Wednesday, January 28, 2009

California drought may raise lettuce prices

Consumers may pay more for spring lettuce and summer melons in grocery stores across the country now that California farmers have started abandoning their fields in response to a crippling drought. California's sweeping Central Valley grows most of the country's fruits and vegetables in normal years, but this winter thousands of acres are turning to dust as the state hurtles into the worst drought in nearly two decades.

The giants of California agribusiness are the biggest economic engine in the valley, which produces every cantaloupe on store shelves in summer months, and the bulk of the nation's lettuce crop each spring and fall. This year, officials in Fresno County predict farmers will only grow about 6,000 acres of lettuce, roughly half the acreage devoted to greens in 2005. That alone could cause a slight bump in consumer prices, unless lettuce companies can make up for the shortage by growing in areas with an abundant water supply, or the cost of cooling, packaging and shipping the crop suddenly goes down, experts say. "Lettuce comes off the field and goes straight into the market, and if there's nothing coming off the field then the marketing chain goes dry, and prices go up," said Gary Lucier, an agricultural economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

While the dry weather has exacerbated the problem, farmers' water woes are not all drought-related. Supplies for crops and cities also have been restricted by several court decisions cutting back allocations that flow through a freshwater estuary called the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the main conduit that sends water to nearly two-thirds of Californians. Environmental groups and federal scientists say the delta's massive pumps are one of the factors pushing a native fish to the brink of extinction.

Last year, federal water deliveries were just 40 percent of the normal allocations, fallowing hundreds of thousands of acres and causing nearly $309 million in crop losses statewide. That prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue a disaster declaration, ordering state water managers to expedite any requests to move water around the state, in part so high-value crops like wine grapes, almonds and pistachio trees would stand a chance of surviving. Federal reservoirs are now at their lowest level since 1992.

With such a grim outlook, many California farmers including Giacone are investing millions to drill down hundreds of feet in search of new water sources. Depending on how much it rains this winter, federal water supplies could be slashed down to nothing this year, forcing farmers to rely solely on brackish well water. But the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation won't make an official decision until late February, said Ron Milligan, the agency's Central Valley operations manager. The state Department of Water Resources, which also ships farmers water, has promised to deliver 15 percent of the normal allocations in October, but conditions are so dire that that's now in doubt, too.

"The consequences are expected to be pretty horrible in terms of farmers' revenue, but what's really disconcerting are the possible job losses," said Wendy Martin, who leads the agency's drought division. "Those communities that can least weather an economic downturn are going to be some of the places that are hit the hardest." Richard Howitt, a professor of agriculture economics at the University of California, Davis, estimates that $1.6 billion in agriculture-related wages, and as many as 60,000 jobs across the valley will be lost in the coming months due to dwindling water.

Analysts haven't yet provided any estimates of crop losses this year. But Bill Diedrich, an almond grower on the valley's parched western edge, said he's already worried he may lose some of his nut trees in the drought. "The real story here is food security," Diedrich told Milligan and other officials speaking at a conference in Reno, Nev. "It's an absolute emergency and anything to get water flowing quickly is needed."

In the meantime, the forecast appears to be worsening: Meteorologists are predicting a dry spring, and a new state survey shows the population of threatened fish is at its lowest point in 42 years, more imperiled than previously believed. "This has devastating effects not only for the guys out there in the fields with the weed whackers, but it affects the whole farming industry," said Thomas Nyberg, Fresno County's deputy agricultural commissioner. "I'm just praying for rain."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bartering for Food and Looming Shortages

A spike in food prices is looming, along with massive shortages throughout the world. Food security will become a mainstream concern in the months to come, and we will almost certainly see a repeat of the food riots again this summer. Prepare now!

From the Financial Times:

In a striking example of how the global financial crisis and high food prices have strained the finances of poor and middle-income nations, countries including Russia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Morocco say they have signed or are discussing inter-government and barter deals to import commodities from rice to vegetable oil.

The revival of these trade practices, used rarely in the last 20 years and usually by nations subject to international embargoes and the old communist bloc, is a result of the countries’ failure to secure trade financing as bank lending has dried up.

The countries have not disclosed the value of any deals, and some have refused even to confirm their existence. Officials estimated that they ranged from $5m for smaller contracts to more than $500m for the biggest.

