June 29, 2009


Our first storm of the season is happening right now. In my 5 years here, this one is the earliest as it is not even July yet. The meteorologists have decreed this year that the monsoon season starts on June 15 and lasts until the end of September, but we all know that it is not monsoon season until the rains arrive. We have enviously watched storms bring rain across the valley for about a week now, but tonight it is our turn.

We sat outside for awhile to smell, and hear the rain being soaked up, but it got too cold (!) for our thin blood. The temperature dropped 20 degrees in 15 minutes.

This rain will be much appreciated by all plants, including the garden. It will also green up the grass and that will make the horses, rabbits and quail happy.

June 25, 2009

Garden spoils

It was a perfect morning for gardening today, relatively cool and cloudy, and Barbara and I took full advantage. We pulled up the entire beet bed, sowed more lettuce, cilantro, chard, chives, and carrots. Harvested more beans, some zucchini, cucumbers and jalapenos.

While harvesting the beets, we found this large toad, whom I have made the official garden guardian. Last summer when I found hundreds of toadlets from our "lake", I deposited a number of them in the garden and apparently they like it there: bugs.


I had been wondering about the lack of eggs the last couple of days, but blamed the suddenly hot weather. Laying an egg is big business for a chicken, my vet friend, Mary, once explained. Why do you think chickens squawk during the process? Think it feels good? I, the city kid, had never thought about that, even when I started on this chicken adventure. I have more empathy now.

But I digress. This afternoon I went to collect eggs and guess what I found in one of the nesting boxes, neatly curled up? Now for you "herpophobes", don't freak! He may look like a rattlesnake, but he is just a bull snake. When I first saw him he was just about to swallow an egg and his mouth was fully extended. I had to run to the house to get the camera, so by the time I got this picture taken most of the egg was already down the hatch.

Dan and the snake tongs again to the rescue. The snake was deposited out by our dry lake and then herded to the mesquite bushes so he would not overheat. What an experience! I must admit I was happy he was not a rattler. I will be on the lookout now.

June 23, 2009

Hips of steel

We went back to work on the strawbale house today to put metal on the roof hips. It was a bit of measuring and cutting of tar paper and then the steel, but we got a system down and finished all four of them before lunch.

This is just about it for the roof, only the roof caps need to be installed. The house is ready for rain, and there is some in the forecast for the next couple of days.

Dan and I will be off the project until called upon so David and Barbara can pace themselves getting the rest of the house done. We will be manufacturing kitchen cabinets here in the shop, and of course we will be following all progress closely.

It's looking great!

June 22, 2009

Dan, the snake man

I went through the garage with the dogs to collect eggs this afternoon and saw Emma jump from a snake. I saw just enough of it to know it was not a Diamondback but a Red Racer. I hurried the dogs back inside the house and called my intrepid husband to the rescue.

We do see some snakes here in the summer, including Diamondback Rattlesnakes, but not many. I think they are beautiful animals of the desert, and they certainly have more of a place here than we do so we have gone to some length to not kill them. And I must say that we have always found them in non-threatening ("I just ate, and please leave me alone") situations. So we try to catch them and move them away from the house with whatever tools we have available.

This year I asked Dan to order special reptile tongs so that we do not damage the animal in our efforts to save him. So far the tongs have saved 2 Diamondbacks lives on Dave and Barbara's property.

So here is Dan, ready for the Red Racer. We looked all over the garage, which is uncluttered now that we have the Shop/Shed, and no sign of the snake. I finally suggested he might have crawled into a hole in the back of the freezer, and that was indeed the case. Thankfully he decided to leave on his own accord, so no tongs needed this time. Never a dull moment at the WD!

It's June

Here it is the 22nd of the month, the first day of summer, and it finally feels like June. The sunlight is of a white-hot variety and the temperatures will be in the 90's. There is forecast of monsoon weather for the upcoming afternoons.

Because June is generally hotter, the tomato plants shut down their blooming cycle for a few weeks, but with the cooler weather they have just kept on growing. I am afraid that by the end of July they will have grown out of their 5 foot towers! There are tomatoes, but they are still green except the little cluster tomatoes.

The rest of the garden is doing well. We are eating beans and zucchini and have had one cucumber. The poblano, pimento and jalapeno peppers have pickable fruit, no big bells yet.

I have noticed some grapeleaf skeletonizers but have been able to just pick the affected leaves off. Meanwhile, the grapes are getting larger and I will have to think about protecting them from the birds soon.

The six surviving sunflowers are about to unfold, and are now towering over the garden fence. Never having grown sunflowers (I have no idea why not), I wonder how long it will be before I get to contribute to the Great Sunflower Project and get to count bees.

June 19, 2009

Some days off

We spent the last couple of days around the WD, catching up on stuff that fell by the wayside in the big push to get the strawbale house weathertight. Or rather, making sure that the strawbales stayed dry in the eventuality of rain. Meanwhile, Barbara's Phoenician family did a great job in getting most of the metal onto the roof of the house and the porches.

Aside from some small projects, like fixing the garden gate, we caught up on some horseback riding this morning. It is overcast and in the 70's. If I were vacationing here I would be complaining about this "Oregon day", but living here now, I just love it. We even got caught in a rain shower! How refreshing!

