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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?

My tomato plants are turning one-year old this week.

I didn’t plant them.  They sprouted up from fallen tomato seeds from a stray tomato that was unpicked the previous year.
When I saw the little seedlings coming up, I decided to protect them from the winter frosts in hopes that I would have a jump start on the growing season in spring.
I covered them with sheets when temperatures dipped below 32 degrees and even put a light bulb underneath the sheets to provide additional warmth.
In the spring, I did get a jump-start on the tomato growing season.  They performed very well.
In May, as summer temperatures arrived – I put up shade cloth to shield them from the sun and keep them from burning up.
My hope was to be able to enjoy a fall harvest of tomatoes once the temperatures cooled.
Now that November has arrived, my tomato plants are covered with flowers, just waiting to form into new tomatoes.
I checked over my tomatoes today and this is what I found…
       
A single ripening tomato.
I’m not too sure I will see any more tomatoes form because soon we will be getting too cold.
I must admit that I have mixed feelings about working hard to help my tomatoes survive another winter.  
I’m not sure why I feel this way.  It was worth it because I did get a jump-start on the growing season and as a result, got more tomatoes.
Even when working to protect tomatoes from the occasional freeze – there is no guarantee that they will survive.  A colder then normal winter will kill them no matter what protective measures I try.
Oh wellAt least I don’t have to make a decision for a few weeks.
**How about you?  Have you raised tomato plants for over a year?  Was it worth it?  Or was it easier to start off fresh with new tomato plants in the spring?       
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Grand Canyon University is getting ready for their third Run to Fight Children’s Cancer, which is a 5k/10k run that will raise money to support children and families dealing with childhood cancer.

The run will benefit the Children’s Cancer Network & Phoenix Children’s Hospital (a wonderful hospital – our son, Kai, had surgery there on his hip).

Please take a minute to check out the video link
which shows childhood cancer survivors in an honest, heartfelt way that will leave you inspired. 

The other day, I stepped out into my vegetable garden to get a close up look at how my veggies are ripening.

It may be hard to tell what is what because at first sight, it looks like a sea of green.
In the back I have cauliflower and carrots growing among the nasturtiums.  Toward the front, I have green onions, green leaf lettuce, spinach, parsley and oregano.
The front part of the garden is full of San Marzano tomatoes, pink-flowering Oxalis (not a veggie), garlic and nasturtiums, which are spilling out of the garden.
 
Lastly, the side garden has shallots, sugar snap peas and a single cauliflower.
I love this time of year when there is so much going on in the garden, don’t you?


Check out more gardening tips at
Gardening Tips at Readers Digest
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I would like to thank you all for your supportive comments concerning the flooding of our house.  
We currently have 30 high power fans and 2 large de-humidifiers working in our house.  Unfortunately, that makes the air very warm – 90 degrees inside.
My kitchen is non-functional while appliances are pulled away from the walls, so we are eating out quite a bit (which really isn’t all that bad 😉
The interior walls, furniture and carpet were destroyed.  Thankfully, the insurance company has been very helpful.
I hope you all have a great weekend!

As I write this, it is raining outside.  I love the rain.  I always have, even as a young girl growing up in Southern California.  

I especially like the thought of all the rain falling on my vegetable garden.

If you look closely, you might notice something growing that usually doesn’t belong in a winter vegetable garden (in zone 9a and cooler areas)….

Can you see what I have growing in the photo above that normally belongs in a spring / summer vegetable garden?
Well, if you said tomato plants, you would be correct.
Now before you scold me for planting tomatoes in a garden that sees frost every winter – I assure you that I did NOT plant any of these tomatoes.
No one else did either….
So, how did I end up with tomatoes growing in my garden this time of year?  
Well, they came up from seeds from fallen tomatoes from last summer’s vegetable garden.
I have actually had to pull up small tomato seedlings, but I decided to let 5 stay.  You may be asking, why am I letting them grow if they will be killed by frost?

