March 2012

Here's a photo of the birds at my place. What with the wind and my being gone for a week, there is only one that stays around.

Ok. Here's a list of seeds and dates planted along with results. I started with garlic, as usual. This time though, I also tried an early planting of beets and turnips. This planting was in the last week of August and September's first. For once, the turnips were a success. Beautiful turnips; sweet, crisp, no bitter. YES! A fall turnip is possible. Use the row cover for protection until the plants can survive the birds then remove it. The beets were problem plagued, most of which probably could have been dodged by using the row cover for a longer period. The germination was spotty also and I would think that is my shortcoming. Ohhhh I miss them this winter.
Then, 9/22 saw the planting of yet another attempt of mine to find a usable red onion. Heirloom Seeds' red grano variety so far is batting zero. Not one of forty seeds planted in it's row germinated while another grano variety in the next row over came up well.
On the 25th of September, the bed at my front door was sown with the most impressive lettuce I've ever grown. The seed comes from Cooke's Garden. A bit pricey but that factor, for me, is no longer a consideration. I just finished the harvest this week. I had planted edox, forellenschluss, oliver lettuce, and picked it for months. If you think store lettuce is the end all be all grow one of these. Shock those taste buds and make that garden glow as these are very colorfully leaved.
Oct. 4th a couple of rows of garlic, later than I want but it looks about as big as the early plantings. This went in the patio "acreage", a very nice soil now, and loaded with large earthworms.
Lastly, I planted my favorite sweet onion, the Texas Grano variety. I was forced to get it from the internet and bought 1/2 oz. to have some for next year. That was a late planting and it shows at present when I compare it to an identical but earlier sowing in the same bed. Currently there is quite a size discrepancy but at harvest time there may be no difference.
So that is what is planted. Some successes, some still waiting for harvest time, and a few misfires. Not the variety of the past; no radishes or carrots, and the wind blew down my makeshift gate, so rabbits poured in, ate the beets' greens and they didn't recover, but still so satisfying to sit in it all and just watch and listen.
Good growing,


Well, here's hopefully the beginning of some more articles on my further gardening endeavors.

The flowers are of a desert penstemon according to the seed packet. They are readying to bloom again this spring so they are not annuals but how long a life they have I can't say. In the background is a bed of garlic and in the lower right hand corner some carrot tops are just showing.
The penstemmons have shed their seed and this year the offspring are up and growing throughout the garden. And to think of how many times I tried to get these to sprout with nothing to show for my efforts. So, along with an unknown and tall growing grass, johnny jump-ups, and California poppies, there is now a new resident "weed" in the garden.

So this is it for this note. There is more to come so stay tuned.


Well, some rules that are cast in stone have been gleaned from this fall, winter, and spring growing endeavors. Here they are;
#1, red onions are not suited for my place. Despite years of attempts, only the initial attempt was successful. This includes a number of varieties.
#2, onion transplants are not worth the effort. Eat; don't plant your onion thinnings.
#3, leeks...........again, can't handle the weather at my place.
Now, the "continuous cover" experiment. It is working but buckwheat simply doesn't produce enough vegetative mass. It decays down too quickly and there isn't enough to my liking. I will try Peaceful Valley or some such outfit to try something different; maybe a clover or alfalfa. I prefer a grass as grasses generate goodly amounts of ground cover and mulch and would die off much more quickly than the clover and alfalfa with their deep roots.
So that's all for now! The final for the onion grows is in the future and I'll write of the results.

-------------------------- Much Later--------------------------------------------------

Alright! Here they are at last. The results the entire basin has been eagerly awaiting; The Great Onion Grow-off.
First, the varieties.
Red onion seed used in the test came from the red anposta and early California varieties.
The "sweet spanish" varieties, what the store calls yellow onions or brown. There were 4 of them and they are hybrid granex, texas early grano, spanish Utah, and ringmaster.
The results take few words.
The two reds were failures. As has been the result every time I have tried growing reds except........................that's right. The first one. So after at least 5 years of wasting water, I am zeroing red onion off my list.
The others; Easy. The Texas early grano from Lilly Miller and hybrid granex yellow prr from Ferry Morse are about equal. A delight to grow. Pull them out mid May. The hybrid granex had the biggest ones but also two were lost due to disease.
The Texas early grano is very uniform. Boy are they eye candy.
The ringmaster had poor germination and is not bulbing up. Spanish Utah did not bulb and has gone to seed.
There ya have it from my spot on the earth.


