By Kathleen McKevitt – Special to the Pahrump Valley Times
Why garden? Consider this: The average carrot travels over 1800 miles to get to your dinner plate. About 93 percent of your food dollar pays processors, packagers, distributors, wholesalers, truckers and the oil industry — and for preservatives and infrastructure a global food system demands.
As the nation was recovering from a depression, Eleanor Roosevelt started Victory Gardens. It was so popular that at its peak, it supplied 40 percent of the nation’s fresh produce.
In other words, it would seem that in down economic conditions, people plant gardens. Today, the Burpee seed company claims it has seen a 40 percent increase in seed sales over the last five years.
The best advice? If you want to know where your food is coming from, raise your own. Save your seeds, start with certified organic seeds, soils, mulch, and other fertilizers. Plant inside and take starts outside after the last frost, stay in touch with the Master Gardeners and Extension office in Pahrump for answers and help.
At a University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) Master Gardener seminar and seed exchange recently, the Master Gardeners offered tips for growing your own.
The Master Gardeners agree learning to plant and harvest successfully in this climate is very do-able, but you have to learn to work with the soil that’s here, know how to water, and how to manage pests — organically. While tricky, many local gardeners supply all their families’ produce from their gardens, even in this arid environment.
Mulching is the first thing in the spring for all successful gardening. The Master Gardeners recommend starting a good mulch now. It can include anything organic from newspapers to chicken manure. Horse, goat, and rabbit manures, unsprayed lawn/leaf clippings and fruit and vegetable leftovers are all excellent composting materials.
Cautionary note: Using organic soils and fertilizers is great, but when you see tomatoes or other vegetables or fruit plants begin flower, back off the nitrogen. “They’re good to go,” said Woodland. Scot Troter adds, “But do start with a good iron product before you plant. Also, “No rows,” he said. “The reason people planted in rows was because of machines that had to pass through, but gardeners here don’t need to do that…it wastes space.”
When it’s time to start seeds, Debby Woodland said, “If you don’t know where to start, read the seed package.” It would seem most new gardeners plant way too deeply, and “In this climate, that’s death to the seed,” according to Woodland.
Troter said most seeds here should be planted at no more than one-quarter inch, except tomato seeds at one and three-quarter inch. “Then rake them into the soil, and you’re done with your planting,” said Troter.
“A good water drip can reach and sustain seedlings but not if they’re two inches down. You have to learn to water,” added Woodland.
According to the Extension service all drip hose equipment is pretty good now, meaning that it lasts longer, is all easy to use and fairly inexpensive. One gallon of water will drip in one hour and spread adequately across the garden to get seeds started and growing.
Gardens aren’t limited to planting directly in the ground. One individual said she planted a large pot of carrots, several large pots of tomatoes, another of lettuces and another greens, and one of purchased strawberry plants. Not a field garden, but fresh produce all the same.
This grower spent less than $100, including the seeds, pots, nutrients, and water and soil, and yielded four separate plantings and harvestings of fruits and vegetables in one season.
What doesn’t work well here? Corn. It takes too much water. Most berries need humidity and don’t do well in the desert, but mulberries seem to do fine here. Potatoes, say some, don’t do very well, carrots and beets and turnips are highly successful crops in the area, according to Troter.
“Beans of almost any kind, onions and garlic — in all varieties, grow very nicely here.” He said veggies such as carrots and turnips may be “a little bent on the ends when they run into the stone-hard clay and rocks.”
Troter said fruit trees are a challenge. “It’s the wind and sometimes frosts and heavy rain in the spring that can tear off the blossoms and wreck the leaves in one storm, and then that’s it for the year. Most fruit-bearing trees are not very heat-resistant either, and yet, there are people here getting some very nice pears and plums occasionally.”
Winter gardens don’t have to be tended as much. The drying heat is mostly gone and soil stays moist longer. It is important, however, to cover lightly all greens. Many gardeners here are still harvesting broccoli, mustard, collard and other greens, beets, turnips, onions and garlic. It might be a surprise to people just getting started with gardening in the Pahrump Valley that successful gardens are feeding large families all year round, and that the Farmer’s Market is in operation every weekend, presently at the Star Nursery location in Pahrump.
Raised gardens, roof gardens, hanging gardens, hydroponic gardens, well-toiled earth gardens and gardens all in pots are options, and the radiant food on your table will be an on-going inspiration to do more, learn more and save more money in the process.