My Garden Adventure in the Desert
by Jennifer Hammond-Moore
My garden adventure has evolved over the last twenty-two years. It has taken that long to figure out how to grow edibles before small desert creatures consume them. Believe me, it has been a long, ongoing battle.
This year, with layers of chicken wire and rabbit fencing to keep creatures at bay, I have created the Fort Knox of gardens! Now the only things I have to worry about are bugs and the sun, right?
Soil preparation has always been a secondary concern. How do I grow food in this terrible soil? With a little help from Mr. Google, I have found the perfect method for gardening in our area—trench gardening, with a little adjustment.
I have tried to use the trench method in the past by digging small trenches and filling in the voided area with potting soil and compost. This worked adequately, but my plants were nothing like the beautiful garden photos online and in magazines. Then I found wonderful instructions from the website Instructables. www.instructables.com/id/Making-a-Garden-Bed-in-the-High-Desert/
I applied their suggestion of removing enough soil to insert boards or frames. Knowing the soil would soon become very solid, I prepared the ground with a few amendments. Follow along and you, too, can experience the rewards of a great desert garden.
- Straw. Be sure it is weed and pesticide free, and ask if it is organic. You do not want chemicals in your straw; they can be absorbed into your vegetables.
- Flattened cardboard boxes. These should have little to no writing or printing on them. Again, you want to keep chemicals out of the soil.
- Seeds. Find an online seed chart showing when to plant what in our area. Star Nursery is a great resource for learning what to plant and when.
- A garden area. This area should preferably be one that is already fenced in. If there are a lot of birds around, cover the area with chicken wire or bird netting as well.
- Rototiller or a good shovel and a bit of time.
- Bags of compost. I used three of the three-cubic feet bags to till into the ground. I also added extra to the trenches.
- Potting soil. I always pick up a few large bags at Costco as soon as it is on the shelves in the spring.
- Till or dig up the ground in the fall to loosen the soil and mix in manure or compost. I estimated one bag for every 10’ x 15’ area because we have added compost every year for four years, and the soil is now a little more manageable. You may want to add more if you have not worked with your soil before now. If you are going to add manure, do this step at least one to two months before planting to allow the manure to break down in the soil, otherwise you may burn your plants.
- Water down the area lightly to set the soil.
- Determine how wide your rows will be. I placed mine three feet apart this year, and I have plenty of room to move throughout the rows for weeding and watering. I made the mistake of planting my zucchini and squash plants too close together, fearing that they would not grow, and now I have a jungle.
- Dig trenches twelve to fifteen inches wide by the length of the row by one and a half to two feet deep. Soil should be placed on either side of the rows to make water wells later.
- Place cardboard in a single layer on the bottom of the flat trench the entire length of the row. Loosely place straw over the cardboard.
- Layer soil, compost, and straw until you finish filling in the trench.
- Place a layer of potting soil down the middle of the finished trench to plant the seeds in.
- Lightly spray the garden with water to set the soil again.
- Plant your seeds, or use starter plants down the center of the trenches. I like to plant some starter plants at the front of the row, then plant seeds after that. This varies the harvest of the vegetables.
- Finally, dig or hoe water channels on each side of the trench. Filling the trenches with water will help get the water lower in the ground.
- Watch your garden grow!
I have found that water on the leaves will burn the plants in our hot desert sun. To prevent this, always water in the evening. A slow and low water system works best. By using this trenching method, I have found the roots grow deep to provide a good base for the plants.
Just a reminder, I am not an expert. This is just my own DIY. My garden journey has been trial and error. The joy the garden brings to me, however, is immeasurable. I love to have the grandkids come over and eat spinach and strawberries straight from my garden. Knowing what is and what is not in my food brings me peace of mind. I would love to hear your garden stories and hints for your successful gardening experiences. You can contact me at Moorehammondegg Farm on Facebook. Happy, JOYful gardening!