What to Plant & When?

Over the years I think the most common question I get asked as a garden teacher is “What do I plant, and when?” I have answered the best I can, sent people to my favorite books, taught classes, blogged about it….But I fear I may be giving too long and complicated answers… the basic home gardener doesn’t want calculate and compute, they just want to know what to plant and when and get on with it, am I right!!  So here is this years attempt to make gardening in the high desert all the more straight forward and accessible to everyone.  Please keep in mind, many might argue with me, as we gardeners all love our own way of doing things..I am just sharing what I do and what I believe you can do too. This post is loaded with links so be sure to click on them for more info.

January–

Plan– Take a seed count, Order any seeds from your favorite Companies,( Mine are Johnny’s, Seeds Savers Exchange, Native Seed Search , Order potatoes (companies can and do sell out)

PlantGreenhouse (Indoor south-facing window) Onions, Leeks, Scallions, Tomatoes(yes it seems early but is works for me)Lettuce, Cilantro

Cold Frame– Spinach, Mache, Cilantro, Lettuce, Arugula, Parsley, Peas, Radishes and other cold season greens.

February–

Plan– Decide where you might want to put everything measuring square footage, you can use graph paper, or this fancy software. Once you know how much of what it is you want to grow, you can really start.

Plant- Greenhouse (Indoor south-facing window)Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Collards  (these can also be direct sown outside next month),Tomatoes

Cold Frame– Spinach, Mache, Cilantro, Lettuce, Arugula, Parsley, Peas, Radishes and other cold season greens, Carrots, Chard

Outdoors with Row Cover-Spinach, Mache, Lettuce, Arugula, Parsley, Cilantro, Peas, Radishes and other cold season greens,

March-

Plan-Order Compost (I like to put down compost every year, about 1inch thick on all my veggie beds, if you can produce this much on sight, well done!!, if not it is worth buying some here) Plan/Purchase Irrigation system–lots to say on this matter, but this year we are going with t-tape.(more on all that later)

Plant

Greenhouse (Indoor south-facing window)

Basil

Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Collards, (can also be planted directly at under cover outside)

Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant

Cucumber, Melon, Winter Squash (Pumpkin, Butternut, Acorn, Etc…)Summer Squash (zucchini, Yellow Squash) These all do well direct seeded outside later in the season

Flowers- Calendula, Marigolds, Sunflowers, Snap Dragons, Tithonia, Zinnias (direct sowing works very well for all of these later in the season, I just have a greenhouse and can’t help myself!)

Cold Frame– Spinach, Mache, Cilantro, Lettuce, Arugula, Parsley, Peas, Radishes and other cold season greens, Carrots, Chard, Beets

Outdoors with Row Cover-Spinach, Mache, Lettuce, Arugula, Parsley, Cilantro, Peas, Radishes and other cold season greens, Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Carrots, Chard,

Outdoors in the great wide open– Potatoes, Spinach, Peas, Radishes, Lettuce, Dill, Chives, Flowers- Sweet Peas…I always try to get these guys in by St. Patty’s day, but am usually about a week or so late.

Just a note-March is when I really start planting outside as I am lazy with cold season watering.  If I were more serious about production I would be gardening year round, but March really feels right to me, everything must rest, right?!!  Remember, once you put seeds in the ground, you need to keep them moist for them to germinate and grow, granted the soil dries-out much slower in the cool season, but this is the desert, so only sow when you are ready to hand water (irrigation usually isn’t turned out till May).  If you are watering outdoors in the cold months (you should be watering perennials and trees every 2-4weeks with these dry winters)…..always drain and unhook your hoses, they can freeze and burst and cause you real trouble!!

April

Plan- Spread compost and lay irrigation if that is part of your plan. Till or dig any bed you plan to turn.

Plant-

Greenhouse (Indoor south-facing window) I am full up in the Greenhouse by this time and just watering my babies.  I always try to have a flat of sunflower sprouts growing, you can sow these once a week.

