If you have hard, salty ground that most everyone in the Valley has, start with First Step Soil Acidifier to lower pH and open up and soften the soil. Add a product called Great Big Plants. Mix 3 to 4 ounces per gallon of water to get the microbial (good bugs) count up in the soil so they can process the nutrients. This is an organic fertilizer that contains a microbial culture. The amount of nutrients in it is sufficient for several weeks. Then be sure you make an early application of phosphorus and potassium. You need phosphorous for flowering on anything that blooms, like peas. Use 6-20-20 to boost flowering. Green leafy vegetables and root vegetables, such as carrots and beets, need higher nitrogen fertilizer, such as 16-8-8 or 15-15-15, which are medium release and last for one to two months. The rate is about 3/4 pounds per 100 square feet.
For totally organic gardeners, use chicken manure as a pre plant fertilizer, cultivate in well and water once to activate it. Apply Great Big Plants so the microbes help convert the ammonia in the chicken manure. If you use steer manure as a pre plant, use the product First Step (DisperSul) to leach the salts that are in the manure. Otherwise, you may get salt burning from the manure.
The best method on fertilization is using a combination of organic and inorganic because organic sources of potassium and phosphorous are very slow releasing and usually causes deficiency of these nutrients that, in turn, stresses the plants.
Many people in small yards or apartments can grow a few vegetables in a small container. Vegetables need big containers - at least 18 inches wide and 8 inches deep. Space is necessary because the sun warms the sides of containers up to 4 inches in and can burn the roots. Darker colored containers absorb more heat than lighter colored ones. There are also 2 feet by 2 feet, bottomless containers made from recycled plastic fence. This is a good height for people who don't like to bend over, or are in wheelchairs.
It is important to know the "microclimates" of your space; i.e., how much sun or shade your container plants are going to get as opposed to what they need. The best soil mix is one that is neither too heavy nor too light. A heavy soil will not drain well and can crush roots. Soil too light will leach too fast. Our B-2 soil mix is just right, heavy enough to retain moisture, but light enough for good drainage.
The biggest problem people have with their plants, in the Valley, is over watering. While the weather is cooler, watering once a week should be sufficient, however, as temperatures hit 90 degrees and above, water twice a week and always long and slow.
Many have asked about gopher control. We have not had gophers for years at our Valley home, but others in the neighborhood have not controlled and the gophers have tunneled under the street and gotten in to our place again. We use two traps and set them at both ends of the tunnel then bait them with peanut butter that seems to attract the gophers.
A few tips to keep the gophers from smelling the traps: Handle the traps only with gloves and clean traps by pouring boiling water over them (we use Merit or Mallet, the less expensive look alike, on our irises because it goes to the rhizomes and will kill the gophers if they eat the rhizomes). Don't use on anything edible. You can also use this on ornamental trees and shrubs to control insects.
Sign up for free classes on preparing soil and vegetable gardening at www.gardenpro.net.
Gary and Sharon Petterson own Gardener's World in Phoenix, 3401 E. Baseline Road. Reach them at (602) 437-0700 or at www.gardenpro.net.