Tag Archives: desert gardening

Fruit Trees: Planting in the Desert

How to Plant a Bare Root Fruit TreeHi Friends!

Here it is, the next post in my fruit tree blog series. Enjoy!

Late January thru mid-February is the best time to plant fruit trees here in the desert. Most fruit trees are dormant this time of year (with the exception of citrus and other evergreen fruit trees) which allows them to be planted with minimal stress during this time period. Leafing out is a sure sign that a fruit tree is well on its way to waking up from its winter slumber leaving it more vulnerable to the stress of planting. Also, the January/February time frame allows newly planted fruit trees plenty of time to get settled into their new home before a couple of huge major stressors enter into their life… our drying spring winds and searing hot summer weather. In my opinion, planting a fruit tree in March, April or May is far from ideal. Fruit trees are definitely awake by this time, the wind and heat are starting to kick up and the chance of planting failure increases exponentially.

In some cases, planting March thru May is your only option. Such is the case with citrus and other evergreen fruit trees which are typically not available until spring when the weather warms due to the tree’s sensitivity to cold. Thus, colder weather is actually a major stressor in their lives.

On the extreme side of things, I shudder when I see people here planting fruit trees in the hottest months of June thru September. I usually smile, give them a pat on the back and wish them good luck. In the majority of cases I’ve seen, the trees just never seem to recover from such a poor start. The growth is usually weak and struggling and the tree rarely ever seems to thrive and achieve its full potential. As with everything in life, there are always exceptions… the one super fruit tree that seems to thrive regardless of what you throw at it. Just don’t expect it.

Some folks like to plant fruit trees here in our desert in the fall. To me, this is a much better option than planting in late spring and summer, but I tend to shy away from this time frame as well. Again, my focus is on minimal stress to the fruit tree and subjecting the tree to potential freezes throughout winter as well as extreme temperature changes (i.e., frigid nights and hot days) may not be optimal. Now if you’re an experienced orchardist and know how to properly protect a fruit tree through extreme weather, than this may be a viable option for you.

Bottom-line is this, stress, to any plant, does not promote health and vigor and can lead to a whole gamut of issues such as disease, pest issues, poor growth, poor yields/fruit, and so on. Our goal in planting fruit trees in our orchard is to provide the least amount of stress throughout not only the planting process, but throughout its entire lifetime as well so the fruit tree can thrive and obtain (and maintain) its full potential.

With that said, here’s a cautionary point I want you to be aware of…

Caution: Avoid Planting Fruit Trees On A Windy Day!

The ideal time to plant a bare root fruit tree is on a cool calm day. Add in a bit of drizzly weather and you have perfection. But since perfection is hard to come by in weather these days, chances are you’ll be dealing with some sort of weather challenge while you plant your new bare root fruit tree. One challenge that is particularly harsh is wind. Wind can really do a number on exposed bare root fruit tree roots (say that three times fast 🙂 ). It only takes a few short minutes of blasting wind to dry out those tender wispy little hair-like roots.  Early on in the process, it’s important these precious little roots (along with the more fibrous roots) are kept healthy and viable as they are so critical to your tree’s health and play such a key role in up taking nutrients, water and interacting with soil life.

On those occasions when you do find yourself having to plant on a windy day, just be sure to keep the roots wet by placing your bare root fruit tree roots in a bucket of fresh water while you’re getting ready to plant them into the ground. Though, avoid soaking the graft union (the joint where the root-stock and the scion have been joined together ~ typically a few inches above the root area). You can also stage your fruit tree somewhere close by so you can easily wet down the roots often to keep them moist. Also, be sure to keep the roots moist throughout the entire planting process as well by wetting down the roots often until you’re able to completely cover them with moist soil.

Seriously folks, do your best and plant when it’s most convenient for you… just be certain to be gentle and attentive to your baby fruit tree’s well-being and you’ll be good to go.

Now, let’s plant those patiently waiting bare root fruit trees!

