Are you a weed?
Do you resist other species’ persistent attempts to drive you away? Does your never-say-die resilience at least earn their respect? Sometimes it seems that nature doesn’t really want us humans here in Corrales. Perhaps the lives of plants would be more tranquil, maybe even more productive, if people would just leave them alone. People can be a real pain in the you-know-what, especially when they introduce weird, water-hogging species to the neighborhood. Or ghastly chemicals. Or stem- and limb-severing blades.
Hostile plants don’t grow nasty thorns or release unpleasant odors just to ward off people, of course, but those tactics may be more effective against other types of intruders since they usually cause humans to redouble their attempts at eradication. Gardeners, especially those not engaged in subsistence food production, often conclude over time to live and let live. For newcomers to Corrales, it’s a common hard-learned realization that what grew well back East or in the Mississippi Valley or along the Pacific Coast just won’t yield the same satisfaction here.
So what was once regarded as a southwestern weed can finally be reconciled and considered a welcome collaborator. A gardener’s satisfaction can come from working with what wants to grow here naturally rather than forcing a plant that doesn’t. It should go without saying that any plant can be considered a weed, since by definition a weed is any plant that’s growing where it isn’t wanted. If you like something that’s growing where it is, it’s not a weed. Corrales gardens traditionally have sprouted lots of volunteers. If wild asparagus makes a surprise appearance, you’re not likely to consider it a weed. The same would not be true of the volunteers Tribulus terrestris and Salsola tragus, known as goathead and tumbleweed disrespectively.
Another volunteer in the bottomlands of Corrales is the mint family’s Yerba Buena, very welcome growing along the periphery of a volleyball court, but definitely a weed growing a few feet away in the middle of the court. This time of year, one of the first weeds to sprout in Corrales gardens is likely to be mustard weed which can pop up even in mid-winter in areas of scant moisture. Their greenery can seem cheerful, but pull them up before little yellow blossoms appear.
Similarly, the weed known by its appearance as fox tail, Hordeum murinum sprouts in winter. Spurge, Euphorbia serpens, shows up in early spring here, and goes to seed almost right away. Careful handling it because the white sap is toxic. But one of the worst, most dreaded is the goathead, also known as puncture vine, which won’t start its reign of terror until summer months. The thorned seed pods are terribly painful when you or especially your dog step on one. If Corrales dogs have nightmares, they’re probably about goatheads.
Goatheads can easily infect an entire path, roadside or driveway since each spiked, round seed pond may hold as many as 5,000 seeds. Fortunately, the plant is easily pulled up; it’s important to accomplish that before the bright yellow flowers show. While some Corrales weeds may appear baby-cute and thereby delay a moment of reckoning, others generally are recognized quickly for malevolent intent. Pig weed grows very quickly after summer rains begin, and can rise taller than a man in no time. But cutting it back with a weed whacker or mower will only make it spread out and go to seed earlier.
Elm trees are clearly among the most notorious weeds in Corrales. The late Evelyn Losack would fly into a frenzy when she appeared before the Village Council to denounce other villagers’ carelessness in letting elm seeds sprout in planters or garden plots. Irrigation ditches filled with elm seeds delivered those invaders to her orchards, making it almost impossible to keep farming.
As with nearly all weeds, they are relatively easy to dispatch when plucked tender —but those roots go deep fast!. Anytime it rains in spring or summer is ideal to pull weeds since the moisture will cause them to zoom up and because they’re so much easier to extract when the soil is wet. Bindweed is another scourge of Corrales orchards and gardens that is much worse than it looks to the untrained eye. Convolvulus arvensis, a perennial, has pink or white trumpet-shaped blossoms and leaves shaped like arrowheads. Its stems wrap around other desirable plants and strangle them. Where it is found growing, it should be eliminated as quickly as possible: left to proliferate, its root system can grow down 20 feet. Be on the lookout for it in June.
Two techniques have been successful in controlling weeds in Corrales and in the metro area generally. One is to lay weed fabric in susceptible areas. Another is installing drip irrigation so that only the precise planting area desired gets watered. When weeds do appear, they’ll be noticed and easily pulled. Weed fabric is a good choice along paths and in larger areas. But it does deteriorate and can be expensive to replace. And bear in mind that some weeds can still take root above the fabric. If that happens, don’t be too frustrated; at least those very shallow rooted weeds can be pulled out with little effort.
As a New Mexican, of course you like rain, but don’t be so sure your plants do. New research indicates that splashing rain induces a panic response in some plants that could even result in a reaction akin to post-traumatic stress syndrome, stunted growth and genetic damage. A 2018-2019 study published in the October 29, 2019 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has plant physiologists reconsidering what they understood about plants’ sensitivity.
The report, “A MYC2/MYC3/ MYC4 Dependent Transcription Factor Network Regulates Water Spray Responsive Gene Expression and Jasmonate Levels,” explains research by collaborating scientists at four universities: the School of Molecular Sciences at the University of Western Australia, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the Salk Institute of Biological Studies and the Lund University of Sweden.
The problem is not so much water by itself but rather noxious matter that is likely to be picked up by rain as it hits nearby surfaces and splashes onto a plant victim. “In the future, we’ll really be able to understand how plants are coping with rain, because rain can bring disease. It can bring a whole variety of other factors, which affect plants,” according to biochemist Harvey Millar of the University of Western Australia.
“We’ll be able to equip plants to interact with their environment in a different way than they do at the moment.” Millar, who was not one of the primary researchers for the peer-reviewed study, explained that rain can spread plant diseases. “When a raindrop splashes across a leaf, tiny droplets of water ricochet in all directions. These droplets can contain bacteria, viruses or fungal spores. A single droplet can spread these up to 10 meters to surrounding plants.”
The authors of the National Academy of Sciences article offered this overview. “Plants are constantly subjected to a changing environment. As sessile organisms, they have evolved defense mechanisms to cope with abiotic and biotic stresses that can interfere with their development and growth. “Stresses such as salt, founding and insect hebivory are known to affect plant growth, development and flowering time. These phentypes are also observed in plants that are repeatedly exposed to mechanical stimulation, including wind, rain, neighboring plants, agricultural equipment and human touch, colloquially termed ‘thigomorphogenesis.’
