I’ve been busy

Work’s been nuts lately. I mean, I haven’t even¬†had time to play video games. What’s that all about? I’ve also been going crazy trying to get stuff done in the yard while it’s nice out.

I’ve planted quite a lot over the last 3-4 weeks. In fact, you can actually see exactly what I’ve planted most recently. Check out the “Recently Planted” section in the sidebar. You can also click on the plants there and view further information about them (including where in my yard they are planted!!). I’m pretty excited about this new blog feature. You’ll have to let me know what you think ūüôā

The Winter/Spring Garden

I recently relocated the original raised bed that I built to a new location in the yard, straight back from the backdoor of the house and just to the left of the sheds. This is now the third time I’ve relocated it, and hopefully it’ll be the last. While I was at it I also rebuilt the wicking bed feature – with any luck it won’t spring a leak this time.

Since I relocated the bed I figured it was about time to start using it again, so I went ahead and seeded¬†delicious things. You can see the full list of what I planted in the “what I planted section” of this post. Pictures below, with more to come once the seeds sprout.

Garden, Suit Up!

Deidre and I have been watching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix lately, so when I was planting some flowers around the yard I was picturing¬†Barney telling my yard to “suit up.” So in honor of that delightfully offensive tv character, I present to you a quick gallery of my garden, suited up.

Hardware stores are bad for my wallet, good-ish for my garden.

Deidre and I took a trip to Lowe’s this past Saturday to pick up a few things for the house (and a project we’ve been working on which I’m sure Deidre will be happy to show off at some point on her blog). Naturally while we were there I had to spend some time in the garden center ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘aah-ing’ at all the plants. Of course I ended up picking some stuff up. A whole bunch of flowers (photo gallery to come later this week) and then a few veggies to add to the old veggie garden.

So I planted¬†a few of the cabbage and broccoli in¬†one of my raised beds (and some in what I like to call zone 2d) and the onions I planted around my freshly planted peach trees¬†(zone 2b¬†-you know- if you’re interested).

Thanks hardware store for making me buy your crap.

Four new fruit trees

My hot mess of a yard is happy to announce the addition of four large sticks in the ground. Please say hello to four new fruit trees: a plum and three peaches.

It’s been a couple of years since I planted any bare-root trees; in the past I purchased trees through the Valley Permaculture Alliance fruit tree program, but it’s been inactive the past few years. So this year I found a similar program that’s sponsored by the Urban Farm. I was able to order and pick up my four trees for around $130 or so if I remember correctly. Not too shabby, considering when I first purchased my house I paid something like $700 for two trees from the evil-nursery-that-shall-not-be-named, both of which were dead within a year.

plum_peaches_background
The sticks in the ground are as follows: Weeping Santa Rosa Plum (Foreground), Desert Gold Peach (Background, left), Tropic Snow White Peach (Background, middle), Mid-Pride Peach (Background, right)

By the way, check out the section called “what I planted” (if you’re looking at this blog from a computer it’s probably in the left sidebar, otherwise it’s below this post content) for a new addition to¬†Dead in the Desert. I’m starting a plant database for everything I plant (and track) moving forward. The first four additions are the trees. You can click on the links in the “what I planted” section to see more information about said plants.

I’m very excited to have these new trees in the ground and I can’t wait to see them start blooming as we head into spring over the next month. Expect a gallery of beautiful peach and plum blooms!

Activity shall resume

I’ve been less than active on this blog for the past several years. I intend to change that beginning today. I always intended to make this a place where I can journal my attempts at gardening, as well as a place for me to have a random musing or two. Just this past weekend I planted four new fruit trees in my yard and I’d really like to document that.¬†It’s also prime gardening season here in the valley of the sun, so my goal for the next month is to document any yard work I do that’s not pulling weeds (because that’s just not even a little bit interesting).

So if anyone happens to run into this blog stick around, I swear I will post something to either entertain you or bore you, but at least I’ll post something.

