January 28, 2015

Pruning the orchard

Unlike in a previous year, when my friend Phil and I pruned the fruit trees in a snow storm, it was 70 degrees or so today. We ended up in short sleeves in January!

I enjoy this yearly ritual as I learn a lot from Phil who is a horticulturist by past profession as well as by passion. A couple of years ago, when he first came over to "help" (read "take over the pruning") the trees needed shaping but now it is pruning for fruit and a lot fewer branches are taken off.

Last year already we had a lot of apricots and peaches and this year we can look forward to a serious crop of apples. The only ones still not responding well to the love being given are the pears, and I blame myself for that. Perhaps this year? I will also water them less frequently to see if we can slow down the amount of water sprouts and getting some fruiting wood instead.

My next task will be to get the garden planting-ready by sifting and spreading old horse manure. Seeds have arrived!

January 26, 2015

Beauty AND brains

My hens are "free range" in that they spend their nights locked up in a safe coop and their days in an outside yard surrounded by a 6 foot fence. Where we live having chickens roam freely on the property is not practical, fun though it would be: there are too many animals who would eat them.

Entertainment is limited in the chicken yard; this is a desert, and though there are good-sized shrubs, there is no grass and in the winter it is pretty bare. So I was intrigued by an article in http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com which talked about "chicken enrichment", giving the hens something to explore and play with. It involves a piece of pipe with holes in it, two end caps, and some chicken scratch.

Being "ranchers" we always have odds and ends hanging around and I found a piece of drain pipe that fit the bill. I bought some end caps and we were in business. Day one the hens were suspicious of the new thing in the yard, but day two the pipe was empty.

This morning I put a little more scratch in and watched the hens happily rolling the pipe along, scarfing down scratch along the way. Whoever said that chickens are stupid has not spent any time with them and observed their behavior for any length of time.

The hens are now 18 weeks old, almost fully grown and beautiful. I will be taking down the coop divider tomorrow and open the yard gates between the old hens and the new flock. Laying eggs should start in the next month.

My favorite, tame, and smart hen Cindy.

January 24, 2015


This week we made our yearly trek to Whitewater Draw, an Important Birding Area, about an hour away. It is a wetland in the desert where Sandhill Cranes overwinter. They spend the night in the Draw and fly out to the agricultural areas in the valley to feed. We live in the foothills of a small mountain range but while doing chores in the morning we can hear the cranes in a field down below about 5 miles away "as the crane flies". They have a beautiful sound.

We were a bit late in getting to the Draw but we still saw small flocks of cranes on their way out to breakfast. They are such graceful fliers. There are a number of other waterfowl taking advantage of water in the desert, but I admit that I am unfamiliar with water birds. It was great to see more water than in previous years, probably because we had a wonderfully wet 2014.

There are a lot of raptors where we live, especially in the winter. Yesterday we saw two bald eagles and there are many red-tailed hawks, harriers, and prairie falcons. A Cooper's hawk spends time around our house, no doubt hoping to find dinner among the birds that take advantage of our feeders.

One bird we almost always see at Whitewater Draw is an owl who spends the day in a large structure on the property. Initially it was a barn owl, but yesterday it was a great horned. We often hear a great horned close to the house, shouting hoot-hoot-hoooot down the chimney.

This is a great place for birds. And us.

January 22, 2015

The latest "last construction project"

If you live in a desert, don't build with wood. The weather wreaks havoc with it and you will have to replace it in a couple of years no matter how much paint you slop on. We have learned this lesson the hard way and last year already replaced the siding on the chicken coop with metal.

The only relic now was the pump house; the horse barn and shop/shed were built with metal and the house is stucco, thankfully. We contemplated buying a prefab garden shed but could not find one the right color, which is known locally as "WD brown". I am glad we decided to pull the siding and replace it with metal matching the other buildings on the property.

I was too late to take any meaningful "before" photos.

We are very happy with our new metal pump house and I dare any woodrat or mouse to set up housekeeping in this one.

January 9, 2015

Enjoying a rainy day

We had 0.3 inches of rain yesterday, and I spent the morning working on the 2015 garden layout and ordering new seeds. The horses had their own kind of fun.

We just finished cleaning them up, sort of, because matted fur does not keep you warm as well. They wasted no time in rolling in the mud again, but at least we tried. It is sunny and supposed to reach 60 degrees.

January 5, 2015

Winter at the WD

Freezing nights, cool days and mostly sunny. The sun is deceptive though: there is often a thin little breeze from the north that makes it just unpleasant enough to be playing outside.

The horses (here Bueno and Buggs, Cody is out in the arena already) have good winter coats, though it is difficult to see in this photo.

The garden is sleeping, but still producing carrots, green onions, lettuce, kale, cabbage. See the remainder of snow that blew in sideways on New Year's day.

The chicks have grown into little hens that no longer peep but cluck. It will be another month before they start laying eggs. The always curious Cindy in the middle foreground, airhead Marilyn furthest from the camera.

It is a splendid time to be perusing seed catalogs by the fire.