Monday, July 25, 2011

Welcome Monsoons!

In what has been an extraordinarily dry summer, we have finally gotten some rain. In the last week we have had 3 good monsoon storms and haven't needed to access the acequia for irrigation. The yard is so happy and the butternut acts as though it is on steroids. It is truly taking over the yard and we have at least 5 squash getting bigger every day with more on the way.

In other news, we are in the process of putting up a block wall on the property line behind our house. We took the rickety wooden fence that was there are returned it to its original home on the east side of the property. I'm looking forward to training some honeysuckle and (hopefully) some berries up that fence. While some may find fences to be too claustrophobic, I find them comforting. They embrace the property and provide a snuggled-in sort of feeling. I'll post pictures as the project progresses.

Keep your fingers crossed, as I am, that the rains will continue. We have a long way to go to break this drought!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Adventures in Solar Cooking

Earlier this week I borrowed a solar oven from school to begin trying it out before I use it to teach my students in the fall. I have to say that so far I am in love with solar cooking. I've made brown rice, baked potatoes, a luscious gingerbread and right now there is a millet-rice dish doing its best under less than-ideal conditions. The afternoon clouds are rolling in. (Please say they'll bring us rain!)

I also tried an 18-hour sourdough from this nifty site, but after the dough was done fermenting, it was too overcast to use the sun oven. I baked it up in the regular oven and it was one of the best loaves I've made in a long time. I think I'll make some more dough tomorrow to try again.

The best thing about using the solar oven is that it keeps the house cooler than it would otherwise. With temperatures in the upper 90s, I'm glad for any reason to keep the interior heat to a minimum. The second best thing, well, maybe it is a tie for first, is that the solar oven doesn't use any nasty fossil fuels! 

I also like that it forces me to think ahead: a pot of brown rice takes two hours (three if I preheat the water in the solar cooker) and the gingerbread took an hour and a half. I get to really think about what we're going to eat and how much time we need. It slows life down a notch. Maybe once school is back in session, this might pose a challenge, but I'd like to see how long we can maintain using the sun oven.

 I'm going to need to work on my timing. At this time of year, rain clouds generally roll in around dinnertime. With the current drought and only one good rain to date, I've forgotten about these regularly scheduled monsoon clouds. When I put out the millet/rice about an hour ago, the clouds were puffy and plenty of blue sky could be found. Now it's very gray and rain just may be in the forecast. I wonder how much longer beyond the 2 hour suggested cooking time it'll have to stay in the cooker.

Add a fourth thing I like about the sun oven--the lack of predictability! I'm not ready for sun-cooked dinner parties yet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Burst of Productivity

I'm not sure if it is the influence of coffee, the cool mornings, or Harriet Fasenfest's A Householder's Guide to the Universe, but I had a burst of productivity this morning. I've made yogurt, the laundry's out to dry, the solar cooker is preheating, and pizza dough is rising. It's not even 10 o'clock! Now if only I could maintain this frenzy to get me through a paper about which I've been procrastinating!

Here are some pics of the garden and yard from this morning:

I borrowed this solar cooker to practice before I use it in our environmental ed. elective. It got up to 300 degrees yesterday!

Cosmos in bloom

This sunflower is narrow on top, wide on the bottom. It makes a perfect shade umbrella for the chickens.

One of the sunflowers in front of the house. Bonus points if you can spot the honeybee!

These were supposed to get much taller, but I think I planted too late, or it's just too hot.

I've been watching hummingbirds, goldfinches, native and honeybees work this sunflower from the kitchen window.

The butternut that is taking over the garden. This works well for my lazy gardening style as I didn't plant it in the first place!

Two of the lovely butternuts that are doing well so far. We've avoided the squash bugs as of yet. Thanks to the chickens and the interplanted tomatoes perhaps?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Low-tech Greywater System

Letting all the dishwater just run down the drain is such a waste. It's not hazardous and therefore still has purpose. While you wouldn't want to bathe in it, the fruit trees certainly don't mind being soaked by this greywater. Our county has codes for those folks who wish to put in an intricate system. We, on the other hand, prefer to do things a little more on the low-tech side. Here is our kitchen greywater "system":

Yup, just a bucket under the sink drain. It's that easy! When it fills up, we just walk it out to the yard and deposit the water under the trees. This is a great way to supplement our weekly irrigation and the "waste" water gets used for a good purpose.

Speaking of a good purpose, in the bathroom we have a similar set up. The water from the bathroom sink gets diverted to toilet flushing. With our low-flow toilet, it doesn't take much greywater to do the job.

We're also going to set up a catchment in the shower and put that water to good use. At our house in Austin we ran a hose from a sump pump out the exterior wall. Any water that was still sitting around at the end of the day got pumped out to the pecan trees. You don't want your greywater to sit around for more than a day, then it gets septic (and really stinky). We're not ready to drill another hole in the wall, so a tub in the shower will have to do.

