Dappled Light

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A fine balance of full sun, shade and dappled light is a desert gardener’s weapon against the stress and damage that the full strength of the sun can cause on a plant. This tomato plant (Early Girl) is protected from the late afternoon light by a shade cloth. It still lets in dappled light. This Girl is very happy and producing abundantly!

Protecting Plants From the Desert Heat

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Temperatures are reaching 108F today here in Palm Springs, the highest temperature so far this year. The feature picture was taken yesterday after I made some adjustments to provide shade. Here are some things that I do to protect my plants from the sweltering heat.

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Yesterday I adjusted the shading of my garden and the position of plants to prepare for today’s 108F weather. This picture was taken early in the evening.

SHADE: Increase the amount of shade that your tender plants get. The desert sun can be specially brutal and will cause severe leaf burn. By observing the movement of the sun thought the day, you can adjust your shade sail (or similar device) to protect your plants from direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day, which here in the California desert is around 3 or 4 pm. Choose a shade device that will not block out all sunlight, but will let through a certain percentage of it. There are specialty fabrics for that purpose in any large hardware store. I like Easy Gardener Sun Screen. That way, you don’t get your precious leaves burnt, but they still get life-giving sunlight. I ensure my desert garden receives direct morning sunlight, and dappled light through the rest of the day. My big tomato plant is placed directly under the shade and is producing profusely. The sweet Italian and hot peppers, however, sure seem to enjoy a greater amount of direct sunlight. I have them raised higher than the other plants for that purpose. On the other hand, I had to move my sunflowers away from the sun, to my great surprise. They were getting severely burnt by the Sun. Again, the desert Sun is brutal!

WATER: Quench your plants’ thirst early in the morning and in the evening. I find that I need to water my garden twice a day once summer approaches –  even if in the morning, before I head out to work, I only have time to give it a light sprinkle or mist. Avoid watering in the heat of the day! A certain amount of wilting is normal, but if the plants don’t spring back once the sun is down, you may have to investigate the issue. A great and simple irrigation system for the desert, which I’ve been reading about, are the ollas. You may also get them here. I’m looking forward to experimenting with those and reporting back!

CONTAINERS: If you are growing your plants in containers as I do, make sure the size is appropriate. Smaller containers will dry out very fast, whereas with larger pots, the soil can retain moisture much longer. I try to use the larger pots I have available for any of my plants. Sometimes that means having to transplant and adjust. If you use geopots, smart pots, or similar fabric pots, beware of their fast evaporation rates. I avoid using them for salad greens, but my peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant love them. Placing them in saucers (which you can do yourself by reusing empty soil bags) is of immense help.

SOIL: This is not for all plants, by as a general rule, I try to use moisture-retaining soil.They are available by many brands. In my experience, they do make a difference in slowly releasing moisture to the roots. Plants of the nightshade family (tomatoes and peppers) don’t seem to enjoy moisture-retaining soils very much, but I’ve had good results with using regular potting soil in the bottom (for faster drainage) and moisture-retaining soil on the top. Same with the okra plants I’m growing.

MULCH: Keep the soil from further evaporation by adding a protective layer on top. Due to our specially intense sunlight, I use organic bark chips. They are very hardy! They will also protect the top of the soil from the erosion caused by all that frequent watering.

AUTOMATED SYSTEMS: Home garden drip irrigation systems can be quite affordable. Depending on how handy you are, you can even build your own! It will save you lots of time and guarantee a steady delivery of moisture to your dear plants. Myself, I don’t have one. But I have a patio misting system on a timer set to start during the hottest times of the day. Since I have a backyard enclosed in walls, it does an amazing job at creating a micro-climate and lowering the temperature, which in these parts can get to 120F! Of course, I must be very mindful of water waste when using the mister, so I only resort to it when there are huge increases in temperature.

TIMING: Well-established plants which have well-developed root systems are much better at withstanding harsh daytime conditions. So time the planting of your garden accordingly. If you have seedlings or recently potted plants, be sure to give them extra protection. If container growing, bring them inside to your cool home and expose them to the elements gradually!

These are some of the things I do for the well-being of my green friends during periods of extreme heat. As with all gardening, be attentive to what your plants are telling you. Getting to know each one, their characteristics and requirements, will be very useful in your decision-making. More resources can be found below:

http://www.wikihow.com/Protect-Your-Garden-During-a-Harsh-Summer

http://eartheasy.com/blog/2012/07/how-to-protect-your-garden-during-a-heat-wave/

Female Zucchini Flower

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Early this morning I had to help my zucchini plant have sex. The female flower will only bloom for a few morning hours, never to open again. If it is not pollinated, the “little zucchini” at its base will dry out and die.

