Welcome Back!

Low Chill Cherry Tree in the DesertHi Friends!

Well, I’m finally back to writing once again after a long, and what seemed like forever, 5-month break. And boy, did I really missed all of you.

Now, as most of you know, I’ve been dealing with a few health challenges for about 4-years now that conventional medicine has failed to provide any real answers or resolutions for. Those of you who have been following my blog for some time now also know that I’ve been growing and eating my own home-grown delicious high brix nutrient dense fruits and vegetables from own backyard. And doing so has done wonders in helping me to feel so much better and take back my life from this mysterious illness. Despite this, my health suddenly took a turn for the worse.

The reason why I’m telling you all of this is not to seek sympathy ~ though prayers are always welcome ~ I feel I owe you an explanation for my absence and to pass along encouragement for those of you who are facing their own health challenges.

For a few months now, I’ve felt like I hit a wall with my progress. No matter how much home-grown fresh greens, fruits and veggies I incorporated into my diet and despite the fact that I pretty much eliminated everything else (i.e., dairy, wheat/gluten, chocolate, fried foods, etc.) for the past 4 years… I felt stuck. In fact, my progress started to feel like it was unraveling. I was eating clean and better than I have in years… so how could this happen? Well, a recent hospital stay and several procedures later, I now have the answer. My major health issue is mechanical and not illness related at all.

While in the hospital, the doctors discovered (finally!) that I have a fairly severe hernia in my abdomen. OMG! It only took conventional medicine 4 years to figure it out. Years ago, it took them a year of head scratching (and lots of pain on my part) to figure out I had a rather common ailment… gallbladder disease. To add insult to injury to this new discovery, I also found out that I have a rather severe electrolyte deficiency (the issue that brought me into the hospital in the first place) as well as a thyroid issue. Holy smokes!

Needless to say, my situation has been quite debilitating at times and has obviously impacted my ability to write on my blog. It’s also slowed me down quite a bit in the garden, too! Aaaaargh. Two things near and dear to my heart :(

After picking myself back up from this jolting news and a few trips back to my integrative doctor, I’m working through my new challenges and well on my way to healing. Thank goodness for all my home-grown fresh greens, fruits and veggies! I was able to sail through all the invasive tests and procedures and be around a lot of sick people with no issues. A huge difference from just 4-5 years ago, when I would catch anything and everything that blew my direction and have to deal with post-illness infections.

Though this has definitely been a blow to me and my health progress, garden and blog, I’m determined to push through it and continue to move forward. This also includes expanding my natural health arsenal of holistic/homeopathic medicines to include herbs and essential oils as well. I’ve only dipped my toes into this world and am impressed enough that I’ve actually altered our overall garden plan to include a medicinal and aromatherapy garden as well. Definitely more to come on this new adventure!

Bottom-line… I’m glad to be back, appreciate your prayers and have so much to share with you. For those of you currently facing health challenges, I encourage you to grow your own fresh fruits and veggies. Start small and easy like growing fresh greens and herbs. They are jammed packed full of nutrition and health promoting qualities and practically grow themselves!

Be sure to keep an eye out for the next post in my fruit tree series called Fruit Trees: Planting In the Desert Part I and Part II. I should have Part I up on my blog by this Friday. Also, be sure to check out my Facebook and Instagram pages. I regularly post new photos and helpful garden tips and information there.

As a side note… last year, I attempted to start making garden and orchard related videos for you to watch, but that project stalled out a bit with recent events. When things get sorted out here, my videos will be back on track! So keep your eyes peeled.

Before I sign off, did you check out the photo I posted at the top of this page? This is my 3-year-old low-chill Royal Lee cherry tree! Yes, you can grow cherries in the desert. Only a few short months and I’ll be eating deliciously sweet and nutritious cherries direct from my own backyard. Can’t get any more local than that!!!!

It’s been so great chatting with you again. Hope the rest of your day is beyond awesome!

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China Ranch Date Farm

China Ranch Date FarmHi friends!

Wanted to share with you a short “day-cation” hubby and I took earlier this year as part of a field trip we did with our small gardening group. The place we visited is definitely worth mentioning here on my blog. And yes, we finally ventured out and away from our beloved garden to expand our horizons and shake off a bit of cabin fever.

I also wanted to mention that this trip was one of a small handful of short day trips hubby and I have taken this year. Of course, ALL of our trips revolved around edible gardening. Would you expect anything less? So let the “sharing” begin :)

For those of you who love to eat dates, want to plant an edible date tree, or are just looking for an excuse to get out and stretch your legs and take in some fresh air… this just may be the “day-cation” you’ve been searching for.

Today’s destination… China Ranch Date Farm. Would you believe that a lot of locals here in town are completely unaware of this gem in the desert? Be sure to check out their website for an insightful look at the history of the property and the ranch itself. It’s quite interesting.China Ranch Date FarmChina Ranch Date Farm is tucked away within the Mojave Desert at the southern tip of Death Valley and a short walk from the Old Spanish Trail. Folks, this is truly an oasis in the desert. The farm is about a 2 hour drive off State Hwy 160 from North Las Vegas, so bring along lots of water, driving snacks, awesome head-bobbing music, and of course, a picnic lunch. You may opt to leave the sweets at home. The farm’s bakery serves up several sweet delectable treats that’s available for purchase to all who visit :)

In addition to the date farm itself, there are several trail heads on the property for those of you who love the great outdoors and hiking. For those of you who’d rather kick back and relax, there’s a hot springs nearby that offers soothing hot mineral baths. Something for just about everyone.

China Date Ranch BakeryThough the drive to the farm was quite uneventful through the desert with its open arid landscape, the scenery became much more lively as we drew nearer to the farm. To gain access to the farm entrance, the drive required some easy maneuvering on a curvy dirt road through a section of tall cliffs and a couple of knuckle clenching steep hills, reminiscent of a thrilling roller coaster ride. Once through the gates and the dust settled, the change in landscape was clearly evident. Green. Beautiful.

China Ranch Date FarmI have to say that I’m thoroughly impressed with this enchanting place. From the large date orchard that’s home to several unique varieties of date palms, to the attention given to the health and well-being of the palms and property.

Our visit began with an in-depth tour of the orchard and property, by the owner and orchard caretaker, Brian Brown. He was so generous with his time and provided such great insight into the current happenings and humble beginning of this truly beautiful desert destination.

Most visitors can freely walk the property by way of a self-guided tour map that can be obtained at the gift shop/bakery. Our guided tour started with a short hike alongside a natural creek which was heavily protected by the shade cover of cottonwoods and willow trees. A nice reprieve from the desert heat.

China Ranch Date FarmAs we continued on our tour, our guide happily pointed out a number of handwritten signs inscribed with interesting medicinal facts about the surrounding native plant life.

Yerba MansaYerba MansaChina Ranch Date FarmThis cool shady spot, my friends, is a perfect place to sit and relax for a while and take in all the wonderful sounds of nature and the natural creek that runs through the property. Just watch out for the gator in the water though. Seriously, folks, there are no alligators in the desert. It’s just a silly decoration compliments of the owner ;)

As we exited the shady retreat, we made our way down the trail to the first of many awe-inspiring palm orchards on the property. A very humbling experience indeed, standing among these gorgeous giants.

