PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

Mountain Gardens--finding success with plants for the high desert and East Mountains of New Mexico

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fast, Economical Hoophouse

A while back, I shared a bit about the hoophouse class we took at CNM's Workforce Training Center. Today, we put our class material to the test as we finally erected the arcs for the hoophouse. I already shared  some pics of the foundation work we did--today we erected the arcs for our fruit tree house--none too soon for the trees should arrive in a little more than a week.

Wink and Nathan spent about an hour cutting the lengths of 2" pvc, then positioned all the pieces. To recap, the trench will hold the 5 gallon pots which will be buried to capture the heat from hot water that will be circulating under them. While the tops of the trees don't need warmth, the covered hoops will keep out wind and varmints.

 The twenty foot lengths will form an arch about ten feet high. We needed to glue up a series of rectangles, each formed from two long and two short sections.

  It was cold, in the 30's, and we were concerned that the pvc was going to resist being bent. (Windy too, but when isn't it?).

The rectangles get braced against the 2x10s on the left, and Aly stood on the side piece to keep it from popping up.
 It took both Nathan and I to push the bottom (after I got a quick picture), but we still needed Wink to pull in order to force the piece into place and brace it behind the railroad ties. (We drove rebar down the outside edges of the wood to keep it from being forced out by the pressure from the bent pipe).

I think we were all a little surprised when that first rectangle went up just like our instructor said it would! So far we've put up five commercial hoophouses, and they've all been difficult (not as hard as our first house though where we milled our own beams), and I was dreading this. But it went together easily, without a single hitch, in a matter of maybe three hours.

  As each rectangle went up, it was attached to the preceding rectangle with a short length of pvc so the arcs are all on 4' centers. We anchored the bases to the wood on both sides with plumbers strap.

We screwed lengths of 3/4" pvc along the sides of the hoophouse and were again surprised as how much stability the hoops gained. Both ends are braced laterally as well.

 We won't cover the house with plastic until we get all the pots in--much easier being able to pass them through the open ribs. 5 gallon pots get mighty heavy after the 90th or so.

 Still have to rig the solar pump and heater--but this was the hard part, or so we thought....


Tuesday, January 24, 2012


 Yes, this aeonium is really big, bigger than a basketball in this case. There are many kinds of aeonium, some big, some small. I got mine in California where they grow outside and send up a huge clustered flower. I'm still waiting for mine (either cultivar) to bloom, but in the meantime, the foliage stands alone. I've potted up a few babies. Like the jade below, they root easily from stem cuttings.

The jade also grows outside in California where its often used as a flowering hedge, but like all the plants these last blogs have featured, they can't take our freezes. If taken out in the summer, they should be protected from high wind, and may suffer from our high altitude sunlight. A little shade at hign noon please!

I've used my pineapple tops for years to start new plants. I leave about a half inch of fruit when I cut the tops away, and firmly settle the top in a pot of soil. Keep evenly moist but not sopping wet or they'll rot. They will also root in water if you're patient. Keep the water fresh.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Easy Houseplants Too(2)

Many of the plants in last post got an endorsement as houseplants (not just for greenhouses!) at BetterHomes. They've got some nice photos of some more of my favorites--crown of thorns, aloes, hens & chicks, sanseveria, jade plant, burro's tail, philodendron, spider plant, Norfolk Island pine, and bunny ear cactus. These were also chosen mostly because they're so easy (I take exception to the Hoya--mine is slooooowly dying). Guess I'm just trendy!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tropicals in the Greenhouse

It's seeding time in #1, flats on every rack, and space, light and heat are at a premium, so why do we waste space on houseplants!? In the summer, when everything in there is wilting, it's hard to remember, but come frigid January with snow on the ground and the wind blowing every day, it's a joy to walk into the sun warmed space and see a little color here and there. The bougainvillea (above) is my favorite, big showy blossoms, endlessly blooming till  one day they drop every leaf and hibernate a month or two, exhausted no doubt.

