Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Lecture - June 25th - Sow? 105 Degrees? Yes!!

Dear Folks,

My FREE lecture is next Saturday, June 25th, at 6 p.m. at the Mesa Urban Garden.

Mesa Urban Garden
212 East 1st Avenue (NEC of 1st Avenue & Hibbert)
Mesa, Arizona

I will be discussing sowing your fall garden - yes, you start seeding in July and August;  an historic companion planting practice called Monsoon Garden or Three Sisters, and more.

There are door prizes to the first 20 households who arrive and a raffle for 2 gift cards.

Register at the Mesa Urban Facebook post or just come out.  If you can register so we know how many to anticipate.

Mesa Urban Garden is a community organization whose mission is to inspire sustainable urban living through education, community involvement and creative cooperation.

The lecture is Free, however if you would like to support the garden and their activities - they donate food produced to the food bank and needy folks -- there is a charming musical donation machine which accepts quarters and I have asked them to put out a jar for donations.

You can inquire about renting a bed for yourself if you do not currently have a garden and want to get 'growing'.  The beds are inexpensive and include the prepared and ready to plant bed and watering is included.  The volunteers are always ready to answer questions.

Extra information:Water Use It Wisely, did a nice piece on Monsoon Gardening, in conjunction with Native Seed Search, they mention the lecture at the end.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Watering: The Right and Wrong Way to Water in The Desert & Other Hot Area Gardens

Dear Folks,

I posted this information on one of the facebook group pages this morning, thinking I would be just doing a short series of notes.  It turned out far longer and much read, so I decided I needed to turn it into a blog.


There really is a right way and a wrong way to water.

Wrong:  Irregular watering

Obviously plants need more water in the heat of the summer, but watering when you think the plant needs it as opposed to a schedule can cause things like cracked tomatoes, stressed plants (because the roots are not deep enough), and dead plants because the roots went from soggy/boggy to bone dry.

Because our gardens are large - they are on several types of automatic watering systems depending on the section.

I am not saying to go automatic systems - there is a fair amount of work to establish them initially.

However, what I noticed -- over many years -- is the mature/maturing plants ADAPT to a watering cycle.  Really they do.

Here is what happens:  (This not about new seeded areas or new seedlings - I will mention about seeded areas below).

You water deeply and then you allow the soil to start drying out.  The plant's roots follow the retreating water down as the soil dries.  And, this occurs more each time you deep water.  If you do not let the soil dry some, then the roots stay near the surface.

I recommend a moisture meter for the desert gardener - I think it is one of the best tools to learn the character of your garden.

Grass style watering -- 5 minutes a day, every day, will never give you healthy plants.

For established gardens - where the plants have been in for a couple of months, the meter should read on the 2-3 dry side before watering again, when the meter is inserted into the soil about 6 inches.

Our main gardens are now on a 4 day cycle and we can usually keep it at that through the summer. In the winter the timing will go up to 5 and than 6 day cycle.  Our trees are on 7 day year round.  In an exceptionally hot part of the summer, we may move the trees to 6 day cycle, but we have only had to do that once in many years.

Generally, water in the evening in the summer to minimize evaporation, and in the morning in the winter to minimize mildew.

How do you know you watered deeply enough?  Immediately after watering the bed or area, stick an 18 inch long skewer or rod straight down into the soil.  If you can't do this without impediment, you have not watered deeply enough.

DO look at your plants in the morning, before the summer day heats up.

DON'T look at them in the middle of the day, when the hot summer will cause many plants to wilt to preserve their moisture.

It may seem really impossible but I have grown plants on a 7 day water cycle - in the summer - adding a bit more water half way through (not a full watering cycle, just a good chug of the watering can at the root zone) if the temps are in the 110+ range.

The trick/tip is I grow densely (or with mulch) with as little or no soil surface showing so the plants provide their own "soil canopy" - not shading the plants, shading the soil.  This greatly minimizes evaporation (does not use more water because of the density) and keeps the soil cooler.


Any time the temps are over 80 degrees harden off plants you intend to transplant.  Hardening off is just gradually introducing the plants to more sun each day:  1 hour today, then move into the shade (NOT indoors - you want them getting used to temp and sun), next day - 2 hours, then shade, etc. until they are in the sun for 4 hours and doing okay.  If we are in the 95+ and you really need to transplant, double the sequence - 1 hour the first 2 days, then 2 hours day 3-4 etc.  Taking a plant directly from the protected environment of the nursery or greenhouse and plunking it into the hot garden is going to almost ensure you either have a really, really strong plant or a dead one.   Transplant in the evening, give it a good soak and depending on the size of the plant (gal or 4 inch pot) you may need to give it a soak every day or every other day,  after several days, start increasing the amount of water while decreasing the frequency - from every day to every other day etc.


In mid-July we start "sowing" not transplanting for the fall garden.  The fall edibles like the cooling soil as the sun starts moving south.  New sown beds need to be watered every evening in the summer until you seed leaves, then you can back the watering to every other day, but increase the amount.

If you are sowing in an established bed, continue the regularly watering but water the seeded area every nigh.   When you start reducing the watering frequency, as the seeds emerge and grow, you are aiming at getting the seedlings on your regular water schedule.

A very light mulch over the seeded area will help minimize the heat impact and evaporation of the sun.  I also use chicken wire hats temporarily over new seeded areas to keep the birds off (I have a short video on my youtube channel showing how to use them.)

What happens if you water for a few days and nothing happens? 

I have folks tell me they did what I suggested, but nothing came up after several days or a week of watering each evening.  Many seeds take from about 7 days to more than a month to germinate.  When you stop watering the seed area, even for a day, what usually has occurred is the seed began to germinate - underground, the dormancy broken by the moisture - but if the seed hits a dry patch - when the watering stopped - the seed dies.

Below is a schedule I suggest - it is only a guide not a bible

As the temperatures rise, a guide (this is only a guide!) For mature gardens would be:

  70s water every 5-6 days for all but trees
  80s water every 4-5 days for all but trees
  90s water every 3-4 days for all but trees
  100s water every 2-3 days for all but trees


I do have some LARGE containers and a raised bed.  They are watered every two days in the summer and every 3 days in the winter.

If you have to use small containers, snug them all together, to minimize the heat impact on most of the exterior surfaces.

Spaghetti Tube Watering System - Movable.

I thought I would add an illustration of a simple setup - which you can take with you if you are renting or getting ready to move. This will cost about $100 dollars depending on how many "heads" you need and if you choose to go with an automated timer.

I use this set up on my raised beds. The system works like this - you purchase a roll of black hose and one end cap to block the end and a female coupling to attach to your hose bibb. The automated timer is available from different companies with 1 or 2 outlets each with its own timer. The spaghetti tubing is also available in rolls and you cut the lengths to 1) go directly to the base of a plant OR 2) to allow you to center a spray head (first image) among plants / areas - the spray width is adjustable. I prefer the spray head, but the single spout (seen in image 2) is workable for a single plant. There are connectors to punch a hole in the hose, and attach the tubing. It goes together quickly and there is a tool for doing the punching you can purchase which does a uniform job of punching the holes - a knife will work but you have to be careful not to puncture through too big a hole. I've been using this set up for years.

As I need to, I replace a length of spaghetti (short or longer) and change the head from single or spray as needed or back and forth. I had to replace the timer after about 6 years and the batteries about every 2+ years. I hope this gives you a good option when a fully automated (dug in) system is out of the cost (and a lot of work) range or a soaker hose is not doing the job.  ( Soaker hoses soak "down" not "out" so if the plants are not near or beside the hose they may not get enough water.)

I hope these tips help you in your growing.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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