China Ranch Date FarmChina Ranch Date FarmNow, at this point you may be wondering what the white bags are that are hanging from some of the date palms. These sturdy cotton bags are used to help protect the dangling date fruit. Like most other fruit trees… the birds adore the fruit. So much so, that if left unprotected, the birds would either devour every date in sight or simply peck unsightly holes in all of the fruit rendering them completely useless. To prevent this, a few months before harvest, Brian and his staff steady themselves on ladders and other equipment to install the bags. As you can imagine, the use of ladders and other climbing equipment is frequently used within this orchard.

China Ranch Date FarmChina Ranch Date FarmChina Ranch Date FarmIn addition to installing the cotton bags every year just before harvest, Brian and his staff climb up into the canopy of each and every tree to either collect powdery pollen or to hand-pollinate each flower bud. Yes, it’s absolutely true. This laborious task helps to ensure a plentiful and reliable harvest each harvest season. Believe it or not, hand pollination is a fairly standard operating procedure for a lot of commercial orchards. Thank goodness for the ease of home orcharding with honey bees and native bees :)

China Ranch Date FarmAs we continued on our tour, I was simply amazed at the variety of dates available beyond the standard two varieties (Medjool and Deglet Noor) sold in stores. A sample station is set up at the gift shop/bakery for visitors to taste the unique flavors of each date variety. I highly recommend doing this while you’re there.

Dayri Date PalmOn our tour, we also visited an original grove of very old date palms that where here when the property was purchased by Brian’s family in 1970. The palms were in such a mangled overgrown mess that it took years for Brian and his family to make them presentable and less hazardous to visitors.China Ranch Date Farm

China Ranch Date FarmThroughout our tour, we encountered several old and interesting structures befitting to the style of this date farm. I love it! Like something right out of the wild west :DChina Ranch Date Farm We ended our wonderful tour with a quick stop at the date palm nursery and a visit to the gift shop and bakery, making sure to sample each and every variety of date offered at the sample station ~ Yum!

Then, to finish off our visit, we enjoyed a nice lunch with tour friends under the protection of the farm’s quaint picnic area. An absolutely wonderful close to our awesome day.

China Ranch Date Farm At the start of this trip we had every intention of purchasing a date palm during our visit to take home and plant in our orchard, but unfortunately, their date palm nursery was empty. We had visited the ranch a bit too early in the season. For those of you interested in purchasing a date palm for your garden, there is no better choice. The farm’s date palm stock is of high quality and an exceptional deal compared to most local nurseries in town. Besides, a lot of them get their palms directly from China Ranch Date Farm. Why not go directly to the source?

China Ranch Date Farm

China Ranch Date FarmFor those of you interested in purchasing a “fruiting” date palm for your garden, the best time of year to purchase a date palm pup is in spring, around April/May. This when the farm is wrapping up their harvest season and have had a chance to fully stock their nursery with new pups fresh from the orchard.

China Ranch Date Farm Just think… you could have your very own “fruiting” date palm with a potential yield of 100 to 300+ lbs per year from a single palm. That’s a lot of fruit! We’re not even talking about the potential savings and health benefits of growing a date palm in your very own biologically infused mineral rich soil :)

China Ranch Date FarmThank you for joining me on this tour and I hope you plan a “day-cation” to China Ranch Date Farm in the very near future. It’s well worth the trip :)

God Bless,

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Fruit Trees: My Trees Arrived, Now What?

Bare Root Fruit TreesHi dear friends,

Seems like ages since I last chatted you up about gardening. May 18th to be exact. I know. I know. It’s hardly ideal for keeping in touch, but believe-you-me, you and my blog are always on my mind. I take hundreds of photos in the orchard and garden, jot down notebooks full of ideas, even start a post or two only to be distracted mid-way through. “Bein’ a busy boo” is an understatement this time of year for me (and I’m sure for you as well) ~ but I feel totally and completely blessed for it. I’m also so grateful that my health is at a point that I can be crazy busy in my orchard and garden. To top it off, I’m tickled to have such wonderful friends, like yourself, who get it.

Gardening is simply amazing, isn’t it? And the rewards… to literally eat the “fruits” of your labor. And, if you’re growing biologically, like me, to achieve the highest brix/nutrient dense foods possible, every time you eat the fruits of your labor the cells in your body lights up and sparkles health :)  Right now, hubby and I are gorging ourselves on figs, pluots and a rainbow of incredibly large and juicy heirloom tomatoes. I feel the only way to describe our feasting joy is to say it in Italian… “Delizioso il mio caro amico. Delizioso!” (yeah, I looked this one up on Google).

My Bare Root Fruit Trees Arrived, Now What?

The purpose of this post is to help you properly stage your fruit trees for planting if you’re unable to plant immediately after arrival. Personally, I like to give my trees at least 24 hours to settle in before I plant them out in the orchard. I do this to help my new fruit tree arrivals recover from the stress of travel in less than ideal conditions (a.k.a. a box) in addition to being banged around during shipping and who knows what else. Yes, the bare root fruit trees are dormant at the time of shipping, but it’s way outside of their normal environment and conditions. Also, it gives you the opportunity to prepare yourself for planting, clear your calendar, thoroughly inspect your new arrivals, etc.

Keep in mind that the process I’m about to share with you is more specific to bare root fruit trees though if you’ve made the decision to plant a containerized fruit tree, I’ve got you covered. I’ve jotted down a few things just for you at the bottom of this post, so feel free to read on with the rest of us either for the entertainment value or as a source of information and inspiration for future fruit tree plantings :)  For those of you who are planting bare root fruit trees, let’s forge on.

With your hole dug and ready to go ~ you’re prepared to receive your new bare root fruit trees. Regarding the timing of their arrival, most reputable online nurseries will let you select the delivery month at the time you place your order. Typically, bare root fruit tree pre-orders begin late August/early September. I usually request an early February for my deliveries. January always seems too cold or unpredictable weather-wise. March is just too late for my liking. I like to give my new baby trees a little more time to get settled in before the onslaught of heat and wind is upon them plus, everything is starting to bloom and leaf out in March. So February is my preferred month ~ the weather is starting to warm up, it’s generally nice outside, and the ground is more workable… it’s just nice.

Be Prepared!

Whether you plan to pick up your bare root fruit trees at a local nursery or have them delivered to your door, there are a few things I highly recommend you pull together a few days ahead of time to help make the arrival and/or receiving process go much more smoothly.

  • Make sure someone is home to receive your new baby fruit trees if they are being delivered or make certain you add a shipping note when you place your order that instructs the delivery person to place the box in a shaded area. Here in the desert, a box sitting in the direct sun for a few hours can cook its contents, even in cool weather.
  • 1+ yards of quality compost (depends on how many trees you’ll be receiving). This is for those of you who will be unable to plant their fruit trees within 1-2 days after receiving them.
  • Trash Can(s) or 5-gallon buckets setup in a shaded area or in a garage filled with fresh clean water (fill the containers with water as soon as you receive your trees)
  • Air stone and small pump (helpful, but totally optional)

Step 1: Rip Open The Box

Well, maybe not rip open the box. I know, you’re pretty excited to see what your new babies look like, but relax, take a deep breath, and open the box without hurting yourself or your new fruit trees.

