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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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Life is a Bowl of Cherries & Apricot, World's Best Carrot and Garlic / Weather Conundrum

Dear Folks,

We have been enjoying ripening fruit.  Pictured are my "cherries" and the first apricot off the tree.

The cherries are from our Barbados Cherry Tree planted February 2016.  It gave a few cherries last year but is now loaded.

Malpighia emarginata, Acerola cherry is known for its very high Vitamin C content along with a host of other vitamins.  It is evergreen and a pretty tree with pink flowers.  Once the fruit begins to turn color, it finishes ripening very quickly so you need to get them before the birds.

The taste is a sweet tart like an apple.  It did not have the sweet cherry taste I was hoping for so Deane could have "real" cherries here but I am happy with the flavor.  Each cherry has 3 seeds, so be aware.

Apricot season in the valley is very short 20, maybe up to 30 days so we grab them while we can.  We have found the fruit best when it just pulls from the stem or even better if we catch it when it just falls from the tree.  We keep a lot of duff under our fruit trees so we can harvest from the ground, most of the time, without damage to the fruit.  (Our Pineapple Guava is the same - the fruit if fully ripe when if falls from the tree.)

THE world's best carrot in my opinion is the Chantenay.  This carrot is outstanding, seriously, no matter what size you pick it at.  Obviously I left this one in and will be cooking up today, but trust me on this variety, it will not let you down in flavor, ever.

You can find the seeds at Baker Creek or other heirloom suppliers.  It was introduced in 1929.

OUR winter was one of the mildest on record.  I just finished compiling the chill hour data for the period ending March 31st and the overall change from last year was a whopping 40% less chill hours and in a couple of areas if was 50% below the previous year.  Amazing.

This weather pattern was evident in a lot of up / down temperatures but also in many gardens how the plants responded, with earlier than normal flowering, start/stop growth or changes in insect behavior (more gnats etc.).

The one rather dramatic result was my garlic.  Pictured is the garlic bed mid-November.  I expected a nice crop of regular garlic and the elephant garlic (the thicker leaved plants on the right in the picture) along about now I would have cut off the flower scapes 2-3 weeks ago and the garlic would be drying on my fence.

This is what the bed looked like a couple of days ago.  I was not paying enough attention to the plants.  I had noticed back at the beginning of April that some of the plants had obviously died back and just chalked it up to the strange weather.  But when I dug up a died-back plant, it was only a thick bulb at the base (like a fat scallion). No head of cloves!!

Garlic needs the FULL chill hour affect to create individual cloves.  The scape (flower head) comping up signals the plant is ready to 'finish' and usually I notice the scape coming up, wait a bit then cut it out and in a couple of weeks the plants begin to yellow and it is time to pull up and hang to dry out in the shade.

The plants NEVER created scapes.  If finally dawned on me that this year's winter never got cold enough.  We are in one of the milder areas of the valley and with our chill ours less than half, the plant could not produce the individual cloves.

Originally I thought, well I will just dig them all up, slice and sun dry them, but I am re-thinking that and may just leave them in the ground and see if the winter of 2017/18 forces the heads to form.

Some lovely flowers around the garden.  I finally found a happy place for a Gardenia in my garden.  Right now it is pretty much in full shade most of the day with some overhead sun at noonish, more sun in the winter when the deciduous trees are leafless.

I planted it last June 1st and while it had flower buds on it when I bought it, it promptly dropped them, so I just waited and the plant got happier and happier!

One of the hollyhocks bloomed and it is one of the Black ones and I am delighted. I will probably cut out all of the other plants to, hopefully, ensure all the seeds run true.  The edible flower hollyhock is quite happy to cross colors and I want this one to stay true for years to come.

My purple oregano is flowering.  Not the best tasting of the oreganos but the flowers are so pretty.  As they fade they drop purple/lilac colored confetti on the ground or deck.

I hope you are enjoying your gardens as much as we are.

I am always happy to answer questions.  You can find me on facebook and like my page.

You can purchase my books or gardening calendars in the sidebar here on the blog.

Have a wonderful thyme in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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