Let's start at the beginning. It's all about poop. Manure. Dookey. That's right, I said "poop"! Composted fertilizer. Here in our lovely desert we have super sandy soil, slightly alkaline. We have great drainage, but the soil really needs a lot of organic material to grow food or non indigenous plants. The amounts of manure/fertilizer we need is really cost prohibitive for us. We're pretty much organic. I only say pretty much because I can't be positive that the horses are shitting organic, since their food might not be. Other than that, we add no chemical fertilizers or other treatments and absolutely no pesticides. Anyway, the point is that organic fertilizer/compost that you buy is really pricey (and considering that alot of it is gathered from the floors of old growth forests, I'm not to thrilled at the idea of supporting that kind of destruction of an ecosystem, so....). We have a friend about 10 miles out of town who has and boards horses. The GirlyBoi is my poop loader, filling up the truck or trailer 3 or 4 times a season. (We use ALOT of poop!!)
We like the horse poop better than the cow poop for 2 reasons. There's lot's more of it available and it isn't as "hot" nor near as full of weed seed as the cow poop is. Sometimes we get rabbit Poop from our local feed store, which is also great manure. We stay away from chicken and duck poop because it is waaaay too hot until it has aged for 6 months to a year, and it smells bad. (Thorne'sNose is a sensitive organ)
These are our version of plant warmers. Bottles, bottles and more bottles. Water bottles, bleach bottles, laundry detergent bottles; well, you get the idea. Filled with water and circled around the plants, they'll absorb heat from the sun in the daylight hours, and radiate heat to keep the plants warm as the nights begin to cool in the fall. We'll use them again in the spring to get a jump on the garden. You can also see the corrugated tin we use to surround the garden. It's absolutely necessary to keep the cottontails, jackrabbits, ground-squirrels, pack rats and mice out. We still have trouble with mice, but I have learned many devious ways to trap and kill them. Too bad they're not edible. And those tiny furs... Hmmm.....
This is what our garden looked like after using manure that wasn't composted sufficiently. Fresh poop = bad poop! Bermuda Grass; aka: Crabgrass. This totally sux. The roots loved our double dug, fertile beds. The roots go down about 2 feet deep in a web that is mighty!
This is our 3 year old asparagus bed (planted with 2 year old crowns), gone to fern. The ferns feed the roots so that next year we'll have lots more yummy asparagus. Home grown asparagus is freaking amazing!!! You know how when you buy it at the grocers, you look for the tiny, pencil thin spears if you want them tender? Our asparagus is tender all the way down even when the spears are 12" tall and as thick as a broomstick.
This is the 1 year old asparagus bed that was taken over by the baaaaad Bermuda Grass. (And that is my Girlyboi and amazing bed digger and poop shoveler wearing the red cap)
We dug the top 8 inches up, tossed as much grass and roots as we could get out, and are now covering it with plastic and hoping that the rest of the root will die by spring so we can plant more asparagus here. We have 6 more beds that have to be dug up and smothered. *whew* (note: It only partially worked. We still have to dig the bed up and try to transplant the asparagus crowns.)
These are the winter lettuce/greens beds. In the left pic with the black pots we planted for heads, and a couple rows of spinach. The pots have the bottoms cut off to make collars to protect the baby plants from critters and insects. The bed pictured on the right is scattered with a mixture of greens that we'll be harvesting daily, (before heads have formed when the leaves are young and tender), in a couple of weeks. (In the background there you can see Solon, our 9 year old chow/shepherd mix. He's a honey bear! (These raised beds, we have discovered, don't really work well for us here in the desert except for winter crops. They tend to dry out too quickly despite the buried soaker hose and throw off our watering schedule.)
Pictured below are the cans that we use for collars to protect young seedlings
from creepy crawlies. We also use gallon nursery pots that we've cut the bottoms out of.
This is the carrot bed. It's been sifted through diamond hardware cloth to a depth of 18" to remove all but the tiniest pebbles. Even a small rock will split and deform the carrots. It's not just for cosmetic reasons that we don't want the carrots to split. They develop a thicker core and are a bit bitter when they get deformed. The carrots are also scatter seeded. We'll thin them as they grow, feeding the thinnings to the parrots or putting them in soups and stews where it's not as imperative that they are sweet and full flavored. The carrots will stay in the ground until they have enjoyed a few good frosts. Frost makes carrots sweet!
These last couple of pics are good examples of intensive gardening.
The "V" shaped fence section in the first image will act as a trellis for the snow and pod peas that are planted on the inside and outside edges of it, and along the fence. Inside the collars are alternating rows of broccoli and cabbage. This arrangement allows us to pack the greatest number of plants in the small bed, and takes advantage of the different root depths for feeding and watering.
This bed has alternating, staggered rows of broccoli and cabbage, with turnips planted between and all around. The PVC arches will be the frame for a sort of cold frame that we'll add using heavy plastic as the weather gets colder to extend our growing season.
Ummm... let's see; what else? Oh! Watering. We only top water (by hand) during germination in spring, for the winter garden, and occasionally in the evening during the hottest part of the summer. Otherwise we use soaker hose that's buried. We have our own well and with such great drainage I feel pretty good about the low environmental impact our garden makes. We don't lose too much water to evaporation this way, and what's not making it into the plants is returning through the ground to the water table.
Well. That was prolly more than ya'll wanted to know about gardening in the desert, but alot of the techniques I use are adaptable to other climates, too. I hope you enjoyed reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing about it. This kind of blogging is happy for my heart and healing to my spirit.