Dryland garden care and summer pruning workshop planned for August 1, 2017.

Pruning_agriculture Wkshp

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Dryland three-sisters garden created at school

Garden mounds were prepared with digging forks, compost, and hand tools.

On Saturday, May 6, about 12 people came to learn about possibilities in dryland agriculture and help implement a ‘three-sisters’ garden in the arroyo next to the Taos Charter School.  This workshop and garden was the second in a series that included the tree pruning workshop on March 20, the post that can be read here.  The workshops and this garden were funded by a grant from Los Jardineros de Taos, a local gardening club that supports projects like these in the area.  The workshop would not have been possible without the support and enthusiasm of Principal Jeremy Jones of the Charter School, so we extend our thanks to him and the staff of the school as well.  The Taos Charter School serves grades K-8 so we are happy to be able to enrich the grounds and the experience of the students…

The idea behind this kind of agricultural style is that there is enough residual moisture in an arroyo along with rain (and maybe flood) events that will be sufficient to grow and harvest a crop.  There are large check dams of rocks to slow down the flow of flood waters if that should occur, we hope.  The mounds are planted with three seeds each of corn and beans and every third mound contains a squash.  In the traditional three sisters gardens I have studied, corn and beans are in every mound and squash, since it can vine out and cover large areas, is planted in every third or fourth mound.  The crops are mutually supportive with corn needing nitrogen and providing structure, beans providing nitrogen and climbing the corn, and squash shading the ground for moisture retention, soil cooling, and weed suppression.  This can be considered the ultimate form of companion planting or what is called a ‘guild’ in Permaculture.

Edward Gonzales exhibits strength and proficiency in all aspects of northern New Mexico culture from raising crops and livestock to adobe construction and other skills.

This workshop was assisted by Edward Gonzales, a lifelong northern New Mexican who has spent his life living from the land.  Edward was representing NIFI, the National Immigrant Farmer Initiative.  He gave a presentation on his life experience farming al temporal, or the traditional dryland or secano agricultural traditions that are connected to acequia culture.  He spoke of how his mom raised him and 7 siblings with farming, plant gathering, and other land-based traditions.  He talked about raising acres of crops in this dryland strategy in the highlands near the mountains of beans, fava beans, peas, barley, wheat, and corn.  His mom, the late Donne Gonzales, was a traditional yerbera (herbalist) and partera (midwife).  Her knowledge was featured in !Que Vivan las Acequias! radio program # 88 and can be heard here.  I have known this family for almost 20 years and am always impressed by the depth of their knowledge and tradition.

We also received a presentation from 6th grade student Mariel who also received a grant from Los Jardineros to install a butterfly or pollinator garden at the school.  We partnered on this workshop to incorporate some of her goals into our three sisters garden.  We prepared a bed within the garden to put in some plants for the pollinators, namely milkweed and cota.  We will also assist Mariel with the construction of a raised bed that will be put near the entrance of the school that will have more plants and flowers for the pollinators.

It was a great day with great company, conversation, and good work.  We look forward to sharing the results of this garden planting with you all, hopefully showing that agriculture is possible in a dryland context in areas that might not have been considered suitable for agriculture.  As a local northern New Mexican who has studied and practiced traditional agriculture of the region, I know that this kind of agriculture has been successful for many centuries by Native American and acequia farmers alike and offers lessons for food security and resilience in the face of Climate Change…

Posted in AIRE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Permaculture workshop planned to create a school garden 5/6/2017

A Taos non-profit organization Agriculture Implementation Research & Education (AIRE) is coordinating a workshop in the basics of Permaculture and arid-lands agriculture. The workshop is a collaboration between AIRE, the National Immigrant Farming Initiative (NIFI), the Los Jardineros Garden Club, and the Taos Charter School. It will be held on Saturday, May 6 from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM at the Taos Charter School located at 1303 Paseo del Cañon East. The workshop is to prepare a “three-sisters” garden site in the arroyo on the school grounds for the students of the School to plant in late May.

