News from the Conservation Farm - Monsoon Season Updates

The News from the Conservation Farm Blog posts are written by the 2013 farm apprentices Danielle, Matt, Pablo, Travis, and Francesca.

Since the last update from the Conservation farm, the apprentices have been very busy with the arrival of the monsoon season in Patagonia. It’s been amazing to watch new seedlings spring up in a matter of hours of rain falling. Volunteer beans have even germinated in our kitchen after it got flooded! The corn and sunflower plants have really grown noticeably and the grass is beginning to turn lime green.

But of course, the rain also means more weeds to contend with. We have been spending a lot of time hoeing the rows of corn and beans to keep the weeds at bay, cutting down giant pigweed in the hedgerows, and pulling out bindweed from amongst the tomatoes and chiles.

We have made some more additions to the experimental dry land area, with corn varieties such as Hopi Greasy Head and Hopi Sweet and beans including Hopi Red Lima, Hopi Light Yellow and Hopi Black. With the wetter soil, it’s much easier to push the seeds in, and they don’t need to be planted at such a great depth as before – no need to chisel away at the ground with a re-bar digging stick or screwdriver to reach the moisture anymore! A mixture of Oats, Sisbania, Lima beans, White and Rose Clover, Sesame and Chia seeds has been broadcast sown into the dry land area as well, to provide next year’s cover crop. These plants will grow up, and be left to dry down to provide soil mulch that retains moisture, reduces weeds and provides habitat for beneficial creatures. Participants of the Heritage Grain Tour – including Native Seeds/SEARCH staff members – passed through the Conservation Farm and helped to distribute some of the cover crop seeds after a brief rain shower.

The apprentices have also planted more beets, carrots, cucumbers, beans and lettuce in the food garden, and are beginning to enjoy the harvest of arugula, beets, kale and the odd tomato. Unfortunately, squash bugs descended on our Navajo squash overnight with the first big rains, and we have been battling to save these plants. We have now isolated the plants with fabric mesh cages for bug protection, after using a leaf blower to rid the squashes of the worst of the pests. Doing this on a Sunday night, under spotlights, was probably one of the stranger activities the apprentices have taken part in at the farm to date! The squashes will now be hand pollinated in their cages.

In our spare time, we have been enjoying watching the many beautiful sunsets and swimming in a nearby pond. Earlier in July, we received an inspiring visit from Andrew Mushita of Community Technology Community Trust located in Zimbabwe. He toured the farm and gave a talk at the Patagonia library about his seed conservation efforts in several African countries. In the evening, we had the opportunity to host Andrew, his wife Tendai, and collaborator Professor Carol Thompson of Northern Arizona University, at the Nabhan’s home, where we cooked dinner for everyone and continued the discussion about seeds, farming and future aspirations.

For the fourth of July, the apprentices decorated Francesca’s truck with sunflowers, corn and gourds, and took part in the parade. We got soaking wet throwing little packs of sunflower seeds to the crowds armed with water balloons and soaker guns, but had great fun. Francesca, Matt and Travis also took part in a Saguaro cactus fruit harvesting trip, the efforts of which we have all been enjoying ever since: as part of smoothies, on top of breakfast and as a snack in between weeding sessions. (Stay tuned for recipe posts!)