Tools and Supplies

Here’s a list of tools and supplies you’ll need throughout the planting process.  Gather together all of the supplies you’ll need before you begin planting and be sure to set up everything near your planting site for easy access.

  • Set Aside Two to Three 5-Gallon Buckets Full of 50/50 soil mix (50% forest or green waste compost / 50% native soil) ~  You’ll need these buckets full of soil mix to finish off the planting process and to build up a water well around the base of your fruit tree when you’re all done.
  • 4 to 6-foot long Metal Rebar, 1×1 Wood Stakes, or Metal Landscape Stakes (green plastic coated steel) ~ you’ll need these to help support your baby fruit trees.
  • Hammer or Rubber Mallet ~ to hammer in the support stake
  • 1/4″ to 1/2″ Green Nursery Tape ~ To tie your fruit tree to the support stake (we prefer the 1/4″)
  • Water Hose
  • Shovel
  • A 5-foot to 6-foot long wooden stake ~ to help properly position your tree during the planting process and to level the soil after planting

Amendments (for high brix ~ bionutrient fruit)

Now that you have your tools and supplies set aside, it’s time to focus on gathering the amendments you’ll use to start your bare root fruit trees off on the road to high brix bionutrient (nutrient dense) fruit. That means super slurpy sweet delicious fruit that will make every cell in your body sing with vibrant health!

Be sure to check out Step 5 ~ Kick Start Those Soil Microbes! in my Fruit Trees: How To Prepare Soil For Planting

  • OMRI-Certified Organic Animal or Fish Bone Meal ~ a good source of phosphorus and calcium; you’ll need about 2 cups per fruit tree.
  • A Variety of Rock Dusts ~ Rock dusts are a great source of minerals for our soil and mineral-rich fruit (a.k.a. high brix). Rather than rely on a single source of rock dust, I like to use a mixture for a variety of minerals. In addition to using Azomite (granular or microfine powder works ~ I’m trying the granular product this planting season. It quickly breaks down with water and eliminates the dust-factor). I also love to use microfine Basalt rock & Lignite Ore dust blend, Gaia Green Glacial Rock Dust, and a new rock dust product I’m using this year called Ruby Mountain Stone Flour. As for quantities, I typically use 1 lb of Azomite and 8 ounces of Gaia Green Glacial Rock Dust per fruit tree. I’ll be adding about 8 ounces Basalt rock dust blend and 8 ounces of the Ruby Mountain rock dust, but this is highly optional.  You may want to wait until I’ve had a chance to experiment with it, though I’m sure it’s going to be an awesome addition. Keep in mind that with rock dusts, a little goes a long way. Using too much can cause a chemistry imbalance in your soil. Always be on the safe side and have your soil tested before liberally adding amendments in.
  • Endo mycorrhizae inoculant (Ecto mycorrhizae benefits conifers & oaks)
  • John & Bob’s suite of products ~ You’ll broadcast this on the soil surface AFTER planting.
  • For an extra boost, you can also mix into the top 6-inches of soil (during the planting process) about 1 lb of OMRI-Certified Organic Alaska Humus and/or 1 lb of OMRI-Certified Organic Worm Castings. It’s all good stuff.

Step 1 ~ Let’s Get Planting!

Before you begin planting, make sure you’re prepared to do so. Check out my previous post for more details.

With your planting holes dug, soil and hole prepped, tools and supplies staged nearby, and your bare root fruit trees ready to go, select the first fruit tree to be planted. Grab the fruit tree and place it in a small bucket with just enough fresh water to completely cover the roots and set it close by your planting hole. You can skip the bucket of water if that makes more sense for your situation. Just be certain to keep the roots nice and moist.

Fruit Tree Ready for Planting

Fruit Trees Soaking In WaterPlanting a potted fruit tree?

I prefer to plant bare root fruit trees for optimum tree and orchard health as well as variety selection. Be sure to check out why.

