garden, may 25

I haven’t posted in quite some time, but that’s because the weather has been wacky and there hasn’t been much forward motion. We’ve had rainstorm after rainstorm, and the temperature has been hovering in the low 60s. We even had snow (SNOW!) the day after our average last frost date (May 15th), which had all of us gardeners giggling and groaning simultaneously.

What I have accomplished: Since I haven’t had a whole lot of success starting tomatoes from seed, I picked up a few starts at the Santa Fe Master Gardener’s Fair a few weeks ago. (Early Girl, Super Sweet 100, and Black Truffle.) Thinking that cold weather was behind us, I put them out in containers with some of the amendments that I read about on — worm castings, dry milk, Yum Yum Mix, and a bit of Epsom salts — and then it snowed. They survived the cold blast, and are hanging in there, but seem to be longing for warmer weather. Luckily, the forecast is calling for temps in the 70s this week, so I hope they perk up.

Last year’s strawberries were super sweet, but really small and didn’t produce a whole lot. So, I moved them to one of the raised beds, in hopes that with more space, they will fill in and thrive better this year.

My “salad bar” has been a source of endless frustration — greens are supposed to be easy to grow! I thought I had the problem solved when I put a row cover over it, which helped for a while, and then things started dying off again. (I’m down to 5 spinach plants, 1 chard, 1 romaine, and a few arugulas.) Turns out the bed has been infested with red ants. It’s infuriating, because there seems to be no solution that will not also kill my plants. I’m to the point that I’m ready to give up on that bed and just start everything over in containers.

Today, I started prepping my straw bale. I’ve never tried this method before, and I’ve read that it’s not always recommended for desert climates because it is water intensive. But the straw has been just sitting there for a year, and the season has been so wet that I have enough water in my barrels to get through the preparation stage, so I decided to give it a go. The basic idea is that you wet the bale for 3 days to start the straw decomposing, and then water in a nitrogen-rich fertilizer such as blood meal to the top of the bale for a few days, and it will feed whatever you plant there. Then you plant directly in the bale. I’m thinking either cucumbers or squash will go in the bale — but I’m really terrible at sticking to a garden plan, so that might change.

Fingers crossed for warmer weather this week!


garden, April 18

Well… damn. This is what I woke up to this morning:

snowA blanket of snow coating everything. I’m not terribly hopeful that many of my seedlings survived this sudden cold snap. I didn’t have time to get row covers, and so in a pinch, I threw a sheet on top of them the other night. When the sheet didn’t give them as much protection as I was hoping for, I added a thick layer of straw over the bed and hoped for the best. But I’m not sure even that will be enough to protect against this kind of wet chill. And it’s not looking promising for the next few days… we’ll be hovering around the mid-50s to lower 60s.

garlic in snow 2It’s hard not to feel discouraged when this happens, but I remind myself that this happens every year: a few good weeks of warmth, and the inevitable cold. There’s a reason our last frost date isn’t until May. So for now, I’m going to curl up with a book, wait for the snow melt, and then evaluate where things are at. And maybe rewatch the episode of House Hunters International that showcased some properties with drool-worthy greenhouses.

garden, april 11

I had one of those days where I woke up motivated to do some serious digging, but somehow the morning hours drifted by with little to show for them.

On the upside, I walked out to discover my sugar snap peas are coming up. Peas are funny; even though everything I have ever read on them has said to start them as soon as the soil can be worked, they take their time and wait until the temperature is just right before making an appearance. I hope they produce well, because nothing beats fresh-off-the-vine snap peas. There is also a random pea plant growing in the bed adjacent to the garlic; it came up in November (??), and has been hanging on for dear life since. Since it finally seems to be thriving, I’m just going to leave it.

In the salad bar, I replanted in the spaces where the seedlings had frozen and died off after my morning-watering mishap. I have carrot seeds soaking tonight (Scarlet Nantes and the last few of my Carnival Blend), as there is room for them in the garlic bed. I’m even staggering my planting, so hey, cheers to trying out some succession planting.

My strawberry plants are happy and even flowering already. This concerns me a little, as it isn’t unusual for us to have a late-spring freeze. I’m going to have to keep an eye on the forecast and invest in some row covers. I would like to expand the strawberry patch, since they are so tasty and we could easy eat a couple pounds in a week.

strawberries apr2015

Strawberries plants are already flowering.

One of my biggest struggles continues to be what to do with the front yard. The front of the house has a northern exposure and two big trees, which means the bed is simply not in an ideal site for optimal sun. I’ve been contemplating digging out the current dirt and filling in with topsoil that I have leftover from my last load from Payne’s Organic Soil Yard, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be worth it in the end. If anyone has experience working with such conditions, I’d love to hear your input.

garden, April 7

It’s barely April and I already feel like I am behind! I seem to sleep through March and completely forget that all of the good gardening seminars happens BEFORE the season gets into full swing. That’s okay. Things are still happening!

