Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wild Wheat Harvested

A lot of Arizonans do not water their lawns during the winter, when the bermuda grass goes dormant, but just for the fun of it, I started watering a few years ago.

At first, just an odd and ugly collection of weeds popped up on that barren land, which I would dutifully cut with my lawnmower, hoping I was at least helping the soil a bit with the mulch. But gradually, over a few winters, the content of the winter lawn began to change.

Wouldn't you know it, my winter lawn went from totally wild to semi-tame! The object of my love was definitely the wild yellow clover, which is so soft and sweet looking. (Let's never mind the nasty sharp seed pods it puts out in April when it dries up, for the moment...) I even harvested the clover seed this year, thinking to maybe use it in the back yard coming up, to help restore the garden soil.

All kinds of grasses, for sure, also come up in the wild front year. But this year, most spectacularly, wild wheat! For some reason, tons of it came up this year. Once I realized what it was, I stopped mowing it, and just let it grow. Next year I am going to plant this wild winter wheat like a real farmer, by gum. The grains are as big and soft as the ones in the seed packet I paid three bucks for, it is the real thing for sure.

Radish seeds

Radish seeds are cool! I did not expect them to look like little pea pods, but there they are!

The birds ate them all. Every... Last... One... Thousands of tender little seed pods cracked open, seeds devoured. I guess they were as tender and juicy as they looked. So much for saving the seeds this year. But, a great knowledge source nontheless. All in all, a really useful crop. What you don't eat in salads, you can let go to seed and feed your chickens.

Flowering Favas

The favas have responded to the cooler weather this week, and to being under a peg board for some protection from the sun. They are growing well, and putting out some nice cute little white flowers. Yes, I was crazy to plant favas in late February, but it looks like I'm getting my seeds worth! ha

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Broccoli flowers

My winter row of broccoli was an almost complete failure, producing only one broccoli plant. It is probably our favorite dinner veggie, but I just had to sit and watch it grow mouth-wateringly large, without harvesting it. It's cool though, I love watching broccoli flower.

The Secret to Arizona Gardening: High Berms

Berms and deep watering.

I just raised up and strengthened my berms this week, to help the plants cope with the extra heat. Small berms are ok for the mild spring months, when just a light soaking will keep the soil moist. But for the 90+ degree days of late spring/early summer, a deeper soaking is necessary.

With only shallow watering, the plant roots only grow shallowly, because the water never really penetrates the soil more than an inch or so. With deep watering, the soil will get moist deep down, and the roots will follow. Those deep roots will keep your plants much healthier when the real hot days hit.

So in order to get those deep waterings, you have to let the water pile up and sit for awhile, and slowly set down in where you want it to go. I recommend berm edges at least 4 inches high all around your growing area. That way you can flood your growing area with 2-3 inches of water at a time, and the water stays right where you want it.

Just be careful to watch that the water doesn't rise above the berm edge. Once the water flows over the edge, it will quickly rip a huge hole in your berm wall and all the water will escape.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Is Amaranth Good for Chicken Feed

I have run into a couple internet discussions that questioned the wisdom of using amaranth for chicken feed. Someone had mentioned that he found one study that questioned the use of amaranth for chickens, because of of anti-nutritional factors (tannins, trypsin inhibitors, lectins, and saponins) that can actually lead to weight loss or sickness in chickens.

However, after having researched a number of scientific papers on the subject, it seems those negative results only occurred when over-feeding amaranth, above 20% of total feed, to very young chickens. When used as a reasonable portion of a balanced mix, amaranth has been shown to have a number of beneficial effects.

For example, one study concluded:

It follows from the results of our work, that amaranth has a high nutrient value, low toxicity and makes an essential positive influence on productivity, integrity and physiological state of egg-laying hens of practically all age groups, without the increase of both cost and consumption of forages. Such effect of amaranth is exclusevely the result of normalization of metabolic processes and intensification of functional activity of basic organism systems. The positive effects, which were revealed by us, are related, on the one hand, to the high content of irreplaceable amino acids in amaranth, and on the other hand, to the unique vitamin, lipid and mineral composition of amaranth.

