Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ya aint got pictures? Ya aint got nothin’!

What my sunflowers really look like
Let’s just get this out of the way first. There is no such thing as a perfect garden. Thus, when one follows a particular blog or several (as in my case) and sighs with head in hands and mopes that one’s own blog will NEVER be as good as those others. Well…that’s just a load of manure! A garden, and a garden blog, is just as good as the work one puts into it. Furthermore, a blog is a constructed space, so it’s only as good as I let you see it is. Image is everything. A few cases in point…

Number 1: Although the blogging medium utilizes words, most bloggers blog
around images because truly, and especially in a garden blog’s case, a picture is worth a thousand words. Since the blogosphere was born from out of mother internet to appeal to readers who want quick vignettes and infobites, you’ll notice that posts are short summaries, generally in diary format, usually with embedded links so that readers feel they maintain autonomy in deciding if they require or want more info. Often the post is just a frame or caption for the image; a caption on steroids, or in the case of garden blogs, a caption on Miracle Grow.

Number 2: Images seen on blogs are carefully constructed and chosen to draw the reader in. No matter how much we bloggers protest that we are renegades, breaking down the ivory tower of information production, we are still nothing if not products of our society. We may be masters of a post-post modern medium, but hey, old habits die hard. We CAREFULLY choose the images you get to see.  It’s really not as informal as we like to make it appear. It’s like, if you were coming over to look at my garden, I’d pick up the trash, pull the weeds and rake a bit. Same with the images I choose for my site, and all the images seen on my own favorite blogs.

So, I (we) can quit moping. If you want to blog, start a blog. If you want a good blog,  get good pictures and write good content. If you want a good garden, get off the computer and get back to work :-)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The War on Worms and Other Things

Wait! Before we grab that industrial size jug of Ortho and blast those ants out of existence, think for a minute. Why should we blast ants out of existence? Are the ants really hurting anything in our garden? What about that full-spectrum weed killer we’ve been spraying onto our gardens lately? Have we thought about how it kills those weeds and what else it might kill ?  Have we given any thought to WHY we go to such lengths to keep our gardens so tidy?

It’s resource conflict folks. Yep. Our gardens represent ourselves. If you don’t believe me, ask me to show you a picture of my garden (er…farm). Odds are, I won’t pull out the picture of recently seeded bare rows or a picture of my weeds. I’ll show you my garden in full flower and dressed up in its Sunday best. Our gardens (or farms) are extensions of ourselves. We want them to present the best possible picture of us. They provision us. They nurture us. When our gardens fail, it reflects poorly on our ability to provide. Yes’m. We put a WHOLE lot more than just money into our gardens.

That’s why we go to such lengths to keep our gardens and farms pest free. Company’s like Ortho KNOW this about us. Just look at the arsenal of synthetic weed & pest killers available to those of us who want to get our gardens in ship-shape, tout-de-suite. There are pre & post- emergent herbicides, systemic weed killers, non-selective (broad-spectrum) weed killer, selective weed killer, and residual herbicides. Wow. Really? Do we ever ask ourselves why there are so many different categories of weed killers? Keep in mind that the above named are just the categories of commercial weed-killers, not the brand names of all of the weed & pest-killers on the market. To gardeners and farmers, potential enemies could include beneficial weeds,ants, caterpillars or anything else that we THINK might harm our gardens. I don’t know what’s happening in your garden right now, but my garden’s (pardon the pun) being eaten alive!

For example, this year I’ve been hit with several different issues. Leaf minors got my peas and whiteflies got everything else. The birds ate the best crop of apricots we’ve had since we bought the place. Chuck and I were able to salvage TWO measly little apricots from the ENTIRE tree. Don’t get me wrong. We want to share with our wildlife, SHARE being the operative word. To add insult to injury, the only thing that is
doing even remotely well in my beds this year are my  tomatoes...that is until they were hit with rust last week and now even my container tomatoes have blossom-end rot.   

So if it's us or them, what do we erstwhile caterpillar hugging, bee-loving, highly evolved gardeners, do? We embrace integrated pest management (ipm). That’s short for trying a whole lot of different things to keep our gardens alive. Because I eventually want to earn organic certification of some kind, for me this means completely organic IPM. For the leaf miners and whiteflies I first tried a weak solution of biodegradable dish soap which didn’t really do the trick. Next I used Neem.

