Friday, November 11, 2016

Philosophy for Gardening

In the most casual, off-handed way, I commented to a fellow gardener that for several years I had been exploring what varieties worked well in a high desert, irrigated garden by trial and error.
She laughed and said, “I pop carrot and beet seeds into the ground and let them grow. How can anyone get so fussy? Ridiculous.”

I laughed at myself.

Image result for confused gardenerTogether with her.

For the next several months asked myself - had I become too ‘fussy’ about vegetable gardening? Why wasn’t I no longer at ease just popping the seeds into the ground, and watching? Was I allowing my gardening to take up too more mental energy than it was worth?

Today, I have my answer.

Answer: I am lazy. I am busy. And I love life TOO much, to be bothered not to develop rudimentary expertise. How?! Because the tiniest bit of expertise, saves an ORDINATE amount of effort. An INORDINATE amount of time. And supplies the HUGEST amount of food.

There you have it. I am a lazy gardener. Do I love it? PASSIONATELY! It is healing to me. But, yet, I am the furthest from fussy in just about everything I do.

You see, I xeriscape, because I want to play far away from my landscaping. Far, far away and not worry one iota about my lovelies, my investments, dying. Some books, a gardener friend, an elder, a lecture or two, a few beautiful blogs….there are so many ways to ‘tap in.’ Find which varietals grow effortlessly, supply them the right timing, and watch them steal the show!

Escarole, Mache, Marvel of Four Seasons, Arugula and Mustard ‘Ruby Streaks’ are currently stealing the show in my garden— completely uncovered. Except under the fluffy mulch of fallen leaves. My neighbors trees, which I consider a nuisance to veggie gardening, cast a longer shadow in Mid-August to September — I’ll begrudgingly admit — make for easier cool-season lettuces when occasional, scorching autumnal days show.

And they do it all by themselves.

Just any lettuce seed? Nope. A little bit of knowledge means food on the table tonight.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Tips for Planting Tulip, Hyacinth and Crocus Bulbs

Bulbs are a xeric gardeners best friend. Here in he high desert, there are places perfect for bulbs, which otherwise wouldn't work in other climates.

1) First, xeric gardening is not just about how much moisture falls annually, its also about WHEN the moisture falls. In my climate, most of our annual precipitation comes in the form of heavy snows after Christmas time. So, bulbs soak it up just before they emerge.

Now, if you read or watch other gardeners speaking about ideal soils for bulbs where they garden, they'll note a bulb likes a well-drained spot to prevent that bulb from rotting in sloggy springtime soils. BUT,  the chances of my growing location contributing to bulb rot, are very sparse, indeed! In my climate, picking the most well-drained spot in the yard, may rob the bulb of the conditions it needs to replenish for next year.

2) Secondly, guides for growing bulbs largely encourage planting bulbs in full son. Our soils warm quickly in the high-altitude rays of springtime *and* before trees are filling out. So, I can plant bulbs in beds, which are otherwise shady the rest of the growing season. (If your site is mixed in exposure, or you're just not sure if bulbs will work there, see, at about 6:58.)

If you plant the bulb in full sun, the flower may bleach, dry or die back much sooner than it would in a cooler microclimate or partially-shaded growing spot.

When to plant:
When its very cool (autumn) but before the ground freezes

How deep?
3 times the height of your bulb but deeper for species tulip bulbs - as deep as 12 inches!

In clumps is attractive, and by height helps to reveal what you love! I’ve seen grape hyacinth clustered around brown tall grass, and it was stunning in the landscape.
1) Tulips 3 inches apart
2) Crocus or smaller bulbs 1-2 inches apart.

Its important that you place the flat end, or the root end ( the basal plate end ) down. If you are in doubt, then place sideways. 

With what equipment?
Bulb Planter or an auger attached to a drill in places of heavy clay, like where I live!

How to protect in the ground:
Cover with large-holed screen like chicken wire. This protects from gophers or squirrels.  You may bury it, or place it atop the bed. See:

In fact, where I live, animals forage not only for food, but for the moisture content of the bulb/food, as well. So, this year, I'll be building my own bulb cages, and planting the whole cage in the ground. A back-breaking tasks to dig such a large hole, yet, but worth it.

Fertilize when? and with what?
Bat Guano or high phosphorus fertilizer or Bone meal.

