» Archive for the 'plants and gardens' Category

Orchard pruning

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 by Marie

We have a small orchard with trees that are more mature than the thousands of baby fruit trees we have planted in the forest over the past few years.  This year our avocado, peach, guayaba, and mandarin trees are doing particularly well.  We enjoyed a surplus of avocados over the summer and into Autumn.  Our mandarin tree produces nearly year round, and our guayaba is just starting to crank out large, yellow fruit. We have 4 peach trees that yield small, juicy peaches in the Spring and Summer. And we have hundreds of capulines, a native cherry tree, growing throughout the forest - the one in the orchard is huge and produces lots of small cherries.

Our other trees include a plum tree that is still quite small but last year produced about 40 sweet little plums, a few apple trees that need a bit of care (compost and water would likely help), a nispero (loquat), a macadamia nut tree which doesn’t fruit, and a pomegranate that produces about 3 fruits a year.

Lori, a volunteer who stayed with us for two weeks, spent a lot of her time giving our orchard some much needed pruning.  Below she is pruning our mandarin tree.

We prune in order to increase yield and quality of fruits.  Minimal pruning to young fruit trees will help shape the growth into a healthy plant.

Thanks to Lori!  Below she is climbing one of our peach trees to cut off dead branches.

Garden Update

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009 by Marie

The end is finally in sight for our planting season!  We’re getting ready to put away the gloves and shovels, brush the dirt off our pants, and rest.  For a week.  Then the weeding season begins.  Yay!

The climate here offers us a small window of opportunity to get as many seeds and plants into the ground as possible.  The rains come at the end of May and start to dwindle away in September, really ending for good in October.  As soon as the rains begin, we start putting plants in the ground.  Each year we get a little more efficient, a little smarter about plant and garden placement, and a lot more ambitious.  This June and July we have planted hundreds of small trees, thousands of tree seeds, and about one hundred half-acre garden plots with various vegetables.

The small trees are doing well, for the most part.  Some of the fruit trees on the mesa appear a bit perturbed by the soil we’ve stuck them in, but they will struggle through and establish their roots and do well next year.  Others have already situated themselves in their new home and seem to be saying to us, “Don’t you worry, we’ll be delivering fruit by 2011. “   Besides the fruit and nut trees, we’ve also planted lots of jacarandas, the pretty tree with fern-like leaves and a gorgeous bright purple flower.  They will do well here and provide lots of bright colors during different seasons, depending on their altitude in the forest.

Every year we also plant lots of trees from seed, including the capuline, a native cherry tree that yields a small, semi-tart, semi-sweet fruit.  Capulines are wonderful to grab directly off the tree and pop in your mouth, handfuls at the time.  The elegant trogons love to sit at the tree above our main terrace to feast on the berries.

We’ve also planted nuts, other fruits, and various types of pines, oaks, and madrones from seed this year.  Some we plant directly in the forest, others we plant in pots or in special prorogation beds to watch and maintain throughout the year.  We have plenty of these trees ourselves, but we’ll be using the baby trees in reforestation effors in this area.

One of our great successes this year is the Pinyon (Pinus monophylla) tree which are popping up happily out of their pots!  Pinyon trees produce pine nuts, the nutritious nut that you can find in pesto and salads. The trees are, as of today, about the size of a thumbnail.  We will let them grow for 2 to 4 years in pots, and then plant them in the forest.  Some generations from now will be able to enjoy fresh pine nuts from the Pinyons here!

And lastly, our vegetable gardens.  We are very pleased to report that this year our gardens are doing extremely well, especially compared to the disaster of last year.  Last year the combination of late planting, irregular rainfall, and bad soil conditions yielded us a very low amount of fresh garden vegetables.  On Monday we walked around to all the gardens, and about 60 percent are doing quite well.   Some will do well as the rains end, but even the failures will teach us about our opportunities and limits.

