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Howdy again!

9 Apr

Greetings from the Sonoran Desert!

Although we haven’t been updating our blog, we have been busy in our garden.

We hope to find an opportune moment soon to write and share with you more gardening life…
In the meantime, here are photos of what we’ve been up to:

2010 album

2011 album (watch for updates!)

See all our Photos on Flickr

Happy, healthy day to y’all!

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Purple Asparagus

9 Apr
Two Purple Asparagus from our Garden

Purple Asparagus in our Garden

As we wrote on twitter this morning: the purple asparagus in our garden never makes it to the kitchen. We eat the spears immediately after harvesting.

Through out early April, we anticipate savoring these treats from our garden. Sweet, fresh, mild – this asparagus is our kind of candy.

Purple asparagus tastes sweeter than it’s green cousin because it’s higher in sugar content than green asparagus. What makes them purple? Cancer fighting phytochemicals called Anthocyanins are responsible for their beautiful purple hue.

Asparagus is well known for its medicinal properties. Asparagus is a diuretic and laxative with a beneficial effect on the kidneys, liver and bowels. Nutritionally, asparagus is rich in vitamins C & E, folate, potassium, and fiber.
Nutrition Data for Raw Asparagus
Growing Asparagus

About five years ago, we planted one-year-old purple asparagus crowns (rhizomes) in March, when the freezing weather had past. Asparagus is a deep-rooted crop that prefers a soil pH of 6.5-7.5. We planted them in a slightly raised bed filled with nice loamy soil incorporated with plenty of organic compost and a mix of chicken and goat manure.

Asparagus is long-lived crop that can be productive for 15 years or more if well tended. We are sure to mulch and water the asparagus well through out the year (water logging isn’t a problem here in the desert). Every early February, after we clip away the fern debris, we lightly scratch in a 2-inch thick layer of organic steer manure over the entire asparagus bed.

A year later we were able to harvest our first purple asparagus. The best moment to harvest asparagus is when they are the width of one’s thumb, and a height of about six to eight inches. We prefer to cut the spear with a knife at the soil surface.

At the end of the harvest season, we leave a few mature spears to grow out. These asparagus spears will grow into a beautiful, tall fern, re-charging its crown for the next harvest season. During the late season, our female plants bear red seed-bearing fruits.

Treat yourself to this wonderful vegetable. Now is the time to put your asparagus crowns into the soil.

With consistent care and patience, asparagus will reward you every spring with spears bursting with flavor and nourishment for many years to come.

Purple Asparagus

Purple Asparagus in our Garden


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Desert Gardening Books

16 Mar

Celebrity Numerologist, and recent Arizona transplant, Tania Gabrielle twittered us asking if we have any book suggestions for organic gardening in the desert.

We looked through our library for the most well worn and well loved gardening books in our collection. Here are our finds:

Desert Gardening by George Brookbank
Desert Gardening

From caliche to zucchini, this is the definitive guide to desert gardening.

Brookbank started out as an Agricultural Officer in Africa; figuring out how to protect crops from elephants and monkeys. For many years he worked at the Extension Garden Center if the University of Arizona. Brookbank has been writing Gardening articles in Tucson newspapers since the 1970’s and has been in various local radio and tv shows.
The information he has compiled in this book is priceless. If you could only buy one gardening book, this should be it.

* We especially like the desert gardener’s calendar: garden projects for every week of the year.

* We reccomend all of George Brookbank’s Books: “Desert Landscaping: How to Start and Maintain a Healthy Landscape in the Southwest” and “The Desert Gardener’s Calendar: Your Month-by-Month Guide” – Find more great books like these at the University of Arizona Press

Extreme Gardening: How to Grow Organic in the Hostile Deserts  by David Owens  Extreme Gardening: How to Grow Organic in the Hostile Deserts

Occasionally, we get to watch David “Garden Guy” Owens on the wacky “Good Morning Arizona” show on KTVK, Phoenix. He’s a real gift to desert gardeners, with a wealth of organic gardening tips.

Let it Rot!: The Gardener's Guide to Composting by Stu Campbell Let it Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting (Third Edition) (Storey’s Down-to-Earth Guides)

Fortifying desert soil is crucial for a healthy, productive garden. This is the classic how-to book on the various methods of composting. It’s an easy, educational, and entertaining read. “Let it Rot” is a great resource for gardeners of all skill levels.

