We always had a garden when I was a kid, and ever since I moved out I've wanted to have one again. This is my first chance! Not in fertile Mississippi soil, with seasons I instinctively understand and plenty of rain. Nope. Out here in Nevada, in a sandpit backyard, with the wild-west weather and the short growing season.
I'm actually not complaining about the sand. My friend four blocks downhill has 12" of silt on a caliche base - she'll have deep sucking mudpuddles til May. At least I've got well-drained sand, enriched with a little humus, and I do own a very large hair and manure producing machine. Sand + compost = great dirt!
I started seriously trying to figure out how to garden when we bought the house last August. I've been googling off and on ever since then, trying to figure out when you plant stuff here. Last night, I finally found it! If you are trying to garden in the Reno / Tahoe area of Nevada, here's the pdf you've been looking for: UNR's "Getting Started with a Vegetable Garden." (Theoretically) reliable frost-free dates! Growing season! When to plant what stuff!!
I was so excited to find that - and realize that I wasn't actually too late - that I ran out and built my first raised bed. Well, I might not have been quite so excited if it wasn't such a lovely day - it got into the 60s, my lovely sand has dried out, and it's light til almost 6 now.
I've spent six months dithering about what to make the walls of the beds out of. I've priced out fir, redwood, railroad ties, and cinderblocks. I've agonized over sizing and height. And today I just went and raided the woodpile behind the barn and knocked together the biggest thing I could build.
They're 2x6" cedar boards that spent who knows how many years behind the barn. They used to be a deck - there's some paint and stain still visible on them, and the ends of the boards have nail holes. But they haven't quite given their all yet, and I think they should gracefully retire as garden beds. I screwed them to some 3x4" pallet boards that were also in the pile, and I leveled the bed. It's built into a slight slope. I cut the pallet boards with legs that extend about 6 more inches into the ground.
I wanted beds that were 3-4' wide, and the most efficient use of my boards turned out to be 43". I kind of wish I could've built real raised beds, maybe 2' off the ground, but this will do. I've got enough 2x6's to make one more bed, then I've got enough 3"x4" pallet boards to make one even shorter bed. I've also got a bunch of 1x12" shelving boards, but I don't know how long a 3/4" thick board will last. And I think three beds will be enough for my first year gardening. :)
Is there an efficient way to mix compost with existing sand? Should I shovel out all the sand and then layer compost-sand-compost-sand and fork it all together, or is there a better way?
Has anybody tried that Square Foot Gardening thing? It seems really well suited to my situation - tiny beds, lots of soil amendment, irrigation is essential.
What should I plant? I know I want to put in a permanent herb garden - that's one reason I want three beds. Of course I will try tomatoes, but they're hard to grow out here. I must grow carrots to feed to the horse that provides the manure. I'm not going to try corn - not enough space, and I think the wind would demolish it. Definitely bush beans. Definitely squash and zucchini. Definitely radishes and baby lettuce. Maybe turnips. Maybe broccoli and cabbage, but I know they're all brassicas and I have to rotate them carefully.
If I manage to grow tomatoes, and the devil tomatoworms find me, I am going to make my friend come kill them. Tomato worms give me the heebie jeebies like nothing else. Maybe I will catch a chicken and make the chicken eat the worm.