Elliot Coleman of the Southwest.

rustico_2009January 23, 2012

To my mind we need an Elliot Coleman of the Southwest.

Someone who can grow rhubarb anytime of the year in the desert, have huge non-bitter heads of lettuce and succulent spinach to go with tomatoes in July and many other difficult to accomplish vegetable growing feats...without air conditioning and refrigerant running through the soil of course.

I am toying with the idea of growing in areas of full sun but in pits with shade cloth over the top. Just putting heat sensitive crops on the north or east side of the house has not given near premium results. Supposedly the earth stays 55 degrees at a certain, not so deep, depth and maybe a pit design can help keep root zone soil and air temps down while still providing an appropriate photo period/cycle.

Anyone try something like this or something else and get excellent results growing greens or other things out of season?

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Elliot is practically a neighbor to me, and I have visited and dined with him several times. His farm is truly inspirational. Although his techniques are best suited to us here in New England and other northern climes, the principles are universal- working with the existing resources and applying appropriate technology. The concept is to address the needs of the plant with minimal dependance on off-farm inputs. Sunken beds and shade cloth are essentially the opposite of what we do in the north in order to grow crops that would otherwise be prohibitively challenging. Good luck with your efforts.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 2:41PM
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Thanks bi11me, I'll start with lettuce and beets.Maybe a few others.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 6:39PM
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Keep good notes. Elliot makes a statistically relavent part of his income through his writing - no reason you couldn't do the same for your neighbors.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2012 at 10:44AM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

Rustico--will evaporative cooling (swamp misters?) help in your area?

It gets fairly hot here (a lot hotter than summer in Maine!), but the relative humidity here is so high that there isn't much cooling effect to be gained by misting.

Sunken pits sounds like a good idea for your area, and if your day-night swings are a bit extreme, maybe thermal mass? Thermal mass would absorb heat during the day, and radiate it at night.

In this area in summer there isn't much of a swing in day-night temps, so thermal mass doesn't work here. That's why adobe is a great thing in the desert southwest (I'm a bit envious!)

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 12:43PM
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Thanks Bi11me, I'll take notes.

ralleia, While I am worried about my broccoli bolting now, the rest of the country will pass us up for night time warmth soon! Swings somewhere around 40 degrees are common. Makes for good sleeping on summer nights. Evaporative cooling does help with growing , I'll try some, thanks.

There are some nice adobes around me,I love them, but don't have one :). Earthquake codes have kind of put them out of fashion I think, though that could be wrong, but not many get built anymore.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 2:16PM
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jll0306(9/ Sunset 18/High Desert)

My garden plans incorporate many different microclimates and each one needs different levels and types of season extenders. I have been making do with whatever I could kluge together myself, but I am ready for some more durable, portable, and modular structures.

I have a few designs in mind and am starting to familiarize my husband with Elliot Coleman's concept of "appliances." My secret hope is that the concept will pique his interest and he will be my toolman. So far so good....

Jan from zone 2222
(too hot, too cold, too dry, too windy)

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 1:35PM
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We're in the same zone, j110306, Got Tecate Divide? Good luck with your projects,they will work for you. Lots of upside in 18 too,Citrus is easy and delicious. I guess grapes are the thing but I don't have them yet. True summer crops are easy.I think you pretty much have to be "on call" all day to accomplish very much season manipulation with annuals, because of the extremes you mention. This dry and windy winter is not making it easier.

What kinds of things are you guys going to try?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 12:36PM
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jll0306(9/ Sunset 18/High Desert)


I am guessing that it must be the "Tecate divide" I travel when I take HWY 74 up through Anza to Aguana and down to HWY 15. Lovely wine country on the coastal side!

I don't do much inground planting, because of the voles, but if you are thinking about pit planting to conserve water, you may want to look up "wicking beds." They seem to be ideal for desert growers.

This year I'm using the CityPickers 'subirrigated' planters ($30 each at HD) for the first time and have one each for a peapatch and lettuce bed. They are seeded and under lights in my sunporch but are on casters so that I can roll them in and out as the weather permits. Broccoli Raab, Chickweed, and Creasy Greens are started in planters outdoors.

Tomato seedlings (indoors) are at the two-leaf stage, but the peppers haven't popped up yet. In the next week or two I'll seed the cukes and zukes.

One thing I have learned is that in the summer, EVERYthing does better if it is shaded from the heat of the day. Six hours a day of high desert sun is just too much for any of the so-called full sun veggies to take.

As to what grows best here: Chard thrives year round. Eggplants and peppers and Mediterranean herbs love it. The best tomato variety that I have found for this area is Sioux. Armenian Cukes and zucchini do well, but only if I can bring in enough pollinators with hummer feeders and companion planting.

What's growing for you, now?


    Bookmark   February 6, 2012 at 12:15PM
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That's the Tecate Divide, We are west of it but still get 85% of our weather from the interior, so not too much coastal influence. Doesn't get real hot often though.

I'll look into the wicking beds.

Your planters on wheels sound good. I need a bigger scale, so will be working with shade cloth, plastic etc. Going to try plastic mulch for planting a month or so earlier on hot weather stuff. We have a great south wall... if I can get used to impacting the house with food crops. Probably silly just to have it sitting there doing nothing.

