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Container garden & raised bed in the desert  RSS feed

 
Lulubelle Davis
Posts: 2
Location: Yuma, AZ
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This is my 2nd year attempt at growing a garden in this crazy hot climate. Last year, my husband built a short raised bed for me in the corner of our yard. It has afternoon shade, so I think it would be a good summer garden. My yard is a typical desert landscape, a few cacti, some bushes and a lot of plants I don't know about and 2 trees that offer shade. There are rocks everywhere. Small gravel is in the yard & larger pieces are mulched all around all of the plants. There's an irrigation system in place & everything is doing fine. Except I want to grow food here. When we bought this house 2 years ago, I didn't really expect to want a real garden. I thought I may play around with it to see what I could grow. After last years failure, I'm now really trying to succeed. This house has a lot of established plants that I think will make it a good selling feature, and the only place I could actually grow in the ground & get full sun in the winter is the south side of my house. There's concrete under the gravel, presumably in case someone wants to park an rv there. So I have no native soil to plant into without wrecking the landscaping, and we plan to leave here within the next few years when my husband is available to transfer. It will happen quickly and I don't want to have to leave my garden or sell a house in the suburbs with a garden that someone may not want. It's not very popular to grow food in this neighborhood.
It's for this reason that I'd really like to do container gardening and maybe a raised bed. I have quite a bit of compost I've managed to make using the 18 day Berkeley method. Would it make sense to just use compost in the containers? Any suggestions/considerations I need to take? I'm thinking wicking beds & self watering containers to help with drying out too quickly. What can I use in the containers that doesn't have a bunch of chemical junk in it but will keep the soil moist but not drenched or heavy? I don't know how I feel about putting perlite & vermiculite in there. Are those safe for organic food production? Should I be using them?

Thanks. I'm so new to all of this, and I want so desperately to have any sort of harvest this winter. I didn't get a thing out of my garden last year. All the plants died - I now think that the bed was too short - about 8 inches, and I didn't amend the soil or dig down very far underneath.
 
Andrew Jackman
Posts: 28
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
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I'm in Salt Lake City, and I started container gardening most because of my grandmother, who is 101 years old now. I wanted her to be able to see and harvest the tomatoes at her leisure, so I hung buckets from the trellis on her back porch. She has partial shade there due to a flowering vine that grows all over the trellis. I tried a variety of ways of growing the tomatoes, including growing them upside down, out a whole in the bottom.

The most impressive results came from using a standard 5 gallon bucket with the drain hole 2" from the bottom. The bottom was filled with straw up to the hole. The rest was filled with a mixture (no specific ratio) of compost, cheap potting soil, and garden soil as the grow media. The plants growing in these buckets grew far taller, bore fruit earlier, and seem much happier than any other tomatoes in my garden this year.

Right now, I am plumbing more buckets for next year with a makeshift 3/4" PVC bulkhead adapter (http://www.truetex.com/bulkhead.htm) and a garden hose adapter (http://www.homedepot.com/p/Orbit-3-4-in-Slip-x-MHT-PVC-Hose-Fitting-53361/100119737) so that I can collect and reuse the run-off from these buckets. I am also installing a catchment system with 330 gal IBCs, a submersible pump, a timer, and a drip irrigation system.

While not directly related to container gardening, I think mentioning our mulching method is very relevant. We bought straw from a local farmer for about $3/bale. We used the straw as a mulch everywhere. It was excellent at keeping moisture in the soil and reducing our need for watering. While we intend on establishing cover crops this fall to serve the same purpose, the straw was cheap and effective. The only unintended consequence was that the straw contained viable wheat, and we ended up with a lot of wheat growing in our potato bed this year.

We have also made efforts everywhere to grow anything anywhere to prevent exposed soil and to reduce the overall temperature of our property. Sunflowers, raspberries, strawberries, various vines, sunchokes, hens and chicks, and squash all spread nearly uncontrollably once established, and we just let them go unless we have another use for that section of the garden.

