• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com pie forums private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Anne Miller
  • jordan barton
  • Pearl Sutton
  • r ranson
  • Nicole Alderman
  • Greg Martin
  • Steve Thorn
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Leigh Tate
  • Mike Haasl
master gardeners:
  • John F Dean
gardeners:
  • Carla Burke
  • Stacie Kim
  • Jay Angler

Desert Perennial Vegetables

 
pollinator
Posts: 221
138
forest garden foraging trees books wofati food preservation fiber arts medical herbs solar rocket stoves greening the desert
  • Likes 13
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi, everyone! We've been having the worst monsoon season in living memory here in southeast Arizona, and our greenies have really suffered. BUT we still have a surprising amount of food growing. This year has not only shown us the resilience of some of our systems; it has also shown us how much our efforts to slow down and spread what little water we do get are starting to pay off. The mesquite trees on our land are doing better and produced (pods) much more heavily than anywhere around us.

These conditions also make clear the importance of having a heavy balance of desert-hardy perennials in the rotation, especially the ones with good solid root systems. So I'm starting this thread to discuss which ones have been working best for us so far and in the hope that others will have more ideas for us to try moving forward.

Here are things that have been working really well for us so far:

  • Cholla flower buds from Cylindropuntia spp. (first pic below)
  • Yucca blossoms from Yucca elata (second pic below)
  • Nopales from Opuntia spp. (third pic below)
  • Perennial arugula (fourth pic below, and background of fifth)
  • Egyptian walking onions (fifth/attached pic below)
  • Chiltepines (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum; sixth/attached pic below)

  • Right now we harvest and dry quite a bit of cholla buds and yucca blossoms. This year we ate a lot of nopales fresh in season and dried a bit, and we definitely want to increase this. The perennial arugula was a surprise -- I had seeded sylvetta and had no idea that some varieties are perennial -- and doesn't produce a huge bulk of greens, but it produces for more of the year and is a lovely fresh accent to our food. In the spring it produces enough to make a great spicy pesto along with some other mustard family greens. The EWOs suffer greatly in the dry heat, but they put out a flush of new growth with just two decent monsoon rains and seem to be holding on well now despite very little more rain. The chiltepines are still getting established as we continue to add more, but they're true desert plants with seemingly miraculous regenerative abilities.

    Here are some things that seem to be working OK:

  • Sunchokes (first year, did really well until recently)
  • Horseradish (this was doing really well, but has disappeared now -- I'm still hoping it comes back from the roots)

  • Not true perennials, but can be grown like them, and do OK:

  • Garlic (hopefully this will do a bit better as our soil improves)

  • Perennial but might not make it through our winters:

  • Jicama (could potentially still grow as annuals)
  • Palo verde beans (immature pods like edamame, dry beans like other dry beans)
  • New Mexico locust blossoms (Robinia neomexicana -- ONLY FLOWERS, other parts are toxic)

  • Fruits are a different story, and this may not be the best thread for them, but just to have them listed somewhere, here are the best for us so far:

  • Prickly pear fruits
  • Wolfberries (Lyceum berlandieri and pallidum)
  • Hackberries (Celtis spp.)
  • Mulberries (ours are still getting established, but they do really well around here)
  • Elderberries (ditto)
  • Jujubes (ditto)
  • Arizona/Canyon grapes (grow OK higher up and wetter but I can't eat them -- we planted a hybrid of table grapes and wild grapes last fall that we're trying out and I'll report back, it started to fruit this year but lost all the baby grapes to the drought)

  • I'm not sure whether or not to consider mesquite a perennial vegetable because we grind most of the pods into sweet flour and use them as a combination of staple crop (to make bread) and sweetener (boiling the pods and then concentrating the liquid down into something like molasses) as well as making a bit of beer, but it's one of our major food crops as well as trees and shrubs in our landscape. Similarly acorns from our local Emory oaks (Quercus emoryi), and Arizona walnuts (Juglans major; I do harvest some in the immature green stage, but to make a liqueur as a flavoring), but both do well around here in smaller numbers in wetter areas.

    Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains, by Lisa Rayner, is a really good resource with lists of plants, although at our elevation (~4,340 ft.), lower latitude, and with less rainfall than places like Flagstaff where she is even in a good year, less of her great suggestions apply to us. Does anyone know of any other good resources, especially if they might be more targeted to a climate like ours? Are there any good resources for places like northern Sonora or southern New Mexico or even west Texas, some of which is very similar to us? Some patches of California aren't too dissimilar either.




    IMG_1522.JPG
    our Egyptian walking onion, w/ perennial arugula behind
    our Egyptian walking onion, w/ perennial arugula behind
    IMG_1535.JPG
    chiltepines in a sunken bed under a nurse mesquite
    chiltepines in a sunken bed under a nurse mesquite
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 503
    Location: San Diego, California
    94
    forest garden trees rabbit chicken food preservation building woodworking greening the desert
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I have never heard of eating yucca blossoms - can you describe the flavor and how they're cooked/used in dishes?  

     
    Beth Wilder
    pollinator
    Posts: 221
    138
    forest garden foraging trees books wofati food preservation fiber arts medical herbs solar rocket stoves greening the desert
    • Likes 5
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Dustin Rhodes wrote:I have never heard of eating yucca blossoms - can you describe the flavor and how they're cooked/used in dishes?


    Sure! When they're fresh in season and sautéed, they taste primarily floral and a little bitter from the saponins. When they've been dried and reconstituted, those two flavors diminish somewhat, and they taste (to us) almost a little mushroom-y. My goodness, though, when we open up that five gallon bucket of dried yucca blossoms to grab a handful, the floral scent is overwhelming and intoxicating, fruity almost like pineapple. We either sauté them or add them to soups and stews. Once they're sautéed, sometimes we put them on pizzas; otherwise we usually sauté them with other vegetables and maybe season them with a Mexican seasoning blend or something like that. They're definitely a favorite.
     
    Beth Wilder
    pollinator
    Posts: 221
    138
    forest garden foraging trees books wofati food preservation fiber arts medical herbs solar rocket stoves greening the desert
    • Likes 4
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Another perennial vegetable I thought of after my original post is the perennial variety of devil's claw, Proboscidea althaeifolia. Unfortunately we haven't gotten our hands on any seeds or starts of this yet, but we try every year to grow quite a bit of the annual variety, Proboscidea parviflora. We're still figuring out how best to increase their germination rates, so the number of plants we actually end up with in a given year varies quite a bit so far. We pick the fruits when they're immature and tender all the way through, before they start to get woody, and cook and eat them (or pickle them) like okra. The year before last we produced so many that we started drying them by cutting them in half (otherwise they continue to ripen and turn woody) and hanging them in bunches from the rafters, and we're still rehydrating and eating those, mostly in soups and stews. For the fiber artists out there, once they ripen, turn woody, and split open (and then I think they need to be buried temporarily in order to turn black -- otherwise they're kind of tan-grey), then they can be used in basketry as a contrast color to beargrass, yucca, etc.
     
    Posts: 70
    Location: Inland NW USA
    25
    kids hunting foraging building bee rocket stoves
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Cholla?  I had no idea it was useful other than drawing blood.  Great to know part of it can be food!
     
    Posts: 57
    Location: LAS VEGAS BABY - NM! USyA!
    9
    cat urban greening the desert
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Hi.
    I'm posting here for now - primarily so that I can come back to it easier.
    I am in the midst of moving and don't have time right now to investigate further - but - seems like I will be needing all this great info.

    Soon I'll be near Las Vegas, NM. and working on layout and rain catchment as soon as I can.
    And then I'll try working on many of the things suggested here and perhaps the things suggested in Arcadia's book.

