Sunday, May 31, 2009

Okra - the Hot Weather Veggie

Without a doubt, the okra is doing the best in the early summer heat. While the squash, cucumbers, sunflowers, and pumpkins droop in the daily furnace, nary a sign of wilt in any of the okra. Very impressive.

And to top it all off, the prettiest flowers of all! Really exotic looking.

More info on okra:

The pods should be picked or cut off while they are tender and immature, just 2 to 3 inches long. They must be picked often—at least every other day. When the stem is difficult to cut, the pod is probably too old to use. The large pods rapidly become tough and woody.

Okra seed does not keep well. Buy fresh seed each season, or save seed of non- hybrid varieties yourself by allowing a few pods on your best plant to mature. When the pods turn brown and begin to split at the seams, harvest them and shell the seeds from the pods. Dry seed thoroughly for several days, then store in a cool, dry place in tightly closed containers until next season.

Refrigerate unwashed, dry okra pods in the vegetable crisper. Wet pods will quickly mold and become slimy. Okra will keep for only two or three days.

Okra exudes a unique juice which is responsible for its thickening power in the famous Louisiana Creole gumbo dish. Aside from gumbo, okra compliments tomatoes, onions and corn, shellfish and fish stock. Okra has a subtle taste, similar to the flavor of eggplant.

Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients. Nearly half of which is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Soluble fiber helps to lower serum cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. The other half is insoluble fiber which helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy decreasing the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Nearly 10% of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid are also present in a half cup of cooked okra.

Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup sliced, cooked okra)

Calories 25
Dietary Fiber 2 grams
Protein 1.52 grams
Carbohydrates 5.76 grams
Vitamin A 460 IU
Vitamin C 13.04 mg
Folic acid 36.5 micrograms
Calcium 50.4 mg
Iron 0.4 mg
Potassium 256.6 mg
Magnesium 46 mg

Okra recipes

Friday, May 29, 2009

Growing Berries in Arizona

I have learned this spring one simple lesson with berries in Arizona: if you want thriving plants, water thoroughly every day.

My strawberries and bababerries were beginning to struggle in the late-spring heat being watered only every other day. I am sad to say my blueberry has not survived, probably because I watered it only a couple times a week (as it was in an odd part of the yard).

As soon as I started the daily waterings, the strawberries and bababerries perked up, stopped browning at the edges, and started growing and fruiting again. The loganberry was doing well even bi-daily, but now it is growing even faster.

I keep the strawberry in a protected space, getting less than half a day of full sun. I tried a full-sun strawberry as an experiment, but, as I suspected, it died. The bababerries and loganberry are in full sun.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Great Companions: Wheat & Peas

The winter wheat and peas I bought from Native Seed SEARCH have done really really well. I planted them in late spring, way after the guides said I should, just because I was excited and didn't want to wait 7 months.

(click on pic for larger image)

Well, somehow, despite them being winter crops, it has worked out pretty good, with the wheat now maturing on the stalk and even the peas surviving in full sun, long after all the other peas and grasses have totally burned up. The trick, without a doubt, was intensive planting, and the surprising companion relationship between the peas and wheat. Being local varieties has probably helped as well.

The wheat stalks have provided a perfect scafolding for the peas to latch on to and grow with. As well as providing some nice shade so the ground stays moist and cool.

To top it all off, this is on totally unimproved Arizona soil. I added absolutely zero fertilizer for this bed, no bonemeal, no bloodmeal, nothin'! It was just a test patch, but it has turned into a great lesson on local varieties, companions, and intensive methods. Next time I will more carefully balance the peas to wheat ratio, plant earlier, and fertilize, and I can't wait to see the results.

(click on pic for larger image)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Chickens Love Beets

I read it on the internet, so of course, it had to be true! And now I can verify from experience: Chickens love beets.

They really like the leaves. More than lettuce leaves or anything else I've thrown in there, and they like the leaves even when they are young. At some point, they figured out that they also like the red root part.

It's a pretty gruesome sight after the flock gets done eating beets, with the beaks all wet and red!

Corn maturing

The corn plants are huge, and the corn is forming!

The same goes for the mom, and the baby...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How to Get Rid of Bermuda Grass

Ah yes, bermuda grass, gardeners' bane, the devil's own anti-victory-garden weed.

Most often you will hear of mulching as a solution to control weeds, but ha! Bermuda grass laughs at your mulch.

