Monthly Archives: July 2015

The desert organic garden journal — July 6, 2015.

11703152_940032102686262_7402766941140771172_nI won’t lie:  I’m really happy with my garden.  I go out to visit it several times daily.  In the evenings, when the right-hand wall (which is on the western edge of our property) is in shade, I often sit on the walk path.  The shade makes it tolerable, and the water content in the air around the garden acts as evaporative cooling.  The screen — which is actually concrete “remesh” from Home Depot — makes a fabulous bird blind, even though the beans have not traveled very far up it yet.  Hummingbirds and verdins flit and zoom right by my face…  It’s perfect.

il_570xN.570441898_n96zThe water-pollination dilemma:  I’m happy that this coming week, the highs top out at 105°.  I’m hoping that it’s cool enough for more flowers to be pollinated before they die.  This is the big dilemma in summer desert gardens:  female flowers bloom, but they die before they become pollinated.  And, similarly with water:  we need enough water — usually daily — for the plants to grow and not die… and the most effective way to water is with an old vintage sprinkler which I found in the shed of this house when we moved in.  We had one identical to it when I was a kid.  Newer sprinklers are more efficient and don’t deliver enough water to provide a good soaking.  This one is pretty leaky and the drops it distributes are big.  I have carved channels in the garden bed in which the “excess” water travels, making sure every corner of the garden gets soaked.  However, here’s the rub:  watering with a sprinkler soaks the blooms, and makes it difficult for the bees to pollinate them.  So, I just water everything enough to keep it alive, and the greens are lush, but the actual fruit of the garden is not gigantic.

I’ve harvested only Armenian cucumbers so far.  Three of them, and another will be ready tomorrow or so.  And one okra.

Growing is:

  • More okra (I’ll probably have enough for a meal within a week).
  • More Armenian cukes.
  • One getting-quite-large banana squash and several smaller ones.
  • Two spaghetti squash.  I didn’t plant it;  it came up volunteer in the compost.
  • One melon (I think it’s honeydew — again, it came up volunteer in the compost).
  • One mystery volunteer squash/melon that might be watermelon — actually, there are three on the plant.
  • Another melon plant that has a good 5-6 melons on it, which I am cheering on — it might be a Fonzy melon I planted from saved seeds.  It’s hard to tell what’s what in the tangle of vines.
  • Many tomato plants — those came up volunteer, as well.  Same pollination problem:  it gets too hot too fast, and they bloom and die before they’re pollinated.  Historically, if I can keep tomato plants alive through the heat of summer, they’ll start fruiting in September or so.
  • Lots of flowers — mostly cosmos so far, but my marigolds are about to bloom, and my first sunflower bloomed yesterday.
  • My asparagus yardlong beans are flowering and there is ONE baby bean.
  • My native Yoeme Purple beans aren’t doing so well, but they’re alive….
  • The summer squash I was excited about — Tatuma Calabacita — is growing and climbing, but the blooms and baby squashes keep dying before they’re pollinated.
  • There’s a butternut squash vine — two of them, actually — growing nicely, with darling little butternuts on it.  I didn’t plant that one, either.

I also planted an apple tree, developed in Israel — an Ein Shemer — and it’s not looking great, but I’m not surprised about that.  I have more hope for it, for next spring.

The only thing that has flat-out died is all the nasturtiums I planted (from seed).  It’s just too hot for them.

The tiny, long-legged fly, my dear friend.

For bugs:  I have had very few problems with harmful bugs this year.  Shortly after it germinated, the okra plants were beset by aphids, which kept the growth stunted and killed off one plant.  I sprayed the leaves off thoroughly — especially the undersides — about once a week.  There is a little aphid activity in the garden currently, but it’s really minimal.  There are LOTS of hoverflies  — actually, lots of what I’ve been calling “hoverflies”, but upon research, I’ve discovered that they’re actually long-legged flies.  In any case, they’re very beneficial to the organic gardener, as they eat aphids, thrips, and spider mites, all the small, soft-bodied insects which like to eat garden plants.

For feeding the garden:  I’ve soaked the plants with compost tea about once every 7-10 days.  There are lots of pricey compost tea systems you can purchase, but mine is a cheap hack:  When I water and turn my three bins of compost, I dunk the head of the hose into an empty plastic garbage barrel.  While I work on the compost, the barrel fills.  I have a zip-top burlap bag from a 25-lb package of basmati rice — I’m not sure if I got it from Costco or the Asian market…  I have several of them.  Anyway, I just fill the burlap bag with almost-completed compost and lower it into the barrel of water.  I cover it and let it stew for 1-2 days, and voila!  Compost tea.  I fill two garden watering cans and it takes 3-4 trips of refills to soak the garden — leaves and all — in the “tea”.  It’s kind of gross, so I inevitably have to spray down my legs with the garden hose, post-feeding.  Compost in general is not for the faint of heart, but that’s a post for another day.  (Hint:  compost needs decomposers.)  This is actually the first year I’ve done compost tea.  I’ve favored fish emulsion in years past, but I will never go back to that.  Not only does fish emulsion smell like puke, it doesn’t wash off well, and it’s pretty expensive.  Comparatively so, compost tea is less-gross, washes off completely, and is free.  Win-win-win.

In the above garden pic, I’m working on prepping the bed on the right-hand side for a mid-August planting.  According to the very reliable University of Arizona planting calendar for Maricopa County, that’s the next big planting “season” for a fall garden.

And that’s it, for now!!

