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Gunplumber

Growing in the Desert Southwest - raised planters

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I do not have a green thumb. I took horticultural management in college for my botany credit, and worked in the Fullerton Arboretum. I once had a (failed) cactus and succulent business. But I have been a dismal failure at growing anything but African Jade, peppers, and cactus/succulents.

 

There are a variety of problems in my Sonoran Desert region, that make growing a challenge. Arizona is actually a major agricultural area, with corn, carrot, cabbage, broccoli, and cotton fields all around the low lands. They use canals for irrigation, as the Maricopa Indians did for a thousand years.

 

I have alkaline, clay soil. My previous attempts to grow grass in by back yard failed. My short-term plan is to hardscape the back yard, with a fire pit, and raised planters, with a ring of desert trees. I figure the planters will give me the ability to control the soil.

 

Kindof like this, except inside a ring of raised planters, the front of which will be benches. http://0.static.wix.com/media/c30cfd13a9511b23927d303fbd4df364.wix_mp_1024

 

Anyway, I was making a curb for a brick walkway out of cinder blocks. I figured the 8" blocks, minus the 4" bricks, would leave me a 4" curb. Then I discovered that chipping the mortar off the used bricks was a greater cost in labor than in just buying new material. And the best bang for the buck in covering large areas is with 1" native flagstone. An that would leave 7" curbs, which were too high.

 

So I figured, I'd raise the curb another 8" and turn them into planters. Which became 4 large planters (and also gave me a great place to "hide" several tons of crushed cement and rocks, underneath a foot of planting soil/mulch mixed with our crappy clay dirt. I have an unlimited supply of horse poop to mix, but I avoided it and bought sterile potting soil for this test, as I assume the horse poop will have a lot of grass seeds in it. With my luck, the same grass that wouldn't grow where I planted it, will thrive where I don't want it.

 

Anyway, I tested the irrigation yesterday and am ready to bury it and plant.

 

I found an on-line seed store with $0.99 samples, with seed quantities ranging from 20 to 300 depending on variety, and I bought 100 varieties of heirloom/non-GMO seeds to play with. The website http://www.seedsnow.com will filter choices based on season and climate zone. I picked spring and the desert southwest. Came up with a variety of herbs, radishes, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, etc. I avoided melons and squashes due to their size. Now understand - the food value is secondary. I want "green" for it's aesthetic value, but figured I may as well have green that I can eat. This corner of the yard is essentially dead space, and it also has the least sun, due to the walls. The main part of the back yard has full, blazing hot sun, all day, so will need extremely sun-tolerant plants. So this "dead" corner is my testing ground. Whatever grows best I'll put in the main part of the yard.

 

So I'm reading the directions that came with the seeds, and they say I should be sprouting them in vermiculite in a green-house type environment before transplanting the seedlings into the garden. This is NOT going to happen. My plan was to plant the seeds directly in the beds, and hope for the best. I haven't the time or interest to make gardening my full time job. I have a full-time job. I just want a bunch of green, and would rather they be edible and pretty, rather than just pretty. I expect high attrition this year, both from my inexperience, lack of interest, and rabbits, but the results will tell me what grows best with least effort in my challenging environment.

 

So I really don't know enough yet, to know what questions to ask, so I'm just kindof wondering if anyone has any anecdotal comments on hot + dry + full sun + raised beds?

 

16014planters-02.jpg

Edited by Gunplumber

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raised beds will likely make the soil warm faster and you'll lose more water in that heat down there. I would plant taller plants like Tomatoes and let them sprout and then get some ground cover type plants going.. they'll help keep things cooler and slow down evaporation.

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I expect the raised beds to be warmer, but I also figure they will have vastly improved water retention - to the point where I may need to install a few drains. For example, now that I'm done testing the sprinklers, I'm burrowing under the planter to run the (eventual) water line (I already have timers and valves from my failed lawn, I just need a new trench to connect the them) .

 

I watered heavy last night - about 30 minutes. Today when I went to dig out the inside corner, I sunk down a foot. Yet 12" away, on the outside corner, I needed a pick-axe to dig the other side of the hole.

Edited by Gunplumber

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We have a friend who made all his garden beds raised. His garden grows wonderful, putting my garden to shame. Then again, his property was once a horse corral.