In Austin we also hooked up our washing machine to a 50 gal trash can and put a spigot in the bottom. A hose was attached to the spigot and it ran out of the garage and to the large shade trees in the front yard. We would move the hose around after each load to make sure the trees were getting equal access to the water.

When we used this system before, it really brought to light just how much water we were using on a daily basis. When you're hauling out a five-gallon bucket sloshing-full of dishwater a few times a day, in all types of weather, you can't ignore your usage. As a family of 2, we don't use much, but greywater recycling was a great way to see how we could reduce our use even further.

It almost seems criminal given our drought conditions to just let this stuff head off to the water treatment plant after just one use. We need to stretch our water as far as it can go and this is one small way to accomplish that goal.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Garden in July

We've both been pretty bogged down with work and school, so no adventures to report. Also, most of the public land in NM is shut down due to fire danger. We're grateful for a proactive plan, but we miss getting into the mountains. We have not had precipitation of any significance for months. We need it to rain! Today the forecast is 40% chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Our sincere hope is that the thunderstorms come with drenching rain and not with fire-inducing lightning.

We are so fortunate that the acequia is still going strong so we can irrigate. The trees look great and the apples are coming along nicely.

The volunteer butternut squash is going like gangbusters and threatens to completely crowd out the tomatoes which came back from the dead. Maybe the shade from the squash keeps the tomatoes comfortable in the 90+ temps of the afternoon.

We also have some gigantic sunflowers around the yard that were not planted by us. Thanks to the birds and other critters.

All of this vegetation is helping keep the chickens cool, too. We've been letting them free range in the hopes of some yard maintenance. They've been happily devouring wheat and many of the weeds. Miraculously they stay away from the squash and tomato plants. Maybe once the tomatoes ripen, they will be vulnerable. They are also tromping all over the vetch, which at least gives the appearance of the yard being more manageable. It also helps the flower seeds that were sown in the spring to get enough sun to grow. I'm constantly surprised at how much the chickens enhance our landscaping experience. All of this foraging has also resulted in absolutely delicious eggs with beautiful, golden yolks. Bonus!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mushroom ID

Imagine our surprise when we came upon these mushrooms near our irrigation ditch. (Sorry about the picture quality, but it was near dusk.) I thought mushrooms made their presence known after a rain, or in moist areas. This spot is anything but moist. True the acequia is nearby, but I can't imagine there is any moisture in this spot, especially because we haven't had a drop of rain in eons.

The tallest stands at about 12 inches and there was another beginning to emerge to the right of these. Note the spores at the bottom of the picture. Other than their height, the other thing that was astounding was that the grey/white caps actually come off!

This photo does not do this 'shroom justice. The red rust color of the cap was brilliant. This pic taken with the flash gives you a better idea.

I tried to id them last night, but to no avail. If anyone has any insight, please leave a comment.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

Progress in the Yard (or Lack Thereof)

This summer we've had a pretty hands-off gardening style. I'd like to think it's intentional experimentation, but mostly it's neglect. With the exception of the weekly watering and fairly regular weeding, we let things run their course. The vetch is truly out of control: it's rapidly going to seed and starting to climb into the fruit trees. The fescue is nearly as tall and has also gone to seed. The wheat is also ripening nicely, which the chickens truly appreciate. The veggie bed has greens going to seed (which is intentional) and a volunteer squash and melon of some kind doing their best to crowd out the tomatoes. I am fascinated by the plant dynamics but the yard is truly unruly. Here are the hens set free from their run to help maintain the jungle:

Making their way through the wheat, fescue and sunflower forest

Wednesday we ate the last peach from our tree. It was heavenly. Here it was just before we reverently devoured it:

Garnet peach

Two turnips are still buried and I really should uproot them. They are not meant for near 100 degree heat. One of the 5 tomatoes has two wee fruit growing and the mystery squash should start blossoming any moment. I also spotted basil I had forgotten about. Along the perimeter of the lot we've also planted some giant sunflowers. They are hitting their growth spurt and I can't wait to have 8-10' flowers bobbing their greetings when in bloom.

The one spot we can't neglect is the guerrilla orchard. It needs to be hand watered about twice/week. Although next to the acequia it doesn't have direct floodwater access, so we hand water. There are 4 cherry trees currently as well as a handful of sunflowers. This whole thing is situated next to a west-facing block wall. The radiant heat can really speed up evaporation and transpiration, so we have to be more diligent in our care.

Although our yard will never make it into some glossy gardening magazine,we like it this way. We have great habitat for insects (and even a toad), pesticide-free fodder for the chickens, a cool microclimate where the vetch is and some food for us. It all works out.