When to divide:
When a lot of foliage appears and there are very few blooms. That means that the bulb is unable to produce sufficient food for itself to produce a blossom.

Store divisions?
Where cool, but far from fruit in storage.

Good videos to inspire:  and

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Gardening in High-altitude Shade

I've heard it enough. It was time to put it to the test. At a Mile High, the sun is powerful enough to alter the sunlight growing requirements of many plants, gardening experts said. An example of this was found in a recent garden stroll. I found Speedwell growing in shade all but 2-3 hours of the day, when it normally needs full sun.

So, I rounded up greens, which normally tolerate *some* shade -- greens which are meant to be grown in warmer soils.

Here's what I planted:
1) In an area completely shaded with about 2 hrs of dappled sun
- edible Amaranth,
- Dill 'Tetra,'
- Chard &
- Catalina Spinach.
They all germinated.

Other things which I transplanted into sunny areas, which later turned into only 3 hours of sun, daily, after the trees filled out include:
- Leeks and
- Garlic, which are both doing well. They grow more slowly and bear smaller, but a bit of extra fertilizer, a longer growing season, and amended, fluffier soils all help. Stay on the watering, too!
- Lemon Balm and Epazote volunteered in this dry, semi-shady spot and are now thriving with a bit of extra water.

I also took a shot and several things in complete shade. ZERO sun. Well, I would call it bright shade for 4 hours a day. The
- Frisee
- Portuguese Kale and
- Radicchio 'Early Treviso' did not fare so well.
The extreme dryness of the ambient air, and the fact that I used soil, which was perhaps too-amended, too fluffy -- meant that they emerged and then, even with 1-2 waterings daily, dried up and died. Without sun, they were too weak to be able to survive the complete shade. It seems also, too, without the cool air, & without gentle sun, they lacked the roots to reach down into the heavier, moister soils.

What do I do with this shady garden?  It receives direct sun for 6-7 hours a day before and after the tree loses its leaves - that is, early spring and after September 20th (about). So yes, asparagus is slowly maturing from seed laid down in March. It may well turn out to be the star in this summer shade.

1) The soil must be heavier to hold that moisture I provided each day. Isn't it crazy, that in this high-desert climate, that precisely what nature has to offer - heavy clay soil - is the best medium for ensuring that a seed can germinate even when afternoon air is the driest all year?
2) Also, perhaps a hoophouse with light plastic, to retain a zone of humidity around the tiny seedlings, may give them the boost they need. In full shade, such wouldn't generate overly hot humidity nor stress the plants.
3) Next year, I will seed my radicchio, frisee and Portuguese kale in egg cartons July 1. I am confident that plants which are a bit more mature, when they reach this shade, will handle the challenges of this spot with a bit more ease. They'll tend to stretch and reach, for about a month, but by mid-September the tree, which is blocking their sun, will be bare.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Cabbage and Bunnies - yikes!!

Bunnies are so cute. They are terribly destructive. When I watched Monty Python's 'Search for the Holy Grail' for the first time, I didn't laugh terribly at the cave bunny taking leaps at the jugglers of brave knights - dealing them mortal wounds as their shocked compadres looked on, in fear.

A lifetime of battling bunnies in the garden, makes such writer's license hardly ridiculous...hardly comedic.  Its a stab to see hard-won seedlings eaten to soil level on first survey of the garden at dawn.

It started with 2-3 rabbits munching on early springtime borage, onions, cilantro -- yes, all the items home extension services will tell you rabbits avoid. They had no issues eating jalapeno pepper plants to the ground.

The cabbage I planted? Well, as the other 99 gardens in my community garden began to be planted with tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, beans, my purple cabbage was downgraded on their list of preferences. But my green cabbage? If you compare it, to the purple one which is now 3 feet across, its still in seedling stage.

They also left my 'Destiny' broccoli which was bolting in its tiniest stages, alone, but they ate my brussel sprouts - already unhappy in compacted soils and full sun - to the ground too many times for them to recover.

Their favorite food in July is new bean shoots -- by far!! They didn't touch my 'Violet Queen' but have eaten my Gold Rush beans again and again.

What is it with purple vegetables and rabbits? Not that in the absence of other gardens to distract, they wouldn't eat beans and brassica regardless of color. Clearly if they eat borage, onions and jalapenos when hungry, they don't mind. Or do they? I am skeptical as I was advised that slugs avoid darkest purple in the garden as well, which I have not found to hold true.

