Posts

One of the benefits of growing vegetables in zone 9 is that we are able to grow vegetables all year long.  

However, despite our relatively mild winters, warm-season vegetables such as  peppers and tomatoes can’t handle temperatures when they dip below freezing.  So just before freezing temperatures hit, I run out to the garden and pick off all our tomatoes and peppers before pulling out the plants.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with doing this – I’ve done it for years.


I allow my green tomatoes to ripen indoors – click here to see how.


I then dice my green peppers, place them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer where I can use them whenever I make my kid’s favorite Mexican rice for dinner.

A few years ago, I decided to try to overwinter my tomato and pepper plants instead of pulling them out. 


This is what my tomatoes looked like with no frost protection.  That was no surprise.

But the next year, I decided to protect my tomatoes & peppers by covering them with old sheets when temperatures dipped below 32 degrees.  

I even went one step further and hung an outdoor light underneath the sheets.  

To my surprise, both my tomato and pepper plants came through the winter just fine, with a small amount of frost damage, and I had an early start to the growing season.

It was a lot of work though – having to cover them and uncover them whenever temperatures dipped below freezing.

Also, that winter was a relatively mild one and temperatures never strayed below the upper 20’s.  However, we do occasionally experience temperatures that dip in to the low 20’s and in that case, protection or not, the peppers and tomatoes would most likely die whether or not they were protected.

So, do I still try to overwinter my peppers and tomatoes?  

The answer is “yes”and “no”.


I do throw sheets over my peppers, but not my tomatoes.  The reason is that tomatoes are slightly more sensitive to the cold.

If we were to experience temperatures in the low 20’s, my 2-year old pepper plants would most likely not survive.  But, that is what it is like to grow vegetables – you try your best, but sometimes it’s not enough.

**Have you ever successfully overwintered a warm-season vegetable?**

Does the fact that Christmas is fast approaching make you think of growing tomatoes?

Of course not.  Our thoughts are focused on making sure our homes are decorated for Christmas, looking for the perfect gift for that special someone and hopefully some holiday baking.

But, I am going to tell you why you should also be thinking about growing tomatoes this time of year.


But, did you know that December is the best time to start growing your tomatoes from seed indoors?

For those of you who have grown tomatoes in the arid desert, know that our tomato growing season occurs in spring and fall.  

Oh, your tomatoes will live through the summer with a little shade – but they will stop producing new tomatoes once temperatures hit the 90’s because their pollen is not viable.

The other limiting factor is that you can’t set out tomato plants into the garden until the danger of frost is past, which is usually around the beginning of March in the Phoenix metro area.

So, to get the most tomatoes, you want to plant the largest (oldest) tomato plant you can in early March.

Many nursery greenhouses are starting their tomato plants from seed right now where they will grow, protected from the elements until March arrives when you will find them on the shelves of your nursery.

You may be wondering why you should start your own tomato plants instead of buying them at nursery?

Well the problem with purchasing your tomato plants from the nursery is that they have a very limited selection of tomato varieties.  And, they may not have the variety you want, or it is sold out.


**Right now, many seed companies are having Christmas sales on their seeds including Burpee and Botanical Interests.

Growing your own tomatoes from seed is very easy and rewarding.

Here is how I have done it…


I like to use Starbucks coffee sleeves or toilet paper rolls, cut in half as my seedling containers.



Grab some seed starting mix from your local nursery or big box store.  Some seed mixes have fertilizer already added.  If not, then I recommend adding a slow-release fertilizer to your potting mix.

Wet the soil before adding to your containers.

Fill your recycled containers with the seed mix and add your seeds.



Place your newly planted seeds in a warm area, such as the top of your refrigerator.  The heat will help them to germinate.

**Use a spray bottle to keep them moist.  Don’t allow the soil to dry out.

Once the seeds begin to sprout, put them in front of a sunny window.


In just a few weeks, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your tomato plants will have grown.

During warm winter days, you can place them outdoors to get a little extra – but be sure to bring them indoors at night until the danger of frost is over. 

As your tomato seedlings grow, you can transfer them to larger containers until you are ready to put them out in the garden.

*For more information on seed starting, click here.

