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Last week, as I was frantically rushing around getting ready to fly out to Chicago to attend my daughter’s Navy graduation, I received an email from a reader of my blog, which literally stopped me in my tracks and brought a huge smile to my face.

When you blog, it is almost always a one-way conversation.  I don’t often get to know if my ‘ramblings’ help or inspire others, except for when I meet some of you in person.  So, this email just made my day (or should I say, my entire month).

Here is a small excerpt…

“Since moving here (from SC three years ago) my son and I have found your Pinterest Page, and Facebook page AND blog as our source when we have questions about things we have planted. Because of that my 14 year old has been mightily successful in his gardening efforts: veggie gardens, herbs and his hummingbird garden too. This mother thanks you for being willing to show not only your success but not quite so successful growth too (ie your onions.- they weren’t failures, just small).  Jacob, my son, was so gleeful (as most boys [I guess] would be) when he pulled his onions this week and they were bigger than yours.  (I don’t know what it is about competition and boys…. ) He is currently awaiting his corn harvest.  He has planted two varieties to compare the difference- one The Golden Cross Bantam (Hybrid) and some other kind I cannot think of at the moment (silver queen or something..)”

I wrote her back and told her how much her email meant to me.  And then, I wondered if she wouldn’t mind if I make her son’s garden a subject of an upcoming blog post. 

Jacob is 14 years old and in addition to being a great gardener, also likes birding.  

Are you ready to see Jacob’s garden?

Young gardener garden

Young gardener garden

This is the hummingbird garden.  I asked Jacob, what he planted in his garden and what species of hummingbirds that he has seen visiting.  

“There are many things I have added to my hummingbird garden.

Here is a list: 

Dianthus

Spanish Lavender

Fern leaf Lavender

French Lavender

Columbine

Kangaroo paw (orange red in color)

Ivy Geranium (to add color to garden not specifically for hummingbirds)

May Night Salvia

East Friesland Salvia

Pink Salvia

Blue Black Salvia

Trailing Verbena

Verbena

Guara Ballerina Rose

Cardinal climber vine

Black eyed Susan vine

Rocket Snapdragons

Snapdragons

Pineapple Sage

Autumn Sage

Cinnamon Basil

Basil

Bee Balm

Aloe Blue Elf

Aloe Vera

Lantana (yellow and a new variety which is white with yellow on the outside of the flower)

A few rogue sunflowers

and a young Desert Willow sapling that I started from seed last year.

That is it so far but you never know what tomorrow will bring. 

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

Four different species have visited my garden; Anna’s hummingbirds are year round residents, Black-chinned hummingbirds stay throughout the summer, the Rufous and Broad-tailed hummingbirds are common in migration. The hummingbird garden is situated near our kitchen window(s), I really enjoy sitting at the table watching them. Last year we actually got to enjoy watching a mama Anna Hummer feeding her babies. The house Finch and sometimes the red headed woodpecker visit too. The curved bill thrashers love to eat the bugs.”

Young gardener garden

Young gardener garden

I wanted to hear more about Jacob’s vegetable garden so I asked him what types of vegetables he likes to grow.

“Some of my favorite vegetable(s) to grow here is corn, and tomatoes The corn partly because it is something new for me to try producing. I am growing two types this year; Bantam corn and sweet corn. I will compare the two to see which harvests the most and grows better. The tomatoes have so many new varieties that I have not grown before so I am having a blast trying new tomatoes this year. I am trying the Summer Set tomato, Lemon boy, Roma, Cherry tomato, Big Beef, Early Girl, and of course the Phoenix. All have produced except the Phoenix, so far.
I also planted Okra last year. The plant generated much, but I waited till they were to big and they were bitter. I kept the plants though because the flowers were very pleasing to the eye. 

Young gardener garden

Young gardener garden

White Icicle Radishes were another vegetable I had fun growing. I found a watermelon called Moon and Stars that was believed to be extinct, I am growing that also.”

As many of you may have experienced, there is one or two vegetables that you have a hard time growing.  I asked Jacob, if he struggled growing any type(s) of vegetables in his garden.  

“Squash seems to be the hardest for me to grow here in Arizona. I haven’t been to successful but I keep trying. I have Zucchini and crook- necked squash growing this year, hopefully I will be a little more successful.”

Young gardener garden

Young gardener garden

I have a list of vegetables that I want to try to grow for the first time in my garden.  I just don’t have the room to grow everything I want 😉  I asked Jacob what was on his ‘wish list’ for his vegetable garden.  