    Thanks for sharing.
     
    Beth Wilder
    pollinator
    Posts: 221
    138
    forest garden foraging trees books wofati food preservation fiber arts medical herbs solar rocket stoves greening the desert
    • Likes 4
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    John Valdes wrote:Cholla?  I had no idea it was useful other than drawing blood.  Great to know part of it can be food!


    It's true! We learned this from the Tohono O'odham, who call the buds ciolim (usually pronounced "Chee'-or-lim") and have eaten them for "hundreds if not thousands of years" (they and their ancestors), according to this fascinating write-up by either LocalHarvest or Slow Food (it's unclear).

    Are you ready for a long post on the amazing, miraculous cholla?! Here's more from the same source linked above:

    Fresh-cooked cholla buds taste like asparagus tips with a zing in the center. After drying and reconstituting they keep their rich vegetable flavors somewhat like artichoke hearts, and some of the tang remains too. Their texture firm on the outer side and soft in the center, with the precious, tasty surprise of the unopened petals and stamens inside. They have a mild vegetable flavor, not very pronounced, with a lemony tang that varies from plant to plant.

    Cholla buds are high in calcium (two tablespoons of dried cholla buds contain as much calcium as one glass of milk), and therefore they were traditionally consumed by elders and nursing mothers.  The buds are also rich in the types of soluble fiber, pectins, complex polysaccharides, and carbohydrates thought to help balance blood sugar levels while providing sustained energy. This blood sugar balancing effect may even play a role in the diet of individuals prone to diabetes, particularly the Native population of southern Arizona.

    Tohono O'odham Elders report there are several cholla cactus species that can be harvested. Preferences differ between communities.

    Buckhorn cholla and staghorn cholla, the most frequently harvested varieties, are rather difficult to differentiate where they occur together. Both have many thin branches arising from the ground or a short trunk. Both species have variable flower colors, ranging from red, yellow, orange, pink, purple, and greenish or brownish, often all in the same local population.

    Buckhorn cholla is widespread in the northern Sonoran and Mohave deserts (California, Arizona in the USA) to about 4000 feet (1220 m). Staghorn cholla is restricted to Pinal, Santa Cruz, and eastern Pima counties in Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico, at 2000 to 3000 feet (600-900 m) elevation. The season for picking ciolim is before the buds have turned to flowers-- mid-April to end of May. (For more information see the book [/i]I'toi's Garden: Tohono O'odham Food Traditions[/i]).


    This year we collected the buds from May 12th through May 22nd, according to my notes, although it sure seemed longer than that.

    We have more than one variety of cholla here. We believe the one we harvest buds from is buckhorn (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa), and ours flower fuchsia-to-purple and produce bright lemon-yellow fruits.





    The fruits are also edible, but even more mucilaginous than prickly pear fruit can be. They're very cooling and blood sugar stabilizing (in my case this sometimes reads as "lowering excessively," for both raw prickly pear and raw cholla fruit) and shouldn't be eaten in excess, and their glochids are particularly hard to remove because they emerge from indentations in the fruit.

    We prefer the fruit of the pencil cholla (we have a disagreement about which variety this is -- I think it's actually the one commonly called Christmas cholla, Cylindropuntia leptocaulis), which I would describe as deep pink-apricot rather than red. They're much smaller, but the glochids are easier to remove.



    Both fruits taste a lot like citrus. The Christmas cholla fruit make delicious jelly and jam, although it does take quite a bit of work to get to that point.

    Charles Kane says in Sonoran Desert Food Plants that "immature and non-woody joints can also be de-thorned/roasted and eaten" (p. 17), but I have a hard time imagining how you'd remove all the very many spines that the joints have, and we haven't tried this. He notes that "the pulp material" -- and by this I think he means of any above-ground portion of the plant, much like prickly pear -- "has blood sugar stabilizing and cholesterol lowering effects."

    All above-ground parts of both Opuntia and Cylindropuntia species are "tart-slime," as Kane describes it. I believe this demulcent quality is the cause of their health effects. Anyway, if that's not your thing, cooking them reduces (but, in our experience, does not totally eliminate) this aspect.

    We don't usually go around digging up cholla -- we do propagate them by stem/joint-cuttings -- but if a storm or animal takes out a section connected to the ground and you catch it pretty quick, you could dig up some of the root, especially if it's chainfruit cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida). It's referenced in both Kane's Medicinal Plants of the American Southwest (p. 153) and John Slattery's new book Southwest Medicinal Plants (p. 120-122) as a mild diuretic and urinary tract remedy (a tea of the roots).

    The latter book also calls the stems a "traditional topical remedy, dried and powdered and placed on sores, wounds, and boils. The Seri of northern Mexico employ the boiled pulp of the stems as a "heart medicine" and use the fruits as a remedy for diarrhea and shortness of breath; I learned firsthand from them how the fruit pulp, eaten fresh, can prevent imminent heatstroke and have employed it several times since" (p. 120).

    Slattery also says the "dry flowers are taken as a tea to help repair tissue. They contain an abundance of flavonoids, each species varying somewhat in their content or variety of nutrients (perhaps relative to flower color). The tea is soothing and cooling to irritated and burned skin, and its antioxidant qualities help to heal digestive tract tissue" (p. 122).

    Both medicinal books also mention using the black sap or gum that exudes from joints as both food and medicine.

    We haven't tried any of the medicinal uses of the plant but have noted the cooling and blood sugar affecting qualities of the fruit especially.
     
    Rojer Wisner
    Posts: 57
    Location: LAS VEGAS BABY - NM! USyA!
    9
    cat urban greening the desert
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    To remove the needles, spikes, painful parts from my prickly pears I just boil them for a few minutes and the needs "melt" away.
    I would image similar results for these too.
     
    Beth Wilder
    pollinator
    Posts: 221
    138
    forest garden foraging trees books wofati food preservation fiber arts medical herbs solar rocket stoves greening the desert
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Rojer Wisner wrote:To remove the needles, spikes, painful parts from my prickly pears I just boil them for a few minutes and the needs "melt" away.
    I would image similar results for these too.


    Thanks for that suggestion, Rojer! We've found that does help, and saves a lot of time and energy, as long as we're going to strain the resultant boiled material through a fine cloth afterwards, e.g. boiling fruits to make juice. But unfortunately we have not found this to be foolproof or advisable for cholla flower buds that we'll eat whole. We've gotten glochids in our tongues and tonsils from eating stew with rehydrated and simmered buds before, and I really don't recommend it.

    Here is what we do:

    We pick the cholla buds into a 5-gallon bucket with tongs. Then we spread them out on a large piece of expanded metal (a former truck bed tool and lumber rack) and sweep them back and forth with a homemade yucca leaf-and-stalk broom (we've found this works much better than a store-bought broom because the yucca leaves are stiffer, but also because this process will wear a store-bought broom down to a nub fast, so using one we can easily replace with materials from our homestead saves the store-bought brooms for sweeping the floor inside). We do this until there are a lot less spines and glochids. It doesn't get rid of all of them, though, as it seems inevitable that some will get knocked off and then get stuck right back into the buds point-first in the process.

    At this point, we could pick those stubborn re-offenders out of each bud with pliers, tweezers, and/or fingers, and we do this for any we're going to cook fresh. But for the many gallons of buds we dry for later use, we just put them on the drying rack at this point. When we pull dried buds out of their buckets to rehydrate and cook with later, though, we go through each batch first in strong sunlight and use a knife to pull and flick any remaining spines or glochids out of the dried buds. The dried buds seem to let go of those last tricksy ones more easily, as the buds themselves shrink down to an amazing degree as they dry, leaving the spines more loosely attached.
     
    gardener
    Posts: 458
    Location: In view of the Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
    267
    dog duck forest garden fish fungi chicken cooking bee greening the desert
    • Likes 5
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Fantastic thread!  I love seeing all the tips and pictures.
    Beth, I'm constantly blown away at what you manage with just rainwater collection (am I remembering this right?).  It's so impressive either way, because you clearly are working with the land in a very sustainable manner.

