Issue: January 2002

Dead of Winter a Great Time to Plan Vegetable Garden

A garden that provides nutritious, high-quality vegetables starts long before the first seed is sown, making January a great time to lay the groundwork for spring planting.

Gardeners can begin by taking soil samples to test for soil fertility, which helps determine a crop's fertilizer requirements.

Take several samples from different areas of the garden at a depth of 6 to 8 inches where most root growth occurs. Combine them into one composite sample, box it up and send it to a soils lab for analysis.

Forms and publications from New Mexico State University's Soil, Water and Plant Testing Lab tell how to mail in samples for analysis at a nominal fee and how to interpret results. County Extension offices can provide those publications, as well as lists of alternative soils labs and their fees. Extension agents can also help determine the amount and kind of fertilizer to use if gardeners provide a list of vegetables they plan to grow together with the soil sample analysis results.

Good planning is essential for maximum production, especially for smaller garden plots where every square inch of soil is important. Homeowners can make the best use of their space by drawing a map to scale and carefully charting where and how to plant desired vegetables.

Row width and length will vary by crop and family needs. A garden that's 50-by-100 feet can provide enough growing area for a family of four.

Intercropping techniques -planting one vegetable under another- or growing vine crops up a fence will help conserve space.

Crop succession is another great space-saving technique. For example, radishes planted in the spring can be followed by green beans in the summer and garlic in the fall, all in the same row.

Edible landscapes also are popular ways to save room. Crops like ruby leaf lettuce can be planted around tulips in the spring, adding purple color to the landscape. Chives produce purple flowers during the second growing season and brighten up the landscape with an edible herb. Sage is another popular perennial herb with pretty flowers.

Winter is also a good time to order seed. County Extension agents or master gardeners can recommend good varieties. Look for varieties with built-in disease resistance or bush varieties of cucumbers or cantaloupes that don't take up a lot of space in the garden. And remember to buy a good quality seed to insure a high-quality crop.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays, and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)