Monday, June 2, 2014

My Gardening Tips

Posted by Devin
Jake and I are not highly experienced gardeners. In fact, this was only our second year to plant a garden! But our garden turned out to be so crazy prolific this year that I ended up with a lot of people wanting to know what we had done to have such a bountiful harvest. Especially since we live in Arizona where it can be difficult to grow things in the desert soil and keep them from wilting under the harsh sun. So today I thought I would share what we have done and our favorite tips with all of you!
1. Raised Bed - Because we live on the side of a rocky, desert mountain hill, our best bet was to go with a raised garden bed. Raised garden beds have many benefits including warmer soil, easier to reach, good drainage, and being able to control the soil content (which I will get to next). Plus I think raised beds are pretty, don't you? To create our raised bed we brought in a bunch of railroad ties which we stacked three-high on all sides. We had to dig out the ground to make sure they were level (not an easy job with this tough ground) and then staked them into place. You can see in the picture below that our garden looks three ties high on the close end and only two ties high further away. That is because one of the ties is almost completely buried on the north end (left side of picture) to keep the garden level. As the garden slopes to the south all three ties become exposed. As I said, leveling was a big job.
2. Soil Content - To create our soil content in our garden bed, we followed something called the Mittleider Method. This basically means we used a mixture of sawdust and sand enriched with various fertilizers to create our soil content. To learn more about the Mittleider Method, I encourage you to go to Dr. Mittleider's website, Food For Everyone. We have been very happy with our results using this method for our soil.
3. Automatic Watering System - The first year we gardened, we watered everything by hand. Our garden was very labor intensive that year. This time around we had our garden hooked up to our landscaping system and everything was set to an automatic timer. This has made gardening SO simple for us. If you are able to hook your garden up to an automatic watering system, I highly recommend you do. To create our watering system we first strung 12 soaker hoses across the garden in the short direction, spaced evenly apart. We ended up replacing the soaker hoses because they were not releasing enough water to adequately water the plants. So we pulled out the soaker hoses and put in drip irrigation hoses that have holes spaced every 6 inches to release water. These have worked like a dream. You can see our drip irrigation hoses in the picture below, they are a brownish color. Drip or flood irrigation is much preferred to any kind of sprinkler system as it keeps salt in the water from getting on top of the plants and damaging them. We water our garden 15 minutes 3 times a week, but recently upped it to 4 times a week as the temps are now climbing.
4. Defense - Animals ate every vegetable we produced our first time around. In fact, they ate our pepper plants down to nubs! This year they still ate some of our produce, but not very much. To defend our garden we made a small fence surrounding the garden using hardware cloth (better than chicken wire as the holes are smaller and the wire gage is heavier). Some of the ground squirrels eventually figured out how to climb over the fence, but it definitely slowed them down and kept many out. For the ones who did get in, we ended up setting traps and putting out poison trays. A week of that and our ground squirrel numbers were greatly reduced. To help protect our garden from the birds, we strung CD's from wires above the garden and put metallic dollar store pin wheels here and there throughout the garden. The birds are scared off by the moving reflections and so this was a great way to defend against them. If you are going to string up CD's make sure to use heavy duty fishing line as all other kinds of string will quickly break (trust us, we know). 
5. Plant Early - This is especially important if you are gardening in Arizona. We planted the first day of February this year and only had to cover our garden to protect it from frost three nights. Planting early allows you to have an earlier and longer harvest time before the hot temps set in and start reducing your production. Plus, we found that planting earlier allowed our plants to grow to a substantial size before all of those ground squirrels came out of hibernation and started attacking. Since our plants were already so large, it was much more difficult for the squirrels to do any significant damage before we could eradicate them. In Arizona you'll want to plant between late January and early February for a spring garden and mid to late September for a winter garden. We really feel that planting early played a major part in the large amounts of produce we were able to harvest this year. Check out what we pulled from the garden in just one day!
6. Fertilize - A couple of weeks before you plant, you are going to want to add manure and fertilizer to your garden. We used manure from a friend's farm down the street and an Ammonium Phosphate fertilizer (Lilly Allen All Purpose fertilizer is a good one from Lowe's). Apply the manure liberally and sprinkle the fertilizer over the top and then work it all into the soil. Water everything down and let it sit until you are ready to plant. When you plant, add more fertilizer. As our garden has grown, we have added fertilizer two more times just as we thought it needed it.
7. Tomato Tip - We like to plant tomatoes of the Early Girl variety. These mature faster than other tomatoes making them particularly good if you are gardening in AZ as they produce early and you are guaranteed a good harvest before the heat hits. Finding vegetables with a fast maturity rate is actually a good rule of thumb for all plants in your AZ garden. We had buckets and buckets of tomatoes this year, many days we would get up to 25 at a time off of our plants.
8. Elgin Nursery - We do not grow most of our plants from seed, we purchase them from a local nursery called Elgin Nursery. If you are local and looking for a great nursery on the west side of Phoenix, this is the place to go. Healthy plants, a variety of selections, knowledgeable employees, and great prices. You can't beat them. If you don't live in my area, ask around and find out which local nursery experienced gardeners like. A good nursery is worth finding!
9. Start A Few Plants from Seeds - I know I just said that we do not start most of our plants from seeds, which is true, but this year we planted some sunflowers and pumpkins from seeds just for fun since we had some room left in the garden and it turned out to be such a hit!  The kiddos really enjoyed watching the plants grow from tiny seedlings into super huge pumpkins and sunflowers! We couldn't believe the large pumpkin patch that came from 8 teeny little seeds. We keep joking that we are going to have Fourth of July jack-o-lanterns this year, ha!
10. A Word on Zucchini - We purchased ONE zucchini plant this year and my oh my did that baby produce for us! We have had zucchini coming out of our ears over here!!! And I am so happy that we do. I rarely purchased zucchini from the grocery store before we planted this year and so I have had to really become acquainted with zucchini and how to cook it. I have learned that zucchini is AMAZING. There are so many delicious and varied ways to prepare it, we always have something we can make with our zucchini! If you haven't planted zucchini before, I urge you to give it a try. But just make sure to plant vegetables that you are going to enjoy, it makes the experience much more worthwhile. Check out the pic below to see our zucchini plant the day we planted and the monster it has grown into today. This thing just keeps on producing tons and tons of zucchini!
In addition to tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkins, and sunflowers; this season we have also grown cucumbers, eggplants, a large variety of peppers, and we are currently working on some strawberries that look promising. Our garden has provided us with hours of entertainment (it's actually really fun to go out and collect all of the produce) and tons of delicious, fresh vegetables. We are so happy we are learning to become prolific gardeners and hope that you will give it a try too!
A special thanks to Roger and Jacque Adams who have taught us so much about desert gardening and held our hands the whole way through. ;)

