When it comes to gardening, Arizona has 5 Seasons, including a dry summer and a wet summer. It has been my experience that the Winter is about 3 months, Spring and Fall 2 months each. Summer is long, divided up between the dry summer and the wet summer, dependent on when the monsoons actually hit, if they do at all these days.
In the close to 20 years that Jim and I have lived in Tucson, we have learned a lot about Southern Arizona, its environment, culture and history. Here are some random thoughts on Southern Arizona and my latest project, gardening, that you might appreciate.
A little History of the State you might not be familiar with: Southern Arizona was the stuff of the Wild West for sure. It was the last of 48 contiguous states to be admitted to the Union. It is also the first US city to be named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. It is a stewpot of genes; Mexican, Indian, and American of every ancestry. Arizona borders Mexico, our neighbor, and where we get our produce and shrimp from. The state is over 25% Indian Reservation; Navajo, Apache, Tohono O’odham, Akimel O’odham, Hopi, Zuni. The list of tribes goes on.
Arizona is a land of magnificent beauty and stark desert from which miracles appear if you watch closely. Cactus flowers the size of salad plates whose blooms form on a stick. Awesome monsoon rainstorms and jaw-dropping dust storms (haboobs) that are deadly.
Arizona has the only venomous lizard in the United States, the Gila Monster. Its cousin the Beaded Lizard is found in nearby Mexico. There are several varieties of Rattlesnake, although my interest only goes far enough to want them out of my yard. I have learned to grab them with my 5-foot snake grabber and gently toss them over the fence with a stern warning not to come back.
Living in Arizona: We learned early on to bury the fence to discourage javelina and rabbits, although the rabbits don’t seem to have anything better to do than to keep trying. Javelina move on to easier pickings, like garbage cans on garbage day.
I haven’t gotten around to putting 1/4 inch hardware screen on the bottom half of the fence yet to discourage rattlesnakes. We once cut a mating pair out of some bird netting. It was frightening and perhaps a little stupid. I no longer use bird netting even though it is cheaper than hardware screen.
The Birds and the Bees: They are eating me out of house and home. Years ago, I started buying sunflower seeds and Nyjer seed at Lowes or Home Dopey. After a couple of weeks, I was entertaining hundreds of doves, quail, cardinals, pyrrhuloxia, roadrunners and finches in the yard. Okay, no more sunflower seeds. I lost the cardinals and roadrunners, massively cut down on the doves in the yard. Now I have finches, a few quail and some nesting doves. I get my seed from the local country feed store. Still, I go through a 50# sack of Nyjer seed every season. And the hummers devour a 10# sack of sugar in the same amount of time, with a little help from the woodpeckers and bees.
Gardens: We probably have 5 developed garden areas. Can’t help myself. Most of them are Sin Agua, although I have a rose garden that we planted upon our arrival 18 years ago, not knowing any better. At its height, I had 48 roses, now scaled back to 21 or thereabouts. The 10-foot mesquite trees are now 25 feet tall. They sucked all the water out of the irrigated lawn, so we replaced the grass with gravel and flagstone which was cheaper than fake grass. It saves us $30-$50 a month in water bills, even with the roses. Our water bill is now under $100 a month, but probably not for long. Cutbacks are ahead.
The Latest Project: Over the years my attempts at vegetable gardening have gone from a minimal attempt to see if something would grow to full-on recognition of the fact that without the massive intervention to the soil, critters, and environment I might as well give up. The non-adventures of this past year have put me all-in. I moved the garden, enlarged it, and put an embarrassing amount of money making it accessible, sturdy and secure from the elements; ie. critters and sun. Home gardening is not for profit. It should be considered a hobby.
I am still challenged and learning, but then, when I lived in Oregon, I never paid for an apple, pear or cherry and never had to water. Summer crops were never a challenge as they are here.
I did not know how the Indians did it but a visit to the Misson Garden has been helpful. If you have not been there recently, it is worth another visit. Right now is an excellent time before the summer hits and the winter wheat is gone. They now have a kitchen and a garden shop. They sell much of what is produced at the gardens here. I just picked up some Tanks Compost and Soil amendment.
• The Santa Cruz River actually had water in the days when Indians occupied this area, hundreds of years ago.
• I also learned that the amount one pays for Farmers Market produce is nothing compared to the amount of moolah I have in my raised bed garden surrounded by hardware fencing and shade for the summer. I no longer begrudge them their prices for produce.
• Although I thought it was critter-proof, having paved the floor with hardware screen to deter diggers and a 4 foot vertical barrier to deter, lizards, rats, rabbits and the like. I left a couple of feet of open space vertically, thinking that a two-foot fence above 27″ of concrete blocks would be enough to discourage interlopers. NOPE, Quail hunting for a bedding spot found it immediately. Next stop bird netting to secure the remainder of space that is open to interlopers.
Pool: Yes we have a pool, hardly bigger than a hot tub or perhaps, a spool if you will. We justified it with the excuse that Jim needed it for exercise for his bad back. It has exercise jets. In this day and age, I doubt if we would repeat the pool given a new choice although we do find it refreshing for most of the summer, except when the temperature of the pool renders it tepid.
I tend perhaps a 1/2 acre of our 3.5 acres, leaving the rest to nature. Most of our gardens are sin agua with the exception of the rose garden and the vegetable garden. Oh and the pots. Well, gotta have some color.