Archive for February, 2014

Grow Your Own: Rise, Fall, and Impending Rebirth of the Cover; Bat Guano Experiments, and More

by John Weckerle

Our sinister plot (lame pun intended) to lengthen the growing season ran into a bit of a snag on its first round.  Not a snag in the sense that the wind, which began rising during the effort, did something horrible to the plastic, but a snag of the basic light-transmission variety.  Our original plan was to test the waters by using standard, home improvement store grade plastic, with which we had had some success overwintering kale on a small scale.  However, about halfway into the effort, Senior Common Sense Editor Lucy noted that the plastic was casting about as much shadow as she was.  After a brief discussion, Senior Materials Science Correspondent Wilson advised that a higher-transmission plastic, perhaps something in the 92% range with infrared retention properties, a 4-year ultraviolet warranty, and anti-condensate features would be more effective.  The wind voiced its agreement, and we removed the offending product and stowed it for more productive uses (small scale overwintering, wrapping beetle-infested tree trunks, and so on).  From there, we proceeded indoors to order the new plastic from Farmtek – a deluxe, 28 x 40 piece of greenhouse sheeting that should provide us with full cover for Bed 5 and some extra material for smaller covers.  We also ordered some snap clamps from Amazon, and we regret to inform that we apparently got the last ones eligible for Prime shipping.  Amazon still has them and Farmtek also carries similar products.  We got a feel for these during the prior experiment; they’re easier to put on than to take off, but seem as if they’ll do the trick just fine.  Let’s hope for less-than-hurricane strength surface winds Saturday or Sunday.

As our readers well know, we start getting antsy after the first of the year, and we do still have the indoor seed starting setup.  We’ve put this to good use in testing seed to see if it is still viable, and so far everything but the chives has come up (although the kale’s not doing well).  The gold star goes to the lone string bean (Blue Lake, a bush variety), which has yielded its first nibble to the testing authorities and been found far from wanting.  Hats off to the old Martian Giant tomato seeds; we had little hope that these would come up, but having put four seeds into the pot, we ended up murdering three plants so that the fourth would survive.  Similar results were seen with the two Mortgage Lifter pots, and here is where the aerobatic mammal droppings come into play.

The two Mortgage Lifter pots were planted one week apart, with the later planting supplemented by Happy Frog bat quano fertilizer, a purported source of phosphorus.  We have long suspected that our small (but tasty and plentiful) tomatoes have been, in part, an issue of less-than-optimal phosphorus availability.  At this time, the two plants are of equal height, with the earlier-planted one having open flowers and the latter-planted one having plenty of flower buds.  These will be grown in pots; one will continue to have phosphorus added at subsequent repottings and the other will not.  Other than the week’s difference in planting date, we’ll treat them the same, and see if there is a difference in fruit size down the line.

For the garden, we’ll be working some phosphorus into the soil for the tomatoes, and probably the other nightshades (peppers, eggplants, etc.).  Also, the composter continues to house a substantial community of earthworms, and some of those will eventually find their way into the garden as well. We’re also considering a shading strategy for the hotter parts of the summer, as this may also have contributed to last year’s fruiting sizes; we got some wonderfully large Pink Brandywines before the heat waves last year, and some wonderfully tasty but much smaller ones afterward, notwithstanding adjustments to the watering schedule to accommodate the higher temperatures.

Bed 4 has been decommissioned, with the intent of providing hummingbird, bee, and butterfly forage as well as forage for the “beneficial predator” insects we’d like to see around the grounds in general.  Our attempts to breed a ladybug big enough to carry marauding deer and squirrels safely outside the fenced area have thus far been unproductive.  Having now realized that tarragon is more aggressive than we might have liked, we expect that Bed 6 will likely undergo a facelift and re-planning this Spring.  As for Beds 1-3, if time permits we’ll get them back into the mix this year.  We’re thinking of asparagus for one of them, and the prospect of oddly colored potatoes continues to intrigue us.

Get Ready for Fire Season!

From the East Mountain Fire Protection Association

On March 1, 2014 the East Mountain Interagency Fire Protection Association (EMIFPA) will hold an all day, multi-topic “Fire in the East Mountains – Are We Ready” training session at the McGrane Safety Center in Tijeras. Representatives from local fire management agencies will deliver presentations and talk individually with attendees to help residents prepare for fire season. The day will start at 10 am and will wrap up approximately 4 pm. Lunch will be provided but attendees are asked to bring water to drink. This program is strictly limited to 46 attendees on a first come-first serve basis. The event is filling up quickly, so make sure you RSVP soon to Sue Hansen-Putze at or on the EMIFPA web site,

EMIFPA will be holding a silent auction in conjunction with the March 1 training session. EMIFPA is a non-profit organization supported largely by local fundraising. Bring your wallets and get some deals while helping to support wildfire safety in our community. If you have items that you would consider a worthy contribution to the effort, please contact Deb at to make arrangements regarding your item(s).

