Backyard Vegetable Garden: Winter Harvest

Some of my most distinct summer memories are centered on our backyard vegetable garden. My two sisters and I would spend most mornings out there (under duress) yanking out weeds and mulching around the plants and grumbling about how early it was and how much we hated weeding. In July and August, however, when the corn and strawberries and tomatoes were ripe, when the cucumber and melons were perfect, and the pumpkins were starting to turn orange…well, then it wasn’t nearly so bad. The harvest part was a mixed bag. Yay for delicious food from the backyard! Boo for hours and hours juicing and smooshing tomatoes then packing them in mason jars to can.

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This Arizona move has been the first time I’ve had a little place for a vegetable garden, really, anything more than a pot on the shared porch or kitchen windowsill, actually. And I sure pleaded for somewhere to try my hand at a few vegetables. Mr. Blue Eyes came through with some beautiful garden boxes in the backyard; we planted last March with some delicious success, and I re-planted for a “winter” season this fall. The cooler weather in November and December has really done wonders for my little plants (and also for my heat-hating soul). In the last few weeks I have gone into the backyard a few times a week for a double handful of tomatoes, or a couple one-gallon ziploc bags of lettuce, and to check on my cauliflower and snip some herbs for dinner. To be 100% honest, these little moments in the dirt have been, without question, the only real happiness I’ve felt from being outside since my move to the Valley of the Surface of the Sun.

A little recap of my gardening adventures the last few months:

Zucchini, yellow squash, cozelle: I’m not sure what the problem was, exactly, but these usually prolific producers would flower and start tiny baby squashes, then when they’d get about finger-length, they’d stop growing and wither and die. Then blossom again and repeat the whole process. I need to do some research into this, because, uh, who can’t make zucchini grow AT ALL!? Don’t worry, I have some successes to make up for it.

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Carrots: I planted these kind of on a whim, grabbing the seed packet as I waited at the checkout counter. I could have planted about five more rows and been completely thrilled with the outcome. These grew well, the leafy tops were so pretty, and the TASTE!? Lawsy. Real carrots are sweet with a little zesty spice to them. They are best eaten right after they are picked (I haven’t perfected the storing technique to keep them crisp). I truly don’t think I can ever go back to those bags of baby carrots, all whittled and slimy and the size of your thumb…they just…no. Real carrots 4evah!

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Tomatoes: I didn’t actually plant tomatoes, but I had three volunteer plants from some dropped seeds this summer. They have truly been going crazy, I pick a double (or triple!) handful of tomatoes every few days and Mr. Blue Eyes and I pop them like candy, they are so delicious!

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Let’s Talk About Lettuce: I was a little hesitant to plant a bunch of lettuce, but it has been so amazing to have in the backyard! I planted about a dozen spinach plants, and another dozen “variety” pack of 6 different types of lettuce, and one curly kale plant. From those plants I get two or three one-gallon ziploc bags PACKED with leaves every week. I take lettuce to neighbors and friends, I add spinach and kale to everything, I have to try and figure out how to get more salad in my diet. It has been glorious! I will definitely repeat this plan for next year, and I’m going to add some chard as well. Eeep!

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Green Beans: I love fresh green beans for dinner, I steam them a few minutes and then top with butter and salt. I think I have had these for dinner at least once a week for…months. So it would only make sense to try and grow some in the backyard, right!? Uh, well, turns out, it takes a LOT of space to grow enough green beans for dinner. I was able to get enough from all my plants for about one meal with a (small) side of green beans. I think next time I’ll use the space for something that produces more.

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Cauliflower: Mr. Blue Eyes and I eat a lot of cauliflower, we use it as a rice substitute once or twice a week, and between the two of us can eat a whole head in one sitting. I steam it, roast it, boil it, rice it, dice it…the works. So when I saw a pallet of cauliflower starts at the nursery last fall I immediately popped them in my cart. The leaves are almost as long as my arm, and sure enough, one perfectly round cauliflower is at the center of each plant. I picked my first one this week and it was a delicious roasted side! I’ve got seven more than are still growing (I want them about 10″ across before I use them) and I cannot wait to spend the next few weeks using cauliflower from the backyard! (CAULIFLOWER!? WHO KNEW!?) I think I’ll try broccoli next year as well!

A few weeks ago I planted a bunch of peppers, some chard, and brussels sprouts, and in another few weeks it will be time to do my “summer” planting. I am still harvesting tomatoes and lettuce and green onions regularly, and waiting for the cauliflower. The peas were planted too early (meaning, it was too hot, not it was too cold, such a weird shift for me) and next year I’ll try them a little later to see if they’ll grow better. I’ve been keeping notes on my little plants and am so excited to try to get another round of vegetables out of my backyard! One point in the Pro Arizona column: multiple seasons for vegetables. (Big, Fat “WTF!” in the Negative column is that the summer season is 9 months of triple-digit temperatures. Nope, not exaggerating.)


