Category: Water Conservation

Eco-Friendly Gardening Checklist

For many people, gardening is a quiet, relaxing hobby that helps them feel closer to nature. However, many gardening practices don’t positively affect nature to the extent we may believe. For example, Americans use nearly 7 billion gallons of water per day on landscape irrigation, which is about one-third of all the water Americans use each day. Using that much water puts a strain on water supplies and impacts natural resources in other areas. Gardeners also impact the environment in unintended ways by planting non-native plant species, which can affect populations of local plants and even wildlife.

Eco-friendly gardening is becoming more popular as people across the country look to enjoy the benefits of gardening while reducing the harmful effects it may have on the local ecosystem. Through careful planning and good habits, backyard gardens can be a boon to the environment as well as their owners’ mood and well-being. A rain barrel can be kept close by to collect rainwater for watering a garden without depending on outside water supplies, for example. Planting certain types of wildflowers also can help attract birds and helpful insects that can eat harmful pests, which reduces the need for chemical pesticides.

Environment-friendly gardening is easy and just as much fun, while having the added benefits of helping preserve the ecosystem. The tips in the accompanying checklist can help you practice eco-friendly gardening in your backyard. Take a look and see what you can do to make your garden more of a help to the environment.

Infographic created by Power Planter Check out their homepage for more info: https://powerplanter.com/

 

Watering During the Heat of the Summer

We’ve teamed up with the Water Authority to offer a series of new WaterSmart Gardening classes! Check back regularly as we post class content throughout the season.

Class: Watering During the Heat of the Summer (June 9, 2018)

If you’d like a PDF of the powerpoint, check out the link below.

Watering During the Heat of the Summer 2018

 

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.

(https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/newmexico/new-mexico-prairie-and-desert-grasslands.xml)

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!

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.

 

Encouraging Mycorrhizal Growth in Soil to Conserve Water

In order to conserve water in our garden, it is recommended to encourage mycorrhizal growth.

But, first off, what is mycorrhiza?

Mycorrhiza is a type of fungus that has developed a symbiotic relationship with plants, in which it increases the absorption of phosphorus and other nutrients. The plant allows the fungus to attach itself to its root system. Because the amount of water and nutrients a plant can absorb is directly dependent on the surface area of the root system, this relationship increases the ability of plants to absorb what they need. Mycorrhizal networks are able to absorb all 15 essential nutrients for plants, and absorb the nutrients through intricate webs. It also makes certain enzymes that can aid in breaking down hard to claim nutrients such as phosphorus in order to make them easier for a plant to uptake and digest.

This is what it looks like close up:

Ericoid mycorrhizal fungus.jpg“Ericoid mycorrhizal fungus” by MidgleyDJ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ericoid_mycorrhizal_fungus.jpg#/media/File:Ericoid_mycorrhizal_fungus.jpg

And this is what its symbiotic relationship looks like:

File:Vicia sepium9 ies.jpg

Mycorrhizal growth on roots- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vicia_sepium9_ies.jpg

These organisms can help plants thrive naturally and without fertilizer. They are also great at increasing the ability of soil to hold water because the water holding capacity increases as the amount of organic matter does. This means that less water will be lost by evaporation or runoff so that more water is available to the plants and you do not have to irrigate as much. Loss of water to the environment is a major source of water waste. Mycorrhizae produce humus and other organic glues that can hold the soil together and therefore increase water holding capacity.

Conventional gardening, unfortunately, can make it difficult for plants to interact with mycorrhizae. Compaction, top soil loss, and less organic matter discourages mycorrhizae from growing. Often, the effects of conventional gardening on this relationship are dually terrible because it both isolates plants and discourages fungal growth as well as increasing the nutrient needs. This increases the needs for fertilizers and other water-consuming products in the garden.

So how is it possible to encourage mycorrhizal growth?

  1. Add compost, rather than fertilizer, to soil. While fertilizer gives plants nutrients, it is chemical-heavy and strips plants of the need to develop this relationship with mycorrhizae. The chemicals are detrimental to existing fungi and, although providing plants with nutrients, discourage the development of natural nutrition uptake strategies. Adding compost will increase the amount of organic matter in the soil, and develop a more fertile topsoil, thus making an ideal environment for mycorrhizal growth.
  2. Use minimal tillage. When you till the soil, it can disrupt and harm the fungal growth on the roots of plants. It takes a while for mychorrhizae to grow, so tilling every season can be detrimental to colonies.
  3. Plant cover crops. While establishing different kinds of environments for the mycorrhizae, cover crops increase the amount of organic matter in the soil, thus increasing microbial activity and encouraging mycorrhizae to grow.

Mycorrhizae can be a natural defense against what could devastate a garden: drought and nutrient deficiency. It is in many ways essential to healthy, natural garden that does not deplete nutrients in the soil. Who knew such a little organism could make such a big difference?

Resources:

http://www.fungi.com/blog/items/mycorrhizal-management.html

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/212.html

Abundance in the Desert: The Beauty of Winter Storms

While winter storms provided a unique set of challenges, they often bring with them a blessing: water.

The past few weeks have been exceptionally moist here in New Mexico. Rainfall and snow have decorated our landscape with saturated vistas and winter blankets.  While the heat of summer and scarcity of water may be far from our minds, this winter moisture is key to ensuring the health of plants and animals throughout the year.

However, it’s not just how much moisture we get that’s important. It’s how long we get to keep it.

snow and oats

Snowfall provides an excellent opportunity of this concept in action. Following snow fall, take a look outside. Observe each day where the snow has melted and where it remains. Notice micro-climates.

