Couple's five tips for growing vegetables

Green-thumbers Janet and Don Knight from Northern California became brown-thumbers when they started gardening in Las Vegas, but now they’re green-thumbers again. In fact, they are producing vegetables year-round to sell at the farmers market from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Thursday at 333 S. Valley View Blvd.

To find other farmers markets near you, go to

The Knights purchased a large lot expecting to grow vegetables and raise horses. They soon heard you can’t grow vegetables in Las Vegas. That became a challenge to them.

Determined to solve their problem, they went to Star Nursery where they met Master Gardener Cliff Young. He gave them a mini Master Gardener course. They followed his advice and they’ve been successful ever since. They also went through the Master Gardener training program. They volunteered at the university orchard where they expanded their knowledge even more.

Janet took her training a step further. She took a Master Food Preservers course at the University Cooperative Extension. Now she processes her excess produce, and this led her to teaching food preserving classes. She loves seeing the glow in people’s eyes as ideas pop into their heads.

Janet boiled their successes down to five things: soil preparation, compost tea making, planting at the right time, pest management and shading and wind protection.

SOILS: The Knights first used wood chips to mix in the soil. Since the chips were not composted they encountered failures from the start.

Young encouraged them go to raised-bed gardening, filling the beds with highly prepared organic soil they got from Viragrow soils. They built a raised bed and eventually the entire backyard became a vegetable and herb production farm, with the exception of Don’s antiquities and horses. They’re now producing vegetables and herbs year-round.

Since the Knights had horse manure, Sal Ramirez of Viragrow soils encouraged them to mix it in with his soil. Ramirez finds animal manure adds microorganisms to stimulate microbial activity to benefit the plants.

Bruce Nielsen of Prime Color Growers encouraged them to add Zeo-Soil to the prepared soil. He said this natural organic material enhances soil and plant growth by holding and transferring water and minerals (mainly nitrogen) to their plants. The Knights have used it for years and sell it at their farmers market booth.

COMPOST TEA: The Knights are pure organic gardeners. “We make our own compost tea (fertilizer). We place compost with chicken and horse manure in a big barrel of water and let it brew for several days. We then spray it on our vegetables a couple of times a year.”

PLANTING SCHEDULE: The Knights started off following the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension vegetable planting guide. Janet said, “As we learn more about growing vegetables we are tweaking the guide to expand our production. Gardeners from other parts of the country want to plant when they did back home and usually fail.” You can get the planting guide by going to

Janet said, “Our produce is in high demand. Kale, chard and collards have become our trademark. We only harvest the outside leaves, to keep them producing longer. When vegetables stop producing, we fill in the spaces with other vegetables.”

The Knights plant their vegetables closer than recommended. “We find the plants shade the soil to conserve water and control weeds.”

NO PESTICIDES: “We never use pesticides. Don likes to make breakfast, so I snoop through the garden looking for bugs. With these constant visits we seldom have any pests. It takes me about 20 minutes per day to do my snooping.”

SHADE AND WIND: The Knights use a 30 percent shade cloth. “It does two thing: shades the plants but also deflects the wind.” Plants grown under a windbreak are almost twice the size of exposed plants. Janet also finds that winds tear up plants and suck water out of them.

The Knights are also part of the Community Supported Agriculture Coalition. “We make vegetable baskets to deliver to certain locations weekly.” If you want a basket, sign up for one at their booth. Many of these baskets go to senior citizen centers.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at or call him at 702-526-1495.