Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Around The Garden and New "Neighbors" Show Up.

Dear Folks,

While looking at a location for sowing my Roselle (Hibiscus Sabdraiffa) this year, this little guy (about 3/4 of an inch long) shot out across the soil!  If I had not been looking closely at the ground I would never have spotted him and probably stepped on him/her.  I have never seen a hatchling Praying Mantis before - usually much larger when I spot them.  It took me a bit to coax it onto a leaf to lift it up to a plant where I thought it would be safer.

The next "neighbor" showed up crisis mode and we came to its rescue, but first I want to follow up on my "Watering..." post the other day.

I mentioned in that post that I have at least one bed which is only watered once a week year round (rain does add some but not a lot), and while looking for a photo related to the "neighbor" I am about to discuss I realized this photo of another rescue last year clearly showed my chervil and cilantro growing in that once-a-week-watered bed - it was April.  This is "Bob" the Bobwhite who came to use for help with a string tied around his leg which almost strangulated the leg and was wrapped around the other one too.  After about a week of healing and getting stronger, he took off to hopefully parts safe and good for him.

So our newest "neighbor" - meet "Betty" the Bobwhite who showed up very early Tuesday morning this week.  Something was moving and I realized it was a bird and she hobbled over to me from about 8 or so feet away coming right to my feet, clearly in distress.  I picked her up thinking she might have a string on her leg (we think someone may be raising them nearby and these are escapees), but when I turned her over her feet and breast were filled with cholla thorns!!  The poor thing.  I started to pull them out then realized it should be a two person job, so I woke my Deane - not a morning person he showed up outside with different slippers on his feet - both of them for the left foot!! -- Humor aside he was able to pull the rest of the thorns out while I held her.  There was blood but she appeared to be whole, so we took her over to the bird watering dish. While Deane poured some seed down I dipped her beak into the water dish and she began to drink - I think she spent about a minute and a half drinking.  We think the thorns were in her for quite a while and she must have been dehydrated badly. [The picture was taken a little later - when she had gone back to the watering dish after ducking under cover somewhere.]

"Betty" was around off and on delighting us with her presence and we watched her go from hobbling to walking without difficulty very quickly.  Yesterday at twilight about 60 hours after her rescue she lifted off the ground like a Harrier Jet and shot out over the tree tops.  I was hoping to see her this morning, but she may have decided to go find other digs.  Wishing her safe life.

We think of our gardens as an oasis and quite obviously critters do also.

The other new "neighbor" is a bee type I've not seen in the gardens before AND our bee house - about 8 +/- years old is now being used.  About half of the "condos" are occupied.  I wondered if the new bee might be the major tenant but on asking and trying mightily to ID the bee, I have a couple of guesstimates.  One good, one not good and neither would occupy the bee house.  The Cuckoo Bee is what you might guess - a hive invader which takes over a honeybee hive and eventually kills is.  The coloring of the Cuckoo Bee does not seem to match my best photo - this new bee buzzes around like on a caffeine high.  They make the hover flies - which we have also (beneficial insect) - look like they did NOT have their caffeine fix.  So my best photo of the new bee which I am hoping is a species called the Longhorn Bee and is an independent ground nester and pollinator.  BTW The flower is on my Barbados (Acerola) tree and the tree is just covered in flowers and fruit coming on.  Had one of the cherries this morning, while trying to unsuccessfully get another shot of the bee.  So had a cherry instead!

Other Fun Things Around the Garden.

Caper Spent Bloom, new flower bud and from the spent bloom - at the left is the beginning fruit a berry like an olive.  Some of my friends and I growing capers think it is more productive to wait for the fruit to pickle than the buds.

I have Jerusalem Artichokes growing in the ground in a patch and a pot.  The pot is filled with new growth.

Cilantro is flowering.  I have been using even the flower tips in my meals, but time to let them go to seed for harvesting for re-sowing in the fall and also to use the spice.

I have been checking my garlic regularly for sign of the scapes, the flower stalk and so far no sign on the two regular varieties.  I did cut the scapes from my Elephant Garlic a week or so ago.  I am concerned that our warm winter has once again caused the garlic to fail to send up a flower so I pulled two - one from each variety - to let dry and see what is usable.  If the cloves do not form, I may only get a large garlic bulb, which I would need to chop and dry or freeze.  This happened last year and the plants simply died back with nothing usable.  Keeping fingers crossed.   FYI I hang them in the shade of the trees to dry.