Bare root fruit tree rootsVoila! Your new bare root fruit trees.

Typically, when you open your box, you’ll see that the nursery has cut back some of the branches and roots in order to fit several fruit trees into one box. This is absolutely normal and in no way harms the fruit tree, though some of the cuts may not be ideal for your planting situation ~ we’ll discuss that in just a bit. Occasionally, the fruit trees will have a broken limb or two that may have occurred during shipping. Simply trim those off with a sharp pair of hand clippers versus pulling it off, which could tear and damage the fruit tree.

After you opened the box, you may have noticed that the roots are covered with plastic or a plastic bag. This is quite normal and is done by the nursery to help keep the roots moist during shipping. Inside this plastic, the roots are typically wrapped in some type of wet material like newspaper, sphagnum moss or saw dust. For now, just leave the plastic and wet material in place until you’re ready to inspect the roots ~ the roots must stay moist at all times.

Step 2: Help your tree to recover from its travels

With your trees safe and sound in your loving care, it’s time to help the bare root fruit tree(s) recover from the stress of travel and prepare them for planting. To do this, simply remove the plastic and all of the wet material wrapped around the tree’s roots then set the fruit tree roots directly into the bucket(s) of water. Note that the water level should be slightly below the graft union. This can be easier said then done when you have multiple trees soaking in the same bucket, but do your best. Let your tree roots soak for a couple of hours ~ or up to 24 hours.

For those of you who purchased more than one bare root fruit tree, begin this step by carefully separating the trees to prevent unnecessary damage.

Want to take it up a notch and give your fruit tree an extra added boost? Earlier, I mentioned an air stone and a small pump. Placing an air stone into the water helps to oxygenate the roots ~ you can certainly skip this part, but it can help to rejuvenate and rehydrate the trees after being boxed up for a few days in a dark oxygen-deprived box.

Soaking Fruit Tree Roots

Over the years, I’ve encountered some debate around the need to soak the roots prior to planting. In my research, I have yet to see any strong arguments against soaking. Usually, the folks I’ve come across who are advocates for the “no-soak approach” are unable to provide reasons that would negate the benefits of soaking. I use the technique of soaking to refresh and rehydrate the roots for all of my newly purchased bare root fruit trees. I look at it this way… the bare root fruit tree received is dormant ~ not dead. It is alive! A living thing that is strongly connected and grounded to the earth, that just traveled by plane and/or truck for, in some cases, hundreds of miles. Give the poor thing some water. I’ve been soaking my bare root fruit trees before planting for years now with no issues ~ and my fruit trees have performed beautifully for me and given me more fruit than I know what to do with. Abundance baby!

Soaking Fruit Trees

Now certainly, if you receive your new trees and the roots are very wet and you plan to plant them out within an hour or two of receiving them, you can skip the soak. This is for those times when you know there’s no way on earth you’ll be planting out the same day you receive them – or – if the roots could use a bit of hydration. Personally, I’d still make the time to soak even if it’s only for a couple of hours.

In my opinion, soaking is a good idea even when bare root fruit trees are purchased locally from a nursery, farm or big box store. A lot of times they’re dealing with bulk orders of fruit trees and just do not have the time for individualized care for each fruit tree. On top of that, lots of people may be sifting through the trees exposing the roots to the elements more than they should be, etc.

Step 3: Inspect your fruit trees

The majority of the time, the bare root fruit trees you’ll receive from a reputable mail-order nursery will be top quality and worthy of a place within your beloved orchard or garden.  But, life is life and as we all know things happen. Order enough fruit trees on-line and there will be a time or two (or three) that you will receive a fruit tree that fails to meet up to your standards. It will happen. For this reason, inspecting your fruit trees shortly after they arrive makes perfect sense.

Inspecting New Fruit Trees

Okay, for those of you who are new to fruit tree growing and lack the skills necessary to complete a well thought out inspection, take a deep breath, sip some cool water and chill a moment. I’ll walk you through some of the basics and provide you with a few tips. For you fruit tree aficionados out there who’ve been around the block a few times selecting and planting bare root fruit trees, this list may serve as a simple refresher.

So, while your fruit trees are rehydrating or receiving a spa treatment :), it’s time to inspect your new arrivals.

Inspect the trunk and limbs

Be sure to check your trees from top to bottom noting any obvious scaring, large fresh wounds, splits, any oozing, dark-colored bark (could indicate disease), etc. Also, carefully inspect the roots and graft union (the point where the rootstock and scion are connected). If something looks suspicious or you’re just not sure about what you’re looking at, take a photo and call the nursery. Reputable nurseries will be more than happy to assist, even if it’s over the phone.

Roots ~ the roots (even the hair-like roots) should be moist and healthy look. As I mentioned before, nurseries often times trim down roots for shipping. This is okay and will not harm the tree. What’s bad is if you find the roots are dry and brittle. If this is the case, call the nursery and request a replacement.

Fruit Tree Roots

Graft union ~ the graft union should be firmly intact (though the plastic wrapping around this area may be loose, slightly coming undone or completely missing ~ this is okay). The graft union should also be free from major scaring and injury.

Crooked or curvy trees ~ no need to panic. A crooked or curvy trunk is nothing to worry about if you plan to lop your tree off at about knee height after planting. This is an ideal approach for growing “ladderless” (a.k.a. shorter) fruit trees. Now, if you plan to grow your fruit trees to full size and the trunk is far from straight-ish and you’re concerned about the aesthetics of your fruit trees, you could certainly request a replacement.

A note about caliper size (caliper refers to the girth of the trunk). There are a few schools of thought on this. Some say 1/2″ caliper is excellent and will produce fruit sooner, others prefer whips (small sized trunk with no branches) because they like the flexibility in training the tree exactly how they want it from the get-go. It’s a personal choice and either one will work.

What do you do if you find something unacceptable with the bare root fruit tree? This is when a fruit tree warranty comes in handy. When purchasing online, always order from a reputable nursery who offers a replacement warranty. I purchase the bulk of my fruit trees from Bay Laurel Nursery who has such a warranty and has backed it on a number of occasions for us ~ with no issues.

Now, if you’re buying your fruit trees locally, you will be able to sift through the fruit trees until you find one that works best for you.

Step 4: Beyond the 24 Hour Soak Period

With the inspection of your fruit trees and 24 hour soak period complete and any replacements noted, it’s time to do one of two things…

1. Plant your tree

OR

2. Heel-in your fruit trees until you’re ready to plant

Heel-In Fruit Trees

Heeling in your bare root fruit trees buys you a little extra time if you’re unable to plant them right away. To heel-in your fruit trees, simply bury the tree roots in a nice pile of moist non-manure compost or loose soil (compost added to the soil works well). Some folks keep their trees in an upright position or lean them up against a fence while they are heeled-in. Typically, hubby and I just lay our new fruit trees down and prop-up their tops by placing the trunk (just below the branches) on a small mound of compost/soil. This allows the branches to remain off the ground (less chance of damage) and prevents the trees from being completely horizontal.

A few things to also remember when heeling in your bare root fruit trees, is to make sure that the graft union is not buried in the compost/soil and to keep the compost/soil moist at all times. This will help keep the roots nice and moist.

