When you live in the Sonoran Desert, you can garden year-round. This is a great time of year to plant a fantastic Fall/Winter garden. Vegetable gardening is fun and can provide delicious, organic food straight from your own backyard. Watching the seeds that you plant spring to life, flower, and fruit often gives a great sense of enjoyment and accomplishment. It also brings awareness to the natural world that flourishes outside your back door.
Whether you plant in a few pots or in a garden bed, these 10 steps will help you grow a successful vegetable garden.
STEP ONE: LOCATION
The location of your garden is key to your success. Choose an area with plenty of morning sunshine and some afternoon shade or be prepared to add shade cloth to block hot afternoon sun during the hotter seasons. You will need 6-8 hours of full sun exposure in the springtime. If birds, especially quail, frequent your yard, be sure to add protective bird netting as well.
STEP TWO: LAYOUT
Draw a diagram of your garden before getting started. Decide what vegetables you like to eat and plan where they will go in your beds. For the most efficient use of your space and water, check out Mel Bartholomew’s famous book, The New Square Foot Garden.
STEP THREE: RIGHT VARIETIES
We live in a unique climate, so selecting the best varieties of seeds is important for success. Select seeds for Hardiness Zone 9, short season varieties, and bush or dwarf varieties for small garden spaces.
STEP FOUR: SEEDS
Find a reputable seed source. If purchasing through a seed catalog or online store, be sure to follow the tips in Step 3. Vegetable transplants can be purchased from a local nursery or greenhouse. Make sure plants look healthy, medium-sized, with vigorous roots that are not tangled in a ball. Avoid plants that are wilted, yellowed, spindly, or show signs of pests.
STEP FIVE: SOIL
Your soil will determine the life or death of your plants. Our desert soil has very little organic matter in it and often is filled with clay. Garden soil should drain well and not have any standing water. Amend (brand name) garden soil, steer manure, worm castings, and compost are valuable for building healthy soil. Fertilizer can help improve your soil season after season, too.
STEP SIX: PLANTING
Most vegetables can be grown by sowing seeds directly into the ground. Be sure to follow the instructions on the seed package for when to plant, how far apart to plant, and how deep to sow the seed. Some do better if you start with a pre-grown plant that can be transplanted, such as tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Transplants should be hardened off by gradually adjusting them to the full sun, cool nights, and wind over the course of several days.
CLICK HERE for a planting calendar for Maricopa County.
STEP SEVEN: IRRIGATION
Water your garden enough to keep the soil moist but not wet in the plant’s rootzone. Apply regularly, as fluctuations in timing and quantity can have a negative impact on the plant’s growth. Never let the soil get dry.
STEP EIGHT: MULCH
Weeds compete for water, nutrients, and light. Keep your eye out for weeds and carefully remove them from your garden bed. Mulching will help control weeds, conserve moisture, and regulate the soil temperature. Use leaves, straw, sawdust, wood chips, cardboard, or newspaper. Chemical herbicides are not recommended in home gardens.
STEP NINE: PESTS
Learn about insects and diseases that might attack your vegetables. Start by selecting disease-resistant varieties when possible. Use “crop rotation” by not planting the same plant family in the same spot year after year. Water deeply, make sure plants are not crowded so they can get plenty of air and sunlight, and watch for signs of pests.
STEP TEN: HARVEST
The job is not done until you harvest your food and eat it or share it with others. Most vegetables are at peak quality for a short time. If you harvest too soon, they will lack flavor. If you harvest too late, they will be tough and lack the desired taste and texture.
For a more detailed description of each step, CLICK HERE.