Monday, April 29, 2013

I Don't Think We're in Kansas Anymore, Toto

The transition from winter gardening to summer gardening is just about complete in my yard. Almost all the winter vegetables are gone now, and the summer ones are sprouting up or just about ready for planting.

If there's anything that's become clear to me during this transition (other than I desperately want someone else to weed my yard for me), it's that Arizona gardening just ain't the same as everywhere else. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Let's start with the season that just passed--winter. I planted four different types of onions this winter, and only one type ever made it to full-fledged onion bulbs. The rest just couldn't cut it in our Arizona weather, no matter how much time I gave them. (They were good for green onion tops though, so it wasn't a total bust.)
  • Red Creoles--I planted these from seed in mid-October. They are supposed to reach maturity in 110 days. Six and a half months later, the biggest ones were maybe half an inch thick at the base.
  • Sweet Spanish--I planted these from seed at the same time I planted the Red Creoles. They are supposed to reach maturity in 130 days. They were about as mature as the Red Creoles when I finally gave up and ripped them all out this weekend.
  • Yellow Sweet Spanish?--I didn't keep very good records, so I'm guessing on this one. But I planted some yellow type onion from sets in November. Four months later, and they ain't nothing to write home about.
  • Texas Granex--I planted these from sets in late January. A mere three months later, and they're ready for dinner. My one success.

Don't mess with Texas (Granex, that is)

I'm not really sure why some onions do better than others here (something about short day and long day varities). These folks at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System seem to know a lot more. The important thing that I learned though is that onions that do well other places just aren't going to do much here. Picking the right variety is immensely important.

Moving onto summer, I've learned another lesson the hard way about how different Arizona gardening really is. As I mentioned a while back, I got a little behind on my gardening this spring. I was out of town a lot and didn't have a chance to get things started from seed like I normally would. I figured I'd make up the difference by buying starts instead, but didn't even have a chance to get out to my favorite nurseries to buy them. "No problem!" I thought. "In this modern age, I can order anything online. Seedlings will come straight to my door and it won't take any time at all to plant them. Easy peasy!" Big mistake.

Ordering seeds from the Internet is just fine. Ordering seedlings (at least in Arizona) generally doesn't work out as planned. Here's the deal: If you go to just about any online site to order plants, they'll give you this whole spiel about how they will send you the plants at just the right time for your area to ensure success. Here's what they don't tell you: They're only keeping freeze dates in mind when they calculate the "right" time to send you the plants. They don't seem to account for "burn" dates at all.

So I ordered tomatoes, blueberries, and other plants with a very limited production period, and I got them months after I needed to plant them. Sure, there was no chance that they would freeze by the time I got them, but there was also just about no chance they'd live either. By the time I got them, it was way too late by Arizona standards. Quite frankly, I didn't even see the point in planting them, since I could pretty much guarantee they'd be burned to a crisp in no time. Plants like that can survive and produce here in Arizona, but like many of us, they need some time to gear up for the really hard weather. Without that time, they're just not going to make it.

So lessons learned. Choose the right varieties of plants for Arizona, and don't order seedlings from the Internet. Got it.

Now in case this all sounds glum, I should note that there are some really good things that set Arizona apart in terms of gardening too. If we plan it right, we can grow vegetables year round.  Things like okra, melons, and sweet potatoes can not only survive the heat here, they love it. Things like broccoli, lettuce, and spinach all do just fine throughout the winter. And spring and fall? Gardening nirvana!

Can you say that about Kansas?

Update (May 24, 2013):  

I harvested the Texas Granex onions a week or two ago, and they were awesome! I'm definitely planting those again! 

Since I've heard that they don't store that well, I cut most of them up and froze them in 1 cup portions for later use. I miss having green onions on hand all the time though. I've heard from some of my friends in the Tucson Backyard Gardener Facebook group that l'itoi onions from Native Seeds do OK here in the summer. They don't "bulb up," but if they work, at least you have green onions. I'm gonna give 'em a shot. I'll let you know how it goes!

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