Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hard Freeze kills watermelons - Sunfowers survive!

Last night was a real hard freeze. Not sure what the official temp was, but when I went to water the birds this morning, the water in the hose was frozen solid!

The watermelon vines were totally wiped out. Too bad too, these were my "longstanding" vines, planted last spring!

The beets appear to have handled the freeze just fine, along with the volunteer sunflower!

Yeah, Christmas sunflowers, only in Arizona!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Watermelons!

Watermelons ripening just in time for Thanksgiving??? Yeah, we do that!

Thanksgiving Watermelons

Friday, November 18, 2011

Grey Water systems

I am in the process of utilizing more grey water systems myself. Already have my kitchen sink/dishwasher set up for it, and am working on a bathroom tub conversion as well.

Here is a link I found to a group dedicated to spreading the word. Based up in the Pacific NW, I wondered, man, why do THEY need MORE water???

Down here in the desert, grey water systems are especially useful. My kitchen sink/dishwasher provided more than enough water for about 150 sq.ft. of garden, and that was through our SUMMER! If I can convert my tubs to grey water systems, I don't think I will have to water the gardens out of the house at all.

Anyway, the link:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

RIP pumpkin patch

So, last night I harvested most of the pumpkins, for jack-o-lantern carving with the kids. We did all of the big ones and some of the small ones, and saved the seeds for roasting.

Sugar baby pumpkin patch drying up
drying pumpkin patch

Jack pumpkins
jack pumpkins

Sugarbaby pumpkins
row of sugar babies

still ripening

Here is a pic of one part of the new garden, with the companion plants wheat and peas. I planted them at the same time, but the peas are a bit stronger. Next time I'll give the wheat a week headstart.

Wheat & Peas coming up

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October Pumpkins in the desert - believe it or not!

Bringing in a summer pumpkin crop is quite possibly the most gratifying accomplishment in my Arizona Victory Gardening career. I've got about 8 sugar babies, and about 7 jack o lanterns getting fat and orange right now!

A nice fellow was driving by on his bike the other day while I was watering, and he stopped and chatted for a bit. He was a gardener too, and he didn't even know it was possible to grow pumkins in Phoenix!

Arizona sugar baby pumpkin

Sugar Baby

That was my first sugar baby, matured in late Sept, from a mid June planting.

Immature sugar baby

Immature jack o lantern

The pics are a couple weeks old, showing them maturing nicely but still green. Most of them are orange now, and the vines are dying off (I'll try to update pics soon).

The coolest part of growing pumpkins is the beautiful huge orange flowers in morning, which always attract swarms of honey bees.

bee in pumpkin flower

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Late summer Okra!

Okra is without a doubt the most frustratingly slow plant to sprout....  My sunflower/cucumber garden was up for literally months before I even realized that some of the okra seeds had sprouted.  Turns out I had one "mega-bush" in there and 4 smaller bushes hiding in the sunflowers the whole time....
But after "biding its time" all summer, it is okra's time to shine, I guess!    As soon as mid-September rolled around, the okra started blooming (oh those beautiful delicate pale yellow okra flowers!!!), and now it is fruiting like mad. 
The chickens love the okra seeds, but my wife is not letting me feed the birds....  She is going to pickle it!   
The fried okra, well, I'm one of those people who find it a bit too "slimy" for my taste, but she says some folk love their okra pickled!   Alright, whatever, I am willing to try anything....   And if we don't like, we can probably give it away to those old Southerners down at church... 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How Much Land to be Self-Sufficient?

Very interesting infographic on how much land space would be required to keep your family of four self-sufficient.    According to their bottom-line calculation, it would take about 1.5 acres, assuming you bought your own wheat, although almost 2 acres if you grew your own wheat.

I am left wondering, though, if they only calculated for one growing season.  In the desert you can grow stuff literally year round, 12 months out of the year.  Which means you can bring in at least 4 harvests a year of your typical veggie crops, and at least 3 harvests a year of your grain crops.    Presumably that would lower the amount of land space you would need.

