Fruit Tree Series

Dorsett Golden AppleHi dear friends!  Now that the universe has pounded in the fact that 2015 is well underway a-n-d I’m finally able to pull myself away from the busy tasks of preparing my orchard for the upcoming fruit season ~ especially since the warmer weather has accelerated growth to the nth degree ~ I’ve got some good news for you. Later this week, I will be posting the first in a series of blog posts that will be dedicated to helping all of you budding home orchardists out there. Particularly for those of you who live in hot and dry areas like Las Vegas, Nevada. Yup, it’s my… wait for it… Fruit Tree series. I know, pretty clever name. Just tryin’ to keep it simple.

This series is also for those of you whose interests lie beyond simply growing a fruit tree for the sake of growing a fruit tree. It’s for those of you who want to grow fruit trees with a higher than normal potential for producing nutritionally superior fruit for maximum health benefits :) Yes… I’ll be sharing my high brix/nutrient dense fruit tree growing techniques with you.

Santa Rosa Plums

In this series, I plan to share with you the steps on how to grow and maintain a home fruit orchard organically and holistically right in your own backyard (or as in my case, this also includes my front yard). I’ll share things like…

  • How to Dig and Prepare a Hole
  • What To Do When Your Bare Root Tree Arrives
  • How to Plant a Fruit Tree In The Desert
  • Soil Testing
  • Soil Amendments For Nutrient Dense Fruit
  • New Fruit Tree ~ 1st Year Maintenance Care
  • Irrigation
  • Holistic Foliar Spray
  • Brix Testing
  • How to Keep an Orchard Journal
  • Pest Control
  • Fruit Thinning
  • Harvesting
  • Pruning

I also plan to update a few of my previous orchard posts later in the year, too (i.e., Planning The Orchard, Designing The Orchard, Purchasing the Fruit Trees, etc.). If there’s a specific topic that you would like me to cover and it’s not listed above, please leave me a comment and I’ll make sure I add it to the list.

Throughout the year, you can quickly access my Fruit Tree series as well as my Orchard Calendar series, from the top navigation bar on my blog page under a new category called Home Orcharding.  I will also place a link in the right side bar so you can easily revisit each post as the need arises. I’ll also be sure to add updates as I discover and test out new information and techniques in my own orchard.

On my Fruit Tree Series page, I plan to include a section called Nifty Tools and T’s where I will place links to various tools and templates I have either collected and tested out in my own orchard or developed myself over the years. It’s a resource you may find extremely helpful as you tend to your own home orchard throughout the year.

As a fruit-growing enthusiast, I’m very excited about this series and am anxious to share my experience and techniques with you :) Here’s to an awesome year of fruit!

God Bless,

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The Great Composter Adventure

UtahHi Friends! Hope your edible garden has lots of growing activity going on here at the beginning of our new year.

How has my edible garden been growing? To be honest, it’s a bit on the sparse side right now. I had every intention of planting a variety of cold weather crops, but because I was so busy during the holiday months, I missed my opportunity to follow through with my late fall and winter planting plan.

What I am growing is doing wonderfully. Currently, I have four different varieties of delish garlic starting to peek up out of the soil. I planted a total of 134 garlic seed. Nice. I planted the first batch of 71 garlic seed on 12/7 (that’s 18 days earlier than last year). The other 63 garlic seed, I planted out on 12/28. A lot of folks here in town plant their garlic in October, but for those of you that are running behind with garden planting (like yours truly), planting garlic out in mid-late December works just fine. I do try to give my newly planted garlic some warmth though by covering it with a lightweight frost blanket during the evenings and especially cold days.

As a lot of you know, I’m growing about 80 square feet of White Sonora Wheat this year and so far it’s doing awesome. The wheat did get a little frost damage on their tips with the cold temps we had a few weeks ago (as nicely demonstrated in the photo below… brrr). Other than that, the wheat is nice lush and green. For those of you interested, be sure to check out my Facebook page for frequent updates on how my wheat is growing.

Ice from hose

What my winter garden may be lacking in green so far this year, hubby and I have definitely made up for it with a few great finds this past month. I’m so excited, I must share.

Can you say… compost. Anybody? Yup, we’re finally going to start making our own compost here at the ole homestead. Only a gardener can get this excited about a soil amendment. Am I right?

It all started a few weeks ago… well, actually, it’s been a long time coming. Over the years we’ve practically drooled over photos and brochures of composters, compost starters and such. Even the mention of it would stir something deep inside the belly of our inner gardener. Compost romanticism at its best.

To be honest with you, just the thought of the labor involved has been a special kind of deterrent. Sure, hubby and I have entertained (a lot) the thought of composting our own garden waste and rearing our own wormies to make garden magic, but to avoid the pitch fork and muscles routine we’d have to buy a compost tumbler. For the budget-minded, this can be quite a challenge since most decent and reputable composters are quite cost prohibitive.

For me, I’m simply amazed how things have come together lately ~ composter-wise that is. First, it started with a birthday present I had received from my hubby. I had no clue he was scheming and planning this enormously thoughtful gift only a die-hard gardener could truly appreciate and love. He found a great deal and just had to buy it for me… a Worm Inn Mega. He even built me a simple and sturdy wooden frame for it. Thank you honey. No worms yet, but it’s gardener heaven to look at :)

the Worm Inn Mega

the Worm Inn Mega

the Worm Inn MegaWith the vermicomposting wheel now in motion, I thought it couldn’t get any better. But, my dear friend, it did. Shortly after Christmas, a great deal on a compost tumbler just about fell right into our laps. Before this happened, I was feeling v-e-r-y satisfied with the fact that homemade vermicompost and its deeply rich nutrient-filled tea and castings were in my near future. A compost tumbler was far from being on my garden radar.

It all started with Hubby perusing Craig’s List for gardening deals.  That’s when he found it.  An Original ComposTumbler in like-new condition with its 18 bushel capacity and nifty waist-height stand. Now mind you, I’ve never seen one of these beauties in person, but I’ve heard only good things about it and have seen tons of positive reviews on-line from multiple sites. Brand new these tumblers retail for about $400 or more. This unit is ginormous so shipping definitely costs a pretty penny jacking the price up to close to $500.

The price listed on Craig’s List was too good for most gardeners to pass up, but it was still too high for our budget. Since the listing stated OBO, hubby and I decided to throw caution to the wind by offering an amount that would probably be refused. To our surprise, the nice gentleman kindly accepted our offer. Without hesitation, we planned to meet with him that very same evening. This is where the story takes a little twist and turn.

When hubby first shared his prized find with me, I asked whereabouts in town the seller was located. Hubby quickly responded, “Enterprise”.  Neither of us thought to question this much since we were both very familiar with Enterprise as an unincorporated town close to Henderson, Nevada.  It just struck us as odd that someone would refer to Enterprise as where they lived. Most would just state their city. For now, let’s just chock it up to us being uber-excited about the whole deal. So, without further hesitation, I continued my text communication with the seller.

With address in hand from the final “great, see you at 4:30PM” text, I quickly prepared for our possible acquisition that evening by entering the address into Google maps. Odd. Google maps gave me such grief over the address I entered. After a few more tries and a quick manual scan of the map, I knew something was awry. Without hesitation, I fired off another text to the seller, asking for confirmation of his address and major cross streets briefly explaining my dilemma. The response… the address was confirmed along with mention of a few visual markers in the area near his rural home. Again, nothing here struck  me as odd. There are tons of homes in the Enterprise area that are quite rural with lots of open space to stretch.

Well, soon after confirming the address and a couple more head scratching moments with Google Maps, hubby called to shed some light on the mystery location. “The address IS in Enterprise. It’s in Enterprise, Utah.” Oops. That was a titanic-sized oversight. Guess hubby and I weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed that day.

After several deep sighs and shoulder shrugs later, the adventure conversation began.

Hubby was quick to explain that the seller was located just a short distance outside of St. George, Utah. “Only a 2 hour drive”, he proclaimed. “We can check out a few of the places we’ve been wanting to while we’re out there. It would be a fun adventure. A day-cation.”

Yes, it is true. We’ve been wanting to head out that direction for some time now to check out a couple of places. One in particular that came to mind is Ali’s Organics, a cute and very unique organic garden shop that I discovered while watching some videos on YouTube.

After much thought and contemplation, the decision was made. Day-cation ~ here we come. Of course, I had to suck it up and contact the seller to tell him all about our blunder and see if we could stop by on Saturday instead. His response took a few minutes (he probably thought we were out of our minds), but when his text finally arrived it was good news. Saturday was a go! Such a nice and patient gentleman.

That Saturday, with a tank full of gas and cooler and thermos filled with homemade goodies to eat, our road trip was well underway.

Driving to St. George was uneventful and the skies were nice and clear. I was nervous there would be snow in the area, but we only came upon piles of snow along the roadside the closer we got to our destination. It was cold though. Good thing we brought our big fluffy warm jackets.

Utah

UtahAfter a little hiccup with our phone GPS app, we finally reached our destination. A beautiful very rural community with open space sprinkled with homesteads as far as we could see. At this point, the visual markers provided by the seller made complete and perfect sense.

Upon arriving at our destination, the seller stepped out into the freezing cold to greet us. A very nice and obviously hospitable person. We conversed and laughed for a short while about the events leading up to our arrival and the fact that we drove all the way there for the ‘big green thing’ taking up space in his yard.

During our polite conversation, he mentioned that he was selling the composter for his Dad who had only used it a couple of times, which was confirmed upon inspection. Aside from a bit of dust and debris inside and a couple of small scratches on the drum, it was in mint “like-new” condition ~ just like the listing stated. All the parts that were supposed to turn, turned. All the parts that were supposed to close, closed. Sold.

ComposTumbler

After our transaction was complete, we proceeded to ‘load-er up” onto the back of our truck. Finally, a composter all our own. It was such a satisfying feeling. One that was confirmed over and over again as I glanced back to check on our “like-new” compost tumbler as we drove down the street, headed to our next destination. Homemade compost was definitely in our near future.

Before we made our way to Ali’s Organics near Hurricane, Utah, we headed back into St. George for a quick stop for gas and to munch on the goodies we brought with us. When we were finalizing our transaction with the seller, he had mentioned that the Costco in St. George was selling gas for $2.19/gallon. We needed to fill up, so we decided to check it out.

WHAT A MAD HOUSE! Totally and utterly insane. There were so many cars lined up to get gas, the cars were overflowing into the street. For any of you familiar with Costco gas and their mega-sized gas-up area and pump lanes you know that this was a sight to see. It reminded me of the gas shortage in the 70’s when I was a kid, but on steroids. Holy smokes. We quickly decided to bolt from the scene and headed to Ali’s Organics in search of gas along the way. I’ll save our story about Ali’s Organics for another post so I can give Ali and her awesome store and property the attention it deserves.

Ali's Organics

After a rough start, our deal worked out quite well for us. We met some really nice folks on our adventure, picked up a couple of organic gardening products and of course, the crème de la crème and main event… acquired our quite large and slightly used ComposTumbler. What more can an artistic gardening gal ask for? Well… we’ll save that list for another day :)

ComposTumblerChat with you all very soon.

God Bless,

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How To Grow White Sonora Wheat

Heirloom White Sonora Wheat

Hi friends!

Hope everyone had an awesome Christmas and had a chance to celebrate it with loved ones and close friends. Hubby and I had a quiet holiday this year. After opening our gifts (thank you mom and dad!), we snacked on fresh homemade guacamole, humus, and gluten-free crackers and watched a movie or two in the comfort of our own home. I just love Christmas With The Kranks ~ makes me burst out in laughter every time XD We contemplated heading over to the Bellagio to check out their Christmas flower display, but decided to avoid the holiday shuffle on the Las Vegas strip and stayed home. I also finished this blog post.  F-i-n-a-l-l-y.  Well, better late than never.

In a previous post, I gave you a bit of history and info on White Sonora heirloom wheat, now it’s time to get growin’.

