2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards

2015 FinalistBaskets for Butterflies

Places as Finalist in

2015 New Mexico – Arizona Book Awards


In the garden . . .

“Gnome, where are you!”

I hold several white papers close to my breast as I run, so the precious sheets don’t tear in my excitement. The awkward position puts my body off balance, causing me to wobble while racing to the garden . . . a little jump over the first dry creek bed, across the soft mulched orchard, and then another hop over the second bare sandy watercourse. I wonder, not for the first time, about why I put my planting bed in the back section of acreage. Continue reading 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards

Artichoke — Survival Techniques

Artichoke sprouting from root (year 3)
Artichoke sprouting from root (year 3)

Most gardening books say that artichokes cannot be grown in the low desert of the southwestern United States.

As summer air temperatures routinely surpass 110 degrees, the hot soil can rise to around 150.

Being a curious person, I tried transplanting one specimen anyway, from a 3” pot, into one of my rows at the onset of fall. It grew miraculously fast! Then the hot summer came and it died. I removed it from my garden—a failed experiment. Continue reading Artichoke — Survival Techniques

How to improve the germination of seeds

broccoli seedlings
broccoli seedlings

As cool, moist fall air banishes the hot, dry summer, my Arizona garden breathes a sigh of relief—and so do I. I’m busy at work, but my time in the garden is pleasant now.

Although my rows look empty from a distance, a close inspection reveals a bounty of tiny seedlings. My main fall crop is broccoli, accompanied by staggered plantings of beets, cabbage, lettuce, turnips, and other semi-frost-resistant veggies.

I planted the first row and four days later sowed another with the same mixture of seeds. Today, several weeks following the initial sowing, I stand between the rows with the startling realization that the seedlings planted most recently are at the same level of development and hardier than the earlier ones.

How can this be true? The seeds planted first should be farther along, right? Continue reading How to improve the germination of seeds

Heirloom seeds, garden knowledge, and folklore.

My garden buddyIt’s Saturday, I’m standing at my vendor’s table at the Fall Festival and Plant Sale at Metro Tech High School.


“Are you familiar with heirloom vegetables?” I ask a female attendee?

“Yes, those plants are . . . old, right?”

Most people who stop by to chat with me understand that heirlooms are living antiques. Many also have heard that varieties are becoming extinct on a massive scale. However, few attendees have a clue that, not only are heirloom plants threatened, but also are the methods for growing, caring for, and harvesting the crops . . . along with rich cultural traditions, beliefs, and folklore associated with these endangered gems. Continue reading Heirloom seeds, garden knowledge, and folklore.

Weekend Events (Oct 10/11)

Table BannerThis weekend you can join me at this event


Rocker 7 Farm Patch in Buckeye (Fall Festival & farmers’ market)
I have a vendor table (selling & signing Baskets for Butterflies) from 9am-6pm. Stop by and talk to me about gardening.

I’m teaching a class at noon (Heirloom Gardening). I’m bringing a Tohono O’odham Multiplier Onion to display. This endangered onion was brought to Arizona by Father Kino in the 1600s. Learn more about this rare but tough little plant–and why you should grow it.

Oct 10/11 (Sat/Sun):
19601 W. Broadway Rd. (Buckeye)

Look for my yellow and blue table banner.

See you there!

Where was Gnome?

A bedraggled gnomeCrazy weather lately!

After the last storm left so many trees damaged, I thought our time of monsoon was spent—but, evidently not.

Tuesday afternoon I looked up into the sky and saw a small (but very black) cloud floating among a few other fluffy white ones. It looked a bit out of place but didn’t seem noteworthy.

I went inside my home office to work on presentations for my upcoming events. I’m a focused sort of person and, therefore, ignored the rain when it began to fall. My task involved a word processor on the hard drive, so I also didn’t notice when the wireless connection went down along with the internet and telephone.

Once, a low rumble of thunder caught my ear, but it was far away.

There was just one little cloud in the sky. No wind, little thunder. How bad could it be?

I kept working . . . and working.

What I didn’t know was that the rain was coming down in a quiet torrent.

Looking back now, it reminds me of a story my friend, Lora, once shared with me. She had gone into a pizza parlor, placed an order, and waited for her food to be prepared. She passed the time by playing a pin-ball-type game that sat in the restaurant. Like me, Lora was focused. Once or twice a fellow tapped on her arm. “Go away, buddy,” she told the person. “Not your turn.” Not until the blunt end of a gun knocked her in the head did Lora realize the store was being robbed!

