Last Sunday afternoon, I went to a gardening roundtable discussion in my community. I live on a mountain side in the high desert of far west Texas (yes, Texas does have mountains, the Davis Mountains to be exact). It was quite interesting talking to the various gardeners out here. Some were just starting out, some were experienced gardeners but not in this location, and some had gardened out here for many years.

I have been really itching to get out and garden this year, I haven’t gardened much for the last 2 years because of water issues, we didn’t have much of a rainy season those two years. Our rainy season usually starts in July(ish) and ends in September(ish), during those few months we get most of our yearly amount of rainfall. It’s hard to wait for the rainy season to start, typically I would start in spring and hand water.

I’d estimate there were about a dozen of my neighbors & friends there, some of them I see all of the time, some I haven’t seen in quite a while, it was good to see everything there. One lady works at the local hardware store, they get seeds to sell in spring, at the end of the season, they are supposed to toss the unsold seed packets, but she says she just can’t bring herself to toss those packets, so she brings them home and shares them out with everyone, I took a few packets myself, bunching onions, cucumber, cumin and 2 different sunflower seeds. I have a rule, I refuse to grow anything unless it is edible or medicinal, I have few exceptions to that rule.

One of the things I learned was even though we all live in the same “neighborhood”, we have varying micro-climates depending on the geography of the land we are on. I am about 1/3 of the way up on my mountain on the south facing side, I get lots of sun, a fair amount of wind, it typically blows from the west, I don’t have a lot of rock on my property, at least not where I am gardening, I have good soil and not much residual heat buildup (from the rocks). I also have some trees around my garden area, enough to give me some protection from the full sun on part of my garden. Usually gardeners don’t want shade, but out here, the sun is brutal, having a little dappled shade is a good thing.

One thing I learned was even if you have the same elevation as someone nearby, if your garden is at the “bottom” level of the elevation, your area will tend to be colder, the cold air drops to the lowest spot and will “pool” at the bottom, if there is land lower than your garden area, then you will have warmer temps to start the spring off, the cold air seeks the lowest elevation, I am fortunate, my garden area is elevated above the lowest part of my property so I will get warmer temps during the spring start up to gardening, this can make the difference of when you can start putting out your plants.

Many of our gardeners are forced to have raised beds, mainly because their property is on rock or they have a lot of rock in the soil. We also discussed shade cloth, both on the top and on the sides for sun and wind protection. One of the limiting factors for us out here is the elevation, there are some plants that just will not grow at this altitude, one of them is okra, though I did find a few people out here who are successful at growing it, so I think I’ll try growing it again this year, hopefully I’ll have better luck with it.

The other limiting factor out here is water, some of the property owners have a well, some wells are better than others, some (including myself) do not have a well but instead rely on the community well for our water. Hauling hundreds of gallons of water on steep, up and down, unpaved rocky roads can really put the ca-bash on gardening. I do collect rain water for my garden, but I have to wait for the rain to start before I can do that, and right now our water containers are mostly down, not working, in the process of being relined to hold water, I hope we are able to get them ready before the rainy season, but right now there are so many things ahead of that it’s not even funny.

One of the methods I use is the Ruth Stout “No-Work Garden” method, basically she used a major thick layer of mulch, usually straw or hay, at least a foot deep. That does a lot of good things, it keeps the moisture where it belongs, in the ground, it keeps down weeds, it keeps your garden clean (no mud splashing on you or your plants), it helps keep the soil cool in summer, and you shouldn’t have to till your soil, it keeps my soil soft and easy to work.

Turned out that one of the people participating in the gardening round table had met Ruth Stout, she was apparently a pretty lively lady, there was mention of her gardening in the nude from time to time. :) I guess that is pretty much as back to nature as you can get.

Something we ALL have to do out here is protect our gardens from the critters, some put up fencing, some (like me) completely enclose our gardens including over the top, it’s not just the deer and donkeys that want our green goodies, there are all sorts of birds, squirrels and such that would also love to share in the harvest. Speaking of birds, I saw my first hummingbird of the season today, I have had a feeder out for a few days now, a few days ago I heard the sound they make when they fly by but hadn’t seen one until today, I spotted a male black chin hummingbird on the feeder, spring is truly starting!

I did learn a lot from the meeting, and look forward to our next one.

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