Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tuesday Gardening in Chacala

Hooray, another trip to the nursery today. A woman who is down for a few weeks, and has a nice little SUV, wants to go plant hunting today(for her home here in Chacala), and I get to go too. I am very looking forward to the trip. She thinks she spotted a new nursery opening in Brucerias, when she was headed north from the airport, so we are headed that way. Aside from having the nice company, I won't have to pay for taxis, etc. Very good. Usually I avoid riding in cars with gringos, but somehow it feels different riding with a gringa. Who knows why. Of course, this is the end of my fiscal month, and I will only have alittle tiny bit to spend, but that's okay.

Yesterday I got a great email from Kim, from NYC, with lots of good and thoughtful comments. I wrote her back, and then decided to just use that letter for a post. So here goes.

This past few months is my first time actually trying to plant in the earth, as opposed to pots, here in Chacala. The soil at the three places in Chacala where I have tried seriously to garden here is solid clay subsoil (as the result of heavy construction and digging subterranean storage tanks for black and clean water). And it’s the worst here. All the soil was disturbed during construction about 6 years ago. And a giant hole was dug for the septic tank. And the foundation. The cement staircase was built three years ago. Before that you crawled up the 15 foot slope to get to the house. Or balanced along a tiny trail during the rainy season. Lots of trees and cacti grow behind the house, planted by the owner. With a couple of exceptions they are not very healthy fruit trees.
It is very difficult to amend this clay, and it allows for no drainage, only runoff. Several people have questioned me, via “Comments”, regarding why I buy dirt. I am not aware of any succulent that can grow in moisture-holding clay. Maybe there are some, but I haven't heard of them.Occasionally someone comes to Chacala intent on gardening vegetables here (including me), but I haven’t actually seen anyone do it successful in a home garden. Only peppers seem to do well here. And the occasional squash plants or a few corn plants. This is a agricultural area, and lots of fruit, tobacco, corn, beans, etc. But they are grown with lots of pesticide and herbicides. You would think tomatoes would do okay, but I haven’t been successful with my tomato growing efforts here. And I am a pretty experienced vegetable grower.

I also get sandy river bed dirt occasionally, via my neighbors. I mix it with the miscellaneous stuff that comes in gunny sacks from the vivero. You never know what will come in those sacks (sometimes it's sand and dust), so the particular bag I use depends on what I am trying to plant. Dirt in pots has to be changed a couple of times a year In Chacala. Remember things grow quickly year round here, and you need very fertile soil if you want to support their growth. The pots have to be either in the shade most of the day, or moved around. And the pots have to be under shelter during the rainy season, otherwise, they flood out.

I have been observing the local gardening techniques here for four years. I have been watching what gardeners grow, and where, and how the plants do in various locations. My strategy at the moment is to focus on constructing the garden beds to manage the runoff from the torrential nightly downpours we get most nights July-early October. And reducing the direct sunlight the plants as exposed to. The sun is much stronger here than in the US and very few garden-type flowers and shrubs can tolerate a day of direct sunlight. Even roses normally get less than 3 hours of sunlight a day here. I am experimenting with how much sun various succulents can tolerate. even in Phoenix and Tucson gardeners suggest protecting succulents from direct sun.

I farmed and gardening organically for 25 years, in Zone 5. And it's a very different gardening world. Dealing with the rainy season, humidity and intense sunlight requires some experimentation, and that's one I am doing. I have three different small beds at this house, plus pots, and plus my landlady’s plants. Which are also planted in imported soil because solid clay is a bitch. We have lots of servere drainage problems at this house because we are on a hillside, and there are two natural drainage basins right above this house, which direct small rivers of water around the house during the rainy season. Sometimes those rivers stem from rainy-season-only springs, and will run all day after a heavy rain.

The landscape people who are creating the gated development just north of Chacala have apparently given up with the local soil. There are trucking in giant dump trucks loads of soil from an orchard here. You can see the strata of the soils where they have taken away about four acres of soil, to a depth of more than 20 feet in some areas. The trucks, sometimes 60-80 loads a day, have been driving thru town every day, all day long. The dust is incredible and the trucks are scary. They drivers like drive as fast as they can.

Many readers write to suggest that I should be composting, but artificial composting doesn't seem to be appropriate here. No one has extra food or other organic wastes. Chickens and dogs and dogs get the small scraps that are left after people eat.

Composing happens naturally here, all around us. But no one piles up vegetation near their houses, for composing or anything else. At least twice a year excess vegetation is cut piled and burned, because it grows out of control here. And piles of vegetation provides homes for poisoness spiders and snakes, and varmints. People keep the area around their homes "clean", that is bare earth, and for good reason.

This town is surrounded by miles of "jungle" and nature is busy at work 24/7. A house can be covered in vines in six months, without vigilance and a machete to keep the green stuff cut back. You don’t want to leave food scraps anywhere near your house. Varmints will be visiting you every night once they think they might find something to eat.Chacala has a very humid climate, particularly during the rainy season, and succulents struggle with the humidity. Bob, who runs PV Botanical Garden, told me last year that you can't grow succulents here. It's not true, but it is tricky. Succulents seem to do well in drier areas, like San Miguel de Allende, even though it’s much colder there, and a much higher altitude. I got most of my succulent starts there, last September. I have been growing cutting, starting a new batch every three weeks or so. The cutting of succulents and bouganvilleas and plumbago and jasmine and hibiscus grow really quickly. Really quickly.

Anyway, I appreciate all the comments and suggestions I get. Expecially when people identify plants for me. I love it that people are looking at my photos and commenting. It makes lots more fun for me, knowing other people are watching. Thanks, Andee

1 comment:

christine said...

thanks for posting that letter. I had no idea that the activity/construction around town would have such a huge impact on the soil and the ability to garden.