Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
March, 2013
Regional Report

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Soil in raised beds is easier to improve with additions of compost and it warms up earlier in the spring than soil in a conventional garden.

Grow Nutritious Vegetables

Homegrown vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals and are easy to grow. All it takes is a little planning ahead. I prefer to grow vegetables organically, avoiding pesticides in or around the garden.

Start with the Soil
Soil management is the key to successful vegetable gardening. Enhance your garden's existing resources naturally instead of adding synthetic chemicals or so-called miracle aids, and you will avoid the destruction of Nature's helpful organisms naturally present in the soil.

The key to healthy soil is organic matter. Adding compost regularly is a good way to increase the organic matter content of your soil. This will open up clay soils to improve drainage, help sandy soils hang on to water and nutrients, and support all those beneficial soil microorganisms.

Another helpful method is to grow a cover crop. To improve soil structure, sow successive crops of buckwheat in summer, tilling each crop under when it reaches 8 to 10 inches. Then follow with winter rye in fall and till in under the following spring. If you soil is deficient in nitrogen, sow a legume such as clover.

Consider Raised Beds
In areas where the soil is clay or has poor drainage, my preference is to garden in raised beds. Using cinder blocks, I've constructed several beds to grow root crops, herbs, tomatoes and many other vegetables. Raised beds use actual growing space more efficiently than a traditional garden planted in rows because walking in the beds is not required for maintenance of the vegetables. I can merely reach in from either side to cultivate and mulch.

Try Beets in Raised Beds
Perfect for raised beds is 'Chioggia' beet, an Italian heirloom named for a fishing town near Venice. This nutritious and versatile vegetable matures in around 50 days and can be planted at two-week intervals for continuous harvests. The uniquely colored flesh has alternating red and white concentric rings that resemble a target. The beets retain these markings if baked whole and sliced just before serving. Beets have lots of fiber, potassium, iron, and folic acid, a B vitamin. The pigment that gives beets their color is a powerful antioxidant called betacyanin.

My favorite way to prepare 'Chioggia' beets is to roast them until tender, cut them into slices, and serve with onions and vinegar or add them to salads and soups. The greens are a good substitute for spinach; just wash the tops and saute in a little olive oil.

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