The first rose of spring


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.


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.

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.

Spring 2016: another early spring in the highlands of northern Arizona


These crocuses are planted near one of my apple trees. Bulb-forming plants make excellent guild members with fruit trees because their root systems are shallow and therefore do not compete with the trees’ needs; the top-set/walking/Welsh/Egyptian onions in the same south-facing plot are up as well. The barberry shrubs have begun blooming, too. Daytime highs and nighttime lows have been higher than in the historical past, following the pattern of the past few years. We’ve even set a record or two. I have photos for a gardening/sourdough/solar cooking/soy milk/soy okara cookies post. I’ve been very busy lately. I should have that post up within a few days.

Fresh garden tomatoes—the best kind


I picked three tomatoes. I ate the ripe one for lunch; it was incredibly sweet. The two slightly underripe tomatoes will ripen faster indoors because nights are so cool at this elevation (7,000 feet). The dish is Hungarian yellow ware I bought at Hortobágy National Park in Hungary.

Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains 4th Edition Book Cover Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A Guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens

Planting a new shade tree

This is how you carry a 12-foot 5-inch tree home in a bicycle trailer. The sales guy at the plant nursery was shocked to see that Dan was planning to carry home the tree by bicycle, saying something like, “Are you sure you are in good enough physical shape to carry it home? When you said you had a bike trailer, I thought you meant you had a motorcycle with a trailer.” As Dan was bicycling home through downtown Flagstaff, a woman shouted, “I like your tree.”

Lombardy poplars are not the most multiple-use tree species, but they fit our requirements of being tall, narrow and fast growing, while not obstructing the view of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians coming into and going out of the townhome complex. The four other shade trees along the western side of the house, combined with added attic insulation, have lowered summer high temperatures in the house by 15°F or so. I expect this tree to eventually lower summer afternoon high temperatures by up another 5°F in the bedroom. The shade will also extend use of the back balcony earlier in the afternoon. We don’t have air conditioning, so shade is very important to our comfort.

The house looks and feels so different than when we  moved in back in 1999. There was no shade, just an ugly box-trimmed juniper hedge along the west side of the house (the little pine tree in the third photo, which I took before buying the house, is now the 20-foot tree in the first photo).

Before the tree could be planted, the large boulder on the corner of the property had to be moved, as it was in the perfect location for a tree to provide shade at the critical time in the lat afternoon. A couple of weeks ago, we noticed a small back hoe parked in the commercial parking lot next door. Dan left a note on the windshield, and the driver called and agreed to move the boulder a few feet for free, which was very nice of him.

Next year I might be able to squeeze in one last crop of vining peas, which are relatively shade tolerant, but then I’ll have to grow either species that are very shade tolerant, like leafy greens, or move the planter to a sunnier location. I’ve used a planter and trellis to shade the balcony during summer afternoons for more than 10 years.

Pablo is excited about the new tree. Pablo loves trees. I expect him to start spending more time on the balcony.

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