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Zuni waffle gardens were extensive in New Mexico in 1873, and are still used today. Drought, a hot dry, maybe windy, climate requires creative response. Consider an old proven successful technique!
Waffle gardens at the Zuni Pueblo were planted near the river.
Photographer: T. H. O’Sullivan. Expedition of 1873.
xThe Zuni people developed this waffle-garden design, which is still used today as an ecological method of conserving water. Photo by Jesse Nusbaum, 1911 New Mexico.Planting a waffle garden, Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico
Museum of New Mexico photo by Jesse Nusbaum, 1911The Zuni people developed this waffle-garden design, which is still used today as an ecological method of conserving water. The garden was surrounded by a clay or adobe wall that rose 30-50 cm above the ground. The waffle plot may have had a gravel mulch as well. Both methods served to hold the water in the soil longer, to retard evaporation.

About those walls! Study this little airflow diagram…better to make a porous windbreak!
Study this little diagram...better to make a porous windbreak!
In a cooler climate, a wall, maybe of berry producing shrubs with dwarf fruit trees behind, can reduce cooling and drying winds, allowing the warmth of a food forest! The waffles still reduce water use. Mulch in summer keeps weeds down and the plant roots cool and moist though the plants are getting lots of heat.

Waffle gardens at the Zuni Pueblo were planted near the Zuni River. Sadly, today, it is an unreliable water source for sustainable farming, but if you live at the bottom of a drainage area, take advantage of it as they did. If you are selecting land, choose wisely.

Water Zuni River Watershed Waffle Garden

This Zuni field, left, takes advantage of the shade of the trees. Notice that the pattern follows the contour of the land, and the waffles are not all square or the same size. Shape them as suits your needs.

This Zuni waffle garden field takes advantage of the shade of the trees. Waffle garden spaces are not all square or the same size! Shape them as suits your needs.

OCTOBER 28, 2014 The University of Arizona plans a simple Community Garden that incorporates water conservation structure where the higher ground acts as waffle berms.

A modern Waffle Garden! University of Arizona plans a simple Community Garden that saves water.

June of 2002 the A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center had put in a waffle garden to help the children of Zuni understand the ways of their ancestors. July and August, Zuni usually experiences monsoon season with afternoon thunderstorms coming from the south, a common (hoped for, prayed for!) occurrence. When we visited Zuni in August we found that the garden had changed significantly and that there had been lots of growth to all the crops!

A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden!A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden in the rain!

A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden corn is flourishing!A:Shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center Waffle Garden corn is flourishing!

Use and modify your areas to good advantage. High berms deflect the prevailing drying wind. Deep basins hold water where it is needed.

Waffle Garden modification! High berms deflect the prevailing drying wind. Deep basins hold water where it is needed.

Teach! Visit local historic native gardens in your area. In Santa Barbara CA that would be our Mission Garden, called La Huerta, The Orchard. The Albuquerque Demonstration Garden, at the Open Space Visitor Center, is a hands on volunteer effort learning feature designed to teach about historical foods and methods of farming in the Rio Grande Valley.

Albuquerque Demonstration Waffle Garden at the Open Space Visitor Center

Pointers

  • Your berms don’t need to be amended.
  • You don’t need berms, or very high berms, if you dig down and amend.
  • Generally, make your waffle 2′ or smaller square. Make them a size workable for you to comfortably reach across.
  • Make pathways close enough between patches so you can easily reach across to tend and harvest your plants, and haul in your amendments.
  • Plant sprawlers like squash, melons, at a corner.
  • Plant corn so it doesn’t shade plants that need full sun.
  • Lovely as the Three Sisters, beans climbing corn, squash at the feet of the corn, sounds, some say the corn shades out the beans.
  • Put up a trellis along one edge if you are ok with breaking tradition a bit.

Squash and corn starting in a single dug down Waffle! Give it a try! You can do it anywhere!
Squash and corn starting in a single dug down Waffle Garden section!

And that, became this! Happy Planting!
Corn and squash in Waffle Garden space.

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From the LA Examiner.com Pasta with fried zucchini, teardrop tomatoes and walnut pesto!

Four of the highest yield summer plants per square foot are indeterminate tomatoes, pole beans, zucchinis, and chard!  Three of these crops can be grown up, on trellises, in cages, so your land need is small.  Chard is prolific, cut and come again all year long!

Tomatoes are classically grown UP!  They have their own little support systems, tomato cages!  Some people trellis them, grow them against the fence, espalier them, even grow them upside down!  At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we have two foot diameter cages we build out of two remesh panels – if you are local, drop by to see them on the job!  

We use those same structures for pole beans!  Pole beans love growing on trellises, any kind!  Those simple tripods tied at the top work fine.  Or let them shinny up your sunflower Jack-in-the-Beanstalk style!  I feed them across my remesh panel horizontally so they remain at harvest height!

For zuchs, the easiest thing is to grab the largest strongest tomato cage you have and feed the zuch leaves up though it as your zuch grows! Let some of the outmost leaves stick out so the plant is more open for easier harvesting in the center, air flows to allow cooler conditions to prevent mildews. Cut the bottommost leaves off as the plant gets taller and well foliated, plant other plants underneath! As your zuch vines more, put in another cage, or two, right next to the first one. Let your vine grow right over the top of them, above the other plants already growing there. Put in as many cages as you need as your vine grows.  This is one time when it really doesn’t pay to let your zuchs get huge on the vine, break the plant from their weight, fall on plants below!  Harvest small and salad tender.  If you see one coming, don’t neglect to check on it in a maximum of 2 days.  In prime conditions they are FAST growers!  

If you are growing butternuts/winter squash, or gourds, pop in a well staked sturdy trellis – simplest is remesh 4′ X 7′ panels from Home Depot or OSH, or an arbor. Remesh can be bent whimsically or cut to fit a spot perfectly, or green wire tied together to make cage sizes that suit your needs. Tie your vine, 10′ for squash, 25′ for gourds, to the trellis, or to a southwest facing fence so your squash get plenty of heat and light. Use that flat green garden tie that expands with your plant as your plant grows.  Heavy fruits will need to be supported. Use cloth twine, net veggie bags ie onion bags, old panty hose, old sheets, towels, colorful cloth scraps, parts of old clothes. Have fun with it! 

That said, another ‘vertical’ trick, that doesn’t require tying, is to put up an upside down ‘U’ shaped device. Take one of those remesh panels, or a trellis and lay it over the top of sawhorses or any way you can devise, cinder blocks staked with rebar, whatever you have around. Be sure to support anyplace that needs it so the structure won’t sag. Plant your plants, cucumbers, melons, beans, outside the ends of your ‘arbor’; let them grow up and over. Your fruits will be supported by the remesh or trellis! Don’t make your structure too wide, and make it high enough – you want easy access to tend and harvest other plants that you will grow underneath, like summer lettuces that need a little shade!  Or it can be a kid play place and they will harvest the beans for you! 

Trellises?! Buying them readymade is time saving. Some gardeners would never dream of buying one. They build their own! Some make the simplest, three poles tied together at the top. Others go into fastidious detail and artistic ritual, creating works of beauty! To them, gardening wouldn’t BE gardening without doing that. 

Blessings on your way.  Up you go!

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