“I would love try Purple Bell Peppers. They would be fun to grow, and to eat.”

Young gardener garden

Young gardener garden

While I enjoy teaching people how to garden and sometimes ‘how not to’ – I wondered if Jacob had any gardening tips that he has picked up along the way that he would share with you.  

“My gardening tips are more of an encouragement. Never be afraid to try new things even here in the desert. Some things might be successful, some may not. Don’t give up even if your things don’t produce. Try again, they may in the next year. Gardening is about succeeding and failures and learning from them.

Romaine lettuce

This year my mother found some pins that she shared with me, on Pinterest., that I tried. Regrowing celery from the root, lettuce, and onions too. The celery flourished! The Romaine lettuce did well also, the yellow onion not quite as successful. It did produce an onion, just not a very large one. This was a fun gardening experiment, some I may retry once the summer heat has passed. 

Praying Mantis hatched from a purchased egg case

Praying Mantis hatched from a purchased egg case.

Something else I am doing this year is allowing the plants to go to seed in hopes that I can use the seeds for next years garden. 

A Young Gardener and His Special Garden

Gardening is about succeeding, failures, experimenting with new things, and learning from them.”

I must say, that I am very impressed with Jacob’s garden and also with how much he has learned since he started his garden.

As he stated, don’t be afraid get out in the garden and try.  Of course, you will have some failures (all gardeners do – I have had my share).  But, you will also have successes that make failures pale in comparison.  Gardening is a huge experiment, which makes life fun and exciting.

I am so grateful to Jacob and his mom, Deb, who took the time to write to me and then to share their garden and thoughts with me.

“THANK YOU!”

A Butterfly / Hummingbird Garden Finished!

If you have been following along with my last couple of posts (Part 1 and Part 2), then you know that I have been showing some of the highlights of this year’s Arcadia Edible Garden Tour.

Well, here is the last installment, showing some of our favorite highlights from the last few gardens we toured.

Boho Farm and Home

I was looking forward to visit Caroline’s garden.  She blogs about growing and cooking great food at Boho Farm and Home.

The first thing you notice as you enter her back garden is that you start to feel relaxed amidst the beauty and shade.

beautiful summer's day

Who wouldn’t want to spend time enjoying a beautiful summer’s day in the shade?

vegetables gardens

Galvanized tubs are all the rage for planting vegetables gardens, flower, etc.  I may need to get one for my garden…

Boho Farm

I love the wire mesh arch connecting both of these raised vegetable beds at Boho Farm.  I can just imagine growing Scarlet Creeper vines up and over this arch.

Arcadia Edible Garden

The vegetable beds were full of delicious vegetables, which Caroline serves to visitors.

Arcadia Edible Garden

I like her fence, don’t you?

Arcadia Edible Garden

Her apple trees are espaliered along the fence.

Arcadia Edible Garden

Throughout the gardens at Boho Farm were artichokes mixed with ornamental plants.  Artichokes are a beautiful plant, so why not combine them with the rest of your garden?

Our last stop was a home where I was inspired to create my own trellises…

Arcadia Edible Garden

This scarlet creeper vine, which are very easy to grow in the summer, is growing up a vine made up of rebar and wire mesh.  

How simple would that be to make?  I think my husband and I are up for it.

Rebar is the hot trend in garden art right now.  I love trends that are cheap – you can’t get much cheaper then rebar.

Arcadia Edible Garden

Of course, we saw more apples growing.  They won’t be ripe until mid June.

Which reminds me – it is almost time for me to haul out my canning supplies and get ready to make peach, plum and strawberry jam. You can read about my adventures in canning hereif you like.

Of course, I will also make some applesauce too using apples from my mother’s trees.  My apple trees are too young to be producing apples yet.  I’ll probably have to wait a few more years.

As you can see, we had a wonderful morning together and I came home with some new plants and a few new ideas for my garden.

Arcadia Edible Garden

Would you like to go on this tour next year?

The Arcadia Edible Garden Tour has been held the past 2 years in early May.  Tickets sell out quickly, so start looking for them on Sweet Life Garden’s blog in early April.

Who knows…we may bump into each other next year!

Garden in May

Do you ever wonder what you should be doing in your garden in a particular month?

As a freelance writer, I write a few monthly gardening articles and newsletters.

So, instead of writing an entirely new blog post, here is my latest “What To Do In The Garden” article for the Southwest that I wrote for Houzz.com

(I hope you don’t think I am lazy, but I would rather not write the same thing twice 😉

Southwest Gardener’s May Checklist

As you know, I enjoy growing my own vegetables.  Many people ask me what the secret is to a healthy vegetable garden.

