“I have a brown thumb; everything that I plant dies.” This is a mantra heard frequently in Ahwatukee. Yes, gardening in the desert is different than gardening just about anywhere else, but you can reap tremendous success if you learn what to plant and when to plant it.
Preparation for a successful vegetable garden is a must: (1) Select a location that has loose, fertile and well-drained soil and receives six-eight hours of full sun exposure. (2) Decide on vegetables you would like from a list of suitable plants for the season (see the lists below). (3) Since our soil generally lacks organic material and nitrogen, prepare the soil with mulch and fertilizer prior to planting. Using compost can alleviate these deficiencies. (4) Plant seeds to the proper depth and spacing. Handle transplants with care and protect plants for a few days from intense sunlight by covering them with a shade cloth during the hot afternoons. (5) Irrigate the soil to provide moist, but not wet soil conditions. (6) Control weeds and pests with organic means like weeding by hand and companion planting to keep pests away. (7) Harvest daily to assure peak quality.
October is an optimum time for planting in the desert. Many vegetables can be grown during our mild winters and will be ready for harvesting over the months ahead and early spring. If you prefer to start seeds directly in the ground, they should be planted now. The following list outlines the seeds to plant now and number of days before they are usually ready for harvesting.
Direct Seed: Beets 60-80 days to maturity, Chinese Cabbage 70-80, Collard Greens 80, Leeks 180-200, Peas 60-120, Bok Choy 45, Carrots 60-100, Endive 80-120, Mustard 35-45, Radishes 40-60, Broccoli 120-130, Cauliflower 120-130, Kale 60-90, Bulb Onions 120-150, Rutabagas 100-120, Brussel Sprouts 130-150, Celery 120-150, Kohlrabi 50-60, Green Onions 90-100, Spinach 40-90, Cabbage 120-130, Chard 60-90, Lettuce 50-90, Parsnips 100-120, Turnips 90-120 days to harvest.
If you want to speed up the time from planting to harvest, consider using transplants instead of direct seeding and expect to begin harvesting about a month sooner than with seeds.
Transplants: Broccoli 90-100, Cabbage 80-90, Cauliflower 90-100, Sets of Garlic 150-210, Brussel Sprouts 100-120, Chinese Cabbage 45-60, Kohlrabi 45-60, Bulb Onion Sets 120-150.
October is also prime time to sow seed for spring wildflowers, herbs, and most bulbs. Go crazy with planting, except for those plants that are very frost tender. This is an excellent time to plant in the low desert because the soil is still warm and temperatures are not excessive. This allows for roots to develop and plants to establish before the cold temperatures arrive in December and January.
You can get free seeds for many species that do well in the area from the Rio Salado Seed Shed Library, maintained by the Ahwatukee Community Garden Project, and Ironwood Library’s Seed Sharing Project.
There is always plenty to learn and plenty to do at the Ahwatukee Community Garden, located at 4700 E. Warner Road, at the northwest corner behind the Sunday Farmer’s Market and playground area. All ages are welcome to join whether you have gardening experience or not. We meet every Sunday morning from 8-9 a.m. Visit our website at www.ACGarden.org, and leave any questions that you have. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter.
• Information for this article was provided by the Master Gardeners involved in the Ahwatukee Community Garden Project using planting calendars from the Master Gardener program and the Desert Botanical Garden as resources.