PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Plumbing for Heating Bareroots

This is the last installment on the hoophouse for bareroots. Though its primary purpose was to jump start the bareroot fruit trees and lilacs, there will be room for some of the other trees and shrubs we order bareroot then grow out for a year or two (or more). Growing bareroot stock lets us offer plants at a more affordable price. Shipping on container grown plants is incredibly expensive, and the minimums that must be ordered are usually far beyond what our little nursery can consider.

So--to recap, pvc pipe is looped under the four inches of compost that the potted trees are sitting on. Wink is doing the final hookups on the fittings that will carry heated glycerine through the looped pipes, then return it to the reservoir in a closed loop.

We hooked up the pump and the solar panel control. At this point I would like to say that plumbers are worth what they charge. This little system took dozens of fittings, lots of redo's when something got reduced backwards, etc., and still sported one leak after all the sealant. Wink holds all this in his head, and Aly and I stand back in awe (and Wink admits he's always tickled when it works). Electrical is always easier (of course, when something "leaks" electricity it's usually pretty shocking!)

Aly is screwing down the pump in the photo. Behind it are the intake and outtake lines that carry glycerine to and from the solar heater. Wink's hand is on the solar panel controller--it runs the pump.

This photo shows the heater and solar panels outside the hoophouse. They face due south so get the most sun that can be had from a fixed system. Piping coiled inside the heater carries the glycerine that absorbs heat from the sun, then gets pumped under the floor of the hoophouse. (Previous blogs show the heater interior being plumbed)

In the next shot Wink is pouring the glycerine into the reservoir. The freezing point of glycerine is -31, so the pipes will be safe from freezing unless we have a snap like the one last winter. Since the system runs off solar panels, it won't be operating at night when we'd be most likely to experience that kind of cold. If it gets that cold in the daytime, I give up!


The last shot shows the glycerine returning to the reservoir. It worked!!!

The breakdown on the hoophouse: we spent about $400 on the 2" white pvc, $85 on wood, $150 on the white plastic cover material, and about $100 on the groundcover fabric (less than a third of a $400 roll). That's about $735--pretty good when you consider we buy the aluminum hoophouses for about $1200--not including wood, plastic cover, or groundcover.

The heating systems adds about $450 to that. The 45 watt solar panel kit (includes the 12 volt dc charge controller) was on sale at Harbor Freight for $145. The 12 volt rv water pump was $99. The 5 gallons of glycerine (ordered online) was $85 plus shipping. Assorted fittings and clamps added about $25. We had the solar heater (salvaged) but the black flex irrigation pvc we used inside was about $100.

So the total cost was under $1200. Not bad to protect thousands of dollars worth of plants, year after year.

We're happy to answer any questions--go to the Mountain Gardens facebook page, or email.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Conservation Seedling Program

A blog or two back, I wrote about the Ptelea trifoliata, the native hoptree and just discovered this great tree/shrub is offered by the Forestry service through its Conservation Seedlings program. Alyson was checking out the new lists because we're going to put in an extensive windbreak, and this program is the most economical way to plant a large variety of trees for anyone who doesn't need a mature planting.

The program is open to New Mexico residents who own at least one acre, and who will use the trees for conservation. There are several options including bareroot plants--the most economical, or one or two-year old potted seedlings.

The minimum order is 50 bareroot trees, 25 per a particular species (ex: 25 bur oak & 25 hackberry) for $47.00. The greatest variety of trees is in the one year old seedlings with almost 50 species offered. Shrubs like chamisa, four wing saltbush, and fernbush are included in the list. The minimum order is 49 plants of the same species for $59.00.

The two year old seedlings only offer nine species, but the minimum order is only 20 trees (all one species) for $50.00

The service also has mixed packages for a number of areas.  For example the Pinon-Juniper package has 49 plants and includes 5 species.

Many of the plants are natives like buffaloberry, New Mexico privet, pinon, ponderosa, and false indigo. These  natives are easier to establish, and will require a lot less maintenance after they are established. But there are some non-natives too, like the well adapted Scotch pine, lilac, and Nanking cherry. There are also plants in the mixed packages suited to riparian zones with plants like the Rio Grande Cottonwood and several willows.

Seedlings may be ordered online at www.nmforestry.com. Ordering will continue until April; for best selection, don't delay.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fruit Trees Arrive

We have been up to our earlobes in apples, pears, plums and cherries--trees, not cobbler alas. We have been waiting anxiously for days, hoping against hope that the weather would cooperate, but naturally temps plunged to 14 the day we planned to get the trees potted, and two inches of snow fell making it too cold to work. It was still below freezing today but with another storm coming, we couldn't delay--field dug bareroot trees have to be dealt with as soon as possible. So we called in Tina, and Aly took the day off, and we put on our long underwear and arctic bogs (boots), sorted out some five gallon pots, and started hauling soil.

I worked on pruning the trees, removing broken or damaged limbs, reducing the height of the trees, shaping the roots to fit into the pots. There's a lot of debate about the best way to prune fruit trees. I like a tree that's beautiful in the landscape as well as productive, so I tend to be conservative about removing wood. It's true that trees that are aggressively pruned are shorter and easier to harvest, but I don't mind dragging a ladder around--or boosting the kids.

