Do you grow garlic in your garden? If so, you know that it takes a long time to grow with planting in October and harvesting it in May.  During the long growing period, the leafy green tops of the garlic plant are all that is visible while the garlic bulb is growing below ground.

But, did you know that the garlic greens can be used in some of your favorite dishes? Here is how I use them…

It’s always fun to find new ways to enjoy the vegetables in your garden. Have you ever tried garlic greens or other non-traditional parts of vegetables?

For tips on how to grow your own garlic, click here.

I have a problem in my garden.  The suspects who wreak havoc on my vegetable gardens are furry, have tails and whiskers.  On the surface, they are very cute, but wild on the inside and shy away from contact with humans, except for the neighbor who feeds them.

 

Now before we go further, I must tell you that I like cats – a lot.  I don’t mind them in my backyard and enjoy watching them stretch out in the sun on a winter’s day or enjoying the filtered shade from my trees in summer.  What I don’t like is that they use my raised vegetable beds as a litter box.

To help deter them, I added a motion control sensor that is attached to my hose, which sprays anything that gets too close to the garden (including me if I forget to turn it off before working in the garden).  This has helped, but there is still half of the garden that the cats continue to use as a toilet.  Not a place I want to grow vegetables.  

I had done research on plants that may repel cats, and the herb ‘rue’ (Ruta graveolens) kept coming up.  The problem was, I had a hard time finding it as it’s an old-fashioned herb, and isn’t used much anymore.  

Nursery visits have become more frequent for me lately as I am preparing for a visit from a magazine and a wedding that will be held in out backyard.  So, I’ve been giving my garden a little more attention, and that means plant shopping!

While I was browsing through the aisles at the nursery, I spotted a tray filled with rue plants.  I must admit that I could hardly contain my delight and bought seven without a second thought.  Of course, I also came home with several other plants for the garden too.

I was so thrilled to have found some rue and have a chance to see if it would keep the cats out of the garden.  The dried leaves from rue are also purported to keep cats away, so I can harvest the leaves and use them in other areas if I need to.

The plant itself is attractive with lacy foliage, and the leaves smell just fine to me – cats just don’t like it – hopefully.

I am somewhat hopeful that this will do the trick, but I am also a bit cautious as not all surefire solutions work.  I’ll be sure to let you know if it works to keep the cats out of the vegetable garden.

**Have you ever had a problem with cats in your garden?  What did you do to get rid of them?

 

Cool-season vegetable transplants

One of the things that I enjoy about living in the Southwest is the ability to garden throughout the year.  Well, that may be a slight exaggeration – I don’t especially like gardening in July or August.  During those months, I simply like to view my garden out the window from the air-conditioned comfort of my home.  But, you’ll often see me outside spending January in the vegetable garden through the winter months.  

So far, this year’s cool-season garden hasn’t been very impressive.  In fact, it was quite disappointing.  Our drip irrigation system wasn’t watering this particular vegetable bed well because the tiny holes had become clogged from mineral deposits left behind by our notorious hard water.  As a result, a handful of romaine lettuce transplants survived, but none of the seeds that I planted in early October germinated except for the radishes and a couple of carrots.  

To make it worse, when I discovered the problem last fall, I was so busy trying to keep up with my landscape consulting that I didn’t fix the irrigation troubles.  Spring and fall for horticulturists is much like tax season for accountants, and little else gets done.

Well, I felt bad looking out at my sad little vegetable bed, so I cleared my calendar to give it a little TLC earlier this week.  First on the list was to pull out the lettuce plants, which had bolted and were ready to be taken out.  I was able to get a few radishes, much to the delight of my youngest daughter who loves them.

Before planting, I added a 4-inch layer of compost to help refresh the soil.  There wasn’t any need to mix it in with the existing soil – in fact, it’s better if you don’t do that.

