The winter really seemed to zip right by this year, probably because we spent a few weeks traveling and missed much of the winter on the mountain. Though we very much enjoyed our travels, I’m still a bit sad that I missed the winter wonder of the Sandias. The winters in New Mexico are shorter than the long dreary Midwest winters of my childhood. It really seems (at least to me) that New Mexico winters trend right along with the lunar winter solstice, with the weeks leading up to and following the solstice really being the peak of the winter. As the days get longer and the sun gets warmer, the snow slowly melts away, and the dry weather returns.
New Mexico February is a real treat with warm, sunny days and chilly nights. It’s almost easy to forget that the harsh spring winds are just around the corner. Spring is more prohibitive to outdoor pursuits than winter, with the family trapped inside by breath-seizing winds and eye-burning dust. I spent the better part of last spring struggling in vain to keep the desert outside my doors, perpetually sweeping sand off the floors and windows, and delicately removing the fine red dust from all of my electronics. Our printer was the only casualty last year, but now we’re gearing up for another round.
We’re also gearing up for our first season of gardening in our new home. Our last garden was in the drained wetlands of East Central Illinois, where I spent the better part of my time trying to keep the swamp out of my basement. Our “compost method” consisted of dumping our vegetable scraps between the rows of our garden and letting the consistent rain and plentiful earthworms work their magic. Gardening was rather effortless, and we reaped unearned rewards. This experience will be quite different, and we are looking forward to the challenge. Today, I decided to put on my chicken boots and take another quick photo tour around the house.
|Our composting partners -- Shark and the ladies|
After our recent travels, we began a composting venture assisted by our chickens. We created a compost heap inside their run. Instead of turning the compost, we simply place all our compostables down there – things the chickens want to eat and things they don’t. They dig through the mess to find the good bits, simultaneously turning the soil and leaving their contributions, too. Their nitrogen-rich manure makes a terrific addition to the turned, rich soil.
|A hen doing her part to turn the soil.|
|Path from chicken run to garden|
We have selected an area on the Northface of the hillside as our permanent garden plot, where the snow insulates and protects the soil all winter, and the rainwater flows vigorously during monsoons. Though I’m not sure we’ll use it this year, we are tending the soil in several tiers cascading down the hillside for future gardening. For that time between the last snowfall and the start of monsoons, when precipitation is nil, we will be installing water catchment under the deck.
|The steep climb back to the house|
|Site of future greenhouse|
The big project of this season will be the greenhouse. I am very excited that the Hubby has developed plans to build a greenhouse (for around $300) to be attached to the home on the south side of our bedroom. This means that next winter, I should never be without tomatoes, chard, or fresh herbs, accessed without leaving the warmth of my home. And the kicker? Our bedroom is the coldest room in the house (mainly the result of the orientation in relation to the dominant winds and location over the un-insulated garage). The heat from the attached south-facing greenhouse should provide ample heat and moisture during the cold, dry winter.
We will most likely do the rest of our gardening this season in coldframes along the exterior walls of our house. Without the necessary water catchment, the larger project of the tiered gardens is prohibitive unless we drained our well, which we cannot do as stewards of our environment.
All in all, we are very excited to begin this new step toward independence from the corporate influences over our food sources. It doesn’t get much more locavore than eggs and chicken from the backyard and herbs and veggies from the front yard.
I’ll continue to update the blog as we make changes and learn new things about high desert horticulture, which will inevitably shape the way we feed our family of five for (almost) free.