Oh btw: I realize there are some images missing from posts. Not totally certain when that happened but I’ll get ‘er fixed as soon as I can.

Adventures in Lasagna Gardening

Up until recently I’ve more or less stuck with raised garden beds for all of my veggie growing, but recently I’ve decided to take a different approach as a bit of an experiment. You may have heard of Lasagna Gardening or maybe sheet composting. Either way is basically the same thing. You take “green” and “brown” materials and layer them (like a lasagna — brilliant isn’t it?) anywhere from 8 to 12 inches deep. Over time the materials should decompose and give you some prime planting material.

One of the benefits of lasagna gardening is you don’t normally need to do a lot of hard labor. Just collect materials and stack ’em up. That said I chose to do a fair bit of labor to get my garden beds ready. The top 3 to 6 inches of my soil are filled with gravel and large rocks. It’s not exactly a prime planting material, so I decided to dig out a bit of a pan to cook the lasagna garden in. That was the hard part. Everything else? Cake.

You can see in the images below the progression of one of my beds, as well as sheet composted garden bed I completed about a month ago. The actual layering is the easiest thing ever. I started with a thin layer of steer manure, then topped that with sheets of wet newspaper (you can also use cardboard) to help block weeds. On top of that I put more manure (approx 2 inches) and then about 4-5 inches of straw followed by another thin layer of manure followed by 3-4 inches of leaves followed by another 1-2 inch layer of manure. Super easy. The hardest part (if you’re not digging and just stacking) is collecting the materials. Try asking neighbors or family if they have leaves, straw, stable bedding, grass clippings, manure, etc. to spare.

Once you’ve collected all of the materials just layer up and then wait around 4 – 6 months and you should have a beautiful new garden bed. You can also try covering the bed with plastic to help retain heat and speed up the composting process. If you don’t want to wait that long to plant in it you can top it up with 2-3 inches of topsoil or compost and plant directly in that.

Why I Won’t Be Switching to Android Anytime Soon

I’m a fan of the iPhone. I first picked one up with the 3rd generation model, commonly known as the 3GS. Now I’m sporting the 5th generation iPhone (known to most as the 4S [with Siri]) and as always I’m curious to see what Apple will come out with next. Being a tech-geek I’m also interested to see what Google has up their sleeve with Android and what Microsoft is working on with their upcoming Windows Phones. That being said, I’m not likely to switch away from the iPhone (and iOS) anytime soon*, especially considering the state of the Android ecosystem.

Let me get this out there right away, lest I be flamed to death. I love competition in the mobile ecosystem. I think Android is a good mobile OS. I can understand the appeal to those who want to be able to do whatever they want with their devices. It’s just not for me. Here’s why:

I want to know that my phone is going to work well and not die halfway through the day. I want to know that my phone will be supported by developers for at least the duration of my carrier contract and that apps will run smoothly. I want a phone that will be able to immediately use any new OS updates. I also want an easy to use User Interface (UI) that not only looks great but is smooth like buttah.

I don’t feel like I can get all of these things with an Android device. The market is too fragmented to guarantee I’ll be able to find a phone that will do all of the above. Take a look at this graph from the Android Developers site:

Graph of the distribution of the different android os versions

As of April 2nd, the date this data was last collected, only 2.9% of Android devices are running on version 4+ (Ice Cream Sandwich). This is 6 months after ICS was officially released (in October of 2011). Couple that with the fact that there are HUNDREDS of android devices and it’s hard to know that your phone will ever be supported fully by developers, let alone for the next several years. As far as OS adoption goes, go to a local electronics shop and take a look at the newer Android phones. A large percentage of them don’t even have ICS factory installed and several don’t even have an upgrade path defined yet by their manufacturer.

All of this, and there are rumors floating around that Google may release Jelly Bean (Android 5.0) in Q2 of this year.

