Vegetable garden newbie in northern NM needs advice!

cjbranch2001(Los Alamos, NM)April 1, 2007


I am a complete newbie to the idea of vegetable gardening, especially in a high desert climate like northern NM. But I have a small region of my lot (~30 ft x 20 ft) that I can't manage to get grama grass to take on (the weeds just keep taking over), so instead of my usual rototilling and replanting grama with little success, I thought I would try something different.

So here are my growing conditions:

-The area is just to the east of my wood fence and gets what I would estimate to be 8-10 hours of full sun per day.

-A water spicket is right there. The soil appears to drain well.

-Our moronic neighbors had a landscaper put down black dirt for them a few years ago that washed into our yard a few weeks later. It was completely laden with weed seeds and our lot has never recovered.

-The Cerro Grande fire came right through my lot 7 years ago. I don't know how much of the organic material has recovered, but with how well the weeds grow back there I have to believe the amount of organics nonzero.

-When I was intending this to just be a xeric meadow, I planted a few flame maple trees back there. They are doing reasonably fine, but are still small. Any long-term plans need to take that potentially-increasing shade into account (although they really don't provide any right now...they are about 1 inch in diameter at the trunk).

-When I planted those trees, I found that the soil turned to pseudo-rock about 1.5-2 feet down ("pseudo" implying I could still break it with a pick axe or bar).

I would really like to avoid having to bring in how much dirt/manure it would require to do this whole area as raised beds. Do you think this is reasonable?

Also, any recommendations on how to proceed such as soil modifications/enhancements, recommended vegetables, etc. would be greatly appreciated!!!

Thanks in advance!


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Hi CJ,

I created a food garden in similar conditions two years ago with great results, and thought I'd share what I did...

To begin I dug out the area (I chose a circle about 15 feet in diameter for the garden), and like you, I hit impossibly hard substrate less than a foot down. I mixed the loosened top layer of soil with a few bags of topsoil, manure, and some of the organic material under salvaged dead pinyon pines. I then fenced the area in, of course, mulched like crazy with straw, and hooked up some hose from my washing machine to give it graywater (not actually supposed to be used for vegetable gardening, but that's ridiculous unless you're washing soiled diapers). With that thick layer of straw, all the necessary moisture is retained between laundry loads (using appropriate biodegradable detergent only of course), and any plants that cannot grow up through the straw from seed are started indoors, hardened off, and transplanted into the garden.
I would discourage raised beds anyway, as they don't benefit from the moisture-retentive and temperature-mediating properties of the ground. Also, rainwater cannot flow into a raised bed, only out of it. Sunken basins are much more appropriate for this climate (check out the book "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands" by Brad Lancaster, which goes into detail about this, as well as has a chapter on ancient Native American gardening methods).

So, my three tips for gardening here would be:
1. Keep it small, this allows much more control over every part of the process, increasing yields.
2. Mulch like crazy... Oh, did I mention I have never had to pull weeds from my garden?
3. Pay attention to the weather and animals to minimize plant losses.

Good luck to you!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2007 at 11:04AM
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I live in Mesilla New Mexico and am starting my verey first veggie garden. My husband made me these wonderful raised beds from wooden planks. I filled them with top soil, compost and garden soil. I am wondering if this will sufice. If i capture the rainwater in barrels to use n my garden will this help with nutrients? What exactly is "gray water"?

I have planted the following...
chilis (of course)
sweet corn
green, yellow and red bell peppers

anything specific i need to know?


    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 11:52AM
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