We just picked some great asian greens, Tatsoi and Bok Choy.Good Broccoli with really wide heads. Beets are ready and we have been having lettuce, a few kinds of kale, mustard green, The cabbage is almost ready. I got started too late, and most stuff was growing too slowly. We could in theory be harvesting like crazy now. That's the "fall" garden. Now I am planting it all over again, plus carrots,turnips, onions, leeks,Chard, all kinds of stuff....and like you getting a jump on summer. All the things you say thrive there do well here, eggplant is amazing. We have grown great crops of watermelon, the sandy soil plus manure and the heat, is great for them. Squashes of all kinds do great.

I just stumbled on this the other day, maybe you have seen it. Seems pretty accurate. http://www.motherearthnews.com/What-To-Plant-Now-March-Southwest-Gardening-Region.aspx

    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 11:25PM
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jll0306(9/ Sunset 18/High Desert)

I'm jealous! My fall planted greens, brussel sprouts and broccoli kept the squirrels well fed in the lean months, and the remaining plants all look pitiful by now. One thing I've noticed about winter gardens, though, is that with 14 hours of darkness, plants just don't get any growth in December and January.

Your soil also sounds like it would be great for peanuts, too. As a transplanted southerner, I've been hankering for some boiled peanuts, but out here I can never find the raw nuts to make them. I would try to grow them, but I think they would become more squirrel food. If your garden is pest free, you are very lucky.

I do a lot of indoor gardening in the winter, putting herbs and tomatoes in south-facing windows and supplementing their natural light with CFCs. Nothing cheers me up like the sight of blossoming tomato plants!

I just found the planting calendar linked below recently. I like the level of detail on it and it works for me as long as I slide the outdoor transplant times to accomodate the fact that we are in a basin at 2500'. Cold from all directions slides right down the hill sides and settles in my yard. I think I really have split zone weather...Zone 18 in the Spring and Fall and zone 11 in the winter and summer.

Good luck with those southside plants. I'm using that spot as a warm harbor for some tubs of strawberry plants now, but because we DO have hot very hot weather in the middle of the day from June 15 forward, I' grow sunflowers and morning glories as summer shade for the walls on that side.

Do you know what kind of lettuce you want to grow for your hot weather experiment? I saw that Swallowtail Gardens has some heat resistant SummerCrisp varieties that might be worth trying.

Here is a link that might be useful: Desert Planting Calendar

    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 12:48PM
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The Chart you posted is exactly like what I want to make for my garden. As it is, it seems like it's for the area around Yuma. Significantly warmer than the high desert in winter, and somewhat hotter in spring and summer. Our local climate is even more temperate than that.

Short days do have a big impact, Fall crops will grow and taste great in Dec. and January if they are big and thriving enough by the end of November, even with the short days... here anyway...you may do well with row covers? They do double duty at slowing down pests.

My garden has pests too(few squirrels thank goodness). The animals have caused big setbacks at times. I live next to the Cleveland Nat'l Forest. Most of our yard is native growth(animal habitat). We sometimes use hoops, or twine stretched between stakes, with cheap bird netting or row cover. That stuff really slows critters down....and then we trap consistently for gophers,rats and mice...kind of getting used to the whole ordeal...we have to will the garden together filling up spaces and stuff like that, so a lot of the time it won't be a straight row of what I planted, but there will be some type of transplant in between . It's just inter-planting, which is kind of fun and interesting anyway.

It is hard to spring for these garden associated "appliances", it adds up, using them seems tedious at first, but without them gardening here year round is too painful!

    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 5:46PM
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Oh yea, Don't know about the lettuce yet, a variety would be nice.

Peanuts sound like a great idea, It would be a lot of fun.
Also thinking of potatoes, sweet and regular types.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2012 at 9:16PM
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jll0306(9/ Sunset 18/High Desert)

Oh, definitely sweet potatoes! I have one lounging in a perlite/water bed now, waiting for it to grow my 'slips'. I put them in big pots, but they really need more running room.

Yep, my winter crop covers all blew away and thus the quest for semi-permanent appliances. I have come to appreciate the beauty of low tunnels too late to solve the problem this year, but I'll be ready by next.

I'm looking to fill in my blank spots, too. Rosemary is a good spreader and does great here, but it's slow.

Vince minor thrives, and for some reason seems to be left alone by most four-legged pests.

They have been leaving the mint alone, too. Probably because they were full of broccoli, but as long as they will let it spread, I will too.

And of course, I have big hopes that some of the medicinal herbs, grown indoors from seed this winter, are going to take off when I transplant them. Ah, optimism never dies and every year is a trial and error year for me.

Lots of both. I fully understand your pest control methods. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do...particularly living, as you do on the borders of forests land.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 2:11PM
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Just posting on this thread mostly to report one summer "out of season" success. We just harvested big perfect broccoli grown under shade cloth. I have to credit the seed recommendation to Johnny's. The variety is green magic and it is touted by Johnny's for hot weather, and just 57 days.

It has averaged around 90 for the high temps with many days over 95 for the duration of the planting.... I guess a lot of people wouldn't want to use space in the garden and shade cloth in the summer for broccoli anyway....but it did work.It is very encouraging because other relatives of the broccoli and other spring of fall crops may do as well or even better. Trying to decide if a large shade canopy is worth more than a hoop house around here.

Anyone else grow anything modifying or using micro-climates?

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 1:19PM
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Rustico - You might find this article interesting.

Here is a link that might be useful: Underground greenhouse

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 11:45AM
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