Jeremy Jones, principal of the Taos Charter School, is excited about the workshop noting that a garden, in combination with the trees that were pruned last month, provide an opportunity for students to learn about and experience local food while engaging in hands-on education. Miguel Santistevan will take the lead in the workshop and has been practicing Permaculture and acequia agriculture for over 20 years.

Miguel Santistevan, Executive Director of AIRE, was awarded a grant from the Los Jardineros Garden Club for the establishment of a “three sisters” garden to be located on the grounds of the Taos Charter School. The “three sisters” method of farming is planting corn, beans, and squash together in an arrangement where all the crops compliment each other’s needs. Corn provides structure for the beans to trellis and benefits from the nitrogen provided by the beans. Squash helps retain moisture and suppress weeds for the corn and bean plants. The site in the arroyo at Taos Charter School likely has enough moisture to support plant growth given that it receives runoff from the surrounding area and the rooftop of the School.

NIFI is helping new immigrant farmers become successful sustainable farmers through training, advocacy, networking, capacity building, and new projects. Edward Gonzales, outreach coordinator for NIFI, will be assisting with the logistics of the workshop and letting participants know about other agriculture workshops his organization is hosting in the area. Edward grew up practicing traditional agriculture in the acequias as well as in dryland settings known as “secano” or “al temporal” and will be sharing his experience and knowledge around this important agriculture practice.

Miguel is known for initiating the gardens at Parr Field and the Chrysalis Alternative School in addition to hosting visitors at his Permaculture/acequia site known as Sol Feliz Farm. He sees this workshop as an important effort to bring like-minded people together for beautifying the landscape and creating opportunities for local food security while learning about the history and potential of dryland agriculture. “Traditional agriculture has always been characterized by water harvesting on the landscape and making the best use of precipitation for agriculture. This workshop is a chance to teach people about ways of planting and harvesting they might not have considered possible,” says Miguel. More information on future workshops can be found on AIRE’s website, http://www.growfarmers.org.

AIRE’s mission is “To gather the people, plant the fields.”

Posted in AIRE | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Acequia cleaning 2017. Part II.

Photo copyright Miguel Santistevan 2017 and cannot be used without permission.

Every year is different in terms of the length of the irrigation season. We actually got some snow yesterday, March 24, and made me wonder if our scheduled acequia cleaning would be cancelled.  But like they say around here, “If you don’t like the weather, give it 5 minutes, it will change…”  The extent of our Springtime moisture makes me think that this year will be particularly good for irrigation, our river is running full blast from the runoff and recent precipitation (snow) events.

On March 25, 2017 was the official annual cleaning of Acequia Madre del Sur del Río de Don Fernando de Taos.  This cleaning continues a tradition of cleaning this acequia that is at least 221 years in the making.  This is a great time to reconnect with neighbors and rekindle fires of friendship and community.  It has been a year since I have seen many of my neighbors, the last time being at last year’s acequia cleaning.

The annual acequia cleaning is vital to the continuation of our acequia infrastructure, community, and culture.  We clear out the weeds, debris, and open up the channel for the water to flow in a few days.  The first flowing of the water is one of the most exciting times of the year and signifies the official start of our agricultural livelihood that depends on us working together.

Today was a great day under the leadership of our Mayordomo, who made sure that all of our ditches are clean and ready to deliver water.  As soon as the water comes and my own lateral ditches are ready, I will call the Mayordomo and ask for a turn at the water.  The two days I spent working to help clean the ditches pay off my water rights dues, but I will still have to pay a small fee to help with Mayordomo, postage, and Taos Valley Acequia Association costs.  The work and the fees are a small price to pay for the wealth gained in acequia participation as well the potential for agricultural production over the season.

Posted in Acequia Culture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing the acequia garden soil

March is a good time to get the soil ready for planting and irrigating.  We got this process going in early March and like to get started as soon as the soil can be worked.  In years past, we have done some soil cultivation and even planting of peas and favas in February!