Well, it's early October and time for an update.
First, the honey harvest; After ten plus years, as noted in the previous letter, my bees stored enough honey this spring and summer that they could spare some for the landlord. Small problem folks; the honey is so thick I cannot harvest it. The combs are destroyed in the extractor, and the stuff is so thick it barely flows. Do you remember boiling sugar water down to a greatly viscous material and then upon it's cooling trying some out? Recall how much time you waited for the stuff to drip from the spoon? Then you could roll it around in your mouth for awhile before it dissolved it was so thick? That's desert honey. So now what? far I have come up with the idea of an earlier harvest but this likely will not work as the flowers' nectar is dependent on rainfall.[what fall?]. No rain equals thicker nectar and less of it. There's comb honey but most people prefer bottled honey.
So, on to a cover crop I tried this summer; buckwheat. Worked well and as the accompanying photo demonstrates, it is a visual treat. It also attracts numerous insects that are beneficial. As for building up the soil, there are better materials but do they grow in the desert in the summer? So here's a list of observations on buckwheat; #1 it prevents wind erosion, #2 it adds to soil organic matter though not greatly, #3 it can shelter other crops though it will, of course, compete with them for water. #4, Insect friendly, the bees loved it as do a number of wasps, butterflies, and others. #5 is that buckwheat is quite easy to incorporate into your soil or, as I'm currently trying, it can be left laying on the soil surface and moved aside for planting then moved back over the seeds for shelter from the elements. I did this on a row of carrots and one of beets alongside a row of carrots that were not covered by the now dried out buckwheat. After two plantings I decided that was enough. The rows sheltered by the dead buckwheat sprouted beautifully, the one not protected did not. So there's #5, seedling shelter.
Another idea I tried out was that of sheltering plants from predators. I used tomato plants planted into the buckwheat. I think the buckwheat attracts the large moths that lay the hornworm eggs on tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. I say this because I have NEVER, EVER, seen SO MANY EGGS laid on a tomato plant. The norm is an egg or two per leaf. These leaves had a dozen or more on a leaf. I pulled the plants.
Now, if I leave the buckwheat on the soil surface, how do I plant in it? Simply push it aside, scratch in your row and plant, and then cover the newly planted row back again. And how do I work more organic matter into the ground? If you want to build up your soil then what I suggest is sprinkling manure or planter mix on the surface and watering it in well. And do this a number of times during the growing season. If the soil surface stays damp enough the material will decay over time and smother most weeds in the process. The wind will blow away little or none of the material due to the buckwheat or wheat still standing and that was one of two goals of this technique; soil enrichment and #2, erosion prevention.
So what's going on and in? Well, garlic, leeks, radishes, carrots, beets, and onions on the 15th of October. Arugula still grows wild in the garden now so it is a volunteer that I harvest. Last year's lettuce was bitter even when young and I think that was a result of my watering coupled with the wind. The soil was simply too dry. Notice there are no strawberries anymore.


This letter is an update on a couple of ideas mentioned in the December 2007 letter.

The bees were progressing with daughter queens ordered from a queen breeder in Hawaii. But they flew the hive when swarming season came. There was little opportunity to prevent this happening due to the record setting windiness experienced out here this year and still going as I write. BUT.... there is a honey crop large enough to harvest this year. The first ever in ten years! And, in my newfound desire to be a more professional apiarist this year, I moved one hive over to a catclaw [a local native] area near town. We'll see if I get a crop.
Now, for the garden I will discuss the current thrust of my growing endeavors. It is a follow up on the idea of planting wheat to prevent soil erosion, provide shelter for new seedlings, reduce water loss, enhance soil biology, and increase soil organic matter levels. The technique is a success. There is no longer any apparent soil loss by wind erosion. The garlic planted in the wheat did quite well. One benefit is that the dried wheat stalks trap any lawn clippings, leaves, etc., and allow these materials to decay while they mulch the ground rather than be blown away. Another plus is the tremendous reduction in the soil's drying out and thus lowered water use. Area's where the wheat had not grown were dry by the morning after a watering while the protected areas were watered every third or fourth day. I have expanded this to several more beds and now need to find another densely growing plant for use as a cover crop in June's heat. Let it grow until August, cut the water to kill it, then plant into the hopefully now dead cover crop. Planting garlic bulbs is simple; lettuce, carrots, and so forth may require a small bit of hoe use to get them planted. This aspect needs some attention.
So that's what's ongoing out here. Notice the lack of news on the last winter and spring harvests. I am going to rectify this situation. It was dismal. End of news.