First off, let me start by saying that I am f-a-r from being the resident “wheat expert”. In fact, this winter season will be my first attempt at growing this beautiful heirloom wheat. What serious gardener doesn’t like a challenge? Am I right? Since I’m forging ahead with my new quest, I thought it would be fun to share my experiences with you.

For those of you who also heard the call to grow heirloom wheat this winter, I’d love for you to provide a quick update on your progress and share photos. I plan to do regular updates on my wheat’s progress, so when I do, I’ll send a shout out (like the Call To Action below) along with instructions on how to submit your wheat details. You provide the info and I’ll do all the work and post it on my blog. The more we share, the more we learn :)

Call To Action

Attention gardeners growing heirloom wheat… let us know how your wheat is growing in your garden. Be sure to mention your first name along with your planting zone and/or city and state, as well as what heirloom wheat you’re growing. A brief description of how you planted and are growing your wheat would be helpful, too. Details such as, the date you planted your wheat, how you planted it, added amendments, etc. Also send along some photos.

You can send your info directly to me via e-mail by clicking on the ‘Contact Me’ graphic under my photo on the right.

 

Growin’ Heirloom Wheat

White Sonora WheatSince I am a very curious and experienced gardener as well as a novice wheat grower, I decided that it was in my best interest to seek out answers from others more knowledgeable than myself.

Through my research, I discovered lots of information about wheat in general on-line from several different mid-western universities and the like. Think about it. People have been growing wheat for ages in this country. All the info I found was great information, but nothing really specific to our hot arid climate and certainly very little growing details specifically for heirloom wheat like White Sonora Wheat.

With a bunch of general info swimming around in my head, I decided to go ahead and plant my wheat [on November 9th] based on the generic planting info on the seed packet of wheat I purchased. Six days later, I was thrilled to see the first few sprouts begin to pop-up out of the ground. Then another and then another. Before I knew it, my bed was covered in lush green wheat grass :D  So far in the process, I’ve done something right.

White Sonora Wheat seedlingAt this point, I decided to increase my chance of success by reaching out to a few folks who had either firsthand experience growing White Sonora Wheat or who worked closely with farmers who did. My search brought me to two knowledgeable individuals.

Janna Anderson, owner of Pinnacle Farms in Waddell, Arizona (Phoenix, Arizona area). Janna runs a 40 acre farm that also includes a 6.5 acre fruit orchard and uses naturally grown practices to grow her crops, which she explains on her blog as, “my definition of what consumers believe is truly Organic”. :D

Joy Hought from Native Seed/SEARCH in Tucson, Arizona. Joy has a background in agroecology, agronomy and plant breeding and has worked closely with farmers growing White Sonora Wheat over the last three years.

Both Janna and Joy were extremely accommodating and very generous with their time by answering my questions so that we (you and I) could benefit. A huge thank you goes out to them both!

To make the information I gathered together an easier read, I’ve broken out the details into logical categories. Also, keep in mind that the following information can be easily adopted by folks gardening in Southern Nevada as well as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and in the arid regions of California. For other areas, please check with your local Cooperative Extension office for the best source of information.

Rather than write this out as a lengthy Q & A or interview style, I decided it would be best to summarize the details for you with a few quotes interjected here and there. And of course, a few of my own thoughts along with info on how I planted my wheat.

Best Time Of Year To Plant

White Sonora Wheat is considered a spring heirloom wheat. Because our winters are fairly mild with a climate similar to Arizona, both of my sources agree that late November through mid-December is the optimum planting time for White Sonora Wheat in the Las Vegas, Nevada area.

It was also mentioned that folks living at higher elevations with a similar climate could even plant as late as January.

As I noted earlier, I planted my wheat on November 9th,  just a little earlier than their recommendation. So far my wheat is growing fabulously :)

White Sonora Wheat seedling

How To Plant and How Much

To plant White Sonora Wheat, you can either broadcast the wheat or plant in rows. From personal experience, broadcasting the wheat is a lot easier process than planting individual seeds unless you use a row planter.

Now as far as how much to plant, this is where my two source’s opinions differed.

For those of you who do not use chemicals, pesticides or herbicides in your gardens, one recommended strategy is to plant your wheat fairly densely to help keep weeds from growing and competing for nutrients and water. This translates to about 150 lbs/acre which is roughly about 69 wheat seeds per square foot. You could certainly plant your wheat further apart and deal with any weeds by hand.

On the flip-side, I was advised that White Sonora Wheat and many other older varieties do not like to be planted densely. The recommended seed rate ~ about 75-100 lbs/acre which is roughly about 35-49 wheat seeds per square foot.

Hmmmm. What to do? Do what I did ~ try both methods to see which works best in your garden. I planted both by broadcasting seed and direct sowing seed in rows using both recommended seed rates. Here’s how I did it…

For row planting, I direct sowed 15 rows on the outer portion of my 10×10 raised bed by spacing my rows 4-inches apart and sowing my seeds 1-inch apart 1/2-inch deep. Since I am not one of the fortunate folks who own a row planter, I did this all by hand ~ have to say, with a raised bed that’s about 16-inches high, it’s still hard on the back sowing this many seeds by hand.

How to Direct Sow White Sonora WheatHow to Direct Sow White Sonora WheatI started out the planting process using a template Hubby made for me, a dibble if you will, to correctly poke holes in the appropriate spot down the row. This took f-o-r-e-v-e-r.  It was such a sweet gesture and one I thoroughly appreciated, but ~ oh, my back. I ended up using a twig to scrape out a 1/2-inch deep furrow then dropped the seeds into place as I walked down the row, covered the seeds with loose soil, and watered everything in with some sea kelp tea to give them a great start.Sea Kelp Tea

When I had had enough of that process, I turned my attention to broadcasting the remainder of the seed. I must say… this was sheer delight after being hunched over for awhile. With seed in hand, I carefully broadcasted the seed onto the soil surface, lightly raked it into the soil, and tossed on a thin helping of forest waste compost just to cover any exposed seeds. The finishing touch… a nice soak of sea kelp tea.

Broadcasting White Sonora Wheat seedWord of caution: shortly after broadcasting my wheat seed, the birds decided it was feast time, so I had to protect my newly planted wheat seed with bird netting until the majority of the seeds germinated and the wheat plants were about 4 to 5-inches tall.

My approximate planting rate breakdown is as follows:

Rows 4-inches apart / seeds 1-inch apart:   36 wheat seeds per square foot

Broadcasted:   60-70 seeds per square feet

Total seed planted (approximate):  9 ounces for an 80 square foot area

I’ll be monitoring the progress of my wheat throughout the growing cycle and will be sure to provide updates. For now, use your best judgment.

A quick update related to this topic… what I’ve seen so far in my garden is that the wheat I broadcasted stands about an inch or so taller than the wheat I planted in rows. Not sure if this is due to competition for light or the fact that the seeds were planted closer to the surface. Or both.

Soil Amendments and Fertilizers

Though sufficient supplies of nitrogen are important during the germination and tillering stages of your Wheat’s growth, it’s best to use caution when applying fertilizer to heirloom wheat. White Sonora Wheat and other heirloom wheat do not respond well to a lot of water or nitrogen. Excessive amounts of either will encourage your wheat to grow tall and fall over ~ a.k.a. lodge.

My word of advice ~ to ensure you have adequate amounts of nitrogen for your wheat, just be sure to amend your garden soil with a quality compost (i.e., forest/garden waste or well composted OMRI certified animal manure compost) before planting.

If your wheat is looking a little pale in its early stages of growth and you feel the need to fertilize, use a quality OMRI certified and soil microbe safe nitrogen source and apply it earlier versus later in the growth cycle. The best time to fertilize is during the tillering stage (about 3 to 4 weeks after germination).

Depending on the quality of the soil, growing conditions and fertilization practices, White Sonora Wheat can grow to about 3-1/2 feet to 5 feet tall. Standing at 5 feet 9-1/2 inches tall (yeah, I’m a tall gal) and my raised bed at 16-inch high, I may be staring face-to-face with or possibly looking up at my wheat seed heads when harvest comes along.

Water Management

White Sonora WheatWhen it comes to watering your wheat, both sources agreed that conservative watering practices works best. Too much water can negatively affect your wheat yields and as mentioned before, can lead to excessive growth which could cause your wheat to fall over.

Based on the information provided to me and from my experience thus far, here’s my recommendation for backyard wheat growers in arid climates with mild winters:

  • Keep the soil moist until the wheat seed germinate
  • Water as usual until the wheat plants are 3 to 4-inches tall (and about 2-3 leaves)
  • At this point, reduce watering to 1 – 2x per week through the winter months, depending on how warm or windy it is. Just give it a good soak. Be sure to water no more than 1-inch per week. Water even less if it rains.
  • When the weather begins to warm up in mid to late spring and our spring winds kick up, just keep a close eye on the soil to make sure it doesn’t completely dry out. Continue to give the wheat a nice deep soak or two each week, depending on the weather.
  • Shortly before harvest, you will need to completely turn off the water to your wheat to let it dry out. Joy from Native Seed/SEARCH described it this way, “Typically, once the wheat reaches what’s called the soft dough stage is when you want to back off on water and let it mature and dry; this is about 3-4 weeks after the seed head has emerged. The kernels will be losing their green color, and the milky liquid inside will have turned firm and gummy, and the leaves and stem will start to turn brown. However, this will depend on what type of soil you have and how much moisture it retains. If it is very well-drained, you can keep watering for a week or two longer.”Joy also shared a link to this great guide that provides detailed info about the life cycle of wheat. And for those of you still unsure what tillering means, the guide helps to explain this. The guide also has a few helpful photos, too. One in particular shows wheat kernels at various stages of maturity. This ties in very nicely with Joy’s description above and provides a nice visual reference.

A quick update related to this topic… Over the past few weeks, we’ve had a few rain storms roll through our part of town. Just before the first storm hit, I turned off the water to my wheat bed and just turned it back on earlier this week. Since that time I’ve only had to lightly hand water my wheat two times because my soil was looking a bit dry ~ my wheat still looks beautiful and green.

I also tugged at and pulled out a couple of wheat seedlings from my broadcasted area to see how well their roots have taken hold. Those little guys were very firmly rooted into the soil. Big smiles :D

White Sonora Wheat

Weather Concerns

Cold hardiness

Here’s another area of conflicting information. On one end, I was told that spring wheat is not terribly cold hardy and that growth can be damaged by frost. On the other hand, Janna from Pinnacle Farms mentioned that her White Sonora Wheat crop was completely unprotected and sailed through unharmed one of the worst damaging freezes in years in her area.

I think it all comes down to how healthy your crop is when a frost or freeze hits plus your general climate, micro-climate, etc. Just use your best judgment when it comes to protecting your wheat crop from possible winter damage.

Tonight, the temps are supposed to drop to about 29°F then to 26°F tomorrow. We’ll see how my wheat does unprotected.

Wind

As a good number of you know, desert spring winds can be fairly harsh on garden plants and edibles and can literally beat them to oblivion. With an anticipated mature height of 3-1/2 feet to 5 feet tall, there’s a good chance that the wheat could be damaged or blown over in extremely windy conditions (25+ mph). For this reason, a support of some sort or a wind block is probably a great idea. Plan now and be prepared. Another way to help mitigate this issue is to do your best in avoiding excessive growth… so remember, easy does it with the nitrogen.

In working closely with White Sonora Wheat on her farm, Janna at Pinnacle Farms advised that if the wheat does fall over, it can still be hand harvested successfully. As for our garden situation… only time will tell.

White Sonora Wheat

Pest and Disease Concerns

Pests

When it comes to pests, their presence this time of year is fairly insignificant. In hot and arid climates, the onset of warmer weather in spring is when we need to be on alert for pesky nibbling visitors. Pest pressures should be minimal if your soil and wheat plants are healthy, but an ounce of preparedness is worth its weight in gold.