When you start talking about self-sufficiency on your own acre, it is important to think in terms of Permaculture principles.   Chickens, goats, pigs, and fish are necessary for a functioning circular ecosystem, consuming waste while contributing fertilizers for the soil. 

You would also need to  re-route almost all your wastewater into grey water systems.  A typical 20 minute show provides enough irrigation water to keep your garden soil moist even in the summer time. 

Creating grey-water systems here in Arizona is difficult because most houses are built on concrete slabs.  Finding or building a post-and-beam foundation house, or easiest of all, using a manufactured home, are the best alternatives. 

The good news, if you follow these tips, you can have a functioning SELF-SUFFICIENT homestead in the desert ON ONLY AN ACRE.   Quite amazing, if you ask me.

Here is their webpage with the infographic:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You weren't crazy, this August really was HOT!!!

And the irony is, this is the first summer I have kept gardening all the way through!   Cucumbers, watermelon, and corn still producing, while the pumpkins are setting fruit and growing strong. 
The Republic just did an article on our excessive heat this August, supposedly the hottest August on record! 

The month that wouldn't cool off has finally, mercifully, ended. August reached record-setting levels of misery in many ways. To name a few:

- The highest average high temperature: 109.
- The highest average low temperature: 87.5.
- The hottest August day ever: 117.
- The average temperature for the month - the high plus the low divided by two - was 98.3 degrees.

That leaves August tied for the hottest month ever. The real surprise here is that it's August. Every other month in the top-5 list is a July.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gardening in the extreme heat - some observations, tips, and encouragement

Extreme heat gardening -- meaning two+ months of 110+ degree heat -- YEAH, WE DO THAT!
The cucumbers have been my biggest "pleasant surprise".   They outlasted the corn and sunflowers, and in fact, they are fruiting more in August than they did in July.  Many of the leaves are getting tough and yellowing, but the flowers just keep producing and producing!  I already have about 20 jars of pickles, so mainly the chickens have been enjoying the bounty...
I also planted late-June pumpkins seeds, hoping for nice big gourds for Halloween, and "so far, so good".     One of my earliest and most promising vines died (due to one day of negligence), but the vines are growing like crazy now, and some fruits have started to set.    I am growing three varieties this year: Big Max, Jack-o-Lantern, and Sugar Baby.
And, oh yeah, my watermelons are still producing, too!  Unfortunately, the very day before a big BBQ birthday party last week, the chickens escaped their coop and pecked holes in 6 big jubilee watermelons!   Oh well, more coming...
Keys to "Beating the Heat"
-Flood irrigate in the morning. 
In other times of the year, I prefer to irrigate at night, to avoid day-time evaporation, giving the roots plenty of time to soak all night.  But I have found that when it hits 110+ degrees, the ground is too dry by late afternoon and the vines struggle.  When I flood irrigate in the morning before I go to work, even in the 110+ heat, the vines are doing fine when I get home from work.  If it was a superhot day (115+) and the leaves are struggling, I will flood irrigate in the evening too. 
-Don't spray water during the day
It has been shown that water droplets focus lightwaves, and this can actually damage your leaves if you spray water during the day.  If you need to cool off your plants during daylight hours, do it with flood irrigation, avoid spraying the leaves.
-Partial shade helps
The more partial shade the better, especially in the late afternoon.  It is not a necessity, as my full-sun pumpkin vines are doing fine this summer, but it does help give you more "margin for error".  The most important thing is keeping the ground wet.  If you don't have a wall or tree to provide the shade, interplant some sunflowers, or even corn, to help provide some shade.
Dealing with Bermuda Grass
If you had bermuda grass anywhere near your garden at the beginning of summer, after a couple months of flood irrigation, it will completely take over your garden space.  It is almost impossible to avoid, unless you are so dedicated that you can devote hours a week to pulling weeds in the extreme heat. 
The good news is, the bermuda grass will provide SHADE and COOLING to your mature plants.  I have kept tomatoes and beets growing all summer by letting the grass go crazy around them.   Come fall, just till it under as biomass to enrich your soil for winter.  As bermuda grass is naturally dormant during the winter, you will be able to garden right over it, and put off the serious thinning to next summer. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Community Supported Agricultural Farms in Queen Creek

The CSA farm is a fantastic model, and I would like to see something along these lines develop for victory gardeners as well.

