Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

June Planting Tips and Summer Gardening with Density

Dear Folks,

It is that time of year when we start to plan for the heat.  If you are new to Valley gardening it may seem like it is all about the heat, but really it is about understanding desert growing.

[Pictured is my strawberry bed - you can see how the edges of the bed are drying and dying because of the exposure to the rock and bare soil because of the heat, taken in July last year]  I discuss DENSITY below.

The Native Americans planted IN THE SUMMER, foods like squash, corn and beans, referred to as Monsoon or Three Sisters, these staple foods thrived with the Mediterranean-type climate we have here in the valley.  And this type of gardening highlights one of THE MOST IMPORTANT aspects of growing through the intense summer sun.  DENSITY.

So many gardeners fall into the mistake of thinking they need to canopy or shade the plants, yet edible plants need a lot of sun to grow the fruit, leaf, root or seed you want to harvest.

The seeds for these 3 foods were planted close together, so the plants could easily be watered together and the squash surrounding the tall corn and bean vines would canopy the soil, not the plants themselves.

If choosing to erect shade structures, gardeners can make the mistake of too dense, too close which actually holds in more heat. Think of the last time you were under a tent or umbrella on a very hot day and just how hot that actually felt.

Plant densely for better success in the summer gardens.

[Pictured is one of my large pots planted with sweet peppers and purslane (edible plant) to canopy the soil and begin hanging over the edges of the pot to shade the sides also.  This picture was taken June 8th last year.]

Temperatures:

From approximately May 29th until September 29th, we will not see daily high day time temperatures below 90 except for the times of storms and rains.

We can expect approximately 110 days of 100+ degrees through out the summer.

Going into June the temperatures start to rise, with humidity levels staying pretty low, and before our seasonal "Monsoon" time (early July).  While we associate this coming seasonal activity with thunderstorms and rain (we typically get a large amount of our annual rain fall in the summer and again in mid-Winter) the Monsoon is actually a shift in winds bringing in competing air flows and a rise in average humidity levels.

BUT before the Monsoon time comes we have an historic sudden spike in day time temperatures in about the 3rd week in June.  We have had some history making temps during this time (126 was one whopper year), so you should be prepared for that in terms of monitoring your plants watering needs.

AND to make it a little more challenging, it is possible to over water your plants in the heat because you may be going on surface moisture rather than using a water meter (probe) to actually check moisture levels of the plants.  Wilting in the middle of a very hot day is NOT an indicator of needing water, necessarily, but many plants fold their leaves to retain moisture.

If you are watering properly for your plants needs and when there is an intense heat spike, you may see yellowing of the leaves between the veins indicating chlorosis, an indication that iron is unavailable in the soil to the roots.  This is easily remedied by adding ironite or green sand to the soil and the plants will green back up in a week or 2.  Chlorosis happens when 1)  there is a lot of water added to the soil, which binds the iron to the clay minerals OR 2) it can occur in the winter in very cold soils.

If you use a schedule for watering, and water deeply with drying periods in between your plants will adapt to your schedule.  As an example, my mature gardens are watered every 3-4 days in the mid-summer depending on how hot the year is, while they are watered every 5-6 days in the winter.  I add or subtract time as the seasons shift through cold to hot then back to cold.

June and the early part of July are light sowing or transplanting times.  Transplanting in particular is challenging in the heat if you do not harden off your plants because the plant will be trying to stabilize roots while dealing with very hot air and soil temperatures.

How hot is the soil?  The top 3 inches of BARE soil, sides of containers, asphalt and concrete, walls etc. is about 180 degrees on a typical summer afternoon.

Sowing rather than transplanting is best, with light mulch applied to help retain moisture while the seeds germinate.  Sprinkle the seeded areas every evening until you see growth, even if the bed is watered regularly.

In mid July to early August we start sowing the fall plants like winter squash (pumpkin), corn, the cabbage family can be sown mid-August and herbs like dill, cilantro, chervil, parsley can be sown and will germinate as the soil begins to cool in later summer.