Pest problems? UC Davis IPM Online is an awesome resource for those of you, like myself, who steer clear from using chemicals and pesticides in your garden.

For those of you who have been following my blog fairly regularly, may remember that last spring I had an issue with a dreadful unwanted visitor to my garden… the bragada bug. Needless to say I am very anxious to see if they will present themselves in my garden again this year and how my wheat will be affected by their ‘munching-in-mass’ ways since wheat is on their list of favs.

Disease

After a short amount of time researching the ins and outs of White Sonora Wheat, it was very apparent that the online consensus was that White Sonora is fairly resistant to rust and fusarium. I learned that this may not actually be the case.

Like other wheat, White Sonora Wheat is susceptible to both rust and fusarium given the right environment and conditions. As a dry land wheat, this wheat thrives in our hot arid climate and alkaline soils. Unlike areas with higher humidity, like the coastal areas of California, our area seldom sees these types of problems. Keep in mind though, that it’s a whole other ball game if a desert rain storm decides to stick around for an extended period of time. This is especially true if this prolonged rain occurs during either the pollination or harvest stage of our beloved wheat. Then, it’s advised that we should keep a close eye on our wheat to make sure any rust or fusarium issues are addressed asap.

In Conclusion

White Sonora WheatWell, that about wraps it up for this post. I have a bit more research to do on how to harvest, thresh, save seed for next year’s crop, and how to bake with White Sonora Wheat. As soon as I have the details, I’ll be sure to share them with you in a timely manner.

For you eager beavers who require even more detailed info about wheat in general, Janna at Pinnacle Farms shared this excellent resource from UC Davis along with these words of encouragement, “Try not to over think it ~ it’s like anything else you grow. Watch the plant and you will be successful.”

Now that you’re armed with quality information, go forth and grow heirloom wheat with confidence my friends!

White Sonora WheatIn case I don’t chat you up in the next few days, have a fantastic New Year’s holiday and do yourself and your family a favor, plan to grow something edible in 2015.

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December Orchard Tasks

 

December Orchard TasksHi friends!

December is the month when I can finally pause for a moment, take a step back and breathe. With my orchard tools cleaned and stored away, it’s also the perfect time to take stock of my fruit orchard’s productivity for the past year, take a closer look at challenges I encountered, and reflect upon the successes.

Home Fruit Orchard

2014 was definitely a productive year. Only a few quick flips of the pages in my orchard fruit harvest record book is enough to reconcile my memory of last year with the actual harvest numbers. Not to brag or anything, but my fruit trees ROCKED their first full year of production. Only three years old and such abundance! Well done, trees! Well done.

Eversweet Pomegranate

Bees and Pomegranates

As I sit here in awe, I feel compelled to give thanks. Thanks to God for blessing us with such wonderful fruit trees and a place to plant them. Thanks for the phenomenal increase in nutrition that was easily confirmed by the brix numbers I recorded this past year. Thanks for the health of my fruit trees, soil, and abundance of good soil bacteria that was confirmed through soil testing. Thanks for all the wonderful natural healthy amendments that made my fruit tree and soil health possible and for the resources to obtain them. And thanks for the abundance in my life and for you, my wonderful friend and faithful blog follower.

Flavor Delight Aprium

So can you guess the first task item for the month of December? o_O

  • Take time to reflect on the abundance in your orchard, garden and life. And by all means ~ give thanks
  • Review your orchard’s harvest record and journal.
    • Identify the challenges faced throughout the season in addition to your successes and develop a strategy to resolve/address the challenges in the upcoming season.
    • Estimate next year’s harvest dates, jot down your goals, and develop a strategy to achieve your goals.
  • Make a “leaf storage bin” using wire mesh to form a barrel-shape then anchor it to the ground. Any leaves you collect this fall/winter will come in handy for use in homemade compost and/or for making rich humus in early spring.

Chojuro Asian Pear

  • Begin putting together your Orchard Harvest Record pages for the next harvest season, now. When January comes along, you’ll be hitting the ground running again.
  • After the fruit trees have dropped most of their leaves, start removing any mummified fruit.
  • Irrigation ~ reduce watering to every 7-10 days.
  • Continue to pick up any fallen fruit ~ that is, if you’re still harvesting fruit.
  • Fruit you could be harvesting this month:
    • Pecan
    • Persimmon
    • Citrus (lemons, mandarins, etc.)

Fruit tree in fall

  • The cold and frosty weather is here! Be prepared to protect your frost sensitive trees at a moment’s notice. Frost sensitive trees include most citrus, avocados and other exotic sub-tropical fruit trees. It’s also important to keep an eye on your trees throughout the winter months to ensure that your chosen frost/freeze protection solutions continue to work for you and your trees. For frost/freeze protection ideas, be sure to review last month’s task list.
  • Protect sprinkler/bubbler heads, water-lines, hoses and spigots from freeze damage.
  • Spray a microbial inoculant on fallen leaves ~ when 50% of the leaves have fallen off your fruit trees, spray the ground underneath each fruit tree as well as the bottom portion of each trunk with either a fresh brewed microbial tea or by using a mother culture. Be sure to target fallen leaves on the ground to help populate the area with microbes and facilitate leaf decomposition (making a wonderful rich humus for your trees, to boot!).

Flavor Delight Aprium leaves

  • FYI ~ the first day of Winter is December 21st @ 6:03 PM EST
  • Sit back, put your feet up and enjoy the Christmas holiday with your family and friends!

Give yourself the gift of health… plant a fruit tree next spring!

God Bless,

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Heirloom White Sonora Wheat

White Sonora Wheat

Hi friends!

With fall here and winter just around the corner, Hubby and I have finally turned our attention to appropriate seasonal tasks. Working to a traditional fall concert of rustling leaves accompanied by finger numbing temps, we’ve been busy tidying up the garden, taking down summer trellis’, pulling out withered plants affected by our first killing frost and finally kicking our cool weather crops into gear. Besides growing customary fall treats like beets, pak choi, carrots, lettuces and such, we decided to make things interesting for ourselves this season. With our 10×10 raised bed poised for action of accepting a new challenge, it was time to check off another edible plant on our wish list. Folks, we’re growin’ wheat! Yeah, great, right?

Now a lot of you may be thrilled by this news, on the edge of your seat even and anxious to hear more, while the rest of you may be sitting there with a puzzled look on your face. The same look we got when we initially announced our intentions of growing wheat to folks we know. It wasn’t like they thought we were completely out of our minds, perhaps they did, but I could tell that our news had peaked their interest to say the least. What concerned me was the look they gave us shortly after sharing this juicy bit of info with them. You’d swear that I had just suddenly quacked like a duck. Quack! Wheat. For now, I’ll just chock it up to the unusual nature of our news.

So, why give up precious space in the garden to grow wheat? And, why White Sonora wheat?

Let me start by saying that the wheat we’re growing is far from the super-hybridized conventional wheat available to gardeners and commercial growers today. It’s way more special than that and appeals to our preservationist-side as well. What’s not to like about heirlooms?

The ancient heirloom wheat we decided to grow is called White Sonora. This heirloom wheat is part of a unique group of heritage grains that is finally enjoying a long—overdue comeback largely to the efforts of an equally unique group of individuals in Arizona. A group that is united and passionate in their efforts to bring back this wheat to its former days of glory.

White Sonora Wheat

Our interest in growing ancient heirloom wheat started with an informative article hubby read about another ancient heirloom wheat, Einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum). The article went into detail about its history and about the low gluten levels of ancient heirloom wheat and how it was well tolerated by individuals with wheat sensitivities and gluten allergies. This news was enough to wet our whistle and get our research efforts underway.

The whole ‘wheat/gluten thing’ was of particular interest to me since I was diagnosed a few years back with a sensitivity to wheat. My interest is also fueled by the fact that I have lived without even a tiny bite of any sort of heavenly crusty amber-colored bread for a little over three years now. Something I so long to eat. This along with the fact that I still cannot force myself to eat even the best made wheat-free/gluten-free bread. I find them quite lacking in both flavor and texture.

To stay true to my dedication to growing heirlooms and saving seed, we knew that whatever wheat we chose to plant in our garden had to be from a sustainable seed source. Ancient heirloom wheat fit the bill perfectly. But which one?

White Sonora WheatAfter months of research, I settled on one particular variety of ancient heirloom wheat… White Sonora (Triticum aestivum). Its unique adaptability, drought tolerance, preference for low fertility alkaline soils, disease resistance and delicate easy to remove seed husks seemed well suited for my arid desert garden and appealed to my practical side. I’ll definitely be confirming the ease of husk removal when I harvest early next summer.

As I researched this grain further, I became quite enamored by White Sonora’s deep-rooted history in America’s southwest and by its sought after baking qualities.

The Scoop On White Sonora Wheat

Rather than write about the historical details of this golden beauty, I’ve provided you with a handful of short videos and informational links that I highly recommend for those interested in White Sonora Wheat. The videos and info behind the links eloquently explain the wheat’s history and preservation efforts currently under way. I did my best to put them in some sort of logical order for you as well as provide a brief description.

Let me just say that I am super excited to be testing this ancient heirloom wheat in my garden.

White Sonora Wheat

This link provides an interesting look at what remains of the old flour mills in the Sonoran region of the U.S. and Mexico, as well as a bit of info on the reintroduction of heritage grain varieties to this area. It’s a short read and has some really beautiful photos.

~*~

Video: Terriorseeds/Underwood Gardens (1:36 mins) ~ A nice quick introduction to White Sonora Wheat.

~*~

Video: BKW Farms in Manara, Arizona (5:49 mins) ~ briefly talks about the history of the farm and its partnership with Native Seeds/SEARCH to reintroduce White Sonora wheat to the region.

~*~

Video: Avalon Organic Gardens & Ecovillage in Santa Cruz Valley – Southern Arizona (4:24 mins) ~ A well-made informative short video on the harvest and promotion of White Sonora Wheat.

~*~

Video: Barrio Breads / Hayden Mills (4:52 mins)
(this video was posted on Vimeo and the video itself may not appear in this post like the videos above ~ you’ll need to click the link to watch it)

Warning ~ do not watch this video if you are extremely hungry and love bread. Eat first to prevent major droolige! A nicely made video on the use and promotion of this heritage grain.

Why Grow Wheat?

Like I mentioned earlier, my interest in heritage grains, specifically heirloom wheat, is directly related to my passion for growing heirloom edibles and my desire to find a viable solution that would accommodate both my love of fresh-baked bread and my sensitivity to wheat. And with hubby and I eating a more raw diet these days, I want to experiment with making raw sprouted wheat bread. Yum.

Another reason why I’ve chosen to grow wheat in my high brix/nutrient dense garden is for the plain and simple fact that commercially grown wheat today leaves much to be desired health-wise. Conventional wheat growers typically use a lot of chemicals on their fields of wheat to keep down weeds, to fend off pest pressures and diseases (like rust and fungus), and to obtain consistent harvest and increase yields. Did you know that the recommended practice for wheat growers to obtain a consistent harvest and higher yields is to drench their wheat fields with glycophosphate (a.k.a. Roundup)? Read about it here.

And if that wasn’t reason enough for health conscious gardeners to grow their own wheat, now unapproved GMO wheat has been discovered growing in places like Oregon and Montana in just the past few months. Compliments of you-know-who.

You can read all about the Monsanto settlement here and here.

Desirable Qualities of Growing White Sonora Wheat

I’m thrilled by the fact that through my research I discovered a few southwest sources who have grown White Sonora Wheat and consider this wheat to be perfect for the home garden. Especially for those growing in hot and arid climates like Las Vegas, Nevada.

