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.

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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 :)

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

070114_Plum

  • 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.

070114_Peach

  • 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?

062214_GardenUpdate2

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 :)

062214_GardenUpdate14 062214_GardenUpdate15

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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God Bless,

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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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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May Orchard Tasks

041714_CosmosHello dear friends.

I have a confession… would you believe that I’ve been sitting on the May Orchard task list for a couple of weeks now.  Yeah. I thought I was being all clever and everything writing up a draft post “before” May 1st, but yunno, life has a way of interfering with even our best made plans.  Nothing horrible, mind you… just “daily busy” amped up to the umpth degree and non-stop wind that’s been making my life more challenging in the garden, making a mess of my sinuses and adding more tasks to our never-ending list for both the garden and orchard and our home (my roof has seen better days).

With all the strong winds lately, my fruit orchard has held up quite well with only a small handful of fruit on the ground after especially strong wind gusts (40+ mph).  Guess my deep watering for deep roots, fruit thinning and summer pruning has really helped :D Well, if you live in the desert wind is a reality so its best to plan ahead, be as prepared as you possibly can, keep on top of weather reports and move through it the best you can.

Before we get started, I want to let you know that I added a convenient link at the top of my blog so you can easily access my monthly Home Orchard Tasks lists whenever you get the hankerin’ to get list busy.  In the near future, I plan on creating some downloadable freebies for you as well that you can print off and place in your garden/orchard journal :)

OrchardTasks OrchardTasks2

Okay, now for the month of May.  Hold on to your hats folks cuz May is the start of a garden and orchard whirl wind (it’s all good though).  The task list is reasonable in length but the work is a bit more involved, especially if you have early fruiting trees like Cherries and Apricots.

There’s so much going on in my orchard and garden right now that I want to share with you, but we’ll stay focused on the task at hand and I’ll have to hold my britches for now.

Here’s this month’s Orchard Task List…

  • Thin out fruit missed in the first round of fruit thinning last month.  First round? There’s two specific reasons why I say this…
    1) now, you may have the magic fruit thinning touch, but for me, I find it nearly impossible to thin out the fruitlets the first time around. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, though in this situation, it’s like trying to find all the small green fruitlets in a lush sea of green leaves. Everything starts “blending” and I have to resort to letting my hands do all the work by feeling around under leaves and along branches.
    2) this one is especially true for newbie home fruit orchardists… it can be downright hard to part with your hard-earned fruitlets “slash” future yummy fruit. In the case of fruit trees, more fruit on the tree is not better. It can hinder the fruit tree’s health and vigor.  This is a discussion we’ll save for later, but for now, if you’re guilty of this just trust me when I say, “when you feel you’ve taken off enough fruitlets, take off at least another 20”.

Note: Unless you have fruit trees that are ready to harvest this month, thinning fruit now is okay, though tree fruit this month will be more sizeable than last month.  There’s no harm done if a few fruit clusters here and there still need to be thinned out. Check out April’s tasks for a few quick tips on fruit thinning.

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  • Irrigation
    1 year or older fruit trees ~ start to water 2x a week this month. Here in the desert, the weather typically starts to warm up in early May (day temps in the mid 80’s+). Heat + our spring winds = dry conditions.  Folks in more temperate climates may be able to delay the added watering day another month.How do you water and for how long? Boy, this is one of those highly debatable topics with so many conflicting opinions and is definitely worth further exploration in the future.  What I can tell you is what works for me right now that is based on input from a local horticulturalist who’s been working hands-on with the UNCE test orchard for 10+ years, personal trial and error, and three years worth of study and testing in my own orchard.  This my friends is a watering plan that has evolved with much care and concern for both our fruit orchard and local drought concerns. I personally water my fruit trees this time of year 2x a week for about 20 minutes each cycle with an approximate 1 gallon per minute water flow from flood bubblers.  Each bubbler waters into a water basin under each tree just under the canopy (no run off) and then seeps down into the soil quickly. This allows for a nice-deep-soak encouraging the tree’s main roots to go deep. The feeder roots will stay near the soil surface at about 12-18-inches below the soil’s surface. I also check the soil of my trees with a water meter from time to time to make sure that I’m not over or under watering.  For me… fruit trees that have infrequent deep watering = stronger and healthier trees = long-term success.
  • Irrigation for newly planted trees ~ continue watering new fruit trees 2x a week. Irrigate for about 10 minutes if using a garden hose or flood bubblers to irrigate; the ideal water flow is about 1 gallon per minute.