Now Neem is interesting because it’s all over the market as natural pesticides and health care products. Buyer beware! Like all things in quantity, naturally derived Neem oil can be dangerous too. It’s also not necessarily approved for organic gardening or farming depending on the “synergists” being used in the products formula (for example, pyrethrin is NOT approved). So, if you plan on using Neem oil, do your research. Eventually, I ended up calling my local agricultural extension agent and the organic certification unit to make certain I could use the Neem oil had purchased. Once you use something that is not on the list of acceptable products, you have to go back and start at square one – so be careful!

Next year I plan on using the following ipm: Biodegradable vegetable soap, Neem Oil, lady bugs and encarsia wasps. I MAY use the Tanglefoot traps I used this year as an absolute last resort. They work, but they also capture beneficial wasps and bees. In addition to this arsenal, I also plan on using bed rotation and cover crops. Next project? Finding the best native cover crops available to us. Native covers will help me attract those insects I want, improve my soil, and keep down invasive weeds!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gardening Tips - National Wildlife Federation

Gardening Tips - National Wildlife Federation

This is a great site. It has numerous projects to choose from if you wish to make your garden (or backyard farm) more wildlife friendly, which is one of our missions. Thus far this year we've had Cooper's hawks, skunks, mice, various lizards, Downy woodpeckers, Ladder-backed woodpeckers, Flickers, an occasional Blue grossbeak & Black-headed Grossbeaks & one or two Orioles. Black-chinned and Broad-tailed hummingbirds, Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, American Goldfinches, House Sparrows, Barn swallows, Western Scrub-jays, Greater roadrunners, White-winged doves, Eurasian Collared-doves (unfortunately) and Western Kingbirds. We've had Mountain Chickadees, White-breastsed Nuthatches and Robins, White-Crowned Sparrows,  Dark-eyed Juncos and Pine Siskins. As for butterflies, I've seen, Black swallow-tailed butterflies, Two-tailed swallow-tail butterflies, an Orange Sulfar, a Mounring Cloak and as for moths, I think we've had a Mournful sphinx moth. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Predators - coming soon to a backyard farm near you!

Flame Skimmer Dragonlfy (Libellula saturata)

My cousin Kelly swears this guy was posing for me. According to my go-to-field-guide, A Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque, the  males sometimes stray far from water to prey on small flying insects (like the the white flies on my farm!).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Herbs of summer

Some of the arugula before I pulled it all out due to white fly infestation. The garden is crawling with the little buggers

A few peas in their pods and an image of life unfolding in front
of our very eyes!
Oregano                                                                                        Dill


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sex on the farm

It's high noon on the farm and the plants and animals are propagating wildly. I've just been harvesting dill, oregano and arugula for seed stock. All of the books and blogs say to wait until the flowers are beginning to die back to harvest for seeds. I want a LOT more herbs next season so I am interested in trying different methods; saving seed and re-sowing, and propagating cuttings this year too. The squash, tomatoes and peas are blooming! Soon baby veggies will abound.

While tooling around in the back .25 today, Chuck and I noticed a gorgeous black swallowtail butterfly in the herb bed. It was flitting and floating from leaf to leaf in a kind of erratic way, and I thought "that doesn't seem right". Leaning in closer to take a look, I noticed that the butterfly would alight upon a leaf, quickly extend it's ovipositer onto the leaf and then flit off again. Each time it flew away to another leaf it left behind a tiny, yellowish-white egg (looks like a grain of couscous or a tapioca pearl).

My parsley, which finally JUST started taking off, is now dotted with tapioca-like black swallowtail eggs. Oddly, the dill that I bought particularly for the butterflies, remains remarkably egg free. Time to start watching out for caterpillars again.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Las Golondrinas son aqui!

The swallows are here and one pair has re-purposed a finch nest above our back porch door. Has anyone else noticed swallows taking over finch nests?

Beautiful weather. It rained Monday and Albuquerque breathed a collective sigh of relief and contentment. Couldn't you all hear it?

I think my sugarsnaps on the eastside of the house are toast. Something is decimating them. Sowbuugs maybe (Maybe not)? Leaf miners? Maybe. I've found the tell-tale burrows they've left like a road map all over my pea leaves. I'm dowsing with biodegradable soap every morning but to no avail. Some blogs suggest neem oil. The squash has taken kindly to my protective measures and is taking off. All tomatoes (except the San Marzanos on the westside of the house)are doing well thus far, although the container tomatoes are winning the race. Something is going to town on the bells peppers despite the soap applications.

