Thursday, April 12, 2012

Disspelling the Myths about Desert Gardening

[Sorry for the lack of updates this spring. The garden is huge, and I have taken lots of pics, just haven't uploaded them yet.]

I just read an article in the Chandler Examiner entitled "Tips on making your garden-in-the-desert grow" ( All I can say is "Lies, lies, all of it, lies!!!"

I gotta be honest here, it is this type of crappy misinformation which makes people fear Arizona gardening. Let me tell you, straight from the AZ Victory Gardener, that woman is crazy. Just about everything she says in her interview is false.

Gardening in Arizona should NOT be difficult, or expensive. If it is, you are doing it WRONG.

First sign of trouble: she has "three very small beds", which took "months to get them together." Are you kidding me? I crank out a 10x10 bed in ONE HOUR!

First huge mistake: she did a raised bed, because the ground is hard. This is a huge mistake, because in AZ, you have to IRRIGATE, which means it has to be at or below ground, not above ground.

No wonder your water bill skyrocketed! Raised beds in the desert are a horrible idea, as they get dried out from every direction, and they can't be watered effectively. And of course it is expensive, as you have to buy all those blocks or timbers for the sides, then fill it with expensive dirt/compost mix.

As for the hard ground, I will admit, my "10x10 bed in an hour" job uses a tiller, but even without a tiller, with just a shovel, I can do a 5x5 in a hour. The secret is simple: You have to IRRIGATE first!

Yes, banging your shovel on hard pan or caliche is discouraging. Water it first! When it is nice and wet, your shovel cuts it up easy. Just put your hose on the low part, turn on the water and let it do its magic. Build your berms around your bed as it gets wet.

With berms up, let the water pile up to 3-4 inches, then let it sink in. Dig it down, using the double digging method to break up the subsurface caliche. When the subsurface ground gets too hard, water it again. Your veggie roots will love you!

Tips for Beginners

Her "tips for beginners" are especially perverse. Let me tell you the facts:

You do NOT need SHADECLOTHES. You do need DEEP ROOTS. If you have shallow roots, your plants will die in the heat. However, if you irrigate in ground-level beds, your roots will be strong.

Tomatoes are not DELICATE. I have kept tomatoes thriving through the August heat in direct full day sun. The trick is to keep their roots moist with deep irrigation.

You don't need to battle insects hand-to-hand! It all comes back to IRRIGATION. Irrigation takes care of your beetle, slug, ant, etc. problems. When you flood your garden bed regularly, insects cannot build their homes there! It is really that simple.

This is the awful truth, friends: I don't mess with bugs at all. Literally, not even a little bit. I have noticed that predator bugs pretty much take care of the plant-eater bugs. I just let 'em go about their business, circle of life and all that. My stuff grows great, and I never have a problem finding pollinators either.

It particularly upset my AZ Victory Gardener sensibilities when she said "our dirt isn't the best for growing things other than cacti."

The fact is, our desert soil is actually quite nutrient rich. It is missing one hugely important element, though: NITROGEN. And if you don't have chicken or rabbit droppings handy, or don't care to use your readily available human urine, to boost your nitrogen content, just buy a small bag of BLOOD MEAL. One of those little bags will cover 200 sf, so you should have plenty enough.

Put the blood meal directly where you plant the seeds, or directly over the root zone if already growing. Your irrigation will soak the nitrogen down to the roots. VIOLA! You can also use BONE MEAL if you want, as it adds Nitrogen and Phosphorus, whereas blood meal adds only Nitrogen.

Don't listen to the nay-sayers, my desert-dwelling would-be-gardening friends! Just follow the Arizona Victory Gardener's well-tested advice, and you can produce lots of crops, real easy and real cheap. Cheers!