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  • Continue to install branch spreaders ~ especially on new young growth.  See April and March Orchard Tasks for more installation details.
  • Keep up with your pest controls… See April Orchard Tasks for more tips.
    • Take daily strolls through your orchard and “observe”
    • Capture and identify pests found (here’s one good resource)
    • Continue to monitor any traps set out for pests in your area
    • Watch for early signs of Peach Twig Borer damage
    • Watch for aphids on new growth
    • Set out “humane and safe” traps for squirrels
    • Address ants ~ apply a diatomaceous earth slurry (basically DE mixed with water together to form a paste-consistency) onto trunks to help with ants, beetles and other creepy crawlies climbing into the fruit trees
    • Watch for Leaf Footed Bugs and Stink Bugs
  • Set up bird netting, scare tape and other bird scare contraptions now ~ this is especially true for early fruiting varieties like cherries, apricots, and apriums and also berries, such as blueberries.  One note I want to make… I am currently monitoring Leaf Footed Bug and Stink Bug activity in my orchard with yellow sticky traps (I read in a few places that they are attracted to the color – we’ll see).  Last year, Leaf Footed Bugs started showing up in my orchard toward the end of May.  These guys are large and no fun.  Last year, they’d get spooked when I was harvesting and made a mad dash out of the tree and into my hair or face… yuck!  This year, I’ve found one Stink Bug in my nectarine tree (where there’s one there may be more).One concern I have with bird netting is that it does a great job keeping out larger birds like mockingbirds, and purple and yellow finches.  The tinier finches make a mockery of the netting as they slip in and out of the small netting holes with ease.  Unfortunately, these tiny finches do a very poor job eating larger insects in my trees.  The hard-working bug eaters (a.k.a mockingbirds) are kept out.  I will continue to study this closely to see if it’s more beneficial to sacrifice some fruit for natural pest control.  As of today, I’m two thumbs up for bird netting, but who knows what tomorrow will bring.

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  • Continue summer pruning to ensure light penetration into your fruit trees and on your developing fruit. Focus on new growth that is going either straight up, back into the tree or straight down. Also, for fruit trees planted in rows (like mine), make sure to “prune a path” between fruit trees to make room for walking through and harvesting.  And be sure to especially prune at eye level.  It’s either that or wearing protective glasses to prevent eye pokes!

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  • Remove broken or badly damaged branches and limbs from any recent storms.  Like wind… blah!
  • Protect apple fruit from sunburn. What are some options? Try spraying Kaolin clay (Surround) directly onto the fruit (a little bit on the leaves won’t hurt) or place Kaolin clay coated nylon booties on each piece of fruit (these can be made easily by soaking the booties in a wet solution of Kaolin clay then let dry). This second option takes a little bit of time to place the booties on the fruit, but it works ~ helps keep bugs off, too.
  • Pick up fallen fruitlets.  There’s nothing like ringing the dinner bell for every creepy crawlie in town when fruit is left to rot on the ground.
  • Remove any damaged, partly eaten (birds/bugs), shriveled and/or wrinkled, badly scarred, misshapen, stunted or yellowing fruitlets from the trees. That was a mouthful.

