Monthly Archives: October 2015

Notes from the Desert Winter Garden

I need to start keeping track of how many pounds and bunches of produce I harvest, because it kind of FEELS like my summer garden wasn’t very successful.  But, when I confessed that to my husband, he looked at me like I was out of touch with reality, which IS definitely a possibility…  But, so many of the things I planted didn’t work out well.

I was especially disappointed with my lone summer squash variety:  Tatuma Calabacita.  Its vines spread forever, yet it was very unproductive.  I think I harvested three squash total in the two hills I planted.  The beginning of September, I sowed seeds of Greyzini from Pinetree Garden Seeds in two hills, with three more hills a couple of weeks later.  I was attracted by the Pinetree’s claims that Greyzini produces early and prolifically, and that I’d soon be drowning in summer squash.  (Note:  The “summer squash” planting season in Maricopa County extends well into the winter.)  I figured if this was actually true, I could freeze, barter, sell, gift, etc., the excess.  The first baby squash is now about 4″ long and harvestable, though I will wait a few more days:

IMG_20151030_082226 My only problem right now is that I likely didn’t give the Greyzini enough room to grow, so the plants are already crowding the carrot area.  But, my carrots — Atomic Red from Pinetree — are having a hard time germinating and taking off, so I figure if they’re dominated by the Greyzini, so be it.

In my “old” 8′ x 12′ I have also sown:

  1.  White Sweet Spanish onion — These are slow to take off, as well… but onions always are.
  2. Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach — This is the first time I’ve planted spinach.  It is having a hard time germinating, and the small sprouts that have popped up seem to be a favorite of bugs.
  3. A Giant Mix zinnia — these have germinated and are growing well.  I’m thinking that a “giant” zinnia was probably not the best choice; as the garden veggies start struggling to soak in as many of the pale sun’s rays, I don’t want flowers shading them.  If worse comes to worst, I could yank them, I suppose.
  4. Super Sugar snap pea — These look lovely and are a good 6-8″ tall.  I’m pretty sure I had 100% germination, and they start germinating in 7-8 days, and grow quickly.  It’s very satisfying to see a plant grow healthy and strong after only a week or so.  I have an 8′ row in my 8′ x 12′ bed and have sown another 12′ in my new garden bed, the first of which just started sprouting a few days ago.
  5. My Clemson Spineless okra is still producing!!  Those bushes are 5-6′ tall!!  It’s pretty amazing.  Now that it’s a tad cooler, they don’t grow nearly as quickly.  But, they’re still alive!  I’ve heard from local gardening groups and a bit of research that one can overwinter okra plants, but they are very cold-sensitive.  I’m not positive, but I think I’m going to try.

My new, 12′ x 12′ bed is not fully sown.  So far, I have planted:

  1. The aforementioned 12′ of Super Sugar snap peas.
  2.  Lettuces — So far, both a Pinetree Lettuce Mix as well as a mix of Simpson Black-Seeded and Romaine lettuces, the seeds of which I saved from previous lettuce plantings that I let flower and go to seed.  In my experience, Simpson Black-Seeded is the most successful lettuce to grow in Maricopa County.  But, I’m looking forward to a greater variety of lettuces.
  3. Alaska Mix nasturtium — which I chose for its variegated leaves.
  4. Red Cloud beet.  I ❤ beets.
  5. Harris Model parsnips — I probably wouldn’t have attempted parsnips, as I know they taste better after a frost, which we’re not likely to have.  However, the CSA I hosted for nearly three years, with organic produce from Crooked Sky Farms, grew parsnips very successfully.  So, I’m trying it.
  6. Cardinal Chard —  Red chard of any kind just might be my single most favorite vegetable.  🙂
  7. I also transplanted a bunch of I’Itois (EE-ee-toy) onions — 18 bunches, to be exact — from my containers.  These green/spring onion-type heirloom, bunching onions are AMAZING.  They’re holdovers from the CSA.  Plant one bulb, and a year later, you have 50.  They just don’t die.  They go dormant in September, but start sprouting back in October.  Literally, it’s year ’round “free” green onions.  I haven’t purchased green onions in at least two years, maybe longer.  I figure I can go without, the one month they die down.

In the space remaining in the big garden bed, I plan on sowing more lettuce, bok choy, collards, some more flowers (probably gaillardia), and more onions — if I have the space.

