March 30, 2010

Gardening Arizona-style

It is finally spring: plants are greening up, Orioles have arrived, birds are building nests or already feeding young ones, and the wind picks up at exactly 11 am. Temperatures in the afternoon are in the high 70's. So, we have been busy in the yard and the garden.

A week or so ago I went to a plant sale at Tohono Chul in Tucson and bought a number of penstemons of different colors and some other small blooming herbage that needed to be planted in the back yard. In Oregon I just dug a hole, maybe added a little organic matter, and popped in the plants. Not that easy here. The soil around the house, ie the yard, was razed and compacted to ensure a stable foundation, which is not conducive to easy growing. Thankfully, due to the wet winter, the soil is not bone-dry, but Dan still has to dig the planting hole with the aid of a digging bar, and the soil is heavily amended with composted horse manure. All in all, it is surprising that the plants grow as well as they do.

I raked out the garden beds this morning, in preparation of the planting of some lettuce, arugula, carrots, beets, and peas, and reinstalled some of the irrigation. One of the blogger followers, Webb, asked for an explanation of the irrigation scheme, so here goes. Each bed is individually drip irrigated with drip lines that are laser-drilled at 12" intervals. There are 4 lines per bed (4' wide), and as luck would have it, that is just one roll of the drip line (purchased at Home Depot). The distribution head connecting to each faucet is also an HD purchase (DIG brand).

The awesome hardware cloth covers to protect seeds and young seedlings from birds and other above-ground animals are gifts from my friends Phil and Marsha, who donated them when they recently moved to New Mexico. I have yet to plant the seeds, but thought to wait until after the predicted storm due to hit here around Friday. They are talking snow ... Then again, we always do seem to have one snow storm in April.

March 27, 2010

Horses, horses

One of our Oregon friends, who had her horse at the same barn where Bueno and Cody were boarded and who knows Cody from one-hour-old colt, asked for some pictures of him. So Dan went out this morning and got some Cody glamour shots.

Cindy will be disappointed because she has been riding Bueno lately, and is really getting to like him. And no Bueno pics ... Sorry, Cin. The only reason Buggsy appears here is that he happened to be running by at the right time, all four feet off the ground Way to go Buggs!.

March 23, 2010

Mt. Glenn

This is another Dan post. Our neighbor, Jim, had proposed to me that we do an annual climb of nearby Mt. Glenn to test our fitness. Or the decline of such. At 7528 feet, it is one of the "prominances" of Arizona. So at 7am Monday morning, Jim and I started our trek along with Keavy, Jim's border collie.

The ascent went very smoothly, as planned. We followed a series of ridges that are part of our normal view from the house. Only the last quarter mile was difficult, as it is very heavily wooded with oak, pine, juniper and chapparal. In a couple of spots we had to crawl under low hanging vegetation. But we emerged on top with spectacular 360 degree views. We had lunch near the same spot where the Apaches camped to watch for the Army approaching from the Fort Bowie in the east, or from Tucson to the west. There are records of Cochise riding his horse to the summit, but that must have been an amazing horse. We found it difficult enough just walking.

Since Jim didn't want to return by the same route we used to climb (and I agreed), we scouted out a likely looking path to descend. It started out OK, but we quickly ran into some very dense brush. It was so thick, we lost sight of the ridge we had intended to follow. After a bunch of brush wacking, hacking through overgrown washes and sliding down hillsides, we took the least path of resistance and headed straight downhill. There were a few falls, multiple scratches, ripped backpacks, and miscellaneous bloodshed, but we finally stumbled out to a spot we both recognized. The forest road. From there, it was an easy stroll home.

It took us about nine hours to cover nine miles, but the trip was well worth the adventure, and I look forward to doing it again next year.

March 19, 2010

Migration's on!

I have had the hummingbird feeder up all year and from time to time we have seen hummers come and drink, especially in cold weather. Those were birds who were left behind in the migration, or chose to stay behind. But yesterday we saw the first migrator: a rufous hummingbird. This variety is one of the smallest of the species, one of the prettiest (my opinion), and one of the feistiest. They also migrate the furthest: they overwinter in Mexico and breed as far north as southern Alaska!

Through the marvels of technology Dan was able to enhance my puny photo. I see a major zoom lens in my future.

We have also seen swallows, which I was always told was a harbinger of summer no less, leave alone spring, and Cindy and I watched a number of turkey vultures circle over us during a ride. For me, they are the true birds of summer in the desert.

I have heard from the local peach growers that the trees are two weeks late in blooming, which makes them, and me, happy as there is less chance of frost to damage the crop. I wonder if the orioles will be late arriving too; in past years they show up in the first week of April. Spring must be here.

March 17, 2010

Garden prep

The weather is getting it back into gear: we are having some wonderful spring days. It is in the 70's today, and rather than going riding, we decided to work in the garden again before the wind started picking up, which makes working with manure a bit unpleasant/gritty.

All the beds have added compost as of today, and all have been fertilized and tilled. I just have to rake them out and reinstall the irrigation lines. When we took them down for rototilling, it was obvious that a lot of sediment had kept the laser-drilled lines from working properly last season: there was sludge in the faucets and all the filters were clogged. Dan also installed additional new metal valves as the plastic ones get brittle here in our abundant sunshine.

The fruit trees are blooming, except the fig, and I am glad they survived their first winter. In spite of our still cool nights, I did see bees doing their job on the blossoms. Before I participated in the Great Sunflower Project, I was clueless as to the many varieties of bees. Frankly, I never looked close enough. Today there were at least 3 varieties, a green sweat bee among them. Will I be able to taste a WD peach this year?

March 11, 2010

Enough already!

I was surprised to see snow on the ground this morning. Yipes! It is halfway into March! Besides, the wind was still blowing, and the regular walk was c-o-l-d. The only one enjoying this weather is Shawna, who sought out this snowy spot for a short repose. But, no matter, the sun is shining now, and we may make 50 degrees today. Forecast for the next couple of days is much better: clear and in the 60's. Now we're talking.

Meanwhile, it was warm in the shop, so Dan bought some wood and built me this great saddle tree for the new saddle. I am so grateful he is a handy guy, and enjoys these little projects. Lucky me.

I am about to go out and get some flats with tomatoes, peppers and cantaloupes going. For one thing, they will be inside for a week or so on heating pads before they sprout and go out into the cold frame. Spring WILL happen. Soon.

March 10, 2010

New saddle

I have blogged before about the saddle that Cindy so graciously loaned me since our first meeting. I immediately liked it: it is light, comfortable, and it seems to fit Buggsy, and Cody, very well. I had been looking for a different saddle for awhile because the western saddle I have weighs 45 pounds, and it is difficult for me to graciously lift it onto my horse's back. But it is hard to lay out that kind of money on an untried saddle, so this loan worked out great: I knew what I wanted.

So, I have been hemming and hawing about buying the new saddle, but with Cindy leaving for Vermont soon, I needed to get on the stick. As luck would have it, while visiting an endurance rider in Benson (Heidi Vanderbilt) she mentioned wanting to sell the very same saddle that Cindy is currently using (same tree and seat), in the right size and color. Lucky me! I think I was meant to have this.

This morning Dan and I went out to Heidi's Lucky Pup Ranch, and bought the saddle! It is soft and supple, and black, and I cannot wait to try it out. Maybe later this week. Dan is planning to make new saddle tree for it.

March 9, 2010

Deer Saddle

After the worst-weather day of the year (40 degrees, wet, and windy), the sun is shining again, and we had to get out. We decided on Deer Saddle, still one of my favorite hikes: it does not require any driving, and takes less than an hour to reach.

From this vantage point it is hard to believe what's on the other side of that hill, and it is spectacular.

We drank some water and had a bite of homemade energy bar before we headed back down. There were stalls to clean, and I want to give Buggsy a good grooming this afternoon. He is shedding winter hair, and besides, I want to give him some loving. Too soon to ride yet, but I am healing well.

March 7, 2010

A chicken tale

I am proud of my hens this spring, and happy that I think I discovered what has improved their condition so much. This is my first try at poultry, and though I did my best to educate myself, I made some mistakes. We built a nice coop, 3 years ago, but I did not realize that hens can get bored and when they do, they get into trouble: they started picking at each other and pulling feathers.

I thought of nutritional deficiencies, had the vet come out, who thought it might be parasites and when she was stumped, she asked a colleague who was a poultry expert. His recommendation was to let the hens have the run of the ranch. This came to a halt when a coyote made off with a Rhode Island Red right in front of my desk window.

But I took the hint and we enlarged the chicken yard by fencing in a piece more than double their original yard. It's not that we don't have room around the house ... Still, some of the hens were still getting terrorized by others (another lesson learned: do not mix a flock of smaller and larger hens, as big ones beat up on smaller ones).

I did notice last summer that when given a choice, the hens would pick out the whole oats from the scratch that they get as a snack, and I read that oats were a good protein in the summer as it would help to keep them cooler. No problem increasing the oat ration as the horses get a cup a day as a snack as well. I made oats about 1/4 of the scratch mixture, and so increased their regular protein intake.

Last fall when time came to molt, the hens who had suffered the most (black Astralorps) were starting to feather out nicely, and they learned from each other that if they spent the night in the nesting boxes, rather than on the roost with the other hens, they were less likely to get picked at. Apparently new, blood-filled, quills are irresistible delicacies to the other hens.

Between the larger yard, the extra protein from the oats, and the temporary, private, roosting cubbies, I now have beautiful hens that are laying as if there is no tomorrow. Getting scratch is still a highlight of their day. Here are Goldie and Mathilda (Auracanas) getting some first dibs, while Isabella (Barred Plymouth Rock) is about to nail Dan to tell him not give preferential treatment, and "let go of that grain!".

March 3, 2010

The other side of the backyard (Slavin Gulch)

When we hiked the Stronghold last week, we met a couple of women who had recently been in Slavin Gulch, and enthusiastically told us that it was "waterfall upon waterfall". We got more rain over the weekend, and I could not wait to go and see the place.

Slavin Gulch is on the west side of the Stronghold (the WD is on the east side), and it is about an hour's drive from us over almost all dirt road. Very well worth the trip however. I knew that we were in for a splendid day when 3 javelina's levitated across our road on the way out.

We left the car about 9:30 and headed up the gulch, with water already gurgling along the trail. It is reminiscent of our Stronghold hike, just a bit longer and with a little more elevation gain. We crossed the stream a number of times and it was spectacular. Emma went in belly deep several times, and we had to jump from rock to rock.

The trail ends at a dilapidated mine chute where in the past they mined for copper, silver and lead, and we had our lunch there. It is an up-and-back trail but, this being our first time, the return trip was just as interesting.

It is a hike we will certainly do again, but only in the winter or spring. It is too sun-exposed for the summer, with a good potential for flash flooding. We walked 6.9 miles and gained, and lost, 1299 feet of elevation. It was a splendid day. We are all tired.