I traveled to Portland…

My friend Kathy told me I need to write more.  So, I comply.

Though I struggle with feeling irrelevant in this age of blogs that are perfectly photographed, engagingly-written by self-assured experts in every imaginable topic, she tells me that I do have a niche, and I fill a role…  I’m still not 100% certain what that role is, nine and a half years after I started blogging.

I’m also going to — at Kathy’s urging — start to journal more on the things about which I cannot write publicly.  I find that, as my children grow toward adulthood, I can’t really disclose to the faceless masses — or even friends I know and trust in real life — many of the things that truly weigh down my heart, as they are often not my secrets to divulge.

Then, when all of these thoughts and feelings and words are teeming in my mind, considered but unwritten, everything else seems like fluff — truly irrelevant and not worth the time invested in writing a blog post.

This, however:  Worthwhile.  To me, at least.

I did something this past weekend that I’ve never done before:  gone on a girlfriends’ weekend with no kids and no husband.  Well, I haven’t done anything like that since I’ve been married.  For Mother’s Day, my husband surprised me with a trip to the Portland area, to see some dear friends.  I had been semi-planning this trip for, oh, about a year…  But, with my oldest son’s high school graduation, my second son going to Civil Air Patrol Encampment in June, a house that sucks up our remodeling budget and most of our discretionary income, a family camping trip to plan, and more — always more — I was certain that it wouldn’t work out.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband had been scheming with my friends.  He’s a good man.

So, while my headcold-ridden husband stayed home with our six children, I flew to PDX, and went criss-crossing southern Washington and northern Oregon with three friends for four days.  Mountains!  The beach!  Gardens!  Farmer’s market!  City!  Country!  We packed a great deal into a short period of time.

One friend, Dee Dee, traveled up from the desert — though not the same flight as me — and we met our two friends who used to live here, but who now live in the Portland area.

This time is a treasure to me.  I have no great love for the Phoenix area… Yet, as my husband says, it is the land of our anointing.  It’s where God has us, and where He has blessed us.  We have not plans — not any hopes, even — of ever living elsewhere.  There are far too many attachments here in the desert:  our beloved church, my husband’s job of 24 years, nearby family (though no one remaining who actually lives in the Phoenix area)….  So, it’s a hard balance, something I’ve struggled with — with varying degrees of success:  I long for green, for water in creeks, for rain, for tolerable weather…  Yet, I cannot give in to discontentment.  It wants to eat my heart, and I can’t let it.  I won’t.

So, any trip outside the desert is a delight, and this one was particularly so.

In my absence, my husband bought me a second-hand rototiller, so all things considered, it might have been the Best Weekend Ever.

at Salmon Creek

At Salmon Creek — on a little hike shortly after my arrival.  The only imperfection was that I forgot my binoculars at home, and there were many birds calling out to me, reminding me of my poor eyesight and forgetfulness.

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Mt. St. Helens — beautifully stark, profound in its impact, awesome in the recovery of the land.

We four:  Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.

We four: Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.

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At Oregon Garden in Silverton. I was quite amazed that, in its original state, Oregon had many hardwood timber forests. This particular oak was over 400 years old. The whole garden is very worthwhile, with both sculpted vistas, extensive veggie gardens, and acres of more wild, native greenery.

Upper Ape Cave.  This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lava tube.  Otherwordly and a priceless experience.  This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the cave.

Upper Ape Cave. This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lightless lava tube. Otherwordly and a priceless experience. This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the otherwise COMPLETELY DARK cave.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon.  What a gorgeous beach -- with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools.  I *think* I saw a puffin.  I also realized that this sweater I dearly love makes me look pregnant.  Love/not-love.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon. What a gorgeous beach — with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools. I *think* I saw a puffin. I’m holding sand dollars.  I also realized that this sweater which I previously really liked makes me look pregnant. Love/not-love.

My other favorite times:

  • Hanging out in Allison’s home, with her hubby and their two sons.  The living room is on the second level, and it is like being in a tree house, with massive windows on two walls, tall trees surrounding the property.  We curled up, kicked back, scritched the ears of her two Westies, and chatted for hours.
  • Eating.  Every restaurant in the Pacific Northwest has a gluten-free menu, and even the gelato at the grocery store (Chuck’s, I think it was called) was labeled as g.f.  We also ate at an Iraqi restaurant, which I wish I could transplant here.
  • Kathy made a delicious dinner for all of us, which we ate in her back yard.  As we waited for the meal, we had hors d’oeuvres of fresh blueberries, plucked from the bushes in Kathy’s yard.  Blueberry bushes.  In her back yard.
  • Just the friendship of other women who know and love each other and have similar values…  I feel rich in the blessings of friendship.  And we laughed a lot.  And exclaimed over the same things.  We’re all alike enough to enjoy most of the same things, but different enough that conversation is enlightening and lively, and we learn from each other.
  • On Sunday morning, as we drove to the Oregon Garden, Allison — the driver — made an executive decision that we would worship and pray aloud.  We did, for about an hour — praying for each other, our families, our churches — three represented by the four of us…  And we listened to the Housefires.  Time flew.  And then right at the end, as we were drenched in the Spirit, someone up the way started backing a 60-foot Winnebago into a driveway, and a lady strode purposefully onto the two-lane blacktop highway and held up her 5″ palm, telling us to stop.  This struck all of us as hilarious, because, really… we couldn’t see the Winnebago, and we would have been lost without her direction.  We were so grateful.  (Much laughter.)

I must return.  We’re already making plans, the four of us, to do so.

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