Linking Up With: Link Party Palooza // Snap Creativity // Practically Functional // Just Us Four // Pink When //

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At June 2, 2014 at 9:37 AM , Blogger A Bunch of Fuls said...

We love Elgin Nursery too!

At June 4, 2014 at 11:49 PM , Blogger simply bliss said...

wow impressive! thanks for sharing

At June 6, 2014 at 11:24 PM , Blogger Natasha In Oz said...

G'Day from Oz! Thanks for sharing these great tips. I had no idea a raised bed could make such a difference!

If you have a minute to spare I’d be thrilled if you could pop by and join in with this week's Say G’day Saturday linky party. It has just started and this would be a fabulous addition!

Best wishes for a great weekend,
Natasha in Oz

At June 10, 2014 at 9:23 PM , Blogger Jessica Dimas said...

I need to pin this! Especially since gardening in AZ is totally different than most other gardening tips I find on Pinterest. Thanks for sharing this, your garden is awesome!!

At December 1, 2014 at 4:56 AM , Blogger Amela Jones said...

Are you going to do a follow up article? Would love to know what happens next.

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At March 23, 2016 at 12:39 AM , Blogger Norberto said...

Thank you for this post, so many useful tips for budding gardeners, I am inspired to get started. It just goes to show that a little bit of hard work at the start can really pay off if you are willing to maintain your garden to keep it looking its best. I'll definitely be using some of these tips!

Norberto @ Thorburn Landscapes

At April 13, 2016 at 3:37 AM , Blogger Rasal Khan said...

nice tips

At April 14, 2016 at 10:01 AM , Anonymous michael greenfingers said...

In the first place, you should check the nitrogen and carbon levels in your dirt. You need to begin with a decent establishment to your spring gardening season, and these tips will offer assistance. On the off chance that you have terrible soil, I profoundly exhort that you begin with a square foot garden.


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