All of this is to address the issues of very hot summers, expensive municipal water, and direct intense sunlight. I hope some of this helps you survive next year.

https://goo.gl/photos/FGHrf63PnZfP3GEL9
 
Lulubelle Davis
Posts: 2
Location: Yuma, AZ
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Wow. I was hoping to set up some sort of watering system & rainwater collection eventually, but I think that's for another season. It's great to see your system, gives me hope for this winter & beyond.
So the tomato buckets - it's only a 1 bucket system? Just a hole 2" from the bottom with straw inside & then soil right on top of that? How often do you water? I would be afraid I'd overwater. I think that tends to be my habit
I wonder if placing them on the ground would change anything? I wonder if they would still be as effective. I don't have a place to hang them, and there's no reason for me to do so at this point in my life.
Thank you so much for your reply. I'm really motivated to get this to work this year.
 
Andrew Jackman
Posts: 28
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
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The hanging is just really convenient so we don't have to bend down and we can train the tomatoes to go up the twine supporting the buckets. If they were prettier, I wouldn't hesitate to put hooks in the eaves in front of the house. I don't think putting them on the ground would make much difference, especially if you were growing determinate varieties. I just think indeterminates are easier to handle if you don't mind pruning and training them. I water them every 1-2 days. I've had experts tell me that I water too often and I'm at risk for blossom-end rot because of it. The difficulty is that it's just so dry and hot. If I don't water frequently, I risk them dying. I've already had some serious damage on tomatoes because I didn't water them until the third day. Once I get the automatic irrigation going, I'll set it to every 48 hours and see how it goes.
 
Andrew Jackman
Posts: 28
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
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https://goo.gl/photos/bsPXzAvW5vdKBZyx8

In this picture, you can barely see the dark spot on the bucket closest to the camera. That's where the hole is. You can also see the other experiments in progress all over the yard. It probably doesn't matter much, but I also line the buckets with garden cloth. It just keeps the dirt from flowing out the various holes whenever I water the buckets.
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 876
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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I don't think you need full sun in the desert quite the contrary. Everything leafy vegetable I would tuck under trees. If you have that much stones you could build a raised bed with them. You could also look for aquaponic systems (if you like plumbing), or the use of greywater. Established plants cool actually the athmosphere down. How about trees something dryland and edible? You can mulch as well with stones. I would maybe plant more hot climate adapted things like gourds etc.
 
Neal Spackman
Posts: 103
Location: Makkah, Saudi Arabia
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Raised beds drain water away from the beds, increase evaporation through greater solar exposure, and are typically the opposite of what you want to do in the desert. Sunken beds, on the other hand, increase shade, increase water retention, and decrease evaporation. If you're doing beds in the desert, you'll have more success with sunken beds rather than raised ones.
 
Timothy Black
Posts: 17
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Well, if what you want to do is grow food "for now", as opposed to creating an integrated system, then you can use raised or sunken beds and Ollas.

Ollas are used for water delivery by creating an unglazed terra cotta pot with a long, thin neck that is about 1 foot or shorter (longer for bigger pots, etc.. depends on your needs), and a bulbous jar beneath. There is usually a stone or glazed 'stopper' for the top. Sometimes there is a rain collector.

You bury the olla into the dirt with the top barely protruding, and it provides water for as far away from it as its radius. It is incredibly conservative in water usage.. essentially, it acts like a manmade aquifer, or maybe a tiny subsurface pond. Also, because of the nature of osmosis (which is how the water comes out of the pot and into the soil) you cannot overwater.

Doing ti this way means you can cover the soil over with something fairly water impermeable, either organic (mulch, etc) or not (plastic, greenhouse cloth, etc), and you have a closed, water conservative system that will work in almost any climate.

Here is just one of many references.

http://www.arcadia-farms.net/olla-irrigation-for-a-market-garden/

And yes.. if you are growing vegetables in the desert.. you should at least partially shade them!!! That is, unless you are growing varieties you know for sure will work in full sun, in your climate.

Ah! And here is a thread here on permies about them:

http://www.permies.com/t/19615/organic/Ollas
 
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