A second study found: The suitability of amaranth grain or green parts for animal diets has been tested in trials on rats, lambs, rabbits, ruminants, pigs and broiler chickens. In most of the trials, no negative effects on feed intake, feed conversion and live weight gains were recorded. Our results showed that amaranth can fully replacemeat-and-bone meals in the diets for broiler chickens.

A further study concluded:
High content of crude protein, favourable composition of amino acids and fibre of raw amaranth grain and high coefficients of apparent digestibilityof nutrients in a diet with 10% amaranth grain predetermine raw amaranth grain to be a suitable supplement of conventional feeds in feed mixtures for broiler chickens.

The original study above points out that even if young chickens who are overfed amarath have slight problems, full grown chickens don't have any problem with it: "results from a trial conducted during one stage of growth need not reflect the response at some other stage due to the systematic changes that took place as the bird aged. The improved performance of older birds on amaranth diets in the current study indicated that the grain might be more suitable in broiler finisher diets."

The study concluded that the anti-nutrative factors of raw grain amaranth were not significant: "Utilisation of the grain improved with age of the birds demonstrating that raw grain amaranth would be more suitable as an ingredient for broiler finisher diets. Histopathological changes of the internal organs were generally moderate and could not be attributed to the feeding of amaranth."

The positive benefits of amaranth on chicken diets have been well-established, even finding that amaranth can replace protein supplements:

Nutrient digestibility of feed mixtures with 10% crude, heat treated amaranth grain or of amaranth-free diet was studied in balance trials on male broiler chickens. Higher coefficients of nutrient digestibility (crude protein,ether extract, NDF, ADF, and gross energy) were recorded in the diet with crude amaranth grain compared to amaranth-free diet. Sensory indicators of meat of chicken broilers fed diets supplemented with 10% amaranth (crude or heat treated amaranth grain and dried biomass) were examined. Meat samples from chickens fed amaranth in the diet showed better in all sensory indicators under testing (taste,tenderness, texture, colour) compared to the diet containing fish meal.

No negative effects of diets with amaranth on the above indicators were observed. Higher content of fibre in dry amaranth exerted no effect on the studied indicators. Similarly, other studies did not find differences in live weights of broiler chickens fed diets with amaranth both heat treated and untreated, compared to the control.

Experimental groups of chickens fed amaranth containing diets gave results that were comparable in all performance characteristics with the control group fed animal protein.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


So far, most disappointingly, my amaranth crop has been a near-total failure. Out of the thousands of tiny seeds deposited in 3 rows, I have seen a grand total of 3 seedlings, only one of which surives. But boy, if I can only get one of them to thrive, they do produce seeds in abundance! I may have to order another seed packet, 'cause I do love the sight of those tall purple amaranth stalks!

I was really hoping to produce a big heap of chicken feed out of all those seeds. The nutritious leaves would be perfect for chickens and rabbits too. Here is some info on why the amaranth grain could be so useful, although not part of our traditional American gardening culture.

Amaranthus grain contains a high level of protein, between 16%-18%, much more than the cereals of the Poaceae family (grass family: wheat, barley, oats, rice, corn, etc). On the other hand the protein found in Amaranthus is one of the most balanced known and this fact alone is sufficient to consider the Amaranthus as one of the most promising plants for the nutrition of mankind.

If the ideal protein (according to the values of the FAO) is placed at 100, it is very interesting to compare the values of the most widely used proteins. The protein in Amaranthus (as well as in Quinoa) reaches a value of 75, corn reaches a value of 44, wheat a value of 60, Soya a value of 68 and cows milk a value of 72.

The protein of cereals used in the West is very poor in lysine, one of the amino acids essential for good health. Amaranthus contains twice as much lysine as wheat and 3 times as much as corn. The National Academy of Science in the USA has established that a mixture of corn flour and Amaranthus flour would give the ideal protein level of 100.

The nutritional value of Amaranthus grain is one of the essential qualities of indexing, of the evaluation and improvement of thousands of plants used by all the peoples of the planet. Thus at the NBPGR in Shimla, in India, researchers have discovered varieties of Amaranthus containing as much as 22% protein and as much as 7% lysine in the protein, although the average was 5.5%. Once again it should be stressed that this level of lysine in Amaranthus grain is essential to the diet of the Third World whose basic foodstuff is nearly always cereal.