Cold Frame-Pepper, Eggplant (If your cold frame is tall enough this ensures a nice hot mini greenhouse that you can close up if we get frost before they ripen in the fall)

Outdoors with Row Cover- Spinach, Mache, Lettuce, Arugula, Parsley, Cilantro, Peas, Radishes and other cold season greens, Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Carrots, Chard,

Outdoors in the great wide open- Onions, Leeks, Scallions,Potatoes, Spinach, Mache, Lettuce, Arugula, Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Chives, Peas, Radishes and other cold season greens, Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Carrots, Chard, Beets, Parsnips, Flowers- Marigolds, Snap Dragons, Sweet Peas

May (Last Frost date May 15th)

Plan-Spread compost and lay irrigation if that is part of your plan. Till or dig any bed you plan to turn.

Plant-

Outdoors in the great wide open- (Direct seed or transplanted from the greenhouse)

Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Carrots, Chard, Beets, Parsnips, Beans, Corn, Squash, Cucumbers, Melons, Amaranth, Basil, Flowers- Calendula, Marigolds, Sunflowers, nasturtiums, Cosmos, Zinnias

Who Did I Forget?- Garlic is planted in the fall, sweet potatoes I have yet to try though they are getting experimented with in gardens all around me, Bok choy- yet to really succeed against the flea beatles, but will let you know when I truly get a successful crop!

Well I hope that helps– never a short answer from me, but hopefully somewhat simple and straight forward?  Happy gardening!

How low can they go?

IMG_6363May is lovely- but can be wild too.  As we have seen this weekend in Santa Fe- a foot of snow!!IMG_6364

It is such a transitional time, the last burst of winter before it finally passes.  I looked back on my calendars and it does usually snow every year in the first week of May, so though odd, it is actually to be expected.

IMG_6360But the good news is no harm done over here.  All the little cool season greens and seeds were tucked under row cover and only seemed to perk up from crisp air all the moisture gifted to them.  If you are wondering how cold CAN your cold season crops get…wellIMG_6383

How low can they go?

IMG_6377The hardiest of the winter vegetables are Kale, Collards, Peas and Spinach which can take Temps as low as low 20’s and in the high teens.

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Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Mustard Greens, Parsley, Radish, Parsnip, Turnip can all take temps 28-25 degrees.

All of these can survive under thick row cover all winter, though they may not show many signs of growth, they will start to spring new leaves in February.

Other semi-hardy vegetables are Beets, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Endive, Lettuce, Radicchio, Rutabega, Salsify, Bok Choy, Tatsoi and Swiss Chard, tolerant of Temps from 32-29degrees.  These can usually be harvested till Christmas under heavy row cover, but will need to be replanted in the spring under row cover as well. (with the exception of Swiss Chard, this patch was almost invisible all winter under no row cover… but is coming back just fine!)

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So not to worry, the storm has passed, we have gathered the moisture and now we prepare for hardening off and the planting out process… More on that to come.

Save

First Seeds!

As some of you may have noticed I have been a bit distant lately… I think my last post was ……What can I say, “The Trump Effect”, Three children, and some however all my techno gadgets got completly full to the point of not functioning at all…. A good metaphor for my brain I suppose.  I am in need of some serious spring cleaning and when you put something down for a while it can be hard to pick up again.

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It has caused great reflection; who am I now, what do I do, what do I share, what is the most important thing right now?  I am sure I am not alone in these musings, it is in the collective consciousness to reassess right now, and I pray that that only brings more clarity, action and commitment to good work in the world… But while I have been eddying in my overwhelm the gardening questions are starting to pop up in my inbox and messages,  the seeds are starting to sprout and I just realized I better snap out of it and stop trying to answer life existential questions… there is work to be done!!

