Thursday, December 14, 2017

Pruning in the winter in AZ

The landscape companies that are roaming around in the valley right now seem to be chopping the bushes down in to small little clumps.  I find this shocking considering the winter is coming.  If we get a really cold night that freezes some plants they have now removed a lot of volume from the plants that could freeze out completely.

Let's think about this for a second, if you have a lantana that is nice and bushy and the night gets to say 30 degrees the outside of it might be damaged by the freeze.  It has protected the core of the plant with the extra growth on the outside.  These landscape companies that excessively prune them back into little flowerless ugly balls are simply ensuring job security by basically killing them in advance and making sure they will have to replace the plants in the Spring and be valuable to the people that they are employed by.

I would never tell anyone to do a severe pruning until Spring. Rarely does a plant ever even profit from any sort of such a pruning. The weather is more conducive to that sort of pruning in a warmer  season. It is such a brutal practice especially out in the outer regions of the valley like Queen Creek.  These large landscapers have really mastered the best business practices that they need to make sure they are in demand at all times of the year.  A little bit of common sense would really tell anyone that you would leave the bushes and trees to have their "winter coat" on just like the animals get in the winter.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Tecoma stans or Arizona Yellow Bells and caterpillar damage

I keep seeing a lot of questions about the damage to the Yellow bells and the Orange jubilee plants we have in the valley and never see a lot of solutions.
These beautiful plants do get a caterpillar that can leave the entire plant looking like it was set on fire.  I live in a neighborhood that has a landscaping company that appears to be totally inept when it comes to dealing with these little worms and they just shave the entire bush down to the nubs in the fall (which is the absolute worst time to be pruning stuff down to the nubs in the outskirts of metro Phoenix but that will be the next blog) rather than just spray some bacteria on them to kill the caterpillars.
The Bougainvillea get the worms also and Bt is such an easy non chemical method to control the infestation I don't understand the people that cut the whole thing down rather than simply treat the problem.  They would be blooming profusely right now in such beautiful color if they were treated a few weeks ago.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Greenhouse and salad time 11/20/2017

The nights are cooling off, not the days but the nights really are so I have begun the process of setting up the greenhouse for the winter.  I love having fresh herbs available and some squash or tomatoes that might not like the cooler nights.  Everything grows so much faster in there and if it ever gets cooler down here I do enjoy going out and spending some time inside where it feels almost like a sauna some days!  I got this little greenhouse from Harbor Freight and its the same type I had set up in Mesa for 7 years.  I did tweak it a little bit to keep panels in better and improve it a bit but for minimal money it has always proven to do its job quite well.  I have even had some success with cukes in the winter so its a definite win.

I have added eggplants and two large pots that I have put some squash seeds in and might try some cucumber seeds after the Thanksgiving holiday is done.  I usually like to get some large bucket of water inside of it too because it seems to help with holding the heat during the night.  If I can't find one that has a screened top I use mosquito dunks to keep those little pests at bay.
The row of salad greens has really taken off.  The warmer weather has really made the arugula rather spicy but it isn't a bad thing, I just add less to the mix of lettuce and spinaches.  The heat will also make my radishes a bit peppery but hopefully it will cool off soon and they will get milder.  Until then I will enjoy the spicy flavors and tell myself it is summer saying good bye.

Beets, cabbages, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cauliflower, peas, radishes, onions, arugula, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and the 1 year old jalapenos are all doing really amazing right now.  I have been using my favorite organic fertilizer (Happy Frog) and this stuff keeps growing nuts!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Fall and winter garden in SW AZ


I have had some run ins with worms lately. I use the term worms loosely, I have had more problems with caterpillars I guess.  Worms are not the bad guys.  I just know that I did have a tomato horn worm and this guy was huge!
From experience one of these ugly looking things can clean the leaves off of a perfectly healthy tomato plant overnight.  He should be called a caterpillar.  I love my earthworms and other worms in the ground.  They are beneficial. 

