Planning a Summer Garden

We’ve teamed up with the Water Authority to offer a series of new WaterSmart Gardening classes! Check back regularly as we post class content throughout the season.

Class: Planning a Summer Garden (March 10, 2018)

We filmed this class! Video content will be added in the next few weeks.

If you’d like a PDF of the powerpoint, check out the link below.

Planning a Summer Garden WUA

Handouts:

Resource List

Vegetable Spacing

Planting Planning Guide  

Companion Planting

Planting a Spring Garden

We’ve teamed up with the Water Authority to offer a series of new WaterSmart Gardening classes! Check back regularly as we post class content throughout the season.

Class: Planting a Spring Garden (March 3, 2018)

We filmed this class! Video content will be added in the next few weeks.

If you’d like a PDF of the powerpoint, check out the link below.

Planting a Spring Garden

Seed Starting Basics

We’ve teamed up with the Water Authority to offer a series of new WaterSmart Gardening classes! Check back regularly as we post class content throughout the season.

Class: Seed Starting (Feb 24, 2018)

We filmed this class! Video content will be added in the next few weeks.

If you’d like a PDF of the powerpoint, check out the link below.

Seed Starting WUA 2018

Worldwide Travelers: Transferring Crops from Similar Climates

By: Andrew Pick-Roth

When planting in the desert, getting your crop to thrive isn’t always a guarantee, let alone getting it to survive. Plants that make their home here have adapted to the dry seasons and hot summer days and as such require less effort to keep growing when compared to un-acclimated crops. However, other arid deserts exist around the world with a variety of plants that will also grow well in New Mexico.

(https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/newmexico/new-mexico-prairie-and-desert-grasslands.xml)

One of these similar environments is found in Kazakhstan, a country whose southern border is lined with arid shrublands. The landscape of areas like the Kazakh Desert would look very familiar to those living in New Mexico.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazakh_semi-desert)

We planted several crops from this area in the DOT Garden, in the hopes that their traits that helped them survive elsewhere, like the ability to conserve water, will help them thrive in New Mexico as well. One of these plants is the Kazakhstan eggplant, which is already growing happily in our meadow beds.

When adopting crops from other areas, it is also worth looking into what sorts of techniques the farmers from these similar areas may have employed that you can adopt as well. New ways of growing our own crops may prove fruitful as well!

Beat the Heat: Keeping Plants Alive at the Height of Summer

By: Elisabeth Lawton

This past June saw a merciless heat wave sweep through the country, particularly the southwest region of the United States. Here in New Mexico, we reached temperatures of up to 105°F during a time when the highs normally sit in the mid 90°s. Heat advisories were issued, suggesting everyone stay indoors. Despite it all, the garden continued to grow. It will always require care and attention in any weather. If you are feeling the heat, it is guaranteed that your plants are too. There are steps that you can take to protect your plants even in the hottest and driest of climates. Here in the Desert Oasis Teaching Garden we are very familiar with this struggle, and have some good tips to share.

 The DOT Garden is always growing

When trying to keep plants cool, take action to lower the temperature of the soil. Soil can easily trap the heat of the day and lose moisture in extreme temperatures. To shade and protect the soil as well as keep moisture inside, place a decent layer of mulch on top of the soil and around the base of the plants. The DOT Garden often uses the leaf litter from previous autumns as an effective mulch. It will also be important to water thoroughly with cold water. The cold water will lower the soil temperature and replace the moisture that has rapidly evaporated away. However, if watering with an outdoor hose, make sure you check the temperature of the water coming out of the hose before you begin soaking your plants. A dark hose laying in the sun will heat the water inside to burning temperatures; in some cases, you must run the hose for a few minutes before the water reaches a good temperature. You do not want to scald your plants or boil your soil!

The water sitting inside this hose is hot and will damage plants.

Managing sunlight exposure is another important method of controlling temperature. Plants can burn in direct sunlight just like we can, so provide shade in whatever ways work best for you. Choosing a garden location that receives plenty of morning sunlight none of the ruthless afternoon rays will already give you an advantage. However, if this is impossible, building shade structures will also work to protect your plants. Using white row cover or other shade sheets are a good method because they will reflect the sunlight and are easy to take down and move around to meet your garden’s needs.

