Category: school gardens

Cricket Flour Cookies

Written by: Vilheim Piwowarek

Many of us Westerners find the very idea of eating insects distasteful but we’re in the minority. Insects are eaten in 80% of the worlds countries and for good reason. Insects are numerous, can be easily raised humanely with a small carbon footprint, and are high in protein & low in fat. One can even make flour out of ground up crickets and use it to create all sorts of baked goods that have an extra health benefit. Here is a recipe for some tasty cricket cookies, made with flour you can buy (or perhaps make yourself if you have access to truckloads of crickets or grasshoppers).

Cricket Cookies Recipe

Ingredients:

3 cups cricket flour/normal flour mix (or 2½ cups normal flour and ½ cup pure cricket flour)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 sticks softened butter

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

1 tsp almond extract

2 eggs

Optional: 1 cup chocolate chips or topping

Process:

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a bowl, mix the flour(s), baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, add the sugar, butter, and almond extract. Start beating this, then slowly add eggs. Add flour mix and beat until fully combined. You can add chocolate chips/other now or when you set the mix on a pan.

Spoon out the mix onto a standard baking pan. You can size cookies how you like, but one spoon should be sufficient. Also note the bigger you make your cookies the longer they will take to cook. Cook cookies in oven for about 9-10 minutes.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Written by Vilheim Piwowarek, resident entomologist of the DOT Garden. As an insect enthusiast and insectivore, he is very passionate about understanding insect roles in the Garden, alternative pest management, undercutting insect-related misconceptions, and staring at insects for hours at a time. He is starting his Senior year high school.

Growing & Processing Garlic

Written by: Diego Moore

Garlic is amazing! Along with being delicious to eat and great to cook with, it also has many benefits other than its tasty insides. For example, eating garlic can reduce your cholesterol. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are also contained in garlic. Potassium, iron, vitamin C, and calcium are just a few of the nutrients that you benefit from when consuming garlic. Additionally, If you cut the cloves of garlic in half and directly apply to your skin, it can help get rid of acne and cold sores.  In fact, garlic has been used as a health aid since ancient times.

In the garden this summer, I helped harvest and clean garlic. The type of garlic that we harvested in mid-June is called Spanish Roja. To harvest, we loosened the ground around the garlic so it could be pulled out of the ground. We were very cautious to not dig into the vegetable with our shovels. We then carefully placed the garlic in a pile. If we tossed the garlic too vigorously on the ground, it could bruise. Once all the garlic was harvested, it was placed on racks to be dried.

In addition to the process of harvesting the garlic, we also had to clean it. After a few weeks of drying on a rack we began cleaning another type of garlic called Tashkent Violet Streak. To clean the garlic we cut off the stems about an inch from the garlic itself. Then we peeled off the outer wrapper of the garlic which was covered in dirt. Finally, we trimmed the roots as far up as we could without hurting the garlic. When all of the cleaning was done the garlic was set on the drying rack once more. These vegetables were now ready to go to be sorted into seed stock and food for the CSA.

 

I had no idea that harvesting garlic was such an intricate process. I have learned that farmers take time to provide quality food to our families. I definitely have more appreciation for the farmers that deliver the food to our tables.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Diego Moore is a rising sophomore at Albuquerque Academy. Self-proclaimed lover of puppies, kittens, rainbows, and Lucky Charms, Diego also has a passion for music and plays guitar in a band through School of Rock here in Albuquerque.

 

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.

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!

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!

 

International Visitors to the DOT Garden

On Thursday, we had international visitors in the DOT Garden. Sarah Montgomery, Director of The Garden’s Edge, a local non-profit, brought two farmers that she works with in Rabinal, Guatemala. These farmers, Maria Elena and Julian, showed us how they process amaranth, a grain that is critical to their community – in addition to being yummy and super healthy!

Two 7th graders harvesting amaranth at last year's harvest Festival.
Two 7th graders harvesting amaranth at last year’s harvest Festival.

