Issue: March 7
Restarting a "rested" garden is like beginning a new garden
Q. I have not had a garden for several years. At one time I had a problem with the curly top virus. The plants were thrown away and any weeds and growth have deteriorated. I have decided to do a garden this year. I have already put in some fertilizer and tilled the ground. Do you think I need to do anything else?
A. What you are doing is similar to starting a new garden. Proper soil preparation is an important step in preparing a garden. You have made a good start with tilling to renew the pore space between soil particles. This will allow water and oxygen to penetrate the soil, improving root growth when you plant your vegetables. You have already tilled, but other readers of this column may find that the ground is very hard and difficult to till. This is a common characteristic of New Mexico soils. Moistening the soil a few days before digging or tilling may make the process much easier.
Application of fertilizer is also good, but it is wise to also take a soil test (before applying fertilizer to see what is needed in the soil). You may want to collect a soil sample and have it tested later in the year. The several years of rest for the garden may have allowed the soil mineral situation to change somewhat, so a soil test is a good way to determine exactly what is needed. Even in established gardens which have been worked continuously, soils tests should be performed every few years. Information about collecting soil samples and where to send them is available at your local NMSU Cooperative Extension Service office. Some gardeners purchase soil test kits and do their own testing. It is good to use a home soil test kit, but periodically, send a sample to a professional laboratory to check the accuracy of the home soil test kit.
New Mexico soils often have very low organic matter concentrations. Addition of compost will be an excellent addition to your soil. This is the one thing you did not say that you have already done. If you cannot add organic matter this year, consider doing it next year.
Manures can be added, but they should be well composted (kept wet and turned during composting) before using. Uncomposted manure, even "aged" manure can create salt problems for plants if added in the spring. Green manure crops can also be helpful. These are crops grown for the purpose of adding organic matter to the soil. Legumes are favored green manure crops. Winter grasses can be grown until the plant is well formed, then turned into the ground before grain is formed. Again, it may be too late to grow a green manure crop for this year, but you can consider it in the future. For now, homemade compost from yard wastes, garden wastes, and kitchen wastes, or purchased compost are your best materials to add for increasing the organic matter in the soil. Begin a compost pile so you can generate compost for next year's garden.
Finally, even though the weeds from the previous garden are gone, continue managing weeds in the area around the garden so that insect pests and diseases cannot build-up in those areas and later enter your garden.
For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.