Category Archives: Organic Gardening

Make Your Own Compost

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Compost is an invaluable resource for those gardening in the desert like us Arizonans. Our soil tends to be clay heavy, not very welcoming to gardens of food or flowers. Never fear! A simple adjustment using things you already have around the house can  help.

Composting –

1. Adds necessary nutrients

2. Compost aerates the soil and allows those little plant roots room to expand and create a stronger root system.

3. Compost enables the soil to retain water better and minimizes water run-off since the water can actually soak down into the soil. This means you can water less frequently and save money.

4. Reduces household waste by utilizing items you would normally toss.

Here’s how it works.

Compost is comprised of organic materials that are broken down by microorganisms until they turn to rich dark soil. Once compost has turned to soil, just mix it into your garden soil.

In order to have a successful pile, you need 4 things.

1. 50% Browns – mulch material like dry leaves, pine needles, twigs, nut shells

2. 50% Greens – veggie and fruit scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds, tea bags

3. Water –  keep the pile just moist enough to seem like a wrung out sponge.

4. Oxygen – turn the pile about once a week to keep it aerated. A shovel should do the trick.

DON’T ADD – greasy items, milk products, meat etc. Keep it plant based and you’ll be in good shape. For more info, check out the EPA’s compost info.

A properly composed compost pile should NOT smell. If it does, try adding a little more brown to the mix.

I recommend getting a compost bin from the City of Phoenix.

Happy Composting!

Squash Bug Invasion!

By | Organic Gardening, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Last week, I missed being at my “real” garden for about three days because I was busy with other things. Big Mistake!!! When I arrived on Thursday, I discovered squash bugs doing an inappropriate mating ritual on my beautiful squash plants. Being a natural girl, I started looking for ways to take care of the problem without chemicals.

There are four squash plants in this bed. 3 crooknecks and 1 zucchini

Garden pests are sneaky little creatures. I’d been carefully watching my plants prior to their arrival, looking for eggs and hatchlings, but didn’t see anything till the whole plant was covered with creepy little bugs.

After the invasion, I definitely found signs everywhere.

Like squash bug eggs. I gently rubbed them off the leaf into a glass of soapy water.

Leaves with big chunks eaten out of them. Stinky nymphs!

Bug-eaten! Poor little leaf.

Can you see the little white bug? He's a young squash bug and has an incredible appetite.

Told you they were being inappropriate! Gross. They are consenting adults but - Ugh - GET A ROOM!

Here’s what I’ve done so far to get rid of them.

1. Removed all bugs that I can see (or catch!) and drop them into a glass of soapy water. Squishing bugs grosses me out. Ugh.

2. Removed eggs and give them the same treatment.

3. Removed the dead matter around the plants so there isn’t any place for the bugs to hide. Well, other than the leaves!

4. Sprayed the leaves with soapy water. I don’t actually know if this works for squash bugs but it was all I had at the moment.

5. According to a grower at the Roadrunner Farmer’s Market, Neem oil should work. I don’t want to use Neem because if ingested, it’s reported to contribute to miscarriage.  In case I get pregnant, I think it’s better not to put that on my food. I checked with Dave the Garden Guy and he says Diatomaceous Earth should work. So I’m going to get an applicator today. I bought a huge bag of food grade DE from a feed store.

I learned a few things with the squash bug incident.

1. Don’t use straw for mulch because they love to hide in it. I suspect this is true of other pests as I’m not sure what a better solution is so maybe some of my wise farmer/gardener friends can help. Maybe just a heavier compost?

2. Don’t plant so many of the same thing in an area. Thankfully squash leaves are big and fairly easy to search for bugs and eggs but I might not have had so many if they’d been a little more separated. Or not. I’m too new at this to know.

3. Include companion plants that repel pests – like nasturtiums or marigolds. I was lazy this year and didn’t include them in this part of the garden. I paid for it!

For now, I’m still picking the bugs off my plants because they don’t seem to be killing it – yet. If I can’t clean up the problem in the next week or so, I’ll probably destroy the most infested plants so they don’t infect my fall crops. It’s time to start planting that next!!

If you’ve dealt with these bugs before and have any natural, non-chemical options for me, I’d love to hear them!

Meet Jill from The Sweet Life Garden, part 2

By | Local Phoenix, Organic Gardening, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Here’s the followup to yesterday’s post highlighting our visit to gardener Jill’s Sweet Life Garden.
Jill uses healthy gardening methods like composting, companion planting and avoids using chemicals on her plants or the pests who might visit. Her garden is proof that you don’t need to buy Miracle Grow to create a stunning green space.

