May 1st & 2nd Classes at MNG

April 27, 2010

Saturday, May 1st, Zoe Wilcox will teach Sustainable Garden Design.

Sunday, May 2nd, Bard Edrington will teach Rainwater Harvesting.

Time:  9:30 optional farm tour, 10:00-12:00 Workshop

Cost:  Each class is $20 pre-register, $25 day of.  If you sign up for both class, total cost is $30.

To register, call 242-4803 or email


The Backyard Buzz

May 21, 2009
Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

     Sunday April 19th, Mother Nature Gardens welcomed a dozen guest to catch the buzz about backyard beekeeping.  Beekeeper, Casey Paul, laid out a table full of smokers, hive diagrams, and face nets that he wore only to demonstrate.  Casey shows no fear as he handles the bars of his top bar hive.  His complete easy in demeanor as hundreds of bees buzz around his hands put the entire class at ease.  We learned about the life cycle of a bee, the structure within the hive, how to maintain a hive, and how to acquire bees and learn more about these fascinating creatures.  One of the most interesting things I learned and witnessed was the dance worker bees perform to inform other workers of the exact location of blooms in the area.


 04-09 beekeeping class    When asked about hive collapse disorder, Casey sighted all the aspects of commercial beekeeping that weakens the hive:  feeding on pesticide sprayed crops, spraying the hives to prevent mites, and over harvesting honey and replacing it with high fructose corn syrup.  This improper care of hives, in his opinion, leads to hive collapse.  The solution to lots of bees in the future?  Lots of caring, small scale beekeepers.  Join us July 19th for Casey’s second workshop here when the class will harvest the honey and make a salve from the bee wax.

Tamalewood comes to the Gardens

May 20, 2009

 Ranger Steve Reynolds     Probably the most entertaining event of our busy spring was the visit from Ranger Steve Reynolds, US Park Service.  Jeremy Wilhelm, Minnisota screen writer, director, and actor arrived at our home in April looking so official in his uniform and dark sunglasses, I stumbled a little.  Albuquerque local and location scouter extrodanare,  Suzy Dillon, found the perfect location for college friend to demo his new comedy character – our gardens! 

     Ranger Steve Reynolds is a park ranger with a big heart and a small amount of worldly experience.  Following years of disappointment in our country’s foriegn policy, Ranger Steve Reynolds starts “Rangers Without Boarders”.  He believes, deep in his heart, that if Osama bin Laden simply knew the ways of the Park Ranger, he would chose peace with the land and its people.  So, he sets off to Pakistan to find him.  Upon arriving in county, Ranger Steve Reynolds immediately looks up his local guide, Faruk Fahim, played by Muni Kulasinghe.  And where might the Pakistan tour guide live but our cob-slip playhouse!  (see Fall Project: Cob-slip playhouse).

     I small group of organizers, filmers, and actors made the playhouse into a quaint home.  They then spent hours entertaining each other and us with sharp, improve humor.  Well after dark, after we had all gone to bed, the small movie crew packed up their things and moved on with their interesting lives and Mother Nature Gardens went back to farming.  Learn more about the ways of the Park Ranger at

Nob Hill Backyard Farming Workshop

May 20, 2009

BYFW Group shot     When I was a lonely farm girl in rural Illinois, I couldn’t wait to leave the country and live near friends.  Now, a resident of central Albuquerque, I’ve lost the isolation of country life but still hold on to the slow pleasures of farm living.  As our current social structure decays, backyard farming seems the clarifying answer to future thriving communities and my utopia of farm life but with friends.  Urban farming: its farming, but cool. 

     What luck, then, that I should meet Melanie Rubin, a business coach with a dream to create an urban farm and make it a center for backyard farming education.  Melanie and I began to work with each other for trade.  I consulted her on how to turn her backyard into a beautiful and highly functioning food production area.  Melanie in turn consulted Bard and I on how to develop our business and gave me confidence to project my experience in this type of living. 

May 3rd workshop     Melanie wants to put on a series of workshops that will transform her backyard publicly into a backyard farm.  She is interested in fruit, vegetable, flower, and herb production, as well as chickens, bees, and even fish production!  With Melanie’s admirable enthusiasm and my experience, we got to work developing and advertising for the series and collecting materials for the first workshop.  The series would run through the summer and fall and begin with garden design. 


Zoe teaching Backyard Farm Design

Zoe teaching Backyard Farm Design

     On May 3rd, thanks to Melanie’s marketing skills, 65 people gathered in her backyard for a three hour workshop.  We discuss how to evalute your property as it is, daydream about what you want it to become, and blend those two things, along with Permaculture principles, into a beautiful design and realistic action plan.  After instruction and plenty of group activities to engage the audience and to personalize the information, we began installing the design I created for Melanie. 