Mulch keeps the soil nice and moist for it, and it just pushes right up through the mulch to the fresh air and sunshine above. Yes, mulch, it just helps your bermuda grass grow, and then makes it harder to dig out. Mulch might work if the area was already totally cleared of the bermuda grass, but if you already have no bermuda grass, you don't need this guide, now do you?

For those of us battling the evil scourge, here is how you do it, the number one best anti-bermuda grass method.

It all starts with tilling the soil. If you aren't tilling the grassy area, you are already a step behind. As an Arizona gardener, tilling is not just a way to loosen the soil, oh no, it is far more. For us, tilling is a preemptive offensive strike, the necessary first step in battling a vicious enemy!

You see, bermuda grass is like an iceberg, 9/10 of it underground. If you aren't striking at the roots, you are wasting your time. It would be like trying to cut off the top of the ice berg. Sure, you can whack the top, but more of it would immediately pop right up. Same with bermuda grass.

Shovel-loosening the earth is not good enough. Sure it will loosen the soil. The bermuda grass roots will thank you for the nice loose earth, in fact. If you only have a shovel, you absolutely must run your hands through the loose soil, inch by inch, and remove any and all bermuda roots you find.

The real trick is to shred, utterly decimate and dice, its root structure. Of course, that is just the opening salvo. It will slow it down a little bit, like Wolverine getting shot in the head, but it will come back. But shredding the roots with a deep tilling is a great start, and will set its growth cycle back for a few weeks or longer, a very nice start.

Now, your soil is rich and loose, and your favorite little seedlings are working their happy way up to the sun, stretching their cute stems and precious leaves up to the bright clear sky, when BOOM it happens. Thick, nasty, mean-looking bermuda shoots come up right next to it! You try to pluck it out, but the green part just snaps off in your fingers at ground level. Like a salamander loosing its tail, the main body of grass lies safely underground, snickering at your pathetic attempts to dislodge it. Tomorrow it is back with more shoots, brazenly asserting its dominance of your gardend space. Time, it knows, is on its slide, and it knows you dare not re-dig now, lest you kill your tender young friendly seedlings with your clumsy spade work. It is a nasty nightmare scenario faced by every Arizona victory gardener... You cuss, and sweat, and loath, and fear.... But what can you do?

Put that spade away, friend, there is a better way! For, if you have taken my good advice so far, the soil is nice and loose from your tilling. Now, it won't look like it, this is Arizona afterall, so what you see on top is probably more like hardpan, but trust in your work, friend. Under the top crust, the soil is loose. The key decision comes now. If you attempt to "weed" with the top all crusty like that, the top of the grass will just rip off from the hardpan. Instead, relax, and irrigate. Yup, that's right, just water, nice and high, let that aich too oh just pile up, and sink in nice and deep. Take a few minutes, crack a beer open, and savor your coming victory, for the moment of triumph is at hand.

Now, you can't rush it, you have to let the water sink in, and soften up the top crust back to its gently muddy and silty condition. Then, when the soil is all muddy and soft, irrigate again, covering the garden with anothe inch of water.

Then, and only then, reach down and start your weeding. Grip the grass a bit below the soil level, down where it is white not green, and shake it a little as you slowly pull it. The deeper you grab it, the better, and since the mud is so soft, you can dig your fingers in real easy a inch down if you need.

The bermuda grass, so tough and nasty beforehand, is now as pliant and gentle as a babe. It will rise up out of the mud with no effort at all, hardly even disturbing the soil. Long inches of the white roots will slide right out, and you can pat the mud right back down to fill any hole it leaves.

Your precious seedlings a mere inch away will probably not even notice. You are probably just pulling out short strands at this time, not any big root bunches, because the previous tilling shredded it up so well. If you didn't till, the big root bunches will still be intact, and their removal will disturb the soil much more. But if you previously tilled properly, the strands will come right out, smooth as silk.

It works best when you do it in standing water, not just mud. The standing water lubricates the roots as they are pulled out, letting you get real long ones. Pulling them out from soft mud without standing water will work, but not as well, as more of them will break off in the ground. Plus, the standing water keeps your hands from getting too muddy, which can be a real problem as our Arizona clay clumps up in big chunks on your hands and fingers.

Here I am digging my fingers in to get ahold of the roots:

Check out the length of that root I just pulled out:
(Click on pic for closeup)

Well, that about encapsulates my method. 1- Till, good and deep to shred the roots. 2- Irrigate. 3- Weed only in soft mud, with standing water.

Pretty simple, but pretty darn effective. Pulling the root out smoothly without breaking it will eliminate bermuda from your garden forever. Let me know if you try it, and how it works for you.