Author: karentb

Olla Irrigation Saves Time, Water, and Soil Health

By Elisabeth Lawton, Bio E Student

Brand New Ollas Ready for the Garden
Brand New Ollas Ready for the Garden (source: http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2010/09/buried-ollas-for-irrigation.html)

Olla (OY-yah) irrigation provides an elegantly simple, efficient, out-of-site irrigation method best suited for smaller growing areas.

The olla is a round clay chamber with a long neck at the top. The olla is fired but unglazed, ensuring that it remains porous. Typical ollas can hold between one quart and two gallons of water, but can be made to any size. The olla is then buried in the ground so that the opening at the top of the neck is a few inches above the surface. Once the olla is filled with water, the water will slowly seep through the clay body of the olla and into the soil around it. Occasionally cleaning out clogged pores with vinegar will keep the olla functional for many years. The initial cost of an olla ranges from $15 to $30, which can be pricey on a large scale, but their long term benefits and efficiency account for the cost.

olla irrigation Diagram (source: http://durablegreenbed.com/olla-pots/ )
olla irrigation Diagram (source: http://durablegreenbed.com/olla-pots/ )

Ollas have been used for thousands of years by both the Roman and ancient Chinese empires. Today, olla irrigation is still in use in the Middle East, as well as Central and South America. It is an ideal watering method for dry climates. Watering using ollas is a 70% efficient system, and ten times as efficient as surface watering. Daily watering becomes unnecessary, as most ollas need to be refilled only a few times a week.

olla-pot-lid
(source: http://sustainablescientist.net/category/olla-irrigation/)

olla-pot-lid-growth

After being buried in the earth, ollas can be covered with creative lids to prevent debris or animals from getting inside. Plants will soon grow.

Olla irrigation ensures that the ground will not be soaked with water, but instead only sufficiently moistened. The dryness of the soil and the surrounding plant roots will pull water through the olla walls, but as soon as the surrounding soil is damp enough, water will stop seeping out; this is known as soil moisture tension. Plants can be up to one foot away from the olla and receive water. Because the olla moistens the soil from beneath the surface, soil compaction is reduced. Surface watering causes a lot of soil compaction. Using ollas also greatly diminishes weeds in the garden, which grow on the surface of the soil.

Ollas don’t require frequent care or confusing technology. They are efficient and healthy for the soil and plants. Ollas are an ideal irrigation method for anything from potted plants to raised beds to personal vegetable gardens.

Sources:

http://drippingspringsollas.com/

http://www.permaculture.co.uk/videos/how-guide-olla-pots-%E2%80%93-effective-traditional-irrigation-system

http://www.arcadia-farms.net/olla-irrigation-for-a-market-garden/

http://www.globalbuckets.org/p/olla-irrigation-clay-pot-system.html

http://www.oas.org/DSD/publications/Unit/oea59e/ch28.htm

"The Beautiful Underground; Bulbs, Roots, and Tubers"

Travis and the Armenian Cucumber
Travis and the Armenian Cucumber

~ By Greta Long, Student of Sustainable Food Systems

In February, I attended the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference. The annual event serves to unite the region’s agricultural producers and researchers under a single roof, encouraging participants to share farming experiences and expertise. Each of the seminar’s that I attended at the conference was incredibly informative. However, one presentation in particular served to not only educate me, but to also entertain and inspire me: Lorenzo Candelaria’s “The Beautiful Underground: Bulbs, Roots & Tubers.”

In less than two hours, the Cornelio Candelario Organics team managed to thoroughly describe the history, nutritional value and growing conditions of nine different root vegetables: garlic, onion, radish, turnip, beetroot, carrot, potato, sweet potato, and jerusalem artichoke!

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Jerusalem Artichoke

 

Each crop was introduced by Travis McKenzie, who provided the scientific name and its translation in multiple foreign languages. This element of the presentation served to engage the audience quite effectively, as the vast majority of individuals in the room spoke more than one language. Following Travis’ introduction was a detailed historical account of the featured root vegetable. Emma Apodaca (the team’s high school intern) was responsible for delivering this information, summarizing the unique geographical origins, medicinal uses, and nutrients found within the featured vegetable. This component of the presentation portrayed the featured vegetable in historical context, highlighting its benefit to mankind over the span of countless generations. Subsequently, Lorenzo Candelaria offered advice in regard to the growing instructions and conditions of the featured vegetable. The combination of Lorenzo’s scientific knowledge and personal farming experiences seem to contribute to his remarkable success in the world of agriculture. The final contribution to each crop description was a recipe containing the respective root vegetable, presented by Dora Pacias (Lorenzo’s wife). Based on the title of the workshop, I walked into the conference room expecting a presentation that would simply present the logistics of growing bulbs, roots, and tubers. To my pleasant surprise, the seminar left me with a knowledge of root vegetables that isn’t only applicable as a gardener, but as a multi-lingual speaker, historian, and cook as well!

