Most of us are transplants from another state and are undoubtedly used to planting our vegetable gardens in real soil.  However, here in the low desert, we have dirt, not soil–and due to our heat index, a frustration with nature.  Since there is a little bit of Farmer John in all of us, I thought I would write about the what, when, where and how on vegetable gardening here in Lake Havasu City.  So let’s get started.

WHAT is an easy answer since you can grow just about any vegetable here in Havasu.  Asparagus, beans, cantaloupe, eggplant, lettuce, onions, peppers, radishes, squash, tomatoes, and watermelon…you name it and it can grow here. What’s important is to choose plants that mature quickly to ensure a full life cycle within our growing season. This is the WHEN, which starts in October when temperatures are below 100 degrees.  This allows the vegetables to become established prior to our cool down, which is usually in January.  Whether you prefer cool season vegetables (beets, onions, radishes, carrots) or warm season vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, lettuce) you can plant them all at the same time here.  This is because of our mild winter climate.  If we have a cold spell (in the 30’s) it usually only lasts a couple of days, and covering your crop with a sheet will protect them from any frost.  Our growing season here in Lake Havasu goes until June (or when we reach 100 degrees).  WHERE you place your vegetable garden will ensure a good crop. Vegetables require eight hours of sun to that the plants will mature and the soil will be warm. Western exposure is the best and since our winter winds usually come from the north, protection is important. Now to the HOW part of your garden…the layout. There are several great ways to design your vegetable garden. Raised beds are recommended. This can be done by cinder blocks, horse troughs, whiskey barrels, and large pots, anything that will hold soil and will not rot out due to moisture.

Planning ahead will help on your what, when, where and how. First, decide what vegetables you want to grow and enjoy. Then decide on the variety that will work in your raised bed, such as bush varieties for beans or Swiss chard instead of head lettuce or cabbage. You want to be able to enjoy your vegetables throughout the growing season. If you are planting tall vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, plant low vegetables such as carrots and radishes under them. Your carrots and radishes will come up prior to the tomatoes and peppers maturing and shading them. This is called inter-planting and allows you to utilize all your growing space.

Tomatoes are one of the most favorite vegetables to grow, but they can sometimes be one of the most disappointing.  To ensure tomato happiness, it is recommended that you plant smaller varieties instead of the Beef Steak variety.  The reason for this is the length of time for maturity.  Small tomatoes such as Cherry, Roma, Grape, and Yellow Pear are indeterminate varieties, which means they mature quickly and produce tomatoes on a continual basis until the temperature reaches 90 degrees. The Beef Steak tomato varieties are determinate plants, which means that they will set fruit once and it could take up to 60 days or more for the fruit to mature.  During that period you may encounter the skin becoming thick, cracked or split. This will give you poor quality fruit and disappointment.

Don’t forget to plant herbs and flowers throughout your raised bed as well — they will bring both beauty and bees into your garden area.  So go ahead, put on your bib overalls and plant that vegetable garden.  Mr. Greenjeans will be proud of you.