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Master Gardner says it's time to start getting the garden bed ready


March 17, 2017

MG Gardening

As the weather warms and the days get longer you may be itching to get out in the garden and plant some seeds! But first, you might want to think it through.

Here are 8 simple steps for your successful garden adapted from Dr. Walker's "Home Gardening in New Mexico" (http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_circulars/CR457/)

1. Know your climate. Here in the high desert Southwest we face some unique challenges. Our soils tend to be alkaline and low in organic matter. We get between 8 and 10 inches of rain each year. We have a mostly reliable 120 day growing season (May 15 to Sept. 15) but the occasional and unpredictable late or early frost can be very damaging to the plants and disappointing to the gardener. All this and more needs to be taken into consideration when building your soil, planning your watering strategy and deciding what to plant when.

2. Plan before you plant. You probably know the best location for your vegetable garden on your property. Plenty of sun, good soil and within hose reach of the spigot are good features. Measure the plot and decide if you will lay out the crops in rows or in beds or perhaps in basins. Decide which crops need trellising. Get some seed catalogs (or go online) and let yourself dream. Select plants that do well in San Juan County. Our local nurseries are a great resource for selecting successful varieties.

3. Prepare the soil. You may decide to rototill or break up the soil with a shovel if it is compacted or does not drain well. There is also a great tool called a broadfork that allows you to break up the soil without turning it over, which is less destructive to the soil life. As a general rule of thumb, if you turn over the soil, turn something good, like compost, back into the soil.

4. Fertilize for optimal crop production. Plants need 16 essential nutrients for growth, including the major nutrients Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Having a soil analysis done will give you details about your nutrients needs. Regardless of your nutrient adding choice, be it organic or artificial fertilizers, ALWAYS read and follow label directions carefully.

5. Plant your garden. This is the funnest part! Get your family and friends to help. Make a list of the foods you love to eat that will thrive in our 120-day growing season. Sharing the work and the vegetables make it fun for everyone. Remember to space plants according to their mature size so they have enough room to grow.

6. Water properly to improve yields. Depending on the size of your garden, the source of your water (spigot, ditch or rainwater collected from the roof) and your pocketbook, watering can be as simple as dragging the hose over and hand watering each day to setting up an elaborate irrigation system with drip tape, timers and filters. Use your fingers to dig into the soil to measure moisture; if the soil is dry 2-3" down, so are the roots. Covering your soil with mulch can greatly reduce your watering needs by protecting the soil from our hot New Mexican summer sun.

7. Control pests. Learn to identify the weeds and insects in your garden. Some are beneficial while others are not. Part of the fun is learning which are which. Appreciate the helpers and don't let the bothersome ones ruin your day.

8. Harvest at the correct time. Green beans should be picked young and tender but leave the pods to turn brown if you want dry beans to cook or to plant next summer. Zucchini are best young but leave pumpkins and other winter squash on the vine to grow large and harden their shell. Each vegetable is unique and each variety can have different characteristics. Learning all these details can be the most engaging part of growing a garden.

Your San Juan County Extension Office is an amazing source of gardening information and enthusiasm. They have two concise guides every gardener in San Juan County needs - "Home Vegetable Gardening in New Mexico" and "Growing Zones, Recommended Crop Varieties, and Planting and Harvesting Information for Home Vegetable Gardens in New Mexico."


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