Basically, people buy membership shares, which is like agricultural "futures". They contribute cash early in the season, then get the produce as it becomes available.

Apparently these CSA's even deliver the produce right to your door! That is pretty cool.

Here is the article about the CSA in Queen Creek, from the Tribune:

Aside from growing your own garden, there's probably not an easier way to get your veggies than having them delivered to your door. That's what Queen Creek Desert Roots Farm offers families who purchase a share of the harvest for a 12-week season.

Desert Roots, which produces over 75 different pesticide-free fruits and vegetables throughout the year, is a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture farm.

According to, CSA farms exist all over the nation as farmers offer shares - typically a box of vegetables, but it might also include other products such as milk and eggs - to customers who buy a membership to receive a weekly bag, basket or box of produce during farming season. The website says the arrangement allows farmers to market their food early in the year before they start spending 16-hour days in the fields, receive payment early in the season to help with cash flow, and gives farmers a way to get to know the people who buy their produce. It provides consumers with fresh food, exposure to new vegetables and ways of cooking them, and the chance to learn more about farming.

In addition to produce, Desert Roots Farm offers customers the option of adding a Superstition Farms dairy box to their weekly home delivery, and the opportunity to buy Arizona-raised grass-fed beef, chicken, pork and eggs.

Home delivery is convenient, but if you'd prefer, you can pick up your weekly veggie bag at one of 12 Valley locations. For more information, visit or call (602) 751-0655

Friday, July 22, 2011

Making your own fertilizers to supplement poor desert soil

Arizona soil, like desert soil everywhere, is highly alkaline and very low in nitrogen.  Increasing the nitrogen content of your soil is the most important thing you need to do.  Lowering the alkali level is also worthwhile, though not as pressing.  If your nitrogen is too low, your plants will turn yellow and fail to fruit. 
The expensive way to increase nitrogen is, of course, just to buy fertilizer supplements, such as blood meal or peat moss. 
If you raise animals, their droppings are an excellent source of nitrogen, and from their remains you can make your own blood meal and bone meal.  Blood meal is just dehydrated blood, and bone meal is just powdered bone, after all.  
Amending the soil with lots of organic material is always a helpful choice.  The ultimate example of this is plowing under cover crops, especially the "nitrogen fixing" types, like clover or fava beans.  Of course, a compost pile is good for this purpose too. 
But, there is an even easier method.
Now, I think the attractiveness of this "easy button" method depends on how much "hippy" you've got in you.  I don't think the average suburban-housewife kitchen-window gardener wants to follow through with this method.. but the more hippy-type environmentalist and off-the-grid permaculturist will find it quite useful.. in a word: urine.
Basically, this stuff is the ultimate "wonder amendment" for desert soils, being acidic and high in nitrogen.  Its N/P/K value is approximately 12/1/3.  Obviously, it is easily available (don't even need a trip to the store!), comes cheap, and in large volumes...
It is too acidic to use directly on plants, so it needs to be diluted before use.  A bucket full of water, or a standard flush, dilute it perfectly.  
The good news is, urine is completely sterile, not dangerous at all (unlike the, ehem, "solid wastes" produced by humans).  Don't use it, though, if you are sick, or on medications. 
You can see some other cool suggestion in an article over at Survival Blog ( 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summer weeds in Arizona

Pigweed time in the desert! About a couple weeks ago, we left the hose on too long, and the irrigation waters burst through the berms, spilling water all around the garden, giving a good soak to all that bare ground.

It is amazing: everywhere the water spilled, pigweed is growing now. Pigweed is quite distinctive because of its pink/purple underside.

tumble pigweed

Its purple hue gives it away: just like its magnificent large and purple "tame" cousin, grain Amaranth, pigweed is in the amaranthus family. The two common pigweeds are "careless pigweed" and "tumble pigweed". My advice: get the pigweed while it is young.

mature pigweed

As it gets bigger, pigweed stems get really tough, making them hard to tear down or tear out later. This is especially true of the "tumble pigweed".