Sometimes containerized fruit trees are our only option. No problem. Rather than placing your tree in a bucket of water to keep its roots moist, which would obviously make a complete muddy mess, make sure your potted fruit tree is well watered the day before planting.  This will allow you to easily remove and handle the tree’s root ball while ensuring the roots are moist and ready to go 🙂

Fruit Tree Hole Ready for PlantingFor those of you who prepared your holes in the fall and completely filled them with the 50/50 soil mix AND have been watering the soil to keep the microbes happy and healthy… stop watering the soil a few days before planting so it will be more workable. Next, dig down about 12″-18″ ~ just enough for the roots to fit comfortably in. Then continue onto the next step below.

Finishing up your holes as we speak? That’s okay, too. After digging the planting hole and mixing up your 50/50 soil mix, fill the hole up to about 12″-18″ from the top with your 50/50 soil mix so that the roots will fit comfortably in. Make certain to water the soil thoroughly as you fill the hole to help the soil settle. Then stop watering when you get close to the 12″-18″ mark. This will make the planting process much easier for you.

Planting Hole for Fruit TreeHow To Plant A Fruit Tree In The Desert

Step 2 ~ Placing Your Fruit Tree

During this step, be prepared to move your bare root fruit tree in and out of the hole while you get the depth and placement exactly where you want it. Remember ~ keep those roots moist while you get the placement “just right”.

How do you know the right planting depth for your fruit tree. With potted fruit trees, it’s easy. Basically, the top of the soil in the pot is your guide ~ it should be level with the top of your ground soil. For a bare root fruit tree, it can be a bit trickier. You’ll need to identify where the previous soil line was.

To do this, simply look carefully at the base of the trunk, below the graft union and just above the roots.  The part of the trunk that was above the soil will be a slightly different color than the part of the trunk that was originally below the soil. Keep in mind that on some specimens the soil line discoloration is clear as day. Others, can have a more subtle marking. I would consider the example in the photo below on the subtle side of things.

Notice the roots in the photo are fairly dark (partly because they’re wet). Then, as you move up the trunk the bark becomes a little lighter. And there, at the indicated blue line, is the soil line discoloration.  Pretty faint, right? As you move past this point, the trunk bark gets lighter yet, then you’re at the graft union. Just do your best ~ if you plant a little above or below the line, the tree will do absolutely fine.

Fruit Tree Graft UnionHubby and I also like to use a long board to help place the fruit tree’s previous soil line level with the surrounding soil. The board helps us to line everything up just perfectly. Works like a charm every time 😀 Bare Root Fruit TreeAt the point you are absolutely certain that the planting depth is right, thoroughly moisten the soil and set your tree in ~ Never plant in a dry hole!  At this stage of the planting process, it’s extremely helpful to have a helper who can hold the tree upright through the first part of the planting process. At least until the tree is securely in place. Your helper can also use the hose to wet down the roots and moisten the planting hole soil for you, too. Some folks like to leave the hose trickling into the hole while they plant. Personally, I like to hand water the soil as we’re filling the planting hole with dirt rather than have the hose in the hole. It allows me to quickly shut off my watering hose nozzle when I need to.

Now, as you begin to position your tree within the planting hole, pay careful attention to the graft union. Newbies tend to focus on situating a tree based on the existing branch position and fail to properly place a fruit tree with a grafted trunk. To protect the graft union, position it away from the damaging hot south sun by facing it due north. This is especially important while the fruit tree is young and unable to protect the graft with its small leaf canopy. Also, you want the graft union a few inches above the soil line (the previous soil line will help you with that). So be careful not to accidentally bury it.

Step 3 ~ Stake The Tree

For the most part, Hubby and I like to stake our are bare root fruit trees at this stage so we can clearly see the roots to avoid damaging them when the stake goes in and to add an endo mycorrhizae inoculant directly to the exposed wet roots. Some folks like to stake their newly planted fruit trees when they are all done planting, but it’s a bit more challenging to dust the roots with the mychorrizae inoculant doing it this way. Do what works best for you. Here’s how we stake our trees…

With the fruit tree held firmly in its final perfect position by a helper (or creatively propped up if you’re planting on your own)..