When heeling in bare root fruit trees, choose a shady spot or loosely cover your trees with a light tarp in such a way that air is allowed to circulate underneath during the day-time and can be sealed up at night if a light frost is expected. A heavy frost or freeze will require some additional protection.

How long can the trees remain heeled in? Personally, I try to shoot for no longer than 1 maybe 2 weeks tops, but I do have to admit that I’m only human and have left trees in longer. Thank goodness the trees fared well despite my neglect. For those of you who need to heel-in your bare root fruit trees, just keep a close eye on the weather. Here in the desert, our weather can be quite temperamental during the months of January and February. It’s not unusual for us to have a “false spring” where things begin to warm up and prematurely wake up our garden and orchard only to knock it back again with a heavy frost or freeze.  The last thing you want your new bare root fruit trees to do is start coming out of dormancy and begin to flower or leaf-out while it’s heeled in. They’re now awake and must be handled much more carefully. Nor do you want your trees exposed to freezing temps while their roots are only covered by a few inches of compost/soil. It’s best to have them in the ground before this happens.

Step 5: Now You’re Ready To Plant

The next post in my Fruit Tree series will give you the complete low-down on how my hubby and I plant our bare root fruit trees… our foundation for growing high brix/nutrient dense fruit and super healthy fruit trees!

Bare Root Fruit Tree

A special note about Containerized Fruit Trees

Though I prefer to plant bare root fruit trees (see why), some fruit trees are only sold in containers. Fruit trees like figs, pomegranates, citrus, avocados, tropical fruit, etc. Typically, figs and pomegranates can be shipped at the same time your bare root fruit tree order ships (depends on the nursery), while other tropical fruit trees, like citrus and avocados, are available later in spring (around the month of April).

Taking care of your newly purchased containerized fruit tree before it is planted is simple and is the ideal time to begin prepping the tree for high brix/nutrient dense fruit down the road. Here are a few tips:

  • Upon arrival home, immediately prepare a sea kelp extract powder tea (such as Maxicrop or Down To Earth’s KelPlex) and give your baby tree a nice soak with it. I usually add about 1 teaspoon per gallon of water. Do this 1x per week until you are ready to plant. The sea kelp helps your tree recover from stress, and enables the tree to fare better through cold and hot weather.
  • To kick-start the soil microbes, the foundation of biological gardening (a.k.a. growing high brix/nutrient dense food), be sure to add Effective Microbes (like EM-1) in with your initial sea kelp extract soil drench. 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) per gallon of water. After the initial drench, you can also do a weekly foliar spray of EM-1 using the same dilution rate.
  • Be sure to place your tree in a protected area at night (indoors would be best if a frost or freeze is expected). During the day, your tree should be placed outdoors to soak up the warm sunshine.
  • Keep the soil moist until you’re ready to plant.

With a little more knowledge under your belt, you’re off to a great start!

Happy summer gardening!

God Bless,

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White Sonora Wheat ~ Update

White Sonora WheatHello my dear friends,

While I was perusing through my garden earlier this week, I was drawn to a delicate rustling sound similar to that of dried leaves blowing about in a gentle breeze. This calming sound was emanating from the direction of my wheat bed. As I approached the bed, a little wind kicked up initiating a glorious concert of wheat seed heads gently rubbing against each other. Ah… the music of wheat. A chorus in perfect unison and quite mesmerizing I might add.

As I stood there, I closed my eyes for a moment to soak in every beautiful note and recalled a scene from a movie. You know the scene… the one with a person running euphorically through a wheat field, usually in slow motion, with open hands brushing away the wheat stalks as they gleefully pass by. Well, folks, I’m sure someone somewhere has experienced this glorious moment, but for me, twirling about and leaping into the air like a gazelle would have been a sight to see but definitely a challenge in the 3-foot space between my raised beds and pile of rocks. Anyways, my neighbors must already think I’m a tad bit bonkers for the amount of time I spend in my garden. Touching everything at least twice, taking photos, staring at leaves, etc. No need to fuel the gossip further.

Well, with all this gardener bliss goin’ on, I thought a wheat update was in order. Especially since wheat harvest time in my garden has started (big claps!). Yes… the day has finally arrived.

Update

Before I start in with the wonderful details of my wheat update, be sure to check out my two previous posts on White Sonora Wheat… Heirloom White Sonora Wheat provides an in-depth look at the history and current preservation efforts for this beautiful heirloom wheat ~and~ my How To Grow White Sonora Wheat post for information on how I planted my wheat along with other great tips and growing information.

To date, my wheat continues to grow beautifully in its 10’x10′ bed, of which 8’x10′ is dedicated to its growing space. In my previous post, you can see my White Sonora Wheat planting got off to a great start. It emerged green, healthy and super happy. This was one of those “gardener grin” moments for me. I was standing there admiring my tiny little wheat seedlings, then it happened. This silly grin came across my face and I just could not stop smiling. I was feeling so pleased with myself and tickled over the fact that my gardening skills just took a giant leap forward… “I’m actually growing wheat”. I was so overcome with joy that I actually almost giggled :D

Well, my jubilant moment only lasted a few short days. See, soon after my wheat began to emerge, the birds decided it was an all you can eat buffet and wanted to nibble up all my hard work. Those little winged wheat tyrants were bold in their thieving efforts. Initially, Pinny did a fine job of scaring them away, but they quickly learned that the black and white barker (a.k.a. Pinny) was unable reach them in the middle of the 10’x10′ raised bed. So they hastily returned to their wheat peckin’ even with me standing just two feet away. Bold.

Well I was just as determined, and refused to let those chirpin’ wheat eaters undo my planting. Without hesitation, I quickly setup a short EMT frame using scrap pieces from our bird netting frame and secured a couple of large sections of bird netting onto it.  It worked like a charm.

Lessons Learned #1 ~ protect broadcasted seed from birds immediately after planting and keep in place until wheat is about 6-inches tall.

Protecting Wheat From Birds

Protecting Wheat From Birds

White Sonora WheatUnder the protection of the bird netting, my White Sonora Wheat continued to grow beautifully throughout the winter. By the end of January, my wheat had grown to about 12-inches or so and I decided it was safe to remove the netting. Then, the rain came and hung out for several days. By the time the storm passed, my thick lush mini wheat field was a tousled mess. It looked like a large critter trampled through and bedded down in it. Either that or aliens decided to visit and make teeny tiny crop circles in my wheat :/

White Sonora WheatThe obvious conclusion…  my wheat lodged over. Drats!

Lessons Learned #2 ~ rethink the whole broadcast”slash” row planting strategy ~ clearly, a lighter hand is needed when broadcasting wheat seeds.

White Sonora WheatWhen the rain/lodging issue occurred, my wheat was well into the tillering growth stage. For those of you interested in learning more about the actual growth stages for wheat, check out this link.  The two most popular systems used are the Zadoks and Zekes systems, with the later being the most utilized. Being a newbie wheat grower this year, I chose to reference the Zadoks system. It outlines quite a bit more of the details than the high-level Zekes system.

White Sonora Wheat

White Sonora Wheat

My White Sonora Wheat in the tillering stage ~ the wheat is also a great “lady bug nursery” :)

My White Sonora Wheat stayed a tousled mess for several weeks, but by early March, as the temperature began to warm and dry up everything, I noticed that my wheat was beginning to “perk up” in sections.

