Fruit and Nut Tree Planting Strategy

Weeping Santa Rosa PlumHi friends! Lately, I’ve had a few of you ask about my orchard planting strategy. More specifically, why I laid out and planted my orchard the way I did.  So with that in mind, I’d like to talk with you today about how I came up with my fruit tree planting plan. Basically, my approach to the pressing home orchard question ~ what will go where and why?

When planning out our front and backyard fruit orchards, we had several important decisions to make before putting pen to paper. Especially since we had already decided to take full advantage of the fact that our community was HOA-free. To do this, we decided to set up two separate and distinct orchard areas… the back yard and the front yard. It was so nice to be able to use our front yard this way without hesitation or without someone else’s permission. To celebrate our bureaucratic freedom, I did a little happy dance in our front yard, of course being careful not to trip over the bazillion-and-one large rocks and boulders we inherited from the previous owners o_O

Front yard orchard and rocksIn making the decision to use both the front and backyards for our orchard, we knew it would bring with it a number of planning challenges and questions that needed to be answered. Much of which involved lots of note taking, brainstorming, preliminary sketches, as well as hours of research. We wanted it to be as close to “right” as we possibly could get it.

From the very beginning, our hearts were set on growing a wide variety of fruits and nuts like peaches, apples, pomegranates, figs, apricots, almonds, pistachios and so much more. A good mix of stone fruits, seeded fruits and nut trees. We also wanted to leave room in the orchard for a few fruit trees that may appeal to us down the road.

Backyard OrchardWith this desire for variety, we really had to hunker down and do our homework to properly address the question ~ what will go where and why?

Answering this question for ourselves was far from straightforward and involved a good amount of research, brainstorming and sketching things out on paper. So to just pass along a snippet of info or to simply hint at our solution would be doing a disservice to those who would like more direction with this topic. For this reason, I’ve listed out our complete strategy below.

What Will Go Where?

We started to address this question by putting together our wish list of fruit and nut trees. With our list in hand, we could easily begin researching each tree’s requirements and attributes. Also, keep in mind that at this point we had already decided to maintain both orchards as ladderless by keeping our fruit trees at around 8’ high and 10’ wide. So the need to know each tree’s maturity size was rather pointless.

Backyard Orchard

Backyard OrchardAs I began my research, I thought it would be helpful to gather the following information…

  • Approximate harvest dates
  • Category of fruit (stone fruit, seeded fruit or nut tree)
  • Identify as Self-fruitful or Pollinator Required (+ a list of potential pollinator trees)
  • Root stocks (we used the UNCE Orchard’s recommendations)
  • Maintenance requirements (i.e., pruning, water, etc.)
  • Photos of each fruit tree in bloom as well as with and without leaves

Next, I decided to seek the advice of a master gardener here in Las Vegas, Nevada who had extensive experience working with fruit and nut trees at the local UNCE/Master Gardener Orchard here on the north end of town. Her advice was to keep the seeded fruit trees in one area and the stone fruit trees in the other. This advice appealed to my analytical side and seemed quite orderly to me at the time.

With the advice still fresh on my mind, I decided to dig deeper into my research. I wanted my decisions to be based on well-thought out and factual information versus something that just calmed my need for organization.

As I continued collecting data, I decided to enter it into an Excel spreadsheet to make life a little easier for myself. I also found it helpful to make a separate list of things I wanted to address with the orchard. Things like…

  • Shade
  • Privacy
  • and Visual Appeal (both inside and outside my home)

Important Considerations

Based on my research, I identified the following important considerations for fruit tree placement within a home orchard…

Pollination

As I reviewed my list of fruit trees and information, I realized that several of the fruit trees I chose required pollinators. My research had revealed that for the best pollination possible, the closer the fruit trees were planted to their pollinator the better. This fact alone dictated placement for several of the trees on my list.

For Example: my Pluots (Flavor King, Flavor Queen, Flavor Supreme and Flavor Grenade) all require a pollinator such as a Burgundy Plum or a Santa Rosa Plum.  Some of the Pluots can even be pollinated by another Pluot. I chose to go with the beautiful Weeping Santa Rosa Plum.

Flavor Grenade and Flavor Supreme PluotsOther trees on my list that required pollinators were the Asian pears.  My low-chill cherries also require a pollinator, but we planted these later in a couple of the “reserved” spots within our orchard.

While researching, I came across several knowledgeable resources that mentioned cross-pollination with the same fruit-type can produce better yields. I’m uncertain if this is truly occurring in my orchard or not.  Currently, I have just one Aprium (apricot/plum), one nectarine and one peach tree that are self-fruitful and I had a bumper crop with all of these trees this year.  So, unless my bees are tracking in pollen from other fruit trees in the area (which may very well be the case), my trees are super-stars at returning the love they’re given :D

Maintenance

Here’s an important consideration that a lot of folks forget to think through. Maintenance. Which trees are going to require the most attention and care?  Will some of the trees require lots of summer pruning or have the potential for mushy fruit on the ground? Doing both a backyard and a front yard orchard? Where do you think you’ll spend most of your time?

For me, I knew that the bulk of my time would be spent in the backyard orchard since this is where my veggie garden is located and the bulk of our fruit trees would be. That’s why I wanted my front yard orchard to be lower maintenance than the back and chose seeded fruit like apples and asian pears.  Both have a tendency to grow much slower than some of the stone fruit though my Hosui Asian Pear’s new growth reaches for the sun and requires minor summer pruning.

In my opinion, stone fruit trees are much higher maintenance than seeded fruit trees. Stone fruit trees require heavier pruning in spring and one or more summer pruning each year. And from my experience, these trees, especially my peach, can make a yucky mushy mess with its more frequent fruit drop. Keep in mind that any fruit tree can make a gooey sticky mess under its canopy if the orchardist fails to pick up the dropped fruit in a timely manner. Just saying.

My ginormous white nectarine that I've already summer pruned extensively 3x this year

My ginormous white nectarine that I’ve already summer pruned extensively 3x this year

Now to be only fair, I must mention that my aprium, pluots and plum are fairly “mess-free”.  They are a preferred target for the birds and can drop bird pecked fruit on a fairly regular basis. To me, these trees would also be great candidates for a front yard orchard, except for the fact that they do require bird protection ~ which can look quite unsightly.

Keeping trees with similar maintenance requirements in the same general area can help make quick work of the “clean-up” process. After planting, I did find this to be true and I’m so glad we incorporated this into our plan.

I also found it extremely helpful, especially in the beginning, to have fruit trees with similar pruning requirements close by each other . It just makes pruning tasks go that much faster. Less “stop and think” action.

Saturn PeachFruit trees with similar pruning requirements:

  • Peaches and Nectarines
  • Apricots, Plums and Pluots
  • Apples, Pears and Quince
  • Figs, Pomegranates and Persimmons
  • Almonds and Pistachios

Citrus and cherries have their own set of pruning requirements.

Pest Control

Some fruit and nut trees require just a little bit different approach to pest control. Especially from the furry and feathery kind.

Early on, we knew that we would need to do some sort of bird netting setup on our fruit trees but had no clue as to what that really looked like at that time or how to account for it in our overall orchard design.

Our current bird netting frame system worked out quite well for us, in our backyard orchard, based on some of the other decisions we made in our orchard plan (see Harvest below). Because our bird netting frame is quite large and obvious, we have been extremely reluctant to use it in our front yard orchard. Our Black Mission Fig tree in the front can definitely use some help, though ~ and soon! It’s become a favorite dining spot for Mocking Birds of all ages to sink their beaks in and feast on our delicious sweet figs. When we’re lucky enough to be able to eat one, we can delight in how great they taste this year.

Black Mission FigHarvest

I think the key to our bird netting frame success and ease of use revolves around the fact that we took the time to consider harvest times in our fruit tree placement. It has worked out nicely being able to, for the most part, harvest our way consecutively down a row. There’s just something very satisfying about this process. Check. Done. Move to the left :)

Goldkist ApriumIrrigation

Another important consideration is water. Based on my research, I confirmed that most of our fruit trees have similar watering requirements, except for a small handful of trees that require either less water or a different watering approach (i.e., pomegranates, citrus, avocado).

Forgetting to plan this out properly could become problematic. Planting a water-thirsty tree, like a fig, smack dab in the middle of an orchard full of drought tolerant, low water usage fruit trees would not be ideal. It could work if an additional water source was available or if the water-thirsty tree was on its own water-line (an irrigation planning nightmare in the making?). Both would require more effort on the orchardist’s part.

We knew we needed to do something different for our pomegranates, citrus and future avocado, so we segmented a section off from the main backyard orchard just for these trees. A separate water-line was dedicated to this area so we could adjust the water specific to their needs.

Front Yard Orchard

Still using a temporary watering system in our Front Orchard and we give our water-thirsty fig an extra sip of water each week from a nearby hose.

Fruit Pilfering

Let me first start this section by saying that I tried to come up with a gentle term for this, but I guess I have to call it for what it is.

Fruit pilfering is wise to consider, especially if growing fruit trees in an unprotected area for all to see, like a front yard orchard.  It’s a very important consideration for those who are really bothered by the thought of others helping themselves to fruit.

With our decision to set up a front yard orchard, we felt fairly safe doing so since we planned to initially encircle our orchard with the bazillion hard to maneuver rocks and boulders in the front yard. Later, we plan to enclose our front yard with fencing or a wall of some sort and a gate. Also, our neighborhood does not have sidewalks, so onlookers have to admire our trees from afar.

It also helps to share fruit with neighbors. They can enjoy the harvest with you and will be more likely to keep another set of watchful eyes on the orchard :D

Aesthetics and Privacy

Most people either overlook this consideration or focus most of their attention on it. Both actions can easily come back to bite you in the ole’ rumpola and it may be next to impossible to try to work this into the plan after all the fruit trees have been planted :'(

Myself personally, aesthetics and privacy are important to me. I love looking out the windows of my home to see my orchard trees. The orchard is quite beautiful throughout the different seasons, but especially in the spring when all of the flowers are blooming. I also love the privacy that some of my well placed fruit trees provide us.

One of my requirements was to plant a fruit tree with exceptional beauty qualities just outside my kitchen window. Something extra beautiful that I could gaze upon from my kitchen while chopping up fresh veggies or washing my freshly harvested fruit. Hence the placement of my newly planted Spice Zee Nectaplum. It has gorgeous dark red leaves in early spring and turns a nice shade of green in summer. It’s especially nice that the new growth in summer comes out red then changes as it matures.

Spice Zee Nectaplum

There’s a part of me that wishes I would have planted the Weeping Santa Rosa plum just outside the kitchen window with its lovely weeping structure, but I do have it planted fairly close by and can see it from the kitchen as well.

In addition to a few focal point trees in the orchard, we also wanted to shade the west wall of our home to help keep the house cooler during the summer months. Hence the pomegranates being planted up against that wall. We knew they could take the heat well and would grow quickly to provide the shade we wanted.

Pomegranates

Other Needs To Account For

Finally, we gave careful consideration to any “special requirements” that some of the fruit trees on our list have.

  • Wind protection (Pluots)
  • Winter protection (Citrus and Avocados)
  • Afternoon shade (Cherries)

A Special Note About Nut Trees

Before I conclude, I’ve listed a few points for those of you who are planning to grow nut trees.

  • Avoid planting nut trees right up against a wall if squirrels or other rodents are a problem; it gives them super easy “private” access into the tree
  • Beware of black walnut toxicity ~ it can hinder the growth of certain trees and plants around it (by several feet)
    http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/hortcult/fruits/blkwalnt.htm
  • Nut trees can be planted just about anywhere or with any other fruit or nut tree, as long as it has plenty of sunlight, the right amount of water and room to grow.
  • Some nut trees, like pistachios, need a male tree that can pollinate several female trees

Conclusion

For the home orchardist, I feel it makes very little difference whether you group your fruit tree plantings by stone fruit, seeded fruit or nut trees –or- intermix your fruit and nut tree varieties… as long as you’ve properly planned and considered all of your likes and dislikes, options, tree requirements, etc. when making your final planting decisions. Planning is key!Orchard Planting Plan

 

God Bless,

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August Orchard Tasks

6 Month Old Pluots and Pinny

Hi everyone! It’s been so awesome in the garden these last few weeks. After the rain we had last weekend, my garden literally exploded with growth! A lot of my veggie plants are stretching way beyond the size I had anticipated for them that I find myself constantly clipping things back ~ especially my squash plants and tomatillo. I really need to start composting.

Well, the month of August is well under way and I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of orchard tasks for you below. Since most of August’s tasks are the same as July, rather than list every item in duplicate below, I’d rather encourage you to thoroughly review July’s Orchard Tasks list before proceeding with the content below.  Before leaving this page, please note that I’ve listed below two updates along with a handful of new important tasks for the month of August.

