or Connect
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Cooking Discussions › Food & Cooking › Gardening in the Desert
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Gardening in the Desert

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
I have a brown thumb. I want fresh cilantro. I have a problem.

Any suggestions for a "chef's garden" in Arizona? When should I plant, what should I plant? I'm mostly interested in things like basil, cilantro, parsley... herbs rather than vegetables or fruits. Being in the desert has made most gardening books all wrong for me.
post #2 of 10
Check out this site...


Go to the "Urban Horticuolture" section. They have gardening advice and much more.

Your cilantro should grow almost like a weed, as long as it gets partial shade.

We had a fairly large (10X20) vegetable garden, with huge success with cilantro, cherry tomatoes, chili peppers, plus your other basic veggies...

This was all done on a raised bed sort of deal (planting on top of the hills, and letting the water flood in the foot paths between the rows. The water would reach the plants through lateral migration.

A colleague of mine growns his own basil, and a whole host of herbs in small containers that can be moved around, depending upon their shade/protection requirements.

Soil ammendments are one of the most important things, though. Given the clay content in most of the soils in the valley, without a good dose of gypsum, and plenty of composted mulch, you're almost better off throughing the seeds on the driveway and wait to see if they'll sprout...

Back when I had my roto-tilling business, I'd handle the annual tilling for folks that extremely successful gardens. The amount of humus that got turned into their soil was always a signifcant amount, but the texture kept getting more and more loamy, with even better crops year after year.

It's not impossible, but it does take some work to get the dirt "right"...
I might be suffering from CDO.
It is just like OCD, except the letters are in alphabetical order.
Just as they should be...
I might be suffering from CDO.
It is just like OCD, except the letters are in alphabetical order.
Just as they should be...
post #3 of 10
Most herbs like it hot and so long as you use proper growing medium or amend your soil appropriately, you should be able to grow most herbs. It got to 106 F degrees here and all my herbs did fine. But I don't know what your hight temps are there. If it stays over 100 F degrees for long periods of time, you can use row covers to drop the temperature an average of 15 F degrees and provide relief for your plants or you can plant them in areas of partial shade.

Cilantro will be an exception. Even seasoned gardeners have problems with cilantro. It is more challenging to grow for several reasons. First, it preferrs cooler temps even for those not in desserts. Second, it has a short life span of 2-3 harvestable weeks so succession planting is required but there are "slow bolting" varieties out there you can look for, meaning they do not go to seed as quickly as others. Third, if it doesn't get the amount of water and light it wants, they will be leggy or there won't be as much foliage.

If I were you I would use cilantro substitutes like culantro and vietnamese cilantro (my preference). Both do well in hot weather and will last all season.

Check with your state's Extension Service. Each county should have it's own Cooperative Extension Office which provides free publications and information for the asking. They can also tell you the average last frost date for your area and ideal planting times for specific crops and varieties in your area.

See how detailed this example is: Vegetable Planting and Planning Calendar for Missouri (download the pdf) complete with spring and fall planting dates (underneath the spring planting dates for appropriate crops), how much to plant per person, etc.

Here is an excerpt:

Just call up the office in your county. Look under the "Government" section (usually blue pages) of your phone book under "Extension". They will have valuable vegetable/gardening tables available specifically for your area determined by universities, and horticultural research scientists have collected data from growing those crops in your state. They may have one specifically for herbs for you.

Instead of looking for books, use online gardening forums. Here are some which you might learn from:

Arizona Gardening Forum with "herbs" search results

Herb Forum

You can join free and ask any questions you wish after searching to make sure there is not an existing topic.
post #4 of 10
You're going to want a slow bolt variety in the AZ heat. Plant it about every two weeks so you have a crop coming on when the old ones are going to bloom and seed.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 
DMT, looks like you're a stone's throw away from me. I'm thinking of a raised bed type of thing too, but I don't have lots of room. Small containers that move around? Now that sounds interesting.

As for driveways and sprouting, I finally noticed a weed growing amongst the stones in the front yard. Unfortunately, the weed had grown to 8 feet by the time I noticed it.

I've looked at some of those online forums and those folks are so much beyond what I could hope to achieve. Gypsum, for instance. I thought gypsum was what my interior walls were made of. :confused:
post #6 of 10
You don't need a lot of space. Can you think of 16 herbs you want to grow? If yes, then all you need is a four by four foot square. Can't think of 16? Then all you need is nine if you can think of nine you want to try.

This is all you need:

* 1/3 Peat Moss - available at any garden center or farm supply (or coir - the fibers found between the husk and the outer shell of a coconut)
* 1/3 Vermiculite - Buy the coarse grade in large 4 cubic-foot bags at any garden center.
* 1/3 Blended Compost - comprised from at least five sources, not just one.

A container with sides that are 6 inches high, easily constructed out of scrap wood. Doesn't even have to have a bottom if you put it on the ground.