Josette Sheeran, head of the United Nations’ World Food Programme, said senior government officials, including heads of state, had told the WFP they were facing “difficulties” obtaining credit to purchase food. “This could be a big problem,” she told the Financial Times....

The countries’ struggle to obtain credit to import food is boosting the price of domestic crops. Ms Sheeran said that prices of crops in some African countries were rising sharply even as international food commodities prices had fallen from last summer.

In addition, agricultural commodities prices have recovered in the past two months on the back of lower winter plantings in the US and Europe and a severe drought in Brazil and Argentina, two of the largest producers of food commodities.

Since December, wheat prices have risen 15 per cent, corn 17 per cent and soyabean 22 per cent. In contrast with other raw materials such as oil or aluminium which have plunged back to the levels of 2002-05, agricultural commodities are trading higher than they were 12 to 18 months ago.

During the medium term, the report states that "long-term resource scarcity trends, notably climate change, energy security and falling water availability", will put pressure on prices and production, together with "competition for land and higher demand resulting from increasing affluence and a growing population". The report recommends investment in farm production and international aid.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dealing with Weeds and Grass

Everything got massive this week. The spring heat, I guess. The radishes, the lettuce, the peas, the weeds, everything! It like doubled in size overnight. Crazy.

I am harvesting the weeds for my compost pile. I am also letting it grow, a natural green manure crop to be tilled under in a couple weeks.

It'd be cool to identify these little buggers. They look like nasturtium leaves, except with ragged leaf edges instead of the nice round ones of the nasturtium.

The bermuda grass, now that is another story. That stuff will take over your area, any area that is watered, in summer. Years ago I used them to my advantage, keeping tomotoes going through August by letting them become a ground cover to keep the garden floor cool and moist as I irrigated every day. The downside is, all that work you did is totally undone, as grass has totally colonized your garden again. I am a big fan of bermuda grass for a lawn, but it is tough to garden with that stuff around.

This year, I am just tilling it under. I am doing an experiment to see how well that works. In a couple beds, I am just tilling, but in a couple others, I am tilling then running through the loose soil by hand to remove as many of the cut-up roots as possible. I honestly don't know how much of it will survive the tilling process. I'd love to say, none of it, but more like, all of it.

That stuff is tough, and the underground root structure is incredible (as you can see in the picture). You could look at a bare patch of dirt and think you were clear, but underneath, its all grass roots, just waiting for a drop of moisture. Luckily, it doesn't go much deeper than 4-6 inches, so a tiller is enough to thoroughly shread the root structure.

When getting rid of it by shovel, here is a nice trick: Get the spade under the roots, then just dump it upside down on the ground. Don't try to remove the roots from the dirt right away, the moist soil just clumps around the roots. Wait a day, till it has dried a bit, then step on the clumps. The soil just falls away, leaving the big nasty roots sitting there on top. I gather them up and burn them at that point. Mwah ha ha, revenge at last!

Shooting Bababerries

My bababerries are the first to shoot! Beating everything else, faster than the grapes, boysenberries, blackberry, or blueberry, or any of the fruit trees. Sweet.

Burning Your Crops?

Ever hear about people burning stuff on their land, "slash and burn agriculture", torching the trees and grass, in order to enrich the soil? I've heard about it plenty, from colonial America, the Brazilian rainforest, rural China.

In Arizona, forget about it! Ashes do have some nice mineral additions, but their biggest effect is to raise the alkalinity of the soil, decreasing the acidity. Nice in an rain forest, very bad idea in Arizona, or anywhere in the mountain West. Our soil is already high pH, way too alkaline. From what I've read, applying ashes is the best way to drastically up the pH of your soil, so, fellow Arizona Victory-Gardeners, just say no!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Soil Analysis, and Rain!

Yup, its actually raining tonight! After such a warm day too.

Picked up a soil test at Home Depot, nothing fancy. It was fun to involve my daughter in helping me with the little science project! My results: highly alkaline, low nitrogen, high phosphorus, low-to-med postash. No idea why phosphorus is high, it does not seem to make sense.

After some research in my old gardening books, I found: To decrease alkaline, I need to add sulfur. Nitrogen increase requires ammonium or bloodmeal.