JUNE PLANTING:  Cantaloupe; Corn; Cucumber, Armenian; Eggplant; Gourds; Luffa Gourd; Melons, Musk; Okra; Peas, Black Eyed; Peppers, Chiles; Potato, Sweet; Purslane, Egyptian Spinach -- USE existing plants as cover, under-seed with:  Basil, Chives

EDIBLE FLOWERS TO PLANT:  Portulaca; Sunflower, Roselle/Jamaica Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

GARDEN TIPS:  Hold off transplanting (seed in only) until fall when the temperatures drop back to below 90 during the day.  IF YOU find you need to transplant something at this hot time use my FLOWER MULCHING technique.  Purchase a six-pack of flowers and visualize a 12 inch circle. Plant the main plant in the middle with the flowers planted close in surrounding the main plant.  The flowers will canopy the soil while the main plant stabilizes.  Harden off ALL the plants first by exposing to sun 1 hour the first day, then bring into shade (not inside) then 2 hours the second day until the plants have been in the sun for 4 hours, then you can transplant with less shock.


Don't be afraid of the sun, it can produce incredible flavor in your food.
 

I am away from the computer for about a week, my monthly unplugging and spending time with family, but will be happy to answer questions when I return.

Like my facebook page and please share with friends and family who want to grow food!



-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Life is a Bowl of Cherries & Apricot, World's Best Carrot and Garlic / Weather Conundrum

Dear Folks,

We have been enjoying ripening fruit.  Pictured are my "cherries" and the first apricot off the tree.

The cherries are from our Barbados Cherry Tree planted February 2016.  It gave a few cherries last year but is now loaded.

Malpighia emarginata, Acerola cherry is known for its very high Vitamin C content along with a host of other vitamins.  It is evergreen and a pretty tree with pink flowers.  Once the fruit begins to turn color, it finishes ripening very quickly so you need to get them before the birds.

The taste is a sweet tart like an apple.  It did not have the sweet cherry taste I was hoping for so Deane could have "real" cherries here but I am happy with the flavor.  Each cherry has 3 seeds, so be aware.

Apricot season in the valley is very short 20, maybe up to 30 days so we grab them while we can.  We have found the fruit best when it just pulls from the stem or even better if we catch it when it just falls from the tree.  We keep a lot of duff under our fruit trees so we can harvest from the ground, most of the time, without damage to the fruit.  (Our Pineapple Guava is the same - the fruit if fully ripe when if falls from the tree.)

THE world's best carrot in my opinion is the Chantenay.  This carrot is outstanding, seriously, no matter what size you pick it at.  Obviously I left this one in and will be cooking up today, but trust me on this variety, it will not let you down in flavor, ever.

You can find the seeds at Baker Creek or other heirloom suppliers.  It was introduced in 1929.

OUR winter was one of the mildest on record.  I just finished compiling the chill hour data for the period ending March 31st and the overall change from last year was a whopping 40% less chill hours and in a couple of areas if was 50% below the previous year.  Amazing.

This weather pattern was evident in a lot of up / down temperatures but also in many gardens how the plants responded, with earlier than normal flowering, start/stop growth or changes in insect behavior (more gnats etc.).

The one rather dramatic result was my garlic.  Pictured is the garlic bed mid-November.  I expected a nice crop of regular garlic and the elephant garlic (the thicker leaved plants on the right in the picture) along about now I would have cut off the flower scapes 2-3 weeks ago and the garlic would be drying on my fence.

This is what the bed looked like a couple of days ago.  I was not paying enough attention to the plants.  I had noticed back at the beginning of April that some of the plants had obviously died back and just chalked it up to the strange weather.  But when I dug up a died-back plant, it was only a thick bulb at the base (like a fat scallion). No head of cloves!!

Garlic needs the FULL chill hour affect to create individual cloves.  The scape (flower head) comping up signals the plant is ready to 'finish' and usually I notice the scape coming up, wait a bit then cut it out and in a couple of weeks the plants begin to yellow and it is time to pull up and hang to dry out in the shade.