Let’s get started…

Updates

  • Irrigation ~ during the month of August, the weather can be a bit more erratic here in the desert due to our summer monsoon season. Here’s a great example… just a little over a week ago, our daytime temps were hitting 108°F. Then a storm rolled in with lots of rain and the temps dropped to a muggy 81°F.
    Keep to the normal schedule of watering 3x per week and watch the weather closely. And remember… save water and save your trees from drowning by turning off your irrigation system if rain is imminent.
  • Finalize Your Fruit Tree Wish List in the next week or two if you’re planning to pre-order bare root fruit trees for planting next spring. Most nurseries and orchards start taking pre-orders for bare root fruit trees at the end of this month or early next month. Bay Laurel Nursery is my favorite online source for purchasing bare root fruit trees. They have a wonderful selection, awesome customer service and replacement guarantee (which they have honored [with a smile] on more than one occasion for me), reasonable prices and shipping costs, great packaging and they are a distributor of Dave Wilson Nursery fruit trees, which in my opinion (and the opinion of many other experienced orchardists) are the absolute best fruit tree stock available. Still need help deciding whether to buy bare root or containerized fruit trees? Check out my past posts Step 3: Purchasing the Fruit Trees (Part 1)  (Part 2)  and (Part 3) where I talk in great detail about bare root vs. containerized fruit trees.

New for August

  •  Check tree stake ties on first year fruit trees ~ loosen ties or remove and replace with a new tie to prevent girdling of the trunk. Some folks like to remove the stakes and ties shortly after new growth appears on a newly planted fruit tree, but I usually leave them in place until late fall.

Fruit Tree Water Basin

  • Deep soak water basins of trees at least 1x this month ~ in hot and arid climates, soil moisture can quickly evaporate allowing high concentrations of salts in the soil to accumulate. Ultimately, this increase in salts can be detrimental to your fruit trees and will kill off vital biology within the soil. Yes, the very life most of us are trying to cultivate in our soils.
    For this reason, it’s always good practice to regularly flush out excess salts away from the root zone by applying a deep soak of water just underneath the canopy of each fruit tree. This is especially true for folks who use drip irrigation in their fruit orchard. Even with running a flood bubbler setup like ours for irrigating our fruit trees, I still find it beneficial to schedule in a few deep soaks each season.
    To deep soak our trees, we do the following:

    • Replace one or our normal watering days with a deep soak.
    • Build a water basin under each fruit tree’s canopy by building up a 4-inch to 5-inch high ring of soil. This basin helps to catch rain water, too :)
      Note ~ when digging holes for our fruit trees, we made sure each planting hole had really great drainage.  Good drainage ensures that the water will quickly seep down into the soil and away from the trunk.
    • Next, place a water hose in the water basin then turn the water on to a nice flow that minimally disturbs the soil and slowly fills the water basin full of water. I run the water for approximately 30-40 minutes being careful to not let the water overflow the bank of the water basin.
    • To help keep track of time, I typically use a timer to remind me when to move the hose.
  • Check for and address any fungal disease issues ~ hot and humid weather is the perfect environment for fungal disease.

Mid-monthChojuro Asian PearIn late summer and early fall, fruit trees are preparing for next year’s growth by actively growing roots and storing truckloads of nutrients for next spring. Now is the time to kick soil biology into gear. Avoid using chemical N-P-K fertilizers ~ it kills soil life!

  • Kick soil biology into gear…

    • Spray effective microbes/mother culture or aerated microbial tea directly on the ground underneath each fruit tree every 7-10 days. When making your tea, be sure to avoid using animal manures ~ too high in nitrogen.
      and/or
    • Broadcast microbes and minerals underneath the fruit tree’s canopy ~ I like to use John & Bob’s suite of products.
  • Purchase and prepare a “fungal” dominated compost for spreading underneath the canopy of each fruit tree ~ fungal dominated compost is naturally high in lignin (wood) and low in nitrogen. Avoid using any type of bacterial based (heat processed) compost such as manure compost which tends to be high in nitrogen and salts. The goal here is to invigorate the soil biology to provide a store-house of bio-available nutrients that the fruit trees can readily take up and store for next year’s growth and use for this fall’s flush of root growth. A high nitrogen compost, like manure, will cause the tree to have a burst of vegetative growth (leaves) which is not ideal going into fall and its ensuing dormant season.
  • To prepare the fungal dominated compost:
    • Fungal dominated compost = use approximately ¼” depth of high quality fungal dominated compost per tree.
      For example: Each of my fruit trees have a 3 to 5 foot diameter water basin so I use approximately 2-3 gallons of compost for each tree.
    • Mix in a small amount of rock dust into the compost:
      • 8 ounces of Soft Rock Phosphate per tree
      • 8 ounces of Azomite per tree
    • Inoculate the compost/rock dust mixture by spraying with and gently mixing in one of the following:
      • Effective Microbes/Mother Culture
      • Aerated microbial tea (again, avoid manure)
    • Keep the compost moist until it is ready to spread under the fruit trees in early September.
      Though a fungal dominated compost is best, a beneficial alternative would be worm castings. Worm castings typically contain a lot of nutrition that’s been broken down by the worms into a simple form that’s readily available to the trees. It also provides a host of beneficial microbes. Just be sure the worms have been fed a vegetative diet that excluded manures and only use a small amount of it per tree because of its higher nitrogen levels. I would recommend starting out with a thin layer (maybe just enough to lightly coat the surface of the soil) and monitor the tree’s canopy growth. If there’s a flush of new leaf growth, use less the following year.

To prepare the worm castings (this can be prepared at the end of this month):

    • First, mix the rock dusts (same amount as above) with the worm castings.
    • Broadcast the rock dust and worm castings mixture underneath the tree canopy.
    • Next, inoculate the broadcasted mixture by spraying it with one of the following:
      • Effective Microbes/Mother Culture
      • Aerated microbial tea (again, avoid manure)
    • Water everything in.

Backyard Orchard Design

  • Finalize fruit orchard design/layout ~ especially if starting a new orchard. Having an orchard design layout in hand can be extremely helpful when making fruit tree purchasing decisions. Need a little help? Click here.
  • Now’s the time to submit a soil test to determine exactly what amendments are needed ~ you’ll be glad you did this! Be sure to check out my post on My High Brix/Nutrient Dense Growing Style ~ I  included lots of great info on soil testing.
  • Add amendments to fruit tree soil ~ add amendments based on the results of the soil test. Avoid digging amendments into the soil as it may damage the feeder roots.  Lightly scratch the amendments in or simply broadcast the amendments under the fruit tree’s canopy and water in.

End of the Month

Bare Root Fruit Trees

  • Pre-order bare root fruit trees ~ pre-ordering gives you the widest variety of fruit trees to choose from, or you can take your chances and purchase bare root fruit trees next spring from a local nursery or orchard. Typically, the selection is very limited and you may not be able to purchase the exact fruit tree(s) you really want.
    When I pre-order my bare root fruit trees from Bay Laurel Nursery, my account is usually debited a couple of days before my chosen ship date (which is in February). No money is required upfront. :)

Hope you found this task list helpful. Until next time we chat ~ eat homegrown!

God Bless,

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My High Brix/Nutrient Dense Growing Style

HighBrixPost_23Hi Friends. Today’s the day I spill the beans on my growing style and give you a bit more insight as to why I do what I do and how I do what I do. It’s far from being a super big secret that I’ve been holding out on you. Over the past few years my blog has evolved from being focused on my home and property repair project, which included my orchard and garden, to being pretty much focused on my fruit trees and veggie garden. So to date, my posts have revolved around what I’m growing here in the desert along with some helpful how-to information. Basically the result of my growing style. Well, it’s high time I shared something with you that is near and dear to my heart.

Before I dig in, let me just start by saying that everyone has their own way of gardening and they may be in a different place in their understanding of the options out there for gardeners today ~ that’s okay and I totally respect that. For me personally, I’m absolutely thrilled when I’m able to share something that really “speaks” to someone and opens them up to something new and wonderful in their garden!

It’s also such an honor to be able to write my blog and share with you my experiences, knowledge and even challenges in both my orchard and garden. I love the fact that a lot of you send along such kind words about what I’m sharing and that we get the opportunity to encourage each other to grow baskets full of healthy nutritious fruits and veggies. That’s what friends are for!

I applaud all of you who are growing even just one edible in your garden and encourage you to keep at it. Who knows… maybe one day you’ll be growing most of your own food, too :D

What is My Growing Style?

HighBrixPost_8Just like my post’s title hints at… both hubby’s and my growing style is all about growing high brix/nutrient dense fruits and veggies. Our goalto grow the most nutritious and life-giving food as humanly possible. Some of you may be asking… “what does high brix/nutrient dense mean?”.

Essentially, a high brix/nutrient dense growing style is a method of gardening that focuses on growing fruit and veggies with the highest levels of nutrition (= sugar). This is accomplished by balancing the soil’s mineral content in order to attain a higher mineral content within the plant itself.

The higher the sugar content in a plant, the higher its mineral content and nutritional value

Brix is a method of measurement used to measure the sugar content within a plant by using a tool called a refractometer.

HighBrixPost_24

Our high brix regimen focuses on…

  • Soil Testing
  • Remineralizing and balancing the soil
  • Boosting microbial life in the soil
  • Growing nutritionally infused plants from seeds

The results…

  • Fruits and veggies taste and smell better
  • Fruit and veggie plants are bigger and healthier
  • Higher plant sugars
  • Fruits and veggies are heavier (minerals and trace elements weigh more)
  • Less insect issues
  • Higher ability to resist environmental stresses (i.e., drought, frost, heat, etc.)
  • Fruit and veggies have a longer shelf life

Why I Do What I Do

Why do I grow to achieve high brix in fruits and veggies? Sorry to disappoint, but the details I’m about to share with you are far from explaining why I am the way I am. So for now we can all thank God, my parents, and my life experiences for… me :D

Before we started growing our fruit orchard and veggie garden here in Las Vegas, hubby and I were certainly no strangers to gardening. We started gardening together over 25 years ago and our gardening style has evolved over the years from initially growing conventionally with N-P-K fertilizers and systemic pesticides (yikes!), to a more natural approach without pesticides or chemicals and eventually transitioned into our current way of growing.

Our focus on high brix/nutrient dense growing was intensified a hundred-fold due to major health issues that hubby and I experienced at about the same time. This is when we really started getting into growing the healthiest food we possibly could.

In early 2011, hubby and I came down with a severe case of the flu. From the get go, I experienced severe breathing issues in which I struggled to take in air. It took several weeks for hubby to fully recover, but my condition continued to worsen and my body became overwhelmed with multiple infections. Several months later and multiple emergency trips, specialist appointments, tests, antibiotics, and allergic reactions later, conventional medicine was unable to diagnosis my illness. That’s when I turned to Integrative Medicine.

Severely fatigued and barely able to eat, my integrative doctor placed me on a diet that completely eliminated dairy, wheat, gluten, sugar, yeast, chocolate, and processed foods. What was left? Fruits, veggies, protein and a few whole grains cooked in a way that I could easily digest… in soup.

My Spring 2014 GardenAt that time, my diet primarily consisted of store-bought fruits and veggies and my recovery was slow and incremental. By late 2013, my strength had improved enough that I was finally able to ease myself back into working my orchard and garden and primarily focused on growing leafy greens for my soups such as bok choi, tatsoi, collards, kale, beet greens, and swiss chard. When I started to eat most of my fruits and veggies from my own garden, the improvements in my health were nothing short of amazing. I was actually getting better :)

So if you haven’t guessed by now, the reason why hubby and I do what we do is… for our health. Pure and simple.

How I Do What I Do

First let me give credit where credit is due.  My hubby has been instrumental in helping us to move toward achieving our goal of growing high brix/nutrient dense foods. His behind-the-scene technical skills, additional research on the subject, and physical labor has been instrumental in the success we’ve seen to date. Thank you sweetie… for your support and hard work!

Okay… now for the exciting stuff. Below is the foundation of what we currently do and use to achieve high brix/nutrient dense fruits and veggies:

Soil Testing

When I mentioned soil testing earlier, I could literally hear people shuffling around checking for their wallet. Most people think that soil testing is super expensive and completely steer clear of it. Certainly, if you’re submitting multiple soil samples at the same time and add lots of additional tests to the basic soil test, it can become quite expensive.

A basic soil test can actually be rather reasonable in price and costs around $14 to $25.
The other good news is that it usually only needs to be done at least once a year
.

What does a basic soil test provide? Most labs perform what is called a Melich III test (see note below) that reports on things like: soil pH, % of organic matter, and values and/or saturation % for sulfur, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, base saturation % and p.p.m for a handful of trace elements such as Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper, Zinc and Aluminum. Certainly, enough information to determine your soil’s needs. Some labs offer soil amendment recommendations based on the results of the soil test as part of the cost or at an additional cost. A little later, I’ll explain a much better way to obtain a recommendation, especially if you want to grow high brix/nutrient dense foods.