Of course, to help handle both, I am going to plant-and-plow some legumes. Green manure, the books call it. My row of peas has come up really well so far this spring, so I think I will go with that. I also bought a pack of soy beans at Home Depot tonight, so I'll thrown those in too. No idea where to get the stuff to innoculate them. After I plow that in, and throw in a bunch of compost, the soil should be much more supportive of crops.

Read that blueberries prefer acidic soil, which is crappy for my one blueberry rootling! We will see how it does, as at least its planting hole is well fertilized.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Finding the best site for grapes is similar to that for deciduous fruit trees. They prefer: abundant sunlight; deep, fertile, well-drained soils; and a slight slope (preferably south facing) to drain cold air on chilly nights. Grape vines should be planted 6 to 8 feet apart and will need support of some kind. Backyard gardeners often use old-fashioned wooden arbors or the more economical wires stretched between metal fence posts.

At planting, grapes should be pruned back to two buds per vine. Roots should only be pruned if they are damaged. It is important to keep roots moist at all times before and during planting. Planting holes should be wider and deeper than the root system. Spread the roots evenly over a low cone of soil sighting the plant so that it will be at the same soil height as it was when growing at the nursery. Cover the roots with native soil (not amended soil) and bring the finished grade up to the aforementioned planting height. After planting, mulch the vines with compost, well-rotted manure, straw, hay, or leaves to conserve soil moisture.

First year care is critical to grape vine establishment. Irrigate newly planted grapes often enough to keep soil moist but not waterlogged. Do not fertilize grape vines during the first year. The roots are tender and easily burned. Weed control is also important because competition for resources will slow growth.

Newly planted vines should be pruned back leaving only the most vigorous cane. This single cane should be pruned back to leave only two buds. During the first growing season, stake the plant and leave the stake until the trunk can stand without support. Select the most vigorous one and prune off the other closely. Once the cane reaches 60 inches, cut back to 40-50 inches to promote branching below the cut. During the first dormant season, select four lateral cane near the top and prune off all others. The four remaining canes should be pruned back to two buds. These will develop into fruiting canes.

Mature grape vines should be pruned yearly during the dormant period for maximum yields and maintenance of good growth form. To prune, select two vigorous canes near the top of the plant and two farther down. Next to each of these, choose another cane and cut it back to two buds (these are renewal spurs). After selecting four canes and renewal spurs, cut off all others closely. Finally, prune the remaining four canes back to 8-15 buds. These will produce fruit the following year. During the next dormant season, remove the fruiting canes from the previous year and follow the same procedure.

After the first year, irrigate deeply (3-4 ft.) every 2 to 4 weeks. Soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings. Nitrogen fertilizers should be applied to bearing vines. About one-half pound of ammonium sulfate (21% nitrogen) should be applied to each vine. If you choose to grow your grapes organically, then you must know the percent nitrogen of the organic fertilizer you plan to use. Steer manure is usually about 0.5% nitrogen or approximately one-fortieth the amount found in ammonium sulfate. Apply about 20 pounds of steer manure to get the same amount of nitrogen (40 times as much by weight).


Pomegranates (Punica granatum) are native to southeastern Europe and Asia and have been cultivated in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, and Iran. The Spanish brought them to Mexico, California, and Arizona in the 16th century. Although pomegranates have not attained the popularity of other fruits, they are worthy of a place in your backyard garden.

Pomegranates are easy to grow, have beautiful flowers, are well suited to our desert environment, and have the added benefit of producing delicious fruit. The fruit has flesh-covered seeds can be used as a garnish in fruit cups, salads, desserts, and as a snack. The juice is used in making jellies, puddings, desserts, wine and fruit drinks. Grenadine, made from pomegranate juice, is indispensable in flavoring some beverages. More recently, pomegranates have become increasingly popular for their healthful antioxidant qualities.

Pomegranates grow on woody plants that more closely resemble shrubs than trees. Mature plants are usually 6 to 12 feet in height and can be trained to a tree form. Pomegranate plants are deciduous, have small oval leaves, and are somewhat thorny. They require full sun, tolerate alkaline soils, summer heat, and winter lows to 10 degrees F. They are somewhat drought tolerant, but should be irrigated similar to other fruit trees for optimum fruit quality.

