Home & Garden: Planting your home vegetable garden in Mesa County
Free Press Gardening Columnist
Eight-hundred-thousand acres of prime agricultural land in California is the estimate of what farmers will leave idle this year due to a lack of water. With 70 percent of our nation’s vegetables coming from California, a shortage of vegetables in the supermarkets is likely. It’s also estimated this drought may result in a 10-15 percent increase in the price of produce.
The drought is estimated to have a negative economic impact on California’s economy of up to $7.5 billion dollars, and it may put 15,000 people out of work.
Western Colorado growers will likely implement a price increase since local produce will be in high demand. We might also see an increase in the number of workers leaving California to find work in Colorado and other states, especially since 40-percent unemployment is likely in those California communities most impacted by the drought.
This year you might consider putting in a vegetable garden just to ensure you have enough to eat. Vegetable seed packages are on display at local nurseries, garden centers and big-box stores. If you haven’t already made your selections of vegetables you plan on growing this year, you might want to head out soon and get that done. Some of your neighbors might tear out their lawns to plant vegetables, but that seems to be a drastic step toward sustainability. It would be best to tear out your backyard, especially if it is surrounded by a high fence. This would provide better protection for your vegetable crops from those who help themselves to what others grow.
For some of you, tearing out your lawn might be necessary anyway. I have been visiting lawns and seeing damage resulting from Ascochyta leaf blight brought on by a combination of winter drought and winter grass mites. Ascochyta leaf blight is usually a problem during the heat of summer when the grass has inadequate soil moisture, but it is showing up now in part due to winter mites. These mites have been feeding on lawns, putting more stress on the grass and making it more susceptible to Ascochyta.
Damage is more prevalent on lawns facing south and next to sidewalks. The sidewalks have held heat, causing the turf nearby to become droughtier, enabling the mites to cause more damage. The mites are in the egg stage at this point or will be soon, but you can identify their presence by the stippling of the grass blades. The feeding activity of these winter mites kills the blades, crown of the plant, and upper roots.
As a result, severely infected portions of the lawn may not recover and will need to be tilled and seeded or sodded. You might not know for several weeks if this will be necessary. If your lawn experienced such damage, this would give you an excellent opportunity to rework the soil to improve its water-holding capacity and nutrient content, as well as give you an excuse to put in a crop of vegetables.
If you intend to plant squash, avoid the vine-producing types as these would creep over and suffocate the remaining portions of the lawn. There are a number of bush-type squash and pumpkins available you could plant which do not produce vines. Another crop you could plant, especially if you are looking for a high-yielding crop which stores well during the winter, is potatoes. Winter squash also have a long winter storage life.
If you plan on putting in a large planting of vegetables, I would suggest you look at renting the bed shaper available at All Seasons Rental, 2976 I-70 B, in Grand Junction. The bed shaper is pulled behind a tractor and creates a raised bed 30 inches wide and from 8-12 inches high. Raised beds are more efficient than planting on flat ground. Root rot is also greatly reduced when plants are on raised beds. Raised beds can be used whether you are sprinkler irrigating or watering using furrows. Planting on raised beds is a great way to improve root development of young fruit trees and grape vines. Check it out at All Seasons Rental.
GJ Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.
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