Backyard Vegetable Garden: Round Two

Before the full heat of the Arizona summer hit, Blue Eyes and I did a lot of work in our backyard: he built me some vegetable garden boxes, and we poured a patio, and planted trees and tomatoes and peppers and squash, and Blue Eyes filled in the last patch of gravely dirt with delicious grass. Honestly, it’s been so hot for so long that we haven’t used the backyard much, but now that we are finally (crossing fingers) past the days of triple-digit temperatures, it’s time to truly enjoy the backyard that we have built.

And, it’s also time to plant Round Two of our vegetable garden. The hellacious heat of the summer withers most vegetation by July, but you can replant in late August and early September for a November bumper crop, and that is exactly what I did. Several weeks ago I carefully tucked a fresh batch of seeds and plants into the soil and within a few days they started popping up with sprouts and new leaves. (I also planted a few flowers among the veggies because, well, because I can. And I like flowers. Basically.)

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My plants have been in the ground for almost 3 weeks now and they are growing like crazy! Meanwhile, I’m still harvesting butternut squash and eggplant that I planted back in March. My backyard is like my own little farmer’s market right now, and I love it more than I can truly say. I planted zucchini and yellow squash and cucumbers and cozelle, a stripey squash native to the Southwest.

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Another box is full of kale and cauliflower and carrots and green beans (the green onions didn’t make it…sad face). I think that little rebel plant on the right is a sunflower that never germinated in the spring…I hope that is the case!

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I filled up an entire box with a new batch of herbs, and the few that survived the heat have been putting out new leaves like crazy. I’m glad I didn’t pull up the basil sticks, they are lush and green again with new little starts filling in some of the dirt patches.

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I just planted a whole box of spinach and beets and peas and lemon cucumbers, and I can’t wait to see them poke their little green heads out of the ground.

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People keep telling me that “Arizona actually has really cold winters…” but I just do not believe it. I was here last year, and I ran my air conditioner every. single. day. But, if I can eat fresh-from-the-garden spinach and snap peas thru January I will, perhaps, not complain quite so much about the weather.

I’m already making plans for the spring, I want way more tomatoes, several tomatillos, some jicama, and another forest of peppers. This vegetable garden may just keep me sane thru my years here in Arizona.


Arizona Summer vs My First Vegetable Garden

This is my first experience with an Arizona summer, and while I am halfway though it, I am sooo over the heat. I have managed to make a solid dent on my Summer Bucket List, which has been good. I could complain about the heat forever, but I am trying really hard to complain about focus on other things.

So far my biggest complaint obstacle thru the insufferable Arizona summer is the cabin fever. My long history of skin issues (cancer, cancer, cancer) means I can’t just slap on the sunscreen and hop in the pool all afternoon to beat the heat. I do go to the gym several times a week just to get my body moving a little without having ankle-to-wrist-plus-hat coverage, and that has helped quite a bit to combat the feeling of being trapped in an (air conditioned! yay!) cage.

Mr. Blue Eyes built me some fantastic garden boxes in our backyard revamp, and I filled them up with seeds and tiny vegetable plants and hoped they’d make it. It’s been a bit of a learning curve: my yellow squash and zucchini have died; a crazy-even-for-here heat wave withered my peppers and herbs (123* F?!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!); the birds have had a heyday with the tomatoes, pecking them to pieces. BUT! we rigged up some shade to protect most of our little plants and I found some bird-repellant holographic tape to scare the birds away.


In the last few weeks the butternut squash and watermelon bed has gone crazy with trailing vines all over the place and about a dozen squash and four watermelons all growing nicely under those broad leaves. In the last two days I’ve picked FIVE tomatoes and the one remaining bell pepper, and there are some darling baby eggplants that will probably be ready to pick next week.


I am ridiculously happy about my little plants, it’s been fun to watch them grow (and frustrating to watch them wither and die) and has given me something to look forward to, as stupid or silly as that sounds. I have been doing some research, and apparently you can replant several different things in mid-August and get a second harvest in October or November, and lettuce and spinach and peas do really well over the “winter” months, so I’ll be trying that, for sure. We always had a very big vegetable garden while I was growing up, and I know how to keep veggies alive…but the climate here is VERY different from my Rocky Mountain hometown. Hopefully I’ll have a little more success moving forward!


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