How Does Your Garden Grow?

Jul 31, 2016 | Experiences

Guest Column & Photography by Jim Dodson, SCMG Editor

My garden grows on inspiration and encouragement from others. A year ago I landed in Bernalillo without a clue as to what I intended to do after twenty years as an Analyst Programmer. I took the time to participate in the SCMG program as a 2016 intern and a year later I am inspired and encouraged to become a hops farmer in 2017.

This week I visited an amazing inspiration for my hops vision, located just five minutes away, East of I-25 just North of Placitas along the frontage road I discovered a remarkable site I never expected to see in the High Desert. A Pinot Noir vineyard growing on Sandia Pueblo land, stretching for acres and acres, with vines filled and ready for their very first mature harvest, beginning within the next week.

My encouragement comes from the chance meeting with the mastermind behind this unique oasis where thousands of lush vines blanket the Sandia Mountain foothills and each vine is expected to harvest ten pounds of a dividend. And this will be the first actual harvest following a three-year investment in infrastructure and intensive labor, not to mention untangling the bureaucracy of tribal, state and federal regulatory agencies to dig a 600-foot-deep well, build protective arroyo flood barriers, and verify that no native artifacts were located on the site before even breaking ground.

The logistics for the upcoming harvest includes hiring refrigerated trailers to ensure a delivery produce temperature of between 60-70 degrees. If all goes well, net production is valued at more than $100,000 in the first harvest of a twelve-year contract as the crop matures to perfection. I also learned, from someone who purchased forty miles of irrigation line that, “some things are cheaper by the truck load” and well worth paying 17 cents each for the guaranteed “non-clogging” drip emitters rather than settling for the eight cent version from the nearby big box home store that frequently clogs (due to heavy calcium buildup in the water), requiring effort and expense to replace.

And, just months ago, as the entire crop began to break bud early due to higher than normal Spring temperatures, freeze alarms sounded one morning as the temperature stations dropped to 33 degrees. Any lower and 90% of a three-year effort might be ruined. But this harvest is a celebration of the miraculous and the masterful. Good luck along with diligent, meticulous planning and execution. That was my lesson learned for the day.

A Pinot Noir vineyard

A Pinot Noir vineyard growing in Sandoval County, NM

As for my own project, to grow local hops for local craft brewers, I am feeling more confident in comparison to growing acres of premium wine grapes. My chance meeting began, as it often does, by calling the local native plants nursery, with a few gardening questions about irrigation and hops. Then the kind woman on the other end stopped me and said I should go see her husband’s vineyard and chat with him about my hops project. She gave me directions and her husbands’ cell phone number and I was on my way.

This is the power of collaboration that I find unique about the Sandoval Extension Master Gardeners. Mentoring is everywhere and the willingness to share knowledge is why I feel privileged to live here and participate. A simple phone call connected me to what a genuine lifelong master gardener really is. And in the hour I spent with “Bill”- riding around the vineyard in his golf cart – I gleaned volumes of priceless advice and encouragement for my own humble project.

Within the first five minutes, I realized I was in the presence of a guru who was doing exactly what he wanted to be doing, where he wanted to do it, no matter the problem solving it required. With four decades of experience, including managing the largest indoor production farm in the US, Bill, at 66, is creating his lasting masterpiece. He will be riding his motorcycle into the sunset long before the vineyard contract runs out. But his vision for producing premium vintage grapes in the High Desert of the Sandia Pueblo is the living, lasting legacy of a true master gardener who endures and celebrates the harvest.


As I said adios to Bill and thanked him for sharing the generosity of his time with me, I felt exuberant. Although he said he knew nothing about growing hops, I realized there is nothing Bill can’t grow exceptionally well. And maybe I made a new friend. I was invited back to photograph the harvest. “I get here at six every morning,” he said as I was driving off, “and it is especially beautiful at sunrise.”

This is how my garden grows this week. How about yours?

Please share for publication in the SCMG Newsletter column, “How does your garden grow?”

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Jim Dodson | SCMG Newsletter Editor |