    My husband and I have irrigation from both our laundry greywater and a well. Plus roof and driveway runoff to our garden.  For some reason, this monsoon season has been decent here in our section of the SE Arizona high desert.  Last year was a "non-soon" which was pretty miserable, but this year there was enough rainfall for the toads to spawn and multiply.

    Our desert gardening conditions - our garden is on the east side of the house.  My husband made us a bunch of sunken beds and he lined the paths with rocks.  We've found rocks to be really useful in gardening, as they trap water underneath.  The sunken beds seemed to do double duty - besides trapping water, in the early spring they trapped heat like a little nest on the ground.  This allowed a bunch of frost-sensitive plants to survive late freezes.  I was very surprised by this, as my guess would have been that the sunken beds could make frost pockets.  They did the opposite, as proven by the butternut squashes that came up extremely early from compost buried in the beds.  The squash plants that were about 3-4 inches tall, but were totally below the level of the ground around them survived late freezes.  The ones that poked up above the main ground level got frozen!  This was an awesome accidental experiment.

    We also have a couple wicking beds.  And also, we have no fencing up and the garden has been frequented by jackrabbits.  Greywater comes from washing clothes.  Rainwater off half the house floods the garden.  I also water by hand.

    So with these conditions in mind: a high desert location with late freezes, 100+ temps through much of this summer; some monsoons coming through, but supplemental water; sunken beds or wicking beds; very sandy clay soil - here are the perennials that are doing well so far for us:

  • Sylvetta/Perennial Arugula - I second Beth's promotion of this plant.  It's incredible!  This is the first time I've grown it. My husband loves it (though it's a tad spicy for me).  It was slow to sprout and I thought I'd killed it all.  But then tiny little plant-lings came up, and they were so resilient.  Some of the toughest seedlings I've ever observed.   It produced a lot of tasty leaves in the spring and then bloomed.  As summer approached, it sort of died back and I stopped watering it entirely because I thought it wasn't going to make it.  Instead, it seemed to go dormant for a month then popped back to life after the first small monsoon!  It quadrupled in size at that point and pumped out a ton more leaves.  I call it "Cousin It" now.  Jackrabbits don't seem to like it.


  • Sunroot/Sunchoke - Also seconding Beth's mention of this plant.  (I also count this as a perennial vegetable since it's really hard to get rid of once you plant it. That meets the definition for my purposes.)  Ours is going gangbusters.  It does really really like the deep soaks from that greywater, though.  It just started blooming.  It's about 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide, and that row was created by 5 "crowns" we bought from Azurestandard.com's grocery section, so I don't know the variety.  The jackrabbits trimmed the bottom branches in the early summer, but it didn't slow the plant down.  Instead I noticed it made it easier to see if a rattlesnake is hanging out underneath, so that was nice.  Obviously we haven't harvested it yet, but I've dug at the base a little to see what was going on, and the plants are sending tubers out much further than I thought they would.  There will likely be some under the pathways, I think. Also, this plant attracted a ton of beneficial insects early in the spring - lacewings and all sorts of wasps combed it's leaves.  Very interesting to watch, as there were very few pests on it.  Just one wooly aphid-type insect.


  • Green Onions - These little store-bought freebies have done really well. Those in the pictures below are just the free starts from the ends of green onions I bought in store to eat.  They haven't divided yet and I've seen someone else talk about that. This is different than my results in Oregon, where a few of the little onion ends created a seemingly endlessly multiplying patch of green onions in every type of weather.  These have proven quite drought and rabbit resistant.  Though they haven't multiplied, they really flush out a lot of leaves.  We eat them almost everyday.  In Oregon, you could brush snow off these and eat them all winter.  I am looking forward to seeing if they are that hardy in the desert.


  • Shallots - not a perennial, but self-propagating so I'll include it for honorary mention.  Shallots did very well for us this year, while our garlic and leeks bolted and died.  Interestingly, jackrabbits ate the top half of the leaves.  Shallots provided our first green onions of this year, before our standard green onion patch went full tilt.  I like shallot greens a bit better than green onions, as they are sweeter.  I was very impressed with how heat tolerant these were.


  • Chufa/Tigernut/Earth Almond/Yellow Nutsedge/Nutgrass -
  • This is my first time growing these in a desert location, but since they are grown commercially in Spain it seemed worth a try.  I have them where they get flooded by the laundry greywater, like the sunroots. I put them in raised rows like I read about in this guide to growing chufa: Detailed guide on how to grow Chufa (Cyperus Esculentus)

    I'm growing this batch to expand my planting stock, as we are going to be in a new location next year. I sourced them organic by buying the Tigernut brand that is sold in many natural food stores.  Though my main use for them is to grow them in a large greywater bed that I want to use for growing our own chicken feed, we also like chufa tubers made into the raw beverage Horchata de Chufa which is basically chufa "milk".  There are lots of recipes, but the basic premise is like a nut milk - soak the tubers, blend, strain.  People sweeten it, but we find it's sweet enough for us as it is!  It's quite tasty and refreshing.


  • Prickly Pear - Just adding another supporting vote for that one!  The fruit is divine.  The variety that grows wild near us tastes just like loganberries.  There are tons of varieties in cultivation and the fruit tastes wildly different.  Some have almost no acidity, whereas others are quite tart.  Some like this wild variety on the east side of the Chiricahuas tastes like raspberries mixed with blackberries, mixed with a little banana, whereas others have a totally different flavor.  

    We've picked about 10 pounds to freeze and processed at least as many into juice.  We've found we don't need to remove all of the spines as long as we run them through our macerating juicer.  The pulp that comes out of the juicer is spiny as can be, though.  You end up with a ton of seeds that you can replant in the wild.  The other neat thing I read about lately is that the fruit is high in magnesium and a little less so in potassium - making it a great electrolyte drink! It's also very high in mucilage, like the leaves.  So it's a natural cure for the misery that comes with the heat and dryness of the midsummer desert weather.  :-)


  • Here are two more possibilities for the desert, but they can't tolerate freeze and thus would need to be brought in for the winter and they would likely need greywater or supplemental water to thrive:

  • Lemongrass - These are in our wicking bed, as I read they need constant moisture to grow well.  I started these from some bought at an Asian market.  I can't believe how well they are doing - WAY better than the lemongrass I grew in Oregon.  Apparently, lemongrass likes a lot more sun than it got in my Oregon yard.  When I move them next, I'll put them in more sun.  I don't think they needed the passionvine over the top for shade, though the galangal behind them might still.  The location in the picture is on a north and east wall, and I'm going to attempt to overwinter some in that wicking bed.  Another discovery, fresh lemongrass straight from your garden is so tender!  The main stem is tender and totally edible, unlike the stuff I would buy in stores.  The leaves are prolific and make awesome tea.  I'm also saving leaves for trying some basketry later this year.  Eight plants turns out to be way more than we can eat, but we're enjoying the tea and the other potential uses.


