Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES -- A garden that provides nutritious, high-quality vegetables starts long before the first seed is planted, said a horticulture specialist with New Mexico State University.
"People with large gardens often begin by taking a soil sample for analysis," said George Dickerson with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "Several samples should be taken from different areas of the garden at a depth of 6 to 8 inches where most root growth occurs. The samples should then be combined into one composite sample."
Forms and publications from NMSU's Soil, Water and Plant Testing Lab tell how to mail in samples for analysis and how to interpret the results. They are available at county Extension offices, Dickerson said. An Extension specialist can determine the amount and kind of fertilizer to use if gardeners include a list of vegetables they plan to grow.
Good planning is essential for maximum production, especially for smaller garden plots where every square inch of soil is important, he said. People can get the most use out of their garden by drawing a map to scale. Row width and length will vary by types of vegetables and family needs.
A garden that's 50- by- 100 feet can provide enough growing area for a family of four, Dickerson said.
"Intercropping techniques -- planting one vegetable under another -- or growing vine crops up a fence will help conserve space," he said. "Crop succession is another great space-saving technique. For example, radishes planted in the spring can be followed by green beans in the summer and garlic in the fall -- all in the same row."
Edible landscapes also are popular ways to save room in the garden, Dickerson said. Crops like 'Ruby' leaf lettuce can be planted around tulips in the spring, adding purple color to the landscape. Chives produce purple flowers during the second growing season and brighten up the landscape with an edible herb. Sage is another popular perennial herb with pretty flowers.
"Late winter also is a good time to order your seed," Dickerson said. "County Extension agents or experienced gardeners in your community can recommend varieties. Look for varieties with built-in disease resistance or bush varieties of cucumbers or cantaloupes that don't take up a lot of space in your garden. Remember to buy good quality seed to ensure a high-quality crop."
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