(My sister lives in Flagstaff, Arizona and has a beautiful and bounteous vegetable garden every summer. Here she shares tips on how to successfully garden in a dry, cold, high-altitude desert. Thanks for the advice, Cathy!)
Many people have tried to garden in the high desert of Flagstaff, Arizona and failed. Although there are Ponderosa pine and wild grasses in abundance, and the climate is cool, the area is arid, the wind blows, and the soil is rocky. There are also numerous rodent species that eat all of the greenery in an unprotected garden. All of these factors must be taken into consideration to have a successful garden experience.
To start a vegetable and flower garden in Flagstaff, one must make raised, wooden flower beds about 6 feet by 3 feet x 2.5 feet. The beds must have tight wire mesh fencing on the bottom to keep burrowing animals from coming in and eating the plants, roots and leaves.
The flower beds must be filled with enriched soil, that can be made prior to the garden season. Large bags of garden soil can be bought at any nursery, along with bags of potting soil. Mix together in a 2:1 ratio. Next add a bag of steer manure , or even better, about 40 pounds of good, seasoned horse manure. All of this should be well mixed and put in the planters, leaving about 3 inches from the top. Add some Miracle Grow Fertilizer on top of the soil in the raised beds, and the beds are ready to plant.
A sprinkler system must be installed in each of the beds before planting. Spring planting in Flagstaff must be after the last frost. I try to plant by May 15, using plastic “Walls of Water” to trick the tomato plants into growing faster. These can be purchased at any nursery. The plastic sides are filled with water, and the tomato plants are planted in the soil inside of the walls of water. The plants don’t freeze using this technique.
We also put PVC pipes in the garden beds, at each corner and in the middle of each side. The height is about 3 feet from the top of the garden bed. We cover the garden bed and PVC pipes with black bird netting to keep the rodents from jumping in the garden and eating it. The netting hooks on to the side of the wooden planter all around to allow access to the beds.
Occasionally, we find a squirrel stuck in the netting by his legs. Not a pleasant sight !
During the season, fertilize twice with miracle grow or fish oil. I have had some luck using Mole Mix sprinkled on the ground , to keep the rodents away. The crops will start to be ready by July 10, with 3x weekly soakings. Crops last until September 15, when there is a typical hard freeze. Potatoes and carrots can be left in the ground until the end of November, and then harvested.