rain drops on kale, eggplant, and basil seedlings

2018 Garden Started

rain drops on kale, eggplant, and basil seedlings

Hi everyone. It is hard to believe that spring is (almost) here. By this time last year spring was definitely here; not this year. As snow melted in parts of the garden, we prepared the initial garden bed for the beets and onions. Although it was quite a bit colder than a year ago, hopefully it was warm enough to plant beet seedlings, seeds, and onion sets. Hopefully, because they were all planted.

We are trying two different tacts with the beets this year. We are testing whether beets transplant well into the garden as compared to direct sowing of seeds and we erected a protective barrier over the beets. The last couple of years something eats the baby beet greens. My guess is that a lizard eats the tops, but I am not sure. My hope now is that the predicted snow is not too heavy for the cover.

freshly planted onions and beets with protective cover

The last two years we have planted red onions. This year we branched out and planted red, white, and yellow. I read a review on the grower’s website suggesting the white and yellow grow better in mountain desert areas. We will see. But, the onions looked healthy and larger than last year so I am hopeful.

As for the rest of the garden, many of the seeds have been started. So far the kale and basil are growing well. I need to up-pot the eggplant. All three are enjoying a bit of unexpected rain. And most of the tomatoes and tomatillos are just getting going. So far I am happy with how the garden is progressing and the seeds are starting. A new soil mixture seems to be working well and the new LED lights seem to work also.


That Spring in Your Step

kale seedlings

It is hard to believe spring is here, at least where I am. Those of you still in the cold, it’s time to come on into a warmer location. We made a quick trip up to the garden last weekend and finished some of the early spring clean-up. There is still more to do, but I want to wait until I know warmer weather is there to stay until raking leaves and such. However, bulbs are coming up, lemon balm is starting to stick its little head up to see if it is safe, and the hummingbirds are back (although we don’t know what they eat this time of year).

I have started the first of the seeds at my house. The eggplant, kale, basil, beets, and some flowers are all growing. This is the first year I will be trying to transplant beets. For some reason, beets have not done well for us the last few years and this is one step towards correcting that.

basil seedlings

Every spring I start most of the seeds in my house under lights. I am experimenting with new lights this year. One of my old fluorescent fixtures stopped working so I had to replace at least that one. I also wanted new bulbs. Last year many things went awry and my goal is to rectify that this year; I think one of those things was the lights I had. Instead of getting a new fluorescent fixture and all new bulbs I went with new LED lights. Not the fancy grow lights; because, let’s face it, it would take me years to come close to justifying those for my seeds. Nope, I went with ordinary 4′ LED shop lights. They do not produce the full spectrum of light for true indoor growing, but all I do inside is start seeds and wait for them to grow large enough to move outside. Because of the stage of growth I need the lights for, the super bright, blue (5000k) spectrum lights should work. So far they seem to be. The kale did great and grew enough to move outside. The beets and eggplant seem to be doing ok, but they have not been under the lights that long. I am a bit worried about how bright they are and damaging the leaves, but hopefully moving the lights higher will solve that potential issue.

The garden is launched. Here’s to hoping this year is more successful than last year.

End of Summer

Tomatoes ready to roast
I know, I know, I’ve been very absent this summer. It was a very weird summer up by the garden. The timing of nearly everything was off, from when plants were transplanted to when the birds showed up to when the deer left. It was hot, the hottest we have had. It was the driest we have had, with only very small monsoon rains materializing. I had trouble with soil, both with seed starting and in the garden. All of this led to significant disappointments, interspersed with some successes.

Excessive and prolonged deer predation meant a number of plants, mostly tomatoes and kale, got off to a slow start on top of what was already a late start. The kale never really recovered but many of the tomatoes did. The only tomatoes that did grow reasonably well for us this year were the hybrid cherry tomatoes, Sunrise Bumblebee and Purple Bumblebee. Without them we would have had almost no tomatoes. Many of the tomatoes were roasted and will eventually be made into a homemade roasted tomato marinara sauce which goes very nicely with the eggplant bites and eggplant Parmesan. The beefsteak tomatoes that are actually healthy and doing ok are volunteers.

Soil issues plagued me with stunted seedling growth then again with uncontrollable issues with tomatoes and cucumbers and squash. Eventually the issues, I think a powdery mildew, killed the squash and cucumbers, and the cantaloupe were stunted then rotted before ripening. I had high hopes for all of those but those hopes were not to be.

Apple and Pear HarvestOk, enough of what didn’t work. What did work? Although it was cool late into the summer, we transplanted the seedlings about five weeks later than last year, we did not have any frosts last spring. This led to banner harvests of cherries, apples, and pears (at least those the deer could not reach). We were not geared up for the amount of cherries we harvested, six-times our previous largest harvest. Some were dried and most were frozen. The apples largely became apple sauce. The pears were eaten fresh or are being made into pear brandy and pear infused vodka (you had to know alcohol would show up somewhere).

The eggplant did very well. They were planted in a sunnier location than last year and seemed to thrive in the hot weather. I grow a Japanese variety. We made cabonatina, eggplant Parmesan, and roasted and froze a lot for enjoying this winter.

