August 27, 2010

Goodbye Cindy

We have been taking care of Cindy's horses for the last 5 months while she was in Vermont, staying cool and making hay. Cindy's initial thought was that she would be back to spend winter, but she changed her mind, decided to sell the house and ship the horses back to Vermont.

So today was the day for Equine Express to come and pick up Sophie, Pearl, Jazz, and Dooley, and for us to have our appointments with the ophthalmologist in Tucson and then run home to meet the truck and help load horses. Of course EE was early and we were late, and it was not until 1 pm that we arrived bleary eyed from the eye exam.

The driver was uneasy about the driveway hill and opted to stay out on the road, so we loaded hay with the tractor, and walked the horses to the transport. Of course the moment we had horses in hand, the sky opened up with lightning, thunder and a good shower, just to say farewell to the horses, I suppose.

Thankfully there was no trouble loading, but I think some hoarse horses will be arriving in Texas, the first leg of their long journey home, as they were screaming going down the road.

August 25, 2010

Russian thistle, anyone?

Oh, you'd like more? No problemo, we have 3 more piles like this one. Not quite as big, but sizable anyway.

It's what rain does: it makes plants grow. Good and bad. I had started spraying these weeds on Linda's property nearby late this spring, but even then they were already out of control and I must admit that I gave up. When Linda was here in July, she took a look at her property, sprayed some, but was disheartened. Not that I blame her; we had spent a number of days spraying last year's crop before bloom set, and it looked like we had not even been there.

So, we got out the big gun in the form of the John Deere tractor and Dan spent the morning scraping the driveway and the old horse pens, where the thistles were the thickest. I pulled them along the drive and in some of the vegetation. These plants are maddening: they branch off at soil level and are brittle, so pulling them up root and all is difficult. And some of these puppies are 4 feet tall, with 5 major branches each! Hopefully we are late enough in the season to not induce major regrowth, and before total seed development and dispersal.

We did our best, and Dan will go back later this week and torch the piles. Next year we will go the Preen route, and reinforce with Roundup where needed. I wonder how much Preen this is going to require?

August 17, 2010

Digging holes

Our fruit trees did really well this first year, and I found that I really like the apples and peaches of two of the varieties I planted last year, so it is time to expand the orchard. Fall is the best time to be planting fruit trees here as the soil is still warm and the trees will have time to send out roots before it freezes. If you plant in the spring, the trees have to manage cool soil, little natural moisture, and spring heat.

I must say that without our small John Deere and Dave's backhoe, this would be a huge job, requiring a couple of weeks' work for both of us, as well as a bottle of Advil. With the right tools it's still work, but certainly manageable. Dan dug the holes, 5'x5'x5', hauled composted horse manure, mixed the soil and manure with the backhoe, while I raked out the watering basins and shoveled the extra dirt into the tractor bucket and took it to our pond wall. Of course we had another near miss (it's usually a hit) with our underground power and water line from the house to shop/shed, but Dan managed to stop digging just in time.

We ran out of gas, literally and figuratively, about 11:30, but we are almost done. The last hole, the sixth, needs to be filled with manure, the basin shaped and the dirt hauled off. Then it will be off to Tucson to buy 2 more apples, 2 more peaches, an additional apricot and a plum. Planting them will be in cinch.

August 13, 2010

Summer Stronghold

We went up the Stronghold trail today. In spite of the high temperature (right now 96 degrees) and the, for us, high humidity, we felt we had better see if we still could do it after a 9-week layoff. No measurable rain has fallen in the last 2 weeks, but the creek was still running, much to Emma's delight.
There was a lot of evidence of flash flooding: what had been little creeks before were now rocky stream beds, and the trail had been washed out or diverted in several places. Half Moon Tank was still full and overflowing, and the water had obviously roared right over the dam.
All that moisture made all the plants happy. There was a lot of big, thin-leafed, vegetation, and a number of plants were blooming again.
We made more stops than usual, to take pictures and to wipe our faces, but it is always a worthwhile hike.

August 10, 2010

Mmm ...,

... I guess I have not been very diligent in picking green beans. Whose are they?
The rat taxi service has also started up. Maturing pack rats may be looking for their own digs, or perhaps they just feel that fall is coming and it's time to gather mesquite beans and think about holing up for the winter. The potting bench is always a favorite spot, but we now know their ways and take them down into non-human inhabited territory.

