I’ve decided planning a garden has all the elements of planning a family reunion: lots of special needs, the ever-present threat of fights and visits from weedy, unwanted neighbors.
Still, perhaps the Payson Community Garden’s free Saturday morning classes will save me. They’re chock full of information on everything from multiple seasonal gardening, to hydroponics, soil prep and irrigation.
Plus, the Community Garden’s advisors will to share their information.
So this gardening column will track progress of the community garden plots and the Saturday classes, in hopes I can get my plants to play nice and have a family reunion harvest blast — without any unforeseen disasters. Fortunately, I’ve teamed up with a friend and her daughter — veteran Phoenix gardeners trying to adjust to a 3,800-ft. change in altitude, which affects when to plant, soil type, plant varieties and late frosts.
The classes are amazing, though. Roger Kriemeyer, the most pleasantly persistent volunteer in Payson and director of the Payson Community Garden, has lined up an impressive array of teachers and advisors to help us wanna-be master gardeners.
For this early class, Chris Jones of the University of Arizona’s Extension for Gila County shared ideas, answered questions and gave us his contact information so we can pester him anytime about seating arrangements at the reunion.
Jones regularly holds classes for master gardeners and at first I felt like a shrinking violet surrounded by so many experienced, knowledgeable folk. Fortunately, gardeners love to sow seeds of knowledge and cultivate support.
Jones focused this class on maximizing the yield of a garden by planting spring, summer and fall crops.
Plants that go together
Beans and legumes & Corn, sunflowers, lavender, cabbage, cucumber, strawberries and eggplant
Eggplant & Calendula, marigolds, mint and peas
Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale & Dill, sage, rosemary, potatoes, beetroot, celery, garlic, onions and geraniums
Carrots & Lettuce, chives, leeks, rosemary, sage, peas, radishes and wormwood
Lettuce & Carrots, radish, strawberries, cucumber and beans
Corn & Sunflowers, amaranth, beans, peas & other legumes, pumpkin, squash, cucumber, melons and parsley
Tomatoes & Basil, oregano, parsley, chives, nasturtium, onions, carrots,
celery, calendula, geranium and borage
Since Payson is blessed with an average of 270 sunny days a year, gardeners can reap continuous harvests. With careful planning and lots of mulch, you can even outwit late frosts.
“Intercropping allows the gardener to have multiple harvests, aid nutrient uptake and protect against bugs and diseases,” said Jones. “Some people believe this type of gardening needs less work, but it actually needs more.”
Listening to Jones talk about mixing warm and cold season veggies by interspersing them by days to harvest, I felt like an overwhelmed wedding planner. Fortunately, the Community Garden folks offer an almanac to help record and plan a garden with helpful hints, planting and harvesting timelines and information on various varieties of plants.
Inside pages have a diagram of a plot laid down to the square foot, and Jones offered a formula to figure out how to space plants.
“It’s recommended spacing is figured from the center or stalk of the plant and how bushy it will get,” said Jones.
In other words, don’t sit liberal cousin Amy next to her Tea Party mom.
Jones assured me the information on the back of the seed packets would help a ton. Plus, the Internet is full of charts that suggest plant parings based on years of experimenting. Other factors that affect spacing covered in the planning book include planting dates, days to harvest, root zone, nutrient needs and the shade and pest tolerance.
Consider the benefits of seating the radishes next to the carrots.
Radishes love cool weather, grow fast and put down shallow roots. Carrots grow slow and sink a deep taproot. So a garden can pull the ripe radishes and leave behind space for the slow-growing carrots. The radishes also help to fix nutrients in the soil that aid carrot growth.
To pull that off, said Jones, just mix the seeds and plant.
Next, we must confront the dread, lurking monster that stalks any high country garden: late frosts.
Ugh — so many details. Worse than a family reunion menu that satisfies both vegans and cave men I decided — since it’ll continue all summer.
For the last two years, a May frost has always ruined my garden plans — fruit tree blossoms falling like fragrant rain. All I could do for my fruit trees was gnash my teeth, but I protected my vegetables by not planting until around June 1. Alas, that sharply limits my harvest.
Never fear, said Jones. Just scatter a layer of wood chips and compost on top of the soil — then remove the wood chips after harvesting the early crop. An alternative to wood chips, nurseries sell compost mulch that can simply be processed back into the soil. I’ve decided I’ll use that — like easy, pre-chopped veggies for the reunion.
So much planning! But, hey — I’ve got a seating chart — and made some new friends. I just hope the cauliflower doesn’t get tipsy — and invite the weeds over.