Friday, February 27, 2009

Winter Weeds Blooming and Seeding

I love winter weeds. I have the most beautiful winter front lawn thanks to 'em. I call it clover, but I really have no idea if it is a true clover or not. Whatever it is, it makes the nicest most soft lawn. It is coming up with these pretty little yellow flowers right now. (I love it now, but it will produce these nasty sharp pointed seed pods later.) Here it is:

And this weird grass stuff, that if you let it grow, is more like sorghum or wheat stalks. This stuff is just awesome! I am totally going to harvest its seeds this year. If anyone knows what it is actually called, let me know. Here are some pics:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Winter Crops Coming UP

By gum, if I can can do it, anybody can.

Peas getting large!

Cauliflower doing well.

A row of lettuce and something else (ooops, I forgot to write it down. Cabbage maybe)


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Summer Garden Madness - the Arizona Raised Bed Method

Yeah, I went nuts today in the backyard. We aren't supposed to plant our summer crops here in Phoenix until March 1, but we are having a warming trend already, so why wait??? I planted corn, watermelons, pumpkins, cucumbers, beans, okra, peppers, onions, turnips, and leeks.

I also invented the Phoenix Raised Bed Method. It is a take off on the French Bio-Intensive Double Dig Method. In the Bio-Intensive Method, you dig down a shovels-worth, remove the dirt, then dig again, before replacing the original earth. Thus, you have up to 1 and a 1/2 feet of loose soil to plant in.

Well, in the Phoenix desert, the farther you go down, the harder it gets. Once you get past the sandy dirt layer, you might just hit caliche, which is literally rock hard. Not the mention all the actual rocks you will have to dig out. In other words, digging down sucks. So here is what I did:

I tilled the ground pretty good, producing about 8 inches of soft fluffy soil. Then, instead of continuing to dig down, a la the Biointensive way, I started shoveling UP, making big piles of soft earth. In other words, removing about 6-8 inches of top soil, and putting it right on top if the soil next to it. I then leveled off the top of the pile, leaving little berm walls around the edges for flood irrigation.

Viola! A foot and a half deep garden bed of soft fluffy soil for the plant roots to luxuriate in. I added some blood meal (for nitrogen) and garden sulfur (to lower pH) for good effect.

I created one big plot that way, about 6x8, and four smaller plots, about 2x6 each. Here's a pic of the smaller ones.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sorghum in Arizona

Got my seed packs last week from Native Seeds SEARCH, including one pack of Sorghum, called Gila River Kana.

Here is the basics on sorghum:

Sorghum came to be adapted to, and popular in, areas where it was too hot and dry to grow corn. It’s adaptation to dry conditions is due to the fact that it is able to remain dormant during drought and then resume growth; its leaves roll as they wilt thus presenting less surface for transpiration; its waxy leaves and stems protect from drying; and the large fibrous root system extracts moisture from soil.

Fertilize the soil before planting because sorghum is easily burned by fertilizer. Try to get a low pH in the soil for the sorghum to do well. Seeds are typically planted at the time the soil is safely between 65 to 70 degrees F at a depth of 4 inches. Once the seed is planted, cover it with 1 inch of regular soil or 1 ½ inches of sandy soil. The seeds should be from 6 to 8 inches apart and in rows that are 3 to 3 ½ feet apart. Don't worry about watering too much. Sorghum is very tolerant to both drought and flooding.

Growing the sorghum cane is just the first challenge. Then comes the processing. Press the cane to extract its juice, then boil it down until it thickens into dark brown syrup. After cooking, the sorghum syrup is about 80 per cent sugar.

Here is a nice report on an heirloom sorghum test:

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Raised Bed Gardening in Phoenix

If you have the money to set up the proper soil mixture in a raised bed, this is a nice way to go. The cool thing about the raised bed method is that you can set it up on any surface, even concrete, which is what our soil seems like anyway. The amount of labor setting up a raised bed is almost certainly less than a in-ground Arizona garden, because pouring in your own perfect, spongy and rich soil from bags is definitely easier than having to break up and dig down into the Arizona's high-alkaline hardpan and caliche, fighting indestructable bermuda grass every step of the way. It might even be more cost effective in the long run than trying to improve the junky Arizona soil, especially when you consider the fact that you are getting higher crop yields.

I set up one raised bed in my backyard, and the radishes planted there are ginormous, much bigger than the ones in the field. I used the basic soil recipe from Square Foot Gardening, but I actually didn't have vermiculite (not being totally sure where to get any), so I just substituted top soil. So my mix was 1/3 organic compost, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 top soil, all from bags from Home Depot. So far so good, the radishes I planted there are big, and the strawberries look real healthy.