To articulate the process we use might be helpful so some people who also have small landholdings of an acre or so and do flood irrigation.  We use a BCS 8 Horsepower tiller with a sickle-bar mower and hiller/furrower attachments for most of the work.  A Stihl brushcutter is also used to cut weeds and even clear lateral ditches with metal blades, plastic blades, or the line trimmer, depending on the type of vegetation to be cleared.

So first the land is cleared of weeds by cutting them down by hand, with the brushcutter, or the sickle-bar mower.  Then they are raked into piles and removed.  This cut vegetation is good for the compost pile, especially mixed with a little bit of chicken manure.  Finished compost is applied to the land to be incorporated with tilling and the making of rows.  I typically put one full wheelbarrow of compost per row, so that is about 6 cubic feet per 7o foot row.  Then the tiller comes through and breaks up and mixes the soil.  Then the hiller/furrower attachment is put on the tiller to make the rows, as seen above.

The rows are constructed on the level or slight downhill using an A-frame or water level to identify the contour of the land.  Often times the level points are identified on the lateral ditches on each end of the property and the irrigation row connects those points with a slight half-moon or bow shape to channel the water to the center.  The irrigation row then also serves as a swale in the off-season.

After this process, the rows are ready for planting.  They will have to be cleaned up and connected to the lateral ditches by hand using a shovel or a hoe  before irrigation can occur.  As a final step for soil preparation, it is nice to use a digging fork or broadfork to pierce the soil and allow for water penetration into the subsurface.  Depending on the amount of time available, I like to poke into the soil about every 2 or 3 feet down the row as shown in the picture below.

Hopefully this post was helpful in giving you ideas about soil preparation, let me know if you have any questions!

Posted in Acequia Culture, Sol Feliz Farm, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tree pruning workshop a success

On March 20, 2017, about 20 participants gathered to learn about tree care and the pruning of trees under the instruction of Ben Wright and Paul Bryan Jones.  This workshop was held at the orchards at the Taos Charter School and was a collaboration between the School, AIRE, Los Jardineros Garden Club, the Heartwood Coalition, and the Taos Tree Board.  The workshop was coordinated by AIRE and funded by Los Jardineros, who gave a grant to AIRE for the workshop in addition to a the establishment of a “three sisters” garden for the students at the school.

We are grateful to all who made this workshop possible.  We learned a lot about how to assess tree health, how to strengthen the structure of trees, and how to encourage fruit production.  This was the first workshop of the season, we look forward to more!

Posted in AIRE | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Acequia cleaning 2017. Part I.

About a week ago I received notice from our Acequia Commission that we will be starting our acequia cleaning this Friday, March 17.  This is the earliest we gather to clean the acequias in my memory, likely due to our interest in being ready to irrigate when the comes, which seems to be earlier every year.

Today we cleaned our acequia ditch system starting at the top where our diversion structure is in the river.  You can see in the picture above that we have a large headgate or presa to bring the water in our system.  The clear area you see to the left was a job our Mayordomo put me and a couple other guys on…  We had to clear this area of willows and other vegetation.  If there is a flood from a large rain event, we might get our diversion structure clogged with debris that would come down the river channel.  Having this area clear allows these materials to flow around and past the diversion structure and keeps the river channel more open.

After cleaning the diversion structure area, we proceeded down the acequia channel itself.  The Mayordomo (seen with the brush cutter) moved ahead and cut the vegetation on the bordos (banks) of the acequias and we workers (peones) in turn cleared the area and moved the brush away from the ditch bank.  Our Mayordomo and Commissioners need to be able to walk on the bordos and check the status of the water and fix any problem areas.  This cleaning is to maintain our easement which is ten feet from the center of the acequia to the ditch bank on each side for a total of twenty feet.

It was a great day to reconnect with members of my community and nature.  After our next full day of cleaning, the acequia will be ready to bring water to our fields…

Posted in Acequia Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment