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New to New Mexico!


June 22, 2016

I have just relocated from Nashville, TN (where it was almost impossible not to grow a garden) Placitas, NM, where i am wondering how to even get started. I would like to grow a vegetable garden, even some trees (dates, or whatever will grow here). i realize i will need to compost, but i also live with people who are not going to go for it if it is not clean and easy. I'm happy to play in the dirt and get my hands dirty...but they will not allow an open ground pile or anything that is not completely enclosed, easy to turn, and feeds the wonderful black gold out the bottom for easy retrieval.

We can build some slightly raised beds if need be (if this is best for growing here)...Basically, to make this short and simple, i have no idea what to do here in the desert. All i know is that I will not stay here if i cannot grow a garden. Any assistance would be so very much appreciated.  Anything from what is the best compost bin to buy (in my current circumstance), to where to plant would be wonderful.

Also, if there are any groups, online or face to face, that meet up and help each other out, they would be nice to be connected with. Thank you so much.


Answer by JH: Welcome to New Mexico (which isn't new and isn't Mexico)! You may also receive responses from others in our organization, some of whom are also Sandoval County master gardeners.

First, I encourage you to attend one of our free basic composting classes to speed up your learning process. 

In the meantime, you can check out compost bins at amazon or this site, to name two: and I also recommend you look at our desert composting brochure.

If you composted in Nashville, then you understand the basic components - greens, browns, air, water. The difference here as you have caught on is that we have plenty of air, not much water. This requires us to enclose and cover the bin and keep the contents moist. Any commercial bin system will likely have more air holes than appropriate for our weather conditions and those must be covered to prevent moisture from escaping. It would be most helpful to attend a class - to learn how to compost in the desert as well as to learn about all the various ways of creating a suitable bin without having to purchase one.

As for gardening, that's not as much our thing (though many of us are also MGs) but there are many resources available through the master gardeners' organizations. Sandoval County master gardeners offer a number of classes and here is the link to their event calendar page:

You will probably be happier by gardening in raised beds as you will have better control of your soil conditions using this method. While it may seem like this is an impossible environment, keep in mind that humans have lived here for hundreds of years --- long before there were grocery stores and farmers' markets. But this is an extremely harsh environment and our current unseasonably hot and dry weather is the perfect example. If your garden area is exposed to full sun and/or wind, you will want to prepare the area in such a way to screen plants from too much of either. There are many successful gardeners and beautiful gardens in this area so don't be discouraged. But do educate yourself by taking full advantage of others' experiences.

A good local gardening resource is Bernalillo County Master Gardeners Down To Earth manual - providing information on when and what type of heirlooms and cultivars are suitable, monthly chores and planting schedules, problem-solving, etc. It is available at local garden stores.

There is also a County Extension Office hotline in both counties. I encourage their use for any questions you have as you learn how to garden in the desert.

Best of luck!

Answer by JZ: The challenge of composting in the desert can be met!   To that end we have prepared a brochure that specifically addresses the topic.

The BernCo. Master Composter Assoc. has regularly posted classes, most of which are free to the public.

You live in Sandoval Co. which has a very active Master Gardener group which also offers free public classes:  The Urban Horticulture Series and Gardening the Masters all classes are posted on the website:    You may join their mailing list posted on the homepage.

There are a few master gardeners who live in Placates. I live in Rio Rancho and am also a SandovalCo. master gardener.

The Extension office in Bernalillo, 9AM - 4:30PM,  The horticulture agent is Lynda Garvin.    505.867.2582

The office is available to answer your gardening questions.

A quite useful book for gardening in the  desert is “ Down to Earth “  available at local libraries & bookstores.

A simple bin that might suit your need is the “ Garden Gourmet “  it may be used statically, i.e. no turning  or actively: Garden Gourmet

Hope this is useful for you.   Let us know if we may be of further help.

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