Gardening on the High Plateau
by Sid Gillson, local Master Gardener
June is here. Are we finally ready to plant our family garden?
In the middle of May as I sit down to write about gardening, it is dreary, overcast and cold outside. For the past two days, the evening temperatures have been in the low 30s. Daytime temperatures have been in the mid 50s. The wind has been blowing with gusts up to 50 miles per hour. Rain, snow squalls and a scattering of ice pellets cover the ground where our gardens will be. Garden seeds and plants cannot thrive in such an environment. This would not be a good time for planting our garden seeds.
We have assurance that every year the plants on Mother Earth will put forth flowers, fruits and seeds. The plants die and return to the earth, scattering their seeds in the ground. The gentle warmth from the sun returns in the spring and brings forth new life and nourishment. We are here to enjoy and celebrate that resurrection of life and nourishment. We cannot control all of these wonders but we can be in a vital relationship with that recurring new life process.
So now let’s finally plant our family garden on the high plateau where many generations before us have been nourished from the earth. Let’s help our children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors learn and understand that our food and life energy comes from the earth and the plants in our own gardens.
Last year, in August, the kindergarten students from Rehoboth Christian School came to visit and explore our garden. I was walking through the garden rows showing one group of students the vegetable plants when we came to tomatoes growing in wire cages next to the sun-warmed water barrels. One little girl stopped and looked at a tomato plant with a big cluster of bright red tomatoes. I asked her, “What are those?” She got closer and looked intensely at the tomatoes. She grinned and said, “Apples?” I smiled and replied, “They are red like apples but they are really red tomatoes.” Several children in our group went ahead of us and enthusiastically named the other vegetables as we walked along the rows. I asked, “How did you know the names of those vegetables?” They smiled and replied, “We grow those in our garden at home.” Later we washed several tomatoes and cut them into small pieces so each child could have a taste of home grown tomatoes.
It is important for us and our children to know and understand where our food, such as bananas, pears, corn, lettuce, pineapple, and wheat bread, comes from and how it is grown. For example, what does a cow or chicken eat and where does it live before it becomes our Happy Meal. The produce department in our local grocery store could be a learning laboratory for us and our children. I may not know where some of the fruits and vegetables come from or how they are grown. How do we get sugar from beets, chocolate from cocoa plants and how are those plants picked and processed? What plant does cinnamon come from? How do potatoes grow? How do Brussels sprouts grow and how are they harvested?
A small garden in our back yard enables us and our children to learn about the life and growth processes that sustain us. Even a small garden requires some physical effort, daily monitoring, fertilizing, watering and protection from invasion just like many other important aspects of our lives. When it is time to harvest, even a small crop of vegetables from our garden, there is a sense of pride and celebration.
A gardener never knows all there is to know about growing, maintaining and harvesting vegetables. Each year we find out that some things did not happen the way we expected. Then we try to discover and learn a better way. Through this process you become an expert on how to grow a garden where you live and that is challenging and rewarding.
Before you start your garden, if you have not done so already, go to the Internet and review the “Gardening on the High Plateau” articles in the April and May issues of the Gallup Journey. That information will help you to get ready for planting. If you have already planted some seeds in the middle of May, but they did not come up as expected, you could get more seeds and replant them. Now that the weather is warmer they will likely germinate. If you transplanted plants from pots and they wilted or some of the leaves froze, get some more and plant them in the shade and protect them from wind and the hot sun with shade cloth spread over a support.
When your seeds sprout and the plants begin to come up check on them every morning and later in the day. Look to see if they are erect and not drooping. Droopy and dull colored plants need water. Keep your new sprouting plants watered as they have short roots and will quickly dry out in the wind and hot sun. Water in the evening when the water will soak in deep and not evaporate as quickly. However, if your plants are droopy or dull in the morning water them as soon as possible.
It is desirable for your young plants to display noticeable growth every 2 or 3 days. If they do not grow and appear dormant they may need more deep watering and protection from the sun and wind. One can get free used scrap tires to make a barrier from the wind and sun. Use a short blade utility knife to cut off the rims around the tire tread. Turn the tire tread rings inside out and drive a galvanized nail through the center of the tread to make a figure eight shape. Bend the pointed end of the nail over so it will not come out of the tire. Place the tire figure eights along your plant row close to the new emerging plants. Place the tire in a position to protect the plants from the prevailing wind and provide shade from the hot sun in the afternoon. The tire figure eights absorb heat during the day, which will be radiated to the plant sprout in the cool of the night. The two flat rims cut from the tire can be used between the rows to hold down mulch. (See the YouTube videos in the May Journey for a visual reference.) The use of temporary tire parts may not be “pretty,” but they work. Remove the figure eights when the plants are reaching over the top of the tire. The lush plant growth hides the rims covering the mulch between the rows.
Join the local Community Garden Club to share your ideas and to learn from other area gardeners.
Develop a system for collecting the abundant rainwater in the fall. Learn about the many different ways to gather and compost vegetable and fruit scraps from your kitchen. You can also use grass trimmings and leaves from your yard and neighborhood as mulch. Your fellow Garden Club members will gladly exchange ideas about the many different composting methods used in our community.
Our unique high plateau weather is the most important and changing factor for our gardens. We have access to many excellent resources to anticipate weather changes so we can prepare to protect our gardens and utilize our rainwater. The Gallup Independent provides a daily “Five-Day Forecast for Gallup and Vicinity.” The sections entitled, “Almanac, 24 Hour Conditions, Temp. Trends,” provide information that will be useful for anticipating and dealing with our changing climate as it affects our tender garden plants. One can access “Weather Underground” and other weather web sites on the Internet to have access to current weather information and to learn about historic weather records for comparison with current conditions. Previous yearly and daily information is especially helpful in the fall months as we prepare to protect our garden plants from freezing.
The local Farmers’ Market will again be providing an opportunity for people from our area to buy and sell locally-grown garden vegetables every Saturday morning in Gallup’s downtown walkway. This is a great opportunity to meet other gardeners, share ideas, learn about other gardens and buy and sell local garden produce. Gallup news outlets will provide more information regarding the Farmers’ Market beginning dates and market hours.
If you have questions or comments regarding gardening or this article, enter them at gallupjourney.com.