Some of the qualities mentioned are…

  • Easy to grow
  • Highly drought tolerant
  • Can grow a lot in a relatively small space
  • Resistant to Fusarium fungus
  • Resistant to Rust
  • Yields rival modern wheat yields
  • Grows to a reasonable height of about 5 feet tall (which also helps to shade out weeds)
  • A thinner paper-like husk that is easy to remove
  • Makes an excellent flour for baking sweet breads, pastries, cakes, tortillas and even pizza dough
  • After-harvest debris makes an excellent “brown” ingredient for compost piles
  • Dried stalks can be used as mulch (in summer, I would use this underneath the moist shade of plants versus in open areas ~ this material may be considered highly combustible if the conditions are just right)

Bottom-line is this… there are several great reasons for growing wheat in a home garden setting. Who knows, if this wheat holds up to its reputation, I just might have to make it a regular food partner in my garden!

Seed Count and Potential Yield

To start my wheat quest, I purchased seed from two sources.  I bought a 1 ounce package of White Sonora Wheat from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds last year and a 1 pound package from Native Seeds/SEARCH about a month ago. The growing information on both seed packets left much to be desired. Also, the packets only displayed the weight with no indication as to how many seeds there were. So, because I’m the type of gardener who needs to know things and the fact that I’ve never grown wheat before, the natural course of action… do more research.

On-line, I found Terriorseeds/Underwood Gardens as a source that provided some detail on the potential yields of White Sonora Wheat for home gardeners. As for the seed count, I was on my own.

Regarding specific growing information, I’ve done a lot a research and have contacted two excellent resources for additional “in-field” information. I’m still wrapping things up and will be sharing this information with you later next week.

Let’s take a quick look at potential yields for White Sonora Wheat according to Terriorseeds/Underwood Gardens website.

Potential Yield

On average, their customers easily yield about a gallon jar volume of White Sonora wheat berries from a 3 ounce planting. With the right growing conditions, they can achieve a 40:1 return on planting.

When I first read this, I was unsure on how to react. Is that good, bad, high, low? Don’t know. Because I have no experience growing White Sonora wheat, or any wheat really, I had a hard time getting my head around the whole ‘3 ounce to 1 gallon volume thing‘.  So I did what I do best… I got OCD on my White Sonora wheat seed and did my own count and visual representations.

Which brings me to seed count. Here’s the results of my seed count.

How many seeds are there in a 1 ounce seed packet?

There are approximately 866 White Sonora wheat seed
in a 1 ounce seed packet

Now for a visual look at the ‘3 ounce to 1 gallon volume thing‘.

First, I weighed out 3 ounces of White Sonora wheat on my handy-dandy digital scale then transferred the wheat seed to a measuring cup to see how it measured out by volume. 3 ounces of wheat is a tad short of ½ a cup as you can see in the photo below.

ancient heirloom White Sonora wheat

Note that I did not have a gallon jar available, so I used two ½ gallon jars instead. As for filling the jars, I decided to use brown rice in place of White Sonora wheat since I only had a small amount of wheat seed left. The volume of brown rice per weight was almost identical to the wheat seed. A good substitute for filling the jars.

I weighed out the brown rice and filled the jars to the highest measurement line.

White Sonora wheatSo, how much wheat seed filled the jars?

102 ounces (6 pounds 6 ounces) = 1 gallon jar full of White Sonora wheat

Naturally, at this point, I was curious about how many loaves of bread 1 gallon of wheat seed could produce.

Through my research, I found a multitude of varying calculations and recommendations. Based on the numbers I found, I decided to play it safe and take the middle-road approach. Also, keep in mind, that I’m not a baker. For that matter, I’m not a mathematician, either. Up to this point in my life, I have yet to grind wheat to make flour and the numbers I’m about to present to you should be considered a general guide not a hard and fast rule.

For those of you who do grind your own wheat to make flour and bake your own bread, please feel free to chime in by leaving a comment below.

So here it goes…

8 ounces of wheat berries = 8 ounces of flour

3-1/2 cups (or 14 ounces) flour = 1 loaf bread
source: King Arthur Flour

1 gallon of Wheat berries = about 7 loaves of bread

Not bad for 3 ounces of planted wheat! The true test will be when I actually harvest my wheat in early summer. For those of you also growing White Sonora Wheat in the Las Vegas area or similar hot and arid climates, you’ll have to share your harvest yield numbers with us.

White Sonora Wheat yield

Wrapping It Up

As I mentioned before, I plan to do a separate post dedicated to specific growing information for White Sonora Wheat and as long as the info I’m waiting for comes in as expected, the post should be out by the end of next week.

For now, I’ll give you a quick peak into how I planted my wheat seed.

I planted 80 square feet of White Sonora wheat in my 10×10 raised bed. I planted out the front portion of the raised bed (20 square feet) with fall veggies. Based on my research and recommendations I had received, I had a couple of options for panting my seed. Planting in rows 4-inches apart with the seeds planted 1-inch apart -or- broadcasting the seed and lightly raking it into the soil. As an experiment, I decided to try both methods.

The row planting was especially fun and made me walk around funny for a few day as my back recovered. The broadcasting was much easier, but because the seeds were closer to the surface, the birds were having a feast-fest! After planting, I watered everything in well with a solution of Kelp tea just for good measure.

So, there you have it. Wheat. It’s what I’m growing this fall and winter. How about you?

White Sonora Wheat

For those of you who are interested in giving your hand a try at growing heirloom wheat, be sure to check out my post on… yes, you guessed it How To Grow White Sonora Wheat where I help to demystify the ins and outs of how to plant, water and care for your wheat.

God Bless and have a wonderful Thanksgiving :)

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Bulbing Onion Test Results

dy Apple and Candy OnionsHi friends!

The bulbing onion test results are finally in. For those of you who have been waiting patiently for the results and would like to review my test information from the beginning or if you’re unfamiliar with the test I performed and would like to learn more, you can check out the details in my original post here.

Here’s a quick recap… in March of this year, I was asked by a horticulturalist friend of mine to evaluate a product called Kelzyme in my garden. The Kelzyme product is a ‘rock dust’ type of product that is derived from a seabed deposit of fossilized marine kelp.  The manufacturer claims that the product is a rich source of highly absorbable organic calcium and also contains about 70 trace minerals, both highly attractive ingredients for us nutrient focused gardeners (a.k.a. high brix/nutrient dense). This product comes in a micronized version, but the Kelzyme product I was given to test was fairly granulated and “rocky”. For rock dust products, I typically prefer to use a micronized version. The finer particle size is easier for the soil microbes to break down making the minerals available to the plants sooner. Coarser materials take much longer to break down and tend to sit in the soil as the soil microbes “work it” releasing only small amounts of its coveted mineral treasures over a longer period of time.

FYI high brix/nutrient dense gardeners ~ next year I plan to experiment with a couple of beneficial soil bacteria that are new to me and my garden and will be a fairly inexpensive addition to my gardening regimen. One bacteria targets the break down of rock dusts and the other is anaerobic and helps plants to live and thrive in salty soil environments (like our soils in the desert). Bottom-line… more available nutrition for my plants. I’m anxious to get started in the spring and will keep you updated on my progress.

For now, just keep in mind that not all soil microbes and bacteria are created equal. Some live better in certain environments (i.e., fresh water, brackish water, clay soils, sandy soils, etc.) while some bacteria are better at certain tasks than others (i.e., breaking leaf litter vs. rock dusts). There’s big science involved in world of soil biology that I certainly do not claim to know… like at all, but I find this topic fascinating and read up a lot on the research and findings being done by scientists and technical experts who have dedicated their lives to this subject.

Since I had just received a fresh batch of bulbing onion transplants and had recently prepared my 4×10 raised bed for planting, I decided the onions and planting site was the perfect choice for testing the Kelzyme product.

Onion TestThe onion transplants were purchased from Dixondale Farms, and consisted of the following varieties:

I broke the onions into two distinct groups… Test Group #1, I used the Kelzyme product. Test Group #2, I added the John & Bob’s suite of products. The onions were divided up evenly among the two groups with each group receiving the following: six Candy onions, six Red Candy Apple onions, and six Texas Legend onions.

In order to do a fair assessment of the Kelzyme product, I considered several factors throughout my test including…

  • Number of leaves each plant generated
  • Onion bulb size (diameter and height)
  • Onion bulb weight
  • and finally, the Brix reading for each onion

As the onion plants were growing, I referred to a hard copy chart I made to keep track of who was who. For after harvest, I made up several little tags that I used to tie onto each onion as I harvested them in order to properly identify each individual within the two different groups.Onion Test Group 1 Kelzyme

Onion Test Group 2 John and Bob's

Once harvested, I left the onions in the raised bed for about three days under the protection of my squash plant leaves to help prevent sunburn on the newly exposed onion bulbs. I then carefully collected the onions and moved them indoors where I hung them for a couple of weeks in a warm room to begin the curing process. Eventually, I moved the onions to another room where I laid them out flat to finish the curing process, which took an additional 4 weeks (6 weeks total). When completely cured, I cut-off the dried leaves leaving about 1-inch of stem on the onion bulb then moved them all to a cool dark place for storage.Curing OnionsWith the curing process complete, I started the Brix portion of my onion test. To perform this portion of the test, I had to cut open each and every onion to test the brix using my refractometer. Rather than do this all at once and have to freeze all my onions, I opted to use 1-3 onions in my normal cooking routine each week and test the brix immediately after cutting an onion open. During this phase of my test, I did not see any significant difference in the readings for onions I cut open earlier versus later in the process.

Test Results and Observations

OnionTest_060614_2Now, let me share with you some of the stats and my observations…

Out of the 36 original onion transplants (12 of each variety), only 20 onions matured to full size. The other 16 onions failed to grow beyond the original transplant size. Both groups had an equal number of onions that failed to grow (as you can see from the chart below). Though the fact that less than 1/2 of my onions failed to grow was disappointing in and of itself, I feel that the cause of this is not a result of either of the products used, but rather some other consideration entirely. I won’t even try to speculate at the cause.

Onion Failed to Grow Chart

Size & Weight

Nothing really stands out to me in this category. By looking at the chart below, you’ll see that the Kelzyme group (T1) had the largest sized onion coming in at 3.5”diameter x 3.2” height, but the John & Bob’s group (T2) was very close behind coming in at 3.5” diameter x 3.0” height. Size wise, neither group produced any onions of any size worth writing home about. This could have been a direct result of the high nitrogen OMRI organic fertilizers I used before the onions began to bulb-up. I flat-out refused to use the ammonium sulfate product the grower recommended which is horrible for soil health. Despite all this, neither of the test group products seemed to visibly boost the bulb size. I also wanted to point out that the soil I used in my raised bed (from ViraGrow) was new and already contained high levels of nitrogen (which I confirmed from a soil test I had performed just before planting). The high level of nitrogen seemed to have little effect on the onion size, either. The soil test also indicated extremely low soil microbial activity which probably played a significant role in the unimpressive onion sizes.

Onion Size Chart

OnionTest_061714_1

To determine each onion’s size, I measured both the diameter and height of each onion bulb using a dial caliper tool.

Though I did have a total of six (6) onions that were 3 inches to 3-1/2 inches in diameter, overall, I was far from impressed. Especially since I was hoping that the Candy and Texas Legend onions would get close their size potential of 6 inches. Not even close!

Regarding the number of leaves on each onion plant, my documented numbers are all over the place (see chart above), but I can say that the larger bulbs (3-inch and larger in diameter) did, on average, have more leaf growth than the smaller sized onion bulbs.

Size Conclusion~ Unimpressive ~  no real winner. In my opinion, the test results are too dismal to compare. For those of you with OCD, I guess the Kelzyme group (T1) can be pinned the size winner with its, ooh, wait for it… 3.5” x 3.2” sized Candy onion. Keep in mind that it only won by a hair as the John & Bob’s group (T2) was right on its heel with a 3.5″x3.0″ sized Candy onion.

Onion_4

Brix Reading

Well, after the uninspiring size and weight results for both test groups, I was just about ready to throw in the towel and call it a wash, when suddenly it donned on me, “hello, miss I’m all about growing high brix/nutrient dense food. Test the brix!”