Garden installation

Garden installation

   The next workshop is schedualed for May 31st.  Long seasoned New Mexican gardener, Yvonne Scott, will discuss all the how-tos of annual planting including soil building techniques, planting scheduals, planting in communities, and the best techniques to water.  View Melanie’s website at and join us in the Green Revolution!

Inspiring Rainwater Harvesting Class

March 23, 2009

low-tech gutters

low-tech gutters

A desert gardener first concerns himself with issues of water, so that’s where we began our season of classes this year.  On Sunday March, 15th, permaculturist Bard Edrington, owner of Living Edge Landscaping and co-creator of Mother Nature Gardens, spoke to a small crowd about numerous methods to harvest water in the desert.  He gave participants inspiring motivation and clear steps to develop a sustainable, desert oasis on their own property.  He showed examples on sight of both passive rainwater catchment (earthworks), active rainwater catchment (a ferrocement cistern and two plastic barrel catchments), and the drip irrigation system they feed. Bard & rainwater harvesting class


      Finally, he introduced students to our latest developments in water harvesting, the outdoor wash room.   Because our crawl space is too small, we found it near impossible to run greywater from our indoor laundry room.  So we took the laundry machine outside.  For now, until the system develops, we run water from the outdoor hose to the machine.  We have dug four seperate basins, 30″ in diameter, 30″ deep, and filled them with mulch.  Then, we purchased a drainage tube that we can move from basin to basin so no area of our clay soil gets over saturated.   We also can drain rinse water into a nearby rainbarrel to use for chicken water.   Suddenly, we have more water in our backyard than we know what to do with.  Whatsmore, I get to do my washing outside while I overwatch my boy and my gardens.

Open air laundry room

Open air laundry room

Greywater dispensing sponge

Greywater dispensing sponge

Protecting Early-Spring Plantings

March 6, 2009

     With weather 12 degrees above average and apricot blossoms opening, its hard not to think about putting seeds in the ground.  Yet, last frost date is still six weeks away (mid-April) and seedlings suffer from Albuquerque’s brutal spring winds.  Don’t hesitate to plant as long as you take extra procaution to protect young growth.  We practice two methods of early planting you may want to try at home.

 cold-frame    First, we built a simple cold frame where we placed seed trays full of warm season seeds, like tomatoes and peppers.  Bard built a three-sided wood frame topped with a recycled, glass showerdoor, laying at a 45 degree angle.  We placed the cold frame against the south side of the house, using the adobe wall as the fourth side of the structure.  In addition to the thermal mass of the wall, Bard lined the back wall with beer bottles full of water.  Both these elements collect heat from the direct sunlight, then emit the heat at night when air temperatures fall.  We sealed all the frames and they seam to retain nighttime warmth.   During warm days, we crack the door so seedlings do not over-heat.  We close the door every night and during windy afternoons.

reemay-cover    Secondly, we direct sowed cool weather veggies (lettuce, carrots, spinach, chard, onions, etc) in several growing beds and then covered them with row cover called reemay.  We facened hoops out of salt-cedar branches to keep the reemay off the ground.  Rocks and bricks hold the fabric down at its edges.  We make sure soil of all seeds and seedlings stay evenly moist.

Spreading the Wisdom of Slow Living

February 20, 2009

 Interview with organic homesteaders in Mexico; Edited by Zoe Wilcox-Edrington for clarity

 Farmers Wally Carlson & Amaranth Rose    

      Despite the location in the world, the ethics that make sustainability possible remain the same.  As gardeners and landscapers, my husband and I have spent many winters hugging the wood stove and our winter savings, resulting in boredom and the blues.  So this winter, we planned ahead and took our winter savings to spend a month on the Pacific coast of central Mexico.  We set our destination for Slow Living Farms, a 10-acre self-sustaining farm over looking the ocean.  Wally Carlson and Amaranth Rose sustain themselves there off their organic mango crop and the eco-tourists who relax in their artistically designed guesthouse on the property.  To make our stay affordable, our family (one and a half year old in tow) stayed as WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and worked for our room and board.


