The Desert Oasis Teaching Garden has teamed up with the Albuquerque Water Utility Authority to offer a series of WaterSmart Gardening classes. ??Covering everything from waster wise irrigation and catchment techniques to planning a fall garden, this course is a great way to share??agricultural knowledge while helping Albuquerque residents earn a??water rebate at the same time!
In addition to a thoughtful discussion, we’ve had the opportunity to tour participants around the DOT Garden, highlighting our water saving techniques in action –??drip irrigation for raised beds and in-ground gardening, soil sponges for maintaining tree health, sponge & swale systems for flower gardens, and cisterns for rainwater collection.
If you’re interested in attending, please register at:??https://www.abcwua.org/water-wise-gardening.aspx
See the PDF below for all the information from our presentation, including a great list of resources for your gardening and water catchment questions.
While all this wet weather is a desert blessing, it???s also important to keep an eye out for moisture loving pest problems in your garden. If you have tomatoes, here are a few fungi to keep an eye out for.
Early Blight, caused by the fungus Alternaria solani, is common on garden tomatoes and potatoes, and also occasionally infects eggplants and peppers
Symptoms typically appear soon after fruit set, starting on the lower leaves as tiny dark brown spots.?? The spots enlarge to over 1/2 inch in diameter and develop a grayish-white center with a darker border.?? As the spots enlarge, they develop concentric, target-like rings.?? Spots may also develop on fruit and stems.?? Stem spots may enlarge to girdle the plant.
With the progression of the disease, leaves turn yellow and the spots make them appear “freckled.????? Eventually the leaves turn brown and drop off.?? Black pycnidia (fungal fruiting bodies that appear as pinhole sized black dots) form in the center of the spots as they mature.
Septoria leaf spot is caused by a fungus, Septoria lycopersici. It is one of the most destructive diseases of tomato foliage and is particularly severe in areas where wet, humid weather persists for extended periods.
Septoria leaf spot usually appears on the lower leaves after the first fruit sets. Spots are circular, about 1/16 to 1/4 inch in diameter with dark brown margins and tan to gray centers with small black fruiting structures. Characteristically, there are many spots per leaf. This disease spreads upwards from oldest to youngest growth. If leaf lesions are numerous, the leaves turn slightly yellow, then brown, and then wither. Fruit infection is rare.
So you have blight/septoria, now what?
Here are some immediate and long term pest management strategies:
1. Remove diseased leaves. If caught early, the lower infected leaves can be removed and burned or destroyed. However, removing leaves above where fruit has formed will weaken the plant and expose fruit to sunscald. At the end of the season, collect all foliage from infected plants and dispose of or bury. Do not compost diseased plants.
2.Improve air circulation around the plants. If the plants can still be handled without breaking them, stake or cage the plants to raise them off the ground and promote faster drying of the foliage.
3.Mulch around the base of the plants. Mulching will reduce splashing soil, which may contain fungal spores associated with debris. Apply mulch after the soil has warmed.
4.Do not use overhead watering. Overhead watering facilitates infection and spreads the disease. Use a soaker hose at the base of the plant to keep the foliage dry. Water early in the day.
5.Control weeds. Nightshade and horsenettle are frequently hosts of Septoria leaf spot and should be eradicated around the garden site.
6.Use crop rotation. Next year do not plant tomatoes back in the same location where diseased tomatoes grew. Wait 1???2 years before replanting tomatoes in these areas.
7.Try a copper based fungicide spray.Fungicides will not cure infected leaves, but they will protect new leaves from becoming infected. If it rains, you will need to reapply the spray.
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.
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.
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.
~ 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!
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!
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 https://www.plantsofthesouthwest.com/ or visit https://www.thinktreesnm.org/??? ~Karen Beamish
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?
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?
Q: Why is tilling bad for the soil and how do I garden without tilling?
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??Soilutionshttps://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
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?
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
Q:??How do I protect the strawberries I plan to grow from the snails in my garden without using harmful pesticides?
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 https://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!??https://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; firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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
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:
Disturb the soil as little as possible ?????This one???s easy; just don???t till!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next, 67 yd3 yards of home-made compost were dumped by truck onto the site.
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.
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 ?? 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
4 cups prickly pear juice (requires around four pounds of fruit)
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 cups sugar
1 package low sugar pectin
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.
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!