Test Onion Brix

So like any good high brix/nutrient dense grower would do, I pulled out my refractometer along with my handy-dandy OXO garlic press (which by the way, I love!) and began to cut open and test my first onion. Though the entire Brix testing process took some time, the results were worth the time and effort involved. Finally, results interesting enough to ponder over.

To help make some sense of these results, I provided a Brix Measure Chart ~ For Onions (below) so you could first see what the experts say an onion brix reading of poor, average, good and excellent look like. To help even further, I’ve color coded the chart and used this color coding in the chart that contains my test results below. For those of you interested in downloading a complete brix chart, you can find it here.

Onion Brix Chart

Onion Brix Readings

In the chart above, you can see that the Kelzyme group (T1) did have the two highest brix numbers coming in at 14 and 13. For me, I found this interesting and it makes me want to explore the Kelzyme product further, especially in combination with other products I use.  What really caught my attention, though, was the fact that the John & Bob’s group (T2) had double the number of onions in the above Excellent range. This was even despite the fact that the raised bed soil originally started off with extremely low microbial activity. I also find it quite impressive that almost half of the onions planted were above an Excellent rating of 10. In hindsight, it would have been very helpful to have been able to compare the results with onions planted in soil that had no additional amendments added (a.k.a. a baseline group). Oh well, next time.

Though the results from my small-scale far from perfect test are nowhere near worthy of being published in any scientific research papers and such, I do feel that the brix results is an indicator of the positive impact the soil microbes and minerals I used (i.e., John & Bob’s product) had on my onion plants. Ultimately a big plus for the nutrition of the food I eat from my garden ~ regardless of size.

Brix Conclusion ~ I honestly have to say the beneficial bacteria, microbes and minerals are the winners in this category. Evidence that these little helpers have a positive impact on the nutrition levels of the plant.

Onion_3

Final Note

Even though my test was far from perfect and no extraordinary growth was observed, I do feel that the Kelzyme product deserves a second look. My test results definitely demonstrated promise in the area where microbes and minerals were concerned, especially in a soil that started off essentially void of microbial activity.

I’m also interested in testing the Kelzyme product with tomatoes and peppers since the manufacturer claims the product is high in absorbable calcium. More to come on that.

Onion_5

Hopefully you found my onion test of some value and that it at least peaked your interest in using beneficial bacteria, microbes and minerals in your garden to grow fruits and veggies that are high brix and nutrient dense. Until my next post, keep warm and keep growing!

God Bless,

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November Orchard Tasks

 

Black Mission Fig

My Black Mission Fig is such a hardy over achiever in the front orchard.

Hi Friends!

Well, October is now officially behind us and with it came cooler weather into the Las Vegas, Nevada area. A welcome relief from the heat of summer. Sad though, too. The cooling weather is a sure sign that any summer veggie crops still growing in the garden will soon be coming to an end :(

In the orchard, everything is definitely starting to wind down. The leaves are beginning to get a bit crunchy and drop off the fruit trees. And the soil microbes, though still hard at work, are wrapping up their work helping the fruit trees store critical nutrition for next year’s growth and harvest. Everything is definitely quieting down in the orchard this time of year with the exception of a few trees that still need to be harvested, such as our pomegranates and Pink Lady apples.

Pink Lady Apple

Before you decide to pull up a chair, sit back and relax, there are still a few important tasks to be completed during the month of November. For those of you who were wondering what happened to the October list of tasks, well, there’s no sugar-coating this one… things got away from me and I failed to post. No worries, though. October’s list translates well into November. When I have a bit more time, I’ll add a separate list for October under the Orchard Calendar link at the top of my blog page. So, without further pause, let’s get started.

Dorsett Golden Apple and Black Mission Fig

November Orchard Tasks

  • Irrigation ~ in early to mid-November, reduce watering to 1x every 7 days
  • Daylight Savings (Sunday, November 2nd). Be sure to adjust your irrigation timer and clocks back (1) one hour.
  • Bees ~ for those of you who have bee hives to tend to, it’s time to help your precious little busy bees get ready for winter. Be sure to have plenty of water available for them along with lots of their fav blooming plants in and around your orchard as they prepare honey for the winter months. I like to keep several basil plants growing in my garden as long as I can. They absolutely love it!
  • Gather together and organize your orchard harvest records and journal notes from this past season. You’ll need it for a task in early December.
  • Continue to pick up any fallen fruit ~ that is, if you’re still harvesting fruit.
  • Fruit you could be harvesting this month:
    • Fig
    • Pomegranate
    • Pecan
    • Persimmon
    • Apple
  • It’s time to plan for winter protection now! Buy winter protection for frost/freeze sensitive fruit trees ~ frost sensitive trees include most citrus and avocados. It’s also important to keep an eye on your trees throughout winter to ensure that your chosen protection tools continue to work for you and your trees.

Plum leaves in fall

  • In the Las Vegas area, we’re pretty fortunate to have relatively warm and mild winters compared to most other areas within the U.S., but it’s still fairly common to have several frost days throughout the winter months along with an occasional freeze. Here are a few things you can do to help protect your orchard this winter…
    • Be informed… know the first average frost date for your area. Here in North Las Vegas, NV it’s around November 15th.
    • String up UL-approved Christmas lights in the canopy of your frost-sensitive trees. Be sure to use the old style bulbs and not LEDs ~ the lights need to be able to generate heat to be effective at warming your trees during a frost or in freezing temps.
    • Purchase frost/freeze blankets that you can easily drape over your trees. It’s ideal for the blanket to be long enough to bunch up on the ground and secure down with a couple of heavy objects (i.e., bucket with soil or rocks, large rocks, etc.)
    • Spread around a thicker layer of wood mulch underneath your fruit trees to help protect the roots from the colder weather. Just be sure to keep the mulch about 6-inches away from the trunk for fruit trees that are less than 5 years old.
    • Keep in mind that it’s easier for winter injury to occur with dry roots than it is with roots that are moist. So, if a freeze is expected, run your irrigation for a few minutes to moisten the soil for added protection.
    • Renew whitewash in areas showing wear, especially on the trunk and main scaffold areas. Doing so helps to insulate your trees from really cold evenings and thawing in daytime ~ i.e., sun scald.
      • Sun scald is a common injury for trees during the cold winter months, especially on clear sunny days. The sun warms (thaws) the trees during the day and then, at night, when the temperatures drop and re-chills the tree, the trunk is at risk of cracking and/or splitting.
  • Protect sprinkler/bubbler heads, water-lines, hoses, and spigots from freeze damage.

Fruit Trees Dropping Fall Leaves

  • Spray a microbial innoculant on fallen leaves ~ when 50% of the leaves have fallen off your fruit trees, spray the ground underneath each fruit tree as well as the bottom portion of each trunk with either a fresh brewed microbial tea or by using a mother culture. Be sure to target fallen leaves on the ground to help populate the area with microbes and facilitate leaf decomposition (making a wonderful rich humus for your trees, to boot!).
  • Add a 1-inch layer of vegetative compost on top of any fallen leaves that are located directly under the canopy of the tree to boost soil microbial action. Be sure to avoid using high-nitrogen animal manure compost. Not only will the compost and leaves act as an insulator for the fruit tree’s roots it also gets the soil microbes jumping into action.
    To avoid holding moisture up against the trunk and putting up an “All You Can Eat” buffet sign for critters who love to munch on the bark of your trees under protective cover (i.e., mice, etc.), be sure to rake the leaves and compost back about 6-inches.
  • Make a “leaf storage bin” using wire mesh to form a barrel-shape then anchor it to the ground. Any leaves you collect this fall/winter will come in handy for use in homemade compost and/or for making rich humus in early spring.

Leaf catch

  • Inspect tree trunks for pest damage and address any issues promptly.
  • Permanently remove limb spreaders ~ only remove them if the secured limbs stay in place once the spreaders are removed. Otherwise, leave them in for another season.
  • Complete routine maintenance on all orchard equipment before storing for winter.
    • Deep clean pruners ~ sanitize, sharpen and oil
    • Clean rakes and shovels ~ remove any dirt and rust then apply a protectant
    • Make any necessary repairs
  • Do general clean up in and around the orchard.
    • Pick up piles of debris, fallen limbs and branches to help prevent over-wintering pests and diseases.
    • Empty out and sanitize buckets and containers you regularly use ~ use a mild bleach and water solution to sanitize.
    • Rake out any wood mulch that has “bunched” up or has been displaced throughout the season.
      For example, my border collie, Pinny, regularly does burn-outs around the orchard while chasing birds and squirrels exposing bare ground in some areas and creating piles of wood mulch in other areas. Yeah, I’m a little OCD that way, but I do like a tidy orchard going into winter. It just helps to mentally “wrap up” the season. Plus, it looks nice :)
  • Order/buy compost now for bareroot fruit tree planting in early February ~ Waiting until the last-minute is never a good thing. Also, be aware of the fact that a lot of bulk compost delivery companies will have a better selection / quality of product this time of year versus in January. Generally, spring is when new compost stock starts to come in for preparation of the growing season ahead. Keep in mind, that you’ll need a good-sized pile of compost if you plan to “heel-in” your new bareroot fruit trees before planting. Compost will also be required for the fruit tree planting process, as well. Just be sure to keep the compost moist by hosing it down at least once each week and covering it with a tarp. Using a few heavy objects to anchor down the corners of the tarp is a great idea, too since it’s inevitable that we’ll get a few blasts of wind this winter.

Vegetative Compost Forest Waste

  • Dig holes now for bare root fruit trees that will be planted in February ~ this step for November is optional, but something that I highly recommend. This is especially true for those of you planning to plant more than 1-2 fruit trees in early spring (i.e., early February here in Las Vegas). Doing this step now not only helps to expedite the planting process in spring, but it’s also much easier to do this laborious task while the weather is still decent versus in the finger numbing cold of January or February.Burrrr. Been there done that!
    • Safety Hazard Warning: For those of you who plan to dig the holes now and leave them empty/open until planting in spring, be aware of the potential safety issue/hazard of doing this and take precautions to secure and/or block the area (i.e., place cones and reflective tape, etc.), otherwise, follow the next step…

Fruit tree planting Check for drainage

  • Once your holes are dug and drainage checked, do the following:
    • Mix together 50% native soil and 50% compost; be sure to remove any rocks that are golf ball size and larger.
    • Mix rock dusts into the 50/50 soil mixture (I use about 16 ounces each of Azomite, Glacial Rock Dust, and Soft Rock Phosphate).
    • Refill the hole about three-quarters of the way up with the rock dust infused 50/50 soil mixture. Leave the remainder of the soil mixture either piled up next to the hole or in buckets. You’ll need this soil during the planting process in February.
    • Mix in a quality microbial inoculant (or the John & Bob’s suite of products) along with a couple of large handfuls of bone meal into the top 4-inches to 6-inches of the 50/50 soil in the hole, then water in well.
    • Now, let this sit and work its magic until you’re ready to plant.
    • Note: You’ll probably still want to block off the area, but it’s far less of a safety issue with the hole(s) partially filled.

Well, that just about does it for tasks in the month of November. Oh, one last task… make yourself your fav fall beverage, preferably something nice and toasty hot, then step outside with it, take a sip and enjoy the cooling weather :D

God bless,

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Watering In Hot and Arid Climates

Haws Watering CanHi friends!

Today, I’d like to talk about a subject that is on the mind of every gardener… water. It’s especially true for the brave and adventurous souls who garden in hot and dry climate areas.

This is such an important topic here in the desert and one that needs to be given the attention it deserves. To that point, I started working on this blog post over two weeks go. I thought long and hard about how I wanted to approach this subject in order to give you concise, thorough and easy to understand information that you could take away and use in your own garden.

A lot of people would approach this topic by providing information on how they water their veggie plants… the formula that best serves their garden. I wanted to do more than that. To give you information that was more practical and usable than simply an explanation of what I do. Something that you can easily translate in your garden. But, in order to do that, it required a bit more reflection on the subject.  Especially since I am a firm believer that an effective watering plan requires more than just the water schedule component of the plan.

