The first rose of spring

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My wife loves roses. She is growing two plants for their flowers, especially their scent, in containers on the south side of our house in an especially warm microclimate. Roses are marginal here. She’s been putting the roses in the garage on especially cold nights for the last month. Older rose varieties, like Rugosa roses and wild rose species, handle our cold spring nights at 7,000 feet better; some have large rose hips (rose fruits) that make excellent tea and can be preserved for jelly/jam.

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Signs of spring

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The pea seedlings are coming up in our community garden plot, and fruit trees and shrubs are in the middle of flowering, like these bright yellow barberry flowers. It might be a great barberry year, like 2014 was in Flagstaff, AZ. I’ll have to decide if I’m going to make barberry juice or jam.

We’ve started a new garden plot at the neighborhood community garden

LynnAnnRose and I have a plot at our neighborhood community garden. After removing the drip irrigation tubing and raking back last year’s straw mulch, we prepared the soil and planted some pre-sprouted sugar snap peas and radishes so far. The soil is sandy, in contrast to the compacted, silty soil in Flagstaff; it required very little loosening. We had to buy some compost to spread on top since we don’t have our own compost bin yet. Compost works to improve all types of soil. We added plenty of new straw mulch on top to prevent soil water evaporation. The tomato cages on top are preventing the mulch from blowing away.

We bought the pea and radish seeds and other heirloom seeds from Native Seed/SEARCH, including one of LynnAnnRose’s favorite foods, Chimayo chiles. Chimayo is a small village not far from Santa Fe. The chiles have been grown for centuries by Hispanic farmers in the region. We also have some purchased seedlings of vegetables and herbs that will be planted mostly in out back and front yards. We plan to save the seeds from the open-pollinated varieties.

Native Seed/SEARCH is a regional seed bank for Native American and Southwest Hispanic seed varieties. Limited quantities of these seeds are available for purchase.

Spring is here early—more food & gardening posts coming soon

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We’ve been doing some kitchen remodeling. My Santa Fe kitchen had no stove vent. One has finally been installed by bartering baked goods and other vegan goodies with a friend who is good at home remodeling. I put the iron stove grills on this 50 lb wheat bag from my local food cooperative to keep them out of the way. Pablo decided this would be a good place to sit, naturally.

Spring has arrived a few week early, thanks to climate change. This past weekend I’ve started gardening at my neighborhood community garden and have also been using my solar cooker. I need to work on posting up some new blog posts this week.

My new neighborhood

My neighborhood is in south Santa Fe. It has a large park-like trail system that crisscrosses the neighborhood and circles through pinyon-juniper forest. The pinyon-juniper woodlands include typical understory vegetation like the yellow-flowered rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa, commonly known as chamisa), prickly pear cacti, and agaves. The small arroyo (dry wash) pictured empties into the Santa Fe River. The Santa Fe River flows west to the Rio Grande River, which joins with other regional river like the Pecos. The river flows through northeast Mexico and eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Within the developed part of the neighborhood, the landscaping is irrigated and includes many fruit trees and shrubs, including apples, apricots, plums, peaches, and barberries. I easily collected a large bowl of apples on the pictured walk. Last year, the HOA built a community garden with raised beds; I need to get on the waiting list for nest year.

At almost the identical elevation to Flagstaff (7,000 feet), Santa Fe is further away from the nearest mountain range, the Sangre de Christos to the east, than Flagstaff is from the San Francisco Peaks, so the climate is a little warmer (five to 10°F) and the monsoon rains tend to happen later in the afternoon and evening than in Flagstaff (monsoon storms begin the mountains and repeatedly re-create themselves as they move away from their origins and down in elevation). Mornings are almost always sunny. The Jemez mountains are to the west. To the south are the Sandia and Cerillos peaks. Catholic Franciscan missionaries got here before other European religious denominations and named everything they could in the Southwest, often after St. Francis De Assisi; Flagstaff’s main north-south street is San Francisco St., while Santa Fe’s is St. Francis Dr.

Across the main east-west road in southern Santa Fe is a section of the city’s wonderful fully paved urban trail system named after rabbitbrush (Arroyo De Los Chamisos Trail). The view from my bike (last photo) is what I get to see on nearly every trip to the north and east of my neighborhood. A lot of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) grows along the arroyo. The Rail Trail runs through the city alongside a commuter train track connecting Santa Fe and Albuquerque; that trail has a much more urban feel to it because it heads directly downtown. I bicycle on the roads as little as possible, mainly towards a shopping district to my west.

Solar cooking in my Santa Fe backyard

Most of my new backyard faces west and north and is heavily shaded by trees. However, a strip of land along the northern side of the house receives plenty of sunlight between the morning and early afternoon during the couple of months on either side of the summer solstice. I’ve decided to use my solar cooker there, directly on the ground, for now. Monsoon clouds and rain tend to appear in the afternoons when that piece of land is shaded by the house anyway. I like this location because there is easy access to the kitchen through the patio door and the dining room. I am storing the cooker uncovered underneath the patio overhang to protect it from rain. During late fall, winter, and early spring, I’ll have to use the cooker in front of my house, which faces south; that location will require carrying food up and down half a flight of stairs, and through the front door and front gate, and storing the cooker in the garage.

Solar cooking forgotten lentils in the pantry

I’m in the process of packing for our move to Santa Fe, New Mexico. One thing I’m doing is cooking remaining foods in storage so that there is less stuff to move. I found this several-year-old jar of brown lentils in the pantry. Lentils last forever, at least in terms of human lifetimes, making them good for long-term/emergency storage.

I decided to cook the entire jar. Now that the summer solstice is fast approaching, the rod at the back of my solar cooker is adjusted so that the cooker face is almost horizontal to capture the most sunlight during the middle of the day when the sun is almost directly overhead. Lentils are quick-cooking legumes and don’t need pre-soaking.

Lentils are cool season legumes that grows well at high altitudes. In hot climates like the Middle East, Ethiopia and India, where they are staples of local cuisines, they are grown during the cooler months. In my climate, however, they are grown during the summer.