Arizona

Photo Essay: Hot Summer Gardening

Among the many things I’ve become interested in since moving to the Southwest 25 years ago, gardening is among the more challenging. Especially now.

Hot summer gardening is one of those challenges that only a plant geek would love. It helps if your geekiness is complemented with a willingness to conduct experiments.

My experimental turn of mind was piqued by a recent invitation from Tucson’s Watershed Management Group Co-op. I’ve been a part of the co-op since it started back in 2008, and I’ve hosted three water harvesting workshops at my house. Read to the end of the post for info about them.

The WMG’s invitation was to a potluck and lecture. Here are the tantalizing details:

“This event will be held in conjunction with our newest Soil Stewards program and we are excited that Dr. Mitchell Pavao-Zuckerman (of the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2) will lead an interactive session on the soil food web after the potluck. Dr. Pavao-Zuckerman will discuss its importance for food production, plant growth, and soil water storage. We will examine techniques to enhance soil ecology in the arid urban environment, and help participants develop plans to boost the soil web in their own home landscape.”

So, we’re getting the dirt on dirt? Sign me up!

My potluck contribution was homemade flatbread, which logged 4.5 miles on the bicycle ride across town. The hundred-degree heat didn’t faze me or the bread.

The Soil Stewards are all about desert soil restoration, and oh, is that a worthwhile project. Dr. Pavao-Zuckerman’s lecture noted the numerous limitations of desert soil in general, and urban desert soil in particular.

But we, the desert-dwellers, can restore our soil. Even at home.

Around my place, I’ve thrown in the towel on summer gardening in my sunken basins. None of my seeds sprouted during the spring, and it’s too hot to try again now. So, there those basins sit until the rains start…

Photo essay - sunken garden lays fallow in summer heat, Tucson, Arizona

But the hot weather has provided an opportunity to try an experiment with the basil seeds I acquired this spring. I’ve been making compost since last fall, and was running low on dirt for the biggest of the three basil pots. So, why not make a half-and-half mix with the dirt and compost?

Well, look at the basil in that big pot. Looks like that compost is giving it the edge…

Photo essay - basil pots in summer heat, Tucson, Arizona

The good news is that the compost holds water a lot longer than the straight dirt mix that’s in the two smaller pots. And, wouldn’t you know it, Tucson Water just raised its rates again.

Okay, I’ve been talking about compost. Now it’s time for the “too much information” part of this post. Here it is, compost being made in my oh-so-stylish homemade bins…

Photo essay - compost in homemade bins, Tucson, Arizona

The bins came courtesy of another WMG co-op member. Holes were drilled by Yours Truly. The compost mix consists of straw from a bale purchased for under 10 bucks at OK Feed & Supply and scraps from my kitchen. When ready for soil restoration duty, this batch of compost will go into the smaller of the two sunken gardens.

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