Wednesday, March 14, 2012


huerta maze

I learned first that huerta is the Spanish word for orchard. Then I learned that huerta is also the word for vegetable garden. I have one fruit orchard (apple, apricot, fig, orange, peach, pear, plum, pomegranate), one vineyard (table grapes), an herb garden (anise, basil, chives, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme), and fifteen or twenty vegetable gardens. For two months we have been eating our own figs — huge, purple, swee-ee-eet — and table grapes.

The vegetable gardens and paths that link them compose a maze, that is to say a labyrinth without a center goal. I reimagined them from a few kidney-shaped vegetable plots drawn in our landscape plan after I realized that no one intended to build them. The narrow winding paths are laid with orange gravel, while the gardens are irregular shapes with mostly rounded corners. Each garden is no wider than I can step easily across. Some are small, some are long. Mike took the above photo of me and my gardens before much of the gravel was laid on the paths.

I spent a couple of weeks building the maze. The work consisted of weeding, removing and hauling away rocks and construction debris, raking, hauling large stones from all corners of our lot, laying stones in pleasing patterns, testing wheelbarrow clearance along the paths, wearing through and stitching up the fingers of two pairs of gloves, extracting thorns from my skin, sweating, eating like a horse, sleeping like the dead.

I miss waking every morning knowing exactly what I will do all day: eat, work, eat, work, eat, shower, sleep. I like that my body rested a suitable amount of time after each wheelbarrow trip to and from the rock pile. I like that I learned to know the cars, trucks, and motos that drove the service road all day, which drivers waved (mostly motos) or hollered Buen día (trash tractor pulling wagon and my gravel delivery man). I like all the workers and horseback riders who stopped to chat. I like the clouds that rolled in most days after lunch and made afternoons better for working than mornings. I like the poems I wrote on my iPhone while standing on fresh-turned earth.

I’ve planted a few seeds I bought from in Salta from Easy (Argentina’s version of Home Depot) and in town at the Pulpería (old-fashioned country store) — beet, carrot, chard, cilantro, cucumber, dill, lettuce, radish, spinach, zucchini. Most are sprouting, though it’s already the season of cosecha — harvest — here in the high desert (even winemaker Cecilia’s baby is almost ripe). I expect we’ll be eating most if not all of my crops before first frost unless the liebres — European hares — eat them first.

Lepus europaeus, European hare, la liebre

Every second evening we uncoil our hoses to water the orchard, the vineyard, the vegetable and herb gardens, the flower gardens, the ornamental grasses. Once a week we water native trees and cactus. It takes two hours to satisfy all the plants on our three-quarter acre. Often the wind blows the water back at us, a chilling spray in these cooling dusks of early fall.

Recently Mike ordered US$1,200 worth of parts from an irrigation vendor in Buenos Aires, the same knowledgeable, delightful señor who designed and supervised the irrigation system for the Bob Culp golf course. Saturday two local workers dug what seems like miles of ditch for electrical cable. Sunday Mike connected the first of six solenoid valves to the underground irrigation water pipes — no leaks! The six-zone controller will be mounted on the south wall of our tender — outdoor laundry-hanging enclosure. We hope the system’s up and running by end of week. It’s Monday: I’m shoveling dirt back into ditches.

An acequia — irrigation canal — runs through our lot and is a principal reason we chose this lot over others. We built two ponds, a small pond that widens the acequia at the front entrance to the house

acequia pond

and a much larger and irregularly-shaped pond south of the driveway. Because the vegetable gardens lie south of the large pond, they will draw overflow water from the ariete — ram pump — that will soon sit in a deep hole next to the maze and move pond water back into the acequia. At night, the acequia running outside our bedroom window relaxes us to sleep.

From today’s few figs, table grapes, and herbs we expect our gardens to grow much fuller a year from now: the detail of the vegetable maze hidden by beans, corn, eggplant, melon, peas, peppers, squash, and tomato; fruit trees bearing small first crops; daylilies crowded, begging for division and sharing with neighbors; native trees and ornamental grasses marking a visible shape to the boundaries of our Argentina home.


  1. Wow, an amazing amount of work, vision, purpose and love. It is fantastic, and i hope to someday see it all and visit you.