Howdy y’all (as we say in these here parts),

It’s time for spring/early summer planting.

As usual, I grew a ton more starts than I needed so as to give ’em away to friends, neighbors, and other folks in order to encourage their planting gardens. This year, I grew maybe 300 to 400 starts and have used about 75.  The rest have gone to the four winds, to whoever I think (oh please, whomever) will plant them and tend them. This is in deliberate contrast to Home Depot and Lowe’s, who don’t even sell six-packs anymore and charge the gullible $3 to $5 a start. (A fellow gardener, formerly a commercially gardener, who’s getting a new nursery biz up and running, told me yesterday that people buy them so as to have instant gratification, and will ignore them after they inadvertently kill them in a month or so through over or under watering or other sins. Thinking about it, she was right.)

I’ve given away maybe 175 to 200 starts, mostly tomato plants so far; there are about 25 left. Totally cost to me? Counting water, compost (I roll my own) for planting seeds [potting soil is unnecessary], and the bottoms of recycled cut-off plastic bottles (to hold the compost and seeds), and a tiny bit of fish emulsion fertilizer? Maybe two or three cents per start plus daily watering diligence. Not even 1% of what the big-box stores charge.

One of the oddities of producing starts is that they have their own minds as to when they come up. Tomatoes are always the first. Then the squash and melons, and then bell peppers and chiles. Some veggies you just want to plant directly in the ground. For summer, the primary one I’ve found is Yard-long Asian Beans (taste like wax beans, genetically more similar to black-eyed peas).

I’m also preparing to go to the downtown library and give them a ton of seeds for their seed catalog (enough for maybe 500 to 1,000 packets, which will be available to whoever wants seeds): Romaine, Bibb, Yard-Long Asian Beans, Okra, Broccoli, and White Chard. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement: they give me seeds for veggies I don’t already have, and I give them a ton of seeds for redistribution to other community gardeners.

Harvesting seeds can be a pain in the ass. It can be extremely difficult, for example, to harvest carrot seeds. So, I concentrate on the easier ones and get carrot seeds etc. from the seed catalog.

The broccoli has been going to seed since late February, and I still haven’t harvested all the seeds. Ditto for the Romaine, which went to seed in April. I won’t be able to replant those beds until I’ve harvested the seeds later this month, by which time summer planting will be marginal. I’ll put in onions in the worst sun-drenched plot, and they might grow. Might.

I’m letting two beds go fallow until the fall, one is smack dab in the middle of the sun-scorched yard, and the other is the best bed in the place, but I’ve been planting it every year for the last quarter century (yes, rotating crops). My goal, pretty close to fruition, is not to use any shade cloth at all, and all of the beds I’ve planted are in at least partial shade from trees.

I’ll be putting in more fruit trees, too. In years past, I did it the hard way: shoveling down the 18 inches or so to the caliche (calcium carbonate mixed with silt, sand, gravel, rocks, and small boulders), and then down another four to five feet through the caliche with a pick axe, shovel, and breaker bar.

This time, in the fall, I’ll rent a jack hammer (neighbor has a compressor) and chip out the concrete slabs on the west side of the house. Then I’ll rent a backhoe and dig a hole in the one remaining spot in the backyard for a fruit tree (a fig), and then dig a couple of pits for fruit trees on the west side of the house with the backhoe. (I’m a lazy sod, and feel a bit guilty about doing things this easy way rather than busting my ass doing it the “right” way as I did in years past with the other fruit trees, manually; did I mention that I’m ex-Catholic? Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. To paraphrase the Church, Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good.)

So far this year I’ve planted spaghetti squash, golden melons, watermelons, collard greens, and  red cherry and Zacatipan tomatoes (the two types I’ve found that will bear all summer in 105+ heat). Also yard-long Asian beans directly in the ground, the various chiles (Hatch, jalapeños, Cayennes, Japanese, Thai, serranos, Anaheims, Chiles de Arbol) and red and orange bell peppers. (Helpful hint: there ain’t no such thing as green bell peppers — they taste awful and are simply immature red bell peppers; why anyone buys them is beyond me.)

Survivors from last summer’s garden include red cherry and zacatipan tomatoes, plus red bell peppers, orange bell peppers, and black beauty eggplants. The peppers, eggplants, and chiles might last for another year or three. The surviving tomatoes will likely be done by June or July. The basil plants come back year after year, so I never have to replant them.

As well, I continue to work the compost pile, digging it out from the left, tossing the crap on top to the right, digging out the good compost on the bottom, then adding compost buckets to the top of the crap on the right. There’s no reason on earth to buy expensive composing gear: just rotating it left-to-right and then starting all over again works just fine.

I buy a couple of straw bales per year (about ten bucks apiece), spend nearly nothing on fertilizer (may a buck per year), spend maybe twenty-five bucks per year on manure (about a cubic yard), spend nothing on seeds or starts, and too damn much on water. I have my roof/patio set up to channel rain water to the fruit trees, use about 90% of my water on the garden, and bear about 80% of the Tucson Water bills on “sewer” fees — I recharge water; it does not go down the drain.

More on this later. (Photos to come)

Cheers,

Chaz

 

 

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