Not to be confused with the Russian Thistle, which is the true "tumbleweed".

Russian thistle tumbleweed

I keep my main gardening area bare ground, so I can just scrape a hoe over the topsoil, killing them while they are seedlings. I just leave them there to decompose on the ground, which has resulted in a nice layer of topsoil as well.

The common purslane remains soft as it grows, so it is less of a nuisance later. Sometimes I will even let it grow quite big for awhile, letting nature provide me with some good compost biomass.

common purslane

The "prickly lettuce" weed will be big and seed-headed now, if it survived as a garden volunteer from your spring planting.

prickly lettuce

Lots of "puncturevines" will pop up in your watered areas now too. As you can tell from the name, you really don't want to let "puncture vine" mature. They produce those "sharpy thorns" that make your kids cry when they step on 'em.


The UA book has this to say about "puncturevine":

"It is abundant, one of the most obnoxious weeds in southern Arizona, and is found throughout the state, principally in July and August. Each plant produces innumerable burs ... Home owners and their dogs probably dislike puncturevine more than any other weed because the stout spines can easily penetrate shoes, bicycle tires, and dogs' feet."

If you have an Palo Verde or Palm trees nearby, there is a good change you are getting tons of their seedlings pop up as well. Rip the Palo Verde seedlings out quick. As soon as they get just a little big they get barbs all over 'em.

palo verde seedling

Friday, July 8, 2011

Community gardens sprout up in Mesa and Tempe

Interesting article in the East Valley Tribune about the community gardens in Tempe, Mesa, and Chandler.
Mesa supposedly has no problem letting people establish community gardens.  But my question is, will they supply the water?   Setting up a garden on an un-used city property sounds easy enough, but if they aren't supplying the water, that is an empty gesture...

For decades, cities figured that progress meant getting rid of agricultural land and replacing it with houses and businesses. But several East Valley cities are rethinking the urban-only mindset by allowing - and even encouraging - gardens to sprout in their downtowns and elsewhere.

The shift in philosophy is partly a reaction to the recession, which has left plenty of vacant land that's unlikely to develop soon. Communities also see demand growing for fresh, locally-grown produce sought by individuals, restaurants and nonprofits.


But starting a community garden wasn't easy in some places. In Tempe, the city generally wouldn't allow developed land to revert to agricultural use. The city is moving to change that, hoping gardens will spring up on some empty downtown lots or within city parks.  Tempe Councilwoman Onnie Shekerjian has worked to encourage gardens because she believes uncertain times make people crave a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle. Residents tend the gardens themselves and some involved with a south Tempe plot have found other benefits, Shekerjian said. "They're shocked at how they got to know people," Shekerjian said. "It's the community building that has become more important than the fresh vegetables."

The city is testing gardens on city-owned land, turning over 15,000 square feet of land at Escalante Park to the Tempe Community Action Agency. That nonprofit started the garden this spring and splits food between neighbors who volunteer, the agency's food pantry and selling produce at a farmer's market to generate revenue.  The garden allows the agency to distribute healthier food to needy families, said Beth Fiorenza, the agency's executive director.  "Having the free fruit and vegetables really guarantees that families are getting a nutritious supplement, that it's not all canned goods," she said.

A new Tempe ordinance will allow gardens on private lots, with a $50 fee and hearing involving neighboring property owners.  Shekerjian figures there's enough interest in several neighborhoods to establish gardens within parks. These gardens would be overseen by a nonprofit that would provide funding and manage the project with neighbors. The city's role will be limited to playing matchmaker between residents and nonprofits, Shekerjian said.


Mesa made sure community gardens were included in a recent revamp of zoning regulations, said Christine Zielonka, development and sustainability director. Lots of up to one acre can become gardens in residential and commercial areas. Mesa does not require permits or fees as a way to encourage gardens on unused land.

"One would hope that over time vacant parcels will become more valuable and they'll have a more beneficial use, so certainly a community garden would be a wonderful transitional use for that property rather than let it sit vacant," Zielonka said.

Mesa is looking to establish a garden downtown on one of the many vacant lots it owns. The city wants to open it this fall, having a nonprofit work with neighbors to get it going.


About $10,000 from the Chandler Kiwanis Club will establish a garden that will distribute produce to volunteers and to the Chandler Christian Community Center. Harvest for Humanity will manage the garden, and one of its missions is to teach people how to grow their own food, said Denise Phillips, executive director. There's an increased interest in growing food locally in part because of e-coli outbreaks and food recalls, she said.  "People are looking for ways to save money and ways to be in control of what they're eating," Phillips said, "and it tastes so much better."   

Contact writer Garin Groff: (480) 898-6548 or


Watermelons and Arizona summers are just meant to go together.  I get consistently better results with watermelons than anything else in the heat of the summer.
This year I put the watermelon patch near the back fence.    As you can see, the watermelon vines love it.   They are trellising right up the fence, and growing hanging fruits too!
The best of my watermelons this year are the Jubilee variety.  I harvested a 13 pound watermelon last week, along with an 8 pounder.    My Sugar Baby watermelons seem to max out at 4-5 pounds.  I've been throwing a lot of them to the chickens, they LOVE it. 
I have found that chickens also love the fresh cucumbers.   I break 'em in half, or cut 'em in fourths with my shovel, then throw them into the coop.   After they peck out the seeds, they eat all the cuc flesh.
Oddly enough, I have observed, a green watermelon tastes exactly like a cucumber...  The chickens will strip the watermelon all the way down to the hard rind.  Any soft flesh on the inside will be devoured. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Phoenix Dust Storm - Best Of pics & 1st person account

The Phoenix Dust Storm has made the national and international news (as far away as New Zealand:  I will say, it was probably the coolest weather phenomenon I have ever seen.
Imagine a 5000 ft tall thundercloud, AT GROUND LEVEL, stretching from horizon to horizon, rolling towards you, looking like the frothy front side of a wave.  It was more than a bit unnerving. 
The light was perfect, streaming right across the face of the cloud from the setting sun, highlighting the sharp shadows of the rolling clouds across its face, and bringing out its rich orange (from both the setting sun and the orange dust).
I was driving directly into it, on my motorcycle... without helmet, jacket, or even long pants.  I was coming home from a swim at the pool a few miles away, still in my shorts and t-shirt, intending to enjoy the cool air.    Instead I was driving like a bat out of hell, going 70 (mph) down cut-through streets to beat that monster home.  I did not relish the thought of the blinding grit pounding into my face, and I thought it would be a downpour as well.   I felt like Viggo Mortensen in that scene in Hidalgo, racing the dust storm (except I was racing INTO it, rather than away...).    Luckily, I met the face of the storm just as I pulled into my driveway.
Inside the cloud, the air was thick orange and dark, with swirling winds knocking everything about from all directions.  Turned out to be totally dry in the cloud itself, no rainfall whatever. 
I would have given anything to have a "panorama" camera when I was coming up to it.   I've attached a collage of the best pics I could find online.   Unfortunately, most of them were taken after the sun set, so the cloud front just looks dark, but a couple of them caught the spectacular orange. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bring the Heat!

AZ Victory Gardener is not afraid of the heat...

Hottest day of the year so far, but as you can see, our sunflowers are doing OK.

The "intensively planted" cucumbers are what is growing in front of the sunflowers. The intensive planting keeps the ground shaded using the broad leaves of the cucumbers.

I also planted them on the shady side of the sunflowers on purpose, to take them out of the heat in the late afternoon. Seems to be working well. The cucs were not even a little heat stressed today.