Well, actually, the garlic was decent and the peaches again spoiling me and all who partake of them.

                Happy growing! Roger Smith
    My name is Roger Smith. Bob asked me if I would write a bit about my vegetable garden. I have been gardening and struggling to keep honeybees at the western edge of Desert Heights for nearly ten years now. My garden produces something year round. Right now I am eating strawberries and carrots each morning. I harvested turnips, beets and their tops, and green onions last week. There are sweet hungarian peppers and spinach ready to bring in.
    This garden is 12x24 feet in size, larger than my cabin initially. To those who use the 'great deal of time required for such an endeavor' excuse, I can assure you I am not a type "A" person. My residence will attest to same. I estimate I spend no more than an hour a week on it if sittng and watching it's lush beauty is not included. This is my second year for strawberries and I would grow them for their red berries and incredibly lush late winter/early spring foliage even if the fruit were not edible. The berries this year could easily supplant the 'fire engine' in fire engine red. We're talking RED, now. In coming notes, I will try to run down all that I do and what I have learned out here. I hope you are helped by my future musings.

        So, I think I should start with the sand in which I grow. It is just that; sand, by USDA Soil Conservation Service standards. There is no clay and a smidgen of silt. In other words, nutritionally bankrupt, holds little water, and must be watered twice daily.
        The first item is raised beds. I used 2x10 lumber to construct beds 10 feet long and 2 1/2 feet wide. Between the beds are walkways wide enough for a wheelbarrow. I use raised beds to have more control over irrigation and ammendments to the soil. I also prefer their neatness. The 2x10 sides of the beds prevent bed shifting and erosion from wind and water. The sides also serve as attachment points for wind barriers. Most essential in a windy environment.
        Next, I screened for rocks. While not necessary, I prefer them removed. Large amounts of goat manure were then dug in. Three contractor wheelbarrow loads per bed. I would not do this again as this material was old and dry and therefore took two years to finally decay. Too long. Use fresh material or go to a bagged planter mix. I use one bag per bed per year. I also recycle vegetable trimmings,lawn clippings leaves, etc., but NO meat anything. Attracts the neighbor's mutts and coyotes. I also do NOT use the commercial bagged manures. Salt burn is a problem with them. In two years you will begin to see a difference in soil color and you can begin to notice a more vigorous and lush growth in your beds. I want to emphasize the need to keep a steady flow of organic matter going into your beds, every year. I even grow barley or rye in some beds in the winter. Then, I let the rye and barly die, leave them standing, and plant in the now dead plants which shelters the emerging seedlings from our "gentle spring breezes" and over time improves the soil.
        So that's it. Nothing high tech here. I reccomend a digging fork, not a shovel when you begin mixing the soil and ammendments. I find it digs deeper and with noticably less effort. Easier on the back.