Harvested some carrots, beets and more asparagus the other day.  This year's warm winter really delayed the beet and carrot growth, so I'm going to try another area next year to see if adding more direct sun access (there is a lot in the existing bed, just maybe not enough to compensate) might help with warmer winters.

Happy to see my other Horseradish liking its new "digs".  Yes, that is a Poinsetta near by - I got several small plants in the little self-watering setups this past Christmas - gave some away, and transplanted my two (1 white (not visible in the picture) and 1 red to pots then they were doing so well, I put them in this bed which gets some shade in the summer.  So far they are loving it as the Horseradish is.

My Honeysuckle if blooming and when I remember I pick a flower and sip the nectar.  Fun childhood memories. This vine was so vigorous I recently pruned it back a lot.  It shares a bed with my bananas and a mango (grown from seed - doing okay).

I used the last of my Molokai Sweet Potato and made fries. Oh boy are they good.  I "cure" them in our laundry shed which works great because the hot water heater is in there keeping if warm and humid.

Speaking of capers.  Did you know you can use the immature Nasturtium seeds to make a "poor man's caper" using whatever pickling process you use?  They are even nice added to a salad dressing for a bit of horseradish taste.  Caution:  Pregnant or lactating women should not eat these or at a maximum just a few - you know few means 3 right?

Lastly in one of my prior posts I mentioned garden ornaments.  The first one is a small solar fountain.  Now I have a solar Chandelier!!!  I spotted this idea when visiting family over in Sun City and while out for a walk with my sis, I literally backed us up when I spotted something like this hanging in a front yard.  I wanted it badly.  So mys sis gave me one she had for a number of years not quite knowing what she would do with it.  My Deane had a deer-in-the-headlights look when I was explaining what I had in mind, but when I showed him the idea with one existing, but old, solar path light, he immediately took the wiring out and then we found some solar lights with a close enough color top to match the old bronze of the chandelier.

We are tickled with this.  Now when the late afternoon temps are too hot to sit on the patio, we wait until night and enjoy the evening.  Is this cool, or what?  That is the solar fountain in the foreground. Should have moved the watering can for the picture. :-)

I hope these inspire you to try new things in the garden.

You can find links for my books and calendars on the sidebar.

Don't Worry, Be Happy, Grow Food!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Watering - Train Your Plants, Instead of The Plants Training You!

Reading 2 inches down
Dear Folks,

That is a crazy sounding post title for this post, right?

The reality is your gardens, and I'm talking in-ground, can "learn" a watering schedule.

Why?  Because they respond to where the water is.  That seems obvious, but there is a specific point about growing edibles in the desert garden.

Reading 6 inches down
Check out the two pictures of the moisture meter reading.

BTW, I consider a moisture meter a gold tool for the desert garden, because getting beds started, different zones in the garden, with different temperatures and sun access all mean that, to some extent, one sizes does NOT fit all.  BUT the plants can learn a schedule.

I will explain why, but please first study the two pictures.

Then watch one of these two videos on seed germination.

I think the best one is the first one on facebook.  The second one is on youtube for those of you who do not go on facebook.  Still a good illustration.

Facebook Seed Germination Video.

Youtube Seed Germination Video

Okay so now you watched the videos, right!  And you took a good look at the two pictures above.

Here is what you are seeing.  A little bit of water went down a couple of inches, but no further.  THAT is the point.

I set up this big 18 inch pot and am going to plant peanuts - more on that in another post.  I slightly wet the soil last night after I got the pot positioned and this is before the sun hit the pot this morning.

Most plants are watered when the meter shows 2-3 on the dry side. Some plants like mint or bananas could be watered at the 3-4 point.

Now let's talk about what you saw in the video.  The videos did not actually show the number of days, but as they were both legumes, they germinate pretty fast.  Let's say for the sake of discussion each of them broke ground at approximately 7-9 days.

I can't tell you how many times I have answered readers questions about why their plants never sprouted after the sowing the seeds.  The typical response to my investigation questions about when, how much and when they watered, sun orientation etc. - was - "well I watered for a couple of days".

So let's go through the action of the plant.

Still from facebook video
Sown and watered for a couple of days.  This is generally enough to break the dormancy of the seed, which are designed to NOT respond to intermittent conditions, but instead "wants" to grow when the soil, temperature and water conditions are right.