“Such mechanical stimulation without observable damaging of leaves also increases disease resistance against insect and fungal pests. As flowering time and disease resistance are of significance for global food production, understanding the molecular basis of the touch response may aid in rational design of future crops.” The researchers, Alex Van Moerkercke, Owen Duncan, Mark Zander, Jan Simura and Martyna Broda, used a spray bottle to simulate rain falling onto plants. After 10 minutes of “rain” more than 700 genes in the plants they studied reacted in a panic-like manner which continued for about 15 minutes, they reported.
The defensive responses altered the plants’ hormone balances and creation of proteins. Millar said the warning signals were sent from leaf to leaf in the plants, with the plants ultimately taking defensive measures against the water. Plants that received repeated waterings had stunted growth and delayed flowering, the biochemist explained.
“If a plant ‘s neighbors have their defense mechanisms turned on, they are less likely to spread diseases, so it’s in their best interest for plants to spread the warning to nearby plants,” he added. That communication between plants is produced by release of airborne chemicals.
Gross receipts taxes to fund Village government should be adequate for the remainder of the fiscal year. “We’re going to be in a good place,” Village Administrator Ron Curry assured the Village Council March 9. Corrales’ finance officer, Reyna Aragon, put it this way. “Unless our gross receipts taxes really tank, we should be okay.”
She distributed a report for GRT revenues to Corrales month-to-month for each fiscal year going back to 2015-16. Payments to Corrales for July 2015, for example, were $206,963; in July 2020, the GRT to Corrales was $229,983.
For another comparison, in February 2020, Corrales got $272,397; for February 2021, Corrales got $260.038. As usual, GRT paid to Corrales was down some months this year compared to the same month last year, but for other months, the tax take was higher. Corrales’’ fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30 the following year.Gross receipts taxes, basically from retail sales and services, provide most of the Village’s revenue, followed by Corrales’ share of property tax.
By Sandra Farley
There’s a tree killer lurking in Corrales and right now, without leaves to camouflage it, it is easy to see. Mistletoe, the romantic plant that we buy at Christmas to steal kisses, is an insidious parasite that attaches itself to trees, plants and shrubs, stealing their nutrients and water. This can weaken or disfigure the host plant, and eventually even kill it.
Mistletoe is also invasive, spreading throughout the tree and, with the help of birds, can spread quickly throughout the neighborhood. Although mistletoe is found all over the world, several species thrive in the Southwest infecting cottonwoods, mesquite, pine, juniper and other types of desert trees.
Once it infects a tree, mistletoe is difficult to remove. When its seeds sprout, they grow through the bark of trees and into their tissues, extending up and down within the branches. Even if you cut off the visible portion of the invader, new plants often grow from inside the host.
The most effective way to fight it is to remove an infected branch or limb entirely. In order to prevent harm to the tree, you may want to use the services of a certified arborist. They know best how to remove large pieces of wood without adversely affecting the tree’s health. If you do the pruning yourself, remove infested material back to the branch collar.
So, before the mistletoe disappears behind those sprouting leaves, inspect your trees to ensure their health and kiss that mistletoe goodbye! Read more at: True Mistletoe: https://aces.nmsu.edu/ces/plantclinic/documents/mistletoes-_od-10__final.pdf
Sandra Farley is a Sandoval County Master Gardener.
Corrales’ Sam Thompson reports that the Master Gardener program has had “some major adaptations to make during the year,” to put it mildly. In the middle of the Intern Training Class of 2020 the group went into a lockdown. “Our mentors learned to conduct sessions with their interns via Zoom. And it worked just fine. And the 2020 interns stayed with us, joining projects and committees. Now a year later, some are helping conduct Zoom sessions and mentoring members of the 2021 class,” as Thompson put it.
Along with adjustments to the pandemic, the group was renamed the Sandoval Extension Master Gardeners by New Mexico State University, to keep nomenclature consistent across the state. Its former website became defunct. And then the County horticulture Extension agent, Lynda Garvin, was transferred to Valencia County. A new Sandoval County agent has not yet been named.
Thompson was uncertain that any new interns would sign up in 2021, but 26 did. “What we hadn’t realized is that having virtual classes, all of which are recorded and made available the same day, allows those that are working to join the class, many of whom are younger people.”
Another benefit of Zoom experience, is that the Master Gardeners have begun to offer Zoom classes to the public, thus reaching far more people than in the past. Thompson notes that 72 people registered for “Amending Desert Soils “ from all over the state, and a few from out of state.” Online classes and corresponding recordings will continue to be available on the website: http://sandovalmastergardeners.org. Click on Classes for Zoom material.
Do note that on April 13 at 2 p.m., Thompson is presenting “Growing Tomatoes in the Desert Southwest.” “The challenges facing the tomato grower in the desert southwest include heat, intense wind, high UVs, low fertility and a variety of pests and disease. Discouraged? You don’t need to be, because there are helpful strategies that can allow you to grow tasty tomatoes in your backyard."
The Pollinator Garden started next to the Corrales Library by local Masters is “coming right along,” according to Thompson. “Rick and Jacob Thaler are making a bench for the space using wood from a felled tree on Pete Smith's property.”
Unless the planets radically realign, or everyone in New Mexico is fully vaccinated by early June, there will be no 2021 Corrales Garden Tour. There was no tour in 2020, for obvious reasons. The event was cancelled even though six gardens already had been selected, and even though the event is outdoors, and the tour’s fans are well situated behind masks. At a recent meeting the tour committee’s vote was 8 to 1 in favor of cancelling. Typically the tour attracts between 800-1,200 visitors, paying $15 per ticket. And all funds raised go to the Corrales MainStreet pathway project.