Like many people, I find working out in the garden therapeutic and the stresses of day to day life simply melt away.  What made this day even better was that my husband came out to help me.  At this point, I should mention that he isn’t one of those men who loves to work out in the garden.  Oh, he does a great job at it, but he doesn’t like it – at all. Poor guy, he had no idea that the woman he married 30 years ago would turn out to be a plant lady who lives, eats, and breathes all things related to the garden.  

My darling husband took an entire morning out of his busy schedule to help me in the garden, fixing the drip irrigation system in my garden.  Forget flowers, if spending a morning out in your wife’s vegetable garden fixing irrigation doesn’t shout “I love you,” I don’t know what does.

The drip irrigation system in my vegetable garden is made up of a main poly drip line that runs up the center of the garden.  Micro-tubing, with small holes along the length, are then looped along the length of the main drip line.  We pulled out the old micro-tubing and replaced it.  

Once the irrigation repair was finished, it was time to add plants.  Luckily, there is still plenty of time to plant cool-season favorites.  To get a head start, I bought romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, and spinach transplants.  The rest I would grow from seed.  Irish Eyes Garden Seeds is one of my favorite seed companies.

Another seed company who I have used over the years is Burpee.  I remember perusing my dad’s Burpee seed catalog when I was a child and planning on which ones I would order for the little plot of land that he gave me in the back garden.  

I still order seeds from Burpee and was pleasantly surprised to receive a gift from them this Christmas – an advent calendar where each door opened up to a seed packet filled with one of their new 2017 plant introductions.  What an ingenious marketing tool!  Every morning, I felt like a kid again waiting to see what new seeds I would find behind the door.  

I selected ‘Dragon Tail’ radish, where you eat its purple seed pods and NOT the roots.  It is a version of an Asian heirloom radish and has a more delicate flavor than regular radishes.  I am very excited to see what this one does in my garden.  ‘Rido Red’ radish and ‘Bend and Snap’ snap peas also found a spot in the garden.

Marigolds and nasturtiums are always present alongside cool-season vegetables as they attract beneficial pollinators, discourage harmful insect pests, and just make the garden look pretty.  Imagine my delight when I saw new varieties of my favorite flowers in the advent calendar.  ‘Strawberry Blonde’ marigolds and ‘Orange Troika’ nasturtiums will add welcome beauty to my vegetable bed.  There were other seeds in the calendar that I plan on using including ‘Bend and Snap’ snap peas.  I plan on giving some of my seeds to my mother for her garden.  Burpee has a list of their new 2017 introductions, which you can access here.  I’d love to hear if you grow any of them.

Next to the vegetable garden is my young ‘Meyer’ lemon tree.  We planted it two years ago, and this is its first ever fruit.  Young citrus trees can take a year or two, after planting, before it produces fruit and I look forward to years of delicious fruit from mine.  

Meyer lemons aren’t true lemons.  They are a cross between a regular lemon and mandarin orange, and this gives them a sweeter flavor and a deep yellow skin.  The story behind Meyer lemons includes overseas exploration, threatened extinction, and Martha Stewart.

Well, that is what is happening in the January vegetable garden.  What is growing in your winter garden?

 

Books for Waterwise Gardening

Gardening in a dry climate comes with unique challenges where water is viewed as a precious resource and needs to be used wisely.  Does that mean that you cannot have a beautiful garden?  Absolutely not!  You can have an attractive outdoor space filled with beautiful plants and a vegetable plot as well with proper planning with help from these water-wise books.

Today, I would like to share my final installment for gifts for the gardener by sharing not one, but two books that are worth adding to your gardening library.  

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

If you are looking to create a drought tolerant landscape but are in need of ideas and guidance, look no further than The Water-Saving Garden, by Pam Penick.  

The book opens with a chapter dedicated to inspiration with several types of water wise gardens highlighted to help the reader determine which one is right for them.  Lovely, color photos of landscapes display the incredible beauty of gardens that conserve water.

Designing a water-saving garden entails including several elements such as contouring, permeable building materials, and more to help conserve water and Pam does a great job of talking about each type and how to incorporate into the landscape.