Here is the website for the Square Foot method for further inspiration:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Global Food Crisis Looms

I hate to harp on this too much, but the word needs to get out somehow: the world may be facing a major food crisis soon. Reading the following article, I get the impression even I didn't realize how bad things are:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Planting Guide for southern Arizona

Got this great planting guide from Native Seed SEARCH, which collects heirloom seeds from the Southwest, based in Tucson. Click on it to get the full-sized image.

I just ordered a bunch of exotic stuff from them, stuff you don't normally see on the seed rack: (Sonoran) amaranth, (Gila River) sorghum, (Guatamalan) fava beans, (Tahono) maize, (Pima) wheat, (Oodham) peas, (Apache) sunflowers. A bit on the pricey side at $3 a pack, but it should be worth it!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Severe Drought in China affects wheat crop

There is an extremely severe drought affecting China right now, as you can see below, which will further exacerbate the upcoming food shortages. You may not realize, I sure didn't know, that China is the world's leading producer of wheat.

Northern and central China have had little precipitation since November. Many places have not had rainfall for more than 100 days. In the drought, more than 4.3 million residents face a shortage of drinking water, as do two million livestock, officials said The drought has hit at least 12 provinces, including the wheat-producing areas in Henan, Anhui and Shandong provinces. Chinese media says the total area affected has reached 1,370 million hectares (3,385 million acres).

Over the weekend, Chinese soldiers loaded rockets with cloud-seeding chemicals and fired them into the sky over drought-stricken areas in the effort to produce rain. Over the long term, China plans to divert water from its two longest rivers to drought-stricken areas. However, it is still going to be difficult to get water to mountainous areas and remote farmland. Many farms in China rely on rain, because irrigation systems are poor. Some places are getting 80 percent less rain than they normally do, according to the Flood Control and Drought Relief Office.

U.S. wheat futures extended gains on Friday, supported by a drought in China that has threatened the crop and prompted the government to declare an emergency in key wheat-growing areas of the country. "One of the reasons it made those gains yesterday and today is the announcement from China regarding the severity of drought which I think is going to tighten the global wheat balance sheet for 2009 and 2010."

China, the world's largest producer of wheat, has declared an emergency over a drought which could damage its important wheat crop, threatening further hardship for farmers amid slumping economic growth. The absence of rain or snow since November has affected 9.5 million hectares of farmland -- 37,000 square miles, or 43 percent of the winter wheat sources.

As the world's top consumer of wheat, China has bought Australian, British and U.S. grain in recent months because of lower international prices and the nation could tap the international market again.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Food Prices Rising

I am growing a Victory Garden because I am putting my money where my mouth is. Two months ago, I foresaw worldwide food shortages this summer, with a spike in prices here in America. The evidence continues to mount.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Food Commodity Prices Rising

Agri-Food commodity prices are not falling. They have fallen, and are now rising. Reality is that the world continues to move over time into an era of global Agri-Food shortages. And since Agri-Food cannot be produced in a factory, neither governments nor charismatic leaders can change that situation.

The growth in the underlying demand for Agri-Food varies little with short-term economic cycles. Rather, longer term trends will dominate the future prices for Agri-Foods. Each year for the foreseeable future about 15 million people will move into the middle class in China. That will happen regardless of what happens to Chinese exports to the U.S. in the coming week. Of course, the actual number might be less in one year and more in other.

Over time the compounding effect of their demand for Agri-Food will place a considerable strain on the global Agri-Food balance. At times the question dealt with how China would feed itself. With the changing income demographics in the next decade, the question will change. How will the rest of the world afford to eat? Is your portfolio ready to ride this Agri-Food Super Cycle?

Victory Gardens Returning in Force

An article from the Financial Times:

Americans are turning in increasing numbers to their back yards to save money, with leading US seed merchants reporting a dramatic surge in early sales of carrots, tomato and pepper plant seeds.

George Ball, chairman of W. Atlee Burpee, which sells directly to gardeners and via retailers such as Home Depot, told the Financial Times that sales of vegetable seeds had grown 20-30 per cent this year.

The increase, he said, follows a similar jump in sales last year, and compares with previous annual growth levels of about 12 per cent.

Mr Ball said belt-tightening and economic concerns were the dominant factors driving demand, which had been stimulated last year by the high cost of petrol, and food safety concerns, following a scare over contaminated store-bought salad greens.

Richard Chamberlain, president of Harris Seeds, which supplies both commercial growers and gardeners, estimated that sales of seeds to gardeners were up by 50 per cent this year, with the company seeing a surge in first-time customers on its website.

“You’ll be seeing people digging over their lawns and planting vegetables,” he said

The Importance of Orchards

Having an orchard as part of your Victory Garden is a good idea. For one, letting a tree grow your food is pretty darn easy. For two, your trees roots go deep into the soil, and will bring up many nutrients. You can then access those nutrients in the fruits and fallen leaves, using them to compost and enrich your garden. Trees can also help moderate your yard's micro-climate, providing shade and cool against our scorching heat.