Some objections centered on “What if it’s hot and people won’t keep their masks on?” and “Everything is being cancelled.” As well as the printing and placement of 1,500 promotional cards at local businesses. “Who will see them if no one is going into stores?” The tour website had been down for weeks, unbeknownst to the committee, its Facebook page not updated since March 2020. The committee meets again April 1 to discuss a possible virtual tour.
A public butterfly garden has been proposed for a portion of the Corrales Interior Drain. The idea was floated by a member of the committee appointed by Mayor Jo Anne Roake to recommend future uses of the drainage ditch east of Corrales Road between Valverde Road and Riverside Drain (“Clear Ditch”).
When the advisory committee was established last year, it was to submit recommendations by August 2021. So far, not even draft recommendations have been developed; the group chaired by Doug Findley will soon launch an effort to gain additional public input before summer. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXIX No.12 September 5, 2020 “Any Ideas To Improve Interior Drain?”)
Other members of the committee include Sayre Gerhart, John Perea, Jeff Radford and Rick Thaler. At the very least, a butterfly garden along the Interior Drain could expect to attract Monarch, Queen, Painted Lady, Mourning Cloak, Two-Tailed Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail and Cabbage White varieties, according to Katie Carillo, an educator for the Albuquerque Biopark who formerly staffed the Butterfly Pavillion.
“I am sure there are many more!” that would love to feed along the drainage ditch. “Monarchs are very specialized and will only use milkweed as a host plant, so having a network of native varieties along their migration route is crucial,” Carillo added. Monarch butterflies pass through the Rio Grande corridor during their 3,000-mile, two-month migration to central Mexico. They are known to have a taste for horsetail milkweed and showy milkweed.
At the Corrales Interior Drain Committee’s March 12 meeting, Radford said he hoped to include a butterfly garden in the group’s proposal. He explained his interest in such a project began more than a decade ago when he learned that the place name for the Corrales area in Santa Ana Pueblo’s Keres language is Puraika, which means “the place of butterflies.”
He said he had only recently confirmed the meaning of that word by consulting a Keres-English glossary, which yielded the word for butterfly as Buuraika. He said using part of the drainage ditch for a butterfly garden would be a way to honor this area’s Native American heritage while restoring an attractive feature for this community. Responses from other members of the committee were positive. Draft minutes of the March 12 meeting indicated “The committee fully supports this, and considers it a beautiful unifying theme that can guide the full drain’s re-development including landscaping guidelines. The concept helps distinguish the Drain project from other natural and trail areas of the village.”
No specific stretch of the long drainage ditch was identified as a possible location for the butterfly garden. The ditch was created by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District in the 1930s, primarily to dry out, or drain, adjacent swampy land so it could be used for agriculture. Groundwater from the upper water table slowly drains into the ditch which conveys it southward to the Corrales Riverside Drain which itself empties into the Rio Grande at Alameda Bridge. But over the years, the ditch’s hydraulics have failed to function well; stagnant, sometimes smelly, water accumulates. And it bred scads of mosquitoes until the 1980s when the Conservancy District introduced gambusia fish, which devour mosquito larvae, into the ditch.
Back then, the District’s executive engineer, Subhas Shah, met with nearby concerned residents to discuss problems and how they might be addressed. One of the options, he suggested, was that the open ditch could be replaced by a buried perforated culvert which would still collect drained groundwater and take it to the Riverside Drain. That idea was never pursued, nor was a thorough rehabilitation of the ditch’s hydraulic capacity.
Then last year, Findley began inquiring whether other villagers shared his goal of creating a community asset from the deteriorating drainage ditch. He is the son of Tommie and Jim Findley, who was primary co-founder of the Corrales Bosque Preserve. Doug Findley persuaded Mayor Jo Anne Roake to appoint a task force, or committee, to explore what might be done to enhance the ditch and ditchbank roads. The committee was established and has begun soliciting public input before making recommendations to the mayor and council.
The MRGCD’s current executive director, Mike Hamman and members of his staff have discussed the project with Findley and his committee. Hamman has indicated conceptual support for a re-visioning of how the Interior Drain property might be used. The group composed the following statement: “Our mission is to identify and help to implement ways in which the Interior drain and right-of-way may be improved for safe, enjoyable and essential public use while maintaining tranquility for adjacent residents.”
In 2004, the N.M. Legislature formally named the Sandia Hairstreak as the state’s official butterfly. The following kinds of butterflies are found in New Mexico. Admirals and relatives: “Astyanax” Red-spotted Purple, Red-spotted Purple, Ruddy Daggerwing, Viceroy, Weidemeyer's Admiral
Emperors: Empress Leilia, Hackberry Emperor, Silver Emperor, Tawny Emperor, Longwings, Aphrodite Fritillary, Arctic Fritillary, Atlantis Fritillary, Callippe Fritillary, Edwards' Fritillary, Freija Fritillary, Great Spangled Fritillary, Gulf Fritillary, Isabella's Heliconian, Mexican Fritillary, Mexican Silverspot, Mormon Fritillary, Nokomis Fritillary, Northwestern Fritillary, Silver-bordered Fritillary, Variegated Fritillary, Zebra Heliconian
Milkweed Butterflies: Monarch, Queen, Soldier, Snouts, American Snout, True Brushfoots, American Lady, Bordered Patch, California Tortoiseshell, Common Buckeye, Crimson Patch, Definite Patch, Dotted Checkerspot, Eastern Comma, Green Comma, Hoary Comma, Milbert's Tortoiseshell, Mourning Cloak, Mylitta Crescent Northern Checkerspot, Northern Crescent Painted Crescent, Painted Lady, Pearl Crescent, Phaon Crescent, Question Mark, Red Admiral, West Coast Lady, White Peacock
Parnassians and Swallowtails: Rocky Mountain Parnassian, Swallowtails, Anise Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Broad-banded Swallowtail, Giant Swallowtail, Indra Swallowtail, Old World Swallowtail, Ornythion Swallowtail, Palamedes Swallowtail, Pale Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail, Polydamas Swallowtail, Two-tailed Swallowtail, Western Tiger Swallowtail
Regular, in-person school is expected to resume at Corrales Elementary April 5. Students and their parents have had to adjust to mostly online learning for the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic which caused Albuquerque Public Schools to mostly shut down. Even though students will return to classrooms, it still won’t be back to normal. Mask-wearing will be required and desks will be set wide apart.