It may be awfully hot outside, but my garden is awash in brightly colored flowers from my single bougainvillea, Arizona yellow bells and ‘Rio Bravo’ sage, which shrug off the summer heat.

Last year, we decided to create an edible garden along the side of our house. 

This was a large underused area that we look out at from our kitchen, family room and bedrooms.

To get it ready for planting, we had our ghost gum eucalyptus tree removed.  It was a beautiful tree, but was quickly outgrowing this area with its overhanging limbs.

The next step involved pulling out some of the flowering shrubs along the back wall and along the side of the house.  We kept the flowering shrubs along the side wall, because they add beauty and help to break up the bare expanse of the wall.

This is what the side garden looks like today…

The centerpiece of the edible garden is the vegetable garden.  Right now, it is filled with corn, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers and sunflowers.

In front, is my colorful container filled with a variety of herbs including basil, parsley, sage and thyme.  I bought an inexpensive plastic container and spray painted it a bright blue.  The container is connected to the drip system of the vegetable garden.


In the foreground (not pictured) is our new Arizona sweet orange tree.  We planted it last year and are excited to have three oranges growing on it.  

You may be thinking that three oranges is not much to be excited about, but the first couple of years after a citrus tree is planted – you are lucky to get any fruit at all.

Newly planted citrus trees shouldn’t be fertilized during the first year, because you want them to focus on root growth, not upper growth when there is not a substantial root system for them to rely on.  Since it has been a year since we have planted it, we will fertilize this year.


In front of the vegetable garden are a pair of new peach trees.  

I love peaches and have enjoyed the fruit from my mother’s peach trees for years.  I finally decided that I wanted to grow my own.  

We got 18 peaches this year, which is a lot considering that we planted them in January.

Notice the green plant at the base of the peach tree?  It is a gourd plant that will quickly grow and cover the ground.  This will serve as a ‘living mulch’ and help to prevent weeds and shade the roots of my peach trees.


Inside the vegetable garden, sunflower seeds are beginning to form.  It is so fun to see the birds hanging upside down trying to get to the seeds.  

You can allow the birds to eat the seeds or if you want to save them for yourself, simply tie a paper bag around the flower to keep the birds away.

I’ll probably save some flowers for ourselves and let the birds enjoy the seeds of a couple of unprotected sunflowers.


A large zucchini plant is growing in the background and as anyone who has grown zucchini will tell you, it is prolific.

The slightly wilting plant in the foreground is a pumpkin plant.  If you want a pumpkin for fall, then June is when you want to plant them.

It is normal for the leaves to wilt slightly during the heat of the day.  They will return to normal later in the day.


Zucchini can hide underneath the large leaves of the zucchini plant.  I’m going to use this one to make my chocolate chip zucchini bread.  It’s delicious and your kids will never know there is zucchini in it 😉

I found the recipe on Pinterest and have already made it once.  My family keeps bugging me to make more.  Here is the link to the recipe, if you are interested – Chocolate Zucchini Bread


My tomatoes are flourishing in the natural shade provided by my sunflowers.


One of my cherry tomato plants has even decided to expand a bit outside of the garden.


Behind the vegetable garden are my two apple trees, planted this January.  One is a Anna apple tree and the other is a Dorsett Golden.  These apple trees do well in the desert and although they will produce apples if planted alone – they will produce more apples because they will cross pollinate each other.

It will take a few years for any apples to appear, but the blossoms in spring are just lovely.


Behind the apple trees are six blackberry bushes.  This year, we enjoyed the berries so much and are hoping for even more next year as they grow larger.

Blackberries won’t produce the first year after planting because the berries appear on 1-year odd canes.

Did you know that there are now thornless varieties of blackberries available?  I have one….I only wish that the other five were thornless 😉

Well, that is what I have growing in my side edible garden.

Tomorrow, I’ll share what is growing in my original vegetable garden.

What do you have growing in your garden right now?

Earlier this week, I shared with you the first garden on the Arcadia Edible Tour.  It was just wonderful to see the Sweet Life Garden in person.


However, we had to tear ourselves away from the first garden because there were more to see…



We stopped by Larry’s “Living the Dream Micro Farm”.  


Like many of the gardens we visited, Larry had chickens.

