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 Post subject: From Willcox Arizona
PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2009 4:01 pm 

Joined: Sun Oct 18, 2009 3:38 pm
Posts: 1
Greetings from the Sonoran Desert! We just built a new home on a compacted clay/sand/alkaline soil platform, and are now planning out a “survival garden”. Thought I’d throw this out and see what others think or might advise us on.

Since the surrounding ground is hard as concrete, the plots are on the softer east side of the house where they’ll get morning sun, and shade in the afternoon from the intense summer heat. Consisting of two 4’x12’ raised beds in untreated wood 1”x12” frame boxes, chicken wire will be laid underneath each bed to keep out moles/gophers, with anti-rabbit/squirrel fencing around them. Diatomaceous earth mixed with cayenne pepper will be laid around the fencing outside the beds, and dried molasses around and on the beds, to protect against ants and other crawling pests. Gravel laid upon cardboard will provide weedless paths. Birds and locusts will be kept away by mesh screening over forms/covers, once cloches aren’t needed as the weather warms up.

We’ll use Square Foot methods primarily, but with a few twists and adaptations from Howard Garrett and Patricia Lanza among others. For instance, the beds will be layered in with a combination of newspaper, rotted straw, blended steer manure/compost, peat moss, corn meal, alfalfa horse pellets, chicken manure, and composted forest mulch, all of which will be allowed to “cook” under a rye cover crop until next planting season.

Taking a method from local Native American growers, vine or stalk crops like corn, beans and tomatoes will provide some shade for the other plants, being grown upon vertical screens set up on the west side of each bed. Shade clothes can be draped from forms whenever necessary, or as shelter when our thunderstorms threaten their drenching rains and winds.

Now, all this is preliminary, understand. We've been out here for fifteen years, but one never knows where or when the next curve ball from Nature will come from, and this is the first garden I'll have built since my youth. If anyone has extensive experience growing veggies in our hot desert, or anything else they can suggest, we’d love to hear from you. Thanks! 8)

 Post subject: Re: From Willcox Arizona
PostPosted: Wed Oct 28, 2009 8:56 am 
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Joined: Wed Jul 02, 2003 8:09 pm
Posts: 1876
Location: Fort Worth,TEXAS
I posted some photos on another thread a few weeks ago that you might find if you click on my moniker and look at my previous posts. They were of the setup a friend has built in what is a high elevation portion of the Chihuahua desert. Many of the same issues exist--retaining water, shade, and wildlife predation, have been major factors in setting up a garden.

I worked as a park naturalist out at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for a couple of years. The Sonoran desert is an amazing place. The only thought that really occurs to me as I read your description is that I don't think weeds were much of a problem in any of the places I worked or visited. :)

A traditional method of agriculture in the Sonoran desert is to use a "charco," or a water catchment like a small seasonal pond filled only during the winter and summer rainy seasons, and to plant the beans and squash, in particular, so that they benefit from the rain that lands in the depression and seeps down into the soil where the plants have relatively long term access. Raised beds are more likely to bake out there in Arizona than in a lot of other regions of the U.S., so I would be tempted to create a depression and then fill it level to the surrounding level. That's one place where "wet feet" isn't likely to be a big problem unless you water too often.

A search on "charco" doesn't work very well, because the term seems also to apply to natural swimming holes in a South American context, including nude beaches. :roll: The results are also pretty uniform in coming up in Portugese and Spanish. If you're interested in pursuing this indigenous technique, you'll have to poke around more specialized locations, and I'd suggest starting with the folks at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, the University of Arizona in Tucson, or the Boyce Arboretum folks in Phoenix. And see if Gary Paul Nabhan has written anything about this; he's an ethnobotanist who was at UA Tucson and who is now at Northern Arizona in Flagstaff.


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