The peat moss/coir and vermiculite can be an initial investment, but they'll last for years. The cheapest way would be make your own 100 pure compost by whatever method suits you best, or lasagna gardening. See the Soil, Compost, Mulch Forum.

Container Gardening Mix

Pictures of the results of the mix:
Examples Page 1
Examples Page 2
Examples Page 3
Examples Page 4
Examples Page 5

Based on the Square Foot Gardening Technique.

I don't know what threads you're reading but it would be best for you to post your own question in the appropriate forum. You might be surprised at the wealth of information people are willing to share with you. There are plenty of beginners there as well. As for Agricultural gypsum, I wouldn't amend your existing soil until you had it tested first. It's pointless and a waste of money to amend soil without knowing what you need to do to amend it.
post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thanks, mudbug. I bought a little soil analysis kit. That's when I found my 8 feet tall weed. I'm going to take cuttings of the various things that happen to be growing in my yard, which is made up of concrete and rocks and a few strewn bricks and see what they are. That square foot gardening sounds great.
post #8 of 10
No problem Free Rider.

I strongly suggest you take your kit back and get a refund if you haven't opened it already. Home kits are nowhere near as accurate as a lab can be.

You have two options.

1) Use your existing soil in which case you need to get your soil tested and then amend accordingly.

2) Do not use your existing soil and make your own growing medium. Then you don't need to test and you can have an instant garden depending on what method you choose to create your soil.

If you want your soil tested, go here:

Soil, Plant and Water Analysis Laboratory
Dept. of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, Shantz Annex, Bldg. #38, Room 431, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721
(520) 621-9703

To submit sample: Take soil sample to lab or mail it to the above address.
Common regional problems: Metal contamination, acidic-to-neutral soils.
post #9 of 10

Yep, been here since '67, and have dealt with soil all over the valley...

I couldn't tell you whether I had a "slow bolt" or "slow nut", or whatever variety of cilantro, but all I know is the stuff took off.

Grew almost year round, and the more it was clipped, the more it sprouted...

Raised beds (if you wish to garden in the ground) allows the salts (think Salt River) that are prevalent in our soil to leach out away from the root zone, giving a more "neutral" host area for the plant(s).

If you go the potted or contained route, make sure that the containers have some sort of shielding from the sun. Think closed car in the summer. 140-160 degrees in a heart beat, which will cook the roots.

Allow the upper leafy part short periods of full sun, or all day in filtered shade.

The reason I liked the raised bed approach was that I could water (flood irrigation) two or three times a week, and get plenty of deep watering.
Our carrots would sometimes hit 12" to 14" in length, and sweeeet??? Ummmm...

The ones that hit hard pan sometimes looked like Gumby.

Our best stuff grew in the shadows of other plants that I prayed would reach an early demise (okra, for instance...)

Our garden was planted at the western edge of our property, using the fence for shade and support of climbing plants (beans, peas, etc.) We'd also sort of run a perimeter planting of higher growing plants that would shade the more tender/sensitive plants from the direct summer sun for more than a couple of hours.

Also if you do plant in the ground, clump your root (carrots etc., if so inclined) crops in relatively dense "zones". As you pick the early pieces, it allows the follow on growth room to expand, and you've loosened the soil just a bit by pulling out the big fellas...

Don't get too wrapped around the axle on scientific aspects of your dirt (unless you have a burning desire to go chasing the Ph...)

And forgive me for contradicting other posters, but I have a "hands in the dirt" knowledge of the conditions we face here.

The gypsum will act as a "lubricant" between the clay particles, allowing better penetration of the water to adepth where it will do some good.

Depending upon where you live, you might (just maybe) be experiencing an acidic condition , but given the alkalinity of the water here, plus the irrigation methods of the farming community (which is what the land was if your home is less than fourty years old), tend to create hard pan at about the 6" to 12" depth from grade. Heavy compaction of alkali material, due to the absolute depth of the disc or harrow used by the farmer.

But for your peace of mind, you might be well advised to know exactly what you've got there.

There is more to successful gardening in Arizona, but the key points are getting plenty of organic material into the dirt, do NOT rely on chemical fix-its (let the compost/humus build at its own pace), water deeply and as frequently as necessary to maintain growth (avoiding the stressed look), and use the sun/shade from other plants to your advantage.

If I can grow food in the silty, expansive soil of Gilbert, with the same delicious results that I had in the heavy clay of Mesa, my technique must not be that far off...
I might be suffering from CDO.
It is just like OCD, except the letters are in alphabetical order.
Just as they should be...
I might be suffering from CDO.
It is just like OCD, except the letters are in alphabetical order.
Just as they should be...
post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the advice; it's just what I needed. Conditions here are particularly odd. As for carrots... a friend has a "garden" that produces "carrots". He does nothing to the soil, only waters. He proudly pulled out a carrot to show me one day. Sorry little 1-inch pale carrot. I don't want to make that same mistake.
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Food & Cooking
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Cooking Discussions › Food & Cooking › Gardening in the Desert