Plants that are native or adapted to survive on little water are the backbone of the water-saving landscape, and most are surprisingly attractive.  A substantial list of drought tolerant plants will have you imagining how they will look decorating your outdoor space.  Helpful tips for when to plant as well as alternative locations for growing plants are included within the pages of this book, and the author doesn’t stop there – she has an entire section of how to incorporate water or the appearance of water in the landscape with water features and plants.  

The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water is a book that will help readers create a water-wise landscape filled with beauty and would make a wonderful gift for the gardener in your life or yourself.  

Pam has another book, Lawn Gone, which I bought a few years ago, and it sits in a prominent place in my garden library.  It’s filled with inspiration and guidelines for a grass-free landscape.

I enjoy my edible gardens very much and so I was excited when Sasquatch Books provided me with a free copy of Growing Vegetables in Drought, Desert & Dry Times: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening without Wasting Water.  I certainly wish this book had been around when I first started.  Vegetable gardening comes with its set of challenges like watering efficiently and creating a micro-climate that is favorable to growing vegetables.  This book addresses these issues and more.

Whether you are a beginner or have grown vegetables in a different climate, this book is a must have for those who find themselves living in an arid region.

Location, location, location is perhaps the most important part of a successful vegetable garden.  Of course, not everyone has the best location and the book talks about what to take into consideration when deciding where to grow your vegetables in addition to ways to modify the dry climate to make it easier for them to grow in a dry climate.

Guidelines for growing vegetables in raised beds and even containers are provided along with how to amend the desert soil so it can sustain vegetables.  Perhaps the most informative chapters for desert gardeners are those addressing several ways to irrigate as well as a list of the best varieties of vegetables for arid climates.  Additional chapters teach how to control harmful pests and solve common problems.  

If you or someone on your gift list is new to the desert or simply want to begin gardening, both of these books are filled with inspiration and guidance.

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*
This is what my mother’s vegetable garden looks like in the middle of winter.  
 
She works hard at growing a variety of vegetables in her two raised beds.  On Wednesday nights, we all gather for dinner at her house and get to enjoy many of the delicious vegetables straight from her garden.   
 
Sadly, her plans for this season’s vegetable garden faced a serious setback.
 
 
My mother fell and broke her leg while cooking dinner with my youngest daughter.  Both bones in her lower leg suffered multiple fractures, and a metal rod had to be inserted down into her tibia.
 
Understandably, she cannot put any weight on her foot for at least two months.  So, while she works hard at physical therapy to gain as much independence as she can – we decided to help out with her garden.
 
 
My kids, along with my nephews, were eager to help with Grandma’s garden.  We stopped by the nursery to pick up broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and leaf lettuce transplants while I brought some carrot and radish seeds from home.
 
Lucky for us, she had already amended her soil with one of my favorite soil amendments – used coffee grounds (from Starbucks).  I added some of my favorite organic vegetable fertilizer for the garden, and we were ready to start planting.
 
 
I instructed the kids on where and how to plant the vegetable transplants in staggered rows.
 
My sister was also watching us and even stepped in to help out, despite the fact that she never gardens.  
 
 
The kids were eager to help out their grandmother, and we all enjoyed out time out in the garden.  
 
I took a few photos to bring back to her at the rehabilitation facility where she is recuperating, to show her what her grandkids had done for her.


My mother is doing well and is working hard at her daily physical therapy sessions so that she can get home as soon as possible.  We visit her daily, and her room has pictures drawn by her grandchildren and cards from friends and family.

On our most recent visit, my grandson discovered the delights of pushing around his grandpa using great-grandma’s wheelchair.  His smile and laughter brightened everyone’s day.
 
Meanwhile, back at the vegetable garden.

 

 
I came back to check on the newly planted vegetables.  Most were doing quite well, but I did see a few plants with telltale holes in their leaves.
 
 
I discovered the culprit nearby.  Cutworms are caterpillars that eat holes in leafy vegetables as well as ‘cut’ off young vegetable transplants at their base. 
 
