Sunday, August 19, 2018

Dull Edges


Weather: Some smoke pollution, with more clouds than rain. Daylily leaves are recovering, but some cherry leaves are turning yellow early.

Last useful rain: 8/18. Week’s low: 50 degrees F. Week’s high: 88 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, desert willow, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, Russian sage, rose of Sharon, purple phlox, datura, sweet pea, annual four o’clocks, alfalfa, farmer’s sunflowers, coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, chrysanthemums, corn

What’s blooming in my yard: Miniature roses, caryopteris, hosta, garlic chives, golden spur columbine, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, winecup mallow, hollyhocks, lead plant, pink evening primroses, sea lavender, perennial four o’clock, calamintha, larkspur, white yarrow, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, Mönch aster, purple cone flowers, bachelor buttons, zinnias

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, trees of heaven, purple mat flower, stick leaf, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, white sweet clover, Queen Anne’s lace, goat’s head, prostate knotweed, toothed spurge, purslane, yellow evening primrose, Hopi tea, fleabane, horseweed, wild lettuce, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, goldenrod, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy, pigweed, Russian thistles, quack grass

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum; pansies and dwarf African marigolds locally.

Tasks: Spent part of week digging away a mound left by the ground squirrel when it tunneled under the retaining wall in the winter.

Animal sightings: Cat, rabbit, hummingbirds, other small brown birds, geckos, bumble bees around purple and pink flowers, hornets around garlic chives, other small flying insects, grasshoppers; heard crickets; new ant hills every day.

Weekly update: When I bought the sharper tools I mentioned in last week’s post, I didn’t throw out my old ones. I had used or abused them when I needed to cut stems at or below the soil. Dirt doesn’t hone.

I have learned the blades have their own hierarchy, that is only partly related to the advertized differences in diameter capabilities. I can use the nippers on anything, grass or stem, so long as it isn’t woody. For that, I need the pruners, but they absolutely won’t cut the needle grass that volunteers around my beds.

The old loppers don’t like to cut green stems, but I can force them to rip off white sweet clover and Maximilian sunflower stems. They act more like a pair of pliers than anything. Since I don’t trust the new ones to keep their edge, I’m not wasting them on such tasks.

One of the tricks one learns when tools are dull is which stems really need cutting, and which will break off. Stems of plants like columbine with fat roots break off. Ones that are shallow have to be cut, else the roots come out with the stems. However, once some of the stems are cut, they can be broken down by hand or, for thicker ones, over the knee.

I did buy a pair of electric clippers last fall to try on things like the mass of columbine stems, but it was so cold I didn’t go out. I did test them this spring, and they worked on alfalfa. The one required pruners, the other loppers.

My biggest problem was weight. The ones that were battery operated were lighter than the ones with cords because electric motors were attached to the handles rather than to base stations. Then, because I have a post office box, I was limited to what the local store carried. Lithium batteries can’t be shipped through the mail.

Notes on photographs: Potentilla fruticosa ‘Goldfinger’ is the one plant that has bloomed profusely all summer, despite the vagaries of the weather; 18 August 2018.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Sharp Edges


Weather: We had rain Thursday and Friday. Before that we had smoke. It didn’t arrive with an obvious odor, but the effects were the same: burning or sticky eyes and a sore stomach that came when I started breathing through my mouth.

When I looked at the government’s forecast for vertical smoke, whatever that is, I saw this part of the state engulfed several times. The surface smoke chart showed the nearest hot spots were still the Durango area. When I changed the display from New Mexico to California, it was obvious the smoke from those fires was drifting east, and then south to us.

