1. Improve your soil, if it needs it. Marjory Wildcraft of Grow Your Own Groceries, says that conditioning your soil is one of the first thing any gardener should do. Keep in mind that soil composition can change over time and should be re-evaluated every so often.
Our garden was growing tomatoes non-stop, even throughout the winter, when suddenly everything pretty much died. We learned, later, that our soil had accumulated too much nitrogen and had to back up several steps to make some adjustments. You might need to:
- Have your soil tested by your local extension office
- Mix compost in with the soil you now have
- Add amendments, per instructions from extension office or local growers
2. Push your composting into high gear! Make sure everyone in the family knows what can and cannot be added to compost and place “compost catchers” near the kitchen sink and anywhere else food is prepared.
Get the kids busy shredding newspaper and old mail (remove plastic windows in envelopes before shredding). Visit a nearby coffee house and ask for their old coffee grinds. Ask neighbors for grass clippings, piles of old leaves, and vegetable peelings.
3. If you’re not sure what to plant and when, visit a farmer’s market and talk to the pros or search on the internet for local gardening blogs.
Out of curiosity, I did a search for “Phoenix garden blog” and came up with 28,900,000 results. OK, most of those won’t have the information I’m looking for, but the way I figure it is that if someone cares enough to write about their gardening efforts, they probably have some pretty good information and tips to share!
Local nurseries (probably not the big box store nurseries) will likely have good advice about what grows best in your climate. Remember that many of us live in micro-climates, which affects what we can grow and when it should be planted and harvested.
4. Check your watering system. Replace any missing or damaged valves or hoses. There’s nothing quite like spending some money on seeds and/or seedlings, ammassing a good amount of quality compost, and then coming out one day to discover that your plants are nearly dead from an unexpected heat wave.
This happened to us last June.
5. Think about what you like to eat a lot of. There’s no point whatsoever in planting lima beans if no one, and I mean no one , in the family will eat them! Once you have a list of what you and your family enjoy eating, check with gardening blogs, farmers, local nurseries, and planting calendars and schedule planting dates.
6. If your planting season is still a month or more away, solarize your garden area. This is very easy, and I wish I had done this last month.
Water your garden area very, very well and cover it with a huge sheet of clear plastic. I’ve seen some gardeners use black plastic, but this site recommends otherwise.
Weight the plastic down around the edges to make sure that it doesn’t fly away, even in a good sized gust. Wait for 4-6 weeks. This allows the weeds to sprout, thinking, “Yaaay! We can begin adding hours of backbreaking work to this poor gardener’s week!” However, the joke is on them because once the seeds have sprouted, they will quickly die, either from the heat beneath the black plastic or from being smothered with no air or sunlight.
Some seeds won’t sprout at all but will still die from being overheated.
There are more technical instructions on line, but this is my version.
7. While you’re messing around with your soil and garden area, check for earthworms. I was pleasantly surprised this week to discover a nice, healthy assortment of worms in our herb garden that I didn’t realize were there.
If your garden area doesn’t seem to have worms, they can be purchased and added to both your garden and your compost pile.
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