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Beth Wilder

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since Jul 11, 2018
Beth likes ...
books fiber arts food preservation forest garden greening the desert medical herbs rocket stoves solar trees foraging wofati
Enthusiastic amateur and avid experimenter living light in an Apachian valley below the foothills of the Sky Islands (clearly a tad romantic).
Southeast Arizona, Latitude 31, Zone 8A, Cold Semi-Arid, USGS Ecoregion 79a
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Recent posts by Beth Wilder

What shovel method do you use, then, Scott, that doesn't involve ever pushing on it with your foot? (It's not that I always push on a shovel with my foot, but sometimes that's what it takes.) To be clear, I'm asking about dirt-shoveling, not snow-shoveling.
4 days ago
We do a lot of digging in all kinds of ground -- some sandy and soft, some clay-filled and hard, some rocky, some root-filled -- year-round, and even waiting until after a good soaking rain as often as we can, we go through shovels (and wheelbarrows, and boots). We're currently hand-digging a pond in a clay-filled area and need to replace at least the handle of a round tip shovel that broke (it was wooden) and are deciding whether to replace the whole thing with a nice one of some kind or replace the handle with a steel pole and some grip tape or something like that (or save that steel pole for other construction needs around here). One advantage to the former would be that we could look for one with a built-in step, as none of our current shovels have much of a step to speak of (sometimes just a little curved bit at the top of the blade that doesn't do much good).

I can certainly appreciate the point about using the inertia of the shovel rather than a foot to drive the blade in, but it seems to me that a really heavy shovel blade would make a full shovel-full of dirt even heavier to lift into a wheelbarrow or fling out of a deepening pit. Maybe that's just me speaking as someone with less upper body than lower body strength, even if my unfeminine shoulders might belie that, ha ha.

I really appreciate the name-dropping in some of these replies so we can look for particular brands that folks have had good luck with. Mike Turner, the 5 foot long, all-metal, narrow blade transplanting shovel you mention: do you have a recommended brand, or do you just look for that type? Same for a long-handled round nose shovel? We're currently good on the narrow blade shovels, but it might be good to get an all-metal long-handled round nose and another good straight edge shovel. More common brands that we could find locally would be the most ideal, although that might be too tall of an order. Thanks, all!
5 days ago
Tyler, are you just throwing the osage oranges whole into the channel and the fruits will break down and release the seed? I'm wondering because we just collected some whole fruits from a local hedge and want to try growing them by us. I've never grown them before and am wondering what is the best/most likely way to promote germination and how much water they need, and/or how regularly. Do you know? Thank you!
6 days ago
Your land looks beautiful, James. I know we all can't choose every aspect of where we end up, and as Bill Coperthwaite says, "If one disagrees with the nomadism and violence of our society, then one is under an obligation to take up some permanent dwelling place and cultivate the possibility of peace and harmlessness in it" (A Handmade Life, p. xix; and Gary Paul Nabhan talks about how species loss slows where humans are settled more long-term in Cultures of Habitat). Since our place is also not ideal (and what place doesn't have its challenges?), we try to practice adaptability, experimentation, and trial-and-error. We find small scale potential solutions to be essential to this approach. It seems to me you're working in the same way.

I think your building swales where you can and observing the results, planting new trees around your nurse mesquites, etc. sounds just right. It's very similar to things we've done. Luckily we haven't observed caliche on our land (although I think there may be some at our other property -- we need to do more observation there), but that and things like a thin layer of topsoil, lots of gravel, etc. seem to me like challenges that remind us to observe nature's preexisting potential solutions to these things. What's already growing (well? poorly?)? What grows when it gets a little water, as you note? What have previous inhabitants eaten and used from this land?

Granted, we may need to acknowledge that some places just can't support human habitation, or not by many people and not for very long. Phoenix may well be an example of that, but I believe I'm quite biased against Phoenix. ;)

Wayne notes salty water. One great solution to that issue is to not pump and drain groundwater! Collecting rainwater, passively and actively, especially for plantings, works very well even in arid areas like ours where rain is scarce. It always surprises me how well the desert provides, even during drought. Our area (ours and Wayne's) is certainly in the midst of a nice little spot of moisture! Whatever we can collect and store now will bring us through dry spots ahead. I hope it helps refill our aquifers so the creeks run more often in the coming year.