“We are thrilled to finally welcome our students back into our school building on April 5!” Corrales Elementary Principal Liv Baca-Hochhausler said. “Corrales teachers have worked diligently for the past year adapting their instructional strategies and practices to effectively teach students remotely, but there really is no substitute for in-person teaching and learning (no matter how well we’ve mastered Zoom, Seesaw and Google classroom).
“We’ve implemented numerous safety protocols to ensure that students socially distance to the greatest extent possible throughout their day at school. Each classroom has been provided with sanitizing solution, gloves, masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, soap and thermometers to assist in actively screening students.
“We have designated one classroom as an ‘isolation’ room for our school nurse and health assistant to use when triaging staff or students that may have been exposed to COVID,” she added.
“Families have the option to allow their children to return to school for five days of in-person teaching and learning (8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and 8:45-12:30 on Wednesday) or remain online throughout the remainder of the school year. APS officials have ordered water fountains in schools be closed off, so water bottles will need to substitute.
“Because some students will continue to learn at home, students who return to their schools will be expected to bring their fully-charged APS-issued technology devices, Chromebooks or iPads, to class with them every day,” APS Superintendent Scott Elder cautioned March 12. He encouraged parents to drive kids to school —rather than have them congregate on school buses— and to persuade them to walk or ride bikes to school, which would be even better. Last day of school will be Tuesday, May 25. Not all teachers and staff are expected to return right away since those “identified as high-risk will be allowed to wait two weeks after they are fully vaccinated,” Elder noted.
Vaccinations against COVID-19 are now being given at home to villagers advised not to venture out. Corrales artist Juanita Wolff and her husband, videographer Eric Mathes, were among the first 10 villagers to receive their shots at home March 10. The Corrales Fire Department’s Tanya Lattin inoculated them with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which requires a single dose.
She reported at the March 9 Village Council meeting that she and her team expected to administer 420 doses the following Thursday at the drive-thru site at the recreation center. Those Thursday vaccinations are expected to continue indefinitely. Lattin said she hopes to be able to give 600 shots on those days. Statewide, infection rates continue to decline.
As of March 15, 188,311 New Mexicans had tested positive for the coronavirus. A total of 3,852 had died, and 118 were in the hospital with the disease at that time. Two hundred eighty-three cases were recorded in Corrales as of March 15.
This summer will see a “U-Pick” organic flower planting on the front field of the Juan Gonzales Bas Heritage Farm west of Wells Fargo Bank. Planted by the Silverblatt-Buser brothers, Aaron and Elan, of Silver Leaf Farms, it will operate under the honor system. The field awash in marigolds, zinnias, black-eyed susans, celosia, and, of course, sunflowers brings a smile to Elan Silverblatt’s face. It’s possible the flower field may be open, under some supervision, only on weekends.
Asked what U-pickers might be supplied with, or encouraged to bring, for appropriately cutting flowers, such as pruning shears, secateurs or flower snips, Silverblatt answered, “That’s a good question.” This could coincide with a similar U-Pick at Heidi’s Raspberry Farm, at 600 Andrews Lane. Silverblatt said the Heidi’s people had been “awesome and helpful” on U-Pick tips for the flower project at the Gonzales field. Dates and time for Heidi’s summer 2021 are not yet posted, but possibly masks still will be required, and visitors are asked to use only East La Entrada to access the farm along the Interior Drain. In 2020 parking was $5 per car, berry baskets were handed out and each filled basket cost $6. Reservations likely will be required. See https://heidisraspberryfarm.com.
The never idle, 30-something brothers who own organic Silver Leaf Farms, have thus far weathered the pandemic in part by partnering with Milagro Winery on an order online, pay, drive-thru and pickup shop at 125 Old Church Road. The shop runs Thursdays from 1 to 5 p.m. Learn more at http://www.milagrofarmstand.com. And it has served not only to sell wine for Milagro and veggies for Silver Leaf but also has given a boost to local purveyors of coffee, cheese, olives, almonds, butter, bread, kombucha, chocolate and ristras.
Participants include Corrales’ Candlestick Coffee and Heidi’s Raspberry Jam; Three Sisters Kitchen in Albuquerque; North Valley chocolate, with new items becoming available, such as organic plant starts, including thyme, sage, marjoram, and similar. Currently, you can even buy Silver Leaf’s own potting soil, as well as organic chicken manure from Arizona.
Elan Silverblatt says they intend to continue the project as long as it meets the needs both of customers, told to go to supermarkets when the Growers’ Market had to be on hold, and vendors. People providing restaurants with items had “no business anymore” when the lockdown was more stringent, and they have been aided as well.
The primary challenge has been that the drive-thru “leaches into” the normal Silver Leaf workday, as Silverblatt put it. But, “we’ll keep doing it if it helps out other businesses and still makes sense.” A Silver Leaf best seller? Corrales Butter Crunch Living Lettuce. Silver Leaf plans to resume its usual mid- to late-summer selling season at the Corrales Growers’ Market, too. (See http://www.eatsilverleaf.com)
The connection with Milagro Winery began four or five years ago when the two businesses connected on the topic of soil science. Milagro was segueing to all organic production, sought suggestions on fertilizers —now the same that Silver Leaf uses— and Silver Leaf learned quality grape growing and wine production techniques.
Now farming between 20 and 25 acres in Corrales with a team of 12, and seeking to hire as many as two more crew members, Silver Leaf also is working the Juan Gonzales Bas Heritage Farm west of the bank. After lying fallow or growing only cover crops for years, the acreage considered the centerpiece for Corrales farmland preservation program is leased to them.
