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The Ancient Science of Ollas

By Elisabeth Lawton, Bio E student at AA.

Olla irrigation has been present for thousands of years. Ancient documentation from various cultures spread across several continents proves that clay pot irrigation has been one of the most successful, long lasting irrigation methods ever. Chinese texts that are well over 2000 years old mention clay pot irrigation. The Romans used ollas. Olla irrigation can be found in the Middle East, India, and Central and South America. It's clear that olla irrigation is wildly successful across the planet; this begs the question, how does it work? What is the science behind the function? Read further to find out.

Very simply put, ollas slowly leak out water to feed the plants. However, the process is a lot more delicate and refined than that. Ollas are made of low-fire and unglazed clay; as a result, they are porous. The olla wall is filled with miniscule holes that allow a liquid, like water to slowly move through the wall of the olla. The movement of the water across the olla wall is stimulated by a water concentration gradient. A concentration gradient describes how much of a substance is on one side of a barrier compared to the other side. The soil water potential determines how strong the gradient is. The term soil water potential describes how much water the soil is prepared to absorb. If the soil is very dry, it has a high soil water potential and a more extreme gradient, which will pull more water from the olla. The concentration gradient of the water of the soil vs. the olla powers water movement due to the desire to reach equilibrium. Nature strives to be in equilibrium, meaning that everything is balanced. All in all, the soil outside the olla sucks at the water so that it seeps through the olla wall and into the soil.

source: https://plowhearth.com/images/Content/Olla-diagram.jpg

source: https://plowhearth.com/images/Content/Olla-diagram.jpg

The olla naturally operates under atmospheric pressure, meaning that it works under that natural conditions of the surrounding air and environment, and does not need any man-made forces. Because only forces of nature are regulating the olla's water release, it is a very delicate and sensitive system. Water will only be drawn from the olla until the olla has reached its field capacity. This means the soil has sufficient water for the plants, but there is still plenty of space in the soil pores. Traditional surface irrigation can result in saturation, when the soil is overwatered and no soil pores with air space remain. This causes anaerobic conditions and is detrimental to the soil. Use of ollas also prevents soil from reaching its wilting point, where there is too little water in the soil for the plants to survive.



Water from the olla can reach several inches away from the olla due to soil capillary action. Water molecules are attracted to other molecules more strongly than they are attracted to each other, and stick to the other particles. The water molecules crawl along, sticking to other particles, until there are no more water molecules to spread. Plant roots naturally sense the moisture and grow in that direction. Because the irrigation occurs below the surface, evaporation and run off are not an issue. Evaporation occurs when water molecules on the surface of the soil turn into their gaseous phase and leave the soil ? then the plants cannot use them. Runoff occurs when the soil cannot absorb water quickly enough and the excess water flows off the surface and somewhere else, where the target plant cannot reach it.



Ollas rely on the simplicity of natural forces to function, which makes them both simple and ideal. Thousands of years ago, humans were using the same scientific principles to water their crops. Maintaining this tradition will ensure that water is conserved and used efficiently to sustain life.

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Wet Weather Pest Problems

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
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.
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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:??https://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: https://durablegreenbed.com/olla-pots/ )

olla irrigation Diagram (source: https://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.


(source: https://sustainablescientist.net/category/olla-irrigation/)


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.







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Ask An Organic Grower


Last Spring the Apricots bloomed early.

Now that spring is just around the corner ( it reached 70 degrees F last week in ABQ!) our garden team hosted a panel discussion for our community to ask questions about how best to grow and tend a garden using organic principles. Here are some of the fabulous questions and the answers our team, Wes Brittenham, Minor Morgan, Julie Hirshfield, Tiana Baca, Karen Bentrup and Karen Beamish provided:

Q: Given all the warm weather that we are having, is it too late to prune my fruit trees?