Imprinting/zai pits/bunds/dugout basins to soak in water and let time help you out sounds like a smart and easy-enough start to me. Any organic matter you end up with, tuck that stuff in wherever you can.

Kim, if you or anyone else comes across that video of Geoff Lawton interviewing an Arizona farmer, please post it! That sounds potentially very helpful, although of course we'd do it without a tractor. We've been considering buying some native grass seed from a place like Native Seeds/SEARCH, but in the last season we've observed native grasses seeding themselves in larger areas around us as we slow down the water movement and increase organic matter content (and yes, there are lots of rabbit pellets around here, too! ha ha), much like James notes, so I think we'll keep observing for a bit.

As you say, Kim, ants take away a lot of seed here when we introduce it. What I can't quite figure out yet is why they don't seem to do the same (or to the same degree) when nature reseeds itself wildly, so for now, that's one of the things we're observing. (I've been trying to minimize disturbed soil when I seed and cover it up with mulch from surrounding plants to decrease the clues present for ants, rodents, etc. It can be hard to tell just how well it's working -- or not -- especially since seeds often take so long to achieve all the conditions they need to sprout around here.)

You're so lucky to work with old oaks, Wayne! I'm jealous. With the one Emory oak we've transplanted so far, we inoculated like you describe and are hoping it helps. We've also observed mushrooms in our mulch throughout our plantings all summer despite the late monsoon start, etc.

Let's see, what are we growing? We have a bunch of beds of different kinds of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia; we eat pads and fruit), mostly clustered near mesquites (we eat pods and use wood and leaf litter). We encourage preexisting and have also transplanted in Yucca (we eat blossoms if elata or schottii, and fruit if bacata or schottii). We encourage and sometimes plant cuttings of cholla (Opuntia; we eat buds and fruit). We've started collecting and seeding desert willow (Chilopsis; we use leaves and flowers in tea). We've transplanted that one Emory oak and intend to seed more next summer -- we haven't gotten the timing right yet (we eat acorns). We encourage, transplant, and seed wolfberries/goji/Lyceum and hackberry (we eat berries, as do lots of birds, and all kinds of pollinators love these tiny flowers). We collect and eat Amaranth leaves and seeds (don't need to do anything to encourage that, ha ha). We've transplanted Mexican elder, mulberry, jujube, chiltepines, sometimes tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos, and a selection of traditional (mostly Mediterranean, some Mexican) herbs. We seed LOTS of tepary beans, cowpeas, one variety of common bean, lots of mixed squash, lots of mustards and arugula, 60-day corn in some years (not this last season, monsoon too late), tomatillos and ground cherries, cucumbers, watermelons (great before, but not this year), ... Lots more I'm currently forgetting, but those are the major things, at least that we eat and use. It's not that we're averse to planting trees and plants we don't eat or use; it's just that we prioritize those and it helps motivate us (I think Kostas has talked quite a bit about this). We've found that the closer we hew to what we find already growing around us and/or what we know has been grown here or hereabouts by previous inhabitants, and the more we focus on planting around monsoon and winter rains, the better things go.

Oh! We transplanted a grape this last season that is a hybrid of cultivated and wild, after several unsuccessful attempts at rooting cuttings of wild grapes. We'll see how this one does. We diverted a little buried/mulched line of graywater to help it out, so it's not solely reliant on direct rainwater or directed floodwater. A couple of the Italian stone pine seeds I bought online have sprouted inside and I'm going to try to nurse them through to transplant. And I've finally managed to seed a wildflower bed to help extend things for the pollinators we're already attracting.

What is everyone else in this string growing?
1 week ago
Hey, Eric! If you're trying to keep cattle off your property, be aware there is actually a "lawful fence" description in Arizona. Any less frequently spaced T-posts or fewer barbed wire strands and your ranching neighbors aren't liable for their cattle getting through your fence repeatedly. Here is the relevant statute and a helpful extension document on open range law.
2 weeks ago
Are you including the little earthworks we're discussing in this thread when you say modifying the hydrology, Wayne? Definitely people often underestimate our monsoons. I posted over in this thread about large-scale swale examples in Arizona about some examples of modifying the hydrology via earthworks that seem to be working quite well, at least according to the author of the book I cite, ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan. The two examples are in the Chiricahuas and in the Canelo Hills. I do think that being in flatter valley land changes things. What sorts of results are you seeing come from the mistakes you've observed?