Last useful rain: 8/10. Week’s low: 48 degrees F. Week’s high: 91 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, Russian sage, rose of Sharon, purple phlox, datura, sweet pea, annual four o’clocks, alfalfa, farmer’s sunflowers, coreopsis, corn

What’s blooming in my yard: Miniature roses, caryopteris, golden spur columbine, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, winecup mallow, hollyhocks, lead plant, pink evening primroses, white-flowered spurge, sea lavender, perennial four o’clock, calamintha, larkspur, white and Coronation Gold yarrow, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, Mönch aster, purple cone flowers, bachelor buttons, zinnias

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, trees of heaven, purple mat flower, stick leaf, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, yellow mullein, white sweet clover, Queen Anne’s lace, goat’s head, prostate knotweed, toothed spurge, purslane, Hopi tea, fleabane, horseweed, wild lettuce, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, goldenrod, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy, pigweed, Russian thistles

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum. One person replaced his pansies with marigolds, probably dwarf Africans since they were all the same shade of orange.

Tasks: One man cut his hay. Another market garden has been abandoned. Three are left with corn and peppers.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbird, other small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk and large black ants, hummingbird moths, bumble and small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers; heard crickets


Weekly update: When I injured my thumb, it became obvious I needed to find sharper knives. It takes more physical effort to use a dull blade. I had found decent scissors a few years ago made from a titanium steel alloy, and thought it would be simple to find other manufacturers using better materials. I was wrong.

Two reasons came to mind. A dull knife was less likely to cut someone seriously, and thus less likely to lead to a lawsuit against the seller and manufacturer. The second was many buyers used price as their main purchasing criteria, and good steel cost money.

But, even when I looked for tools for professionals I found the same assumption that anyone working in gardens was strong.  When I used my loppers they would tear rather than cut small branches. When a guy I hired to cut some big branches used them, they worked fine.

I went to one garden center and asked if its loppers would stay sharp. The salesman showed me the honing tool the store sold. It had a thin handle that required a thumb to manage. When I rejected that idea, he told me I could bring it back and have them sharpen it. I didn’t ask what they charged.

I’d already tried sharpening my old loppers by using a whet stone. Since I hadn’t acquired the knack it took half an hour to figure out how to hold the stone and blade without using my thumb and what angles to use to get an edge. When I was done, the edge was dull after about a dozen cuts. The quality of the steel mattered.

The underlying economic assumption was no one invests in improving tools if cheap labor existed. As long as there were slaves and then Jim Crow laws to guarantee a servile labor force, no company created a cotton picker because no farm owner would buy one. The fact credit was tight in the South after the Civil War didn’t help.

International Harvester finally introduced a mechanical picker in 1942. By then, the war had increased demand while decreasing the amount of available labor. African Americans had begun leaving the South after World War I, and more moved north and west for jobs in war industries in World War II. No doubt there also was more credit available for defense suppliers.

When white, middle-class men did want less labor intensive tools, the answer wasn’t improved steel, but the application of motors. Chain saws, weed whackers, and brush cutters were introduced. The problem was they were all heavier than the tools they replaced, and so still required strength.

Besides, you don’t use a chain saw on a rose cane.


Notes on photographs: You know it’s August when the late summer flowers come into bloom. All pictures taken in my yard on 11 August 2018.

1. Zinnia coming through the protective mesh.
2. Crab apple beginning to change color.
3. Goldenrod.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Grafts That Fail



Weather: We’re into the monsoon phase when there’s enough moisture on high to create thunder and clouds in the afternoon, but rarely enough to actually reach the ground. Probably the changing sun angles have as much to do with the high afternoon temperatures coming down to 91 as the clouds.

Last useful rain: 8/2. Week’s low: 53 degrees F. Week’s high: 91 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Yellow potentilla, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, Russian sage, rose of Sharon, bouncing Bess, datura, sweet pea, annual four o’clocks, alfalfa, farmer’s sunflowers, coreopsis, corn

What’s blooming in my yard: Miniature roses, caryopteris, golden spur columbine, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, catmints, lady bells, sidalcea, winecup mallow, hollyhocks, lead plant, pink evening primroses, white-flowered spurge, sea lavender, perennial four o’clock, calamintha, larkspur, white and Coronation Gold yarrow, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, Mönch aster, purple cone flowers, bachelor buttons, zinnias

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, trees of heaven, purple mat flower, stick leaf, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, yellow mullein, scurf pea, white sweet clover, Queen Anne’s lace, goat’s head, prostate knotweed, toothed spurge, purslane, Hopi tea, fleabane, horseweed, wild lettuce, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, goldenrod, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy; cattails in town ditches

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum; local petunias

Tasks: More than two weeks ago I sprayed some Siberian elms, dandelions, and Tahoka daisies with a herbicide. A week later, they showed some brown on their leaves. I resprayed the elms and dandelions this week, and all the leaves finally are brown.