White Sonora WheatWhite Sonora WheatThis was also the time I began to notice several flag leaves emerging along with a small handful of wheat seed heads. I had read that White Sonora Wheat was a “whiskerless” (a.k.a. awns) wheat. Despite this fact, the emerging seed heads clearly had whiskers! Hmmmmm.Wheat Seed Head

Wheat Flag LeafWheat Flag LeafWheat Seed HeadObviously the wheat seed heads with awns were an impostor wheat that somehow got mixed into my batch of White Sonora Wheat seed. Thankfully, my White Sonora Wheat flag leaves and seed heads began to appear about two weeks later. Phew!

Here’s a couple of detailed photos I took to help all of the other newbie home wheat growers out there. These pics show the flag leaf and the all important sheath. The sheath is where the wheat seed head forms. As the seed head grows, the sheath will swell and finally split open to reveal the seed head inside (see photo of impostor wheat above).

White Sonora WheatWhite Sonora WheatAs my wheat grew taller, I set up some bamboo stakes and supports on the south end of the bed where I had a 2-foot section of veggie plants growing. The wheat had flopped over and was starting to cover my veggie plants. Definitely not a good thing for my veggies.

White Sonora WheatWell, no sooner did my wheat begin to prop itself back up, the warmer days of early Spring brought with it a hoard of aphids right to my wheat bed. The rest of my garden remained untouched. The good news is, along with the aphids came an army of lady bugs, green lace wings and assassin bugs. The aphids quickly lost out to the vast beneficial assault. Folks, this is a by-product of healthy no-pesticide/no-chemical approach to gardening.

Over the next several weeks, hubby and I began to lovingly refer to our wheat bed as the lady bug nursery. The lady bugs were everywhere and in every stage of life. It was such an awesome sight to see. After the aphids were under control, the majority of the lady bugs moved onto the orchard leaving behind a few to keep the wheat clean :)

White Sonora WheatWhite Sonora WheatShortly after the great wheat aphid battle was won, my beloved White Sonora Wheat was emerging everywhere throughout the bed (of course, awnless). And within a few weeks, teeny tiny anthers began to appear on the center of the wheat seed heads indicating that my wheat was entering into the flowering stage.

White Sonora Wheat EmergingWheat FlowersWheat AnthersNo sooner did the aphid issue get under control and my wheat start flowering, the spring winds came. And come they did. My garden was hammered with 50 mph winds and knocked my wheat over. Sheesh. A few weeks earlier we had removed the EMT frame and setup a support system around the outside of the raised bed by installing rebar in the corners and tying nylon cord to each corner. The wheat closest to this support did fine, but the wheat in the center of the bed was hit hard.White Sonora WheatWhite Sonora WheatAs my wheat seed heads continued to emerge and flower, some of the wheat began to stand up, again. Though a large amount in the center of the bed (i.e., the broadcasted area), stayed bent over ~ but it also continued to grow and flower so I left it alone.

Well, I’m happy to say that through all the trials my White Sonora Wheat pulled through like a champ. All the wheat continued to grow and flourished despite being knocked down (literally) multiple times.

White Sonora WheatThe reward for all my patience? Lots of wheat drying up getting ready for harvest. Mind you, only a handful of wheat has been harvested over the last couple of days, the majority of my wheat still has a few days to go. And of course, we just got rain today and I’m uncertain as to what impact, if any, this will have on my beloved White Sonora Wheat. But, as usual, I’m hopeful that all will work out and my harvest will be abundant.

When I’m finished harvesting my wheat, I’ll be sure to do a final post where I’ll go into more details about the ripening and harvesting process along with my current thoughts on an updated planting approach for next year. Yup, I’m thinking about growing wheat again next year ~ this time in our native soil. Only time will tell :)

God Bless,

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Fruit Trees: How To Prepare Soil For Planting

How To Prepare Soil for Planting Fruit TreesHi dear friends!

Thank you for being so patient awaiting the next post in my Fruit Tree series. In my last post I covered the all-important topic of how to dig a hole in the desert for your beloved baby fruit tree(s). Now, we’ll take a closer look at how to prepare your soil for the big planting day. This process can be used for both bare root fruit trees as well as containerized fruit trees.

An important note before we begin… For those of you who live in a similar climate to Las Vegas, Nevada (a.k.a. hot, arid and windy), your bare root fruit tree planting opportunity has come and gone for this year. No need to fret though. After following along with my Fruit Tree series this year, you will be well-equipped with the knowledge you need to be successful and fully prepared for next season’s planting in February.

Still want to plant a fruit tree this year? You can certainly plant containerized fruit trees this season, but I highly advise against planting them now or during the heat of summer. I’m also not a huge fan of containerized fruit trees, but that’s just me being super protective of my orchard. Be sure to check out my three-part post on bare root fruit trees vs. containerized fruit trees to see the pros and cons of both. Planting now allows very little time for your new trees to recover from the stress of planting and to settle into its new home before getting blasted by our heat and wind. The best time to plant containerized fruit trees is in the fall when our weather begins settles down.

For those of you who wish to review my Fruit Tree series at a later date, it’s easy! I’ve setup a blog navigation page dedicated to this series and placed a convenient link in the top navigation bar under Home Orcharding. As I fine-tune my current processes or discover and test out new techniques that support growing delicious and uber-healthy high brix/nutrient dense fruit, I’ll be sure to share that info with you by updating the appropriate page in my Fruit Tree series.

Tools and Supplies

Before you begin, be sure to gather together all of the supplies you’ll need to complete this step and set up everything near your planting site. The items I listed out below will help to make the soil preparation process go along smoothly.

  • Compost ~ Forest Waste / Green Waste Compost ~ buy the best quality compost you can afford (approximately 1/2 to 1 yard per fruit tree) ~ avoid compost that has additives or chemical fertilizers added (such as Ammonium Sulfate)… these do quick work of killing off precious microbiology for your soil and sets up a huge roadblock in growing nutrient dense fruit.
  • Wheel Barrel (or two)
  • Something to sift dirt through ~ a few years back, hubby put together a large sifter using 2×4’s and 1″ welded wire screen. It’s held up wonderfully and has taken lots of abuse over the years. It really does the trick sifting out rocks.

Soil Sifter for Fruit Trees

  • Three or Four 5-Gallon Buckets ~ 1 bucket to cart off rocks, 1 bucket to hold and measure out native soil, and 1 bucket to hold and measure out compost. Having that extra bucket helps save your back ~ will share more about that below.
  • Shovel
  • Steel Bow Rake
  • Standard Garden Hose with a Spray Nozzle Attachment
  • Local / native soil ~ you should have a nice big pile after digging your planting hole.
  • Heavy Duty Gloves
  • Mask ~ helps to keep the dust out of your nose and lungs.
  • Protective Eye Wear
  • Plenty of water ~ stay hydrated.
  • High Brix/Nutrient Dense Amendments (see below)

A special note about compost

When it comes to buying compost, be sure to select the highest quality compost your budget can afford ~ your soil and fruit trees will love you for it. Need to buy a budget-friendly manure compost? Organic is always best with this type of compost and it should be free of GMO’s including GMO-corn/grain fed cattle or poultry waste. It may still contain antibiotics and other veterinarian-type pharmaceuticals along with organic pesticides, etc. Even some forest waste/green waste compost can contain contaminants you may not appreciate in your compost. Just make sure you do your research first before buying. When buying bulk, always ask to see soil testing results of the compost you wish to purchase and pay careful attention to the section where they list the acceptable levels of contaminants such as biosolids, harmful bacterias and pathogens, etc. Also ask for sodium levels. High levels of sodium/salts can lead to soil issues later on.