        So your seeds have popped up. Now it's time to feed our little babies. There are two choices here; man-made plant foods or those that occur naturally. I started with man-made ones initially and used both water soluble ones such as Miracle-Gro, and granulated materials, which dissolve over time. I prefer the water soluble ones as the plants' response is rapid; within a few days in most cases. I used a formulation strength of 15-30-15, available nearly anywhere. Currently I use organically derived foods as I furnish vegetables to people who prefer this method. These materials must decay before the plants can use them so forget the instant gratification that comes from using the man-made materials. Bone meal, blood meal, cottonseed meal and many others fall into this category. A garden using these foods will likely not be as successful the first year due to the need for soil bacteria to decompose them. And let me stress the importance of soil bacteria to a healthy garden. Not only do they reduce the incidence of disease, without teeming populations of them to digest your organic fertilizers these materials are mostly useless to a plant. How do you increase the numbers of these absolutely essential members of your garden? That's right, feed them organic matter. Think of your growing beds as a seething cauldron of bacterial activity.
        Now, a clarification; for the instant gratification crowd using organic plant foods, myself included, there is a choice. Liquid fish emulsion. This is mixed with water and applied occasionally just like the man-made materials. So far, my fears of attracting coyotes and local mutts and cats have not come to pass.
        A few thoughts and lessons learned.
        The man-made items are chemical salts and speed up a plant's metabolism. It gets thirsty as a result. Unlike us, a plant cannot go get a drink to quench its thirst. So in the summer, mix the material at half strength or you'll find your beautiful garden with burnt foliage within minutes in some instances. Zucchini and other squashes, cucumbers, melons, etc., are quite susceptible to this. Such an occurrence can setback or even kill a plant. Consider evening applications on damp soil. Note the word damp. Keep the stuff off the foliage. Fish emulsion reduces or eliminates this problem depending on your soil's organic matter content. Remember, more decayed organic matter in the soil equals more water in that soil and thus less thirst for the plant.
        For the summer, mulch, mulch, mulch. The soil dries more slowly as the ground stays protected from drying winds and heat. Then you spade the mulch in for the next crop. At this time, adding a granulated or organic fertilizer is a good practice.
        I strongly recommend an automatic water timer. The one I use waters three times a day for twenty minutes each time on my sandy soil in the summer. In cooler, short day periods I reduce this to 45 minutes. The plants don't suffer water stress and seed germination benefits as they are bathed in moisture and don't dry out. The final watering is timed to give them a drink in the early evening. Surprise! Much plant growth takes place at night. You read correctly; growth at night.
        Again, regardless of the feeding method, the more organic matter you incorporate into your soil, the richer the ground becomes. When I managed the vegetable garden at the 29 Palms Inn, I got the school district to leave their lawn clippings for me. Truckloads.
        A large component of a green thumbed person's success comes from that person's use of the eye. Observe. Observe. Observe.
        Right now I am harvesting radishes, young carrots, mustard spinach [a mild flavored mustard green] and beet greens. I have recently planted onions, leeks, and garlic. I will be setting out strawberries from runners, and more radishes, carrots, onions, beets, and any cool weather item that catches my fancy. I could have planted turnips and some members of the cabbage family but had trouble with a plague of grasshoppers this year so held back a bit.. To rectify that situation I have ordered a lightweight protective material that drapes over a plant called a floating row cover. Highly recommended for plant protection from insect and wind damage. Hope this helps!

        Hmmmm. It's near the end of April, now. A bit past due for timely advice on late winter/early spring planting and for my sloth I apologise.
        Let's leap to lessons learned without further adieu. First, late last summer, I was plagued with grasshoppers. This was a first. I found that they even ate through the polyester floating row cover I used to protect my emerging seeds. A hawk took up residence this year and cleaned out the predator whiptail lizards in four days then left. Consequently I held off on planting until the weather turned noticably cooler. Too cool. The onions got in late and are smaller this year so far. There were no radishes, and greens were salvagible though heavily "sampled". Some items I simply didn't plant due to the lateness of the year.
        For people who enjoy leeks, I tried a new method this crop. After the seedlings reached about 6 to 8 inches in height, I transplanted into a 6 inch deep hole created by using a piece of 3/4 inch re-bar pocked into the ground. I won't do this for the following reasons; one was the transplanting trauma required too long a period to be overcome and my hopes for a fall harvest vanished; and two, the bed was tied up over winter as a result. Now admittedly, I'm not certain this would not have been the result had I not transplanted, but this year the method used will be as follows; a trench or a structure with walls will be tried. Probably the walls of 6 inch tall plywood or whatever will be used. Then, instead of transplanting, I'll simply fill in the trench or wall structure with planter mix/soil when the young plants are about 8 inches tall to gain the long white stalk so desirable in leeks. Have you noticed leeks at the market? They are almost stalkless. Mostly green top with a speck of white shank. I learned that the prime time to harvest leeks is when one sees the first "tillers" or side shoots, beginning to form. That would be late March, early April.
        Carrots. A real disappointment this year. Old seed? Weather? The winter seemed a cooler one this year. An unusually large percentage were stunted or forked. And unexciting flavor. Poor watering?
        Beets. No more overwintering for me unless you like ugly. Or plan to can or use them for personal consumption. Frankly, the best part of a beet is the green. I do like pickled beets though. So this year, it's an early August planting as an experiment. The midwinter planted ones were fine but slow to germinate. A plastic sheet for warming the soil? At this writing, April 28, there are baby beets and very flavorful tops. But, warm weather will probably mean the green top won't be so good for much longer without some shade and wind protection. Probably want the last ones out mid-May.
        The garlic got in later, about late October last year. This year we're goin' for an August planting. I expect to see bigger bulbs as a result.
        Trying shallots this year. Mixed results due to unfamiliarity with both them and a new bed which has a heavier soil. We'll see. Think I need to use drip and a timer. Too much drying out using hand watering. Their roots are like onions; not deep. Mulch them also but watch for rotting caused by overwatering, he typed sheepishly.
        As usual, a 2 cubic foot bag of planter mix in each 3' x 12' bed for the year plus ammendments at each planting, and fish emulsion feedings periodically. If organic. Liquid types otherwise. Plants have to eat also. This year, I have started to use lawn clippings, scrounged when I can find them, as a mulch for the reasons noted in prior columns.
        Next column, I'll talk a bit about the fruit orchard just planted. And my africanised bees. Plus what else strikes my gardening fancy. 'Til then, good luck.

