Organic Gardening in Arizona

It isn’t easy….. But it’s very rewarding.  Now, before we go any further, I am no expert on gardening.  I don’t know ‘everything’, but I have been at it for quite some time and have learned a LOT.    I nearly always have 95-100% seed germination, I grow enough to save my own seed, my asparagus patch gives me new crowns every year that I trade or sell, my 3 year old fig tree gave over 8lbs of figs this year and my 3 yr old peach tree gave spectacular peaches.   I didn’t can them, we just ate and ate and ate. 🙂

I’ve heard folks claim that Arizona’s soil is ‘poor’.  They’re usually from some wet place that naturally has a lot of organic material in the soil.  The soil here isn’t poor at all.  Technically, it’s chock full of minerals and other good things garden plants will love. It’s just really dried out and has a high amount of clay. The solution is to amend the soil by adding organic material. I’ve tried many different things and have discovered that the best amendments to the soil are compost and manure – more specifically, when you’re composting, put a layer of manure on top of your recent additions. Black compost/composted manure is awesome stuff in the dry, arid, clayish soil here in Arizona.  The soil in my yard has quite a high clay content and a LOT of rocks.

What will happen when you try to garden in Arizona soil without amending it is this: The clay will hold on to the water and your plants will sit there and dry up before that clay will ever let go of a drop. If you water enough to keep the plants alive, your water bill will be astronomical. By mixing in a good amount of organic material, the clay is actually suspended. The organic material enables more water to remain around the plant roots and the plants do not dry out. Over the years, I’ve dug my plots down between 6 inches and a foot (depending on the crop and the season) – I turn the dirt (yes, you’re going to find a lot of rocks, make a pile, they’ll likely be useful for something down the road) and then mix in my organic material. Because I do have a lot of clay – at about 16 inches down, there is a thick layer of very difficult terracotta-colored clay that is 4 to 6 inches thick (that was so much fun to dig through for my asparagus! LOL) – I add a LOT of organic material to my plots.

This batch wasn’t too bad – the big one only weighs about 40lbs. The red clay they came out of is still visible on their surfaces.

If you’re gardening already or considering a garden, consider getting a compost bin or heap going first.  Composting is a great way to keep stuff out of the trash and landfills and it’s good for the garden.  I re-purposed (upcycled? LOL) an old dumpster from a defunct company – no one would pick it up when we first moved into this house, so we kept it in the garage. When I started my garden, I realized exactly what it was good for – I cut a door in the bottom of the bin with my multi tool that was wide enough for my shovel to fit through. I used to tape it closed with duct tape, but now just put a brick in front of it to hold it in place.  I have a 5 foot length of half inch rebar that I discovered in the garden when I dug about a 18inches down and I use that to aerate (stir) my compost.   My compost turns out nice and black, but it’s chunky.  At first, I felt as though I’d failed at composting.  Turns out, my chunky compost is good stuff – it’s like giving the garden ‘timed release’ vitamins.  So, I don’t sweat the chunks anymore.

Good things to put into a compost bin include:  coffee grounds, egg shells (both of these can also be used without composting them –  put right around plants for a nearly instant dose of goodness), dryer lint (especially from cotton laundry), newspaper (don’t dump months and months worth in at a time – treat it like leaves and give a layer once in a while), leaves, cuttings from other plants – if you have branches, try to cut them into 6 inch lengths – even at that size, when they make their way to the bottom, they may have to go through again, vegetable peels, ends, etc.  As long as there is not a lot of salt or oil on anything, it’s ok to use.   Using leftover meat or bones is do-able, just probably not best to use in the bin unless you’ve got a lot of time and not many critters in your area.  Where we live, there are a couple of raccoons that come & live just outside our fence every winter (they’re wild, but they get along with the feral cats fairly well – we’ve seen all of them hanging out on the back porch), we’ve got coyotes and javelina in the yard pretty much every day and I found mountain lion track in the front yard a couple of winters ago.  So, I’d rather not take a chance on luring heavy duty critters right into my back yard.  

That’s the very reason my chicken coop is still in the design stage – I want to give the chickens enough room to run around, but there is no way they can be completely free in my yard.  Raccoons can open things, coyotes will dig under things, and bob cats and mountain lions will just muscle things open if they can – this needs to be planned very well since all those critters see a 6 foot fence as a mere hurdle if they’re hungry enough.   My chicken coop is going to need many layers of security, because if even one of my chickens is stolen by a marauding critter, I will be sitting up waiting til he comes again.  I need my sleep.  

Each of my gardening plots is about 8ft by 8ft.  Each 8 square feet gets turned a minimum of 6 inches deep, then a minimum of 50lbs of organic material mixed in before planting.  Some crops take longer, such as leeks – or are perennials, such as tomatoes (I most often plant heirloom varieties – most heirloom tomatoes are ‘indeterminate’, meaning they keep growing and producing as long as one is able to keep them alive) –  tomatoes off a 3yr old plant are tastier to me than 1 yr plant – when I’m getting ready to plant these, I often double or triple the organic material I mix into my soil.  

The more I garden each year, the more earth worms I find.  Diatomaceous earth doesn’t kill earth worms.   Because the organic materials help break up clay, earth worms are able to make their way into the garden.  They’re very good for the garden.  I do use an organic dry fertilizer – I stir it into the soil with the organic materials before I plant.  If I have any crops that are heavy feeders, I’ll add more when necessary.  However, most of my fertilizing during the growth is done with liquid seaweed and fish emulsion.  I combine them in a hose-end sprayer and feed foliarly as well as at the roots.  Did you know that plants absorb around 30% of what is sprayed on them?  Yes.  This is why pesticides sprayed onto vegetables (as many as 10 times in commercial growing operations!) while they’re growing become systemic and why pesticides are found INSIDE of fruits and vegetables.  

Why am I telling you today about gardening rather than soap?  Well, because I’ve been doing a LOT of digging here lately to get a winter garden planted and I

Digging to turn the soil - my shovel and I are best buds... :)
Digging to turn the soil – my shovel and I are best buds… 🙂

realized that maybe some of the stuff I know could help folks out.   My winter garden will include:  edible pod peas, onions, carrots, spinach, lettuces, other root vegetables such as turnips and parsnips, kale, cabbages, collards, mustard, garlic, beans sweet potatoes and potatoes.  Because I’m planting quite a few root vegetables, I dug down over 12 inches to turn the soil this time around.  I expanded a plot and ran into the pile of rocks pictured above as well as lava rock someone put down decades ago.     

A few things have planted themselves – an heirloom red okra, a couple of Moon & Stars melons, tomatoes and about 50 new asparagus crowns.  If anyone is interested in Asparagus, let me know.  I will not dig these crowns up until early January.  At that point, they will be 1 year crowns.

Today is a nice day and I got a lot done outside, but my body is sore and needing some rest.   There’s a lot more I could share about gardening in Arizona.  If anyone is interested (cuz I know, I’m a gardening geek and not everyone is interested) in more, leave a comment.   Books you can read:  Anything by Dave Owens (especially “Extreme Gardening“) and “Gardening When It Counts” by Steve Solomon.  There are a few gardening calendars available online, such as this one, also check with your extension service if you’re really wanting to get a garden going.

As for Soap, get ready.  There’s an Oatmeal Honey soap, a soap with Prickly Pear Fruit (organically grown in our front yard), a man soap with a Bay Rum type of scent, Lemon Eucalyptus and a few other items coming soon.  Like Lotion Bars and Muscle Rub.  Have been refining the formulation for the Muscle Rub – it’s even better than it was before.  

Have a great day!


This entry was posted by paleosoaper.

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