The Village installed an irrigation well and pump at the heritage farm in August 2020 so that the land could qualify for organic certification. Silver Leaf was concerned that use of ditch water for irrigation would not allow such a designation.
By Arnold. C Farley
To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.
I have always had a deep and abiding desire to be in nature. I often thought it was because I grew up in a row house in South Philadelphia surrounded by asphalt, brick and concrete. I loved the summers as a child attending camp in the country and being able to hike, climb trees, take nature classes and enjoy evenings by a camp fire next to the Brandywine Creek.
Psychologist Seth J. Gillihan found through his research that being outside in nature is good for our bodies and minds and will accelerate healing. The Japanese expression “shinrin-yoku” translated “forest bathing” also reflects the experience of being immersed in nature. The description of bathing implies a cleansing effect that is supported by other research. The Journal of Environmental and Public Health published an article in 2012 that identifies significant health benefits from “earthing” (grounding) or being in direct contact with the earth. This finding is based on the transmission of electrons from the earth into our bodies.
Reconnection with the earth’s electrons has been found to promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being. Earthing refers to the benefits, including better sleep and reduced pain, from walking barefoot outside, sitting or working in or on the earth. The greatest positive effects are felt from practicing gardening activities.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order,” John Burroughs said. As a young adult I would often go backpacking along the Appalachian Trail from upstate New York down to southern Virginia. Even after becoming a psychologist, getting married and starting a family, I never lost the calling to be in and around nature. As a result, most vacations included river rafting, canoeing or kayaking, mountain, woodland or beach destinations, hiking or even ziplining obstacle courses. I felt being in a natural outdoor setting was always a home away from home for me.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better,” Albert Einstein advised. When my wife, Sandy, and I retired our commissions as Public Health Service officers, she wanted to become a Master Gardener and I wanted to become a massage therapist. We both accomplished our goals. Settling here in Corrales, Sandy began some herb and flower gardening with my total support and encouragement.
Out of an act of necessity to prevent erosion and control drainage, we developed a master plan for our property that included numerous garden rooms: believe it or not the major ones were “Mind,” “Body” and “Spirit!” David Monico, MPH, notes that nature has a restorative function cognitively and emotionally. He observed that being in nature can improve attention (used with children with ADHD), lower stress and improve overall well-being.
This gardening work of ours soon became an avocation for both of us with me designing, hardscaping and maintaining the gardens with Sandy choosing, planting and caring for hundreds of plants, vegetables and trees on our acre of land. As a result, we found ourselves caring for living things on a regular basis. We became gardeners.
The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. “To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.”
Then the pandemic hit! A nightmare to be sure, with all that we knew to be normal being turned upside down. Thankfully for us, we had our gardens! As a psychologist, I was somewhat familiar with the general health benefits of being outdoors in nature, including gardening, but now, Sandy and I would find it invaluable to our mental (and physical) health. None of this is new. For centuries we have known of the many benefits being in nature provides.
Philosophers, scientist, mystics as well as farmers and gardeners have been telling us so almost forever. “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.”
I have told many friends and family, if it was not for our gardens, I would be much worse off psychologically (Sandy can attest to that for sure.) More recently, in the fields of environmental health and psychology, we have accumulated more and more research and scientific evidence of the amazing mental health benefits, including physical health, being in nature, and specifically gardening, has for us.
The Journal of Clinical Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians reported in 2018 that exposure to plants and green spaces, especially gardening, is beneficial to mental and physical health. Studies in this report found the above exposures resulted in reduced stress, fear, anger and sadness as well as reduced blood pressure, pulse rate and muscle tension. A meta-analysis done in 2017 by Soga, Gaston and Yamaura in Preventive Medicine Reports found that gardening, specifically, was beneficial to numerous heath factors. These studies were from the United States, Europe, Asia and The Middle East. Outcome data found reductions in depression, anxiety and Body Mass Index (BMI) as well as increases in life satisfaction, quality of life measures and sense of community.
Horticultural therapy (gardening and other related practices) is a rapidly growing treatment for mental disorders as well as learning and developmental conditions around the world. I know how “good tired” I feel after working the gardens for a couple of hours. How “wonder-full” it is to sit, alone or with Sandy, in a garden spot and just take it all in: the smells, sounds, shapes, array of color, texture and variety.
“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
—Robert Louis Stevenson
Working in my gardens, I feel engaged in a form of mindfulness practice that is at the same time focused and creative. As if I was in a kind of organic dance, a co-mingling with the energies of the earth (weather, soil, living organisms, big and small, and me) all working to sustain and promote life. Way cool!
Virtually every religious and spiritual teaching throughout the ages has referred to a garden as an analogy for bliss, happiness, serenity or peace. “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”
Research has shown that you do not need to go big on gardening to gain many of the benefits from nature. Roger Ulrich, an environmental psychologist found that simply viewing plants or trees in a post-operative setting improved mood, reduced analgesic use, surgical complications and length of stay of patients. Studies in the UK and Japan over the last few years, have supported these findings.
No need to become a Master Gardener either. Just being in nature is a good start. Walking in the woods, volunteering with a nature program (see notes at end of article) or even getting a few house plants is a good start. If you wanted to start a garden, perhaps begin with a few outdoor planters of herbs for your kitchen or plant a few vegetables such as peppers, onions or tomatoes. Anything you do is good for you and will help you mentally, physically and emotionally. The added benefits of getting into any form of gardening include the physical activity components, the social/community connections and, of course, the bounty of healthy food to savor and enjoy!
“To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”
• Master Gardeners of Sandoval County: http://sandovalmastergardeners.org.
• Corrales volunteer tree planting committee: get information here or contact Village Clerk Aaron Gjullin at email@example.com.
• Seed to Need: https://seed2need.org
By Anita Walsh
January 23, 2021 was a Saturday, and the Corrales Post Office would be closing at 1 o’clock. It crossed my mind, after a Zoom yoga class, and having made our daily juice, that the two garden hoses I ordered could possibly be arriving.
