Yard and Garden: Learn how to start and grow your garden

For the next six weeks, the Valencia Community Gardens on Silva Road, between the Tomé Plaza and Tomé Art Gallery, is the home to the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service’s Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition’s free Seed to Supper Beginning Vegetable Gardener Series.

The course teaches beginning vegetable gardeners how to successfully grow their own food, from planning a garden space all the way to harvest.

Last week, 10 Valencia County residents came to the community garden to begin learning how to plan and prepare for a garden. In the still chilly, dappled shade on the edge of the gardens, Rigo Chavez, a Valencia County Master Gardener, talked about choosing the correct site for a garden, the first step to great growing.

The main factors to choosing a garden location include sun, soil, water and airflow. The handbook for the course also emphasizes the matter of convenience — things that are out of sight, tend to be out of mind, so putting your garden in an area you frequently see or pass through is a good place to start.

While most vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight, in New Mexico, the sun can be too much of a good thing, Chavez said.

“Tomatoes, for instance, do well with morning sun and afternoon shade,” he said. “But you might have to provide some shade earlier in the day. The New Mexico sun is an unforgiving sun.”

Ralph Becker, one of the participants, said when he’s grown tomatoes in the past, he kept them under shade cloth all the time to prevent blossom drop, which leads to the fruit not forming on the plants.

Chavez encouraging the group, and anyone wanting to grow their own veggies, to plant food you are going to enjoy.

“This is all about what you want and what will grow,” he said, noting those two things can be at odds.

For instance, you may love blueberries, but they require acidic soil, a humid environment and are not well suited to the dry Southwest climate.

“My wife wanted blueberries. We tried it for two years and got nothing. It’s just too warm here,” he said.

When planning a garden, people often ask how big it should be and that is determined by the space needed by the individual plants, Chavez said. A tomato plant that isn’t supported by stakes or a hoop needs 3 feet of space around it; However, a pepper plant needs much less, meaning the area needed for one tomato plant could accommodate three pepper plants.

“Your plan for your total space based on the needed footprint of the plants,” he said.

When deciding how to arrange plants, Chavez said gardeners should group compatible plants together in terms of water usage, nutrient needs and length of growing season. Planting guides on seed packets and started plants will have that information, he said.

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