A: 'Wes Brittenham from Plants of the Southwest told us that contrary to what most of us have been taught about pruning ? the best time of year to prune is during the growing season. This new paradigm was presented at this year's Think Trees Conference in February in Albuquerque. To learn more contact Wes https://www.plantsofthesouthwest.com/ or visit https://www.thinktreesnm.org/' ~Karen Beamish

A: Tiana Baca also suggested looking into fruit tree grafting workshops held by Michael Reed. To learn more about Michael Reed's permaculture philosophy, to purchase his trees and find out about his workshops visit https://www.localflavormagazine.com/grounded/ and https://erdagardens.org/

Q: Will my new water softener negatively affect the plants in my garden?

A:??'Yes!Don't use chemical-based water softeners for water destined for irrigation. The salts used to neutralize hard water can damage soil and plants. An organic alternative is to use the ZetaCore device, utilizing an??electrolysis process. See??Zeta-Core – Water Conditioning for ‘Water that Works’ 2008. Also the use of the Zetacore makes nutrients available to the plant that are normally precipitated out of water. ? ~ Minor Morgan

Q: How do I rid my garden of bindweed without using herbicides?


A: 'On our farm we have accepted bindweed as part of the ecosystem and plant all cash crops into a weed barrier, a permeable cloth that physically??prevents bindweed from killing plants. See Shop Landscape Fabric at Lowes.com' ~ Minor Morgan

A: 'A permaculture friend, Michael Reed, has a unique perspective on weeds, acknowledging that every plant/animal in a system has a function. As such, if you want to get rid of ?weeds' you need to understand what their role is in the system so that you can take over that need/role. In the case of bindweed, not only do we see it often in very disturbed landscapes but it also has incredibly long roots, which may indicate that the plant is working to aerate the soil while stabilizing the earth as well. This perspective/approach to weeds may not be feasible in all situations but it does encourage a different perspective for thinking about weeds.' ~Tiana Baca

Q:??What recommendations do you have for fruit tree varieties that will thrive in our high desert climate?

A: 'In our microclimate here in the North Valley we get a lot colder at night and have a high “chill hour” environment. Many fruit trees including peaches require a certain number of hours in dormancy when the air temperature is below 45 degrees. This is known as a chill hour. For our microclimate, we go with peach cultivars with high chill hours such as Contender (1050 chill hours), Cresthaven (850 chill hours) and Redhaven (950 chill hours). Gordon Tooley, a local orchardist is an expert in cultivating fruit trees that are adapted to our high desert climate. See??Tooley's Trees apple apricot cherry pear plum other trees & shrubs planting & tree care. Tooleys Trees P.O.Box 392 Truchas, New Mexico 87578 (505) 689-2400 https://tooleystrees.com/' ~Minor Morgan

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??Soilutions https://soilutions.net/' ~Minor Morgan

?A complex, symbiotic relationship exists between the soil surface and??the micro-organisms deep in the soil, which contributes to a natural,??healthy soil structure. Digging into or tilling the bed can interfere with??this process and disturb the growing environment. It can also cause soil??compaction and erosion, and bring dormant weed seeds to the surface where??they will sprout. With no-till gardening, once the bed is established the??surface is never disturbed. Amendments such as compost, manure, peat, lime??and fertilizer are top dressed, i.e added to the top of the bed where they??will be pulled into the subsoil by watering and the activity of subsoil??organisms. Weeding is largely replaced by the use of mulch. By adding??material in layers, the underlying soil surface remains spongy, making it??easy for the young roots of newly planted seedlings to work through the??soil. This is similar to the way soil is formed in nature. ? ~Julie Hirshfield

Q: How do I keep roaches out of my worm bin?

A:??'Worm Bins (AKA vermicomposting bins) can be kept in ways that reduce roach infestation. These worms, the red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) like to live just under leaf litter in that fantastic microbially active decompositional zone where it is very moist, dark, warm, even temperatured, and layered. Worms don’t have teeth, they are slurpers! Microbes break down the organic matter and the worms slurp it up.