Spectrum Analytics soil test

Two labs I recommend for soil testing (and have used) are Logan Labs in Ohio and Spectrum Analytic in Ohio. As of 7/21/2014, Spectrum Analytic’s S3 soil test costs $14 and Logan Labs’ basic soil test costs $25. Both tests provide about the same information.

Melich III test ~ this test works just fine for raised bed soils using imported top soils and/or compost but the Melich III is insufficient for accurately testing calcareous/high pH soils like our native soil here in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Is a soil test absolutely necessary for high brix growing? Myself personally, I believe soil testing is critical to achieving my high brix goals. I want a clear and accurate picture of how my soil is doing and what any excesses or deficiencies are so I can address them without playing mad professor mixing up a little of this and a little of that. But that’s just me.

Logan Labs, Inc soil testAnother option is to forgo soil testing and use a one-size-fits-all recipe using soil microbe friendly ingredients like the one that was developed by one of the leading experts in growing nutrient dense foods, Steve Solomon ~ author of The Intelligent Gardener. Choosing this route, a gardener can completely bypass soil testing and source and mix the ingredients as needed. To me, it’s sort of a shot in the dark approach but it might work just fine for some gardeners.

Obtaining Soil Test Recommendations for High Brix/Nutrient Dense Growing

I mentioned earlier that I would explain a much better way to obtain a soil test result recommendation, especially if the goal is to grow high brix/nutrient dense foods.

First, I wanted to point out something very important about lab recommendations (like Logan Labs or Spectrum Analytic). Though recommendations from a lab can be quite helpful, especially if a gardener uses conventional methods of growing by using N-P-K chemical-based fertilizers and such. Can this type of lab recommendation apply to high brix/nutrient dense growing? Could happen, but I haven’t seen any recommendations that were helpful in my growing situation.

The fact is, most lab recommendations are typically made for commercial applications where minimum inputs are wanted for maximum bulk. Basically, cheap powerful N-P-K chemical fertilizers for quick growth and size. The focus is definitely not on soil health or nutrition.

Here’s an awesome tip! There’s a company out there who is dedicated to helping home gardeners grow better quality foods. The company is called Grow Abundant Gardens and they offer a helpful super-inexpensive tool called OrganiCalc for home gardeners to use to obtain soil amendment recommendations based on the results of a soil test.

The gardener simply plugs in their soil test result numbers into the OrganiCalc tool and the tool will display the recommended soil mineral/amendment types and amounts. Super easy. Their recommendations are targeted at growing better quality food. There is also an option to email the test results to them for further discussion, if needed.

To use the OrganiCalc tool, there is an annual subscription cost of $9.50/year. I’ve used this tool myself a few times and I highly recommend it. P.S. ~ I’m not being paid in any way for this testimonial… I just think it’s an awesome tool available to home gardeners. Important note: OrganiCalc is currently only setup to accept soil test results from either Logan Labs or Spectrum Analytics.

Remineralize and balance the soil

Again, the higher the sugar content in a plant, the higher its mineral content and nutritional value. We are so on board with re-mineralizing our soil and strive to do this in a balanced way by adding the amendments in the proper ratio (based on a soil test). Too much of a good thing can be just as detrimental to the soil as not having enough.

Glacial Rock Dust and AzomitePart of our regimen includes using the following, as needed:

  • Colloidal Soft Rock Phosphate
  • Azomite
  • Glacial Rock Dust
  • Sea products like Kelp and Sea-Crop (which has 95% of the salts removed)
  • Worm castings Kelp Powder and Kelp Meal

Boost soil biology in the soil

Once the rock dusts and amendments are added to the soil, then what? We believe that soil biology (microbes, bacteria, protozoa, fungi, worms, etc.) has such an important role to play in the success of growing high brix/nutrient dense foods.

HighBrixPost_4Some of these hard workers help to break down the rock dusts and other organic matter into a form of food and nutrition that plants can readily take up. Others help to aerate the soil. The consequences would be catastrophic without them.

John & Bob'sHere are a few of the things we use to help these tiny little workers flourish in our orchard and garden:

  • Humus
  • Earthworms
  • John & Bob’s (Maximize, Nourish, Optimize and Penetrate)
  • Effective Microbes/Mother Culture
  • Mycorrhizae root inoculants

Endo Mycorrhizae Root InocculantTo incorporate all of this healthy goodness into our soil, we avoid tilling our soil by gently mixing the products into the first few inches only. We also incorporate many of these products (in small amounts) into each planting hole as we plant out our transplants and in our custom soil mix that we source and mix ourselves for use in making soil blocks to start seeds.

Feeding Regimen

We also use a holistic foliar spray that we source and mix up ourselves every 7-10 days to provide plants with the additional nutrition they need during their growing and fruiting stage. Some of the products we use are…

  • Organic Unsulfured Black Strap Molasses
  • Hydrolyzed Liquid Fish
  • 100% Cold Pressed Neem
  • Organic amendments and fertilizers (based on the needs of specific plants)

Pest Control

One of the benefits I’ve noticed in growing high brix/nutrient dense fruits and veggies is the fact that there are a lot less pest problems in my garden. Why are there less pest pressures with this type of growing method?

  • Insects can sense vibrations and recognize different infrared frequencies as being either a potential mate, food, water, etc. Plants that are deficient in mineral content (sugar) vibrate at a specific frequency that is readily recognized by insects as food. Mineral rich (high brix) plants vibrate at a much different frequency due to the higher mineral content. Based on the teachings of Philip Callahan of the University of Florida, a USDA entomologist.
  • This is reinforced by the fact that insects cannot digest the rich nutrients/sugars in high brix plants and become sick. Basically, they starve on a healthy plant!

“Insects and disease are the symptoms of a failing crop, not the cause of it.”
~ Dr. William Albrecht

It goes without saying that we still encounter pests in our garden, but our plants seem a lot less prone to infestation and there’s a lot less nibblin’ goin’ on. And, the pests that I have seen are readily picked off by the beneficials and birds in our garden. Except for those nasty bragada bugs… nobody likes them, so we had to intervene with our soapy water spray and even at that, they were just on one plant ~ now, I haven’t seen one in weeks. Teamwork at its finest :D

Beneficial Cellophane Bee

With all that said, we still do keep things on hand to address any potential pest challenges that may arise. Everything we use in our orchard and garden is safe for microbial/soil health as well as the beneficial insects and pollinators, like the Cellophane Bee (photo above). Using these types of products allows them to continue to thrive and further assist us in obtaining a natural and healthy balance. We use things like…

  • 100% Cold Pressed Neem
  • Soapy water (using either a biodegradable soap or pure-castile soap)
  • Aromatic Essential Oils
  • Pepper/wax spray
  • OMRI approved citrus peel oil extract
  • Diatomaceous earth (used very sparingly in targeted applications only)

Neem Oil and SoapI found a very interesting article you might like to read on the topic of pests and high brix that was written by Oscar Morand from the Permaculture Research Institute.

Growing Nutritionally Infused Plants From Seeds

In addition to everything else we do in our garden, I grow all of our veggie plants from seed. This allows me to kick-start my high brix/nutrient dense garden. Starting from seeds also gives me a wider selection of plant varieties to choose from.

Favorie Seed CatalogsSure, buying and using transplants already potted up is the easiest way to grow a garden, but I actually enjoy growing my own plants from seed. It’s especially rewarding to see all your hard work grow to be a big, beautiful, fruitful plant :D

Rather than spend money on plastic pots that will eventually add to our landfill problem, I opted to try making my own soil blocks. I absolutely fell in love with soil block making! They are so economical to make and so much better for your little seedlings. The 2” block is quite inexpensive (around $30) and saves money over the long run over buying a constant supply of peat, manure, or plastic pots.

Soil Block Maker My favorite soil block maker is the 2” block size. When I first started working with the soil block tool, it took a couple of tries to get my technique down, but now I’m a pro. Today, I can easily crank out a full flat of 2” soil blocks in under 10 minutes. That’s 32 blocks total! I usually grow about six full flats of 2” blocks per season. That’s 192 high brix plants, baby!

Seed StorageTo make my soil blocks, I source and mix my own custom soil blend and incorporate some of the products I use in my garden to help give my seedlings a great high brix start.

At transplant I also like to incorporate the following:

  • John & Bob’s (Maximize, Optimize, and Nourish)
  • Mycorrhizae root inoculant
  • Rock Dust (a little sprinkle for good measure)
  • In the fall, I also plan on testing a product called Transplant Formula (see below); using this product may allow me to eliminate some of the products above

FYI ~ I’m also a huge fan of companion planting and intensive growing, too!

How We Grow High Brix/Nutrient Dense Food On a Tight Budget

Regardless of the type of fruit and veggie gardening method a gardener chooses to use, there will always be some level of investment in the care and maintenance of their garden. Whether the garden is grown using conventional methods such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides or a more natural approach is used such as high brix gardening, the investment is always there.

HighBrixPost_6Is one method more expensive than the other? It depends on what your goals are for your garden. Both conventional and high brix/nutrient dense growing can become quite expensive. It’s highly dependent upon the products, tools and plant materials chosen.

Personally, I consider my orchard and garden an investment in our health, but we do live on a limited modest budget and simply do not have a money tree growing in either our front or backyard orchards. With that in mind, we take great care in choosing the products we purchase for our orchard and garden and do everything we can to avoid waste. Waste includes using unnecessary excessive amounts of product. The soil testing definitely helps with that.

HighBrixPost_5Believe it or not, most of the items we use are actually quite economical because a little goes a long way in the garden. Even with that said, we’re always on the lookout for great deals and ways to save money so we can continue to invest in our health.

One huge challenge we face here in the Las Vegas area is the fact that quality garden resources are scarce and almost impossible to find. Because of this, most of what we buy are from online sources and finding deals with free shipping is critical for us. Another savings technique we use is to buy in bulk. It’s especially helpful and cost-effective when we’re able to split an order with someone else.

What’s Next?

We’re currently trying out a new soil testing lab (at least it’s new for us), who is dedicated to helping both farmers and home gardeners grow high brix/nutrient dense foods. The lab is called International Ag Labs, Inc. and they offer a biological approach to farming and gardening based on the teachings of Carey Reams. The company has a few different websites that can be a bit confusing, so I’ve provided a brief description of each along with a link.

International Ag Labs, Inc.  ~ soil testing/consulting (farmers and home gardeners) and product sales to commercial farmers only

High Brix Gardens ~ very detailed informational site for home gardeners about growing high brix/nutrient dense foods

Fix My Soil ~ the local dealer’s website for product sales to home gardeners

This company is a professional lab that analyzes soil samples using a different approach than most labs as well as providing more details on mineral/trace element data and microbial activity.

International Ag Labs, Inc is the only lab in the country to offer the Morgan Extract (weak acid) test. International Ag Labs believes this test is more accurate than other soil tests and more accurately reveals what the plant can actually utilize from the soil.

The lab also offers a suite of foliar sprays, soil drenches and dry broadcast products formulated specifically for high brix/nutrient dense growing and do provide product recommendations along with their soil test results. They will even mix up a custom blended soil prescription for the specific needs of your soil, if desired (this service is available through Fixmysoil.com). The lab only sells direct to commercial farmers, but they do have a home gardener division and sells through a qualified dealer only. Their product line is quite impressive and has a lot of positive feedback from high brix/nutrient dense gardening enthusiasts.

Hubby and I submitted soil samples from our orchard and raised beds to this company a week or so ago and are waiting anxiously for the results.

One of the products that we did decide to purchase from them “before the results were in”, and a lot of high brix/nutrient dense growers are excited about, is called Transplant Formula. This product was a bit on the pricier side, but it should last for a very long time since its application only requires one tablespoon per plant at the time of planting.

Transplant FormulaThe product contains:

  • 4 different calcium compounds
  • 4 microbial packages to inoculate root systems
  • 5 volcanic rock powders with quick acting enzymes
  • 4 ‘biostimulant’ carbon sources

We’re still in the process of evaluating this company and their products, so I’m hesitant to recommend them to anyone as of yet. I’ll keep you updated on our evaluation progress.

Some Awesome Resources

For those of you who are interested in learning more about high brix/nutrient dense growing, I’ve gathered together a few links and resources for you to start with.  I’ve also included a few books in our home gardening library that we find indispensable that you may find interesting as well.

Books

  • The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer
  • Nourishment Home Grown by Dr. A. Beddoe
  • The Ideal Soil: A Handbook for the New Agriculture by Michael Astera

Hope you found this post interesting. Certainly, if you have any questions please feel free to leave me a comment.

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God Bless,

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To Catch A Squirrel

Squirrel1Hi friends!  Hope you’re having an awesome summer so far and growing lots of yummy summer fresh fruits and veggies in your garden.