  
The cutworms did kill some of the newly transplanted broccoli, but most of the leafy greens were fine other than a few holes in the leaves.
 
I brought my favorite organic pesticide, BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), which kills the caterpillars.  I like to use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz in my own garden, which helps keep the caterpillars at bay.
 
 
I sprayed all the vegetables, taking care to spray both top and underneath the leaves.  
 
BT can be reapplied every 7 – 10 days until the caterpillars are gone.  
 
**Note; it can be hard to find BT in your local big box store or even some nurseries.  However, you can find it offered online from garden supply companies and Amazon (affiliate link).
 

Have you planted any vegetables this season?  What are your favorites?

 

*This blog post contains affiliate link for a product that helps get rid of caterpillars. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

Fall is a busy time for me in the garden.  However, you will usually find me in other people’s gardens helping them achieve their goal of a beautiful, low-maintenance garden. I did manage to get my cool-season vegetable gardens planted.  I planted my favorites, which include carrots, cauliflower, garlic, a variety of leaf lettuces and radishes.

 
 
I included broccoli in my list of vegetables this year, despite the fact that I have yet to grow a healthy head of broccoli (the broccoli in the photo above is from my mother’s garden).
 
Every year, I grow beautiful cauliflower while my broccoli decides to produce very few flowering stalks.  At the end of the season when I look at my less than stellar broccoli harvest – I promise myself that I won’t try again.
 
But, after 6 months pass, I am always tempted to try again hoping that this year will be different.
 
With the exception of carrots and radishes, I planted all of my other vegetables from transplants.  Normally, I almost always use seed, (with the exception of broccoli and cauliflower, which do better when grown from transplants) but I knew that I wouldn’t have time to come out and thin excess plants later.
 
 
This smaller vegetable garden is closer to my kitchen and so I put in vegetables that I would harvest more frequently throughout the season in this area.  Leafy greens such as lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach and kale all went in here.
 
The larger garden is a bit further away and so it was planted with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, garlic and radishes, which are harvested once.
 
My artichoke plant from next year died back to the ground in the summer, (which is normal by the way) and is now growing again.



In addition to my artichoke, my bell pepper plant is also a holdover from last year’s garden.  Actually, it is 2 years old.  Although pepper plants can die from freezing temperatures, I protect mine when the temps dip below freezing, so they are qutie large and produce a lot of peppers much to the delight of my husband and children who like to eat the bell peppers raw.



I also dice them and freeze them for using in my favorite Mexican rice recipe.

I’ve already had to spray my leafy greens with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) to deal with the caterpillars that had started to eat holes in the leaves.  It worked great, but I will need to reapply every once in a while. I use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz.
 
 
Nasturtiums are coming up again from seed in the gardens.  I just let them go to seed each year and they always come back.  I use nasturtiums in my vegetable gardens because they repel bad bugs.  Besides, they look pretty, don’t you think?
 
 
Nasturtiums aren’t the only flowers in my vegetable gardens – marigolds are also great at keeping damaging insects at bay.  This year, I planted a marigold at the end of each row of vegetables.
 
I love how their orange flowers brighten up the garden in the middle of winter.
 
Marigolds and nasturtiums are just a few of the flowers who actually help vegetables.  For more information on other plants to include in your vegetable garden you can visit my previous post, “Even Vegetables Need Friends”.
 
 
I am having a problem in one of my vegetable gardens that began this past summer – spurge!  I have come to truly hate this creeping weed and it has decided to move from the nearby landscape areas into my vegetable garden.
 
It got pretty bad last summer and we ripped it all out.  To help combat it, we added 4 inches of compost/manure, which did help to smother some of the weeds.  But, some are still coming up.  So, I go out every week and spray them with my homemade weed killer, taking care not to spray my vegetables by accident.
 
You may see homemade weed killers that list salt as one of the ingredients.  DON’T add salt to weed killers – especially if you live in the desert Southwest.  Our soil and water already has a lot of salts in them and adding more is not good for your plants – in fact, too much salt can kill them.
 