The plants NEVER created scapes.  If finally dawned on me that this year's winter never got cold enough.  We are in one of the milder areas of the valley and with our chill ours less than half, the plant could not produce the individual cloves.

Originally I thought, well I will just dig them all up, slice and sun dry them, but I am re-thinking that and may just leave them in the ground and see if the winter of 2017/18 forces the heads to form.

Some lovely flowers around the garden.  I finally found a happy place for a Gardenia in my garden.  Right now it is pretty much in full shade most of the day with some overhead sun at noonish, more sun in the winter when the deciduous trees are leafless.

I planted it last June 1st and while it had flower buds on it when I bought it, it promptly dropped them, so I just waited and the plant got happier and happier!

One of the hollyhocks bloomed and it is one of the Black ones and I am delighted. I will probably cut out all of the other plants to, hopefully, ensure all the seeds run true.  The edible flower hollyhock is quite happy to cross colors and I want this one to stay true for years to come.

My purple oregano is flowering.  Not the best tasting of the oreganos but the flowers are so pretty.  As they fade they drop purple/lilac colored confetti on the ground or deck.

I hope you are enjoying your gardens as much as we are.

I am always happy to answer questions.  You can find me on facebook and like my page.

You can purchase my books or gardening calendars in the sidebar here on the blog.

Have a wonderful thyme in the garden!


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

National Herb Week and Herb Day



Dear Folks,

Tomorrow, May 1st, begins National Herb Week, which ends on Mother's Day, May 7th.

National Herb Day is Saturday, May 6th.

Each year the week begins on the Monday before Mother's Day.

[All of the herbs in the picture are grown in my gardens. I have also grown or grow many more.]

There are so many national "weeks" and "days" you can find one for any food or activity, but to me, this is a real and logical celebration of plants which provide us with flavor, aroma, healing and just plain ways to feel good.

Herbs are the original medicines from which most modern drugs are founded on, albeit, the modern ones are mostly now synthesized to allow for patenting and also to exponentially increase the potency.

In your life you probably use herbs or essential oils and may not even know it.

Your body lotion may contain Calendula for it's soothing properties. The petals are also used in foods as a "poor man's saffron" for its distinctive color.

If you ever had a toothache and used clove oil to ease the pain. That oil is sourced from the same plant which gives you the flavor for baking, and interestingly, it is one the main essential oils which give Sweet Basil it's well-loved flavor. Other basil varieties may have cinnamon, lemon or lime essential oils too.

Peppermint may be in your lotions to ease muscle aches.

Lavender provides the wonderful fragrance in some cosmetics, but is also in cleaning agents, herb blends and is used to ease headaches and as a sleep aid.

Herbs have been used in centuries old liquor recipes.

In fact, most culinary herbs also have medicinal properties. Basil and mint for stomach issues, thyme for respiratory, rosemary for antibacterial action, and sage to help digest fatty meats.

NOTE: Herbs which are ONLY medicinal should only be used with expert guidance. I suggest culinary herbs for their medicinal qualities because they are safer to use by the average person, but even a good thing can be overdone. Be aware of your, and your family's, allergies and sensitivities.

This week and for Mother's Day put together a bouquet using herbs from your garden and fill the house, decorating the table, with these wonderful and useful plants.

Celebrating Herbs!

Click on the link above to read about 25 different herbs and spices.  2 years ago I created a series of posts celebrating 25 herbs and spices mentioned in the Bible with history and recipe ideas.

Once you pull up the link you can search for an herb by name. I hope you enjoy these posts.



A quirky recipe I read* 30+ years ago . . .

Lavender Scented Salad Dressing - and - Wood Polish!

1/8 cup olive, avocado or good vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vodka
10 drops essential oil of lavender**

Mix all together and shake well when using.

For polish apply and let sit for a minute or two to the furniture or panel and then buff. The vinegar dissolves the dirt and grease and the alcohol helps the oil sink in.

As a salad dressing this would be nice, lightly dressing a salad of tomatoes and lettuce, salt and pepper to taste. Other herbs like rosemary, oregano or thyme could be added to taste. Dressings can also be used to baste or marinate meats or fish.

