Youth Gardening Experience
May 2014 began the 'Youth Gardening Experience' held at ASC Farmington for the members of the Cadette Girl Scout Troop 10408 and Roadrunners 4-H Club of San Juan County, New Mexico. Participants' gardening experience includes lessons in: Know Your Climate, Garden Planning, Soil Preparation, Crop Fertilization, Planting Seed and Transplants, Drip Irrigation System, Pest Control, and Timely Vegetable Crop Harvest. Participants receive hands-on gardening experience, plant science lectures, and enhance record keeping skills.
Youth Gardening Experience - 'Our Story'. Aiyanna, Autumn, Emilia, Jenica, Kaylin, and Kyle - youth gardeners, Lionel Sandoval - NIYC Intern, Daniel Smeal - ASC Farmington Garden Irrigation Consultant, and Margaret M. West, Gardening Instructor.
The youth gardeners were posed with this question. Why grow a 'vegetable' garden? A vegetable garden experience can lead to 'food independence', 'self-reliance', 'life long enjoyment', and 'leadership development'. The six youth gardeners ranging in age from 10 - 13 years of age embarked on the four month gardening skill experience beginning in May and concluded their on-site learning in August. The youth gardeners attended on-site plant science lectures and received hands-on garden skill development e.g. seeding, transplanting, fertilizing, weeding, and weighing harvested vegetables taught by Margaret West, Ag. Research Scientist for ASC Farmington. Using New Mexico State University's Home Vegetable Gardening in New Mexico Circular 457, youth gardeners followed the eight steps to a successful vegetable garden.
'Know Your Climate' is the initial step in gardening. The appropriate climate was found within the
American Horticultural Society's (AHS) Hardiness Zone Map. The vegetables in the 2014 Youth Garden were annual plants. Therefore, the AHS Hardiness Zone Map was referenced for the appropriate zone for seeds
'Plan before your plant ' is the second step in the essential gardening process. The 'Youth Gardening Experience' training location was NMSU's Agricultural Science Center at Farmington, NM. The garden site was selected with consideration of full sun, water access, soil, and pest control.
The garden was located within a fenced 10 ft. x 20 ft. area to control foraging by deer, skunks, rabbits and squirrels. Assuring a good gardening soil, raised bed boxes 2 ft. x 6 ft. were utilized for the project. The gardening project emphasis was on gardening knowledge and hands-on experience with gardening techniques not family sized garden yield. Therefore, three raised bed boxes that were stored on the Center had been used for the project. The garden boxes were irrigated with inline emitter microirrigation. The potable water source came from the weather station. A 100 ft. 5/8" garden hose, 25 psi pressure reducer, screen filter, hose ball valve Y, and three 25 ft. 5/8" hoses were used to convey the water to the garden boxes. Accessory irrigation parts consisted of hose-to-pipe adapters 3/4" fht x 1/2" fpt, PVC 1/2" mpt nipples, barbed tees 1/2" fpt x 1/2" mb x 1/2" mb, 1/2" poly pipe, 1/4" tees, and irrigation line stakes which hold the 1/4" micro irrigation line slightly above the soil surface.
'Prepare the soil ' is the third essential step. Each 12 cu. ft. garden box was filled with 7 cu. ft. of on-site sand, 3 cu. ft. of bagged organic garden soil, and 2 cu. ft. on-site compost. Soil samples were taken from each box
and mixed together for soil analysis. Navajo Agricultural Projects Industry (NAPI) Soils Laboratory performed the soil nutrient and pH analysis. The soil analysis showed all pre-plant nutrients above plant requirements except for the micronutrient copper (Cu) and the soil pH was 7.9.
'Plant your garden ' training techniques were used in both the seeding and transplant phases. The seeded vegetables such as, mixed variety lettuce, spinach, and evergreen small onion were seeded on May 9th by Margaret M. West, garden instructor. The bush bean, carrot, butternut squash, yellow squash, zucchini, and remaining green onion crops were seeded into the garden boxes by the youth gardeners, on Saturday, May 17th. The jalapeno, mirasol green chile, cucumber, and tomato plants were seeded in the site greenhouse at various dates as early as February 19th and transplanted by the youth gardeners on Wednesday, June 4th.
'Fertilize for optimal crop production ' was considered for the garden. The plants in the small raised beds were planted per square foot. Therefore, a water soluble tomato fertilized was applied via 1.5 gallon sprinkling can on a bi-weekly basis, during the seedling stage. As the plants matured, 1/2 and 1 gallon plastic containers were used to fertilize plants. The tomato fertilizer was chosen because it best suit the nutritional needs for a bulk of the vegetables e.g. carrot, tomato, squash, and pepper.
'Water properly to improve yields' and water-use efficiency are practices necessary for a successful gardening project. The irrigation of vegetables was implemented via two techniques. The seeded garden vegetables were watered with a 1.5 gallon watering can until plant emergence. The utilization of the inline micro irrigation was begun on June 1st and thereafter watering both the seeded and transplanted vegetable plants.
'Control pests ' on diverse fronts as they pertain to the specific garden site. The youth garden is located on a rural site often frequented for food by deer, elk, skunk, rabbits, rock squirrels, and gophers. Additionally, weeds, insects, and powdery mildew can reduce the crop yield. Even the pesky high winds of the spring and early summer can reduce yields by brazing the protective cuticle leaf layer and cause setback in plant maturity. To minimize pest pressure on the youth garden, the garden was established within a 5 ft. high wire fenced 10 ft. x 20 ft. area with a gated entrance. This reduced pressure from foraging animals. Due the nature of the fencing material small garter snakes and blue tail lizards had garden box access for pest control. A beneficial insect, such as the Ladybug was seen in the boxes. The garden boxes and surrounding area inside and outside were hand weeded. Thus, no chemical control of weeds. The squash plants were companion seeded with White Icicle Radish seeds to deter squash bugs and the squash bug eggs that are laid upon the under side of the squash leaf were hand removed from the area. Even though these two methods were used to reduce squash bug population, squash bugs from a neighboring squash garden bed did move into the youth garden squash plants reducing potential yield. During the rainy season a powdery mildew also had an adverse affect on the squash plants.
'Harvest at the correct time.' Each crop had a plant specific 'days to harvest' as indicated on the seed packets. These date ranges were used to gauge harvest dates. The produce harvested from the garden boxes were weighed and selected for marketability. These weights were assigned prices in accordance to the current market prices. The total marketable price for the combined crop yields was nearly $174.00.
A Special Thank You to the following for their contribution to the 'Youth Gardening Experience' project:
- Youth of the 'Youth Gardening Experience' for their time and enthusiasm to learn vegetable gardening.
- Youth of the San Juan Chapter Youth Employment program for calculating the garden project inputs.
- Lionel Sandoval, National Indian Youth Council - Intern for implementing pest control measures, daily irrigation, performing weights and measures, and fertilization of the harvested vegetables
- Daniel Smeal, ASC Farmington for donation of the micro irrigation equipment and consultation on irrigation scheduling.
- Parents of the youth gardeners from 4-H Roadrunner Club and Girl Scout Cadet Troop #10108 for their time and resources to transport youth to the Science Center, plus pickup and delivery of garden harvest.
- Sandra Austin, 4-H and Girl Scout leader for her dedication and support of the youth garden.
- Navajo Agricultural Products Industry - Soils Lab. for soil analysis.
- ASC Farmington faculty and staff who supported and contributed to the the 2014 'Youth Gardening Experience.'