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands (Vol. 1): Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain into Your Life And Landscape

Don’t bother signing up for that expensive permaculture class when you can use this book, your own insight and imagination and transform your home into a hydrophilic paradise. Written by Tucsonan Brad Lancaster, “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond” is a three-volume guide on how to conceptualize, design, and implement sustainable water harvesting.

We hope these books will enrich your gardening adventures.

Feel free to twitter us: @OrganicGardenAZ

Obama’s Farming Agenda

21 Jan

This morning, at our computers, with coffees in hands, we read the agendas of the President Obama at whitehouse.gov

Some highlights for us are the plans to help family famers, support organic agriculture, and encourage young people to become farmers.

“Ensure Economic Opportunity for Family Farmers

  • Strong Safety Net for Family Farmers: Fight for farm programs that provide family farmers with stability and predictability. Implement a $250,000 payment limitation so we help family farmers — not large corporate agribusiness. Close the loopholes that allow mega farms to get around payment limits.
  • Prevent Anticompetitive Behavior Against Family Farms: Pass a packer ban. When meatpackers own livestock they can manipulate prices and discriminate against independent farmers. Strengthen anti-monopoly laws and strengthen producer protections to ensure independent farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions, and transparency in prices.
  • Regulate CAFOs: Strictly regulate pollution from large factory livestock farms, with fines for those that violate tough standards. Support meaningful local control.
  • Establish Country of Origin Labeling: Implement Country of Origin Labeling so that American producers can distinguish their products from imported ones.
  • Encourage Organic and Local Agriculture: Help organic farmers afford to certify their crops and reform crop insurance to not penalize organic farmers. Promote regional food systems.
  • Encourage Young People to Become Farmers: Establish a new program to identify and train the next generation of farmers. Provide tax incentives to make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm.
  • Partner with Landowners to Conserve Private Lands: Increase incentives for farmers and private landowners to conduct sustainable agriculture and protect wetlands, grasslands, and forests.”

Also, the Obama team slammed Bush over his handling of Hurricane Katrina , stating:

“President Obama will keep the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He and Vice President Biden will take steps to ensure that the federal government will never again allow such catastrophic failures in emergency planning and response to occur.”

And:

“Citing the Bush Administration’s “unconscionable ineptitude” in responding to Hurricane Katrina, then-Senator Obama introduced legislation requiring disaster planners to take into account the specific needs of low-income hurricane victims.”

Good Morning New America!

Italian Breakfast of Champions

13 Apr

This page is a testament of Love to my Mother, Netta.
“May the lamp of all souls shine her light upon us”

Every morning before school, my Grandfather would take me by the hand and walk me to the chicken coop at the back of his garden. His eyes would twinkle as he handed me the freshest egg from a nest. I carried this warm present in my hands very carefully past the grape vines and fig tree to Grandfathers wine cellar.

In the cellar, he opened a bottle of his homemade wine and poured some into a little glass. I handed him my egg to which he broke the shell and let the egg fall into the glass of wine. Then, he instructed me to drink this down quickly. After I drank his elixir, I felt rosy warm glow come to my cheeks.

This was our custom every day. Nobody in the rest of my family even knew we were doing this. To this day, I credit my Abbruzzese Grandfather with helping me on maintaining my health and wellbeing.

I have never heard of anyone with a similar life story until I found this wonderful article which I post here for you today.

Salute’!

Italian Breakfast

Benefits and tradition are in a glass of red wine (and a fresh raw egg)

From: L’Italo Americano

Grandparents knew value of good red wine for everyday celebration.

As we raised our glasses high, Papa’s words sang out over the dining table, “Saluté per chinto Anno,” his deep, rich voice as hardy and pure as the red wine he held in his glass.

“Good luck, for a hundred years,” his dinner guests echoed back.

I remember how Papa’s face beamed with pride at these joyous occasions and how our meal never began until each family member had repeated the traditional dinner toast and sipped from our small glasses of red wine.

Wine was always a part of our family’s holiday meal. I was introduced to its flavor, as well as its medicinal benefits, at an early age. As each family milestone occurred–baptisms, first holy communions, confirmations, birthdays, graduations and marriages–another bottle of Papa’s homemade red wine was uncorked. Bottles were also poured on Sundays, holy days of obligation and all national holidays–there was always cause for celebration in Papa’s house.

