Spring in New Mexico can sometimes feel like the ultimate April Fool’s joke. Natives often refer to spring time in New Mexico as “fool’s spring” or “fake spring,” with an average date of the last freeze in mid-May. The conventional wisdom is to wait until after Mother’s Day to put plants into the ground.
From greenhouses to cold frames, raised beds and shade clothes, high desert gardening conditions inspire the inner inventor in people and the results are numerous and vary from person to person.
With COVID-19 hitting the world with force, gardening is a good way to pass the time and stay home but still feel productive.
Locally people can buy seeds and plants at grocery stores and feed stores under current restrictions on business which has shut down independent nurseries in the state. The area has a few greenhouse operations, and there are several gardening groups on social media.
Ethan Bostwick, of Moriarty, said he gardens because “plants just relax me.” Bostwick gardens both indoors and outdoors. He is currently building raised beds and planting strawberries in up-cycled tires, a gardening technique he learned from his grandma when he was a kid.
He also sprouted lemon trees from seed and created bonsai planters inside his house. Bostwick plans to build a pond and use a water recycling system to water his garden. He has future plans of building a greenhouse that will encapsulate his pond and extend his growing season.
This year he is growing strawberries, potatoes, peas, onions, red and white radishes, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, okra, sweet peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, herbs, broccoli and cabbage. He up-cycled a wheel barrow as a planter and plans to use a sink to make another.
Moora Campsall of Tijeras said, “I garden because its soothing, peaceful, educational for our children, gets the family involved, gets the family away from everyday stresses, provides fresh organic food for our family and overall helps with mental stability.”
Campsall said she is currently working on creating a raised bed garden. All of the materials are from past projects, including things like old awning, wood and corrugated steel.
The family made raised beds inside an old goat pen to use the compost, using a combination of goat, chicken and horse manure mixed into the soil. The family frequents Parker’s Farm and Greenhouse in Edgewood, for baby plants and vegetable seeds.
Campsall recommends that people who are new to gardening reach out and ask for help. She says lots of gardening is trial and error and the area has many different growing conditions. “Reaching out to others makes a world of difference!” she said.
Campsall said she has been gardening solidly for four years, but during year two had some difficulty, which inspired her to start a Facebook group called East Mountain Gardeners. She said the page is dedicated to helping other gardeners in the East Mountain community and the group is “flowing with positivity and kindness.” The group was established in 2018 and now has 1,233 members.
“I can’t say I am a very successful gardener,” Linda Crowley Dubbert of Cedar Crest said, adding, “I have been trying to garden for over 25 years in Cedar Crest. It’s challenging, especially with wells starting to go dry.”
Dubbert said she does a lot of composting and her property boasts “a huge compost pit, comprised of horse manure plus wood chips and food scraps.”
She also has worm buckets sunken into her raised beds. Dubbert puts her focus on tomatoes and squash, and is also trying out asparagus and hopes to grow beans and peas this year.
Crystal Guerrero of Edgewood said she has been gardening since she was little. “Some of my favorite memories are snacking on fresh veggies from my grandma’s garden and planting flowers with my mom every year. Now I get to do it with my kids,” Guerrero said, adding, “It’s fun to watch them get excited when they can just grab a handful of green beans from the plant and munch on them.”
She said she also decided to explore canning and the hobby has influenced the types of plants she grows. Guerrero also has some strategies for water management, using coco fiber mixed with soil in her beds, and mixing mulch, compost and sand into the beds annually.
For pest control, Guerrero uses herbs like mint, rosemary and citronella. For aphids she uses a water and soap mixture to deter them. She only works at dusk and dawn and not daily because “it forces the root system to grow strong.” She uses collected rain water in the garden as well.
“This year will be my largest garden, eventually I would like to get up to a full acre which will include adding some fruit trees,” she said.
She said half of her plants are sown in fall, and covered in straw over winter, which helps her in the spring because she has less labor.
Guerrero is growing multiple varieties of peppers both sweet and hot, various squash, green beans, peas, herbs, tomatoes, potatoes, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, pumpkins, melons, strawberries, corn and “anything else around that I think may be fun.”