 

Your full sun garden would be good for radishes, beets, and peppers and some spices like oregano, and thyme. My personal experience with lettuce is it needs to be shaded out here. Carrots do not seem to mind shade, though my non-GMO carrots did not mature for 2 years... it is my soil, I am sure. Tomatoes want to have some shade from our extreme sun. They will only grow until the temperature exceeds 100*, then, they will wither and die.

 

I would suggest mixing sand in your soil too. 2 years ago, I put loads of sand in my garden - it was not enough and I need to get more. I had some left over which we scattered around certain areas of our yard. Everywhere we put the sand the grass is growing wonderful.

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I added 20 tons of sand to the horse arena. It has really helped to loosen up the clay - with the help of my neighbor's tractor and roto-tiller, than is. The potting soil I brought in has a lot of finely shredded wood chips in it. I'm expecting the native soil I Put on top will substantially settle through it.

 

Not sure what you mean about 2 years for carrots. Is that for full growth? Of for any growth. I guess I just assumed a carrot was a one season thing.

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I thought the same about the carrots. However, once the heat kicked in they quit growing. When I pulled a few they were the size of my little finger. In late September they began to grow again and by December many were 1" in diameter and 6-8" long. And they are not woody at all.

 

I hope you garden grow excellent for you.

 

 

(I'm jealous... I want some poo too. LOL)

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Fun! I love to play garden and AZ and CO have some similarities....like the moisture/drought problem.

 

Starting seeds in pots first: Only two reasons I know for this.

1) Because you want a head start in late winter/early spring so the plants don't freeze. This is vital for us but a non-issue for you. 2) Because you wish to avoid wasting seeds. If you direct sow, you either sow lightly...spacing for the eventual mature plant OR you thin the baby plants out to the proper spacing for the mature plants. With your least-time/energy approach, you might do a combination or either. The thinned out baby plants can sometimes be used in salads...baby lettuce, beets, etc. Or your horses might eat the thinnings. Or toss into compost area. :shrug:

I see no reason why AZ folks would need to start plants inside unless you're growing seedlings for a fall/winter garden and the baby plants won't survive the harsh summer sun.

 

Your beds look really neat! Being in the most shaded area will likely be to your advantage in AZ. The walls will cut down on dehydrating winds. The larger bed in the corner...I'd place some flagstones there to walk on while you're tending that bed. It's too big to reach. ...... <_< ...I've noticed that the more decades I get, the less reach I'm willing to make. And you really don't want to be traipsing through your garden beds [especially 'container beds'] willy-nilly. Compacted soil will not allow roots to spread out adequately.

 

Lettuce, spinach, other greens, and radishes like cooler temps and can get by with less sunshine. They will bolt [go to seed] if they get too hot. If radishes get water-stressed, you get realllly hot radishes. Companion planting...putting clumps of them underneath a larger plant might give them the shade without messing with shade-cloth and the ugly factor.

 

Tomatoes: Check your packages of seeds. There are two types that will make a difference for these beds. Determinant and Indeterminate. The first will have a more limited growth of the vines....still should be staked to give all the plant access to air/sun. Indeterminate tomato vines will grow and grow and grow. You can prune them but that would be another chore you aren't looking for. Go with the Determinate growth type unless you want the vines to crawl along the ground all over for the greenery. [ahem...would snakes hide in there???? ]

Then from there you can chose from thousands of varieties of tomatoes. Trial and error unless someone in your region has already done that and can tell you which variety will survive AZ conditions. I'd advise growing the smaller types of tomatoes though. As in cherry, plum, and handful sized tomatoes instead of two-hands-full beefsteak tomatoes. At least to start with cuz it takes less time to get the fruit grown/ripened. In case you're going to get the killing heat as Annarchy has experienced.

 

Carrots: I've done every single thing wrong you can possibly done with these veggies. They are hard to germinate, for one thing....cuz they take uh, two wks I think. So in our arid regions, you HAVE to make sure they don't begin to sprout and then fail to get water. :0327: They make a really neat fuzzy green spot if you scatter-seed them too close together. Note: thinning carrots is not fun...nearly impossible...way too time consuming. Place the durned tiny seeds at least far enough apart that by the time you need to thin, there is a small carrot to pluck. Enough to get your fingers onto. I've had erosion, elk toes, carrot carpet, water-stress at the exact wrong time..... But if we ever get carrots, they are wonderful. So I keep trying. They have a beautiful fern-like greenery and can be planted in [spaced-out] clumps here and there amongst larger plants. [don't know if you want to do strictly rows or a loose design of companion planting????]

