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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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Water is Life

This is true in North Dakota, New Mexico, as well as within our own bodies. We are now getting a close look at oppression, heartlessness and violence against the Native People of these lands. It’s been happening for 500 years, but we have not been able to see it in live video streams like we can now.

Being someone who deeply loves the land, I have searched high and low for land-based knowledge and wisdom. Native cultures have developed this through centuries of relationship. My home ispdc-visit-036 tucked into a slope that mirrors the ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan home from the 12th century. Discovering this has enabled me to see how I am in a continuum of people of all ages and times drawing on the same resources. We plan for the same natural events in order to construct our lives. Below and between our home and the ancestral sister site, two arroyos converge. This is a place where water meets water and the land flattens to absorb it into the earth. This is a place that can grow food when moisture comes in the spring. I have grown corn in this place. I dry farmed it, meaning the corn grew only with the water from the earth and sky. No extra irrigation was used. In the mirror image historic home site, we found a mano; a stone shaped and used for grinding corn. We and the ancient people, we all planted ourselves near this growing niche, but above the floodplain. We overlook our place of water.img_5896

In the desert, water is obvious in the landscape. That’s where the green is. We see beauty there. We are attracted. Water comes to water in arid climates. We (the collective water within all wildness) share the moisture, the coolness, the green that grows from it and the soil that it builds. This is a refuge that grows and shrinks as the seasons change, as climates change. This is a sacred place of water we must protect.

My heart reaches out to the water protectors at Standing Rock. My spirit cries in outrage and despair at the injustice. And my heart is lifted by the courage and dedication that the people display in standing in this place of protection aimg_3305t all costs. And those of us who can not join in on the front lines of this struggle to protect our earth, our waters, our children’s lives, we can instead choose to participate in the many other places where a commitment to the same relatives is needed. These places are numerous.

We need to not only protect our water and land but we need to divest ourimg_2834 lives from the corporate fossil fuel industry, as much as we can. There is much work to do. We can not do it in isolation. And it’s just not wise to wait for our ‘leaders’ to lead the way. It has become more obvious than ever now, we are the leaders. And the paths are numerous.

The solutions are physical and tangible. Physical solutions begin with vision. The vision arises from a place of caring, of dedication, a place of deep connection. Now we must align our lives, our visions, and our physical realities with our place of caring and commitment. Is there any other way?

The three foundational permaculture ethics are: Care for People, Care for the Earth, and Fair Distribution of Surplus. This is not a bad touchstone. It seems so simple and obvious, but when we investigate our lives rooted in a corporate capitalist economic and social structure, we sometimes find our actions are far from the mark. So it takes a discipline and mindfulness to stay true to ourselves and our principles. The attention moves deeper, from North Dakota to our inner attention. We must care for our spirits to be strong. It takes strength to not be distracted in this world.

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The Standing Rock Sioux call for support, for winter structures, for bodies, for wood to stay warm and alive as they maintain their role of water protectors through the winter. They also call for prayer. p5aaWith prayer, with intention and discipline, we speak to Spirit. For me a part of this dialogue with That Which Is Greater Than Me To Which I Belong, is physical practice with the elements of life. The home and lifestyle I create is a place of refuge. Water is life here. I track and cherish each collected rain drop just like I would a field of newly sprouted corn plants. If protected, these relatives will nourish my family for the next year, through the next dry spell. This practice of living off rainwater has guided me into a place of deep reverence. My sanctuary includes the green places where water enlivens the img_5715earth and the burrows that keep my family warm through the winter. Most of all my sanctuary is my cultivated place of reverence and gratitude which is where all my work and all my contributions spring from.

Ampersand’s first workshop for 2017 will be Water is Life. It speaks to these intersecting levels of intention, action and embodiment.  We wish to share our place of refuge for the day and offer support for your own path. Recognizing your own sanctuary allows you to be on the front lines in your own life. Honor the Water Protectors by meeting that place of commitment. Let’s come together.  All proceeds will be donated to Standing Rock. Date is yet to be determined. Feel free to contact us if you are interested.

 

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.


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Rainy Day Reflections

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Sometimes I forget how nature can swoop in and save the day. A good rain recharges not only my cisterns, but also my sense of abundance.

It started a couple days after our mushroom cultivation workshop. We had set up some oyster mushroom mycelium to grow out of coffee grounds indoors, and we also installed three storm-water-harvesting mushroom beds. I came out of the weekend a bit overwhelmed with all of my new responsibilities. Not just with learning to maintain the environments for our new growing creatures, but also dealing with the five syringes of liquid spore culture in my refrigerator. They need to be transferred to sterilized medium within the next couple weeks. Add that to the maintenance and repairs of going into winter on the homestead, and I assure you it’s a formidable list.