  • Below the Casita we are growing squash, peas (though the birds got most), feverfew, beets, cabbage, onion, chard, carrots, jalapeños, cauliflower, epazote, strawberries (one plant lived from last year’s attempts), cilantro, tomatillos, and broccoli.
  • Above the Casita we are growing corn, tomatoes, squash, mustard greens, radish, and zucchini.
  • Below the studio we are growing squash, flax seed (an experiment), sunflowers, corn, chia, amaranth (another experiment), cilantro, and spinach.  The forest is evidently growing wild tomatillos, which are native to the area and quite sweet.
  • By the View composting toilet we are growing wheat.  Mysterious.
  • On the Mesa we are growing lentils, wheat, and various other crops.  Most of our Mesa gardens are not doing that well, and likely need both nitrogen fixers and manure.  Next year we will plant cover crops of fava and other beans.
  • Near the parking area we are growing garlic, soy, squash, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, corn, and most importantly POPCORN!  Who knows how that will do…
  • The pool gardens: Spinach, collard greens, cilantro, zucchini, lettuce, chard, fennel, and cilantro.
  • Behind the Black Rock Lodge we are growing broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomatillos, corn, arugula (growing back from seed), peas, beans, epazote, lettuce, and chard.

We are pretty pleased with our planting progress this year.  We owe a lot of thanks to our volunteer managers, Brian, Chilino and Adan, as well as our enthusiastic volunteers.


Friday, June 26th, 2009 by Marie

Last year we wrote about planting nopales - a cactus with edible pads (leaves).  We brought in three truckloads of nopales last year, dumping them in three different locations and then dispersing the pads across the forest.  For the pads that seemed dead, we just left where we had dumped them.

They were not dead.

We have six types of nopales.  Most are edible.  Some produce pricky pears (tunas in Spanish); a sweet, nutritious fruit.  In about 2 years we will be able to eat as many nopales as we can handle.

They are a great plant for our style of agriculture; no irrigation needed and they’ll last forever.  Nopales are a great addition to the diet here - a superfood containing lots of great nutrients.

Acquiring seeds

Monday, June 22nd, 2009 by Marie

Save the seeds! Guardar las semillas!

At the Bosque you will see signs reminding you to save the seeds from your food.  Next to the sign, a small tray collects peach, nectarine, and plum pits, and various seeds including apples, oranges, limes, and peppers.

The percentage of our seeds that are bought from seed companies is very low.  From a company in Pátzcuaro we purchase seeds to grow tomatoes, greens, onions, leeks, carrots, beets, and an assortmant of other random crops including enough parsley to season about 5 million meals.

Our main methods to acquire seeds include purchasing local fruits, roadside and Bosque seed collection, and shopping in the large mercado de abastos in Morelia.  For anyone who is familiar with their area (or who desires to gain familiarity), acquiring seeds is easy and fun!


Criollo fruits and vegetables
The Spanish word used in this area to describe fruits and vegetables that are native is criollo.  When we do our shopping we ask the vendors to point out foods that grow in this area.  With a criollo apple, we can save the seeds and plant them, growing a tree that is used to this climate.  If we desire, later on in the life of the tree we can graft on a non-native apple which will flourish growing on the native rootstock.  Below is a native tree that was grafted this year - it has already produced fruit!

When criollo avocados are in season we generally buy them by the box.  We pig out on avocados and then we plant the pit, growing native avocado trees.  The native avocado tastes a bit milder than the Hass avocado most foreigners are accustomed to (produced in mass in this area for its flavor and ease of shipping).  The criollos have a very thin skin that is a bit difficult to remove from the fruit.  We will keep some of the native trees the way they are, and with others we will graft on pieces of our Hass variety of avocado, and perhaps other varieties that we can come across from the neighboring avocado farmers.

Criollo seeds are not the only seeds we save.  Even though non-native fruits are much less likely to flourish and produce yield, we still save the seeds and try them out anyway.  Some of the peaches and plums we buy are from grafted trees.  Most of the pits that we plant will produce an inferior tree variety, but some will be far superior!  Because we have lots of space to play with different means of plant propagation, we save seeds from most of our produce to try them out in the Bosque.

Seed collecting
Anyone driving along with Brian will be a bit surprised when he quickly stops and pulls over to the side of the road.  Just look up!  You’ll probably see an ash tree, a coraline, a cedar, or some other plant that is producing seeds.  We often keep our eyes out for trees, bushes, and vines full of seed pods.  If the seed doesn’t germinate, it’s likely good for making beads or other crafts.  We keep cutters and bags in the van for such occasions.