For those of you who have been following my blog, you may remember me mentioning something about the squirrel challenges we’ve been having on our property.  Especially in and around our fruit orchard.  Yeah… squirrels like fruit.  They like fruit, a lot.

I discovered their insatiable taste for fruit last year while sitting in my office .  It was by pure chance that I happened to glance out the window at the exact same moment a squirrel decided to pluck a juicy sweet prize from my fig tree.  I sat there in disbelief as I watched the nimble little desert squirrel meander up the trunk, hop over to a branch, then skirt along the top of the branch toward the tip where the fruit was.  All this just outside my window.  In a matter of seconds the sneaky critter plucked a nice big fat fig off my tree and with the fruit tightly clutched in its squirrelly little teeth, it scurried back down the tree to begin its nibbling feast.  At that very moment I realized that we now two orchard nuisances on our hands.  Birds and squirrels.

BirdNetting5

White-Tailed Antelope Squirrel

I created this graphic for an earlier post I did and
thought it was very appropriate to use again for this squirrelly little guy!

Early this harvest season, things were very quiet.  A couple of small birds pecked at a few of our Flavor Delight Apriums, but no squirrels were in sight. Until mid-way through our Nectarine harvest when we noticed the tell-tale sign of squirrel activity… half eaten fruit on the ground.  As the days went on, the number of half eaten fruit kept increasing so Hubby and I decided it was time to reenact our squirrel relocation program.  So we pulled out the traps and readied the yummy bait for the squirrels arrival the next morning.

Squirrel4As you probably know, there are a couple of basic ways to eradicate a squirrel problem.  One way is the kill method by the use of poisons and trigger traps. The other way is the catch and release method by use of live animal traps.  Sure, you can avoid both methods and try to divert their attention by offering them yummy snacks somewhere else on your property, but there is no guarantee they’ll prefer your “offered” treats over your yummy delish fruit. I prefer the catch and release method myself.  It’s more kind to the animal and lets them thrive… somewhere else :D  Just because their fruit dining is unwelcome in my orchard, I see no reason to kill the little guys. Now, it would be a completely different story if I had an infestation of squirrels on my property of epic proportions, then there may be a real need for the kill method, especially if it threatens harm to my animals or to my family and myself.  These cute little doe eyed critters can be carriers of some pretty nasty stuff such as plague bacteria (Yersinia pestis).  They can also pass on lice :P

No matter what method is used, always take care to treat the animal in a gentle and respectful way.  Planting delicious fruits and veggies will attract unwanted guests of the furry and winged kind, and as caretakers of our own little slice of Eden, it is our responsibility to watch over and care for all of God’s creation.

Squirrel7Our Bait

When setting up our live traps, we always like to use something tantalizing and delicious for the squirrels.  Something that can fill their belly before the trip to their new home.  Almond slices is our preferred bait food. Gets them every time.

Squirrel6Once a squirrel is captured, I like to give it a couple of pieces of cut-up fruit (whatever’s in season in our orchard) by slipping it between the holes in the cage.  After I leave, the squirrel takes the fruit and eats it every time :)  The fruit helps to give them moisture just in case they have to sit in the cage for a while before we can release them.  We never let them sit in the cage more than a couple of hours.

One important thing I want to point out is that we always set up the traps underneath the shade of our fruit trees, usually the tree they are feasting on at the time.  This helps to protect the captured squirrel from roasting in the sun which would lead to overheating and dehydration and ultimately, certain death.

The Release

After their capture and final meal from our orchard, we pack up the cage(s) and head out to their new home site… a large open space far from houses, buildings, and traffic. Somewhere with some vegetation so they can quickly find cover and start making a new home for themselves.Squirrel8Once we arrive at the selected site, we’ll carefully take the cage(s) out of the car and position the trap so that the door is facing toward their new destination.  Then, with a quick pull of the lever and the trap door opened, it’s usually only seconds before the captured squirrel realizes its route to freedom and shoots out of the cage like a rocket happily hopping away to take cover.  Now their fate will be decided upon by the natural processes of nature.  Who knows, they may flourish and have a family of their own or succumb to the deadly talons of a hawk or owl.  All I know is that I treated the squirrel as kindly as I could before sending it on its way and that there will be one less set of teeth to gnaw on my sweet and delicious fruit :DSquirrel3We started putting out traps in early June and lost count as to how many little squirrels we’ve caught and released to date.  Last count was about 19 squirrels. We even caught this guy in our trap one day…

Bird_061014_2What?  You’re not a squirrel! When I went out to check on the traps to make certain they were in shade, I heard an unfamiliar sound coming from the trap underneath our fig tree. It was a small bird.  This was definitely a first. It obviously had been hopping along the ground underneath the fig when it unexpectedly hopped into the trap.  Ooops!

Bird_061014_5The little bird was clearly in distress so I quickly released it from its captivity.  It happily flew away to probably come back and feast on my fruit later :(

So where’s Pinny, our garden and orchard protector, during all this fun activity?


Well… she’s always the first to alert us that a squirrel has been captured.  Upon letting her outside, the first order of business is to chase away any birds on her property (even birds flying over) then, she immediately checks each trap to see if a squirrel is inside. She’s such a good girl. She refrains from harassing the little guys too much and will usually stand pointing her nose at the trap for me to see, then she’ll lay down beside the trap to make sure the squirrel is behaving itself.

If no squirrels are in the traps, she’ll run over to the pile of rocks where she knows they like to hide in and will proceed to sniff around.  When she’s finally certain no threat is present, she’ll grab her ball and lay underneath the shade of our Weeping Santa Rosa Plum (her favorite tree) and play quietly… waiting patiently for the furry and winged intruders to present themselves.

Squirrel9

What’s pestering your garden or fruit trees this summer?  I’d love to hear all about it. Just leave a comment below :)

Hope you have something awesome planned for this weekend!

God Bless,

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Summer’s Treat… Tomatoes

Tomato9Hi Friends! What types of summer veggies are you eating from your garden this year? Like most gardeners in the U.S., I’m sure your garden is filled with things like eggplants, onions, herbs, peppers, melons, corn and at least one tomato plant this summer. Am I right?

As the diehard gardeners that you are, I’m sure most, if not all of you, have done your share of research on the sun kissed rosy red beauties we fondly refer to as the tomato. I know I have and wow, I’m just blown away by the amount of choices we have as gardeners ~ proof that this fruit is one of the most beloved of summer’s bounty.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of different varieties to choose from! It’s puzzling as to why anyone would settle for the same ole “go-to-tomato” year after year when there are so many others to choose from and try out in your garden.  Just a simple search on the internet will reveal the vast world of tomatoes with very little effort.

Tomato11Okay, with that said, in my hearts of hearts I love to go outside of my box and try different and unique varieties of veggies, but this year I am sort of one of those “safe” people. At least when it comes to the tomatoes I chose to plant this year.  Pretty boring really.  In a previous post I mentioned that I had several old tomato seed packets that are at least 6-7 years old and that I purchased locally here in town.  Rather than toss them out, I decided to see if they would germinate.  They did, so into the garden they went.  That simple. That boring.

One interesting point about these tomatoes, besides the fact that a lot of people here in town grow them, is that they helped open my eyes to the possibilities of gardening here. That and finding my first local gardening resource here in town.

As I began to write this post and started to jot down some thoughts about these tomatoes, I realized that when I bought them so many years ago, I was literally at the tail end of my gardening in the desert “doubting phase”.  A phase I think most folks who move here go through because the desert can feel so foreign, especially to those coming from an area with lots of trees and greenery. Sadly for some, this phase can last a lifetime.  For others, especially those who refuse to accept defeat, move through their doubts slowly and with a focused purpose.

Throughout this doubting phase, I was unwilling to let my gardening dream die.  I was uncertain as to what that dream really looked like here, but I was determined all the same.  I wanted a garden to grow my own food… period. With an unwavering resolve, I began to wade through my doubts and misinformation and decided to step out of the “naysayer circle”.  When I did this, I actually happened upon my first local resource here in town. Even today, I’m uncertain as to why this first local resource was so difficult to find, especially for someone who’s fairly skilled at researching.  Perhaps it was the nagging doubt clouding my mind or the shock of how dry and lifeless it seemed here.  Or, maybe my eyes were only half-open at the time and I was unwilling to see the possibilities.  Who knows, really.  Once this door of information was open, the flood gates burst open. Well actually, it was more like a slow domino effect at first.  One connection led to another, then another.  The information came my way in nibble sized bits.  As my understanding and knowledge grew, then the flood gates opened with no end in sight :DTomato14

Okay, now that I’m back from memory lane, I thought I’d share some of the details on how these “ole reliables” are performing in my garden. I only refer to them as “ole reliables” because these are the tomatoes promoted by some of the local gardening resources here in town and not directly from my experience with them.

Tomato10

Here’s the performance rundown so far:

Tomato5Hawaiian Tropic (hybrid) ~ Right off the bat, for me this tomato has one big strike against it.  The reason?  It’s a hybrid variety. I like to save seeds and because its a hybrid variety, any seeds I save and try to grow will not grow true to the parent plant. Other than that, this variety has produced loads of fruit so far and is growing well with the trellised single stem method I’m using.  The plant has had new growth recently and is continuing to climb up the trellis and produce more flowers and fruit. So far nothing has slowed down it’s growth, not even in our heat.

One thing I did notice is when our temps hit 105ºF, this tomato’s leaves exhibited a small amount of leaf browning and curling. This curling has been more pronounced since we received rain over the past few days.  The humidity in the air is quite noticeable.  I’ve also had a few fruit split on me recently, too. So frustrating when you’ve been anticipating the ripening of a beautiful perfect tomato only to find it split as it ripens.

Sorry folks, but I have to say that I’m not really impressed with the taste of this one.  I’ve heard so much hoopla about this tomato that I was expecting some heaven transcending experience when I ate it, but… I’ve had better.  I took a brix reading ~ a disappointing at 5.5 brix (= between poor and average).  I’m sure if the brix was higher it would have a better taste. What is a brix reading? See a brix chart.

Hubby and I are working hard to improve our garden soil by adding minerals/rock dusts and other nutrition building amendments that will help to increase the brix (nutrition) levels of our fruits and veggies.

070514_TomatoHeartland VFN (hybrid) ~ Like Hawaiian Tropic, this is a hybrid variety.  So far, this plant has stayed quite compact, but has produced just about as much fruit as the Hawaiian Tropic.  During a recent fruit count I did, both varieties had about 42 fruit in various stages of growth.  Thing is… Heartland is literally about half the size. Quite impressive.

This variety has experienced similar ailments as the Hawaiian Tropic, but has had a few more fruit split issues recently.  And, the taste is average.

Another disappointing brix reading… 5.0 brix (= between poor and average).

070514_Tomato4Green Grape (heirloom) ~ This variety of tomato is an heirloom variety.  It has performed well in my garden, though trying to tell when it was ripe the first time out was a short trial and error period.  Basically, when the green fruit turns a nice deep shade of yellow-green, it’s ready for harvest. This plant also has some recent leaf curling and browning, but continues to be a good producer so far  And the flavor is quite nice, far better than the first two.  Yup, and as expected, the brix reading on this tomato was much better that the last two also.  This came in at 8.0 brix (=Good).

070514_Tomato10Sweetie Cherry (open-pollinated) ~ This little guy is an open-pollinated variety and is so prolific both in growth and in fruit quantity.  This tomato plants has just about reached the top of my trellis which stands about 8′ high.  One thing to mention about this little cherry tomato (at least in my garden) is the continual number of browning and browning/die back.  I’m constantly trimming off dead sections of this plant but they are quickly replaced by a healthy green sucker, which I let grow to take its place. This browning and die-back characteristic doesn’t phase its performance in the least.  The fruit is super sweet, too with a brix reading of 9.0 brix (= between good and excellent).Stupice (Stu-peech-ka) (heirloom) ~ Here’s another heirloom and it’s a potato leaf tomato variety.  I actually started this plant from seed directly in the garden.  All the other tomato plants I started from seed indoors.  In the garden, it germinated very quickly and has grown like a weed.  I started this plant about a month later than all the rest and have yet to taste the fruit or test the brix on it.  I’m anticipating fruit soon since it currently has several flowers on it and a few small fruit :)

Roma (heirloom) ~ An heirloom variety.  I’m still on the fence with this one.  The fruit is much smaller than I expected and is supposed to be a determinate variety, but it sure is not acting like one.  Also, rather than trellising or caging this plant, I let it sprawl and as a result it has taken over a large section of my raised bed.

I do love the taste of these little tomatoes, but this plant seems to be more temperamental than the rest and has had quite a bit of die back in the center of the plant.  Inspite the dieback, the recent new growth on it is beautiful and green. I’ve also been finding blossom end rot on some of the tomatoes.  I’m currently working toward resolving this issue.

