It occured to me the other day that growing plants is like raising kids - sort of. You plant the seeds, watch them emerge, water and feed them, protect them from the cold, talk sweetly to them, ohh and ahh when the grow or produce a flower, take care of them when they get sick (aphids!) and mourn when they die or are just done for the season.
That's what I have been doing this past month. It seemed like the garden went through so many changes with all the rain we got and then warm days. I have eaten all of the broccoli already and the cauliflower matured all at once so I gave some away. Now I am looking at the openings in the garden and planning what to plant for the warmer months. So far I have planted eggplant, tomatoes, more herbs, basil, dill, parsley, red onions, edamame and of course marigolds!
If you are just getting your veggie garden in - don't worry. There are still things to plant and eat before it gets really warm here in AZ. Some of you may have gardens still covered in snow, so you may be starting the seeds indooors in a sunny wondow. I love to recycle materials for that like toilet paper and paper towel rolls for the tiny 'pots' and the clear plastic carry out containers as mini green houses.
The wildflowers are are blooming at my house too! The wild areas of the desert should be beautiful this year. Where is your favorite place to see wildflowers in the wild? I will also be getting out to one of my favorite places here in the Valley of the Sun - The Desert Botanical Gardens. They have a fabulous wild flower trail! What are you doing to get ready for the next growing season in your neck of the woods?
I am dressed to get out and mow the grass again, top dress the garden beds with Soil Secrets to feed the soil micro organisms before we get another winter rain this weekend.
Here in the low desert, citrus is fertilized three times a year. I use an easy way to remember when to do it using holidays: Valentine's Day, (February), Memorial Day (June), and Labor Day (September).
Recent research from the University of Arizona demonstrates that fertilizing newly planted citrus is unnecessary. Wait until your tree has been in the ground for two years before applying fertilizer.
Nitrogen is the element that established citrus trees need the most and it is responsible for assuring a good fruit crop and a healthy tree. Feeder roots are located just below the surface of the soil, so it is important not to over fertilize, which could burn these tender roots. The amount of fertilizer you use will vary according to the age and size of the tree, and in some cases the variety of tree. Established grapefruit trees only need one-half the amount of fertilizer normally given to other varieties of citrus. Use this chart to determne how much to use.
Water the tree the day before, broadcast the fertilizer over the root zone and water in well. Remember to water deeply-water should seep down at least 3 feet! This may mean using a hose with a slow trickle for several hours. Test the depth with a metal rod. It will stop when it reaches the hard dry ground!
You can purchase cirus fertilizer at almost any garden center, however I prefer to get mine at a private nursery. I also use Soil Secrets to build the soil so the tree can take up the nutrients easier. I have soil secrets for local distribution if you are interested so drop me a line!
Don't expect much fruit production for the first two to four years after planting. Some trees on slower-growing rootstocks may take five or six years to produce a bountiful crop.
February seems to be about all things RED. Valentine's Day, Heart Month, and now tomato planting time!
If, like me, you live in the low desert of Arizona, there are a few tricks to growing tomatoes. Selecting the best type of tomato helps. Because tomatoes can split with too much water and water is one of the most challenging elements to regulate, I like to plant cherry or grape tomatoes. An especially prolific type is called Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes. I planted one this fall as an experiment and it has grown slowly, but provided me a handfull of ripe tomaotes all winter. I expect it will take off once the weather warms up a bit more! However, my friend Liz has one that is on it's third season and provides bowls of tomatoes a week and grows as tall as her house!
Tomatoes are tricky. Blossom End Rot, is a common disorder of tomatoes in the low desert. It is believed to be caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant as a result of stress due to uneven irrigation. Our desert soils and irrigation water generally have plenty of calcium, so calcium deficiency problems in the soil are rare and adding calcium to the soil is not effective. Instead, apply several inches of an organic mulch to help retain constant moisture by regular irrigation to even out water movement in the plants. For more information, refer to U of A Fact Sheet "Tomato Blossom End Rot in the Low Desert".
Here's an excerpt from a Master Gardener publication on planting them to increase their sturdiness.
"When you are ready to put home-grown or purchased plants into the ground, select stocky transplants about six to ten inches tall. Set tomato transplants in the ground covering the stems so that only two or three sets of true leaves are exposed. Horizontal planting of tomato plants is an effective way to make plants stronger, especially leggy ones. Roots will form along the buried portion of the stem, giving better growth and less chance of plant injury from a too-weak stem. Do not remove the containers if they are peat or paper pots, but open or tear off one side to allow roots to get a good start. If non-biodegradable containers are used, knock the plants out of the pots before transplanting, and loosen the roots somewhat. Press the soil firmly."
Slow Food Phoenix is hosting a Tomato Fest February 13th from 10am-4pm at Maya's Farm at The Farm at South Mountain located at 6106 S. 32nd Street in Phoenix. Tomatoes can be hard to grow in the desert. Come join us and learn all the ins and outs of being successful with tomatoes.
They will have classes taught by local tomato experts on choosing the variety that's right for you, prep and planting in your garden, pruning and caring for your tomatoes, and how to keep them around all year long. To attend the event and purchase tomato starts is free. To attend any one or all three of the classes the cost is $10 each or all three for $25. To RSVP for the event and purchase tickets please visit http://slowfoodtomato.eventbrite.com/ Class size is limited to 35 people for each class.
I hope this encourage you to plant a few tomayoes this year. I know I will plant a few heirloom type just for a bit of variety.
Here's the answer to question 3 - True or False, Herbs are great in an organic garden, but some sre best grown in contaniers - TRUE!
What's a garden without herbs? Not only are they beautiful to look at and often delightfully aromatic, they're useful in the kitchen. It's one of the green gardener's great joys to be able to go right out to the kitchen door to pick a handful of fresh and tasty organic oregano for a spaghetti sauce, basil for a salad, or mint for a soothing tea.
Herbs are easy to grow. Most like plenty of sunshine and well-drained soil, but some-including wild ginger, mints and wintergreen-do well in shade; ask you nursery for a full list.
About the only caveat with herbs is that some will take over you garden if you're not careful. Mint is notorious for this, so it's best to plant it in a container. Never use any botanical poison on herbs, as you'll probably be eating them at some point.
Question and answer courtesy of the Sierra Club, Earth Friendly Garden Knowledge Cards
A congratulations to Meredith from South Carolina for answering the most January questions correctly!
Stay tuned for the February questions coming soon!