In the DOT Garden, we have grown amaranth because it is a drought-hardy, healthy, and beautiful plant. However, the tiny seeds can be very hard to separate from the rest of the plant after harvesting.

Maria Elena and Julian have a lot of practice winnowing the tiny seeds from the chaffe for both seed saving and food production, and they shared their skills with 8-9 and 6th grade Environmental Club students, as well as a few of our volunteers and friends.

We learned a few important tricks about amaranth:

  • It is much better to harvest amaranth when it is fresh – not dried, as it gets prickly when it dries. When it is fresh you can use your hands to get most of the seeds out of the flowers. If you do dry, you have to do the “amaranth dance” to loosen the seeds (our students ended up having fun with the amaranth dance, although Maria Elena cautioned us that they never do this in Guatemala because then you shouldn’t use it for food).
Students doing the Amaranth Dance to separate seeds from dried amaranth.
Students doing the Amaranth Dance to separate seeds from dried amaranth.
  • You can easily winnow the seeds from the lighter bits of plant using wind or a fan, which Julian was an expert at! Hopefully our 7th graders can do it as gracefully for Harvest Festival on October 2nd.
Julian showing us how to winnow amaranth.
Julian showing us how to winnow amaranth.
  • Amaranth can be used in many ways! You can put the seeds in just about anything, but it is best when popped, which Maria Elena showed us how to do – over high heat and with no oil. All of our students were excited to try the popped amaranth, which was “like miniscule popcorn!” The popped amaranth can be used in cereal bars, on ice cream, or, it seemed, in just about anything. The seeds can be cooked for morning cereal or ground into flour!
6th grade students tasting popped amaranth while Maria Elena demonstrated the popping process.
6th grade students tasting the popped amaranth while Maria Elena demonstrated the popping process.
  • Amaranth is incredibly healthy. It is high in protein and contains complete amino acids. Maria Elena tells us that amaranth aids memory and cognitive function (a nice brain boost for our students in the middle of the day!). In Guatemala, they use amaranth for healthy snacks, especially for pregnant women and young children, in order to prevent childhood malnutrition.

Sarah’s story of working in Guatemala is a wonderful one, and we encourage you to check it out on their website. Working with farmers like Julian and Maria Elena, Sarah helped start a farmer’s collective in Rabinal called Qachuu Aloom “Mother Earth” Association. They work especially with women, many of whom were widowed over the course of Guatemala’s long civil war. Over the years, they have gone from collecting a few heirloom seeds to hundreds of gardens, a scholarship program for young girls, a micro-lending program, and the most recent addition, a maternal health and nutrition program that also trains young people to conduct health assessments on the young children in their community! It is a very impressive organization and we were so lucky to have them share their time with us!

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.

 

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.

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.

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

GOT Gophers?

Rumor has it, that the gopher population on Albuquerque Academy campus has historically been tackled with poison. In spite of the poison, the gophers are still present today in numbers not to be ignored. The playing fields and our DOT garden have gopher holes and mounds reminiscent of Swiss cheese.

Besides failing to reduce the gopher population, the application of poison backfired in a disturbing way – a weasel family enticed to our land by the gopher population, suddenly disappeared.

Worried about how the overpopulation of gophers would impact our garden and dedicated to zero use of chemical pesticides, I attended the New Mexico Organic Farming conference last year and met Sam Smallidge an NMSU extension officer.  Sam specializes in Wildlife Management in gardens and small farms. I called him last week and invited him to come and help us with our gopher “problem”.

Sam swooped into our garden like Mary Poppins, with a big bag of tools for handling our pesky neighbors.

First, Sam set the ground rules for my students and I. He explained to us that rodent control has been a concern since the beginning of human civilization, and even with 21st century technology, rodents are still alive and well in most of our communities. So eradication is not possible and should not be our goal.

owl_4
Resident baby owls
hawk_2
Cooper’s Hawk Perches Nearby

In addition, Sam encouraged us to view the gopher an essentail part of our ecosystem. Gophers provide ecosystem services like soil aeration and are important prey for many of my favorite animals like coopers hawks, coyotes, and the weasel. Encouraging these predators may help us control our gopher population.