Another thing that did very well were many of the flowers. Some of the perennials we planted over the years came into their own this summer. This provided a nice cutting garden and attracted a lot of butterflies, which are always fun to watch.

Butterfly on garden flowers

Next year will be a rebuilding year. I will need to get back to basics with seed starting and soil management. I will need to be more ruthless with volunteer plants taking over the garden. Many of the pots will be moved and/or redone. New flowers will be selected for the pots. We have already moved some of the horseradish to a pot to see if it does better in loose soil. Hopefully the irrigation system will work consistently next year (can’t someone design a more full-proof version for household use?). We will hope for better weather. So, basically the same as usual.

Mid-Season Garden Update

fist ripening Avamato
Eggplant aplenty! That pretty well summarizes the state of the garden. This, of course, was the intent behind planting so many. It also means we will be able to experiment beyond variations of our eggplant bites

We continue to fortify against deer intrusion and we hope the latest efforts are finally sufficient. The deer will have a very long winter if they stay in the area and deplete what has historically been a winter safe haven and foraging area. 

The irrigation system seems to be working, after narrowly and luckily catching another catastrophic failure. The latest could have flooded the crawl space under the house if we hadn’t found the break. That would not have been fun. 

If you recall, we were force to buy replacement cucumbers, winter squash, and cantaloupe. I am happy to report these are maturing nicely and are all producing. We have even picked two early cucumbers. 
first cucumber

Although I expect a reduced tomato harvest this year because of plants dying and deer predation, most that are left are doing well and we have a good amount of numerous varieties already forming and ripening. Only one little Avamato is actually turning red so far so I think some of the many cherry tomatoes have to be getting close. 

early Lunch Box PepperA new-for-us crop this year is lunch box peppers. The plants are growing from seeds from a friend. Although the plants are still small, they have started producing peppers. Depending on how they grow they may replace the Cupid peppers we have grown in the past.

I think it will be another few weeks before we start getting meaningful harvest of things other than eggplant. Until then we will enjoy the bounty we have. 

My Twin Nemesis

Eggplant plants with eggplant

Gardening is an adventure and you never know what is going to happen next, except that something will always happen. Gardening when you can only check in on the garden during weekends just exasperates that. One problem has been a perennial issue – irrigation. The other usually resolves itself by this time of year – deer. Both flared up the same week. One seems fixed, the other “seems” under control, even though I chased three deer out of the yard over the weekend.

The garden is in the high-desert mountains of central Arizona. As such, a functioning irrigation system is necessary to getting what I want to grow, to grow. The system has largely been replaced, repaired, expanded, and changed, from the dysfunctional mess the previous over left. One part that hasn’t been replaced are the control valves. With so few moving parts it is hard to figure out what can really go wrong, at least aside from debris or a malfunctioning actuator. Once I determined neither of those were the issue, the only thing left to try was replacing the valve itself. Other than the timing of this, it was a fairly straight forward. The rest of the original valves will be replaced this fall or next spring, when there is time not to finish the project without jeopardizing the whole garden.

San Marzano tomatoes on vine

The new valve is working great, apart from the fact that there is so much pressure now versus before (which should have given away there was a problem), that all of the weak parts of the system are being blown out. These are much easier to repair, assuming I find them before leaving for the week.

Finding the original problem, the malfunctioning valve, was a bit of luck, and had the problem not been found, could have been disastrous for the garden. For most of the plants, the tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc, I bury drip irrigation 6″ – 8″ underground, then put the transplants that deep so the roots get the water directly. This seems to work well, until it doesn’t. The one big downside is I can’t see water coming out of the lines. I have to gauge that the line is working based on how the plant is behaving. This would not be a big deal if someone lived close to the garden to monitor this on a regular basis. I only found the issue when I did because I was transplanting a few replacement tomatoes from the nursery. Oh, back to the disaster averted part – the irrigation zone in question is the primary garden zone, and waters all the tomatoes, most of the eggplant, onions, beets, flowers, and a host of other plants.

I dug down to find the drip lines to put in a tomato, but instead of the soil being moist, it was very dry; not a good sign. Digging around in other areas revealed the same issue. That is when the hunt for the culprit began. A week later the replacement tomatoes are doing well. One of the three, the San Marzano pictured above, even has tomatoes on it, which were not present when we bought the plant.

Deer in Yard

My other nemesis, deer, remain an issue. Historically they move to higher ground in the nearby National Forest over summer. That is not the case this year. They also don’t seem that afraid of people. I could get about 15 feet away from them before they ran off. Pet deer, let alone three, is not what I am after. This has resulted in increased fencing and other obstructions, as well as the spraying of a noxious smelling substance that seems to keep them from eating plants. Because I only spray this on non-edible plants or edible plants that haven’t fruited, I hope the general smell in the area keeps them away.

The best news of the week as concerns the garden is that the monsoon rains have started. This brings a welcome relief from the sun and heat and a bit of rain. So far we have not had any deluges, but the rains are just starting. Now that temperatures are moderating I expect the plants to set more fruit and the garden to be off and running (assuming my nemesis stay away).