Today I gathered and spread pine needle mulch for some of my plants that are surviving drought-in-the-desert.
Pine needle mulch helps the soil in some places in my yard retain moisture, protects plants and their roots from the intense sunlight, decomposes slowly releasing nutrients. I’ve heard the needles called pine straw when it’s used for mulch. It makes the soil a bit acidic which is a plus to any plants in this part of the desert. It makes a nice protective mulch in the winter too. I have a moderate supply because stone pines grow pretty well in this part of the high desert. I don’t have enough to spread it over the vegetable gardens, so I earmark the plants that it helps the most. Today that would be the Desert Wild Grapes, Roger’s Red grapes (they are still experimental here), and young elderberry shrubs. Tomorrow I’ll put the mulch around as many strawberry plants as I can manage. The rest of the strawberries will get more as the pine needles accumulate. Later in the season, I’ll give another dose to my woodland violets. Yep, I know they shouldn’t thrive here but along with several lilacs (possibly my favorite flowers, lilacs and violets), I’ve found ways to create microclimates that make them happy. And that makes me happy.
As for vegetables, I’ve changed my thinking about how I’m going to grow them. Next year (unless I change my mind) I’m putting garden veggies into 5-gallon buckets with holes drilled in the bottom. Those I’ll gather around the patio. I’m devoting my prepared raised beds to herbs, my friend Bonnie’s high desert-adapted cherry tomatoes, and certain experiments. I’m going to continue planting chiltepines under mesquite shrubs/trees. In the small orchard, I’ll replace trees that die off in the cold winters and the hot, dry summers with native shrubs, shrubs or trees from similar semi-arid parts of the world, or only trees that have a proven track record for thriving here.
The drought, if nothing, else, is pushing me out of my comfort zone with my gardening. I have always felt like an experimental gardener. In fact, that’s what I’ve been since I moved inland to the mountains and desert. But until this point in the drought, I was able to maintain confidence in regular (but water-saving) food gardening. The needle has clicked over into a new zone here. Did someone say hotter, drier, and windier?
I’ve got a garden/farm journal that was depressing me a bit over the summer, until today. Today I realized just how many plants are doing quite well in the harsh Mojave conditions. That’s what I need to build on. The drought has forced me beyond my thoughts about “how we can grow food in a semi-arid land” into a place where I am happy to consider a different kind of growing altogether. A different growing paradigm, as we used to say in grad school. And, you know, it isn’t necessarily a different paradigm at all. Most of the time it’s a different paradigm from east-of-the-Mississippi gardening but gardening informed by wiser, more ancient, very local traditions. Indigenous traditions. All the respect for anything that grows well here is due to those farming/gardening traditions.
And just because we like zucchini, we’ll do it differently than my friends in the Midwest do it.