The garlic I planted last fall is looking beautiful. It should be ready for harvest some time in the summer. (The blob of purple is random volunteer lettuce growing in the mix. I haven’t picked it and figure that at this point, it’s probably not going to be terribly tasty, but I can’t bring myself to pull it up.) And, for the record, I do make every effort to plant in nice, neat rows or squares with even spacing, but for some reason, things come up all higgledy-piggledy.

garlic apr15

Garlic, garlic, garlic. And some lettuce.

I started my “salad bar” toward the end of March, which consists of arugula, spinach, Farmers Market salad mix, buttercrunch lettuce, chard, radishes, and beets. (I somehow overlooked planting any romaine, which I’ll rectify soon.) I decided to forgo kale for now, as I really wasn’t a fan of the Red Winter variety that lives in my collection. Maybe I’ll try for a different variety later in the year.

My seedlings were coming along nicely until I made a critical mistake —I attempted to water them early morning, not realizing the temperature outside was colder than I thought. After a few minutes, the water had frosted over, and I lost a few little guys in the process. Lesson learned. The silver lining: I spent a long time devouring the wealth of information over at Giant Veggie Farmer, and came across the post on cool season crops. Hopefully, armed with some new knowledge and tips on pre-sprouting seeds, the little patch will make a strong comeback.

spinach apr15

Spinach seedlings.

I’ve had a terrible time growing spinach in the past, but finally discovered that I had been starting it far too late in the season for it to germinate. Hopefully, since I started earlier this year, I’ll actually get a good harvest.

Herbs & Flowers:
My mint, rosemary, and lavender are all coming back nicely, as are the chives. The daffodil and iris bulbs that I planted last year have come up, although they seem to be a bit small, and I’m not holding on to high hopes that I’ll get blooms out of them.

Inside, I’ve started some Roma tomatoes, bell peppers, and leeks. I think I’m going to do my tomatoes and peppers in containers this year, since they have a tendency to take over my small bed regardless of whether I plant them or not. A lot of these decisions are hinging on whether or not I manage to get a few more raised beds built before transplant time comes. Fingers crossed, because if I get it done, it will more than double the amount of space I currently have.

Other things in the plan for this year:

  • zucchini
  • cucumbers
  • squash
  • watermelon
  • strawberries
  • carrots
  • chamomile
  • echinacea (my seedlings died last year; I’m going to try again!)
  • sunflowers
  • peas
  • marigolds
  • shallots
  • onions
  • thyme
  • tarragon
  • cilantro
  • basil

A fellow gardener friend and I also realized that we could save a good deal if we go halvsies on our seed order, and split the goods. It seems like a smart move, seeing as neither of us ever go through an entire seed packet in a season, and she’s a whiz at seed saving… so depending on what we order, the list may change, shrink or grow. I can’t wait to start looking at all the different varieties out there.

And, this season is going to be about education. On my list of things to understand better are 1. succession planting; and 2. fertilizing. I know next to nothing about fertilizing, which is kind of embarrassing seeing as promoting fertile, living soil is THE most important aspect of gardening. So, I am making it a goal this year to better understand the components that make up healthy soil, and how to amend it to better suit various crops

garden, june 3

It’s June. How did that happen? The solstice is coming, and I’m starting to feel a little bit frantic with how behind I am. I read other gardening blogs and see the size of their starts, the seeds they have already put out, and feel the chase of the chant, behind, behind, behind.

The last week yielded a lot of forward progress. My dear boyfriend went and picked up a load of garden soil, a bale of straw, and a wheelbarrow for me, so now planting can resume in earnest:


Sorry for the crummy picture; despite the longer days, the sun was already going down when I took it.



That’s a cubic yard of soil, my friends.

So this evening I moved a good portion of it into a second bed that I dug out a few weeks ago, made a few mounds, and planted zucchini. As the sun went down, I busted out my ever-so-stylish headlamp so I could continue working in the dark. I built a sandbank around the potatoes (more on those in a moment), started mulching the plants in the big raised bed, and watered.


Geez I’m nerdy

Ah, yes. The potatoes. I have never grown potatoes before. I had some in the house that were sprouting, and I had read somewhere that potatoes like to grow in compost. So, in the slapdash way that I am a little ashamed has my method this year, I dug some holes, filled them with compost, and stuck the potatoes in there. Much to my surprise, they started growing not long after. After mentioning this to another gardener, she gave me some tips on how to encourage them to produce. I need to keep heaping soil and mulch on top of the greens, leaving just the growing tips exposed, and build up the mounds throughout the season. Tonight I added a good layer of soil and compost, and tomorrow I’ll add straw. And maybe more soil.

Potatoes with the fresh soil heaped on them.