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  • Foliar feed fruit trees every 10-14 days.
  • Replenish wood mulch and/or compost underneath each fruit tree canopy ~ the heat is coming!  Remember, if your trees are less than 5 years old, keep the mulch about 6″ away from the trunk.
  • Prepare for harvesting fruit and preserving the abundance. My supplies include
    • couple of large flat/sturdy boxes from my local warehouse store to lay out easily bruised fruit in a single layer when harvesting
    • wire and/or wicker harvest basket and cotton towel to lay on the bottom in case there are any sharp/rough edges
    • Hand Clippers
    • 5 gallon bucket, trash bag or other receptacle to toss in the inevitable damaged or rotting piece of fruit or two
    • Plastic baggies (in case you run across an unwelcome guest that you need capture and identify later)
    • Small flat boxes for fruit that you plan to gift to others (rather than just tossing your prized fruit into a flimsy plastic grocery bag ~ so unworthy of all your hard work and your beautiful fruit)
    • Hat
    • Long sleeve shirt (very important ~ it never fails, when I wear short sleeved shirts when I harvest I always get an itchy~scratchy rash and branch scrapes and cuts to boot)
    • Gloves
    • Water bath canner
    • Canning jars, lids and rings of various sizes
    • Other canning supplies (ladles, hot pads, etc.)
    • And pull out canning recipe books and other relevant cookbooks, a notepad and pen and start making a list of ingredients needed for all the wonderful yumminess bursting through your back door (or front door)
  • Clean refrigerator to make room for all the wonderful fruit!
  • Have a notebook (or something) to record harvest numbers and observations.
  • Continue to update your Orchard Journal.
  • Begin harvesting early bearing fruit trees and berries :D

And most importantly…

  • Gather loved ones together in the orchard, hold hands and pray for blessings and abundance for this year’s harvest season

Here’s to an awesome harvest season everyone… May your garden always be full of goodness, health and filled with God’s blessings.

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Beauty In The Veggie Garden

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Vegetable gardens are beautiful in their own right and I’m certain most of you’ll agree.  The textures, the never-ending shades of green, and the symmetry all have their appeal and of course, with each season, just the thought of each plant’s potential to thrill the gardener’s taste-buds and stomach is enough to whip out the ole’ tools, dust em’ off and get to planting… ASAP.

Now being an artist, I’m always on the look out for opportunities to wave my creative wand about in the air with the expectation of little * * sparklies * * dancing about (that only appear in my minds-eye, sorry) as I attempt to transform the ordinary into something a bit more… well, eye-appealing. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and y-e-s, as I mentioned before, vegetable gardens are beautiful in their own right, but its in the veggie garden where exciting touches of creativity can be applied with great visual impact.

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Think about it… most flower gardens are exciting and beautiful with color at every corner and perhaps a well placed piece of garden art here and there that begs to be discovered within the sea of color. The flowers steal the show. In the veggie garden, the dominant color is green, right? Any garden art or splashes of color placed here will shine and take center stage.  Who says veggie gardens have to be utilitarian and only serve one purpose… to grow food.  Consider your veggie garden a “textural green canvas” that’s ready and waiting for splashes of color and twinkling things :D

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For me, adding garden art and color in the veggie garden just kicks up my gardening enjoyment ten-fold.  I love to hear the sweet melodies my wind chimes sing to me as I harvest and tend to my veggies and fruit orchard. It calms and relaxes me. They even shout out their song for me to hear and enjoy on super windy dusty days, when I’m forced to stay in the house on my unexpected day off.

041714_windchimesI also love to add unexpected splashes of color here and there with flowers tucked in amongst the veggies.  This serves a couple of purposes in the vegetable garden.  First being visual enjoyment for you and your visitors and the other, to entice beneficial insects and pollinators into your veggie garden where they can get down to business doing what they do best… eliminate the pesky insects you so desperately need to have eradicated or pollinate your veggies and flowers for an abundant harvest.

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041714_beauty3Now… I can hear some of you saying to yourself, “sure, adding garden art and flowers would be great, but… I have a very small veggie garden and can’t afford to lose any space.” Bzzzzzzz… Wrong answer. Everyone can tuck a little splash of color here and there to break up the green without losing precious garden space. In the Fall and Spring garden, for instance, pansies can really add some visual impact and take up very little space.  In fact, most can be tucked in along a narrow edge of your vegetable bed.  In the Summer and Fall garden, sunflowers are perfect… most of the space they take up is in their height ranging anywhere up to 6′, 8′ and 12′ and higher. Veggies can be easily planted around its base and eventually fill in nicely.