        A bit of follow-up on the black plastic weed block/mulch; I had mixed results. Comparing plantings of various summer squash those without the plastic mulch were several days slower to germinate and didn't grow as rapidly. The downside of the weedblock/mulch was that it provided an ideal environment for sowbugs. They eventually killed all of the plastic mulched plants by eating around the diameter of those plants at their base and the rodents ate nearly all the squash. This year I will dry out the soil before planting. Sowbugs need a damp environment to survive.
        The shallot crop was a dismal endeavor. This year I have planted them again and am expecting usable shallots. Don't know why they did so poorly last year. I have never not been successful with them.
        Onions. Finally, a modicum of success. The red variety "Early California Red" was a success and I am still slicing big thick slabs to put on a sandwich. This variety seems to be a good keeper. Will use it again with an October 15th or later planting as with the "Texas Grano" yellow onion which did pretty good also. Tried "Candy" last year and the jury is still out on this one.
        Right now, September 23rd, I am transplanting strawberries from runners into a new bed. I use a different planting area each year to prevent disease. I have radishes and several types of greens coming out of the garden at present.
        This year's results were severely impacted by the largest influx of rodents I have ever experienced. Not one peach of many dozens, few squash, and some bell peppers even, were eaten by these things. I trapped over three dozen in less than one month. I cannot account for this explosion in population. They seem to have no enemies but me!
        As usual I dug in a bag of planter mix as I prepared each bed and mixed in about two pounds of a 5-5-5 strength plant food per 10 t0 12 foot long, 3 foot wide raised bed. I also feed occasionally with fish emulsion.
        That's about it. I am satisfied with the idea of planting in the first half of August. Radishes are peppery, though. And be prepared for worm damage with this early planting date if you don't use the floating row cover material mentioned in prior letters.

        Well, there's little positive to report so far this year. With the rain we had earlier this year, I expected big things. Not to be. An entire bed of leeks, strawberries so poor tasting they were inedible [and my largest crop to date!], stunted beets not worth harvesting, and a few other items I no longer care to recall just simply did not do well. The onions were decent as was the garlic. A rodent damaged an irrigation line so I lost the grapefruit to wilting, carrots "forked" and weren't as tasty, etc., etc. The arugula, a strongly flavored green of the mustard family, was a success. Last year's rains spread it far from the garden and a few plants even grew above my head.
        So, with spring's disappointing results, I let all the beds dry out until this fall. Doing this eliminated all but a few sowbugs which have been destructive in the past. Unfortunately the growing earthworm population dried out also.
        I have no explanation for the abysmal results earlier this year. I don't feel the sandy stuff I call soil was rinsed of nutrients from the rains. The weather didn't strike me as unusual except for the rainfall amounts and there was no disease from the extra water. No fungus. No unusual insect depredation.