Looks like I'll loose the garbanzos, no carrots and few onions to speak of. The tower 'o potatoes is starting to sprout.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Rain and Lavender

Just got back from the Lavender Festival at Los Poblanos and Los Ranchos. We learned how to make a yurt by hand from Dr. Bruce Milne, Director of Sustainability Studies at UNM! Yurts are uber cool!

The wind is coming up and it's starting to rain, thankfully!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Summer Solstice!

Happy Summer Solstice everyone! It dawned cool and pink a few minutes ago. It's 60 in the Garden Shack, some clouds. Still no rain last night. We have buddage! The Rattlesnake Pole Beans have beautiful purple and pink flowers on them, the tomatoes on the porch have five or six buds, the Caserta squash, one of the pumpkins & a sugarbaby watermelon are all blooming! There are also new flowers on the oregano (I'll be cutting those back tonight). Have a great longest day of the year!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Where's Mike?

This morning dawned crisp & coolish so I threw on a sweater & ran out to the garden to see if Mike was enjoying the new dill plants that I bought and planted for him yesterday. But...Mike is missing. I searched in the dill, fennel and parsley & so far, no Mike. I hope he hasn't become Jay food. The Jays were drinking out of the water tank this morning and it's close to the herb garden. Hmmmm....

We have new mysteries to solve however. In preparation to planting the San Marzano tomatoes, I went out the front door to turn on the water at the east side of the house. On returning for the plants I ran into this guy. It looks like a Mournful Sphinx Moth Enyo lugubris lugubris but they aren't supposed to be here! This is what the caterpillar will look like if he finds a mate and she lays eggs.

Also, while thinning out the garbanzos and getting the extras ready to give to friends, all of the white winged doves in the snag suddenly took off like bats outta hell! Sure enough, not a second later, a Cooper's Hawk streaked by all tight and streamlined like a jet fighter. She missed the doves and lazily circled back around a few times. I wish she'd focus her attention on the house sparrows. But there it is...I can't really manage what lives and dies here. IF (and that's a big if) I pay attention to little things like micro-environments and water, some of my plants will survive for a time and if that happens, insects will surely follow. The birds will eat the insects and each other. I will eat the fruit of my labor, save some of my seeds and the whole thing will begin again next year. I've committed to growing organically and sustainably. This little pastoral paradise is NOT a movie or a glossy garden design magazine. This is life in its wild and green glory. This is farming. Who knew that farming could be so entertaining?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Creature Feature Continued

So I think we may have solved the mystery around "Mike" the Monarch Butterfly caterpillar (I felt I had the right to name him, since he was eating my dill). Seems that Mike is not a Monarch butterfly (nor will he ever be) at all. He looks like a Black Swallowtail, which is interesting because I've seen some flying around the house. I am trying to upload another picture of Mike type caterpillar from a butterfly conservation blog (the program won't let me right now), It's The site describes this caterpillar's life cycle and habits. Sure enough, "Mike" is attracted to dill, fennel and parsley, all three of which I have growing in the herb bed. Also, according to our Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque, Black Swallowtails are common here. I've now got a sneaky suspicion regarding the "bird droppings" that I've been noticing for the last few weeks on the Caserta Squash and wild grapes. They may not be bird droppings at all. Oh boy!

Other creatures are enjoying our farm during these halcyon days of June. Beside the truly amazing number of ant and beetle species(we've had a Ten-lined June Beetle hanging out by the front door lately), several species of birds, lizards, toads and mice quite happily either wander in and out, or have set up shop. The occasional skunk wanders in for a visit now and again. By its web I "think" we have an absolutely amazingly talented orb spider in the west side yard. The east side yard seems to be the preferred environment for a wolf spider or two and some centipedes.

The Western Scrub Jays who built their nest in the cypress trees on the east side of the house are still here, or at least their fledges are. Chuck and I aren't sure, but suspect they may be double clutching this year. Swallows are nesting above my head as I write this and I just watched a kingbird capture and devour a huge bug (it looked like a moth but could be a cicada). The ladder-backed woodpeckers (we’ve had Downy and Northern Flickers too) were here this morning and continue to harvest their stash of acorns out of the Russian Olive snag that Chuck insisted (happily, I gave in) we allow to remain standing.

