Thursday, May 10, 2012

Spring Planting

The spring season requires the art and/or experience of knowing when to sow the seeds or transplant the starter plants. I lack both when it comes to fruit and vegetables in southern Arizona so I let the growers at the Farmer’s Market indicate the timing. The fruit trees were set out for sale in mid-April so I interpreted that to be my cue.

Apple tree in the background
I'm on the right
I chose the apricot because I have noticed several mature trees around town. The local grower pointed out that the Royal varieties bloom late and have a better success rate in our climate. Bisbonian's heart was set on apple trees. We both have fond childhood memories related to apple trees. I hope my granddaughter will remember these trees with the same nostalgia that we have about our childhood apple trees. about our childhood apple trees.

Michael Pollen’s Botany of Desire has a fascinating chapter about the history of the apple in America. This video will give you a taste of his presentation.

The seasonal wind has increased since the fruit trees were transferred from the pot to the ground. The Granny Smith succeeded in producing a single apple and the Royal apricot is taking the transition in its stride. On the other hand, the Jonagold appears to be under a lot of stress.

I made a video to share our wind experience with you. My granddaughter and I spent part of her last visit learning the lyrics to Listen to the Wind Blow. I included it in the background since my simple camera can’t record the wind well. I’m likely breaking a copyright law so can have me arrested if they want to. Credit to Buffy Sainte-Marie is at the end of the video (at least I give her full name). Peace.

It so happened that I had three bales left over from the two trips to the feed store back in January. BTW, the answer to “how many bales can you fit in our 1971 VW bus” is nine. I decided to place the left-over straw bales around the Granny Smith apple tree. I divided them in half to create the flower design.
Granny Smith apple tree.

I improvised a needle and thread system as a way to divide the straw bales. The “needle” was a rubber-coated stake with picture hanging wire wrapped on one end to serve as the eye. The stake was driven through the center of the bale at the points just below the preexisting main line. Bisbonian, the knot maker extraordinaire, handled the task of tightly securing the six new lines. He cut the original binding string and the bale easily broke apart.
I also "sewed" the hoops to the bales at the end of the row. The strength of the wind was causing the hoops on the ends to lean.

Moonshadow thinks this project is working out perfectly, but I’m not so sure. Let me bring you up to date about my experiment with growing from seed using the straw bale gardening technique.

The seedlings in the bales that I conditioned in February are giving me some concern. The fact is their growth rate has declined severely. Here are some of my observations:

Hand watering, even using the finest spray setting is inefficient. If you direct the water in one area for any length of time the water rolls off the bales rather than soaking in. I discovered that not only the soil bounced off the straw bales from the pressure of the water hitting the surface, but some of the seeds as well. Moving the water spray back and forth to prevent the water from running off the sides added to the problem. I now have lettuce growing between the bales and the adobe bricks. That’s cool but mysteriously, there are eggplant seedlings growing in the adjacent row of straw bales from where they were placed. It became apparent that I needed to install a watering system.

If you live in a historical home you can bet that when you embark on an improvement project there will be unexpected obstacles. This is a perfect example.

I was determined to place the hose lines under the ground at least a few inches to eliminate the aggravation of trying to prevent tripping over hose lines. To do this successfully, the hose needed to be threaded under the cement pathway in two places. Bisbonian immediately voiced concern and tried to discourage me.

Well then, you can imagine my excitement when I discovered a garden tool, an auger that fits onto a hand drill, designed for the purpose of tunneling under sidewalks. I merrily returned home thinking I found a way to do it all by myself. I was feeling like a kid about to do something that my parent thought I shouldn’t do. I started to dig a trench, assuming that the cement would be about 5” thick. We all know where assumptions get us.

The cement pathway was four times deeper than I expected. This is where the phrase “welcome to Bisbee” comes into play. At this point, Bisbonian took pity on me and offered to relieve me from the heavy work necessary for the project to proceed. I swallowed my pride and welcomed his participation. I also think that trying out the new auger got his interest.

The auger tool worked as advertised and Bisbonian was able to drill under the walkway near the faucet after digging a 20”D x 1’W x 3’L trench.
The walkway in front of the house added another level of complexity. This time the phrase “welcome to Warren” was more appropriate. After digging further down than the other site, we discovered plumbing embedded in the cement. I convinced Bisbonian that this plumbing is probably historical from the time when the Warren suburb was developed. 
Calumet & Arizona Mining Company piped in water from their mining operations to provide water for the landscape, without charge, to the residences within the Warren town site. I believe that it was part of the strategy to sell the company owned town lots. Old-timers remember when Warren was lush with vegetation before the water was cut off from the mine.

I reminded Bisbonian that he had sawn off some of that historical plumbing sticking above ground just another 5 feet along the walkway. To be absolutely certain, he continued digging the trench until we could see the plumbing under the path connected to the plumbing he cut previously. Bisbonian removed a section of the pipe on both sides of the walkway to allow the hose to be threaded through. Time for a beer, eh?
I installed a 1/4 in. porous soaker hose on top of the row of straw bales. I hadn’t used this product before but it seemed perfect for my project. It comes in a 50’ role and connects to ½ inch tubing by a barbed connector. I learned that using all 50’ didn’t work well. After adjusting the system by shortening the hose to 25’ and running two separate lines off the mainline it worked well enough. There is still a problem with an inconsistent dripping rate along the lines. Nevertheless, the seedlings seem to be satisfied because their growth rate has dramatically improved.

Another discovery about straw bale gardening is that the straw bales’ (my bales anyway) density is not consistent and therefore the composting action is inconsistent as well. In the process of carving out holes for the starters, each hole revealed varied degrees of straw decomposition. The most troubling fact is that some of the bales have completely hollowed out from the process of composting within the center of the straw bales. Three inches under the mixture of soil, compost and straw, the young plant’s roots are encountering empty air pockets. Ugh. Maybe that would explain the decrease in plant growth as well. I discovered this phenomenon while thinning out the pumpkin mound so I carefully filled the empty pockets with straw and conditioned soil. The singled out pumpkin is showing more life now.

It is always difficult for me to choose the healthiest seedling and sacrifice the others. I tend to side with the underdogs in life. In this case I decided to move the other pumpkin seedlings to the new straw bales around the apple tree and see how they do.

As I was working on this post, an expected thunderstorm rolled in. What was unexpected was the hail that came with it. I'm afraid that I intentionally left the plants exposed to receive rainwater. Once I realized the extent of the storm, I was not willing to try to replace the soggy covers that would require extensive clipping to secure them when the lightning flashed overhead. So I captured the event on video and let nature take its course.

Here is a slideshow showing the plant's progress from April to May (includes the damage from the hail storm).

Even though I have some setbacks, the project offers me a great deal of satisfaction. As far as predicting the weather and the seasons, I think we are entering into an era where everything that has been known up to now will be invalid. We are living in interesting times. In the midst of all the greed, politics and denials, I will continue to strive to be a good steward for the dirt I occupy.

1 comment:

  1. Continues to be wonderfully informative. Great videos :)