It didn’t matter that it took a while to work on the elms. After all, they’re trees. My plan is to bend the tops into gravel or dirt and weight them with bricks so I can spray the leaves safely. After they’re dead, I’ll cut the stems. I’ve learned it’s futile to just cut the sprouts. They return, usually in smaller clusters that are harder to see and control.

Still, it would be nice if the herbicide acted as quickly as it claims on its label. While the dandelions were slowly dying, they were still putting out flowers, which meant I got re-exposed to the herbicide when I pick them before they turn to seeds. The Tahokas remain tall in the crown of the driveway, and are still a hazard even when they turn brown.

Animal sightings: Cat, small brown birds, small and large geckos, sidewalk and large black ants, hummingbird moths of all sizes, cabbage butterfly, bumble and small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers; heard crickets


Weekly update: The term failure usually is used by nurserymen to describe grafts that don’t take when they’re made. The assumption seems to be that once the graft is formed, it survives unless a winter is particularly severe. This overlooks the fact that trees create new growth rings every year, and the graft has to be recreated every season.

Presumably, the professionals pick root stocks that aren’t just compatible the first year, but produce new growth the same way as the scions. I’m not sure they pay as much attention to the inherent greediness of the base, since the roots’ ability to grow in many conditions is why they’re chosen in the first place. If the scions don’t provide enough food, the roots become proactive.

All of which means I have constant problems with suckers and sprouts. I wasn’t aware of the problems when I planted my first trees, and in every case the root stock took over. I’m not sure if it was simply a desire to get more nutrition, or if the unions failed in some places.

Usually, they just sprouted from the base, or started to put up suckers a few feet away. The Lapins was more cleaver. It simply kept growing, shouldering the scion aside.

I had the apples cut down because the root stock rarely bloomed, and never produced any fruit. I had the sour cherry removed because it got taller than the house, and the suckers were coming up everywhere. I’ll probably have the Lapins taken down this winter because I suspect the pollen is sterile or incompatible with everything else, and so prevents the other trees from producing.

The replacement cherries have been in the ground for several years and are producing new growth from the joints. So far, they haven’t started to sucker as well.

The weeping cherry is a different problem. As I mentioned in the post for 19 June 2016, it was created with two grafts, one from the roots to the trunk, and one from the trunk to the horizontal top. It has suckers from the base I know are a problem, and new growth from the upper joint that looks like the desirable Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula.’ I’m not quite sure how it’s supposed to grow, so am learning by watching. Besides, it’s been such a difficult year, I’ve left the unwanted growth to make sure the roots stay alive. I can always cut them in the winter when they are dormant.


Notes on photographs:
All taken in my yard on 3 August 2018.

1. Upper graft on weeping cherry with growth from the middle of the joint.

2. Trunk of Lapins sweet cherry (Prunus avium) with Geissin 148-2 root stock the large trunk, and the Lapins scion the part at the right.

3. Growth from the graft on a supposed Bing sweet cherry coming from a sprout that has been cut before.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Terracing


Weather: We got 45 minutes of solid rain last Monday afternoon, and a little more Friday after dark. Since Monday, the temperatures have stayed at 91 or below.

Last useful rain: 7/27. Week’s low: 55 degrees F. Week’s high: 98 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, desert willow, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, Russian sage, buddleia, rose of Sharon, bouncing Bess, datura, sweet pea, annual four o’clocks, alfalfa, farmer’s sunflowers, coreopsis, corn

The corn doubled in size and started to tassel. Since the growth started before Monday’s rain, I’m not sure what was responsible: the changed sun angles, the increased humidity, the rain from the week before, or all of the above.