Mature fruits are 2 to 5 inches in diameter, have purple to reddish skin (some varieties are pink), which contain hundreds of seeds. The fruits resemble apples but are actually berries and ripen between September and December. Inside the tough outer skin are seeds, each surrounded by a membrane that encloses a juicy pulp: this is the edible portion of the fruit. The juice is somewhat tart and the seed has a slight nutty flavor. Pomegranates are often juiced and are sometimes used to make jelly.

Handle pomegranate fruit carefully as they bruise easily. Properly stored fruit will retain its freshness and flavor over an extended period of time. Harvested fruit should be stored in a cool area (40-50 degrees F). Ripening will continue to full flavor at these temperatures. Fruit stored at 32-40 degrees F will keep for weeks/months, especially at high relative humidity (80% or greater).

Pomegranates are usually available from nurseries but you may need to call around to locate them. ‘Wonderful’ is a common fruiting variety suitable for the Verde Valley, but there are several other suitable varieties. There are also flowering varieties available but these produce small, inedible fruit. Pomegranates can be grown from seed, but should be propagated from cuttings to ensure consistent fruit quality and characteristics.

As stated above, pomegranates often have a shrubby growth form. This is because they produce many suckers from the root and crown area. If a shrub-type plant is preferred, leave five or six main shoots. Each year, remove one of the old shoots and leave a new basal shoot to replace it. Plants trained to multiple trunks require less frequent care and pruning and come into bearing sooner than plants with only one trunk. To encourage a tree-like form, you can select one trunk and will need to remove suckers on a regular basis. Three to five scaffold branches should be selected starting about 10 inches above the soil level and spaced 4 to 6 inches apart along the trunk.

Pomegranate trees are self-fruitful, so a second tree is unnecessary for pollination. Severe fruit drop during the plant's juvenile period (3-5 years) is not uncommon. Mature trees seem to set and hold fruit better than younger trees. Once established, a very light application of nitrogen fertilizer in the spring can enhance fruit quality and plant vigor.

Pomegranates also have other uses. For instance, a red dye can be extracted from the flowers, a yellow dye from the skin of the fruit, and a black dye from the roots. The wood is also very hard, close-grained, and durable. The plant also contains several alkaloids and tannins in the bark and roots and has been used medicinally for more than 3,000 years.

Cover Crops to Improve Arizona Soil

Cover crops fall into two categories: legumes and grasses. Legumes include peas, beans, clover, alfalfa, vetch, trefoil, and medic. Legumes can be annuals, biennials, or perennials and have the added advantage of being able to fix nitrogen (converting nitrogen in the atmosphere to plant available nitrogen in the soil). Some legumes can fix as much as 200 lbs of nitrogen per acre per year. To ensure an adequate level of nitrogen fixation, legumes must be inoculated with the appropriate strain of Rhizobacteria. These inoculants are inexpensive and the process is simple.

Annual legumes are ideal for short-term plantings in fall or early spring. Biennials grow much more vigorously in the second year and are best planted on areas that will not be cultivated for one year. Perennial legumes, such as alfalfa, grow deep taproots that are very good at improving compacted soil conditions but can be difficult to eliminate from the garden once they have served their purpose.

Grasses do not fix nitrogen, but have a fine textured, fibrous root system that is efficient at stabilizing soils and is easily decomposed to add organic matter to the soil. Some common annual grass cover crops are barley, oats, rye, and wheat. Perennial grasses are usually used in orchards, vineyards, and other areas where tillage is unlikely to occur. These include fescues, orchardgrass, bluegrass, ryegrass.

Many varieties of cover crop seeds may be purchased from organic gardening suppliers through catalogs or the Internet. A simple mix of annual grass (rye or barley) and clover is a great place to get started with cover crops. Annual grasses germinate quickly and act as a nurse crop for the legumes. As time goes on, the grasses provide a scaffold for the legumes to grow upward and spread. Plant about one ounce of annual grass seed mixed with one half ounce of clover seed per 100 square feet. Inoculate clover seed (and other legumes) or purchase freshly inoculated seed. Broadcast onto raked soil, and then cover the seed to a depth of 2-3 times the width of the seed and firm the soil with a rake. Irrigate 1-3 times after planting to establish the cover before cold weather sets in.

Before the cover crop has started to form seed, it should be tilled into the soil as green manure. Green manure adds organic matter, nitrogen and other nutrients that were contained in the leaves, stems and roots of the cover crops. The green manure should be allowed to decompose for at least three weeks before planting. Legumes add nitrogen and decompose easily while grass roots add easily decomposed organic matter. The grass leaves are less easily decomposed and will contribute organic matter over a longer period.

