September 24, 2009

A cool day

It may be barely fall, but today really feels like it: we needed a longsleeved shirt on our ride today. It had to come off of course, but only after we took our long, and fast, lope. I have been riding Buggsy a lot lately, getting used to riding our Ferrari at speed. That horse just loves to go, and he can go for hours (or so it seems) without getting winded or breaking a sweat. Bueno and Dan were behind us: Bueno was breathing hard and was very wet under saddle when we got home. He just can't stand having Buggs be in front, and very fast. Too fun.

Perhaps that feeling of fall also comes from the landscape. There was not much of a monsoon this year, and the ocotillo and other plants are showing it: leaves are falling. Our ocotillo forest is showing fall colors and it won't be long before these plants are just dead-looking branches. But I know that it only takes 72 hours for leaves to reappear after sufficient rainfall, just about anytime of year.

I always have my eye out for interesting rocks and such when I am hiking or riding and I found this beautiful rock today, just as I took Buggs off the trail to let Bueno by. It just sparkles with quartz crystals, but they are hard to capture with the camera.

Meanwhile, work is progressing very well on the strawbale house. Dave and Barbara were happy to show off their beautiful tongue-in-groove ceiling. It looks great! Another big job off the list!

For those of you following this blog regularly, Dan and I will be in Sedona and the Grand Canyon for some days and no new posts will appear until the end of next week as we have no 'puter with us. So not to worry; hopefully I will have some great pictures to add later.

September 22, 2009

First day of Fall

And a beautiful day it is too. Temperatures in the high 70's, and not a cloud in the sky. I opted to do the semi-annual cleanup of the chicken coop today. It is a bit of a nasty job: dusty mainly, because it is always so dry here. Barbara enhances her own compost pile with the chicken manure from under the roost, so she was there to lend a hand.

I know there are other inhabitants of the coop, in addition to the hens, but they are usually too fast for me. I must have scooped up a mouse nest because a little blind mouse poked his head up from the manure in the wheelbarrow. I would have titled this post "one blind mouse", but the picture turned out so bad Dan had to convince me to include it anyway. Just acknowledge stupidity: I should have used the macro setting.

The mouse travelled in Barbara's shirt pocket until we decided what to do with him, which is put him back in new straw under the roost. His mother, I presume, was already trying to gain entry from the outside.

Meanwhile, I did sow the rest of the winter vegetable seeds in the garden: endive, kale, chard, Chinese cabbage. I hope there is still enough time for them to grow into mature vegetables.

September 16, 2009

Tomato demolition

Generally, I don't ask for Dan's help with yard work or in the garden. He hates those activities, unless it can be done from a piece of machinery like the tractor or the backhoe. But I needed additional strength this morning. The tomato towers welded with reinforcing rod work great, but they are heavy and if you add the strength of the plant in the soil, it is just too much for one person to pull up.

We soon worked out a routine without damaging the irrigation and were able to clear the beds in little time. It is amazing to see those huge plants that grew from just one little seed some months ago.

I find it very interesting that not only does every season have its particular insects, every year seems to feature a species more than another year. Last year I saw a lot of Horselubber grasshoppers, they are huge and beautiful, but this year we saw a lot of mesquite bugs that were not as prevalent in previous years.

The mesquite bugs are big too, and apparently much liked by the Chihuahuan ravens who came down with their family and cleared off an entire mesquite tree. All that was left was a bunch of wings when they were finished.

While we were having a water break on the shop/shed porch, Dan snapped this photo of a grasshopper we do see a lot right now.

September 15, 2009

A great day for paddling

We had such a good time on Patagonia Lake last month that we wanted to go back "one more time this year, before it gets too cold". We Arizonans have thin blood, you know. Anyway, today was the day and we had a wonderful time again. So, rather than thinking that this might be the last time this year, I put this outing on the calendar again for the middle of next month. We can always scratch, should we so desire.

We are getting the hang of paddling together, and there was less arguing on who should do what and when. Somehow being in watercraft seem to be "remember our marriage" occasions as I fondly think about our sailing days with the 14' Lido and the 24' Oday sailboats. But we did have fun.

I love being out on the water and smell the wind. Am I showing my heritage? And there is nothing like being wind or human powered. I enjoy the exercise and the sensation of the boat gliding along on muscle power.

Here are some of today's pictures.

At the boatdock, where we rent a canoe.

About to go ashore.

View of the lake from our lunch spot.

Where we had lunch ashore.

Emma, tuckered, and happy that Dan is paddling.

