earthworms who come to the surface and eat the organic material and then draw it downward into the soil as they travel up and down and aerate the soil. While they are eating, worms are producing castings (worm waste) which serves as nature’s perfect fertilizer.

When we clear the ground, we disrupt God’s amazing process for keeping the soil healthy.

No Naked Ground!

PS- I also talk about Artichoke, which is a great perenial vegetable in the desert garden, but I’m an idiot and I said that it dies back in the Winter. Nope, it thrives Fall through late Spring. Once its done producing, it shrivels back in the hottest part of the Summer (June, July) but if it is occasionally watered and its crown kept mulched, it will burst back to life again in the Fall, and it will produce a “pup” or offspring every year which you can let grow where it is, gently move to another part of the garden, or pull out if you must.

You will quickly find that I will spend much of my energy on this blog correcting stuff I say on camera.

 

How to Make a Teepee Trellis

Do you want to grow plants like pole beans or cucumbers, but don’t want to give up all of the garden space that they require? Why not grow up? And I’m not talking about your maturity level.

Vertical gardening is a great space saving technique. I made this teepee for cucumbers, but you could do pole beans, vining type tomatoes or peas. Another great advantage of growing cucumbers this way is that they grow nice and clean and straight. Have fun making your teepees!

PS- Just to clarify something I said in the video, Ferry Morse Seed Company is a signer of the Safe Seed Pledge. Companies that sign the pledge committ to never selling or using Genetically Modified Seed. You can use those inexpensive Ferry Morse seeds with confidence.