IMG_1071 (1)My work has always been grow food, feed people, teach them so…. and so though it may be simple work I am getting the message that it is still important, relevent and imperative in these crazy times.  People will always need to eat and resistance creates hunger!!  So I am here to feed and nourish the notion to do so…

So with no further ado I am back to my good old simple straight forward work of gardening.  This morning I sunk the very first seeds of spring into my garden flats and it not only brought me a familiar calm but it just made sense.  I think in these crazy times we all need to find those grounding acts that makes sense to us, the good work of our heart and hands that must be done to care for life itself.

I didn’t get a chance to make my gardening Calender yet this year, though I still may, but I will post here what I am doing, how and when, so that you too may following along virtually and we can sow seeds of hope together.

Today is a leaf day according to the biodynamic calender, meaning the moon is in a water sign, good juice for growing seeds… I planted Kale, Cabbage and Chard in my greenhouse and though it feels actually very late for those things, better late than never right!

Sending greetings of hope and new life your way today, Happy Planting!IMG_3962

The Extended Garden Tour

What an honor to have our little 1/5acre of paradise featured on Soule Mama’s Blog this weekend.  I was shocked at how many visitors this little blog of mine got and since a few of you asked to see more, I am so happy to share.  You may have noticed I love taking pictures of my garden just about as much as I love taking pictures of my kids, so I have a lot of images to share.  I put together an extended garden tour from photos I have taken over the past 5 years when I started this blog of mine, so it was also a good reflection for me to see how far we have come in seven years… so with no further ado, Welcome to our humble abode…

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My husband is kind of a twisty wood collector, before we got married I think he thought he would retire early and set up a twisty wood furniture company… well, no early retirement for this papa of three, and now our gardens are all hemmed in with twisty wood creations…lucky me! He also built that ladder out of a single black locust log up to a tree nook in the box elder where he wove the branches together so it feels super cozy for the little birds who hang out up there.

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When you enter you will inevitably be greeted by a curious small person.  This very small person helped my weave these low garden fences out of willow we gathered together and hauled up the lane from the river.  They keep the babies out of the garden and the constant layers of leaf mulch in. ( mulch is a must in a desert garden)

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As you can see, I never remove weeds from the yard, I simply pull and lay them down in place.  In the desert they dry up in a day or two and act as mulch, skips the step of buying mulch. My husband has been working for years, slowly surrounding the growing spaces with bricks he finds on craigslist.  They are great water catchment, thermal mass and of course great for playing with trucks, riding bikes and learning to walk on.

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Another masterpiece built brick by brick by my husband. Every nook ans cranny is utilized, horno under the shed roof, cradle on the freezer, etc… we use every inch we can!

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Shade is key in the desert, now we have grapes vines that are almost covering it, but those grass mat fencing things work great for shade in the summer.   In the winter we remove them and have a super sunny spot to warm ourselves on cold days.

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Our first dinner party in the outdoor kitchen….followed by many many more!!

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The boys built our Horno a couple of summers back which we now spark up every May for our annual boy birthday pizza party and every November for the Thanksgiving Turkey.

 

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The garden studio craft shack was actually built for food storage, but I quickly took it over with all my crafting supplies, a girl needs a place to put all her yarn right?!

 

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It was built out of old shipping pallets and mud and straw…there is a whole blog post about the shed here, check it out, it is awesome!

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Another genius of my husband!! He said he had that antique O’Keeffe Merritt stove under a tarp for almost ten years before I came along.  Now I got that baby canning and baking all summer long, I barely even turn on the oven inside for months!

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Our washing station where of course the water runs right out to the peach tree behind the sink. And yes that is a very large salad spinner that was worth every penny!  I haven’t had a turn yet, the kids always want to do the spinning!!

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Step through another twisty garden gate and follow the red brick path….to your right vertical growing on the south side of the greenhouse is usually covered with tomatoes.  To your left is a vegetative hedge of Currants, Nanking Cherries, Wild Plums, Wild Roses,  and Hops all that started as twigs from the national forest service that help buffer between us and our neighbors and feed the wildlife.