While we’re weeks out from our last big snow storm, snow remains on the ground in some places.  These cooler, protected patches of ground are able to hold onto the snow for longer periods of time and release snow melt at a slower rate. Why does this matter? Slowing down the pace of water moving through a system means the plants and animals in the system can use the water over longer periods of time.

snow 1

While snow provides an excellent visual for this process, we can treat any form of precipitation the same way. How? Mulch. Build organic matter in the soil. Keep plants in the ground year round. Create shade. Dig soil sponges. Utilize swales. Above all, be creative! Observe patterns of success in nature and explore possibilities in your own space.

Rainwater Cisterns Installed at DOT Garden

A keystone element of sustainability is water conservation and, for a desert garden, rainwater collection is paramount. The DOT Garden in collaboration with Adaptive Terrain Systems (a Division of Soilutions), New Mexico Water Collaborative, and the ABC Water Utility Authority designed and installed 3 systems for rainwater harvesting and use.

So how do you begin a rainwater harvesting project?

With lots of questions, planning, and ideas. Research, reading the work of Brad Lancaster, online videos, and the guidance of local experts are all really helpful too. It helps to answer some basics like: How big is the roof? How much water can I use? Is there an overflow plan? Is the water for plants, animals or people? How does this catchment fit in with the big picture for the space now and in the future?

Really great news for all of us!

The New Mexico Water Collaborative is updating a rainwater collection guide for our region. It will have loads of information, installation stories and plans from right here in Albuquerque, plus links to installers, gutter companies, and more. The complete DOTG cistern project will be included here. The Guide should be available spring 2016 in print form and online. Keep checking here FMI: http://nmwatercollaborative.org/projects/rainwater-harvesting-project/

DOTG cistern installation project overview

We installed three rainwater collection systems: cistern #1 in May in the courtyard, and cisterns #2 & #3 in August near our raised bed area. Taking advantage of summer monsoons, we used rain catchment from #1 to irrigate vegetables, supply water for our greenhouse starts, brew compost tea, and supplement a small pond that is home to fish, frogs, and a water source for birds and insects. Cisterns #2 & #3 are serving our major food production area, which includes 9 raised beds and 4 sunken beds devoted to the cultivation of vegetable and grain crops, as well as 10 mature pine trees, and a cover cropped Meadow.

Some cool design features and photos

Cisterns are 1,650 gallons each, about 5’8” tall, 24’ around, and made of heavy duty black cross-linked polyethylene that has been proved to be algae and mold resistant. (Sourced from Phil Monfette, www.ineedawatertank.com )

#1 basic cistern view

We used inexpensive crusher fine, packed down as a substrate and a level pad for the cisterns. (Sourced from Vulcan Materials Company,  www.vulcanmaterials.com )

#2 pad prep crusher fine tamping

To exclude sunlight from making algae and bacteria grow inside the cisterns:

For cistern #1, we updated an existing system which did not have vertical clearance for a bend in the downflow to reduce/eliminate sun from entering the cistern. We had to make an “internal downspout shade” – a small angled piece of metal was screwed into the downspout.

#3 sunshade

For cisterns #2 and #3: Simple elbow-bend in downspout so sunlight cannot enter from above.

(All our guttering repairs and new installations were done by ABQ Gutter Pros, Inc., David Palsce, 505-345-1640.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bulkhead fittings on Cistern #1 are really durable and tight fitting. From Banjo brand valves and fittings( http://www.banjovalves.com )

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Frost-free spigot for gravity outflow at base: Designed by Jim Brooks, this experimental design uses a vacuum breaker, extra long internal pipe, and is tilted toward the outside to prevent freezing. This should allow us to keep water in the cisterns over the winter so that rainwater is available for early spring planting. We may even be able to use it all winter in our row-covered beds. We’ll keep you posted.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Utility-pump assisted outflow from the bulkhead near the top: A standard utility pump is lowered into the tank, rests on the bottom of tank with the pump hose quick-connected to the junction in the vertical hatch area, then standard garden hose is connected for a low-flow pumping outflow. We’ve even got electrical cord dry-connection options on Cisterns #2 and #3 if we want to keep the pumps in longer term.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Custom-designed easy-to-lift downspout connection to the cistern inflow. We needed a connection that was easy to move by kids and adults and we got it! This way we can check easily clean the filter basket, look for biological growth (that we don’t want), and access the pump outflow quick-connect.

#8 custom fittings from downspout

Our OverFlow Plans are fantastic! The internal system is a bit complex but basically allows rainwater inside the cistern to run into internal ABS pipes near the top and then water comes out near the bottom.

#9 inside pipe view

The surge basins, swales and sponges were designed by Tiana Baca, our Garden Manager and permaculturist, with guidance from Adaptive Terrain Systems. All these systems are working really well.

#10 swale for courtyard cistern

Special thanks to the Project Learning Tree Greenworks and William H. and Mattie Wattis Harris for funding this project, Whole Foods Academy for lunches, Jim Brooks and his crews, the participants in our August installation, and all our community volunteers. We got RAINWATER!

WaterSmart Gardening Class

The Desert Oasis Teaching Garden has teamed up with the Albuquerque Water Utility Authority to offer a series of WaterSmart Gardening classes.  Covering everything from waster wise irrigation and catchment techniques to planning a fall garden, this course is a great way to share agricultural knowledge while helping Albuquerque residents earn a water rebate at the same time!

In addition to a thoughtful discussion, we’ve had the opportunity to tour participants around the DOT Garden, highlighting our water saving techniques in action – drip irrigation for raised beds and in-ground gardening, soil sponges for maintaining tree health, sponge & swale systems for flower gardens, and cisterns for rainwater collection.

Garlic Beans Basil

If you’re interested in attending, please register at: http://www.abcwua.org/water-wise-gardening.aspx

See the PDF below for all the information from our presentation, including a great list of resources for your gardening and water catchment questions.

WaterSmart Garden Class – Powerpoint Slides

 

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