So how does a water-conscious gardener answer the question, “how much and how often should I water my garden?”

When I first moved to Las Vegas, Nevada from Southern California about eleven years ago, I was convinced my gardening days were over and my only growing options were either rocks, cactus, more cactus, mesquite, palo verde or palm trees. Well, after a lot of doubt, trial and error and LOTS of research, I gladly discovered I was absolutely and completely wrong.

For those of you who live in the Las Vegas area, I’m sure like me, you’ve encountered a number of opinions on the subject of watering a veggie garden. Even when discussing this topic with so-called local experts (i.e., plant nurseries, long-time gardeners, etc.). In my experience, most of the answers given are quite vague, confusing and incomplete.

Here’s just a few of the responses I received…

  • Keep the soil moist
  • Use a small stick placed against your skin to see how moist the soil is
  • Water frequently
  • Water deeply
  • Water several times each week
  • And my favorite… grow cactus

Pretty vague, right?

I’ve gotta give it to them…these are certainly answers, but like I said, they are all quite vague, confusing and incomplete. Worse yet, these simple answers make huge assumptions as to the knowledge and understanding of the person asking the questions. Especially, for someone who is new to gardening here in the desert. In my opinion, an absolutely horrible approach to an answer.

At times, it can feel like the real answer is top-secret only intended for a select few. This can be especially confusing and discouraging for those just starting to garden in our desert environment. So, upon receiving these vague answers, most folks will fall back on what they know about gardening, which is usually based on a location much different from our harsh climate. All the while, they continue to seek out a real-world answer to their question. Some stumble upon the answer, others keep pushing through being the dedicated gardeners that they are, and others, sadly become frustrated and give up.

Well, let me start by saying that I’m certainly no expert in irrigation, but I do have lots of experience in this area, talked with lots of experienced gardeners/growers here in town, done tons of research, and experimented a lot in my own garden. I also have a background in training, which I feel comes in handy when communicating the details. And, being a “transplant” to the Las Vegas area from a place so very different from here, I totally get it. Folks growing here for the first time could really use a bit more support and guidance than the standard answers above provide.

So to that point, the details that I would like to share with you may help to provide a better road map for you to navigate more effectively through this confusing topic and the ever elusive answer to the question, “how much and how often should I water my garden?” My focus today will be specifically on traditional watering methods such as drip irrigation and hand watering for raised bed growing. I’ll cover irrigation for home orchards in a later post.

Let’s dig in, gardeners!

Two Important Rules to Watering in Hot and Arid Climates

desert soilBefore we begin, there are a couple of very important things you must do in order to successfully navigate the topic of watering in a hot and dry climate.

#1 ~ Throw out everything you thought you knew about gardening

Well, that’s a pretty harsh statement, but for the most part it’s true. The desert is a very different environment from which to grow fruits and veggies than any other place within the U.S. The soils can be quite lifeless and can be hard as a rock and very difficult to dig or till. The native soil here is also very alkaline with a typical pH of 8.1 or higher and is considered calcareous (i.e. contains a good amount of calcium carbonate). Then to make matters even worse, desert areas usually have temperature extremes (hot in summer and/or cold in winter), lots of wind, monsoons, etc. A number of things to think about and give pause when planning a garden here.

A lot of gardeners here grow their veggies in raised beds to help avoid some of the potential issues from growing directly in the ground. Others are growing very successfully in-ground, but it does require some amending in order to do so (i.e., mixing in compost, etc.). Each growing option requires similar, but slightly different watering approaches and the information I’m providing here can apply to both growing methods.

With all that said, be confident in the knowledge that gardening in the desert can be quite successful and understand that a lot of the gardening practices that work in other parts of the country just simply do not apply here. For example, I love when I see magazine articles on watering that recommend watering 1x per week or less in the cooler months of fall and spring and in the heat of summer they recommend watering 2x, maybe even 3x per week. Yikes! In the heat of our summer, my veggie plants would be crispy dry on that schedule.

Sure, your expertise and past experience as a gardener will serve you well here and will help to close the gap considerably on your learning curve. Just try your best to be open to new ideas and methods in your new growing arena.

#2 ~ Never let the soil dry out, even in the first inch or so of soil

For now, just keep this in mind. You’ll understand “why this is important” down below.

Important Considerations

To answer the pressing question of “how much and how often should I water my garden?”, I feel it’s critical to have a basic understanding of the environment in which we grow in and the unique challenges it presents, especially ones that can negatively impact or sabotage even our best planned watering schedule.

When putting together a successful watering plan, especially for our blistering hot summer months, I highly recommend that desert gardeners seriously consider the following two key points.

  • Evaporation
  • Soil salinity

To me, these considerations are just as important as water itself. To only consider the water component of your plan would be like getting dressed in the morning and forgetting to put shoes on. You go about your day walking barefooted in your finely appointed business attire or casual wear. Sure, you’re dressed, but something is really missing. And your feet are probably feeling the pain by the end of the day. Just like your plants will if you ignore these key considerations.

So, let’s break these down.

Consideration #1 ~ Moisture Loss (a.k.a. Evaporation)

Anyone and everyone who lives in a hot and arid climate has had some experience with moisture loss in their garden soil. The 110°F+ summer heat, dry air, and drying winds are sure to wreak havoc with the success of even the best watering plan. It can present a constant battle in trying to keep your soil moist and your plants well watered.

To help navigate through these challenges, some people like to add amendments to their soil like peat moss, coconut coir, vermiculite, etc. Myself personally, I typically steer clear of adding these types of amendments to my raised bed soil. The soil/compost (a forest green waste compost) I’m currently using to fill my raised beds has proven to be very effective when it comes to holding onto moisture while still remaining nice and crumbly. Using this soil/compost helps to eliminate the added expense of peat moss, coconut coir, etc. and allows me to focus my gardening dollars on amendments that I consider to be much more critical like earthworm castings, rock dusts, and mycorrhizal inocculants. The real garden super stars. Who knows, in the future I may change my mind about using these types of amendments, but for now, I’m sticking with what works in my garden.

Artistic Gardener's Veggie GardenIn addition to the super star amendments I use in my garden, I also like to use other moisture retaining methods, that in my opinion, do a much better job at keeping moisture where it belongs… in my soil. Let me introduce you to what I like to call, “the dynamic duo”…

  • Intensive planting
  • and, Mulch

Intensive Planting

Intensive Planting

Molokhia (Egyptian Spinach), bush variety heirloom sweet potatoes, and Pepperoncini peppers grown closely together.

A key step in this method of gardening is to plant your veggie plants closely together in order to shade the soil underneath, dramatically reducing the evaporative effects of our hot summer sun. The shading also helps to keep your plant roots cooler, too.

Intensive planting can be done with a complex variety of vegetable and herb plants inter-planted together, or as simply as planting a single variety. The key here is the close spacing. An intensively grown garden also maximizes on space and produces more yields due to the higher number of plants within the garden. A very nice thing if you have only a small space in which to grow your own food.

Cinnamon Basil, Sweet Potatoes, and Peppers Intensively Planted

Cinnamon Basil, Thai Basil, bush variety heirloom sweet potatoes, and Cayenne Peppers grown closely together.

Long Purple eggplant and Lemon Basil grown intensively

Long Purple Eggplant and Lemon Basil growing closely together. I just recently removed a Bennings Green Tint Scallop Squash and Green Onions. Swiss Chard, Flat Leaf Parsley, Rocket Arugula, and Easter Egg Radishes are now starting to grow in their place.

For those interested, I’m currently working on developing a helpful guide that will contain a detailed plant list with intensive planting space information that I will be making available free of charge to subscribers of my blog. Keep your eyes peeled.

Mulch

The compliment to intensive planting is mulch. Though the closely spaced plants do a great job at providing shade, cooling the soil and keeping moisture right where you want it, our hot drying winds and dry climate can still do a fine job at wicking away that precious moisture. That’s why it’s important to reduce this risk by covering the soil with a nice layer of mulch. For well shaded areas, I would recommend about 1-inch to 2-inches thick and for more open areas 2-inches to 3-inches.

There are a number of mulch options available to gardeners, such as…

  • Compost (non-manure)
  • Straw (weed free)
  • Pine shavings ~ animal bedding (untreated)
  • Hardwood shavings (i.e., alder)
  • Composted wood chips (wood chips from a tree service ~ let sit for about 2 years to compost)
  • Red or silver mulch

 

Wood mulchThere are pros and cons to each, so choose one that best suits your gardening style.

Currently, I’m using a thin layer of vegetative compost covered with about 1-inch of composted wood chips. I am considering one of the other mulch options (maybe hardwood shavings), because wood mulch comes with a definite ouch factor and can be harder to work around. I used it because that’s what I had on hand at the time.

Consideration #2 ~ Soil Salinity

Soil salinity is an often overlooked and under discussed topic in hot and dry climate gardening. A travesty actually. Like evaporation, soil salinity is another game changer when it comes to how you water and how often you water your garden. Choosing to pass over this consideration when developing a watering plan, can be quite damaging to your garden and can create a lot of “head scratching” moments when trying to determine the cause of its damage.

Typical arid climate soils, manure composts (a.k.a. Biosolids and animal manures), green/food waste composts  (restaurants/casinos), and composts in general that are allowed to dry out are all extremely high in salts. And to add insult to injury, at least in the Las Vegas area, our water supply is fairly high in salts, too. So needless to say, we have a salt challenge that we have to deal with.

In the garden, we can exacerbate the high salinity issue by allowing the top layer of soil in our gardens to dry out even just a bit, which increases the likelihood that damaging salts will be wicked up and begin to concentrate in the root zone of our plants. This my friends is bad news!

The issue is magnified when soil regularly goes through moisture fluctuations. Like when the top few inches of soil dries then it’s watered enough to just moisten the soil, then the soil is left to dry out a bit again until the next watering. You get the point. One of the keys to keeping soil salts at manageable levels is to keep the soil moist at all times, and never left to dry out, even just a little. This is especially true during the heat of summer. Over watering will also cause salinity issues by preventing the salts from being flushed away properly from the root zone.

High soil salinity can be very damaging and will

  • kill beneficial soil microbes
  • reduce uptake of water and nutrients
  • reduce plant vigor and growth
  • decrease the nutrition of the fruit (i.e., brix levels)
  • negatively impact yields
  • interfere with seed germination
  • cause leaves to yellow and discolor along the leaf margin
  • damage or worse yet, kill your precious veggie plants

I plan to do a blog post solely dedicated to the topic of soil salinity and its effects within the veggie garden.

Side-Note on Shade Cloth

There are a lot of opinions for and against the use of shade cloth in desert gardening. But the following facts are undeniable. In addition to providing much-needed shade for ourselves, shade cloth also helps the soil to retain moisture by reducing the evaporative effects of our hot summer days. Especially if using raised beds to garden in.

Shade cloth is not a requirement, but I thought I’d mention the option here.

NOW We Can Talk About Water (finally!)

Dramm Water BreakerOkay, now that I’ve talked your ear off about some very important considerations when creating a successful watering plan, I feel more comfortable in turning our attention to the actual water portion of the plan. So, let’s talk water.

At this point, some of you are eagerly waiting to jot down a detailed irrigation formula that you can apply to your garden with either the turn of a few dials on your water station controller or a couple of turns of your hose nozzle. In all honesty,  it would be highly irresponsible of me to provide you with a “one-size-fits-all” formula ~ there are just way too many variables to consider. And, it may be much harder for you to make adjustments if things go awry (i.e., heat waves, cold snaps, super high winds, etc.). What I can give you are some important key observation points and tips to look for in your garden to help you determine when to water.

I’ve already given you a handful of very important points to seriously consider when putting together your watering plan. Important points that will help your garden soil to hold onto the precious water you apply as well as manage a unique challenge we face in hot and dry climates… high salinity. With this information, you can now teach the “so-called” experts a thing or two and you’re one huge step closer to a successful watering plan.

