Homesteading Part 2: High Desert Gardening

Real Estate Agent with Advantage Realty Professionals

Our food supply has been corrupted.    It seems that every few weeks there is yet another report of e-coli in our beef, salmonella in our peanut butter, or melamine in baby formula.  Did you know that almost all corn, rice, and wheat grown in this country has been genetically modified (GMO)?  So have many of our fruits and vegetables.  Most European countries have banned GMO foods and yet our cows, chickens, and pigs are fed these GMO grains (and so are we!).  High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is in just about everything.  Despite the television commercials doing their best to convince you that HFCS is a "natural" product (Umm, who's paying for those commercials?), new research published in Environmental Health (and conducted in part by a scientist at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy) has revealed that HFCS is contaminated with the toxic heavy metal, mercury.  (<>)

Okay, enough doom and gloom.  How do we combat this attack on our food... and thereby our health?  Not many of us can grow our own rice or wheat, but you can grow many of your own fresh, nutritious, and tasty fruits and vegetables.  Really, anyone can do it.  Here, on our high desert property, we faced some challenges...

We made a discovery on our land.  Rocks, and lots of them!  This discovery came during the excavation for our home.  It would certainly make gardening a bit more challenging, but not insurmountable.  In fact, we put some of those plentiful rocks to good use in terracing part of the garden area.

 Our rocky soil       Raised beds and garden terracing

Where there's a problem, there's a solution!  Our solution to that rocky soil was in raised beds.  Raised bed gardening actually has more benefits than just providing us with good soil.  Because the beds are raised, we are able to plant earlier which provides for a longer growing season and our nutrient rich soil provides a high yield. 

We built the boxes with salvaged lumber that was about to be burned at a nearby lumber yard.  We started with just a few, and have been expanding each year.  As we add boxes we have more soil trucked in and this soil is amended each year with a combination of duff (soil under our juniper trees), cow manure (plenty of that lying around), and compost. 

Arizona still operates under the open range laws of the 1800's.  If you want to keep the cows off of your property, you have to fence them out.  This whole area has been and is still, at times, used for grazing cattle.  That said; there is a lot of, well, cow flop lying around if you're willing to go and look for it.  Last year my husband and I collected a bunch of it and made manure tea.  Okay, I know that sounds pretty gross, and I suppose it is to an extent, but you get used to it.  We dumped the dried cow patties into 35 gallon barrels and then covered them with water.  This was allowed to steep for about a week and then the patties were removed.  Once the manure was removed from the water, the stuff literally crumbled.  It looked and smelled like very nutrient rich earth... the unpleasant odor was gone.  The "tea" was used each week to help fertilize the garden.   However, we did not use it on the root vegetables and we were very careful not to get any on the above ground vegetables as well. The now broken down patties were used as mulch.  The result was a very happy and productive garden.

 2008 Garden

More 2008 Garden

Now, anyone who has ever grown tomatoes knows about horn worms.  They have to be the most disgusting caterpillar things ever.  (Can you tell I don't like them very much?)  They are as green as the stalks they cling to, as big around as your index finger, and they really hang on when you try to pull them from the plant.  When you smash them their green guts splatter everywhere!  Ick!  If you don't pull them off or kill them in some manner they will decimate your tomatoes and peppers overnight (they eat all of the leaves).  I've tried all manner of concoctions to keep them off.  The one product that seems to work really well is an organic powder called Diapel.  Pull off the suckers you can see (they're very hard to see, especially when small) and then give the plant a thorough dusting.  The rest are history overnight.  I get all of my organic gardening "stuff" from the Sweet Corn Nursery in Linden, Arizona.  I just found out they are now on line, so I have to give them a plug!  Bryan Jones, the owner, is incredibly knowledgeable and committed to pure organics!  Check out their site, which he says will be complete in about 7-8 days.

Waste not... save those vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, egg shells, and clippings from the garden or lawn!  Put them in a compost heap and let them hang out together for a while.  They'll break down and become a most wonderful, healthy addition/amendment for your garden. Composting is a great way to ‘give back' what nature has given you!

What can you grow in the high desert?  The winters here are too cold for citrus unless you have a green house.  However, you can grow just about anything else you want!  Last year our garden consisted of corn, sugar pumpkins, bush beans, zucchini, summer squash, onions, scallions, carrots, swiss chard, baby spinach, tomatoes (many varieties), cucumbers, radishes, cantaloupes, potatoes, broccoli, turnips, beets, and a good assortment of herbs.  

 Just a day's harvest, 9/2/08

More harvest from 9/2/08

You don't have to move to the country to have your own garden.  Though, I highly recommend it!  Start small, a little plot in your back yard will work just fine, or try pots on your balcony if you're in an apartment.  When we were still living in Phoenix on a city lot I turned a few of our flower beds in to a vegetable garden.  We grew tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, and pole beans.  We had enough for our family, and some to share as well!  Get the whole family involved.  Kids love gardening.  You can see their excitement as they watch their carefully planted and watered seeds grow in to mature fruits and vegetables.  Start a community or co-op garden.  Meet your neighbors, share ideas... heck, share vegetables!  There is simply nothing better than eating food that you've grown yourself and just harvested. 

If you're interested in homesteading, want to get yourself some property for the future, or if you're just curious and have questions... call me or e-mail me! 


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Mandi Perkins
Pioneer Title Agency - Pinetop Lakeside, AZ

Nothing beats home grown squash eh?

Mar 03, 2009 01:58 PM #1
Karen Ingersoll
Advantage Realty Professionals - Phoenix, AZ

Oh yes... you know it!

Mar 04, 2009 06:03 AM #2
Bob Foster
Century 21 Lanthorn R. E. Ltd. Belleville, Ontario - Belleville, ON

Thanks for these articles, Karen. I have subscribed to your blog.

Mar 15, 2009 12:48 PM #3
Karen Ingersoll
Advantage Realty Professionals - Phoenix, AZ

Thanks Bob!  Glad you liked them!

Mar 15, 2009 12:51 PM #4
David Salvato
David Home Inspection Service Home Inspector San Bernardino - Los Angeles, CA

Aren't these awesome!  I found a planter in a catalog that can be mounted on a wall, and it has a way of keeping the dirt in and the water flows down through it - not to expensive and I really want to try it out!  I think this guy's work is amazing!   Garden Design magazine did a layout last fall and it was beautiful... My vision is to buy an office building for our company and have the front entrance covered with a planted wall!  Great blog!  Thanks for getting this option out there --


Sep 07, 2009 02:25 AM #5
adriano sverko

the horn worm, here in NY, is called a bollworm, i believe. i would like to talk more about GMOs, because i am working on a movie series on this topic.. and maybe people are interested in knowing more about how it affects the entire ecosystem?

Mar 20, 2011 08:44 AM #6
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