To pollinate, just cut off a male flower (the one with the long, thin stem) and rub it in the female! Done. The fruit will develop very quickly and will soon be ready for that delicious pasta primavera you’ve been craving.

Tomatoes grown in the desert are bountiful!

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Tomatoes grown in the desert are bountiful!

While gardeners in most areas of North America are still hardening off their tomato seedlings, us desert gardeners have the huge advantage of an early start! Despite all the challenges that desert growing brings, this is indeed reward. It’s been an unusually hot spring out here in the Coachella Valley. My Early Girl started fruiting a couple of months ago. It’s May now, and I pick fruit everyday. Makes you feel blessed for the bounty!

How to Harvest and Dry Coriander (Cilantro Seeds)

Dry coriander seeds, ready to be used for your cooking pleasure.
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As soon as the first spring heat waves passed by the arid areas of Southern California where I keep my garden, one of my cilantro plants (Coriandrum sativum) started giving the telltale signs of bolting: sending its main stem up and altering the production of leaves. Rather than fighting it, I decided to let it be. Glad I did: it produced fragrant seasoning for me: its seeds, known in food preparation as coriander. It has a sweet, lemony citrus aroma that adds an interesting flavor to your food.

Aside from producing seeds, the cilantro plant is used in companion planting due to its ability to attract beneficial insects, such as predatory bugs that will eat your aphids. And bugs that will feast on aphids is something that I definitely need, yes sir!

Cilantro flowers and green seeds.

Cilantro flowers and green seeds.

Cilantro flowers.

Cilantro flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) LET FLOWER and go to seed. Once a significant number of seeds start to brown, you may harvest the plant as I did.

Green coriander seeds on plant.

Green and brown coriander seeds on plant.

2) HARVEST. Choose whether to harvest the entire plant or just individual fruit-bearing branches. By harvesting the whole plant, I’m trying to let as much flavor as possible to go the fruit and seeds.

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Harvested the entire plant (and a pepper, too!)

3) LET DRY. Some people recommend putting your harvested plant in a paper bag. I put it in a large zip-lock I needed to reuse, and hung it somewhere that gets excellent ventilation. Leave it alone for a couple of weeks.

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Hanging out.

4) COLLECT. I let my coriander dry for two weeks. At this point, it started to loose just a bit of the sharp citrusy scent of fresh coriander seeds, and mature into a more woodsy, savory one. See the pictures below for how I separated the seeds from the twigs and dry leaves. It was successful, albeit a bit of a disaster as is the norm.

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Pluck bunches of seeds and reserve.

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This is the initial mess of seeds, twigs and dry leaves. I promise it looks worse than it is.

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Remove the green stuff!

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Much better.

5) DRY MORE. You may skip this step if you want. But to dry the seeds a little further, place them in a tiny oven pan or on foil rolled up on the edges for 5 minutes in the oven set at the lowest temperature. After removing from oven, gently blow away any remaining green parts.

Dry coriander seeds, ready to be used for your cooking pleasure.

Dry coriander seeds, ready to be used for your cooking pleasure.

6) DONE. Put it in the container of your choice in a dry area. Add it to your sauces and rubs!

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Place the seeds in this sea salt grinder that you happen to have laying around. Now use it to add some spice to your garden vegetables!

DIY Upside-Down Hanging Planter with Protein Powder Container

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I was having a hard time getting both my nursery-bought and seed-grown cucumber plants to thrive, when I got inspired by the topsy-turvy that my golden cherry tomato plant is growing in. Looking around for something to re-use, I came across an empty large protein powder container, made some cuts and adaptations, and put one of the cucumber plants in there. I must say it worked pretty damn well! When another one of those containers became available, I decided to do the same for the other plant! I’d like to share how I made it.

MATERIALS:

  • Large protein powder container, including lid and insert (or landscape fabric, etc.)
  • Hanger, hook or something similar to hang with (usually comes with nursery-bough ivy, or may be purchased cheaply. Do not hesitate to use wire or anything else you may repurpose)
  • Plant (tomatoes, cucumber, peppers), soil and any gardening amendments of your choosing

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TOOLS

  • Drill with bit, hammer and nail, or anything else to make drainage holes with (you can even use a knife if care is taken)
  • Box cutter, all purpose knife or scissors for cutting the plastic

DIRECTIONS

1) Grab container. Strip off label, wash and rinse.

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Mean looking container, bro!

2) Save lid and insert. If you don’t have the insert anymore, you can use landscape fabric or the like.

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3) Make a hole slightly smaller than the size of your plant’s root ball. You will gently squeeze the root ball through later. The insert or fabric will help contain the plant and soil.

