June 30, 2010

Where is your mother?

I was cleaning Buggsy's stall this morning and was just about to scoop up a pile, when "wait, that's no horse apple!". It was the tiniest bunny I have ever seen. He did not even have his eyes fully open yet. I have no idea how he got where he was, but we carefully put him back at the hole that gives access to where many animals are born and live: under the tackroom, which is across the isle from Buggs' stall.

While he sat on my hand he wiped off his nose and rubbed his eyes, and licked the salt off my fingers. What a little cutie!

June 27, 2010


This year most of the Lemon Queen sunflowers that I planted for the Great Sunflower Project have survived the rodent attacks, and several of them are blooming in front of the horse barn. Time has come to count bees. Frankly, we have plenty of bees here, but until I signed up for this project, I had no idea how many varieties of bees there are. There are 4,500 varieties in the US alone!

It is interesting is that the sunflowers by the horse barn are being pollinated by a different variety of bee than those in the garden. I think these are Diadasia bees, which are specialized pollinators of sunflowers. They are solitary bees that make their nests in the ground, and I wonder where that might be. Those in the garden have bumblebees and honeybees doing the work.

But I had better count bees quickly because the plants are now being infested with some kind of caterpillar that appeared almost overnight, and they are doing a thorough job of annihilating the plants. I submitted a request to Bug Net for identification. Meanwhile, I sprayed the plants with BT, but saved a couple that were put into the "cocoon jar". Can't wait to see what kind of butterfly develops.

June 26, 2010

Lying low

I am not sure if I should use Shawna's recovering hip as an excuse, or whether I should just admit that this is June and hot and that's why nothing much is getting accomplished at the WD these days. Shawna does continue to improve, and I am so glad that she appears happy and currently in little pain.

Early in the morning I patrol the garden of course; I have harvested the first zucchini and cucumbers and continue to pick peas. The winter squash is starting to take on frightening proportions and the garden will soon soon be in danger of being taken over by either them or the grapes. I also picked our very first apricots ever, just to test, and they are delicious. Hopefully I will beat the birds to the rest of them tomorrow morning.

I see another leisurely week in our future; I do want to observe doctor's orders and keep Shawna quiet and make sure that she is not licking her hip. Between the World Cup and our wildlife we are not in danger of being bored.

June 23, 2010

Shawna update

I am happy to report that Shawna is improving daily. The first couple of days I was worried about having made the right decision for the hip replacement as she was favoring her left leg as much as she had before the surgery. What if we had misdiagnosed the problem, and it was not the hip joint that was in trouble, but perhaps the spine? I would have made that poor dog go through all that agony for naught.

I blame my usual impatience. A phone call to Dr Boulay put my mind more at ease: Shawna knows she has one good hip that she can rely on, so why put a lot of weight on the one that hurts? He was happy with her decision as the new hip would have more time to heal. The swelling has now gone down, and Shawna has continued to use the leg more, especially when she is outside; she is trying to sit and lie down on that side as well.

Now the one that is "suffering" is Princess Buttercup, aka Emma. She normally gets a lot of attention that is currently showered on Shawna, and she has her nose out of joint. We are not going on hikes with her (to keep an eye on Shawna), and she feels that the extra nuzzles that Shawna is getting should be hers. I keep telling her that she is just "princess", and not "queen", which Shawna is and always will be. Piffle!

Mom Nature's magic

Last year I surprised Dan with a science project. I am not the scientist in the family so this does not happen often. He was really blown away, and wanted to repeat it this year. It is the caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis. Barbara found the caterpillar in her garden, happily munching on a dill plant, and she was very willing to donate it.

We put it in a quart jar with some dill and parsley, covered the opening with waxpaper and a rubber band and poked holes for air. The jar then stood on the kitchen counter in a low-light area.

It only took a day or two for the caterpillar to cocoon. The day before yesterday the cocoon started to turn black, and as we found out this morning, it took only 10 days from caterpillar to butterfly. I think it is a female black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).

June 22, 2010


A bit overcast this morning, and a good time to update the garden a bit. I harvested the garlic. Probably a bit early, but because both varieties shared the bed with other plants that had to get watered (a combination of bad planning and impulse planting), I decided to pull them up and let them dry in the now defunct asparagus bed. Some of those bulbs are huge!

I also planted more beets, carrots and lettuce. A couple of years ago I found a romaine variety that does well here in the desert. It does not bolt, or at least not like other varieties would. It is called Jericho and was developed in Israel, so it's no wonder it does well here.

I am very encouraged by the cantaloupes: lots of fruit, although I noticed that the quail are already sampling them. The trick is to keep them covered in the leaves. Some of the tomatoes are lightening up ... Out here you never garden alone.

