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!

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.

 

Growing Potatoes in Bags with Straw

Honestly, I am the most distract-able person on the planet. I will be talking about one thing and then my mind is like, “Squirrel!” and I am off on a tangent. This video is mainly about growing potatoes. Specifically a “no-dig” potato growing method where you plant the potatoes at the bottom of a bag and then fill in with straw as the potato grows. In reality, this video covers that, my disdain for oleander, yet my reluctant admission that they are pretty when they flower, and a quick little update on the lean-to veggie garden in the “back forty.” And then, I become determined that I am going to reach my hand into one of the bags and pull out a potato to show you. Thus, the video is over 7 minutes of painful potato hunting. It’s ADHD gardening at its best.

Potatoes have gotten a bad rap recently. Everyone has jumped on the low carb bandwagon, and starchy potatoes have gotten left at the ranch.  They have earned a reputation as an unhealthy food. I suppose when you peel them, slice them thin, fry them in oil and cover them in chili and nacho cheese (mmmm…chili cheese fries) then I can’t say I disagree. But the humble potato itself is one of the healthiest and most nourishing foods on the planet, and makes up a large portion of much of the world’s diet…Americans included. The potato has no fat or cholesterol, is low-calorie, high in fiber and is one of the best sources of Potassium you can consume. If you leave the skin on and prepare them in a way that doesn’t include excessive added fat, they are very good for your body, and versatile in the kitchen.

I am here to tell you, like you will discover with much of the produce from your garden, home-grown tastes WAAAAY better! The little potato you met in the video, we’ll call him Bugsy, he got eaten not long after I filmed this video. I scrubbed him up and popped him in the microwave for 1 minute (I stopped cooking when I heard a loud pop. I forgot to poke holes in Bugsy so he wouldn’t blow up in my microwave.) I spread a dollop of butter on what was left of Bugsy and he was delicious! I know…I just told you how healthy potatoes are without added fat and there I am adding butter. But I worked up a big appetite trying to find a potato to show you, and Bugsy was just a baby. A tasty baby.

In the Sonoran Desert, potatoes can be planted mid January through mid February and need about 4 months growing time. You can start harvesting baby potatoes, like Bugsy, around the time the plant starts to flower. Harvest them gently and you won’t disturb the plant. Once plants yellow and start to fade, wait another week and then you are ready to harvest! I promise to do another video when I harvest and show you how it worked out!!

 

The Great Sunflower Harvest

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!

Two of my sunniest flowers!

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.

Sunflower heads laying out to dry

I use my large serrated bread knife to cut off the flowers for drying.

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!

See no evil!

 

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.

No-Till Gardening

There is a reason that tilling the soil was one of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin and banishment from the garden of Eden. It’s backbreaking and hard, it makes the weeds grow even faster (again hard work pulling them) and it doesn’t even work very well. But, when you look at nature, at God’s garden, no one tills the soil. Part of my approach to gardening is to look at what God does, since He created plants and soil after all, and simply try to copy it.  In this video, I explain why we all need to stop tilling the soil! Bonus: you get to watch riveting footage of dirt and listen to me ramble about soil structure.

What The World Needs Now

I felt that I could make a major contribution to the world by starting another mediocre, inconsistent blog. I do love to write, but I also have a painfully long self editing process and a short attention span, which is basically a recipe for a post once every 8 weeks. If you need further proof of this, you can take a look at my other blog.

I’ve been wanting to start a desert gardening blog for a while now. When I started getting serious about gardening nearly 11 years ago, there was precious little locally relevant gardening information. If you are in a harsh desert climate, like I am, and you took advice offered by the typical gardening book, you’d experience a lot of failure and frustration. I know. I did. I still experience failure in my gardening endeavors, although I have stopped getting lured in by the hypnotic appeal of an English kitchen garden set against a moor in Yorkshire. That’s a pipe dream when you live in a place where you can literally fry an egg on the surface of the soil for about 5 months out of the year. But, just because you can’t skip through misty hillsides with a wry character named Dickon and an entourage of friendly woodland creatures doesn’t mean that gardening in a desert climate is an unworthy pursuit. Unlike the English Moorlands, we can grow food crops 365 days a year. Our soils, while alkaline, are very rich in trace minerals and micronutrients. Our dry air reduces the impact of fungal diseases that plague gardens in more humid parts of the country. And, we never have a shortage of sunshine. In fact, we have nearly 60% more UV light at our latitude then Northern gardens. In practical application, that means that you can grow full sun crops in partial or full shade. That adds up to lots of advantages.

All that said, I decided to start this video diary because while I feel encumbered at times by my compulsion to write, and rewrite, and rewrite…I’ll basically say the first thing that comes to my mind without that cumbersome verbal filter.

I was already talking to myself like this while I gardened…all I needed was a video camera. Can someone tell me why the neighbors always wave nervously and rush immediately into their house when I try to run across the street with some Borage to share?

I hope you will enjoy this journey with me and that you will be inspired to get out in your garden and try your hand at growing some food.

And, in the words of Adam Savage, star of the wildly popular show Mythbusters, “Failure is always an option!”