If you live in the higher desert regions of the western United States, spring weather
Seed catalogs have been arriving since December but a little bit of spring weather can temp gardeners in the desert climates of the Intermountain West to plant vegetable gardens too soon
does not dependably arrive on March 20. These high desert regions are sometimes referred to as the Intermountain West. Where I live in northern Nevada, it is best to wait until at least mid-May to put tender vegetables out in the garden. By then it is usually too late to plant cool season vegetables because they tend to bolt by the time our hot dry summer arrives. Waiting this long to plant a vegetable garden can limit the yield in your garden if you have an early frost in the fall. There are a couple of solutions to this problem. One is to use season extenders and the other is to select shorter season varieties.
March is not too early to order seed for gardens in the Intermountain West but instead of planting these seeds directly outside you may want to plant them indoors for later transplanting outdoors. Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers do better transplanted as seedlings rather than seeded directly into garden soil and cool season vegetable may need to be grown entirely under protective cover. However, it is still too early to start planting a vegetable garden in much of the Intermountain West.
Pictured are the materials needed to start seed indoors. Peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes do better when transplanted into the garden as seedling rather than direct seeded.
These high desert regions tend to go from cold to hot in only a matter of days making the raising of cool season vegetable without use of hoop houses and row covers
Cool season vegetables can be raised under protective row covers like the one pictured here.
impossible. If you have a hoop house or use rowcovers, cool season vegetables can be planted in March and sometimes earlier.
Warm season vegetables seem to produce better in the hot dry climate of the Intermountain West. Though summers in these high dry deserts can be ideal for raising warm season vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, and melons, they still may need some early protection or the need to select varieties that mature sooner.
Even though warm season vegetables do well here, disappointing production can occur will longer season varieties. Try to select tomato and pepper varieties that are supposed to produce fruit in 75 days or less (preferably less). For melons, 100 days or less should produce melons before the first frost in the fall. However, don’t expect melons before August.
Besides the length of growing required to produce an edible vegetable, it’s also a good idea to select varieties with disease resistance. Most regions of the Intermountain West still have to be concerned about curly top virus, Fusarium wilt, and Verticillium wilt. All vegetables are susceptible to these diseases; although some varieties are less susceptible than others. Many tomato and pepper varieties on the market now have resistances to these diseases. Most heirloom varieties however do not have resistance to these diseases and require special attention to cultural practices such weeding and crop rotation reduce the chance plants will falling victim to these diseases.
It’s a good idea to know how large of a garden you want before you order seeds. Some vegetables take a lot of space. Melons and cucumbers tend to spread and take up a lot of space. Check the catalogs, some varieties of cucumbers don’t spread as much. You can also train cucumbers up a trellis.
Small gardens may be too small for sweet corn unless you only want to raise sweet corn. In order to fill ears, sweet corn requires a minimum of four rows and must have exposure to the wind for pollination. Otherwise, mature ears of corn will not fill and the mature kernels will be sparse.
If you plan on planting peas or beans pay close attention to the description. Some varieties still require structures to climb on. There are many varieties now called bush types that don’t require these structures and are much easier to grow. If the peas or beans are not bush types then they much be trained up a trellis.