Ask An Organic Grower

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Last Spring the Apricots bloomed early.

Now that spring is just around the corner ( it reached 70 degrees F last week in ABQ!) our garden team hosted a panel discussion for our community to ask questions about how best to grow and tend a garden using organic principles. Here are some of the fabulous questions and the answers our team, Wes Brittenham, Minor Morgan, Julie Hirshfield, Tiana Baca, Karen Bentrup and Karen Beamish provided:

Q: Given all the warm weather that we are having, is it too late to prune my fruit trees?

A:  “Wes Brittenham from Plants of the Southwest told us that contrary to what most of us have been taught about pruning – the best time of year to prune is during the growing season. This new paradigm was presented at this year’s Think Trees Conference in February in Albuquerque. To learn more contact Wes http://www.plantsofthesouthwest.com/ or visit http://www.thinktreesnm.org/” ~Karen Beamish

A: Tiana Baca also suggested looking into fruit tree grafting workshops held by Michael Reed. To learn more about Michael Reed’s permaculture philosophy, to purchase his trees and find out about his workshops visit http://www.localflavormagazine.com/grounded/ and http://erdagardens.org/

Q: Will my new water softener negatively affect the plants in my garden?

A: “Yes!Don’t use chemical-based water softeners for water destined for irrigation. The salts used to neutralize hard water can damage soil and plants. An organic alternative is to use the ZetaCore device, utilizing an electrolysis process. See Zeta-Core – Water Conditioning for ‘Water that Works’ 2008. Also the use of the Zetacore makes nutrients available to the plant that are normally precipitated out of water. “ ~ Minor Morgan

Q: How do I rid my garden of bindweed without using herbicides?

bindweed

A: “On our farm we have accepted bindweed as part of the ecosystem and plant all cash crops into a weed barrier, a permeable cloth that physically prevents bindweed from killing plants. See  Shop Landscape Fabric at Lowes.com~ Minor Morgan

A: “A permaculture friend, Michael Reed, has a unique perspective on weeds, acknowledging that every plant/animal in a system has a function. As such, if you want to get rid of “weeds” you need to understand what their role is in the system so that you can take over that need/role. In the case of bindweed, not only do we see it often in very disturbed landscapes but it also has incredibly long roots, which may indicate that the plant is working to aerate the soil while stabilizing the earth as well. This perspective/approach to weeds may not be feasible in all situations but it does encourage a different perspective for thinking about weeds.” ~Tiana Baca

Q: What recommendations do you have for fruit tree varieties that will thrive in our high desert climate?

A: “In our microclimate here in the North Valley we get a lot colder at night and have a high “chill hour” environment. Many fruit trees including peaches require a certain number of hours in dormancy when the air temperature is below 45 degrees. This is known as a chill hour. For our microclimate, we go with peach cultivars with high chill hours such as Contender (1050 chill hours), Cresthaven (850 chill hours) and Redhaven (950 chill hours). Gordon Tooley, a local orchardist is an expert in cultivating fruit trees that are adapted to our high desert climate. See Tooley’s Trees apple apricot cherry pear plum other trees & shrubs planting & tree care. Tooleys Trees P.O.Box 392 Truchas, New Mexico 87578 (505) 689-2400 http://tooleystrees.com/~Minor Morgan

Q: Why is tilling bad for the soil and how do I garden without tilling?

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A: “Excessive tilling can destroy microorganisms in the soil. On a small-scale garden you can add a 3″ layer of organic compost at the end of each growing season and the next season directly plant without any tillage at all. A cubic yard of organic compost at Soilutions costs $44 and will cover a raised bed size 10′ X 6′ at 3 inches thick. Or make your own compost. see Soilutions http://soilutions.net/~Minor Morgan

“A complex, symbiotic relationship exists between the soil surface and the micro-organisms deep in the soil, which contributes to a natural, healthy soil structure. Digging into or tilling the bed can interfere with this process and disturb the growing environment. It can also cause soil compaction and erosion, and bring dormant weed seeds to the surface where they will sprout. With no-till gardening, once the bed is established the surface is never disturbed. Amendments such as compost, manure, peat, lime and fertilizer are top dressed, i.e added to the top of the bed where they will be pulled into the subsoil by watering and the activity of subsoil organisms. Weeding is largely replaced by the use of mulch. By adding material in layers, the underlying soil surface remains spongy, making it easy for the young roots of newly planted seedlings to work through the soil. This is similar to the way soil is formed in nature. “ ~Julie Hirshfield

Q: How do I keep roaches out of my worm bin?

A: “Worm Bins (AKA vermicomposting bins) can be kept in ways that reduce roach infestation. These worms, the red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) like to live just under leaf litter in that fantastic microbially active decompositional zone where it is very moist, dark, warm, even temperatured, and layered. Worms don’t have teeth, they are slurpers! Microbes break down the organic matter and the worms slurp it up.