In my sleep clothes, I grabbed the pants I wear to the store; the ones that have my license in the pocket, and threw them in the front seat, along with the bag that had my cloth mask and hand sanitizing sheets. I zipped over to the Post Office, and opened the P.O. Box, where a yellow pick-up card was nestled. I went around the corner, padding along in my green velour jimmies and went on to the counter. The pleasant clerk came back with a box for me. It looked a little small, and it felt a little light, so I got a little panicky that maybe I ordered the wrong thing.
I did get the wrong thing: I got hoses that were half-inch diameter instead of three-quarter-inch diameter. My plants had suffered. I couldn’t water and enjoy being outside because of those old leaky hoses. Now I had something that worked, even though it wasn’t what I expected. I spent most of the day delivering water to everything languishing in our drought-prone season. It’s not that they had gotten no water at all, but after getting squirted in the face, soaked at the sleeve, shoe and pant leg, I certainly had waited longer than usual to offer relief to the plants.
The next time I used these hoses, I already knew how light they were, how very little you have to turn the faucet on to get great pressure, and of course how nice it is not to get squirted by straight-up-in-the-air leaks, and to watch the wasteful soak-the-ground leaks, too. The half-inch, instead of the three-quarter-inch diameter, drinking water safe hose was a lucky accident. They are light and easy to pull around, allow for decent pressure for a much longer time than the wider hoses, use less water and deliver a purely delightful watering experience.
For anyone interested, I would highly recommend this smaller diameter hose. Your back will thank you for it. It’s best to disconnect the hose from the faucet on freezing nights. The connection froze one night and the force of it snapped the washer, so where there had never been gushing and leaking, there was. I’ve also learned to empty the ceramic birdbath.
The following week the garden lay under the snow. We were waking up, and Steve recalled the last Monday when he mowed the whole garden; all the thyme, St John’s Wort, spearmint, red clover, marjoram and grass around the fruit trees, cottonwood and catalpa and all the leaves that fell where things grow were mulched in. The gullies for irrigation got shorn. Another Saturday he raked the dry garden around the apricot, which has the big yuccas, and we pulled the leaves out from their arms with the handle end of the rake. He called me a “garden monster” as a high compliment for helping.
The ragged edges of the irrigation gullies got weed-wacked in the midst of a rather intense wind storm. I convinced Steve to mow the vinca and he has had me worried about it ever since. I noticed one lovely flower on the old growth, and I see now what we will be missing. As I looked around the area that day, leaves tucked in just about everywhere, I knew I’d be raking again, and so it was; heaving the splitting and broken garbage bags over the side of the garbage can, and returning the hand cart that helped me move them to the shed. Almost every week, all winter long, we filled the garbage can with leaves and we are still at it.
We spent an hour and a half trying to get a loose limb off of another limb and had to give-up. Steve was on a very tall ladder, the wind was blowing, and the limb wouldn’t budge. It’s rare to see him give up on a thing, but it had stalled me from going to the store in favor of holding the ladder, so when the futility of it became apparent, he gave up, and let me go.
We gave a “bluebird day” to our dog and went on a hike instead of gardening. Traditionally she gets the best day of the week for her long walk. The next day, was the day when we heard from the Conservancy District that there will be little water for irrigation, and a short season as well, and it kinda dashed all hopes of having stamina for outdoors; along with the grey-cold, windy weather that arrived with the news.
In pasting together the time, and what has been done, I’d say the garden, or the general outdoors that we occupy, has gotten significant attention. There was one day when I pulled out the top layer of compost that did not degrade, and filled the garbage with dried pineapple tops, corn cobs, coffee filters and twigs. I am still working on it, but with a stick, digging around hoping to find the stone to my old ring and finally, that precious layer of crumbly, practically perfect ‘black gold’ compost.
All the trips to the house for water, garbage bags, gloves and the excursions to the shed for rake, different rake, shovel; added up to more footsteps than a two-hour hike. Again, I put in some time watering and digging in the compost, and way surpassed days that were spent on errands. Even walking around the city blocks size of Albertsons’ for groceries has no such effect as slight garden tasks attended.
Last fall, we bought a multi-branched cluster of twigs identified as a desert willow and an expensive stick from Osuna Nursery in January, identified as a pecan tree. I have been watching it and the buds along its 31/2-foot stature look alive. When they will stretch to become branches is anybody’s guess.
Making things nice is a good activity for your spirit. I’d walked down the back door path, where straight ahead sits a white plaster detail object which Steve made as part of a cast for a sculpture. I’ve always loved it, and the morning sun streams down the path to highlight it. I thought then of how we make the world better by adding beauty to it.
The daily round of things; filling birdbaths, keeps me in touch with changes in the rosemary bush showing its blue flowers at the beginning of March, and in December the flowering arugula that I didn’t harvest in the fall.
We are still in competition for space in the garbage can to put in the results of our individual projects before the can gets full. Last week we both worked on garbage day, as soon as the can got empty and by evening it was full. We had a week to go before the garbage man roared back down our road. Steve cleaned two coreopteris bushes (blue mist ) and saved one from further rot at the base. I cleaned the Mexican feather grass and broke 11,000 steps for two days straight.
As I was looking out the window, a crow swooped gracefully from a high tree in a neighbor’s yard, down to a lower branch just above the birdbath in the garden. The birds always tell you when to fill the water; the little birds by the house and the crows in the big garden.
In spring and summer, we are overrun with critters; the snake falling from the vine, the cat giving birth behind a tangle of branches, and the ever-expanding toad family. I look forward to seeing Mr. Toad sitting in the plant tray we fill with water every morning; he surely seems to enjoy it, too.
I feel so lucky to be here and have a hand in making a place to see, to share with the birds, bees, lizards, tree frogs, my partner and more. Gazing at it, or working in it, the garden is the place to be, any time of year.