  • Galangal root - This is a big experiment.  It's in the shade, hidden behind the lemongrass in the wicking bed.  The house is cement block, and so the temperatures are very stable in that little corner.  There is also ginger in there, but the galangal root is doing better.  I believe this is lesser galangal. I bought it off Etsy from a person in Florida.  It had a slow start and hated the direct sun and wind of the late spring when the lemongrass was still small.  The leaves burned in the sun and wind.  But when the lemongrass took off, so did the galangal.  I'm not sure everyone would consider this a "vegetable", since it's very strong flavored and it more of a spice, but it's wonderful thing to have on hand if you like Thai food.  These plants will likely have to come indoors for the winter.  I'm not sure I want to risk any of them outside in our zone 8a..but I might experiment with one.  The growing season for ginger and galangal root is VERY long, and I probably won't have a harvest until next summer, if what I read is correct.  9-12 months growing in the ground...  Makes you appreciate buying it, right?  It's the sort of thing that's worth it if you love Thai food and want it organic.  And if you are in the low desert that rarely freezes, I imagine you wouldn't have to bring them in if you had them in a nice microclimate.


  • Thanks for starting this excellent list!
    sylvetta-small.jpg
    Sylvetta -or perennial arugula
    Sylvetta -or perennial arugula
    sunroot-in-Aug.jpg
    sunroots - sunchokes - Jerusalem artichokes
    sunroots - sunchokes - Jerusalem artichokes
    green-onions.jpg
    Green onions
    Green onions
    Chufa.jpg
    Chufa - earth almond - nutsedge
    Chufa - earth almond - nutsedge
    wicking-beds.jpg
    wicking bed with lemongrass, galangal, and a passionvine over head
    wicking bed with lemongrass, galangal, and a passionvine over head
    galangal.jpg
    likely lesser galangal
    likely lesser galangal
     
    Beth Wilder
    pollinator
    Posts: 221
    138
    forest garden foraging trees books wofati food preservation fiber arts medical herbs solar rocket stoves greening the desert
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Kim Goodwin wrote:Beth, I'm constantly blown away at what you manage with just rainwater collection (am I remembering this right?).  It's so impressive either way, because you clearly are working with the land in a very sustainable manner.


    Thanks for your kind words! We do have a little bit of greywater from our tub and sink, and we pour our occasional bucket of laundry water into that system, too. But the origin of all water we use is rain, and so because we haven't had nearly enough this year, we are rationing. We bathe frequently in order to water the garden (our "patriotic duty"), but there just isn't enough water for us to do much laundry here, so the system never really "fills up" so that the lines run all the way down to the end. The greywater system feeds most of one garden area, but we have an entire larger garden area that is solely rain- and floodwater-fed. I have some tree seedlings and other pots on the nursery table, and when I hand-water those from the cistern I also top off the olla in the herb bed (technically in the greywater garden but too far from the driplines) and give some water directly to anything in that area that's looking especially parched. Any used water we end up having around, like from boiling pasta or when we clean out the dogs' water bowl, gets fed to trees and things like that. I hope this is alright. No ill effects so far that we can tell.

    Kim Goodwin wrote:My husband and I have irrigation from both our laundry greywater and a well. Plus roof and driveway runoff to our garden.  For some reason, this monsoon season has been decent here in our section of the SE Arizona high desert.  Last year was a "non-soon" which was pretty miserable, but this year there was enough rainfall for the toads to spawn and multiply.


    That's so strange. You're on the east side of the Chiricahuas? Family and friends I've talked to in Tucson, Camp Verde area, Flagstaff, and the Four Corners have told me they're having no monsoon to speak of there, like here. But we often see clouds above and on the east side of the Chiricahuas; they just never seem to come down to us in the foothills here.

    Kim Goodwin wrote:Our desert gardening conditions - our garden is on the east side of the house.  My husband made us a bunch of sunken beds and he lined the paths with rocks.  We've found rocks to be really useful in gardening, as they trap water underneath.  The sunken beds seemed to do double duty - besides trapping water, in the early spring they trapped heat like a little nest on the ground.  This allowed a bunch of frost-sensitive plants to survive late freezes.  I was very surprised by this, as my guess would have been that the sunken beds could make frost pockets.  They did the opposite, as proven by the butternut squashes that came up extremely early from compost buried in the beds.  The squash plants that were about 3-4 inches tall, but were totally below the level of the ground around them survived late freezes.  The ones that poked up above the main ground level got frozen!  This was an awesome accidental experiment.


    That's great! I had the opposite happen to me a few years ago. I was growing in Paulden near Prescott. I dug a waffle bed and was growing the three sisters in there. We had a late June surprise deep freeze, and it killed all my little baby bean plants down in their waffles. The pattern of where the frost had settled was quite clear: down in the waffles froze, up above them didn't. But I was in a brand new place and didn't have any compost to spread in the new bed. I bet that compost made a huge difference in your beds!

    Kim Goodwin wrote:

  • Sunroot/Sunchoke - Also seconding Beth's mention of this plant.  (I also count this as a perennial vegetable since it's really hard to get rid of once you plant it. That meets the definition for my purposes.)  Ours is going gangbusters.  It does really really like the deep soaks from that greywater, though.  It just started blooming.  It's about 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide, and that row was created by 5 "crowns" we bought from Azurestandard.com's grocery section, so I don't know the variety.  The jackrabbits trimmed the bottom branches in the early summer, but it didn't slow the plant down.  Instead I noticed it made it easier to see if a rattlesnake is hanging out underneath, so that was nice.  Obviously we haven't harvested it yet, but I've dug at the base a little to see what was going on, and the plants are sending tubers out much further than I thought they would.  There will likely be some under the pathways, I think. Also, this plant attracted a ton of beneficial insects early in the spring - lacewings and all sorts of wasps combed it's leaves.  Very interesting to watch, as there were very few pests on it.  Just one wooly aphid-type insect.

  • Your sunchokes completely put ours to shame, Kim! They're as tall as your house! I also got mine from Azure Standard, but fall-planted them last year. They were doing really well from when they came up in late winter until late June or so, and almost all that new growth died back, and now they're just the few little scraggly things in the very back of the bed in the first attached picture.

    Kim Goodwin wrote:

  • Shallots - not a perennial, but self-propagating so I'll include it for honorary mention.  Shallots did very well for us this year, while our garlic and leeks bolted and died.  Interestingly, jackrabbits ate the top half of the leaves.  Shallots provided our first green onions of this year, before our standard green onion patch went full tilt.  I like shallot greens a bit better than green onions, as they are sweeter.  I was very impressed with how heat tolerant these were.

  • I forgot about these! We have some I'itoi's Onions, which are actually shallots. Rodents kept eating back the greens in the spring, and then they went dormant, and I wasn't sure whether or not they'd come back. When we got two good rains in late July, they and the Egyptian Walking Onions threw a party, I mean, threw up a lot of new shoots. But now the I'itoi's are either stalled out or disappearing again without more rain! Still, if we don't lose them altogether this year, I'll be happy.

    Kim Goodwin wrote:

  • Chufa/Tigernut/Earth Almond/Yellow Nutsedge/Nutgrass -
  • This is my first time growing these in a desert location, but since they are grown commercially in Spain it seemed worth a try.  I have them where they get flooded by the laundry greywater, like the sunroots. I put them in raised rows like I read about in this guide to growing chufa: Detailed guide on how to grow Chufa (Cyperus Esculentus)


    This is very exciting; now I have to try this, too! Thanks, Kim!

    Kim Goodwin wrote:

  • Prickly Pear - Just adding another supporting vote for that one!  The fruit is divine.  The variety that grows wild near us tastes just like loganberries.  There are tons of varieties in cultivation and the fruit tastes wildly different.  Some have almost no acidity, whereas others are quite tart.  Some like this wild variety on the east side of the Chiricahuas tastes like raspberries mixed with blackberries, mixed with a little banana, whereas others have a totally different flavor.