Tina and Aly potted them in the mix we got from Soilutions--40% premium compost, 40% forest floor mulch, and 20% pumice--good drainage. Aly and Wink toted the heavy pots and arranged them in our sunken bed. 130 trees is a lot of toting and they were all pretty tired by the time we finished. Previous blogs have covered the technique we're using to warm the roots in the sunken bed--it was great to see that Wink's calculations left ample room for the 130 trees (including the 10 that went missing).
After the trees were all in place we packed compost around to help hold the heat, then gave them a good watering. By that time the sun had melted most of the snow, things were getting muddy, and the wind was coming up so we decided not to try to put the plastic over the hoops--that's next.

With luck, Mountain Gardens will have a nice mix of fruit to sell this coming season. Some antique apples like Hudson's Golden Gem and Belle de Boskoop, Arkansas Black and Honeycrisp; a 4 in 1 cherry, North Star Dwarf, and Stella; an expaliered pear; an Italian prune, Superior plum, and a green Gage-Bavay plum; three kinds of peaches.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Another Installment on the Fruit Tree Hoophouse

We spent part of the weekend working on the heat box for the fruit tree hoophouse. Only a couple of days left till they get here! We had rescued an old solar heater--it's been sitting on the rescue pile out there for about three years. (Hope it's not another three years before the rest of that stuff gets repurposed!)

So Wink has been deconstructing this very well made behemoth--taking out all the bracing and rivets--that was the time consuming part. Got the casing opened up, and we ran 2" pvc schedule 40 inside against the insulation. Put the halves back together with foam insulation, and then sheet metal screwed it together, and put the braces back on. 

The pvc gets filled with antifreeze. The heated antifreeze gets pumped through the pipe under the trees--et voila, warm soil, warm roots--growth! Wink used his math skills to calculate the volume inside the pipe. We found some special anti-freeze online--pure glycerine--but pricy so wanted to get only what we needed.

Next step--get the heater hooked up to the panel.

(Yes, I am blogging during the super bowl. Wink and Bel are watching, but I'm only interested in the commercials!)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Funny Little Heart-shaped Cotyledon

Was plucking out some ptelea trifoliata (wafer ash) and found this double cotyledon. Don't know if this is a normal event or not, but thought it was worth a photo.We weren't expecting to see these so soon, either.

The germination instructions said that they could take two (2!) years to germinate using a regimen of two months heat/ two months cold/two months heat...and so on. We put it in the fridge for two months, and darned if the seeds didn't start germinating the first time on the heat mat. None of the other ptelea seed had a double cotyledon either. Hmmm. Planted it even though the seedlings may be flawed.

Still exciting whenever any reportedly difficult native germinates well. And this is one that we haven't been able to find anywhere else (got the seed from prairiemoon.com). It will probably be at least five years before it goes over to the shop; it's supposed to be a slow growing little tree. Native to New Mexico, it's one of the woodland understory trees, but will take a wide range of conditions including full sun and drought. It has a pretty white flower in late spring, a lemony aroma that may or may not be objectionable. If kept cut back it will form a bushy tall shrub, but can be kept to a single trunk, too. It's a favorite larval food of the giant swallowtail butterfly.

Another name for the wafer ash is hoptree--it used to be a substitute for hops in beer. And since it's not an ash, fraxinus, it won't be plagued by the ash borer when it arrives.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Herbs Popping Up

 If all goes well on the heat mats, we should have a nice selection of herbs this year including some unusual ones. We'll have the standards: flat & curley parsley, three kinds of basil, borage, dill, fennel, thyme, oregano, marjoram, lemon balm, spearmint & peppermint, rosemary, rue, pennyroyal (not culinary, but it was really nice in containers last year), and stevia if we can surmount germination issues. Chives of course, both onion and garlic. They're nice in flower beds too. Lavenders if we can find them. Like the creeping thymes, they're hard to keep in the greenhouse, so we buy them locally.

We're experimenting with angelica, an old fashioned herb that grandma candied. It has a sweet aroma, and has been used for centuries as a flavoring and vegetable good for digestion. It's harvested in its second year, and can reach six feet tall!

Roselle is in the mallow family, a vivid yellow hibiscus type flower. It's used to make refreshing drinks among other things. The calyces, the fleshy bottom part of the flower, lends a deep red color. Roselle is used extensively in Asia, India, the middle East, and Europe for food and medicine.

Marsh Mallow used to be the base for, what else, marshmallows. It's been used for thousands of years both for medicine and food. It has a showy pink hibiscus type flower.

Papaloquelite is a native South American annual. It's used in Mexican recipes for cilantro flavor. Always fresh, never cooked.

We had a number of folks ask us for epazote or Mexican tea, another seasoning for a variety of Mexican dishes, so we'll have it too. It's often used in beans and is believed to prevent flatulence. Guess it's used a lot. It has a pungent aroma. The newer leaves aren't as strong as older ones; use sparingly. Can become weedy. Used by the Aztecs.

Space is always an issue for us so some of these will probably be available in limited quantities.