Now on to caterpillars.  They are often the ugly little precursors to beautiful moths and butterflies.  They serve no purpose, do their jobs, go into a state of metamorphosis and emerge into a winged creatures that pollinate and flit about.  I try to tally their checks and balances with what they have destroyed with what they create.  When they were children they ate a lot of shit, but does the positive stuff they do as adults compensate for the damage they have wrought?

I have passion vines that the Gulf Fritillary butterfly loves to lay its eggs on and if I don't catch them in time they will clean the entire vines off, like zero leaves left.  I usually use a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) sold as Thuricide to combat them but with all of this GMO and Monsanto stuff going on I wonder if even this bacterial warfare I use is going too far?  Maybe the answer is to just keep them in control and let them clean some leaves off and complete their life cycle as long as they don't destroy my plant, I doubt if they would kill it completely because they would have no plants for the future generations to feed upon.

Maybe if I can strike a balance between nature and my garden I can reap what I need and still allow mother nature to collect what she needs to carry on.  She is the one being abused in all of this.  I can allow one ugly caterpillar to eat some of my leaves and go into the ground to become a moth that is in amazing in itself.
The hummingbird moth 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fall Cucumbers in Queen Creek

The Cukes are going to town!

I have never really had any success with cucumbers in the fall in Arizona but maybe the new found love of the soaker hose is a game changer.  I really was getting home and getting the leaves wet while it was sunny, which is a no no, even though I knew better.  Who wants to get up before the sun and go out and water the garden in the dark before you have to go to work all day?  I would do it when I got home and was sweaty from being outside all day and water everything and then hop in the pool dry off and go inside to the sweet air conditioning where I would spend the rest of my evening.  Nothing was going to get me back outside until time to go to work the next day!  You really aren't supposed to water your garden in the evening either if you plan on getting the leaves wet.  The warm Arizona nights and wet leaves just beg for fungus to appear.

So I had seen some grey beetles around the watermelon vines as I was pulling them out but paid very little attention to them.  I was killing the vines so who cares about the bugs.  Never had two thoughts about them.

The great balance of life being what it is, I noticed a few smaller runts of the cucumber rows were wilting and dying.  I have never had these and should have had bells and whistles go off in my head when I saw them.  I had diagnosed them as the problem a million times at the nursery but never experienced their destruction first hand.

Let me introduce you to my new nemeses...
Squash beetles.  Bastards.

I first went with a soapy water spray and carefully sprayed the cucumber plants while billions of whiteflies swarmed all around me, they appear to be doing no damage, and let it rest for a while.  Went back to check and they just seemed cleaner.  I have never had luck with the soapy water game so I moved on to Carbaryl (Sevin) which did nothing for either bug.  I had hoped at least it would do a little something to the whiteflies, even though deep down I knew nothing really will get rid of them except the cooler temps of Fall.  I don't worry as much about them anyways since they usually don't really kill a healthy plant, they are just annoying.  The evil beetles from Beelzebub however should have shown some sort of distress from the Sevin, but nothing so I tried again being very careful to spray under the leaves this morning to get them where they were hanging out plotting some destructive actions I'm sure.  I went back out a couple of hours later only to find them more clever and resilient than before.  They try their best to hide from you when you move the vine around.  They will scurry to the backside of the vine and tuck in their legs so you might miss them!  This was the last straw, I hate doing this but in the kill or lose your veggie crop world we live in I have become a masterful... beetle smasher.

So far this method has been very efficient.  Its a little gross and time consuming but in two days I am down to only seeing one or two each time I go out there.  I'm hoping any new beetles that approach the cucumbers see the limbs, carcasses and carnage and just figure that its just not worth it!

Saturday, July 29, 2017


The cucumber seeds are up and growing.  I know the warm soil really makes a difference but its crazy how fast they are growing.  Beans are just starting to pop up too.