Homemade weed killer made from vinegar and soap works just fine on most weeds, except for the really tough ones.
 
Have you planted a vegetable garden this year?  What are you growing?
 
 

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.

When much of the nation is freezing their socks off, and their gardens are covered in a blanket of snow, I realize how much of a blessing it is to live in a climate where I can harvest vegetables from my garden in January.
My latest excursion out to the vegetable garden found Swiss chard, leaf lettuce, peas, spinach, broccoli, and carrots ready for picking.
 
Except for the broccoli (which I had other plans for), all of my freshly-picked veggies were going into our salad.
 
 
One crop that I have really enjoyed growing this year, is Swiss chard.  It grows so easily and I love its rainbow-colored stems.  
 
Believe it or not, Swiss chard tastes delicious in salads.
 
My lettuce had a tough start this fall with caterpillars eating much of it until I brought out the big guns – BT Bacillus thurgiensis, which is an organic control for the caterpillars.  It worked just great! I used Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz.
 
I won’t go into all the details of how it works, although it is quite interesting.  For those of you who would like to learn more about BT, click here.
 
 
Here is a close-up of my salad.  You can’t see the carrots too well, but they are there.
 
 
It was so refreshing and delicious, especially when dressed with my grandmother’s ‘Top Secret’ Salad Dressing.  
 
 
I have recently revealed my grandmother’s secret recipe to my daughters, who now can make easily.  
 
So, what is in store for my vegetable gardens this month?
 
I have planted another crop of radishes, carrots, leaf lettuce and spinach.  
 
Next month, will be a busy month in the garden with getting ready to plant warm-season veggies.  
 
I can hardly wait!

If you like to grow tomatoes AND you live in the desert, then you know how important it is to shade your tomato plants during the summer months.


Most vegetable gardeners haul out 50% shade cloth, which does a great job at shading tomatoes and protecting them from the intense desert sun.  


Personally, I don’t particularly like how shade cloth looks.  As a horticulturist and landscape designer – I like gardens to look beautiful and that extends to vegetable gardens.


So instead of putting up shade cloth over my tomato plants this year, I decided to create natural shade for them.

 
My tomatoes are surrounded by giant sunflowers on their east, west and southern sides.  If you can only add sunflowers to one side, then choose the west side to protect them from the intense afternoon sun.
 
 
Throughout the day, they experience filtered shade.  My tomatoes look great without any signs of sunburn.
 
Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed and you can start planting them in March and continue throughout the summer.
 
 
Because sunflowers only live a few months, I have planted a second crop of sunflowers in between my existing sunflowers.  I will soon plant a third crop in order to provide shade all summer and into early fall for my tomatoes.
 
An added bonus to planting sunflowers is that they provide food and shelter for birds and you can enjoy their delicious sunflower seeds.
 
 
Another reason to use sunflowers instead of shade cloth for tomatoes is that sunflowers are a lot less expensive then shade cloth and are an inexpensive and sustainable solution.
 
How about you?  What do you use to shade your tomatoes?

I love visiting other people’s gardens, particularly if they have fruit and vegetables growing in them. So, I was thrilled to be able to go on a tour of local ‘edible’ gardens earlier this month.

 
 
This is the second year of the Arcadia Edible Garden Tour, which is made up of a collection of residential gardens in the ‘Arcadia’ area in east Phoenix.  I used to live in this area and it is one of my favorite regions of the Phoenix metro area.
 
Because my mother loves gardening almost as much as I do, I decided to buy her a ticket too and take her with me as a Mother’s Day gift.
 
Our first stop was to see Jill’s Sweet Life Garden.  I made sure to visit there first because I had been following her blog and couldn’t wait to see her gardens in person.
 
 
As we entered the garden, We headed straight for the raised vegetable beds.
 
 
My mother and I love to grow leaf lettuce, so we had to see what varieties were being grown.
 
 
One of the reasons that I was excited to go on this garden tour, was to get ideas to use in my own garden.  
 
