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

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

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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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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, waterlines, 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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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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