  • We've found lots of difference in taste, too. One that grows just on the south-facing slopes of what we call the tobacco hills that extend out to the southwest of the Chiricahuas (sorry, I can never remember their real name, I think it's something-back) has the most incredible fruits that taste just like a cross between strawberries and cherries. But we discovered this year that they're only good fresh! The jelly is almost tasteless. The fermented juice has a strange savory quality to it that isn't pleasant, and it stays too viscous (other varieties' fermented juice is delicious, and the viscosity usually dissipates during fermentation). The really deeply colored, juice-dripping ones seem to taste much less intense fresh but make much better cooked and fermented products. Experimentation seems to be the name of the game!

    Kim Goodwin wrote:Here are two more possibilities for the desert, but they can't tolerate freeze and thus would need to be brought in for the winter and they would likely need greywater or supplemental water to thrive:

    [list]Lemongrass - These are in our wicking bed, as I read they need constant moisture to grow well.  I started these from some bought at an Asian market.  I can't believe how well they are doing - WAY better than the lemongrass I grew in Oregon.  Apparently, lemongrass likes a lot more sun than it got in my Oregon yard.  When I move them next, I'll put them in more sun.  I don't think they needed the passionvine over the top for shade, though the galangal behind them might still.  The location in the picture is on a north and east wall, and I'm going to attempt to overwinter some in that wicking bed.  Another discovery, fresh lemongrass straight from your garden is so tender!  The main stem is tender and totally edible, unlike the stuff I would buy in stores.  The leaves are prolific and make awesome tea.  I'm also saving leaves for trying some basketry later this year.  Eight plants turns out to be way more than we can eat, but we're enjoying the tea and the other potential uses.


    Ha! I'm trying this for the first time this year, too! I planted some in the ground outside and am keeping some in a pot inside, just to see. None of it is really taking off -- clearly far too dry for it -- but I'm impressed it's not dead. The second picture shows it in the herb bed. I do love that scent and flavor.

    Kim Goodwin wrote:

  • Galangal root - This is a big experiment.  It's in the shade, hidden behind the lemongrass in the wicking bed.  The house is cement block, and so the temperatures are very stable in that little corner.  There is also ginger in there, but the galangal root is doing better.  I believe this is lesser galangal. I bought it off Etsy from a person in Florida.  It had a slow start and hated the direct sun and wind of the late spring when the lemongrass was still small.  The leaves burned in the sun and wind.  But when the lemongrass took off, so did the galangal.  I'm not sure everyone would consider this a "vegetable", since it's very strong flavored and it more of a spice, but it's wonderful thing to have on hand if you like Thai food.  These plants will likely have to come indoors for the winter.  I'm not sure I want to risk any of them outside in our zone 8a..but I might experiment with one.  The growing season for ginger and galangal root is VERY long, and I probably won't have a harvest until next summer, if what I read is correct.  9-12 months growing in the ground...  Makes you appreciate buying it, right?  It's the sort of thing that's worth it if you love Thai food and want it organic.  And if you are in the low desert that rarely freezes, I imagine you wouldn't have to bring them in if you had them in a nice microclimate.

  • I'd love to try this, too. I have a bit of ginger inside in a pot, and I did have a little baby turmeric plant, but it died... So sad. I love all these flavors, and the plants are so striking too.
    IMG_1543.JPG
    struggling plants (and weeds) in our tuber bed
    struggling plants (and weeds) in our tuber bed
    IMG_1530.JPG
    lemongrass front and center of these herbs fed by a buried olla (another in background to be added)
    lemongrass front and center of these herbs fed by a buried olla (another in background to be added)
     
    Posts: 1
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    New to the forum but thought I would add that here in Camp Verde the monsoon has been practically non existent this year. I will be moving soon ot the Seligman area and hope to get most of our water from rainfall. It could be rough if the monsoons keep dying back every year.
     
    Posts: 7
    1
    • Likes 5
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Here in southwestern New Mexico I'm growing the following drought-tolerant plants with success: Giant Sacaton (grass, edible seeds), Tepary Beans, Metcalfe perennial beans, Agave, spineless Nopales, and Golden Currant. These are recent experimental plantings, but I'm encouraged with their growth and productivity. The nopales and agaves are super easy. And the Tepary beans are showing a lot of promise — very productive and heat tolerant. Another plant that's doing great, albeit with water, is Styrian Pumpkin. That's the variety that is grown for the seeds, as they're "naked". Another new plant for me, but one that's showing good promise is millet. It's a fast grower and producer, and doesn't need much water. I hope this post adds value for others growing under our harsh desert conditions.
     
    Kim Goodwin
    gardener
    Posts: 458
    Location: In view of the Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
    267
    dog duck forest garden fish fungi chicken cooking bee greening the desert
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Beth Wilder wrote:
    That's so strange. You're on the east side of the Chiricahuas? Family and friends I've talked to in Tucson, Camp Verde area, Flagstaff, and the Four Corners have told me they're having no monsoon to speak of there, like here. But we often see clouds above and on the east side of the Chiricahuas; they just never seem to come down to us in the foothills here.



    Beth, I think I jinxed our region. Argh. :-D  We had decent rainfall in July and the first day of August... then it turned into non-soons (no rain , but some clouds) for the next three weeks.  Sigh.  It sure looked like it would rain again.  It kept sprinkling.  Now it's just been hot, but the evenings are finally cooling off.  Most of the local "Old-timers" who grew up here or just have been here a long time said this is the hottest summer they recall.  And now dry.  The plants aren't thrilled with this heat and dryness, but at least our tomatoes have started ripening and are doing well.  The Sunchoke/sunroots are in full bloom now and butterflies are loving it.


    Beth Wilder wrote:
    [RE: Prickly Pear]  We've found lots of difference in taste, too. One that grows just on the south-facing slopes of what we call the tobacco hills that extend out to the southwest of the Chiricahuas (sorry, I can never remember their real name, I think it's something-back) has the most incredible fruits that taste just like a cross between strawberries and cherries. But we discovered this year that they're only good fresh! The jelly is almost tasteless. The fermented juice has a strange savory quality to it that isn't pleasant, and it stays too viscous (other varieties' fermented juice is delicious, and the viscosity usually dissipates during fermentation). The really deeply colored, juice-dripping ones seem to taste much less intense fresh but make much better cooked and fermented products. Experimentation seems to be the name of the game!



    That is fantastic to learn that the viscosity or sliminess usually goes away with fermenting. (Except in that one variety you found.) I would like to try some kombucha.  I've just been juicing and drinking the pears to help restore magnesium and potassium balance.  I looked up their nutritional content and they are like a desert electrolyte drink!  Prickly Pear fruit nutrition data  

    We just picked the last batch of prickly pear for the year.  They are falling off the pads at this point and rather overripe.  Not my favorite, but I used the pulp and seeds and some whole fruit to spread them around our property for hopefully a future generation. When they are this ripe I've found the acidity is almost gone and they have that taste you described as "savory"- yes... exactly.  It's like vegetal; it's sort of like a root vegetable or something.  I looked it up and the red coloring in Prickly Pear is supposedly the same as in beets.  Maybe that's it?

    I learned from a local that the prickly pear plants here are suffering from a fungus that is wiping out many mature plants.  So it seems like a great time to spread the seeds around and get our own food forest started.



     
    Kim Goodwin
    gardener
    Posts: 458
    Location: In view of the Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
    267
    dog duck forest garden fish fungi chicken cooking bee greening the desert
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Caroline Metzler wrote:Here in southwestern New Mexico I'm growing the following drought-tolerant plants with success: Giant Sacaton (grass, edible seeds), Tepary Beans, Metcalfe perennial beans, Agave, spineless Nopales, and Golden Currant. These are recent experimental plantings, but I'm encouraged with their growth and productivity. The nopales and agaves are super easy. And the Tepary beans are showing a lot of promise — very productive and heat tolerant. Another plant that's doing great, albeit with water, is Styrian Pumpkin. That's the variety that is grown for the seeds, as they're "naked". Another new plant for me, but one that's showing good promise is millet. It's a fast grower and producer, and doesn't need much water. I hope this post adds value for others growing under our harsh desert conditions.