The brix reading was far from impressive at 5.0 brix. I’m certain if the brix were higher the tomato taste would be phenomenal.

Tomato12

Next Summer Season

For next year’s summer tomato parade in my garden I will definitely be trying out some new varieties.  Now friends, if you’re a crazed gardener like I am (yeah, you know you are) summer’s only just begun and you already have a summer seed wish list created for next year (shock!).

Well, here’s the short list version of my long list (all are supposed to do well in the heat)…

  • Punta Banda ~ heirloom
  • Nichols Pink cherry ~ heirloom
  • Violet Jasper ~ heirloom
  • Marianna’s Peace ~ heirloom

What about the ole reliables, the “tried and trues”? They have served their purpose and will be retired at the end of this summer season, at least in my garden.  Thank you ole reliables… until we meet again.

Tomato15

What Tomatoes Varieties Are You Growing This Summer?

I’d love to hear from you about the varieties of tomatoes you’re growing this year and how they’re doing for you ~ just leave a comment below :)

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Happy tomato eating!

God Bless

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July Orchard Tasks

Egg_070114Hi friends… hope you’re finding ways to stay cool this summer.  You know its July when the outside temps here turn from hot to sizzling hot.  Recently, our daytime temps have been around 105°F and this week we’re expecting the temps to be even hotter.  110°F to be exact.  It’s supposed to cool down a bit the first part of next week, to a cool 102°F.  It’s definitely gonna be a hot 4th of July.  Wondering about the egg photo? Since it’s so hot, I thought it would be a silly fun photograph for my post, so I cracked an egg on the concrete out back (exact time:  2:15PM).  Will it really cook in this heat?  Doubt it.  Check out this interesting link.

At 3:58PM, I used my temp gun to measure the concrete’s surface temperature… it’s registered at 141°F.  Check out the results at the end of this post.

Any plans for 4th of July?  We usually stay home and help “soothe” our doggie’s nerves when the fireworks start going off.  Pinny has never been a fan of fireworks and really struggles with the flashes and startling explosive sounds. As most of you might agree, 4th of July usually starts in most neighborhoods about a week or so in advance with random fireworks going off here and there.  Then continues off and on well past the official holiday date until neighbor firework supplies have been depleted.

Our youngest kitty, Jaspurr, takes his que from Pinny.  When she freaks out, he freaks out and typically hides and is nowhere to be found for several hours.  Buddies to the core.  It just breaks my heart that they are so frightened by the fireworks.  Ginger, our oldest kitty, is such a skittish little kitty with everything except fireworks.  She sleeps right through the noise and hoopla with no issue.  Go figure.

Aside from the expected temporary disruption to our little family, we always try to make the best of it by grilling something on the BBQ then watching a movie or two with the volume set several times louder than we’d usually have it to help drown out the sounds.

Moving on… here’s this month’s orchard task list.  A lot of the items are the same as June’s Orchard Task list but there are a few differences so be sure to check it out.070114_Pluot

  • Irrigation ~ now that temps are consistently hitting 105°F, it’s time to change-up the watering schedule. This time of year, I water all of my fruit trees 3x a week… typically Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 20 minutes each session. Baby trees can still be watered for about 15 minutes each session, but since all of my trees are on the same watering system, they all get watered for 20 minutes with this one change… I turn down the bubbler heads on my young trees so they get a little less water. My goal for them is about 15 gallons of water each session.
    • If Temps drop back down to 100°F if the day-time temperature drops back down to 100°F consistently for a few days, I’ll back off on my watering to 2x per week, but this is pretty rare here in our desert summer heat.
    • Monsoon Rains:  I keep a close watch out for rain in the forecast and turn off the water to my trees when rain is expected. After it rains, I wait a couple of days before resuming my normal watering schedule, depending on how much rain there was and how saturated the soil still is. Sometimes I’ll use my moisture meter to help determine this, but mostly I just look at the surface of the soil… with our native soil, it’s very easy to tell if the soil is still really wet.
  • Continue to pick up fallen fruit ~ As long as there is fruit to harvest, this will be a recurring task and for some trees, a daily task. For instance, as soon as the temps start to rise, my Saturn Peach tree starts dropping fruit, especially if I missed removing any bird-pecked fruit while harvesting. This half-eaten fruit inevitably starts to decay and rot on the tree then falls to the ground in a mushy mess which quickly turns into a soupy smelly mess.
    Tip: I like to store a small rake, with an empty plastic grocery bag tied to the handle, somewhere nearby the trees I’m harvesting to make quick work of collecting and disposing of fallen fruit.
  • Harvest fruit this month ~ Yum! Depending on where you’re located and the variety of fruit you have growing, you could be harvesting the following fruit this month:
    • Apples
    • Apricots
    • Asian Pears
    • Blueberries
    • Figs
    • NectaPlums
    • Nectarines
    • Peaches
    • Pears
    • Plums
    • Pluots

I’m currently harvesting

    • Dorsett Golden Apple
    • Saturn Peaches
    • Black Mission Figs
    • Weeping Santa Rosa Plums

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  • Keep harvested fruit out of direct sunlight ~ Besides the tips mentioned in June’s Orchard Tasks, bringing out an ice chest (with a handle and wheels) filled ½ way with ice is always helpful this time of year. Be sure to keep the fruit elevated out of any water by using a tray of some sort.
  • Summer Prune ~ continue to summer prune, if needed
  • Keep weeds under control ~ One helpful tip I failed to mention last month on this subject is that it’s super helpful to spread around a 3-inch to 4-inch layer of wood mulch on the ground, especially if you have areas with bare dirt. It works great to suppress the weeds.  Just remember, if your trees are less than 5 years old, keep the wood mulch away from the trunk at least 6-inches.
  • Continue to protect your fruit from bird damage.  Be sure to check out my post on bird netting.
  • Keep checking for and addressing pests in your backyard orchard.
    • Borers are out this month here in Las Vegas, Nevada. Be sure to check your fruit trees for any sap coming from the trunk, main scaffolds, branch crotch areas and branches.  Check out the UC IPM site for more info on Peachtree Borers and Peach Twig Borers.
    • Fire Ants and other ants are out in full force this month.

Right now we’re experiencing an ant problem. A Southern Fire Ant problem to be exact. We’ve seen no signs of aphids on our trees, but the ants love to trail up onto the tree branches and feast on any fruit with open wounds (like from bird pecking). The thought of ants climbing around in my fruit trees barely registers on my “bug-on-me-freak-out-reaction-meter” like unexpectedly grabbing onto a spider or stink bug when harvesting fruit. It’s the painful fiery reminder that these ants give you when you inadvertently stir up a marching army of them. Fire ants are common place on our property and boy do those suckers hurt.

We’ve been spreading diatomaceous earth on them when we find large masses of them. Time permitting, we may still spread a DE slurry onto the trunks of our fruit trees, but it probably would have been better to do this a few weeks back.

This weekend we will kick up our search and destroy efforts by scouting around more thoroughly on our property to find entry points into their homes. Especially around my raised beds.  They seem to love my summer squash blossoms. So much so, there’s usually too many to count deep inside the flower itself.  Even the bees are a bit reluctant to go inside to collect pollen and pollinate.  Every time I try to manually pollinate the squash flowers, the ants go completely berserk and usually get on my hand and bite. Ouch!  I can’t tell you how many welts I’ve had on my right hand this week alone.  It’s time to pull out the citrus peel extract (d-Limonene) product and go medieval on their mounds.  I can also make up some special treats for them. Bite on this you fiery suckers!

Yeah, I know… it’s not a pretty sight.  Every year I get bit by these guys then rant about it and even dedicate an entire blog post to it.  Yes, a teeny tiny red and black insect has brought me to this point.  Sad but true.

  • Protect your fruit trees from squirrels, rabbits and other rodents ~ our “catch and release” program this year has been quite successful so far. I’ll be putting out a post on it soon.

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  • Protect yourself from the heat!
    • Work in the cool of the morning and evening ~ this time of year I recommend doing time and labor-intensive tasks, like pruning and harvesting, during the morning hours between 5:30 AM ~ 10:00 AM – and/or – in the evening hours between 6:00 PM ~ 7:30PM; I know this can be challenging with a full-time job, but just remember… this is the fun stuff :)
    • Wear protective clothing and accessories such as a long sleeve shirt made of a lightweight sun-blocking fabric, a nice wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses or protective eye wear, and gloves.
    • Stay hydrated ~ bring out a container of cool water with you to drink
    • Take frequent breaks ~ sit in the shade for a few minutes and drink your water
  • Make time to preserve and savor your bounty ~
    • can jams and pie fillings, fruit halves, puree’s, fruit salsas and pickled fruit for use now and later
    • dehydrate fruit for use in future recipes, for granola or — make a homemade trail mix for hiking or camping trips or make yummy fruit roll-ups with different spices and nuts for snacking
    • bake cookies, sweet breads and other delectable sweet treats
    • or freeze your bounty for later use in smoothies and juices ~ just think, fresh peach smoothies all summer long and in the middle of November… yum!
  • Continue feeding your fruit trees by using either a quality organic foliar spray or a soil-microbe friendly fertilizer. You can also add soil and microbe enriching amendments now, too.
    This time of year hubby and I continue to spray a holistic homemade foliar spray on all of our fruit trees except on our Asian pears.  They are more sensitive to the neem oil in our mix so we opt to spray the soil only around those trees.
  • Start Writing Your Fruit Tree Wish List at the end of this month. Planning to start a fruit orchard or add to an existing home fruit orchard? Now is the time to research your bare root fruit tree options.  Bay Laurel Nursery is my favorite online source for purchasing bare root fruit trees. They have a wonderful selection, awesome customer service and replacement guarantee, reasonable prices and shipping costs, great packaging and is a distributor of Dave Wilson Nursery fruit trees, which in my opinion (and the opinion of many other experienced orchardists) are the absolute best fruit tree stock available.

Unsure whether to buy bare root or containerized fruit trees and would like to learn more about the differences between the two? Be sure to check out my posts Step 3: Purchasing the Fruit Trees (Part 1)  (Part 2)  and (Part 3) where I talk about bare root vs. containerized fruit trees in detail.

Now for the results of my concrete cooked egg…

070114_eggNow that’s highly unappealing.  Yuck! Sorry folks, it’s pretty disgusting, but this is what an egg looks like at the end of a 110°F day… if you ever wondered.  Mmmmm.  Who wants breakfast :P  Back to more pleasant things…

Until next time, happy harvesting.

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What Summer Veggies Grow in the Desert?

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Hello my dear friends. I truly hope that you are enjoying lots of sunshine and fun-filled days with your loved ones :D  With summer officially here (June 21st), Hubby and I sure have gotten a jump on the great outdoors in our own little slice of heaven… our garden and orchard and I’m lovin’ every minute of it, too.

This same time last year, I was really struggling with my health and spent most of my time cooped up indoors and at the doctor’s office.  On February 6th 2012 I was happy, active and enjoying life then on February 7th, I wasn’t.  Bedridden, sick, weak, unable to eat and struggling to take in air.  I wrestled with this undiagnosed “mystery” illness for seven months before tossing aside conventional medicine and embracing integrative/holistic medicine.  Only then did I see small incremental improvements in my health and my breathing.  An absolute God send.

My return to gardening was slow and challenging, but the more fresh fruits and veggies I ate from my own organic home-grown garden and the more improvements I made to my soil (i.e., minerals), the more improvements I saw with my health.  I’m absolutely convinced that the nourishment my fruits and veggies provide me along with good ole’ sunshine helped to bring me where I am today with my health.  Though still recovering, my home-grown bounty gave me a much-needed boost in the arm when I needed it.  This leads me to my ultimate goal… to grow a wide variety of high brix nutrient dense fruits and veggies to help both my hubby and I regain and improve on our health.

I’m so grateful that I’m sitting here today and am able to share my desert gardening experience, knowledge and challenges with you.  My hope is that my words, photos and garden art will not only help to encourage you to grow your own fresh fruits and veggies, but to grow it in such a way that it is highly nutritious and health promoting.  Be courageous. Experiment. I’ll be right there by your side cheering you on the entire way :D

So what can you grow during the summer months in a hot arid climate?

All kinds of fruits and veggies.

I’ll save the details of how-to garden in the desert for a future blog post, so for now, let’s take a look at just a small sampling of what can be grown successfully in a hot and dry climate during the summer months.

Here are a few things I’m growing in my summer garden right now…

062214_GardenUpdate3Rainbow Swiss Chard.  In addition to all their delicious “yumminess”, the colors are vibrant and stunning. I was captivated by how beautiful the sunlit chard leaf looked this morning that I had to share it with you.  I love, love, love the shocking pink color.