Here are some common problems that can increase the roach interest in your worm bin:

  • throwing whole or large parts of food into the bin. If you toss in a half of a rotten potato, it will take so long for the microbes to break it down, it isn’t really worm food – it’s a roach or mouse attractor.
  • putting the food on TOP of your bin material – red wigglers like it moist and dark. They will rapidly retreat from sunlight and light. So food on top, does not get broken down, and it sits there – smelly and attractive to roaches. Pull back the bedding and spread the food out.
  • feeding too often for the number of worms. Yes red wigglers eat alot but they are small, so feed in small batches and check every other day or so to observe the progress, then adjust. Worms eat more when it’s warm and less when it’s cold.
  • dumping a big pile of food scraps in one place. You need to spread this out, think thin layers.
  • Remember, worms need it moist. Don’t flood your bin but keep them very moist – if your bedding were a sponge and you picked it up and gently squeezed water should drip slowly out – that moist.

A worm bin is not like a large outdoor “dump and forget” compost pile(which works for a non-worm composting system). Think of your worms like tiny livestock – they need correct living environment and feed.?? Great online resources include Rodale Institute, county extension services, and master gardener programs. And the classic, Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof – at your library! Happy worming!' ~ Karen Bentrup

wormbin (1)


Q: What can I do about tree roots encroaching into my raised bed?

A: ?Really, optimal garden placement is the smartest thing you can do.'?If??you have trees all around the beds, you can build a root barrier.'?It’s a??big job though – you need to dig a trench about 18 inches wide and deeper??than the tree roots (often a at least a few feet deep), prune any visible??roots, line the trench with galvanized metal, and back fill the trench.'~Julie Hirshfield

Q:??Where can I locally source seeds?

Marigold seed we harvested from the DOT garden

Marigold seed we harvested from the DOT garden

A: ?If you are looking to buy seeds from NM companies, there are just a few resources: Plants of the Southwest and Epic Seeds. However, Native Seed Search and Seed Savers Exchange also offer regionally adapted varieties of non-GMO seed. Other good non-GMO seed sources are Wild Garden See, Johnny's Selected Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Peaceful Valley, and Baker Creek Seeds. Baker Creek also works with ethnobotanists and often showcases wonderful stories about the history and origin of different plants.' ~Tiana Baca

A:??“If you want to learn how to save seed, there is an upcoming workshop at the Rio Grande Library on February 28th. Find Details:??https://libevents.abclibrary.org/event/894822?hs=a

Q:??How do I protect the strawberries I plan to grow from the snails in my garden without using harmful pesticides?


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; beamish@aa.edu

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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: https://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: https://www.singingfrogsfarm.com/Farm_Photo_Gallery.html




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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.



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.


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 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 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.


Karen Bentrup tilling in the compost.


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Meadow Moat to Prevent the Goat!


The Goat Head – Garden Scourge commons.wikimedia.org

One of our community volunteers pulled goat heads out of the Meadow and then tilled today. We now have a ?till strip' or ?weed moat' around part of the beautiful DOT Meadow.

