Some Good, Some Bad

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I know, it’s been a while since I’ve shared a wide view of  back yard garden. Despite more empty bed space than I’d like , it’s shaping up to be a productive summer. There are lots of healthy greens this year, and, so far, no squash bugs!!! I’ve been able to harvest a handful of petite scallopini summer squashes already.

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There is one area of concern, however. Remember all my big beautiful tomato plants? So far, I’ve watched three yellow, wither and die.

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I’m not sure of the culprit. Perhaps curly top virus. I’m pretty sure its not fusarium wilt, because when I cut through base of the this withered plant’s stem, there were no distinctive brown blotches. Oh well, I’ve become accostumed to losing a third of my tomato plants every year. Hopefully, whatever it is won’t spread.  Last week I sowed seeds for all my autumn greens, so in a few weeks, I’ll have transplants ready for all the empty spots.

Oh, and you’ll notice new drip irrigation lines in the photos. That was my June project. I’ve had to travel quite a bit this summer and, believe it or not, other folks do not find the task of hand watering my garden as enjoyable and therapeutic as I do. Automatic irrigation is a slippery slope, though. I feel like the typical scenario is once the system goes live, it is never turned off. So far, I’ve managed to avoid the addiction. The drip system is limited to the edible portion of the garden, and, when I’m here and the rain barrels are full, the timer is turned off and I dutifully irrigate from the barrels. Also, I’ve set up a very low pressure system, so some day, when I actually have a large cistern, I can run the drip lines off of a pump. In the meantime, I admit it is nice to not to fret each time I leave for a few days. Now if I could just figure out an effective sparrow deterent.

Welcoming the Return of the Sun

After one really wet week (over 3 1/2″ of rain in 5 days, a new local record, I believe) the sun has returned and the garden is teeming with activity as everything tries to make up for lost time.

The birds,

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the bees,

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as well as some less desirable garden occupants,

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are all out catching some rays. A week of wet gray days mean there’s a been a bit of a hiccup in the harvest – there wasn’t a whole lot of pollinating going on last week, but to make up for it, the saturated soil has fueled a massive growth spurt for most of the plants. This late-planted summer squash (I started this plant in late July, after the squash bugs had destroyed all the other squash plants) seems to have tripled in size during the wet spell.

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The soil is so wet there are mushrooms popping up everywhere. The fungi are good for the soil, I hear, so they are welcome to colonize wherever they like.

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Fortunately, all this wet was forecast well ahead of time, so I could plan accordingly. There’s nothing like an extended period of cloudy, rainy weather to get some cool weather plants going, so before and during the rain, I sowed seeds for fall eats like mad. Now I have turnips,

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radishes, spinach, beets, chard and lettuce off to a good start. I’ve also managed to get a rather-too-thick cover of alfalfa going on a bed that I hope to convert to productive space next year.

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Hopefully I can keep it all going. I have a feeling we have at least one more hot spell in store before the air cools down for Autumn.

I’m Ready for September

    

Ahh, right on time, with tomorrow being September, the “summer” garden is getting ready to bust out with veg. Even though monsoon season has been less-than-monsoon-y,  the humidity is finally hitting the 35% mark regularly, so pollination is happening and everything is a little less sulky with a little less wilt. Trying to maintain a water thrifty kitchen garden here in the desert southwest can be frustrating, I admit. While everyone else is exclaiming over their beautiful string beans and cucumbers and peppers and all the rest of it, the water miser has to keep reminding herself to have patience, September is right around the corner. Some years, when rain comes regularly in the spring and summer, the difference between a heavily irrigated garden and one that receives a more meager (sustainable) amount of water are less dramatic, however, in a year like this one (drier than dry), 1 1/4″ of irrigation per week (which is what I typically ration out to the veg garden) is enough to keep the plants alive and just barely growing, but not enough to provide the ambient humidity necessary for pollen to remain sticky (although afternoon shade and spraying the plants with water in the early morning can help) and the plants vital enough to produce copious quantities of fruit. But, if I’ve managed to keep all the plants fairly healthy and flowering, they should be poised to take advantage of those 6 beautiful, beautiful weeks of September and early October. Daytime temperatures usually remain below 90 and nighttime temperatures dip into the 50s, and maybe even the 40s, but there shouldn’t be a real frost until the end of October, or maybe even November. The perfect weather for non-bitter cucumbers, mild chiles, and yes, finally, big handfuls of snap beans. Yup, I’m so ready for September.

