by Jennifer Medina Salter, El Paso Master Gardener
March is upon us and if you’re like me, you are itching to get your warm season vegetable garden ready. This is the perfect time to make sure that everything is ready for planting those tomatoes in mid-March, so get those gloves on, head to the garden and let’s start with several jobs essential for a great harvest.
First, take a good look at your garden beds and weed out everything that does not belong. Then take your trusty pitchfork and give the bed a good tilling, removing any old roots, stones, etc. Next comes one of the most important things – adding compost to your existing soil. Compost, or decomposed organic matter, is often called “black gold” because of all the benefits it brings to the garden. Soils here in El Paso range from deep sand to heavy clay and caliche/rock soils with very little top soil so the addition of a 3” layer of compost is very important as it helps improve the health and structure of the soil. The addition of compost improves the soil’s ability to retain moisture and gives the soil a “crumbly” texture that makes it easier for the tender roots of your transplants to move through the soil. If you have an existing raised bed then add that 3” layer of compost and work it in. If you are building your beds from scratch, use equal parts of compost, top soil and sand and till them well. It is easier to work in the compost before your plant your beds, so cover your bed with 3 to 4 inches of compost and work it into the soil. I try to keep my garden chemical free, so adding lots of compost every year helps put nutrients into my existing soil. My beds have gone for several weeks without watering during this cool season and during the warm season can also go up to a week without additional water.
Lastly, it is time to check your drip irrigation system if you have one. Run the system and look for leaks or blockages which would prevent water from getting to some of the plants or drown others. It’s better now while your beds are empty than having to work around your plants.
Your beds are now ready to be planted and mid to late March is the perfect time to set out those tomato seedlings to get a harvest before the very hot weather arrives. However, our spring winds can tear those tender plants apart, so here’s a quick tip. After you have placed the transplants in the ground, surround each with a cage for future support. Take a large trash bags, either white or clear, and cut off the sealed end. Slide this over the tomato cage like a sock, until it is completely surrounding (and protecting) the transplant. You can hold it in place with clamps or clothespins on the cage. This will protect your tender plants from both the strong winds and the cooler nights of March and early April. When removed, you will have a strong, healthy plant.
Finally, here are links to two articles about compost that might be helpful to you:
Hope you enjoy getting out there and Happy Gardening!