What have I done to prevent damage?
1. My cabbage seedlings were surrounded by half gallon milk cartons with the top cut out, and then covered in a plastic mesh. But, as they emerged out the top, the bunnies ate through the mesh to reach the cabbage.  LEARNED: Use metal mesh and new strategy as the plants grow up.
2. I also used tin foil to surround the plants, which was minimally effective;
LEARNED: I imagine this has to be done in a very robust way - 2 thicknesses, well-staked and in wide girths. It could also be used in combination with other strategies.
3. I read anything that alters the taste or texture of their preferred foods might help. I used diatomaceous earth, which alone, did not alter rabbit habits. LEARNED: Sprinkle diatomaceous earth on wet brassica leaves in the a.m., and only use in combination with other strategies.

Image result for rabbit warren
There was a repellent, which was incredibly stinky, but as such, was amazingly effective - its scent wafting over to & even protecting my garden, though I had not sprayed my plants with it. It was Plantskydd. Next year, this is on my shopping list; at a hefty $30, locally and $23 online, its worth it!

Remarkably, once the prickly borage, which completely encircled the green cabbage finally grow to mature height, it did impede the rabbits' foraging. So, this year, I'll mark a brassica area with autumn-seeded borage seeds in the ground. Next spring, I'll put out my seedlings surrounded by wire mesh, but June 21st rather than April. Gonzales Mini, Derby Day and Katarina are quick-to-mature varieties.

Beans, especially pole beans are harder to protect, in my opinion. Generate your own ideas on my favorite 'bunny proofing' websites:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Yikes! My Veggies Bolt before I've even Tasted them!

Flower salad. Photo Yelkrokoyade
Is it possible to keep my crops from bolting?  Here’s what I’ve learned in years of gardening, will cause my lettuces, greens (chard and collards), radishes, cilantro & brassicas to bolt.
- Overcrowding,
- Neglect of my harvesting duties (especially in the case of lettuce and spinach),
- Compacted soils,
- Insufficient moisture,
- Seedlings, which were root bound at transplant, that is, were already quite mature in small pots, before they even saw the soils of my outdoor garden.

So, what can I do to prevent my crops from bolting in this crazy climate
- Amend the soils to be about as fluffy as possible.
- Direct sow them, properly thin them and then harvest as soon as possible (when ‘babies’ too. Why not?).
- Put the into the shade of taller plants, a fence or even under filmy ‘row cover’ (that’s not plastic).
-If pests which hide in mulch are not a threat to your crop, mulch heavily while the soil is still cool.
- Water deeply, not just on the surface as you might sprinkle surrounding seeds you’d like to germinate, and then in error, simply just sprinkle the broccoli you transplanted as well.
- And one site, noted that if your overwintered onions want to bolt, then top dress them with nitrogen in early spring before maturing with 70-100g per sq m (2-3oz per sq yd) of nitrogen rich fertilizer in January. So, this is a good reminder, that fertilizing in general, to keep the plant the lessen plant stress, might buy you a bit of time.

One gardener noted, that if your crop does bolt, some flowers can be harvested and put into salads to beautiful effect!

To round out this post, it bears mentioning that some internet sources maintain that bolting is caused by hot ambient air, some maintain its the soil temp rising, and others still that a change in seasons and thus day length, even unstable weather can causing bolting — including a fall temp rather than a rise. So, what really causes bolting? 
- It seems it depends on the plant.
- It can be a combination of temp and day length, too.
Its spelled out here in nice detail on these (2) sites and worth consulting.

If you've tried all these, and your crop still bolts, bear in mind that at a mile-high or more, the sun's rays are simply more intense. At a greenhouse seminar recently, the lecturer reminded us, that even in the world of ornamentals, the light requirements for a specific variety at sea-level could be less here, so, for example, a full-sun flower at a lower altitude could be a part-shade flower here.  The intensity of UVA-UVB must also play a role in bolting, too. We're simply waiting for the research!