New Green

The latest round of seeds sown for the Fall garden are germinating well, helped along by the first real rain we’ve had since . . .  I don’t remember. About a 1/4″ of rain fell, all at once, Saturday evening, and yes, I was running around like a maniac, catching the overflow from the rain barrels with 5 gallon buckets and redistributing the water to the trees and shrubs in the front yard. I didn’t even mind getting soaking wet. I took advantage of the damp soil cooler weather on Sunday to sow more seeds, edibles and non-edibles. Thanks to the parched spring, none of the native perennial seeds I had sown germinated, so I’m trying again. Some of the seeds prefer a month or so of cold stratification, so I don’t imagine I’ll see anything from those, but you never know, and others will germinate under moist conditions any time of the year, so if I don’t forget to water, or we have a few more drizzle storms this week, I may see some sprouting in the front yard. Many of shrubs and perennials I planted in the spring dried up and disappeared sometime in late June, despite my best efforts to keep them hydrated. I was lazy and didn’t rig up any subsurface watering gizmos for new shrubs so it was hard to get water all the way down to the root zone. And of course the unending 99 degree days didn’t help either.

 

 

The Best Gift

It rained all day yesterday, the sort of rain we hardly ever get: a slow steady drizzle (topped by a dusting of snow). My rain gauge is out of commission right now, but based  on other tallies, it looks like we received almost one and a quarter inches of rain in the past 24  hours, pushing the total for the calendar year to just over 7 inches. That’s on the low side for us. The average for the previous three years is about 10 inches. No wonder all the plants were semi-dormant all summer. Certainly we desperately needed yesterday’s rain, although winter rain is always a mixed blessing for me since so many dryland plants dislike sitting in saturated clay soil in the winter. With the yard so shady this time of year, some of the areas may remain wet on the surface for weeks. It’s not uncommon for me to lose a plant of two every winter to rot or fungus, particularly if the nursery the plant came from used wood chips in the potting mix. I’ve learned my lesson though, and I’ve become diligent about shaking off the potting soil when transplanting perennials and shrubs into the yard. For me, it seems like the plants do better if they’re forced to adapt to the clay right off, rather than creating a rich pocket of organic soil within the clay, a cozy environment the plant roots don’t want to leave. Anyway, I’ll be starting the new year with full rain barrels, what an excellent beginning.

All or Nothing

An inch and a half of rain fell from the sky yesterday. I understand, for most folks, that this is not a noteworthy quantity of precipitation, but here, where there’s no spongy layer of organic soil to absorb the water, a place that had received, prior to yesterday, only 4 inches of rain this year, 1 1/2″ of rain all at once is like a rain-pocalypse. Right now, the entire yard is a pit of sucking clay with a few stubborn pools of standing water. Water was cascading off the roof at a ferocious pace yesterday. And guess what. No big cistern to catch it. The reason I haven’t posted pics of the tank installation? The tank never arrived – the seller disappeared and stopped returning my calls, so I’m back to square one, debating the options. I was settling for a 300 gallon tank, but what I really covet is a 500 gallon tank, and yesterday justified my desire. If all of our rain is going to come at once, followed by months of drought, I best be prepared to store as much water as possible.