I guess I should talk about weeds.  Recently having a conversation with my mother about her alyssum and moss roses that have re-seeded themselves everywhere I flashed back to my Biology and Botany roots.  A weed really is just a plant that is not growing where you want one to grow.  Be it a bindweed or pigweed or cucumber or watermelon, if it is not growing in a place that you have specifically planted is a weed.

I think the best way to rid yourself of this weed is to pull it.  If you get it early enough it won't have any seeds that it will spread from.  Unfortunately the "weeds" we fight have seeds that will disperse when they are very young. The portulaca you pull probably won't have any seeds it will spread all over the place, the creeping spurge you pull out however will.  If it has even a few leaves it seems that it will have seeds ready to jump off the parent plant and land wherever you have pulled it.  Even the portulaca you want ( moss rose) and the weed sometimes called a water weed or purslane seems to have different ideas of when to spread the seeds.

Purslane is a "weed" that is a very edible plant but we spend a lot of time pulling it and trying to kill it in our gardens.  It also tends to have viable seeds very early and when we do pull it we just spread it around. It even goes as far as growing from cuttings. You can drop a chunk of this purslane and it will sprout and grow.  It is very hardy.  I really wish a lot of my garden plants were that resilient.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

August Planting!

It's almost August! The end is near! YES YES YES  I have ordered my cucumber, bean, carrot and even some tomato seeds.  The best hope for some cukes in the fall is plant the seeds now since they do not enjoy the soil as it cools down. They always do better in warmer soil.  I ordered carrot tape again since it makes it so much easier to plant and you don't have to thin them.

I have been using a soaker hose for the watermelons and have to admit after all my years of turning my nose up at the weird looking leaking little black hoses I am a fan.  It really makes it a lot easier to water when its still sunny outside.  I have noticed the vines seem to do a little better when you make sure you run the boiling water out of the hose before you hook it to the soaker portion.  Everything about them makes sense if I really sort it out in my head, not sure why I have never really used them. The cucumber rows will all have their own line of this genius hose so as they grow and spread out I can simply connect to the line of soaker hose and water right at the root.
The watermelons have been doing great.  They are now even climbing up the old dill stalks and setting fruit.  The pumpkins have failed for the most part.  I am holding on to the theory that there are just some things I can grow and some things I cannot.
Since August is approaching, I am looking forward to the fall of course.  Not yet time to get the cabbages in for sauerkraut or the radishes or beets but it still gives me hope that the end of summer is near in AZ and everything will cool down and I can get back to my garden...

Thursday, June 22, 2017


I am not a fan of just randomly killing insects.  I think you can have a well balanced ecosystem that allows some give and take between the insects and your crop.  After all they were almost directly responsible for pollinating your plants.
These perfect little cuts are just little leaf cutter bees taking their little cut out of your plants and they will fly them home and wrap them up in little tubes and make homes.  You can't spray anything on your plants to stop them, they aren't eating anything so they will never ingest the poison you spray,  they won't kill your plants.  If you are out for perfection in your garden and can't handle a little bit of their "cut" of the production process you will drive yourself crazy trying to stop them when they are doing no damage to your crops (fruit production).

I have had them cut zucchini leaves and some cuke leaves but mostly bougainvillea leaves.  I'm not eating the leaves so if they happen to pollinate something on their way I will save my money and time and let them take whatever they want.  They have never killed a plant I have ever had so they pose no threat to my crops (fruit production).

I guess I am a big fan of the insects that live in my garden.  Ants are not stealing from me, leaf cutter bees are not destroying my plants, praying mantis are the guardians of the realm, lady bug larvae are horrible looking spiked nasties that eat 10x their weight in aphids in a day, lace wings are magical looking little creatures that are waiting to eat whiteflies, aphids, thrips, scale, and spider mites. Why spend all the money killing everything when you can plant some plants to attract the good guys and let them kill all the others?

Plant dill and let it go, the lady bugs will lay eggs in the umbels and when the aphids start going crazy the larvae will show up and pillage the aphids. Once the ladybugs show up it seems everyone else joins in.  If they don't you can usually find the good guys at a good nursery in the spring.  Once you get some ladybugs, mantids etc you will be a harbor for them and they tend to stay.