I am hoping that this winter may be mild enough that they will survive if I protect them from frost.
Last week, we had several days in the low 30’s / upper 20’s.  I covered my tomatoes with old sheets and towels.  Additionally, I also put out two desk lights underneath the coverings (not letting the bulbs touch the sheets), which provides additional warmth.
The result?
Overall, the tomatoes did well.  Some of their upper leaves did receive frost damage, but the lower 3/4’s the plants did very well.
I am hoping that my experiment continues to do well.  Why?  Because I will have a huge headstart on growing lots of tomatoes.
I will continue to let you know how they do this winter. 
**In frost-free gardens, you can grow tomatoes during winter.  But, my zone 9a garden sees temperatures dip into the upper 20’s, so without protection, tomatoes won’t survive the winter. 

Okay.  It’s really happened to me.  

I had heard about what can happen when you grow your own vegetables from other gardeners, but I didn’t think too much about it until….

It happened to me!


So, what happened you may ask?

I discovered the danger of growing a vegetable garden.

Oh, I know it looks quite innocent in the picture above.  
But, there is a real danger lurking there.
What is the danger?
Well you see, I have discovered the wonderful benefits of growing my own vegetables.  I love their delicious, fresh taste.  I enjoy saving money and passing by the produce section at the grocery store.
So what is my problem?
Although I can grow vegetables all year long, unfortunately I cannot grow the same vegetables 12 months out of the year.
I still look back to that late spring day when I harvested my first planting of garlic from my garden.

We harvested quite a bit.
 
We let it cure for a couple of weeks, then cut off the leafy tops and stored all that garlic in a cool, dry place out of the sun.
Now, I love garlic and use it a lot for cooking.  All I had to do when I needed some garlic was grab one from the bowl I was storing them in on a dark shelf.
But, the other day when I went in there, there was no more garlic.
Now, I have to buy it at the grocery store again.
I never used to mind buying garlic from the store.
But now, I sure do!
The same thing happens when I have to start buying lettuce from the store in summer after enjoying my own homegrown lettuce the rest of the year.
And it goes on and on with corn, broccoli, cucumbers, green onions, carrots and tomatoes.
So, now do you see the danger of growing your own vegetables?
You get spoiled!
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I would like to thank you all for your kind comments regarding my recent “grandmotherhood”.
I am relishing the time I get to spend with Lily Mae.  I could just sit and hold her for hours 🙂

I think my kids are ready to go back to school tomorrow after 2 1/2 weeks of being on fall break.

How do I know this?  Well, my two youngest daughters, Ruthie and Gracie, just asked me if there were any jobs that I needed them to do.


So after, I picked up my jaw from the floor, I told them that the patio needed to be swept and then thanked them for being so thoughtful.

A few minutes later, I saw them sweeping the patio.  Then I saw the hose come out as they sprayed the patio.  BUT, they didn’t stop there.  As I watched them, Ruthie started to squirt dish soap on the patio and then proceeded to scrub the patio using the broom.

I just didn’t have the heart to tell her that she didn’t need to use soap.  She was working so hard and looked like she was actually enjoying herself as she walked through all the soap suds.  

And now, I probably have the cleanest patio in the entire neighborhood 😉


Earlier this morning, I went outside to see how my vegetable garden was faring.  As I examined my plants, I paid special attention to many of my vegetable seedlings.


I planted Cauliflower for the first time this fall.  We will see how it does.  I must admit that I am being a bit selfish about including it in my garden since I am the only one in our family who likes cauliflower.  But, since I’m the one who takes care of the garden, I think I’m entitled, don’t you?



My lettuce seedlings are a bit late in getting started this fall.  The reason being that I didn’t learn my lesson last fall, when birds ate my new seedlings, which is what happened again this year.  So this is my second attempt this fall.