An amazing variety of fruit trees do well here in Phoenix. Take advantage of the sales going on in the nurseries right now, like Moon Valley's tree blowout.

A bunch of my trees put out blossoms this week. The apple blossoms are a real pretty pink.

The almond tree is just plain amazing. The whole tree just exploded in blooms.

The lemon tree is also putting out tons of flowers.

The other trees are a bit slower. I am, in fact, worried about my aprium tree, which looks as dead as can be. The peach is greening up, but the plums are still totally dormant. The cherry is putting out shoots, and the nectarine is greening up a bit too. The figs are bare and sad looking, as well as the pomegranate.

Fava Beans

Here is a nice article on Fava beans, they look like a great crop to help our nitrogen-poor soil. Fava beans are not that heat-friendly, and should be planted in October/November or January/February here in AZ. (Why not December? I don't know! I am going to try it this year, just to see what happens...)

Fava beans are classified as legumes because they produce a "bean," and because they fix nitrogen in the soil. Garden beans (p. vulgaris) and peas will fix 60 to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre, clovers up to 100 pounds, and fava’s the best of all-- up to 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Sixty pounds of nitrogen per acre is enough to feed a succeeding crop of beets, carrots, etc. One-hundred pounds will feed corn, lettuce, or squash. Two-hundred pounds of nitrogen per acre is sufficient to grow the heaviest feeders.

Fava’s are excellent at rejuvenating older garden sites. One-third of the plot can be overwintered with fava’s twice, with the second season's crop being tilled under in spring as green manure, followed by row crops. Then another third of the garden can be rotated into favas, etc.

Fava beans may grow 6 feet high by early spring, and make excellent silage or green manure. They are very tolerant of heavy, wet winter clay soils. Their extensive root system breaks up soil to 2 feet deep, and brings up soluble nutrients from 10 feet deep.

For human consumption, fava beans can be harvested very early (say February or March) and eaten as with peas, pod and all. As the beans mature in the pod, they can be eaten as shelled lima beans. When mature and dried, they can be preserved easily without any special preservation techniques or energy consumption, and used in place of lima beans in any lima recipe. Since fava’s usually require little fertilizer or irrigation, and can be consumed at various stages in their growth, they may well considered an excellent survival food crop.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

High pH Crops

Arizona soil is high pH, so if you are creating a victory garden, it is probably a good idea to choose crops that tolerate the higher ranges of pH. After a bit of research, here they are:

Beans (6.0-7.5)
Beets (6.0-7.5)
Broccoli (6.7-7.2)
Celery (5.5-7.5)
Leeks (6.0-7.5)
Okra (6.5-7.5)
Onions (6.0-7.5)
Orach (7.3-8.0)
Spinach, Malibar (6.0-7.5)
Spinach, New Zealand (6.5-7.5)
Sunflower (6.0-7.5)

Those are the highest, but there a bunch of other popular crops that go almost as high:
Amaranth (6.0-7.0)
Carrots (5.5-6.8)
Cauliflower (6.0-7.0)
Garlic (6.0-7.0)
Lettuce (6.0-6.8)
Melon (6.0-7.0)
Peas (6.0-7.0)
Pepper (6.0-7.0)
Pumpkin (6.0-7.0)
Radish (5.5-6.8)
Spinach (6.0-7.0)
Soybean (6.0-7.0)
Tomato (6.0-7.0)
Turnip (5.5-6.8)

By the way, high pH (called alkaline) is problematic because it makes iron and phosphorus unavailable to your plants. To lower your pH, add sulfur. Peat moss is also a common acidifying addition.

Compost and organic material in general also moderate pH, not to mention adding some all-important nitrogen to the ground. When preparing your victory garden, start hoarding leaves and grass cuttings. Till it into the soil for best results, about a month before planting if possible. If you have already planted, make a compost pile out of it for future use.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Creating Garden Beds for Beets

Created a beet bed today. With my tiller, no problemo! I love my tiller. AZ gardening is soooo much better with a tiller. I have done gardens solely by shovel, but let me tell you, a tiller is worth it. Creating garden beds is a snap. I till about a 5x12 area, then take a hoe to it, then level it out, building up berms around the side to keep the water in. Here is a pic of my tiller turning AZ hardpan into soft fluffy soil.

Must have berms when AZ gardening! Otherwise the water just rolls off the dirt. With berms, you can give your crops and trees a deep watering. It is extra important to get those deep well-watered roots in our climate, so your crops can survive the heat. With shallow roots, they will burn up fast. Here is a pic of my beet bed I made tonight.

Making the perfect irrigation bed is easy: till the dirt loose, hoe it fluffy (and take out the rocks and roots), then rake it level. Make it as level as you can, it is worth it to avoid water run-off and pooling. The best effect is little waves in the dirt, to help the water settle evenly, as in the pic below.