A Morning At The Demonstration Garden With The Cooperative Extension’s Carlos Valdez

IMG_9115Los Alamos County Cooperative Extension program director Carlos Valdez works in the Demonstration Garden. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

IMG_9118The Demonstration Garden has grassy and shady areas for visitors. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

IMG_9140 (1)A family checks out a fountain at the Los Alamos Demonstration Garden. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

IMG_9138 (2)The newly-created emojii garden. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

IMG_9127 (1)Peonies add a splash of color to the Demonstration Garden. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

IMG_9141 (1)The border between the Los Alamos Justice Center parking lot and the garden. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

IMG_9130 (1)An interesting spot in the Demonstration Garden. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

IMG_9123Los Alamos County Cooperative Extension program director Carlos Valdez takes a break from working in the Los Alamos Demonstration Garden. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com


In the cool of the morning, while the COVID-19 situation keeps him away from the office, you might find Los Alamos County Cooperative Extension program director Carlos Valdez working away in the Demonstration Garden next to the Los Alamos County Justice Center on Central Avenue.

Valdez came to the area from Lawton, Okla., in 1984 to develop and teach horticulture, welding and life science classes at Pojoaque Public Schools. He had obtained his Bachelor of Science in Horticulture at New Mexico State University in 1983. After spending 10 years in Pojoaque, Valdez came to Los Alamos County as the Cooperative Extension Service’s 4-H agent right after obtaining his Master of Arts in Agriculture and Extension Education, also at NMSU.

A well-known face to local gardeners and anyone who has entered the County Fair, Valdez misses seeing in person the people who seek his advice on all kinds of subjects, however he has been getting lots of calls since COVID has kept so many people at home in recent weeks.

The Los Alamos Reporter chatted with him recently on a bench as he took a break from watering in a cool corner of the Demonstration  Garden. He said he had many calls about the Miller moths which seemed to have taken over the area for a couple of weeks.

“Miller moths are migratory so they head for the cool mountain temperatures once they hatch out and their larva feed on grass, so they’re really just a nuisance,” Valdez said. “The adults don’t even have mouth parts which is true of a lot of moth species.”

He predicted that Los Alamos would be done with miller moths in a couple of weeks and he seems to be right.

“Some people for some reason or another have had hundreds of them in the house. It depends on whether you have newer windows, so those folks with those old crank windows have had trouble with them,” Valdez said. “They head up here looking for moisture and cooler temperatures.”

Another issue folks are concerned about is that their trees have been looking kind of unhealthy, he said.

“It’s been a very dry spring and the winds have kept up so we’re just looking at desiccated leaves, basically. Nothing really serious but people are calling in about it,” he said.

Asked about the brownish areas of grass around town, Valdez said the Los Alamos Parks Department hasn’t been able to hire their summer temporaries so they’re really shorthanded.

“Luckily that’s Kentucky bluegrass and of all of our grasses, it has the best recuperative ability. It can go brown and as soon as it gets a drink of water, it will come back to life. That’s a good thing,” he said.

Valdez said some people in the area are having trouble with a relatively new beetle that’s been around for about three years, primarily in White Rock.

“It’s called the honey locust Agrilus. It’s a wood bore and it’s very closely associated to the emerald ash bore that we hear so much about back east. We have always recommended honey locust as being very drought tolerant but this beetle is going after the dry trees, so people need to make sure they’re watering their honey locusts just like they would their other trees,” he said.

He also noted that people are seeing bark beetles in the Pajarito-La Senda area in White Rock and that “again, that’s a water thing”,

Although New Mexico bark beetle adults are small, usually not more than a third of an inch in length, they can kill even large host trees with a mass assault by inoculating them with lethal pathogens.

Valdez figures there is more call volume recently because people are at home and paying more attention to their gardens.

“The topics have all been pretty common but there are more calls,” he said.

He noted that his staff are working from home but come into the office.

“I think New Mexico State University is going to have some pretty rigid restrictions with regard to us being in the office at the same time. I sure hope it lets up because I sure would like to make some home visits,” Valdez said.

He said staff have been told they are not to have any contact with 4-H kids until the middle of August but that hopefully things will ease up on that.

“Rio Arriba County still planning to have their livestock show but we’re not supposed to have any contact with those kids. A lot of County Fairs are independent of the Extension Service. We have kids that are going to show their own animals. They’ve had to do their own ear tagging because we’re not allowed to do it,” he said.

Vasquez said there has been talk about having the Los Alamos County Fair and that there will be a meeting soon to discuss it.

“We do the indoor exhibits each year and you can’t do them right now. Many of our volunteers are elderly. Even just taking exhibits not knowing where they’ve been is a problem.  Some of the folks are talking about a virtual fair,” he said. “I think we can take 4-H projects all the way into September by having the kids drop them off. Most go to the state fair but that’s all up in the air too. It’s the kids I feel sorry for.”

On a walking tour of the Demonstration Garden, Valdez said it is surprising how many people go through it on Farmer’s Market days. He said the Master Gardener volunteers have been working really hard in recent weeks.

“In the garden we have probably a dozen volunteers and some of them have been gardening here for years with each of them working in their own areas,” he said. “Some of the volunteers work six or more hours a week.”

He pointed out the herb garden noting that the plants are pulled out each fall and wintered inside. He particularly noted the scented geraniums saying he likes to use the lemon-lime in brownies as well as the mint.

Walking through the fruit trees in the garden, Valdez noted that many people throughout the County have had 40 to 45 year old apricot trees die this year.

“It’s because they had such a heavy crop last year that they expended all their resources,” he said.

Valdez glanced at a family eating their sack lunches on a bench in the shade. He said families like the fountains dotted throughout the garden.

Planning for the garden began in 1991 and it was developed in two phases. The second phase was done with a grant from the County following the Cerro Grande fire. The grant was for $50,000 and $37,000 was spent with the remainder going back to the County.

“We’re still developing areas of the garden.  We’re re-doing the grass area. We’ve got to beef up Martha’s Orchard which is always a work in progress. We’ve torn out some bushes and we’re getting ready to put in a moon garden with plants that bloom at night such as jimson weed, morning glories and four o’clocks so that ought to be fun,” Valdez said.

After a break, a chat, and a drink of water, he headed off to move the garden hose, stopping to show off a beautiful, healthy clematis growing on the side of the storage shed.

The Los Alamos Demonstration Garden is a public education garden maintained by the Los Alamos Master Gardeners organization in conjunction with the Los Alamos County Parks and Recreation Department and the New Mexico State University Los Alamos County Cooperative Extension Office. The garden is located on the south side of Central Avenue between Ashley Pond and Oppenheimer Drive. It is always open to the public and is handicap accessible. It was started in 1990 by Solveig Palanek who was the Extension Service Horticultural Agent at the time, and Tom Trujillo, PRIDE Committee