Learn how to plant onion sets and why interplanting or companion planting deters pests.
Today, I am launching a short little series here on the blog about first time gardeners. These posts will be a 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 will see a little of yourself in their stories.
I asked each gardener the same questions:
Have you ever grown vegetables before? Why did you decide to start your garden this season? What are you most looking forward to harvesting from your garden? If you could give first time gardeners one tip, what would it be?
Ivy and I have been friends since elementary school. Ivy is a florist (here is her fantastic business…yes, she does weddings,) and creates beauty everywhere she goes. She dreams big and lives life to the fullest. She’s a great friend! Over the kids’ spring break from school, she invited me over to her house so that our kids could play together, but also so that she could share some of her gardening ideas for their backyard. Like I said, she dreams big. She had drawings and plans that included several gardening spaces in her backyard. The problem that day was that most of what she had planned involved building things that we didn’t have the materials for and running water to places in the yard where it didn’t yet exist. I loved all her ideas, but I knew that the clock was ticking on getting a spring garden going. The heat would come on fast. She has a great flower bed right out her back door near where her kids’ swingset was. It had heavily amended soil and a hose bib. After a short brainstorming session, and a look around her shed, I realized that she had everything she needed to turn that unused bed into her kitchen garden.
I had brought my seed portfolio with me (Yes…I have a seed portfolio…don’t judge…) so we talked about what their family likes to eat, and based on food preferences and sun exposure, picked appropriate plants for that space. We decided to do a modified Three Sisters Garden using sunflowers instead of corn, pole beans planted at the base of the sunflowers (after about 3 weeks of growth) fix nitrogen into the soil and use the sunflower stalks to climb. A combination of winter and summer squash and cucumbers to cover the ground and create a living mulch. A tomato plant, some lettuce and basil tucked in to the corners and the garden was complete. The kids helped us plant seeds, measured distance between plantings and wrote the plant varieties on river rocks with a Sharpie marker while we talked about the history of the Three Sisters Garden and how native Americans understood the important relationships between companion plants. Math, science, anthropology and writing lessons all while planting the garden. And they thought they were just sticking their fingers in the dirt. In about an hour she had her first garden, and her precious kids had a lot of fun planting it!
The moral of Ivy’s gardening story is use what you have and just start. Since that day, Ivy has planted a repurposed vintage feed trough that she already owned with potatoes and is using reclaimed railroad ties to make another raised bed.
Having a long-term plan is wonderful, but it’s also important to start small and scale up as you have the resources. You’ll learn a lot along the way!
Here are Ivy’s answers to the questions I asked her:
Have you ever grown vegetables before? Just a couple of tomato plants, this is a first! Why did you decide to start your garden this season? A healthy hobby I’ve been wanting to start for a long time, now my kids are at an age to enjoy it with me. What are you most looking forward to harvesting from your garden? Any and everything, maybe I’m especially excited to see “mammoth” sunflowers!? We are already building another garden so we can grow corn and watermelon, which has me pretty excited too. If you could give first time gardeners one tip, what would it be? Call the greenest thumbed friend you know and bribe her if you have to, to come over and teach you what she knows and even get you started with her very own seeds! (wink wink) No truly, it’s like anything else, you don’t diet, work out, parent or garden without someone to celebrate with!
To see more from other first time gardeners, click here.
Sunflowers are a wonderful plant and one of my favorites in the garden. They’re truly a multipurpose plant! They provide delicious seeds that are super healthy and can be pressed to make sunflower oil, they are great at attracting bees and other pollinators to your garden, they make great poles for peas or beans to climb and they are so cheerful looking that they can brighten the darkest day.
But, the number one reason that I grow them is because they are one of the quickest growing plants available that can provide 2 of the most important components to a successful desert garden: afternoon shade, and wind protection. When sunflowers are planted along the southern border of the garden, they provide the valuable dappled afternoon shade that nearly all vegetable crops need and a gentle break against our arid “blow dryer” winds.
There are countless different varieties of sunflower to choose from in a range of heights, from “Elves” which is a dwarf variety to “Mammoth” which is a giant variety. They come in a range of colors and petal patterns and some form a single head while others form multiple flower heads on one stalk. All are equally easy to grow. I grow the “Mammoth” variety because I figure, if you are going to do something, do it big!
You can plant sunflowers in the Sonoran Desert February through October. Mine survived all the frosts like champs this year. I think the reason for this is that they were at least 6 feet tall before the first frost and since cold air sinks, they were tall enough to make it. If you plant them late, they may be more susceptible to frost, and shorter or dwarf varieties may be more tender. The good news is, if they get killed by frost, they sprout and grow quickly from seed, so you can try again after the last danger of frost.
You may need to stake super tall varieties like “Mammoth” especially after deep watering or rain because their large heads will get heavy. Once you can see that the seeds have formed on the flower heads, wait a few weeks for the heads to turn downward and for the green disks at the back of the flower to start to yellow, and then you can cut the flower head off and allow it to dry on your porch or inside. Once the flower is dry, you can shake out all the sunflower seeds and roast them for eating, save some for replanting and probably still have plenty to share with the wild birds.
I have no idea what I am going to do with all those sunflower seeds!!! I have enough to plant the back 40 in sunflowers! Well, hope you try sunflowers in your desert garden!
Here’s lookin’ at you kid!