June 21, 2010


I see the most interesting things from my kitchen window. I had just walked up to the sink when I saw the roadrunner next to the porch. And then its young! It flew in front of the parent and did the "I'm helpless, feed me" routine. The adult just walked off and joined its mate in the yard, but perhaps it told the young one "just look on the porch", because there, all sprawled out, flat as a tiny rug, was a young ground squirrel.

I called Dan over to take pictures, and we did our best not to disturb the scene. The outcome?

Apparently he was not that hungry and posed for pictures at length. His wings are droopy and off his body because of the heat.

June 20, 2010

Dog days

These are the dog days of summer. Currently 86 degrees at 9 am. Yet, early in the morning it is still great to be outside. It's a matter of adjusting our activities to the temperature. Dan took Emma for a turn around Blacktail Hill at 6 after I took her for our normal morning walk. They both came back hot and thirsty, and Emma tried to take a bath in her water bowl. I need to set up a little pool for her.

While they were gone I did the morning chores, prepared a late breakfast, and kept an eye on Shawna, who is improving and in a lot less pain than a few days ago. She is still not putting a lot of weight on that leg, but she appears more comfortable and is certainly back to eating and drinking as normal.

As we were having breakfast, a large family of scaled quail came by for some seeds and a drink from the wildlife dish. We have not seen a lot of quail families this year, probably because they are also fed at Dave and Barbara's, and there is more protection for the birds there.

We are holing up for the rest of the day, watching some of the World Cup matches and the US Open, and enjoying a beet-and-carrot-salad lunch from the garden. Life is Good!

June 18, 2010

The new hip

Poor Shawna! Very uncomfortable today, after a complete hip replacement yesterday.

We had lived here only a couple of months when Shawna decided to chase the horses that had escaped the arena, and got kicked by one of them. Her instincts just took over and she had to go after them, and paid for it with a dislocated hip.

A couple of trips to Tucson to the emergency vet later, because the leg would not stay in place, I was referred to Dr Boulay who was able to set things right again. It took quite awhile to recover from this injury and as the years have passed, the joint has deteriorated and scar tissue has kept it from moving normally. This is the reason Shawna never goes with us on our hikes.

Time had come to fix the hip for once and all, so Dr Boulay, who has since started the Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson, operated on Shawna and the new titanium joint looks like a great improvement, on X-ray at least.

Tonight will be the roughest night, but we have drugs, and by Monday she will be feeling better than she has in years. It will then be up to us to keep her quiet for a couple of weeks until the sutures are removed.

June 15, 2010

Lunch out

We drove more than 460 miles today to see Phil and Marsha in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and to have lunch with them at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, La Posta in Old Mesilla. When we lived in the PNW and drove out (usually brought a dog) to visit family in Texas over the holidays and took the southern route because of weather, a dinner stop at La Posta was calculated in. It had been about 20 years since Dan was there last. The food is still great, and it was fun to share it with friends.

It is a long drive, but an easy one: down I-10, and ne'er a town in between. There is a lot of empty desert, and views of what I think of as The West: large plains with scrub, a few cattle and craggy mountain ridges. Driving is rather stress free as population is sparse; most of the traffic is long-haul trucking.

June 14, 2010

Please, allow me ...

... to escort you off the premises.

This is our second Diamondback (rattlesnake) this year. How's that for perfect camouflage? He was sleeping, or digesting, next to one of the garden paths and Emma walked right by. Squirrels were playing just yards away. All curled up in a cool drainage depression, he was reluctantly moved to a less human-inhabited piece of desert.

June 13, 2010


The entire apple crop is gone. Disappeared. Stolen! Granted, there were only 2 small trees (this is their first year bearing here), but still ... There were about 2 dozen little apples on one of them; the other tree had lost most of its fruit in one of our fierce winds. But the worst thing is that I aided and abetted in the crime.

My first mistake was misidentifying the culprit, although there may be a several. I thought it was a jack rabbit that was chewing the bark (probably true), and that he was standing on hind legs to get to some of the fruit (probably not true). The additional chicken wire cages I added were pushed in by an animal larger than a jack. As a matter of fact the higher wire provided a support for the animal to lean against while picking the fruit!

The thief? We have not yet caught him red handed (red mouthed?), but yesterday Dan surprised a coyote in the driveway, longingly looking up at the apples. I hope he got a stomach ache.

So, back to the drawing board. I thought that by putting the orchard between the shop/shed, garden, chicken coop and house that the trees would be free from large predators, such as deer, and so far that has proved to be so. I would not have suspected a coyote, but he is an omnivore. We brought out the big guns now by installing an electric fence around the trees. Of course we will have to warn the dogs, and remember ourselves to not go blundering into it on our way to getting some tool from the shed.

Thankfully, only the apple horse has left the barn. There are still ripening apricots, peaches and figs. I am looking forward to hearing a yelp tonight.

June 11, 2010

More wire!