Most cover crops are not allowed to mature and then tilled into the soil as “green manure” prior to summer planting. Once incorporated, the cover crop decomposes in three to four weeks releasing the organic matter and nutrients over the summer growing season.

Cover crop plants can be a single species or a combination of species suited to your climate and gardening objectives. Legumes are almost always used as green manure cover crops because of their ability to convert unavailable nitrogen in the atmosphere into plant-available nitrogen in the soil. Legumes are plants such as alfalfa, peas, beans, clover, vetch, and their relatives (including mesquite and palo verde trees). Many gardeners are aware of this phenomenon, but for those that aren’t, the process is called nitrogen fixation and carried out by bacteria (Rhizobium) that live in the roots of legumes. This is a symbiotic relationship where the legume receives nitrogen from the bacteria and the bacteria receive sugars from the plant.

Quite often, cover crops also include grasses to increase soil organic matter. Grasses have fibrous root systems that utilize nitrogen released by the legumes and decompose readily to contribute organic matter. When tilled in, the tops of the grass plants also contribute nutrients and organic matter.

Legume cover crops can add up to 300 lbs per acre of nitrogen. Some cool season annual legumes suitable for cover crops in north central Arizona include common vetch, hairy vetch, sweet clover, red clover, medic, and fava beans. Alfalfa and other perennial legumes are sometimes used as cover crops. These plants penetrate more deeply in the soil, but may become persistent and difficult to control. All legume seeds should be inoculated with the proper strain of Rhizobium bacteria to ensure successful nitrogen fixation. This information is available in seed catalogs that sell cover crop seeds.

I seeded half of my vegetable garden this fall with a mixture of hairy vetch and cereal rye. I used an inoculant purchased from the supplier that was recommended for hairy vetch. After digging up a vetch seedling this morning, I found that it had nodulated. My plans are to allow this cover crop to grow until 50% of the flowers are in bloom before I mow it and incorporate it into the soil as green manure. The usage of cover crops and green manure is an important sustainable agriculture practice that adds nitrogen and organic matter to the soil and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.

Economic Value of Crops

Economic value of crops
It is difficult to evaluate the economic value of crops grown in the vegetable garden due to the different lengths of time they require for maturity and harvest, the availability of varieties and vegetables types not generally found in the marketplace, and the lack of comparison values for vegetables that are not acceptable by commercial standards (cracked tomatoes, crooked cucumbers, etc.), but which are perfectly usable by the gardener. Nevertheless, several studies have attempted to determine which crops bring the most value per square foot of garden space, partly to aid small-space gardeners in making decisions about what to plant. Of course, if no one in the family likes beets, there is no point in growing them just because they are economically valuable, but this list may help you determine which vegetables to plant and which to buy. Perennial crops are not on the list below because each of the studies was on a one-season basis. Asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, and other perennial crops do also have considerable economic worth. Fruit trees and shrubs are also valuable producers, especially considering the long-term.

Top 15 Vegetables in Economic Value:

Tomatoes, Beet, Green bunching onions, Carrots, Leaf lettuce, Cucumbers, Turnip (green + roots), Peppers, Summer squash, Broccoli,,Edible pod peas, Head lettuce, Onion storage bulbs, Swiss chard, Beans (pole, bush)

Values based on pounds produced per square foot, retail value per pound at harvest time, and length of time in the garden.

Low-Value Crops (not recommended for small spaces):

Corn, Squash, Melons, Pumpkins

Miniature varieties or trellising may increase value per square foot.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Blackberries produce best in full sun, but they can tolerate partial shade. However, plants do not grow or produce well in heavy shade.

Blackberries are sensitive to wet soils. Therefore, drainage is an important factor to consider when you're selecting a site. If blackberry plants are in waterlogged soils for more than a few days at a time, they normally die a slow death from lack of aeration (oxygen) or from subsequent attack by root diseases. Plants do best in a well-drained, fertile, loam soil with moderate water holding capacity. Avoid heavy clay or sandy soils.

Preparing the soil. You should be able to keep your blackberry planting productive for 15 to 20 years, so choose and prepare a site carefully before you establish the planting.