National Wildfire Awareness Week is March 30th– April 5th

Bernalillo County Green Waste Days April 5-19th

Weather Permitting, Sandia Ranger District Continuing Prescribed Burning Program Tuesday, February 25, 2014

by Karen Takai, Sandia Ranger District

Tijeras NM, February 24, 2014:  The Sandia Ranger District will be continuing with the Hondo prescribed burn program, February 25, 2014 weather permitting. The East Mountain indices are at Moderate in the project area. What that means is that area is still safe for a prescribed burn project. We are carefully watching the weather for tomorrow and will notify you when and if it does happen. Please note the fires you are hearing about are in the Bosque area are one to two indices higher than ours. (Fire Danger Ratings)

There are 10 acres targeted for Tuesday. Prior to ignition, fire managers consider many factors including: fuel moisture levels, current and projected weather forecasts, fire personnel resources available, and air quality. All these factors need to be in alignment in order to carry out a successful and safe prescribed burn treatment.

This project is a continuation of a three year fuels reduction program in on the Sandia Ranger District.  Smoke will be visible from I-40, Hwy.14 North, Frost Rd and the surrounding communities of Cedar Crest and Tijeras. The project is located west of Cedar Crest.

Fire managers make every effort to minimize smoke impacts to the communities while continuing to address the critical need to reduce the risk of severe wildfires around communities.  Tactics are used to keep smoke impacts as minimal as possible including canceling approved burns when conditions aren’t favorable, finding alternative uses for the debris in slash piles, timing daytime ignitions to allow the majority of smoke time to disperse prior to settling overnight. Another strategy is to burn larger sections at a time when conditions are favorable to reduce the overall number of days smoke is in the area. All prescribed burning is coordinated with NM Air Quality Bureau.

Smoke from prescribed fires is considerably less and of a shorter duration than smoke of wildfires which can burn for weeks and even months at a time.  Smoke-sensitive individuals and people with respiratory problems are urged to stay indoors with windows and doors closed when possible.

We welcome questions and if there are concerns join me at the district to review our burn program on the district.


For additional information contact Sandia Ranger District 505-281-3304

Sponge and A-Frame Workshop, Saturday, March 22, 2014

by Christian Meuli

The sponge is a useful rainwater harvesting technique that needs little maintenance. A sponge is a hole dug into the ground and filled with moisture-holding household waste. I find sponges to be invaluable in establishing tree saplings on windy, dry sites with poor soil and in reinvigorating old trees.

Sponges made of carbon materials passively hold winter snows and summer rains for months afterward, storing moisture efficiently in the soil and recycling carbon back into our depleted desert soil. Sponges retain moisture safely out of the harsh sun and drying wind right next to growing roots. Sponges are a simple and convenient way to very-locally recycle newspapers, cardboard, magazines, phone books, junk mail, confidential papers, yard cuttings, clothes, etc.

First we will visit a variety of mature sponges and their effects on nearby plants. Next we will dig and install several sponges with the carbon material that each attendee will bring with them. We’ll use an A-frame to identify the contour and to design how to harvest the rainwater most efficiently, dig and fill the sponge, and mulch it to look as natural as possible.

Then we’ll form groups of three to make state of the art A-frames that are durable, light-weight and foldable. I aspire for these groups to share an A-frame together, using them in varied conditions over the seasons and sharing outcomes with each other. I’ll give everyone marking flags so you can immediately begin implementing sponges on your own site!


Saturday, March 22, 2014

 9AM – 1PM  at La Resolana, Edgewood

 9 AM                       Site tour of successful sponges and a sponge ladder

10 AM                    Make several sponges: identify contour, dig hole and berm the

downhill side, fill with carbon waste, step down the materials,

mulch, armor the downhill berm, water(?), extend arms of berms,

and take pictures


11 AM- 1 PM              Make A-frames (the rainbarn has a woodstove)(I have tools and materials


$25 with scholarships available.  Limited to 18 people. Please e-mail me your contact information including a current e-mail and phone number. Participants will bring a large bag of sponge material, gloves, and a shovel.

I cancelled the sponge workshop last fall due to a 14” snow. I hope each of you that had signed up previously will be able to attend this next workshop. I plan on having a woodchip berm and A-frame workshop before the summer rains begin.

I look forward to sharing this simple rainwater harvesting technique that is extremely beneficial,


Christian Meuli