A Zuni-style garden at the University of Redlands.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The School Yard Science project that began in the fall of 2005 at the University of Redlands is a continuation of research and work that I began a number of years ago in Albuquerque, NM. As a middle school science teacher I recognized the need for a pedagogy that combined academic academic learning with real-life experiences. Consequently, I worked with the school administration, my students and community members to develop an ornamental garden on the middle school campus. During the course of the project my students identified the types of materials they wanted to plant, decided where to plant them, examined soil conditions, contacted local business and vendors, acquired dontions of materials and eventually planted shrubs and roses.

This effort, coinciding with my studies at the University of New Mexico, provided momentum for future initiatives. As New Mexico is dominated by the Chihuahua desert ecosystem, my interests were drawn to dryland horticulture. My interests in xeriscaping continued at my own home and in my teaching.

At present, the Zuni Waffle garden at the U of R is in its initial stages. We are working with Native Seed Search (Tuscon, AZ) to serve as a test site for indigenous cultivars and are planning on developing linkages with local schools and teachers. As the project develops. I will add my findings and observations to this blog.

As a basis for understanding how this project originiated, readers may review the story below about my first visit to Zuni Pueblo and visit the A:shiwi A:wan and Hupobi links for additional information.

Lorrain Loncasion and her Waffle Gardens

Finding Lorrain Loncasion was not as easy as I anticipated. Even though she had been referenced in Dunmire and Tierney (1995) my local contacts did not know her and had not heard of her waffle gardens. I was eventually able to find Lorrain through Kate Brown at Twin Buttes H.S.

Kate first asked the school secretary about her. She said that she did not know Lorrain, but open reflection related that she was probably the grandmother of Twin Buttes senior, Terry Loncasion. The secretary said that she did not know where Lorraine lived but suggested I visit the Senior Center where she thought that Lorrain worked. The staff at the Senior Center did not immediately recognize the name, but upon reflection, the receptionist related that she did know Lorrain but was not working on that day. I asked the secretary where she lived and was told “across from the Laudromat” When I drove over to the laundromat I noteced that two ladies were conversing outside. I asked if they knew where Lorrain lived. One related that she did not know, but upon reflection said that Lorrain Loncasion lived across the street. I walked across the street into a complex of homes and saw a lady hanging clothes. I introduced myself and asked if she knew Lorrain. She replied that she was Lorrain.

Lorrain is a small, thin woman. She looks to be in her eighties. She speaks with a thin, soft voice. She has numerous black tattoos on her arms - some inches long, some short. I explained to her what I was doing and asked if we could talk for awhile. She agreed, with the provision that she needed to continue watching her grandchildren as she was baby-sitting on that day.

I did not want to limit our conversation strictly to the business at hand. So I tried to engage her in conversation about her grandchildren and what we both had to do to get our gardens ready for spring planting. She was quite interested in talking about her garden preparation, but related at the onset that “this may be the last year I do the garden, because I’m getting old.” She told me that her mother’s family had lived at this site for several generations. Her home was a large stone-block dwelling set back and about 100 yards from the Zuni River. Her mother and her mother’s mother had maintained gardens in this area. Looking closely at the garden area, one can see the tracings of many (over 50) waffle gardens.

Lorrain talked about water supplies and her garden. She wanted to plant an apple tree near her garden because her old apple tree had died. She showed me the location that she wanted to plant a new tree in. I shared with her some of my problems I had with fruit trees in my yard in Albuquerque.

"Water supplies used to be plentiful", she related as she pointed to an old, very eroded ditch that used to bring water near her house. The ditch apparently has not held water for many years and Lorrain used to have to haul water up from the river in buckets. Someone has given her large plastic containers similar to garbage cans that sit close to the garden and hold water. She is able to fill the containers with a hose and is able to water her garden more easily. Her grandsons help her do this.

It is interesting to note that Lorrain could have used a hose to water her garden, but she preferred to use a more traditional method of pails and dippers to water with. She could also have used river water to irrigate with, but it is a long walk for a woman her age up and down the steep riverbank with buckets of water. Besides, as she relates, “the river water is not fresh and clear anymore”. Her third option in years past had been to use the irrigation ditch. I was told by members of ZSAP that the Black Rock Dam reservoir had silted in, consequently the ditches in Zuni could no longer be used.

Lorrain’s Waffle Garden. Prior to speaking with Lorrain I had outlined the areas that needed to be discussed given the objectives of this project. I had intended to identify activities and procedures directly related to waffle gardens in my interview with Lorrain. While there was some divergence, all that she spoke about was related to gardening, fruit trees, and water conservation and supplies.

I came into the interview with a list of items relating to the construction of waffles, soil preparation and mulching, watering procedures. In each area I had a preliminary outline that included the following:

· waffle construction- site location and leveling, size determinants, wall construction and materials, time involved, traditional verses more contemporary techniques, tools, family cooperation;

· soil preparation- soil mix and type, depth, additives and fertilizers, mulching;

· water conservation- traditional verses contemporary techniques, frequency, record-keeping.

Of lesser importance was my interest in pest control and what was planted. Lorrain told me that she planted chili, tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, corn, and radishes. However she was not able to offer much information on pest control other than emphasizing that her geese and ducks are kept penned, and the entire garden area is contained in a chicken-wire enclosure. Information on insect pest control was derived from earlier ethnographic materials, a story by Stephanie Kanteena, and from Fred Bowannie of ZSAP.

