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Conservation Center Garden Updates: June 2017

Article by Michelle Langmaid, Americorps VISTA Garden and Volunteer Coordinator, published June 21, 2017.

There has been a lot of summer gardening activities at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Conservation Center. While the high temperatures, ground squirrels, and other pests have been a challenge, crops are thriving and we are looking forward towards the monsoon.

Fort Apache Sunflowers

Most importantly, the Fort Apache Sunflowers (which are a part of our 2017 Adopt-A-Crop campaign) are alive! Some more than others, but alive nonetheless. The sunflowers face two primary pests: Round Tailed Ground Squirrels and Lace Bugs. The damage done by each is very obvious. When we get to the office in the morning, we’re likely to see a squirrel teetering on the stalk of a flower and quickly rushing away when we get closer. They appear to be eating the leaves and the petals of some of the sunflowers. Some of the plants have become so stripped of leaves that I’m surprised they’re still able to photosynthesize. Others have no more yellow petals. I wonder- will they still be visited by pollinators? Are the tiny flowers on the head enough to draw bees in?

The lace bug damage can be seen on the leaves. They suck out the leaf juices with their dainty mouths, leaving the leaf dry and stippled yellow. Sometimes, if the damage is bad enough, the leaves will just drop off. Most have hung on, though. We did attempt to deter the Lacebugs by spraying an organic insecticidal soap. It worked for one day, and then we’d have to reapply. This gets expensive, so we’ve resorted to the tried and true technique of squashing them with our fingers. Note: Don’t confuse Lace Bugs with Lacewings, which are beneficial.

While all of the sunflowers have suffered some kind of predication, we were able to “bag” a the heads after have been successfully pollinated. There are a lot of native bees out there daily, plus we’ve been helping them adequately fertilize and set seeds with a paintbrush in the morning hours. They bags are a breathable mesh that will allow the seeds to mature and dry but prevent squirrels, birds, and other pests from consuming the seeds.

Damage to Fort Apache Sunflowers

Drum Gourds

Among the sunflowers, we’ve sown Drum Gourds (also a part of our  2017 Adopt-A-Crop campaign). These are the largest gourds in our collection, reaching 15-20” in diameter and weighing as much as the average 12-year-old child when green. It was a struggle to germinate these gourds and seed stocks low. Their conservation is threatened and therefore it is paramount that we guard against squirrel predation. After soaking the seeds in a 5% bleach solution overnight, we planted them in the ground and covered the area with ½” hardware cloth. This method works well until they sprout, and then the cloth needs to be removed and new walls have to be built. The new walls will be partially entrenched in the ground, and will be taken away once the gourds have started to creep along the ground. The most successful plant so far is shrouded under weed cloth and a makeshift structure.

These Drum Gourds are used by the Yaqui tribe for teaching the deer dance tradition to younger generations. They are responsible for the deep bass sounds needed at the ceremonies. Unfortunately, gourd seeds of this size have grown rare in the Yaqui community, and so it’s important to regenerate them.

Drum Gourds

Wild Cocolmeca Beans

These are the most beautiful pebble-looking beans. They required scarification and a soak before planting them in our courtyard. Now, they’re almost ready to start climbing. Seed quantity is rare so we are growing to obtain fresh seed for wider distribution.

The bean is traditionally toasted prior to eating, and the plant parts have been used to make a glue with which to patch up cracked gourds. These beans are perennial and tuberous, so we expect to see them pop back up next year without too much intervention.

On the Horizon

The compost pile is starting to smell like healthy, aerobic compost! We’ve been adding a local roaster’s coffee chaff to the mix lately, and it seems to be having a positive effect. The compost sifter is finished and fine-tuned, so we’ll be posting a video of the contraption in action in the coming weeks!

Just before the summer rains come, we’ll be planting Mayo Blusher squash in the Zuni Waffle Beds, and Tohono O'odham Cowpeas as part of the One Seed Pima Country program initiated by the Pima County Seed Library. One Seed Pima County is an initiative to get all of the county growing, saving, and sharing seed together.

As always, if you’d like to come out and help with any of these projects, you are welcome! Please contact me at mlangmaid@nativeseeds.org if interested.

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