            Wally Carlson, a gentle and introverted soul, started nurturing this farm eighteen years ago when he bought the land, then exhausted by the previous farmer and considered wasteland.  Wally drove his VW van (what we called home while we were there) to the property, parked, and never left except for mandatory visits to the States.  He began planting fruit trees, native and cultured varieties of which 30-40 now thrive, and began assimilating himself into the local community, a small and intimate fishing village.  Life remained rough on the farm: van living, cold bucket showers, and meals at the taco stand in town, until five years ago when he met the deeply spiritual, Amaranth Rose.  A lifetime gardener and artist, she filled the missing link in creating a successful and comfortable sustainable farm.  The peace the two experience with each other and the Earth beneath them while walking the walk of sustainability inspired me to interview them.  I wanted to better understand the mindset that got them to the beautiful and harmonious lifestyle they now enjoy.  Although they live in the tropics, I was sure they had wisdom to help me attain sustainability in the high desert.  I interviewed them separately, to clearly understand the experience and ideas of both. 


Interview with Wally Carlson:

How did you make your living before moving here?


Wally:  Before moving here, I was a mechanic for cars and tractors.  I worked on a crab boat in Alaska and on the east coast.  I was a plumber, did bodywork for cars.  I got my degree in psychology, and worked with troubled teens and in mental institutions.  I worked as sculptor for a couple years and taught sculpting.  I’ve done a lot of different work.



What have been the priorities in establishing a sustainable farm here?


Wally:  I started by planted fruit trees since year one.  When I first came here, the land had no water so I would spend all day carrying buckets of water up from the river to water the trees.  When Amaranth came to live here, I was still living in the van so our first goal together was to build shelter: our home, the guest home and a living space around the van.  That took us three years.  Then, we began building vegetable beds.  Our goal now is to simplifying all the systems within the farm, the watering system for example.  I don’t want to keep hauling water so we put in water lines and an irrigation system.  We want the farm to be more automatic, so that the place sustains itself without input from us. 



People who will read this interview live in the high desert, a completely different ecosystem than here.  Can you pinpoint some ethics that all people attempting sustainability can practice, no matter what the growing environment?


Wally:  First, you have to define what you mean by sustainability.  A lot of young people come here attracted to that phrase without understanding what that means to them.  We had to figure out what we were trying to sustain.  We want to be part of the environment around us. The more simple our lives, the better we can do that.  Working with nature by observing it and then adapting to your climate, to that world.  Plant plants that like being where you are.  Start learning about wild local plants.  They take no effort to grow.  We eat salads regularly from local weeds, for example.  This is also a question of economics and what you need to do to sustain your life style.  Part of that is getting rid of a lot of things you don’t need. 



How have you expanded as a gardener by moving to the tropics?


            Wally:  You have to learn how to adapt to the dynamics of the area you are in.  Our dynamics are a lot different than a very cold place.  For example, here, you have to have your vegetable plants established before the rainy season begins or they will get washed away.  In the dry ground, the plants will set their roots deep looking for water.  This anchors them in place when the rains come.   Every year, the farm changes to adapt to mini-environments.  Keep your eyes open to the position of the sun, shade – heat is a big deal here.  Bugs are a big deal so we grow neem to spray for insects and the worm casting tea has helped.  We plant a wide variety of plants in the same space.  Planting things in rows, I am observing that the bugs seem to go right down the row.  But when we plant in areas and we don’t weed so much (we take out noxious plants, weeds we can’t eat), the gardens does better.  A mixture of over-grown stuff seems to do best.  I observe and move things accordingly and I stopped planting things that I have to struggle to grow.



Is there anything about Mexico, in particular, that makes sustainable living easier or just more necessary?


Wally:  It is both.  Mexico suited me because there where no building codes; you are not bound by rules and regulations.  That gave me the freedom to design and build the kind of house I wanted.  Mexico has an all year growing season.  Even though you grow different things in different times, no one walks the streets hungry.  You don’t have to deal with heating the home.  Our air condition is open windows.  We don’t depend on electricity much as we rise and sleep with the sun.  Nature is less invasive here than in colder places. 

            Part of sustainability is the economics of it.  Can you afford to live?  We still need to supplement our life with income because occasionally we need things at the corner store.  We do ecotourism to bring people in as a stepping off-point for people to explore a new lifestyle.  We want to have a lifestyle where they don’t have to leave their house to go to work.   People spend a lot of time working in order to someday live their dream life.  Live like you want to now and getting rid of the things that don’t fit into that.




Does your partnership make a sustainable lifestyles more possible? 


Wally:  I spent my whole life single.  Always felt like something was missing.  Amaranth adds all the things I lack.  The positive qualities we have balance each other out.  Her strengths are my weaknesses and my strengths are her weaknesses. 

I never wanted to marry someone because I was lonesome.  I did a lot of research about what makes a good relationship from people who had good marriages.  I get so involved in daily work, I never had time to cook for myself, for example.  Amaranth loves to cook.  We do things that allow the other person to do what they love to do. 





