Thursday, May 24, 2012

Protecting Carosello Blossoms

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Little Brown Birds (LBBs) had a feast on my spinach seed, they decided to come back for more. It got personal when they discovered my cucumber-melons (Carosello). I describe Carosello in a previous post.

The LBBs eyeing my Carosello plants.

I had experienced ants eating my melon flowers before and at first thought that it was ants that were harvesting the flowers. But after keeping the ants out of my garden for a few days I looked outside to discover these eating my melon blossoms!

Male Blossoms eaten off my Carosello plant.

An immature Female Blossom eaten off the Carosello plant.

Alas the LBBs were at it again. These unwelcome guests decimated a whole crop of cucumbers, eating the female flowers just past the stigma. Bird netting is too much work for me, and I have had experiences in the past with birds getting past the netting so I decided to just protect the female flowers. I used a jewelry gift pouch to cover and protect my female blossoms. I only keep the bags on there until I pollinate the flower and the petals dry out. Then the birds leave the female flowers alone.

Jewelry gift pouches to save my blossoms.

A premature female blossom not yet in bloom.

After figuring out how to save my female flowers I mixed some habaneros with some water in the blender and sifted out the mixture into a spray bottle. Spraying the spicy liquid on the plants has really helped to keep the birds off the male flowers, though they continue to go after the female flowers. I suppose I will be buying jewelry gift bags for a while to come.

Another Carosello blossom is safe - for now!

LBBs Attack!

Beware - LBBs are everywhere!
After reading about an encounter one author had with Little Brown Birds (LBBs) eating her plant seeds my reaction was, “That won’t happen to me.” Oh how wrong I was. After growing out some of my Viroflay Spinach to seed I came out one morning to see the LBBs flying away and my spinach seed scattered everywhere.

I tried hanging some bright shiny foil around the spinach. This worked before to keep birds away from my tomatoes - but not this time. The birds knew how good the first batch was and kept coming for more.

So what does this mean? This means that those spinach seeds which I saved earlier (before the LBBs descended upon my plot) will mature and possibly bolt a little sooner than I had desired.

I hope that those gorged LBBs that feasted on my seeds get a bad stomach ache!

Scattered Seeds is all that remains of the LBB's feast.

Plastic Foil Strips will sometimes scare birds away-  if used preventitively.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Isolating Beans

Tepary Bean Plants are native to the Southwest.
Because I am still experimenting and learning about many of the vegetable varieties that are out there I want to keep the seed of each variety I grow, without having them cross-pollinate with other varieties. In order to do this, I must isolate each cultivar (or specific vegetable variety) from others in the same family. For example: I do not want to grow a red lettuce that tasted wonderful next to a green lettuce that tasted awful and have them cross-pollinate to create something in-between. I might get a good tasting green lettuce or I could end up with a bad tasting purple lettuce. Either way, I have no intention to devote my efforts to breeding lettuce until I know what type of lettuce grows best in my climate and what type of lettuce my family enjoys eating the most.

A gardener can isolate his plants in many different ways. My least favorite method of isolation is using distance to keep one variety from another. If I wanted to keep seed of two different types of corn I would have to separate them by at least a mile to keep them from cross-pollinating. I do not have miles of garden to work with (though I wish I did) so instead I try to isolate my plants by only growing one variety of each plant family per season. I do have some exceptions to growing more than one family of plants in separate seasons.

Purple Podded Pinkeye - No pods yet.

Two of the exceptions I have to growing multiple plants in the same family include if I’m trialing the plant and I don’t need to keep seed or if I’m dealing with a family of plants that rarely cross-pollinate (i.e. tomatoes). Another exception involves how I pollinate my peppers. I hand pollinate them with a paintbrush early in the season when I see very few pollinators. Then I only save seed from the earlier peppers, being mindful to clearly label each variety to keep them separated.

To isolate my beans I have chosen to grow different species of bean rather than isolate them in any other manner. I am currently growing three different kinds of beans – Southern peas, purple hyacinth beans, and tepary beans. The southern pea variety (cultivar: Purple Podded Pinkeye) is from the family Vigna unguiculata, while the purple hyacinth bean is from the Dolichos lablab family, and finally my Tepary beans (unknown cultivar borrowed from the library) is from the Phaseolus acutifolius family.

Bushy Tepary Beans - I take pictures at night because of the daytime heat

I knew that my southern peas were bush beans and my Hyacinth beans were vine beans and I thought that my Tepary beans were probably a vining variety too. However, as you can see, my Tepary beans are currently more bushy than vining. As far as I know, all three of these bean families have a vining and a bush equivalent - meaning that you can either grow them up a trellis or you can keep them low near the ground, depending upon your gardening needs.
Growing different families of beans enables me to notice the positive and negative features of each family of beans. For example, the southern peas (Vigna unguiculata) often attract ants to take part in a mutalisitic relationship. The beans produce nectar sources near the flower pods, called extrafloral nectaries. As payment, the ants act as a beneficial insect on the beans, keeping off any bug that might consider the bean as a meal. One drawback to this is that every time I harvest these kind of beans that I’ll be sure to harvest some ants with the beans.