Here are some common problems that can increase the roach interest in your worm bin:

  • throwing whole or large parts of food into the bin. If you toss in a half of a rotten potato, it will take so long for the microbes to break it down, it isn’t really worm food – it’s a roach or mouse attractor.
  • putting the food on TOP of your bin material – red wigglers like it moist and dark. They will rapidly retreat from sunlight and light. So food on top, does not get broken down, and it sits there – smelly and attractive to roaches. Pull back the bedding and spread the food out.
  • feeding too often for the number of worms. Yes red wigglers eat alot but they are small, so feed in small batches and check every other day or so to observe the progress, then adjust. Worms eat more when it’s warm and less when it’s cold.
  • dumping a big pile of food scraps in one place. You need to spread this out, think thin layers.
  • Remember, worms need it moist. Don’t flood your bin but keep them very moist – if your bedding were a sponge and you picked it up and gently squeezed water should drip slowly out – that moist.

A worm bin is not like a large outdoor “dump and forget” compost pile(which works for a non-worm composting system). Think of your worms like tiny livestock – they need correct living environment and feed.  Great online resources include Rodale Institute, county extension services, and master gardener programs. And the classic, Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof – at your library! Happy worming!” ~ Karen Bentrup

wormbin (1)

 

Q: What can I do about tree roots encroaching into my raised bed?

A: “Really, optimal garden placement is the smartest thing you can do.  If you have trees all around the beds, you can build a root barrier.  It’s a big job though – you need to dig a trench about 18 inches wide and deeper than the tree roots (often a at least a few feet deep), prune any visible roots, line the trench with galvanized metal, and back fill the trench.”~Julie Hirshfield

Q: Where can I locally source seeds?

Marigold seed we harvested from the DOT garden
Marigold seed we harvested from the DOT garden

A: “If you are looking to buy seeds from NM companies, there are just a few resources: Plants of the Southwest and Epic Seeds. However, Native Seed Search and Seed Savers Exchange also offer regionally adapted varieties of non-GMO seed. Other good non-GMO seed sources are Wild Garden See, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Peaceful Valley, and Baker Creek Seeds. Baker Creek also works with ethnobotanists and often showcases wonderful stories about the history and origin of different plants.” ~Tiana Baca

A: “If you want to learn how to save seed, there is an upcoming workshop at the Rio Grande Library on February 28th.  Find Details: http://libevents.abclibrary.org/event/894822?hs=a

Q: How do I protect the strawberries I plan to grow from the snails in my garden without using harmful pesticides?

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A: “If your snail infestation is not too big, Wes suggests getting some turtles for your yard to eat the snails. However, I had thousands of snails in my yard – they were literally crawling over the fence from miles around! So the two turtles that I bought at the pet store to eat the snails did not dent even the exploding population. I tried drowning the snails in beer traps and a few other things that other people had tried – bit I had no success. Finally I had my student’s research for me and they found Sluggo! This is simply iron-phosphate. It kills the snail, but is not toxic to anything else (birds, turtles or kids). When it rains, the iron-phosphate complex breaks down into iron and phosphate – both helpful to plant growth. It truly worked like a miracle. Wes sells it at Plants of the Southwest or you can get it at Home Depot.” ~ Karen Beamish

A: “Plant strawberries (or any snail-loving plant) in full sun, so the soil and garden stays as warm as possible. Grow your strawberries on raised beds or planters and amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost, so the soil will warm up and dry out faster. Cultivate around plants frequently and avoid mulching. Slugs and snails love to hide in weedy patches and under mulch. A good population of toads or turtles may help keep the slug and snail population low.  Planting aromatic leaved herbs, such as rosemary, sage, and lavender may also help. You can also nail copper flashing or mesh around the perimeter of a raised bed or container – snails hate crossing copper.” ~Julie Hirshfield

Q: What recommendations do you have for fruit tree varieties that will thrive in our high desert climate?

A: “In our microclimate here in the North Valley we get a lot colder at night and have a high “chill hour” environment. Many fruit trees including peaches require a certain number of hours in dormancy when the air temperature is below 45 degrees. This is known as a chill hour. For our microclimate, we go with peach cultivars with high chill hours such as Contender (1050 chill hours), Cresthaven (850 chill hours) and Redhaven (950 chill hours). Gordon Tooley, a local orchardist is an expert in cultivating fruit trees that are adapted to our high desert climate. See Tooley’s Trees apple apricot cherry pear plum other trees & shrubs planting & tree care. Tooleys Trees P.O.Box 392 Truchas, New Mexico 87578 (505) 689-2400 http://tooleystrees.com/~Minor Morgan

Q: Where can I locally source large volumes compost that is good quality and organic?

A: Don’t use the compost that the city sells on your vegetables. It is made using the waste water effluent and may have heavy metals and other contaminants that would be harmful to your health.  Buy your compost from Soilutions! http://soilutions.net/

Q: Where can I locally source woodchips to use as mulch?

A: Contact Karen Beamish – Albuquerque Academy has large piles that she will give to you for free; beamish@aa.edu

One comment

  1. I attended and so glad I did. This is an amazing summary of the questions and answers. This event gave new info, reminded me of things I’d learned a long time ago, and gave me inspiration to get back into the dirt!

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