* Unfortunately I don't recall where I read it, but I knew it would be fun to try.

** ONLY use true essential oil of lavender if you are using this for food. Food essential oils should ONLY be used with a carrier oil, never directly on food or your body.

What are you planning for National Herb Day and National Herb Week?

Make it a great week for herbs in your garden and kitchen!



My simple herb planting chart shows when to plant 48 different herbs here in the valley and all USDA 9b zones.  This PDF will allow you to have it handy on any device which reads PDFs.  Click here or in the upper side bar to purchase - $5.00

My recipe books are also available for purchase in the side bar.


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady



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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Around The Garden Mid-April

Dear Folks,

Some of the flowers are fading and some are just getting into all of their glory.  (Don't miss our newest "guest" in the gardens "Bob" - near the bottom of this post.)

With a couple of exceptions our gardens are all edible.  The main exception for me is a flower which is not edible but is so stunning I have several different color variations.  My dad started this back in the 80s when he gave me my first Amaryllis bulb, a blushing pink, which has produced pups multiple times and I have distributed them through out the gardens.

Several years ago, I was at the Sun City Farmers Market with my friends and spotted this drop-dead gorgeous amaryllis and just had to have it.  Not only does it bloom every year now, it gave me seeds 3 years ago, which I am growing and will distribute around the gardens also (according to the experts it will take 5+ years for the bulb to get big enough to produce a flower and I'm hoping for something as spectacular as this).

Off topic, sort of - a great opportunity to listen to Lisa Steele "Fresh Eggs Daily" chicken whisperer (my title for her) talks Chickens In the Garden, with Grep Peterson over a Urban Farm.

Some time in the future, I'm pretty sure we will have (again) chickens and maybe ducks for their wonderful eggs and personalities.

Many of us grew up with honeysuckle flowers and the joy of licking the nectar from their little filament.

I put together a bowl of fresh berries for a dinner we made with friends last week and I sprinkled the honeysuckle and pineapple guava blossoms over the top - yum!
Fresh and edible flowers like these two are a perfect garnish and taste addition to fruits.

If you like a little zip in your fruit salads, try nasturtium flowers and some of the herbs are blooming like lemon thyme.

Another old fashioned edible flower favorite are daylilies.  NOTE: the stunning star gazers and similar are NOT edible.

Daylilies, if you have not grown them, literally bloom for 1 day and then make way for the next flower(s) to open up over the following days.  They are lovely petals to nibble on, you can make a yogurt or cheese dip and stuff them, or just sprinkle the petals on salads.

I have an Aravaipa* Avocado Tree planted last October and it is doing great.  A month or two later I bought some avocados and decided to see if I could get the seeds to root.  About a month ago one of them had roots, finally, so I planted it in the same general area as my under-story, coffee/mango/avocado trees.  Yesterday I spotted a nice healthy stem/trunk.  It is protected by one of my chicken wire hats.  I pinched the tip back to encourage it to branch.  We shall see. [*Called the Aravaipa Avocado for the Aravaipa Canyon in Arizona where the mother tree was discovered, this species is said to be temperature tolerant from 14 to 120 degrees. ]

The caper plants are flowering, and I am soooo looking forward to berries in a month or two to harvest and ferment (pickle).  Along with my friend Jacq Davis at Epic Yard Farm, I believe waiting for the berries and passing on just picking the unopened flower buds is the more productive way to make use of this great plant.  [Read up on how Suzanne Vilardi and figured out how to grow caper plants in our Arizona desert and harvest the seed to grow new plants.]

One of the visitors this time of year is the Giant Swallow Tail Butterfly.  Citrus tree leaves are the host for this beautiful butterfly and the curiously interesting caterpillars start emerging and chewing on some leaves before cocooning into butterflies again.  Many people, even desert plant experts, consider these pests (they are pollinators in the butterfly stage along with bees and hummingbirds) and we do not view them as pests.  If you enjoy butterflies you should understand their need for host plants.  I would encourage you to embrace the idea of "hosting" the egg and caterpillar stage of these magnificent butterflies.