Like, using regular wire mesh over the garden.  This would be great to use as a support for shade cloth in summer or frost cloth in the winter.  It is much more attractive then PVC supports.
 
The trellis is made of rebar and wire mesh and provides an attractive support for vining vegetables.
 
 
As many of you know, I love to grow nasturtiums alongside my vegetables.  They aren’t only pretty, they help to keep bad bugs away from my veggies.
 
This bed had a variety of nasturtium that I was anxious to try ‘Cherry Rose Jewel’ (I found seeds at Botanical Interests).  I will definitely be planting these next year.
 
 
As I was busy admiring the raised beds, my attention was drawn upward by a massive trumpet vine that was growing up a Phoenix date palm.
 
 
Talk about an unexpected support for a vine – I loved it.
 
I have been growing a special variety of corn in a half wine barrel.  
 
 
Sweet Life Garden had cucumbers growing in a barrel with a beautiful trellis.  
 
Baker’s Nursery had these wine barrel trellises available, but I’m not sure if they still do.  You could certainly make your own.
 
 
In addition to cucumbers, sunflowers were also growing in a barrel.  I may have to try this.
 
 
I love growing herbs in pots, but I think Jill’s look better then mine because of the half barrels.  I think I need to get more for my garden.
 
 
Tomatoes were growing like crazy with some beautiful heirloom varieties ripening.
 
 
Wouldn’t this look beautiful on a sandwich or on a salad?
 
 
I think it is important to have seating areas scattered throughout the garden, which invites you to sit and enjoy your surroundings.
 
 
Here is another example of the wire mesh being used as a trellis.
 
 
For those of you who mourn the fact that they cannot grow leafy greens for their salad in summer – let me introduce you to Malabar spinach.  
 
Okay, it’s not exactly a spinach but tastes great in salads and tastes like spinach when cooked.
 
It loves hot temperatures and needs a trellis for support.  I have seeds, but will probably wait until next year to plant mine.
 
The seeds can be a little hard to find at your local nursery, but you can buy some through Amazon.com for under a $1 – just type in Malabar spinach in the search.
 
 
Why limit yourself to growing just vegetables?  
 
Fruit on shrubs and trees is also fun to grow as you can see from the large peach tree, above and the espaliered apple tree, below.
 
I especially enjoyed seeing the peach orchard.
My peaches are almost ready for picking 🙂
 
 
I have been busy picking the blackberries off of my vines and have been thinking of adding more next winter.  
 
 
After seeing the berries at Sweet Life Garden, I will definitely add more to my own garden.
 
Did you know that there is a thornless variety?  I have one thorny blackberry bush and the rest are thornless.  Guess which kind I like best?
 
 
It was time to wrap up our visit because there were more gardens to visit.
 
 
Did I mention that they have chickens too?  
 
On our way out, we enjoyed seeing a variety of products offered by Sweet Life Garden and local vendors.
 
 
 
I had already eaten breakfast, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a few samples.
 
 
 
The three-cheese black pepper bread came home with me.
 
We had a great time visiting Jill, at Sweet Life Garden.  
 
But, our adventure didn’t end there.  There were more gardens to visit.  I will give you the highlights of the other gardens in my next post.
 
**You can find information about the Arcadia Edible Garden Tour on Jill’s blog, Sweet Life Garden.  Be sure to order early next spring, when tickets are available.

The temperatures outside are not just chilly – they are COLD (21 degrees outside yesterday morning in my garden).  

You may recall that I wrote about picking the green tomatoes off my vines a few weeks before the first frost appeared.  

I had quite a few.

 

 
Well, I decided to let them ripen indoors. So, I placed the tomatoes on a cookie sheet and left them alone.
 
And this is what they look like four weeks later.
 
They are starting to ripen!
 
Every day as I check on them, I find more starting to turn yellow and then red.
 
I love that you can pick unripened tomatoes and let them ripen on their own.
 
If I had left them on my tomato vine, they would have frozen during our first freeze of the season.
 
Now, we can enjoy them in salads or even in making pasta sauce 🙂