Organic Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest – Yes You Can!

I have lived in the Phoenix area for a while now and the thought of having a vegetable garden never entered my mind, never researched it either, just thought it wasn’t possible. We ALWAYS had a garden in the east so why not here. Upon some internet research and information from a friend I found out we actually have the ideal weather for one. I’ve had my garden for about 4 years and now wonder WHY I waited so long. Even now if I talk about it at the grocery store in line, people actually look at me like I’m crazy and say “You can do that here”? The fact is you can grow just about anything here.

We talk about Organic Gardening but I never knew that there was anything else except Organic Gardening. Growing up we didn’t have all the Chemicals that are out now and even if there were we couldn’t afford them anyway. We have always had a Compost Pile and Rabbits as pets. The droppings from the rabbits were either added to the compost pile or added directly into the garden and the garden LOVED IT.

I believe our planting times in Phoenix are like nowhere else in the nation. We basically have 2 planting seasons. They are end of February through May and the end of September through December before the first frost hits. Believe it or not my lettuce lives through our winter months. Many of my vegetables live through the winter in the low desert. In the summer there are plants like Cantaloupe and Watermelon that can handle the heat if you can handle working out there. Pumpkins are started in July for Halloween.

Initially starting my garden took one day and three people. This is what I bought:

1. 6 bags of Compost. Add 5 keep 1 on hand.
2. 5 bags of Blood Meal. Add 3 keep 2 for Fertilizer.
3. 5 Bags of Bone Meal. Add 3 keep 2 for Fertilizer.
4. 2 Bags of Amender.
5. 5 Bags of Manure.
6. 4 cups of Red Wrigglers.
7. 2 Bags of Organic Mulch.

We rotor tilled 4 plots. Two were 8×10, one was 3×5, and one 2×13 against my block wall. We sifted through the dirt, removed as much Bermuda grass as we could. Through the season I dug and removed the roots of any Bermuda grass that sprouted up later as I did weeding.

Next we added Amender. Rotor tilled again to mix in the Amender since our soil is mostly clay. Next we started adding all the rest of the above items and finished with compost topped with 2″ layer of Mulch. I dug some holes along the way and added the Earth worms in the soil to increase soil fertility. We finished with a good watering and let that set overnight.

The next day I planted. You can buy inexpensive plants or even hook up with other gardener’s who have a seed exchange. When you buy seeds from the store take the planting information on the back with a grain of salt as I have found most of the instructions apply to the rest of the nation and not us. I plant Sunflowers all throughout the garden to help with shade as well as wildflowers to help bring in the bees for pollination.

Watering: I would suggest before starting your garden to install underground irrigation. This can be a drip system which is not too costly and very time saving for you as you do not have to stand out there and water. This will also save you on your water bill. You need to water slowly and deep. You could also use soaker hoses above ground before planting and plant close to the soaker hoses. I did not install underground irrigation before planting and now regret it but hey, I will get there. A good idea also is harvesting rainwater. I’ll get that Rain Barrel going some day but for the moment I run out of the house with 5 Gallon Buckets and put them next to the house where the rain falls heavy off the roof. There’s nothing better than a good rain for your plants.

I keep some items on had all the time. Some of them are: organic mulch to retain moisture, compost for fertilizer, bone meal for phosphorus, blood meal for nitrogen, epsom salts – magnesium sulfate: my tomatoes and peppers do well adding this, garden grade diatomaceous earth for bugs on plants: you need to be careful adding this it will also kill the good bugs, bat guano for fertilizer, and fish emulsion for fertilizer. I am always adding coffee grounds to the soil as well.

My garden is at the point right now that when planting season starts I never know what is going to come up. I just sit and scratch my head trying to identify what is germinating not because I didn’t label what I planted but because plants just seem to come up on their own. One of my gardens now has a mulberry tree in the middle of and I didn’t plant it. I let it stay because it really helps with shade. It is as tall as the house now.

I am just touching the tip of the Iceberg here. I am by no means an expert gardener just someone who really likes to garden. I have not spent much time out there this summer due to the heat but come September I’ll be out there.. for hours. This is just an idea to get your garden started. The possibilities are endless. I use the planting calendar as a guide and go for it. I have to give the credit to all the resources below and Google for all my internet searches. They gave me the strength to take the football and run with it. My philosophy is why buy it when you can grow it.

Below is a list of resources I used just to name a few:
The Garden Guy – Extreme Gardening, How To Grow Organic In The Hostile Desert by Dave Owens. I use this book ALL THE TIME.
The Phoenix Permaculture Guild – Great resource for Southwest Gardening. They also have a Desert Planting and Harvesting Calendar on this site.