We are enjoying this beautiful, temperate spring weather. Everything is blooming and happy. Even the avocado tree is sprouting new leaves and growing. The acacia trees, with their yellow pom poms of pollen are making the entire neighborhood smell heavenly.
Our raised bed garden, fondly referred to as the “dong garden” because of its vulgar shape, is not thriving. We need to pull everything out, turn the soil, add amendments and replant. I have to remind myself it took years for the garden in Tempe to take off. While this is year 3 in this garden space, it still isn’t quite right.
Gardening is a hobby for those who need help with patience. With a few free hours next weekend, we’ll have new tomato and squash transplants in the ground, and hopefully a booming garden come summer.
What are you planting?
January in Phoenix is an ideal time for gardening, believe it or not. I planted tomatoes from seed, which are popping up all over the beds, along with garlic and onions. The cruciferous plants are hanging in there, but not flourishing. The soil needs more work and it didn’t get cold enough this winter to set these vegetables.
However, the citrus are going crazy. The peppers continue to produce. The larger tomato plants are blossoming and the lettuce and rainbow chard is happy. The rosemary is perennial and the Thai basil is happy. Poinsettias and geraniums are blooming red.
And for Christmas this year, Jason received an avocado tree. We planted it yesterday and I took a photo next to this planted cactus for size. She should grow to be 6-8 feet tall. We’ll have to work on a shade structure sooner than later to help her through her first of many hot Arizona summers.
Now, if we could only figure out how to make those agave in the front yard magically transform into tequila…
This has been a very frustrating year in the gardening department. *We spent several hundred dollars (and several weekends) getting the irrigation set to the garden beds. And several hundred dollars on great earth and heirloom seeds and plants. And then, several hundred dollars on water.
This year, we’ve produced two squash, a couple dozen tomatoes and a dozen peppers. Total. The birds have eaten another two dozen tomatoes. And we’ve lost some of everything to the sun.
We are currently in the middle of a crazy heatwave, even for Arizona. It has been 115+ for the last few days. My green, leafy garden looks like someone took a blow torch to it. The leaves are singed along the edges, if not entirely dead. We do have gourds going nuts, vining all over the yard. And the herbs, happily potted in the shade, are also doing well in the heat as of today.
But man, the first year of a new garden is rough. It is a lot of work for future bounty. I need a good attitude to keep everyone else in the house who is waiting on the bounty interested, instead of wondering where all of our time and money went.
Our fall garden? It will be great. We’ll pull everything out in late-August, mix in new soil amendments and start over. I’m half-tempted to pull the remaining tomatoes now and plant pumpkin seeds for autumn. We are trying something new: starting tomato starts from cuttings. I’m going to do the same with both types of basil we are growing as well. There is a chance we’ll be able to keep our favorite tomato plants from this year alive indoors until mid-October and then transplant. Because if it is 118 in June, it better not freeze come January. That’s the deal I’m making with Mama Nature.
Gardening is a long-term hobby. Some years you fall flat. Or burnt.
*and by “We” I firmly mean “Jason.”
Jason finished up the addition to the garden bed this weekend, including a new irrigation system — which will come in handy as soon as temps climb over 100 and hauling buckets of water gets old. I am thrilled! Three weeks ago, I planted cucumbers and zucchini by seed, and with the addition, I was able to thin the starts by replanting them in the new bed. Additionally, we planted more tomatoes, onions, and I’m trying melons for the first time.
I am thrilled with this crazily (perhaps suggestively) shaped garden. It was my Christmas gift and I am so happy Santa heard me! And really happy we are all heirloom and organic. I mixed egg shells into the soil this morning and sprinkled everything with a heavy dose of bone meal. We are going to have a bounty of vegetables in a couple months. I’m dreaming of an early-summer tomato party, and trying pickles again with all those cukes.
A house feels like a home to me when I can get a garden going, especially one where I’ve had the time and resources to work the soil. I know with time, this will be my best garden yet.
The citrus are blooming, covered in bees and making the yard smell like perfume.
We’ve got two types of basil and some lavender going. I’m hoping they’ll all perk up with the increasing heat.
Especially you, lavender. You’re on notice.
The geraniums are going strong. These are some of my favorite flowers to have around because they last so long, and they are such a great pop of color.
A few succulent cuttings for a friend.
These small palm trees are having some sort of weird sexual awakening.
The rest of the yard is screaming in color. All I can hear in my head when looking at this is, “FABULOUS! WORK IT, GIRL!” (Because you know, sometimes the plants talk back.)