But, what really caught my attention was his row of trash can compost bins.


Each trash can was filled with compost in a different stage.  The trash cans are re-purposed by the City of Phoenix and are available to their residents for $5 a bin.  
Other cities offer free or inexpensive trash cans or compost bins.  Check your local city’s website under waste management to see what they offer.

Larry loved talking about his composting.  He primarily uses chicken manure, coffee ground and leaves.  It takes approximately 2 1/2 months from start to finish according to Larry.


Larry had huge tomato plants growing, heavily laden with fruit (yes, tomatoes are technically a fruit).


After leaving Larry’s garden, my mother asked to stop by Baker’s Nursery, which is her favorite place to buy vegetables.  Baker’s is the favorite nursery of locals and is located on 40th Street, South of Indian School Rd.


The problem with me going to a nursery as nice as Baker’s, is that I become like a child in a candy store.


I always come home with plants and seeds.  In this case, I bought more bush beans for my garden along with some perennial flowers and Angelita Daisy.

Back on tour, we saw some great examples of vegetables being grown.


Eggplant.


Aren’t these cucumber vines impressive?  The trellis is made up of rebar and wire mesh.

I think cucumber flowers are so pretty, don’t you?


I do love the bright colors of blanket flower, which attract pollinators to the vegetable garden.


I think vegetables are beautiful.


This may look like a green tomato – but it isn’t.  It’s a tomatillo.


Zucchini is so impressive in the vegetable garden. They grow so quickly and get so big.  I have them growing my garden too.  Now, I just have to get a recipe for chocolate zucchini cake so my kids will eat it 😉



I haven’t grown strawberries in my garden, although they are my favorite fruit.
I spent time in Germany as a child with my grandparents who had a huge strawberry garden and one of my favorite memories is chasing the rabbits away.

I may have to try growing some next year.

In addition to fruit and vegetables, we did see a beautiful lily pond…


And something quite unexpected…


That’s the thing with garden tours, you never know what you will see…


As you can tell, we were enjoying ourselves very much.


There was so much to see, that I still have one more post showing you some of our favorite parts of a few more gardens.


So come on back….you hear?

About this time of the year, I am busy helping my vegetable gardens transition into summer.  


That means pulling any remaining leaf lettuce.  Yes, it hurts to know that I now have to buy lettuce until next fall when I can grow it again.


Even though not all of my lettuce had bolted, none of it was edible.  Once the temperatures get up to 90 degrees, the lettuce turns bitter.



For the past 4 months, I have been harvesting a few carrots every few nights to include in salads or soups.

Now that it is getting hotter and some of the carrots are beginning to flower, it was time to harvest the rest of the remaining carrots.

I didn’t use the carrots that had flowered, since they had become woody inside.

You know, one of the things that I like about gardening is how unpredictable it can be.  The two carrots, above, were growing just 1 ft. away from each other.  

The garlic was already harvested and I concentrated on pulling out cool-season annuals that were serving as companion plants.


I love my crocs!
These nasturtiums were still blooming, so I will leave them until they begin to fade.


A quick check of my warm-season vegetables showed that my zucchini plant has its first fruit (yes, zucchini is technically a ‘fruit’).

You really have to check carefully for zucchini because they can be hard to spot.

I will have to get my mother’s famous zucchini bread recipe.


Tomatoes are hanging from the vine and will soon be turning red.

In my side garden, I have two new peach trees growing.


This one has 18 peaches on it.

I planted this peach tree in January.  Now, normally, you would want to ‘thin’ fruit so that there is only one fruit every 6 inches – this creates larger fruit.  But, I was so happy to see so much fruit on my new tree, that I just left them.

Since I won’t have enough to make peach jam, this year, I will use them to make peach vinegar.

I don’t just have peaches growing in my side garden…


My blackberry bush has ripe blackberries!

Originally, I hadn’t planned on growing blackberries in my garden, but my mother had an extra blackberry plant that she gave me last year, so I planted one.

I decided to go ahead and add more this year and planted 5 more bushes.

I only have the original blackberry bush covered in fruit because blackberries form on 1-year old growth.


My family wants me to use some of our blackberries to serve over ice cream.  