When estimating how much compost to purchase and how much native soil you’ll need to use, keep in mind a couple of things: 1) how many bare root fruit trees you’ll be planting, and 2) how deeply you dug your hole(s).

Our time-tested soil preparation process uses a soil mixture of 50% non-amended native soil and 50% compost. You may also need extra compost if you plan to ‘heel-in’ your newly purchased bare root fruit trees shortly after their arrival.

How to Prepare Your Soil For Planting

What I’m about to share with you is our “go-to” process, but you can certainly accomplish this task using whatever approach works best for you. We tend to be on the, well, picky side. For those of you who prefer a more flexible and “loose” approach, by all means, do it your way as long as the end result is the same.

Let’s get started…

Step 1 ~ Get Those Gloves On

You’re gonna need em’.

I’m gonna be upfront with you. This process is work. I wouldn’t say grueling hard work, but work all the same. And for us, well worth it. Soil prep makes a huge difference and our orchard speaks volumes to this fact. Our trees are very happy, healthy and fruitful in part to this preparation step.

Step 2 ~ Load Up The Compost

After setting up all of the tools and supplies needed to begin, we usually start off by loading up one wheel barrel with compost and placing it near the planting site. Chances are your pile of compost is elsewhere on your property, so plan on making a few trips to grab more. With this in mind, its helpful to keep a clear path for your travels back-and-forth.

Soil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Next, we place a second wheel barrel near the first one and set the homemade sifter on top. By looking at the photo below, you can see our setup… wheel barrel with compost on the right ~ wheel barrel for sifting on the left. Makes the process go along smoothly. Easy peasy. Planting Fruit TreesAs I mentioned earlier, hubby put together a sturdy sifter when we first started planting fruit trees on our property and it’s held up admirably through many fruit tree planting sessions.  The 1″ squares on the welded wire screen works beautifully to sift out unwanted rocks and debris. Keep in mind that you do not need to remove all of the rocks, just the larger ones. I also remove any obvious caliche chunks, which are creamy or whitish in color.

Step 3 ~ Start Sifting and Mixing

This step is a no-brainer. To do a 50/50 mix of native soil and compost, we simply grab a 5-gallon bucket full of native soil and a 5-gallon bucket full of compost and mix/sift them together through the sifter. Just do equal amounts of each as you go along. The result… a 50/50 mix :D

Tip: Lifting several buckets full of native soil can quickly become exhausting. To help with this, hubby usually fills two buckets 1/2 way up with the native soil vs. full buckets to offset the weight.

To help blend things up better, we alternate the compost and the native soil when we load up the sifter. When the mixture gets close to the top of the wheel barrel, we remove the sifter and do a quick final mix with either a shovel or by hand. This is something that we do, but you could certainly skip this extra step. As the mixture is poured into the planting hole, some natural “mixing” of the native soil and compost will automatically occur and is probably sufficient.

Soil Preparation for Fruit TreesSoil Preparation for Fruit TreesSoil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Step 4 ~ Start Filling The Planting Hole

With the first batch of 50/50 soil mixture ready-to-go, we simply roll the wheel barrel up to the edge of the hole and pour the mixture in.

Now, using a bow rake, we roughly level out the 50/50 soil mixture then water it in with a hose. Make sure your hose has a sprayer nozzle attachment. The goal here is to help the soil settle by wetting it down versus flooding it.Soil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Soil Preparation for Fruit TreesWe continue the process of sifting, dumping, smoothing, and wetting until the 50/50 soil mixture is a few inches above the soil surface to allow for settling. At this point, be careful not to step on the soil of your freshly filled hole. If you plan to plant your fruit tree immediately after filling your hole (which I do not recommend ~ see below), avoid saturating the top 12 to 18-inches or so with water to make it easier for digging and planting.

Be sure to mix up one to two 5-gallon buckets full of the 50/50 mix to set aside for building up a water well around the base of your fruit tree.

Step 5 ~ Kick Start Those Soil Microbes!

Note ~ This Is The Foundation For Growing High Brix/Nutrient Dense Fruit

An important part of growing high brix/nutrient dense fruit is to build up the soil microbiology within the soil your fruit trees grow in. Why? Bottom-line is this…

“If you want to maximize yield, plant health, and nutrient density (quality) then you must maximize the nutrition/energy given to the plant.”

~ Jon Frank, International Ag Labs

To accomplish this, one must build soil health which also means building the soil microbe population. These miraculous microscopic soil super heroes breakdown important nutrients in the soil and pony-express this nutrition directly to your beloved fruit trees. Though more complex than we have time to discuss here, this symbiotic relationship brings so much more to your fruit trees than any type of hand-delivered “fertilizer” ever could.

In this super hero group I also include earthworms. These small organic matter munchers are a powerhouse in and of themselves, bringing a multitude of benefits to the health of your soil and boosting your microbe population with their beneficial nutrients.

So, here’s how we kick-start our soil for planting…

One of the best ways we have found to do this is by using the John & Bob’s suite of products. For our orchard and garden, we purchase the Lifeless Soil kit. The 4,000 square foot quantity will last us about two years. A little goes a long way and is only required 2x per year. The application of this product alone has resulted in a very high microbe population in our soil ~ confirmed by recent soil testing through International Ag Labs + our own Brix testing. Just follow their instructions to apply.

Another way to boost the microbes in the soil is to use a high quality microbial tea. Just spray it on or water it in lightly onto the surface of the soil and let these soil super heroes do their work. We have just recently started incorporating home-brewed tea into our regimen and our trees and garden are responding quite favorably so far. This topic is certainly worthy of a dedicated post, so stay tuned. Interested in learning more about this topic? Leave me a comment below.

For those of you who decide to purchase a pre-mixed microbial tea blend make certain that the manufacturer is able to provide proven results. Steer clear of folks who “talk-a-good-talk”, but fail to deliver actual data on the number and types of microbes from tested brew. Again, more on this important topic to come.

Now might also be the perfect time to introduce some worms into the soil if you feel so inclined. We’ve tried to incorporate worms after the planting process with little success in the past. Probably a result of the wrong type of worms, heat of summer, etc. For future soil prep, we would like to try Alabama Jumpers. Hopefully they will do much better then their predecessor. What types of worms are you using successfully in desert conditions? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.

Plan to do one or all of these high brix/nutrient dense kick-start recommendations a couple of weeks before planting so you can super-charge your soil with microbes and be well on your way to growing high brix/nutrient dense fruit!

Ready to Plant Now?

Personally, I like to wait a few weeks to let the microbe population build-up and for the soil to settle before planting. Certainly, the tree can go in the ground just after filling. Just kick-start your soil at the time of planting or shortly afterwards.