And the ‘maters are in and doing well. I tried growing from seed again this year, but they are just too small to produce. So, I bit the bullet and bought some heirloom plants at the local mom and pop nursery. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep these going year-round, like I did the last year in Tempe. A new garden bed is being added soon too. The irrigation is already in. Woo!
And that, folks, is how the garden grows.
We have broccoli, peppers and onions going strong in the garden. We’re soon adding an addition to the garden bed — a separate bed solely for tomatoes. I’m thrilled. We’ll fill it two-thirds with organic compost and soil, and then work in epsom salts, crushed egg shells and top it with straw. Apparently straw helps prevent moldy growth on tomatoes and will reduce the amount of water needed. The egg shells prevent the soggy bottom disease (a calcium deficiency) I had a few years ago.
The tomato starts are on windowsills and fill the bathtub upstairs. (You’ve got to get your sunlight and humidity where you can, man!)
I also bought a bag of bat guano at Native Seed when visiting Tucson last week. I am trying it with these tomato seeds (from Finny!) and will see what type of production it helps produce. This is one of my favorite parts of gardening: the experimentation.
Come May, I’m hoping for a wild harvest and salsa party. Andale!
Those pickles are going to be delightful. Refrigerator pickles. Who knew this was such a simple thing?
As for the garlic, rosemary, tomatoes and spring onions — I roasted them with olive oil, salt and pepper. After 30 minutes, I threw them in the food processor and made a rustic sauce. I roasted the kale, placed two fried eggs on top, and then added the sauce. It was such a delicious way to eat what was ready in the garden, and a great way to avoid going to the market for another day.
Next round to be planted soon: cucumbers, pumpkins and watermelon.
The garden continues to thrive thanks to a couple of weeks of cooler weather and a bit of rain. The tomatoes are going bonkers. The beets have been roasted and pickled:
The carrots are still delightfully tiny and perfect for the rabbit. (Nutmeg is becoming quite the spoiled bunny. Organic greens only, please.)
We’ve got zucchini for days. The kale, basil and rosemary are still going strong. And the spring onions and garlic are ready too. These cukes are going to become pickles later this week:
Next up: I’m planting pumpkins with my 5-year-old neighbor Jeremiah. And we’ve got heirloom watermelon, pickling cucumbers and squash headed our way for the hot summer months.
What are you growing?
Saturday, I met my friend Blair, who is a member of the Phoenix Junior League. She asked if I would share my experiences vegetable gardening with a few members. My friend Duda came too. It was a great couple of hours talking tomatoes, and looking at a fantastically diverse example of community gardening. We met at the South Scottsdale Community Garden — which has plots available, if you are interested.
Ever start talking about something you love and realize how much you’ve learned over the years? I have been trying to garden in Arizona for a decade and I am finally starting to get the hang of it — or at least can talk the talk.
A few resources I mentioned which are worthy of repeating:
1. Starbucks grounds for gardeners are gold for our high alkaline soil in the Phoenix area. Also, you don’t have to compost, but saving your egg shells and working them into your soil is a great free resource for better veggies, especially calcium heavy tomatoes.
2. Buy your seeds from Native Seeds if you want to start from seed. You’re supporting generations of farmers by doing so, and the heirloom gardening movement, which is important. Plus, their seeds work in our soil and climate.
3. Best organic (and cheap) pesticide? 1 tablespoon dish soap, 1 tablespoon cayenne and the rest water in a squirt bottle. Go to town. You won’t hurt the plant, but you will send aphids and caterpillars elsewhere.
4. Plant what you want to eat. A great calendar for what to plant and what to harvest in the Phoenix area can be found here.
We are now planning meals by what we can pick out of the garden, which is one of those silly life things I’ve always dreamed of doing and am thrilled it is happening. (Do you have those? I’ve got this list in my head of milestones and eating seasonally is definitely one of them.) The beets and onions are in. (The carrots came from the market.) For Saturday lunch with family, I roasted these with a bit of olive oil and sea salt.
We picked the greens and the first few tomatoes, boiled a couple duck eggs I had on hand and added strawberries and feta. I made a mustard vinaigrette and we had salmon burgers on the grill. It was a great use of what was ready to eat.
And now, we dig into zucchini season. I used 1/3 of this baby to bake muffins for the week. We are going to be up to our ears in vegetables in the next month!
(I’m most excited by the pickling cucumbers that are thriving. I’ve never canned pickles before.)