PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Plant Lover

Roots of perennial switchgrass. Photo courtesy of the Land Institute http://www.landinstitute.org

I had my granddaughter today, and she molded moonsand on one side of the bench, and I seeded, plucked and potted on the other. She was in a little bit of a snit after trying unsuccessfully to draw me into play, and was only waiting me out as I had promised to make chocolate cake if she let me finish my seeding.

"Why do you love plants so much, anyway?" she asked with some exasperation. I went on at length about the benefits we garner from plants--life itself, et al. She immediately confided that she loved plants too. I said that maybe she'd take over the business one day when I got old. With the irrefutable logic of the five year old, she said I was already old...

I do love plants--for all the usual esthetic reasons, but also because when I am truly old (!), I want there to be a world worth living in for my grandchildren--and I'm convinced that plants are the road to that future. Roots are the rivers into our increasingly despoiled soils, carrying moisture down, providing food for the "millions" that build our soils, and for the billions above. Without plants there is no life. And no chocolate.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Conference--Water:The Foundation of Agricultural Sustainability

The title was a mouthful, but the water conference in Santa Fe was great. The three of us went, Wilbur, Aly and I. It was an all day event hosted by Western SARE and NMSU Extension. SARE is the Western Region Sustainable Agriculture and Education Program. WSARE includes the western US states, Alaska, Hawaii, Micronesia, American Samoa, and Guam, and there were representatives from several of these regions at the conference.

"SARE's mission is to advance—to the whole of American agriculture—innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education."

There were definitely some innovative ideas presented. I thought I knew a lot about rainwater catchment, but there's a lot going on out there. Our speaker, Billy Kniffen was from Texas where it's mandated that all government and university buildings have catchment systems. He has set up systems in remote rural locations that provide water for livestock and wildlife using roofs as small as 2ft x 3ft. There are 90,400 drops of water in one gallon!

Other speakers presented information on the balance between ag and urban water usage; the history of the acequias; "Prototype Design and Construction for Low Head Hydropower Gereration." (!!!)

The talk about gravity fed irrigation among the Navaho was really fascinating and gave us some ideas. This was an idea that snowballed for the speaker, as a one time experiment to find a way to irrigate at an old trading post. Using elevated tanks, the water gravity fed through drip tape to corn, no electrity, no pump. It worked so well, Professor Ed Martin found himself setting up programs in other remote spots in the Indian nations, at Canyon de Chelly, Dine College and others. The photos show the simple prototype that he set up at the conference. 60% of Navaho's must haul their water--both for personal use, and for kitchen gardens. Truly a timely and sustainable project.

Other projects detailed the exploration of lower water use alternative crops like teff, a non gluten grain, malt barley, wine grapes, and wild rye. Another project detailed monitoring of orchard crops using a "pressure bomb" to monitor for water stress.

Some links for these talks :

Monday, August 6, 2012

Fresh Produce!

I love this time of year, picking tomatoes, lettuce, beans, and cukes for dinner. We haven't had popcorn for dinner in weeks! The cukes and tomatoes are flavorful, thin skinned, not bitter. Last year I fed every cucumber to the chickens! Stirred the green beans with onion and a splash of white wine--yum! I especially like the lettuce, Nevada Green Summer Crisp. It's stayed crisp and sweet, no sign of bolting despite the heat. Down to the last one. I started some more on the heat mat, and hopefully will have some to share at Mountain Gardens with the fall veggie gardeners. I got my seed from Johnny's, and sure hope it's still available.

Bought the chicken--something got one of my birds
this week, but it wasn't us.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


It's ironic to be posting about drought in the middle of the monsoon season--if we don't get any more rain than we've had in the East Mountains, that's all we'll be talking about. Not a day goes by that we don't get calls about distressed landscapes. "But it rained--but I water--but..."

For the second year in a row, we're at a deficit for water retained in the soil. The snow pack ran off too soon in the unseasonal warmth of early spring, or evaporated. The rain falls on dusty clay, beads up and runs away too. What we need rainwise is weeks of daily, slow soaking falls. Failing that, plants desperately need to be mulched--even if you're watering. Especially if you're watering. Irrigation water is precious here in New Mexico. Trap that water. Don't put a plant in the ground without working in compost. If you can't work the ground, put it on top. Animal manure is free for the hauling in most cases. The transfer station has chips that are free if you load your own. Compost traps water.

Catch that water. The miscellaneous array of tanks in the photo hold an extra thousand gallons of rainwater in addition to the 5,000 gallons the big cistern in the back captures. On the east side of the barn, another 3,000 gallon cistern catches rain from the roof on that side. Two more white tanks catch the overflow. We use this water sparingly, eking it out from landscape, to fruit trees, to hoophouses. Everyone in New Mexico should have a catchment of some kind. If you're in the Edgewood Soil & Water Conservation District, you can get as much as 50% back on the purchase of a rainwater catchment system, including the guttering. Consider plumbing a greywater system if you don't already reuse the water from showers, sinks, etc.

New plants must be watered everyday in a season like this. If you have the water, water deeply; if you get the root zone soaked down to at least a foot or more, you can skip a day or two, or more depending on the plant. Most folks, like us, have to ration; a splash on every plant just enough to keep it going till the rain comes.Check your irrigation system if you have one. If you're losing water to an inefficient layout, water by hand. The hose revolutionized agriculture!

The signs of drought--wilting, greyness or a dusty look, leaves cupping or curling, yellowing, leaves turning brown on parts or the whole leaf, crunchy leaves, leaf drop. Twigs and small limbs may die back. Flowering perennials may stop blooming; buds may droop and brown. Insects are attracted to stressed plants.

resources on drought
www.harvestingrainwater.com/ --amazing information from Brad Lancaster
http://www.westernresourceadvocates.org/water/rainharvesting.php --codes from all over