A Garden of Eden in the Desert by

Issue 69 · Spring Cleaning · April 21, 2013

A Garden of Eden in the Desert

Issue 69 · Spring Cleaning · April 21, 2013

When you are a one-man survival experiment—living off the grid with no plumbing, paved roads, or electricity on land you bought for $13,000 in the West Texas desert—you spend a lot of time trying to keep your garden happy.

"Administering low doses of iron and sulfur to the blueberry bush," blogger John Wells noted in a recent update from The Field Lab, the 20-acre homestead he acquired a few years ago, after selling his upstate New York house for $600,000 and driving south in a rental truck filled with his earthly possessions (including his mother's Limoges and his grandmother's silver service for 12).

The imagination runs wild picturing the former New York fashion photographer going about his chores: building a solar oven to bake bread, encountering a scorpion in a toilet, paying an $86 property tax bill. Mr. Wells ends each post on his popular blog with a daily accounting: the 8 p.m. temperature, the high and low temperatures, inches of rainfall, wind conditions ("C" for calm, "B" for breezy, "W" for windy, and "G" for gusty), and pounds of food produced: "Swamp frogs are making quite a racket tonight. 96, 104, 71, .12, B." For more, see The Field Lab.

Photographs by John Wells, except where noted.

Above: Training cucumbers to grow up a trellis against the corrugated metal wall of one of the shipping containers he arranged to create a desert compound.

Above: It took Mr. Wells nine days to build his house, at a cost of about $1,600.

Above: Four shipping containers ($1,000 apiece) are arranged around a covered central courtyard, where Mr. Wells laid pavers and built raised beds for his vegetable garden. The courtyard roof is a mixture of metal and transparent polycarbonate, to filter the hot desert sun.

Above: New growth on a pineapple guava tree. Mr. Wells collects rainwater to irrigate his garden.

Above: "Transplanted my agave americana marginata. 94, 100, 68, 0, B ,0"

Above: Mr. Wells' neighbors include the Texas longhorns who come over for a visit, pretty much whenever they feel like it. For more, see "A Glow in the Desert." Image via New York Times.

Above: A caged tomato.

Above: "Time for another salad tomorrow. 90,109, 71, 0, W, 0"

Above: Weighing the harvest.

Above: Homemade olive bread. Image via New York Times.

Above: Swamp plants in the desert.

Above: "89, 100, 66, 0 ,B ,0"

For another of our favorite low-irrigation gardens, see A Garden You Water Four Times a Year.

This is an update of a post originally published July 9, 2012.

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