All of this fragmentation gives me the willies. I wish Google would’ve taken a more Microsoft-like approach when it came to licensing their OS. Of course if they had, who knows if it would’ve grown as much as it has.

I’m going to stick with my iPhone for now. Considering how much I’ve invested in the iTunes ecosystem at this point it’s not likely I’ll ever switch (even if I really want to). In the meantime I’ll be enjoying all the benefits of the healthy competition we’re seeing in the mobile device market.¬†Keep getting better Android, you’re making life better for all us iTards.


* I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but the Windows Phones actually intrigue me. I definitely want to get some screen time in with one.

Building a Raised Bed for Your Garden

For those who have lived in the desert you might know what it’s like to try and dig in the rocky soil. In a word, frustrating. The soil in the Phoenix area isn’t terrible, but more often than not it needs amendments such as rock removal and organic fertilizers. For those who don’t have the time, energy or desire to dig and amend the soil (and then wait) a raised garden bed is a fantastic option.

A picture of a raised garden box I builtI’ve built three raised garden beds now (click here¬†to skip right to the directions on how to build your own). I built the first one a few years ago and just a few weeks ago built box numbers two and three (the third one I built for my mother-in-law).

The first box I built was pretty basic. Nothing more than a little bit of lumber and some deck screws. I made that box’s dimensions approximately 3 x 6 x 1.5 (in feet).¬†When I decided I wanted to expand my garden area some by building another raised box I wanted to go just a little bit bigger. I ended up with a new box with outer dimensions approximately 4.3 x 8 x 1.5 (again, in feet).

This time, on top of increasing the size of the new raised garden bed I also decided to add a few new features: a sitting bench on top of the box and the ability to easily add plastic or shade cloth on top of the box as the weather requires.

How to build your own raised bed

Required Materials

  • Nine 8 ft 2×6’s
  • Box of 21/2¬†inch deck screws
  • One 6 ft 4×4

Optional Materials

  • Two 8 ft 2×6’s
  • One 10 ft 2×6
  • 1/2 inch chicken wire
  • 1/2 inch PVC pipe
  • 1/4 inch flexible PVC

Required Tools

  • Electric drill
  • Drill bit
  • Screwdriver bit
  • Miter Saw (optional)
  • Staple gun (optional)

Before you do anything you’ll want to cut the wood to size (try to get the hardware store to cut this if you can). Feel free to make variations on the size of the lumber to fit your needs.

I bought nine 8ft 2×6’s for the actual box and only had to get three of those cut (in half). I ended up with six 8ft 2×6’s and six 4ft 2×6’s. I also bought a 6ft 4×4 and had it cut into four equal pieces (the 4×4 is for extra support). Make sure to buy either Redwood or Cedar as they’ll last the longest.

That’s all the lumber you’ll need for the actual garden box (if you want to build a bench on top like I did you’ll need more lumber — directions below). Now that your lumber is cut and ready to go, let’s start with the fun stuff.

First, find a level surface to build your box on (I used the cement patio in my backyard).

Now lay down one of your 8ft boards (the 2×6) and one of the 4 ft boards (2×6). Line the edge of the 4 ft board against the inside edge of the 8 ft board and drill two pilot holes through both boards¬†(you’ll want a drill bit that’s just a bit smaller in diameter than your screw). Now drill in your screws. Continue to connect the 2x6s until you have one entire row screwed together.

Now take the 4×4 posts and connect them to the inside of the box. Make sure you drill a pilot hole before trying to screw everything together. Now add the second row of 2x6s. Finish the raised bed off with the¬†the third row now and you’re done with the basic box.

 

Options, Options, Options

Keep out Gophers

If you want to keep gophers and other burrowing animals from digging up into your garden you’ll want to install some chicken wire on the bottom of the box. This isn’t too difficult, just cut it to size and staple it to the bottom of the garden bed with a staple gun. You’ll want to use long-ish staples if you can, to keep them from popping out when you’re trying to get the chicken wire installed. Try at least 1/2 inch staples, although you’re probably better off with 3/4 inch.

