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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!!

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