Potatoes with the fresh soil heaped on them. Much bigger than they appear.

What else? I planted more peas in the spots where it seemed they weren’t going to come up. I have to get my melons, pumpkins, summer squash, cucumbers, and other sun-and-heat loving plants into the ground in the next few days. And see if I can find a spot that lettuce and spinach will thrive — I’ve not had any luck with spinach this year. Tomatoes, on the other hand, are popping up everywhere — in the container where I planted lettuce mix, in my rosemary, in random heaps of yard waste…

Hopefully it will mean an abundance is coming. It’s going to be in the 90s tomorrow, and I’m hoping that a late spring storm will pass through and soak everything for a day. Here’s to hoping, abundance, and gratitude for what the garden will bring.

garden, may 24

Vegetable gardening in the high desert presents a lot of challenges. A LOT of challenges. Soil is generally poor quality. Water is scarce. But for me, the biggest challenge of all is the unpredictability of the weather, especially in the spring. Soil can be amended and water collected, but there is nothing is to be done about the weather except for wishing and hoping.

The last few weeks, it has been all over the board. We had a late-season hard freeze just about the time of the average last frost date, followed by temps in the 80s. A little bit of heartbreak followed. Somehow, whether it was the wind or cat or kid, the lid got knocked off my seed starting dome. With the double-shot of it being hot and dry out, I lost damn near everything. Out of the 75 or so pods that were in there, I only managed to preserve one leek, two sunflowers, one echinacea, one chard, and possibly a watermelon (if it survives).

There’s nothing to be done but start over. I’ve lost a few weeks, but hopefully it’s still early enough in the season that I can play catch-up. If not, well, lesson learned for next time.

This weekend, it rained. And I mean, it rained, the way it only does in the desert extremes. Friday brought a huge deluge, complete with enough hail that it looked like it had snowed. Everything is saturated. I really wish that I had secured rain barrels by now, because I could have easily filled all of them. I had to make do with putting out as many containers as I could, and hope that in the next few weeks it doesn’t all evaporate.

On the positive side, I harvested the beets:


The first patch was perfectly formed. The second batch contained a few wonky shapes, which I believe is due to over-watering and the fact that the soil got packed down from rain.

In containers, I have romaine, lettuce mix, chard, and cilantro all coming up. The mint has flourished to the point that I took cuttings and propagated them. Surprisingly, the cuttings that I got last year and haphazardly stuck into a random spot in the front yard have come back. Fine by me — You can never have too much mint! (I may regret saying that, as mint is a prolific plant that spreads like crazy.) Strawberries are holding strong and started to produce buds.

Once we get some warmer weather, the tomatoes and pepper will be going into the ground. Squash and melons need to be sown. I’m hoping for a big harvest of zucchini, but I need to get another bed built so they have room to spread.

Still so much to do. Fingers crossed that the next two days have some rainless sunny hours so I can get to it.

garden, May 5

We finally had a sunny weekend, and wouldn’t you know it — I woke up with a cough and runny nose. Owing to the ick, I didn’t do a whole lot outside. On Saturday, I did manage to plant the two grape vines and remaining raspberry vine. I also started hardening off the seedlings that were ready for it.

In the raised bed, beets, carrots, and fennel are coming up behind the radishes and carrots. Cilantro just started poking its head out of one of the containers, and I think the spinach and lettuce will be coming soon. (Assuming it’s actually spinach and lettuce and not just weeds.)

In the peat pods, I have leeks, sunflowers, chamomile, echinacea, Swiss chard, and romaine coming up. There are also two rows that I forgot to label; one is carrots that have not yet germinated (yes, I’m experimenting with starting these in peat pods even though everything recommends sowing directly into the garden bed), and the other is sprouting and I don’t remember what it is. Maybe broccoli, if I’m going off the open seed packets. Note to all: always label your seedlings to avoid the guessing game!

The only thing that hasn’t come up yet is the snap peas, and it has me a little concerned. They are usually among the first to start poking their heads out of the garden. I’m chalking this up to the fact that my kiddo got a little overly excited and soaked them in water for three days before they went into the ground. I might have to do a second sowing if I don’t see any progress soon.

Today, since I’m feeling better but was told not to come in to work, I started digging out a 3 x 6 plot in the backyard. I’m hoping this will be a good site for the squash and melons so they can sprawl. (Although now that I’m thinking about it, I might want to expand it another foot, to make it easier to get 2 square feet per plant.)  The soil is not particularly good — very sandy, which, while good for drainage, does not retain water in this dry climate.  I plan on amending it with a big dose of compost and organic matter, and mulch is going to be a very big necessity this year.

I still have a lot of work to do, but so far, I’m pleased with how everything is coming along. Now I just need to educate myself on cold season crops so I can be harvesting right now in addition to planting.