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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Spring Gardens Yield Tasty Vegetables

LAS CRUCES--A successful spring vegetable garden in New Mexico is truly a battle with the elements. Alternating cold and warm weather and blowing sand can discourage even the most determined gardener. A well-prepared seedbed, however, can give spring vegetables a boost.


"Tilling a 1-to-2-inch layer of compost into the top 6 inches of the soil will help decrease crusting that hinders young seedlings," said George Dickerson, horticulture specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. "A moderate application of balance fertilizer also will help sustain growth of most cool-season crops until hot weather sets in."

Radishes are one of the easier crops to grow in the spring vegetable garden. Begin with a smooth seedbed, free from rocks and other debris. Stretch a string between two stakes as a planting guide. Plant seeds one-half inch deep and thin to an inch apart after seedlings emerge.

"The most popular radishes are the small, round varieties like 'Cherry Belle' and 'Champion'," Dickerson said. 'Easter Egg' comes in shades of purple, pink, rose and white. 'White Icicle' varieties take a little longer to mature and are more pungent. "Radishes reach their peak quality early in the spring while the weather is still cool," he said. "Hot weather or water stress will make the roots extremely pungent and pithy."

Spinach is another spring-garden favorite. Plant seeds one-half inch deep and one-half inch apart. Thin plants several times. Mature plants should be spaced 6 inches apart. "I prefer to harvest individual mature leaves rather than the whole plant," Dickerson said. "This technique increases yields."

Harvest until the plant bolts, or sends up a seed stalk. Flat-leafed varieties like 'Hybrid Tyee', 'Hybrid Avon' and 'Giant Nobel' bolt later than traditional varieties like 'Winter Bloomsdale', he said.

Leaf lettuce seeds are very small and should be planted about one-quarter inch deep. Keep the soil moist until seedlings emerge. Allowing the soil to dry out will decrease emergence. Thin plants to 12 inches apart and mulch with straw or dry bluegrass clippings to keep the soil moist and cool. Hot weather and water stress will cause the plants to taste bitter.

"Colored leaf lettuce varieties like 'Ruby' or 'Red Sails' can be planted in flower beds for background color," Dickerson said. "When mature, they become an edible landscape that can add excitement to salads."

Peas are difficult to grow in the spring garden. By the time they mature, the weather has turned hot, reducing their quality, he said. 'Little Marvel' is an early English pea that has been moderately successful in New Mexico.

"I prefer edible pod or snap pea varieties like 'Sugar Ann' and 'Sugar Bon'," Dickerson said. "Rather than shelling the peas, the immature pods can be eaten whole, just like green beans."

For stir-fry dishes, try growing snow peas. Harvest when the pods are relatively flat.