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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Garden Planning, Plotting Keys to Growing Vegetables

LAS CRUCES -- In vegetable gardening, as in real estate, the key is location, location, location, a New Mexico State University horticulturist said.

"The three most critical factors for selecting your garden site are full sun, good soil and access to water," said George Dickerson, with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service.

Dickerson recommends mapping out your garden on paper, noting where rows will be located. Then determine which crops you will grow and how much of each your family will need.

In small gardens, training vine crops such as cucumbers to climb up a fence will conserve space, he said. The same spot can be used to grow several crops in succession during the growing season. For example, plant radishes in the spring, replace them with beans in the summer and grow garlic in the fall.

"If you have poor soil, the easiest way to improve it is by adding compost," Dickerson said. "Compost increases the water-holding capacity in sandy soils and helps aerate clay soils." To fertilize vegetables, add phosphate fertilizer for root development and nitrogen for vegetative growth.

Whether you use drip systems, sprinklers or furrow irrigation, keep small-seeded vegetables such as carrots and leaf lettuce moist until the seedlings emerge, Dickerson said.

To get an early start in your garden, plant cool season crops like crunchy radishes, tender peas and crispy greens.

Radishes are fast-growing and almost foolproof, Dickerson said. Plant the seeds about a half-inch deep and a half-inch apart. Thin seedlings as they emerge, leaving plants one to two inches apart. "Keep radishes moist because water stress can make them more pithy and pungent," he added.

With peas, Dickerson suggests planting early and selecting a short- maturing variety to harvest before it's too hot. "A problem with peas is they lose some of their quality as the weather heats up," he said.

Salad lovers can plant a variety of greens including leaf lettuce, spinach and beet greens. For tastiest results, Dickerson recommends choosing a longer-growing variety and keeping seedlings thinned.