Attention, gardeners and non-gardeners alike, green thumbs and brown. Now is the time for all good people to put a few vegetables in the ground! The first few weeks of March are ideal for planting a spring vegetable garden.
You will be amazed at: 1) how good homegrown vegetables taste, 2) how easy it is to grow them, and 3) how quickly you might get a crop! You need not install an extensive garden plot. As a matter of fact, it is better to start small.
You can “container garden” in a few big pots. For most spring vegetables, the pot only needs to be about 18 inches deep. Some large decorative ceramic pots on your patio would do fine. Fill them with potting soil.
• What to plant. March is still cool enough for many of the leafy greens, but as the soils warm it will be time to plant more of the vegetables that botanists consider fruits. The fruits and vegetables on the spring list are ones that do better in slightly cooler weather. They include: beans (green bush and pole beans), black-eyed peas, cucumbers (heirloom “lemon” and other small and thin-vine types are best for our area), Jerusalem artichokes, squash that are soft-skinned (zucchini, Patty Pan, summer squash), potatoes (Solanum tuberousm), sweet potatoes (Ipomea batata), yam (Dioscoria sp.), radishes and sunflowers, plus all the gourds like birdhouse or dipper and luffa.
After April 15, you can plant these: amaranth (good for red-colored greens and gluten-free grain-like seeds), basil (small leaf varieties for heat tolerance, like Queen of Siam or Mrs. Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil), cantaloupe, corn (early maturing variety), chilies (including chiltepines, chili de arbol, jalapeno, habenero, etc.), eggplant (smaller fruited varieties recommended), okra, peppers (sweet), tomatillos, watermelon and America’s favorite garden vegetable — tomatoes. Smaller tomatoes are recommended for our area, like cherry, Roma, paste, or the smaller heirloom varieties.
• Location. Vegetables are fast-growing plants that need a lot of sun. In winter and spring, this translates to direct sun for a full day or at least half a day. This much sun is necessary so the plants can vigorously do the photosynthesis thing, turning carbon dioxide and water into sugars, starches, and other yummy plant cells.
• Soil. If you plant in the ground, loosen your desert soil and blend organic matter into the soil. Organic matter is compost, and you can buy it at the nursery or garden center. Loosening desert soil the first time is not done with a mechanical tiller. The first time you will need a shovel. Water the site where you want your garden. Water it well so the water soaks into the soil. Now come back tomorrow to dig. It will be much easier that way.
• Fertilizer. Not for a while. Fertilize your garden or any other planting after the plants are established. This is generally two weeks to a month after planting seedlings and a month after planting seeds. The potting soil or the organic matter you added to the desert soil will release all the nutrients the young seedlings need while they are becoming established.
• Water. Just like people, plants need water to live. The younger they are the more you will need to pay attention to this detail. If you are gardening in pots, just plan on daily watering, and maybe even twice a day in mid-summer. Water the roots when you water, not the leaves; ideally, water early in the morning, so plants will be well-hydrated for the day ahead.
• Success. If you didn’t learn gardening while you were growing up, it is hard to start from scratch. And the difficulty is enhanced by our climate and soils. All gardeners have killed plants in their time. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The taste of success is well worth the effort. Good luck!
Jacqueline Soule will be at the Tucson Festival of Books speaking on her latest book, “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today.” For more information, see www.tucsonfestivalofbooks.org.