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.