It's been about a year since we moved into our dream house in Albuquerque's South Valley, and about five months since we started our mission to "turn our sadly barren backyard into one of those natural-looking “native wildflower wilderness fields” that are always on the cover of the gardening magazines we read at Flying Star.

So now that the leaves are changing on the trees and pumpkins are being carved, you may be wondering how we did. So are we, actually.

We hoped to create a yard that would survive our dogs, survive our sorry watering habits, not require mowing, and be affordable. The good news is that we succeeded on all counts! No kidneys were sold in the course of working the yard (yet), and only a few plants (...and lots of grass seed...) were lost to lack of water.

Our vegetable garden was a bigger success than expected, and all but one of the trees we planted this time last year survived a whole year under our care! Here are some photos that display the transformation:

August 2005: The garden area before we got started breaking the ground and planting baby veggies.

May 2006: The garden shortly after the ground-breaking and transplanting.

July 2006: The garden with happy green plants quickly taking over the carefully planned paths.

October 2006: The garden just a few days ago, with the fence reconfigured for next year's plot. Notice the HUGE tomatoes, tall corn, and dead dead dead cucumbers and squash.

What a difference, huh? Despite attacks from silverleaf nightshade and squash bugs , our big little yard had an amazing year!

Our latest harvest yielded more and more tomatoes, some itty-bitty green bell peppers, several small zucchini, the last of the basil, and one under-ripe spaghetti squash. The poor thing didn't have a chance to ripen before the plant gave up the ghost... wonder if it will yellow up if it sits on a warm windowsill for a couple of days?

Pears, Even
When we moved in last year, we were too overwhelmed with unpacking to harvest any of the pears off the sweet little tree in our courtyard. This year, though, the tree made us very aware that it would no forgive the slight for two years in a row... it seemed that every time I went out there, it threw a pear at me!

More Trees

To celebrate this year's successes, we purchased more trees to round out the backyard. A couple of Spruce and an Austrian Pine joined us from a 30% off sale at Santa Fe Greenhouses.

Then, a visit to the Natural Resources building at the State Fair resulted in several baby trees: 2 Desert Willows, an itty-bitty Gambel Oak, a teeny-tiny Pinon Pine, and a teensy Ponderosa Pine. Grow little guys, grow!
Time to "Tuck the Garden In" for Bedtime
Now we have only to "put the garden to bed" for the winter. For us, that means quickly sowing some soil-improving, nitrogen-fixing cover crops like winter wheat and hairy vetch. Having never done this before, we don't know what to expect.... but we do know that Farmer Monte does it, so it must be good!

2006 Lessons Learned
  • The mix of cow poop,composted cotton burr, and peat moss seemed to work really well in our garden. However, we were told time and time again that we probably didn't have to go to the trouble - the soil in the South Valley is already rich in nutrients. Next year, we won't spend so much money on additives at the store, and will probably opt mostly for homemade compost instead.

  • Ah, the compost. So little work for so much reward! We'll definitely be composting next year, and using the resulting material to amend our soil and mulch our plants.

  • In the Spring, grow all seedlings in small containers inside rather than throwing them to the wolves (and birds and sun and wind) outside. When they're no longer seedlings, "harden them off" and then transplant them to the garden.

  • Re-apply cayenne pepper and dishsoap concoction to hoses after heavy rainfall or puppies will ruin yet another hundred-footer. Damn dogs.

  • Keep those ruined hoses around! They came in handy this year and we laid out next spring's big project - a path to separate (and connect) the far reaches of our yard with a pecan-shell path a la Plants of the Southwest in Albuquerque.
  • Continue collecting spent coffee grounds from frequent Starbucks visits. The flowers really seem to love it!
  • Water the baby trees obsessively. No, really. RIP, willow.
  • Either plant squash and cucumber later in the year after the squash bugs have attacked, or plant a sacrificial crop, burn those little suckers along with that first few plants, and then re-plant.

  • Tomato plants are not aerodynamically designed and will easily flop over... even if you have a tomato cage. Luckily, we live in dry New Mexico, so the fruit won't rot immediately upon contact with the ground like it will in some other places.

  • Keep writing on Duke City Fix, because the advice provided by readers was truly primo!

So What's The Plan for 2007?
  • An even bigger veggie garden because the overwhelming amount of vegetation this year just wasn't enough
  • Ornamental gourds growing on a trellis like this
  • Three Sisters Gardening for corn, beans, and squash
  • Pumpkins
  • Moon and Stars Watermelon
  • Basil, basil, basil
  • Multiple cilantro plants so that if one of the dies mysteriously like this year, we've got backup
  • Pear, cherry, and Cherokee Purple tomatoes, using the Florida Weave technique
  • Sunchokes, aka Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Some kind of structure for the zuchinni and cucumbers to climb
  • A real compost station with three compartments
  • Worms to eat our garbage!
  • Paths and mounds like the Santa Fe Greenhouse Xeric Display Garden (which they don't feature on their site for some strange reason)
  • A new fence that may allow for more topless gardening

Tell Us Everything!
So, green thumb readers, we're dying to know how your yards turned out this year! What pearls of Albuquerque gardening wisdom would you like to pass on to fellow DCFers?

Views: 76

Comment by Eckleburg and Grumblecake on November 22, 2007 at 9:32am
This post was copied over from the original Duke City Fix. Here are the comments that people left over there:

chantal wrote:
I really enjoyed your recap, Eck & Grumble. Wish I could say that my garden fared as well.

