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Old 04-17-2009, 02:45 PM
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Default The Longer Version Part 9

Apr-Jun 1997
The Longer Version Part 9

Quite soon after the start of the Third World War, Victory Garden fever swept America. In Tucson and in Cochise County, the maturing partnership between the municipal and county governments and Fort Huachuca was bearing fruit in the area of intensive gardening. The pilot programs of the previous year had turned out quite nicely. The City of Tucson felt that having vacant lots turned to a productive purpose was good in and of itself. The gardens promoted neighborhood building and beautification. The police department in particular believed the program was worth supporting.

The Sierra Vista high school (outside the gates of Fort Huachuca) had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country in the early 1990’s. Many felt that teens in the community had little to do and so entertained themselves with sex. The gardening program had been wholeheartedly embraced by the school in the 1995-1996 school year. Participation was remarkably high. Pregnancy among the student body dropped an astonishing 20%. Almost none of the gardeners got pregnant. According to informal reporting by teachers and the Sierra Vista police, other teen social issues moderated noticeably.

On post at Fort Huachuca, the gardening programs sponsored by Mrs. Thomason also bore fruit. The weather was sufficiently mild in the winter for cool weather crops. The year-round nature of gardening kept the gardeners engaged. The gardeners readily shared information and organized their own experiments with different techniques.

Among the retiree population of southeastern Arizona, Victory Gardens were embraced enthusiastically. Once US forces became involved in the fighting, billboards in prominent locations were rented to put out a singular message: EVERYONE CAN CONTRIBUTE TO VICTORY. In southeastern Arizona, this message was very enthusiastically received among students and the elderly alike.

The Department of Contingency Planning (DCP) continued to funnel funding for the purpose of ongoing xericulture trials to Fort Huachuca. The post already had established a funds-sharing program with Tucson and other municipal governments. Increased funding enabled provision of free seed, simple gardening implements, and the hiring of part-time and full-time instructors to aid schools and neighborhood gardening communities. During the 1996-1997 school year, participation in the gardening programs tripled among the elementary schools in Cochise and Pima Counties. Participation at the high school level quadrupled, thanks in part to efforts by local recruiters to make a clear connection between supporting soldiers and gardening. Huachuca quite shrewdly spent some of the xericulture funding coming to it from the DCP on public awareness (some called it propaganda). The result during the 1996-1997 school year was a dramatic growth in public participation in intensive gardening.

By the second quarter of 1997, Fort Huachuca was receiving an entirely disproportionate percentage of the funding the DCP had available to disburse for purposes of encouraging military installation sustainability in what Huachuca was calling Red Star developments: limited nuclear war. The reason was simple. Huachuca was ready to make immediate and productive use of the resources the DCP was making available. Thomason had taken sustainability quite seriously in 1995. The post had a plan, an organization capable of implementing the plan, and the will the pursue improvements to the plan. Few other installation commanders had taken sustainability seriously as early as Thomason. Ironically, the DCP had adopted a rather Soviet-style attitude towards the investment of its considerable but nevertheless limited resources: investment would follow success. In terms of sustainability and survivability development, Thomason and Fort Huachuca entered the Third World War with a substantial lead vis-Ã*-vis almost every other similar installation in CONUS. There were many other posts with greater pre-existing advantages. The DCP recognized, however, that at the MI Center and School a progressive command climate had taken root. As a consequence, money and human resources flowed to a post that otherwise might have remained sidelined in the American war effort.

Important discoveries had been made since August 1995. There were many soil types throughout the area. Naturally, maps told the xericulture initiates as much; however, as any combat veteran can tell, first-hand experience carries more weight than academic study. The first-year gardeners at Huachuca, in Tucson, and at selected locations in the San Pedro Valley were ready to learn more.

A few critical lessons came out of the first year of experience. Raised beds dried quickly in the summer. Widely-spaced rows of plants did not prosper, as the soil dried too quickly, and footsteps tended to compact the soil. Well-aerated soil produced far superior plants. In practical terms, this meant that the beds which were turned over before each growing season yielded an excellent result. Southeastern Arizona had two to three growing seasons, depending on the type of crop and other variables. From April through October, watering was best done at twilight. From April through October, gardening labor was best conducted from first light until 1000, then from 1500 until last light. Closely-spaced plants provided their own shade for the soil, which resulted in much slower evaporation. Carrying small water cans was inefficient and time-consuming. Gardeners either needed hoses or large wheeled containers that could be filled at a water point and brought along the paths between beds. Watering that simulated rainfall was superior to watering that simulated flooding. The whole business was very consumptive of labor. The so-called Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squashes) performed surprisingly well. Certain varieties of potato performed well. Others did not. Generally, the soil was low in organic content—a problem that could be ameliorated by composting. Weeds could be composted. Many herbs performed well provided they were watered. Spinach prospered in many of the soils of the area, but the intense heat of summer was not good for spinach. Based on the first year’s results, it should have been possible to grow a complete diet locally. Corn was a better staple than wheat throughout the area.

