Monday, August 30, 2010

It Starts with Chickie Poo

Several months ago, I cleaned out the chicken coop and piled the chickie poo filled bedding of pine shavings into a pile about 5 feet long, 4 feet wide and 3 feet tall. For 3 or 4 weeks, the amonia that was released by Billions and Billions (use Carl Sagan's voice, please) of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria totally stank! I watered and turned it diligently, keeping the temperatures down to between 140*F and 150*F, enabling the aerobic bacteria to flourish and pathogens to perish. Around the second month, the temperatures did not climb so dramatically, and the main nitrogen burn off was complete. Still, the pile would rise to the E. Coli and Salmonela killing range of 140*F a day or two after turning and watering. So I continued turning the pile every few days when it started cooling down. And day by day, the pile was getting darker and darker, and smelling less and less.

I had read that the compost would "smell sweet" when it was done, but I had no previous experience with "hot" composting, and I was not sure what the authors meant. So one day, the pile did not heat up after watering and turning. So I watered and turned the pile again. And still, the temperature barely rose to 120*F. So per the advice of the compost mages, I ignored it and let the pile sit for several weeks. And low and behold, after that time, I put my hands into soft, barely warm, sweet smelling compost.

I spread the compost where I will plant garlic in late September or early October (depending when the bulbs get here). I sprinkled some goodies for the chickies on it, and they tilled it into the sand for me. The cycle is complete - they will have chopped garlic leaves in the late spring to help clean them of parasites. ...And now, it's time to clean the coop again and make more desert gold.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


The corn is stunted, heat and drought stressed - but life is resilient and determined. Even though they barely grew to 3 feet tall this year, the corn is now bravely shedding pollen and setting fruit.
Likewise, one small, solitary apple ripens in defiance of relentless desert winds and a hard winter that froze most apple buds to death.

Sometimes I think, I should just let Mother Nature win and take back this small plot of desert. And then I see chickens sneaking into the corn, chickadees stealing sunflower seeds, and a rosemary bush that continues to defy odds - and I think, if they can persevere, so can I.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

August Harvest and General Notes

August is one of my favorite months in my High Desert Garden. The mornings are staying cooler all the way up to 9 am as the 60*F by 6 am, 70*F by 7 am, 80*F by 8 am and 90* by 9 am pattern breaks up. During August, the temps may still be below 80 by 10 am. These cooler temps spur the garden veggies into accelerated growth and production - bringing the first of the autumn harvests.

Sunflowers have been blooming for nearly a month, but their seeds are not yet ripened. So, for the fall harvest, yellow crook neck summer squash is the first to produce something edible. Above is one of my plants with a co-joined twin squash. I've never had a squash like that before. Also, note, I think the ants are my primary pollinator here. Of course, I also hand pollinate when I have time - but I don't always have time to help Mother Nature out. Probably the ants are good for Mother Nature's purposes - she merely wishes to produce a goodly amount of seed for next year's plants. Me, I want enough to eat and feed chickies. That requires additional pollination here in the desert.

The last of the sunflower buds have committed to pointing East, so I know they will be blooming soon. Blooms staggered over two months - that is about the same as years past. I mix types and when birds eat seedlings, I plant another seed - so one never knows what type one will get.