White row cover shields our delicate lettuce.

Between the natural extreme temperatures of the desert and the uncertainty of the weather due to climate change, gardening during the peak of summer can be a grueling challenge. However, make sure to show the same care to yourself as you do to your plants: drink plenty of cool water, protect yourself from the sun, and rest frequently in the shade. The bountiful harvest at the end of the summer growing season will be a well-earned reward.

 

Bottled Sunlight: Making Calendula Salve

By: Tanya Hebert

In the middle of winter it can be difficult to remember the vibrant colors of the calendula plant.  The deep oranges, yellows and even whites of this beautiful medicinal plant bring back feelings of sunshine and buzzing bees.  When the calendula was in full bloom, we harvested the heads and put them aside to dry.  We were as careful as possible not to mix them with the spent heads that were producing seeds but, alas, our 6th grade Environmental Club had to come to our rescue and separate dried petals from seeds.

The dried petals were put in quart mason jars and filled with olive oil.  The jars lined the greenhouse shelves with their warmth and our kids had fun gently shaking them everyday.  After six weeks in the greenhouse, the kids helped strain the calendula-infused oil (quite a mess!) in preparation for salve making.

The salve is prepared by mixing beeswax (locally sourced) with the oil at a gentle heat to liquefy the beeswax.  Some of the salve got an extra special dose of lavender essential oil (also locally sourced).  The salve is poured into tins while it is still a liquid – this is an adult job as it cools quite rapidly.  The end product is a tin of beautifully scented hand salve infused with the healing quality of the calendula plant.

Tie-Dye With Native Plants

By: Tanya Hebert

On a beautiful fall day back in October, the 6th grade Environmental Club took a walk to explore the arroyo on campus.  We spent some time gathering bright gold flowers and stems from the native chamisa (rabbit brush) plants that grow abundantly here in the desert southwest.  Chamisa is a plant that has been used for hundreds of years by the native peoples of the desert to dye yarn for weaving.

To make the dye, we boiled the chamisa stems and flowers for 3 hours and then strained the beautiful golden liquid.  We then added alum as a mordant to help the color attach permanently to the fabric.  We cut squares of white cloth, used rubber bands in a way that would create designs on our creations and then put them into the dye for 3 more hours at a boil and then soaked overnight.  In the morning we hung the fabric to dry and a couple days later we had beautiful all-natural dyed cloth.   This process was repeated with both 7th and 8th grade Environmental Club members – all the kids loved this project!

 

Encouraging Mycorrhizal Growth in Soil to Conserve Water

In order to conserve water in our garden, it is recommended to encourage mycorrhizal growth.

But, first off, what is mycorrhiza?

Mycorrhiza is a type of fungus that has developed a symbiotic relationship with plants, in which it increases the absorption of phosphorus and other nutrients. The plant allows the fungus to attach itself to its root system. Because the amount of water and nutrients a plant can absorb is directly dependent on the surface area of the root system, this relationship increases the ability of plants to absorb what they need. Mycorrhizal networks are able to absorb all 15 essential nutrients for plants, and absorb the nutrients through intricate webs. It also makes certain enzymes that can aid in breaking down hard to claim nutrients such as phosphorus in order to make them easier for a plant to uptake and digest.

This is what it looks like close up:

Ericoid mycorrhizal fungus.jpg“Ericoid mycorrhizal fungus” by MidgleyDJ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ericoid_mycorrhizal_fungus.jpg#/media/File:Ericoid_mycorrhizal_fungus.jpg

And this is what its symbiotic relationship looks like:

File:Vicia sepium9 ies.jpg

Mycorrhizal growth on roots- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vicia_sepium9_ies.jpg

These organisms can help plants thrive naturally and without fertilizer. They are also great at increasing the ability of soil to hold water because the water holding capacity increases as the amount of organic matter does. This means that less water will be lost by evaporation or runoff so that more water is available to the plants and you do not have to irrigate as much. Loss of water to the environment is a major source of water waste. Mycorrhizae produce humus and other organic glues that can hold the soil together and therefore increase water holding capacity.

