Thursday, December 30, 2010

Just in Time

Just in time for the Polar Bear Swim. I was starting to worry that the water would remain in the 40's.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

I don't know what the rest of you think, but Christmas is a time of such wealth. It sounds oxymoronic, especially after I've spent a month's wages on toys for the family. But regardless of bad commercial habits, people just seem richer in other ways: kinder, slower, happier. As I harvest some greens for tonight's salad, I realize again it is a good time to reflect. And when I do so, I almost always find that I have so much.

Today, especially, I feel like I have too much: to much wrapping paper, too many cardboard boxes, too many brown paper bags from spent luminarias. With the weather co-operating and with a few extra days off of work, let me tell you what I will be doing the next couple of days. The wrapping paper and cardboard boxes will be place over the top of some of my dried tumble weeds. Then I'll put a good layer of mulch (in this case wood chips) to cover sufficiently to keep them buried. The sand from the luminarias will go into a base for short brick walkway. Paper bags and leftover candles will go into my compost bin. I have an artificial tree, but generally buy a "Charlie Brown" tree. That I will plant next to last year's.

Once again, I feel better about giving back to the earth as a way of saying thanks for all her generosity throughout the year.

Merry Christmas. Don't be strangers.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This is where I work

Jealous yet?

The drive in was so pretty, I had to call and wake Kim to tell her (not recommended by the way).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cover Crops

Here is a link to a cover crop story in Organic Gardening:,7518,s1-3-81-789,00.html

Again, anybody with any knowledge about this gardening practice, I urge you to chime in.

As an aside, I am privy to some of the goings on at the Rio Grande Community Farm regarding cover crop studies. I'll let you all know as soon as I know how things came out.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Christmas Gifts

Okay, so the Sun Mar 200 didn't tickle your fancy?
How about the Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler?

The vertical tumbling action of the patented Tumbleweed Compost Bin, designed with a stainless steel rod running through the middle, creates an aerobic action that offers a quick and odorless form of composting. It is supported by sturdy, galvanized tubular steel legs that won't rust. The steel in these legs is made with recycled metal (as available). The recycled content varies between 17 and 20 percent.

The Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler is attractive and excellent at keeping pests out of your pile.

Give us a ring if this one interests you, only three left...

Friday, December 03, 2010

Christmas Gifts

Do you have a gardener friend who is already starting to jones for spring? Why not give them a leg up on the seed starting frenzy? It's easy to make compost at home. A compost tumbler keeps your garden looking neat while turning leftover food into a great seed starting mix.

Soilutions has a number of compost bins available. Here's one:

The Sun Mar 200 compost tumbler is already assembled, is an attractive green color and hold almost a 1/3 cubic yard of material. Simply fill it with leaves, grass clipping, kitchen waste...anything organic, turn it periodically, and by Spring all that "waste" will be turned to black gold.

The Sun Mar 200 is on wheels so it is perfect for someone with a small back porch. The hinged lid allows for easy extraction of finished product.

Call us for more information about the Sun Mar 200 or any of our other compost ideas.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Welcome to Winter, Baby!

It was 16F INSIDE the office this morning.

If anybody feels like dropping off some Brandy, I don't think it would be turned down.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Words to Live By

When driving home with graciously given homemade sauerkraut, ensure the lid is screwed on tightly!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pictures of Food in Soilutions' Dirt

I am always encouraging people to send me pictures of their projects to post here. Surprisingly, I get very few. Here are a couple of photographs of some food grown by a Soilutions customer in our Topsoil Blend.

The lovely Artichoke. I don't know why it isn't grown more often in this climate. It handles the weather well and is so beautiful.

My personal favorite: Chard. It is so versatile in the kitchen, it is so easy to grow, and it too is lovely.

Who doesn't like watermelons?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Former Employee Makes Good

Here's a shout out to a former employee of Soilutions: Casey MacFarland. If it weren't for Casey's leaving, I would never have had the opportunity to work here. But he moved on to do what he loves and now he has a book out.

Check out his website: and see if you can't attend one of his book signings near you. There's one this Sunday in the East Mountains.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Seed Saving Workshop

Please Join Us!!

Seed Saving Workshop
with Joshua Cravens director of the Arid Crop Seed Cache
Saturday October 16th, 2010
3:00 PM
410 Atrisco NW Albuquerque, NM 87105
Just north of Central

This is our last workshop of the season. We will cover seed saving basics, with lots of hands on examples as well as more advanced techniques such as saving seed from biennials.
• Why Save Seed
• How to Save, Clean and Store Seed
• Saving Seed from Biennials

Biennial plants are ones that go to seed during their second growing season, usually in the spring. Some example of biennial plants are parsnips, carrots, cole plants (cabbage, brussel sprouts, turnips, kale and so on), celery and celery root (celeriac), parsley, beets and swiss chard. Come learn tips on how to best save seeds from your biennials.