 

Beets are another veggie that you need to space out at least somewhat because they are not really "a seed". The crinkly dried thing in the packet is actually more than one seed. So spread them out when you sow and save time later. You can certainly put the beet greens [edible at all stages of growth except not appealing when old and tough] that you thin into salads. Beets can get quite large but can be eaten at any stage. In hot climates, you don't want them to get too large or they can get woody. All of this data is the same with turnips except the part about beet "seeds". Turnip seeds are individual. Greens are quite edible.

 

Because you emphasized greens, beet greens are pretty with red and green leaves. Turnip greens are kind of frothy, large and sturdy under windy conditions. Many people have not learned to like these two veggies but their greens are quite decorative. I like both beets [esp. pickled!!] and turnips. I can eat beet greens while young but turnip greens, even young, are too bitter for my sensitivity. High nutrition in both.

 

 

OK...your beds have crushed rock, etc underneath the bedding soil which is good for drainage. If I understood that right. If it's loosely packed, you might have too much drainage. As mentioned, heat and moisture evaporation is increased in container gardening...which is in effect, what you have. Large, above ground containers. Will you get evaporation thru the sides of the beds...the bricks? Did you line with plastic? Embedded drip lines...is that what you'll be using for watering? Those will help tremendously so you aren't wasting water above ground!

 

DH and I had a similar arrangement for a few years, tho in-ground. He dug out a hole in a level spot on our crumbled granite mountain side. Put in decent soil, and such. Worked well but we did notice the SOIL was slowly percolating down though the granules of rock....like going through coffee grounds. We would have eventually had to keep replacing it. BUT we were saved that effort when the migration of voles [yes, with a 'V'] moved in. :motz_6: In one night they turned the bed upside down. The granite gravel was on the top and the nice, purchased soil was underneath. And all plant life was ingested. We were speechless! 'Ware the voles! I'd rather fight dragons! Hmph!

 

Oh...you MUST use mulch. That will handle weeds and retain a tremendous amount of moisture! Mulching with compost is good but other things work.

 

Compost: CAN you compost there? I've had a great deal of trouble because it's so hard to keep the compost pile moist enough to sustain the reaction. I think one of those barrel things might help. But over the years, I have produced a lot of TRUE compost. Looks and smells like black dirt. Does not look or smell like horse apples. If you can achieve this, you do not have to worry about any weed seeds. And yes, the grass and hay seeds would do reallllly well in your garden. :lol: But truly composted horse apples will be decomposed by the heat, which kills the seeds. You don't want to use truly not composted poo.....for many reasons.

 

 

Ah....that helped with my insane desire to try to garden ONE MORE TIME, on this inhospitable bit of the planet. Every late winter it hits and I wish to not fall for it this year. DH and I are seriously researching hydroponics/aquaponics though. Anything else is just :banghead: to even try here until drought and VOLES are gone!

 

MtRider :lois: Keep us posted!

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There are only two food items I can't eat. Liver and beets. I've eaten sea slugs, crickets, lizards and snakes . . . you name it. Even the smell of beets makes me nauseous. So that was quickly crossed off the list.

 

So if the plants are too close together does that affect their growth or only make it difficult to harvest? I had a tomato jungle at my old house - They were so thick I couldn't move through them. I was throwing away bucket-fulls of tomatoes 'cause I couldn't give them away, and there is only so much salsa I could freeze.

 

Good idea on the stepping stones. I recognized that would be a hard to reach area, but it is otherwise dead space. I was thinking of bushes in the corner. One of my beans tays (bush) after it. I'm assuming that means it is a bush and not a vine.

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Too bad. Liver and beets..... :yum3: Hmm...snakes? If it wasn't still SHAPED like a snake, I'd try it.

 

Yes...there are bush and pole beans. Pole beans save space cuz they'd be trellised which can be made to look nice and shade other plants that need it. But they'd also be more apt to dry out. Really depends on how blistering hot/dry you get in that little corner. The other difference is that pole beans continue to flower and produce until the plant dies. Bush beans give you a small crop - which you need to pick or it will stop producing. Then a much bigger crop and another. Then it's pretty much done for the season except for a few here and there. "Bush" will be about 2' high...and wide.

