Summer rains starting up

9:53 am July 5th, 2013

Some people think our summer rains have begun, but more people are still waiting  as they watch the clouds pile high and turn to dark moisture-laden promise.  There’s even some lightning and thunder and everything looks promising. However, it seems that other people all around you are getting the welcome rains and you are being denied.  You hope and hope it will soon be your turn.

Summer rains are of short duration and they are insufficient for our plants.  They lay the dust and spot our windows.  Therefore, you should still keep irrigating and keep irrigating until you can poke your soil probe down to root level..  As a reminder the distances you need to keep in mind are as follows. For vegetables and flowers it’s twelve inches.  For roses and other shrubs it’s two feet and for trees it’s three feet.  Make sure that you give good soaking times to get moisture down deep enough–casual sprinkling is not good enough.

You can avoid the cost of having a metalworker make you a soil probe out of a three- foot length of re-bar by visiting a thrift store and buying a golf club (a driver meets the length need) and then sawing off the head.

Now you are ready to test the effect of the rains each time you get favored by the rain god.  But in the meantime please keep irrigating.  While you are waiting for your share of rain remember that, although the showers are so localized, the humidity is universal. Humidity is not that helpful because the stomates on the leaf surfaces are encouraged to open up. (in extreme drought conditions the stomates stay tightly closed and that enables the plant to conserve moisture).

To save your plants, keep irrigating.

Discovery of an exciting Plant Store

1:43 pm May 12th, 2013

My son, Robert, took me to a community garden on Stone Avenue for their monthly “education” meeting. It caters to refugees from Bhutan and is located on the grounds of Southern Arizona Rainwater and Gutters at  1627 North Stone.  You may have driven by it and noticed a garden of ours there.  We met with Emily, the Site Coordinator.  The garden irrigation system is connected to water storage tanks but because it has not rained for awhile they are using city water.  Pray for Rain!

When our educational meeting was over Robert asked if I’d like to go on an extra side trip.  He had read on Craig’s List about an enterprising  store called Ecogro at 657 W St Mary’s (just this side of the Freeway), and so off we went to look for it.  It wasn’t easy, because several streets were closed with barricades. But we found it and there were several customers inside. The store sells equipment and supplies to those interested in hydroponics, and there’s a working example of fish culture that grows vegetables that are nourished by fish poop.  Everything looked very fine.  Apart from shelves of containers of growing materials the store is packed with a wide variety of unusual plants and vegetable plants from other countries. In other words there’s everything that a beginning hydroponic grower needs to get started, and a fascinating selection of unusual flowering plants and vegetables.

Does this sound like a commercial advertisement?   Yes it is that, because I’d like you to go and see for yourself.  And be amazed as I was.  I’m sure you be glad.

Springtime Tasks

11:32 am April 16th, 2013

April gives us good weather and our plants enjoy it too. Remember that plants of the cabbage family are true biennials, which means that last year they built up energy (which we stole as green leaves) and now they are using that energy to raise seed. At this stage we gardeners don’t get any benefit from their end-of-life exertions so we should pull them out. Another, and more compelling reason, is that we need the space they occupy for our summer vegetables. Remember that kale and some kinds of chard grow through the summer, so it may be useful to keep a few of them.

Rather than throwing away any green leaves of plants that are finishing their life, try blending a mix of leaves in a blender to make a “slurpy”. Add strawberries, a fruit juice, and a favorite flavor to get a tasty healthy finish to your cool season garden.

Another aspect of spring growth is the thickening of tree trunks ( as well as the more obvious upward growth) so if your fruit trees are tightly bound to a stake it will help if you loosen those ties. Put on new ties that allow the trunks to fatten without any hindrance. Take a piece of soft string and find its middle on the outer side of the trunk, bring it forward and cross it between the trunk and the stake, go round the trunk and cross the string again before you go round the trunk. Do this several times and you’ll get a “figure-of-eight” configuration of a tie that loosely holds the trunk to the stake. This safely allows the tree to thicken its trunk without any restriction.

Remember that our desert soils need to be replenished with steer manure, ammonium phosphate and soil sulfur twice a year in advance of summer crops ( just now!) and in advance of cool season vegetables ( in September). After rototilling stomp down the loosened soil and rake it from end to end of your plot to get it level (don’t forget sideways leveling too). This ensures you have a perfectly flat level planting area that allows the drip system to travel all over the soil. You’ll get poor distribution if the tape has to go uphill in places and into a low-lying area where water collects.

The soil temperature is good for setting out summer transplants but it will be too hot in four or six weeks. It’s then that we put out a mulch to keep the hot sun off our soil. Meanwhile our new plantings will benefit from warm soil.

Get going! This is the best time to prepare for summer crops.