Well, what if I told you that the secret ingredient is a natural fertilizer that improves your soil, is plentiful and very cheap.

Would you want to try it in your garden?  Chances are that you are already familiar with this secret ingredient and farmers have been using it for centuries.

What is it?

MANURE

secret of healthy vegetable garden

Secret of healthy vegetable garden, Manure along with compost are the backbone of my soil in my vegetable gardens.

Manure along with compost are the backbone of my soil in my vegetable gardens.

I blogged about using manure when creating my newest vegetable garden early last year.

I recently wrote an article “The Poop Scoop: Enrich Your Soil With Good Old Manure” for Houzz.com

I hope you enjoy it!

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The most recent update on our daughter, Rachele, who is in basic training for the Navy is that she has to pass her last running test in order to graduate.

She is quite nervous about passing because she still hasn’t recovered from her twisted ankle and also has shin splints.

I would appreciate your prayers that she will be able to pass 🙂

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.

vegetable garden transition

vegetable garden transition

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.

vegetable garden transition

vegetable garden transition

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

I love my crocs!

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

vegetable garden transition

vegetable garden transition

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

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

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

peaches

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…

blackberries

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.

blackberries

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?

Spring is my favorite time in the garden.  Is it yours?

Plants are in full bloom and my vegetable garden is filled with both cool-season and a few warm-season crops.

Today, I thought that I would take you to the ‘farm’ to see how my mother’s vegetable garden is growing.

Double S Farms

The ‘farm’ is nicknamed “Double S Farms” by the family.  It is just down the road from our house and is a favorite place for all the family to gather.

vegetable beds

My mother has two raised vegetable beds and she loves tending her vegetables.

One bed is dedicated to cool-season crops that will soon give way to warm-season vegetables.

vegetable garden

She still has lettuce growing, which she uses to make delicious salads when we all gather together for dinner on Tuesday nights.

vegetable garden

The broccoli has gone to flower, but it looks so pretty, that she keeps it in the garden.

Do you see the orange flower in the background of the photo, above?  That is a marigold, which is a great ‘companion’ plant for the vegetable garden because it helps to repel bad bugs who might eat her vegetables.

tortoise

While we spend time looking at the vegetable gardens, the neighbor’s tortoise stops briefly, to see what we are doing from the other side of the fence.

second vegetable garden

The second vegetable garden was built by the family as a surprise for my mother’s birthday over a year ago.

She has started her warm-season crops in it, including tomatoes, summer squash and gourds.

Sugar snap peas

Sugar snap peas (one of my favorite vegetables) hang from vines growing on a small trellis.

vegetable bed

The newest vegetable bed is also home to…

Spring on the Family Farm

A toad, which is helpful with insect control.

He recently moved from his previous home next to the chicken coop.  My nephew, who is a Star Wars fan, gave him a special name.

naked-neck' chicken

While the toad keeps bugs in control around the vegetable gardens – Francie, the resident ‘naked-neck’ chicken, patrols for bugs outside of the garden.

As you can see, spring has sprung at the family farm.

Soon, summer will be here which heralds another favorite activity…  

peaches

Picking peaches and making jam!

How about you?

What is growing in your garden this spring?

Will you grow something different this year?

Pink Wood Sorrel

Isn’t this a pretty flowering shamrock?

Okay, it’s not really a shamrock.  It does belong to a family of plants known as ‘false shamrocks’.

Since I can’t grow real shamrocks in my desert garden, I just like to pretend that my pink- flowering one is the real deal.

Pink Wood Sorrel

This plant that masquerades as a shamrock in my vegetable garden is actually Pink Wood Sorrel, (Oxalis crassipes ‘Rosea’).

I received this lovely plant from a fellow blogger, who gardens in Oregon.

I saw this beautiful flowering plant on one of her and she kindly sent me some a few years ago that she had divided from her plant.

Would this plant grow in my desert garden, I wondered?

Well, it not only grew…

Pink Wood Sorrel

It has thrived!

Hardy to zones 5 – 10, it flowers in spring and fall.  During the hot summer, it goes dormant but quickly grows back.

Because it has done so well, I have divided it and place it in other partly shady spots in my vegetable gardens.

I planted it in my vegetable garden where it would  do well in enriched soil and receive regular water.

Oxalis articulata

I love the tiny flowers that close at night.