Let’s do a quick recap of those very important points of consideration…

  • Keep your soil moist at all times = never let your soil dry out, not even an inch
  • Keep your soil consistently moist at all times by avoiding moisture fluctuations
  • Help your soil retain precious moisture by keeping it shaded and protected from our hot sun and drying winds by using intensive planting and mulch

Okay, for those of you who have quickly scanned through my post to this point, I highly encourage you to go back and actually read the details so you have a “real” understanding of why these points are so important.

Now let’s take a look at what Moist Soil really means along with some of the fundamentals of recognizing exactly when to water by using some of the most basic, simple, and free tools available to you… your eyes and hands. Yes, we’ll be fine tuning our observations skills at this point.

Visual Observations

Most of us are very familiar with what dry soil and very wet soil looks like, but there may be some of you who are still perplexed as to what “moist” really means in the veggie garden. First, I’ll state the obvious…

Moist soil is definitely not loose, dry and dusty when it’s picked up in your hand (i.e., easily blows away and slips through your fingers).

Dry dusty soilIt’s also not muddy, squishy and dripping wet. Wet garden soilWhen squeezed in your fist, Moist soil will hold a nice firm shape upon opening your hand.  No drips of water. No gooshy mess. The clump will also hold its shape even after being placed onto the soil surface and gently rolled around a little. Moist soil has a beautiful dark rich color with a definite glistening sheen to it.

moist garden soilMoist soil also crumbles apart easily when you poke it or move it around in the palm of your hand with your fingertips.  Consistent moist soil is the target goal.

Moist soil crumblesNow, on the other hand, if you squeeze and release the soil in your hand and it starts to break apart in large chunks or in half upon opening your hand, it’s time to water again. The soil will also have a nice dark color to it, but the surface will have a much lower sheen than moist soil will.

Soil when ready to water

It’s also important to note that just after watering, your soil will be more “wet” and may easily squeeze through between your fingers when you make a tight fist around it, though it should not be a sloppy, gooey, dripping wet mess like mud.  Then you’re applying way too much water. It’s best to wait about an hour or so after watering to check your soil’s moisture again.soil after wateringIn addition to grabbing some soil from the top 3-inches and squeezing it to check the moisture level (like above), it’s important to dig down and check the moisture level at about 6-inches and 12-inches deep.  This is the critical root zone area. Keep in mind that not all plant roots go to this depth, but I like to err on the side of caution. If the water you’re applying fails to seep down into this area, your plants will suffer. For optimum moisture for your plants, the soil must be sufficiently moist from the soil surface down to about 12-inches deep.

Another quick test you can do is simply scratch at the soil surface (about 1-inch deep) to visually see if the soil has moisture. I would not rely on this test to determine if you need to water or not, but it can help you to keep tabs on the moisture level at the soil surface fairly regularly if you incorporate this into your day-to-day gardening tasks. Fairly dry soil at this level is not really a good thing and you should dig down deeper to check the soil further. Nice moist soil deeper down may just mean that your soil needs a good layer of mulch if there is none.

moist soil surface

Soil that still has some moisture in it (i.e., not bone dry) yet fails to hold a shape after squeezing it in your hand is pretty dry and has gone too long without additional water. This drier soil will also have a lighter color to it. Soil that is allowed to dry out regularly to this point before watering is considered the definition of moisture fluctuation within the garden. When this occurs, soil salinity will rear its ugly head and make its presence known.

Fairly dry soil

Soil Moisture

On the other hand, soil that remains fairly wet on a regular basis can also spell trouble for your garden. It can literally suffocate your plants by depriving them of oxygen, especially within the root zone area. Root rot and a variety of diseases can also occur. Soil that is moist and has a nice crumble to it allows your plant’s roots to easily move through the soil, and get the moisture, nutrition and oxygen they need to thrive.Wet soilI regularly “squeeze” my soil, as demonstrated above, to check the moisture levels and its worked quite well for me and my garden.

To perform this test in your garden, I would recommend that you water your garden as usual and wait about 1-2 hours before testing it. Grab, squeeze, and observe soil from the top 3-inches, then from 6-inches deep and finally from 12-inches deep. Spend a day (or two) adjusting the length of time and frequency you water, testing and retesting until you ‘re able to consistently achieve soil that is at the “ready to water” point (see above). This process will help you to dial in the watering schedule that’s perfect for your garden.

For those of you who really want to start from a baseline for watering during the summer months using drip irrigation, try running your system so that it delivers about 3-inches of water each week. You can check your drip irrigation manual to determine the length of time it will take to accomplish this. Using that number, work your way from there.

As you go forward with implementing your watering plan, know that you’ll probably need to make a few adjustments along the way as you become more familiar with your soil, your irrigation system and our climate. Unless, of course, you’re one of the lucky few who just have a knack for it. Most of us need a little time to dial it in.

Frequent Short Cycles vs. Infrequent Deep Cycles

When it comes to watering in the desert, there are two distinct camps.  One swears by frequent short water cycles. The other, infrequent deep cycles. Both camps usually water on a daily basis during the heat of summer.

Personally, I lean toward the deep watering but I refuse to take a firm stand either way. There are pros and cons to both. As long as the soil remains consistently moist from the soil surface down to about 12-inches deep, either method can work.

When first implementing a water plan, whether you’re using drip irrigation or hose watering, frequent short cycles or infrequent deep cycles, the soil needs to start off sufficiently moist. I always recommend using a hose to really wet down the soil in the garden before starting. It just helps to get things moving along properly.

Starting irrigation on fairly dry soil can be a challenge and will take time to moisten up properly. Any plants in the bed will suffer for it.  Dry soil can be extremely difficult to wet and if not properly wetted before planting, any water applied has a tendency to run right through the soil and out the bottom of the raised bed leaving behind some moist areas (usually around the emitters) and some dry areas. In the heat of summer, soil salinity will be a major concern at this stage.

This coming season, I’ll be experimenting with an OMRI approved soil wetting agent in my blueberry raised bed. Right now, it’s bone dry and has lots of peat moss in it. Yikes! I’ll be sure to provide an update when we get started.

Putting It All Together

For some of you, checking you soil’s moisture level as I illustrated above, may seem like work, but trust me, once you get the hang of it, it actually takes very little time to complete. Plus, it really helps you to get up close and personal with what’s happening in your garden. Come on… as a gardener, this is just one more opportunity for you to play around in your soil without anyone questioning why. And, as I like to say, “time in the garden is always time well spent”.

Now, if you prefer to use gadgets, you can always try to use a moisture meter. Personally, this tool has not proven itself useful in my veggie garden, though I do use a meter in my fruit orchard. There are a few digital meters on the market that may work better for raised bed veggie gardens than the meter I have, but they can be on the pricey side.

Moisture meterAnother method of determining how much and how often to water is to look at specific plant water requirements. In my experience, the average information on how many inches of water per week different plants require can be somewhat tricky when translating those numbers for use in hot and arid climates.

For instance, I use Netafim Techline CV 0.9 GPH drip irrigation lines for my vegetable garden irrigation. I also supplement water 1x a day by lightly hose watering or using my fav watering can, which helps me to stay connected with my garden :)

The drip irrigation I use puts out 1/4-inch of water every 10 minutes. To apply 1-inch of water per week would require me to run my system for 40 minutes total each week. So if I go by standard recommendations to water most of my veggie plants about 2″ of water per week, that would mean I should run my drip irrigation system for about 80 minutes total each week. This would translate to about 11 minutes total each day. Early on in my process, I ran my system on this schedule during summer and you know what happened? Yup, I had little crispies growing in my garden! Maybe its enough water for other parts of the country, but for here… not enough. Our moisture-sucking hot and arid climate requires at least double that or more.

Initially, I used these numbers as a baseline for my watering plan, but now… I rely heavily on regular observations of my soil to help dial in my watering schedule. And most of all… my plants are happy.

101014_Water_12Hopefully, I’ve helped you to navigate through some of the confusion around watering in our desert climate and helped guide you in determining the best garden watering plan for your veggie garden.

To wrap things up, I’ll leave you with this summation…

Intensive Planting + Mulch + Consistent Soil Moisture = Growing success in your garden!

Haws watering can and seedlings

May God bless your garden with health and abundance.

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September Orchard Tasks

092614_WonderfulPomegranateHi friends. It’s time to get started on fall tasks in the backyard orchard. Fall is the time of year our fruit trees begin to wind down from all their hard work producing delectable fruit for us earlier in the year. The process of storing up nutrients for next spring’s growth is well underway as the trees begin to ready themselves for their short winter rest before they get to do it all over again.

Before I get too far into my post, I want to make sure I give a warm welcome to all you John Kohler GrowingYourGreens fans visiting my blog. Thank you for stopping by and checking out my humble little gardening blog… I hope you enjoy your visit.

Before we get into the topic at hand, I wanted to quickly share with you something that happened yesterday. Mother nature decided to unload her cache of rain on us late yesterday afternoon wreaking havoc in my garden. The storm started with a bright flash of light and a loud crackling sound in the sky. I know this because I was outside gathering up the butternut squash I had curing on a homemade bench.  As soon as I brought in the last squash, the sky let out an intense thunderous rumble followed by a surge of super-sized rain drops. Within minutes of entering the house, hurricane force winds blew in and started thrashing my fruit trees around violently, then it started to rain like I’ve never seen it rain before. All I could think of as I watched the downpour in disbelief was “the hundred year storm”.  Most of my backyard turned into a lake with wood mulch floating around. I didn’t even want to think about what this storm was doing to my garden and orchard.

This morning, I assessed the damage.

092614_StormGood news is both my front and backyard orchards weathered through the hurricane force winds and torrential downpour like champs. No broken limbs or damage, only bunches of green leaves spread around everywhere. My vegetable garden is another story. Everything definitely got jostled around and a few plants were damaged. Nothing I’ll lose sleep over.

The heavy-duty 6″ metal stakes that secured our EMT shade cloth frame securely to the ground, were uprooted and the entire unit was lifted up and moved about 2′ tweaking and twisting the pipes and disheveling our 30% shade cloth.

Most of our vegetable plants sailed through with flying colors (no pun intended), but  a few plants, like my 7′ tall Molokhia (Egyptian Spinach) plant, broke in half and one of my trellised tomato plants was damaged beyond repair. Unfortunately, our roof took a hit, too :( It could have been a lot worse. Some clean up and yet another home repair job and all will be right in the world again.

September Orchard Tasks092614_Orchard

This month’s orchard task list is a bit more relaxed than in previous months, but there are still a few critical items that need to be tended to, especially for those of you who are still harvesting. I encourage you to review both August’s Orchard Tasks list and July’s Orchard Task list before proceeding with the content below.

Do not be alarmed if some of your fruit trees start to look a wee bit haggard (browning leaves, etc.) this month. Some trees may even experience a small spurt of tip growth this time of year if the weather is still warm accompanied by a good amount of rain. No worries… things in the orchard will start to quiet down soon enough.

As I mentioned earlier, our fruit trees are still actively storing nutrients for next season’s growth. And for us, well, sadly our fruit harvest season is slowly coming to a close with only our pomegranates and Pink Lady Apples left to harvest later this month and in October. Then it’s back to buying store-bought fruit until next May :(  This will change in the near future. We already have plans in place to extend our fruit season.

Now, let’s get started with September’s task. Most, if not all, of these tasks should be started toward the end of the month (a.k.a. ~ now). Sorry for the late post folks ~ life happened.