Construction. Lorrain has two types of waffle garden plots. The first type is “rough’ in shape, and has irregular walls or berms of soil pushed into shape with a tool. The second type has hand shaped, evenly curved walls of adobe-like consistency. I have labeled these two types: scraped and hand-built. The scraped plot looks like it is made with a hoe by scraping soil out from a center to form plots of about 15 inches by 20 inches and are generally rectangular in shape. The walls of such plots consist of chunks of soil that does not appear to be mixed with water and are about 4 inches high. The surface of the plot has been leveled by scraping soil from high spots. The walls of a scraped plot are not uniform in height. The second type is obviously hand-built. These plots are more uniform in shape than the scraped variety. They are built in square shapes of about 14 by 14 inches, but vary in size up to about 18 by 20 inches. The walls are also about 4 inches high. There are no apparent tool marks in the soil that would indicate scraping. The many old, unused waffles seen in the garden area resemble the hand-built variety. It may be surmised that the hard adobe-like consistency and rounded structure of the walls of the hand-built plots resist erosion and water leakage, and probably last for several seasons. The scraped variety appears to be less resistant to erosion and more temporary in nature.

Lorrain says that her grandsons help her with the garden which perhaps helps to explain the diffrence in plot types When she makes a waffle Lorrain relates that she uses a flat rock to make a plot. She says that a hoe can be used as well. She makes no distinction between scraped verses hand-built plots, but her description of “how to make a plot” centered exclusively around the hand-built method. Lorrain pours water in the area where she will make the plot and lets it sit and soak into the soil over night. The next day she will use her flat stone and hands to make a waffle. She will scrape the soil into a square, then pack it into curved walls with her palms. She make two contiguous waffles with space to walk and work on each side. The waffles she has made in this manner are very uniform in size and wall heights.

Soil Preparation. When I visited Lorrain’s waffle garden in early April, she still had over-wintering onions in several plots. I asked her how she fertilizes the plots and how she made them so level. She explained that after making the walls she carries in fine, loose sand from closer to the river. She presses the sand down with her flat rock. “Not too hard” she cautions, so that the soil remains loose. It is my guess that this technique fills in low spots and lowers high spots that inevitably arise from scraping. Lorraine showed me one of her plots that is being fertilized. A large rectangular scraped plot had been completely filled with sheep manure. It had then been smoothed with a shovel. The smoothing process is also a form of mulching as it would allow for soil moisture to be retained under the manure and would apparently support accelerated decomposition of the organic additive. Lorrain said that she will work the manure into the soil this spring. She says that she plants seeds with a sharp stick by puncturing the soil and placing seeds in the hole and then covering them with soil. She was not able to say how deep she planted the seeds.

It would prove interesting to complete a soil chemistry test in Lorrain’s garden. A test for nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and pH levels, as has been done in arroyo check dams as part of archaeological research in northeastern Arizona, would be correlated with known optimum soil characteristics for the types of crops planted. If permitted I will do a test in the future and compare her soil with nearby uncultivated soil. Both soils are however, rather homogeneous river bed soils composed of fine silt, sand, and gravel (less than 1 cm in size).Organic material is lacking except where added by Lorrain. Due to the nature of the soil and the lack of organic matter, water retention abilities would be minimal.

Water Conservation. Waffle gardens theoretically offer protection from wind, control over temperature extremes, and serve to limit water use and evaporation. Lorrain relates that the walls of her waffles protect the plants and contain the water that she pours in. She says that you only have to water every 3 to 4 days using waffles. She uses water stored in large (55 gallon) plastic drums instead of a hand-coiled olla. Her mother used gourd dippers to transfer water from olla to waffle. Like her mother, Lorrain uses a dipper and a bucket, but instead of a gourd dipper and ceramic olla she now uses a can and bucket. Lorrain does not use any form of mulch during the summer heat, she relied on hand watering and daily monitoring of her plants and soil moisture in order to adjust the frequency of irrigation.

Lorrain relates that she used to walk down the embankment, about 50 yards, to the Zuni River to get her water and then haul it up in a pail. She liked the river water because it was always “clean and fresh”. She relates that her mother and her grandmother did the same thing but with ollas. I asked if the ollas would be heavy and hot. She said that on the contrary, the ollas were not heavy; they were comfortable and cooling when filled with water

Her success as a gardener represents Lorrain’s skills and knowledge. The evidence of her mother’s efforts are seen in the traces of dozens of waffles in the ancestral garden area. She still prizes her native Zuni onions growing in a special enclave in the garden corral. While the methods of gardening have changed somewhat from generation to generation the results are still satisfying and continuing. It is with regret though that there are apparently no other waffle gardeners to be found along the banks of the Zuni River in the oldest part of the pueblo.

May Term 2006 at the University of Redlands
Students Tatianni Gagner, Jody Owens and Chad Wolf spent four weeks working on the garden. They built palm frond fences, a Wiliawa-wa (a ramada), bat boxes, a worm box, a lizard habitat, and stream tables. We visited the San Bernardino and Malki (Morongo) museums as well as the Jurupa Cultural Center to learn about how other facilitities provide educational activities similar to what the Waffle Garden can provide. We visited Redland's Smiley Library and spent a day investigated archival materials on Serrano, San Manuel and Coahilla farming and architectual traditions.

We also visited the Morongo Preserve near Palm Springs. The Preserve maintains a native palm (Washingtonia filifera) and a desert riparian habitat and provided us with ideas on trail design and visitor activities.
The following pictures were taken by Dr. Stiler and Chad Wolf and represent some of the team's work and accomplishments during May Term 2006.

Classroom Applications

Companion Planting

Waffle Gardens

Grid Gardens

Grid Garden2

Anasazi Farming

Desert Gardens (PDF)

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