By Abby Boling and Jeff Radford
Surprises may not be what you’d expect from a docile, greyish plant, even one that tends to wander. But then, maybe you don’t know much about succulents. A fictional variety featured in the 1960 move Little Shop of Horrors was a blood-thirsty cross of the lowly carnivorous butterwort plant. The varieties that soon will emerge from Bonnie and Al Putzig’s subterranean Corrales greenhouse are more tame, yet amazing nonetheless.
As might be expected in a hot, arid environment, many landscapes in Corrales incorporate cactus, a succulent, while fewer specialize in nurturing agaves, echeveria, sedums and other fleshy plants. The succulent many Corrales gardeners probably are most familiar with is aloe vera.
At their home in the lower sandhills, the Putzigs have more than 50 kinds of in patios and medium sunny outdoor spots. “They’re just different; they’re not like your typical geraniums or your typical cactus. People have never seen them before.” Among her favorites are euphorbia, climb chile, and mangave macho mocha. “which, when it blooms, is so incredible.” And, pointing to an aeonium, “These are amazing. They have big rosettes on them and yellow flowers. This one looks like a helicopter.”
Another, the paddle plant, also known as desert cabbage and red pancake, is among the most dramatic of succulents. “It spikes later in the summer, into the fall, and has these beautiful orange-red hues on it,” even though earlier in the growing season it is a pale beige. Her sedums also turn a handsome red-orange in the fall if they gets sun.
Until recently, since the succulents needed shelter from the winter cold, spaces were found for them indoors as chilly weather set in. “The house was like a forest,” Bonnie Putzig explained. “And then at Christmas, we had a Christmas tree in here as well! My husband eventually got tired of all that, and that’s when we came up with the idea of a greenhouse.”
Al Putzig researched what could be built in the yard to keep the succulents alive and warm through the winter. They chose a walipini, a design of Bolivian origin which lets the sun’s rays in even though mostly buried in earth. “Walipini” is an Aymara word meaning “a place of warmth.” They built one in 2018 which now houses dozens of plants including lemon and lime trees and geraniums sporting bright red blossoms. As the seasons pass, they’re still learning how to use and maintain it.
The walipini is designed to prevent the temperature inside from dipping below 40 degrees. As a safeguard, a thermostat turns on a space heater until such time that a solar heating apparatus is installed. “The space heater is more than sufficient so far. “The plants are really happy in there,” she added. “But by the end of the winter when they’ve been in there about six months, they’re ready to get out and into the sun.
“Over the last couple of winters, I’ve lost a couple, but now I know which ones to watch. It’s all experiment. It’s all learning. I try to adapt as I learn more. Every year, I learn more about what works and what doesn’t. And I get more confident in trying different arrangements and different pots.
“What I’m getting into now is arrangements of different varieties in pots. I’m doing that now for fundraisers. I had two arrangements at a fundraiser, and I didn’t know what price to put on them. But I put $50 on them, and they went in a heartbeat.” They moved to Corrales 13 years ago from the Nob Hill area where they were for the prior 20 years. They decided to buy a home here after driving out one fall to show visiting relatives the Wagners’ Farm store.
After moving to the Albuquerque area from Vancouver, Canada, they had to adjust to aridity and other harsh conditions. “There you don’t even have to think about watering. You just put a plant in, and it grows. But here, you’re watering daily in the summer with 100 degrees. It’s labor-intensive gardening. And here, you’re having to deal with a lot of bugs and pests we never had in the Northwest.
“And then, living out here in Corrales, there are rodents. You’ve got squirrels and rabbits. From experience, she now avoids vegetable gardens here, except for pots outside her kitchen window that grow kale and chard each spring. “There are different colors of kale and chard, so it’s colorful. And that works. But then the heat comes. In the beginning of May, they’re done. So I put herbs in as replacements.”
When they acquired the property in 2007, much of it was in sagebrush and four-wing saltbush. But growing succulents is very much a specialty unless you’re content with the common, usually volunteer cacti. Other than with cacti, the learning curve can be steep —and expensive. “Succulents are very touchy about sun,” she warned, and over-watering can kill them.
“You can’t be very aggressive with water, because in their natural habitat, they get little moisture. And they don’t need much moisture to start with. In their natural habitat, it’s cooler in winter, whereas here it’s colder. I’ve just learned not to be worried about water. I water them maybe every week and a half in winter. In summer I water a little very day, but not a soaking.”
As a planting medium, she uses regular planting soil with a little home-produced compost added. “I never replace an entire pot of its soil. I just amend what’s there. I put in fresh soil, some compost, and maybe a handful of manure. In winter, she does “armchair gardening,” thinking about what needs to be done, consulting books to discover plants with desirable colors. After a career as a hospital operating room nurse, she is now retired. She also studied landscape design while earning a bachelor’s degree in art. “All the classes I took were in the architecture department. If I had gone on for a master’s it would have been to learn more about healing gardens, which is what I do here.”
In her career as a nurse, she came to understand the value of such features in a health care setting. In hospitals, space and resources are assigned to facilities such as operating rooms and clinics but not spaces planted for therapeutic purposes. Kaseman Hospital has a small area, “and it’s really nice, but in the summer, it’s hot because it’s surrounded by four walls. In any other season except summer, it’s a really nice spot. “But in general, there has not been a lot of money or research that has gone into healing gardens,” she admitted. “Hospitals tend to spend money where money can be made, and you can’t make it with a landscape.”
But the research that does exist suggests that “if you are a patient in a room recovering from surgery or something else, and your room has a window that faces just a concrete wall, that doesn’t help you recover. But if you have trees and greenery, perhaps with birds to look at, it makes a world of difference in your recovery. Research has shown that, but there’s not a lot of information about it out there.” But progress is coming, she added. “Some hospitals are integrating healing landscapes, especially for cancer patients.” She referred to California landscape designer Topher Delaney, a breast cancer survivor whose projects have gained attention.
Over the years, Bonnie Putzig has gained a reputation as a plant doctor. In her back yard, she created a succulent nursing station where she tries to resolve sickly plants’ issues. “It’s for plants that I might be trying to start, or ones that are not doing well. Or somebody contacts me to say ‘I can’t take care of that plant. It’s failing, or I can’t get it to grow. Can you take it?’