How has Mexico changed your ideas and dependency on community?

 Wally's car conglomerate

Wally:  I grew up in a small community.  I liked the safety and the comfort of that, having people know who you are, not being invisible.  So when I came here, I started working on everyone’s cars for free.  In that way, I became a part of the community.  All the Americans who they saw came in RV’s and the poor ones didn’t have enough money to visit here.  Through me, locals saw that not every American had a lot of money.    When I drive through town, old men wave, children call my name.  I felt the same way in Iowa, the small farming community I was from.  Children are raised with large extended families.  You get adopted into a family when you come here.  You get honest emotions and reactions from people.  I always knows where I stand with people, I doesn’t’ have to guess.



Interview with Amaranth Rose:

What did you do before moving here?


Amaranth:  Before here, I spent 25 years as an accountant in a family business.  I started gardening in the early 70s with veggies.



What has been the priorities in establishing a sustainable farm here?


Amaranth:  Taking care of Wally. (Laugh)  Because he does so much, things go better when I take good care of him.  Wally’s skills are vital here – car maintenance, electricity, infrastructure.  I am fulfilled in my work in the home.

We call the farm Slow Living Farm.  The name of our place says something about our philosophy and our priorities.  We borrowed ideas from the “slow living food movement”.  It came out of a recognition that old traditions were being lost – cheese making, bread making, preserving, etc.  At one time, the same family would excelled at different food making tasks generation after generation and contribute those skills to the community.  This movement promoted this family based food-making skills and promoted their business so they would not be lost forever.  Some things that take a lot of time are worth preserving. 


People who will read this interview live in the high desert, a completely different ecosystem than here.  Can you pinpoint some ethics that all people attempting sustainability can practice, no matter what the ecosystem?


Amaranth:  You have to be sensitive to your environment: observing changes and paying attention to wild things.  It is important to look at the year as a whole thing.  Our work is dictated by the season: water conservation mode in dry season and rainy season is the only time for growing vegetables.  Year is a cycle of seeding, nurturing, harvesting, preserving.  Some months are heavier in veggies. Others fruits.  Food management takes up most of my time.  Half the year is spent putting food up for the other half of the year.              Sustainability becomes your livelihood so you have to ask, “What’s important to you?”  For us, we want to eat dark green veggies every day.  Eggs are an important part of our diet because we raise chickens.  There’s lots of food we enjoy but they can’t have them here. And we try to adjust their lives to that.  It results in being more creative in cooking.


 View from dining table

Is there anything about Mexico, in particular, that makes sustainably living easier or just more necessary?

             Amaranth:  It is so different, that you look at everything new.  I thought I knew everything about vegetable gardening coming here but I didn’t.  The climate, bugs, humidity, two polar seasons all was a real challenge.  I had to start fresh and not try to rely on old techniques.  I had to tone my skill of observation.  I stopped growing things that did not work in that location.  Tomatoes are too bug ridden here so now I use organic dehydrated tomatoes.  I pay attention to all the signs around me and that helps me develop a system.  We use pumice for mulch, for example.  It reflects light, doesn’t attract bugs, and is abundant here.  Every year I try new things.  I listen to other growers and try what has worked for them.  I have learned to use indigenous plants as a result.



Does your partnership make a sustainable lifestyles more possible? 

Amaranth:  I don’t think it is possible to do it without a partnership. Not at the size we are at now.  It is an ongoing process and you refine it as it is going on.  You are always looking to become more efficient, that means division of labor.  We are pretty traditional in that sense.  But the labor we choose satisfies us.  It has to be satisfying.  I love feeding people.  I get something out of that.  You choose what part you play because you can’t do it all.  I can express myself as a homemaker.  But we are very much a partnership.  We talk about everything we do.  We are growing this farm together.

Also, I don’t want to spend all my time surviving. I want to have time for art and reading.  Also doing nothing.  Just sitting and being still is essential for staying juicy with ideas, dreams, and processing the past.  As part of my work ethic, I choose to do a lot by myself.  I like describing our farm as a “monastery”, not so much in spiritual sense but as a sustainable community that monasteries are.  All tasks are shared by the community; each person contributing their own gift to the whole.  The daytime was a time of silence so each person can be with God while they accomplish their task.  When a person does the work that is fulfilling to them, God speaks easily to them through that work.  It is ordered that way.  They (the monks) guarded their thoughts with silence. It narrowed their focus to what they were doing and God.  They where in a listen mode.  Without the bombardment of televisions and radio, it is a quieter world here, which gives me time to have thoughts.