I guess I like letting nature work with me rather than fighting it the entire time.  It has been around a lot longer than I have and been working just fine without me.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Done for the summer

I guess I posted the title as "Done for Summer" but really I am just celebrating putting away my pickling equipment.  I did make it to 62 quarts, not my best but considering I feared the new Queen Creek virgin earth garden would fail me the first year I am satisfied with its performance!

So for the summer I have my pumpkins and watermelons in with a soaker hose running along both rows, this will help with the summer water bill since the water can run underneath the canopy and directly onto the soil.  Remember to keep the two apart since they are both curcubits like the cukes and can crossbreed and become some combo of the two (pumpmelons? waterkins?)

I'm also really going to add stuff to the soil all summer, moving all compost activity directly to the garden area and till multiple times until the melons cover everything up or burn up in the summer heat and die, I have never had much luck with either two crops but experimentation is a huge aspect of learning so I keep trying.

I have been being asked more about the watering of the fruit trees throughout the hot AZ summer too.  Remember to always water deep!  More water/less often.  Established fruit trees love a deep drink once a week until fall.  Think of it more like irrigating a field, they don't do it as often but when they do they dump a good amount of water into the soil.

Basil is another question I have been getting.  This weed loves our summer and the more you use it the faster it grows.  Do try to keep the flowers cut off and if its in a pot it tends to get root bound and need more frequent watering than if its in the ground somewhere.  As you can see I need to spend some more time with mine and clean it up, been busy pickling!

While we are on the subject of herbs, I have had a lot of spittlebug activity on my Rosemary.  Luckily
they are pretty easy to get rid of.  Its a little bug that gets in there and basically makes a foam around itself that looks like someone spit on your Rosemary plant.  Just hose it off with a good stream of water and it leaves the insect exposed and most of the time ends the problem.

For the last part of this post I will hit on insecticides a bit.  I really try hard to not use them but sometimes they are absolutely needed.  When I do need them I try to start with the weakest and move up the chain if the first one doesn't work. Pyrethrins are made from a chrysanthemum plant and are generally not as hard core but pretty broad spectrum.  If they don't work I would move to a Permethrin which is more of a man made version of the pyrethrins and a little more potent.  From there you can go into the deltamethrin, cypermethrin etc.  There are other organics to use too such as the spinosans (A&B) and for caterpillars I love Bt which is a bacteria (Bacillus thuringiensis) and only really harms caterpillars like the ones that get in the cabbages, texas mountain laurels and passion vines.  Carbaryl (Sevin) is a good one for the veggies that isn't horribly toxic too. Just try the version that might not destroy your soil microbes, the bees or any other beneficial organism first.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


So I have been busy,  I am up to 45 quarts of pickles! I have had a couple days that I put up 10 quarts of pickles each day. Everything started slow here in Queen Creek but ramped up quite quickly.  I fear the 108 degree temps are going to stop most of the production because cucumber pollen usually is not viable in this extreme heat but I find myself with a successful pickle production where I feared nothing would happen.

First things first

8 cups water ( not softened- at least use RO)
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup PICKLING salt

this is my brine, you can add whatever you want to the mix.  I like to add hot peppers, garlic  and a tiny bit of pickling spices and of course...dill!  The dill crop is doing phenomenally!

I have also been canning some dill green beans.  They are really nice to sink into a bloody mary or just grab one out of the jar, need a little more vinegar for those but great use of the dill.

I have planted the pumpkin seeds which have sprouted, and the watermelons have too, not sure how those two crops will do as I am not the best at keeping stuff watered in the summer but will try my best and see how it goes.  I still feel the best way to learn how to grow the stuff you want to grow is try to grow the stuff you want to grow and keep a record of how it went and what you think you could do to make it better.  With the weather getting weird and unpredictable us gardeners are going to have to be flexible and really be ready to change stuff up to get the crops we want. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Some gardening comments

So, I am in a new garden, with virgin soil basically, and things are actually starting to happen.  I have been fertilizing as much as I can since I know I have very little organic material in there.  I usually advocate the use of compost and organic material but I am also down to the last quart of pickles!

