Hello! My name is Aimee. I married into the Elliott family, which has been farming in the Estancia Valley since the mid-50s. My husband is a farmer, as his father was, and as his grandfather was. I came from a rural upbringing, but not farming. We had a garden every year and I always loved eating the produce, but when I “grew up” I had neither the space nor the inclination to actually have my own garden. But when my Dad and Mom moved away, he left me his Troybilt rototiller. So when I married and moved to the East Mountain area, I figured I was all set up for my own garden.
This monthly column will explore some things that I’ve learned over the years about gardening in this area.
I was incredibly lucky. The 5-acre place we bought (because there was nothing to rent) had a spot that the previous owner had been gardening. It was easy to spot—it actually had darker, richer soil that stood out against the light grey dirt and caliche rock that made up the rest of the property. It had actual soil! A fair amount of organic matter and everything. I really wondered if they had a horse pen there at one time, but it was light and fluffy. Again, I figured I was all set up for my own garden. Just add water and seeds, and presto!
Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. (What an understatement!!) I had to realize that this was a whole other world from where I had grown up in the Rio Grande Valley. We had fast-draining sand and were at least one whole USDA growing zone colder than what I was used to, and the frost-free growing season was three to four weeks shorter.
Thus began my gardening in the Estancia Valley.
One of the first things I read about gardening was in the local newspaper. It was some sort of gardening article. There, a local gardener was quoted as saying, “Gardening here is like an Olympic event.” I laughed, and thought it was just a cute thing to say. As the years have gone by, I’ve remembered that quote, and really wish I knew the person’s name that was quoted so I could give them credit. A truer analogy has never been spoken. Gardening here is definitely possible. Having a beautiful picture book front yard is possible. You just have to be as determined as an Olympic athlete. Keep learning, keep trying new methods, and find what works in your own microclimate.
Fortunately, I found out about the Moriarty Garden Club. It’s a group of mostly women who meet monthly and try to have informative programs after every meeting, everything from soil preparation, to planting, to storing the harvest in the fall. What a support system for me, one, and a wealth of knowledge second. I didn’t give up the idea of a yard and productive garden. I just learned different methods of working with what I had instead of fighting it.
If you are new to growing here in the East Mountains, my first so-called tip is this: Start with a raised bed. It isn’t always feasible, but if you can do it, you will give yourself the best chance of success right away. You can control the soil that goes into it, the placement of it, the size of it, and avoid our very alkaline soil. Of course, that means you have to put good soil into it. You can mix your own with a combination of dirt, peat moss, perlite, and compost. But you don’t want to put in weed seed, insect eggs, or that sort of thing into your raised bed or you are defeating the purpose.
There are places that will sell you different kinds of soil. You still need to try and pin them down as to whether or not they are selling you weed-free mix or not. That part can be tough. Most dealers will not certify any such thing. Listen to them—has your mix been fully composted, where do they get the dirt component of their soil, that sort of thing. I bought “clean” garden soil for my first raised bed. It grew things great. Including all the bindweed seed that was included.
Soil prep and bindweed are both topics all to their own, and we can talk about that another time.
Hopefully, in this monthly column I will be able to encourage gardeners who are just moving into the area, provide some education, and give pointers that will be useful. To make suggestions for future topics or comment on the column, email email@example.com.