A little research.

I live in kind of a unique area of the Southwest.  We have a climate that is only about 5 – 10 degrees cooler than Phoenix in summer, at least during the day, but cools off markedly more after dark.  This means that for most of the year, we have our windows open for some portion of the day before it gets hotter outside than in, and they are open at night for all but the very hottest nights.  We purchased a swamp cooler that has reduced our utility usage compared to A/C rather markedly, and judicious usage will improve that even more (after learning to live without A/C unless it was over 85 in the house, the delicious 75 of the swamp cooler was a luxury we probably waaaaay over used our first season).  We get frost by Halloween every year, though, and can expect freezing overnight temps right up until the end of April.  During the day however, for most of the year, it’s pretty nice.  It was about 75 outside today, and believe it or not I have tomatoes that are ripe.  In November.  A week before Thanksgiving.

We get snow every year, but it usually doesn’t come until April in our little corner of the world, even though 40 miles (and 100o feet higher) up the road it snows several times a year; it usually doesn’t really stick for long though. Like any desert area anywhere, the extremes of temperature make it challenging to grow food.  But it also helps me point my eyes toward what I should be trying very hard to grow — if it can grow in Cairo, or Greece, or Southern Italy, it should grow here.  Theoretically anyway.  That’s part of the challenge of this area; the temperature extremes are such that what should grow, often doesn’t…or well, anyway.

Mr. TF and I went to Sharlot Hall museum a few days ago.  I was happily surprised at the amount of information that was available there regarding the traditional foods, farming methods, and lifestyles of the local Yavapai tribes.  That was invaluable information!

For instance, one of the chief staple carbohydrate foods of the Yavapai was agave.  They would cut the spiny ‘leaves’ off after they dug up the entire plant, roots and all, and dig a pit.  In the pit they would build a fire, then when there was a good hot bed of coals, in went the the shorn root ball.  I forgot how long it said they cooked it, but it is supposedly mildly sweet, and is a rich source of carbohydrates and trace minerals.  I would have never thought of eating that!

We had to leave before we were done looking around but we plan to go back and I want to find out where I can learn more about the traditional foods and methods of farming.

I am coming to realize that gardening here while challenging, can be done — with modifications.   What the modifications are I need to have a much better understanding of.  What works in Tucson, or Phoenix, may not work here I’m finding.  Or not nearly as well.  What does, and can be maintained, is what I want to learn more about.

I DO know that the typical ‘5 acres and freedom’ type of small holding is NOT a sustainable use of land and water here.  You need a lot more land than that if you’re going to raise cattle on any scale.  Sheep and goats are the way to go here.  It’s no wonder that they are so common in the same areas I look to for gardening inspiration; they can eat scrub, they don’t eat much in comparison to their body weight, and they produce multiple uses:  meat, fiber, and milk on a time line that is much better suited for living on marginal land.  Cattle on the other hand just aren’t a productive use of the land here.  Too much water need, too much grazing need, too much time between calving and maturity.  Pigs on the other hand can adapt to pretty much anywhere; they like humans will eat whatever is put in front of them as well as whatever they can forage.  They are definitely worth considering on a sustainable basis, as long as they aren’t rooting in sensitive ecological areas.

Now, in defense of cattle I must also say that our native vegetation co-evolved with large herbivores (mammoths/mastodons) to have the fruits be eaten so that the action of the herbivore’s gut would help prep the seed to grow, and the dung would fertilize the seed where it landed.  A true ranching model, with beef on many many acres and being rotated through the land via portable fences, is sustainable and is also environmentally true to the evolutionary model of the area.  Feed lots though are a bigger disaster here than in the Midwest if you can imagine it, simply because the environment is so very fragile compared to a more robust Midwest grassland with rivers and streams.

My friend Animal says that goat tastes like antelope.  I’m going to have to find a source for goat and try it to find out.  If it’s at all palatable and not an acquired taste, I may have a source for them.

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