by Edna Loehman

On a recent morning I saw and heard:

The biggest black fuzzy bumblebee I had ever seen – about the size of a hummingbird!
Many kinds of bees feasting on hollyhock pollen.
A parent finch feeding a nearly grown baby on the telephone line.
Many white butterflies and a swallow tail butterfly drifting through.
A rabbit munching my kale.
A thrasher dive-bombing my patio on the way to its cactus nest.
A cactus wren eating agave flowers.
Many birds (mostly sparrows and doves) singing. 
And most exciting of all, a sharp-shinned hawk watching newly hatched sparrows.

How did all this garden richness come about? Partly it came from the previous owners of the house I bought three years ago and partly from my own gardening efforts since.

I have a typical older adobe style house on an ordinary lot in this area. It has many cacti and agave in the front yard, and in the back, a lot of purple flowering plants and green-growing fruit trees.  There is no grass, just wood chips to cover the non-planted garden soil.  To this space I have added several garden areas with herbs, veggies, and more native plants, most colored purple and red favored by hummingbirds.  Many hollyhocks have emerged as volunteers and the variety in colors is amazing. And of course volunteer sunflowers are also re-seeding themselves annually.

I love that flowers and herbs are mixed with the veggies in my garden and now I am more purposely trying to achieve a backyard wildlife garden, that is, a garden specifically designed to attract birds and bees. One of my garden goals is to see more hummingbirds which only come occasionally now.

At the Plants of the Southwest store, which specializes in native plants, I found a flyer for the ABQ Backyard Refuge Program: see for more detailed information. The flyer lists ways to attract wildlife to your garden.  While I had planted nice native plants, I had not done all these, but now I am!  Here are some in brief:

  1.  Plant native plants: Insects and birds have evolved with native plants, and native plants are adapted to our habitat and weather.
  2. Water is a wildlife magnet: all animals and insects need water.  Water can be changed regularly to avoid breeding mosquitos.
  3. Leave garden litter to provide habitat for many species:  Butterflies need leaves to lay their eggs.  Lizards need litter to hide from hawks.  Insects need cover from hot soil.  Birds perch on many levels of branches, so dead branches can be helpful. Seed heads provide food for birds.
  4. Avoid Pesticides: It is well known that pesticides are a cause for bee decline, threatening pollination of important fruits and crops.  But also insects are a source of food for birds, also in decline in urban areas.,are%20fewer%20insects%2C%20for%20example.

Pests like aphids provide food for baby hummingbirds.  Weeds such as dandelions are early sources of pollen for pollinating insects.

The advice about leaving litter, weeds, and pests disturbed me at first. But the reward is in experiencing the richness in life’s creatures. Shouldn’t we be able to tolerate a bit of loss in our urban gardens? Do we have to be neat freaks in our whole garden? Now the remote part of my backyard is messy with pecan leaf mulch, dead branches, last year’s sunflower heads and stalks, etc.  But I have lots of lizards, and lizards are good hawk food! I am even learning to tolerate a recent rabbit visitor eating part of my chard (and also hollyhock leaves), because I have so much!

I do need to add to my habitat some better water sources for birds, insects, and lizards (different height levels for each).  A good source for designing water in the garden is Albuquerque Water Gardens:

A backyard wildlife garden is obviously a work in process – we learn as we go.  As we are amazed with the things we notice, we seek to learn more about what we see.  What kind of lizards live here?  What are the names of birds?  How amazing it is that parent birds care for their offspring even after they leave the nest.  What eats what (roaches?)  We see that the thrashers come to accept us as we quietly watch them in their life cycle.  And as we learn, we begin to feel like we are a part of our backyard world, and more importantly part of the larger natural world.



“Practical research-based knowledge and programs to improve the quality of life.”

In the 1860, the United States government established land grant colleges across the country. These were usually called State Colleges and each was funded for a School of Agriculture. New Mexico State is our land grant school. CES is part of the College of Ag, and every county in NM has a Cooperative Extension Services office. (In Gallup there is an additional Tribal cultural based office with sheep shearing, 4H, backyard community gardening.) In the mid Rio Grande the offices are in Socorro, Los Lunas, Albuquerque and Bernalillo.

Apricot preserves. Photo: Elena Leya / unsplash

Not every CES carries on the same activities. In Socorro the main programs are Nutrition Education at senior centers, 4-H (self-led projects), and a pesticide applicators course in December for renewal of licensure. In Valencia County there are eight in-person 4-H clubs, a Master Gardner Course, and the agent makes home and farm visits to help with problems which arise. They are planning on expanding services as they fill staff vacancies.

The Albuquerque Cooperative Extension Office is fully staffed and has a robust array of classes and an excellent web site which is inclusive of both CES courses and other agency’s classes on gardening. Some examples of CES courses offered throughout the year are preparation for Fire Defense Zones, the Five Step Walking Method, Diabetes Prevention Life-Style, Food Preparation and storage (canning), Building Resilience with today’s stresses, and Backyard Farming. There are also a webinars on Sleep problems and on Stress Management. A week-long Garden Guardians camp for kids runs July 17-21, and the staff supports    4-H clubs and judging at the state fair. The Master Gardeners classes have a waiting list but Master Gardeners are available Monday-Friday 9:00-3:30 to answer gardening questions. (505-243-1386). The office staff will also identify plants which you bring in. Their website also carries current pertinent information. For example, the recent invasion of migrating Miller moths is fully explained.

Bernalillo CES also has the 15 week Master Gardener course and as a follow-up, the graduate gardeners offer courses to the public throughout the year. They also publish a newsletter. Currently CES staff is working on the Sandoval County 4-H Fair,, which runs August 3-6 and has both large and small animal (rabbit, poultry) showing and judging, plus a horse show. All are welcome to the fairgrounds.


‘Paloma’ Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymendoides)

There are thirteen science centers across New Mexico as part of New Mexico State University Department of Agriculture. The one in the mid Rio Grande Valley is located in Los Lunas on 204 acres of land. There are 55,000+ acres of irrigated land and urban gardeners in this valley leading the center to chose research projects which serve this population.

Since established in 1957, the Los Lunas Center has researched many crops as corn, chili, turf grasses, and fruit trees. At this time there are three main projects:

(1) Integrated pest management – This research is aimed to manage pests while maintaining beneficial insect populations.
(2) Viticulture –  This relates to the growing of grapes. This research aims to maximize grape production across the state by variety selection and rootstock testing. Also included are vineyard management techniques.
(3) Forage research is being conducted to find the most cost-effective ways to grow alfalfa.

Other Science Centers are located in communities across the state and are involved in a variety of research projects. Some examples in Northern New Mexico are: Alcalde – fruit production, bees, acequia culture, Clayton – feedlot research, Mora – improving the quality of forestry seedlings to meet a harsher environment. In the Southern part of New Mexico, some of the centers are located in Artesia – bioenergy feedstock, Clovis – alternative crops for dryland and irrigated farming systems, Las Cruces – application of digital agriculture tools.

Each of the Centers has an annual Field Day. The tour of the research farm in Los Lunas is on Tuesday, August 8th at 7:30 a.m. and the tours of the others are listed on the NNMSU Agriculture College website’s home page.