Gardening in the desert

A bloom from our sunflower patch.
A bloom from our sunflower patch.

So fall is almost here. The summer flew by. We now have a kindergartner in the house, and I feel like where did the last five years go? I didn’t expect to be quite so emotional about the whole thing, but it’s a big deal starting school. All my hopes and fears for my oldest boy came to the surface and hit me square in the heart. He handled the first day far better than I did. But enough about my first week of school freak out.

Onto the garden. We just had our first frost of the season, so most of our garden is kaput for the year. We have a lot of tomatoes to process in the next few days, and so far we’ve made freezer salsa and roasted cherry tomatoes. In the past, we’ve canned tomato sauce. We’ve also made loads of pickles this season as DJ experimented with some different recipes.

Over the last few years we’ve expanded our garden area from 9 raised beds to 16 plus an additional area where we had more tomatoes, onions and kohlrabi. (Yes, kohlrabi. If anyone has any ideas on what to do with this, please enlighten me in the comments. I tried some kohlrabi fries that were, um … interesting.) There’s also an orchard, where we have a few fruit trees, which unfortunately didn’t have any fruit this year because of a late spring frost. We’ve fenced off the area for protection from deer, rabbits and mice, but that doesn’t stop the birds from partaking in ripe red tomatoes or the occasional strawberry.

In addition to the aforementioned tomatoes, onions, kohlrabi and strawberries we also grew corn, cucumbers, hot peppers, bell peppers, peas, beans, cabbage, broccolini, horseradish, garlic and potatoes. We used a drip water system on timers that water for about 25 minutes per day.

In a place that is notoriously unforgiving to vegetable crop growers, we’ve had some success, but we still feel like we have miles to go. We are constantly trying to add nutrients to the soil and to lighten it up for better drainage.

While we still feel like novices out here in the desert, we are especially proud of our garlic crop this year and plan to do even more next year. It’s incredibly flavorful and so much better than what we buy at the grocery store.

It is gratifying to grow and eat your own food, but it can also be time consuming and frustrating. To put time and energy into growing something from seed that doesn’t pan out for one reason or another can be a bit defeating. In addition, we’re not always the best at eating veggies before they spoil, so we need to get better about canning and preserving what we don’t eat right away.

On the plus side, we successfully grew sunflowers this year as you can see in the photo up top. After trying to grow them the past two years from seed and having the mice eat them before they even spouted, we finally got smart by starting them inside and transplanting them into a raised bed fenced off with hardware cloth. They were tall and lovely, and I smiled every time I looked at them. I’d say that’s a win.

One thing we’ve added this year is a cover crop. Once we pulled the garlic and potatoes from the ground we planted a mixture of seeds, which includes rye and legumes. Eventually, we will till that back into the soil to restore nutrients to make the soil more productive for next spring. We’re hoping to do that with the rest of the garden once we get the tomato and corn plants pulled up.

So that’s our work-in-progress garden. Scroll through the photos below and tell me about your gardening success stories in the comments.

Big, beautiful heads of garlic.


We were happy with our corn crop this year. Hopefully, we’ll have more next year.


Kohlrabi. Just in case you wondered what it looks like.


Canned dill pickles. We have jars and jars. This is just a small sampling.


Broccolini. It’s delicious.


A habanero ripens on the vine. DJ likes ’em hot.


An onion gone to seed.


A pile of tomatoes that will soon become salsa.


Cherry tomatoes so sweet they taste like candy.


Cabbage is so photogenic.


And these two. This isn’t garden-related, but oh the fun you can have with a mud puddle in the yard.


9 thoughts on “Gardening in the desert

  1. I had no idea you had such a variety of veggies!! The kohlrabi is beautiful. I must google it. Congrats on the successful sunflowers 🌻. You guys are so resourceful, a cover crop? Great idea. Also congrats on surviving the REALLY SCHOOL ALREADY moments! You are raising excellent “crops” as parents and farmers in the desert. ❤️👏🎉🎯

  2. We have so enjoyed your crops and boys grow!! Thanks for letting us share in your lives! We are a lucky Nana 👵and Papa 👨‍🌾!

  3. Lauren, this is amazing! Your photography, your writing…. but that garlic though! <3 You've got me thinking about next spring already! #gardengoals

  4. I love, love, LOVE your pics and stories!!! They truly make my heart sing. You are an amazing family doing amazing things!! And, I wish I could come eat at your house each and every day :-))))) Keep ’em coming, this is the kind of good news we all need more of! Love you all SO much.

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