We also are always on the look-out for plants in the Bosque that are producing seeds.  Below, left, is a maguey flowering.  Below, right: there is a maguey near Cute Hill that will flower very soon.


Below (left) Rodrigo is chopping down the stem of a maguey plant.  You can’t tell, but he is being rained on - by seeds - as he chops it down with a machete.  Below (right) Brian and Rodrigo are collecting seeds from the pods in the plant’s flower.


We also collect flower seeds, vegetable seeds, and small baby plants.  One of our aloe veras in the barranca (ravine) just produced three small baby plants that we will let grow for another year, then move to another location.

In Morelia, there is a large wholesale market called mercado de abastos (supply market).  This market is the third largest supplies market in Mexico.  Truckloads of oranges, onions, dried goods, and other goods are brought to this central market for redistribution to the vendors who sell goods in the local markets.  We are fortunate to live in a state that produces most of its produce, from bananas and mangoes to beets and greens.

Before big groups arrive we generally drive to Morelia to pick up boxes of tomatoes and bags of oranges, along with tons of other produce.  We also make two to three runs to the market for dried goods every year.  We made one last week, purchasing bags of oats, beans, and rice to get us through until late Autumn.  We also bought loads of seeds!  From wholesale providers we purchased kilos of walnuts, pine nuts, pecans, macadamias, cumin, sesame seed, nutmeg, popcorn and other corn varieties, birdseed, and more.  Below is our favorite dried good vendor at the mercado, and also where we bought this year’s supply of corn, flax, and sesame seeds.

We will try each of the seeds in planting beds, gardens in the forest, and pots to see what can survive here, how much water it takes to keep the plants alive, and whether or not growing the plant is a productive use of our resources and time.  The birdseed will be planted in gardens, growing grasses that will produce more seeds to attract birds.  We are hoping that the pine nut trees will do well here, since pine trees do grow in this area quite well.  Chilino assures us popcorn will grow, which will be fun to dry and try to use! All together we have eight types of corn to plant this year.  Walnuts, pecans, and macadamia will all do fine here, though we are not sure if macadamia trees will produce fruit unless there is significant climate change.

Rather than purchasing from a seed vendor a small packet of walnut or corn seeds, we find that buying by the kilo at a large wholesale market is much more economical, and likely more local.


Sometimes it’s hard for people who visit us to understand what we are doing agriculturally.  The nut trees we are planting today won’t fruit for at least 20 years, making gratification delayed, to say the least.  The piñon we are planting (pine nut tree) will not produce nuts for over a hundred years!  But generations down the line, when the current residents are far gone, we hope that a community will enjoy the results of the seeds we are planting this week.  And a few years from now we will be enjoying at least some of the fruits of our labor, with both a forest that is more diverse and fruits from trees that are quicker to produce.

What we can eat from the food forest today: avocados, peaches, plums, mandarins, pomogranates.
And in five years: oranges, limes, grapefruits, figs, quince, pears, guayaba.
And in twenty five years: walnuts, pecans.
And in one hundred years: pine nuts!

New baby trees in the forest!

Monday, June 1st, 2009 by Brian

I found a fellow named Fidel in a local town who has been experimenting with trees for over 20 years and purchased some from him. We chatted for a while about many of the tests he has done with apples, plums, and peaches he bought in from Holland, Canada and other places.  He has has a few successes and many failures as is to be expected.

Unfortunately he didn’t know the scientific names of the plants I bought from him.

Planting trees today.

I put in a “Chinese Cherry”…. no idea what it really is, but I would very much like to graft any cherries onto the native capuline.  Prunus salicifolia. Because they are completely rare trees here I paid $300 pesos for it. All the others were cheap.

Planted three more guayaba trees, 10 grafted apples of a variety of types, two plums of unknown species, one fig which apprarently isn’t the usual kind, one peach supposedly of a non-usual variety and…   a wonderful thing…

He had two lemon trees I bought!  Here yellow lemons are hard to find, though limes are common.  He called them Italian Lemons. We are trying to reproduce such lemons from seed as well.

We are going to baby the cherry and the lemons and track their progress. Normally we don’t water plants here in the dry season, but those we will try to keep alive so we can reproduce them.

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