This snag is a perch for nearly all of our avian visitors; gold finches, white wing and collared dove (arrgggghhh), blue grosbeak, Cooper's hawk and a very occasional oriole. We also receive semi-regular visits from our neighborhood roadrunner who seems to find the hunting successful due to the fecundity of our subsidized house finches and European sparrows :-)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Creature Feature

Last Sateurday I bought some plants out at my fav garden oasis ~ Plants of the Southwest. I wanted some dill, so I bought two plants, even though they were crawling with butterfly catapillars. I chose two plants that didn't have catapillars on them, brought them home and confidently plopped them in the ground where they proceeded to flourish. Yesterday, I walked out to water and the foliage on one of the baby dill plants is completely stripped. It was obvious immediately what the problem is, because the culprit was and continues to be happily and greedily munching away in broad daylight. Incredible! The little bugger is brightly colored and not at all well camoflaged. Even I could pick him out at 50 paces. A Jay could probably see him at 100 yards, and yet....he continues munching in his merry way with complete and utter impunity. What is this? I thought it was a monarch, but now looking at him compared to other images on the net, his patterns don't look quite the same. Is it a Monarch or not? At any rate, even though it's quite obvious that he is going to destroy my dill, I cannot bring myself to despose of him. Much too beautiful. I think I'll just wait and watch what happens. Besides, it'll give me an excuse to go back to Plants of the Southwest this weekend.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kind of Quiet

It's been pretty quiet on the gardening front. Plants are just growing along at their own pace. Bailey dug up two of the lemon cucumbers (BAD DOG). Found some squash bug eggs on the underside of the Caseta squash the other day and have been monitoring daily and wiping them with a biodegradable soap solution. The squash is blooming! Still no rain. It's ranged from about 62-95 in the Garden Shack, but only tomatoes and peas in there right now.

Poblanos are up and hardening-off on the porch along with more basil. The basil is growing S-L-O-W-L-Y this year. I'm impatient! My self-seeded thyme looks like it will fail, but the coreopsis seed from last year is definitely coming up! YAY!!!! Sage, dill, chives and evening primrose planted last weekend are all doing quite well.

Peas and beans have all grown about 2” inches this week.

I'm thinning this weekend and giving the extras to friends. Anyone need some plants?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sunny with a chance of more sun

62.5 Garden Shack. Overcast, high clouds.
Black Valentine stringbeans (west side) are all up as are most of the sugarsnap peas (east side) in either of the side yards. The pumpkins and gourds are too. Still no sign of the coreopsis which was my own seed.

Used most of the chard and mustard greens in the caldo verde that I made Sunday. Just in time, 'cuz we've got ourselves some white flies.

Garden shack. The NM #6s are coming up. Some (homegrown) thyme. Still only 2 San Marzano tomatoes. Still no lemon balm, sage or Poblanos in the Garden Shack.

Hardening off on the porch are San Marzano tomatoes and basil. They are both doing well. I think I'll try containers for some of the tomatoes and try each variety at different porches.

All seedlings are still standing even after the visit from the skunk last night. We'll see......

Tuesday night 6/8/10 95.5 @6:30

Nice evening. It was 100.5 in the Garden Shack a half hour ago. 1 new San Marzano and several new NM #6s are up. YAY! The yellow pear tomatoes that I pulled out from the porch to harden off were dry as toast. Better put them back in the shade.

Looking for a really nice tarragon chicken recipe. Anyone have one?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

We are what we eat.....

So what's growing now? Chard and Mustard greens!

And now that I've got all of these Chard and Mustard greens...what do I do with them? Gather recipes that will make my husband want to eat them :-)

My very favorite thus far is from Terence Conran's The Chef's Garden (given to me by Chuck's Aunt Marsha) This recipe calls for Kale, but whatever, right?


1/2 pound curly kale (This year I'm growing Seeds of Change Osaka Purple Mustard Greens and Mangold Witerbi Chard)
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled, cubed
4 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
8 ounces chorizo sausage (Don't live in NM & don't know what chorizo is? Great vegan alternative from Melissa's, whom I adore)

Trim and wash kale, then drain. Bring 5 cups salted water to a boil in a pan and add the potatoes, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the garlic and the olive oil. When the potatoes are cooked, remove form the pan with a slotted spoon and mash until smooth. Return to the water in the pan and bring to a simmer. Remove the stalks from the kale and finely shred the leaves, then add to the pot with the chorizo. Simmer for 5 minutes, adjust seasoning and serve.