1) Position and hold your support (i.e., rebar, 1×1 wood stake, plastic covered metal stake) close to your tree’s trunk ~ working safely in and around the tree’s roots

2) Lean the tree slightly away to prevent damage, then

3) Hammer the support securely into place keeping it level straight up and down and left to right ~ otherwise, when you go to secure your tree to the stake it could be cockeyed.

4) Now with the tree trunk up against the support, secure the trunk firmly to the support using green nursery tape. This stuff is pretty stretchy, so a little pulling and tugging while tying will firmly secure your baby fruit tree. Try to avoid tying the tape too tight, but you do want it pretty snug. Your goal is to prevent movement of the roots during acclimate weather, especially during high winds. Strong winds are an annual spring event here in the desert and just so happens to take place at the exact same time your baby fruit trees are getting established in your newly formed orchard.  Why is it so important to prevent root movement during this critical time in your fruit tree’s growth cycle? Simply put, a loose tree can rock back and forth causing the soil to dislodge, creating holes and wide cracks around the base/root ball of the tree. These open spaces in the soil can expose the fruit tree’s tender roots to air ultimately drying them out, causing the tree to stress and negatively impacting the health of the tree.How to Plant a Fruit TreeHubby and I try our best to secure the tree trunk to the support near the base of the tree and toward the top to make certain the tree is secure. Sometimes we’ll just tie it towards the top of the tree. Use your best judgment.

How to Plant A Fruit TreeFor those of you worried about girdling, no worries. Once the tree starts to leaf out, you will need to check the ties to make sure they are still firmly in place but not choking the dickens out of the tree trunk. At that time you may need to loosen the tie a bit. Our trees grow extremely well using our planting and care methods and typically have well established roots, and a nice sized trunk and canopy by the end of the season. Because of this, we typically loosen the ties at this stage to give them some breathing room.

With the fruit tree firmly in place, your helper can finally let go of the tree and lend a hand in the final planting process. 😀  Before you begin covering your roots with soil and filling the hole, you’ll need to add some amendments (see next step). Just remember to keep your roots wet. You can also begin adding some water to the planting hole just underneath the root ball to help the soil settle under the roots.

What if you’re planting two or more fruit trees in one hole? Simple. Just follow the steps above leaving 18″ between each tree ~ plenty of room for both to grow. For holes where you plan to plant four or more trees in, you will need a much wider hole than the 3-feet I recommended to you. Use the 18″ spacing as a guide.

Two Fruit Trees in One Hole

Step 4 ~ Add Amendments & Soil

Now, with your fruit tree firmly in place, it’s time to add the amendments to get your fruit trees off to a great bionutrient start. For those of you who dug their planting holes and prepared the soil with amendments in the fall, feel free to follow the instructions below. Adding a few more amendments at this time can be of benefit to the tree and soil.

With the bare root fruit tree roots exposed and moist (I know I keep repeating myself but it’s that important), sprinkle a high quality endo mycorrhizae inoculant directly onto the bare roots (check the package for the recommended quantity ~ it’s usually about a tablespoon per fruit tree). An important thing to mention here is that in order for the mycorrhizae to perform its symbiotic magic, it’s best if the inoculant makes direct contact with the roots.

Next, sprinkle over the roots about 1 cup of bone meal and a portion of each rock dust (about 1/2 cup or so).

With those amendments in place, go ahead and begin covering the roots with the 50/50 soil mix making certain to water in the soil as you go. Add the water from the side of the root ball to try to prevent too much of the mychorrhizae inoculant from becoming dislodged from the roots. Once the roots are completely covered with soil, sprinkle an additional cup of bone meal over the area as well as another small portion of the rock dusts. Wet down the soil as usual. Refrain from tamping down or stepping on the soil as you fill the planting hole.  Adding water will naturally (and perfectly) compact the soil.