A few bolt-resistant varieties:
Lettuce: ‘Pablo’ Batavian or ‘Sierra’ Batavian, ‘Jericho’ Romaine or ‘Slobolt.’  If its true, as one site pointed out, that pictures of lettuce were found on the walls of ancient Egyptian heiroglyphics, then, check for varieties from the Middle East, as well.
Beets: ‘Boltardy’
Broccoli: ‘Destiny,’ 'Belstar,' 'Green Magic' and ‘Imperial.'
Arugula: Astro
Spinach: Galilee Spinach and Catalina, are (2) I have yet to try. Bloomsdale and Olympia are mildly bolt-resistant.  
Kale: Portuguese "Tronchuda Beira" 
Cilantro: 'Calipso'

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

I Now use Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd episodes for Therapy

I've found the perfect window both in my schedule and nature's. Its a gentle time when the sun is not yet too intense. I transplant my winter-month-nurtured brassica and herbs. I transplant my cape marigold and mignonette.

I reset my daily schedule so that I can carry water to the garden as my plants require. Springtime moisture is spotty here. I invested.

The flea beetles come. The rabbits do not stop to take a breath between bites. Soon my plants have altogether disappeared or struggle for life. It matters not that I am at the gardens often, doing all I can to make my garden a bit less paradise for rabbits. The brussel sprouts were their favorite followed by green cabbage.  The rabbits didn't bother dark burgundy lettuces. 

I see cucumber beetles on my cukes. The hail comes and shoots holes in their beautiful broad leaves, which likely had a shortened lifespan anyway. 

I replant. Though I've lost transplants, I can try seed if there's time, but now I've lost precious days in a very short cool season.

As days warm enough for pepper and tomato transplants, I move these out into the open. At this juncture, good gardeners can begin to sense a 'letting go.' Some years are good for cabbage and some not, I've been told. I repeat this to myself quietly. This year will be a tomato year, a good year for carrots or beets. Though I wanted to focus on my pickling game, though I had planned to finally learn how to grow brussel sprouts...nature isn't cooperating.

Farmer was portrayed as a lowly role to me, growing up in a nation that sought to send its brightest into city jobs in technology. But now I know; they are the strongest, the most resilient, the ones most likely to outsmart nature's foes, the ones with perspective. I may get a T-shirt printed with farmer. Because now I know better.

*Yet, I do use it for the shortest length of time possible and in earnest. With the troubled, depleted soils where I grow its necessary as I build that soil health. I am considering administering silica to my plants even while young transplants here in my home next year.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Broccoli bolting in the Heat!

Broccoli isn’t exactly at home in a high desert climate. In a state where the sunshine drew agriculturists, I haven’t heard of any broccoli being grown. Onions, yes. Peppers and sweet melons, and corn — yes, yes and yes. Yet, the gardeners who have gardened here for years, all told me - ‘’Grow broccoli. Its so easy.’’

Strangely enough, though I grew up with a large vegetable garden in the Midwest - large enough to cut our grocery bills significantly for the whole year -we didn’t grow broccoli. Too many pests.  Imported cabbage worm topped out that list.

Here, these pests have difficulty surviving the extreme dry and later bouts of brief deep cold in wintertime. (So if lack of pests is the full definition of 'easy'.....) But there is heat. Oh boy, is there heat! It’s just mid-June.  We’ve had temps for the last 2 weeks, which topped out over 100 degrees, which is drying out the ecosystem to the point that there are forest fires in the high country.  Such is quite the norm for these parts, though.

As I feared - my broccoli is about to bloom. But its only 6 inches high!

Sure, there are bolt-resistant varieties; I was growing ‘’Destiny.’’ I may try others, one day if there's truly nothing else to occupy my seed interests, including 'Green Magic' and 'Imperial.'

Yet four days of temps above 95 degrees and one’s efforts to prevent bolting, can all come to naught. That is, I’ve learned that just when the baby plant is shifting its growth from the leaves to the earliest bits of flower bud, that 5 days of extreme heat during that period, will cause the growth pattern to shift entirely.  In fact, submissions for U.S patents of heat-tolerant broccoli is generally unverifiable as broccoli is so weather and heat sensitive.  

So, I will start new broccoli on my windowsill. Yep, that’s right. Because here in the high desert, if it can’t grow in the summertime, one plants it in late July for autumn growth. So, rather than look for a bolt-resistant variety, I’ll be growing a winter broccoli called ‘Purple Sprouting’ broccoli.’ There are other interesting varieties. ‘Territorial Seed’ actually publishes a seed catalogue at this time of year, for wintertime growing displaying all the best overwintering varieties. Its completely excellent (and rare for a seed company to do this!) Beyond the sprouting broccoli, I’ve settled on some new wintertime growing helps and varieties. Stay tuned…..