Friday, June 17, 2011

Black Sphinx Dates, A Community Treasure!

The Mountgrove Neighborhood in Arcadia( 46th to 47th place near Lafayette) has verdantly, majestic treelined streets that have been recognized as an oasis in the desert for almost 95 years. The moment you enter the grove there is a sudden change in mood and ambience. Everyone feels it. Whether visitor stumbling upon us for the first time or permanent resident. There is a calm, a quiet, a peacefulness that envelops you and makes you feel at home. It is the trees. They are like none other. Planted as a twenty acre agricultural grove In 1917 these very distinct palms are called Black Sphinx Dates. They bear a tremendous crop of large, plump, moist, honeyed fruit with a swarthy thin skin ranging from copper to bronze to maroon to almost jet black in color. Their flavor is sweet and delicate. There is nothing in the world like a black sphinx date.

Mountgrove is a friendly neighborhood. All through the year you find neighbors and friends walking their dogs, taking quiet strolls and just gathering in front yards to share life. At night their way is illuminated by the lights shining up on the fronds of many of these tall trees to show them off. All the families that choose to live in Mountgrove have a deep pride in their area and take special interest in beautifying their homes.
This Sphinx date grove is a unique place because it is believed to be the only producing Sphinx date Palm grove in the world. These luscious fruit were so coveted that during his administration President Eisenhower would purchase these rare dates to give as gifts to his closest friends and family every Christmas. In 2005 The Arizona Tree Council recognized and awarded the area as a “Great Tree Grove of Arizona”. A very special honor.

At the time the Sphinx Date Ranch was established it was a long ten miles from town with only dusty roads and desert between them. As the southwest developed and more people moved west development eventually reached Arcadia. In 1953 building started in mountgrove. streets were carefully planned so that they wound around the trees and homes were plotted so that they might sprawl among them. Every care was taken not to disturb the natural setting. Utilities were brought in to serve these homes. The trees were almost 40 years old at this time.

SRP is the electric utility that services this area. Recently they have determined that a great number of these trees are out of compliance with their standard for foliage growth in and around the power lines. They have “informed” all the residents that 58 trees should be removed. For 50 years they have trimmed any fronds that they deemed unsafe but recently they have changed their trim schedule from annually to once every 3 years as an internal cost saving move. Now they are claiming that because of the growth of the trees “into their lines” there is a need to “move or remove” any offending tree. An option vehemently opposed to by homeowners in Arcadia and especially in Mountgrove.

They seem to have statutes and government backing their cause. We believe this problem, which has not been a problem for over 50 years, can be solved by SRP understanding that this is a unique agricultural and aesthetic grove and agree to compromise their newly adopted trim schedule to keep the trees of question in compliance with their requirement to keep the lines clear within 10 ft of the powerlines, instead of bullying this neighborhood with its powerful force and financial resourses to behead or chop down this Arcadia Treasure.
Meetings are taking place with homeowners but the outlook thus far looks grim. We wanted to inform residents in and around this area what is afoot and stay open to any suggestions to ward off this grave situation. For more information, please contact, Robbie Shaw at

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Neighborhood Markets, A New Way to Shop!

Vendors, taking their wares to Market!

Where do you go to shop? Just last weekend I was able to participate in two local Farmer's Markets. The Simple Farm's Vintage Barn Sale and Farmer's Market, and Boho Farm and Home Farmer's Market in Phoenix. First of all, I want to say that I think this is the new (old) way to shop. From the amazing turnout, other people are loving it too. It's local, personal, fresh and real. And, it's coming to a neighborhood near you! These garden markets are not easy to come by. The farmers/gardeners take months of work preparing their locations for what might look like a nice weekend picnic site. They are called micro-farms, small organic farms of ten acres or less that are emerging as the go-to place for healthy, organic food and specialty items. Not only that, these urban and suburban farms are a nice place for antique dealers, artisan and craftsmen to share their talents and wares with their own community. A neighborhood market is not just selling eggs, fruits and vegetables, jams and handmade soaps to our neighbors and friends. It's about planting, pruning, picking and tending animals. It's about research, time, and lots of passion. It is really all about placing something that one person has cultivated or made with their own hands, into the hands of another. These markets are all about relationships, they are as much a social event as a shopping trip! I want you to meet some of the people behind last weekends markets. Take a look at the activities and beauty of small farms, as they celebrate community, good food and friends.

Me, with Caroline of Boho Farm and Home at her  Farmers/Flea Market.

Just picked herbs were available at the market.
My daughters Aaryn and Caitlin at our Sweet Life Garden "store".

Korina, selling her fabulous Fru Fru Pops!

Nick, standing beside his amazing metal sculptures!
Kiara and her gang selling luscious whipped body butter!

Sarah creates the cutest magnetic bulletin boards.

Here's Emily, of  EA Designs and her beautiful burlap pillows, enjoying a fru fru pop.

 Here's The Simple Farm, a three acre organic  farm in north Scottsdale, Arizona
"Goods" from the Vintage Barn Sale.

Fresh Lavender is available at their farmers market!

A French Garden

And... of course french radishes!

Friends and fellow farmers, Michael and Lylah, they run this place!

Lylah and Anita, preparing for the farmers market.
Anita, gathering vegetables for the morning market.

We call this urban or suburban agriculture,
to find out more, check out The Simple Farm (for market day info.), Boho Farm and Home and the amazing talent we have right here in our community.
You'll like what you find!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Raised Bed Garden Update

It's only been three weeks since we planted these raised bed garden boxes. I stopped by the other day to take a look. I thought you might like to see what I saw. Aren't they purty!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Brick Raised Beds

There's nothing like a new raised bed to get you off to a good start this spring. We just finished these beautiful brick raised beds for friend and local water store owner, (Water Connection), in time for the rain to bring a good soaking to the newly planted seeds. Denise's new garden site has plenty of sun and is located right outside her kitchen door for easy care and harvesting.

The beds are four by ten feet and two feet high, just the right height to sit comfortably and reach the center of the bed. We used old Phoenix brick to coordinate with the house and add to the character of the central Phoenix home. 
 The boxes or planters were nice and deep and we had lots of room with which to work. First we filled them with Baker Nursery top soil, and mixed in a little sand. Then, we layered a combination of leaves, manure, mulch, Singh Farm compost, straw, and a few bags of Patio Plus potting mix. Lastly, we added organic amendments; bone meal, blood meal, kelp and  humate.
A timer and drip line were installed. This all sounds quick and easy, but there was a lot of digging and shoveling and turning!
Of course, the fun part is choosing the seeds and transplants. Start small and plant what you will eat. Here's Daisy, the Water Connection Store dog and his owner, a happy, new gardener!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March Groundwork

There is nothing like a wet and wild spring to awaken your earthly instincts! The Spring rains have brightened everything in the garden and I don't know about you but, I cannot find one reason to stay inside on days like these.There are a few more days until the official first day of Spring arrives. For most people this day isn't particularly important, but as a gardener, it's a day in the year that always makes me pause and think about how significant this day would have been to our ancestors. If you had to totally rely on your knowledge of gardening to survive, you would celebrate this day too. This year the Spring Equinox arrives on March 20th at 7:21pm. That's when the sun is positioned directly over the equator, making the length of the day and the length of the night equal. From this day, the days gradually grow longer and warmer. Spring is here!

With a few seeds and some nice, loose, rich soil, there's no way you cannot expect abundance in the days ahead.

March to-do list~

  • Sow seeds for lima and green beans, black eyed peas, sweet corn, cucumbers, jicama, melons, squash, sunflowers, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes. Transplant artichokes, eggplants, tomatoes and peppers.
  • Prepare soil for spring planting. Add compost, mulch, well-rotted manure, or other organic matter and turn into soil.
  • Pull weeds before seeds form.
  • Watch for garden pests. For aphids try hosing plants with water, or use natural aphid spray. 1 Tbs. Dawn dish detergent, 1 Tbs. vegetable oil to 1 gallon of water. Add to a spray bottle. Spray top and underside of leaves in morning or late afternoon.
  • Feed roses a half a cup of Epsom salt and rose food, always water well.
  • Trim old, woody or dead wood from herbs. Transplant basil, chamomile, chives, lavender, lemon balm, lemon grass, oregano, sage, rosemary, and mints.
  • Sow seeds for poppy, marigold, hollyhocks, cosmos, sunflower and zinnias.
  • Continue to plant container roses, deciduous fruit and citrus trees. Add compost or mulch for extra nutients to tree wells and water deeply as trees leaf out.
  • Thin fruit on deciduous fruit trees (apples, pear apricot and peach) to 4 to 6 inches apart.
  • Now is the time to plant sweet potatoes, they are easy to grow but just make sure to provide lots of sun and space in your garden.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

February Groundwork

The month of February offers an opportunity to expand our home gardens and prepare for spring, (yes, these cold nights will pass). George Brookbank, one of my favorite desert gardening experts refers to February as the in-between month," It's the end of winter, but not quite spring." Do we continue to plant winter vegetables that will use our garden space or get a jump-start on summer planting? If you have enough space, you have the best of both worlds. If not, February is a great time to add a new garden box, or a halved wine barrel. Save your black plastic pots from your local nursery and use them for your new transplants until space opens up in your garden. At Love Apple Farm in California they use 15 gallon pots to plant their fingerling potatoes. This year my neighbor is planting his tomato and pepper seedlings in a bag of potting mix, and will move them to his garden when the soil warms up in a few weeks. Look around, you can grow your own food almost anywhere!

February Checklist
  • This is your last chance to sow cool-season vegetables before warm weather arrives. Plant carrots, beets, bok choy, green onions, leaf lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips and potatoes.
  • Begin to plant warm season vegetables. Beginning mid-February plant transplants of tomatoes, peppers and artichokes. The average "last-frost" date is around the middle of March. Be prepared to cover new transplants when a freeze is expected.
  • After mid-February, sow seeds of sweet corn, melons, cucumbers, summer squash, and sunflowers.
  • Prune roses and fruit trees.
  • Plant bare-root fruit trees and roses by mid-month.
  • Fertilize roses and established citrus trees.
  • Improve soil by adding 4 to 6 inches of a combination of compost, mulch and well-aged manure. You could also add some organic amendments including, bone meal, blood meal, alfalfa meal, and rock phosphate.
  • Pull spring weeds while soil is moist and roots are shallow.
  • Harvest citrus and winter vegetables.
  • Start an herb garden. Plant parsley, cilantro, oregano, chive, marjoram, rosemary, tarragon, thyme and mints.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Make Way For Ducklings!

Your never know what's going on in your neighbors backyard. But, I have to say that I wasn't surprised when David, neighbor and fellow urban farmer decided to take on a new venture. Yes, down the street at Care-A-Lot Farm, there's lots of quacking going on. Take a look at these adorable little ducklings. 

It looks like they're deciding who's boss.

  Ramon, enjoying the ducklings.
I asked David to let us in on the why and the wherefore of duck raising. He was kind enough to be candid and honest about his experience thus far. I have to say that David has had years of experience working on organic farms and raising animals for meat, eggs and pleasure. All of the animals at his farm are treated with lots of care and respet,  just like the name implies. If you are interested in taking a closer look at his ducks, Care-A-Lot Farm will be one of the featured farms at the Spring Edible Garden Tour in April or early May

 Here's what David had to say, " So, why ducks? Why not? Back in November, we decided to venture into the art of duck rearing, mostly because I like variety but, also because they supposedly can lay the same number of eggs as a chicken. As an added benefit, ducks are much better at eating insects (primarily flies) and grasses. We placed our order for twelve ducks (3 males, 9 females), and one December day, they arrived (13 of them) via mail. After some research, we picked the best top three laying varieties. Peking, Indian Runner and Khaki Campbell ducklings. The ducks are growing very fast. You feed them the same food that you would a chick/chicken and within three weeks, they no longer need protection from the elements. Ducks LOVE water. I thought it was an overstatement when people told me, but given the choice between breathing and swimming, I am convinced they would swim. At six weeks, we integrated them with my chickens, there were no issues. I was worried that the ducks would be at the bottom of the totem pole and perhaps starve, but I was wrong. They can eat ten times faster than the chickens ... so now I must be careful that they don't eat all of the food. My ducks should start laying eggs at about six months, similar to chickens. They stick together and go EVERYWHERE together. I didn't think ducks were supposed to be loud, but if they don't get their food in the morning, they QUACK and QUACK! Luckily, food shuts them up. It's too early to say whether or not I am glad I got ducks. They are definitely adorable and add dimension to the farm. Will they lay the same number of eggs as a chicken? Can I convince the public that duck eggs are just as tasty as chicken eggs? Will my neighbors complain? Well, I guess I will have to wait and see ... "


A few weeks later. . . my how they've grown!

DUCK EGGS. Coming to a neighborhood near you!

 More on raising ducks

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Born in Arabia, Bred in Arcadia

One of the first groves ever planted in the Arcadia area was the Black Sphinx date palm in or around 1917. The pups were brought from Arabia and planted just South of Lafayette between 46th and 47th Place. The grove still stands today with 400+ trees. In 1954 the area was subdivided and houses were carefully built amongst the trees to minimize tree removal. Neighbors who live here liken the area to a rain-forest canopy.
Several years ago, with guidance from a long-time “datilero”, Harry Polk, I started harvesting the dates from the trees in my yard as well as those of my next-door neighbors. If you would like stop by my house at 4641 E. Calle Redonda (602-840-0622), I have dates available for $7 per 1-pound box.
The plump moist fruit, almost jet black in color, has a delicate flavor and creamy texture. They are delicious right out of the box, or stuffed with blue cheese, goat cheese, chocolates or nuts; they are also wonderful in salads or as a glaze for chicken.
One of my favorite recipes is for Moroccan Chicken and Date Tangine from

Pollination Time

Bagging Time

Delicious Black Sphinx Dates