Almost any soil type is suitable for blackberries as long as the drainage is good.

Blackberry plants require about 1 inch of water per week from mid-June through harvest. When rainfall doesn't provide this amount, you should irrigate. Extremely warm and windy conditions make greater amounts of water necessary

A good guide for fertilization is to observe plant growth. Leaves should be a healthy green; a pale green or yellow color may indicate nitrogen deficiency. Canes should grow well and be stout rather than spindly.


I picked up one blueberry at Home Depot as an experiment. Here is some info:

Blueberries could make a good fruit crop for home gardens since they require small space. At present, blueberry plants are not common in home plantings because the plants require highly acidic soil conditions for best results. Few backyard soils in Ohio are naturally acidic enough to grow quality blueberries. The grower of blueberries must, therefore, make extra effort to acidify the soil before plant establishment. Then, the acidity level must be maintained over the life of the planting. Due to the special concerns associated with the rather demanding soil requirements of growing the crop, the soil must be amended with organic matter and the pH must be corrected before proceeding to establish the planting.

Blueberry plants begin to produce fruit in the third season; however, they do not become fully productive for about six years. Once in production, it is necessary to protect the fruit from loss to birds.


Blueberry bushes have very shallow root systems and are very sensitive to water fluctuations. They need at least 1 to 2 inches of water per week. In dry seasons, supplemental watering is essential to obtain good yields of high quality products. However, do not apply water after early September unless soil is very dry.

Blueberry plants normally do not need to be pruned for the first three years. Remove blossoms that appear in the year of planting and second year after planting to stimulate vigorous growth.

It is important to know the anatomy of a blueberry bush before attempting to prune blueberries (Figure 2). During the fourth year, the dormant plants should be pruned in mid-March. At this time, remove dead and weak branches and thin, terminal wood with small buds. Prune interior crossing branches to admit light to the center of the plant.

In the second through twelfth years, apply 1 to 1.5 pounds of ammonium sulfate (2 to 3 pounds of 10-10-10) per 100 feet of row each year for fertility and acidity maintenance. Apply 0.5 pound of the ammonium sulfate at bloom, and the remaining 0.5 pound 4 to 6 weeks later. If plant leaves become chlorotic, apply 2 to 3 ounces of ferrous sulfate or iron chelate around the base of the plants each year.

UPDATE: A summary of my berry-growing efforts is here

Me and the ancient Egyptians

Damn fine engineers, both of us. We both moved giant heavy things with sheer brainpower. That, and the help of rollers.

My jacuzzi was the problem, taking up most of my back patio, and blocking the sun to my raised bed. Dumbasses who built the patio did not reinforce the concrete with rebar, so the weight of the full jacuzzi totally cracked the slab, so I needed to move it if I ever wanted to use it again. I thought about hooking it up to a truck and just pulling it out the way, but it would be tough to get the vehicle in there properly, so I used brainpower instead of horsepower.

I scrounged some old plastic pipes, that I had purchased but not used in my house addition, and used four sections as rollers underneath the jacuzzi, and just pushed it across the ground. Got the edges off the ground in the first place with a crow bar, and with some help from my daughter, boom! Just like the ancient Egyptians, who moved their pyramid blocks on rollers... Brilliant!

Sweet. I feel like a backyard genius. I can hook the jacuzzi up there an use it, or, as I am thinking, use it as a cistern, since it is close to the garden beds over there. Maybe even catch some roof rainwater in it.


I planted three of these things, purchased from Home Depot. Some info on 'em:

One of the largest raspberries, the Bababerry is red, sweet, firm, and has an excellent flavor. This berry is great for hot regions and mild winters. It bears large crops in early Summer and a small crop in the fall.

'Bababerry' needs some chilling in the winter and is a heat tolerant cultivar. Fruits are borne in late spring and fall. Raspberries are biennials that perform best in full sun with plenty of water and a good fertilizing when blooms begin. A slow warming spring, such as in the Pacific Northwest, is required for optimal flower and fruit production. Staking is also usually necessary. White flowers are borne from late April to June followed by the much anticipated red or sometimes yellow fruit which ripens in late summer. Birds also love the fruit, so you may have to share the harvest. Plants should be placed 3' apart in rows between 7-9' apart. Fruit is produced on one year old wood. For best results, cut down all fruited canes to ground level at the end of the season. The Rubus genus is also made up of flowering, ornamental shrubs, either evergreen or deciduous, some of which are native species.

Any of many species of fruit-bearing bushes of the genus Rubus in the rose family. When picked, the juicy red, purple, or black berry separates from a core, whereas in the related blackberry the core is part of the fruit. Both so-called berries are actually aggregate fruits. Red raspberries are propagated by suckers (see suckering) from the roots of the parent plant or from root cuttings. Black and purple varieties have arched canes and are propagated by layering of the shoot tips. Raspberries contain iron and vitamin C. They are eaten fresh and are also very popular in jams, as a pastry filling, and as a flavouring for liqueurs.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Added ten new strawberry shoots, from a ten pack at Home Depot, making a total of 20. They seem to be doing really well in the raised bed. It is in a protected part of the yard, so I hope to keep it alive into the summer. I have tried strawberries years ago, in those clay strawberry pots with all the openings in this sides, as conveniently pictured for you here on this page. Yeah, that looks great at first, but forget about it, not in Phoenix. Nothing in clay does well in Phoenix, it is just gets baked up in the heat. So I am onto plan B. We shall see how they do.

Great warm day today. I tilled a bunch, and laid out three new sections about 3x13 each: carrot, tomato, and hot pepper. Good lord, I love my tiller!

A victory garden is something you can't just set up in a day. It takes a while, just to get the soil prepared, loose and grass free. I am getting my victory garden up now, before I really need it, so it will be ready later, when I really do need it. Plus I can get my knowledge base tightened up and really get to know my soil and microclimates, so I can make my mistakes now, when it is really not a big deal. I am already realizing I did some things that I probably shouldn't have, just a few weeks ago.

Mulching trees with newspaper is pretty cool, but you have to bury the edges of the paper under the berm walls of the tree basin, or the wind will pick up the edges and blow them around your yard. Also, thrown down the whole newspaper, all together, or at least a couple sections folded up. Anything less is too lightweight.

Oh yeah, also threw down a bunch of sunflower seeds, that have been sitting out for two years, I collected them off of my sunflowers two years ago. I don't know if they are too old, or if it is too early for sunflowers. I need to thrown down some nasturtium too, also two years old. Now those are some pretty flowered plants.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Rough Weather Today, Eh?

Read an article today about sub-freezing temps all the way down into the Southeast. Wheew, man, I do feel for you, folks! Hold on, let me check, yeah, it's all the way down to 68 degrees right now (a bit after 10pm). Today's high was 78, and let's see, oh, goodness, it will get down to 48 tonight. Brrrrrr........

Strawberry shoot is coming up nice, greening up from bareroot in about a week. Mmm, can't wait for the strawberries. I have them planted in a raised bed, in a shaded and cool part of the yard, hoping they can withstand our Phoenix sun long into the summer. We shall see!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


My wife swears by these things, having grown them as a girl, and I am looking forward to eating them by the bucket. We got three of them for $5 each at Home Depot a week or so ago. We put them by the back fence, so they'll get some shade from the summer sun. I'll tell you if the following advice works for Arizona, in a couple months. Hopefully mine will look as good as the ones in the picture.

To grow boysenberries at home, find a patch of land which receives full sun and minimal wind. Till the soil thoroughly, working in plenty of compost and mulch. Plant boysenberry vines approximately three feet (one meter) apart in the late spring in USZA zones 5 and colder, and late fall in zones 6 and warmer.

Install trellises for the trailing vines to grow on so that they will be pulled up off the ground, making the boysenberries easier to harvest and less likely to rot. Typically, the boysenberry vines will bear fruit in May, after which they should be cut down close to the ground to encourage fresh shoots, which will bear berries again the next year. You should water the boysenberry plants thoroughly after cutting them back, and retrain the vines as they grow up.

Arizona Winter

Yeah, not so bad. Reading about sub-artic temps in the northern half of the country, as I water my peas and carrots! In my a-shirt! ha! It only reached 73 degrees today...

Oh man, God bless Arizona. Is there a better place in the world for a Victory Garden? I think not!

Here's a pic of my son, with a fresh orange. Great orange crop this year, no freezes to ruin 'em.

