By Scott Calhoun
Desert soils are notoriously rocky and low in organic matter. Many desert natives we grow for our landscaping are adapted to these conditions, but herbs and veggies tend to thrive in soils that are rich in humus. For that reason, containers and raised beds filled with nutrient-rich soil are good choices for growing edibles in low-desert gardens.
In the photo above a handsome raised bed contains a cool-season veggie garden filled with lettuce, Italian parsley, and onions. The masonry doubles as a seat to use while working in the garden bed. Come spring, tomatoes, peppers, squash, and melons replace the plants in this bed.
You can use almost any sort of container, as evidenced by the repurposed bucket, pictured right. When using objects such as buckets, or the stock tanks shown later in this story, make sure to provide drainage holes in the container, and use a potting soil with lots of organic matter.
In the example at right, simple concrete blocks, whimsically painted and set on end, make cell areas for herbs such as basil, rue, mint, and oregano. You can easily salvage those materials or purchase them new.
One of the best things about growing edibles in pots is you can always add or subtract containers, as needed. As a young gardener I once rototilled one-quarter acre, planted the entire area in veggies, and was quickly overwhelmed by the weeding and watering. Containers keep everything manageable. So start small, but don’t be afraid to add more.
Tucson artist and garden designer Greg Corman made the converted stock-tank containers featured at right. He added more stock tanks as his interest in growing and cooking his own produce increased.
Some of the easiest herbs to grow in pots are Mediterranean herbs with woody stems; plants such as rosemary, right, and oregano are simple to grow. Others, some with softer stems, are also great in pots:
- Italian parsley
- During the warm months your container veggies might need daily watering.
- In the winter months weekly watering may suffice, depending on rainfall.
- If you cluster your pots near a spigot, you can hook up a mini drip system with a battery-operated timer to water your container edibles.
- Pots require at least six hours of sun per day.
- East exposures are excellent for herbs, giving them relief from the hot afternoon sun.
- Make sure your cool-season grower containers (greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chard, etc.) receive winter sun. South exposures are usually good.
- During the hottest months veggies benefit from a covering of shade cloth up to about 40 percent density. This keeps plants such as tomatoes setting fruit longer.
- Container veggies might need more frequent fertilization because the more frequent watering they require can leach nutrients from the soil.
- It is a good practice to work in compost at the change of seasons (e.g., when you replace cool-season plants in late spring with warm-season growers).