Meadow Moat

Meadow Moat

Here’s Why: Our Meadow is filled with cover crops that flourished all summer thanks to terrific advice and seeds from Curtis & Curtis Seeds, Plants of the Southwest, and Miller's Feed & Supply – all New Mexico seed suppliers. (check out our Resources section for links).IMG_1104 We grew wonderfully prolific crops, including Barley, Monida Oats, Winter Peas, Hairy Vetch, and Red and White Clovers plus a southwest Wildflower Mix. Our Meadow has been incredible – attracting pollinators, hummingbirds, solitary huge bees, beneficial flying insects, and young rabbits (not our favorite!). The abundant growth drove the pocket gophers right out of the area. Gophers??much prefer open, dry, low grass or minimal plant growth. Goat Heads snuck into the west side of the Meadow and escaped our late summer attention and were covered??with sharp and nasty spines. Goat Heads are also called Puncturevine (as our cyclists friends know well). This plant, Tribulus terrestris, is an annual plant in the Caltrop Family, widely distributed around the world, and is well-adapted to grow in dry climate locations in which few other plants can survive. It is an invasive species in North America. In addition to spreading by seeds, it reaches out with lengthy vining portions of the plant. So to prevent Goat Heads from creeping into our Meadow and making it impossible to walk through with students for plant identification hunts, weeding, and re-seeding each season – we tilled a rototiller-wide strip just outside the Meadow to create a barrier to slow the weed invasion. We will repeat this tilling a few times until frost kills the plant. This is not a permanent solution, just a way to deter or diminish invasion. A till strip can be used in residential areas, but is more common in farm-scapes. Our use for this Meadow is for soil improvement until we are able to fundraise sufficiently to begin developing this space into specialty demonstration gardens. So, we need to reduce goat head intrusion. And yes, tilling does disturb soil microbes and their larger insect buddies, but one thin strip will not permanently harm this acre of space. While we don't spray anything but OMRI approved chemicals, this website is a fun read about puncturevine:?? www.goatheads.com. OR we could harvest the goat heads and sell them. Apparently this plant is used by both??Chinese traditional and Indian Ayurvedic medicine for increasing physical and sexual strength!

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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


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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.

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Our Black Gold

Albuquerque Academy's on-site Compost Yard

Albuquerque Academy’s on-site Compost Yard

According to the UN's FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), ?food wastage ranks as the third top emitter of green house gases after the USA and China.'1?? Most food waste in the United States ends up in the landfill, anaerobically decomposing into methane gas, which escapes into the atmosphere contributing to global warming.?? Methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas (30 times more powerful than CO2)2 is overlooked by most of us in its ability to turn up the earth's thermostat.?? But we also over look the fact that food waste dumped into a landfill is a wasted resource. At Albuquerque Academy, 1200 people eat lunch every day at the school's dining hall.?? In 2008, my students measured a disturbingly large amount of food waste (1700 pounds/week) produced and thrown out in the trash, trash which is then driven 40 miles out to the Cerro Colorado Landfill on the west side of the city.?? In 2009, the AA sustainability program seized an opportunity to turn our food waste into black gold.?? Consulting with Walter Dods from Soilutions, Tim Grey with the NM Environment Department and Steve Glass, a microbiologist, we set up an on-site compost facility, managed by Mark Mellott, an AA employee trained with the NM Master Composting program.

Green BIns Make Composting Easy

Green Bins Make Composting Easy

The process for making our black gold is easy and the ingredients are free.?? Students and adults easily sort the food-waste. Since our food waste is decomposed in large thermopiles, all food waste, paper products and even wooden popsicle sticks can be composted.?? The decision ?to compost or not to compost' comes down to the question ?was this waste once alive'? The food waste is collected each day in clearly labeled, distinct green bins ? made easy to transport by the trolley wheels they sit upon.?? Brown materials needed for the carbon content, such as wood chips and manure are given and delivered to us for free.?? Landscape companies are eager to drop off their chipped material so that they don't have to pay a fee at the dump.?? A local horse farm is equally thrilled to bring us their poop. Periodic temperature measurements of the thermopile, application of water, and turning by our front loader result in a rich compost ready to be sifted and applied to our gardens and fields within 6 months.

Compost piles are monitored for temperature,

Compost Piles Are Monitored for Temperature,

Money saved from waste disposal fees and fertilizer costs add up to roughly $20,000 a year! But??the real winner is the soil.?? This black gold will not only return nutrients to the depleted soil, but also provide habitat to the soil organisms, and most critically in the desert ecosystem, increase the soil's water holding capacity. And educating our students and community about the value of composting is our primary goal.

Students learning about the whole process of composting

Students Learn About the Whole Process of Composting

To learn more about how you can reduce your own food waste: THINK EAT SAVE

1 https://www.climatecentral.org/news/food-waste-worsens-greenhouse-gas-emissions-fao-16498

2 https://blogs.princeton.edu/research/2014/03/26/a-more-potent-greenhouse-gas-than-co2-methane-emissions-will-leap-as-earth-warms-nature/

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