Sustainable Foods Garden
The goal of sustainable gardening is to produce crops with minimal impact to the environment. Sustainable gardens typically use organic fertilizer to grow locally native plants. Water is harvested from the sky. Purposeful garden design is used to conserve water. Seeds are gathered from the garden plants and stored for future use.
Water Use and Seed Source
The DRLC garden is watered using drip-irrigation lines and olla (“oh-yah”) pots. The irrigation lines emit water at the base of the plants, so the soil can absorb it directly. This helps prevent water loss to evaporation in the hot, arid Sonoran Desert. Olla pots, made of porous clay, allow water to be released only as needed. When the surrounding soil dries, the roots of water-seeking plants create suction that pulls water out of the olla. This method of watering has significantly reduced the amount of water needed for the garden.
Seeds were provided by Native Seeds/SEARCH, a Tucson-based non-profit seed conservation organization. Our staff harvests new seeds from each crop for future use in this garden and for distribution to our gardening visitors. If you are interested in obtaining seeds, please ask our staff.
Summer Foods (Late April–August)
Plants grown at this time of year include melons, squash, corn, beans, and chilies. Ancient Sonoran Desert people planted corn, beans, and squash together. Not only did the plants help each other grow, but together, they were the basis of a balanced, healthy diet. The tall corn stalks provide a support for the beans. Large squash leaves protect the soil from losing moisture through evaporation. The beans fix nitrogen to help fertilize the soil.
Winter Foods (Late September–April)
Many herbs, greens, and wheat were introduced to the Americas after Europeans arrived. Although they are not necessarily native, they are climate-adapted and provide extra foods during this lean time of the year. Many of these plants are continuously harvested throughout the season. Swiss chard, mustard greens, dill, and broccoli are just some of the crops that have fed staff and organizations who work with the Desert Research Learning Center.
How You Can Help
- Garden with native desert plants, which require less water than non-natives.
- Harvest any seeds you have and share them with your community.
- Ask one of our staff members if there are currently any seeds available for public distribution.