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4) Turn the insert into pac-man. Make a cut halfway. This will fit snugly around your plant’s stem or stems.

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5) If you don’t have the insert anymore or prefer not to use it, use landscape fabric or something similar. Make it larger than the size of the lid so that, once soil is added, it will provide support.

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6) Drill several holes all around the container, at a point the closest possible to the opening, which will now be the bottom of your upside-down planter.

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Kinda looks like a little face.

7) Cut out the bottom of the protein powder container, which now will be the top of your thingy.

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8) Attach hook/hanger. Depending on what you have in hand, make cuts, slits or holes in three locations close to the rim of the top of your planter. In this case, I ended up having to weave some wire around it. The other planter I had made worked much better with that specific hanger.

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It looks atrocious with the wire, sorry.

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Worked much better last time.

9) Grab your plant of choice. In this instance we have cucumber that I grew from seed, and which gave me a lot of grief before turning around. A nursery-bought small plant will probably make your life easier. Carefully remove some of the soil around its roots so that you may pass them through the hole it will hang from.

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10) Gently pass the rootball trough the hole on the lid.

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11) Place the insert or fabric on the inside of the lid, with the cut around the stem of the plant. The purpose of this is to support the plant up, as well as to keep the soil inside.

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Now, during the following steps, don’t forget that the plant is on the bottom of the planter, lest you set it down accidentally and brake it! I, uh, learned the hard way.

12) Screw lid onto main piece. Hang planter somewhere or hold it steadily with one hand.

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12) Add soil mixed with slow-releasing organic fertilizer. I like Dr. Earth’s.

20140429-215659.jpg13) Place some landscape fabric or mulch the top to keep moisture in. Since I live in the desert and it’s about to get really hot, I picked the fabric.

20140429-215704.jpg14) Hang it in its final location! I put it somewhere protected from the brutal late afternoon sun.

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The first plant, now over a month after transplant.

Thanks for checking things out!

Brazilian Style Garlicky Collard Greens

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This simple dish is an excellent side to any meal, and in Brazil it often accompanies every-day dishes such as rice and beans. It’s packed with Vitamin K, Vitamin A, and many other nutrients. I obtained this recipe from my grandmother, Dona Eunice, who lives in Brazil. She’s from the state of Minas Gerais, known for its amazing cuisine. I had to eventually call her to get it right. Although it’s a simple recipe, the collards can easily turn bitter. The secret, according to Dona Eunice, is: (1) have the oil in the pan nice and hot and (2) sautée the greens only for a minute – what she calls to “startle” the greens (assustar em Portuguese). See the full recipe below.

One of my earliest childhood memories are the tall collard greens that grandma grows to this day in her São Paulo urban garden. I am glad I am now also able to harvest my own.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Bunch of Collard Greens
  • Onion to taste
  • Garlic to taste
  • Oil
  • Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

(1) Harvest the greens. Here I used Georgia Collards. Collect leaves from the bottom up. Rinse and wash.

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Georgia Collards grown in a container in an urban desert environment.

(2) Cut the greens. Arrange the leaves so the stems are aligned, then roll them up as shown in the pictures below. Cut into thin strips.

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Align leaves by the stem

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Roll them up.

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Cut into thin strips.

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Collards are ready for cooking!

(3) Chop some onion finely. Here, I used about 1/4 of a red onion. One of grandma’s recipes for Collards calls for bacon at this stage. I think the lightly burned onions make for a fine vegetarian substitute.

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(4) Prepare your garlic. Finely chopped garlic will do, but in Minas Gerais cuisine it’s normally crushed to a paste with mortar and pestle.

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(5) Add some oil to a skillet and let it heat up.

(6) Sautée garlic and onions, mixing constantly until lightly brown. Remember that you need to get the oil nice and hot for the collards, without burning the garlic and onion, so pay close attention! You may try the process without garlic and onion, just hot oil and greens, to get the hang of it.

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(7) Add collard greens and a pinch of salt. If you are making a large portion of greens, separate them out and sautée smaller portions at a time. The quantity depends on the size of your skillet and your ability to quickly mix the ingredients!

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(8) Startle the greens. Mix the greens with the other ingredients and hot oil just enough for them to obtain a rich, glossy dark green appearance. You should hear lots of hissing.

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(9) Remove from fire. Immediately empty the contents of the skillet onto a serving dish. If you leave the greens on the pan, they will continue to cook and possibly turn bitter.

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Brazilian Style Sauteed Collard Greens

(10) Serve it up with your favorite Brazilian combo! Here, we have white rice, black beans cooked with bay laurel leaves, toasted yucca flour (farinha de mandioca) and Brazilian cabbage slaw. Bom apetite!

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