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The grandma tree beckons you back to discover more around the bend, my husband always says it was this tree that sold him on the house.  When he moved in 15 years ago the lot was completely barren and the house in a state of disarray.

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A sharp turn to the north and you will find hundreds of gallons of rainwater being collected for dry days ahead.  And yes that is a Chicago fig gifted to me from my friends mom, but it dies back every year and only produces a few figs, but it’s cool so we keep it around, who knows, maybe someday the climate will change so much it will thrive year round ( the bright side right?)

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Peek over the garden gate and the prize vegetable await!

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Yep, another twisty wood gate!

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And here it is from the other side- twisty wood arches everywhere, I told you!! We decided to fence in the garden last year so that I could let the chickens free in the rest of the yard.  They are too messy to come into my tidy happy place!

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My desert maiden Amanda enjoying the Japanese knot weed ‘lawn’ while the kids enjoy her gift, “The Imaginarium“! What a great Aunty!!

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Kid, chicken, bunny zone

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Someday I would like to see a nice blue grama grass lawn here, someday!

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The little garden that could all hemmed in.

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Along the north side of the house is the drive way and a 4ft wide strip of dirt that once was the vegetable zone but now home to 20 espalier apple trees.  They act as a living fence and this is the first year they gave fruit and they are pretty as a picture!

 

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The north strip garden is now home to a ton of plants gone wild.. tomatoes parnips, amaranth, arugula zinnias and whatever else has naturalize and perrenialized itself there.

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Our hops monster eating the porch

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And back to the beginning, the front garden is mostly flowers, herbs and medicinals that are cycling through at different times of the year, mostly a spring garden but it gets lots of action all through the year with the sand box right in it.

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AHHH the  Greenhouse in the high season, But I will save that for another day… next time I will invite you inside for tea and a look around!

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Five years ago

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Us today, my how we have grow!!

Thanks again Soule Mama for encouraging me to share and thanks to all of you who know small is beautiful and there is no place like home!

Cucumbers on the clothesline

Just as simple as that … Out trellising cucumbers this evening and I was looking for what I had in the yard to get them up off the ground.  I found an old plastic coated wire clothesline lying around and of course, clothespins.  It turned out to be the perfect materials for cucumbers to latch onto and climb.  IMG_2540

I hate to buy stuff I really can’t use for a million different things and re-use a million times, so there is no guilt when I buy even more clothesline and clothes pins to finish the job.  I mean really can you have too many clothes pins? Never!IMG_2538So there is my clever garden invention for the day and with the evening backlight on my little cucs, I couldn’t help but share!

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So up and away the garden grows!!

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Garden Transitions- The Fall Flip

I plan my garden very strategically so that there isn’t much work to do in June and July… For many reasons… Maybe first because I was a garden teacher for so many years that I planned spring and fall gardens with very little summer maintenance.  Even though I am not running a school garden this year, I now have a tiny baby and can’t really garden much at all…so it is convenient that I don’t have much to do but harvest in the high heat.  It is also convenient for leaving town during the hottest, driest time of year which we all want to do.

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Yeah for harvest help from our good friends from Ampersand, love you guys!!

And probably the biggest reason I plan so much for spring and fall gardening is that is when gardening in the high desert is at it’s best!  There is cool air, cooler soils and real water falling from the sky!  I start things outside as early as February (my pea crop was started then and yielded my best crop yet!)  and am eating out of the garden till Christmas eve.  Summer is for being lazy anyways right!?

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So though I am still being very lazy, I am starting to think about the transitions about to happen out there, the good old ‘fall flip’.  This is when I pull out all the lettuce and peas that have stopped yielding and bolted into pure bitterness that may still remain and I plant a whole new slew of cool season crops.  IMG_0273

Because it is only the 9th  of  July I can still plant a nice beet & carrot crop.  Later in the month I will plant more lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and whatever other cool season greens I wish.  I also have started planting big beautiful marigolds this time of year to have for autumn garlands.  IMG_9387

High summer I hear a lot of people say, ‘oh I am too late to have a garden this year’…but you are not!  Autumn harvest is within reach.  Plant now and you will abundance you will reap!!

