Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Tucson Planting Guide for the Organic Seed Saver

Years ago, after many failed attempts to understand gardening in Tucson I made this little guide for myself, which consists of 3 charts. Please note that I am not saying that this is the "definitive" guide to growing plants in Tucson. Rather, this is an attempt to better understand how to plan out my gardening.
With the first chart I was attempting, on my part, to understand when to plant, how long I could expect plants to take to germinate and grow. First, it lists some "general" planting dates. But more importantly it then lists the optimal soil germination temperature (in parenthesis). Knowing the soil temperature allows the gardener to note the current conditions, rather than relying on a calendar that may not be as accurate. 
The next set of numbers underlined in the third column lists the days until you can expect to notice seedlings popping out of the ground. Lastly, the chart tells the amount of time you can expect until you might see a harvest. Plants that are grown over the winter months under less light will take longer to grow.

Contained in the second chart (on the upper right) is a basic guide to NPK ratios of various amendments. All amendments will vary – so I take this with a grain of salt.
Finally, the last chart of this guide (on the lower right) concerns seed viability. Why, you may ask, might this information come in handy? Any gardener wishing to have some hope of self-sufficiency recognizes that a major component to being independent in a time of need is to have control of his seeds. Knowing how many years a gardener can keep seeds in a cool dry place enables the gardener to plan the frequency by which each vegetable variety must be grown.
On a side note - If people would focus less on complaining about big agricultural companies such as Monsanto and more on saving seeds we would not have to worry about the negative side affects that such large companies could create. A gardener who possesses quality water and soil and employs appropriate gardening practices can determine her skill at saving seeds by the quality of the vegetables harvested from her home-saved seeds.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bringing Back the Winter Garden

Little things in life can sometimes make a huge difference for my overall wellbeing. When I fallowed my winter garden last year, to take care of the needs of my family, I never imagined that it would affect me psychologically. When times are tough and things everything seems to be going wrong, going out and seeing the growth of the plants is a real morale booster. After leaving my winter garden to fallow last year this small strip of sun baked soil is making a comeback.

Little Viroflay Spinach Seedlings Sprouting up

Recently, the school district I live in had a fall break which enabled me to have some time. This break, along with my wife lovingly taking the kids for a get-away gave me some time to get my winter garden set up. However, getting my garden set up turned out to be a little more complex than I had initially anticipated. The first in planting in my winter garden came with accessing that portion of the yard. The sweet potato vines had grown into the winter garden over the summer and I didn’t really want to cut them down. After talking with one of my daughters about the issue we decided that some unused water barrels would do just fine in lifting up the vines enough to clear out the area in the winter garden.
Rather than pruning the sweet potatoes I lifted them up with water barrels
My next dilemma came in working with the soil. The soil was incredibly airy and soft. In preparing my soil I leveled, then tamped down the soil to ensure that any water put into the ground would not run off onto the nearby Bermuda grass. Though trampling and tamping down regular dirt can be very detrimental to the structure of clay soils, it is very beneficial when working with an airy organic material-based soil. If the soil is too airy, then it can quickly evaporate leaving seeds to dry out. My last major undertaking in preparing my garden was the complex task of hooking an elaborate system of regular hoses, soaker hoses and Y-joints up to my garden timer. After getting all of that set up I finally was able to plant!
Some Jerico Lettuce seedlings

Though I was very concerned about plants sprouting I discovered, soon after planting that I saw small spinach leaves coming up. Spinach usually requires a cooler temperature – so this was good news for the rest of my seedlings. I then noticed the Jericho lettuce, with its delicate green leaves, seemingly sprouting up overnight. The beets and carrots have been coming up too – but the real celebration came when my first artichoke seed sprouted. For the last 3 years I had been waiting and trying to grow artichokes and had repeatedly failed by planting seed from an established seed company that turned out to be completely unviable. A more recent failure with growing artichokes from seed came when I had sprouted some seed in early September only to have the seedlings wilt during a hot September afternoon as a result of temporary problems with my watering system.

Peas, Onions and Carrots sprouting up
What I am trying to relate at this time is that I am looking forward to this winter's garden. I hope to let my children pick peas from their garden and have me experiment with McGregor’s beets in my garden. It is my belief that when life becomes complex and overwhelming there is wonder in taking a minute to go outside and watch the plants in my garden grow and flourish.

An Artichoke Sprout at last.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mail Order Sweet Potato Slips and EM-1

Last May I received a long-awaited package from a company headquartered in the East. The package contained two small bundles of very small-looking sweet potato slips.

Amazingly, the slips came out of a dented package out unharmed!

In the past, I had always produced sweet potato slips myself from sweet potatoes, and knowing that the daytime temperatures were already topping above 95 degrees Fahrenheit I thought it wise to start some of my plants in pots or vases indoors before planting them out in the garden. This was a type of experiment to see what method of planting would work best. The three different methods I tried were slip to garden, slip to pot to garden, and slip to vase to garden.

How my package arrived in the mail.

The package got a little dented. I'm grateful the slips made it.

General Sweet Potato Background: Sweet potatoes like a lot of light. By a lot of light I mean full sun in very hot, sunny places. Established plants do not require shade and are able to endure brutally hot environments. What sweet potatoes do have difficulty with is a lack of light. Any kind of environment in which plants are not receiving direct sun will make the plants dither or at least grow slowly.

The plants in the pots did not fare as well as those put directly in the garden

Though I put my indoor plants directly under windows, they had difficulty growing very well because they did not receive enough full sun. Most of the slips that I put in pots had difficulty establishing themselves indoors and did worse than those put out in the garden. Slips I put in vases did exhibit more root growth, which was helpful when it came to transplanting them in the garden. The constant sterile water supply was helpful, though a lack of direct sunlight was not. Slips that were put directly in the garden exhibited significant wilting over the first 10 days but did better after about 14 days. Filtered shading from a shade cloth helped minimize wilting until the plants could establish themselves well.

Initial placement of slip in vase.

The slip grew more roots but plant suffers from a lack of light

Recommendations: Based on my experience with mail order sweet potatoes I would recommend that the gardener either allow sweet potato slips to establish themselves in a vase that receives an abundance of direct sun or put the slips in the garden with filtered shade, such as shadecloth, until the plants become established. As filtered sun could decrease plant growth, and possibly yield, I would think that any shadecloth or filtered sun provides only a temporary benefit to the sweet potato slips as they are becoming established.

Shading Slips helps them become established without extreme wilting

One additional thought: Previously I had posted about a microbial product that is supposed to increase plant growth in the garden. The name of the Product is EM-1 and it is produced by Teraganix. The initial application of EM-1 seemed to have no impact on my garden. After two weeks of application no signs of increased growth or plant vigor were noticed. However, after 6 weeks of the initial application the sweet potato slips that were growing exhibited a dramatic increase in growth. The increase in plant growth was not imagined, but is very real. Though previous sweet potato growth did not move several feet past my garden, my current sweet potato vines have grown at least 10 feet past the confines of my garden. Neighbors are probably wondering why I have what looks like ivy growing out into my alley. My experience with EM-1 has taught me that it is an incredibly effective inoculant in growing sweet potatoes. I will be sure to continue to use this product for this purpose, in the future!

My Sweet Potato vines in Early August - The bottom half are from the slips!