I have also been cleaning out my containers — I’ve done eight so far.  This is a HUGE PAIN IN THE @SS, as — of course — bermudagrass, that evil and invasive species — has found its way into each and every pot.  So, I’m digging out all the bermudagrass stolons, roots, and “leaves”, plus doing other cleanout and refreshing of the soil that’s there with compost and some native clay dirt/soil as needed for better water retention.  I have more I’Itois, a bit of parsley, a few flowers, and lots of basil already growing.  I’ve sown lavender, more nasturtiums, cilantro (I actually meant to sow flat-leaf parsley seed and grabbed the wrong packet), and Crimson Giant radishes.  I have another 6-8 pots to clean out and replant, and I’m planning on growing more radishes, herbs, and flowers.  It’s funny, because previously, I had felt kind of grumpy about my containers, calling them my “fake garden”.  But, now that I have my real garden — in the dirt — going, I view the containers as… “free” space.  And, they’re especially easy to take care of in the winter.  (In the summer, my containers need water at least once — often twice — daily, to keep them alive in the blistering heat.)

One more note about gardening in the winter.  OK, two.  Maybe three.

  1. Winter gardening is kind of a crapshoot.  Last year, we had ZERO freeze days.  The year before, we had five — with three of those being back-to-back, which is kind of unprecedented cold for the Phoenix area.  The only bad news about having such a large garden is that I probably don’t have enough sheets, et al, to cover everything, if it does freeze.  So, I’ll probably be praying for no freezes.
  2. The “days to maturity” on each packet of seed don’t count for much.  Yes, things will grow beautifully here in the winter (unless it freezes), but as the sun’s rays are not nearly so strong or long as in the summertime, things take longer to grow.  Still, it’s so worthwhile growing in the winter, as a greater variety of veggies do well here in the cool months:  all cole/cruciferous crops, all root crops, anything leafy, plus other extreme-heat-sensitive veggies like peas.
  3. My permaculture ideas — going through the tremendous strain of digging out SUNKEN beds when raised beds are all the trend right now, has proven to be a good idea.  Other than keeping the seeds moist for germination by light sprinkling, I’ve watered my garden NONE in the last almost-two months.  The garden beds are placed at the lowest slope in our yard, so the rainwater soaks and percolates down to that area.  In 110°+ heat, there’s NOTHING that can be done to gardens to preserve water;  you just have to water, and usually daily.  But, now that it has cooled down and we’ve had a few fall rains, the sunken bed idea is paying off.
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I was going to…. (and then, I did)

…actually write a blog post today.  But, I’ve decided to use my rare time on the actual desktop computer to look for plans for a chicken tractor, instead.  (OK, I wrote a blog post.)

I will briefly update to say:

This is blurry. I need more pictures of Ethan. This is on his first day of pre-university freshman camp, where he was hesitant to go, but where he forged some really close friendships. Ethan is dear.

This is blurry. I need more pictures of Ethan. This is with my husband on Ethan’s first day of pre-university freshman camp, where he was hesitant to go, but where he forged some really close friendships. Ethan is dear.

1. My oldest son, Ethan, is doing great at Arizona State.  He is getting all As, and one of his professors loves his writing so much that he is keeping all of Ethan’s writing assignments to use as examples in current and future classes.  While this is a particular win for Ethan (and for me, because — yay!  I didn’t really suck as a teacher!), it’s a win for homeschooling, in general.  Because what does this professor want?  Analysis.  Synthesis.  Excellent grammar.  Thoughtful, insightful writing.  An understanding of the topic at hand.  As a homeschooling mom, this is what I want, too!  I’m not just looking for my children to regurgitate information;  I want them to understand and to think.  Apparently, professors enjoy having students who can do this.

Grant at his last CAP promotion with his almost-girlfriend and another CAP friend.

Grant at his last CAP promotion with his almost-girlfriend and another CAP friend.

2.  My 16 year-old, Grant, is still mostly homeschooling in the traditional way.  He is, however, taking two classes at a local two-day-a-week co-op.  Honestly, he isn’t killin’ it like I thought he would;  it’s a struggle for him.  But, that’s a good thing to figure out NOW, as a junior, rather than in his freshman year of college.  He still has the Air Force Academy as his goal, and is killin’ it in Civil Air Patrol Cadets, where he is a Staff Sergeant.

Wesley on his 14th birthday, nearly a month ago.

Wesley on his 14th birthday, nearly a month ago.

