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Sustainable Happenings February 2011

Ten Inch Carrots
by Joan Gough

Laundry Basket, T. Pilcher photo
Carrots and parsnips of February.

I came to Moab and stayed because I loved the country with it’s endless possibilities forexploration, and the people who shared my love of the country. As I settled in to the community in the late seventies, I realized that Moabites have another passion, less obvious, but just as pervasive as exploring, and that is gardening.
February is planning time for the gardener. Seed catalogs, which are like Patagonia catalogs to the extreme sports junky or Victoria’s Secret to the fashion mavin, are arriving in mail boxes all over town. For mouth watering photos Park Seed Co. is great, but for detailed information, I go to Johnny’s Selected Seeds either the catalog or at Johnnyseeds.com.

The next step toward a successful garden is to talk to local people who have been at it for a few years. In Moab we can attend classes offered by the Youth Garden Project and Utah State Extension Service. Many counties have an extension agent, and you may have other resources such as college classes or workshops sponsored by nurseries. One of the most valuable aspects of classes or workshops is the other gardeners you meet. I am always hoping against hope that someone has found a new and better weapon in the organic arsenal against squash bugs (they can reduce a full grown zucchini to a limp pile of leaves and stems in 48 hours), but as one friend says, “Why do you think they call them SQUASH bugs”?

When the season is in full bloom, watch for garden tours. Aside from making me feel totally inadequate, they are another great source of ideas and contacts.
Some vegetables do well planted as seeds directly into the soil and others I buy as plants from the nursery. Peas, beans, squash, cucumbers, corn, lettuce, chard and all root crops actually do best when they can grow from seeds in place. They are slower getting going but will soon catch up and surpass the potted plants. I like to buy onions sets which are small dried onions and drop them into 1-1 1/2 inch deep holes made with the handle of the trowel. I get the sets and seed potatoes from the local farm store. They also have seeds in bulk.

Carrot Photo

Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, chilies, and whatever looks irresistible, I buy from the nursery in April or May.

But, back to February. Now is also the time to decide where to put your garden and what kind of beds to use. I till a dedicated area with rows or raised beds, fenced off from the urban deer herd. My garden is in the front yard because the southern exposure is in the front of my lot. I also chose it because there are no large trees which not only shade plants but also rob them of nutrients and water.

Carrot Photo

Seed catalogs arrive in January to help with planning and inspiration. These reliable companies also have web pages: Park Seed Co, Territorial Seed Company, Gardens Alive, Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Around the corner another Moabite has tilled up the parking strip for several years now where he plants tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and summer squash. The master gardeners whose lots I’ve checked out while pretending to shop at their yard sale or chat over the fence, have vegetables and especially herbs planted wherever the best conditions occur. The lettuce may be on the north side of the house where it gets some shade, while rosemary and other herbs are growing among the flowers close to the back door. There are various micro climates all over your yard. Think small and think close to the ground to discover them.

On the high desert, irrigation is a must. In the heart of many western towns like Moab, there are still irrigation ditches and water masters. Those who have water rights pull water every 5 days from the common ditch. I have tried sprayers on risers, drip systems, and ditches. For most of us, drip heads plugged into black flexible pipe, is the most conservative of water, cheapest and most flexible system. Even in the middle of the season I can pull out a head, plug the hole and make two new ones down the line. I get into the “engineering” of it.

In July, when the squash bugs have won the battle for zucchini, I may feel like giving up on gardening. But in February, when I’m still digging 10 inch long carrots and creamy white parsnips from under the snow, and the rhythm of the season is in my bones, I am getting ready to garden in Moab.

 
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