You get a different perspective of the landscape from a horse, and I was able to get up close and personal with an agave blossom that was just about ready for pollination. Some bees were already checking it out. My thanks to my quadpod, Cody, for standing still for this picture. Nearby grass always helps.

When we got home we took the truck to Dave and Barbara's to pick up some of our tools and bring back the now-empty horsetrailer. Guess who got to ride in the truckbed?

June 16, 2009


Now that the porch and roof are covered, it is time to put the metal on. When we moved building materials from the WD to the strawbale house site, Barbara suggested we leave the metal in the horse trailer, and just work out of it. A splendid idea!

Dan and Dave put up fascia and drip edge, and laid out the felt paper. Of course a gust of wind caught it and everything had to be firmly tacked down again, but no harm done.

Barbara and I got our metal prep method down quickly. Dan's and my experience in putting up the shop/shed at the WD last year stood us in good stead. We learned some handy tricks and we soon were a well-oiled machine.

We knocked off at lunch time and will be off the project until next week or so. Dave and Barbara have family reenforcements coming from Phoenix who want to contribute to the building process. Dan and I need to see to some of the needs of the WD and its inhabitants.

June 15, 2009

Roof's on!

Energized by margarita's and chile rellenos last night, we felt fully capable of putting the roof on the strawbale house today. The weather is still holding, with afternoon temps just touching 90 degrees. There was some wind in the afternoon, but it was manageable.

We started off with the decking on the hips that Dan constructed yesterday and then moved up to the roof. The guys did the above the eave work, Barbara and I handed up the OSB sheets from below.

There was just a minimum of cutting, and the whole thing went up fast.

June 14, 2009

Hips and gable ends

We are sure having some unusual weather this June. It generally is hot and very dry. Yesterday we had monsoon-like weather again; there was just a little rainfall at the WD, but we saw squalls hit the valley all afternoon. Temperatures are in the 80's rather than in the 90's, and it sure makes working on the strawbale house a pleasure.

Today we split our efforts: Dan continued to calculate and install the hips while Dave, Barbara and I worked on the gable ends. Barbara manned the saw while David did the installation. We made one conceptual error but no harm done, and we still had material left over.

The wind is up again this afternoon, so we decided to install the rest of the OSB on the hips and the roof tomorrow early, while it is still calm.

It is interesting to see that the house is being investigated by the local wildlife. This morning we found this cottontail digging inside and we have had to chase some juvenile antelope ground squirrels out who are looking for the seeds that have fallen from the straw (we think it is oat straw).

June 12, 2009

Porch decking

We got an early start this morning. It is still windy in the afternoon and nobody relished the thought of a flight to the Willcox Playa suspended from a 4'x8' sheet of OSB.

Barbara and I handed the wood up to Dave and his nailgun, while Dan calculated and precision-cut the hips and jacks for the corners.

We did not get it completely finished before lunchtime, but the wind is up and we are all getting a bit tired. Dan and I are off the project tomorrow to catch up at the WD.

June 11, 2009

The porch, continued

We were porch-framing animals today. Now that we have the hang of how to do it right and everybody knows their job, we thought we would try and cram what we had done in the two previous days into one. We did not quite make it, but we are close to finishing and ended the day without having to redo something tomorrow. Dan even has a plan on making sure the decking and metal for the roof will go up without any problems.

It is no surprise that it is taking some time to put this porch up. It is big, almost twice the size of the house, and in our climate enlarges the living space by that much.

As at the WD, it is the porch that makes the house.

June 10, 2009

The porch, day 2

We had a big storm last night; lasted about 3 hours. Lots of lightning and thunder, as well as some rain. Our weather station recorded a little over 0.25 inch, but there was almost 0.5 inches at the strawbale house. Nobody in the neighborhood slept particularly well as the storms were overhead with lightning about every minute. Especially Barbara agonized as the strawbales are still unprotected. It knocked the power out for a couple of hours, but it was restored soon after daylight.

But, as always in the desert, today is a different day with abundant sunshine and quite a bit of wind to dry out the bales.

We proceeded with the framing of the all-around porch and finished putting up the posts and rafters on one of the long sides of the house. Dave decided to continue framing all the way around and then put up all the sheathing. We can sheath the whole thing in one morning, when the wind (generally) does not blow.

There are a lot of different lizards out and about now in the warm weather, much to Emma's delight as she likes to ambush them, and I found this guy on my way to the truck to go home. Nice camouflage.

I hope we all will sleep well tonight. There are no storms in the forecast.

June 9, 2009

The porch

Or at least, the beginnings thereof. Dave decided that we start on the short end of the non-public side of the house so that we could get our methodology worked out. It did not take long to get the hang of it, and by lunch time one side of the 4-sided 8 foot porch was framed.

The weather was great for working today as it was cloudy, but after lunch rain, and a thunderstrom, were threatening. We did manage to cover the portion we had framed and were pleased we could get the tools out of the rain under the porch.

The windowsills in a strawbale house are so deep it is great for tool storage while we work.