Celebrating an early spring

By WANDA CHURCH

Welcome to an early spring after our unusually cold, snappy winter. It is safe to say that the ground temperatures are warm enough now and most likely we will have no more frost to nip new growth.

If you haven’t already started your garden, it’s time to get serious. If you are a first-time gardener, or need a little refresher, here are a few basic tips to get you started.

First, you need to decide on what to grow, and I’m talking vegetables this time. Grow only what you like to eat. Some things are very easy to grow here and give the gardener a great sense of success, but if you won’t eat it, then save your energy.

What could be tastier than a fresh tomato that was picked ripe from the vine and had never met a cold storage locker? You don’t have to be a food connoisseur to notice the difference in flavor

You will need some basic tools and equipment. Get some good gloves to protect your hands, ideally waterproof and pliable. A sharp-bladed trowel will do you for weeding, dividing plants and planting your bulbs and seedlings. Stainless-steel ones won’t rust, and those with fully welded-on handles are the best.

Buy a shovel with a round head with a pointed tip for cutting through roots and scooping dirt. Don’t skimp on the quality of your tools. You will also need a bypass pruner and a pair of loppers. These two are more for pruning shrubs and trees, although you may need them for your giant peppers and tomatoes that you are going to have to whack your way through.

To have a successful garden you must have good soil. After you have cleaned and spaded up your garden plot, take a soil sample to see if there are nutrient deficiencies — that’s NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium). The soil sample kit will explain what you need and what to do to correct the soil. Don’t skip this step.

Next you must have an efficient watering system and a sensor to tell you when the soil needs water. A programmable automatic system is the most dependable and preferred type. Build your own or buy one that includes the components you need to lay it out.

You can also resort to hand watering, which is very time-consuming and not advisable. It can damage plants when you hit them with a forceful flow, and a heavy water stream washes the soil away from the roots. A gentle drip is best. Don’t let your plants wilt.

If you plant your garden under a tree, you are going to be disappointed. Plants require a certain amount of sunshine each day to thrive. Usually seed packets or seedlings you get at the nursery will designate the hours of light required. Remember, this is a desert, and you may need a shade cloth on the hottest days.

Early veggies such as lettuce, mesclun, chard, arugula, and spinach do well in shady spots. Root vegetables such as beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes and turnips, must have at least four to five hours of sunlight per day. Tomatoes and other summer veggies are a different story. They require at least six hours of sun per day. Usually tomatoes will not set fruit when daytime temperatures are higher than 85 degrees, so it is tricky to grow them in very hot climates. But it’s worth the effort!

Story First Published: 2013-04-10