by Barbara Hockabout, Lodestar Gardens and Learning Center
What is going to make this year’s gardening memorable for most of us is not the size of our roses, our prolific greens, or our healthy herbs, but rather how many times we had to replant, water, and replant again. This year will tax the most enthusiastic gardener and discourage many to give up growing at all this season. Why? In a word, our drought.
It is extreme. Vernon Fire District Chief, Dave Niehuis, announced to a large crowd congregated at the Stanford General Store Thursday, June 7th, that fire conditions haven’t been this bad for 85 years, that we are in a Stage 3, Level 4 alert. What will make our gardens most memorable this year is what they teach us about change. It was dawn when through the open window, I heard a racket down by the goat pen. Then the chickens went into a cacophony of crowing. I jumped out of bed and ran toward the ruckus. They were back again. I turned a corner and there they were–two-year old elk bucks, four of them, all sporting good size furry racks of horns standing over a decimated bale of alfalfa staring back at me. I walked toward them and they bounded away. That morning they had ravaged the potato patch. Yesterday they ate the orchard trees. The day before they raked through the lower garden mowing down green shoots. In the 18 years we have lived on this property, elk visited only in the winter months. We rarely saw one after March. Last year we complained about having to plant the bean patch three times due to mice and insects; this year it’s rats, squirrels and elk. We are experiencing new garden challenges.
These severe conditions impacted the entire food chain. Our soil didn’t have the benefit of any retained winter moisture, our plant starts didn’t have the benefit of an intermediate spring as the heat and wind came suddenly and still remain right into our typically hottest month of June. Our plants as well as seeds and young shoots were manna to new threats: thirsty birds, rodents, and mammals who have been deeply affected by fires, drought, and changing weather patterns. The UV light is more intense and one gardener in Snowflake saw all but one of his healthy plant starts wither and turn yellow in a single afternoon even while they sat in rich, moist soil. “I had starts inside and they seemed to be doing ok… moved them outside and they all disappeared… not to critters, just couldn’t take the heat and wind…” he notes. These conditions are not a good segue even for greenhouse plants that were hardened-off in
order to strengthen them for outside elements. The game has changed for us growers.
While all of this seems dire, there is a gift in it if we change our perspective and stay the course. If any gardeners can see their way through extreme times, it is the gardeners of the White Mountain and Colorado Plateau region where we already have incredible climate challenges. At Lodestar we realized early on, in a gathering of growers held in November of 2017, that this year we may need to take the posture of “expect the unexpected,” we could not rely on the gardening textbooks alone, and we readied ourselves to become backyard scientists, problem-solvers, and inventors.
Some of us are experimenting with such permaculture techniques as huglekulture growing (visit nonprofit: soilandhealth.org).Others are studying gardening protocols such as the Apache County Mittleider Gardening class (FoodSecureACA@gmail.com) in order to increase yields. Many of us are inspired by Kim Howell-Costion’s Northland Pioneer College gardening classes (NPC Learning Adventures non-credit classes). Still others are experimenting with the Perelandra Gardening approach which teaches us how to establish stronger relationships with our gardens (www.perelandra-Ltd.com). Other folks are experimenting with such energetic approaches as Paramagnetics and Biodynamics. In order to repel the elk brothers that are pestering our gardens, we are experimenting with Radionics.
It is time to explore options. Who in your neighborhood or area is a successful gardener or grower? We fondly call them Positive Deviants. Find out why? We may need to learn more dry farming strategies from our Native American farmers. We may want to explore new foods to eat and drought resistant varieties of vegetables. Yes, we may need to eat differently. Whatever the workable solutions, we need to keep an open mind about what to grow and how to grow it. If we all attempt to grow something in our living space— backyard, pots, garden lots, community gardens, neighborhood cooperative garden projects—we will raise our food consciousness and adjust our expectations about what we can grow in a drought. If your garden produces an abundance of some kind of food; bring your surplus to a local farmer’s market and exchange with others what they are best able to grow in their microclimate.
There are new farmers’ markets starting up this year in Concho, Witch Wells, and the Stanford General Store @ the ‘Y’. The Show Low Farmers’ Market and Art Walk is one of our area’s oldest markets. Community Gardens are starting in St. Johns and Springerville. The White Mountain Community Gardens located in Show Low is our area’s first and longest standing Community Garden and they are going strong (www.wmcgarden.org). And for heaven’s sake, expose your children and grandchildren to the process of growing food. Livvey and Lauren are learning about gardening while their parents work at the Lodestar Grassroots Food Co-Op twice a week—labor for harvest—making friends while making food.
Let’s learn what our gardens have to teach us this year. Join us for a garden checkin Wednesday, September 5th at Lodestar Gardens Learning Center 10 am. Until then, keep the faith and ride the summer wave of challenges. Know you are NOT alone and there is no failure in trying new approaches. Call for a bibliography of new era books: (928) 587-1660.