Fall has always been my favorite season. I grew up in northern New York, where fall meant crisp cool days and brilliant foliage on the maple and oak trees. While fall doesn’t make quite as dramatic an entrance here in Tucson, I am just as happy to see it! Summer is a tough time to garden in the low desert. We survived, though, and were able to take some time to assess our first growing season, work on some projects, and plan for the coming year.
Our first twenty three weeks of growing included thirteen food crops and several ornamental flower varieties planted in the twelve north garden beds’ 900 square feet. During this period, we harvested 81 bunches of root vegetables, 354 pounds of greens, squash, peppers, tomatoes, and basil, and 93 bouquets of flowers, all of which we sold in the store or used in the kitchen. I estimate that we averaged 0.48 pounds of food per square foot of growing space for those five months. While intensive gardening methods do have the potential to generate much higher yields than that, one study I read concluded that “As a general guideline, a yield expectation of 0.5 lb/square foot is a realistic value for mixed stand, small-scale agriculture.” So, while we didn’t shatter any records in our inaugural season, we held our own, and we will continue to work on our intensive practices in order to make the most of our microfarm space.
As we only just planted the fruit trees this past spring, lemons, limes, and figs were not part of the first season’s harvest. The citrus trees struggled through the summer sun and heat, but the fig trees thrived! They have more than doubled in size since we planted them, the foliage is green and healthy and they have even started forming fruits!
The monsoon rains allowed us to get a look at our water harvesting designs in action. The basins in our fruit tree forest and the sunken garden beds did their job well. Our cistern got its first real workout and we were able to identify several minor adjustments that needed to be made in order to maximize rain capture.
We also used our first summer season to cover crop the twelve south beds which had never been planted and some of the north beds whose crops were finished for the season. This will improve the quality of our soil in preparation for fall crops. It was interesting to see how much variation there was in quality of growth among the beds. Even in a single bed there were sections where the cover crop was healthy and sections where it barely grew. In the north beds which had already produced one crop, the cover crop was much more robust than in the south beds. This goes to show how much just one season of cultivation can improve the soil. It also shows how important it is that we keep working on building soil quality and consistency.
For two weeks in June, we had the privilege of hosting City High Summer School students. Conspiracy Gardens served as a site for the students to conduct a spot observation project for their science class. This was a hands-off educational experience for them to observe nature in silence. We were very happy to connect with City High and are looking forward to collaborating further with them in the coming school year.
Now that summer is behind us, we are looking forward to the getting all twenty four of our garden beds in production with fall crops. To help get us off to a strong start, we are turning to two well established local farms, Las Milpitas Farm and San Xavier Co-op Farm, to start seeds for us. We’ll be growing kale, lettuce, spinach, chard, beets, carrots, herbs and flowers. When the starts are ready to go in the ground, we’ll have a planting party and you are all invited! We’ll keep you posted as to the exact date.
We have also begun a partnership with Desert Harvesters to plant native food producing shade trees around the garden and throughout the co-op property. We hope to host a hands-on tree planting workshop this fall and hope you will join us. We’ll keep you posted regarding details of that event as well.
We are looking forward to our first full year of growing and collaborating on projects with other local growers, organizations, and students in our community. This promises to be a very busy and exciting year! Next time you come in to shop and have a few extra minutes please feel free to take a stroll through the garden and see what’s new or check it out for the first time. We invite you to come see your produce growing and we welcome your feedback!