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Spring Fever- How to Choose a Plant

 

Spring fever really can be a problem.  You go to the nursery and want them all! As I prepare for Ampersand’s Fundraiser Plant Sale on May 6th, I find myself assessing how well I have done with each species.  I’ve really tried my best to plant each seed at the right time and give them the right growing conditions.  Each variety of plant needs it’s own kind of care to be at the perfect stage for transplanting in your garden.  Officially we plan to wait till May 15th to avoid danger of frost, but after having had a late winter storm yesterday and a warm spring day today, I’m wondering if we can get the frost sensitive plants in the garden a bit earlier. Often we can, especially if we are prepared to cover them at night if we get a stray frost.

I’m growing over 40 different varieties of seedlings.   Sadly, I don’t have the garden space to even plant one of each to see it reach maturity, so I’m counting on my babies going to good homes.  This post is dedicated to sharing with you a few important factors that go into seedling selection for your garden, whether you get them from me or someone else.083

The first one is the plant variety.  Gardeners like me get a bit crazy with the seed catalogs in January.  I love befriending new food plants that are native to or grow well in the Southwest US. So I have ended up with some enchanting oddballs like Tarahumara Chia and Desert Huckleberry or Chichiquelites.  When I find an heirloom variety that has been grown for generations within 100 miles or so of my location, I’m all over it.  Which is why I have Santo Domingo Ceremonial Tobacco and Corrales Azafran (used as a dye, a saffron substitute, and for dry flower arrangements). 167

But I know most of you are eyeing my tomatoes and basil. I’m excited to offer seven different varieties of tomatoes, most of them specifically chosen for their ability to grow well in our desert climate and produce fruit before you give up on them. I also offer five varieties of Basil so you will 133never get bored with pesto.   Both of these summer faves need a head start in the greenhouse, so knowing what to look for in a seedling is important.  Many tomatoes need a long growing season so you want to get plants that are ready to produce tomatoes as soon as the soil temperature in your garden allows. If they are grown too close together in the nursery they may get spindly stems to compete for light.  Ideally they will have some experience with wind before you purchase them.  A leggy weak-stemmed tomato plant is a sorry sight being battered in your garden by the Spring winds of New Mexico141.  Look for side shoots emerging from the nodes in the body of your plant. Those will produce a full sturdy plant that will be prepared to produce many flowers early on.  You want a nice squat basil plant as well. Those full top leaves are hypnotizing but remember to look for those little leaves sprouting from the stem to know they are ready to make lots of leaves for your pesto!143

171Now this is not a nice thing to do while you are selecting plants in the nursery (at least not while anyone is looking) but the roots of your plant really should be fully grown through the soil. The soil should hold together when you remove the plant from it’s pot. When it gets put in the garden, the roots will be happy to spread into the surrounding moist soil. A root-bound plant will look all knotted up with roots winding around the shape of the pot. The root mass will need some extra massaging (maybe even a bit of tearing) to loosen the root structure before planting.152

The plants do look really sweet with flowers on them. But keep in mind that the transplanting process can be traumatic. Many gardeners pick off the flowers and buds (even small fruits sometimes) when transplanting to allow the plant to focus on establishing it’s root structure right away. When the plant feels comfortable in it’s new environment it will be ready to fully focus on making the flowers and fruits you so want. We manipulate the lives of our little plant friends so much. It feels good to respect their process and allow them to focus on building a good foundation before expecting so much production out of them.107

While I’ve been growing vegetables and seedlings for 25 years or so, this is my first time utilizing my three current greenhouse spaces to full capacity. I’ve found they have different qualities that complement each other quite well to provide the various habitats I need. 161All spring I’ve had seeds starting in flats that need constant warmth and moisture, newly transplanted seedlings that need at least partial shade, and potted starts that may need different amounts of sun and space. Sometimes I’ll locate smaller plants in warmer places to speed up growth, or bigger plants in cooler places to slow it down. I find myself rearranging the babies nearly every day- within and between the greenhouses.

Sure, I’m showing you all my favorite seedlings. Since you have read this far, I’ll reward you with one of Ampersand’s dirty little secrets. Look at this kal162e plant. Here’s an example of a seedling past it’s prime. It’s got a yellowing leaf and roots hanging out the bottom. It was perfect during the April 2nd plant sale but they didn’t all find new homes. Looks like there is not enough drainage in the tray that is holding the pots and that’s why the roots have started exploring. I would have been happy to have sold them all in April. But I also think there will be gardeners happy to buy them in May. Kale is so resilient, with a little root massage this plant will start producing abundant leaves once you get it in your garden.

Or maybe you would rather plant a more drought tolerant green like Chamisal Quelites Verdes or Purple Mountain Spinach. These readily reseed in your garden (and sometimes even in your driveway) to provide tender greens much of the year.075

I recently showed a nursery expert friend my growing scene. Everywhere is overflowing with plants. When I postulated that in the next years I might be able to match my supply with the needs of local gardeners, she said “Well that would be amazing, because no one else can!” Thanks, that made me feel better. Meanwhile, come get my plants on May 6th outside the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid, New Mexico. 10am to 3pm.