I am proud to say that I did find a solution to birds eating my lettuce seedlings that didn’t involve netting.  But I warn you, it isn’t particularly pretty looking…


I decided to use burlap.  I didn’t put the burlap directly on the ground since the plants would grow through it and be caught.  So, I put two of my plastic patio chairs in the garden and draped the burlap over them and the garden fence.  My goal was to shield the seedlings from the bird’s view and so far, I have been successful.


No, this aren’t grass seedlings.  They are my green onions.  

You know what?  There is just something about seedlings that I find so attractive.  I think it is a combination of the bright green of youth and their tiny shapes.  What do you think?


Another first in the garden this fall is shallots.  I haven’t heard much from people in our area growing them, so I am anxious to see how they do.  

Now, I didn’t order any fancy shallots from a mail-order nursery.  I simply went to my local grocery store and bought a bunch.  I planted each bulb with the pointed end upward and covered them with 2″ of soil.

I can’t wait to see how they do when I harvest them this spring.


This little garlic sprout looked much better yesterday then it does today.  The torn leaves are courtesy of the newest member of our family, Max, who hasn’t learned that a fence means “keep out”.  We are working his obedience….


The carrots are doing beautifully and I will soon thin them.  The easiest way to do this is to simply snip off the unwanted seedlings at soil level.  If you pull them out, you risk disturbing the surrounding seedlings.


I planted Nasturtiums throughout my vegetable garden because they make great companion plants because they repel damaging insects and attract insects that will eat Scale (which I have problems every year).


Corn silk is beginning to appear on my fall corn.

This last seedling is not one that I planted or planned on growing this fall.  

But, it showed up on its own and I decided that I will give it a chance….


Yes, it is a tomato plant.  To be precise, it is a ‘San Marzano’ tomato plant that came up from seed.  Its parent plant produce a ton of tomatoes for me last spring and some of the tomatoes fell to the ground, and so here is the result.

I’m not sure how it will do.  Tomatoes are susceptible to frost, which we do get here and on every vegetable gardening guide for our area, tomatoes are never listed as being started in the fall.

But, I am cautiously optimistic.  With shade protection in the summer and frost protection in the winter, a tomato plant can live for years UNLESS a severe frost occurs (like last year).

So, I will baby this little tomato plant (and the 3 others that also came up) and provide protection from frost this winter.

I will let you know how they do.  If they survive, I will have a huge head start on growing tomatoes next spring 🙂

How about you?  
Have you planted any vegetables this fall?

Do I have your attention?  What kind of embarrassing thing do I have to admit too?  Well, I could think of countless things:

I am a bit clumsy
I am a very picky eater
I like to grow vegetables more then I like to eat them 😉
AND
I am not a perfect gardener
There, I said it.  I am not a perfect gardener, or a horticulturist, for that matter.  In fact, I make lots of mistakes.
But you know what?  Most gardeners do.  That is how we learn.
Now, I am not a perfectionist by nature.  But, I do have some pride when it comes to my garden.  So, I was mortified when I noticed that my vegetable garden had a severe case of spider mites.
Admittedly, I missed the early signs…..
The speckled leaves of my cucumbers and the webbing along the edges of the leaves.

Actually, my corn stalks and tomato leaves had a similar appearance.

But, what really caught my attention, was my basil.
I warn you, it isn’t a pretty sight…
You can see my basil peeking out from my cucumber leaves.  See the tips of the leaves?  I had a very bad infestation.

My first reaction, was one of embarrassment.  I mean, how could I have let things get so bad?

Well, I could think of a million things that tend to occupy my thoughts….
my husband
my 5 kids
my father-in-law’s health
planning our 25th wedding anniversary trip
massive car-repair bill led to new car purchase
landscape consults
gardening articles to be written
last day of school for the kids
painting our kitchen & hallways 
My second reaction was to rush out to the store as fast as I could to purchase insecticidal soap, which was listed as safe to use for vegetables.
I sprayed my little heart out as soon as I returned from the store.  I made sure to not only spray the upper leaf, but the undersides as well.