Hope to see you there!!

Questions, please email Sarah:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lots to do this weekend

There is so much to do this weekend. I figured instead of enumerating it all, I'd send you to a great website, hosted by a great organization, featuring a great calendar. Soilutions will be at a couple of these events.

While you're visiting the site, go ahead and become a member.

Get out there and garden!

Thursday, September 02, 2010


By a VERY informal poll, all of you are sick and tired of pulling weeds for past three months. The rain is great but I know that, in the far reaches of my brain, I curse ever so slightly the rain because of all the inevitable weed sprouts.

I have been trying for years to document the power of mulch in terms of weed control. I have 5" or more of mulch throughout my property. Where the mulch is undisturbed, I have zero weeds; where the mulch is mixed with soil, the weeds have taken hold, but are really easy to pull because the roots are in the friable mulch; where there is no mulch, the weeds are strong and impossible to pull from the compacted soil. It really is significant enough to warrant consideration, but I weed in the morning before the sun rises so photos don't really come out well.

In the course of conversation with customers, I finally got one long time customer to send me a picture of her garden.

This picture is an excellent example of what a layer of organics can do to ease weed ills. Obviously, on the left of the path, no treatment. But on the right, she says "On the right, I mulched as follows 3-years prior to this photo: 1-2 layers of cardboard + 1" of Soilutions compost + 2" of Soilutions wood chips."

At home, I have started using the weeds as an organic layer, i.e., instead of cardboard. So I pull the weeds, lay them flat, cover them with mulch. That way I save room in my truck for the bulkier branches.

Pretty convincing. Thanks for the photo.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Portable Gardens

I love to garden. Duh.

But I would also like to live on a boat and sail around the world. Or maybe just drive around the country tasting vanilla ice cream from all the small creameries on all the small roads in all the back woods of our world.

Or I would love to live in a very hip city, Paris of course, or Portland (Maine or Oregon), Sofia Bulgaria, on the tip top of a high rise.

So, my living fantasies don't really have space for a garden, it seems, even though I would give up many, many comforts to continue to be able to taste a carrot 10 seconds out of the ground.

I followed a blog by Roz Savage as she was rowing solo across the Pacific Ocean. Enthralled, I bought her book depicting her similar journey across the Atlantic. As a composter, I kept asking myself, does she have worms on board to manage her waste? She didn't as far as I could tell, but it turns out she kept a pan of bean sprouts growing for her fresh food supply.

There was a customer a year or two back that worked in a women's health clinic. She and her fellow workers were finding that many of her patient's illnesses were related to poor diet. So she commandeered half the facility's parking lot and built a garden to help instruct women how to eat.

Gardening helps me stay active. My neighbors are well into their 60's and can work me under the table still. I attribute that stamina to daily work in their garden. But when I am old and in a retirement home or should one of my fantasies come true and find myself living atop a building in Bucharest, how am I to maintain a stress-busting garden?

So, from the scientific testing laboratories of Soilutions, Inc, comes a new gardening tool: the portable garden.

Light enough to move, small enough to fit on a roof top or in the back of pickup, yet filled with the same great growing medium you have come to know and trust from Soilutions.

I am speaking of a mesh "sock" filled with a blend of compost, soil, and composted chips. Simply lay out the sock, slit it, plant starts or seeds, water and viola!

Landlord kicking you out just before tomatoes are ripe? A portable garden will allow you to take the tomatoes with you. Too much asphalt? Not enough space? Guerrilla alley garden? Traveler? This might just be the answer to your problems.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Organic Pest Control

Here are a couple of pictures of little guys doing overtime to keep the flies down around here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cover Crop Conversation Continued

A question was raised concerning the previous blog entry/email.

I have a question on the cocktail mix. It's my understanding that most cover crops are harvest/cut/flailed, etc.
sometime between the start of flowering and halfway into bloom. With a cocktail, how do you determine the optimum time to take the cover crop down? Is it the flowering schedule of the earliest member of the mix?
The average point of all of them?

And the answer:

Most of our farmers terminate the cover crop with winter kill, meaning it is allowed to fully develop. Before moving into soil health we terminated all sunlight harvest after grain harvest. Now we use the cover crops to harvest the sunlight from grain harvest to winter. This sunlight ultimately becomes additional carbon in the soil. Making increases in soil organic matter more achievable. We have built soil health based no-till systems on the cropland and grazing systems on the rangeland, then the cover crops are used as a bridge to connect the cropland and rangeland. We try for a continual live root, just like native rangeland has. The livestock are a tool to harvest 40-50% of the cover crop biomass, leaving the remainder as soil armor. The livestock can also be used to terminate cover crops by mob grazing. I have attached pictures showing what the soil cover looks like before

and after

having 750,000 lbs of beef per acre graze a cool season cover crop cocktail. Our local Soil Conservation District also has a crop roller which is used to terminate rye or field pea.