Yet another Great Mystery of the Desert
        So, how are things growing now? Well, this fall is the first time I have had success with the "white icicle" radish. Gorgeous! Tender. Not hot. The onions, planted the third week of October as always, are going to have to be replanted. Dismal germination. The shallots are growing tops but I WANT BULBS! There are two varieties of garlic and one is far superior so far. Leeks are so small at this stage that only the shadow knows how they will look in April.
        A word on the leeks; recall I badmouthed the concept of digging them up when about 8" tall and poking a hole 6" deep then setting the young plant in though watering them in rather than filling in the hole with soil? The watering filled the hole, of course, but over a period of a few weeks and I think this is indeed a viable method after all. Yes, those leeks weren't even harvested this year as they matured prematurely but they were not hindered by the transplant. And they had nice long white stalks. Not the almost non-existent stalks common to store bought ones.

        Well, I guess this is it for awhile. As in all things agricultural, time will tell.

Well, I suppose it's results wrap-up time. This will be easy; there were none. I won't go into details. But in my defense, I can truthfully say that it was an unusual year. Even the native annuals didn't grow. Now that tells ya something. In fact, I let the ground go fallow for the second year in a row. Not good for organic matter levels but I can attest that earthworms were unaffected by the complete shutoff of the watering. they are thriving in my successful-so-far-this-year onion bed. In fact, the onions [four varieties], are doing as well as they ever have as are the worms.

On the subject of earthworms in the garden let me type a bit here and tell you of my current feeding practices. My previous supplier of plant food is no longer available. So, I now feed the earthworms a sprinkle of bloodmeal and the same with bonemeal. They eat the blood but not the bonemeal. The bonemeal is palletized and the worms ignore it. It's too large for them. But the bonemeal is deposited on the garden surface as a worm casting, watered in, and the plant then has access to the nutrients. So I am feeding the worms to feed my garden.

A bit of been there done that; don't use kitchen vegetable scraps in your beds. They will decay and the plants can utilize this but unfortunately so do the larvae of some beetles. Trust me when I say ya'll don't want these grubs burrowing through your garden. Unless, of course, you like to fish.

So I gave up on the strawberries. Shocked, you say? Especially after my paean to them in one of my first letters? Well, last year was the absolute most flavorful year ever. All 5 of them. Have you ever noticed the long and pointy beak on yet another import, the starling? Have you ever held up a piece of the floating row cover I continually push or have I been typing the virtues of it in vain? Hmmmmm. Well, that's just too bad 'cuz I'm telling my story without your tactile knowledge of the stuff. Fear not, it's a short one. Their beaks go through row cover like Sherman through Georgia. [ An old saying resurrected here for those of an age when schools taught history]. So after years of beautiful berries, lovely foliage, and dainty flowers in spring..........the berry patch is no more. Notice in the prior sentence that I didn't mention the subject of taste? This is not due to the scotch I'm nipping tonight. No, there was little taste to mention until this year. About one out of ten berries was sweet and flavorful. Although this year is the first I used the row cover on the berries and they were the sweetest and most flavorful I have experienced out here I am still taking a breather from growing them. Yes, I know how easy it is to keep the birds out but I like to see my results of my toil. Row cover and other various stratagems people use to protect their plants have their downside; visual access is degraded. Depending on the barrier used one may not even be able to see their garden. That ain't cuttin' it for me. I need my morning plant fix.

Another new one for me this year is the use of steer manure. And, following the incorporation of same in my beds, the e-coli scare. That aside, I can see no difference in plant response. Yet.. I may continue for a few seasons to see how plants respond. This stuff is rather high ph and salty. Use care. Let your bed sit for a month if possible and keep the bed moist so the soil bacteria can go to work on the digestive endeavors of friend cow. And I'll tell ya, this stuff can burn. You might want to wait for cooler fall or winter weather to use it. So what's in the ground at this point in time? As I mentioned earlier there are four onion varieties; two sweet yellow and a red and a small green onion. Radishes, a ton of garlic, leeks for transplanting, carrots, and some volunteer arugula.

So that's it. The worm feeding is a new one. I want to emphasize though, the need out here in this dry and windy area of ours, that you need to keep that mulch covering the soil's surface. Otherwise the worms will be less inclined to come to the surface to feed on the feed I give them as it will dry out at the surface.