Overview and Water Update

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Side yard garden

It occurs to me that it’s been a while since I’ve provided a photo overview of the edible gardens, so here are a couple of shots that show the general condition of the greenery. Despite the curcubit failure this year, I’m feeling very contented by the state of affairs – the plants are fairly healthy and a nice variety of veg. has been hitting the kitchen. About 25% of the produce we’re eating is coming from the garden (low since the squash and cucumbers we’re eating are coming from the farmers market), but that percentage should increase as temperatures continue to decrease and the leafy greens start growing more vigorously. I think I’ve hit on a balanced watering regimen for the summer heat (.4″ per square foot every third day with at least half of the irrigation subsurface) that keeps water consumption down to a sustainable 130 gallons/week, but keeps the plants reasonably happy. By the third day, in the afternoon heat, many of the plants will wilt (kale, okra, cucumbers and okra), but I just look away and try to ignore it. Meanwhile, speaking of irrigation, I finally have a larger storage tank scheduled for delivery this afternoon, or tomorrow morning. After hemming and hawing for the past few months on what to do about gaining more water storage (assuming it ever rains again), I finally settled on a used 375 gallon poly tote with metal cage that was listed on Craigslist. For a while we really were hankering to build a cistern out of steel culvert (they are pretty, if you like the industrial aesthetic) but culvert is not inexpensive, and short lengths are hard to come by (clearly I need to expand my circle of professional  contacts to include road contractors), and ultimately, given the tight quarters in the back yard, it makes more sense to keep things portable. I haven’t decided how I’ll lightproof the tank – lots of folks just spray paint the translucent plastic, but I’m thinking of sheathing it with something interesting. I suspect a trip to the salvage yard is in order. Anyway, I’ll post a few pics of the installation and plumbing, when it happens. Could be this weekend, but you know how these things go: four or five trips to the hardware store to pick up all the bits and pieces that were forgotten on the first trip . . .

Excess

Despite my penchant for obsessive record keeping, one of the exercises I had never tackled, until now, was figuring out how many square feet of buffalo grass lawn I’ve removed here at Less is More, and how many gallons of water it would have taken to irrigate it, had I chosen to maintain a carpet of green, in lieu of the native plant and edible gardens I’ve installed. Well, out of curiosity, today I did the math. I’ve removed approximately 3,325 square feet of sod. To maintain that amount of buffalo grass with the suggested 2″ of irrigation per month (much less than what is required for bluegrass), I’d be using over 4,000 gallons of water each month, during the warm months. Imagine, 24,000 gallons of water every year just to be surrounded by green grass. Our yearly household municipal water use would be more than double what it is now. It sort of puts into perspective the 4,000 gallons of water per year I now use to maintain all of the gardens. Keep in mind that over 60 percent of that water comes from the rain barrels and hopefully, if we acquire a cistern next month as planned, I will soon be almost completely free from irrigating with municipal water. Let me tell you, that ripening strawberry waiting for me out in the yard is going to taste all the sweeter now that I realize how relatively water frugal it is.

Ripening strawberries

Spring Weekends

Flowering fruit tree branches

I don’t know how it’s been everywhere else, but we’ve been having the most intoxicating weather. The sunshine and blue skies were perfect for brunching with the neighbors this weekend. Unfortunately, it was also perfect weather for digging. I started working on the long abandoned project to create a river pebble mosaic to channel runoff to the lava rock dry well. So far, I’ve only dug out the trench – I still need to install the forms and compacted base. Then the fun part of mixing mortar and setting stones begins.

Digging commences for front yard paving

I also had help this weekend getting the side yard one step closer to complete. More of the intractable grass was removed and the rest of the gravel mulch went down. Nice.

Gravel mulch in side yard

OK, I know there are still heaps of dirt and whatnot, in the middle of the shot, but, believe me, this place is so much more civilized than it was a year ago. And to distract you (and me) from the work that still needs to be done, let’s finish with some pretty flower pics:

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The golden currants are in bloom! And here’s another strawberry flower shot:

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Rejoicing

Raindrops on garlic chives

Last night I sat on the doorstep and watched almost an inch of rain fall in about twenty minutes. Then I went to the kitchen door and watched as 500 gallons of water came pouring out of the back scupper in another twenty minutes, highlighting the complete inadequacy of having just one 50 gallon rain barrel at that location. Prior to last night’s storm, the year-to-date rainfall at Less is More was just over 3″. The super dry, impenetrable, clay in the yard was not receptive to absorbing the torrents of water that fell, despite the dry wells. The backyard quickly resembled a shallow swimming pool, but fortunately, by this morning, the clay had sucked in the water (mostly) and we’re left with a slippery garden scoured clean and redolent with sage. With such scant rainfall this year, my 250 gallons of water storage had been mostly adequate and the acquisition of a larger cistern, due to the significant expense, had been pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities. However, after watching water cascade off the roof last night, it has gained renewed importance.

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