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Then the rain came. It was a gentle one. Like music. I could hear the water seeping into the land, into the plants. It brought a deep sense of well being, and even relief. I’m not saying my list got any shorter, but watching the new mushroom beds fill with storm water was quite fulfilling. This rain was not only gentle, but there was a well timed pause in the storm too. It cleared up long enough to walk out along our dirt road and arrange the erosion control rock work I’ve been meaning to do. The ground was soft as pudding and I didn’t even need a shovel.

I do forget sometimes how the whims of nature can make life easier. Despite the reality of living off rainwater and sunlight, so much of the time it seems we must swim upstream against the entropy of our environment.

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But this time the message was clear. We’ve been meaning to fill in some flood scoured holes in the restoration project since August. This latest flood was a reminder that nature is sometimes indisputably on our side. The whole flood path in our restoration project filled with a new fine silt and no signs of erosion anywhere. I’ve been waiting for this moisture to transplant some wild cuttings out there. So I’ve started filling in the bare areas with a variety of floodplain plants in our new soft moist soil.

There’s nothing like the meditation of tracking flood patterns through a landscape. This time I learned that I can use a shovel in one hand while holding an umbrella with the other. And after too many times of wandering out in the rain longer than expected, I’ve learned the benefits of rain gear. My wet clothes are dry now after an afternoon of sun. Thank you sun. Thank you rain. It’s a good life.

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Written by Amanda Bramble


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Rain Life

The storm approaches

The storm approaches

Their eyes go wide. Their jaws even drop a bit, sometimes.

“Really?” they say every time.

Yup.

We live off rain catchment.

Really.

It’s not that big a deal.

When we turn on the kitchen sink, water comes out, just like for anyone. Only ours is rainwater. We have enough for washing the dishes, doing laundry, and having gardens and guests.

And no, we have not resorted to dustbaths. We shower with rainwater. It’s quite luxurious as our neighbors with wells put up with water that smells like rotten eggs and haul in filtered drinking water from the city. Our water is tasty, clean, and local.

How do we do it?

It rains.

It rains.

Living off rainwater means having a big enough roof to catch a bunch when it rains. It means having big enough tanks to catch enough to last us through the dry months.

We re-use all of our water in the gardens and greenhouse. We built our greywater systems to drain automatically into planted beds. We only use certain soaps and detergents that we know won’t harm the plants. And we have sculpted our land to harvest seasonal floodwater that runs down the hillsides.

The big secret to living off rainwater?

Treating this precious resource as the special thing that it is. You know how special it is when you have none.

We keep track of how much we have, and how much we use. Having our main storage cistern outside our front door makes it easy. We installed a tank gauge that through the use of two pulleys, a float, and a weight, it dangles a marker on the outside of the cistern right where the water level is inside. That way, even though the tank is opaque, we can tell at a glance how much water we have. Sometimes we track our water use by putting dated stickers where the gauge hangs. This way we can easily calculate how much water we are using per day and per person.

Just like we track our expenses to live within our financial budget, living off rainwater means that we have to live within our water means. Do you ever take money out of your account and throw it in the trash can? We don’t either, and we don’t turn on the faucet without using the water before it goes down the drain.

Rain runs in the gutters and the earth works.

Rain runs in the gutters and the earth works.

It’s not hard to get. But for people who don’t have the infrastructure that we do, where we can easily track how much we have and how much we use, it can be more of a challenge to feel the water that comes out of the tap as valuable or sacred.

Australia is dry. And has been dealing with drought in a serious way for some time now.

In Brisbane, water use was reduced by 60% during drought. Some of this was due to hardwired structural changes –things like low flush toilets – and the rest was due to changes in behavior.

After the drought, behavior didn’t revert back too much. Water use leveled at 50% of what it had been before the drought.

We experienced this too at our little homestead. We have an outdoor kitchen where the sink drains into buckets. Before the buckets overflow we hand-water the nearby trees. That extra step has shown us how much one does naturally conserve when there is an immediate physical incentive/feedback.

Everything slick, shiny, and wet.

Everything slick, shiny, and wet.

And when we moved into our newly built house with plumbing instead of a bucket system, our water use increased. Just because we were one step removed in the system.

Systems drive behavior. We feel for people who rely on larger governmental systems to conserve and protect this resource for their area. Folks seem to be waiting for leadership that is just not showing up.

We can track and conserve on a household scale. That’s manageable.

Most people don’t seem to realize that they can do that too. Folks in the city may not have the same at-a-glance system for tracking water. But most dwellings have a meter that they can learn to read and track.

Where’s your water app?

Written by Amanda and Andy Bramble

Our cisterns fill. One week later, the water level is still high due to our actions and our infrastructure.

Our cisterns fill. One week later, the water level is still high due to our actions and our infrastructure.