3.  My son, Wesley, is a freshman at a small, conservative, tuition-free charter school.  I have been extremely pleased with the school itself, and shocked, frankly, with how well Wesley has integrated into “the system”.  There is one class in which he isn’t doing well — French II — and it’s mostly because of conflict with the teacher, who is pretty hard-nosed.  But, I’m fine with that.  I’ve told Wesley that, a) it’s an elective, and he’s still actually learning to speak French quite beautifully.  And, b) for his whole life, he will encounter people who don’t “get” him, or are otherwise challenging, and learning to adapt and have healthy relationship is at least as important as learning particular subjects.  So, overall:  he’s doing very well.

My girls at a friend's house, doing crafts. Fiala has the blue headband, and Audrey is in the background, top left.

My girls at a friend’s house, doing crafts. Fiala has the blue headband, and Audrey is in the background, top left.

4.  Audrey is in 4th grade and Fiala is in 2nd.  They are both doing excellently in school.  Audrey is doing 6th grade math.  Fiala can spell as well as a 4th grader.  It was my aim for them to have FUN this year;  to have a rich, full educational experience.  That is happening.  Because I couldn’t find a group in my area which was relaxed and social with no fees and no “statement of faith” to sign, I started a homeschool support group.  We’re up to 95 families, which is crazy.  Not everyone participates in every event, of course, but I organize a weekly park day, a weekly mom’s night grade-and-chat at a local coffee shop, and usually 1-3 additional events weekly.  So, we’re busy, but it’s fun-busy.  We’ve been to museums and on day trips and to art classes and more.  This is exactly the sort of school year I envisioned for them, even if it means that we’re making really slow progress through the structured curriculum we’re doing (old Sonlight Core 2).

Jeanie at the park (after a visit to the splash pad). Funny and happy -- not disturbed. :)

Jeanie at the park (after a visit to the splash pad). Funny and happy — not disturbed. 🙂

5.  Jeanie is two years old and absolutely crazy.  She is fun, chubby, happy, very active, doesn’t nap well, and has a thing for playing with her poop, which drives me absolutely batty.  Yesterday, when I thought she was napping, she actually sculpted a faux hawk for herself with her poop.  Yes, it was as gross as it sounds.  “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???!!??” I admit I yelled.  Holy crap.  Literally.  It’s one of those things where my previous judgements have come back, in God’s humorous way, to bite me in the butt.  Truthfully, when I had previously heard about other toddlers playing with their poop — since none of my kids had ever done that — that there must be something deeply wrong with the family, or with the child, emotionally.  Or something.  Playing with poop is clearly wrong and disturbed.  Well, Jeanie is about the furthest a child could be from “disturbed”.  But, she still plays with her poop.

6.  Jeanie has been going to the home of a dear friend of mine for two hours, four days a week, and in exchange, I tutor my friend’s great-granddaughter for Kindergarten.  She also goes to weekly park day with us, and on field trips.  This is the first time I’ve taught a child other than my own.  In the past, I’ve declined such requests, because they’re mostly along the lines of, “Hey, since you’re already home and teaching your own children, and public schools stink and private schools are too expensive, why don’t I bring my child over and you can teach her/him for free!”  Which I decline.  However, this particular plan is going quite well!  I’m paid AND my friend keeps Jean, which really makes the whole thing possible.  I had intended for Audrey and Fiala to be doing their seatwork (math, grammar/phonics, handwriting, and journal) while I work with our Kindergarten-friend.  However, we’re doing Five in a Row (plus Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Handwriting Without Tears).  And, apparently, even though my older daughters are nine and seven years old, they still enjoy FIAR books and activities, which, frankly, I didn’t do enough of, with either of them.  So, they are reliving kindergarten, and having a blast.  (Reminder:  Audrey is doing sixth grade math and can spell as well as a 7th grader, and is on-track with her other subjects;  doing K won’t damage her education, thankyouverymuch.)

My new (unplanted) garden bed with most of the summer stuff in the far garden bed pulled -- except for the giant okra bushes.

My new (unplanted) garden bed with most of the summer stuff in the far garden bed pulled — except for the giant okra bushes.