I will have to reapply in 5 days to make sure that all newly hatched spider mites are killed as well.

So, how did I get spider mites in the first place?  Well, they love warm, dry weather AND I do live in the desert.  Spider mites ride wind currents like aphids do.  They create webs which protect the mites themselves and their eggs.  They puncture the leaves with their mouths as they feed on your plants.

If you have speckled leaves or see bits of webbing, hold a piece of white paper underneath a leaf of the affected plant and shake the leaf.  Spider mites will fall to the paper and look like small brown dots that are moving about.

If your problem is not too severe, you can introduce predatory insects to the garden, such as lady bugs, which will feed upon them.  Also, a periodic spraying of the foliage with your hose will help as well, since it will remove some of the mites and will also increase the humidity, which spider mites dislike.

But, if you are like me and you have a severe infestation, then more serious intervention is needed.  I decided to use insecticidal soap since it was safe for my vegetables.  There are other products such as horticultural oil, which is safe for vegetables and some miticides are said to be safe as well – but be sure to read the label of whatever product you use to make sure that it is safe for use with vegetables.
Thankfully, my vegetables should be okay.

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I must admit, that when I first saw how bad my spider mite infestation was, I was actually glad that you all could not see it.  I was afraid that if you could see my mistake that you wouldn’t take my gardening advice seriously anymore.
But then I realized that there is no ‘perfect’ gardener or even horticulturist.  I have made quite a few mistakes throughout my career and learned quite a lot because of them.  So, I hope that you can be helped by telling you about my mistake(s) in the garden 😉
Contrary to what some may believe – 

“There are no ‘perfect’ gardeners, just those who aren’t afraid to make mistakes in the garden and learn from them.” 

Okay, after many of you read this, you will come to the conclusion that I am a bit strange when it comes to gardening.

A few days ago, I was checking on my vegetable garden.  Specifically, I was checking to see if my corn was ready to harvest.

The corn silk was brown, so I knew they would be ready soon.  But there was one more test to perform.  I made a slit with a knife through the husk so that I could pierce a corn kernel.  The liquid that comes out should be translucent – not clear or opaque.
Thankfully, some of my corn was ripe and ready to be picked!
I did plant three separate crops of corn, about 2 weeks apart so that we will enjoy eating corn for a longer period of time.
 
Okay, so you may be wondering how I am weird about gardening.  I was looking forward to my corn being ready to harvest, but truth be told, I forgot about my other vegetables.
The reason is, is that I get so into the process of planting and seeing my vegetables grow, that I sometimes lose sight of the fact that I will have fresh vegetables to harvest.
So, I was honestly surprised to discover that I had ripe cucumbers…


I was so excited about my new cucumbers and I realized that I had other vegetables to check up on.



In addition to the corn and cucumbers, I had quite a few tomatoes from my single cherry tomato plant.  I still call tomatoes vegetables even though they are technically a fruit 😉

I then decided to check up on my San Marzano tomatoes.  To be honest, I was a bit frustrated with them because I had been seeing numerous flowers on them, but no tomatoes.  I had planted them the same time that I had planted my cherry tomato, which had been producing tons of tomatoes for over 2 months.

Well, guess what I saw when I looked closely at my San Marzano’s?



They are absolutely covered with tons of green tomatoes!  I can’t wait until they ripen.

Why did I choose San Marzano tomatoes?  Well, I love to watch the Food Network and all the chefs swear by them for making Italian sauces.  I’m not Italian, but I absolutely love Italian food. 

They should be ready next week for harvesting.  I read up on them and found out that they do take longer to produce than many other tomato varieties, but when they begin, they go crazy.
I did not plant tons of different things in my garden this season.  I decided to concentrate on our favorites – corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, oregano and….



Gourds!

This is the only one that I have found so far and it was hard to see behind the large leaves.  I plan on making a bird house out of it later.

