Monday, June 18, 2018

Park Strip Conversion Project Update

This spring I started a new project--it's been planned for a while, but this year I asked a bunch of friends to come help me. We pulled all the grass out of the parkstrips. I was able to get a chipdrop a few days later and filled the space with wood chips. Then I spent a couple weeks transplanting drought tolerant plants from other areas of the yard.

When it fills in it will be AMAZING, and in the meantime I'm not paying the city to water "their" grass three times a week. The park strips abut my property but are technically owned by the city--however, the adjacent land owner is responsible for maintenance. Grass takes a LOT of water, so I decided to take care of the problem.

I now have echinacea, groundcovers, irises, tarragon and a bunch of other drought tolerant or borderline xeric plants in there.


The rocks create a little bit of a protected zone, where the sun doesn't hit the soil directly and the water doesn't evaporate as fast.

This week I planted a sweet potato. I'm not sure if it will survive, but I figured it's worth a try.


This morning I noticed something interesting. It's wet enough out there, even in full sun, that fungus has started to grow. This was a dog vomit fungus, which is technically a slime mold and not a fungus, but it normally grows in shade and in very wet areas. What is this doing in a bed that was supposed to be dry???! In full sun, no less.

I've been watering this area for five minutes once a week and everything has been thriving even in full sun and with the summer heat (Mid to high nineties during the day)--except a few items that can't stand wet feet. They've mostly died. That should have told me what was going on.

I dug down in the soil and it's wet for a good six inches down. Probably more, but that's as far as I dug. I'm extending the watering schedule out to 9 days--I think we'd be good to go to two or even three weeks, but I want to do this gradually and let the plants get used to the change.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Watermelon update

I pulled two more watermelon seedlings today. They were starting to look yellow and wilty and they were the smallest of the remaining fifteen. I am going to try to transplant them to another area and see what happens, but they do not belong in my breeding program.


The roots were still tiny, even after being in the ground for more than a month.

I am now down to thirteen of my first generation hybrids. I may get it down to five, but I doubt it. Eleven of the remaining thirteen are looking pretty healthy, although only three are starting to sprawl.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Dry Farming update

A month since I posted last about my dry-farming test.

As a refresher, I planted three kinds of seeds and then left them alone. They were planted under a thick layer of mulch in poor soil. I put them in an area with afternoon shade so they're protected from the worst of the heat.

The insects loved the buffet I put out for them. Of the seventeen plants that came up, only one survived. Once I realized the problem I tried to protect those that remained, but only one was able to recover. Lesson learned: put out bait or otherwise protect the seedlings until they're big enough to survive insect onslaught. In a dry environment insects will go after anything "wet," and in this case that's the seedlings.

A week or so ago I replanted, digging small pits to hold the seeds and setting topped milk bottles in the holes surrounded by soil to keep the insects out. So far six have sprouted, including one that came up from the original seeds. With the one remaining from the original planting we have a total of seven. I am expecting that more will come up in the next few weeks. Several are already getting their secondary leaves. I intend to leave them covered until they fill up the covers.

The next watering is planned for 7/1, since I watered the new plantings when I put the seeds in. I will only water if the soil appears to need it or the plants are seriously struggling. If the soil still appears wet at that time I will plan to water on 7/15, and so on.

The goal is to water twice a month at the most, hoping that I won't have to water at all (unlikely as that might be).

The first update

Original post on Dry Farming

Watermelon Landrace Update

On May 15th I planted the watermelon patch. Since I'm doing a landrace I planted the pollinators (Congo, Joseph Lofthouse Landrace and Hopi Red) on three corners of the patch. Those were started in the greenhouse. The Hopi Red and JLL were immediately eaten by insects, the Congo had no problems so it is considerably further along than the rest.


On the same day I planted 25 watermelon seeds from last year's crosses.

At this point (6/15) there are 15 left. Others failed to thrive (2) or were entirely eaten by insects. Several didn't come up at all.

Of the fifteen, three are obviously thriving.


Others...aren't.


Most of them are somewhere in between.

To this point I've only been removing those that were obviously dead or dying--seed leaves without any green, secondary leaves not developing. At the end of June (probably) I'll be sorting it down to five.

I'm tempted to leave more than five, although that would probably crowd them too much. These fifteen survived the sandy soil, lack of water, intermittent heat and cold, insect attack, and even being stepped on (oops). My plant-brain says they deserve to survive. The thinking brain says get rid of the weakest.

We'll see.

Watermelon Landrace

This was scheduled to be published 5/25 and it didn't happen

In short form, a landrace is a locally adapted variety of a plant, often a food plant. Up until the advent of "perfect" food requirements in grocery stores, landraces were the norm rather than the exception. Farmers would trade seeds, knowing from experience that different varieties made for stronger plants.

Over generations, much of that landrace heritage has been lost, to the point that most people believe hybrids to be bad or weak. We plant one variety of squash, one variety of tomato, one variety of beans, and then when the circumstances aren't precisely right for that plant it dies or doesn't produce. This is the plant kingdom's version of siblings marrying generation after generation after generation. Of course the genetics are going to be weak.

