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Gardening Living

Gardening in the Great Basin

Greetings this fine day in May. Many of our ancestors celebrated the first of May as the beginning of the summer season and with that, gardening in the Great Basin begins.  And its not easy.

When I first moved to the area from Anchorage, Alaska, in 2009, I was so excited to start gardening.  Hot sunny summers with beautiful annuals, fresh veggies, and perennials, I couldn’t wait to get started.  Then the reality set in.

As a reminder, at this time, none of the links provided in my post are paid. I found the websites to be informative and am sharing them with you.

The Hurdles

First off, the growing season here is shorter than Anchorage.  Yes. You read that correctly. The last frost date is June 16, two weeks later than Anchorage.  Memorial Day had always been my go to weekend gardening in Alaska.  The first spring we were here, it snowed the first week of June.  Additionally, our temperatures can reach -20 degrees F or colder in the winter and upwards to 100+ degrees F in the summer.

Planting seeds into the ground is iffy at best because of the short season of approximately 75 days.  I was looking forward to melons, corn, winter type squash, beautiful annual flowers, and my favorite dahlias as a perennial instead of an annual.

Once I started researching our growing zone, I discovered many of those plants require a longer time for germination to fruit (or flower).  I still do not have a functioning green house, but I will by the end of summer.  Last year, when we built the greenhouse, it was covered in visqueen. The winds made sure the visqueen only lasted a few months.

USDA-ARS and Oregon State University (OSU) [Public domain]

A Greenhouse or room inside the house to start plants is a economic necessity if you want to garden and don’t have the unlimited funds to buy starts from the box stores or the single plant nursery in town.

Annihilators

Another big hurdle are what I refer to as “garden annihilators.”

Herd of Mule Deer

The past few years have seen a huge influx of Mule Deer in the subdivision.  I asked my mom how she gardened without barriers, and she stated deer had not been much of a problem.  A newspaper article last month noted that residents throughout the area are having problems with the deer.  I quit trying to vegetable garden as the deer can wipe out it out over night.

The Soil

For a while I had to quit gardening because of hip problems.  When I had my hip replaced a couple years ago, gardening became a priority again. Learning to garden in clay is a constant learning experience.

I started by digging up the bed, removing the wonderful weeds, sifting the soil, and placing it back.  Very little grew that year.  So that fall, we bought bags of cheap top soil and, again, dug up a couple of beds, mixing the bagged soil and leaves with the native soil. I planted tulips and and allium. One of my success stories. They are now on year two and I love the early color that comes from the bulbs.

Allium, 2018

Last year I started mixing in used potting soil and home grown compost to the beds.  The used potting soil has a lot of peat and perlite mixed in and has helped.  This year I mixed in more compost and more leftover potting soil to beds I started last year.  Time will tell if it was enough for what I have planted thus far.

Successes

Most beds have done well until a certain point.  Then the plants stop thriving.  I may have to dig up those beds and amend the soil. The daffodils do wonderfully in it, but nothing else. I had luck last year with 4 O’Clocks and Morning Glories. Something I learned with climbing plants such as the morning glories, the afternoon sun heats metal and burns the plant.  Lesson learned, must use twine or wood for climbing plants.

Hollyhocks, May, 2019

The big successes I have had last year is with my bulbs and Hollyhocks.  I had tried to grow the hollyhocks several times only to have the deer and ground squirrels discover they are tasty salad makings. The next year I planted hollyhocks in two livestock watering barrels that were filled with native soil. We are on year three, and they are coming up nicely.

Hollyhocks, 2018

Bulbs

My dad planted daffodils years ago and they come back great each and every year.  AND the deer leave them alone.  Not so with tulips.  Tulips are deer ambrosia.  I have wire around those beds now, and they are starting to bloom.  I did discover the deer do not like Allium plants and left the tulips planted around them alone.  This fall, I will be planting a lot of different allium bulbs where I have tulips as a defense against the deer.

Daffodil bed, 2019

In addition to the allium, I will be adding daffodils this fall to the tulip beds to discourage the annihilaters.

2019 Season

I am still experimenting with what works in this area and what doesn’t.  I did have success one year up in the vegetable garden with zucchini in tires.  And we do love our zucchini in this house. For veggies this year, the zucchini and cucumbers will be planted in tires against the ramp into the house.  I will attempt to have both climb up on a twine trellis to keep them off the ground.

Last year, the cherry tomatoes were sweet and wonderful.  The larger tomatoes, all had blossom rot.  I am currently researching on what I can do to prevent that this year.  I was having problems with the flowers setting fruit until I moved them down off the deck to the area the hollyhocks are growing. Moving them to where the pollinators were busy was the key to getting the blossoms to set.

The tomatoes will be planted around the hollyhocks again, but I will be using a method I found on Pinterest for growing tomatoes. It involves a 5 gallon bucket with holes drilled into the bucket, compost placed inside the bucket, and the tomatoes planted around the bucket. I’m intrigued.

Berries

I have also planted two raspberry bushes and one blackberry bush.  These were bought at a local big box store, so I have my doubts. Maybe I will get lucky and actually have one of them grow.

I also bought six strawberry plants from the single local nursery.  At the same time I also got six lavender,  two russian sage plants, and a clematis from the same greenhouse.   It is always best to buy from a local grower or nursery. The plants are acclimated to your specific microclimate.

Strawberries

Weed Alternatives

Additional experimentation includes a wild flower garden.  I have a small area of the upper front yard dug up and wild flower pellets spread.  I want to see if wild flowers will be aggressive enough to over come some of the nasty weeds that have a thorn head and whitetops that come back every year. Another experiment I’m going to do is plant clover in similar areas. Stay tuned for the results. I would rather deal with the clover than the thorny headed buggers.

Do you live in an area where gardening is a struggle?  What have you done to overcome those hurdles?  Do you live in the Great Basin?  Please leave comments on your successes and learning experiences.

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