062214_GardenUpdate11Borage.  This is such a beautiful fuzzy herb.  Most of the Borage in my garden was looking sad and dried out, so I pulled them out a couple of weeks ago.  Except this guy.  This one is located on the East-side of my Raised Bed #2, which is located under 30% shade cloth.  It gets full morning sun and is then lightly shaded all afternoon. Some folks say you can eat the leaves and flowers, but I have yet to try it… a little too prickly for my liking.  Bees love it, so it stays :)

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Summer and Winter Squash.  The mainstay of summer gardening!  This year in my summer garden I’m growing Yellow Straightneck Squash, Fordhook Zucchini, Bennings Green Tint Scallop Squash and Waltham Butternut Squash. Most of my squash are growing in full sun with the exception of my butternut squash and scallop squash.  The raised bed in full sun was full so I decided to plant these two varieties in one of the raised beds under the 30% shade cloth.  They are doing awesome.

I decided to trellis my butternut squash this year rather than letting it ramble about on the soil.  So far it’s working out very well.

062214_GardenUpdate10Lettuce.  Now is the time to grow warm season lettuce.  I bought a new variety to try this year and so far it has outperformed my expectations of lettuce this time of year.  It’s thriving very nicely in my garden on the north end of my raised bed (under 30% shade cloth).  The lettuce does get a tad bit of afternoon sun and stays quite perky even with the sun on it.  The variety… Bronze Beauty.

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Cucumber.  Another mainstay of the summer garden.  This year I’m growing one Lemon Cucumber and it’s decided to take over my five foot wide trellis leaving very little room for my butternut squash.  Sheesh.  These cucumbers have a mild flavor and are easier to digest than other cucumbers.  Over the weekend, I noticed that several flowers have bloomed. Awesome!

062214_GardenUpdate4Poha Berry.  This summer I decided to kick it up a notch by planting something more exotic.  Poha Berry is also known as a Cape Gooseberry or Golden Berry and the smooth skinned gold/orange fruit grows in lantern-shaped papery husks ~ similar to tomatillo fruit.  It is called poha in Hawaii where I believe it was first discovered around 1825. This fruit is supposed to be a bit tangy and taste like pineapple and strawberries ~ so I’ll have to wait and see.  So far this little gem has performed very well under the 30% shade cloth and started to bloom a few days ago :D

Notice the paper collar at the base of the plant in the photo?  I had two plants growing and when they were small seedlings, a cutworm chomped the other plant in half :(  I’m so glad I was able to save the other plant.  It’s now about 12″ tall and growing.

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Thyme and Basil.  Besides growing Borage, I’m also growing thyme and several varieties of basil to include Lemon, Genovese, Thai, and Cinnamon.  All of them smell just heavenly but I am particularly drawn to the sweet scent of the Cinnamon Basil.  I just love to rub the leaves between my fingers and breathe in the wonderful spicy sweet scent.

I like to let some of my basil go to flower just for the bees.  They L O V E it!

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062214_GardenUpdate8 062214_GardenUpdate9Pansies.  P A N S I E S!?! In a 100°F+ temps? This is a shocker to me as well.  I have one cluster of pansies (about 16″ L x 12″ W) growing and thriving in my garden.  This plant continues to trail out and send out flower buds and blossoms and is very happy growing in the shade of my Swiss Chard and Cucumbers.  I do notice the flower petal edges curl a tad bit, but other than that they’re doing well.  I keep the soil moist (the shade helps with that) and deadhead the spent flowers regularly. That’s it.  Who knew.  I’m going to try and save some of the seeds for next year since this is such a strong performer.

062214_GardenUpdate18Ensign Flowers. This is a gorgeous flowering plant.  I always like to tuck in some beautiful color here and there throughout my veggie garden and this plant is really holding up to the heat. It’s a vining plant, but it does not send out additional roots along it’s vine. I believe it’s a type of morning glory. So beautiful.

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Tomatoes and Tomatillo.  This year I’m growing a number of tomatoes and growing them “single stem” up on a trellis.  All of my tomato plants are under the 30% shade cloth and performing exceptionally well. A few leaves here and there are brown or dying back a bit, but I’m very pleased with their performance overall. There is more than one way to successfully grow tomatoes in the desert.

About 7 years ago, I purchased tomato seeds locally and decided to see if they would still germinate.  To my surprise, they did so I decided to go ahead and plant them in the garden with the expectation that they would not do well based on the age of the seeds.  The tomatoes proved me wrong.  The plants are strong, healthy and productive.  One plant has 42 fruit and counting another has 39 fruit and at least another dozen or so fruitlets and the cherry tomatoes are too numerous to count.  What are the varieties?  Hawaiian Tropic, Heartland VFN, Green Grape, Sweetie Cherry and Stupice (pronounced Stu-Peech-Ka).  Next year I plan to either give away or toss these seeds (except the Stupice… I just purchased the seeds this year).  I already have my eye on several different varieties for next year :D

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Oh, I’m also growing Verde Tomatillo in my garden, too.062214_GardenUpdate29062214_GardenUpdate30

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Peppers.  This year I’m growing a number of peppers that include… Pepperoncini, Purple Jalapeno, Multi-Color Cayenne, Sweet Cherry, Slim Pim, and Red Buran.  The Sweet Cherry, Slim Pim and Red Buran varieties are struggling and just not performing well in my garden so I’ve marked them on my “do not buy in the future” list. On the other hand, the Pepperoncini, Jalapeno and Cayenne are doing very well.  My pepperoncini plants all have flower buds that are getting ready to burst open in the next week or so.092313_Onioun

Onions. All sorts of onions do well here. What’s great is that we can successfully grow short-day, intermediate and long day varieties of onions here.  So awesome that we have choices.  I am currently growing Green Bunching, Red of Florence, Candy, Texas Legend, and Red Candy Apple.

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 Eggplants.  Ratatouille here I come! I’m growing Long Purple and Listada De Gandia, a beautiful heirloom eggplant that has purple and white striped fruit. Yum!

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Beans.  I have several bean plants growing in my raised beds.  I’m growing two heirloom dry beans Calypso and Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg and also Provider, a green bean.062214_GardenUpdate22062214_GardenUpdate23062214_GardenUpdate19062214_GardenUpdate21

Melons.  Hubby and I built a 10’x10′ raised bed for our melons this year and boy did we go a little crazy with it.  We are growing Moon & Stars Yellow Flesh Watermelon, White Wonder Watermelon, Sugar Baby Watermelon and two unique muskmelon-types… Indian Cream Cobra and Zatta.  The bees have been very busy pollinating our melons and we currently have a ton of melons to show for it.  Thank you bees!  Since all the melon vines are spilling out over the edges of the bed, I think we’re going to need a crane to harvest melons in the middle of the bed. Yikes! I see lots of melon dishes in my future!

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Amaranth Leaf. Now this is a new one for me.  I love to eat leafy greens because they are so high in nutrition and they add a nice flavor to soups (part of my daily health regimen).  Because of this, I’m always on the look out for new greens I can try to grow in my garden different times of the year.  I read about amaranth leaf in an article about greens that do well in hot and arid climates.  Go figure. The gardener who wrote the article was having great success with them, so I decided to give it a try.  One note… amaranth leaf is different from the amaranth  seed you would buy to harvest its grain.  I found amaranth leaf seeds online at Kitazawa Seed Co.  I am growing Red Leaf Amaranth and Red Beauty Amaranth.

In addition to the fruits and veggies above, I’m also growing:

  • Molokhia (Egyptian Spinach)
  • New Zealand Spinach
  • Heirloom Sweet Potatoes (for the tubers and the leaves) ~ Sharp, Stevenson and Vardaman
  • and of course, Sunflowers ~ Lemon Queen, Arikara, and Rustov

Next year, I’ll be trying a number of new varieties of fruits and veggies and will be sure to pass along the info on which ones do well here.

New Gardening Group in Las Vegas, Nevada ~ Come Join Us!

Hey Las Vegas gardeners, there’s a fun new group starting up in town that will be focused on one of my favorite topics.  Yup, you guessed it… gardening in the desert. We’re just getting started and would love to have you join us.

Our next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, July 5th at 9:00 a.m. at Viragrow.  Sal Ramirez, the owner of Viragrow, has generously opened his doors to us as a meeting location in his air conditioned meeting room.  Did I mention air conditioned?  Seating is limited, so please be sure to let us know if you’re interested in attending by contacting info@viragrow.com.  During our meeting time we’ll be checking out Viragrow’s test garden and discussing current challenges with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, melons, corn and other summer veggies and herbs.

Interested in shouting out your gardening successes to the world? At the tail end of our July 5th meeting, fellow garden blogger Bob Morris and I will be conducting an introduction on how to get started using various social media to tell your story. You’ll be taught some of the basics of blogging including how to set up your account at Blogger or WordPress.com. Other social media will also be covered including Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. The meeting room is internet ready and we encourage you to bring your laptop so you can begin blogging real-time!GardeningGroup_062114So, come and get connected with like-minded folks who just love to grow their own food.  It’s a safe place to kick back and chat up a storm about the in’s and out’s of gardening in the desert.  Our group is committed to celebrating our mutual interest in home gardening while respecting our differences in how we garden in the desert. See you on July 5th!

Happy growing!

I’m sharing my post at:
An Oregon Cottage ~ Tuesday Garden Party

God Bless,

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Bragada Bug (Painted Bug)

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Hello dear friends.  Today I’d like to introduce you to a fairly recent transplant to the California and Southwest home garden scene.  Everyone, this is the Bragada Bug (a.k.a. Painted Bug).  Bragada Bug… these wonderful folks are my friends.

Let me forewarn you.  I try to stay upbeat and positive in all areas of my life, including my gardening adventures, but to be truthful, this bug has me a bit nervous.  There’s nothing funny about this invasive pest.  It’s very prolific, both adults and nymphs have a ferocious appetite and as individuals and en masse, they can be extremely destructive to your precious home-grown veggie plants.

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Here’s a few highlights that I’ve learned about the Bragada Bug…

  • It looks almost identical to a Harlequin bug, but it’s a fraction of its size ~ and it is not a Harlequin bug, it’s a small stink bug (Pentatomidae: Heteroptera)

  • It originated from Africa and India

  • First discovered in Orange County, California in 2008 its spread throughout California and east to Arizona within two years time ~ yikes!

  • It’s a warm season insect and loves hot and arid climates and adults begin to fly when temps are above 85°F ~ bad news for us folks in the southwest

  • They are most active and on the plants during the hottest part of the day

  • They hide in the soil, base of plants or under leaves during cool parts of the day

  • Females can lay approximately 100 eggs in just 2-3 short weeks ~ and the eggs can hatch within 4-8 days depending on how hot it is (heat hastens the process)

  • There are very few control products available to big ag and even fewer control products for the organic gardener :(

  • It has an insatiable appetite for cole crops, but wait… it doesn’t end there (see Plant List below)

  • It leaves a telltale light green starburst pattern on the leaves after feeding (see Damage below)

Okay, we’ve had our fair share of bugs to contend with in our gardens over the years, but this one… this one is a formidable garden adversary that could bring some of us to our knees crying and blubbering all over ourselves and our loved ones, especially if this pest is seen in the hundreds huddling together and feasting in unison on our most beloved veggie plants.

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Chin up gardeners… we will get through this together one Bragada Bug at a time.  There is hope.  We will prevail!  So far, I’ve been able to keep this pesky little bug under control in my garden.  I have a strategy based on research, diligence and patience that seems to be working and I’ll be very happy to share that with you later in this post.

A Birds-Eye Perspective

Now that I’ve given you a brief introduction to the Bragada Bug, let’s take a little closer look at our new garden friend (wink, wink).  It’s diminutive size alone can make it challenging to see in the garden and usually goes unnoticed until their numbers begin to increase.  By then, they’ve already begun to get a foot hold in your garden.

In my research, I came across a number of online sites that, in my opinion, did a poor job of describing the actual size of this pest.  Sure they gave measurements and “described their size” with written words, one even had a silhouette of the pest’s actual size and others showed photos that were difficult to discern the size from.  So, here’s my attempt to demonstrate their actual size to you.

061214_Bragada7This photo shows you a number of (dead ~ sorry) adult Bragada Bugs.  I had captured a number of them to help me identify them through research and during their stay in their plastic accommodations, they perished.  About one week later, I was about ready to toss out the plastic baggie when I noticed something moving among the bug debris… a Bragada Bug nymph.  Apparently, one of the adults had babies during their stay and one was still alive.  Look at the size of that little guy (or gal).  Think you can see this nymph in your veggie garden walking along the soil?