I’m a lot like Lora—focused.

By the time my husband, Jimmy, came home from work that evening, the rain had subsided. I opened the front door to let him in. He stood on the outer threshold, shoes stuck in several inches of mud, which covered the front porch.

“Good grief!” he said. “The water almost got inside the house.”

What else had I ignored?

The next morning, the goats, chickens, and turkeys whined for their meal as soon as the sun came up. It was their normal feeding time, and they became anxious. As I cared for the animals, I kept an eye out for any damage to the property. The last storm uprooted one tree and broke major branches in a dozen others.

Heaven knows, we’re still chipping the wood from that incident!

The more recent rain, however, was quiet, without ripping winds and lightening. All of the trees appeared fine . . . but other damage was evident everywhere.

Gravel drivewayOur gravel drive, for example, hid beneath deep sticky mud.

Did the stones wash away, or did the mud just cover everything?

Two large boulders blocked the pathway behind my truck. I picked one up and grunted. One at a time I moved the heavy rocks off the drive. It was difficult to believe the force of water had moved these stones.

Tuesday was garbage-collection day, so the filled container was waiting at the side of the street when the rain came. The next morning, I found the bulky item half-way down the road lying on its side in a rain-filled gutter. Mud caked my tennis shoes as I drug my property out of the ditch and struggled to empty the dirty water from within. There was no sign of trash. Either the garbage truck picked it up or the junk was all in the Gila River by now. I hoped for the former.

I stored the trash container in its usual place. Then I went in the back yard to check on a small orchard positioned on high ground between two normally dry creek beds. In Tuesday’s torrent, the channels merged into one torrential river. Several inches of mulch (wood chips) washed away, leaving strange, wavy deposits of mud. The current scoured trenches and partially uprooted three chili peppers in a circular planting bed. I bent over to pat soggy earth protectively over the exposed roots of one when I realized something was missing.

Where was Gnome?

My concrete garden gnome normally rested beneath the leaning mesquite tree in the corner of my garden near the rear of the property. However, a storm several weeks ago dropped a number of branches on the little guy. I thought he needed some clear sky and sunshine, so I brought him over to this circular area by the peppers.

Where was Gnome, now?

I frantically searched the property, following the two creeks downstream. The little fellow was constructed of two separate parts—a pair of shoes sticking up in the air and his main body. I found his feet stranded on an elevated section of land near a bush. I cradled my first prize carefully while searching for the rest of my friend. I followed each creek bed to where it dipped beneath the cyclone fence and disappeared. My eyes focused beyond the wire perimeter, following the jagged muddy line as it traveled toward the Gila River.

Realizing the entire property must have been submerged, not only the creeks, I followed the western fence line all of the way down toward the turkey run.

At last, I found my garden buddy! He was covered in dirty mulch, wedged halfway under the fence, face pointed downwards into the wet muck.

Poor Gnome!

I gathered him up and carefully placed him back beneath the leaning mesquite in the corner of my garden, where he has rested for twenty-some-odd years. Gnome wasn’t likely to go visiting the rest of the property again soon.

Broccoli seedlingsMy attention then turned to my newly planted fall garden. Several days ago, I seeded two thirty-feet-long rows with broccoli, turnips, lettuce, Tohono O’odham onions, and more . . . and then there were 100 Solo cups with onions and other flowers and veggies.

Onion sproutsMy muddy feet paced up and down between each row, still covered with wood chips—delighted to see tiny first leaves of newly germinated seeds still emerging from the planting beds. All of the little cups contained healthy sprouts as well. The garden was, in fact, pristine—nothing disturbed.

“How can the rain cause so much damage in one place and so little in another?” I asked Gnome.

But my friend wasn’t ready to talk to me yet.

1,000 Pounds of Wood Chips

The pic shows wood chips between the rows. My asparagus row has a top dressing of straw.
The pic shows wood chips between the rows. My asparagus row has a top dressing of straw.

I’m not sure who wore out first, us or the machine.

Since the last storm, my husband, Jimmy, and I have been running fallen wood through the chipper. Yesterday we hit the 1,000-pounds-of-chips mark.

Although the equipment was rated for a three-inch diameter branch, we fed only items half that size. Still, the metal feeder shuddered and shook so badly that the hinge finally broke.

“Thank goodness!” Did I say that aloud?

Every muscle in my body aches. I’m accustomed to hard labor in the garden and around the property, but the constant bending required for this task is more difficult than it looks. Jimmy is complaining, too.

