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

 

 

 

Take cover

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Sure is cold today and I am so glad I spent time last week tucking in my little garden beds.  Don’t get the wrong idea– I try to avoid buying new things at all cost, especially petroleum products…but once in a while I do spend some money on that little garden of mine.  Lately I have been in and out of three stores and purchased some really useful stuff I thought I would share with you all.

Row Cover and 9 gauge Wire

Row Cover and 9 gauge Wire

I bought about 60 feet of heavy weight row cover at Plants of the Southwest ( they sell it by the yard) and a roll of 9 gauge wire ( at Lowes in the fencing dept) to make even more hoops over my beds.  This stuff really protects against spring winds, weird weather like today…(is that snow I spy out my window?) and of course animals like chickens, dogs, cats and wild birds that are so drawn to mess around in my tidy, tender greens.  I have over wintered greens under this stuff and some plastic sheets all winter long and now that spring is officially here I am boldly transplanting cold season greens like Kale, Chard and Collards out there as well as direct sowing peas, spinach and lettuce oh and I even put this over the onions sets I planted last week… I say the cozier the better.IMG_2827

So, if you interested in doing your own cover up, the row cover cost about $3 a yard at Plants of the Southwest.  It is 12 ft wide so you can cut it down the middle or into any shape you like. The roll of 9 gauge wire cost $21 at Lowes but I am pretty sure you can get it at any hardware store.

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You will need bolt cutters to cut it, which is a whole other investment, but chances are someone you know has one.IMG_3197

First, I line up the end to the next ring and cut

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In this way I got 24 hoops.

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I space them 3ft apart in my beds and in 20 ft beds I put 7 in each bed….I was able to do 3 beds…maybe more info than you need, but I had fun figuring this all out.  So 24 hoops for $21.23, after tax…$1 per hoop.   The row cover is about $.50 per foot(after cutting it) so to cover a 20 x 3ft bed I spent $17 each. IMG_3259 

That kind of seems like a lot now that I really do the math, but they will last at least 5 years, maybe more if I take care of them and store them well when I am not using them.  I also know that I will be eating $17 worth of veggies from each bed in no time so it is money well spent.

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This is what we had going on last year- Photo taken April 20th, 2013.  So as you can see, a little protection grows a long way, hehhehe!

In my consumer roamings I also found I few treasures I will NOT buy, but would like to.  At Bioshield I found these…

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Haws watering cans

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and these fancy Italian, English and Japanese gardening tools.

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And the cutest Haws cherry red watering can you ever saw!

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They even carry the Stella Natura Planting Biodynamic calendar

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And a few more books I think I need for my shelf…ah someday!

Time to Sow

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I have been puttering around the house this week, knowing I should be starting seeds, but way more drawn to spring cleaning and trying new things.  I have unconsciously been putting off starting seeds outside or in the greenhouse, though my calendar tells me to do so and all my experience from years past point to NOW, I just haven’t felt drawn to do it…. and know I know why,  WATER.

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There simple has been none.   For almost 2 months very few drops of anything have fallen from our skies, while the rest of the country wades through multiple feet of snow, we kick dust around, sweep our porches constantly and sneeze our way through a disturbingly early spring…..

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But the gift of rain has fallen upon us, finally!! So beautifully slow and steady all night, so well received by our parched, dry earth.  Every thing feels back to balance somehow and today my seeding instincts have finally kicked it.

For those of you who are following along with my calendar this year I know you may have seen seeding dates since January, but if you haven’t planted anything yet, you are NOT TOO LATE.  The dates in the calendar are what you could plant, not necessarily what you must plant.  In fact if you planted everything I recommended on every day, you would need at farm to grow all that food.  Every garden and gardener is different, every single season, so if you are gardening this year, today would be a great time to get started with a few simple questions before you get those seeds in the ground.

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Ask yourself and your garden…

How much room do you have to grow this year?

How much water have you collected, or are you willing to pay for city water?

Are you going away at all this summer, if so when?  You will want to plan your harvests around your trips.

What do you know you will want to eat fresh daily?  What can you afford to source from farmers instead of growing yourself?

How much windowsill/greenhouse space do you have fro starting seedlings?  If none, what is your budget/plan for getting starts for your garden?

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These are all big questions I must address every year before I start throwing seeds and water around.  I try to change things up every year too, to keep up on the needs at hand.  For example, having a new baby, no money and lots of time at home in the past few summers, my garden was tremendously ambitious.  I planted mostly spring greens and during the summers my garden was filled to the brim in tomatoes.  From 110 plants I weighed in 300lbs of red and 75 lbs of green (early frost) tomatoes from my backyard.  I grew enough to can and supply for my families needs for a year.  With the same plan in 2012 I never bought a tomato product.  This year, to date I now have 25 pints & 3 quarts of diced tomatoes, 5 pints of salsa and 5 half pints of ketchup left to carry my till July. I will let you know if I run out, but I think we will plan accordingly and be just fine.  So these past years it was my goal to never buy a tomato product,  and my experiment worked….