I just finished mulching my baby trees, with newspaper. Probably should have done that last summer for the grapefruit tree, live and learn. The picture is pre-mulching. Over the winter I went nuts at Moon Valley half-price tree sale, and got the rest of the orchard: peach, two apples, plum, apricot/plum, lemon, almond, nectarine, fig, and pomegranate.

Also, got some bareroot fruits, which are already greening up after only a few days in the ground: 3 raspberries, 3 boyzenberries, 1 blue berry, 1 blackberry. And oh yeah, two grapes, one green and one red.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Moon Tonight

Incredible! I was sculpting berms for flood basins when I saw it peeking above the horizon. Had to take a break, called my whole family to see it, and snapped a few pics.

Are urban gardens an efficient use of resources?

While most successful gardeners don't collect data and make calculations on the efficiency (the ratio of output per unit of input) of their gardens, it can be an important way for urban gardeners to become more knowledgeable and aware of garden dynamics and ways to increase efficiency. It can also contribute to the design and improvement of larger projects, and provide input for discussions of government policy.

Tom Orum, Nancy Ferguson, Daniela Soleri, and I were inspired to measure inputs (including water, manure and labor) and outputs (weights and market value of produce) in our Tucson, Arizona, household gardens in the early-1980s, because so many people we talked to in Tucson thought that gardening in the Sonoran Desert was a hobby for people who could afford to pay exorbitant prices for produce in terms of their water bills.

We found that this assumption was not at all accurate. We worked in our gardens only 2-3 hours per week, and did not try to increase the value of produce by growing crops with high market value, yet the value of the produce from these gardens was about eight times the cost of the irrigation water (although the net returns provided a return on labor of only about $1.00 an hour). In addition, the gardens supplied significant proportions of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for 10 nutrients, including over 50% of the RDAs for vitamins A and C for more than 6 months out of the year. Yields over 3 and 2.5 years in these small (77.4 and 58.3 m2) gardens were 1.2-6.5 kg/m2, compared with commercial vegetable production in the United States which averaged about 1.7 kg/m2 at the time of our study. These findings of the nutritional, economic, and agronomic efficiency of gardens are supported by other studies of gardens and small-scale intensive agriculture.

In dryland cities water is often the most expensive input in terms of money, time, and/or equipment to extract or deliver it. A key to improving overall efficiency is, therefore, increased water efficiency, in terms of the amount produced (measured as weight, market value or nutrients) per unit of water used (measured as volume, cost, or cost of labor to obtain and apply it).

Overall water costs can be reduced by adjusting cropping patterns to increase production in seasons when efficiency of output per unit of irrigation water is the highest. For example in one of our Tucson gardens rainfall supplied only 5% of the total water input in the hot, dry spring (April-June), 16% in the hot, wet summer (July-September), and 24% in the cooler, drier fall (October-December), but 53% in the cool, wet winter (January-March). Yet many people first coming to Tucson think only of planting in the spring. Storing food grown in periods of high water use efficiency for consumption during periods of low efficiency can also increase overall efficiency. The amount of water that needs to be imported into the household can be reduced by harvesting rainwater, and gray water can also be recycled.

Evapotranspiration (ET) can be reduced by reducing evaporation from the soil and leaf surfaces, and transpiration from plants in excess of that which occurs when crop requirements for water are fully met. Evaporation from the soil surface can be reduced by flooding diked beds quickly or by trickle irrigation, rather than watering the surface slowly or sprinkling. Applying water only to the root zone by subsurface irrigation, for example by filling buried pots with water, also reduces evaporation. Mulching, shading and windbreaks can reduce ET and materials from the garden, like sunflower stalks, carizo canes, tree branches and palm fronds can be used to construct them. Runoff can be reduced by increasing infiltration with diked beds or sunken beds that hold water in the garden, and by mulching to increase infiltration. In addition to not over-watering, deep percolation can be reduced by increasing soil water-holding capacity. The main way to do this is by adding organic matter, although in very sandy soils more clayey soil can be mixed in.

Composting is the most readily available source of organic matter, and composting is, therefore, a very important part of any urban garden. Making compost in dryland cities does not have to be labor and water-use intensive. Compost piles can be constructed whenever sufficient material has been accumulated, wet down and covered with soil, branches or palm fronds to reduce evaporation, and left until finished. While the outside layer of such a pile won't be broken down, the rest of it will.