While not a frequent visitor to our gardens, they are quite shy, the Cardinals show up a couple of times a year, and Deane managed to snap a picture (through the kitchen window) of this handsome male eating seed on the berm where we "host" the various birds.  We also have a couple of feeders but a lot of these guests prefer the openness of the berm.

And now for our newest guest "Bob" - a Male Bobwhite Quail!  Named for their very distinctive call, he showed up last week and has been around morning and evening.  We have both gotten quite a lot of joy watching him.  He is not particularly skitterish and Deane has enjoyed the "first light" wake up call in the mornings to get him up and closing our windows down before the sun heats up.  [When we can during the year we open the house up to pull all the fresh night coolness in.]  The only other time we had a Bobwhite visit us was a quick stop over on our gate about 7.or 8 years ago and that distinctive call allowed me to see and get a photo of him or her (don't remember who visited us).

I hope you enjoyed a peak at our gardens.  Share this blog with your friends and family.

If you missed the May planting / sowing information here is the link.

My desert planting calendars and books are available for purchase in the sidebar.

Have a great time in your gardens!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Watch this Important Documentary on Seed! Available for a Short time.

Dear Folks,

No discussion of food can be complete without the talking about seed. [Pictured is my saved Egyptian Spinach, Garlic Chive and Roselle seed.)

This new documentary "SEED: The Untold Story" is so important I hope you will consider watching and sharing.

They who control the seed, control all of our food!

The streaming video is available free until May 1, 2017.

 Watch here.

So what can we gardeners do?

We can grow natural and heirloom varieties and SAVE THE SEED, by allowing some of the healthiest plants to mature to fully ripe seed. [Pictured:  Drying tomato seed for storage.]

Not only are we doing our small part in saving edible plant seeds, we are also creating our own regional adaptation.  That wonderful and natural phenomenon where the subsequent generations of plants in our gardens become more adapted to not only the climate in our region, but also our own gardens.

Once your seeds are fully dried, store as you would any spice, coffee or tea - cool, dry, dark.  Personally I prefer paper envelopes but glass or plastic containers work too.  Just remember they must be completely dried before you store.

SHARE the seed with others.  I host free seed sharing events at Mesa Urban Garden, but now both Mesa and Phoenix libraries have seed banks where you can check out some seed and then when you harvest you can return newly harvested seed back to the bank.  All FREE!

A lesser know fact about the "modern" farming of hybrids and GMOs is the loss of nutrient density in these foods where quantity became the focus over quality.  If you have to eat 2.5 to 3.5 times the amount of a food to get the same nutrient density as was available 50-70+ years ago, what really has been achieved???? (Source: Study of USDA Direct Farm Reports from Farmers over a 40 years period.)
 
Share this important video with family and friends, even those who do not garden.  It is important that everyone understand the challenges and risks to our food production systems.



-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, April 17, 2017

May Planting/Sowing Tips

Dear Folks,

As we move into the warmer months, what to plant and sow options begin to decrease.

Planting/Transplanting is more of a challenge for the plants as they have to deal with rising air temperatures while trying to get their roots established.

[Be sure to read my note (end of post) on how weeds identify soil and nutrients below.]

A story illustration many years ago - I believe it was Sunset Magazine - compared two transplanted shrubs. One planted in October and one planted around April 1st.   By July both shrubs looked about the same.  But by the end of the summer, the one planted the prior October was thriving and 3 times the initial size while the April planted one was struggling to survive.

What happened?  The October transplant, while not doing a lot of above the ground growth, was setting down good healthy roots.  The April planted shrub was struggling with increasing air and surface soil temperatures while trying to get those shallower roots going.

If you choose to transplant now, particularly with shrubs and trees, create the two berm system.  In my photo from my short video, I show you where the first and second berms should be:   1st one about 12 inches away from the trunk of the plant;  2nd one about 3 feet out.  Mulch between the berms and that is where you deep water the plants.  This method keeps water from sitting at the base of the trunk, keeps pest bugs and diseases from getting to the plant; and encourages the roots to go deep and spread. With shrubs and trees all the feeder roots will eventually be out at the drip line (the edge of the canopy - width - of the plant).

