Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer extreme-heat gardening: use irrigation rows

Most desert gardeners have given up by now, believing it just too hot for any garden plants to survive the extreme 110 degree desert heart.

But for those of you fellow nutcases out there who want to persist in gardening in 110 degree heat, the Arizona Victory Gardener is here with a helping hand. 

The secret: high density planting in irrigation rows. 

--The "high density" part means planting so close that there is solid shade on the ground from the growth of the plants. 
--The "irrigation row " part means an row 1-2 feet wide (however long you want it), that you flood with water, once a day. 

Using this method, you can keep your garden plants going ALL SUMMER long, with the absolute minimum water bill.     In the picture above, I have an irrigation ditch with young sunflowers and cucumbers coming up.   Yes, the flooding covers them up with water for a while, but they don't seem to mind.

The whole key is keeping the root zone as moist and cool as possible.  The dense planting keeps shade on the ground.    I recommend flooding your row in the evening, to minimize the water lost to evaporation.  Build the berms around your flood zone 3-4 inches high, so you can fill it up with water real deep.   One watering per day will be necessary once the temps get above 100. 

You can even keep some "cold weather" crops going through the desert summer, if their roots are kept real wet and they are "under-planted" under somthing that gives them reasonable shade. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Arizona corn: native or hybrid? Plus: spring tomatos

The corn came in really well this season. I will admit, I have had
some bad luck with corn pollination in the past.

The biggest factor in my success: seed saving a native (non-hybrid)
variety. For the last three growing seasons, I have saved the
biggest and earliest corn cob for seed corn, and planted it the
following season. The results are very steady and dependable.

The hybrid stuff just never seems to work that well for me here. It
shoots up, looking great, getting me all excited, cobbing and
tasseling, and then.... zilch! No kernaling! Very frustrating
watching corn grow for 100 days then getting no kernals.

Now, the downside of the native variety is... You just can't compete
with the hybrid sweet corn on taste. If you want some good finger
licking, fresh boiled, put it on the plate and eat it summer corn, the
hybrid sweet corn is the best, hands down.

The native corn is heavier, less sweet, more dense, less flavorful.
In short, it is perfect for what people traditionally did with corn:
make meal out of it. Or, using it as animal feed. I can tell you,
the chickens love the corn. I throw it to them, and they just strip
it, real fast.

I haven't totally given up on the native corn as table corn, though.
Next season, I plan to pick it a little earlier, a little younger.
This year, it was a bit on the dry side. Hopefully, when it is
younger, it will have a better flavor.

Considering Tomatos

I am also up to my eyeballs in tomatos this spring. We are making
tons of home grown salsa, flavoring the tomatos with some garden-grown
onions (along with a packet of salsa flavoring!). I sprouted a
packet of tomatos back in January, and just planted all of them I

The cherry tomatos are particularly prolific, the beefstake ones less
so. I find the beefstake fruits are a bit on the fragile side. They
grow and burst too easy. The cherry ones seem to be less prone to
bursting. Plus, lots of good flesh for the salsa, less "watery
middle" stuff.

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!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Community Gardens in Mesa, AZ

The city of Mesa has gotten involved in supporting community gardens. They are now taking proposals to establish new gardens. See their website at:

The City of Mesa invites an individual, a group, or an organization to submit a proposal regarding the planning and implementation of a community garden.

The City of Mesa will agree to enter into negotiations with the selected leadership members to provide cooperative funding for a portion of startup costs which may include getting water to the site, waiving development or permit fees, fencing and/or other amenities. More information can be found at


Project goals include creating a planning/steering committee, site selection, fundraising, determining garden layout, developing guidelines and community garden agreements for participants. Visit Mesa’s Web page for planning toolkits and many other resources:


Eligible proposals MUST include contact information, a narrative, and timeline. Deadline for submittal is Feb. 16, 2012. Be sure to attend the City of Mesa Living Green Workshop on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 1:30 p.m. at Mesa Main Library, Dig In! Steps to Starting a Community Garden (

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: