Wednesday, January 6, 2010

January Groundwork

January is here and it's not a time for slackers. It's time to prepare for Spring! January is the month to prune, plant, and dig holes. This is the time to think about expanding your garden. But, don't think too long. The dormant bare-root trees need to be planted before the roots dry out and the warm sun stimulates the buds to leaf out.

Here's the list for the month

  • Plant deciduous fruit trees. If you are planting bare-root trees, get them in the ground as soon as possible. Don't let the roots dry out. Take the tree out of the bag and set it in a barrel of water with a little vitamin B. Let it soak overnight. Have your holes pre-dug and soil mixture ready. Here is a list of fruit and nut trees for the low desert. Many nurseries have potted fruit trees available. You can plant these any time in the next few weeks.

  • Start taste testing citrus fruits for sweetness. Navel, sweet oranges, mandarins and tangelos are close to harvest time.

  • Continue to sow seeds or transplants of cool-season vegetables for a continuous supply of salad greens and root vegetables until warm weather arrives.

  • Time to plant bare-root roses. Find a location where roses have filtered afternoon shade. Valley nurseries have hundreds of roses available. Rose societies will be offering how-to clinics for pruning and planting. Take advantage of the expert knowledge of the valley rosarians. Check out the Maricopa County Extension's rose publication for more information.
  • Prune established roses to encourage optimum blooming in April. Cut all canes back to approximately one half. Cut canes back to an outward facing bud. Remove dead canes. Remove old or weak canes. Strip off all leaves and dispose of them. Seal all cuts with Elmer's glue to seal new cuts. Don't be afraid. Practice makes perfect.

  • Sow seeds of tomatoes, peppers eggplants and basil indoors in time to transplant in the garden in late February to early March.
  • Continue to watch for freezing temperatures and protect frost-tender plants. The last average frost date is around February 15th.
  • Watch for gray aphids on tender new growth and hose off regularly with a forceful spray of water. Also, looper-worms like to eat cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Check under leaves and near the base and pick off worms.

  • This is a great time to add color and texture to your garden. Plant cool weather annuals between your vegetables. Calendulas, johnny-jump-ups, pansy, petunias, snapdragons and stocks will continue to bloom until spring. Cool-season herbs include, dill, parsley, cilantro and thyme.
  • Prune deciduous fruit trees by the end of January or before flowering starts.
  • If you are an adventurous gardener, plant asparagus now.

Have a great new year, and enjoy spring gardening in the desert!

Friday, January 1, 2010

I Have Completely Changed the Way I Garden!

I have officially changed my philosophy of gardening. It is already a challenge to have a vegetable garden in the desert of Arizona, but a year ago, I went to a gardening clinic that was taught by two Master Gardeners here in Maricopa County and they showed me a whole new way to garden.

It is called Square Foot gardening, and it was developed by an engineer named Mel Bartholomew. He has published several books and his official web-site is:

Anyway, the Master Gardeners were both AZ natives and had been gardening here for many years. They had learned about this new method a few years earlier and were sold on it and now I am also.

The theory of it is to use square foot sections and to use them efficiently and you will increase your harvest while using less space. Let me explain.

You start by leveling your area where you are going to put your square foot planting boxes. I (yes, ME!), built four 4x4 boxes and one 2x4 box using 2x6 pieces of lumber. I placed them in the area where my garden has been for the past 17 years. I put weed cloth under each box to prevent weeds from growing up into the boxes.

Next step is to mix the garden mix to fill the boxes. Mr. Bartholomew has a special recipe that he developed which is 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 compost. The initial cost of this is a bit, but it is the only time you will have to do it. From here on you just keep adding compost which is quite inexpensive or free if you make your own compost, which I do.

After mixing and filling the boxes you then need to make the square foot grid. I just bought inexpensive molding from the hardware store and we put it together one night for a family activity. Doesn’t Michael look like he is having more fun than he can handle?!?!?!

You can attach this to the garden boxes or just lay them on it which I did to make it easier when mixing in more compost in the future. Now you are ready to plant! I received a handout showing what and how many plants to plant in each square foot. Basically, you need to determine if it is a small (ex.-radishes, 16 plants per square-foot), medium (ex.-beets, 9 per square foot), large (ex.-leaf lettuce, 4 per sf), or extra large (peppers-1 per sf). Then you map out your garden and decide what you will plant.

Several of the large plants can be planted on a trellis so they take up even less room because they are growing up, this is called vertical planting. I was amazed at how much I was able to plant. More than I had ever fit into this same gardening space.

After planting, I put together a drip line with one head in each square and attached it to my faucet so I just turn on my hose for an hour and it drips onto each section to water it evenly. ***Note-I did use a sprinkler for the first 2 weeks until all the seeds had sprouted, then switched to the drip system.

I have already harvested 1 batch of lettuce and radishes since I planted in September and as you can see, now in December it is going strong.

The selling points of using this method of gardening are: 1-I don’t need to solorize the soil in the summer, 2-the ease of weeding is tremendous, and 3-since you can garden in Maricopa county year-round, it means less time in the hot summer you need to spend maintaining the garden.

Now I admit, I have only been doing this for 4 months and I will let you know how I feel about it in July and August when it is 115-120 degrees out there but since I usually didn’t garden in the summer, I will try it this year to see if I like it or not.

So, I recommend you check out this method. It does take some work to begin with but the time savings so far in the actual gardening has been less than the building of the garden so I have come out ahead time-wise. That time savings means more time for other things I enjoy doing, like playing with my graden train!

Mel Bartholomew teaches workshops all over and he insists this method can be adapted in any climate and location. Try it and let me know what you think!