Category: Student Activities

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.

 

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

By: Elisabeth Lawton

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

 The DOT Garden is always growing

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

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

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

White row cover shields our delicate lettuce.

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

 

Bottled Sunlight: Making Calendula Salve

By: Tanya Hebert

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

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

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

Tie-Dye With Native Plants

By: Tanya Hebert

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

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

 

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.

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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.

 

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

 

Fall Production in Our Raised Beds

Caitlyn and Brooke plant our Fall Crops
Caitlyn and Brooke Plant our Fall Crops

Summer has been wonderful in our 7 raised beds – one permanently planted in herbs and the other 6 rotating crops. Three beds are continuing to grow tomatoes, peppers, and Amaranth into these warm early fall days.

Three beds have just been planted with cooking greens like kale, mustard greens and spinach (which is also a salad green), root vegetables like turnip and beet which will also provide greens, and one bed of salad mixes. Our new interns, Brooke and Caitlyn, learned how to direct seed, create rows, set irrigation lines, and spread a thin layer of straw. They will be hand watering in the seeds and newly sprouted plants, then switching to drip irrigation once plants mature. We are adding hoop-supported row cover this week to prevent flying-hopping insect pests like grasshoppers (seen them lately?!) and other cold crop (Brassica oleracea) attacking moths. We’ll keep you posted as to the progress of our wonderful fall beds.

Grow the Future

The Candelario Farm
The Candelaria Farm

Last Monday, 150 8th grade students visited 5 farms located throughout Albuquerque’s valley, where farmers have been growing food for centuries.  My team of students was invited to Lorenzo Candelaria’s Farm, located in the South Valley, where Lorenzo has nourished his family for over 300 years.

Lorenzo sharing his knowledge with the 8th Grade Students
Lorenzo sharing his knowledge with the 8th Grade Students

Before the Rio Grande was channelized and controlled by levees and damns in the early 1900’s, when the Rio traversed the mile-wide flood plain, most farmland was inundated each spring, making growing food a dicey proposition.  However, for most of the 300 years that the Candelaria family has farmed, the floods swerved around their plot of land, allowing the family to continuously provide for each generation of children, each generation passing down the traditional agricultural knowledge of growing corn, beans and squash.

IMG_0991

Today, Lorenzo’s grandchild, now only 8, will become the 8th generation of farmer to tend the land.  Lorenzo’s gift to his grandson is more precious than gold.  Lorenzo’s deep knowledge of the land is coupled with a spirit of gratitude and an appreciation that all life is connected.  Five years ago, Lorenzo returned his land to an ethic echoed by many in the sustainable food movement.  Lorenzo certified his land as USDA organic, in an area of town where I suspect most people have not the coin to spare on such seemingly extravagant credentials.  But more than this certification, Lorenzo speaks of a care for the soil, the plants and the animals that made me want to cry out and hug the small gentleman with joy.

Now the Fields are flooded using the Acequia System
Lorenzo’s fields are irrigated with water from the  Acequia.

As we strolled along the acequia, Lorenzo told me about the problem that he had had in his greenhouse with ants.  The ants were infesting the greenhouse and destroying his tomatoes.  He told me that everywhere that he had asked about how to remove the ants, he was given ways to kill the ants.  Reluctant to employ even organic, non-toxic extermination methods, Lorenzo continued his research.  He read somewhere that ants did not like water, so Lorenzo devised a way to flood the floor of his greenhouse by filling up buckets with small holes in the bottom, continuously providing a gentle stream to dampen the floor.  The ants picked up house and moved away – just to the outside of the greenhouse, out of range of Lorenzo’s valuable crops.  Lorenzo explained that ants have right to life, that they too have a spirit.

Lorenzo's Farm harbors frogs too!
Lorenzo’s Farm harbors frogs too!

Lorenzo’s farm has expanded beyond his ancestor’s crops of corn, beans, squash, and chilies.  He now grows asparagus, blackberries, several varieties of cucumbers, melons and even his chilies have a modern face – their scoville value is 600,000!  We were warned not to touch our skin with these as they could burn on contact.

Lorenzo’s mission is to feed his community with more than just nutritious food.  His mission is to feed the soul of his community – to reconnect them with the spirit of the land.  He invites children and adults to come and learn, to dig the soil, to plant the seed and harvest the fruits.

8th grade students dig the soil
8th grade students dig the soil

Our thirty 8th grade students listened, learned, tended and tasted.   Inspired by Lorenzo’s gentle stories and Travis McKenzie’s charismatic teachings, our students gained a cultural experience that has the potential to change their lives.

8th grade students plant the seeds
8th grade students plant the seeds

To learn more about the Grow the Future, contact Travis https://www.facebook.com/GTFNM

To purchase Cornelio Candelaria’s Organic produce http://usdaorganicfarms.com/item/cornelio-candelaria-organics/