Add a ‘bench’ to your garden bed

For the bench you’ll need a miter saw to cut angles into the lumber. You’ll need to start with that. You should have two 8ft 2×6’s and one 10ft 2×6. Your completed garden box should be about 4’3″ wide and 8′ long, which is why you’ll need a 10′ board for the top. Cut the 10′ board into two pieces that are approximately 4’3″ long (these should be the same length as the width of your box). Now use your miter saw to cut 45 degree angles into each end of the 8′ and 4’3″ boards.

Now all you have to do is screw the bench onto the top of the garden box. You can use the same screws you used on the construction of the box. I put a screw in every 2 feet and it’s plenty secure. Use more or less as you prefer. The corner of your box will look something like the picture to the right.

Protect your garden from the sun and the cold

One great thing about gardening in the desert is that our cold season is generally pretty short and we don’t often have to cover our plants to protect them from the cold. On the other hand, shade cloth is almost an absolute necessity during the warmer months.

With that in mind, I wanted to make it as easy as possible to put up and take down shade cloth (and plastic during the cold season). I dug around the internet and found this idea: attach 1/2 inch PVC pipe to the edge of the box and then use 1/4 inch flexible PVC to hold up shade cloth. If you built a bench for your garden box then installing the 1/2 PVC is easy. Just drill a hole in the bench and drop the 1/2 PVC in the hole. Now you can take up and put down the 1/4 inch flexible PVC whenever you need it.

Alternatively, if you didn’t build the bench then you can just attach the 1/2 PVC with a few screws and a PVC pipe bracket. Easy as pie. Here’s one last look at the finished product:

Full view of the raised garden box I built
Notice the white 1/2 inch PVC pipe I dropped in so I can add easy shade later on.

That should do it for the instructions. Good luck building your very own raised garden bed. If you have any suggestions, questions, etc I’d love to hear them. Leave it in the comments below!

Yippee! A Seed Starting Kit!

Ok, quick question: what sounds better… seeding system or seed starting kit? Eh, I digress. Either way I now have a way to start my seeds indoors in a controlled environment. I don’t know why but every time I plant seeds outside I only have about a 50% success rate at germination. So I keep trying. Meanwhile I’m wasting seeds. I’m persistent, but sometimes I swear I’m not much of a green thumb at all.

I picked up this seeding system from Gurneys.com a few weeks ago and it finally showed up in the mail. It’s nothing amazing, but I’d imagine it gets the job done. It comes with a lid as well, to keep things nice and humid. The cool thing is those dirt ‘plugs’ fit very nicely in the styrofoam section and when you fill the green part halfway with water the styrofoam floats, so it is supposed to keep the seeds moist, but never too wet. Low tech, but ingenious. I can dig.

Now then, anyone care to play a game? Look at the picture below (click on it for a larger view) and guess what seeds are ‘planted’ in the seeding system. Before you look below the picture for the answers skip down to the comments section and tell me what you think. If anyone plays along I’m curious to see if they can guess some/all of them right.

Top down view of seeds I just planted in my seed starting kit

As you can see above there are 10 little slots for seeds. I numbered them myself so I could keep easier track of what seeds I planted where. I hope you made your guess already, because I’m about to reveal what seeds are hanging out in my seed starting kit.

Ready?

  • In numbers 1, 6 and 7: Sweet Corn, “Early & Often Hybrid”
  • In numbers 2 and 3: “Mammoth” Sunflower
  • In numbers 4, 5 and 10: “Blue Lake” Pole Bean
  • In numbers 8 and 9: “Burpee’s Fordhook” Zucchini (summer squash) and Spaghetti Squash (winter variety)

I’m interested to see if I’ll be able to achieve a 100% germination rate now that I’ve started things off in a controlled environment. I’m assuming that I will, but oftentimes when it comes to plants and gardening I never know what to expect. Wish me luck!