I thought I had done rather well protecting the young fruit trees from various predators. They all had hardware cloth or chicken wire around their bases, and all appeared unmolested. Until I noticed that some rodent, probably a jack rabbit, was nibbling on the bark of one of the apple trees. This is not to be tolerated. More chicken wire, 3' tall this time, was added to the perimeter.

This morning I found little green apples on the walk, and I saw that the chicken wire was caved on onto the tree. OK ..., so we added more fence posts to hold the wire upright and off the tree. Just as a precaution I added the higher chicken wire to the other fruit trees as well. Wonder what's next... Most likely some birds coming to check out ripening fruit.

The garden is growing well in the heat, and I spotted a couple of (still green) tomatoes. The peppers are finally putting on some growth, and there are little cantaloupes. I have been harvesting peas; beans and squash growing well.

So far, the grapes are doing great and the bunches are filling out in their bags. There are additional bunches forming, and we should have a good harvest. That is as long as we can keep the round tail squirrels at bay. Probably not a problem until the grapes start ripening.

Soaptree Yucca

Or, Yucca Elata, is blooming everywhere now. Even along I-10, in the median, people are treated to a view of this magnificent desert plant. It is the state bloom in New Mexico, but it could easily be Arizona's too.

The plant grows about 15 feet tall and the flowers are a magnificent cluster of white, waxy, bell-shaped flowers. It is like a spectacular, but unwieldy, bridal bouquet.

June 9, 2010

Young uns

In these dog days of summer we are enjoying entertainment provided by the WD's young population. There are a lot of young birds of course, incessant in pestering their often smaller parents for food although the seed is right there ready for the pecking. The house finch dads are especially patient in putting up with these kids, and we try to help them out by putting seed on the ground as well as in the feeders.

The young hooded orioles are growing by leaps and bounds, and we are hoping that they will be flying the nest soon. The whole contraption appears more precarious every day. Baling wire is strong, plastic stuff, but it is the only thing keeping the nest hanging. The parents are vigilant in defending the nest or we would make some repairs or hang a safety net. I am not sure whether the nest is under attack from other birds, or whether it is just getting too heavy with the young ones in it.

There is a family of Harris' antelope squirrels under an agave close to the porch with about 5 teenagers, who provide great fun in the afternoon. They pick up seed from under the bird feeders and dash to the shady porch to sit and munch. Or all 5 of them decide to put on a game of chase. They tumble over the porch like young kittens in a ball, stand on hindlegs to box each other, and explore every nook and cranny. Yesterday the patio table and chairs were being explored, and the young yarrow that I had just rescued from their earlier investigations was again dug up and tasted.

Lots of young cottontails and jack rabbits too. I am always glad that I am a bit lazy in taking off the protective chickenwire cages that I put around new plants. Their parents may have given up, but the only way for young ones to find out whether it's good for dinner is to taste. So both buns and jacks will nibble, and even if it does not taste good they may annihilate an entire plant before they give up and just leave the branches on the ground. "I know it is green, and it smells ok, so it should taste good. Oh yuck. Maybe this branch will be better".

June 8, 2010

Final plaster

This time last year we were helping Dave and Barbara build their strawbale house. They moved in at Thanksgiving and have been taking a break, but they felt it was time to finish the job and apply the final plaster to the outside. We are hosting their work crew (Becky and Joe) because it is too hot to be sleeping in the Bear Cave.

I walked over with the dogs to borrow some bamboo stakes for the bean trellis when Shawna spotted Becky and Joe's little dog and attacked her. Hurt Keisha's foot and incensed us because this was totally unprovoked. Shawna may be spending the rest of her natural life in the laundry room.

Meanwhile, work is progressing. Barbara and Becky are sifting and making the plaster, while Joe and Dave apply it to the walls. We will have everybody over for a picnic-style dinner tonight.

While they are constructing, we are destructing. The ramada over the earth oven needs to be squared up again, and the roof replaced. It is authentic, and nice looking, to have a roof made from old yucca stalks, but it is not very sturdy or longlasting. This time we are going for 2x6's and a lattice roof.

June 6, 2010

Baby, it's hot outside

It was already in the 70's when we got up this morning, so we abandoned our original plans of hiking and spraying Russian thistle, and decided to stay cool instead. Maybe give Shawna a haircut and see if we can get her more comfortable in the summer. I do not know what possessed me to bring a Sheppamute (German Shepherd/Malamute mix) to the desert, other than that she was really pretty. I brush both dogs every day, which is also out of self-preservation (mega hairballs inside), but she just has a ton of hair.

When we were in Texas, Denise's dog Zach, who is a retriever, looked so cool and comfortable in his all-over-except-head-and-tail clip. Shawna pants all day and all night, and I felt we had to do something. So here she is before and after. I think she looks very nice, and tomorrow we will go back and take off a little more. The underhair on that dog is a down blanket. No wonder her fur is preferred nesting material.

This is not Shawna, but a coyote who is just getting up from a naplet in the shade this morning. It is warm, and will be 99 this afternoon.