Put up for the long winter ahead

Put up for the long winter ahead

This year I am wondering, will I do that again?  We have more travel planned, the water is looking less promising and I am actually more excited about growing spring greens for my Mama’s Mini CSA and trading for milk and eggs, than having all that tomato processing to do this fall… Decisions, Decisions!!

Well, While I mull over mine, what will you grow this year?  What will you buy, trade, what will you forego?

If those questions are already answered, well then now my friends, would be a good time to begin to sow.  If you are beginning your garden journey here are a few posts that will help you get started-

Homemade Potting Soil

Bed Prep

Seed Starting

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What are the top ten ways to simplify your gardening?

Christina, over at Tumbleweeds and Seeds posed this question to me the very same day I mixed up a fresh load of potting soil, filled my homemade wooden flats and sowed seeds to be pampered in my greenhouse till it is warm enough to transplant them outside under row cover…..All this to say- -my gardening style is hardy simple.  Because I love it and love to do it all myself it is totally worth all the effort, but simple it is not.  So as I worked, I thought of all the ways you (or I if I so choose) could make gardening simpler.

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The first would be simply Don’t garden.  NO seriously I am not kidding, yes I am a garden teacher and yes I would love to teach you how, but seriously like any hobby, life-giving or not, one must consider the time, skills, costs, resources and water, that go into any new endeavor.  Gardening can help take you out of an industrialized food system, it can get you out into nature more, it just might address pressing personal and global shifts, but consider if it is the right fit for you and your time and resources because honestly it may not be worth doing if you can’t do it well.

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I worked as the school gardener a couple of years back and I had a co-worker who told me a great story.

She rode her bike to work, shopped locally, she did all she could to reduce her carbon footprint and contribute to her community.  One summer she decided to add growing her own food to her good green efforts.  She built a raised bed, bought fancy soil, invested in little plants from the greenhouse and watered like crazy.  She worked so hard that summer and got very little return that ended up losing money & time, but she did gain the realization of how much effort it really took to grow your own food here in the high desert.  She concluded her tale with,

“After all that, now I happily shop at farmers market and I will never scoff at a $3 bunch of Carrots again.  Those farmers know what they are doing, have the appropriate resources to grow beautiful food, and man, the earn every penny!!”

Did you know that one of the biggest problems with the Santa Fe Farmer market is that the farmers CAN’T SELL all their beautiful food!! So much effort, water, land, money, highly precious resources here in the high desert all gone to waste….So if you can, just buy your food from the local pros and save your water bill and spare time for something else.  Gift your local farmers with the value and respect you give any professional.

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Now if you are continuing to read, it is probably because you love to garden, can’t afford market or have some other very good reason you are set on growing, or like me, you simply MUST, so my dear gardeners, here are a few more tips for you.

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1-Starts

If simple is what you are truly looking for, the first advice I would give would be don’t make your own flats, soil or even grow your own starts.  Though a wonderful and pleasurable task, it is not simple and not always easy to do all the pre-growing yourself.  I would recommend buying starts from your local Nursery, Aqua Fria always has a good selection, and of course plenty of folks at Farmers Market.

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2-Choose your crops wisely

Grow only what you eat constantly, what costs a lot and doesn’t travel well.

Like greens, salad, or herbs.  I say make good friends with Swiss Chard, it can be eaten raw of cooked, grows almost year round, bugs don’t like it, it is truly a loyal pal.  I also recommend people start with potted herbs that come come inside in the winter.  This way you always have them on hand and start to really save money and those darn plastic containers most herbs in the supermarket come in.  Dark leafy greens like Kale & Chard are always giving and take require very little attention and really you can’t eat enough of them!

Grow crops that will supply for your needs all year.

Garlic is super easy, low maintenance and you can grow a whole years worth in your backyard.

Skip field crops

If you have a small yard and are trying to grow some of your own food, skip crops like Onions, Winter Squash, Corn, and Potatoes unless of course you have really great success with them.  You can buy all those in bulk locally and cheaply from farmers at market and store them all winter long.  There is no way I could produce all that I consume, so I save my garden space for things I consume daily.

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3-Consolidate Resources- Small is Beautiful

Plant intensively one area, don’t spread your gardening all over the yard.  Choose a small are and really love it up, water it well, spoil it with compost and mulch and wind protection.  Even use containers on your porch that have great soil and are convenient to water, but make sure this precious area is well cared for.  Your work is a resource too, so make sure you are using your time and energy as wisely as well as your water and nutrients.  A small intensive area that is well cared for will sing, rather than over doing it and spreading you and your garden too thin.

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4-Mulch like crazy & STOP Weeding!!

