Backyard Garden Week #1

I used to think that Arizona was the worst place for a gardener to live. The triple digit summers, the sandy soil, and the spiky, dry native plants scared me into believing that I wouldn’t ever be able to grow anything I really wanted to.

About a year ago, however, I took a Plant Science class that completely changed my perspective on Arizona’s growing potential, and has encouraged me to be brave and try my hand at growing our own food.

Right now, I’m what I would consider an amateur gardener, in every sense of the word. Last year, I had a successful tower garden harvest (which isn’t saying very much, since the tower garden does most of the work for you), as well as some beautiful nasturtiums and tomatoes in the ground. But these were all things that I was comfortable with, and things that grow fairly easily in Arizona.

This year, I want to step out and be bold. I’ve decided to plant things that scare me, as well as things that I’ve killed over and over again in past attempts (I’m sorry, sunflowers. You were supposed to be invincible!). I’ve added fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers to really test my ability and help me to learn.

I wanted to document this journey, both for my own benefit, but also in the hopes of inspiring other AZ dwellers to plant and harvest their own food, despite the harshness of our climate.

Week #1

I spent the first day of the week planning my garden…our backyard is a tiny L-shaped patch full of nothing but rocks and dirt. I knew it was important to work with the sunniest part of the garden, which for us is a tiny little corner that would need a LOT of work.

Originally, I had planned to plant in containers on the patio, but we would get no light at all there. I decided to keep the patio for ornamental plants that need little to no sunlight, and keep my main plants out in the sun.

I also decided to actually do my homework on what I wanted to plant, which meant spending literal HOURS dreaming and browsing through Farmers’ Almanac to see which plants would grow in our Hardiness Zone. I really only had two :

1. I wanted to grow plants that I could either eat or use for medicinal purposes

2. I wanted to grow plants that would attract native pollinators

In the end, this was the “short” list I ended up with. The names that are crossed off are ones I ended up ditching in order to simplify things and make more space:

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  • Nasturtium Variegatus
  • Sunflowers
  • Begonia
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Potato Vine
  • Astilbe
  • Chamomile
  • Bee Balm
  • Lavender
  • Chives
  • Mint
  • Eggplant
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots

We had some seeds left over from last year, and we were able to find all but the lavender, strawberry, and climbing Nasturtium at Home Depot. We got these on Amazon for around $2 each. In total, we spent about $10 on  seeds. Not bad!

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I used recycled plastic spoons marked with Sharpie for plant markers. The Sharpie wore off within three days, and to this day I have NO CLUE what is sprouting in each spot. Whoops.

I was VERY eager to get my seedlings started, so I planted them right into little biodegradable peat pots, without really doing any research at all. I know, Shoot, fire, aim.

I followed the instructions on the seed packet, and watered the pots from the bottom by placing them in a metal pan, and keeping 1/4″ of water in the bottom at all times.

After I did a little bit of research, however, I found that the gardening soil that I used was probably far too heavy for my little seedlings to pop through, and after a week of staring at the soil and seeing nothing happen, I panicked.

SOOOOOO, I went back to Home Depot and bought this peat pot kit. This ended up being the BEST decision. I had seeds popping up in less than two days! These peat pots were really fun to work with…All you do is soak them in water, and they expand into perfectly sized, perfectly fertilized soil pots that are perfect for seedlings!

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Peat pots before their soak.
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Peat pots after their initial soak. 

I was a little bit smarter about my labeling with the peat pots… it helped that the kit came with little labels that I could use to mark each row…this system worked much better than the “Sharpie on plastic spoons” method that I was working with earlier. The peat pots have needed very little watering so far. Up until I started tower sprouts, I kept the plastic cover over the top, to keep the moisture in. Even without the top, however, I’ve one needed to water them once in the past two weeks.

The sunflower seedlings were the first to show their pretty little heads. They popped up two days after planting, as strong as can be! My only hope for them is that they can make it past the seedling stage…That would be a massive improvement upon last year’s sunflowers!

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Manny went cruising for some grass while I was planting.

It felt good to be out in the backyard this week. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to do SOMETHING to transform our small, depressing rock patch of a yard into a place where we can enjoy the impending cool weather.

Between cutting back HEAVILY on social media, and spending more time out in the fresh air this week, I’ve found a peace that’s been missing in our hectic life recently. There is a LOT of work to do still…as of right now, we have basically nowhere to plant all of these rapidly growing seedlings. There’s nothing for it but some back-breaking labor, I guess! Time to get my hands dirty…

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My little helpers.

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