Let Soil Temperature Guide You

8:29 pm February 20th, 2013

A few days ago, before the snowstorm, Darlene and I took the soil temperature at the St Gregory Garden. It was sixty degrees and that’s a signal to get going with seeding and planting. When you use a soil thermometer (available at nurseries and hardware stores) get a reading where you’ll be sowing seed or putting in a plant–two or three inches instead of deep down. As winter disappears its the soil surface that shows how warm and suitable the soil is. Read that page of your newsletter which tells you which vegetables you can safely set out–plants or seeds. Bear in mind that we have short seasons, so you need to use quick-maturing kinds. Count the number of days until hot weather arrives because then the pollen of flowering plants such as bush beans will be killed and you won’t get a crop, even though the plants are thriving. You may need to hurry.

However,don’t skimp on soil preparation. Organic matter, such steer manure,needs to be added twice a year because it quickly disintegrates and nitrogen and phosphate gets consumed by plants. Our twenty-foot gardens call for ten bags of steer manure and five pounds each of ammonium phosphate and soil sulfur.

With a garden full of thriving winter vegetables it’s not easy to do a good job of soil preparation but if you have an empty garden that enables you to rototill the whole length you have a chance to level the bed from beginning to the end. Some gardens follow the unevenness of the ground and your plot may have a high end and a low end. Eliminate these by raking the whole length until the floor of your plot is level, lengthwise and sideways. This makes sure that irrigation water is evenly distributed– an important point when summer’s heat begins. The ups and downs of an un-level plot encourages evaporation at the high places where salt accumulates.

Some gardeners who sowed lettuce and greens earlier have wonderful growth, but any crowded seedlings need to be thinned. Thinnings can be transplanted or eaten–don’t waste them. Remember that the Kales continue to thrive during the heat of the summer months. Don’t sow a lot of lettuce seeds at once but sow a small amount every three or four weeks until June when the weather gets too hot for lettuce. Strawberry plants that have now become crowded should be thinned and transplanted, too. May and June are the harvest months if the plants have space to grow.

Keep up the good work. You’re going to have plenty to eat.

Two Timely Jobs–tree pruning & tree planting

11:08 am February 15th, 2013

Before the hot weather arrives to stimulate growth it’s time to prune deciduous trees. You can see what needs to be done before new leaves hide the situation. Start by cutting out those branches that cross over, rub against one another, and go towards the center of the tree. Also remove old stubs from previous pruning and any diseased wood. The purpose its to open up the branch structure so future winds blow through the tree rather than blowing against it, often causing breakages. In the case of fruit trees,you have the opportunity to trim the tree to size. Tall branches with fruit on them provide food for birds, fruit that you can’t reach.

I have a productive old pomegranate tree that is developing old wood and I think the tree will benefit if I cut it out close to the ground. This will make room for the younger branches to grow in their space and provide fruit lower down the tree.

Many of our native shade trees are infested with mistletoe and it can be removed easily because you can see it. In another month it will be hidden by new leaf growth. Young mistletoe can be pulled off. Admittedly it will grow back. but it’s better to keep it in check with further pulling instead of allowing it to further invade the branches. Well-established mistletoe probably needs to be cut out, tree branch and all. Don’t leave heaps of mistletoe lying around, especially if it has berries on it.

I like to use a can of spray paint on the end of large cuts. It seals out disease spores blowing in the wind that might land on the moist ends and stay there long enough to invade the wood. I don’t use the tar-like sealers because they peel off the pruned ends and don’t give good protection.

Another job that could be done now is tree planting. Dormant trees, both bare and with leaves, have nothing to lose by being put out in warm sunshine. Earlier, the weather was too cold and soon it will be too hot for good establishment– we have a narrow window of opportunity. We want a young citrus tree to be in the ground well before it flowers out.

The first thing to do is to prepare the soil’ and there isn’t a lot of time for this essential job. It’s a hole measuring five feet by five feet by five feet. This may seem excessive to some gardeners but the benefits far outweigh the effort. If caliche is down there you’ll find it (and, of course, remove it). By filling the hole with a mix of fifteen bags of steer manure,ten pounds of ammonium phosphate (NOT sulfate) and thirty pounds of soil sulfur you provide a large plant pot of fertility that will give your new planting a good start in life. Good luck! but in a short while you’ll have a vigorous tree that gives you shade or fruit, or both.

The Joy of the Rain

9:02 pm February 11th, 2013

Probably all of us, except perhaps the golfers, enjoyed the current rain. It was long lasting and did a lot of good and gives promise of good spring growth in our wildflowers ( not to mention the weeds!) and shrubs and trees and our vegetable gardens. May it continue for a few days more!