The kalanchoes are always a surprise. I have several varieties, hybrids unknown, but one is probably a tubiflora that is nothing much to look at until a three foot spike carries an umbrella of dangling tubes up into the light. Another that was given to me years ago as a sedum is probably a k.marnieriana ? (above). It has a similar flower but the leaf is very different and six inch long, woody, aerial rootlets make it an interesting choice for a hanging basket. Both are very different from the kalanchoe that is most commonly sold.

Begonias are deservedly one of the most popular houseplants; again there are too many to list, but the angel wings are another non stop bloomer. I have to wait for the turkey foot, but the angel wing is truly never without a cluster or two of flowers, and usually many more. I'm constantly plucking the spent blossoms out of seed trays.

Any geraniums (below) that don't sell during the season get held in the greenhouse, blasts of pink, salmon, or scarlet. When they get too leggy we cut them back and coax a few cuttings along.
We have citrus (including a grapefruit tree that's about 10 feet tall) and the flowers are heaven to smell. Pots of purple queen and varigated coleus bring saturated color even when nothing else is blooming (almost never). There's a cyclamen flowering white, a fiddleleaf fig bigger than the grapefruit, a rose cactus that loses it true leaves in winter and has flowers like a wild rose.

And the best part--they're all easy, important because all of our time goes to things we're growing out for the nursery. Protected from freezing, and given a regular watering, they're content to wait for attention, and sometimes that's years!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mixed Up Dirt...A Potting Mix for Fruit Trees

We are constantly dickering around with our potting mixes. Our bare root fruit trees will be here soon, and we needed to decide on our canning mix, and get it while the weather is still mild. I called Lee Ann, our very knowledgeable rep for advice, and she recommended using pine fines and a good compost. Neither of us like using sand. Pine fines is a very finely ground pine bark. It holds moisture without letting the soil get too soggy which can be a problem, especially with peat mixes or too much sand. Most bulk mixes available locally offer a combination of compost and/or decomposed wood chips, and/or pumice, and/or sand. Some growers add native soil. But I couldn't find pine fines.

After a few phone calls we decided to visit to Soilutions in ABQ where we get most of our large pot mixes. Soilutions is a great company, all their products are organic, and the owner, Jim Brooks is almost a neighbor living not too far from us in the East Mountains. He and his employees are always so nice. When we got there, his manager made a custom blend for us and still had us on our way in about 15 minutes! After some trial and error, we decided on 40% premium compost, 20% pumice, and 40% of their forest floor mulch which is better decomposed than the regular woody material.

So now we have the soil--thank goodness for Aly's little dump truck--though I wasn't very grateful when we were struggling with the snow chains. But we wouldn't have made it up or down our half mile of still icy, snow packed drive without them. A neighbor went into the bar ditch the other day. Is spring still four months away?!

Monday, January 9, 2012

No More Bull...

What a greenhouse looks like after a bull browses through
Our cow tales (sorry) have come to an end (sorry again). The last little critter was captured and transported yesterday, thank goodness.

Our problems started last summer when the grass apparently gave out on the thousand plus acres (!) next door, and the cows started jumping the wire for greener pastures (our measly 50 acres) , or maybe greener greenhouses--I guess we just smelled nice. The mile long hotwire that had sufficed for our neighbor's horses didn't faze the cattle. They broke through in so many spots it simply ceased being a fence at all, and we started running barbed wire, bob wahr locally. One strand didn't work--those cows were the Houdini's of their kind. An hour after herding them back through the gate waaaay up at the top of the hill (huffing and puffing and looking for our pills), the dogs would start barking again.

The cows ate the trumpet vines around the west side, they stirred up the bees, they stirred up the dogs, they left "piles" in front of number two greenhouse. Soon there were piles everywhere. They started going into the greenhouses. The final affront was the bull who managed to break into number six and eat (or stomp) virtually every pot in there. We had a really big problem!

The problem was the calves. Those little guys would squeeze under the wire or over, then the moms would press through, and before you knew it, the whole gang was there. We ran more wire. Our neighbor pitched in, both wire and labor or we'd never have finished. He and Wink worked in the rain and snow, digging postholes, cutting trees and brush, and finally got the third strand (mostly) in. Still they came...