Or, if you’re unwilling to give up even a small area, you can add a sturdy slender and tall piece of garden art that will also double as something your plants can climb on or be supported by.  This type of garden art takes up hardly any space at all.

041714_metalart3In fact, it can add a little whimsy to your veggie garden and make you chuckle or smile a bit every time you catch a glimpse of it.

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For me personally, I just love to adorn my veggie garden with delicious shades of pink, orange, blue, and of course, yellow.  It makes my heart and my edible garden sing. In fact, most of the flowers I add to my garden serve more than one purpose like, Nasturtiums…

041714_NasturtiumNasturtium leaves and flowers are edible and the orange color on this Jewel Mix is shockingly stunning.  Marigolds are also great in a veggie garden…

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They’re wonderful companion plants to a lot of veggies and greens working hard to deter pesky insects.  Then, there’s the sweet-faced pansy.

041714_Pansy4They come in a variety of colors, are edible and are absolutely gorgeous in a salad!

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And of course, Sunflowers…041714_Sunflower1

My choice… varieties with edible seeds and flowers that no bee or smile can resist.

I also love to mix-it-up in my veggie garden with different colors of veggie greens like Red Romaine or Red Streaks Mizuna.

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You can also plant Penstemons and other tall-narrow “space conservative” plants that are attractive to hummingbirds.  These high speed wing-beating wonders love to eat garden gnats and other small flying insects and really do appreciate and admire a shiny or sparkling object or two.  Isn’t that a good thing?  Yes, absolutely!

I also like to add “movement” to my veggie garden.  Obviously my wind chimes, but also, things like wind twillers…

041714_WhirligigA little breeze will kick up and round and round she goes.  It catches my attention every time.  I just love it.  Someday, I’d like to take advantage of our frequent desert breezes (uh-hem, wind) by adding a whirligig to my garden.  These are fun wind art and typically have a whimsical scene that is animated by a wind propelled twiller of some sort.  Google it ~ they’re fun to have in the garden.

My veggie garden art wish list and upcoming projects (that I’ll share with you in a future post)…

  • Garden signs (homemade, of course)
  • Something sparkly and catches the light
  • Whirligig
  • Copper Trellis/Tower

Still worried about space in your veggie garden? Seriously consider square foot gardening or intensive gardening.  Both are extremely ideal planting methods here in the desert and for areas plagued with drought (like California).  The close plantings help to shade the soil, which helps to keep your soil moist and use less water, and it may just free up space for your own veggie garden art show :D

Invite a happy face into your garden.

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Helpful Fruit Orchard Series & Tour

041514_FrontyardHi everyone. For those of you who are blessed to have yummy fruit trees growing in your home back yard (or front yard!), I hope you’re getting through your orchard to-do list without issue or stress.

For those of you only growing veggies, flowers, or nothing at all… start planning now! I challenge you to plant at least one fruit tree. Whether it’s planted in the ground or in a large container on a patio, there’s a fruit tree out there that will meet your needs. So I hope to hear the words, “Challenge… accepted!” You’ll be so glad you did.

041514_Backyard

Re: photos above.  You may notice quite a difference between my front and back orchards (i.e., lush vs. sparse).  If you’re thinking the wood chip mulch made the difference, that assumption would be false (at least in this case).  Though our back orchard is lovin’ the wood chips, which will ultimately benefit the trees and soil enormously, we just recently put the mulch down.  Also note, that both orchards were planted at the same time with the same amendments and soil.  Both orchards are healthy and producing wonderfully delicious fruit.

