Spring Has Sprung in Arizona!

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This is my second spring living in Arizona and I have to say, it’s MUCH better than this time of year back in Ohio (where I lived all of my life until about a year and a half ago).  The winter in this neck of the woods (Dewey, Arizona) was really quite mild, with only a few nights dipping below freezing.  Apparently this isn’t actually normal, but I’m not complaining.  I do remember it being much colder here last winter (the pipes even froze at one point), and it took longer to warm up in the spring.  I know this is a subject of much debate, but based on personal experience, I have no doubt that the climate is changing.  My boyfriend has lived in AZ for at least 30 years, and in this particular house for about 16 years, so he certainly knows what’s “normal” and what’s not.  He says the summers have been getting hotter, the monsoon rains MUCH more intense, the winds are lasting longer and are stronger than ever before, and the winters are getting milder.  Me, I just go with the flow and try to work with whatever Mother Nature decides to throw my way.

When we got back from our vacation in Mexico at the end of February I checked the salad garden in the back and was delighted to see that tiny little lettuce seeds left over from the Fall had started sprouting.  So I planted more lettuce (Oak Leaf, Red Oak Leaf, Romain, and Buttercrunch) and within less than a week the seeds had sprouted.  Back in Ohio I never would have considered planting lettuce outdoors in February!  But look how nicely my little seeds are coming up 🙂

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This is a picture of our salad and herb garden.  Sal built this to keep out all the different critters (rabbits, pack rats, deer, javelina, birds, and more) that would otherwise decimate everything we planted.  Not only do we plant our salad greens in here, but we also plant Swiss Chard, cantaloupe, beets, chives, dill, oregano, jalapenos, green onions, and Hungarian Wax peppers.  And I discovered that you can cut the Swiss Chard back when it starts going to seed and it will regrow without having to plant new seed.  The same goes for green onions.  If you cut them about an inch from the ground they continue to grow, so you can have a continual harvest of green onions from just a few plants, rather than pulling up the whole thing.  It’s funny- I’ve been gardening for about 20 years now and I’m STILL learning new things.

Normally we wouldn’t have started the seeds for the vegetable garden until mid-to late March (at the earliest), but since the weather has been so much warmer than usual I decided to start the seeds in the greenhouse at the beginning of March.  The greenhouse has been very productive all winter as well.  We’ve got LOTS of garlic growing, along with Swiss Chard, more green onions, a patch of oregano, lettuce, beets, arugula, broccoli raab, and even peas.  The only issue we’ve had is a serious attack of aphids, which did wipe out our second planting of lettuce and broccoli raab.  Since the winter has been so warm the little buggers weren’t killed off by the cold and they multiplied like crazy.  I tried the soap and water spray, the Neem oil spray, diatomaceous earth- nothing could bring those suckers under control!  I finally just had to pull up the lettuce and broccoli raab and feed it (and all the aphids living in it) to the chickens.  The chickens were happy and I got rid of the bulk of the insects, so in the end I guess it worked out.  My little lizard, who’s been living in the greenhouse since he wandered in there last Fall, did his best to help control the bugs, but this little guy can only eat so much!

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One thing I absolutely love about gardening here is that we have crops going all year long.  Once the heat of summer hits about the only thing that can handle the high temps in the greenhouse is the garlic, but during the cooler months we’ve got plenty growing in there.  And by the time it’s too hot to grow in the greenhouse, the outside gardens are hitting their stride.  At this time of year the greenhouse is the perfect environment for starting seeds.  I created a nice mix of sandy soil and rich compost to start the seeds in, something Sal has been doing for years.  I used to buy commercial potting soil or seed starting mix, but when you plant as many seeds as we do now that can get pretty expensive.  Sal’s method seems to work pretty well, and this year I added my own adaptations, so hopefully things will work out even better.  Between the two of us we’ve been gardening most of our lives, and when we combine our knowledge and experience we can do some pretty awesome things with plants 😉  This year I added more sand to the mixture since the pots seemed to get a little waterlogged last year.  I also figured out a way to water them from the bottom so the tiny seeds wouldn’t be disturbed by overhead watering.

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I used the plastic drawers from a few dressers I wasn’t using at the moment and fit the various sized pots in there, leaving space to pour water into the drawers.  This is just perfect because it helps retain moisture and makes watering much quicker and easier.  Another change I made was planting certain seeds in “transplantable pots”.  Seeds like melons, peas, cucumbers, and squash don’t like to have their roots disturbed, so by planting them in pots that can go directly in the ground I’m giving them a much better chance of survival with less transplant shock.  I planted the peas in toilet paper tubes, and as soon as they’ve got a few leaves I’ll harden them off and plant them in the garden (TP tube and all).  For the plants that get larger and need to stay in their pots for longer, like cucumbers, melons, and squash, I used the bottom half of my soy milk containers.  With these I’ll simply slice the cardboard to avoid disturbing the roots when it’s time for the plants to go out in the garden.  Once I had everything set up, planted, and watered I covered the drawers with plastic to help retain moisture and heat.  Most seeds need heat and moisture to sprout.

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Additionally, I use a mist sprayer to keep the surface of the soil moist.  Once a day I spray them with this Soil Energizer Tonic (from one of Jerry Baker’s recipes).  Just mix 1 tsp. of liquid dish soap with 1 tsp. ammonia and 1 tsp. whiskey in 1 quart of weak tea.  This is supposed to get the seeds growing quickly and keep the soil free from disease.  This is the first time I’ve tried this particular recipe, so I’ll have to see how it works.  I’ve used plenty of other recipes from Jerry Baker before (he’s got lots of gardening books) and they usually work pretty well.  Once the seedlings start to emerge I’ll pull back the plastic so they can get some air flow, otherwise the seedlings can actually suffocate.

There were several different things that I didn’t bother starting in pots, like the beans, beets, green onions, chives, and most flowers.  These seem to do better if they’re planted directly in the ground, and with the warm temps and wonderful soil here they sprout pretty quickly.  Last year we started the beans in pots, then transplanted them into the garden and we ended up losing most of the plants to stress.  I replanted seeds directly in the garden and those plants fared much better.  I always try to learn from experience and improve on what I did last year.  Actually, last year’s harvest was amazing, in spite of a very windy start (we should have hardened the plants off better before putting them out), not to mention really intense monsoon storms.  This year I think we’ll do even better.  I’m learning how to garden in Arizona, which is actually quite different from gardening in Ohio.  Heck, we’re still eating veggies we blanched and froze last summer.  And considering that we’re almost vegetarian (we only eat a little meat once or twice a week), we use a lot of vegetables, all from the garden.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am blessed.  Blessed, to be able to garden the way I’ve always wanted to (I never had the space, the soil, or the awesome greenhouse I always wanted before).  Blessed to have a partner in life and in gardening, someone who shares my love of gardening and thinks along the same lines I do.  Blessed to live in this little bit of paradise I now call home.  I used to dream of having a great big garden, big enough to plant everything I wanted to grow, and a greenhouse so I could grow veggies and herbs in the winter and start my seeds in the spring.  I used to dream of having chickens so I could have fresh eggs, and a big ole farm dog to keep me company while I worked in the yard.  I never knew where or how this might happen, but I just let things unfold as they were meant to be, and here I am, living the life I always wanted.

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Stay tuned for future posts on the progress of the garden, tips and tonics for healthy plants, recipes for all those great veggies and herbs, and much more related to organic gardening.

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing my joy in this amazing life I’m living! 🙂

~Michelle of CreativeCritters
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