I was thinking of using them for making blackberry vinegar, which I’ll use to make salad dressing.

What do you think?  Ice cream topping or fruit-flavored vinegar?

Summer is officially here.  To be honest, I think it is funny that summer ‘starts’ on June 20th when we have already had temperatures above 100 degrees for weeks.

It may be hot, but my vegetable garden is thriving. 

Here is a snapshot of the past week in my garden:

 My newest vegetable garden is doing very well.  Actually, it is doing better then I had even hoped.  The reason for this is that it receives filtered shade in both the morning and afternoon.  
 The result is that my marigolds and nasturtiums are still thriving even though they normally die off by the end of May.

I am a thrifty person by nature and like to save money when I can in the garden, so I collect the seeds from dried flowers in order to plant them again the following season:


 Hollyhock seeds
Marigold seeds
I save the seeds in regular envelopes.
About 3 weeks ago, I cut back my spent hollyhocks and have been pleasantly surprised to see them come back.
My vegetable gardens continue to produce corn, tomatoes, string beans, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers and herbs.
Before you see the following picture, I need to remind you that I am far from a perfect gardener…
 This is what happens when you are out of town and don’t get to harvest your corn.

You can see that the kernels are sunken and even dried out.

Now if you grew an heirloom variety of corn, you can save the dried kernels for planting next year.  
(Heirloom varieties of vegetables aren’t hybrids and will grow the exactly the same as the parent plant).

OR, you can allow the corn cobs to dry out completely and set them out for the birds, which is what I plant to do since I planted a hybrid type of corn.
(The seeds from hybrids won’t produce the same plant).
Clockwise from top: Basil, Thyme, Sage, Rosemary and Purple Basil.
 
I normally dry my herbs in bunches, hanging upside down.  But my sister has done it by drying them on cookie sheets.  Because we live in a desert, this is a viable option.
I must admit that I haven’t tried this before, so I’m anxious to see how it works.  I set the cookie sheets out in my garage, covered with a dish cloth.  
We’ll see how it works.
Lastly, I have planted some vegetable seeds outside of my garden.  More about that later….
As for the rest of the week – I will be spending much of my time indoors in air-conditioned comfort, viewing my garden from indoors 😉 

****************

How about you?
What are you doing in the garden this week?

I always think of the week of Memorial Day as the first ‘unofficial’ week of summer.  The weather is getting hot, the kids have their last day of school and it is also a time of harvest.

For the past few weeks, my tomato and bush bean plants have been fruitful.  
Every week, I blanch my tomatoes by putting them in boiling water for 45 seconds, which makes peeling them easier.
Then I remove the green part of the stem and then ‘squish’ the tomatoes to get rid of the seeds and excess liquid.
What remains the tomato, is the delicious part and I put it in a plastic freezer bag (making sure to get all the air out).  Then I freeze it until I am ready to use them to make sauce.
*My tomatoes aren’t flowering any longer, because of the hot weather – but the tomatoes are ripening.  By mid-May, you should put some sort of shade cloth protection for your tomatoes.
I am thrilled with how well my bush beans are producing.  I have six plants and they produce enough for us to eat for dinner once a week.  I take the extra and blanch them for 3 minutes and then place them in ice water before freezing them as well.
The end of May is also time that I start canning.
The peaches at Double S Farms (my mother & sister’s family residence) are heavy with sweet fruit.
The trees are so generous that my other sister and I have plenty to make into jam, even after my mother has made hers.
I made three batches so far and have also tried my hand at making ‘Peach Cider Vinegar’, which I will share later.
Soon, the plums at Double S Farms will ripen and then the apples, which I will can as well 🙂
Last Sunday was my son, Kai’s 10th birthday.  We had a family celebration with his grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins present along with his best friend.
Monday morning, Kai went on a flight in a two-seat airplane based at our local airport.
Kai was excited, but also a little nervous.
His best-friend’s father was the pilot.
Kai was strapped in and all ready to go.
Up in the air and having a great time!
After his flight, we headed to Target with along with his best friend so he could use his gift cards.
Not surprisingly, he used them all to buy more Pokemon cards….his friend also bought some too.
Kai had the best day organizing his cards and trading with his friends.
********************
I hope you all are having a great week!