    To my surprise, I have had so much trouble with growing beans in the desert.  I'm in SW New Mexico, too. Every bean of every type I've put in (except two plants this year) were eaten by something early on, I think a rodent.   They would be gone in the morning.  I tried using little cages, but nothing worked well.  Packrat? Kangaroo rat? Mice? Does anyone else have these problems?

    Carolyn, if you have time, can you talk more about Metcalfe beans? I've never heard of them.  How do you use them?
     
    Caroline Metzler
    Posts: 7
    1
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Kim, the Metcalfe bean is mostly used for animal forage, but I'm growing it out of curiosity and also, since it's a desert perennial, as an emergency food. There's not much information on it out there, but here's what Wikipedia has: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phaseolus_maculatus

    I should clarify that I am giving my plants supplemental water, especially as we've had very little rain this year and elevated temperatures. That said, the ones I've listed grow in the desert with little help. The Tepary Bean is known as the most drought tolerant bean in the world, and has been known to produce with only one rain all season!

    Getting beans started can be a challenge around here, too. I find that birds (mostly Towhees and Quail) like to peck at and/or dig up the newly sprouted beans. I often cover mine with cut off plastic bottles until they've got a couple of sets of leaves. Then the birds leave them alone. Don't know if this is the same problem you're having or not. It can be discouraging! My mantra this year has been, "Replant, replant!".

    One (new to me) use for the pads of prickly pear/nopal cactus is to place a few pads in the bottom of a planting hole (for a shrub or tree) . Apparently the gel in the cactus holds water for the plant (like a kind of hugelkulture!).
     
    Beth Wilder
    pollinator
    Posts: 221
    138
    forest garden foraging trees books wofati food preservation fiber arts medical herbs solar rocket stoves greening the desert
    • Likes 4
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Sorry to be an absent OP for a few days!

    Caroline Metzler wrote:Here in southwestern New Mexico I'm growing the following drought-tolerant plants with success: Giant Sacaton (grass, edible seeds), Tepary Beans, Metcalfe perennial beans, Agave, spineless Nopales, and Golden Currant. These are recent experimental plantings, but I'm encouraged with their growth and productivity. The nopales and agaves are super easy. And the Tepary beans are showing a lot of promise — very productive and heat tolerant. Another plant that's doing great, albeit with water, is Styrian Pumpkin. That's the variety that is grown for the seeds, as they're "naked". Another new plant for me, but one that's showing good promise is millet. It's a fast grower and producer, and doesn't need much water. I hope this post adds value for others growing under our harsh desert conditions.


    That's a great list. I'd never heard of either Giant Sacaton (grass?) or Metcalfe perennial beans. What part of the former is edible, the seeds? And have you had a chance to eat either of those yet? How are they? I wonder if some of the wild beans we see while hiking in the Chiricahuas are Metcalfe. They certainly seem to come back in the same place year after year. We also see wild tepary beans up there, but those have much smaller leaves than the ones I'm thinking of that always grow on one particular slope.

    We've seeded Styrian Pumpkin in with our winter squash landrace last year and this year, but either none of them grew or none of the "naked" genetics won out, I guess. I would love to have some squash/pumpkin seeds that are easier to process into pepitas, but around here everything has to go through the gauntlets of climate, little or no added irrigation, being grown "haphazardly" i.e. without separation distances between types (with the stated goal of developing landraces, although it also just fits our circumstances better), and producing copious large edible whatever such that it really helps fill out our diets. So if the Styrian pumpkins keep getting lost in the mix, that's probably it for them in our system, sadly.

    We've thought about growing millet, too. Let us know how the harvest and processing goes!

    We've been trying to figure out a good staple grain. We've grown corn, but never successfully in large enough quantities to keep up with our use of masa harina for bread, etc. We keep trying. We've collected and processed seed from the wild Palmer's amaranth, but that's both a bit hit-or-miss and very difficult to thresh, since the seeds seem to blow away as easily as the chaff or more so. We've collected seeds from the sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) stalks, roasted and ground them. They taste like peanut butter if you don't over-roast them like we did (then they taste like burnt peanut butter, surprise surprise). We've just about worked out a good system of hulling them, then grinding them into flour using the same vintage manual grain mill at two different settings. We hope to collect more seed later this year. I should have included sotol and agave on my original list (thanks for the reminder about agave, Caroline!), since they're perennial, although we haven't gotten any to grow at our main place yet (we forage for this and other slightly higher altitude things at our "mountain place," some land we own a little ways away).

    How do you collect and prepare the agave, Caroline? We've struggled with it. For one thing, we go out week after week looking for flowering stalks at just the right point of development, and it seems like it goes "nothing-nothing-nothing-nothing-oops, they're all too far along now." When we do manage to get a young stalk, we roast it in a pit, but with everything all buried in there, it seems really easy to over-roast. A couple years ago it turned completely to ash by the time we pulled it out. (Do you sense a theme here? Yes, we've been known to over-roast multiple things.) Then, if we venture to dig out a "heart," it's a huge undertaking, avoiding the acids, then getting the heart to wherever it will be roasted, etc. And the whole thing kills the whole plant, of course, so given our track record, we've grown increasingly hesitant to try harvesting.

    We've started to focus more on sotol because apparently harvesting the flowering stalks doesn't kill the plant like it does agave (although if we were to cut out the heart, that would kill the plant, of course), and the seeds are edible as I mentioned. Has anyone else tried this? The only thing is that it seems even more difficult to pinpoint the exact right time to harvest the tender young sotol stalks than it is for agave stalks, so we haven't tried one yet. We'll probably focus primarily on the seeds as we continue looking for a staple grain.

    Back to annuals again for a moment, we've considered trying hemp for seeds to eat as well as fiber. Has anyone else in a similar climate tried that?

    Kim Goodwin wrote:I learned from a local that the prickly pear plants here are suffering from a fungus that is wiping out many mature plants.  So it seems like a great time to spread the seeds around and get our own food forest started.


    That's interesting. With a year like this, even? Just as a heads up, in the past when we've looked at suffering prickly pear cacti and thought for sure they were dying of a fungus, it turned out it was most likely sunburn. Now we try to mark the orientation of the plants we take pads from and transplant the pads at the same orientation and in similar conditions, and so far that seems to be helping. Also, the variety that we like best for fresh fruit really likes steep south-facing slopes and grows in deep sand, gravel, and rock. When we weren't as careful to imitate those conditions (and their orientation), our pad cuttings did really poorly and looked pale and ughy like mold or something. One even seemed to "melt away" over the course of a single day after it had been growing fine for months. We've also learned that, if they droop to the ground but don't otherwise look too poorly, they might be fine, since it seems like they propagate that way, almost like Egyptian Walking Onions.

    Kim Goodwin wrote:To my surprise, I have had so much trouble with growing beans in the desert.  I'm in SW New Mexico, too. Every bean of every type I've put in (except two plants this year) were eaten by something early on, I think a rodent.   They would be gone in the morning.  I tried using little cages, but nothing worked well.  Packrat? Kangaroo rat? Mice? Does anyone else have these problems?


