When planning to start a garden, the first choice you will be confronted with is location. This is a critical decision to make, as it directly impacts the success of your future endeavors. The area must receive a good amount of full sunlight with minimal shade from nearby walls, trees, and other plants. You will also want to be sure that it is easily accessible, and that you will be able to get all of the proper equipment to it. The overall size of your garden depends upon the available physical space as well as how many veggies you want to produce. Remember, the more plants you have, the more bountiful your harvest will be, and thus, the garden will require more upkeep. Before you start, be sure you have the time required to properly care for your garden. It’s better to start small, learn, and expand as you gain experience.
An ideal location would be one that does not already contain any vegetation, making it easier to grow the plants you want. The location we chose was an irrigated portion of our backyard, but unfortunately, it contained plenty of grass (primarily Bermuda). We did not want to use any harsh chemicals to kill the grass since we would be growing vegetables in that soil. We manually removed the grass by tilling up the ground with a power rotary tiller. The tiller brought the roots up to the surface. We then raked and bagged the grass and roots, and continued tilling the ground several times to prepare for planting.
Next, we created our raised bed rows by digging a 1 foot wide by 6 inch deep trench every 4 feet. Use the displaced soil from digging the trench to build up the planting beds. Initially, we had enough space to make 4 rows about 3 feet wide with a 1 foot walkway between them. Our rows run north/south and they are wide enough to plant two rows of vegetables.
Once the rows were formed, we had to work in fertilizer. In general, Arizona soil is not very rich in nutrients. It is commonly deficient in nitrogen, phosphorus and iron, and contains little or no organic matter. Adding fertilizer and compost will help your veggies grow. We bought “Omni” compost from Grow Well/Western Organics. You can buy it by the pickup truck load or order a dump truck delivery. Every time a new season is planted, it is best to first work in fertilizer and other soil amendments. You can have your soil tested to see which specific nutrients are needed (and in what amount), but testing can be expensive. Refer to the Arizona Master Gardeners Manual for good information.
You have a few options for watering your garden. If it is small enough you can certainly hand water it. If it is larger and you do not want to haul a bucket or drag a hose to it everyday, it is best to use a drip system. These have the advantage of watering just your plants and not the whole garden, thus conserving water and cutting down on unwanted growth of grass and weeds. Drip systems can also be automated on a sprinkler timer and electric valves. Initially, we used emitters that were spaced every 2 feet and have since added emitter lines with 12 inch spacing.
When we first started the garden (Fall 2009), we used 35 year old drip line originally purchased from Submatic. The line is still available. Originally, we cut the lines to 50 feet and used them for a few weeks, but later replaced these brittle temporary lines with new drip lines made by Dig. This line was purchased at Lowes (they carry both 12 inch and 18 inch spacing line and fittings). These new lines are 100 feet long so we had to rework them to fit our 70 foot rows.
A good tip for finishing up the raised beds is to cover the pathways between them with grass clippings or mulch to help cut down on unwanted vegetation. Once the soil is prepared and the watering system is in place, you are ready to plant!