I believe part of the difference is the type of fruit we’re growing.  With the exception of our pomegranates and citrus, the fruit trees in the back are all stone fruit.  The fruit trees in the front are small seeded fruit such as apples, fig, and asian pears. Though the fig is a fast growing tree, the apples seem to take a little longer to fill out this time of year.  Plus the Pink Lady Apples and the Hosui and Chojuro Asian Pear trees have a tendency to grow straight up to the sun giving them a very linear appearance.  We’ll be amping up our efforts in the next few weeks with the limb spreaders on these guys :)

And the little scrawny tree you see in the front orchard is an almond that failed to take off.  We’ll be replacing this tree next year and will plant it in a new location.  This is the third almond tree we’ve planted in this spot and all have failed :(  Time to do something different.

Just wanted to mention that small bit of info in case you were curious.

 

Helpful Planning Tools

A while back I started a “how-to series” on starting a home fruit orchard. Here’s what I’ve posted so far…

Step 1: Plan

Step 2: Design

Step 3: Purchase

FYI… Each post has a link at the bottom of the page that will take you directly to the next post in the series. How convenient is that!?!

My illness stopped me in my tracks while writing this series, but now that I’m recovering and feeling better, I am going to finish the series this year. So keep a look out for more informational posts. I’ll also plan to revisit my original posts to see if any updates are needed. If I do make an update, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Come, Take A Stroll With Me In My Orchard

This morning, as I was walking through my orchard, I stopped at every tree and took photos of all the wonderful fruit developing and thought you might like see how everything is progressing.  I snapped the photos as I strolled by, so you will get to experience them as I did.  So without further adieu, I present… the fruit of 2014 (sounds so formal :P).

041514_Apple1 In the front orchard, our first stop is my Golden Dorsett Apple.  I’m really anxious to see how the apples turn out this year.  See, last year, we lost most of our crop to what we think was a calcium deficiency.  We’ve done things a little differently this year and hope to keep every last piece of fruit on this tree. So far, the fruit looks fine.

041514_PinkLadyAs we continue strolling to our right, with the morning sun now behind us, we come up to our two Pink Lady Apples.  Out of all our fruit trees, these two trees, and our pomegranates, are still blooming and continue to be a source of pollen and nectar for our honey bees. This is a late season apple, that will be harvested in the fall, and is the last tree in our orchard to drop its leaves each year.  In fact, they hang onto most of their leaves well into January.

In addition to installing limb spreaders this weekend, I’ll be thinning the fruit to one apple per cluster. Then, in a week or so, I’ll be protecting the little fruitlets from sunburn either with kaolin clay or little booties that I used successfully last year.

With a sharp right towards the house, we’re greeted by my Chojuro Asian Pear…

041514_Chojuroand Hosui Asian Pear.

041514_HosuiBoth trees are loaded with fruit.  I just finished thinning all the fruit in the back orchard and will be thinning the front orchard this coming weekend.  Like the Pink Lady Apples, I plan to thin the Asian pears to one fruit per cluster.

Last but not least, my Black Mission Fig.

041514_FigAround these parts, our fig tree is VERY popular with the local mockingbirds and desert squirrels.  The tree has lots of fruit and I plan on keeping a close eye on them every day until “I” harvest them.  Last year I was only able to harvest a small handful of fruit from this first crop of the year (also known as the berba crop).  The rest of the fruit was either pecked to the point of obliteration or chewed off and carted off, in a hurry I’m sure, by the ground dwelling furry critter.  Sure, there’s more than enough to go around, but these visitors are ungracious guests. They’re like those people who like to either take a nibble out of each piece of chocolate in an assortment box or push their finger into the top looking for a firm nut & chew piece.  Does this one have nuts?  Squish… yuck, cream.  Ooh, this one’s maple. They basically ruin the entire box for anyone else who come’s along wanting a piece. Dagnabit.

Rather than talk your ear off about my winged and furry foes, let’s head in, through the house, to visit the back orchard.  Watch your step, please as you enter.

First up, our Weeping Santa Rosa Plum.

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Oh.. my.. gosh..  This tree has so much fruit.  And this is even after I filled up one-half of a 5-gallon bucket with the fruit I thinned off the tree. Also, this is another popular tree… with both the mockingbirds and wild finches.

Just a few steps away is my beautiful Flavor Delight Aprium.