Wink started talking barbecue, but thankfully the owner of the cows moved them back down to the plains--all but one. One little bitty calf was out there getting thinner and thinner as the weeks went by because there was 2-3 feet of snow over the grass. Another neighbor gave us some hay and we started trying to catch the calf, but he was too wily. The owner brought in a mama cow to try and lead the calf out, but she was too wily and took off through the brush and deep snow (but not so smart since there was a mountain lion out there munching on one of her herdmates). Finally the owner set up some fence panels and tossed in a couple of bales of hay. We all drifted casually away, and after a couple of days the calf found his way into the makeshift corral where he was caught at last. Yee haw! That's life in the wild, wild west...

Saturday, January 7, 2012


This is Wink's brainstorm--he and neighbor Jim dug this 4 foot wide, 15 inch deep trench before the snows came. We've been anxiously waiting for the melt so we could finish working on it. Today we got it lined and insulated. The four inches of soil that's supposed to go in next is still frozen so we're hoping this weekend's storm gives us a miss. We still have to lay piping and hook it up to either a solar or propane heater, and a pump to circulate heated water under the pots.

The idea is to provide bottom heat for the fruit trees (arriving in a few weeks) while the tops stay cold and dormant. We'll pot the trees and sink them in the trench, then pile on compost, mulch--whatever isn't frozen. If this doesn't work we're giving up on bareroot fruit trees. Last winter we lost virtually the whole shipment of 150 plants--but we're counting on not seeing -35 again for a long, long time.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Offerings

Everybody been pouring over the catalogs? Yeah--us too. All the new selections, the trial winners--old favorites we can't live without. Here at the nursery, we've been ordering and planting practically since we closed for the season last fall. Here are some of our new offerings for the spring.

 We've added more Plant Select material this year since many of their plants are great matches for our tough growing conditions. We'll have Kintzley's Ghost honeysuckle, Kannah Creek buckwheat, Sunset foxglove, Lavender Mist sun daisy (a perennial osteospermum), Denver Daisy rudbeckia, Bridges and Shadow Mountain penstemons, Coronado Red and Sonoran Sunset agastaches, and Turkish Veronica. In coming blogs we'll talk about why we're excited about these selections.

We'll still have Plant Select favorites that we've been carrying like Sea Foam artemesia (pictured) and Partridge feather that are so tough, xeric and yet so beautiful. We should have plenty of Sunset hyssop, Orange Carpet Hummingbird Trumpet (z. garettii), Pike's Peak Purple penstemon, and Coral Canyon diascia--all favorites that we sold out of last year.

We'll have more natives this year, both annual and perennials like mountain meadow penstemon, blue dicks, monarda fistulosa, baptisia, prince's plume, California bluebells, Fender's sundrops, western wallflower, western spiderwort, and several milkweeds. Some of these are very limited, so first come...

We'll have a different veronica spicata, Sightseeing, a mixed blend of blue, pink, white and purple. We're also starting an armeria--Morning Star Deep Rose. It looks like we'll have a good number of Love-Lies-Bleeding, as well as the common amaranth that we carry for the birds. We're trying a white verbascum that is supposed to be a true perennial--Flush of White--also supposed to flower the first year from seed.

For tropical lovers, we'll have starts of the stapelia above, and some other odds & ends that are crowding the greenhouse.

Things are looking good in the greenhouses (well, number 5 got visited by a local bull, and we won't know what survived until spring!). We're hoping to finish the winter with a more normal range of temperatures than last winter. The deep snow actually acts as insulation. Several things have ventured a flower or two--the Cerise Queen achillea, the diascia (this plant likes it cold!), a pink chrysantheum--in the unheated houses. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year !

What an end to the year--we must have had at least three feet of snow! Slowly melting, lots of ice, and temps almost 50. Chasing cows in our shirt sleeves today, and still knee deep in snow! Over 100 in the greenhouse till we opened the door. But loving the sunshine. Probably have over a thousand starts moving from the heat mats, to plug tray, to six packs under the grow lights to, 4 " pots in number two greenhouse. We must be doing something right--at least much better than last year. Here's to a great 2012!