25 May 2011

Adapting to the Elements (and Buffering, Where Possible)

Pincushion flowers (Scabiosa lucida), Magdalena, NM, May 2011

It is a near-perfect spring day out here in western New Mexico, sunny and fairly calm, the winds having abated after some restlessness yesterday. Apparently this April was the windiest in a dozen years, so the aggravation I felt and shared with my fellow New Mexicans was well justified. By late May the winds have usually abated, but we have a few days of wind and "blowing dust" (an official weather term out here, apparently) forecast for the upcoming week.

So it is a good year to implement serious weather-buffering measures in my veggie garden; the tomato and tomatillo seedlings now residing within Walls-o-Water (they're cheapest at Wal-Mart, by the way) are doing well, whereas those open to the elements are lagging a bit. I completely encircled one bed (shown at right) with tomato plants in Walls-o-Water and then put pepper plants in the center strip, with black plastic and bricks to increase soil warmth and nighttime heat radiation, and this seems to be working well. If I'd thought of this before, all four tomato beds would be set up like this.... Yes, I have four tomato beds. Yes, that's insane -- in most places. Here, it's called hedging one's bets, or it could still be insanity, which is what happens when a once-accomplished gardener fails, year after year, to bring tomatoes to fruition in a climate that does not favor tomatoes because of its cool nights and early frost. Accept reality? Not yet....

Now I'm working on some kind of organic water conditioning; our water is so hard and has such high alkalinity that many plants can't get enough essential nutrients, including iron and phosphorus, which leaves them yellow and stunted if untreated. I noticed in my first year of gardening here that vegetable seedlings never really thrived after I put them out in the garden and in fact seemed "poisoned" by our water; now I know why. Soil conditioning with lots of aged manure, peat, and pine needles does help, but lowering the pH of the water they get every time the drip system goes on will help a lot more. As for the other gardens, I'm focusing on native or well-adapted perennials such as the pincusion flowers pictured here, which just thrive in dryish, alkaline soils. I'm only forcing the issue in the veggie garden because I really, really want to feed myself and my family home-grown, organic produce, which is hard to find (and afford) in our local stores... so off I go on a new quest....

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