How Does Your Garden Grow?

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Since the community and Friends of Tucson Birthplace united in 2011 to save the Mission Garden, an authentic garden has been crafted, seeded with orchards of figs, pomegranates, apricots, quince and other genetic descendants of heirloom trees. Today Mission Garden honors the indigenous garden styles and local landscapes that instill a connection true to the character of our Sonoran Desert.

Mission Garden Community Outreach manager Dena Cowan gives us a glimpse of Mission Garden’s calendar and visitor diary over the past several months: Her journal entries illustrate how an authentic spirit draws on culture to ensure accurate function, plantings and harvesting of the lands. Read a sampling of Dena’s entries here:

On Special Visitors:

  • In April, young Tohono O’odham farmers, TOCA (Tohono O’odham Community Action) leaders, and members of the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture, visited Mission Garden to share gardening stories, produce, seeds and cuttings.
  • Eusebio Francisco Kino’s family from Italy, the Chini family, and religious leaders promoting Kino’s canonization, visited Mission Garden in late April.
  • In June, a group of Tohono O’odham elders came to Mission Garden to share their knowledge and advice about the appropriate crops to plant in the extension of the Timeline Garden, an O’odham Garden demonstrating pre-contact and post-contact Tohono O’odham crops. They also showed Garden staff how to make dippers and rattles with the dipper gourds harvested at Mission Garden last fall. (The value of this collaboration is immeasurable, further notes Dena.)
Tohono O'odham elders making rattles
Tohono O’odham elders making rattles

On Mission Garden Harvests:

  • In April, UA Intern Jon Cody Nickerson helped harvest produce from the Winter Mission-Era Garden Plot (cabbage, beets and turnips), which in turn was sold at the Community Food Bank’s consignment stand at the Santa Cruz Farmers Market at Mercado San Agustin.
  • Visitors were able to taste the first apricots, which ripened in early May. Just as Mission Garden prepared to revive the traditional wheat harvest festival at San Ysidro, a timely flock of birds harvested it for us! (Dena notes that the birds didn’t have a taste for our new heritage Magdalena Barley, and were kind enough to leave an abundant, first-ever harvest. Native Seeds /Search is eager to add this new variety to its collection.)
  • July: The Garden had a great harvest of Mission figs, white figs and table grapes from the orchard, much of which was shared with visitors during on-site tastings. The rest was taken to the Thursday Farmers Market at El Mercado San Agustin, where the Garden sells surplus produce at the CFB consignment stand. Some 20 gallons of Mission Grapes (stomped by volunteer Gene Einfrank and his family) were harvested. The Einfrank clan is currently turning the resulting juice into the Garden’s first Mission Wine.
  • In August, Katie Mendez harvested the Garden’s first tender monsoon greens, amaranth, which was taken to the Farmer’s Market. An abundance of Horse Purslane also was harvested, and a large crop of deliciously sweet Josefina and Sosa Carillo white-seeded Kino Heritage pomegranates ripened mid-August.

On Plantings:

  • In May, after much deliberation over historically appropriate placement, several heirloom Manzanillo Olive trees were planted in the future Territorial Area of the Timeline Gardens. The trees were grown from cuttings taken from the Olive Walk on the University of Arizona campus by Alfredo González, Jim Verrier and Jesús García. The university olives were originally acquired in the 1890s from a nursery in Santa Barbara, CA (probably the Kinton Stevens Nursery), and planted by Dr. Robert Forbes.
  • In July, increasing numbers of volunteers shaped and planted the Early Agriculture and Hohokam areas in the Timeline Gardens, and started preparing the soil and contours of the Tohono basin. By mid-month the ancient variety, Chapalote corn, had already sprouted when a much-awaited significant monsoon rain came.The Garden also had some trouble with a growing population of cottontails nibbling the leaves of the newly sprouted Tepary beans in the Timeline Gardens. Experimentation with an array of deterrents including fencing, odorous repellents and human hair continued, until some positive results were discovered by applying all deterrents in addition to protecting the beans with cages fashioned from dried-out tumbleweed branches salvaged from the compost pile.

    The Tucson Herbalist Collective planted a Monsoon Herb Garden in a crescent-shaped area at the south edge of the Mission-Era Summer Garden Plot. The collective also provided Mission Garden with basic information on some of the traditional uses of these herbs.

  • In July, Mission Garden extended its Timeline Gardens to include Pre-contact and Post-contact areas in the Tohono O’odham basin. Volunteers worked very hard to prepare the soil, and form traditional waffles and pot-contact furrows with the proper sloping for traditional-style monsoon flood irrigation. With the help of increasing numbers of volunteers, and a generous group of Tohono O’odham Elders, plus seeds from these Elders, Native Seed/Search and Mission Garden’s own harvest, Mission Garden is finishing all its Monsoon Garden planting in mid-August.

Mission Garden is open Saturdays through November from 8 am to 12 pm. December through March from 12 to 4 pm (other times by appointment):


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