Mulch suppresses weeds so you don’t have to worry about them.  It keeps in moisture so you water much less and builds up organic material in your soil.  If you do have weeds, let them be if they aren’t encroaching in precious vegetables.  Just change how you see them , call them cover crops, call them water catchment, call them green in the desert.  If they are getting in your veggies way, pull them up and lay them down right where they are and call them mulch.  They will just dry up and look like straw anyway!!

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5-Plan well

I have found good gardening really is good planning.  Sow succession crops so as you harvest you are continually adding more seeds.  This makes so you are always harvesting something, so no time, water or space is wasted.  If you need help, here is my handy planting calendar to help guide your way.

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6-Low till to No till

Build up the soil with constant additions of organic material.  You are building up an ecology that does not need to be disturbed every season.  Once you dig deep the first couple of seasons, a light fluffing of the top soil should do the trick for sowing seeds and transplanting.

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7- Chicken tractors

Have you ever had chickens loss in your yard?  Then you have seen them scratch, pick and rake your garden to a nice fine tilth.  Build a little cage that fits over you beds and put the chickens in there before you sow.  They will do the work for you in day!  No chickens?  I guarantee you have a friend who will lend you a few for a day.  They of course eat bug and weeds too, you don’t need to be the only one working out there!

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8-Swap and share

Your friends have chickens and you have Chard- just trade, we don’t all need to do it all the time!  Things are only worth the value we put on them.  Create your own little underground swapper market.

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9-Perrenialize

You can plant your whole yard in edible berries, trees, herbs and shrubs and have a lot less work to do weekly.  You may have bumper crops one year creating a lot of work at one time, but I am sure you will have tons of friends all of a sudden who want to come over and help pick.  Also Perrenialize annuals too.  Let things go to seed and they will be sure to sprout up in odd places next year.  You can wild harvest out of your own yard if you let things naturalize and learn to eat your weeds! Generally perennials take less water too and you can use grey water on them more easily.  All our dish water goes onto our perennial front yard.

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10- Only garden if you love it!!

Forgive your self if you don’t love gardening and use your precious time and energy on some other righteous earth healing soul nourishing endeavor, I am sure you can think of one that is calling to you right now!

Planning for Spring

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Ahhh, the subtle return of the light, the seed catalogs in the mailbox, it is still cold outside, but the garden dreams have started.  I know you are with me here, as I have gotten numbers emails lately about this year being your year for you to grow some serious food.  I often forget how valuable growing my own food truly is and then I wander into the produce aisle mid winter and see Kale for almost $4 a bundle.   All my winter garden laziness falls away and I  get to down to business with my garden planning, compost collected and double digging.  Honestly I don’t really buy many vegetables, in 2012 I grew over 500lbs of veggies here on 1/5 of an acre and though I haven’t done my math yet, but I am pretty sure 2013 there was even more.  Every year is different, but I am hoping for an abundant year ahead, with the Wood Horse on my side and all. ( We just went to a Chinese New Year party, for those of you who missed that reference)

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Today to celebrate Imbolc, the half way mark between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, I am making potting soil for my green house flats which I plan to sow tomorrow with lots of cool season greens.  For those of you who bought a planting calendar, are you gardening along with me this year? ( If you didn’t get one, I still have a few.)

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This spring, starting March 28th,  I am excited to be offering a class at the Community College on Gardening in the Desert.  These cold winter eves are spent in pouring through my book collection, organizing my thoughts and recruiting signups for this class.  If you are familiar with SFCC Continuing Ed courses here is the course info is: course #Hg337 01/crN 31535 if not just call 505-428-1270 and they will get you all set up if you care to join me.  We will be going from seed to harvest, focusing on home scale vegetable production in the high desert and since I run the garden at the College, we will have lots of opportunity to get our hands dirty.

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Meanwhile, today in the backyard we harvested almost 1 lb of Spinach and are about ready to get the hose out and just spray down the entire lot if we don’t get some moisture soon!  Enjoying the sun, praying for rain, the eternal dance of the desert grower!

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Mid winter meal

Oh baby it is cold outside, but the garden is still growing, slowly slowly, & generously provided us with salad for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years!  Thought I would share some tips I learned this year on my season extension.

First off plan and plant your fall/winter crops in late summer and cover with floating row cover when frost start to get rough.

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Seeds Savers American Spinach does beautifully in my winter beds!

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When it snows, sweep it off while it is still fluffy, if not it will freeze, harden and smash your hoops down and freeze your little greens underneath.

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When the weather is really nasty, cold and snowy add a layer of plastic, like the rolls of painters drop cloth you get at the hardware store, over your row cover to collect sun heat and help the snow shed.  The heavier duty the better– this is 4mm.

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Open up beds in the middle of warm sunny days, other wise you might be shocked to see that some of your greens are actually frozen…but if you wait, they can bounce back and be eaten!!

In this weather, I barely water in ground crops, especially cause snow melts slow in this spot, and when I say barely I mean I haven’t watered in over a month!!

Hope your harvests are still feeding you well.  Happy New Growing Year!