How To Plant A Fruit Tree In The Desert

When the hole is just about filled with soil (about 4″ from the top), stop watering the soil and sprinkle around what’s left of the rock dusts. Also, be sure to sprinkle and mix in some of the rock dusts into what’s left of the 50/50 soil mix you will be using to fill the rest of the planting hole. If you’re adding the Alaska Humus and/or Worm Castings, now is the time to broadcast it onto the soil, mix it in and finish filling the hole ~ remember avoid tamping down or stepping on the soil.

As a final step to filling the hole, we leave the top few inches of soil dry and then level the soil surface within the entire planting area by scraping a 4′-6′ long piece of flat wood across the surface. This step is optional, but it really helps to finish things off for those with OCD challenges 😀

How To Plant A Fruit Tree In The Desert

How To Plant A Fruit Tree In The Desert

How To Plant A Fruit Tree In The Desert

Step 5 ~ Build a Water Basin

With the fruit tree planted and the planting hole completely filled with soil and leveled, it’s helpful to build up a water basin barrier around the entire perimeter of the original planting hole for deep soaking.  This is where setting aside two to three 5-gallon buckets full of your 50/50 soil mix comes in handy.

Using your hands, mound up a 3-feet in diameter ring of 50/50 soil mix around the base of the fruit tree, firming the mound as you go along. To finish off the soil ring, I like to mist it with water to make it hold together better. As long as you avoid blasting the water basin ring with water, it should hold in place nicely for the entire year.

How To Plant A Fruit Tree In The DesertOnce the water basin is watered in well several times, a natural “water basin” (a.k.a. slight bowl) will form as the soil settles a bit. This is a good thing. As you know, water in the desert is a precious resource and taking advantage of mother nature’s gift any way we can is ideal. Plus, the water basin allows us to deep water our trees focusing the water at the root zone and avoiding wasteful run off. With deep soaking, the water will soak in and penetrate out into our native soil. Planting a fruit tree into a mound of soil or in an elevated planter is far from ideal in our hot and arid climate and can ultimately lead to more frequent watering ~ and wasting our precious resource.

Step 6 ~ Water Your Newly Planted Fruit Tree

Shortly after finishing the planting process and building the water basin, it’s important to water in your newly planted fruit tree. To do this, simply place the end of your hose into the water basin and turn the water on to a gentle low stream and let it slowly fill the water basin to the top with water. Your goal is to allow the water to slowly soak down deep vs. filling the water basin quickly.

As your water basin is filling, take note of any areas that may be low or high. This is especially important if you have more than one tree in the planting hole. The goal is to water the tree(s) evenly versus the majority of the water traveling or settling to one side. To fix this, simply add a little more 50/50 soil mix to any low spots until you see the water filling more evenly within the water basin.

How To Plant A Fruit Tree In The DesertHow To Plant A Fruit Tree In The DesertOnce the water reaches near the top of the water basin barrier, turn off the water and let it completely soak in.

In one hour, repeat the watering process above. When the water basin soaks in the 2nd time, be sure to check that no roots have been exposed. If they are, simply add a little bit more 50/50 soil mix to cover them.

When the second watering is soaked in, repeat the watering process one final time that same day. After this initial triple soaking, plan to water your newly planted fruit tree 3x per week until the tree has a nice flush of new growth (typically by March/April), then you can back off the watering to about 2x per week until summer. Then you will need to go back to watering 3x per week.

After a few days of watering your new tree, you may notice some cracking on the soil surface. If these do appear, especially cracks around the root zone area which can dry out the roots, simply add a little more 50/50 soil mix to the area to fill the cracks.

Also, take care to avoid a breach in the water basin wall by timing your water sessions properly. Too long and the basin will definitely overfill and breach ~ yikes! I like to hand water my baby fruit trees with a hose until they get settled in. Basically, I set the hose within the water basin, turn the water on to a gentle low stream and let it soak in for about 10-15 minutes or so (about 10-15 gallons). Just keep an eye on it to avoid a breach.