041514_ApriumSince this tree is an early harvest fruit tree, it rarely has issues with pests (except for the birds ~ the one constant in my orchard).  I’m dreaming of its sweet and juicy fruit as we speak.  Soon.  Very soon.

As we continue walking west through the crunchy wood mulched ground, we come up to my Artic Star Nectarine.

041514_Nectarine2With the odd weather challenges this year, we failed to address any thrip issues early on and as a result, we have thrip damage.  Most of the fruit looks beautiful, but some are just downright, well, ugly-looking.  We’ll keep an eye on them until harvest.

Next up… our Saturn Peach.

041514_PeachEvery year I look forward to our peaches… okay, you caught me, I look forward to all my delectable fruit, but the peach holds a special place in my heart and my sense of smell.  When its close to harvest time, the peach scent in the orchard is just heavenly.  Even as I thinned the small fruitlets from the tree this past weekend, I could smell a faint hint of peach in the air. The scent that makes me swoon is probably the same scent that attracts every creepy crawlie to the tree.

Last year, we had a real issue with black beetles.  They’d tuck themselves away into the tight area where the peach connected with the branch and nibbled their way into the fruit.  In most cases, the fruit would fall off the tree and make an absolute mushy mess.  The fruit would rot so quickly ~ it was just gross picking up peach slop from under the tree ~ which I’m sure exacerbated the beetle issue.  It also didn’t help that I was unable to thin the fruit like I wanted to.

This year, we thinned the fruit really well and have a plan of action (avoiding of course all chemicals and pesticides), so I’ll keep you posted.  Hold onto your seats, folks.  Peaches are coming.

Now, my cherries.  I have four cherry trees, two Minnie Royal (one dwarf, one semi-dwarf) and two Royal Lees (one dwarf, one semi-dwarf).  Two are new trees, but with our two-year old cherry trees, only our Minnie Royal bloomed (the Royal Lee is the pollinator) and to our surprise, the Minnie Royal produced one single cherry fruit (a mystery). All the other unpollinated fruit, tiny in comparison to “the one”, turned brown and withered away.

041514_CherryHonestly, I have very low expectations of this singular little piece of fruit, but if it ripens up and turns red, I’m compelled to taste it all the same.

As we continue through the orchard, back toward the house, we stroll past our new May Pride Peach and Gold Kist Apricot as well as our pomegranates, citrus and future test site for an avocado tree.

Check out the flowers on my Eversweet Pomegranate…

041514_Pom1…such a vivid orange-red.  There are more than double the flowers this year than last.  I would have taken a photo of our Wonderful Pomegranate, but the bees were very active just outside their hive and I wanted to leave them bee (corny, I know ~ that’s to be expected when you’re following me around my orchard).

As we continue past the pomegranates, we come up to my Flavor Queen and Flavor King Pluots.  Now, when it comes to this fruit, let me just say… Wow! So sweet with an awesome flavor.

041514_KingPluot 041514_QueenPluotOut of the two trees, I have to say that the Flavor King Pluot outperforms the Queen by way of fruit volume (at least for now) and taste.  Now, don’t get me wrong… the Flavor Queen Pluot is still tasty and enjoyable, but the Flavor King Pluot wins hands-down.  Last year, the Flavor King Pluot produced buckets full of fruit.

In addition to these pluots, we have two new baby pluot trees… a Flavor Supreme and a Flavor Grenade.  I’ve been told that the fruit from these trees are way beyond that of the Flavor King Pluot.  Well, we’ll just have to wait and see :)

And finally, we have our new Spice Zee Nectaplum. The tree has beautiful dark burgundy leaves right now and the fruit is supposed to be wonderful.  Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a couple of years before we’ll be able to taste its fruit.  I could stop by the local test orchard and purchase some when they’re being harvested, but why spoil the fun :)

Well, that concludes my fruit/orchard tour and it was so nice to have the pleasure of your company. Until my next post, be sure to enjoy life to its fullest ~ do something you love to do.

 

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God Bless,

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