September 13, 2009

To sow or not to sow

The summer garden is pretty much done. I pulled up the cucumbers today although the squash borer did not get to them this year, but the plants are out of control and we are just not eating enough cucumbers. I picked an entire trug full, and those will go to the chickens over the next couple of days. Happy hens!

The tomatoes are succumbing to some virus and will be leaving this coming week and then I can prepare those beds for the newly seeded (in pots) broccoli and brussels sprouts.

Last year I was surprised how well the vegetables that I overwintered did in spite of some frost, so this year I am resolved to have a true winter garden. Problem is, I don't know when the right time is to sow in this climate. Is it still too warm for endive, kale, Chinese cabbage, spinach? I did sow some short rows because my gut says that the days are getting shorter and those plants still need to grow to some size before they start producing. I did put in the last of the lettuce, all of the spinach, some of the kale and some of the endive. I still have some seed left over to put in at the end of the month to not put all my eggs in one basket. One of those plantings should be successful.

I learn from the garden every year and have already plans for next year. For one, I need to treat the peppers better and use the old tomato cages to contain them. Peppers do great here. I also need to plant fewer tomatoes and try some new varieties. The melons were a bust, but that was because of weather. Fewer cucumbers, and overall fewer of everything, but more plantings of them, including tomatoes.Other than having fresh veggies at hand, I do like to garden because there is always next year...

The fall woodrat diaspora has begun. This one had one white sock on the front so maybe we will be able to identify him, should he find his way back to the tackroom.

September 11, 2009

It is nice to know

The weather was perfect for a ride this morning: fresh and clear, with that clean smell that comes with rain. Buggsy banged his foot on a rock last week and it is still a bit swollen so I took Cody out, with Dan on Bueno.

Just as we entered the Forest we saw two Forest Service trucks heading around Blacktail and we loped along to catch up with them. Dan had already guessed that they came in response to last night's fire, and that was indeed the case.

We seldom see Forest Service out any more, thanks to budget cuts, and they have even closed the campground at the Cochise Stronghold. It is good to know that they will still come and put out fires as they were all ready to throw on packs and run up Mt Glenn and take care of it. We have seen them do just that a couple of years ago when lightening struck a tree on Blacktail Hill. I think we were all happy their services were not needed.

September 10, 2009

Number ten

Late this afternoon we relocated our tenth Diamondback overall, and ninth from Dave and Barbara's porch. It was a big snake with a beautiful pink cast, and quite frankly, he looked a bit familiar to me. Perhaps next year we should think of a way to mark the snakes before we release them. Barbara suggested taking their picture and posting it as a Who-Is-Who: a rogue's gallery.

It is great to be able to catch and release them knowing that no harm has been done, and that they have every opportunity to continue a life safely away from humans (who on the whole are way too paranoid and blood thirsty). Thanks to the snake tongs!

Meanwhile, Dave and Barbara have been busy plastering the outside of the strawbale house, ensuring that no wildlife would be trying to get into the bales and spend the winter uninvited. Almost half the house is finished, and it looks great. Final plaster coat will be applied next year.

At dusk we had two thunderstorms get together over the house and quite a bit of rain fell (0.3"). Lightening did strike our very nearby Mt Glenn, but thankfully the fire extinguished quickly on its own.

West Turkey Creek

We found a new favorite picnic spot, and, for Arizona standards, close by too! I had felt the need for an outing for a couple of days, and we decided to explore some more in the Chiricahuas, on the east side of our valley. It always appears to rain there when we are wishing for moisture, and it showed. The foothills are green, with cattle grazing belly-deep in grass.

Higher up, beyond the grass and oak land, is the pine forest and it smelled wonderful with the sun shining on the trees. The spot I selected is an excellent birding spot, but we are not really birders. I think to bird well here, you had better know bird songs because the birds are elusive and are not interested in being identified. We drove to the end of the road, took a little hike, but the real draw for me was the creek.

We pulled off the road, selected a nice, clear pool (until Emma got into it), and had our lunch on the rocks. Dan opted to barbara, meaning to take your shoes and socks off and dangle your feet in cold water.

On our way up I saw a doe and fawn, who was the size of Emma. On the way down we watched a couple of adult deer feed on a bush. They were in not much of a hurry.

We will return here soon.

September 9, 2009

Apple picking

I don't know why I find it so intensely satisfying to be picking my own veggies and fruit. Or someone else's, in the case of the fruit. I went to Apple Annie's in Willcox today to pick apples after eating some tasteless ones I bought in Tucson last week. No surprise, those poor things had travelled all the way from New Zealand. Is it not apple season in the northern hemisphere?