Setting up a gopher control program requires us to understand how our rodent lives, what it eats, where it lives and how it reproduces. Learn more about gopher natural history and gopher management.

hardware cloth
Hardware cloth placed at the bottom of the raised beds

Exclusion of the gophers from our raised beds has been easy – hard ware cloth lines the bottoms of the beds, and fencing with chicken wire have helped us keep the gophers out of the veggies. Protecting the surrounding meadow and trees will not be so easy.

Choosing a gopher control program requires us to understand our own humanity. Killing is a part of the natural world. A predator takes its prey without concern for minimizing pain. But, to be human means to consider the manner of death. Minimizing suffering should be our goal.  Gopher traps are designed to kill quickly and efficiently, though the traps success depends on how and where you place them.

Sam taught us how to hunt our gopher. No bait is needed to trap a gopher, but t is important to place the trap in the most recently excavated tunnel. Walking out onto the landscape and stomping each mound down with your feet and then returning the next day will help locate the most recent gopher activity.

Sam then taught us to read the gopher mound’s structure in order to find the gopher’s main tunnel by poking the earth with a long metal rod. He showed us how to dig out the tunnel with a Bonsai knife, in order to place the trap. He showed us several different types of traps – each with a different advantage. Most traps should be tethered and flagged so that the trap does not disappear into the crevasses or tall grasses of the landscape. (link for gopher trap choices and management)

We are now heading into winter, and our vegetable gardens have been put to bed. But since gophers do not hibernate,  we can still hunt our prey and will now have more time to concentrate our efforts on reducing our gopher population. Next week, my students and I will set our gopher traps. Once the traps have been set, we will wait a few days before checking them to see if they have caught  a gopher. Together, my students and I will learn the big lesson that few city folks will get – taking life in order to give life.

DIgging out the entrance
DIgging out the entrance
Probing for the Tunnel
Probing for the Tunnel

As the Native Americans do, we shall say a prayer of thanks to Mother Earth for the abundance of life as we return the gopher body to the soil.

Improve the Soil; Plant a Meadow

Almost finished spreading the Compost
Almost finished spreading the Compost

Without a living carpet of green, the good compost we spread across our land would quickly wash away down the slope in the late summer monsoon rains.  In the spring, while we waited for the comprehensive design to further build our garden, we decided to grow a meadow of annual plants whose roots would hold our soil/compost in place, further enrich our soil with nutrients, help to break up the hard-pan layer of earth, as well as add beauty. We chose a seed mix from Curtis and Curtis Seed company that included barley, monida oats, winter Peas, hairy vetch, and red and white Clovers plus a southwest wildflower mix.  With this selection of seeds, we were planning for a cover crop with leguminous plants to help fix nitrogen in our soil.

 

Our soil restoration plan has its roots in ideas adapted from Wes Jackson and the Land Institute.

 

Broad Casting the Seed
Broad Casting the Seed

To broadcast the seed, The 8th grade science students fanned out, an arms width away from each other across the prepared earth.  With a small bucket of seeds, the students were asked to broadcast the seed in an arc.  Then each student would step forward in unison across the land broadcasting and stepping until they reached the end of the prepared earth.

 

 

 

 

The students then raked the seed into the soil, not too deep, not too shallow.

Raking the Seed into the Soil

With the seed evenly distributed, the land  needed to be watered twice each day until germination.  If the soil dried out, the seed would not germinate.  Spring in New Mexico can be very hot, very dry and VERY windy.

Within the week, our first small green sprouts poked through the soil.  Soon we could see the entire field flush with inch tall barley and squat round lobed oats. Anticipation of mid-summer wildflowers buzzing with bees brought smiles to our faces.

Red Clover will add Nitrogen to our Soil
Red Clover will add Nitrogen to our Soil
Pollinator Heaven
Pollinator Heaven
Meadow in July
Meadow in July