 

Peas are another that you can trellis. They like cooler weather so winter might be good for you if you don't get frozen. Peas will grow in very cold weather...even germinate. But don't let the pea pods get frozen...they kinda change texture and won't grow further. Pick them all if you'll get a hard frost. But the vines are quite frost hardy and will put out more flowers soon. It's a plant that can push the season if you have only an occasional hard frost.

 

Plants too close together....I was mostly speaking of leaving room for maturity. [the carrots were seeded too close to even thin, let alone grow to maturity!...old seeds; thot few would germinate and they all did! lol ] But....too close for harvest can be an issue. I recall wading thru cukes on our farm garden in childhood. Hard to see before they became submarines! There are 'bush' varieties of cukes, btw. I haven't any experience with them.

 

Affecting their growth...as in health of the plant: Each type of plant has a very different root shape... different dimensions needed for the root system. Tap root like carrot is long an narrow so it can be tucked into smaller spaces. Tomatoes and peppers have a more rounded root system so to leave them comfortable room...well most of that is on the seed packets. "plant X inches apart....thin to X inches apart"

 

But also is the above ground room. A staked tomato plant shading something next to it ...or even in the next row. Turnip greens get very large [without staking] so might engulf nearby plants. [until my horse discovered he could lean over the fence and prune one half of those greens....lol ] Something to keep in mind. Staking things up takes some time but it sure does keep things tidy and much easier to harvest. Also keeps produce off the ground so slugs, ants, mold, or whatever pesters your region has a harder time destroying what you grow. Stakes can be green and mostly hidden so as not to detract from the aesthetics of the garden. Or creative and have a 'cool' factor.

 

Then is the heavy feeders vs light feeders vs nitrogen-fixers....but I'm not sure you want to even get into that. If you do and aren't already familiar.... Legumes [beans/peas] are beneficial nitrogen-fixers. Good to rotate to areas that had heavy feeders like peppers and tomatoes the year before. That's the short version to give you an idea.

 

Cole crops are heavy feeders and cool weather plants. Winter garden? Broccoli gets sweeter if the mature head takes a frost. So do carrots, btw. But maybe you don't frost there?

 

MtRider ....throwing away buckets of tomatoes?...she whined. :o

Edited by Mt_Rider

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You might also want to consider what critters might like to hide from the heat in your garden if you let it become a wild tangle.

 

And as far as spacing.. square foot gardening or intensive gardening will give you closer spacing than traditional methods (on the seed packets) and companion planting can help with the different "feeders".

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We don't live even near these dry conditions...but we invested in the Mel Bartholomew system and have used it now for 3 years. Why? Because we're lazy and don't want to spend all our "off hours" working a garden. We put a timer on a drip system and it's worked fine. We set the timer for 30 min in the am and go for a motorcycle ride or something fun or needing to be done, and then it comes on again for 30 minutes about supper time. Mels Mix is not a real "soil". It's made up of 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 compost and 1/3 spagnum moss. We don't have to do any more to our "soil" every year except add a bit of compost and mix it around, and we rotate our squares. Just works for these two old farts!

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I built a raised bed from concrete blocks several years ago. We sometimes get strings of more than 100 degree days...when this happened the plants that had roots touching the blocks...and the ones that had been successfully growing in the spaces in the blocks....fried and died...the blocks were just to hot....even though I watered daily. The tomatoes planted a foot away from the sides did fine.

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Dogmom...do you think it would help to drape shade cloth, of some kind, down the sides of the brick? Just for the days when it's very hot?

 

'Course, I live at 9,000' and put up with two foot blizzards just so I never have to experience heat like that so...I'm just throwing out guesses....

 

MtRider :knary: Whew....how do y'all survive that kind of heat??????? ....not to mention the snakes......

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Oh but it's a dry heat... sorta like being stuck in one of those food dehydrators or when the wind is blowing, a hair dryer.. :24:

 

I was wondering about putting something that would spread and drape along the edges so that it would cover the bricks? rosemary comes to mind.

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Typical summers here are weeks of 110, and a full month over 100. Hottest I've seen was 122.