Anyway, there is just something special about standing under trees laden with fruit and just reaching up and grabbing a perfect apple, without waxy coating. There may even be an insect on it ... It was very quiet in the orchard after Labor Day, and I am always shocked at the amount of fruit that is under the trees. No doubt some people pay no attention to knocking off a dozen while they try to pick the perfect apple, but even Ma wastes a lot. While I was there all alone I could hear apples fall off right and left. Apparently this is due to our warmer than usual night temperatures. Orchard keeping is so very nature dependent. Scary, but good. I wonder if our trees will ever be laden with fruit like this. Perhaps, if we live long enough :-).

Dan and Emma worked on their conditioning and scaled Blacktail Hill again. The puppy was pooped because it was warmer than last week, but Dan poured water for her at the top.

September 7, 2009

Grazing time

It did rain last night, 0.4 inches as a matter of fact. It came with some thunderstorms, but the rain was gentle and went on for a couple of hours. It is great when it doesn't come as a deluge but takes its time: the land gets to soak some of it up.

This morning all the plants, cultivated or wild, look great. I already suspected that rain water is more beneficial for the plants than our well water and I found out today that rain water is slightly acidic by nature (pun intended). Being in the desert our soil is alkaline and our rain water neutralizes it, making for happy plants.

I noticed on my morning walk that the grass had already greened up some so we took Buggsy and Bueno out for a ride. Our horses do not have the benefit of grazing during their normal day, so we always give them lots of opportunity to get in some fresh, juicy grass when it is available. It is always much appreciated, and the horses give us lots of suggestions on good spots. I enjoy sitting quietly on one of our "boys" while they munch. It is good time for taking in the desert beauty, see wildlife and reflect some.

September 6, 2009

Jimena - not

Last week everybody was atwitter about the tropical storm that was forecasted to hit our area this weekend. Rain! Finally! Well, it did rain, but not here. Phoenix got its first rain this year, and in our county it rained in Willcox and Sierra Vista. There must be something about the cities getting more rain than we out in the country. I bet all that concrete and asphalt makes the air warmer, it rises and meets cold air, and voila, they get rain. But then, there is always tomorrow.

I think I also look forward to rain as an excuse to loaf, sleep in. Thing is, I can loaf any time but I never seem to and I doubt I would even if it did rain. There is always something to do around here, and it really is not "work". This morning I gave the chickens some of my attention, and dumped unproductive flower pots, planted some new cactus pads. I am trying to hold off on sowing the winter garden because I still think it is too early. Look see who was perched on the garden gate this morning.

Meanwhile, Dan and Emma walked up, or I call it "climbed", Blacktail Hill, close by in the National Forest. It is a steep climb and not one of my favorites, but they came back happy and tired. It was overcast, so perfect hiking weather.

September 1, 2009

September already

There are definitely hints of fall, although fall's beginning is still 3 weeks away. We Arizonans are ready for it! The light is not as harsh as in high summer, and the mornings are cooler, although I still walk in shorts and a t-shirt.

The nests are empty, but we still see a lot of fledgelings. I have a special place set aside for young birds to feed in the morning, out of the way of the crowd. Here we see Finch dads feeding babies bigger than themselves, and more adventurous young ones who are peering down in the gravel trying to tell seed from gravel. The hummingbird migration is still going on, and although it has slowed down, I am feeding more than 30 hummers in the morning and evening. I only have to replenish the feeders about 3 times a day, rather than every other hour. The birds are so bold, they land on the feeder while I am hanging it up.

On our ride this morning we saw a lot of ripe prickly pear tunas (fruits), and I expect them to be harvested soon. Many animals eat them, and they are easy to store (if you can ignore the glochids - those pesky little cactus stickers you can hardly see). I know they are put up by woodrats, who conveniently make their nests in the prickly pears too.

It is time to get vigilant about keeping the wildlife at bay. Everybody would like a nice, warm place for the winter, so I have already had to evict one woodrat from the potting shed. Dave and Barbara are busy putting adobe on the outside of the strawbale house, ensuring that they are the only ones living there (with their cat, Louise, of course) this winter. We had to relocate another rattler from their place too. Got to try out the new snake hook and the homemade snake box. Both are winners.

Now if only we got a little more rain. We may be lucky later this week. Tropical storm Jimena is headed our way; of course it has to be during Labor Day weekend..., but then, we are not working folk any longer.