That is a six foot lady right there

Friday, April 15, 2011

Wild Chickens thriving in New Orleans

I think wild chickens running through the city is pretty cool.  I love birds, and that is just what they are, a beautiful species of bird. 
I know for a fact that everyone loves wild peacocks in their neighborhood.    Chickens are just as cool looking if you ask me, not as spectacular as the peacocks, but a lot better looking than the peahens.  Chickens are highly ornamental. 
The article mentions that Phoenix has had difficulties with wild chickens, but I have never heard of it. 
I don't know how they survive in a city with wild cats, but they are making it work, apparently.  The article mentions predatory birds, but not cats. 
Check out the story:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

AZ food prices to rise 6% this year

Good time to be a Victory Gardener!
The following is a reprint of today's Republic article, here

Arizona consumers who have been hammered at the gas pump by soaring prices can expect to get slammed at the grocery store in the near future by a sharp rise in the cost of food.  Higher wholesale prices for vegetables and various grocery staples, coupled with a jump in fuel and energy costs, are expected to push food costs up as much as 6 percent this year at metro Phoenix stores.

That would rival a 5.5 percent jump in 2008, which was the largest gain in almost 20 years. Such a surge in prices would end two years of declining and flat food prices. Blame winter crop damage, higher commodity costs and global grain shortages.  Coupled with the rising gas prices, the situation creates another tough economic challenge for consumers, many of whom aren't getting pay raises, are living on fixed incomes or, worse yet, are unemployed or underemployed.

In addition, the cost increases mark the first major rise in food prices since Phoenix voters approved a 2 percent sales tax on food last year.

Margaret Koziba of Phoenix already has noticed higher produce prices and expects costs to escalate for other products with the hike in fuel prices.  "Everything is going up," she said.

While Arizona Farm Bureau has yet to complete its annual first-quarter survey of statewide grocery prices, spokeswoman Julie Murphree reported that preliminary information shows higher prices for many products.  "It's basically across the board," she said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts retail food prices will rise 3.5 percent in the U.S. this year. But a sharp jump in wholesale food prices reported last week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics could portend a much larger increase in retail prices than expected.  The government reported wholesale food prices rose 3.9 percent from January through February, marking the largest monthly increase in more than 36 years.

Tim McCabe, president of the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, believes prices could increase between 5 percent and 6 percent this year. The Arizona Food Marketing Alliance is a trade group that represents the state's grocery chains and other food retailers. "It's a perfect storm," he said. "All of the commodity prices are up at once, you have the impact of the freezing weather in the South and now you have rising fuel prices."

The increases come when overall food prices are still relatively low, however. In January, the Arizona Farm Bureau reported a basket of 16 grocery staples cost $45.44, more than 20 percent below an all-time high of $57.46 reached in the third quarter of 2008.

Consumers also could catch a break in Arizona because of the highly competitive local grocery market.  In the past, Arizona food prices have risen more slowly than those nationally because local grocers have been compelled to keep prices low to remain competitive. Ann Reed, vice president of Fry's Food Stores in Phoenix, said the chain is under constant pressure to keep its prices low to hold onto its position as the market leader.  "It's very competitive," she said.

McCabe said that Arizona grocers frequently eat some of the wholesale price increases to keep prices competitive. But he added that with prices rising so quickly, it may be hard not to pass them on.  "When you have all these prices going up, the consumer is going to take a hit," he said.

The rising prices are tied to a number of factors.  Winter freezes in Florida, Texas and other Southern states damaged crops and sent produce prices through the roof. Several major orange-juice producers have announced price hikes as a result of the unseasonably cold winter.  Prices of corn, wheat and soybeans have increased sharply in the past year. Higher commodity costs have increased the price of animal feed, which in turn has boosted prices for eggs, ground beef and milk.

Grain prices have been pushed up by increased global demand and shortages due to crop problems in the Black Sea region, Canada and Australia. Russia has banned grain exports since devastating fires and drought wiped out crops. The ban could be extended until the end of the year. 

Ephraim Leibtag, a senior research economist with USDA's Economic Research Service, said prices for some food ingredients are up 40 percent to 60 percent over last year. Those increases are going to "ripple out to the public," he said.  More recently, a spike in fuel prices has driven up both food production and transportation costs.

In Arizona, gasoline prices are up roughly 40 percent since September and 13 percent in the past month. Those prices are being felt now by consumers at the pump and will be seen at the grocery store in a few months as higher transportation and production costs get passed down to shoppers.