 

I can do shade material, but I'd rather not - I'd rather find plants that can handle it. We get heavy wind and it would take a lot to secure agricultural screening.

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I was camping once long ago in SW Utah. Bryce Canon, I think. The thermometer topped out at 120 degrees...that was it's max so who knows how hot it was. We spent the day sitting in the small creek, reading.

 

So....I'd be going for gardening for food in the other three seasons.... But maybe something edible does bask in that type of sunshine. Nothing I know of....

 

Wind is too much to battle if you want this low-maintenance!

 

MtRider.... hiding away at 9,000' for a reason!! :knary:

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I think there are certain hot peppers that can handle that much heat. But, a person can eat just so many peppers.

 

 

 

:wormie2:

John

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Have you tried Jerusalem artichokes? I can also send you some New Zealand spinach seeds of you'd like. Another thought would be to plant an apricot tree in the middle and then let shallow rooted herbs & veggies enjoy the filtered Sun.

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My yard has shade from the many trees in my yard and the neighbors yard...I dont know that a shade cloth would've made a difference because some of the over 100 degree days were actually 115. I had tomato plants with burned leaves. Plus, as I've gotten older I've become a bit of as lazy gardener. If I have to put a serious amount of effort to keep it alive in my area then it probably shouldn't be grown here.

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I have raised beds and love them. I put the word out in the cafe one morning to the local ranchers that I would love to have some old cattle troughs that had holes in them. By that afternoon I had eight of them in various sizes in my yard. I put more holes in some of them except a few didn't even have bottoms...filled them with dirt mixed with peat moss and planted. I love them!!, they are very tall so I don't have to bend over and it out my garden out of reach of the bunnies. It also completely eliminated the mole and gopher problems I was having. This year we are putting a drip line to each one on a timer which will make the garden almost carefree. I will add in some mulch before I plant and be ready to go

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Long green chili and jalapeños love the heat. Also, I read that oregano does too.

 

You could also plant mint, different varieties, in the shaded area. You may have to put a barrier around it to keep it from taking over the garden.

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I really wanted mint, but the only mint I could find were seedlings - I couldn't find seeds. I do a lot of Tai/Vietnamese style cooking with rice noodle, peanut, and mint.

 

 

\

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Mint grows best from root divisions/seedlings. You only need one plant to produce all the mint plants you will ever need! You can grow it from seed but I think I remember that it has a really long germination rate.

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Remember, anyone who's saying that X, Y or Z perennials "grow rampantly...will take over the planet...etc" ....None of that is necessarily true in arid regions. We've tried X, Y and Z ....nothing grows rampantly here. Well, pine and aspen trees. :shrug:

 

 

MtRider :lois: <-----in my dreams! :rolleyes:

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Well, I planted the seeds yesterday. I bought 100 varieties of $0.99 sample packs and planted all hundred - half of each selection.

 

http://www.seedsnow.com/collections/new-99-sampler-seed-packs

 

I bought these flags, usually used for marking irrigation systems, for labeling all the different varieties.

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001DZBHAS/ref=oh_details_o00_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

 

I also bought this "survival seed vault". It has a lot of the same types I ordered, but seems a pretty good spread of types and quantities are much greater than the sampler packs. If I knew exactly what I wanted, it would probably be more economical to buy them individually, but for someone like me who doesn't know what to get, this product seems a good value.

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GT49WS2/ref=oh_details_o03_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

 

 

Gosh those fava beans are huge!

 

I still don't have the irrigation connected to the electronic valves and timers, but used a 4-line hose manifold to tie the planters into the water supply for now. I'm going to be doing more landscaping before knowing for sure where the hard-pipe needs to run.

 

 

 

Got a question. If I plant several types of (whatever) next to each other, will they cross-polinate and create their own hybrid?

 

Has anyone had skin irritation from rutabaga? Did you know it's a hybrid? A Cross between a turnip and a cabbage. Wow! Anyway, I was scanning the wiki entry and it said the leaves had an irritant like poison ivy.

 

Well, I'm cautiously optimistic. With enough varieties, a 50% failure in germination should still give me a veritable jungle. Seeds advertise an 85% germination rate. Most say 7-14 days to sprout, so we'll see.

Edited by Gunplumber

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