It’s just as well that the equipment stopped working. My fall garden still needs planting, and I also need to prepare for upcoming events and trainings. (I need the break!)

Equipment awaiting repairMy husband will take the machine for repairs. The cursed thing will probably be fixed by the time the events have passed.

We still have another tree to remove!

Join me at these events!

Donna Hamill, authorLook for me and my book, Baskets for Butterflies,
at these garden events.






Oct 10/11 (Sat/Sun):
Rocker 7 Farm Patch (Fall Festival & farmers’ market
19601 W. Broadway Rd.  (Buckeye)
I have a vendor table (selling & signing books) from 9am-6pm
I’m teaching a class at noon (Heirloom Gardening/also selling & signing Baskets for Butterflies)

Oct 17 (Sat)
Metro Tech Fall Festival and Plant Sale
1900 W. Thomas Rd. (Phoenix)
I have a vendor table (selling & signing books) from 8am-1pm

Oct 18 (Sun)
Rocker 7 Farm Patch (Fall Festival & farmers’ market)
19601 W. Broadway Rd. (Buckeye)
I’m teaching a class at noon (Heirloom Gardening/also selling & signing Baskets for Butterflies)

Oct 24/25 (Sat/Sun)
Rocker 7 Farm Patch (Fall Festival & farmers’ market)
19601 W. Broadway Rd. (Buckeye)
I’m teaching a class at noon (The Fall Garden/also selling & signing Baskets for Butterflies)

Oct 31/Nov 1 (Sat/Sun)
Rocker 7 Farm Patch (Fall Festival & farmers’ market)
19601 W. Broadway Rd. (Buckeye)
I’m teaching a class at noon (Seed Saving/also selling & signing Baskets for Butterflies)

Nov 7/8 (Sat/Sun)
Rocker 7 Farm Patch (Fall Festival & farmers’ market)
19601 W. Broadway Rd. (Buckeye)
I’m teaching a class at noon (Garden Mistakes/also selling & signing Baskets for Butterflies)

I hope to see you there!

Preparing for the Upcoming Fall Festival (Oct 17)

Newly planted onionsEach year, Metro Tech High School coordinates with the Maricopa County Master Gardeners to present the Fall Festival and Plant Sale (Phoenix).

Once again, Gnome’s Heirloom Garden will host a vendor table at this popular event, scheduled for Saturday, October 17. I’ll bring lots of books to sell and sign. My daughter (and editor), Tiffany, will also join me.

In the meantime, I’ll be nurturing these cups full of Tohono O’odham I’itoi Multiplying onions (newly planted and not yet spouted). Some will be for my table (possibly for sale) and the others donated to the plant sale.

Since master gardeners host the event, many of the plants available are rare and unusual (like my onions).

Don’t miss this!

Me and My Shovel

Me and My ShovelThis is me, preparing the garden for the fall crop. I don’t own a tiller.

Oh, I purchased the contraption once—under the mistaken impression that every good gardener should have one. It was expensive . . . hard to start . . . at the repair shop more often than not. It was loud, heavy, and whipped up the soil like my KitchenAid mixer with cream.

It’s not good for the garden bed to be disturbed that way. Continue reading Me and My Shovel

Passing On Recipes and Skills (Home Canning)

Home canning with daughter, Tiffany
Home canning with daughter, Tiffany

Some of my grandmother’s recipes are treasured heirlooms.

She made chocolate cream pies, for example, with a double-boiler. I want to pass this recipe along to my children, together with old-fashioned cooking methods my Mamaw used.

When it comes to home canning, however, my grandmother’s methods are outdated and may be dangerous! The USDA maintains updated guidelines based on the most recent science-based information about safe home-canning practices. Antique recipes and techniques may be unsafe.

Continue reading Passing On Recipes and Skills (Home Canning)

Knight of the Realm

Buff Orpington“Chickens bond with each other, just as people do.”


While feeding the chickens, I enter a separate pen to check on the baby cockerels. They’re big boys, now—not babies. Each day I study them closely, mentally measuring their bulk against the openings in the chain-link of the main chicken coop.

I grab the closest guy. “Are you too big to slip through the mesh? I’d hate to lose you.”

We exit the small pen together, and the gate closes behind me. Then I put him on the ground inside the main coop.

The cockerel immediately tries to get back into the enclosure with his brothers, pacing back and forth testing the wire fence. His siblings do the same dance on the other side, trying to get to him. They want to be together. Continue reading Knight of the Realm

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