Step 7 ~ Now The Hard Part

Unless there’s an abundance of space in which to grow your fruit trees to full size (about 20 to 25 feet high/wide), you will more than likely need to actively manage the size of your tree’s growth in order to keep things tight and tidy to ensure a wee bit of wiggle room. This means maintaining fruit trees at a reduced height and width than they would normally grow and is quite a normal practice for a lot of residential orchards. There are a few options to keeping your tree’s growth “in control”.  One way is to espalier the fruit tree along a wall or support and keeping it well pruned. Another way is to prune the fruit tree as a small maintainable bush. My favorite way to keep my orchard manageable is to keep them “ladderless”. This means maintaining the tree’s top growth to a height that does not require a ladder to harvest. For most, this is about 6-feet high. 7-feet if your tall, like hubby and I.

The first step to maintaining a fruit tree as ladderless is to encourage low branching so that any fruit harvesting activity will take place anywhere from about knee height to about 6-feet high. Initially, this requires a bit of bravery on your part.

Now comes the hard part. In order to encourage this ideal low branching it requires one to suck it up and ignore any “existing perfect fruit tree branching” and…

Chop…

How To Plant A Fruit Tree In The DesertThat…

How To Plant A Fruit Tree In The DesertTree…

How To Plant A Fruit Tree In The DesertMaking this initial single heading cut along the trunk of the fruit tree will set the stage for future growth of a ladderless open vase-shaped fruit tree. A word of caution. When you make that initial cut, just be certain it’s at a height you can live with down the road. We used to cut our trees at exactly knee height and after some time, found this to be a bit too low for us tall folk. In order to harvest the literal low hanging fruit, it requires us to get on hands and knees and scootch along the ground. In some cases, actually lay down in order to harvest the low interior fruit getting up close and personal with our soil aerating fire ants. Quite sub-optimal. Besides the occasional itchy painful fire ant bite, we also feel like a bit of a contortionist at times to harvest. So just keep this in mind when making that initial cut.

A key point to note here is that when making that initial heading cut, it’s the cut that helps you to determine where the first layer of new fruit-bearing branches will emerge. This new branching structure will appear within 6-8-inches below the heading cut. Knowing this should help you to determine where you want to make that first cut. Also, when making that initial cut, some folks like to make a straight cut, others a 45 degree cut facing down and away from a bud. Whichever you choose, be sure to make that initial cut about 1-inch to 1-1/2-inches above a bud to begin training your tree to form an open vase shape and to allow for any die back immediately below the cut. When die back does occur, if the cut is too close to a bud, you risk losing the bud as well.

As your tree begins to leaf out and become established in the orchard, the results of that initial cut will become quite apparent and sets the stage of forming an ideal open vase shape which allows optimum airflow and sunlight penetration into the future canopy of the fruit tree for awesome fruit color and flavor.

Another goal of that first heading cut is to encourage the tree to form a solid branching structure to help support future fruit harvests. Think of a bicycle wheel. In a perfect world, the spokes (a.k.a. branches) will be evenly spaced around the tree. That is if mother nature cooperates. As your tree forms its new structure, let it grow. Refrain from scratching off or cutting off growth within the 6 to 8-inches (plus a few extra inches just in case) below the cut. You’ll be choosing your future scaffolds at the end of the first year. In a future post, I’ll explain how to care for your baby fruit tree during its first year to include pruning. So for now, make the cut, sit back and watch God’s glorious work firsthand as your tree begins to grow and leaf out.

Up next

My next post will be all about what to do for your newly planted fruit tree(s) 1-week after planting. I’ll explain how to protect your tree from the elements (and critters) as well as kick off our preferred first year’s maintenance program. Keep a look out for this important post. Happy planting!

God Bless,

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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 😀China 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 😀

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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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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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 😀  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”. 😀

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 😀

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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