Well folks, its not spring time yet, but at least where I live it sure as heck feels like it.  We clocked in at a balmy 74 yesterday, and could make it up into the eighties in the next week or so.  Its sunny, and mildly warm.  If there was even a trace of moisture in the air, it would be the perfect time to try growing something here.  Unfortunately, since its the desert, there is no perfect time to grow here.

Every year since we have started living here, we have tried to garden something.  Every year we end up with the financial equivalent of a couple $40 tomatoes, and not a lot else to show for it.  Even my tomatillos died off at the first frost, after having about 100 fruits form on them.  Although I am still able to pluck off the little under-ripe dead ones every once in awhile and chuck them in to the chickens.  They enjoy it.

Since I came into this desire for gardening as an absolute amateur, and a transplanted one at that, I have learned lots of ways to NOT grow things.  Back on the east coast where I come from, you can basically toss down some seeds, then bring a bucket back to haul your stuff home.  Here, you can toss some seeds on the ground and they just look at you like “What now?”.  So since I can’t grow anything this year with the move coming up, I will go ahead and pass along some of the ways I have learned to not do things.  At least then I can save you some hard lessons with your crops.

Learn when to plant your crops, it might not be when you think.

This is a lesson I blame on being a transplant.  We have seasons back home, and spring and summer are when things grow.  Fall is when you harvest.  Winter is when everything dies.  If you try to apply that same logic in the desert, you will frustrate yourself, and waste tons of water.  So the first thing you should do, is locate a planting calender.  Here is one for the Tucson area.  Just Google your area and planting calender, and you will find something.  If you don’t like the layout, try another one.  This will give you at least a rough idea of when to do what.

At the last frost date, hit the ground running

In most places, especially most places with good soil, the growing season tends to be somewhat short.  You don’t want to just toss the seeds in the ground at last frost date unless you have to.  Starting plants inside, or even better in a green house, is a great way to get that ball rolling early.  There is an art to starting seeds early, but shaving that month of your growing time is going to ensure that you see your plants harvest longer.  This won’t work for all types of plants because of how the roots work, but at least it will help some.

A well lit room is not the same as sunlight when sprouting plants

This lesson took us awhile to learn.  Our house is generally very bright in the spring and summer, and we were starting plants on our kitchen counter.  We assumed since the room was so bright that it would nourish the plants.  It didn’t.  After awhile the plants would really just top out.  They would get all long, pale and scraggly.  I learned later that they were lacking sunlight.

So not my proudest moment as a gardener, but a great moment as a tinker, as I was able to create this.

Growstand

The picture is really dark, but that is an old TV stand that we didn’t use anymore, and a little light fixture from Home Depot.  We just used a grow light instead of a fluorescent bulb.  It gave the little guys much better results.  They were forming multiple sets of leaves, and the stems were much strong than we were used to.  Unfortunately, once we put them outside, the heat and lack of water killed them.  In October.  Yet the concept was sound, so I will be recreating that once we move.

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