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?

brown_garden_snail02

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

Another way to Gopher Proof

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Gopher deterred by chicken wire – evenbetter to use hard ware cloth.

 

My dear friend Sarah Councell, who is the care taker of Albuquerque Academy’s Bear Canyon experiential site, has a number of raised bed vegetable gardens.  She has been battling thieves!  So she takes extra-ordinary measures to guard against them.  Her system seems to be working – exclusion fences.  Exclusion is more humane and more considerate of the ecosystem ideal of allowing all the members of the community – gopher and humans – to co-exist.  Our DOT garden is just too big to use exclusion, so we have had to trap.  More on gopher trapping in a future blog.

Check out Sarah’s instructions on how to build an exclusion fence so that her overwintering crops can grow unmolested.

http://bearcanyontimes.blogspot.com

Singing Frogs Farm – Student Reflection

Greta Long, Class of 2015 attended the Quivera Conference this past November.  This is what she learned;

“I attended the Quivira Conference in downtown Albuquerque. The theme of the conference was “Back to the Future,” featuring speeches pertaining to the regenerative agricultural movement. Within this realm, the presentations encompassed a wide variety of topics, including the design of resilient agriculture, the integration of carbon and nitrogen cycles, and the significance of agroforestry, among others. Each speech that I listened to was incredibly informative.  The presentation that I found to be the most successful was Paul Kaiser’s speech, titled: “Soil is Life, Tillage is Death: A Future with No-Till Vegetable Agriculture.”

Before viewing this particular presentation, I was unaware of the detrimental impacts of soil tillage. Through its intense process of mechanically digging, stirring, and overturning soil, tillage reduces:

  • The amount of organic matter in soil
  • The presence of soil cohesion (and soil compaction)
  • The water infiltration rate of the soil

Above: Mechanical Soil Tilling Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/Fendt_Tractor_Ripping_up_Kulin.jpg

Clearly, the practice of intensive tillage does not promote the health and longevity of agricultural farmland. At Paul Kaiser’s farm (Singing Frogs Farm), four key components ensure the health of soil:

  1. Disturb the soil as little as possible – This one’s easy; just don’t till!
  2. Grow different species of plants – Incorporate a diverse selection of crops into the garden. In order to do so, Kaiser recommends the use of perennial hedgerows. This technique proves to be advantageous, as it increases food for soil microbes, decreases wind and rain erosion, decreases evapotranspiration, moderates temperature fluctuations, produces animal fodder, attracts native pollinators, attracts beneficial insects (not pests!) and even provides nitrogen fixation.
  3. Cover the soil – At Kaiser’s farm, crop transplanting proves to be an effective method. Transplants guarantee 100% crop coverage, have little to no trouble outcompeting weed species, and spend less time in the field, optimizing maximum annual crop yield.
  4. Keep living plants in the soil as long as possible – Kaiser suggests the use of cover crops to guarantee that the soil remains a living organism and does not stagnate.

 

Above: Perennial Hedgerows at Singing Frogs Farm Source: http://www.singingfrogsfarm.com/Farm_Photo_Gallery.html

Resources:

http://quiviracoalition.org/index.html

http://www.singingfrogsfarm.com/Home.html

Building Our Soil

Our soil analysis proved that our garden had little organic matter, was virtually impermeable to rain and we suspected sparsely populated with living organisms. To breathe life back into the soil, we needed to take some pretty drastic measures.  After consulting with Gordon Tooley (a wholistic orchardist) and Minor Morgan (an organic Farmer) , we decided to doctor our earth with mechanical treatments, massive amounts of compost, (https://www.thedotgarden.org/our-black-gold/) and planting with annual cover crops, (see https://www.thedotgarden.org/improve-the-soil-plant-a-meadow/).

First, we needed to break up the hard pan with a process called sub-soiling. We hooked up a large, knife-like device to a tractor and slowly pulled the “knife” back and forth along the land, digging about 6 to 8 inches down.

DSC_0301
Sub-Soiler
Minor sub-soiling
Minor Morgan sub-soiling
Checking to see correct depth of 6-8 inches
Checking to see correct depth of 6-8 inches

Next, 67 yd3 yards of home-made compost were dumped by truck onto the site.

compostpile3

Two weeks of student labor spread and raked this almost overwhelming amount of compost across the land. Students from the 8th grade earth systems classes, the 10-12 Bio E class, the 10-12 community service students and the 6-12 environmental clubs contributed their muscle and smiles to the operation.

Spreading the Compost
Spreading the Compost

 

raking
Raking the compost

While students labored, the students even thought up math curriculum to share with their peers. How many student work-hours are needed to move 67 yd3 of compost across a ¼ acre of land?

For a while, I wondered if the mammoth pile of compost would ever be leveled. I needed to finish soon, as the students’ enthusiasm for the task began to wane and the school year end was coming on fast.

But like all things good and bad, the end comes and on to the next thing. Karen Bentrup attached the tiller to the tractor, and tilled the compost into the native soil. The ground was irrigated each morning for three days to prepare for the seeds to create the cover crop. Seeding began and the meadow began to grow.

karentractor
Karen Bentrup tilling in the compost.

 

Urban Foraging and the Prickly Pear

Food can be found in places we don’t expect.  The arroyo that runs by my house in a suburb of Albuquerque offers up plump prickly pear tunas every fall, urging me to get out the tongs.   It takes time and patience to harvest and process these magenta marvels, but the delicate flavor is well worth the effort.

Our DOT Garden Team has been harvesting and making prickly pear juice for several years. Below are some of our tips and hints for a glochid-free, wonderful experience! ~Karen Bentrup

Scouting for Prickly Pears

  • Wild-crafting can be really fun and wonderful but these fruits are generally smaller in size.
  • Residential, no-spray cactus are terrific since they usually have received some irrigation, are larger, and generally more accessible.
  • Many home-owners are willing to share. Ask permission first and then say thank you with a jar of their fruit’s jelly!
Lloyd and Karen Harvesting with Tongs

Harvesting

  • A ripe tuna is full magenta, no green on the fruit at the stem end.
  • Definitely use metal tongs for removing fruit. Clasp the fruit the long way and then gently twist. Pops right off. Sometimes you need to tug a bit even if ripe.
  • Drop into large sturdy buckets. No bags.
  • Wear gloves, long sleeved shirt, long pants, closed toe shoes, and for the really safety conscious – sunglasses.
  • Watch where you are standing, leaning and reaching – there are many spines on cactuses.
  • Glochids – these are tiny hair-like short spines clumped together in what look like little round patches all over the fruit. WOW – these hurt.
ppfruit3
More Tunas than we know how to deal with!

Processing

  • There are many ways to process the fruit – burning off glochids, scrubbing with heavy duty brushes, rubbing with thick leather, putting whole fruit into Vitamix!! – all can work. It all depends on what you are doing and where.
  • Our processing tips are for the home or school processing site for juicing.
  • After harvesting, put prickly pears in a big shallow pan or tub and scrub with long handled scrub brushes. Dump onto rinse area and rinse with water. This helps to reduce glochids. Removes bird poop and mouse droppings too!
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Caitlyn using NEW, CLEAN toilet scrubbers!
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Final Rinse with Clean Water
  • Cutting – we used large low-sided trays, held fruit with tongs or metal forks and cut and scooped this way. We liked it better than wearing one heavy duty leather glove.
ppgutting
Scooping the Flesh from the Skin
  • For best jelly – taste and appearance – use only the insides of the fruits. NOT the skins. Cut large fruit down the long axis, using an ice cream scoop, scoop out the pulp and seeds. Put in big pot. Add tiny splash of water to make sure there is liquid in bottom of pot. Bring to quiet boil, simmer and process for 10-15mins max.
ppfruit2
Ready to Cook
  • For juicing – use whole fruits just cut in half and/or the skins left from scooping out the insides. Add enough water to not quite cover the fruit.
  • Strain thru fine mesh strainer. It’s worth $20-30 for a really good double layer, fine mesh strainer. You can also strain thru an old t-shirt and then its tie-dyed! Or use cheese cloth.

 

Low Sugar Prickly Pear Jelly Recipe

  • We did double batches and it worked fine.
  • We did an experiment with Pomona Pectin which relies on a different set of chemical reactions and used Agave. Make sure this powder is completely 100% dissolved before adding to juice or it will be very lumpy.

Ingredients

4 cups prickly pear juice (requires around four pounds of fruit)
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 cups sugar
1 package low sugar pectin

Preparation

  • Pour four cups of the prickly pear juice into a pot and add a half cup of lemon juice.
  • If juice has been refrigerated, bring it up to warm temp BEFORE adding the next dry ingredients.
  • Mix a quarter cup of the sugar and a box of low/no sugar pectin and add to the juice. Sprinkle in slowly while friend stirs.
  • Bring the mixture to a full boil (a rolling boil).
  • Add the remaining sugar slowly and bring back to a full boil.
  • Boil for one minute, stirring constantly. May need to reduce temp a bit or move off and on the burner so it doesn’t boil over.
  • For the next 2 steps, work rapidly so the mixture does not cool and thicken while you are ladling into jars.
  • At end of 1 minute, take off the heat. Using a flat large spoon and skim off the foam.
  • Glass jars should be tempered in really hot water. The sink works well and you can add boiling water periodically to keep them really hot. Put your ladle or metal measuring cup in this hot bath so it’s hot too when you start ladling jelly.
  • Pour into jars.
  • Wipe to remove excess jelly.
  • Set on cooling racks.
  • If applying lids and rings, finger tighten at this point.

Then you can either let the jars cool and refrigerate OR following your favorite canning recipe.

More about the prickly pear

PRICKLY PEAR NOMENCLATURE

Family: Cactaceae (Cactus family)
Latin name:  Opuntia spp.
Tohono O’odham Name:    I:ibhai
Spanish Names:
Fruit:  tuna
Pad/s:  nopal/es

IDENTIFICATION

There are 12 varieties of fruiting Opuntia cactus. Opuntia engelmannii (Englemann’s Prickly Pear) is native to the Sonoran Desert, and likely can found very near your house. Opuntia ficus indica is a larger, cultivated prickly pear that is often thornless and therefore easily harvested. Englemann’s Prickly Pear has pinkish flower buds that open to yellow flowers. The immature fruit is green and matures to red, pink, or magenta. Pads are paddle-shaped and slightly larger than an adult’s outspread hand. Mature pads are green with medium to long spines.

Thanks to Tom, Alia and Barbara MacFarlane for allowing us to harvest their fruit!

For More Recipes see: Edible Prickly Pear–Recipes for Juice

For More Info: Desert Harvesters

How Dead Was Our Soil?

THe Future SIte of the DOT Garden
The Future Site of the DOT Garden

The soil underneath our new DOT garden has suffered thirty years of abuse; compaction, a monoculture of Kentucky blue grass, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and irrigated with highly mineralized water.  This abuse is rampant the world over.

soil-degradation-map

Before we began the restoration of  the soil that was to become the DOT garden’s meadow, we needed to take the pulse of our soil, to know what signs of life might still be present.

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We called our local extension office and set up an appointment to teach our students how to collect and analyze our soil. Cheryl Kent, an NMSU extension soil scientist brought her soil auger, test kits and expertise.

After a short introduction by Cheryl, the students used the augers and applied their elbow grease to drilling down into the cement-like ground to collect 6 to 8 inches of soil. They labeled and packaged the soil and we sent it off to a lab at Colorado State University www.ext.colostate.edu for chemical and physical analysis. While we waited for the results, the students performed their own analyzes in the classroom. Using a colorometric procedure, test kits available from La Motte, the students tested the soil for nitrate, phosphate, potassium, and pH. In addition, the students analyzed the soil for water-holding capacity, percolation rate and soil texture, see this lab procedure.

Both the CSU report and our own analyzes confirmed that almost no organic matter remained in the soil. Our soil pH is basic, consistent with the limestone, parent rock capstone of the Sandia Mountains, and our soil nutrients are all low. Below the surface layer of the nearly impenetrable hard-pan, the texture is a sandy clay loam, which means that the soil will drain at “low to very low rate”.

Though our soil has a high lime content, it does not suffer from the most serious affliction, soil salinization.

The creation of soil in a natural system takes thousands of years, as living things grow, die and decompose, recycling and adding nutrients, providing structure, increasing the soil’s ability to hold water and nutrients in place. A heavily degraded soil will recover on its own in time, lots of time. However, with a small amount of skill and a little knowledge and patience, humans can restore the earth’s fertility quickly and easily. The Land Institute in Kansas can teach us to repair the great prairies of the world.  In our own desert Southwest, Gary Nabhan, Bill DeBuyes, Brad Lancaster and Jack Loffler pioneers land restoration techniques that can help show us the way back to an earth noisy with the bustle of worms and percolation of water.

Meadow in July
Meadow in July

Project Upcycle: Basket-making with Reused Irrigation Drip Tape

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by Tiana Baca, DOT garden manager

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a basket-making workshop put on by the EECapacity Consortium. The EECapacity Consortium is a project of the Town of Atrisco and the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico.

Before delving into the details of basket-making, it’s worth taking a moment to discuss the concept of upcycling. A cousin to the more common term, recycling, upcycling is concerned with reducing waste and reusing materials. However, upcycling also asks us to consider how we might increase the value of a waste product. For example, using a plastic water bottle as a building material or insulation for a home increases the original value of the water bottle. In the context of the basket-making workshop, we took used irrigation drip tape, which would otherwise go to a landfill, and utilized it to make our own bags and backpacks!

Drip tape, also known as t-tape, is a common material used by farmers for irrigating crops. However, the drip tape is only usable to farmers for a few seasons before small holes and build up in the lines make it less efficient for irrigation. At this point, although the drip tape is no longer usable to farmers, it remains a durable plastic which serves as an excellent material for basket-making!

Step 1: Clean, cut, and straighten.

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Cut the drip tape to the necessary length for your desired finished project. In my case, I used 31 pieces cut to about 4′ each (19 for the base and 12 for the sides).

Once the pieces are cut, use a damp cloth to wipe down the lines to remove any dirt. After cleaning, the drip tape pieces should be straightened. This can easily be accomplished by using a wooden block and your foot. Place the drip tape on the block, step on it, and then pull the drip tape up. Do this on both sides of the drip tape.

Step 2: Weave the base.

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Separate the pieces cut for your base into two piles (length and width). My bag was made to be 6×13 (six pieces wide by thirteen pieces long). You, of course, can make your bag any size. However, make sure the total number of pieces used for your base is an odd number so that the weaving pattern works properly.

Lay out your width pieces (they can be held by a brick) and weave in your length pieces as shown above. Once you have woven together all your base pieces, adjust your base so that your woven base is centered and tight. Use clothes pins to hold in place.

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Step 3: Weave in side pieces.

To begin, take a cut piece for the side and use a clothes pin to clip it to one of the center pieces extending off of the base. Weave the side piece around (you’re making a circle) to meet itself. Make sure to double over the end of the piece to help keep it in place. Clothes pins are your friends here.

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Alternating starting sides, continue this process until the desired height is reached. Keep in mind, the bag will begin to take shape once you have 3-4 of of the side pieces woven in. Don’t stress over the tightness of your weaving at this point. You will be able to adjust the tightness later on.

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Step 4: Tighten weaving and finish top edge.

After reaching the desired height of your bag, you can adjust the tightness of the weaving by pulling on   and scrunching down/over the various pieces of drip tape.

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Once you are satisfied with the tightness of the weave, you are ready to finish the top edge of your bag.     Ideally, the unwoven ends protruding from the top will be 5-8” in length. If they are longer, you can cut them to make them more manageable. Then, begin the process of folding over the top pieces and weaving them back into the bag. Note: the ends will alternately be folded to the outside and inside of the bag and woven in. This will maintain the integrity of the weaving.

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Continue until all edges have been folded over. At this point you can once again make tightening adjustments.

 

 

Step 5: Attach straps

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At this point, you’ll have a fully functional basket. However, if you’d like, you can also attach straps. For this project, I used rivets to hold my straps in place. However, non-rivet methods are also possible.

Cut two or more pieces slightly longer than your desired strap length. Weave your straps into the basket a few inches. Drill a hole through the top of the strap where the strap overlaps the basket rim. Then, using a rivet tool, place the rivet in the hole and squeeze to secure.

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Step 6: Rock your bag!

You’re done! Time to take your bag out and show off your handiwork.

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