May 15th is fast approaching and is the average last frost date for Santa Fe and the time for putting your warm season vegetables in the ground. I sneaked some of mine in earlier but that is still a gamble in case we get one of those late frosts (we did) that plus the spring winds have been horrible this year. Never the less, I do grow some late season tomatoes that take 80-90 days to get fruit so I take the gamble on them and stick those transplants in early with the help of wall of waters and row cover. And of course my giant pumpkins take 5-6 months to grow so they need all the time they can get in the ground before that first fall frost hits even though I start them inside! So that takes care of the ones I sneak in early but what about the main vegetables crops?
For all summer squash, winter squash, cucumbers, beans, corn, I plant seeds directly in the ground (following directions on the package) as they will germinate quickly in the warm soil and will grow very quickly barring the birds from eating the seedlings. To prevent that, I put some LIGHTWEIGHT row cover (you can get it at the nurseries) over them until they are over the seedling stage and the birds aren’t interested anymore. It comes in big sheets but you can cut it up for smaller areas or it can cover the whole raised bed. Tack it down with some rocks so the wind doesn’t carry it away! Lightweight row cover is from -.01 to .03 in thickness. The handy thing is you can water right through it and it keeps bugs out.
For the majority of my tomatoes and all peppers and eggplants, I will transplant my plants that I started earlier inside or buy plants from the nurseries. When I plant them put them in a hole where I add some compost and maybe Yum-yum mix to get them going and create a well around them so the water is collected instead of running off.
So let’s talk tomatoes for a minute. Why? Well what is a vegetable garden without those homegrown, sweet tomatoes? Let’s face it, it is the main reason most of us have a vegetable garden. You want to put in tomatoes that are decent size plants. The reason being that they take a long time to grow to produce fruit and our season here is Santa Fe is so short that we need all the help we can get. Plus they take a long time to get them to a decent size which is very important to get that head start. So I started some in March and I also buy some. So as a rule of thumb, if I’m growing say an Oregon Spring tomato that takes 65 days to produce fruit, I might buy them in 4 inch pots but if I’m growing a Brandywine tomato that takes 80 days I will definitely spend the money and buy the gallon size. When deciding which tomatoes you want to grow, look at the amount of days it will take to get some fruit. When the tag or description says 80 days, that means it will take 80 days to become a mature plant that produces blossoms, and then it takes another 70 -80 days to produce mature fruit depending on pollination date. So let’s say a Brandywine plant is planted on May 15th outside, blossoms sometime in June-July, you should get some tomatoes 70-80 days later which puts us sometime in September! Why try to grow a tomato that takes that long? Flavor. The longer it takes, the better the flavor! They have more time to develop those sugars needed for great flavor. If I had a normal size garden (which I don’t but most of you do), I might try one or two of those longer varieties and I would try a few 65 day varieties and would have the bulk of my tomato varieties in the 70-80 day range. That way I hopefully will get some tomatoes early, mid and late season. That’s the thinking anyways!
So now you have everything up and growing what else can you do to help yourself get the best veggies? For one, I became a believer of drip systems a few years back after being a hand waterer for years. I put a simple drip system in and saw my yield at least double and it saves on water because it puts the water in the root zone. Another good reason for doing drip is that if you water from overhead, you could be encouraging some diseases from splashing the soil on them (there are soil borne diseases) or powdery mildew later in the season.
Next I would put a couple of inches thick of mulch in my wells (not in May when the soil is colder and your plants are trying to get warm) but by late June when it really heats up around here. Just put it over your drip system. This will help keep your water from evaporating. I like straw (not hay-it produces too many seeds) as it is lightweight and if you turn your soil over in the fall after harvest, it will break down for the next season. When you first put straw down, I do water it from the top so it won’t blow away and then let the drip work underneath it (so make sure it works before you cover it with straw).
So let’s talk fertilizer. I stay away from chemical fertilizers as they can hurt or kill your beneficial microbes that keep your soil healthy and help your plants grow and stay healthy. So stay away from Miracle Gro and the likes of that. I use more natural fertilizers-both organic fish emulsion and organic seaweed fertilizer together. The reason I use both is the fish emulsion is a general all purpose fertilizer but the seaweed has very little fertilizer but trace elements our veggies need to grow big and healthy. I put them together in a 5 gallon container and use it as a drench in my wells around the plants. Sometimes I also just spray the seaweed on the leaves for a foliar feeding. I fertilize once or twice a season except for giant pumpkins which get fed once a week. Believe it or not, as a giant pumpkin grower, they are the only fertilizers I use.
So what are you waiting for? Get busy and happy gardening!