Over the years I have supplied many friends and family members with homemade pickles and have usually canned up to 65 quarts of them, they are so much better than the grocery store mass produced stuff (still not sure how anyone can get that many ingredients into a jar of pickles, but I am puzzled by the bread they make too when I only use 5 ingredients but whatever) and I love giving them out.  Now sitting here in a new garden and even a new microclimate, Queen Creek has baffled me so far, I find myself guarding this one jar left.  Can I do this gardening thing again, build up my soil to a level I need to produce the amount of produce I want? I have more square footage now but do I have the ambition?

I need to make a plan.

I have some friends that have horses....old manure CHECK
I compost....CHECK
I can get some mulch from a landscape material company...CHECK
I can get coffee grounds to attract earthworms....CHECK
I have neighbors that cut their winter rye grass and they will give me their clippings....CHECK
I can get some straw bales at Pet Club and grow some stuff in them until they decompose...CHECK

These are just some of the things I can do to start building up my soil. I put in some corn seeds and will be able to shred them up into my soil to add organic material.  My beets tops and cabbage leaves will get tilled in and add also. 

I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other just like I have done previously and I know I will get this new garden built up to the level that it will be a self sustaining ecosystem like the previous one.  I know it will be a lot of work but so rewarding in the end.  Nothing worth doing just gets handed to me and I know I appreciate it in the end but need to just face the fact that I need to put in the effort.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Why your garden is different than mine #1

One of the biggest things that tends to upset a new gardener is the lack of production after all the work they have put into their vegetables.  I always urge new gardeners, even just new to the area gardeners, keep a journal.  Perfection won't happen the first year.  Practice make perfect. 

1. Write down everything you do

a.  When did you plant
b.  What seeds did you use or plants did you buy or did you start your own
c.  What did you do to the soil to prep?  Bone meal, Blood meal, mulch?
d.  Any odd weather during the season
     *95 degrees in March!
     *rained 2 inches in May
     these things will change a growing season quickly and have a definite effect on your garden.
e.  What fertilizers did you try?  Make sure to note the rate of application and if it was a soil  
     drench, foliar feed, granular, slow release etc.
f.   Success rate- how much produce did you produce!

2.  Where your garden is located changes EVERYTHING

a.  Do you get morning sun and afternoon shade?  You will plant a little later in the Spring to allow to
     warm up but you will probably harvest later into the summer since your plants will be a protected.
b.  Are you gardening out in the middle of a wide open area?  You won't get the protection from
     the block walls most of us have but you also won't have to worry about the heat the same walls
     collect all day and radiate out.  This could be a detriment too since you won't have the walls to
     store the heat during the day and radiate it out overnight to protect from frost at night in the
c.  Do you have huge trees next to your garden?  There are some species that will suck any and all
     moisture out of your soil everyday.  Sissoo trees are fast growing monsters that will crack concrete
     and absorb almost all the water you can pour into the soil.  Good shade, best away from
     everything else.
d.  Are you out on the edges of the valley?  I've noticed since I have moved out to Queen Creek the
     nights are a lot cooler than up in Mesa.  Frosts occur much more often on the outskirts but cooler
     nights will help out a lot when the late Spring temps start to creep up. 

3.  Watering

     When you go to plant your garden you will have to keep seedlings and seedbeds more damp.  As the plants start to take hold you will want to do a more deeper and thorough watering and let the soil dry out a little in between watering.  We have a very alkaline soil and water here in the valley and you will notice the edges and tips of the leaves getting brown if you aren't doing a "deep watering" to push those salts away from the roots that were left there from the previous watering.  It will also help your plants chase the water deeper into the soil, and healthy roots will have a direct effect on the health of the plant above.


