Some time has passed since our last blog posting. It has been an incredibly busy season that prevented consistent blog posting over the summer. A reflection on the growing season will be forthcoming, but this snowstorm was inspirational in the creation of a blog post that will hopefully become the restart of more consistent postings.
This snowstorm was somewhat anticipated by weather experts, though the timing of its onset and its intensity were greatly underestimated. A foot of snow created the conditions to cancel school and delay many other businesses. I personally spent almost 6 hours shoveling out the vehicles, walkways, and around the walls of my adobe house and garage.
As mentioned in other posts, the ‘water year’ for the desert southwest begins on October 1. This water year provides a measure of the total snowpack accummulated in the upper watershed and gives some indication of what stream and river flows will look like from snowmelt and runoff in the Spring. This storm brings our precipitation for the current water year to well over 2.5 inches. On average, ten inches of snow will equal 1 inch of precipitation. We hope to capture a value for this snowstorm with our weather station, but at the time of this writing the temperature has not really risen above freezing so the amount of precipitation has not yet been counted by our rain collector. It is possible that some of the snow will be lost to evaporation by wind or sun before it gets counted.
A snowstorm of this magnitude this early in the season offers promise for a good snowpack and sufficient snowmelt for our irrigation season next spring and summer. Hopefully the temperatures remain such that the snow can keep accumulating in the upper watershed. With the predictions of an exceptional ‘El Niño’ weather event this winter, we are hopeful that the snows will continue throughout the winter and help in our coming irrigation season and potential drought condition.
Sudden and intense snow events are also cause for concern when it comes to fruit trees. This year some trees were so loaded with fruit that branches were in danger of breaking. We received reports that some trees broke under the stress of full crops of peaches and apples. We will be interested to see if some of those tree limbs could be reconnected with screws or other means to ‘re-graft’ those broken limbs back into place. This rapid and heavy snow had a similar effect on our fruit trees, with many limbs bending under the weight of trapped snow in their canopies. Unfortunately, our old apricot tree pictured below succumbed to the weight and we lost a substantial limb that supported a considerable amount of architecture on that side of the tree. This limb cannot likely be repaired and we hope the tree as a whole does not suffer and perhaps we can encourage new growth into the area that the limb once resided.
Today we received a visit from some incredible young people from the Abiquiu area that are part of a program called the Northern Youth Project. With ages ranging from 5 to 14, these young people have been spending the summer learning about gardening, art, and community involvement. I have heard of this program for several years from a friend Marcela Casaus and it was a pleasure to host them at Sol Feliz Farm. Marcela has a great agricultural practice, comes from a programs at UC Santa Cruz and with Paul Stamets (www.fungi.com) and actually helped me facilitate one of the first workshops at Sol Feliz more than 10 years ago! More information on their program can be found at:
Our presentation focused on the lay of the land in relation to the acequia and the crops in the field. We learned about white corn food traditions, garlic, and how to dry process beans for food and seed. Margaret Garcia, pictured above, showed the uses of over a dozen wild plants that can be harvested for food and medicine. At the end of our visit, we sent the students with a handful green bean seeds that we cleaned, a bulb of garlic each to plant, and a potted plant of cota, a native plant used for tea, natural dye, and as a host to beneficial pollinators.
It is a beautiful time of the year when the flowers start to bloom. These hollyhocks in particular were transplanted or started from seed to beautify the grounds of Sol Feliz while providing for pollinators. These are the very first hollyhock flowers to emerge this year. We will have to wait for the other colors of hollyhocks like white, yellow, peach, and even black! We will post another picture when the whole lot is in bloom…
On February 19 I had the opportunity to give a presentation at the Land and Water Summit of the Xeriscape Council of NM. Visit their website here or at the website xeriscapenm.com. The conference was awesome. Peter McBride, a photographer for National Geographic, chronicled the challenges posed to the health of the Colorado River. Excellent photography and narrative shed light on the critical issues of conserving the integrity of the Colorado River flows. Many cities and agricultural areas depend on water from the Colorado River and now the river water does not even reach the ocean. He shared a story where river flow was restored all the way to ocean and he showed photos of his team following that process.
Another excellent presentation was given by Dr. David Gutzler, Climate Scientist with the University of New Mexico’s Earth and Planetary Sciences Department. Dr. Gutzler shared much data from the last years and even up to the recent month to show the difficulty in predicting water flows from snowpack and what those numbers mean for reservoir and flow levels in the Rio Grande. The most interesting aspect of his presentation to me was the question of what defines a drought. Apparently we are getting, on average, the same amount of annual precipitation but the precipitation is not coming as snowpack as in the past, but in rainfall during the Spring, Summer, and Fall. Precipitation that comes as snowpack can be stored in reservoirs for future use but rainfall does not allow the same kind of storage.
My presentation started with the form and function of the acequia system in the watershed and moved on to contemporary issues in acequia management in the face of drought, water policy, and community involvement. The image above is from one of my slides which lists the issues around water administration in the Taos Valley. At some point I will have to flesh out a full article on my perspective with these issues, but perhaps the slide gives some food for thought. It is possible that more information from my presentation is available on the Xeriscape website, check if you are interested or send me a comment with your questions…
Posted in AIRE
Today was the final round of clearing the field at our Parr Field Garden Project. We want the field to look nice since it is school property and the site is used by the public. Hopefully there will not be too many people that let their dogs run around in this area and make messes for our land preparation again in the Spring.
We gather up all the dry materials from the field and relocate them to one of our ‘carbon cache’ systems. In the Spring we will be looking for nitrogen sources to make compost from this carbon and will continue our soil fertility programs.
Today we engaged in the process to clear the field before the winter comes. We like to gather up all the dead plant material from the field and pile it up in a corner to begin the composting process. We call these piles “carbon caches” and will later mine these piles to combine them with a nitrogen source (green weeds, manure, food scraps) to make our compost piles over the course of the year or longer.
Not all of our dead plant material goes into the carbon cache, however. In the picture above you can see us piling up the dry bean plants that we will burn in the old stainless steel washing machine drum, also seen above. We will harvest and sift the ashes which will become “culinary ashes” that we will use to make posole (hominy) or add to corn meal for a nutritional boost (the alkalinity from the ashes releases niacin and other amino acids).
We will use the ashes for nixtamalizacion (the process of cooking maize in an alkaline solution) and can also complete this process using lime (calcium oxide or calcium hydroxide).
We are happy to announce this year’s AIRE Youth Garden photo contest winner, Aaliah Gow and her family. We were able to provide seeds at an event at Enos Garcia Elementary where we were able to meet Aaliah and her family. They took a packet of our native seed in addition to many packets of other seeds we had donated for Family Night at the school. They had never tried a garden before and related the surprise in learning how big the plants get, how much vegetables they harvested, and how much they will have to think of spacing the crops next time. Here you can see a sample of pictures they submitted over cell phone. They also sent us many more pictures as proof and in pride of their harvest. They had carrots, zucchini, onions, jalapenos, green (purple) beans, tomatoes, and broccoli. I was impressed at the pictures I saw knowing that they had never tried a garden before.
We only received one entry for our photo contest this year so of course they win the first place prize of $50. We would like to thank Lenny Foster for volunteering to judge the photos. We did not have to follow through with his offer since there was only one entry. But in the two years that we have hosted this contest, I feel that this entry represents the essence of what we were trying to accomplish: to motivate young people and their families to try a garden with a little incentive…
Congratulations Aaliah and family!