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Vegetable gardening in the Utah desert

What to grow?

I’ve grown a lot of things over the years and have done some research on plants as well to try and improve my knowledge. The best advice I have seen if plant what your family will eat. Decide as a family what vegetables you will eat and then plant those in your garden.

When to plant?

Each plant will grow best in certain conditions. Some plants do well in the cold while others are heat loving. Some can be grown in winter months though I have not mastered that yet. I have had chives and onions last out the winter. The Chives are great but onions that have wintered will generally only be good for seeds unless they started as seeds in the fall and start growing through winter.

By about January I’m getting pretty anxious to start planting when the weather first starts to warm up I am often choosing some cold weather plants to start with. Peas are one of my favorites and they can handle cold but not a hard freeze. They do need to be planted as early as possible though because they do not like the heat at all and will wither and die when the sun starts to beat down on the day after day. The good thing about that is you can pull them out at that time and place a new crop in the ground in their place.

Carrots can handle cold if they are insulated from the direct harsh cold air. Covering you crop of carrots with straw or leaves or something similar in the fall will give you excellent carrots in December and through February. The cold weather will cause them to store sugars and often the best tasting carrots can be harvested in cold weather.

Many leafy greens also do well in cold weather. You can plant cabbage, spinach and lettuces in February and as long as they are able to germinate without a hard freeze they will grow well. Onions are the same from seed. I have done this. There are many greens that grow wild now that are considered weeds that do very well in the cold. They include yellow dock and curly dock, blue mustard (one of my absolute favorites) and wild spinach, often referred to as Lamb’s Quarters.” Dandelion is another misunderstood and hated edible that does very well in the cold.

Water and care?

There are a lot of theories on watering the garden and a lot of opinions on what is best. My personal favorite is to just put a sprinkler on to spray all of it. The plants that need a lot of water will take it and those that don’t won’t. There are some exceptions of course and only your own practice and research will find what works for you. I have used a soaker hose with fair success for many years as well.

Plants need room to grow and with many plants what you see above ground is only a small part of the plant. If you plant your potatoes 2 inches from each other and cram them all in together they will have a tough time creating more potatoes for you. Pay attention to the spacing recommendations and give them the space needed.

Weed the garden. I have often used the strategy of planting lots of good things in an area so there is not room for the weeds. It hasn’t always worked well for me. I also like to eat the weeds and I’m familiar with the value they provide so sometimes I have a hard time pulling them out when I know they offer value as well. I would suggest you decide what you are going to eat and what is going to grow in each area and then remove anything that is not part of that plant. Just remember to snack on those dandelions, tumble weeds, blue mustard, cats ear and wild spinach as you pull them out.

Weeds? Eat em or pull em?

A few years ago I was asked by brother Smith to be part of a youth activity related to the Trek experience. He needed somebody to teach about wild edibles and I was chosen to teach on the topic. At the time I had little knowledge about what was available and what could be eaten so I had to learn. He assured me that I would be able to learn enough to present well and also introduced me to somebody who could teach me more about it.

I put in the study and lots of prayer to be prepared and in the end I was very surprised at the many options even in the desert. There are a lot of plants growing wild that are edible. I also found that there is not a good book or resource for this information specific to Utah so I developed one. I started and posted teh information I was learning including books I found valuable to me for the Western states and especially for teh Utan desert where I live.

Some of my favorite wild greens are

  • Blue mustard
  • Wild Spinach
  • Purslane
  • Yellow dock or Curly dock
  • Cats ear
  • Young Dandelion (I like the buds)

 Large garden or raised boxes?

The amount of garden and how you space it is really a personal preference I think. For many years I preferred to just plant straight in the ground but that has a lot of trials in the dirt I have. The dirt is Eagle Mountain is largely clay and it’s hard and difficult to work with. You can add things to it to condition the soil but realize that much of what you add will go into the plants and you will need to constantly work the soil or deal with the hard soil year after year. I have had good success with potatoes in our soil and just tilled the earth each year and added my compost and other things to it.

I personally have decided to move to some very nice decorative raised boxes for my garden which of course has nothing to do with the desires of my dear wife. I figure the boxes will allow me to get up away from the hard clay soil and will allow me to segregate the different types of plants well. I can weed them a bit easier and that will be easier on my back and they will hopefully add a bit to the landscape as well.


Composting is one of the things I feel I do well and I enjoy it. I get some good soil by recycling the scraps from the kitchen and Julia gets tired of me not wanting to see organic material like fruit peels and vegetable waste going to waste. I have even brought home bags of such beautiful organic matter from family parties and get togethers. It’s just too valuable to throw away.
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