“Gardening is the purest of human pleasure”. -Sir Francis Bacon

I fell in love with gardening in Tucson almost ten years ago. When I moved to Patagonia in 2016 I thought I knew a lot about desert gardening—boy was I wrong! It took me a year to get my compost going and garden beds up and running. Having a garden in the borderlands can be a bit tricky, but once you get the hang of things you can sit back and watch your plants flourish. With this column I hope to provide useful tips, information and some inspiration for others like me growing a garden at their homes.

Currently, I am growing lots of peppers; chiltepin (Tumacacori means chiltepin in Tohono O’Odham), jalapenos, bell peppers; herbs, including sage, oregano, and chives, and lots of greens that I expected to die, but which have made it a whole year without bolting.

Now is the time to start preparing for our winter gardens. We have unique conditions even for deserts our mild winters and hot summers provide us with an extended gardening season. In October, sow cool loving salad greens like kale. Some of my favorite are arugula, chard and spinach. Great companion plants for these are strawberry, radish, carrots, cauliflower, onion, and garlic.

You want to make sure your garden has at least a foot of amended soil to allow proper drainage and growth. Whether you have raised beds or have in-ground beds, “planting water” is just as necessary as planting seeds. Desert gardening means being water smart. Traditionally “Ollas”(pronounced oh-yah) have been used in gardens to hold and slowly release water through a clay pot into the soil giving your garden a deep watering. You can make your own Olla by glueing two terracotta pots together, completely sealing the drainage hole on one side of the glued pots. The remaining drainage hole is where water will be poured into the “olla”. Use a base plate (or rock) to cover the hole, leaving an inch of the olla exposed above ground. Keep your new olla covered and water when needed. This will help the roots grow stronger and deeper into the soil.

October is also a great time to spread mulch around established trees, shrubs and garden beds using wood chips, fallen leaves, pine needles and compost. About two to four inches of mulch will help retain water, keeping things cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Mulch will also keep weeds and disease at bay. Over time the organic materials will break down and strengthen your soil, providing it with needed nutrients. So, do not throw away those leaves. Keep them in a pile and use as mulch to protect your plants.

It is also time to start thinking about frost protection. Winter will be here soon and having proper plant coverage is necessary. Many gardeners use cardboard, plastic, tarps or bedding sheets for protection. If you have the means you can also make a hoop cover for your beds. They create good heat for those cool nights.

Have a delightful time planting your winter garden!

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of columns on local gardening by Alyssa Cazares.