Black Mesa Ranch
Snowflake, Arizona, USA
Featured pages on this site
David's Culinary Blog
See our goats in action in this professionally done Whole Foods YouTube promo for our cheeses.
See BMR owner/cheese maker, David, make Pasta with Goat Cheese in just one minute.
But, wait, there's more!
Take a 4 minute "tour of the ranch" on YouTube .
4 Awards 2010 ADGA National Competition
2 Awards 2008 ADGA National Competition
4 Awards 2005 ADGA National Competition
3 Awards 2004 ADGA National Competition
1 Award 2010 ADGA National Competition
2 Awards 2005 ADGA National Competition
2 Awards 2004 ADGA National Competition
Click here to read the online version of Kathryn's booklet
This site last updated:
October 28, 2013
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Endorsed by more than 36 humane organizations, the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® program is nationally recognized as the Gold Standard for certifying animal welfare.
I started out in 2001 with the intention of keeping a detailed account of every aspect of my gardening efforts but have since come to the conclusion that it is just not possible to keep up with. The obvious problem come from the fact that summer, when most of the action in the garden occurs, is our busiest time in the dairy. It is also when I want to spend as much time as possible working outside, not sitting at a computer talking about working outside. Sooooo.... While I have some pretty in-depth reports for the early years, as we were building the orchard and gardens, in 2003 I began making only brief and periodic reports of progress, problems or major happenings.
This opening page has a lot of background information (below) about our horticultural efforts here at Black Mesa Ranch and goes into some detail about our climate, our soil and how we got started in the gardening here.
Please use the links below or to the left to jump to a particular Garden Reoprt.
Click for our Greenhouse Page
Advice from the "Pros"
If we had listened to our County Extension Agent (based in Holbrook AZ, the County seat, about 25 miles North of here) this page would remain as blank and barren as he suggested our lands should be. Seriously, can you imagine calling the chief agricultural officer for your area and having him basically tell you "It's not worth the time and effort to try to grow anything there"? OK, maybe he didn't actually come out and say that, but every time I've jotted him off a note with questions or asking for suggestions his answers are completely discouraging. Typical responses from him so far have been "It's too windy for that.", or "The season's too short for that.", or "Nobody does that around here.", or "The soil's too bad to do much with." or "People have tried and failed at that.". The most positive thing he told us was that Black Walnuts grow well here, though he did go on to say that there was absolutely no market for them if we did grow them successfully.
Now maybe we'll find out that he's absolutely right (in which case I'll eat my words instead of my vegetables and post a retraction and apology here) but I have to believe, looking around at all these lovely old trees, and native grasses, and indigenous shrubs, that with a little patience, some decent irrigation and a commitment to making it work - we should be able to grow a decent vegetable plot, some culinary herbs and a small orchard of fruit and nut trees. Don't you think?
So having decided to completely ignore the advice of our single regional expert, let me tell you a bit about our climate, our land and our plans...
Our Growing Zone(s)
What's our Growing Zone? Well, depending on what source you look to Black Mesa Ranch lies within the USDA Hardiness Zone 5, 5b or 6.
Most serious gardeners seem to feel that these USDA designated Hardiness Zones are pretty much worthless for this part of the country due to the guideline's failure to fully consider the effects of altitude and precipitation. For example, the weather and appropriate plants for low elevation, coastal Seattle WA are much different than for high elevation, inland Tucson, AZ, even though they lie in the same USDA Zone 8. Another designation for our area is that, according to the National Gardening Zone Map we are at the extreme lower edge of the Rocky Mountains and High Plains Region, an area which includes Edmonton Canada, the Dakotas, most of Colorado and some of New Mexico. Our section of this region is called the High Desert Area. Another way of designating growing zones is the AHS (American Horticultural Society) Plant Heat-Zone Map a 12-zone isotherm map that indicates the average number of days each year when given regions experience temperatures of 86F or higher. According to the AHS information based on our zip code we are in their zones 5,6,7 and 8. What ever that means. The Sunset National Garden Map, yet another identifier commonly used for the western USA puts us in their Zone 2 suggesting a growing season from early May through September.
But what's our climate really like? The truth of the matter is that none of these zones really told us what the climate or growing potential of our site is.
Fortunately The Western Regional Climate Center has some good historical information for the area that might help us. From them we learned a ton of facts about the climate for Snowflake AZ with records going all the way back to 1897! Here's a link to that info if you're interested... Snowflake AZ Climate Summary. Among the most pertinent information we gleaned is that we can expect just over 12" of precipitation per year, an average winter will yield 18" of snow but the average depth on the ground at any given time is 0". We learned that the hottest month is July with an average daily high temp of 89.9 degrees F. (cooling off to 55.5 at night) and the coldest month is January with an average daily low of 17.1 degrees F. (but the good news is that the average daily high in Jan is nearly 48 degrees F.).
With this information and the fact that the climate experts tell us to expect a 110-day growing season we have a place to start planning our gardens and orchard.
In an attempt to determine what type of soil we are working with here, we did a rather rough test. We took a couple of quart canning jars and filled them about 2/3 of the way with soil from various locations around the property. We then filled the jars to within about 1/2" of the top, put on the cap and shook it like mad for a while. When left to settle for several days, the distinct layers gave us a clue about composition of out soil. Our soil had settled into 2 major layers of almost equal proportions: clay on top and sand on the bottom. There was a minute quantity of organic matter on the top and also a fine clay (silt) layer as well, but to say that it was 50-50 clay and sand was close enough.
A question about how best to amend this type of soil in a note to our doom-and-gloom county extension agent elicited little more than sighed lament about the regions soils being more truly just sub-soils rather than real top soils. He said this was due primarily to the lack of decomposed organics because of the climate here, though he did note that "the only place with decent soil in the whole area was the Hay Hollow Valley", the very valley where BMR is located. He went on to correct our observed proportions of components, telling us that it was more likely we had closer to 30% clay and 70% sand.
The agent never did really address soil amendment recommendations but further research led us to the conclusion that, while there was no "magic bullet", the single best all around amendment we could possibly apply was organics. Organics would both improve the "tilth" or feel of the soil - countering some of the negatively sticky characteristics of the clay component, and improve the air and water retention qualities that the sand inhibited or diminished. Organics was something we could work with, purchasing truck-load quantities of composted mulch at first and then utilizing the bedding and waste from our various animals and our own vegetative composts. This heavy organic amendment program became, and remains, the primary tool in our quest for improved soil growing conditions and has markedly improved the growing conditions since its implementation.