So the seed begins to put roots out FIRST.  I think some folks presume the seed sends the green part up first, but no, the roots are the first to grow.

Now think about that typical answer why the seeds did not grow "watered for a couple of days".  Add that to the probable time line of a legume germination of 7-9 days (other edibles may take longer, even weeks) before breaking soil surface and you have an activity where the seed began to germinate and then the seed, roots and/or the beginning green growth hit "DRY" conditions for a day or two and then they died - under ground. That was it.  No amount of additional water will get that seed growing again.

So now let me talk about that part of You training the plants instead of the other way around.

Our gardens have several different watering systems depending on what is growing.  We have tree wells which are on a once every 7 days schedule.  We have a lot of mature beds - things like asparagus, strawberries, jasmine, tomatoes etc.  They have a schedule which changes with the temperature from once every 6 days in the winter down to every 4 days in the summer (we may augment both trees and mature gardens if we get a brutal 110+ string of days, but it is rare that the plants need the additional watering).

Of course there is the addition of rain and if we get a half inch or more 1 or 2 days near the next watering we can skip the mature garden bed (not the trees) watering cycle - one month a year or so ago in January we had so much rain we turned off all watering for about 30+ days.  Nice, but very rare.

Then I also have a series of large pots and a large cinder block bed which is on a tube type water system (not drip - different heads which spray) and that is on every 3 days now.  When we get to the 100s it will go to every 2 days.

The pots and cinder block are watered for 10 minutes.

The trees and mature gardens are watered for 2 hours, rotating through the schedule between them.

So about the training.

By deep watering, spacing out the watering, the upper soil begins to dry. The roots of plants begin to follow the retreating water down, going deeper and deeper.  Did you know tomatoes can get 18 feet of roots?

How do you know if you have watered deep enough to start the "training" process?  If you can stick an 18 inch kabob type metal skewer/rod straight down in the soil, immediately after watering, you have watered deeply enough.

Training seeds and seedlings.  I sow in our mature beds AND the tree wells depending on season and what I am wanting to grow.  I pre-soak seeds during most of the year, but not in the middle of the summer, because I want more of the temperature and soil moisture to dictate germination.

Seeds.  When I direct sow in ground, I water that spot every day - sprinkling to moisten the soil, until I see growth come out of the ground.  It can be 7 days or 30 days, or more, but I sprinkle that spot EVERY day, except when the beds water on their regular watering schedule, I skip that day.

Once those seeds come up, or if I have transplanted small seedlings, I begin to water a bit more volume but every other day.  And watch.  When they appear to be stable at the every 2 day point, I move it out to every 3 days and so on until their watering matches the watering of that garden bed.

July - watered once a week
In this manner I have "trained" eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and other types of edibles to exist in areas which are watered less frequently - including the beds on a once every 7 day cycle.  Yes, once every 7 days - in the summer.  Here is my eggplant area last year, with a sweet pepper to the side.  The first picture is in July and the second one in September.

September - watered once a week.
Note the mulch around the base of the plants.  Once the plants were established I added more mulch on top of what I used to get the seedlings going.

I had transplanted them that February, with tube collars and some mulch and began the process of getting them established and on the once every 7 day cycle.

The rain helps, but we only got the normal - low - amount of rain.  The point is they grew through the summer being watered once every 7 days.

BTW the two eggplants were Listarda and Casper.  The Listarda was the bigger of the two -  gave us a lot of fruit mid-summer almost through winter.

Some additional watering notes:

In the heat, plants may wilt during under the mid-day sun.  This is NOT the time to determine if they actually need more water.  Soft leafed plants like tomatoes wilt to reserve moisture, but if you actually used that moisture meter to check whether they need water, and you are otherwise watering appropriately, you will find the soil moist.

In the warm times, check the soil moisture in the morning.

You have the option of changing when you water depending on the the extreme time of year, e.g., water in the evening in the hot time to minimize evaporation allowing the water to really sink in;  water in the morning in the cold times to minimize mildew and mold.

Mulch around all plants but do not let the mulch touch the plants - keep 3-4 inches away so the bugs which could use the mulch as a subway tunnel to your tender seedlings, can't get there.

I hope this helps you understand how seeds germinate in our desert gardens and how you can use the water to train the plants to go deep and grow healthy.

Have a great day in the garden.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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