Jill is a proficient gardener and homemaker. For those of you who think a garden takes too much time, be encouraged. Jill says she usually only spends about an hour a day in the garden when it’s not peach season. Along with the plants I’ve shared these last two days, Jill also grows blackberries, blueberries, several other varieties of trees and more. She offers eggs at her farmstand as well as delicious preserves. And the peaches, which were the original inspiration for our visit? Sweet, flavorful and luscious! If you’d like to know more about this garden, please visit Jill’s blog.

Today we’ll look at some of the more creative garden ideas Jill employs. The effect is a very romantic, cottage style garden.

Who knew celery could be so pretty?

I love how Jill manages to tuck so many trees into her space and still grow things underneath them.
Here is an apricot tree planted with catnip, society garlic and other whimsical looking plants.

Apricot tree

Jill has many trees around the property – including two shading the chicken coop, a must in the scorching Arizona summer. One of Jill’s gardening tips is that she keeps them trimmed fairly low. She suggests letting them grow no higher than what you can reach from a ladder. After all, you want to be able to reach the fruit you’re growing.

Here’s another great idea. Jill is training her apples (she has both Fiji and Anna) into an apple hedge growing on the pool fence. How creative!
Tomatoes, my favorite.
See this fountain? Those aren’t just flowers growing underneath.
Alyssum (pest repellant), melons and some kind of pretty purple stalk.   
A closer look at the society garlic.
Let’s finish with just one of the many gorgeous rose bushes Jill tends.

If you just can’t get enough of this garden, don’t fret. It’s featured, along with several others, in the Arcadia Garden Tour which happens twice a year. You missed the spring tour but it’s not too late for fall. Check out Jill’s blog and stay tuned for news from the beautiful Sweet Life Garden. Thanks again for the tour, Jill!

If you love what you see, sign up for email updates. I never spam ya’ and there’s always something interesting to explore around here!

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Meet Jill at The Sweet Life Garden, part 1

By | Organic Gardening, Uncategorized | No Comments
The beautiful weather these past few months has lured my girls and me out into nature lately. And, last week, we had the opportunity to check out a garden I’ve been admiring online for a while. We learned via Facebook that the peaches at the Sweet Life Garden were ready to pick and would only be available a few more days. So, Tuesday morning, we headed over as early as I could bundle the girls into the car (hint: not before 9!) and headed to Arcadia. I just had to share with you some of the sights we enjoyed. Today’s post will be some of the more traditional aspects of her garden and tomorrow, I’ll show you some of the more creative things she’s done in her garden.
Organic Mama will be regularly featuring some of the amazing gardens around the Phoenix area. Hopefully, it will encourage those of you who are new to gardening to jump in and get started. Don’t worry if your garden area isn’t as large as Jill’s. Check out some of the creative ways she tucks plants into different spaces and go for it! For more on Jill’s garden, check out her blog.
What a magical entrance to the garden!
Photo Credit: Daughter No 1
First, meet Jill, the lovely lady behind this garden. She and I posed so my five year old could practive her budding photography skills. She did ok, didn’t she? You can see some of Jill’s handiwork – peaches hanging from the tree above us. Yum. They were delicious.
Of course the first thing my girls noticed was the hen house. Though my older daughter was a little uncertain about these creatures, my youngest (who’s two) couldn’t get enough of them. She talked to them like they’d been buds forever and informed Jill, “I think they like me!” Imagine her thrill when Jill actually let her go inside to collect eggs!
She is, I might add, very efficient at egg gathering, if just a tad inclined to toss the eggs into the basket. Oops!
Aren’t they pretty? So colorful!
This guy was sure I was there to feed him.
The trumpet vine climbing this date palm tree is truly breathtaking in person.
I had to give you a closer look at these gorgeous flowers! Now to figure out where I can add a trumpet vine in one of my growing spaces. I have a couple of palms. Hmmm…
She has the traditional raised beds. See anything you recognize? She has tomatoes, onions, peppers and more. Notice she plants nasturtiums and marigolds with her veggies. Not only do they add color, they are great for discouraging pests.

Recognize this plant? See the tell-tale white flowers and brilliant red color peeping through those pretty rounded leaves? You’re right. They’re strawberries. This bed was an incredible sight. Real strawberries from the garden are nothing like what we buy at the supermarket. They are bright, sweet, usually a bit smaller and smell divine. Jill’s strawberry bed reminded me of my Grandma Verna’s strawberries. They were always such a treat!

The Sweet Life Garden, part two.