Grandma often put the benefits of red wine to good use as a medicinal cure. It was administered in moderation as a remedy for arthritis and to purify the blood, cure anemia, alleviate stomach cramps and prevent infection. During World War II, when cases of trench mouth and whooping cough reached epidemic levels in the U.S., Grandma administered the rich red wine to each grandchild as a preventative mouthwash and gargle. It must have worked because none of us ever contracted either disease. We did, however, develop a profound liking, in later years, for chianti, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Grandpa often walked me to the chicken house to get my fresh egg. He then cracked the egg in a glass, poured in his wine and watched happily as I drank my breakfast. Can you imagine a child today going to school with the smell of hearty burgundy on his or her breath? I shudder to think of the consequences.

As a teenager, I recall the looks of astonishment on the faces of my non-Italian friends as they watched Papa fill my dinner glass with wine. To those who objected, Papa would simply say, “Wine is served in church at the communion rail, is it not? And it was served at the Last Supper.” End of discussion.

Papa’s house was a peaceful one and a place where he felt happiest. He eliminated the extraneous and engaged in living a simple and satisfying lifestyle. His home was well-balanced, filled with the practical things he needed and the people he loved. He had his own quiet corner to which he retreated after a robust meal. It was his belief that the soul sighs after eating a large, traditional dinner and that one should spend time in contemplation and reflection. Papa reflected at least an hour after every meal–the sound of his snoring vibrated though the house.

October has always been my favorite time of the year, when the air is brisk and leaves turn a vibrant rainbow of colors. Papa looked forward to this autumn month, too, but for a different reason. October is the traditional time of year for winemaking. It was then that he assembled paraphernalia and ingredients for the making of his hearty burgundy.

Winemakers on the East Coast had to wait for good winemaking grapes like malaga and zinfandel to come in by rail car from California. But this valley’s winemakers, like Papa, were lucky enough to have the plentiful grapes of the Napa and Almaden valleys practically in their back yards. They only had to arrive in their pick-ups to local vineyards to buy boxes of the finest grapes. Some old-timers nurtured their own tiny grape vineyards for the express purpose of making homemade red wine.

Devoted winemakers, like Papa, usually owned their own grape-crushers, while others rented or borrowed one each fall. After the crush was finished, the juice was poured by funnel into the huge oak barrels that had been cured with sulfur smoke.

Here’s where the talent for good winemaking would come in. One mistake and the winemaker’s barrels would be filled with vinegar instead of wine. But, like Papa, most winemakers had inherited their skills from the Old Country and rarely made a bad batch.

My favorite memory of winemaking was how the family gathered together at the ranch house to help Papa make the wine. The hub of activity was usually in Grandma’s kitchen, where the ladies were hard at work making homemade pastas, sausages, raviolis and hot tomato ketchup, in preparation for a grand October feast. The aroma of roasted bell peppers wafted through the air from Grandma’s hot oven every fall, filling our nostrils with their wonderfully pungent smell.

In the fall, the men in the family gathered in the cellar to cure the wine barrels and to help Papa set up his wine press. Some of the men helped Papa haul in the grapes, others set up the grape-crusher and some cured the oak barrels.

As a child, I remember hearing Papa and Nonna speak of the renowned vineyards of Brolio Castle, the baronial estate of the Ricasoli family, an area famed for its chianti. It is said that wine has been made in this region of Italy since 1000 CE. It was this revered standard of chianti that Papa tried his best to clone.

Years ago, Mama and Papa never had to call in a baby-sitter to watch the kids. There was always an older family member available for this chore. One of my favorite of these family baby-sitters was my great-grandpa, Vincenci. When it was his turn to watch the kids, he’d begin by telling us a long, colorful story of his days as a Cavalry soldier in the Italian army. Along with Granddad’s story, we were also treated to a hot wine drink, similar to zabaione. To keep us occupied after supper, grandpa gathered us all around a crackling fireplace, and as he told his story, he handed us each a large cup. In the cup he placed a raw egg and a teaspoon of sugar. We were then instructed to whip the egg until it was very frothy. By the end of great-grandpa’s exciting tale, our eggs were ready for the boiling water and jigger of marsala wine. After drinking down this rich zabaione toddy, we kids–and great-grandpa–were all ready for a good night’s sleep.

Today, America is having a love affair with wine. And authorities tell us that drinking a glass of red wine a day can increase longevity. But Papa and Nonna, who lived well into their 90s, knew of these benefits early on.