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!

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!

images
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!

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.

 

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