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Plant List
Bragada Bugs favs…

According to UC Davis IPM, the following plants are required for optimal reproduction and is under serious threat by the Bragada bug (invasive):

  • Mustard plants (Host plants)
    • Cruciferous weeds such as various wild mustards, shepherd’s purse, London rocket, and pepperweed
  • Brassica genus crops and related cruciferous crops
    • arugula
    • asian greens (i.e., bok choi, tatsoi, etc.)
    • broccoli
    • brussel sprouts
    • cabbage
    • cauliflower
    • chinese cabbage
    • collards
    • kale
    • kohlrabi
    • mustard greens (black, indian, mizuna, etc.)
    • radish
    • rutabaga
    • turnips
  • Ornamental landscape plants
    • Sweet Alyssum
    • Candytuft
    • Nasturtiums
    • Rockcress
    • Stock
    • Wallflower

When Brigada Bug densities are high and crucifers are scarce, they can attack the vegetative and flowering growth of…

  • corn
  • grasses (i.e., bermuda)
  • sudangrass
  • sorghum
  • sunflowers
  • potato
  • cotton
  • thistle
  • wheat
  • and some legumes, including snap beans

And cause feeding damage on the fruit of…

  • bell peppers
  • melons
  • papayas
  • tomatoes
  • capers

Damage

Both the adults and nymphs feed on the leaves, stems (growth points), flowers, and seeds of your garden plants. They have a needle-like mouth part that they insert into the plant tissue in a “sawing-like” motion in which they inject a digestive enzyme (yuck) and suck down juices and usually the life out of whatever they’re feasting on. Their feeding habits leave a telltale sign of their presence… a light green starburst lesion.

From a distance, it may be hard to see the starburst pattern and may look like “scorched” leaves, but upon closer inspection, the evidence is clear.

061214_Bragada10 061214_Bragada11 061214_Bragada12The Bragada Bugs likes to go after young seedling cotelydons and growth points (terminal bud) and are usually successful in either stunting its growth or the more likely outcome, the untimely death of the seedling. And it goes without saying, if you see these pests in your garden, take special care to watch over your seedlings, especially if the plant is one of their favs (see Plant List above).  Keep in mind that a single Bragada Bug can and will suck the life out of small seedling cotelydons within just a few days.  Just think what two or more Bragada Bugs could do.  Frightening.

Currently these pests seem to flock to following plants in my veggie garden:

  • Tatsoi
  • Bok Choi
  • Mizuna (mustard)
  • Nasturtiums

After discovering them in my garden and doing some intensive research on these little stinkbugs, I decided to pull out my Bok Choi and Nasturtiums and leave the Tatsoi and Mizuna (which are planted right next to each other) as “trap” plants.  To date, I’ve been able to use these two “trap” plants successfully to unleash my feverish assaults on these guys.  I have officially declared war. There will be no yield reductions, misshapen or premature plant loss to these guys in my garden. Not on my watch.  F-R-E-E-D-O-M!  Yeah, too many movies.

 

So What Can An Organic Home Gardening Health-Conscious Beneficial Lovin’ Chem-Phobe Person Do?

Here’s my recommendation based on the success I’ve had to date in keeping this buggar’s numbers low in my garden…

  1. Build the health of your soil and plants ~ this is an important one. Healthy soil is chock full of nutrition, minerals and microbes that help to fortify your veggie plants. It’s a well-known fact that unhealthy plants attract and harbor pests and healthy plants are able to withstand their attacks and are typically left alone. FYI: the plants that are being attacked in my garden are cool weather plants under 30% shade cloth and were struggling just a bit to begin with.
  2. Early detection ~ Bragada bug populations can grow in size very quickly if left unchecked in the home garden.  I’ve seen photos (online) of these guys clustered together by the thousands in a small area, something no home gardener wants to see in their garden.When I first saw this pest in my garden, it took me a couple of weeks to find out its true identity. Normally, when I discover a new pest in my garden, I quickly research my subject at hand with a goal of seeking out answers within a couple of days. I have to admit I was a little slack this time and a bit over-confident in the fact that I have had very few pests this year.  Credit to the improvements we’ve made to our raised bed soil (microbes, minerals, etc.) and to our weekly holistic sprays in our veggie garden.  Knowing what I know now about these guys, I’m thankful that I was smart enough to continue my daily “squishing” of these pests when I found them.I also began to notice a pattern… they really liked my Tatsoi plant and nasturtiums.
  3. Daily Search and Destroy ~ Unfortunately, you have to keep a constant look out for these guys.  As soon as you turn your back or get comfortable with their reduced numbers, they’ll breed like rabbits on too much caffeine and out number you 100+ to 1.  Just be sure to add this task to your daily gardening routine.  1x a day is good. 2x a day is better. 3x a day is best!  Remember, these guys like to get busy during the hottest part of the day, so if you’re used to going out first thing in the morning to tend to your garden, they may still be in the soil or tucked in at the base of your plants to stay warm.  A visit to the garden around 2PM or 3PM is in order and then a final check in the early evening while the sun is still out.  If you do this every day, it will only take a few minutes each time.
    Most days we find about 20 or so of these guys (usually as attached couples), but on cooler days we’ll find significantly less.
  4. Now the Destroy part ~ harsh words for an insect, I know, but seriously… these guys can make a quick mess of your beautiful hard-earned veggie garden.  Though I do not believe in total annihilation, these pests do need to be kept in check or their numbers will grow to uncontrollable proportions in no time. The secret weapon?
    1. A 32 ounce spray bottle (set to a strong stream) and 2 teaspoons of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Soap or Seventh Generation Unscented Liquid Dish Soap.  That’s it?  Yes, that’s it.  Trust me, I’ve tested this recipe about a hundred times now and it works.Simply keep your spray bottle/soapy solution with you at all times in the garden and when you see a Bragada Bug, give em’ a good squirt. Make sure the soapy water makes contact with them. Spraying it just on the leaves or ground for some unsuspecting Bragada Bug to stumble upon simply won’t work.  The soapy water takes about 10 seconds to do its magic. First they’ll pull themselves up and out of the soapy water and slowly walk away.  In just a second or two, they’ll look like they’re picking up their skirt to tip toe carefully through a mud puddle, then begin to wobble as they walk and finally flip over and die.
    2. Squish them ~ in my opinion, the soapy water is the best solution, but if you’d like to take out a little aggression or do not have your soapy water handy, go for it. Most stinkbugs emit an offensive odor when squished, but I have not noticed any odor coming from these guys, and trust me, I’ve squished my fair share em’ this past month.  Another thing to keep in mind is that these guys are fast, so when you see them, you need to act quickly.  Also, if you’re trying to sneak up on them, try not to cast a shadow over the plant they’re on.  I’ve noticed that when this happens, the Bragadas on the plant take the warning very seriously and are on alert or begin to scatter. Note:  Diatomaceous earth does not work!  DE does not affect these guys.  Using my hand puffer device, I thoroughly “puffed” em until they looked like little walking powder puffs but to my utter dismay, I found them carrying on normal business in my garden several hours later, powder-do and all.  I was even able to flip a few on their back (three to be exact) and puffed em’.  Nothing. Nada.  Energizer bunnies I tell you.
  5. Grow a Trap Plant ~ Now this one I’m still on the fence about and am hesitant in recommending it to you.  I happen to have two trap plants that are planted next to each other not because I was being all smart and planning for these pests, but rather it was dumb luck that I had planted the Bragada Bug favs just before their appearance.  Who knows… it could have been these plants that attracted them to my garden in the first place.  Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, I made a decision to keep these two plants and removed all the other brassica plants from my garden with the exception of two healthy, happy and “untouched” Red Russian Kale. Trust me, I’m keeping a close eye on them.  Soon the heat it going to kick up even hotter and I’m certain my tatsoi and mizuna will perish shortly after, leaving my kale exposed and possible targets. Only time will reveal the true value of this tip. For now, I would only suggest a trap plant to those of you who have actively seen these guys your garden.
  6. Cultivate the Soil ~ from what I understand, this helps to interrupt their reproductive cycle.  Lightly cultivating your veggie bed soil about 2 inches deep  1-2x per week helps to kill any eggs laid in the soil.  I’ve been doing this around and close to my trap plants and it does seem to be helping :)
  7. Remove Infested Plants ~ Before doing this, spray the heck out of the Bragada Bugs currently on the infested plant to kill them, then carefully remove the plant and any/all dead plant debris.  Be sure to keep your soapy water close by… there may be some Bragada Bugs tucked in tight at the base of the plant or in the soil.  Then finally, cultivate the soil.
  8. Remove Host Weeds ~ in and around your veggie garden, especially wild mustard.

Resources

Now I’ve seen a short list of chemicals/pesticides being recommended by specialists and entomologists and an even shorter list of organic/OMRI solutions that are quite cost prohibitive ($350+ for one gallon), but I, personally steer clear of these types of solutions (if humanly possible).  When addressing pest challenges, I always… ALWAYS, consider my honey bees first.  I also have a beautiful colony of celophane bees somewhere on my property that frequently visit my garden and a huge number of beneficials that we’ve fostered over the past few years.  Beneficials like, bumblebees, assasin bugs, preying matids, ladybugs, green lacewings and a number of beneficial wasps.  Their care and safety is a priority for me.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Bragada Bug or about other possible solutions, please be sure to check out these reputable sources…

 UC Davis IPM

Infonet-Biovision.org

Dr. John Palumbo, Associate Research Scientist, Vegetable Crops
University of Arizona, Department of Entomology

Video: Part 1
Video: Part 2
Paper

Always remember to have a positive outlook on life and your garden, and try not to let anything bug you :)061214_Bragada9

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June Orchard Tasks

ArticStarNectarine

Hi Everyone.  As you know, we’re already into the first part of June and here at our little slice of fruit heaven, we’re into the full swing of harvest season :)  Currently, we’re harvesting tons of fruit from our Artic Star Nectarine.  Our Weeping Santa Rosa Plum, Black Mission Fig and Saturn Peach are up next. Yum, yum and yum!

Before we move on to the June Orchard Task List, I wanted to share with you the fruit that kicked off our harvest season this year… our Royal Lee Cherry.  This is our tree’s second year in the orchard and is doing very well (and so is its pollinator, Minnie Royal).  When we purchased our bare root cherry trees, Hubby and I were uncertain as to the success we would have with these trees since we’ve heard mixed reviews of cherries (in general) being grown here in Las Vegas, Nevada.  So far we are happy with the trees and they are so healthy.  Hubby and I were tickled pink to see that our Royal Lee Cherry had fruit set on it this year.  Our excitement lasted for a short while when we discovered the small fruitlets were shriveling up and dropping, which we suspect was from a lack of pollination since our Minnie Royal did not bloom this year.  Then to our surprise, one cherry took hold.

051314_Cherry1Silly as it may be, we checked in on the cherry every day until it was a nice deep blood-red and ready to harvest (on 5/13/14).

051314_Cherry2051314_Cherry3Without hesitation, Hubby graciously let me take the first bite and of course we devoured it together within seconds.  Wow!  The cherry was sweet and had such a wonderful flavor.051314_Cherry4 051314_Cherry5 051314_Cherry6 It was a shame we only had one to share, but this single little gift has given us hope of things to come here in the desert.  Until next year :)051314_Cherry7

 

Alright, as promised, here’s the June Orchard Task List.  It’s a little shorter than previous month’s, but harvesting and processing your fruit will keep you busy.

  • Irrigation ~ continue to water fruit trees 2x a week ~ fruit trees 2+ years old water for about 20 minutes and baby trees less than 1-year-old water for about 10-15 minutes.
    • Special Note:  if the day-time temperature hits 105°F and remains at or above this temperature for more than a couple of days, add an extra day of watering.  Once it drops consistently below 105°F, resume watering 2x per week.  I also recommend an extra watering day on hot and windy (20+ mph wind) days.
  • Check your irrigation system ~ make sure everything is in good working order and water is flowing well from your drip and/or bubbler heads.  Clear any clogging debris to make certain the flow is at an optimum.  The heat is coming!
  • Pick up fallen fruit ~ do this to help keep pests (like a variety of beetles and ants) down to a low roar.  Also keep in mind that fallen fruit and discarded fruit break down and rot very quickly making an absolute mess on the ground and in your trash can.  It can also attract an insane number of flies and pests, and stink up the area from here to high heaven.  Very sticky and stinky!  So be sure to take precautions to seal up and toss the fruit using a method that best suits your preferences. Composting (as long as it’s not infested with critters) or feeding them to chickens is one good way to dispose of the gooey sticky mess.
  • Harvest fruit this month…yippee!  Depending on where you’re located and the variety of fruit you have growing, you could be harvesting the following fruit this month:
    • apriums
    • apricots
    • blueberries
    • cherries, sweet
    • cherries, sour
    • figs
    • nectarines
    • peaches
    • peacotums
    • plums
  • Keep harvested fruit out of direct sunlight ~ the sun’s heat will build up excessive heat within the fruit and cause the fruit to breakdown quickly. While harvesting, be sure to place harvested fruit in the shade until you’re ready to put them in a cooler or bring them indoors.  If you’re harvesting peaches this month and plan on being outside for a bit while picking them, I would highly recommend having a cooler with ice on hand so you can pick and place the harvested fruit in the cooler.  Peaches are so delicate ~ it would be a shame to lose any to potential, and unnecessary, spoil.
  • Summer Prune ~ if you haven’t done summer pruning yet, this is the month to start.  It’s important to summer prune fruit trees to help maintain its size and shape as well as open up the center of the trees and allow for light and air movement to improve the health of the tree and the quality of the fruit.  Note that summer pruning will need to be performed 2-3 times throughout the summer months. Below is a very informative video by Tom Spellman at Dave Wilson Nursery regarding summer pruning that I thought might be very helpful to you.  Tom Spellman demonstrates summer pruning on a variety of backyard orchard fruit tree planting combinations like espalier, hedgerow, double planting, 3-in-1, 4-in-1, standard.  Be sure to check it out.