Well anyway, let me say that I've enjoyed writing this letter and I hope you experience a good fall and winter garden.

Here Roger's post as of Dec. 2007!

It's December 13th as I write this. Cold at night. Nice during sunny days IF there is little or no breeze but unfortunately.....
So after the cold of early this year [12 degrees twice, teens and twenties and heat waves of 30+ degrees], the citrus "orchard" had probably no more than a half dozen bedraggled leaves/tree. And there were a couple of dozen mandarin oranges that were damaged beyond eating to add insult to injury. But, ever the optimist, I got them nursed back to health whereupon I forgot to set the automatic irrigation timer and goodbye leaves and this winter's citrus. So the score reads 0. If it isn't me, it's Mother Nature.
But the peach tree, a desert gold variety, was beyond description. Folks, if you believe that what you get from Stater's is a peach, you need to plant a tree of your own with the money with which you would part by buying your peach-like objects at the store. What are we talking here? Less than $20 for the tree, $3 for the planter mix at Barr Lumber [forget Home Depot], and a bag of plant food for $5. It isn't rocket science. But DO place a piece of furnace pipe around the trunk and be sure it is about 36 inches in length. That keeps the rabbits from girdling your tree and killing it and the chipmunks are unable to climb up the stovepipe's metal sides into the fruit. I also use a bird net. As the tree is going to be kept trimmed to the 6 foot tall level, the bird net takes very little time to emplace and with care is usable for years. Your planting spot should be one that gives shelter from the wind but you need full sun for much of the day. I am building windbreaks for my trees as I have done for the vegetable garden.
You may recall my mentioning that I have started using bagged steer manure. I think it is working well but I have a feeling that it should sit in the beds for probably a month to further decompose. I say this because as the stuff is composted it does have a rather high nitrogen level. I think this is why I have noticed the white icicle radishes growing large tops but no radish worth eating. So late winter, say early February, I'll try some in the same bed but with no recent additions of manure to test my hypothesis.
Now, as I didn't sell my garlic crop this year, I had a great deal more for planting purposes. It got into the ground a month late; end of October. There seems to be no problem. The bulbs sprouted very soon after planting; 4 days! Onions got in late also and then I replanted due to grasshopper damage. They are coming up slowly. I have been using bubble wrap to warm the soil somewhat and of course forwind protection.
Put the toad back into the vegetable garden last month. I believe it is 7 years old now. Two years ago it had taken it upon itself to move to the citrus trees during an unusual event; rain. There wasn't much to eat though due to the drought so we'll see how it does out in the vegetable garden again.
If you are in need of some earthworms for your endeavors, the pet store in JT has them. I have some surprisingly large ones in the raised beds by the cabin. They came with some spare sod that I was given and which was put down as a mulch. That idea reflected my lack of awareness of the termites we have out here. They ate all the dried grass. As they do anything that grows and sheds leaves and branches. So, as another experiment, this spring I planted wheat to enrich the soil and to prevent the wind from blowing away any more ground. This isn't Oklahoma 1930, you know. The termites have not bothered this. Then I planted two rows of garlic right into the dead wheat and it is a practice I shall continue in the future. No, you don't touch the wheat or ground; just poke a hole in the dead wheat/soil and then water. The wheat is dead remember, so there is no competition for whatever is planted in it and the soil is not prone to blow away as the wheat's roots and dry stalks prevent this. You will find that without fencing the rabbits would eat every last stalk so fence it off to about three feet high. And let me emphasize; you don't dig the ground up come planting time. Don't disturb that wheat/soil top layer. Simply plant in it and water. Of course, if you are planting seeds and not garlic bulbs then scratch a seed row but the less disturbance to the wheat/soil layer the better. This technique is growing in popularity in this country and has been in use for decades in some other small grain growing regions. Studies also show a mulch such as above produces higher quality produce, reduces water use, and again, prevents wind erosion.
So what's growing? Carrots, tons of garlic, radishes are just coming up, onions are showing their heads, and I'm waiting on some lettuce. The arugula and mustard spinach are gone now; victims of an aphid infestation and some other small critter. Also, I scattered flower seeds in a new bed. Spring will tell what was planted.
Oh yes, we are trying some genetic manipulation of the bees. We'll see how this one works this spring also.

Truly Yours Roger Smith