    Hmm. If they're getting them when they're really small seedlings, it may well be birds, like Caroline said. We've had birds run off with all kinds of seedlings, even young houseplants that were temporarily outside. If the bean plants are larger when it's happening, it could be cotton rats. We just started getting those, especially in our cowpeas, last year (and our gardens are surrounded by chickenwire, and we place traps regularly -- we just can't keep out or reduce the population 100%, seemingly). They're diurnal, unlike the other rats, and you can hear and see them rustling through the bean foliage during the day. It gives us the creeps because of course we immediately assume a rattlesnake is coming at us through the bean patch (one occasionally gets through the chickenwire). But anyway, they seem to like the beans when they're green as well as the foliage, so if we start to have trouble with them again this year, we're going to pick and eat the cowpeas green in order to keep more for ourselves.

    Caroline Metzler wrote:One (new to me) use for the pads of prickly pear/nopal cactus is to place a few pads in the bottom of a planting hole (for a shrub or tree) . Apparently the gel in the cactus holds water for the plant (like a kind of hugelkulture!).


    That's such a great idea! We hadn't thought of it and will try it next year -- thanks!
     
    Caroline Metzler
    Posts: 7
    1
    • Likes 4
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Beth, I'm afraid I'm waaay behind you in utilizing these plants and also the challenge of growing food without added water! You're quite intrepid!

    I'm a permie/regenerative ag learner three years into my project — experimenting with what grows in this harsh climate. It's been challenging, especially with this year's heat and dryness. Afraid this might be the "new normal" — YIKES! Beyond planting regular garden crops I've started growing a set of "backup species" — plants that survive with less water and that are edible, but may not be my first choice for eating. And very much in the early experimental stages. I want to have those resources growing in the event the system breaks down to the extent we must rely on what can grow right here.

    Big Sacaton grass is used for erosion control, landscaping interest, and forage. I'd planted the grass after hearing about it as a possible grain source; apparently that use is still in the experimental stages. This is the second year growing here, and I'm still trying to figure out how to harvest the grains before the birds do. Guess I won't be concentrating on that one until someone comes up with an effective way to harvest the small grains. It is a beautiful addition to the landscape, though, and supporting the critters is a joy.

    The Metcalfes got planted this spring and they're growing, but haven't produced yet. Typically they're also used for forage; curious to try them and see how they are to eat. I'm guessing what you're seeing on that slope are Metcalfes. They have a similar leaf to Teparies, but larger, and the leaves tend to stand vertically. Supposed to have a pretty flower, too.

    I haven't tried to use the agaves yet. Just getting a few transplanted from the original mother. They do sound challenging to prepare. The sotol sounds very interesting! Not sure if it grows much around here, so will have to keep an eye peeled for them and ask others who know the area better.

    My guess is that the crops that end up being really useful for me as staples in hard times are: teparies, sweet potatoes, quinoa, millet, sunflowers, jerusalem artichokes, lamb's quarters, nopales and styrian pumpkins. (That is, if we have enough water for some of those.) Really a shame you haven't been able to get the Styrians going. They're so willing, and such great producers here! It shouldn't matter if they're growing in with other cucurbits for the first year's crop. It's only if you want to collect seeds from the first crop that you have to manage the pollination so they grow true to seed. (My Styrians are growing quite close to a big Butternut vine. They each have their usual characteristics.)

    Again, hats off to you for the commitment to using your local natives! I look forward to learning more in that area.
     
    Beth Wilder
    pollinator
    Posts: 221
    138
    forest garden foraging trees books wofati food preservation fiber arts medical herbs solar rocket stoves greening the desert
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Kim Goodwin wrote:

  • Lemongrass - These are in our wicking bed, as I read they need constant moisture to grow well.  I started these from some bought at an Asian market.  I can't believe how well they are doing - WAY better than the lemongrass I grew in Oregon.  Apparently, lemongrass likes a lot more sun than it got in my Oregon yard.  When I move them next, I'll put them in more sun.  I don't think they needed the passionvine over the top for shade, though the galangal behind them might still.  The location in the picture is on a north and east wall, and I'm going to attempt to overwinter some in that wicking bed.  Another discovery, fresh lemongrass straight from your garden is so tender!  The main stem is tender and totally edible, unlike the stuff I would buy in stores.  The leaves are prolific and make awesome tea.  I'm also saving leaves for trying some basketry later this year.  Eight plants turns out to be way more than we can eat, but we're enjoying the tea and the other potential uses.

  • Kim, have you tried freezing your lemongrass? I used to buy big bunches of it fresh from farms in Wisconsin when I lived there, cut it up (with scissors was easiest) into pieces about an inch and a half long, and freeze it in quart-size ziplocs. Then I could take out however many pieces I needed for use later; MUCH higher quality than dried lemongrass, which seems to lose its scent and flavor fast. I regularly added lemongrass, fresh ginger, reishi, and chaga, to my sweet black tea when making kombucha, and this was how I always had the lemongrass on hand. I found it stayed good that way for multiple years. So before your first frost, cut back what you're not moving inside and freeze it! I love lemongrass.
     
    gardener
    Posts: 2183
    Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
    533
    trees food preservation solar greening the desert
    • Likes 3
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    I made a long post on Permies about how I collect wild capers from the desert around me, for three different products. A delicious cooked green veg in springtime, then the flower buds which are what you would know as capers (little green balls), and the caperberries, which are bigger and more like a snack like olive. I've also been trying to grow them, with some success but mostly limited by failing to water them in enough for the first year or two.
    https://permies.com/t/34882/Success-planting-caper-seeds-plant
     
    Kim Goodwin
    gardener
    Posts: 458
    Location: In view of the Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
    267
    dog duck forest garden fish fungi chicken cooking bee greening the desert
    • Likes 3
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Rebecca Norman wrote:I made a long post on Permies about how I collect wild capers from the desert around me, for three different products. A delicious cooked green veg in springtime, then the flower buds which are what you would know as capers (little green balls), and the caperberries, which are bigger and more like a snack like olive. I've also been trying to grow them, with some success but mostly limited by failing to water them in enough for the first year or two.
    https://permies.com/t/34882/Success-planting-caper-seeds-plant



    Ooh capers.  I tried growing a plant when in the California high desert, but I need to try it from seed instead.  I didn't water the plant enough, and I don't think the soil was right.  Almost pure sand.  Now I'm in a place with a very sandy clay soil, and it holds a lot more moisture than just pure sand.  Thank you for the link.

    And Beth, thanks for the idea of freezing the lemongrass.  I didn't get around to it but I will next time.  I brought two plants inside, and put three in the greenhouse and left three outside to see what happened.  The sharp freezes we had where it hit the teens seemed to have wiped out the outdoor ones, I think.  The others seem okay, and the ones in the house are still edible.

    And thanks for all the notes on how you are working with other edibles.  Sigh, we didn't protect our agave enough this year, and even the big ones were badly rabbit eaten.  The rabbits and animals were so desperate for food and water before that blessedly timed snow that I felt sorry for them and hated depriving them.  Now, though, I have to help the plants catch up again.  All of our prickly pear pads and cholla we had tried to start (AND that were caged), had the cages upturned this last month by the peccary (javelina for those who might not know what that is - sort of like a wild boar, but native to the US and not technically a pig).  They were starved too!  It's hard in the desert...I feel for the animals right now and don't want to deprive them of what little sustenance they can get.  But we just fenced in a garden from rabbits and the snorters, and so they will have to stay out or there.  I realized I have to have two fenced areas here - one for a food garden and one for a native plant nursery.  The peccary eat just about everything except ornamental sages and rosemary.  They've eaten agastaches down to tiny nubbins, and the rabbits did the same to all my herbs (including garlic, elephant garlic, and shallots) except very mature green onions, mint and rosemary.

    Carolyn, thanks for sharing more detail.  Very educational, and now I want to try the hulless seed pumpkins.