August 9, 2010

Do over

The garden was a holy mess after the hail storm and all the rain. I could not stand it any longer and went out this morning to tackle it, while Dan took Cody out for a ride and some grazing.
All the cucumbers are gone, as are the non-producing tomatoes and all the flowers. I left the cantaloupes because they still have ripening fruit; the winter squash is a bit iffy with mildew, but I left them too. Planted a couple more tomatoes, another zucchini and cucumber, and a new row of lettuce. One never knows with the weather out here; after all, we generally do not get frost until January.

As Dan was cleaning Bueno's stall he found these 2 Gambel's quail chicks in the water bucket. Thankfully the water was low enough so they did not drown. One of them ran off home, peeping all the way, the other needed a bit of time to recover, but finally set out for home too.

August 8, 2010

Is this a desert?

We took the horses out this morning, after having conquered our colds and feeling somewhat caught up around the ranch. There were several objectives: for Dan to try out his new endurance saddle (he loves it!), and for the horses to get some grazing in. So we took the Windmill Trail and were surprised to find flash flooding had rearranged several of the smaller washes. Grass was laying flat, lots of rocks had come down, and our trail had been wiped out.

Both Bueno and Buggsy could hardly wait to get their teeth into some of that luscious green grass. Bueno was cramming it in as fast as he could, and Buggs, remembering his days on the string, did lots of nibbling along the way without breaking stride.

It is really green, and the ocotillos are in serious "velvet". I don't think there is room for any additional leaves.

August 5, 2010

Little and big

It had been awhile since we went on a real vacation, and it amazes me that you can totally get out of a routine in just a little over a week. What do we usually have for breakfast? It also made me realize how good it is to get away from time to time, in spite of the fact that we love our life and this beautiful place, and that it is never dull. Travelling does expand your horizons, and does wonderful things to your head. We should do more of it!

So we have been back just a few days, and hardly back into some routine, and the desert has already surprised us again. Dan picked up what he thought was a piece of straw, then it moved and turned out to be a tiny walking stick.

This morning a tarantula narrowly escaped an oat-and-vitamin avalanche in Bueno's dish. We thought he was not in the safest of places with hooves around so we relocated him to more protective mesquite bushes.

The Rain Goddess left us some rain in her jet wash. A storm, just over a small area that included the WD, just dumped 1 3/4" of rain. Another reprieve for the toadlets in the pond.

August 4, 2010

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...

... the Rain Goddess was dealing with ... rain. What we probably should have had in Alaska, Linda got here in Arizona. More than 2 inches fell, and it made all the plants grow about a foot in just a week. Thankfully, it was warm, so she was not totally distressed, but undoubtedly this was not what Linda had signed up for when she came to ranch sit in July.

The animals must have much enjoyed her company because we only got moderate wags from the dogs, and the horses have become monsters. Spoiled rotten with cantaloupe snacks several times a day ("one person can eat only so many cantaloupes ...").

The garden is a bit of a mess, other than producing a lot of cantaloupes, zucchini and some tomatoes. I had not seen mildew in my 5 years of gardening here, but most plants seem affected. I had planned to take a lot of the plants out and sow the winter garden in the next couple of weeks anyway. And is Arizona green! Like the rolling hills of Ireland. Time to take those horses our for a bit of grazing.


I had long thought about a cruise through the Inside Passage of Alaska, but a large cruise ship did not appeal. I wanted to see wildlife and experience the land more up close. Don't remember exactly how I came across the expeditions offered by National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions, but that seemed perfect. Small ship (62 passengers, zodiacs tours and kayaking available) that would be able to go places big ships could not, and staffed by naturalists who would teach us about what we saw. I did not hold my breath for the weather, but now living in a sunny and dry climate, I felt I could put up with a week's worth of rain.

This vacation was more than I had dared hope. I will not gush too much, but we have had some awesome vacations and this one ranks right up there. Great ship, wonderful outings on land and sea, learned a lot, fantastic weather. It only rained once, during our first dinner. And incredible food, and lots of it. Ate (local) fish every dinner, and gained 5 pounds. That's probably the desserts.

We were asked what we felt was the highlight of the trip, and frankly neither one of us could choose. We saw whales, orcas, bear (from shore as well as on land), deer, sea lions, otters, harbor seals, porpoises, bald eagles, tufted puffins, mink, to name some.

Glacier Bay National Park was breathtaking, the Dawes Glacier awesome; there is too much to mention or to include pictures. I am posting just a few, but we will be making a separate vacation book of this trip, including the daily expedition reports filed by the naturalists and the annotated map. Dan and I combined our pictures (about 1000) and have brought them down to about 300 favorites. We will need to make a slide show for friends of about 50 representative pictures so nobody will fall asleep on us. It is going to be tough. What an awesome vacation.

Here is one of our zodiacs in front of Dawes Glacier, viewing some harbor seals.