With other types of transplants:  vegetables, fruits, herbs and edible flowers, mulch this time of year is a great thing but, again, do not let the mulch touch the base of the plants.

MAY PLANTING:  Artichoke, Jerusalem; Beans, Soy; Cantaloupe; Caper plants; Cucumbers; Eggplant; Fig Trees; Fruit Trees (With Care); Melons, Musk; Okra; Peanuts; Peppers, Sweet; Peppers, Chilies; Potato, Sweet; Purslane; Squash, Summer; Squash, Winter; Tomatillo

SEED IN:  Basil, Chive (Garlic or Onion), Epazote, Perilla, or Catnip-- making use of the canopy of flowering or vegetable plants.

EDIBLE FLOWERS TO PLANT:  Impatients Wallarana; Marigolds, including Tangerine Scented (Tagetes Lemonii), Citrus Scented (Tagetes Nelsonii); Portulaca; Scented Geraniums; Sunflower Roselle/Jamaica Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

NOTE: Give a hair cut to low growing herbs like thyme, marjoram and oregano after they finish blooming.

--Temperatures will remain above 90 from Approx May 29 to September 29th.

--Potatoes - while harvesting, save some for replanting next Jan 1st - store in cardboard (like cardboard egg cartons) in your crisper/frig away from other veggies.

--Fertilize Fruit Trees Memorial Day.

--Tomatoes will stop setting fruit when night time temps go above 80 and stay there. Do Not Pull the plant - they will set fruit again beginning in September.

--DO NOT prune sun damage - the damage continues to protect the underlying growth.  Wait until fall to begin pruning off sun damage when the day time temps drop back below 100 consistantly.



EDIBLE FLOWER TIP:

Edible flowers blooming right now that go well with all the berries ripening are honeysuckle and pineapple guava.  Sprinkle over or toss with a mixed berry salad/dessert. 

The petals on the pineapple guava are like eating a piece of candy.  Delicious!!  The nectar from both flowers adds to fruit.

ALWAYS know your and your family's allergic issues when eating flowers which may have pollen in them.



Weeds!  Fascinating barometers of soil conditions and nutrients.

Geoffl Lawton's weekly newsletter this week included a great article on the Permaculture Institute site on what the weeds in our yards tell us about the soil.  I encourage you to read the entire article and click on the internal links.  Common mallow loves barren areas.   Why?  It's huge tap root can reach down below the compaction seeking moisture.  Many of us have seen an explosion of Pineapple Weed (one of the false chamomiles) this spring in both the desert and areas of our gardens.  Why? Hard pan from both the rain run off and baking sun are ideal conditions for this weed.

Under the section "Nutrient Porfile" is a 42 page article on weeds, pests and diseases and the role of various weeds (including eating them).

Have a great time in your garden! 


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

You can purchase my gardening calendars (when to plant/sow) and books from the side bar here on the blog.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Do You Have This Zippy Snack Pod in Your Garden?

Dear Folks,

I just plunked some roselle seeds in the garden. (Sow Hibiscus sabdariffa now to have edible leaves for harvesting through the summer (as a lettuce substitute) and the wonderful Vitamin C rich flower calyx in the fall.)

As I was coming back I passed these tasty, tangy pods on one of my plants and grabbed some to show you.

Hint they are not a sugar pea or any kind of pea.

Most people are not aware of this edible seed pod, you usually eat the root!

What is it?



Radish!!

There is even a variety of radish grown specifically for this green edible pod.

You can see information on the "Rat's Tail Radish" on Baker Creek, for more information on that particular variety.

However ALL OF the radish varieties have edible pods.  You just need to make sure you get them green and tender, like a sugar pea pod.

I had not harvested this radish and was just ignoring it - the bees love the flowers and suddenly their they were ready for the picking!

What is growing in your garden that you may not recognize as edible?

Have a wonderful, and safe Easter and Passover Weekend,



-- Catherine, The Herb Lady



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