We rolled the pea during bloom and the rye during 50%+ anthesis, both were seeded as monocultures. Occasionally we have farmers who terminate a cover crop mixture with herbicide, but only rarely with tillage.

Cover Crops

The following is excerpts from an email conversation concerning cover crops for a local organic farm. I am finding it very useful as this particular aspect of sustainable farming is difficult for me to understand.

Your first attempt at planning a cover crop mixture is very good. As I recall some of the resource concerns included armor (surface residue), crop diversity, soil aggregates, nutrient cycling, and infiltration to name a few. I see the mixture consists of cool season broadleaves and cool season grass, which is what we would use here for a fall seeding after harvest. The high carbon portion appears a little high, with the first 4 species making up 50%, while the legume may be a little low at 30% of the mix. I would suggest decreasing the high carbon to 40% and increasing the legume to 40%. Possibly an additional legume could be added, such as Lentil. The brassica portion at 20% looks good, since they are nitrogen scavenging and low carbon you do not need very much. The high carbon will give you soil armor and their roots will improve the soil aggregates and soil organic matter. The legumes will improve the nutrient cycling, while the brassicas create streets and avenues for the water to move into the soil profile. Improving soil health is about restoring balance, and the cover crop mixtures will help you with this task. Always try to include crop types in the cover crop mixture that are not used in the annual crop rotation, this will improve crop diversity and help feed the soil biology a more balanced diet.

I attached two cover crop pictures too.

[The photo above depicts] a 14-way mixture, which is primarily cool season. It was seeded at the Menoken Farm on May 12 and includes: wheat, oat, forage pea, lentil, ac greenfix, turnip, radish, sunflower, Italian rye grass, hairy vetch, sweet clover, phacelia, canola, and flax. The native pollinators did very well with this mixture too.

[This photo is] a primarily warm season 11-way mixture, and was seeded on June 14th at the Black Leg Ranch. It consists of: pearl millet, proso millet, sudan, soybean, cowpea, sunflower, radish, turnip, sweet clover, canola, and corn. Both are based on the clients resource concerns and objectives. This is not the first time that nature has seen this many different plants together. We have to understand they are working together and not competing. Thank you for your interest in soil health.

I have used this email without permission from it's author but thank him nonetheless.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hot enough for ya?

The weather has been nice lately; I especially enjoy the cool overcast mornings. But I bet your plants are suffering. We have received about 1" less than average of rain so far and have had two (at least)spells of intense heat. For those of you without a swimming pool, it can be tough to cool down. Next time you are sitting inside with a cold beer while watching Buffy reruns, think of your poor plants wilting in the afternoon swelter. Vegetables won't set fruit when it gets over 90F. Heat stressed plants are more susceptible to disease and pest damage. But when you continue to dump water on them, your water bill will punish you.

You know where this going...

You need to mulch. Mulches, like compost, are a universal cure all. A thick layer of organic mulch keeps soil temperatures low. It helps retain moisture in the soil. (Did you know that in New Mexico, we have the evaporative average of 60" annually? That means that in New Mexico, the natural evaporation of water from soil to the atmosphere averages 5 feet a year. 5 feet! We only get 8" or so of rain to replenish that.) That moist soil provides a habitat for beneficial organism that create a healthy growing environment for plants. It's not by accident that bushes and trees drop their leaves periodically; they are providing mulch to protect and build the soil in which they live.

Although visually pleasing mulch is in some cases as important as properly functioning mulch, some materials perform better than others in some situations.

Windy areas: we have seen over the years that particle shape is as important as particle size when choosing a mulch for a windy area. An elongated shape tends to allow the mulch to knit together so that it stays in place better. These mulches also do well in well traveled areas.

A coarsely ground woody material is a good example. We call this Native Mulch

Another good example is this material. It is a little more decorative. We call it Black and Tan.

Established Trees and Shrubs: The problem with amending the soil around established trees and shrubs is that an disturbance of the soil will damage valuable feeder roots. So a mulch that contains a lot of humic acid containing compost will perform two functions: feed and protect the soil.

Forest Floor Mulch is an excellent mulch for established trees.

Decorative areas: Sometimes you want to show off a rose garden or create a pathway. A good mulch for that application would be a uniform material. These are generally processed more and will be a bit more expensive. Pecan Shells or Wood Mulch are excellent materials.

A new mulch we have is a good pathway mulch. It is a certified playgound mulch called Playsoft.

It's light in color, very uniform in particle distribution, attractive and soft.