Conventional gardening, unfortunately, can make it difficult for plants to interact with mycorrhizae. Compaction, top soil loss, and less organic matter discourages mycorrhizae from growing. Often, the effects of conventional gardening on this relationship are dually terrible because it both isolates plants and discourages fungal growth as well as increasing the nutrient needs. This increases the needs for fertilizers and other water-consuming products in the garden.

So how is it possible to encourage mycorrhizal growth?

  1. Add compost, rather than fertilizer, to soil. While fertilizer gives plants nutrients, it is chemical-heavy and strips plants of the need to develop this relationship with mycorrhizae. The chemicals are detrimental to existing fungi and, although providing plants with nutrients, discourage the development of natural nutrition uptake strategies. Adding compost will increase the amount of organic matter in the soil, and develop a more fertile topsoil, thus making an ideal environment for mycorrhizal growth.
  2. Use minimal tillage. When you till the soil, it can disrupt and harm the fungal growth on the roots of plants. It takes a while for mychorrhizae to grow, so tilling every season can be detrimental to colonies.
  3. Plant cover crops. While establishing different kinds of environments for the mycorrhizae, cover crops increase the amount of organic matter in the soil, thus increasing microbial activity and encouraging mycorrhizae to grow.

Mycorrhizae can be a natural defense against what could devastate a garden: drought and nutrient deficiency. It is in many ways essential to healthy, natural garden that does not deplete nutrients in the soil. Who knew such a little organism could make such a big difference?

Resources:

http://www.fungi.com/blog/items/mycorrhizal-management.html

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/212.html

Abundance in the Desert: The Beauty of Winter Storms

While winter storms provided a unique set of challenges, they often bring with them a blessing: water.

The past few weeks have been exceptionally moist here in New Mexico. Rainfall and snow have decorated our landscape with saturated vistas and winter blankets.  While the heat of summer and scarcity of water may be far from our minds, this winter moisture is key to ensuring the health of plants and animals throughout the year.

However, it’s not just how much moisture we get that’s important. It’s how long we get to keep it.

snow and oats

Snowfall provides an excellent opportunity of this concept in action. Following snow fall, take a look outside. Observe each day where the snow has melted and where it remains. Notice micro-climates.

While we’re weeks out from our last big snow storm, snow remains on the ground in some places.  These cooler, protected patches of ground are able to hold onto the snow for longer periods of time and release snow melt at a slower rate. Why does this matter? Slowing down the pace of water moving through a system means the plants and animals in the system can use the water over longer periods of time.

snow 1

While snow provides an excellent visual for this process, we can treat any form of precipitation the same way. How? Mulch. Build organic matter in the soil. Keep plants in the ground year round. Create shade. Dig soil sponges. Utilize swales. Above all, be creative! Observe patterns of success in nature and explore possibilities in your own space.

Gardening on the Dark Side

First Snow on the DOT Garden

While winter may not officially arrive until the middle of the month, frosted plants and frozen ground are sure signs of its arrival. Our winter greens are still cozy under their row cover and our exposed cover crops continue to push upwards, even through brief blankets of snow. While we’ve already noticed a slower pace of growing in the garden, we’ve reached a time of year when it’s put on pause altogether – it’s called the Persephone period.

Recalling Greek mythology, Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, was abducted by Hades. Zeus intervened to bring his daughter back to the land of the living. Unfortunately, Persephone had already consumed the seeds of a pomegranate which bound her to Hades for part of the year. Her period of time in the underworld corresponds to the winter season, during which Demeter’s grief of losing her daughter makes the soils barren.

Mythology in mind, we’ve reached the time of year when we have less than ten hours of daylight, which is critical to plant growth. As such, you may notice your own gardens on hold as plants wait for the return of the sun.  Luckily, winter solstice not only marks the beginning of winter but the resurgence of light.

We look forward to seeing you on the bright side!