2013 was a year of some major accomplishments and a few new learning opportunities. We planted 3 gardens totaling 1.5-2 acres, harvested 41,200 pounds of fresh produce and donated it to 15 food pantries in Sandoval and Bernalillo Counties. In addition, we completed a greenhouse, purchased a plastic mulch layer and forks for the tractor and planted an orchard of 80 fruit trees.
Let’s talk about the gardens first since this is our primary focus. The following graph shows our total harvest for the past four years. Two things stand out. One, the 2013 harvest total was less than 2011 and 2012 and two, the harvest season ended 2-3 weeks early.
Although we are pleased with the overall results, we are a little disappointed in the 2013 harvest total. After seeing a 15,000 pound increase year after year, we developed high expectations. 2013 was a difficult and humbling year. Let me share some of the issues.
- First came a late spring frost. This wiped out the fruit crop. Last year, 17,000 pounds of fruit was donated by Corrales, Rio Rancho and north valley property owners.
- Then we had another year of severe drought. As a result, flood irrigation was restricted and farmers who rely on flood irrigation to grow their crops were unable to plant. That reduced the number of vendors at the Corrales Grower’s Market. Last year, we solicited produce donations at the Corrales Grower’s Market and collected over 3,150 pounds of produce, primarily from the vendors. Although we did not participate in the Grower’s Market this year, we did promote a “grow a row” program for the food pantries and several families dropped off excess produce at the gardens.
- Next came a severe hail storm at the end of July. Hail shredded the plants and damaged the produce. Although the gardens recovered, it delayed the harvest.
- Finally, we had an early frost this fall that shortened the harvest season by 2-3 weeks.
- Squash bugs were particularly bad this year. We tried to control them by planting late but that did not work. Squash bugs feed on plant sap. Cells around the feeding site are destroyed and with multiple feeding punctures areas of the leaf or stems may collapse and no longer move water. This produces wilting, which will eventually kill the plant. Squash bugs multiply at an alarming rate and have well armored bodies that seem impervious to pesticides Next year, we will try a control technique called “trap cropping”. Click here for more information on trap cropping.
- Just when we thought squash bugs were the worst pest, along came root knot nematodes. These are microscopic round worms that feed on the roots of plants. This causes the roots to develop galls that restrict the flow of water and nutrients. (See picture of the tomato roots on the right) Root knot nematodes tend to be found in sandy loam soil and they can be transmitted from garden to garden in the dirt attached to tillers, plows and other garden implements. Once there, they are difficult to control. A study that I recently found on the Internet suggested several organic controls that we will try next year. Click here for more information on root knot nematodes.
Between October 2012 and April 2013, we built a greenhouse that was used it to grow 7500 seedlings for the 2013 gardens. The basic structure was up by the end of 2012. However, the electrical and plumbing systems were not completed until April 2013, literally days before we started transplanting seedlings.
The greenhouse is a 16’x24′ polycarbonate structure with a 13′ evaporative cooling wall. It contains 60′ of steel greenhouse tables that were built out of recycled warehouse pallet shelving. This summer, the evaporative cooling wall kept the greenhouse at a balmy 85 degrees. The electric bill has been nominal. This fall we also used the greenhouse to ripen green tomatoes.
Plastic Mulch Layer
We purchased a plastic mulch layer, a piece of farm equipment that simultaneously lays the drip irrigation system and covers it with plastic mulch. This equipment will lay an acre of plastic mulch in less than half a day. We use plastic mulch under the tomato and green chile plants to reduce weeding, protect the irrigation system from rodent damage and most importantly, to conserve water by reducing evaporation. A study by Penn State and Cornell University found that plastic mulch, specifically red plastic mulch, stimulates plant growth and increases the productivity of tomato plants by approximately 20%. Click here for a pdf with more information.
Seed2Need hosted four Eagle Scout projects this summer. Each Eagle Scout candidate recruited a large group of volunteers and managed a major planting event. What would have taken Seed2Need volunteers a week to accomplish was completed in hours. We owe these Eagle Scout candidates and their volunteers our deepest gratitude. What they accomplished was amazing.
One Eagle scout candidate and his team of volunteers planted an orchard. Funding for the trees and irrigation system was provided by Keep New Mexico Beautiful and PNM. This orchard is an investment in the future. All of the fruit will be donated to local food pantries. Once the trees are mature, the orchard may also be used as a site for fruit tree pruning workshops.
A second Eagle scout candidate and a team of 75+ volunteers planted 2000 tomato plants, installed tomato cages and covered the cages with row cover in less than four hours.
Two other Eagle scout candidates and a team of 100+ volunteers planted 300 tomato plants and 4000 green chile seedlings in four hours.
As the result of a newspaper article this spring, over 65 new volunteers signed up to help with the Seed2Need gardens. In 2013, Seed2Need volunteers contributed over 2500 volunteer hours. Approximately 1/3 of those hours were Sandoval Co Master Gardeners. The other 2/3 were members of the general public.
This fall, we purchased a set of pallet forks for the tractor. These forks will be used to carry pallets of vegetables from one end of the garden to the other and to load pallets of produce onto trucks. We currently haul this produce on wagons. Fully loaded, a wagon can weigh 400+ pounds.
Goals for 2014
Although the 2013 growing season is barely over, we are already planning the 2014 gardens. Seed catalogs are starting to arrive! There will be a seed starting workshop in mid-March and we will be planting more bare-root apple and peach trees this spring. Additionally, we plan to wage a battle against the squash bugs and root knot nematodes using the techniques mentioned above. We will also be researching other controls this winter, as well as speaking to other civic and community service groups in an effort to recruit more volunteers before the 2014 growing season. Recruiting more volunteers would allow us to expand.
We would like to purchase a one-bottom plow for the tractor and a small storage shed for the garden so we can keep hoes, shovels, rake, gloves, irrigation repair parts and other garden supplies on site. It’s a long drive home when we forget something!
We would like to thank all of our sponsors and volunteers again for helping to reduce hunger in New Mexico. We appreciate your participation and support.
Best wishes for a joyful holiday season!