Growing food in the desert is always a challenge, especially if you don’t know the rules. However, once you figure them out, gardening becomes a breeze.
May is a great time to get your garden going and there are three important things you need to take into consideration: site, soil and seasons. A mistake in one of these three areas will confirm your (incorrect) self-diagnosis of having a brown thumb. I have found that most people who think they can’t grow simply don’t have the knowledge they need to succeed. My goal at The Urban Farm is to share the rules of how easy it is to grow your own groceries!
It starts with finding the perfect location for your garden, which begins with deciphering how hot your garden space gets. A western exposure that gets sun from noon till sundown will likely be too hot in the summer but it might be the perfect space for a winter garden. A northern exposed garden, usually on the north side of a structure, likely will not get enough sunlight to grow successfully. Here in the low desert, an eastern exposure (which gets sun from sunup until noonish) will likely be your best place for a garden, with a southern exposure coming in a strong second place. With a southern exposure, you may have to add some additional summer shade – either by growing it (think of a large tree or bush) or putting it up (for example, a tarp or cloth shade structure).
Next, growing plants in the dirt from your yard is sure to leave you deeply dissatisfied. Healthy soil has five vital components, and dirt is just one of them. The rest include airspace, water, organic matter and everything that is alive in the soil. Your job as an urban farmer and gardener is to grow healthy soil (because healthy soil means healthy plants). The good news is that this is as simple as adding lots of compost and planting mix to your garden. This begins the process of aerating your soil and, magically, the soil life appears. I always say that you can’t add enough compost. Often, I will add 2 inches of compost on top of my garden each season and plant away.
Finally, planting what is right for the season is imperative. Do not trust your big box stores and nurseries to bring in the correct plants for the season. Get a local planting calendar like the one at PlantingCalendar.org and you will be harvesting great garden groceries in no time.
To help with your gardening journey, The Urban Farm is offering free gardening classes each day Monday through Friday at 5pm. They are designed to jump start you on your gardening journey and to help guide you to ultimate garden success. Find out more at IWantToGarden.com.
If you think you have a brown thumb, it might be time to reconsider that. In my experience, as long as you pay attention to your garden placement, soil and planting seasons, you can build a thriving garden even here in the desert…and, in the process, grow yourself a green thumb.
Written by: Greg Peterson, The Urban Farm
Greg Peterson is a green living and sustainability innovator who is well-known regionally. He has his master’s degree in Urban and Environmental Planning from Arizona State University. Greg is the owner of the Urban Farm (www.urbanfarm.org), a real world environmental showcase home in the heart of Phoenix. The Urban Farm, featuring an entirely edible landscape, including over 75 fruit trees, rainwater and grey-water harvesting, three solar applications, and extensive use of reclaimed and recycled building materials. The site is opened periodically throughout the year to the public and offers classes, lectures and tours.