I am convinced that if you grow it, they will come. And that includes birds, insects, lizards and spiders. Here, a grey black widow patrols one of the ripening sunflower seed heads.
Although I planted Mammoth sunflowers, none of the plants were taller than 3 feet this year. Looking around the roadsides, it seems that none of the wild or cultivated sunflowers attained much height this year. I can tell which are the Mammoth sunflowers, however, as their flowers were still more than eight inches in diameter.
General Notes
First Frost Dates from Years Past
  • 2005-10-15 Light Frost
  • 2006-10-26 Killing Frost
  • 2007-10-18 Light Frost
  • 2007-10-20 Killing Frost
  • 2008 - not recorded
  • 2009 - not recorded
Bed No. One
  • Bearded Irises - starting to fade; tips are browning and some of the leaves are dying down. Although only the blue and white ones bloomed this year, it appears that all varieties actually survived and sent up leaves for the summer. Hopefully they will all bloom next year.
  • Rosemary - Looking very healthy. It has doubled in size from last year (which is double in size from the year before). It was a 97 cent Walmart unknown cultivar of rosemary. It was not rated for negative 10 degree winters and I fully expect it to die each winter. But here it is, several years later, and it is taking over. Need to harvest the nice young leaves, coat in olive oil and freeze.
  • Unknown Day Lilies - 3 out of 6 survive. One had one bloom before the temperatures became scorching. It was a burnt orange color, and while lovely, was certainly not the bright pink of the cultivar New Toy. Still, if it survives winter, I will be more than happy to keep it!
  • Oregano - harvested a few zip lock bags full before the summer heat made the plants get leggy and slightly bitter. I cut it back until it was only 6 inches tall, so it is not as bushy as it could normally be by this time. Still, I am thinking there will be a flush of new growth as the weather cools, so I may get a small second harvest.
  • Sweet Marjoram - is Oregano's wilder sister, generally having a milder flavor than oregano, and having a more open growth pattern. In the Spring, when growth is young, you can't easily tell them apart - but later in the season, you will see Sweet Marjoram becoming leggy, and growing tall spikes of small white flowers that arch over and sway gracefully in the breeze.
  • Desert Mallow - bright orange and somewhat weedy looking, this one has come back year after year. Her blooms are pretty stinky, but the attract pollinators by the droves. And, though stinky, the bright orange blooms are lovely and prolific. I cut her back after she matured a set of seed pods, and she is blooming again, although a little less than the first bloom set. I have scattered her seed pods around, hoping I can get a few more to personalise in the garden.
  • Lemon Balm - Does not like the heat of summer. The plant grows leggy and the edges of the leaves that are not shaded by the Oregano become small and burnt on the edges. Definitely need to harvest this one in the early Spring when it is sending out large, pretty leaves by the bunches. It self-sowed quite happily this year, so I doubt I will ever have to plant more, even though this is the second year the original two plants have come back.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Autumn is here

It's the beginning of August and although the daytime temperatures are still in the mid- to high- 90's (*F), the nights are dipping into the 50's and low 60's - signifying the beginning of autumn. 

Sunflowers are in full bloom - ones blooming at the beginning of July still holding their petals, but showing signs that the heads are now filling with seed.  4 or 5 buds are still tracking the sun across the sky, but most have now made a commitment to point east in preparation for unfolding their petals.  4 young seedlings, barely 3 inches tall, battle time and the elements - will they bloom before the end of the season?

Collards have germinated in bed number 3.  They are limping along in the heat, but they will grow through light frosts, so hopefully they will begin to flourish as the days cool.

Okra in the ground has been plucked, presumably by the birds.  Three survive in bed number three, however.  They are supposed to only take 60 days or less to harvest.  They are all still small - stunted, I am guessing, by the harsh desert sun and wind.  But if we are lucky, there are still 40 - 60 more frost free days and I may hope to at least see them bloom.

Three delicata squash on the original vine - and the vine is just now starting to take off, with leaf and flower buds soaking up the sun. 

The unknown squash in bed three has female buds that show them to be yellow crook neck.  They haven't been fertilized yet, so I can't say that we will get a harvest - but the ants are working hard, crawling all over them and spreading yellow-orange pollen all around.  Yellow squash planted in the ground barely survives.

I ordered garlic for this fall's planting.  This year's planting includes 2 lbs of German Red and 5 lbs of Siberian - both hard necks that enjoy a cold winter.  I also ordered 1 lb of the softneck, Inchelium Red.  That should yield close to 70 hardnecks and a similar number of softnecks - although the softnecks might not survive if we have as brutal a winter as last year.  Normally I order from The Garlic Store, but they indicate they will not be shipping until October. As it looks like winter will be arriving early this year, I ordered from a place that will ship in mid-August: 2 Sister's Garlic. They did not have the top sized Siberian, but the medium sized will have more cloves per pound, so it may be that my harvest is actually bigger that way.

Speaking of garlic, the composted chicken poo is just about ready to dig into the sand. It will sit a few weeks, and then it should be ready for planting out the garlic. I still haven't decided exactly where to plant, but I better figure it out soon.

Planted out crook neck squash seeds that got rained on - placed them among the corn. One has germinated so far. I also placed some in bed number two, but I haven't seen any there, yet.

Busy week in the garden. Wish I had more time to hang out there. Work and school have taken their toll on my free time.