A number of new ideas went forward for the 1997 growing season. Rapid composting was going to be necessary to get the desired quantities of organic matter into the soil. A variety of methods were tried; a few agricultural specialists at the University of Arizona suggested that for small-scale composting with rapid turnover, modified 55-gallon drums might do the trick. Others wanted to try hotbox methods. Everyone agreed that more wheelbarrows would be necessary.

Ideas from around the world that had received short shrift until this point received support for trials. Rainwater harvesting techniques were expanded in conjunction with arroyo damming. In essence, rainwater harvesting involved shaping small parcels of land into microcatchment basins where runoff would accumulate. Ideally, the underlying soil would be of a depth and type to store the water. In effect, the water available to plants would be multiplied by the surface area of the runoff zone. Although the rainfall patterns in southeastern Arizona were not ideal, gentle winter rains could be supplemented with hand watering and used to extend the winter growing season into May. New plants could go into the microcatchment basins at the start of the monsoon season in July. By the end of the monsoon season in September, the new plants would be sufficiently established to go to a late harvest in November or even December. Obviously, adding compost to the soil of the microcatchment basins would improve the ability of the soil to hold water.

Another technique used in India involved burying rough clay pots in the garden. Periodically, the pots would be filled with water. The water would seep out of the pots at a more-or-less constant rate. Soil moisture could be maintained in a small, selected area without massive loss of water to evaporation. This idea was tried with enthusiasm at Fort Huachuca. A number of wives went so far as to acquire potter’s wheels so they could make their own pots for the project.

Other ideas (for the appropriate time of year) included harvesting mesquite beans. The beans were like any other pulses and could be used to supplement the local diet. Mesquite trees grew wild throughout the San Pedro Valley. DCP funding made it possible to pay minimum wage to a harvester, as well as providing bonuses to those who brought in the most beans. Huachuca was able to establish a crude baseline for the numbers of beans that could be harvested.

Greenhouses were constructed in a few locations in an effort to extend the hot-weather growing season. Unfortunately, the length of day in December and January was the true impediment to plant growth. This would not become obvious until the next winter.

Thus as NATO troops began pushing across Poland, southeastern Arizona was in the second year of an expanding set of agricultural trials and experiments. A great deal had been learned from the first year of trials. With additional funding from the DCP and ballooning public support, desert gardening was taking off to a degree that would have been inconceivable two years prior.

As a side note, desert gardening actually seemed to be diminishing water use in Tucson and Cochise Counties. Awareness of the limits of water and its wise use went indoors with the gardeners. Quite without official encouragement, gardening groups in Tucson adopted the “Wet-Scrub-Rinse” practice. Every other day, some gardeners would wet themselves in the shower, then turn off the water to scrub with a washcloth. Once they had scrubbed themselves thoroughly, they would rinse. The per-household savings in water was significant.

Water conservation in the shower took off throughout Arizona propagated by athletic teams. The Phoenix Coyotes got the ball rolling (or the puck sliding) by announcing to their fans that they were committed to a Wet-Scrub-Rinse practice after their games. Americans fighting overseas went without hot showers for days or weeks at a time, the hockey players observed. The least the athletes could do to show solidarity would be to turn off the water. The idea took off like a house on fire. High school athletes took the idea a step further by bathing out of a bucket “like the men in the field” at least twice a week. The practice spread. Municipal water departments quietly added their approval.

Author's Note: This is the last day of my Spring Break, which means I'm basically coming to the end of my time to write. My first child (Liam Fazande Leary) is due at the end of May, so I'm not sure how much writing I'll get done over the summer. We'll see. I read that newborns sleep 16-17 hours a day, so I might have some time. At any rate, my contributions will slow significantly until June. It's been fun! Thanks for the feedback, gentlemen. It's nice to know my work is being read.

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