Here’s the full list of plants I’m offering:

Tomato Varieties: Flamenco, Yellow Pear, Marvel Striped, Stupice, Ace 55, Yellow Perfection, Punta Banda
Peppers and Chilies: Early Jalapeno, Padron, Shishito, Anaheim
Tomatillo:  Verde, De Milpa (purple)
Herbs: Tarahumara Chia, Sweet Marjoram, Flat Leaf and Moss Curled Parsley, Epazote, Sorrel, 080Corrales Azafran, Santo Domingo Ceremonial Tobacco, Catnip
Di Cicco Broccoli and Wakefield Early Cabbage and Tohono O’odham Iítoi Bunching Onion

Squash: Chimayo Calabaza, Navajo Cushaw ‘Tail Squash’
Armenian Cucumbers
Greens: Chamisal Quelites Verdes, Purple Mountain Spinach, Red Russian Kale, Chichiquelite (or Garden Huckleberry), Southern Giant Curled Mustard, Tatsoi, Rainbow Chard
Flowers: Cosmos, Calendula, Corrales Azafran, Edible Viola (Johnny-Jump-Up), Shungiku Edible Chrysanthemum
Basil: Lettuce Leaf, Genovese, Sweet Italian, Anise, Lemon

And here’s my latest video showing the greenhouses and many of these plant varieties!

Written by Amanda Bramble


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Inspiration- The In Breath

“Did you have a vision for all this when you started?” I get this question a lot when people see Ampersand for the first time. How did we create all these structures and systems in 12 years? The answer has always been that I can only envision a few years ahead, like when this house, this cottage, or this shop will be finished and we can start using the space. My mind is very pragmatic that that can limit what I’m able to dream. But my overactive will and motivation has Ampersand constantly upgrading and adding onto the dreams and visions as the manifestation takes place.

Recently I’ve been experiencing a lull in motivation. I hear some people call this”taking a break.” Along with physical indications of growing older, I have found it both disturbing and refreshing. But Mother Earth models for us seasons of expansion and rest. All of creation breathes in and out in cycles and spirals of growth. I’ve been getting a lesson in breathing in, nourishing myself, and receiving.

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Breathing in and out. Inspiration and expiration. My latest inspiration has involved gazing upon fields and mountains all day by a stream, finding and eating wild foods from the forest, and discovering the creations of another dreamer who began long before I did.

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Enter Jerome Osentowski and Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute (CRMPI) in Basalt, Co. He led Andy and I on a tour of the permaculture site that he’s been cultivating for 40 years. This place is in a little crook in the mountain that gives him a warmer climate than the surrounding area. And he’s been further tinkering with the climate with his many greenhouses on site. At 8000 feet elevation, Jerome grows papayas and bananas and countless other fruits we grazed on as we walked through the forest gardens inside and out.

 

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My greenhouse home at Arcosanti 1997

Jerome’s site took me back to my time at Arcosanti when I was living in and managing a large experimental greenhouse. Now I realize that I lived with an early incarnation of what has been fully explored at CRMPI, the climate battery. It’s a way of capturing heat from the air at the top of the greenhouse and storing it in the soil of the greenhouse beds with the use of a fan and various sized tubing.

It’s interesting having been created in the 1970s myself. In the DIY low-tech sustainable lifestyle education work I do, I draw on so much that began in the 70’s- having studied with John and Nancy Todd and learned about the New Alchemy Institute, after hearing stories from passive solar inventor Steve Baer and others about the old days in Drop City and the other communes and projects in the Southwest where young scientific brains were exploring how to make the world sane again with energy right from the sun and adobe bricks right from the earth. And having lived at Arcosanti where there was an explosion of interest in creating a new way of living back when it began in 1970. Some of the folks who were part of that time and that surge of exploration have gone back to civilized society. Some have further refined their work and gone on to contribute amazing things toward humanity’s evolution into an integrated life with the ecosystems that surround us.

Jerome with the giant Pasture Puffball mushroom I found in the mountains

Jerome with the giant Pasture Puffball mushroom I found in the mountains

And here we are at Ampersand gleaning the knowledge we can from the past and using the materials and opportunities of the present.  We continue in the spirit of adventure for self-reliance and creating abundance and beauty with what the earth and our community provides, and what can be harvested from the ever present waste-stream. We recently received a donation of a High Tunnel greenhouse kit. That, along with the inspiration of the work of Jerome and others at CRMPI, has given me a whole new percolating vision.

I see an earth-bermed sauna built into the side of this large hoop house, with figs and pomegranates and a whole slew of other edibles cycling through the soil and our bodies. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I’m able to envision many years into the

Jerome's great book and my first design sketches for the latest inspiration

Jerome’s great book and my first design sketches for the latest inspiration

future for Ampersand and my life. I see myself stretching my active and cared for body under a large fig tree in the winter after a long sauna session.

I have a completely different climate and resources than Jerome and CRMPI and my new living environment will develop Ampersand-style, with rain catchment, careful water budgeting and following a natural succession of annuals to perennials, pots to planters. Many thanks to Jerome and others who began this sort of work when I was busy being born. I’m grateful to be a part of and inspired by this creative community who make me feel like I’m just getting started. What a gift!

But First… This weekend we embark upon our natural building extravaganza to erect an entry room and napnest for our earth bermed solar home. Join us! We are still accepting work-trade positions and hosting local folks to volunteer for a weekend or two.

Here’s to all of our dreams! I honor the experimentation of those in past and present, and the cycles that keep us breathing inspiration for our visions of the future.

Onward and beyond words!Colorado8.16 012_renamed_27329

Written by Amanda Bramble

Join us for a Water Systems Walk-Through at Ampersand: October 1st Saturday 3 to 5 with potluck after. It’s our only other organized event at Ampersand this fall.  But I will be presenting at the Master Gardener’s Conference as well as teaching at the Santa Fe Community College in the next few months.