7.  My garden is doing fab.  The past summer, in my first — 8′ x 12′ — bed, the most successful things I grew were:  Clemson Spineless okra — which is actually still growing, here in late October.  My okra bushes — five of them — are nearly six feet tall, and still producing, though more slowly, as it has cooled a bit.  I also grew Lemon Queen sunflowers, which were amazing — a good 7-8 feet tall.  Armenian cucumbers grew wonderfully and were extremely productive.  The next-most successful plant was Fonzy Melons, which I grew from saved seed from an organic melon I had purchased early this year.  And flowers — Sulphur Cosmos.  They made lovely cut flowers all summer and are self-seeding in actually a rather invasive way.  It’s a nice problem to have, actually.  Oh!  And a volunteer spaghetti squash was quite productive.  Less successful were banana squash, Tatuma Calabacita summer squash, and a musk melon.  I had a number of tomato plants come up volunteer — which I’m still growing — as well as a tomatillo plant which grew humungous and was covered in flowers, but never fruited.  Dumb waste of space.  I yanked it.  In the places where I have pulled out and re-prepped the soil in this bed, I have planted Atomic Red carrots, Greyzini summer squash (which will grow here in the winter!), Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach, Super Sugar snap peas, white sweet Spanish onions, and zinnias, all from Pinetree Garden Seeds (which, yes, I know their test gardens are in Maine.  But, I’m a sucker for small, family-owned seed companies).  I have had a heck of a time getting the carrots and spinach to germinate, but the Greyzini has its first tiny fruit already growing!  I have prepared a larger, 12′ x 12′ bed “next door” to my first bed.  That sucker took ALL SUMMER AND FALL for me to prepare, as a) bermudagrass is so, so, so, so horridly invasive;  b) our clay soil is hard and heavy;  c) I worked on it in my “spare” time.  The bed is now waiting for me to till in all the amendments.  I haven’t done that because a) it has rained so much in the last week that the ground is too wet! and, b) I bought a rototiller and a friend from high school fixed it for me, but our schedules haven’t allowed us to meet up for him to return it!  And, I don’t want to till 12′ x 12′ of heavy clay soil by shovel.  In the new bed, I’ll be sowing more sugar snaps, Harris parsnips, Ching Chang bok choy, more carrots, Top Bunch collards, a leaf lettuce mix, Cardinal chard, Homemade Pickles cucumbers, more onions, Red Cloud beets, Gaillardia, and nasturtiums.  Although I haven’t actually planned out the space exactly to see if I can fit all that into the bed…  I might have to pull the okra, which I was considering trying to overwinter.

8.  We’re still plugging away at our home remodel.  I’m kind of weary of it, so I won’t say much about it, except to admit that it’s still in process.

9.  We are still at Vineyard Phoenix and absolutely are in love with our local representation of the Body of Christ.  (If you click the link, that is my hubby in the video on the front page.)  God is good and moving mightily by His Spirit.  People are getting saved and healed.  It’s really an amazing church, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.  I’m leading worship again at a small home group, which I greatly enjoy.  I also am teaching the 4s and 5s Sunday morning preschool class once a month and singing on the worship team usually about twice a month.  Our head pastor — whom I’ve known since I was 15 (I’m 42) — stepped down to a semi-decreased, semi-retired role in July, which gives him greater liberty to immerse himself in missions and apostolic ministry.  As I type this, he’s in Zambia.  My hubby’s best friend, Doug Scott, is now our head pastor.  I adore Doug.  I’m biased, but…. seriously….  I feel like God has given me absolutely GOLD with the church in which I get to participate.

10.  As I mentioned at the beginning….  I’ve been given the go-ahead to start my chicken flock!!  I’m super-excited.  I just need to go now and get that figured out.  🙂

11.  My husband is awesome, and I’m very grateful for him.  NOTE:  Awesome doesn’t mean perfect, nor does it mean that we don’t work, work, work, work on our relationship.  We do.  We have ups and downs.  But, this November, we’ll celebrate 21 years of marriage that has been profoundly blessed and is the result of two people loving Jesus and not giving up on each other.  HALF OF MY LIFE will be with that man, and it has been an honor.

My love and blessings to each of you who have read through this.

This is me in my new glasses. I'm aiming for a haircut, if I can get to the salon sometime in the near future. Someone who recently met me for the first time -- but who had seen this picture -- said to me,

This is me in my new glasses. I’m aiming for a haircut, if I can get to the salon sometime in the near future. Someone who recently met me for the first time — but who had seen this picture — said to me, “You don’t look like your Facebook profile pic,” and not in a good way. LOL! I do like this picture, perhaps because it doesn’t actually look like me.

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