Some questions:

-Are there any gardening blogs you read?
-Will you move your tomatoes to a new location next year?
-Did you get those big green hornworms attacking your tomatoe plants this year?
10/09/06 07:30:44
gk wrote:
I grew 'moon and stars' melons last summer and had no problems. The melon was just ok though. I've had tastier! Good luck!
10/09/06 08:41:24
Barbara wrote:
I have an abundance of red worms for the compost, if you need some. Mine are eating/making compost very fast these days.
10/09/06 08:52:12
nora wrote:
Have you seen the basil at Trader Joe's? They give you a plant with about twice as much basil on it already as you get in a package of not-still-growing basil and then it continues making more basil for you. It also tastes good.
10/09/06 10:15:40
Another Topless Gardening Fan wrote:
Excellent post. Highly informative and fun to read. We had a few of those plumb tomato bugs this year but plucked them and put them out for the wild birds, who slurped them up promptly. All of our tomato plants survived and thrived. We also had some large blondish grasshoppers this year that munched quite a bit. Anyone else suffer from these?
10/09/06 11:00:23
eckleburg wrote:
Hey Chantal --

-Are there any gardening blogs you read? Aside from the Farmer Monte blog (he is the garderner at Los Poblanos -- no. We will do searches and read lots of entries at random blogs for specific information, but we haven't found a super good one yet.

-Will you move your tomatoes to a new location next year?
Yes, definately -- One thing we were careful about was ensuring that the tomatoes didn't shade anything -- turns out that some of the plants don.t mind a little shade in mid-summer in NM. We also moved our garden completely, so almost everything will be in a new spot.

-Did you get those big green hornworms attacking your tomatoe plants this year? We didn't get any this year, fortuneatly. One thing we have hear is to interplant marigolds and a few other plants in with the tomatoes -- bugs that like tomatoes are deterred by them. So we're going to try that next year just in case. Grumble is also very good about checking under leafs for bug eggs and squishing them.
10/09/06 12:33:39
eckleburg wrote:
Oh, and Grasshoppers -- these are the one thing our dogs are good for -- they LOVE hunting grasshoppers. Actually, they hunt most bugs -- they catch moths constantly, and our littlest puppy has been diging 8-12 inch holes all over the back yard to east something down there.
10/09/06 12:37:17
gk wrote:
Yeah, I've seen the grasshoppers as well. My garden is still producing and the grasshoppers hang around the green chile (still harvesting) and tomatoes. I have an abundance of praying mantis and ladybugs, but have also noticed snails and squash bugs on the pumpkins. So far, no damage but I thought the squash bugs would be long-gone by now.

For tomatoes, I started off with black shade cloth, and by the time the vines reached 5 feet, I took it off and they were fine. Tried snap peas, but they were done by early July. Too hot and not enough shade.

Gotta love the hornworms. They munched through a bunch of deturra as well. it takes a trained eye and steady hand to fling them over the fence....
10/09/06 13:22:15
gk wrote:
oh, and one more thing, I don't know how you all feel about Seeds of Change, but I figured since their test gardens are here in NM, most of the seeds I buy from them would do well here in ABQ. So far, everything has grown really strong except for okra, which the ants destroyed.
10/09/06 13:26:12
jessman wrote:
It looks like you had mediocre pollination on your corn. I planted my corn too close together the first year and had the same results. The following year I thinned them out and they pollinated just fine and I had full ears of corn.

I love all of your gardening blog entries. Inspiration to start planning for next year.
10/09/06 14:03:35
grumblecake wrote:
chantal - I read, Petunia's Garden at,, and the Foodie Farmgirl at http://www.foodiefarmgirl.b... I'm also subscribed to the Seeds of Change listserv at Yahoo.

We're definitely moving our tomato plants next year to give the soil a chance to recover.

I found only two big green hormworms all season, and neither were actually *on* my tomatoes! Did you have trouble with them?

gk - We're planning on purchasing many of next year's seeds from Seeds of Change. Happy to hear you've had good luck with them.

jessman - thanks for the info on the corn! We've never grown corn before, so we were mystified by the funky cobs! We'll try your technique next year.
10/09/06 20:36:22
gk wrote:
The hornworms liked to munch the leaves and buds coming out of the top of the plant. They were easy to find since they stayed on top. Most of the good fruit was shaded and covered, well below the worms preferred munching-ground.

Strange thing though, my neighbor, who's garden is right next to mine and separated by a wood fence, has had no hornworm invasions. He's mostly growing roma and some heriloom varieties using a flood irrigation technique and earth berms. I'll have to get his secret...
10/10/06 13:38:00
grumblecake wrote:
And then pass it on to the rest of here at DCF!
10/10/06 15:30:12
grumblecake wrote:
Barbara - I'm all set for redworm composting. Would you shoot me an email at eck and grumble gmail com so I can take you up on your offer? Thanks!
10/19/06 13:25:12
Pat D. wrote:
Wonderful website with tons of info. Thanks so much for sharing! Last year we had the wettest year and sadly my garden was the worst. Hardly a tomato at all, but lots of squash and zucchini.

I have an old gardening book that I got out of the library. Written by someone who lived out East like I did and then moved to where there is caliche clay!

The name of the book is: Even More from Garden Lore, by Howard Morgan.

It is worth taking it out of the library.
01/28/07 12:41:49
Comment by Eckleburg and Grumblecake on January 3, 2008 at 8:28am
Thanks for the tip, Amanda! We're going to have so many hoses after we implement your hose-fixing solution!


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