Whether you like to try to live green, or simply want some vegetables that taste miles better than store bought, a winter vegetable garden is the way to go here in the Southwest.
Start Small This Winter
You will be amazed and astonished at how easy it is to grow your own vibrant vegetables. You do not – repeat NOT – need to install an massive garden plot. As a matter of fact, it is far better to start small. You can simply “container garden” in a few big pots. For these cool season vegetables, the pot only needs to be about 18 inches deep. Some large decorative ceramic pots on your patio would do fine. But first some basic care. . .
Location, location, location
Vegetables are fast growing plants and need a lot of sun. In winter and spring, this translates to direct sun for a full day or at the 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 is important for vegetables.
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 much easier.
For the winter garden you will grow mostly green leafy things (no fruits like tomatoes or squash). There is a whole palate of vegetables and some herbs that prefer cool weather. All of these will need to be planted as “seedlings,” (babies from the nursery) since we want them to be big enough to harvest in a few short weeks. Also soils are getting too cool for seeds to start in.
Fertilizer for Vegetables?
Not for a while. Fertilize your garden (or any other planting) at least two weeks after planting. Planting causes mico-damage to roots, and fertilizer can stimulate the growth of bad bacteria. Give your roots time to heal – two weeks at least.
Winter Vegetables to Grow
Choose your greens from: arugula (roquette, Italian lettuce), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard (Swiss chard), Chinese choy such as bok choy and pak choy, collard greens, endive, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce (head or leaf types), mizuna, mustard greens, nasturtium, raduccio, and spinach.
Winter Root Crops
Most root crops do not transplant well – thus you rarely find them as seedlings. You can plant root crops from seed in your containers, but they generally take 45 days or longer to grow to harvestable size. You could plant beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, rutabaga, and turnips. Where to get seed? The companies listed on my “Seed Company” page all have seed for the Southwest.
Winter Annual Herbs
These annual herbs are not happy with our summers, but should grow all winter long. Anise, caraway, cilantro, cumin, dill, fennel, lovage, and parsley. They all grow much like dill – in my post You Can Grow Dill.
Then there are these onion family herbs that can be planted now through January: chives, elephant garlic, garlic, garlic chives, I’itoi onions (a bunching onion), onions for bulbs, scallions, and shallots. Hmmm. I’ll have to do an onion post soon!
Never used fennel? Well it tastes dandy combined with strawberries – and is ready to harvest right at strawberry season. Here’s how to make Strawberry Fennel Salad.
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More about growing edibles in your landscape every month of the year in this book:
Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
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