Vegetable areas: Now here is where it gets fun. I like to use short fibered mulched in the veggie garden because they generally break down faster. Short fibered materials are usually not as carbonaceous so they won't rob nitrogen from you prized tomatoes. The best part (to me at least) is that these potential mulches are everywhere for the taking. Grass clippings or leaves make great mulches for veggie gardens. Of course, an excellent mulch for your veggies is a compost approved for use on certified organic farms...Premium Compost.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Vote for a Charity

This was forwarded to me by an old friend.

What warrants a blog entry this time was the dilemma between the organizations from which to choose. The old school in me says that surfing always trumps anything else. There really is a cleansing quality to the surf that every one should test. But the new school in me sees a huge demand for urban farms. My recent experience with our Soilutions' sign painting makes me want to vote for the urban art project.

So, I leave it up to you all to vote your heart. I don't think there is a bad choose.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Los Poblanos Lavender Festival

Make arrangements to attend this year's Lavender Festival at Los Poblanos Organic Farm. More information at

This year, Ski has been working really hard to organize foodwaste collection at the festival. Special events pose specific hurdles when it comes to organic waste collection. The general public is notoriously unreliable at separating organics from non-organics. This year, as I understand it, there will be a slew of volunteers to stand by the collection carts to help festival attendees properly sort all recyclables, not just the organics.

So when you go, thank the volunteers and pay special attention to the green carts marked "Organics Only" and know that you are helping us reduce local greenhouse gases.

Not to be outdone, Soilutions' owners Jim and Karen Brooks will be offering a composting workshop for the event. If you've never seen them speak, you will be in for a treat; be prepared to leave energized about your home compost.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Seedlings Up For Grabs

So a long time customer just came in with several flats of Tomato starts. There are about 200? They were grown by an organization called seed2need out of Corrales. As I understand it, they grow food on vacant and abandoned lots and donate the food to the food bank system. They grew way too many seedlings this year, so want to share their wealth a little. They only ask that you follow in their footsteps and give some of the tomatoes to the food banks. The Storehouse on Broadway was suggested but there are several. Our customer works at RoadRunner Food Bank, so there is another one to consider.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vermicompost for Sale

Every six months or so, we clean up our worm beds. When the beds contain more castings than fresh food for the worms, it becomes toxic to the worms. They become lethargic, get smaller and, if left alone, will die. So we dig the worm castings out and replenish the feed stocks. This year I used a combination of leaves and grass clippings. After I dug out the bin, I passed the material over a 1/4" screen to get most of the worms out and to separate any large or uncomposted material from the fine particle sized casting. The worms and the larger pieces go back into the bin while the finer material goes into the garden. Or if you want, it can go into YOUR garden. We have a limited amount until this fall, so get it now. One cubic foot bags sell for $10. bring your own 5 gal bucket and save $3.

Hope to see you soon.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rubber Necking

Everyone likes a good fire.

I don't think that the building has been vacant for years and is now for sale has anything to do with it.

I mentioned this property in a post dated July 2nd 2009.. As I recall, I was complaining that it was properties like this that got me depressed sometimes. It didn't occur to me that burning the place was a viable solution. Maybe I was wrong.

As I write this, our delivery truck is detained at the top of Bates Rd. Something about a hazard. I wonder if they are going to evacuate us?

Then it got really big.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The New Face of Soilutions, part 2

For a look at what it takes to re-do a "simple" sign, go to:

The original sign was a "Bates Lumber" sign (we are situated on the same property as the old Bates Lumber Mill), so the structure itself is probably 30-40 years old. You know us: re-use when ever possible.

The first question I had for Danny was how quickly it would get "tagged" by the local graffiti-ists. He said that the culture among the artists prohibited covering up or tagging a well-done mural: honor among thieves so to speak.

I suppose that last comment is unfair, at least to Danny. Here in Albuquerque, spray paint is considered a blight to communities performed by thugs and deadbeats. Obviously, to others outside our area, i.e., New york City, it is an art performed by artists.

Once again, I am enlightened by a customer.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The New Face of Soilutions

Hopefully, you all will see this for yourself. It's the sign at the end of Bates Rd.

We are pretty good at what we do, i.e., make compost. We are not very good at advertising. So when this guy walked into our office and said that he wanted to re-paint our sign, we said okay. We had been thinking of re-doing it for some time; each morning the rust spots bothered us. And now that the RailRunner comes by several times each day, we figured an old rusty sign wasn't the best face for our business.

I encourage you all to check out the guy's website (, but in the meantime, here's what I know of him. His name is Danny Skinz and he owns and operates an advertising business in New York City: big clients like Chrysler, Tampico, Nintendo, Ecko, and now Soilutions. Then he had an epiphany, and moved to NM after studying Permaculture. I don't know how he found us (how does anyone find us?) but decided that he could help us out.

His real love is aerosol, i.e. spray paint, and what he really wants to do is paint our delivery trucks. Any one who knows us knows that we don't make quick decisions. So we agreed to have him re-work the sign as a test run. Not a test run for him as much as a test run for us to see if the "urban" style would work for us.

Well, we are as tickled with it as anyone could be. I think it is sharp, unique, and speaks to the growing crossover market of agricultural and urban gardening in which we find ourselves deep in the midst . As one customer said yesterday, "it puts you into the twentieth century finally."

So please let us know what you think as you drive by on your way to recycle those branches, or to buy mulch for your newly planted trees. And look for Ski in our soon to be freshly painted delivery truck at a restaurant or cafe near you .

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Plants for Sale

I have some plants for sale. They are in 4" pots and some 1 gal. containers.

Cosmos are a standard in any garden. These are a variety of colors. Full sun and moderate water. Check out for more information.

Russian Sage. This is a beautiful shrub but it must be kept under control. Once established, it needs no water. Plant it in direct sun and in poor soil. Check out for more information.

Bee Balm is a very hardy herb with many uses. Check out for more information. The 4" plants will grow and produce bee-loving blooms all summer.

Prices: 4" pots $2.50 each
1 gal. $5.00 each

I have many more. Please feel free to ask me what all is available.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill

I wonder if they could use compost in those booms? It's biologically active, loves carbon, won't harm the environment like dispersant.

Here's a blog from San Francisco concerning the gulf coast catastrophe:

This is big folks. Let's not be complacent.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fun with Recycling part 4

Here are some new examples of what can be done with recycled lumber.

This is a custom "dutch" double gate made to fit a newly constructed block wall. The tops open to let the sunset in while keeping the dogs in the courtyard.

This is a much simpler gate. The problem here was installation.

Both gates are made with Douglas fir scrap lumber using mortise and tenon techniques.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Mother's Day

In honor of those who gave of their life so that we might experience ours, I am adopting a new ritual: I will now plant my warm season seeds on Mother's Day. What better way to remind myself of the beautiful cycle of birth, nurturing, and reward that started and continues with my mother?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

April is the Cruelest Month

"In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent
a thing is brought forth which we didn't know we had in us."
---Czeslaw Milosz, Ars Poetica

It is said that gardening is an exercise in faith. We plant seed, water, weed, on the belief that a miracle will happen. And when it does, we experience the elation of life both externally with having aided the seeds' growth, and internally when we realize that there are things greater than we are. As the seed grows toward the sun, we, too, grow.

Whitman writes:

Now I am terrified at the Earth! it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of
It distils such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks, its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

--Excerpt from This Compost by Walt Whitman

April is indeed a cruel time. It offers so much hope that will be dashed by October. But it is a kind month too, offering fruitfulness from last year's "fetors".

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Friends and the Garden

I'd like to discuss the value of gardens. I mean to get past the obvious values: fresh fruits and vegetables, beautiful flowers, shade, stress release, exercise, creativity, solitude peacefulness, energy savings, etc.

I have been seeing A LOT of people lately at the compost site; a lot of regulars, usuals, and first timers alike. Not many of them are from San Francisco, nor are they poets with an interest in French literature. Yet every person coming through our gates has something in common: gardens. Some are starting new gardens, some are old hands; some are revitalizing an old orchard, some are remodeling an inherited garden. Everyone is smiling. Everyone has committed to make the trek to what I call our South Valley Paradise.I don't see that kind of elation in a hospital, or office, or shoe store, or even in a restaurant. Gardeners are naturally happy people.

But there is something more.When I was young and surfing in the Pacific everyday, I was always struck by the camaraderie that seemed inherent in the lifestyle.Old guys, young guns, lawyers, bums, long boarders, short boarders, single fin, three fins; we all knew something that the "landlubbers" didn't know. The "pure stoke" of playing in the ocean transcended our differences. I would have choked back then to make this comparison, but gardening is akin to surfing.

Here at the site, we have seen three or four groups of soldiers recently. I don't agree nor envy the lifestyle they've chosen. In fact, along with over-population, I believe the military is THE cause of all our problems both domestically and internationally. But individually, in the quest for a good tomato, these guys are alright.

Most of my lasting relationships encompass gardens. I remember a picture of a woman on her porch. Her pain and worries were so large to us at the time. But in this picture a rampant party of cosmos overwhelmed the stress and she looks happy. My wife gave me a large bouquet of daisies after we first met. We celebrated my father-in-laws life under a new built arbor freshly planted with honeysuckle.

