This morning our desert homestead gave us more figs. We are getting about 6 – 7 dozen a week now. The dehydrator is on today, seven trays of beautiful mission figs. We’ve given away dozens and enjoyed fresh figs for weeks. Definitely worth all the sweat, toil and worry. We are finally winning more than losing in the battle with the birds and I’ve started looking forward to the fall planting season. Spending more time out in the heat for my first full summer at home is a whole other thing.
This week the most reasonable daytime high temp forecast is 104°F. Our summer highs average 108°F/lows 74°F (mid winter range is 68°F high/36°F lows, great for golf, not for keeping soil warm enough for starting seeds). Our area is 95% scrublands, survives on rainfall averages of 6.5 – 8 inches, 47% less than the average in Arizona and 83% less than the national average. Weather and rainfall even changes from the west side of metro Phoenix to the east side. Scottsdale, just 50 miles away, is only 82% scrublands, with 10% grasslands, 2% forests with average summer highs about 105°F, winter lows at 35°F and an additional 2 inches of average rainfall. For contrast, my grandparents farmed in the Ohio river valley. Average summer highs are around 65°F, winter lows 40°F, with an average rainfall of 44 inches supplemented by 8 or so inches of snow. That farm, where I spent part of my childhood, was lushly green, bordered by woods on one side and produced both cash crops and food grown for the family. It now seems almost mythical when pieced together from childhood memories and viewed though the softening lens of nostalgia.
My excuse for choosing a homestead dream in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, one of the hottest regions on the planet and on the same latitude as the top of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula? It’s the summer sun beating down on my unprotected head for over a decade. It’s at least one explanation for people like me who look around an arid desert and still think ‘Yep, I can grow stuff here’. Anyone transplanted from more traditional farm country or just dreaming of being more involved in their own food processes will know what I mean. You just know you have to try. I look back over the years and I recognize the evolution now.
It all started out with such a simple dream. When we moved into the house it was mid-May and already warming up. There was plenty of native growth, pretty rough stuff, none of it shade-worthy. It would be so nice to have some shade around the house and we were young and strong enough to do any hard work ourselves. Ok, fine, we were headed into our 40’s and still willing to work our butts off. First there were long weekend dates with Honey-darling, a logging chain and a four-wheel drive truck for pulling out brush. We cleared as much as we needed to get a fence put up, keeping our dogs in and a surprising number of looky-loos at a neighborly distance.
For the next decade life and work kept us occupied with home projects fitting in around the edges. A trio of young trees and yard swing with a shade umbrella on an improvised Astroturf deck was a big improvement. Two of the trees wouldn’t make it though their first summer and the swing bit the dust by its third year but we kept dreaming. Next, a few shrubs with a mysterious disappearing act and humming-bird feeders. Then came the fantastic beef steak tomatoes someone shared with my husband. By then we were up to the bold scheme of landscaping around the house with native growth around the outer edges and a small garden thrown in for good measure.
We also learned unattended garden hose makes a great dog toy and enough hummingbirds go through 10-lbs. of sugar pretty fast. The dream continued to evolve. We started thinking about a small, family size ‘food’ operation. Sifting through information trying to narrow it down to our general area, locating resources and finding the time to implement ideas proved frustrating. To be fair, there are information resources and organizations out there but trying to string together a workable plan about what to do to get ready for new ideas, what materials work, what to grow, when to plant and how to protect it from the full on air and ground attacks while still working full-time was finally more than we could manage.
I knew homesteading or hobby farming, whichever you prefer, in the desert was going to have unique challenges but produce from local farmers markets encouraged us and fed the dream. We moved forward as best we could. When Honey-dear retired it was a leap forward finally celebrated by a bumper crops of apples and figs along with our own tangerines. We’ve eaten our own broccoli, kale, turnips and radishes the last couple of years. By the time I retired this year we were eating our first plums and starting some postponed home maintenance. We work hard in the early mornings, sweat lots, cook our own meals, drive much less and laugh more.
There are days I’ve never been hotter or more tired. I’m glad I’m home.