Unlike other species of Oxalis, Pink Wood Sorrel is not invasive.

Oxalis articulata

Even when not in flower, I love how pretty this plant is.

Oxalis articulata

I enjoy growing some plant species that might seem out of place in the desert climate.  You just have to adjust the growing conditions a bit.  A partly shady corner of the vegetable garden works just perfectly for my false ‘shamrock’.

Overwintered Pepper Plant

There are few types of vegetables that don’t always survive winter in my zone 9a garden without protection when temperatures dip below freezing.  

In the past, I have protected my San Marzano tomato plants with success by covering them completely with frost cloth.

This year, I decided to protect my bell pepper plants.  The reason was because they were producing so well up until December and I didn’t want to have to wait a long time for new peppers.

I believe I’ve told you before that patience isn’t my strong suit.

bell pepper

Of course, this was the winter when we broke records with temps in the low 20’s for five days in a row.  I wasn’t sure that my peppers would survive, even with protection.

The upper leaves did suffer frost damage and had to be cut back.

I wasn’t sure if the base would form new leaves.  I have been checking every week now that the temperatures are warming up.

Guess what I saw last week?

bell pepper plant

Bell Pepper plant planted among garlic and nasturtiums.

There are new leaves growing from my pepper plant!  I can hardly believe that it made it through the coldest winter we have had in over 30 years.

How about you?

What warm-season vegetables have you been able to over-winter?

Do you know what these are?

marigold seeds

They look like a pile of match sticks, don’t they?

I never cease to be amazed at the humble beginnings that most flowers arise from.

Can you tell what type of seeds these are?  

marigolds

They are marigold seeds.

Marigolds are very easy to grow from seed.  Once the flowers die, simply pull out the dried petals and you have seeds with which to plant new ones.

vegetable gardens

I use marigolds in my vegetable gardens as a companion plant.

They not only look pretty, but also help to repel damaging bugs from attacking my vegetables.

During mild winters, they will grow from fall through spring – but can be killed back from freezing temperatures.  They usually die in summer in my desert garden.  But, once  the cooler weather of fall arrives, they come up again from seed.

They meet my criteria of a fuss-free plant.  Marigolds don’t need rich soil or fertilizer.  Where you plant them is up to you, but they do best in sunny areas.

Marigolds also make great container plants and also look nice in bouquets. 

You can find marigolds at most nurseries where annual flowers are located.  Or, you can plant them easily from seed.

How about you?

Have you ever grown marigolds?

How do you use them in your garden?

A couple of months ago, the new Burpee seed catalog came in the mail, which is always an exciting event in my world.

You see, I have been reading through their catalog since I was a little girl.  I would go through the entire catalog and read the descriptions of flowers and vegetables and circle the ones that I would plant in my imaginary garden.

Now that I am all grown up, I actually buy the seeds I like and plant them in my ‘real’ garden.  

One of the seed descriptions caught my attention.  Corn that you can grow in a container – yes, you heard me right…in a container.

growing vegetables in containers

Well, I have been a recent convert to growing vegetables in containers, so I knew that I had to try these out.

They came in the mail a few weeks ago and I had wait very patiently (not!) until my local gardening calendar said that it was okay to plant them.  The official date to begin planting corn on my zone 9a garden is March 1st.  But, I decided that today (Feb. 23rd) was  a good time to plant them, even though I was a week early.

Did I mention that I am a patient gardener?

I found the perfect container for my new container corn….a half whiskey barrel that I found at our local Home Depot.

container corn

The barrel still smelled like whiskey, which I think makes it just that much cooler.  It didn’t have any holes, so I drilled some holes on the bottom.

container corn

Then my wonderful husband added the soil for me.  I like to think that I am able to pour big bags of soil and I can, but not without a lot of ‘huffing and puffing’ followed by a bit of a backache the next day 😉

Now, it was time to add my precious new corn seeds…

Sweet corn

Originally, I was going to place the container of corn plants next to my vegetable garden located in the side yard – but, I am already planning on growing ‘regular’ corn in that garden and you have to keep different types of corn separate from each other or they will cross-pollinate and the resulting corn will be different.

So, we placed the corn next to my smaller vegetable garden just off of the patio where it will get full sun.

The seeds should take 7 – 14 days to germinate and then I can harvest ears of corn in 63 days.

I can’t wait to see how they grow.  If they turn out well, I may plant them again in August.

If you want to try this new type of corn – clink the link below:

Burpee’s On Deck Corn Hybrid