Soil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Next up in the Fruit Tree series I will be discussing what to do once your tree(s) arrive. Until we talk again, be sure to visit your garden and orchard often :D

Be sure to check out the next post in my fruit trees series ~ My Trees Arrived, Now What?

God Bless,

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Colors & Textures of Spring Edibles

Alabama Blue  CollardHi Everyone!

Spring-time is one of my very favorite times of year. It’s a time of renewal, freshness, and sweet delicious scents. As I was taking my daily walk through my garden and orchard, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of colors and textures throughout. I thought you might enjoy browsing through some of the photos I took this morning as I finish up my next Fruit Tree series post. You’ll also get an idea of what’s growin’ in my garden right now.

Enjoy!

P.S. ~ the Alabama Blue Heirloom Collard (in the photo above) is my new favorite collard. Besides the color being drop-dead gorgeous blue, the flavor is so mild and sweet.  Yum! :)

 

Royal Lee Cherry Wonderful PomegranateFlavor Delight ApriumRed of Florence OnionLittle Marvel PeaVates CollardTendercrisp CeleryLorz GarlicWaltham BroccoliSpring Raab BroccoliRed Russian KaleSt. Valery CarrotPurple Plum RadishPurple Vienna KohlrabiWhite Sonora WheatPink Flamingo Swiss ChardDurkat Dill Nero Di Toscana CabbageRed Streaks MustardPurple Vienna KohlrabiWild Rocket ArugulaBright Lights Swiss ChardRed Romaine LettuceRat's Tail RadishBull's Blood BeetSiberian Dwarf KaleSiberian Dwarf KaleGolden Acre CabbageGerman Pink TomatoCostoluto Genovese TomatoBlue Gold Berries TomatoStupice TomatoHinnomaki Red GooseberryGod Bless,

P.S. Christine, thank you again for the berry plants!

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Happy Easter

Easter Blessings

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April 5, 2015 · 12:35 AM

Fruit Trees: How To Dig A Hole in the Desert

Dig A Fruit Tree HoleHi dear friends!

As promised, here’s the first post in my Fruit Tree How To series that is dedicated to helping all of you budding (and experienced) home orchardists out there who want to grow high brix/nutrient dense fruit. Especially those of you who live in a hot and arid climate like Las Vegas, Nevada and thought you would never be able to grow a fruit tree let alone quality fruit.

Just like my Orchard Calendar series, as I release each post, I will place a link to it in the top navigation bar under a new category called Home Orcharding.  This way, you can easily revisit each topic as the need arises.

I’m always experimenting and testing out new organic and holistic techniques and refining my processes in my orchard to both bump up my brix numbers even further and to enhance the health of my fruit trees. If something works well, I’ll be sure to share it with you by updating the related topic page.

Tools and Supplies

  • Demolition Jack Hammer ~ you can certainly rent one from a local home store or rental facility or purchase a Heavy Duty 1240W Electric Demolition Jack Hammer on Amazon or Ebay for a reasonable price with free shipping

Demolition Jack Hammer

  • Shovel attachment for the Demolition Jack Hammer
  • Rebar ~ 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch diameter about 3-feet to 4-feet long ~ use to mark the center of each planting site
  • Hammer ~ to hammer the rebar into the ground
  • Twine or String ~ a 2-foot long piece that can be easily tied onto the rebar or metal stake
  • A long Nail or Stake ~ to attach the twine/string to for use as a compass to draw a circle on the ground
  • 1 to 2 five-gallon Buckets ~ to cart off rocks
  • Shovel

Shovel

  • 3-foot long piece of wood or stick ~ to measure the depth and width of the hole
  • Heavy Duty Gloves
  • Protective Eye Wear
  • Ear Plugs
  • Plenty of water ~ stay hydrated!

Step 1 ~ Understand the Unique Growing Challenges in Your Area

When it comes to sifting through the myriad of fruit tree planting information available to us via the web, books, magazines, local nurseries and such, keep one very important thing in mind…

One size does not fit all

It’s a fact. Fruit tree planting methods that work for one area of the U.S. may not necessarily be ideal for the area you live in. This is especially true for Southwest gardeners and home orchardists. It’s a rare thing indeed to be able to find quality fruit tree growing information that is specific to gardeners who grow fruit in hot and arid climates. Following planting instructions initially intended for another area could lead you down a path of frustration and disappointment. Sure, your fruit tree may grow and even give you fruit, but it is unlikely that your fruit tree will thrive in its new home and produce high yields or quality nutrient dense fruit.

Home Fruit Orchard in the DesertNow, don’t get me wrong. The instructions I’m about to share with you will not produce nutrient dense fruit solely based on this step alone nor will it do so immediately. Fruit trees are an investment in time and care and as you build and nurture the soil beneath your trees, the higher the chance your fruit trees will produce nutritious and delicious fruit. Orcharding is a test in patience and understanding. In my opinion, the effort is well worth it.

A fruit tree can sometimes take a while to exhibit any negative symptoms as a result of an improper planting method or poor planting site. Or, in the case of improper drainage, its demise can be quite immediate. Fruit trees that survive the initial planting stage and continue to grow and leaf out, will definitely have at least a 3 year wait before you can begin to test the quality of your fruit and determine its potential yield. Think about it… that’s a long-term commitment. And if during that 3+ year period the fruit tree begins to show signs of poor health or appears to be struggling, one of the causes for this could be directly related to the hole you dug.

To me, it just makes sense to jump into this investment with your eyes wide open and armed with tested and proven fruit tree planting information specific to your area. Who wants to replace the same fruit tree year-after-year because one day they decided to plant a fruit tree armed with nothing more than a shovel and information from a book written by someone who lives in an area that receives tons of rain each year and summer temps that hover around 80°F.

F? Anyone? So, for those of you who are truly interested in producing high quality fruit and growing healthy fruit trees rather than just growing another tree in your backyard, please, continue reading.

This step, in combination with the other steps I will share with you throughout this series, will help guide you and improve your chances of success in growing high brix/nutrient dense fruit for you and your family’s health.

Nutrient Dense Fruit TreesSo, what are some of the challenges we face in hot and arid climates? Now mind you, all hot and arid climates are not created equally either and can be faced with its own set of unique challenges. But for the most part, they are similar enough that the planting and care techniques I will be sharing with you can be applied successfully in your area. But before you begin, it’s always a good idea to check in with your local Cooperative Extension to see if there are other unique challenges you may encounter in your area.

Regarding the use of local nurseries as a source of information. It’s been my experience that unless the nursery is committed to hiring quality well-trained individuals whose knowledge goes well beyond the basics and are well versed and has hands-on experience planting, growing and caring for productive fruit trees in your area… it’s best to seek advice elsewhere. Yes, there are nurseries out there who pride themselves in being a step above the rest ~ usually the mom & pop or smaller niche nurseries. If you’re one of the fortunate few who happen to live near one of these rare gems, by all means, check-in with them. But most nurseries are not as dedicated and typically regurgitate mainstream fruit tree growing information.

So what are some of the unique challenges Southwest gardeners may be faced with when planting fruit trees?