As well as its protein, Amaranthus grain contains a lot of calcium, phosphorous, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamin E and vitamin B.
It is this nutritional wealth which places the value of Amaranthus leaves above all other leaf vegetables. The leaves of Amaranthus are in fact an excellent source of carotene, iron, calcium, protein, vitamin C and other trace elements. By way of comparison there are for example in the leaves of grain Amaranthus, 3 times more vitamin C, 10 times more carotene, 15 times more iron and 40 times more calcium than in tomatoes. The leaves of Amaranthus contain 3 times more vitamin C, 3 times more calcium and 3 times more niacin than spinach leaves.

Let us take for example Amaranthus palmeri, widely eaten by the Yaqui, Papago and Pima peoples of the Sonora desert in America. It contains 3 times more calories, 18 times more vitamin A, 13 times more vitamin C, 20 times more calcium and 7 times more iron than lettuce!

Amaranthus, whether grain or leaf, constitutes a veritable solar factory. It is one of the privileged plants of the planet, which use a system of photosynthesis called C4. This means of photosynthesis is particularly efficient in conditions of drought, extreme heat and great solar intensity. It allows these plants to convert twice the amount of solar energy into ‘growth’ than plants, which use the system called C3, and with the same amount of water. The productivity of Amaranthus varies considerably according to the variety, climate, richness of the soil, etc.

It can yield between 500kg and 5 tonnes a hectare. The varieties introduced into USA by the Rodale institute and other centres, such as Plainsman and K432, are said to produce on average 2 tonnes per hectare. Yields up to 6 tonnes a hectare have been achieved on certain experimental plots.

The seeds of the Amaranthus plant are incredibly tiny and so a gramme will contain 1,000 seeds and possibly as many as 3,000 seeds. It is not unusual to have magnificent panicles of more than 100,000 seeds. It has even been reported that 1 plant contained as many as 450,000 seeds. This is hardly surprising when you see a self-sown plant, unimpeded by other plants, reaching 3m in height with a width of 1m and with stems 5cm across at the nose.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Beet Update!

Beets, doing well. Why am I even growing them? I have no idea. I have never eaten a beet in my life. I hope they are good. Because my beet bed is smokin!

Favas dealing with heat, and flowering broccoli

Well, the hot weather the last couple days is definitely stressing out the favas. It's cool to see them turn up their leaves in the heat of the day. So far they are doing remarkably well for what is supposed to be a winter-only crop. Not wilting, just turning up their leaves.

Other heat signs: broccoli going to flower!

Bababerries ripening!

We shall see how these cute little hot weather raspberries taste! The first fruit ripening of the year, beating even the strawberries.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Pumpkin & Watermelon

My pumpkin vines are going nuts. I interplanted with corn, and the corn is having a hard time keeping up. I actually have had to thin a handful of the pumpkin plants, as well as whack off a few of their big leaves to give some of the corn some light.

Thriving pumpkin plants:

Pumpkin/Corn interplanting:

The pumpkins are also leaving the watermelons behind. Luckily, I did not interplant them, so the watermelons have time to grow a bit before being totally dominated.

Little Watermelon plants:

Stawberries Doing Well

My strawberries are doing well in the partial shade raised bed environment. I put one out in the field in full sun, just to see how it does by comparison, and the raised bed/partial shade ones are definitely doing better, even though they get far far less sun.

You can see the little green berries forming! I hope they are as sweet and sugary as I remember.


Hi Stacey, here is a pic of my wild nasturtium. You can see it came up in the little crack between the patio and the raised bed. It is in a protected place, getting mostly shade all day, filtered through a tree, and gets full shade in the late afternoon.

It is doing better there then the ones I planted out in full sun! Go figure.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Corn, Wheat, and Soy

The typical gardening book is focused on vegetables, and maybe herbs and flowers. But the serious Victory Gardener might also be concerned with the basic staple foods known as grains. Grains are the basis for much of what we eat, and can be used to feed livestock and chickens as well.

I just found this cool little knowledge tidbit, maybe it will help you, related to calculations on your fertilizer inputs for the three big staples:

Corn consumes roughly 5.6 times more fertilizer than soybeans and 2.5 times more nutrients than wheat. Wheat consumes roughly 2.2 times as much fertilizer as soybeans. Nutrients being measured by pounds per acre, combined nitrogen + phosphate + potash.