As I grow older, I find that real, deep, meaningful relationships come fewer and farther between; the spaces now filled with work, children, bills. I don't find the time to lay open my deep concerns nor admit that I've failed at something or someone. But given the right circumstances, smothered with a healthy dose of garden talk, I find that there is time and a real desire to share openly and honestly. I am developing a new friendship with a fellow gardener. Through mulch, tansies, and grand hoop-house dreams, we have broken the wall of friendly chit-chat. We have admitted failure and discussed tribulations. Mohandas K. Gandhi is quoted as saying: "To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves." Amid the lettuce and the weeds, my new friend has allowed me to reach an understanding that I am human.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Week After Easter Radio

I hope no one forsook their Easter repast to tune in last week to hear our Fearless Leader on the radio; it was postponed. Now you will have to suffer through what I have to say. But I would still urge you all to take a listen as there appears to be several other extremely knowledgeable and friendly people enlisted to partake in the hour long broadcast.
Sunday April 11th, 2010. channel 1550 am from 6-7pm. I invite you to call: ask me a question.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Radio

Listen for the voice of Jim Brooks, owner of Soilutions and compost guru extraordinaire, on Sunday night, channel 1550 am. I think the time will be between 4-5pm. After you've stuffed yourself with Jelly Beans and Cadbury chocolate bunnies, relax by the radio to hear discussions of local organic farming, farmers, and others in the community (like Jim) who dedicate their lives to making ours better.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring Update

Wow, has it been a month since I last posted?

I suppose a lot has happened since then: we've gone through another "eventful" grind with the County, I have been giving lectures and presentations on a regular occurrence, we have finished screening various wood products and are now concentrating on screening Premium Compost to keep up with the growing flow of customers.

But most importantly, within the last month, we have once again been reinvigorated by the sometimes near deluge of customers. True, the weather has delayed our spring season a little, but for the most part we have seen a lot of our old customers. The people who come year after year a little earlier than the others warm us because they start to squeeze open the door that the cold winter shut quickly and hard on us at thanksgiving time. There were two weeks this year that we had a total of one person each week buy material from us. We expect that but it's still really hard on us and shatters any confidence we might have built during the "season".

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Organic Farmers Conference

We had a fun time at the conference. I got to touch base with a bunch of old friends and chat up a few new ones.

Thanks to: Rachel for the work and the muffin; Robyn for the encouragement; Karen for you high energy, vision, and determination; Brett for your trust and hard work; Tamara (I signed us up yesterday); Stephanie, it was great to finally meet you, come over for a swim when it gets warm; Dave for the joke; Seeds of Change (seriously, only two packets?); and Brad, every time I hear you I get enthused.

It was great to hear about your endeavors, Eric. Good luck.

How great are Corva and Frances? Nice to you again.

Hello to: Isaura, April, Jim, Brandy, Tomas, Don, Nissa, Cindy, Gordon, Illana, the Water Lady, Arizona Community Gardens, Monica, and Alceides. It was nice to meet you all, again or for the first time.

Sorry I missed you, Monte--we'll talk soon.

Thanks to the wait staff for heating up my lunch. I didn't get a lunch ticket but the homemade burrito made up for it.

It was nice to see you all. There was over 500 people in attendance, I wish I could have talked to you all. Keep up the good work.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cold Frame Update--February

Here are a couple of pictures of the cold frame. I've been eating greens for a month now.

Not much work involved. I water once a week if it so needed.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Erosion of Our Most Precious Natural Resource

As the spring planting season approaches, many of us will be turning our attention to the vegetable plot out back. Whether you were successful last year or had problems, maybe you’re an old hand at it, or sick of leathery lettuce from the big box markets and have decided to grow your own; I encourage you to first consider your soil.

New Mexico has plenty of dirt, but not as much soil. In fact, NM has the largest rate of soil loss in the nation (USDA The biggest factor in soil degradation is the loss of native vegetation and soil disturbance. Soil erosion puts sediment into our waterways, pollutes our air, adds to our soil reclamation costs, depletes native vegetation, and destroys infrastructure. Furthermore, soil can carry with it chemical pollutants. On a large scale, this is devastating to our rivers, and costs taxpayers, the home construction industry, local, state, and federal governments millions of dollars each year.

In your own landscape, erosion will decrease the value of your property, increase water usage, and decrease plant productivity and longevity. Soil is essential to the health of our planet, our farms, our plants, and our health. Most of everything we use on a daily basis comes from fertile soil: food, clothes, medicine, and home building materials.

What’s the difference between soil and dirt? Look under your finger nails. If there is a brown line under your nails, that’s dirt. If the brown line under your nails has something growing out of it, that’s soil. If you are one of those with something growing out from your nails, consider yourself lucky. In a natural healthy environment, soil consists of inorganic particles (defined by particle size as sand, silt, clay), and organic matter. The organic matter comes from decomposing plant and animal debris (both macro and micro). Organic matter shades the topsoil and protects it from the erosive properties of the wind and rain. It also provides a habitat for the micro-organisms that improve the moisture retention and nutrient availability of the soil. While most NM soils have an adequate percentage of inorganic particles, they generally lack sufficient organic content. (For a good look at soil components’ total volume percentage, see Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison, pg 200.)

