Signs of spring


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


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.

An experiment in growing my own bread wheat

Upper photo: One month old heirloom wheat seedlings (wheatgrass) I grew in a community garden plot a few years ago. I planted the seeds May 1. The photo was taken May 31.

Lower photo: My ready-to-harvest wheat in late August.

I saved the seeds for several years. I ground the hard spring wheat variety into excellent sourdough bread flour.

Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains:  A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens.

Wild Bread: Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen.

Community composting at Juniper Street Community Garden

How we compost

If your living situation does not permit construction of an outdoor compost pile, consider starting an indoor worm-composting bin (vermicomposting). Alternatively, look for a neighbor or a community garden that might welcome your food scraps for their compost pile. I’d like to see every neighborhood have a communal composting site.

My husband maintains the compost bins at our neighborhood community garden. I coordinated Juniper Street Garden for eight years; I no longer garden there, but we still use the compost bins. The three bins sit at the back of the garden in front of a fence. Only two appear to be in active use right now: the new scraps pile on the far right (with the screen over the top to keep out animals) and the halfway done pile in the middle of the bins.

The original coordinator and garden creator built the bins out of discarded wooden pallets. Dan added scrap galvanized metal, wood and cardboard to the sides to hold in moisture better.

At home, we put our food scraps in a plastic bucket (salvaged cat litter buckets, mostly) next to our kitchen sink (second photo). We keep the lid on to control odors and keep insects out. Full buckets are stored in the garage.

  • He periodically empties the buckets into the active compost pile.
  • Then he adds dry leaves (high carbon material to balance out the high nitrogen food scraps); he collects bags of raked leave sin the fall and stores them in the garden shed.
  • Next, he turns the pile and waters it as he rinses our buckets (compost piles should be kept moist, not too wet or too dry).
  • He adds a final layer of leaves on top.

It is a cool composting system because the active food scrap pile does not accumulate waste fast enough to heat up (as opposed to a hot composting system; I discuss a number of composting methods in my book). Cool composting systems tend to be fungal-dominated rather than bacterial-dominated, another characteristic of compost that I explain the book.

Dan also made the sign explaining to people what to put in the compost and what to leave out. Animal products attract skunks and other nuisance animals to the compost and garden while woody plant materials do not compost within a year in these bins because they are not kept moist enough and turned on a regular basis.

Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens.

Growing tropical fruiting vegetables in cold climates

Adapted from Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens:

Many popular garden vegetables are tropical in origin, including many vegetable fruits in the Solanaceae and Cucurbita families such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and cucumbers. They often will stop growing if the temperature drops below 50°F. Fruit maturation takes longer in cooler temperatures, too. Right now, nighttime lows in Flagstaff are in the mid 40°s.

Flagstaff’s last spring frost has historically been around June 10, although climate change appears to be pushing back that date. However, there is a small chance of frost throughout our entire growing season. I tell people in Flagstaff to not bother growing eggplants and melons outdoors without high-tech protections from the cool night temperatures such as Wall O’ Water Season Extenders (there is some evidence that the red ones help tomatoes ripen faster than the green ones used here). Bell peppers are almost as difficult to grow outdoors, as are large winter squash varieties.

The top three photos I took this week at Juniper Street Community Garden, which I used to coordinate and where I formerly gardened. The tomato plants in the Wall O’ Waters are in a plot cared for by long time community gardeners at this garden. If this was my plot, I also would have inorganic mulch, as I explain below, tucked around the Wall O’ Waters to prevent soil moisture from evaporating and provide extra heat at night.

If you live in a cold climate with a short growing season you must make use of all possible ways to keep these crops warm, especially at night, and protect them from late spring and early fall frosts.

  • The easiest of these tropical crops to grow are summer squash, small winter squash varieties, grape and cherry tomatoes, small chile pepper varieties, and some cucumber varieties.
  • Choose varieties that have been bred for short growing seasons and cooler night temperatures.
  • Start seeds indoors and transplant seedlings outdoors as early as it is safe to do so. You need to make the most of the short growing season.
  • Use microclimate-warming techniques like creating parabolic sun traps around your plants or garden beds using earth, rocks, straw bales or other materials.
  • Use dark colored inorganic mulch such as dark rocks. The squash photo is from one of my community garden plots a few years ago. I collected dark grey basalt rocks and used them as mulch around my plants. Rocks are thermal masses. They absorb sunlight and radiate the energy back out at night in the form of heat. Mulch also protects the soil from wind erosion, shades the soil, and prevents soil moisture from evaporating. The organisms that live in healthy garden soil greatly appreciate soil and soil moisture protection measures. Thermal masses also keep the microbes and larger soil organisms more active.
  • Row covers, water jugs and other protective elements might be necessary.