Just driving on our streets tells us that not everyone got the same amount and its worth knowing what you got yourself. Can you measure your share of the rain by observing how wet the street surface is, or what flows from the roof of your house, or what’s in the rain gauge? A most accurate, and useful, measure is how far you can push your soil probe into your soil. A good probe is an old golf club with its head cut off, and they are cheaply available at thrift stores. It’s good to remember that twelve inches of moist soil serves vegetable and flower gardens. Shrubs and bushes benefit from two feet of moist soil and trees benefit from three feet of moist soil. If you discover that the rain has not been enough then a supplementary irrigation will take up the slack This addition is important because you don’t want your plants to respond to an inadequate rainfall.

A good trick to get more moisture than the rain provides is to make “eyebrow” berms on a down slope leaving the upper half open for rain to flow into the area surrounding the tree. Another trick is to dig a ditch,slightly off he contour (to prevent erosion) that brings water from the street or parking area.

Before it rains again you have an opportunity to sprinkle fertilizer lightly around your plants (and do it again should the rain come back again). If it doesn’t rain again you can preserve what moisture there is in the soil by using a mulch. It needs to be three inches thick to do any good. The best material is alfalfa hay because it is high in nutrients whereas wood chips and sawdust supply nothing. Beware of Bermuda grass hay because it most likely has seeds in it. Place a flake of hay round your plants instead of crunching up the material into a state where the wind will scatter it.

Some ambitious gardeners have already put tomato seed in the ground (others have started seeds indoors) and they have noted that the roots go straight down deeply (whereas transplants have bunched-up roots that stay near the surface. Later in he summer the deeper rots find themselves in cooler deeper soil. Direct sowing calls for a Wall-of-Water to keep winds off the seedlings and make the most of sunshine in a mini greenhouse sort of environment. It’s too early to sow seeds of squashes, pepper or eggplant. But gardeners are surprised that the Kales do well in the hot summers, whereas we thought they were only cool season vegetables. You can try sowing bush beans right now. The soil is friendly enough and a fifty-five day variety will give several pickings before the hot summer weather kills the pollen in the flowers.

Pray for more rain !

The Effects of Frost

2:13 pm January 15th, 2013

This past week we have had some frightening cold nights but if you followed our planting guide and planted for the season, you don’t have to worry.  It’s best to remember that all of our winter vegetables will recover their pre-frost condition as soon as the day warms up. Resist the temptation of spraying the plants with water. It won’t help. By noontime the plants’ appearance will be normal again.

Other kinds of plants such as beans and tomatoes and peppers are likely to be killed by two hours of temperatures below 32 degrees.  Onions are frost hardy but need to be planted into warm soil. You can achieve this by covering your bare soil with clear plastic until the weather warms up again in a few days. Keep your new onion plants in a cool spot so they  won’t break dormancy.

We now have a chance to carry out a survey to discover which plants are somewhat frost resistant and which gardens are in a cold area. Please let us know which plants were killed and which variety because some varieties are more hardy. In particular, did your snow peas get damaged?  It would be most interesting for future years to know which varieties of our vegetables are frost hardy.

Care of Tomatoes This Exceptional Year

7:28 pm December 9th, 2012

We have enjoyed unusually warm weather for this time of year.  The expected cold did not arrive and our summer plants kept on growing and even flowering.  If you really like the flavor of the tomato you have, you may wish to keep it going awhile longer.

I have Giant Cherry Tomatoes flowering on my table-top garden and they probably won’t set fruit but I will give them encouragement by shaking their stems.  This is a good practice in normal times and some people use an electric toothbrush to vibrate the flowers.  Shaking the stems calls for being gentle, almost as if you were duplicating a light breeze.

If I am successful and the flowers set, the plant will need to be protected from the oncoming cold (not only a killing frost but a slowness of growth).  Take off any covering fabric when you can feel the warmth of the sun and put it on again before the sun goes down.  Repeat this chore with optimism.

If you feel this is not worth doing but you have an excellent tomato variety that you want to preserve, take 8-inch cuttings and grow them in a glass of water in the house near to a sunny window.  They will root readily if you change the water often and you will have trans-plantable plants for the spring.

Another attempt to keep your tomato plant alive may also be attempted.  Cut the plant down to just above ground level and protect the roots by covering with a heap of well-rotted compost or even straw.

If you have lots of green tomatoes on the vines, they can be removed and ripened in the house by placing them in a single layer on a tray so they are not touching. They will ripen slowly.  Or you can take the entire plant with tomatoes still attached and hang it upside down in the garage to ripen.

Questions From a Visitor to Our Garden

12:38 pm November 19th, 2012

A visitor from another world ( i.e. a person who is not a gardener)  dropped by one of our gardens and was quite amazed with what she saw.  Here are some of her observations and my answers.