  • Irrigation ~ continue to water 3x a week this month (15 mins for trees less than 1-year-old and 20 mins for older trees); Note: these watering times are for fruit trees that are grown ladderless and are kept at about 10 feet high or less.
  • Order bare root fruit trees now for delivery in February! Put all your orchard planning into action by placing your bare root fruit tree pre-order with a reputable local nursery or online source. I pre-order my bare root fruit trees from Bay Laurel Nursery ~ they sell quality tree stock and have an awesome guarantee (which they’ve honored for us on more than one occasion).
  • Inoculate your fruit tree soil with beneficial microbes ~ if you missed doing this task last month, be sure to complete it this month.
    • Spray effective microbes/mother culture or aerated microbial tea directly on the ground underneath each fruit tree every 7-10 days. When making your tea, be sure to avoid using animal manures ~ too high in nitrogen.
      and/or
    • Broadcast microbes and minerals underneath the fruit tree’s canopy ~ I like to use John & Bob’s suite of products. You will only need to do this 1x in Fall and again in early Spring. I like to do both. I’ll start by applying John & Bob’s Penetrate product, then broadcast directly underneath each trees canopy John & Bob’s Maximize, Optimize and Nourish products. I’ll lightly cover the soil surface with either a high quality fungal-based compost (no manure) and/or worm castings then water everything in. Next, I’ll begin spraying the soil with effective microbes/mother culture every 7-10 days during this month and into October. Also, be sure to read last month’s task list about kicking soil biology into gear along with some great how-to tips.
  • Add amendments to fruit tree soil ~ if you missed doing this last month, you still have time to do it this month. I always recommend applying amendments based on results from a soil test, if not… it’s just guesswork.
    • Avoid digging amendments directly into the soil as it may damage the feeder roots.  Lightly scratch the amendments in or simply broadcast the amendments under the fruit tree’s canopy and water in.
  • Fruit and Nuts you could be harvesting this month includes…
    • Almonds
    • Apples
    • Figs
    • Jujube
    • Peach
    • Pears
    • Pecans
    • Persimmons
    • Plums
    • Pomegranates
    • Quince
    • Walnuts
  • Now is the perfect time to prepare for fall’s orchard clean-up activities by gathering together some necessary tools…
    • A wheel barrel
    • Rake
    • Pitch fork (for spreading wood mulch)
    • Metal screening (to make a temporary area for holding dried leaves ~ which is perfect “brown” material for composting)
  • Order wood mulch from a local tree service for delivery in early October. We use First Choice Tree Service here in town and a truckload of wood mulch is free of charge ~ they do charge a delivery fee (around $50 or so). When scheduling delivery, be sure to request wood mulch that is free of palm, walnut (which contains growth inhibitors), and anything that has nasty painful thorns (i.e., Mesquite, Palo Verde, etc.). My experience has been that some of this stuff still makes it way into the wood mulch ~ so you just need to toss the stuff out when you come across it when spreading around the orchard floor.
  • Plan your freeze/frost protection strategy now. Here in North Las Vegas, Nevada our first average frost date is typically around November 21st – 30th. There’s a lot of conflicting info out there, and some say our average first frost date is November 7th – 14th, but the most accurate info that I’ve found (based on weather trending info for this area) is plantmaps.com.

Hope this list helps in your home backyard (or front yard) orchard :D

God Bless,

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Fall Garden Planning

Lemon Queen SunflowerHi friends! Hope your week has been beyond wonderful :)  While many of you may be gearing up for the holiday weekend, hubby and I have been working on repair projects around the house and putting together our fall planting plan. Yup… it’s that time again. Actually, some folks here in the Las Vegas area are already planting their fall veggies.

In my garden, I like to plant my fall crops in mid to late September for a number of reasons.

1) It’s still pretty hot outside right now and I want to be able to give my baby plants the “best” start possible in the garden. Planting when it’s still too hot for cool weather crops can really stress them out and impact their growth and future yields. I’ll be starting some seeds indoors this weekend using my soil block maker. I really do love this tool.

2) At the end of summer, I like to do soil testing and amend my beds based on the test results for optimum nutrition (a.k.a. growing high brix/nutrient dense).

3) My plan usually involves a staggered approach. I’ll start with one bed by removing all of the plant material, add the required amendments then let it rest for a week or so. After planting it out, I’ll start the process on another raised bed and so on. Sometimes the process isn’t as clean-cut as this, but I rarely do a big haul and remove everything at once.

3) This time of year, there are still so many great summer veggies growing in my garden. Most of my veggie plants have gotten their second wind for the season and I really like to wait a little longer to harvest all of my summer rewards… like buckets full of pepperoncini peppers, cayenne peppers, butternut squash, Zatta melons, tomatoes, poha berries, and a variety of summer squash and eggplants. To rip out all of my summer veggie plants would mean losing pounds and pounds of great healthy produce. As long as I have plenty of food growing in my garden I’ll continue to let it grow.

4) I use frost protection on my raised beds in late fall and through winter which helps out tremendously with my delayed fall planting. This gives my plants a chance to grow and I can harvest later in the season and throughout the winter months. This approach has really worked out well for me. No need to feel rushed.

5) To minimize pest problems. This is especially true for this year since we had those nasty Bragada Bugs earlier on. They’ve been MIA in my garden for the past month or so (a really good thing), but I plan on planting several veggies in the brassica family (broccoli, kale, mustard, etc.) and the temps are still perfect for their re-emergence so my fall garden will definitely benefit from a later start.

Planning

Seeds

I typically start my fall planting plan process in early August. First I’ll take quick stock of what I have on hand then, hubby and I spread out the seed catalogs and scour through its content to see if there’s anything new we’d like to grow in the upcoming season.

There are a small handful of seed companies that I like to order seeds from, but I’ve chosen only two catalogs to order my Fall seeds from this year. My favs for fall are…

Baker Creek Seed CompanyBaker Creek Heirloom Seeds ~ To date most of my seeds I’ve ordered have come from this awesome company. I love the fact that this seed company offers some very unique varieties of heirloom seeds. They’ve also signed the Safe Seed Pledge, a public declaration of their policy to “steer clear” of genetically engineered seeds or plants. This is extremely important to me and I make it a point to only purchase seeds from companies who have taken this pledge.

As a company, they have a great selection and their catalog is by far the absolute best when it comes to photos. It’s a very beautiful catalog that’s sure to please just about anyone who grows their own fruits and veggies.

Their online ordering process is very easy to use and their seeds are always neatly packaged with a small thank you ~ a free seed packet. Some of my fav veggies to grow have come from their chosen free selection for me :) They also get a huge +++ for their shipping costs. The best I’ve ever found ~ $3.50 an order.

Bountiful GardensBountiful Gardens ~ This is the first time I’ve ordered from this company and I do have to say that I’m impressed. I also just recently discovered that this catalog is a project of the Ecology Action organization. A company that is dedicated to biointensive growing practices and teaching their methods around the world. Unfamiliar with biointensive growing? Be sure to check out their website and John Jeavons’ book How To Grow More Vegetables.

Their online ordering process was very easy to use and they’ve also signed the Safe Seed Pledge. Their shipping costs are a bit more expensive but still reasonable. Their catalog does carry a wide selection of heirloom quality veggie seeds with some planting information. What I’m most impressed with is how quickly I received my order. I opted for the least expensive shipping option and still received it within only a few days. The packaging was nicely put together with a nice note about recycling/reusing the shipping materials :)

At this point I have not planted the seeds yet, so I’ll have to let you know how the seeds do. I’m expecting quality.

The Plan

Now, if you’ve been reading my blog for even a short while you’ll know that I’m a planner. A big time planner at that. I personally find it challenging to plant things willy nilly in the garden because I like to maximize my growing space the best I can. I am, however, always impressed with those folks who can go out into their garden and plant out a beautiful garden spread without much planning effort.

For now though, my process and growing practices dictate a more planful approach. In a single season, it’s normal for me to grow 25+ varieties of veggies and greens. To fit everything in, I start with a well thought out layout.Garden Planner

To quickly build my layout, I created a custom grid-layout using a professional graphics program. In my custom file, I’ve also set up circular objects that represent each of the plants I will be planting out that particular season. Keep in mind that everything is to scale. Just below each object I’ve listed out things like days to maturity, size, etc. for quick reference as I’m laying things out.Planner

I typically start out with size information that I’ve obtained from online, a garden book or from a seed catalog. As I grow each veggie plant, I’ll make note of the final maturity size in my garden then I’ll update my circular objects accordingly.

Sure, there are tons of applications out there that I could use that’s done some of the work for me, but I have yet to find one that gives me the level of scalability and flexibility that my own system provides me. I simply move things around until I get the right fit keeping in mind the height of each plant. My personal system is a blend of biointensive and square foot gardening.

The initial time and effort it took me to set my system up was well worth the effort. Now, it’s just a matter of adding to or updating my library of plant objects and adding in new raised beds.

One online application that I like above all the others is Smart Gardener.  It’s a free application and has a lot of easy to use tools. They do have a number of plants in their database and have given folks the option of adding plants into their system. In my opinion, it’s one of the drawbacks of the application. There does not seem to be any real checks and balances for this added info and there can be several individual listings for the same plant. This adds time and effort when searching for a specific item. They do have a fairly robust search functionality, that allows you to weed out some of the duplication. Check it out for yourself. Note: I am not in any way being compensated for my opinion or mention of this product ~ I just simply wanted to pass along the info to you.

What Are You Planning to Grow This Fall? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear all about your plans for your garden this fall.

As for me, I’m planting the following:

  • Arugula
  • Beet, Albino
  • Beet, Chioggia
  • Beet, Detroit Red
  • Beet, Golden
  • Beet, Shiraz
  • Broccoli, Waltham 29
  • Carrot, Amarillo
  • Carrot, Cosmic Purple
  • Carrot, Lunar White
  • Carrot, St. Valery
  • Celery, Tendercrisp
  • Chives, Garlic (Chinese Leek)
  • Collard, Vates
  • Garlic, Inchelium Red (softneck)
  • Garlic, Lorz (softneck)
  • Garlic, Spanish Roja (hardneck)
  • Garlic, Thermadrone (softneck)
  • Greens, Corn Salad
  • Greens, Miner’s Lettuce
  • Greens, Minutina
  • Greens, Salad Burnet
  • Greens, Salsola soda (Agretti)
  • Greens, Tatsoi
  • Herb, Cilantro
  • Herb, Giant of Italy Parsley
  • Kale, Dwarf Siberian
  • Kale, Nero Di Toscana
  • Kale, Red Russian
  • Kale, Trenchuda
  • Kohlrabi, Purple Vienna
  • Leek, Blue Solaise
  • Lettuce, Bronze Goldring
  • Lettuce, Hungarian Pink Winter
  • Lettuce, Red Romaine
  • Lettuce, Red Sails
  • Lettuce, Rocky Top Mix
  • Mustard, Red Streaks
  • Onion, Ailsa Craig
  • Onion, Bianca di Maggio
  • Onion, Green Bunching
  • Onion, Mill Creek Red Onion
  • Onion, Red of Florence
  • Parsnip, Hollow Crown
  • Pea, Desiree
  • Pea, Little Marvel
  • Pea, Lincoln
  • Pea, Sugar Snap
  • Radish, Easter Egg Mix
  • Radish, Rat’s Tail
  • Spinach, Low Acid
  • Swiss Chard, Flamingo Pink
  • Swiss Chard, Rainbow
  • Turnip, Orange Jelly/Golden Ball
  • Turnip, Purple Top
  • Wheat, Emmers
  • Wheat, White Sonora

Told you I like to plant a wide variety of veggies and greens :) This year we’re trying our hand at growing some winter wheat in our 10×10 raised bed.  Both varieties are very old heirlooms and are so different from the wheat varieties grown today. These two wheat varieties are both low in gluten and can possibly be eaten by those with wheat and gluten allergies. I’ve been off wheat and gluten for almost three years now and I plan to try my hand at making sprouted bread with this grain. I’ll keep you posted.

Well, I have a lot of work ahead of me so better get busy. Oh, remember to leave a comment about what you’re growing this fall. Have a great holiday weekend with your family and friends and enjoy the sunshine in your garden!

Sunshine

God Bless,

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