  • Keep weeds under control.  The heat makes these buggars grow like crazy.  Throw in an early summer rain and your somewhat out-of-hand weeds will become another “major” task list item in order to get a handle on it.  When out in the orchard, just bring along a long-handled weeder/cultivator tool or hula ho and “scrape um off the face of the earth” as you “see-um”.
  • Continue to protect your fruit from bird damage.  Be sure to check out my post on bird netting.
  • Keep checking for and addressing pests in your backyard orchard like stink bugs, leaf footed bugs, borers and the like.
  • Protect your fruit trees from squirrels, rabbits and other rodents ~ set out special traps, set up trunk protection, entice these critters with special treats several feet away from the orchard (this may be more of a “gee it would be really nice if they’d actually use it” type of solution, but it may be worth a try.
  • Protect yourself from the heat!

    • Work in the cool of the morning and evening ~ this time of year I recommend doing time and labor-intensive tasks, like pruning and harvesting, during the morning hours between 5:30 AM ~ 10:00 AM – and/or – in the evening hours between 6:00 PM ~ 7:30PM; I know this can be challenging with a full-time job, but just remember… this is the fun stuff :)
    • Wear protective clothing and accessories such as a long sleeve shirt made of a lightweight sun-blocking fabric, a nice wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses or protective eye wear, and gloves.
    • Stay hydrated ~ bring out a container of cool water with you to drink
    • Take frequent breaks ~ sit in the shade for a few minutes and drink your water
  • Make time to preserve and savor your bounty ~
    • can jams and pie fillings, fruit halves, puree’s, fruit salsas and pickled fruit for use now and later
    • dehydrate fruit for use in future recipes, for granola or — make a homemade trail mix for hiking or camping trips or make yummy fruit roll-ups with different spices and nuts for snacking
    • bake cookies, sweet breads and other delectable sweet treats
    • or freeze your bounty for later use in smoothies and juices ~ just think, fresh peach smoothies all summer long and in the middle of November… yum!

Until next time, happy harvesting.

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Bird Netting

052714_BirdNet23

Hi everyone!  It’s another lovely warm day in Las Vegas, Nevada and with a shade hat in tow, it’s been a wonderful time to get out into the garden and orchard to harvest the fruits of my labor. Speaking of fruit, I want to talk to you today about protecting your fruit harvest from birds.  To be even more specific… to discuss bird netting pros and cons and to show you how hubby and I use it in our orchard with a high level of success.  Before digging into our topic, I’ll give you a quick update on our recent fruit harvest.

In addition to our spring desert heat, hubby and I have been swimming in Flavor Delight Aprium fruit. Here’s our harvest scoop.

Flavor Delight Aprium

Flavor Delight Aprium ~ 2014 Harvest Details

Harvest (start):   May 12th

Harvest (end):   May 24th

Quality:  The fruit was awesome this year!  Our Brix testing came in consistently at 16.  Whoo hoo!

Total # of Fruit:   794

Total Weight:   64 lbs 12.25 ounces

Fruit Loss:   232  (mostly birds and a few squirrels)

What did we do with all that fruit?  Well, we’ve eaten a lot, gave some as gifts, sold some, dehydrated several pounds, canned 7 Quarts of aprium halves and still have about 3 lbs left in the refrigerator that we’re eating from daily.

052714_ApriumA few weeks ago, Hubby and I decided it was time to start protecting our fruit from our winged friends so we set up our bird netting frame on our Aprium (about a week before we started harvesting).  When is the right time to set up?  Well, this is a huge clue…

052714_BirdNet2

Believe me, before you even start thinking about your fruit, the birds will be checking in on them for you.  Peck here.  A peck there.  Next thing you know, 10 of your best and largest pieces of fruit are dumpster bait.  Sure, my fruit tree’s produce more than enough fruit for my family and I really enjoy sharing my fruit with others, but birds can be like glutenous food hoarders who set up camp in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet plowing through each food trough like there’s no tomorrow.  Trust me when I say, “Birds just do not know when to say, when!”.  They also show no restraint when honing in on your finest produce. So what’s the remedy?  Bird netting.

051314_Netting

I’ve tried the bird scare tape, halo bird scare tape (looks pretty and glittery), a fake hawk and twirling things.  Even my pup-pup, Pinny, goes out and chases them on a daily basis ~ nothing keeps the birds from feasting.

052714_BirdNet8Now there’s a few pros and cons to bird netting, but no one can argue it’s effectiveness at keeping “most” of the birds out.  I’ll get back to that thought in a minute.  What are some of the pros and cons to bird netting.  Let’s see, first the pros…

Pros

1) Saves your fruit! This, of course, is the all important BIG ONE!  Bird netting can help to protect all your hard work and, if you sell your fruit, protect your profits.  This year we had a 29% fruit loss on our aprium.  99% of that loss was directly due to bird damage.  Though the loss number is still too high for my liking, trust me when I say the number would have been significantly higher without the added protection of bird netting.  If you’re wondering why we had any bird damage at all, remember I mentioned that it keeps out “most” of the birds (see cons).

2) Economical protection.  Bird netting is relatively inexpensive to purchase and lasts for several harvest seasons.  It’s even less expensive if you buy it in bulk rolls. This is my second season using it and it’s still in good condition.

3) Easy to install.  With the metal bird netting frame hubby and I constructed, it’s a cinch.

4) Easy removal and storage.  Using bird netting the traditional way (draping over a tree) is not easy to remove in my opinion.  It always gets tangled up in the tree ripping out branches and such.  Our process makes it super easy.  At the end of the season, just pull it off, roll it up and tuck it away in the garage until next harvest season.

Cons

1)  Adds more work to your already busy orchard task list.  Our setup is relatively easy to put together, but it does take a few minutes out of our day to complete the task.

2) Can cause injury.  I’m sad to say, we recently had our first fatality.  A young mockingbird somehow got caught in the netting near the base of our setup and died :'( Not sure how the bird did that, but we had to dispose of it all the same.

Bird netting can be dangerous for playful and energetic dogs, too ~ especially if the netting goes to the ground like our setup does.  Last year, Pinny bolted out the back door to chase a bird and ran right into the netting.  She hit it with such force (a.k.a. border collie speed) that she ripped through the netting.  The result… a small cut on her little nosie and a couple on her front leg.  We felt soooo bad and no longer let her bolt out the door when the netting is up, plus she has an excellent memory and is very cautious around the netting now.

3) Doesn’t keep everyone out.  The bird netting holes are about 3/4″ in size, plenty small enough to keep out medium-sized and larger birds like mockingbirds, cowbirds, purple finch and goldfinches.  But, where it falls short is with the teeny tiny birds.

Lately, we’ve been having frequent visits from a flock of very small light grey birds (about 4″ in size) ~ they’re actually very sweet looking. These birds make a distinctive repetitive high-pitch chirp sound as they move about. They’re pretty figgity little things and tend to move around a lot within the trees (except when they’re dining on my fruit!). These little guys make a mockery of the bird netting even when they’re panicked by Pinny’s incessant barking and pacing back and forth on the other side of the netting ~ it just takes them a couple extra minutes to escape in all the confusion.

To potentially eliminate this problem, we may need to purchase 1/2″ bird netting.  It’s harder to find than the standard 3/4″ bird netting.  I’ll keep you posted if we decide to try this.

Alright, here’s what we do…

Bird Netting Frame

Supplies Needed:  (makes one 8′ high x 10′ wide bird netting frame)

  • 12 pieces of 1″ x 10′ EMT pipe
    • cut four pieces of EMT down to 8′ ~ these will be the sides
    • leave the other eight pieces 10′ ~ four will make up the top of your frame and the other four will help to support the frame as you assemble it ~ this is super handy when the frame is being assembled by one person ~ it makes the assembling process easier, quicker and a lot less wobbly and unstable
  • 8 metal corner fittings
    • four fittings will connect the top of the bird netting frame, the other four fittings will connect the base support
  • 4 metal foot pads
  • 4 ~ 6″ to 12″ long metal stakes
  • 20 ~ 1-3/4″ Nylon Spring Clamps ~ Harbor Freight has a great deal on these
  • 50 feet of 1/8″ paracord
  • Metal pipe cutter or hacksaw
  • Old cotton t-shirts cut into eight 4″x6″ squares
  • Sturdy ladder
  • 14′ x 100′ ~ 3/4″ Bird netting (this can be cut in half and used to make two bird netting frames or the excess can be used to protect your berries, veggie garden, etc.)

These instructions work well for us and can be easily assembled by one person

Step One

Begin by assembling a 10′ x 10′ square (on the ground) using four pieces of 1″x10′ EMT pipe and four metal corner fittings.  When complete, you will have a 10′ square that will help to support the actual bird netting frame as you assemble it.

052714_BirdNet18

Step Two

Attach a metal corner fitting to one end of an 8 foot long piece of EMT pipe.  Once the corner is attached, slip the bare end of the pipe into one of the metal corner fittings on the 10′ square on the ground and tighten.  Repeat this step with the remaining three 8′ long EMT pipe.  These pipes make up your sides and you’re now ready to assemble the top frame.  At this point, the frame will look like it’s upside down (see above photo).

Step Three

Now, slip each end of a 10′ long EMT pipe into a top metal corner fitting and tighten.  You now have one side assembled.  Repeat this step for the remaining three pieces of 10′ long EMT pipe until you have the top square completed.

052714_BirdNet4

052714_BirdNet19

 

Step Four

Remove the 10′ square frame on the ground working one corner at a time by first detaching the corner fitting then replacing it with a base piece.  Repeat this step for the remaining three corners.  Your frame is now complete.

Note:  if you have the space, you can leave the 10′ square ground frame in place.  When you need to move it to another tree, simply remove one of the 10′ sections then drag/slide the frame away from the tree and into position over another tree.

052714_BirdNet3052714_BirdNet24

Step Five

This step is optional, but we find it very helpful to keep the bird netting from sagging too much on top ~ especially when the mockingbirds decide to walk on top of the bird netting.  Simply cut two 11 foot long pieces of nylon rope and tie the ends to the top of the frame from one end across to the other.

052714_BirdNet17052714_BirdNet15

Step Six

Assemble the bird netting over the frame using clamps to fasten it to the EMT pipe as you go.  Now, this part can be a bit tricky and an extra pair of hands comes in handy at this point. It can be done in one of two ways…

1) Assemble the bird netting using five separate pieces ~ one for the top and one for each of the four sides,

  • sides = 14′ wide x 10′ high
  • top = 14′ x 14′

or…

2) Assemble the bird netting using three separate pieces ~ one long piece that will fit over the front, top and back side and one piece each for the remaining two sides

  • sides = 14′ wide x 10′ high
  • front/top/back = 14′ wide x 38′ long

Hubby and I currently use option 2 and use eight clamps (two on either side of each top corner) to firmly hold the netting to the frame.  The remaining clamps are used to hold the sides in place.

052714_BirdNet21052714_BirdNet20

Step Seven

Now, gather two side sections of netting and secure it to an EMT corner/side using three clamps… one at the top, one at the middle and one at the base.  The middle and base clamps are where we use the old t-shirt squares.  The clamps have a tendency to get a little tangled in the netting.  Using a piece of old t-shirt between the netting and the clamp really helps to make entry and exit from the frame during harvesting much easier and hassle-free.

052714_BirdNet14

052714_BirdNet12

Step Eight

To help secure the frame in place, especially if you live in an area with high winds, simply drive a stake into each metal foot pad (which have pre-drilled holes for convenience).  To date, our bird netting frame has stayed in place even through 50+ mph winds.

052714_BirdNet7

Step Nine

Now roll up the excess netting on the each side of the bird netting frame and secure with rocks, a board, etc. to keep the wind from blowing the netting up.

052714_BirdNet13

When you’re ready to harvest, simply kick the rocks aside, remove the bottom and middle clamps, roll up the netting and secure overhead with the clamps and you’re in business!

052714_Fruit3

Hope this all makes sense to you.  Questions?  Just leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to get back with you.

Thanks for letting me “visually” bombard you with photos!  Until we chat again…

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God Bless,

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