In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
October, 2001
Regional Report

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Carrots grow quickly in the cool season in soil amended with organic matter.

Start a Vegetable Garden

Fall is the perfect time to start a vegetable garden in the low desert. Temperatures are cool enough to be pleasant for the gardener, but warm enough for seeds to germinate and root systems to thrive.

Choose a Sunny Location

Vegetables need at least 6 hours of full sun to thrive; 8 hours is even better. If you have the option, choose a site that receives morning and early afternoon sun, but is protected from the hot late afternoon sun. This isn't crucial during the cool season, but it helps if you continue gardening when summer rolls around.

Work Up the Soil

This part usually isn't much fun because our ground is hard and rocky and may be further compacted by developers' equipment. However, it's important to loosen and turn over the soil to a depth of about 18 inches to allow roots to expand easily.

One trick I use is to let a hose run slowly on a patch of ground, allowing the water to penetrate several inches, making it easier to dig. Then, I let it dry out for a day or two. (Don't work soil when it is wet. It should be crumbly. If it sticks to your shovel, or forms a ball, it's too wet to work.) After I've loosened the top layer, I water again, repeating this cycle until I've dug the desired depth.

Another possibility is to create a raised bed in which the soil is built upwards, using bricks or boards to contain it. I still loosen the soil as much as possible to promote drainage.

Amend the Soil

Because desert soils contain less than one percent organic matter, it's essential to improve the garden area before planting. Layer 4 to 6 inches of compost or other decomposed organic matter on top of the loosened soil. Sprinkle fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus over the area according to package instructions. (Most desert soils contain potassium, but you may want to check with your County Cooperative Extension office about local soil conditions.) Thoroughly dig in the organic matter and fertilizers and rake smooth. You're ready to plant!


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