    My newest experiment this year in the high desert USDA zone 8a is Chayote. I'm going to try keeping  them in pots and bringing them in the house or greenhouse.  I bought two from the Mexican grocer, and they have sprouted.  Going in a pot today.  Chayote are a tropical (or sub-tropical, not sure the difference) from Mexico, other parts of Central America, and the Caribbean, which is a perennial squash vine.  It makes a squashy fruit that has one big seed in it.  It's tasty and I think almost all parts of the plant are edible.  The root, if it's able to perennialize, turns into a big tuber sort of like a yam.  The plant is massive.  People grow it in Florida (and also all over the world, Asia, it's become well adopted), but I haven't heard of anyone trying it in the desert.  There are ways of pruning it that apparently make it produce fruit faster.  It takes a very long growing season, so I'm not sure how well it will work.  But I love the look of the plant - it's sort of like Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors.  Except in a good way.  I don't mind an Audrey.  ;-)



    A bit about growing Chayote squash:
    David the Good talks about Chayote Squash for a survival garden, primarily in sub-tropical areas

    And this video shows not only how they grow, but also how to prune them to stimulate fruit ripening in the first year of growth (particularly useful in the US with it's shorter-than-tropical seasons):



    Starting the fruit is a unique process because the seed supposedly NEEDS the fruit to germinate.  Versus so many other seeds that need the fruiting part removed to germinate.  Fascinating, right?

    Here are the ones I've had sitting in the window, ready to plant now.  One started to mold, and so I sprayed it with 3% hydrogen peroxide every couple days, and it lasted.  That was a good experiment, because I often have things like cuttings mold when trying to start them in the house in the winter, and then have to throw them out.  Our house is fairly cold in the winter.

    So again - this is an experiment that requires at least a greenhouse to make it work in the desert.  Not sure what will happen, but I think it will be interesting!



    chayote-sprouts.jpg
    sprouting chayote fruits
    sprouting chayote fruits
     
    Posts: 36
    Location: Southwestern NM
    10
    forest garden chicken greening the desert
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Kim Goodwin wrote:

    I learned from a local that the prickly pear plants here are suffering from a fungus that is wiping out many mature plants.  So it seems like a great time to spread the seeds around and get our own food forest started.



    Do you know anything more about this?  I have a giant prickly pear in my back yard that has some weird-looking stuff on it.  Kind of orangish rings on the pads.  I LOVE this specimen and really don't want to lose it, but it doesn't look well.  I couldn't find any info about it, though, so for now have left it, but am afraid it will spread.
    Maybe I should chop down and burn this plant.  That would be heart-breaking!  If you know of any way to treat it, I would be grateful.
     
    Kim Goodwin
    gardener
    Posts: 458
    Location: In view of the Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
    267
    dog duck forest garden fish fungi chicken cooking bee greening the desert
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    The disease on the prickly pear plants I see here I'm told is Phyllosticta pad spot.  Here's what it looks like.. it starts with a circle that sort of looks like a plant version of ringworm, and then a hole eventually develops in the center. The pads eventually have such big holes that they get sort of skeletal looking.



    Here is a PDF from the University of Arizona, page four:  https://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1399.pdf

    Here is an excerpt:

    Fungal diseases of pads and leaves Phyllosticta pad spot Lesions on pads of prickly pear cacti (Opuntia species) may be caused by several different pests or environmental conditions. However, the most common pad  spot  on the Engelmann’s prickly pear in the desert of Arizona is caused by a species of the  fungus  Phyllosticta.  The disease is found throughout the desert. Lesions are almost completely black because of the presence of small black  reproductive structures called pycnidia produced on the surface of infected plant tissue (Fig. 5).  Spores produced within these reproductive structures are easily disseminated by wind-blown rain or dripping water  and  infect new sites on nearby pads.  Pads on the lower part of plants are often most heavily infected since the humidity is higher and moisture often persists after rain. Once pads dry, the fungus becomes inactive and the lesions may fall out.  Severely infected pads or entire plants should be removed from landscapes to prevent spread of the fungus.  No other controls are recommended.



    So it sounds like the only suggestion is removing affected pads. You could also try natural fungal remedies. My favorite is using hydrogen peroxide. If I have a plant with a major fungal issue, I usually spray it with 2%. Some plants can take 3%, but you have to test it.  Some people like garlic sprays, other thyme or oregano oil sprays.  With fungal stuff you may have to try a bunch of things.  Fungi are rather persistent.

    Another approach is to strengthen the plant.  It gets the disease because it's weakened somehow.  I would try some biodynamic sprays, worm casting juice... those sorts of things can do wonders, as can hydrogen peroxide.

     
    Trish Doherty
    Posts: 36
    Location: Southwestern NM
    10
    forest garden chicken greening the desert
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Kim Goodwin wrote:The disease on the prickly pear plants I see here I'm told is Phyllosticta pad spot.  Here's what it looks like.. it starts with a circle that sort of looks like a plant version of ringworm, and then a hole eventually develops in the center. The pads eventually have such big holes that they get sort of skeletal looking.



    Here is a PDF from the University of Arizona, page four:  https://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1399.pdf

    Here is an excerpt:

    Fungal diseases of pads and leaves Phyllosticta pad spot Lesions on pads of prickly pear cacti (Opuntia species) may be caused by several different pests or environmental conditions. However, the most common pad  spot  on the Engelmann’s prickly pear in the desert of Arizona is caused by a species of the  fungus  Phyllosticta.  The disease is found throughout the desert. Lesions are almost completely black because of the presence of small black  reproductive structures called pycnidia produced on the surface of infected plant tissue (Fig. 5).  Spores produced within these reproductive structures are easily disseminated by wind-blown rain or dripping water  and  infect new sites on nearby pads.  Pads on the lower part of plants are often most heavily infected since the humidity is higher and moisture often persists after rain. Once pads dry, the fungus becomes inactive and the lesions may fall out.  Severely infected pads or entire plants should be removed from landscapes to prevent spread of the fungus.  No other controls are recommended.



    So it sounds like the only suggestion is removing affected pads. You could also try natural fungal remedies. My favorite is using hydrogen peroxide. If I have a plant with a major fungal issue, I usually spray it with 2%. Some plants can take 3%, but you have to test it.  Some people like garlic sprays, other thyme or oregano oil sprays.  With fungal stuff you may have to try a bunch of things.  Fungi are rather persistent.

    Another approach is to strengthen the plant.  It gets the disease because it's weakened somehow.  I would try some biodynamic sprays, worm casting juice... those sorts of things can do wonders, as can hydrogen peroxide.



    Thank you!  That might be it.  I'll try out your recommendations.  I was thinking it was probably something fungal.  This plant has gotten quite large and it's located beneath a tree with some other scrub growing around it, so I'm guessing it's not getting the kind of airflow it would like.  I'll probably need to open up that area around it as well.
     
    Posts: 6
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
      Number of slices to send:
      Optional 'thank-you' note:
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Caroline Metzler wrote:
    The Metcalfes got planted this spring and they're growing, but haven't produced yet. Typically they're also used for forage; curious to try them and see how they are to eat. I'm guessing what you're seeing on that slope are Metcalfes. They have a similar leaf to Teparies, but larger, and the leaves tend to stand vertically. Supposed to have a pretty flower, too.



    @Caroline, where did you get your Metcalfes for planting? After several hours of Googling for "P. ritensis" "P. metcalfei" "P maculatas" and "perennial tepary bean," the rabbit hole led me to Permies and to your posts on this thread.

    I'm trying to find seed for planting perennial tepary, if anyone can help me : )
     
    Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly first. Just look at this tiny ad:
    Pre-order for "Tour of Wheaton Labs, the Movie!"
    https://permies.com/w/tour
    reply
      Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
    • New Topic