  • Caliche ~ this is a type of soil concretion and is very hard, impenetrable and cement-like
    • Restricts root penetration
    • Inhibits drainage causing slow draining “bowls” and restricts aeration of the roots
    • Restricted drainage also encourages salt accumulation on the soil surface
    • It’s common for desert soils to be highly alkaline (pH 8.0+). Combine that with the calcium carbonate in caliche = “lock-up” of iron making it unavailable to our plants and trees = iron chlorosis
    • Caliche deposits can be found throughout the southwest to include the California desert areas, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and parts of Texas
  • High salt soils and water ~ can cause lower yields and quality of fruit (restricts nutrient uptake), salt damage, and stress on your trees leaving them vulnerable to pests and disease. Poor drainage only exacerbates this issue.

All of this can spell “bad-news” for our fruit trees. Fortunately, there is a way to successfully work around these challenges and create an inviting home for your home orchard.

With that said, let’s get started!

Step 2 ~ Gather Supplies

Gather together all of the supplies you’ll need. Be sure to set up a convenient out-of-the-way yet accessible staging area. A place where you won’t be tripping over everything as you dig and move around.

How To Dig a Hole For Fruit Trees

Step 3 ~ Mark Your Planting Site(s)

This is where a metal stake or piece of rebar along with some twine or string and a long nail will come in handy.

Planting A Fruit Tree

Mark the center of where you plan to plant your fruit tree by hammering in a piece of rebar or metal stake into the soil. Tie one end of the string to your rebar or stake then tie the other end of the string to a long nail or a short metal garden stake. Make certain that the string is 1-1/2 feet in length after being tied. Your goal is to draw out a 3-foot diameter circle. The nail or metal garden stake will become your drawing instrument to draw out the circular outline into the soil. When you are done drawing, you should end up with a circle that is about 3 feet in diameter that will act as a guide when you start digging.

Keep the center marker (rebar) in place until you are actually ready to start digging the hole.

Step 4 ~ Before You Start Diggin’

Before you get started with your work out :D, let’s talk about a couple of things first. First… always contact your utility company before you set shovel to soil just to make absolutely certain there’s nothing that you’ll dig through. Something dangerous like a buried electrical line or a sewer line ~ yuck. Most times, these things are buried quite deep and should not be an issue, but an ounce of prevention is worth its weight in gold.

Here’s a link to the 811 website where you can find contact information specific to your state.

811 State Specific InformationSource: 811

Step 5 ~ Pre-Test Your Drainage

Before you go all out with your digging, I highly recommend that you perform a drainage test to make absolutely certain your selected planting site will work well for you and your fruit tree(s). To do this, do the following…

  1. Within your planting site itself, dig a hole l-foot deep and fill it with water
  2. Time how long it takes the water to drain completely

If it took about 1 hour or less to completely drain ~
you my friend have awesome drainage and are ready to start digging

~*~

If it took about 2 hours to completely drain~
it’s not the best draining hole around, but you’re probably still okay with planting there
you may need to adjust your approach on how much and how often you water your fruit tree

~*~

If it takes longer than 2 hours to drain ~
you have a drainage problem and
may want to reconsider your planting site or plan to dig deeper
(see below)

Step 6 ~ Ready, Set, Go!

With shovel in hand, start digging. From experience, it’s helpful to start the process by digging out the top 2 to 3-inches of soil within your marked circle to clearly designate the perimeter of your fruit tree hole. When done, the center marker you placed earlier can be removed and set aside so the real digging can commence. You can certainly skip this step, but since I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I find it helpful. Especially since lines drawn on the soil surface have a tendency to disappear once the digging process begins.

How To  Dig A Hole For Fruit Trees

Outline Fruit Tree HoleAlso, be sure to remove and discard any large rocks or bits of caliche.

Caliche and RocksWhen you’re done digging out the initial outline for your fruit tree holes, or not, the “question of the day” comes to mind…

How Deep Do I Need To Dig?

A lot of books, videos and such out there recommend digging down about 18″ deep or just a few inches beyond the height of the root ball or container size. That may be a fine approach if you have deeply amended loose soil and awesome drainage, but with our hardpan (a.k.a. caliche), it’s not highly recommended.

What is the recommended depth?  Here at the ole’ Asher homestead, we dig our holes 3-feet wide x 3-feet deep. This helps ensure we have proper drainage and aeration for our fruit tree roots, encourages the roots to go deep, and later, when we re-fill the hole with amended soil for planting, it ensures the soil surrounding the growing root system will not return to its previous cement-like status.

As we dig our fruit tree planting holes, we also make certain that the inside walls of the hole are kept rough rather than smooth. As the roots grow, the rough sides make it easier for the roots to penetrate into the outer soil. Slick sides can act as a barrier making it difficult for root penetration.

Planting A Fruit Tree

How To Dig A Fruit Tree HoleWe’ve been using this method successfully for planting bare root fruit trees directly into native soil for about 5 years now and our trees are doing fantastic! All 24 of them. Our fruit trees have had phenomenal growth over the years, are healthy with high yields and produce awesome tasting high brix fruit. We’ve never experienced an issue with the roots not penetrating out into the native soil due to the amended soil in the planting hole itself. The opposite seems to be true. Our carefully amended soil seems to ignite root growth.

Over the years, we’ve seen several different approaches to planting fruit trees around town. Some have had good success, but a lot of folks… they just seem to struggle year after year and go through an endless cycle of head scratching and planting and replacing the same fruit trees year-after-year.

The folks we’ve seen who plant their fruit trees in shallow planting holes in our desert virgin native soil, well, their fruit trees just seem to suffer for it. The fruit trees are small and never seem to grow and are less productive.

Now, I’m not saying that the planting hole in and of itself is the “magic” to our formula for planting fruit trees, but I firmly believe that it plays a key role in the process.

A special note on caliche/hardpan and/or poor drainage ~  For those of you unfortunate folks who have encountered caliche or poor drainage on your property you have two options…

  1. Select another site on your property that will work better for you and your trees, or…
  2. Dig deeper

Through my research, I’ve encountered recommendations from trustworthy expert sources that recommend digging down to 6-feet deep or until the hardpan is penetrated to allow for drainage. Personally, I’ve never had to do this and if I had to, I’d find another place to dig. If you find yourself in this situation, I highly recommend that you contact your local Cooperative Extension for planting advice in this situation.

Step 7 ~ What To Do With All That Dirt?

Digging a 3-foot wide x 3-foot deep hole will result is a large pile of dirt. As you dig, be sure to pile up the dirt a foot or two away, but not right next to the hole you’re digging. You will need easy access to this pile of dirt as you prepare the hole for planting. So for now, pile it up and keep your digging area safe by blocking off the area. It’s a pretty deep hole, so use your best judgement when it comes to safety and protecting family members and pets.

How To Dig A Fruit Tree Hole

Step 8 ~ Final Drainage Check

Once your hole(s) are dug, we recommend one final drainage check. This also allows the planting hole and surrounding native soil (deep within the hole) to be thoroughly wetted prior to planting.

Fill the hole to the tippy top with water and let it drain out completely. Again, as long as it completely drains out within 1-2 hours, your fruit trees will do just fine.

Fruit Tree DrainageFruit Tree DrainageFruit Tree DrainageHope you found this post informative and helpful. Next up in my Fruit Tree series is How To Prepare A Hole For Planting.

Fruit Tree Health

God Bless,

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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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