Monday, May 23, 2011

Flood Irrigation

 We have the good fortune to have access to our neighborhood acequia and with this access comes free irrigation water. We have a pipe that runs from the ditch, under our neighbor's "sidewalk" and empties into a distribution box in our yard. It takes less than 10 minutes for both the back and front yards to completely flood and our weekly watering is complete!

Using this water is not without concerns. We have no idea what is upstream along the other ditches, laterals, and acequias before the water gets to us.  Many ditches we have seen are littered with trash including shopping carts, tires and a plethora of beer bottles. The water is not filtered and supposedly comes directly from the Rio Grande.  In deciding whether or not to use the water to irrigate we asked ourselves these questions:

Do we want the benefit of free water?

Do we want to maximize on using non-drinking water to water the garden  when we live in a water-poor, arid state?

Is growing food 100% organically more important than water conservation?

We couldn't imagine using precious drinking water to irrigate so much space. This year our goal in the yard has been to grow grasses to keep the erosion down in the spring winds, start fruit trees, and try sunken vegetable beds. In considering these needs, flood irrigating from the acequia is the most rational choice. All of our other methods are organic (no herbicides/pesticides, starting with organic/open pollinated/non-gmo seeds) and while the water that goes into the edibles is important, we figured the benefits outweighed the potential "costs."

If we had the space, perhaps we would set up some sort of sand/charcoal filter to remove the largest impurities. On our wee little lot, however, we take what we can get and free, acequia water is it.

I mean, look at how well we can get water to our plants, trees, and veggies:

The view to the West

We've been sure to berm up next to the house to keep the stucco in good shape (and keep water out of the house).

The view to the East

The submerged veggies. You can see the turnip and carrot greens as well as some of the salad greens. I'm sure some of these would prefer not to be so soaked, but so goes it in our first experimental year.
  Of course we vigorously wash and rinse any veggies that come out of the garden. It's a good habit to get into anyway and it removes any silt that is often left behind from the flood. One drawback so far is that the ladybugs have been laying eggs on blades of grass that are low to the ground. I fear that they have most likely washed away in the torrent. Another drawback is that the clay soil surface can get very slippery and a fall in the muddy soup can be unpleasant.

Given those two drawbacks, for a lazy gardener such as myself, the weekly flood is definitely the way to go.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Status of the Homestead--the yard

 Welcome to our desert lean-to. Here is the view as you approach our little homestead. Lane has been building the coyote fence with remnants of the Siberian elms on our irrigation ditch. The Siberian elm is considered a noxious weed around here. In fact, we had to dispose of 5 large ones when we purchased this property. They were upwards of 90% dead.

Most people try to create a coyote fence that is all the same height, using latillas that are the same diameter, and definitely not out of Siberian elm. Well, we're not like most people. Besides, the elm is free and it allows us to look within our zones to find the resources we need.

I really like the mish-mash of diameters and lengths. The birds, do, too. We'll often see sparrows and finches atop the tallest posts. I planted sunflower seeds and cosmos along the fence, so hopefully there will be a border of color for both us and our feathered friends to enjoy.

This gate, built of reclaimed railroad ties and barn wood greets you. The welcome sign was left over from a neighbor's project. He took the positive cut outs and we've reused the negative. It is getting a nice, rusty patina.

Upon entering the gate, the mini-orchard is to your left. We have a Wealthy apple, Garnet peach, Chinese apricot and Green Gauge plum. The posts are for our eventual shaded patio. We have a shade cloth that hangs from the posts and fence, but we have to take it down most of the time due to the high spring winds. The green grasses are actually cover crops of winter wheat, vetch and blue fescue. Some flower seeds and a dry grass blend have been planted and we'll see what comes up.

The peach is doing quite well, considering we had an aphid episode a month ago. Here are some growing fruits! Sadly, the apricot is down to one lone fruit. The largest of the two fell off during some high winds last week. I took a class with an arborist who recommended letting just one fruit grow to maturity the first year you've had your fruit tree. This allows the tree to put all of its energy into growing roots and getting established, rather than fruit production. Thanks to Nature, this has become true for the apricot. I've been dutifully thinning the other fruit trees, though, to minimize production. I just can't imagine not having more than one juicy fruit from the front yard this season.  I mean, Lane needs to eat one, too.

 And here are the apples. They already look so apple-y! I'm doing my best to keep them thinned, as well.

To the right of the gate is our "garden." Although we have dug two sunken beds,  only one is currently planted. We have turnips, two beet varieties, carrots, and a mix of lettuces. I transplanted some Purple Cherokee and Glacier tomato starts yesterday. In the foreground is more winter wheat. It's putting on seed, so we'll see if we have some wheat berries to harvest come fall. 

If you carry on to the right, this grass patch is more wheat, vetch and fescue. There are also 4 honeysuckles we received as housewarming gifts last summer. The flood irrigation is really helping these along. We also have some volunteer sunflower seedlings mixed in too. The hummingbirds have found the honeysuckles which has been a delight. This time last year it was hard to believe there would be any life in this yard.

And, north of the orchard, Lane built a new fence for the girls yesterday. It is twice the height of the last one and should keep them from their recent escapades into the garden. I'm sure the lettuce will be thankful of that.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Buzz Buzz

Our bee proposal was approved! The school should be host to a top bar hive before the month's end.

I am so excited about this opportunity for our students (and I) to learn more about these incredible creatures.

I've been looking into Mason Bees, too, which is another exciting prospect. They may not make honey, but they do a heck of a lot of pollinating. This site has beautiful bee boxes and considers the Mason Bee to be a garden "pet." How about that?

Our garden is looking a little overgrown in parts thanks to the hairy vetch and winter wheat cover crops while the veggie beds are a bit spartan. I need to get the tomato starts that I've been nurturing for weeks in the ground. I'm glad I procrastinated long enough to avoid the near-freezing temps of last weekend. We actually had the wood stove going a week ago, yet today was in the mid-80s.

Over the last two weeks I have awoken every morning to our barred-rock chicken having flown the coop and happily munching  sprouting prairie grasses and eying the remaining nubs of lettuce that she missed two weeks ago. After I leap out of bed and herd her back into the coop whilst in my bathrobe and wielding a broom, she stays in the run the rest of the day. Two questions: How is she getting out? and, Why does she only get out once a day? That's pretty weird to me. They have clean straw in the coop and plenty of food and fresh water. Does she just like to stretch her wings first thing in the morning? Any theories are welcome.

I hope this finds you, and your garden, enjoying spring!