Want to eat healthier? Save money at the grocery store? Enjoy the outdoors? All of the above? You can enjoy all these benefits and more when you plant an edible garden. “Organic gardening is easy to do at home, and the produce may be cheaper than at the market,” said horticultural expert Dr. Angela O’Callaghan at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Your homegrown tomatoes will obviously taste better than those at the store, since shipping and storing affect taste. “Not only will the produce you grow be local and delicious, but it will have the added benefit of not putting pollutants into the atmosphere since it doesn’t have to be transported,” she said.
Here’s what Dr. O’Callaghan recommends when planning your edible garden:
Plant What You Like
You are the person who is making the decisions on what to grow. Do you want to eat this? Is it pretty enough to grow? Dr. O’Callaghan recommends planting what you like, and there are plenty of varieties to choose from. Look for the most interesting plants with the prettiest leaves and flowers, such as red lettuce or cabbage, purple basil, and scented herbs like thyme.
Choose produce that you won’t find at the grocery store, healthy and full of antioxidants. You will find plenty of choices in any seed catalogue, but “make sure you pick something that is right for your location, and avoid planting water hogs like celery if you live in the desert,” she warned.
Control the Soil and Water
It is imperative to pay attention to the soil because that is how your plants will get all of their nutrients and water. Above all, make sure the soil is fertile enough to grow what you want. You can add compost to your soil to help with this. Dr. O’Callaghan advises composting your garbage, and adding two to five percent to the soil volume. Soil in the southwest tends to be salty and hard, so amending it with compost is especially recommended here. “If you pay attention to your soil and watering, you will dispel the myth that you can’t grow anything in the southwest,” said Dr. O’Callaghan, who says her mantra is “water deeply and infrequently.” This same principle applies across Nevada, even with its varying climate.
Another way to control your soil and irrigation is with container gardening or raised beds. Raised beds are basically just big pots, and can be in any shape or material. They can be as small as six inches deep or as large as 20 inches deep. They are usually designed with special soil containing the requisite nutrients. Dr. O’Callaghan advises asking your local garden store for “potting soil” or “raised bed fill.” Container gardening is perfect for miniature gardens on a balcony or in a small yard. Dr. O’Callaghan likes to plant different things in one 14-to-18-inch pot. Don’t use clay pots or metal containers in desert areas because of the heat from the sun, but plastic or glazed pots will work fine. You will need holes for drainage so the roots can pull up the water and nutrients.
Pay Attention to Temperature and Location
Dr. O’Callaghan observes that night-time temperatures are more reliable planting indicators than dates on the calendar. “Even the southern Nevada desert can have cold night-time temperatures during the winter months,” she notes. “Leafy green vegetables like lettuce, spinach and kale can tolerate evening temperatures down to 40°. When it gets warmer, and the lowest evening temperatures do not fall below 50 degrees, you can put in tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.”
It is also important to select the right plant for your location. For example, a smaller variety of tomato will ripen sooner. Since tomatoes are not heat-tolerant, you will need to plant varieties that ripen in the shortest time from seed to fruit if you are located in the desert.
Mulch for edible gardens, which is usually straw because it is cheaper, lighter, and more effective, will help keep your soil temperature more even and your soil more evenly moist, which is what vegetables prefer.
Enjoy Your Edible Garden
“There is something so satisfying about planting a seed and watching it grow.” said Dr. O’Callaghan. “It is great if you have kids – they love gardening, and research proves that kids who plant vegetables eat vegetables.”
If you want to learn more, Dr. O’Callaghan said the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension offers plenty of resources for home gardeners, including publications and programs, with courses offered across the state.
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of ZB, N.A.
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