Living off grid in the high altitude desert requires creative watering solutions. As I prepped the raised beds, I pondered how I might create a system to water the sproutlings that wasn't labor intensive (hauling buckets of water), reduced the evaporation issue we have (incessant wind), and would keep everyone watered if we were out of town (we require flexibility).
I've used plant nannies before and they work well in many instances, but their narrow "stakes" don't provide enough surface area for water transfer to the sproutlings' roots and the 750-1000 ml bottles I reuse for this purpose don't offer enough water to last for days of watering needs in the desert.
I did some research and came upon the Permaculture Research Institute. Wow! What a resource. They have an article on ollyas, a traditional application of unglazed clay pots used to efficiently water plants in arid climates. After reading the article, I began to find ollyas at local gardening stores and online. They're beautiful and they're expensive. I suppose if I was buying 1 or 2, I'd buy them. I needed many (remember the 200-ish seeds I planted?) and simply couldn't afford them.
More thinking and research and I found Global Buckets. These kids inspired me to make my own ollyas - I call them Ollies. It's an easy project and, if you have a family, a well-suited kid project.
Terra cotta pots of whatever size you like
I love using compost in my garden. I've had great compost scenarios and - I'm not gonna lie - I've also had smelly, gross messes. When we moved to the cabin, I began researching compost systems I could use in our off-grid location. I wasn't sure if the kitchen compost container would be stinky because we didn't have AC. I also was concerned about the outdoor compost bin that needed to "cook" because we have so many critters. I didn't want to attract bugs, mice, or larger critters like deer, antelope, or elk. We had a male mule deer just off our back porch last winter, so I know they think they own the joint (rightly so, I might add).
Because I cook from scratch so much, I generate a lot of compostable materials. Most counter top compost containers are too small for my weekly compost needs and I don't want to have the compost hanging out on the counter drawing flies. Without chickens or goats (maybe next spring!) to eat the scraps, I need to be thoughtful about the time it will take for the compost to break down. And because we travel, I need a system that doesn't require constant tending. Hmmmm...
Enter the Bokashi Bucket. With it, I have a 3-stage system that works for me.
Stage 1 - scraps go in the small compost container on the counter.
Stage 2 - when that gets full, I transfer it to the Bokashi Bucket that lives under the counter. It's an anaerobic
system, so it isn't stinky. The activator enzyme mix fuels the composting process and generates the compost
tea. I can access the tea whenever I need it by using the spigot at the bottom of the Bucket. The
Bucket is big enough to hold scraps for about 2 weeks.
Stage 3 - when the Bokashi Bucket gets full, I transfer it outside to a large air-tight compost bin that continues
the anaerobic composting process. This breaks the compost down pretty quickly and I have usable compost
in 4-6 weeks.
I really like this system. I've been using it for 4-5 months now. No odors in the kitchen (even the cats ignore it). The Bucket is lightweight and easy to take outside to drain the tea or to transfer the compost to the larger bin. So far, no smells or issues with critters of any size trying to get into the outside compost bin as it's tightly sealed to support the anaerobic environment. As far as the flexibility to travel, we're good to go! When we were out of town recently, we returned and just picked up where we left off. As my grandmom would say, "No fuss; no muss!"
I am not a patient women.
The seeds have sprouted. They have been transplanted into 4" peat pots. You know this. What you don't witness is the amount of time I look, talk, and coo at the sproulings sitting on the window shelves in the kitchen. I'm ridiculous.
The high altitude desert is not an easy place to grow things. Many things are against me: intense sun, scarcity of water, poor soil, incessant wind, high altitude, swinging temperatures, insects, small critters (mice), medium sized critters (rabbits and hares), large critters (deer), extra large critters (elk). You get the idea.
I decide to prepare things so I can transplant the sproutlings outside. Raised beds (check). Plan for watering using passive, active, and redundant systems (check, check, and check). Things to protect from and deter critters (check and check). Soil and enrichments (check and check).
The weather is still a little dicey. It’s been warm during the day, but another cold front is supposed to move in. The sproutlings are hardening. The wind sees to that. I decide it’s time to transplant.
I start the process by preparing the raised beds. After settling the moisture barrier, I put stones in the bottom of the raised beds to hold heat and water. I then layer straw over the rocks as it will reduce the amount of soil I need to use and it will compost down over the season. I enrich the soil with organic mushroom compost and compost tea from my Bokashi Bucket. Then I put my homemade ollas in place. Then everybody gets transplanted. To offer additional protection from critters and the elements (sun and wind), I use sun cloth. The plants are so happy - the squash and melons are starting to flower and the peas are already producing little pods! I'm cautiously excited - things are going well, yet harvest time is far away. Eek! More patience!
Dr. Christine Girard is a physician and educator. Prior to medical school, she worked as a sous chef and baker at a vegan, macrobiotic restaurant. She lives off-grid in Northern Arizona.