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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About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 10, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I am a natural childbirth advocate and an erstwhile birthing class instructor. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on October 30, 2015, in Desert Gardening, Life in the Desert, Organic Gardening and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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