With humans we accept the fact that inbreeding is a problem, but in our food we want stability and perfect taste, and we breed for those things. As variations are deliberately bred out of our crops, so are the abilities that made their ancestors thrive.

I've said before and I'll say it again (probably often) that I want strong, self sufficient monster plants that will spit "not good enough" back in my face and thrive in spite of my neglect. In order to do this we need to have variety in the plant genes. There have to be ancestors that thrived in desert conditions, ancestors that resisted insect attack, ancestors that have the perfect taste we love, etc. Over time it all comes together.

Last year I started a watermelon landrace, so this year I should get a bunch of first generation hybrids. Last year I ended up with four varieties of watermelon--Jubilee, Sugar Baby, Ali Baba, and an old variety that I've been growing for years. I have no idea what the ancestry is, so I just call it Traditional.

I pollinated a bunch of flowers, but only one survived (this is normal for watermelons). It was an Ali Baba female parent, crossed with Sugar Baby and Traditional. So this year I should get Ali Baba-sugar baby crosses and traditional-Ali Baba crosses. That being the case, I will not be planting Ali Baba, Sugar Baby, or Traditional. I will be re-planting Jubilee, but only as a pollen donor.

Three new varieties will be introduced into the landrace this year; Congo, Hopi Red, and Joseph Lofthouse Landrace. Congo I already have seeds for but it got eaten by bugs last year. Hopi Red (an established landrace) is drought tolerant, and the JLL includes hundreds of different varieties.

I will watch and see which plants the bugs and snails like, which take off and thrive in my yard, which shrivel at the first hint of cold, and probably about mid-June I'll cull the landrace patch to the strongest. I'll leave the Hopi Red, Congo and JLL--they will be pollen donors only, I won't be keeping seeds from them. The seeds will be taken from the Landrace watermelons that survive.

This is the "hybrid" year, working with first generation crosses of three heirloom varieties. 2019 will be the first year we start to see the results of true variety mixing, and first generation hybrids with the new varieties from 2018. 2020 should be the turning point with my watermelon landrace, meaning the point where I'll begin to see true adaptation to my environment, my water, my soil.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Garden Update

This year is a little different than last because I have the greenhouse. It seems to have moderated my planting addiction to a certain extent.

About mid-April I was thinking about planting watermelon at the beginning of May and went back to my records to see if that was too soon, only to discover that last year I planted them in March. MARCH!? There's snow on the ground in March! Good grief. So no, May is not too soon.

Greens are going full bore. They are naturalized in my garden and come up every year, although I'm not sure how that's going to work with the mulching schedule. Every 7 years each area of the garden will get a thick layer of leaves. So we'll see. Lots of salad! Radishes are also naturalized in the same area, and interestingly enough where those things are growing there are no weeds.

Beans are up. Hidatsu Red and Hidatsu Shield by the bean towers, two varieties of tepary beans by the fence. The tepary beans are a trial this year, a drought tolerant type of bean from the Southwest US. I planted the green beans two days ago and the dry beans yesterday. Kidney beans will also go by the fence, as they're supposedly a climber. 60% germination on that one so far, for beans purchased from the grocery store four years ago.

Watermelons were planted out last week.

Two Joseph Lofthouse winter squash in front beside the almond, along with a mystery squash that was a gift. One cantaloupe, also a gift, seems to be doing well. I planted more cantaloupe in the same area. Three zucchini are up under the walnut. The Black Beauty Zucchini don't seem to be germinating well. I planted more zucchini and yellow squash as a border around the new garden area.

On the east of the house is an area that has been designated as the "dry" garden for this year. The plan is to water it at most once a month during the summer. It's the start of developing drought tolerant varieties and learning about dry farming. Eleven seedlings up and starting to get secondary leaves.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Dry Farming

This is my first year for a real dry farming test. Just briefly, dry farming is done in arid or semi-arid areas and does not require supplemental watering. It is considered dry farming if the farmer gets less than 20 inches of rain per year and does not use supplemental irrigation.

Not many do it anymore. Few ever did. But in a world of increasing weather tumult (hotter, colder, wetter, drier, storms more violent and frequent, etc) it seems to me that if we want to eat we need to relearn how to dry farm.

My area gets between 10 and 12 inches of rain in a normal year. Not a lot, but considerably more than some other areas. Still low enough that we're considered a desert.

I have selected several varieties of squash (pumpkin, butternut, spaghetti squash) that will be the basis of my first test. All three were planted last year in a dry area of the yard and still produced. Likely I will end up pulling out the pumpkins, as I inadvertently planted the same variety in another area. That leaves butternut and spaghetti squash, both winter squashes.

I planted six clusters of nine seeds, three seeds of each variety. I have watered them once since they were planted, and whatever comes up is my test for this year. The area is covered with leaves from last fall and will get no supplemental watering unless I do it. Two plants have come up already and I covered them to keep the birds off.

The goal is to water once a month, or less if it rains, so since it's raining today the next water schedule would be mid-June. Aside from testing the limits of dry farming, these plants are the start of my drought tolerant varieties. If I can get one fruit from each plant under those conditions, this is the 2nd year of that development.

I've said it before, but I want strong, self-sufficient monsters that will spit "not good enough" back in my face and thrive in spite of the conditions.

Original post on Dry Farming

2nd update