This insufficiency in organic content often leads to over-use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The use of synthetic fertilizers is intended to artificially stimulate a plant, similar to steroid use in humans. The more holistic way to treat deficiencies is to treat the cause, not the symptom. The reason a plant performs poorly can in most cases be traced back to the soil in which it grows. A healthy soil makes healthy plants. Studies have recently shown that fruit grown with synthetic fertilizers have less nutrition than fruit from plants grown in healthy soil. Fortunately, we see throughout the growing regions of NM many farmers succeeding by carefully minding the health of their soil.

While you may not be farming an acre of heirlooms for sale at the markets, each of us can do more on a local level, to heal the life blood of the planet. That barren hard pack may not be as useless as you imagine. The single most important thing an individual can do to remediate soil and prevent erosion is to mulch. Properly installed organic mulch does so much: reduces evaporation, cools the soil, filter storm run-off, controls weeds, and establishes the microbial environment necessary to provide the slow release of nutrients. Organic mulch protects the bare soil from the erosive properties of wind and rain by providing an environment where plant roots can form a binding matrix.

Another easy and effective way to quickly remediate soil is to add compost. Where mulching is a slow method of tending to you soil, adding compost is an immediate boost in beneficial microbe population and replenishes valuable nutrients absorbed by plants throughout the previous growing season. Making compost also diverts methane producing organic matter from the landfills. It is easy to make at home and benefits all kinds of soil types.

Now that less than 5% of the US population live in rural settings anymore, we don’t think of the role of soil in our lives except when the kids track it in. When farming was a way of life, taking care of the soil was an obvious and important element of that way of life. We have lost a connection to the soil. “To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves”. (Mohandas K. Gandhi) As a country, we need to regard the soil as a living organism, and to nurture its health. Time is running out. Although the human species is not yet endangered, out fate is inextricably intertwined with that of all other species.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Price of Low Cost

A recent blurb in the Business Weekly Section of the Journal mentioned the potential for a “trash collection fee” increase. Mayor Berry says: “The Solid Waste Mgt. Dept. isn’t collecting enough in fees to cover the cost of operations.” Alb. Journal, 12/26/09

Soilutions is glad the new administration is addressing the issue. We are direct competitors for green waste diversion with City and County solid waste departments. We have been fretting over the low tipping fees at the transfer stations (the most accessible option for residents) since before our incorporation. As a privately owned and operated business, we know what it cost to operate a solid waste facility and just can’t reconcile their fees with what we are pretty sure to be their costs. The low tipping fees directly retard the growth of the recycling industry in New Mexico.

According to the 2009 NM Solid Waste Annual Report, NM currently has a recycling rate of 12.4%, well below the 33% national average. According to, the south central region of the United States (of which NM is a part) also ranks in the lowest in national tipping fee averages at just $23.28/ton (compare to the mid-Atlantic area at $69.07/ton). Because of the perceived abundance of wide open space, it is just cheaper to throw stuff in a hole here. Curbside pickup of residential trash is deemed a right of citizenship and maybe it is. It certainly helps to keep properties clean and safe. It also makes it easy to throw increasingly valuable recyclables away.

There are many ways to avoid raising residential trash service fees: pay as you throw programs, decreased frequency, and increased recycling pick-up to name a few. While an increase of the cost of residential trash service may be difficult to push through in these economic times, an alternative to recouping some of the solid waste department’s costs would be to increase the fees at transfer stations. Transfer stations typically are used by those with more trash than can be carried in a residential cart. Increasing fees at the transfer stations would only impact heavy generators. People not willing to pay the increase would be forced to seek other options. One option is to divert waste (over 70% of what goes into NM landfills is recyclable; at LEAST 35% is organic material). Diverting waste simply means sorting it such that items will go where they can be appropriately managed. This is by far the most environmentally (and thus patriotic) viable option.

Increased fees at the transfer stations will not increase illegal dumping as is generally argued. We already have unbearably low fees in our state and still see illegal dumping everywhere. Illegal dumping is one of those things that just occur. People who dump illegally do so because of ignorance, laziness, or I don’t know what. For example, Soilutions doesn’t charge to receive clean horse manure. Nonetheless, I see trailer loads of it dumped on the side of roads all the time. But by the same token, those that responsibly dispose of waste will do so at any cost. When Soilutions raises our recycling tip fees, we hear some grumbling but when informed why the rates increased, those people accept it. As with most things, education and communication are essential to proper decision making.

Illegal dumping is unsightly, dangerous, and expensive. Solid waste departments could allocate part of the increased revenue to illegal dumping clean-up. Transfer stations that purportedly separate green waste from municipal solid waste (MSW) do not, in fact. A landfill operator once told me that they take green waste for free but don’t have the money to manage it so it sits around and gets contaminated. Increased fees would allow for the extra time and money needed to properly reclaim and manage green waste received at these facilities. Increased tip fees would allow landfills and solid waste departments to generate enough money to establish mandated funds for proper closure, to remediate non-compliance violations, construct landfill cells properly, monitor the facility throughout its lifetime, and for further corrective activities.