So, that is what is going on in my garden this week.  I definitely learned my lesson – I will remember to always look for ripe vegetables 🙂

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I apologize for my lack of posting this past week, but it has been a busy time with….

6th grade graduation
Doctor’s visits
Landscape consults
My son’s birthday party
Getting carpets cleaned and moving furniture
Babysitting my 8 month old twin nephews
I am so ready for summer vacation, how about you?
I am making some strawberry jam tomorrow.  I have been waiting for strawberries to go on sale at our local grocery store and they are only $1.15 a pound.  The kids are going to help me.  I will post more later.
I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday weekend and take time to remember those who have fought for our freedom 🙂

I just love spring….and not just because everything is turning green and beginning to bloom in my garden.

I love this time of year because I have both winter and summer vegetables growing in my garden.  I have harvested some of my winter vegetables already including my broccoli and lettuce.  But, my spinach, garlic and carrots are still going strong.

I love how the leafy greens of my carrots look like ferns…


My dog likes them too…
I must confess that my spinach has grown huge.  I had been really good about picking it when the leaves were small and using them in salads, but life kind of got away from me and so did the spinach leaves 😉
I cannot wait to pick my garlic in May.  It takes a long time to grow, (I planted it in September), but it will totally be worth it.  I just need to wait for the green tops to start turning brown and then I can harvest them.
In early March, I planted my spring and summer vegetables.  I went for less variety this year and concentrated on what we love to eat the most.
My San Marzano tomatoes are growing quickly and is flowering.  I cannot wait to use the tomatoes for cooking.
My young cucumber plants are enjoying the protection that their friend, ‘Marigold’ provides.
I just love fresh corn, straight from the garden.  In our area, we are fortunate to be able to not only plant a corn crop in the spring, but we can also plant corn in late summer for a fall harvest.
This year, I have planted 3 separate areas of corn and each area was planted 2 weeks apart from each other.  That way, not all of my corn will be ready at once and I can extend my corn harvest.
Young corn seedlings.
While not a vegetable, Sunflowers are always present in my vegetable garden.  I cannot wait for them to bloom…
 
I love to venture out into my vegetable garden to see how rapidly everything is growing.  
The weather has been so nice and my garden has really responded.
Our spring weather has been rather crazy going from extremes.  Last week we broke a record when we hit 100 degrees in Phoenix, which was 20 degrees above normal.
Tomorrow, we are expecting a storm that will bring temperatures down to 22 degrees below normal for this time of year.
So far, my garden doesn’t seem to be affected by the extremes.
So, how about you?  How is your garden growing?  
Have you experienced any crazy, spring weather?
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Please check out my latest Birds & Blooms blog “Raising Butterflies Part 3”
The vegetables in my garden made it through very well, except for my tomatoes.  I know, I know…..some of you experienced vegetable growers may be asking why I had tomatoes growing in my garden during the winter.  Well, I decided to do an experiment – all vegetable growing calendars recommend planting tomatoes in early spring and none of them say anything about planting them in the fall.

But, our local big box stores had tomato transplants for sale and I bought two and planted them in early October, just to see how they would do.

 Tomato plants in the back right corner.

Well, they grew like crazy as you can see in the photo above and I even had to cut them back a bit to keep them from taking over the garden.  Then when freezing temperatures were forecast, I covered them well, hoping that would be enough to protect them from the cold.



As you can see….my tomatoes did not fare too well.

Am I sorry I bought them and planted them in the fall?  No I’m not.  One thing that I think is fun about gardening, is experimenting.  I love the excitement of seeing how a particular plant will do in my garden….especially if there is a question of whether it will fare well or not.

I believe people with green thumbs should not be afraid of experimenting in their garden.  Sometimes that is the only way to learn what will flourish and what won’t in your garden.  Since each garden is different and can play host to a variety of micro-climates, it is fun to experiment with different plants.

What lesson did I learn from my experiment?

Don’t plant tomatoes in the fall in my zone 9a garden.