Purple Hyacinth beans named after their purple pods - none here yet.

What I know about Tepary beans is that they are incredibly drought and heat resistant while Purple Hyacinth beans produce flowers which really attract pollinators. And pollinators are exactly what I need for some of my vegetables pollinate - as long as they are the same variety. There are so many bean varieties that, if you do have a lot of pollinators in your area, you may find it advantageous to grow different families to keep your favorite varieties pure.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tucson Wood Chips

Less than half of my initial pile
Whilst I was visiting the Community Gardens of Tucson’s webpage a couple years back I noticed a link that said “Free Mulch Tucson”. It was a link to Romeo’s Tree Service which will, once you fill in your information, drop off a free load of wood chips to your home. It can take 1-4 months for the wood chips to come, so you have to do this with a little planning in mind. Additionally, as a word of caution, they can bring several yards of wood chips at once. It can be quite a lot. Make sure you tell them a location where you are okay with them dropping it. One day there were no wood chips, and the next day, there were wood chips where I told the company to drop them off in my alley.

I mostly utilized the wood chips by sifting them out into my compost. But you can use them any way you like. It took a year for me to work even half the amount that I was given into my compost. The pictures that I am posting here is less than half the amount I started with.

Free Wood Chips in Tucson from Romeo's Tree Service.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Florida Weave

Tomato cages are often used by gardeners with small gardens in order to help them to keep the plants in a tidy contained area. However, tomato cages are often insufficient to support the weight of tomato vines that are laden with fruit. Many people have resorted to using thick wire mesh, posts, and wire ties to make sturdy supports for tomato plants. This works well, but can take a lot of time and money and requires storing the heavy gage mesh somewhere when it is not in use. Another option is to prune tomato vines and support them by tying them to walls or poles. This is not an option for me because the sun scalds fruit that is unprotected from the heat of Tucson's summers. What I prefer to use is a modified Florida weave method.

My modified Florida weave technique with my L. hirsusutum tomato plant

The original Florida weave method utilizes posts and twine to support tomatoes as they grow. The farmer or gardener comes back out to the field (or garden) to weave the twine slowly up the posts to support the vine as it grows. As shown in this illustration, the result is a wall of tomatoes supported by posts and twine.

Photo courtesy of

Another tomato gardener, who is a member of the Seed Saver’s Exchange, thought up a modified Florida weave method using supports that can be adjusted from two large posts supported by metal line and stakes .
I twist the nylon line around poles between the two posts.

I chose to take elements of this gentleman’s method and of the original Florida weave method in order to support my tomato plants. The main thing for me is the method I use must be cheap and easy set up and take down. I use the two posts, with metal lines and stakes to support the ends of the line. Then I run a firmly taut UV stabilized nylon line around poles to make a line between the two posts, beginning from the ground to the top of the posts. The nylon line has a tension strength limit of 150 pounds. As I run the line from one side to another I twist them around posts at intervals of every several feet to keep up the tension on the line. I run my line on both sides of the tomato plants to keep them contained between the two walls of the nylon cord.

I support the posts with metal line staked to the ground.

The method worked well last year, as long as I pushed the new growth back behind the rectangular cage the plants were in. Last year I only grew semi-determinates and determinate tomatoes, so I didn’t have to worry about the plants growing up the full height of the trellised area. This year I am growing indeterminates, which may require some pruning to keep them from taking over my garden.
Notice the Florida weave method next to my Hornworm damaged plants.

The Community Gardens of Tucson

Green Globe Artichokes at CGT
While looking for an organization that could fulfill my gardening needs I came upon The Community Gardens of Tucson. Though I chose not to join their organization, I do enjoy talking with members of their organization and have come to appreciate much of what they do for all Tucson Gardeners.

The role of the Community Gardens of Tucson (CGT) is to establish and maintain community gardens and provide education to help Tucson residents grow food in garden communities within their neighborhood. In this endeavor, the organization has done a great job. In most every community throughout Tucson, one can find plots established by the CGT for local gardeners who are willing to pay the membership fees.

The Community Gardens of Tucson's New Spirit Garden

So what do gardeners get for their fees? They receive an irrigated lowered garden plot. As one speaker from CGT said at a Tucson Organic Gardeners meeting, they remove the native soil and put in a mixture of high quality soil that includes finished compost. Along with west side or partial shade, the plots established by the Community Gardens of Tucson are a very good example of what gardeners should do in a very hot climate. The pictures for this post were taken at only one garden – the New Spirit Garden near Old Spanish Trail and Camino Seco in Tucson.

A great example of a "lowered bed" garden

Another View of the garden with Tomato Plants in the Background

The organization’s founder, George Brookbank, has written several books about gardening here in Tucson and has a fun little blog where he offers some advice and discusses seasonal gardening conditions.

A pretty Red Poppy - not taken by a  photographer's camera (=