Why do you think we do not choose silence more in our culture?

            I think we are hardened. The visual and audio stimulation of our world is incredible.  It is intense and meant to be that way.  “Look at me! Buy me! Buy me!”  You notice it when you’re away from it, not when you are in it.  I want to be aware of nuances.  We can choose simplicity and edit irritants.  For example, I don’t listen to music while I cook.  I choose to listen to music or do an activity.  It results in more real, enriching experiences.  It took a couple years to turn down the noise in my head.  In our society, silence is not always pleasant at first.  We have a lot of noise to get out of our heads first.



Fall Project: Cob-Slip Playhouse

February 15, 2009


 After putting down a new layer of sheet mulch on all our growing beds, it was time to let them rest for the winter.  Yet, we couldn’t follow suit.  We needed a project and a new chicken coop seemed a high priority.  We decide to use cob-slip.  With this technique, the builder constructs the frame-work of the structure and then screws in temporary planks into the framework in order to define the walls.  For the walls, we mixed soil from our yard and straw in a wet (relative to the straight cob) and highly organic (just enough mud to cover all the straw) blend.  Then we stuffed the framed walls which were about 5 inches wide with the cob mixture.  In straight cob, one can only build up the walls a few inches at a time to insure the structural integrity of the wall.  With cob-slip, however, we were able to build up the walls feet at a time.  The framing planks insured that the wall would dry straight.  We hammered in many nails into the framework where it met the walls to bind the walls to the frame.  To make our material go further and to recycle waste, we added a layer of beer bottles into the wall with about every four inches of cob-slip.  Framing in windows had the same ease found when building with cob.  We simply set the recycled windows into still plyable walls for the window sill and built the walls up around the glass to seal the window in.  We mudded in planks along the tops of the windows to stablize the wall above them.  When the cob was almost dry, we unscrewed the framing planks to reveal the walls.



     Bard and I made the project quicker and more harmonious by dividing labor according to our interests and skills.  While I laid and even foundation for the walls, Bard built the frame of the structure.   While Bard built the roof, I raised the walls.  Together, we shared ideas, scavenged materials, and mixed lots and lots of dirt. 

     Quickly into the project, we thought the building was too nice for the chickens and turned it into our son’s playhouse.  So, when the playhouse was finished, we still needed a chicken coop.  With the help of Living Edge Landscaping employee, Chris Vegas, Bard attached a chicken coop to the east side of the playhouse, made from recycled pallet wood.  What originally was the chicken’s entrance to the coop on the east wall of the playhouse, is glassed over and looks into the chicken coop.  This way, children playing inside the playhouse can sit on the floor and watch chickens laying eggs in the chicken coop.

     Finally, to fill the large holes left by our need for clay, we took wheelbarrows full of straw scratch for the chicken run and made two large sponges feeding an aproicot and a cottonwood tree.

Gallery of “47th St. Before” Photos

September 22, 2008

These photos were all taken in April, ’07.

Open House is a Great Success

September 22, 2008

     An estimate 75 people came to 47th street yesterday to learn about sustainable living techniques!  The turnout showed how hungry people are for a lifestyle that connects us to the earth beneath our feet and to local community.  I had mentioned yesterday that in Bard and I’s dream of a sustainable farm, we imagined acres of rolling hills.  Yet, if we take a realistic look at our culture’s future, urban sustainability is much more probable and can be practiced by more people.  It is less expensive than the country farm, less isolating, and does not require great fuel to get to and from.  We can manage a compact farm and still walk to the bus stop, the corner store, or a park.  When we can no longer afford to ship food into our cities, our cities must blossom with its own fruit, vegetables, protien, and medicines, one yard at a time. 

     A special thanks to our many contributors.  Casey Paul volunteered his whole afternoon to bee-keeping talk.  He brought sample honey from his own hives, and salves and lip balm he made from the wax.  Working calmly, without gloves or sleeves, he made bee-keeping look relaxing.  Scott Pitman brought his current Permaculture Design class to join us which lead to a more structured and effective presentation than we had prepared for.  The enthusiasm and knowlege from the class made for engaging conversation.  Paul Blake and Andre Rodriguez from the Obama Campaign for Change dedicated there Sunday to the open house to register and educate voters.  Just the little bit of time I have dedicated to Obama’s campaign, I have learned a lot about organizing and creating a movement of people.  The message behind Paul and Andre’s work, hope through citizen empowerment and change through investing in new ideas, closely reflects the message of Mother Nature Gardens.  Alexandra Gjurassic, Mother Nature Gardens’ artist of choice, brought her beautiful family and captured the event on camera (photos to come).