Seed Chart for Southwest Gardens

Here is a great chart that I use as a guideline for planting vegetable seeds in the valley.  Its only a guideline, things change and temperatures are different and where you put your garden is different than where I have mine.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Watering guides

Here is a general guide for watering in AZ.  We have really dense soil that can retain a lot of moisture for quite some time.  It just takes a long time to soak in deeply to where you want it! I like using my drip system on the trees and bushes for a few hours once a week in the summer and every two to there weeks in the winter, unless we get a nice long gentle rain that soaks in, then I skip a watering.

Our desert soil is designed to hold the little bit of rain we do get so many of us water too often and too lightly when we do.  By not doing a deep watering with our alkaline soil and water we start to build up the salts around the plant and you will see burning of the leaves on the tips and edges.  Think of the farmers and orchards doing their flood irrigation, long deep waters but a lot less frequently. 

Now you can't just go out and turn the drip system to a dramatically different schedule, you have trained these plants to survive the best they can on the watering you have been giving them.  You will have to wean them down in frequency and at the same time increase the amount of water.

I always hand water the gardens and flower beds because it will just be too difficult to get a schedule down precisely for the many different plants I grow.  Sometimes the corn on the one end will need more water and the tomatoes on the other end a lot less.  Just easier to go out and water what needs it in these spots.

Sauerkraut Recipe

20 lbs Cabbage
3/4 C Canning/Pickling Salt

Clean outer leaves off and shred cabbage about 1/8-1/16 inch shred
Mix in large bowl with some of  the salt as you shred let stand for a while to let cabbage wilt a little bit before packing into large crock.  I use a Gartopf crock that allows me to have a ring of water around the lid but any large crock will work, you will have to cover the cabbage with a muslin or cheesecloth and weigh it down.  You want a layer of brine above the cabbage, if you don't have enough juice 1 1/2 tablespoons salt in a quart of water works.

Place in cool area and check daily for any scum and remove it.  In AZ I don't have a lot of cool places to put it so it goes aa little faster it seems but my Grandmother used to take about three weeks and mine is usually done in two.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Day 1

I am starting this blog in hopes that I might be able to pass on some of my gardening knowledge to other people and maybe one day hear that I have inspired someone to start up gardening for themselves.

I recently moved to a new home in Queen Creek AZ and left my previous garden I had been growing in for sixteen years.  After all of those years composting and amending the soil it had become a great little plot to grow my vegetables over the years.  I grew great cabbages (Stonehead is my favorite since its such a dense head) for making sauerkraut, radishes (French Breakfast is my favorite-seems to not cause me any heartburn) and peas (sugar snap because you can eat pods and all, and the Bassett hound loves peas) were my go to winter crops.  The Spring brought the dill and cucumbers for pickling (Rader cukes allowed me great specimens to pickle because they usually end up so straight they fit in the jars better and still if I let them or missed one while picking they were a great slicer that was rarely bitter) and the tomatoes and peppers for salsa (I have found the shorter date tomatoes work the best here because of the two short seasons they do best in, I did Goliath and Beefsteaks once or twice and was rewarded with a few large tomatoes rather than the abundance of smaller ones I got with Early Girl , Champion and Celebrity varieties).

I've now found myself with virgin soil for the most part and feel like I am starting over.  I have little amendments in and the cabbage have produced and one batch of sauerkraut is canned as well as the first batch of spicy pickled beets.  The size of the cabbages is underwhelming but I expected nothing different since I was in a hurry to plant when I moved in.  I did plant more numbers to compensate for the smaller sizes I got.  Beets and radishes seem to be a crop you can grow anywhere as they had little problems.  Peas also did great and I should have planted more simply to use their ability to affix nitrogen into the soil for the future crops.

I'm still plugging along with the new spring crops but the heat started rather early here but looks to cool a bit soon.  I will continue updating and letting you know what works for me as I try to get the soil here up to where I was in Mesa!