Do you like it? What do you think?

Friday, June 4, 2010

So I had these seeds....

When I was a little girl, my grandfathers were my heroes. They had both been farmers and both had been displaced from their farms and were living on tiny acres and half-acres compared to their previous many acres. By the time I was old enough to spend time with them, digging, hoeing, planting, trapping gofers or whatever, they were in their sixties and had been growing things most of their lives.

Much of my sucked, really, but when I was with my grandfathers in their gardens...nothing else mattered. The sky was blue, the air was crisp (it was usually just after dawn), there was moisture on the plants. Things smelled good and looked good and a little kid that didn't have a lot to look forward to could believe that the day was going to be OK. Life was gonna be OK.

Those gardens were magic and my grandfathers were magicians! They could make anything come out of the ground. Small round hard green pebbles would go in, and a few days later, soft green tendrils would begin shooting up the stakes in the ground and it only seemed like days later that we'd be eating fresh peas right out of their pods. Row after row of bare earth would sprout into green labyrinths of corn plants so tall that I could use the rows as secret hideouts.

My grandfathers produced food with their bare hands and although we didn't have a lot of money, we never lacked for food. In fact, our property was where all the other neighborhood kids wanted to play. We could play in my grandfather's gardens all day, because we had ready-to-eat snacks and water to drink right out of the garden hoses. There was never any reason to leave. Many times we'd still be playing far past dark and only my mother or grandmother hollering at us to come in and eat dinner could entice us away from our magic gardens.

And my grandparents were smart. They'd all gone through the Depression and had the effects of being dirt poor grafted into their bones. I didn't know it then, but everything they did had been informed by the Depression. For instance, my grandmother "put up" nearly everything my grandfather grew. She could can corn, tomatoes, rhubarb, peas, beans; you name it, she canned it. She also dried peaches, apricots and grapes. She had a huge pressure cooker and Ball canning jars were always piling up in the sink or drying in a rack, or being filled with something yummy.

My grandfather kept things, and I don't mean just a few things. He kept everything that he could get his hands on. Wood, pipe, barrels, nails, machinery, name it, he either stashed it in his multitude of sheds and barns or he piled it out back in the corner of the property.

For years, my grandmother had an old tub clothes washer on the front porch. The thing was ancient, probably something grandpa had traded or bartered for. It had a crank mechanism in which you fed the clothes between two rollers to ring out the excess water before hanging them up. When finished with a load of laundry, grandpa would pick up the tub and poor the water into the flower gardens that surrounded the porch. Later, when grandma finally got a modern electric washing machine (she didn't get a dryer until much later), grandpa ran a pipe that fed the dirty "gray water" into the bed.

My aunt has also been a garden mentor to me throughout my life. Her gardens have always been spectacular things of beauty. She has been creating calming, serene, whimsical or rustic garden "rooms" for twenty-five years. I can't tell you how many hours and days we spent in her gardens, planning, building rock walls planting, watering and at last, enjoying the green spaces she created for us to enjoy. Her gardens were gifts to us.

My grandparents and my aunt sowed the seeds of eco-conscious gardening & farming into my brain as a child. They were BIG into recycling, saved everything, reused almost everything, re-routed gray water, composted, mulched, and practiced eco-agriculture before it was cool. It was this kind of "use everything but don't sacrifice beauty" philosophy that has brought me to my present project.

I've been reading about backyard suburban farming and co-op urban gardens for years and I've wanted to try something like it. Every year I've said "this is gonna be the year I do it" and yet April sneaks by me, then it's May and too late for cold frames but too early still to start directly in the ground, and the wind (which is every New Mexican gardener's Achilles heel) begins and dries out the soil. June would be perfect but I've forgotten to buy hay for mulch or a part for my drip system. July is too hot to really start anything, August is when we get the picture. Has this happened to you?

Well...this year I've finally done it. I went out and purchased all of my seeds in March, starting them in flats in the garden shack. I ignored the roof of the shack through which you can now see big patches of New Mexico's gorgeous blue sky, and forged ahead anyway (the shack's rotting roof used to be one of my best excuses). This year I've decided to resurrect my grandparent's motto, their credo, their secret weapon. This year I've decided to "Make the best of what I've got" The seeds of this idea were sown long ago. We'll see how it goes.....