Hardening off & planting out

I am sure many of you spent Mother’s Day weekend filling shopping baskets with new baby plants to bring home and fill your garden with, it is a Mother’s Day tradition,  (and it may be the only day of the year you can get the whole family to help you in the garden without complaint).  I received the wonderful gift of my son and mother planting a brand new climbing rose for me while I took a nap!! Heaven!!

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However around these parts Mother’s Day week and weekend is also famous for snow storms, which is why the last frost date is in fact May 15th- not May 5th!  Transitioning things outside and toughening them up enough to go from lush nursery conditions to exposed windy high desert gardens is an important step to protecting your investments.

IMG_3382Here is a post from years back that talks about the hardening off process and why it is important.

IMG_3379Here is another on with ten transplanting tips.

IMG_1946And lastly one about transplanting tomatoes, which is what I will be doing this weekend… and for many days to come until these babies are tucked cozy in the ground!  If you are planting according to the Bio-dynamic Calendar, Friday and Saturday are not only fruit days but (specially good!!) So hope you are hardened off and ready to go!

 

 

Spring Greens

IMG_1658What a spring we have had! Erratic whether, moisture, crisp cool air, and really spring greens like nothing better!  I have begun harvesting multiple pounds of Lettuce, Spinach, Kale, Chard and Chinese Cabbage every week and just wish I had more garden space to plant more.

IMG_1666If you are doing succession planting in your garden planning, timing and leaving space for the future is everything!!  You have to think about how long it will take for a head of lettuce to produce,(about 60 days in the spring) and then plan what you will pop in its place once harvested.  In these pictures above and below you can see I planted Cabbage babies among the cut and come again Lettuce, so that by the time the Lettuce is bitter the Cabbage will take over.

IMG_1799I usually plant a lot of cut and come again varieties of Lettuce, Spinach and Kale and Chard so I don’t have to keep planting…but this year I knew I could sneak in a bunch of head Lettuce before the warm season crops needed the square footage, so now the garden is full of butterhead and romaine varieties so I can remove the whole plant and put in warm season crops the same day…..lots of salad ahead for Mama’s Mini Farm CSA!

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The next three days are leaf days, so in go the last of my greenhouse Romaine starts and I will be sowing directly more Cilantro, Spinach, Arugula and Lettuce.  Possibly for the last time till mid July, as once my attention and garden space goes towards the warm season crops I simply don’t have enough room or time for greens…not to mention when the weather heats up many of these spring babies go bitter or bolt quickly.  Luckily my Chard and Kale keep pumping through the heat and I may not even need to replant them if I care for them right…

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Which is to say I have found that if you shade cool season greens in the high summer they really like it and last longer.  As you already know I am a huge fan of row cover for a long list of reasons… but when it gets too hot and plants don’t get enough fresh air they can get very flimsy and over succulent.  So much so that they couldn’t survive one day in full exposure and they will just turn to mush before your eyes, so I try to gradually remove the row covers for more and more hours at a time to toughen them up to the real world.

IMG_1810I often raise the row cover so wind and beneficial insects can find their way in on the ends, because another set back of having your crops under constant cover is pests, namely good old aphids can take over while you aren’t watching.

At some point when cool spring breezy days shift to hot summer days, Often around June 1st.  I take the row cover off all together and replace it with shade screen.  This lets light, water, and beneficials in, but it takes the edge off those sweltering afternoons that will cause a cilantro to bolt in one day!

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I have found in full sun gardens these shades are very helpful for almost all crops even warm season crops, throughout the whole summer. I have learned my lesson with more than one June hail storm destroying my precious babes!  More info on what to use is in  this previous post.

So if you aren’t out there already….get sowing!! You can plant pretty much any cool season crops, flowers and roots right now and in a few short weeks it will be tomato time!! Hooray! IMG_1670