1.What are the gray dotted ornaments for, that run along a dried out irrigation tubing? Those regular dots are not ornaments, but the residues of salty water that sit around the drip outlets.  This happens when inadequate water is used.  Instead of soaking into the ground the summer heat and dryness evaporates the water.  What you saw was poor watering and the dots on the tubing tell us that salt is being built up in the soil.  The remedy is make sure the faucet is opened enough to allow water to penetrate the soil.

2. Why are some garden beds dry at one end and wet at the other? You made a good observation.  The bed should be evenly moist but it won’t be if the soil is uneven, both to the sides and from end to end.  Some gardeners are so excited about filling their bed with plants that they omit this final preparation step.  Because they didn’t level it off by using a hard rake in a continuous sweep their garden performance is handicapped.  The bottom of the bed should be flat all the way.

3. There’s one gardener who has three or four short lengths of strong seedlings alongside of his drip tubing.  They look very happy but to me they look crowded.  Will they continue to be strong? I think he may have emptied the whole packet of seeds.  Although the price of seeds packets has gone up, there’s plenty of seeds in them. I like to open the packet, hold it well above the soil and tap the bone on my thumb to gently shake the seeds out in a wide pattern, one by one. His crowded seedlings will compete with one another to the point of death, and thinning them out will likely destroy the roots.  He could try snipping out some with a small scissors.

4. Why are some beds sloping at the sides and have white soil on the pathways? This is related to the first question.  The white color is salt that is left behind by evaporation.  Our water is full of salts and this means we should water heavily in order to carry them down  beyond the root system.down the salts.  At bed preparation time make sure that the bottom of the bed is flat.

5.  Why are some beds not fully planted? Most likely the gardener is saving space for more plants which he gets from thinnings of his crowded seedlings, or from what he buys at the nurseries.  He may be waiting to set out lettuce as the soil becomes more suitably cool. (Head lettuce does not do as well as leaf lettuce).

6. What else can he plant in November? Faba beans, strawberries. plants of kale, cabbage, broccoli, leaf lettuce.  Bush beans will germinate well and grow well until the first frost in December, when they will be killed.

Thanks for visiting our gardens.  Come again and see our winter successes. Better still, come and garden with us.

A Visitor’s Observations last week

12:36 pm November 19th, 2012

A visitor from another world ( i.e. a person who is not a gardener)  dropped by n of our gardens and was quite amazed with what she saw.  Here are some of her observations and my answers.

1.What are the gray dotted ornaments for, that run along a dried out irrigation tubing?

Those regular dots are not ornaments, but the residues of salty water that sit around the drip outlets.  This happens when inadequate water is used.  Instead of soaking into the ground the summer heat and dryness the salty water evaporates.  What you saw was poor watering and the dots on the tubing tell us that salt is being built up in the soil.  The remedy is make sure the faucet is opened enough to allow water to penetrate the soil.

2. Why are some garden beds dry at one end and wet at the other?

You made a good observation.  The bed should be evenly moist but it won’t be if the soil is uneven, both to the sides and from end to end.  Some gardeners are so excited about filling their bed with plants that they omit this final preparation step.  Because they didn’t level it off by using a hard rake in a continuous sweep their garden performance is handicapped.  The bottom of the bed should be flat all the way.

3. There’s one gardener who has three or four short lengths of strong seedlings alongside of his drip tubing.  They look very happy but to me they look crowded.  Will they continue to be strong?

I think he may have emptied the whole packet of seeds.  Although the price of seeds packets has gone up, there’s plenty of seeds in them. I like to open the packet, hold it well above the soil and tap the bone on my thumb to gently shake the seeds out in a wide pattern, one by one. His crowded seedlings will compete with one another to the point of death, and thinning them out will likely destroy the roots.  He could try snipping out some with a small scissors.

4. Why are some beds sloping at the sides and have white soil on the pathways?

This is related to the first question.  The white color is salt that is left behind by evaporation.  Our water is full of salts and this means we should water heavily in order to carry them down  beyond the root system.down the salts.  At bed preparation time make sure that the bottom of the bed is flat.

5.  Why are some beds not fully planted?

Most likely the gardener is saving space for more plants which he gets from thinnings of his crowded seedlings, or from what he buys at the nurseries.  He may be waiting to set out lettuce as the soil becomes more suitably cool. (Head lettuce does not do as well as leaf lettuce).

6. What else can he plant in November?

Faba beans, strawberries. plants of kale, cabbage, broccoli, leaf lettuce.  Bush beans will germinate well and grow well until the first frost on December, when they will be killed.

Thanks for visiting our gardens.  Come again and see our winter successes. Better still, come and garden with us.


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