When folks don't have any well water at all to use -- even a few gallons of water per month to get trees started or adapt them, as you say -- what do (or would) you recommend?
3 weeks ago
Yeah, Wayne, I think all the folks I know in your area are quite reliant on well water, for however long that may last with the big superwells pumping so heavily in the area. Even your road and driveway don't run with water when it rains heavily? It often seems like folks in your area get more rain than we do, but maybe we all feel that way (i.e., everyone gets more rain than we do).

How close are you to the creek? If there were true willows anywhere, I'd expect them to be in that riparian area. I haven't seen any yet, though, around either creek. Still looking.

We have areas near us that about this time last year seemed like moonscapes, completely denuded, with marks across them to show where the water just floods across without stopping, probably taking any remaining good soil and organic matter with it. But now there are islands of vegetation and organic matter accumulation, despite the cattle being really heavy around here this year. (In fact, I suspect the cattle both harm and help, since vegetation often starts in their dead-straight tracks across these areas, fertilized by their "leavings," then widens out occasionally into larger clumps of short plants more capable of catching larger seeds and such.) We didn't do anything to encourage this particular glimmering of revegetation, but I think we will start to go everywhere with a shovel and just dig little zai pits and/or bunds everywhere we go.
3 weeks ago
Yeah, Wayne, we've definitely got both around here. Our gardens are in a sandy area because the beans really like that, but we're adding a lot of organic matter and the moisture doesn't drain away fast at all with heavy mulch in deep sunken beds/rows. We're digging a little pond to temporarily hold water to feed young trees (slowly, long-term, but should do a lot more this winter) not far from there in a very clay-heavy area. So it definitely depends.

I'm stratifying some AZ black walnuts, too! Got 'em just along one of the roads closer to town, same trees from which I collected green walnuts to make nocino over the summer. Are you doing it outside in pots? I've got some hackberry (from a nearby livestock tank) and locust (from Bisbee) and Italian stone pine (ordered, at the recommendation of a tree-man in your neighborhood) in the same set-up along with a bunch of more common fruit seeds, although I couldn't really find out the what the stone pine seeds need for sure. Same with desert willow (Chilopsis), so I've got some seeds in potting soil right now and held back a lot more to start in the spring.

Have you come across any true willows (I keep reading we have Goodings Black in the region) anywhere to try propagating?
3 weeks ago
Hey, Victor, where can we find out more about how the Mogollon irrigated and grew food in arid regions like we're discussing? I'd love to dive deeper into that. We see evidence of them and other groups all around us out here, and I think we probably already use some similar techniques, but we're always looking to learn more, both from the land itself (and the animals and plants currently here) and from the people who were here before us. Thanks!

Thanks so much for your kind words, Kim! Do you mean a new thread? I can try to put something together, but it probably wouldn't have many pictures. Would it still be worthwhile, you think?
3 weeks ago
Hey, Daron! This question was sparked by your most recent blog post on chopping and dropping the vegetable garden after frost gets it. You mention that if you've observed a plant disease and have had a problem with it, you can choose to skip chopping and dropping it. Are there any plants or plant families you just don't treat in this way out of concern for generally or predictably high disease or pest pressure rates? For example, nightshades?

We recently chopped all our bean plants out of our gardens (we grow a LOT of beans as a staple crop). The plants are almost done drying and then we'll thresh them and return the dry plants to our sunken rows and beds as mulch. While waiting for them to dry, we seeded some winter greens, and I seeded some tomatoes and peppers at the same time to try out stratifying them in place over the winter. While doing this, we chopped and dropped this last year's other annuals (peppers, tomatillos, squash, basil, sesame -- dratted rodents got almost all the seed heads before we could -- sunflowers, cucumbers, etc.) and laid them down to mulch the new seeds. My partner did this with all of them. I found myself taking the tomatillo and pepper plants out of the garden out of habit (years of organic gardening and farming) and explained it to him as a probable disease vector, but the more I think about it, the more I think that might be silly. Not only might other plant material carry that disease anyway, but our ground freezes at least a little during our mid-altitude lower-latitude winters (during which we usually get at least a little rain and/or snow), and then we get the incredibly drying, often incredibly hot spring weather that runs until the start of our monsoon rains, hopefully in early July. Most green things (trees and shrubs being the exception) don't really get growing until the monsoon.

What do you all think?
3 weeks ago