Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

June Planting Tips and Summer Gardening with Density

Dear Folks,

It is that time of year when we start to plan for the heat.  If you are new to Valley gardening it may seem like it is all about the heat, but really it is about understanding desert growing.

[Pictured is my strawberry bed - you can see how the edges of the bed are drying and dying because of the exposure to the rock and bare soil because of the heat, taken in July last year]  I discuss DENSITY below.

The Native Americans planted IN THE SUMMER, foods like squash, corn and beans, referred to as Monsoon or Three Sisters, these staple foods thrived with the Mediterranean-type climate we have here in the valley.  And this type of gardening highlights one of THE MOST IMPORTANT aspects of growing through the intense summer sun.  DENSITY.

So many gardeners fall into the mistake of thinking they need to canopy or shade the plants, yet edible plants need a lot of sun to grow the fruit, leaf, root or seed you want to harvest.

The seeds for these 3 foods were planted close together, so the plants could easily be watered together and the squash surrounding the tall corn and bean vines would canopy the soil, not the plants themselves.

If choosing to erect shade structures, gardeners can make the mistake of too dense, too close which actually holds in more heat. Think of the last time you were under a tent or umbrella on a very hot day and just how hot that actually felt.

Plant densely for better success in the summer gardens.

[Pictured is one of my large pots planted with sweet peppers and purslane (edible plant) to canopy the soil and begin hanging over the edges of the pot to shade the sides also.  This picture was taken June 8th last year.]


From approximately May 29th until September 29th, we will not see daily high day time temperatures below 90 except for the times of storms and rains.

We can expect approximately 110 days of 100+ degrees through out the summer.

Going into June the temperatures start to rise, with humidity levels staying pretty low, and before our seasonal "Monsoon" time (early July).  While we associate this coming seasonal activity with thunderstorms and rain (we typically get a large amount of our annual rain fall in the summer and again in mid-Winter) the Monsoon is actually a shift in winds bringing in competing air flows and a rise in average humidity levels.

BUT before the Monsoon time comes we have an historic sudden spike in day time temperatures in about the 3rd week in June.  We have had some history making temps during this time (126 was one whopper year), so you should be prepared for that in terms of monitoring your plants watering needs.

AND to make it a little more challenging, it is possible to over water your plants in the heat because you may be going on surface moisture rather than using a water meter (probe) to actually check moisture levels of the plants.  Wilting in the middle of a very hot day is NOT an indicator of needing water, necessarily, but many plants fold their leaves to retain moisture.

If you are watering properly for your plants needs and when there is an intense heat spike, you may see yellowing of the leaves between the veins indicating chlorosis, an indication that iron is unavailable in the soil to the roots.  This is easily remedied by adding ironite or green sand to the soil and the plants will green back up in a week or 2.  Chlorosis happens when 1)  there is a lot of water added to the soil, which binds the iron to the clay minerals OR 2) it can occur in the winter in very cold soils.

If you use a schedule for watering, and water deeply with drying periods in between your plants will adapt to your schedule.  As an example, my mature gardens are watered every 3-4 days in the mid-summer depending on how hot the year is, while they are watered every 5-6 days in the winter.  I add or subtract time as the seasons shift through cold to hot then back to cold.

June and the early part of July are light sowing or transplanting times.  Transplanting in particular is challenging in the heat if you do not harden off your plants because the plant will be trying to stabilize roots while dealing with very hot air and soil temperatures.

How hot is the soil?  The top 3 inches of BARE soil, sides of containers, asphalt and concrete, walls etc. is about 180 degrees on a typical summer afternoon.

Sowing rather than transplanting is best, with light mulch applied to help retain moisture while the seeds germinate.  Sprinkle the seeded areas every evening until you see growth, even if the bed is watered regularly.

In mid July to early August we start sowing the fall plants like winter squash (pumpkin), corn, the cabbage family can be sown mid-August and herbs like dill, cilantro, chervil, parsley can be sown and will germinate as the soil begins to cool in later summer.

JUNE PLANTING:  Cantaloupe; Corn; Cucumber, Armenian; Eggplant; Gourds; Luffa Gourd; Melons, Musk; Okra; Peas, Black Eyed; Peppers, Chiles; Potato, Sweet; Purslane, Egyptian Spinach -- USE existing plants as cover, under-seed with:  Basil, Chives

EDIBLE FLOWERS TO PLANT:  Portulaca; Sunflower, Roselle/Jamaica Sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

GARDEN TIPS:  Hold off transplanting (seed in only) until fall when the temperatures drop back to below 90 during the day.  IF YOU find you need to transplant something at this hot time use my FLOWER MULCHING technique.  Purchase a six-pack of flowers and visualize a 12 inch circle. Plant the main plant in the middle with the flowers planted close in surrounding the main plant.  The flowers will canopy the soil while the main plant stabilizes.  Harden off ALL the plants first by exposing to sun 1 hour the first day, then bring into shade (not inside) then 2 hours the second day until the plants have been in the sun for 4 hours, then you can transplant with less shock.

Don't be afraid of the sun, it can produce incredible flavor in your food.

I am away from the computer for about a week, my monthly unplugging and spending time with family, but will be happy to answer questions when I return.

Like my facebook page and please share with friends and family who want to grow food!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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