“I say, ‘Sure,” and I’ll take it home and nurse it back to health and give it to somebody. One of them was a jade plant —big— and I put it outside in the shade and eventually brought it into the house. Four or five months later it was healthy as can be. I hated to give it away, but I didn’t need another one.” At her outdoor plant nursing station, she needs a good pair of gloves, appropriate shears, old scissors and fertilizers. (“Miracle Grow is a good stand-by) especially cactus juice, a liquid containing calcium and other nutrients formulated for cacti and other succulents. When attempting to re-pot a large, extra-spiney succulent she recommends thick gloves. It’s a task best undertaken with another person helping.
Usually, before she retired, she took her salvaged plants to work and gave them to co-workers. Now she has more difficulty adopting out recovered plants. “This year, I found two or three people to give plants away to. I give away a good amount… otherwise there wouldn’t been room in the greenhouse.
“Sometimes I feel like a hoarder. I just love these plants, and I like experimenting with them.” The main experiment is optimizing use of the walipini. Before that was built, she brought them inside for the winter, including to the garage that has a skylight. “But sometimes half of them would die after I had spent good money on them, so it was getting to be a big waste.”
Generally, her husband leaves the gardening, working the earth, to her. “He was a researcher on neurology at the University of New Mexico, she explained. “The last thing he was going to do was get his fingers dirty,” she said chuckling. But he did put his talents as an engineer and problem-solver to use in creating the walipini. While the roof of the structure is translucent, the walls are concrete block with reinforcement to keep the weight of overlying earth from collapsing them. Each course of the blocks sits on a grid-like sheet extending out into the berm to stabilize the wall. A plastic pin through the grid into the concrete block holds it all together.
The entrance to the earth-clad greenhouse is at the bottom of a long ramp. Just before the step up into the greenhouse is a large grate over a cistern that collects rainwater. “Once water in the cistern reaches a certain level, a pump starts to prevent water from backing up into the greenhouse. Remaining to be resolved is how to prevent the surrounding berm from eroding due to heavy rain. She said they will soon hire a consultant for the best solution, although nature is beginning to provide an answer. “ There are some plants coming up already, like some sage.
“Through the years, I’ve learned more and more about the light they need. Some are very prone to sunburn; succulents are very touchy about the sun. They can have early morning sun or late afternoon sun, but all day, direct sun in July, a lot of them just can’t take that.
“When I get a new plant, or one that someone has given me, I have to figure out how much sun it can survive. Watering can be tricky, too. Succulents’ water requirements can vary significantly. She lost one of three expensive plants due to over-watering.”Last year one of them lost all of its leaves. I shouldn’t have even watered it, but one day I touched the base of it and it was spongy. It had too much water. The others could probably have survived out in the greenhouse, but I brought three of them into our vanity because I don’t want to lose one again.”
Inside, she waters them just once a month. When she’s stymied by what to do for a particular type of succulent, she calls an expert at the Thomas Boyce Arboretum near Superior, Arizona. “It’s a huge outdoor arboretum with acres of land provided by a philanthropy. I’ve bought some plants there and my son has given me others. “One that he gave me from there is just like a pencil in the winter. After the leaves fall of, it’s just a pencil sticking out of the soil. So I called the arboretum to ask what I should do. They told me it was just the plant’s dormant stage.
“Sure enough, after the winter it started to grow leaves again.” The arboretum is a popular tourist and recreational site that offers a wide variety of displays including Argentine and Australian Outback gardens. She had begun orientation to serve as a volunteer at the Albuquerque Bio Park when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so that was put on hold. She had intended to work in the cactus garden there. “In the meantime, I’ve got lots to do here.”
Their grounds do not include a significant vegetable garden although they do grow flowers and tend a small orchard of fruit trees; peach, pear, apricot, apple and cherry. Also growing in a pot on a porch is a pomegranate. The Putzigs are experimenting with training the trees to grow out, rather than up, to make fruit easier to harvest. They use espalier trellises to which branches are secured, making them grow along a two-dimensional plane.
“The tree is trained to grow flat on a trellis so that the yield can be more easily reached,” she explained. To complement the fruit trees, they have bee hives. “I’ve always wanted to keep bees, and when I retired, I figured that’s what I would do. My brother-in-law in Roswell is a beekeeper, so he has been an inspiration for me to finally get going. He has been a real mentor for me.”
She has two hives, and one has been active since April 2020. Bees for the second are on order to arrive this coming April. She understands that bees will gather nectar from a radius of up to two miles. In addition to fruit tree blossoms, she offers rosemary and abundant flowers through the spring and summer, as well as Russian sage. “They just love Russian sage,” she assured. “And I have a lot of that. I have a very healthy hive. There’s plenty for them in the immediate environment.” Elsewhere on the property are two sections of hay bale walls that have held up well over more than 20 years.
Her horticultural efforts have largely avoided outbreaks of plant diseases. But “mealybugs,” a common scourge among succulents, have been a vexation without remedy so far. The infestations, she said, “have a white, cottony cover” that gradually eats away at the plant under attack. Nothing she has tried has been successful. Now she’s hoping Bonide Systemic Granules will work.
The lemon and lime trees in the greenhouse developed scale last year. “Every time I went down to the greenhouse, I would remove it with my hand. I’m not going to spray unless I really have to. Who knows where it comes from, but the scale is not a bad problem. In April, when I start bringing things out, it disappears.” Tending to plants provides plenty of reward, just in seeing them respond to care. But she finds another that every gardener can surely appreciate.
Years ago when she lived in the Nob Hill area, she was out digging in the soil along her driveway when a neighbor passing by asked, ‘Bonnie, what do you get out of working in the dirt?’ “There are a lot of answers to that, but a big one is that it’s therapeutic,” allowing her to focus on what’s right in front of her rather than “any nonsense that’s going on on the periphery. I’m not thinking about every other thing that I have to do.”