Increases in tipping fees nation-wide have proven time and again to be beneficial to recycling programs. According to, high tip fees along with a properly managed recycling program actually reduce illegal dumping. And so, I would suggest to Mayor Berry that a raise in fees for curbside pick-up may not be the answer at this time. Rather, a fee increase at the transfer stations and landfills, where clients are high volume users, would not only generate the income needed to finance curbside pick-up, but also strengthen the recycling environment in New Mexico.

Now if we could just get them to sell their finished material at a profit, we’d be making strides forward.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spring, take 2

As I sit here this morning, I have to giggle a bit. This week has been the complete opposite to last weekend. Rainy, cold, and now, snowy. It's great and I love it. (By the by, the compost site got 7.55" rain last year: almost normal). But isn't it just like mother nature to throw us a curve?

In preparation for spring soon coming, though, despite this weeks' indicators to the contrary, we are sprucing the place up a bit. We are refreshing our mulch on our driveways and replenishing our samples.

I gave a tour to two young ladies from Costa Rica yesterday. They were troopers. I can't imagine they see much snow down there. Anyway, they work at the Intel Plant down there. No one in Costa Rica is recycling organics and they heard that we do a good job with the organics from the Rio Rancho Plant. So they came down to take a look at how we do what we do. I am always amazed that Soilutions has a reputation outside my own head. (Jim got a call from some mid-schoolers in Virginia or some such place because everywhere they turned his name kept popping up). Maybe there is a consultant gig for me in Costa Rica in the future.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


No. Spring has not yet arrived in NM. But it sure does feel like it's around the corner. I spent the weekend tilling the old plot; I even added a new 100 square foot area. I got a kick out of turning over all the carrots and beets that I must have missed last fall. Not bad tasting, a little sandy but that never hurt anyone. Nature helps those that help themselves: it rained last night to soak all the yummy compost and vermicompost into the soil. I even had my first harvest dream of the year.

I picked a meager salad from a small cold frame.

At the compost site, we are getting one or two more people calling each week; one or two more people coming down and getting something to start off with. There was a couple of weeks during the Christmas/New Year's Day period where we didn't see a handful of people all week. This week, we are going to double our yearly totals for deliveries!

Enjoy the moisture while we can.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Products Price Changes

Thank you to all who have supported us in 2009. The preliminary numbers show that we will be able to continue to serve you with are fine garden products and seemingly expert knowledge for another year.

Unfortunately, we find it necessary to raise our selling prices on products this year. Most notably, for the first time in our 13+ years, we are raising the price on our Premium Compost from $32/yd to $36/yd. Costs to manufacture have just gotten to too high. Please check our other price changes on this website or give me a call.

When we first started, we were selling Premium at $14/yd when, after a brief calculation, it was costing us $20/yd to make! Since then we have concentrated on lowering our costs so that the price would remain constant for our customers. But, as I said, the cost of diesel, property taxes, compliance costs, insurance, and the ever important labor costs have increases too dramatically over the recent past.

Please note that tipping fees will remain at the ridiculously low rate of $5/yd. Usually, the recycling aspect of our company shares the costs with the manufacturing side, but we didn't feel it was fair to you in this continuing tight economic climate to raise those fees.

We look forward to seeing you all soon, and thanks for your support.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Polar Bear Swim Update

Finally, here is the update and photos for which I know you've all been waiting.

The weather was beautiful; sunny, warm and not much breeze.

Turn out was down,

although not by much thanks to two late comers.

The pool temperature was high: 38F when we opened it, 40F by the time we got in.

There was some confusion on when we were to swim, which left plenty of time to break the ice

and to sit and watch it thaw

but we had most people fired up by about noon.

A newcomer to the event proved that in fact we are not crazy. He jumped in and dawdled for a good minute or so.

One swimmer had a run-in with a chunk of ice,

and my youngest son did a full lap lengthwise (probably equaling the newcomer for total time spent in the water).

Not to be outdone, I was able to do a two full laps, complete with flip turn (again, no photos). The guest of honor, cold water aficionado and 3 time Channel swimmer Suzie, leisurely completed two laps.

Thanks to all who returned for the second or third year. Special thanks to Jim and Karen for letting me tell you all about it on company time.

Spectators as well as participants had a feast of chowder, hoppin'john, and whiskey sours (before and) afterward.

See you next year!

PS. We extended the festivities this year by going to Elephant Butte on January 2. The water was 46F but seemed MUCH colder. Suzie is caught swimming, this time for 5 minutes or more, as part of her 50 swims in 50 states mission.