What’s blooming in my yard: Miniature roses, caryopteris, hybrid daylilies, golden spur columbine, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, catmints, lady bells, sidalcea, winecup mallow, hollyhocks, blue flax, lead plant, pink evening primroses, white-flowered spurge, sea lavender, perennial four o’clock, calamintha, larkspur, white and Coronation Gold yarrow, chocolate flowers, blanket flower, Mönch aster, purple cone flowers, bachelor buttons

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, trees of heaven, purple mat flower, stick leaf, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, yellow mullein, scurf pea, white sweet clover, Queen Anne’s lace, goat’s head, prostate knotweed, toothed spurge, purslane, Hopi tea, fleabane, horseweed, wild lettuce, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, áñil del muerto, goldenrod, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy; cattails in town ditches

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum; local petunias

Tasks: Common and native dandelions are still blooming, as are goat’s beards, though not as prolifically as earlier. The volunteers that require the most attention now are white sweet clover, wild lettuce, and horse weed. Unlike dandelions, they’re either annuals or biennials, so it’s enough to keep them from going to seed. Unless they’ve been around, their roots are either straight or swallow. Seedlings can be pulled easily.

I’ve tried periodically to get a datura started. I planted one at the west end of the drive in 2013 that bloomed. The next year it emerged after the monsoons, but didn’t flower. Two years later, a seedling came up, but again did nothing. This year, when I was removing all the plants that were crowding a small potentilla I’d planted earlier this season, I noticed what looked like seedlings from five years ago. Superstitiously, I left them.

Now, they’re blooming, and their large leaves are blocking water from reaching the potentilla. I looked down every couple days through the leaves to see if the shrub is still there and needs me to water it by hand. The reason I did the weeding was to eliminate the need to do this watering with a hose.

Animal sightings: Cat, hummingbirds, other small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk ants, cabbage butterfly, bumble and small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers; heard crickets

Large black ants opened a big hill after the rain earlier in the week.


Weekly update: Terracing is one of those things I never consciously studied. What I learned I gleaned from looking at pictures and reading captions. From that, I vaguely knew people terraced fields to create level areas. In rice paddies, the barriers also held water.

As I’ve said many time, I live on the side of a hill. Before I moved my house here, someone scraped out a level area by digging dirt from the surrounding area. This left me with a building sitting on top of a mesa surrounded by gullies. A friend built a retaining wall on the high side from railroad timbers.

I’d learned from my mother’s experiences it wasn’t a good idea to have plants next to the foundation. I knew from 4-H one should worry about draining away water as well. Since things like cement weren’t easily available, I bought foot-square Mexican tiles and laid them along the foundation. I sealed them, but suspected the indoor tiles probably wouldn’t last. Surprisingly, they’re still there, though some have cracked.

One time when I was ordering construction materials, the building supplier had bricks. I ordered two pallets. I used these to create low walls two bricks high parallel to the tiles following the contours of the mesa. I also lined the edge of the gully. I filled the narrow beds with a mix of sand, soil, sawdust, manure, and fertilizer.

The width of the bands partly was dictated by the slope of the mesa. But, more important, it was defined by the width of my arm. I had learned the hard way that no bed should be wider than I could reach comfortably sitting on the ground, or in this case, on the narrow band of bricks.


Ever since I laid the bricks and tiles I’ve discovered nature and I do not see these structural ramifications the same. Seeds get dropped into the cracks between the tiles that have to be removed. The golden spur columbines put out a number of stems that push the tiles apart. When I doing the annual weeding, I have to reset the tiles.

I also had to change my rule that nothing would grow in the cracks. The columbines became so aggressive, the more desirable plants took refuge in the tiles. So, now I have to walk around the coral beards tongues, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, and coreopsis. On the west side of the house, the blue flax fled to the tiles last winter.

Maintaining the brick walls is more work. If I were a professional landscaper, I might have hired someone to build them with stable footings. Instead, I laid the bricks on the ground, getting the ground level with a plasterer’s float.

The ground eroded under some, tilting them down. In other places, the bricks sank in wet soil. Walking on them became treacherous. Then the columbines dropped their seeds, pushing the bricks father apart. Dirt settled in the cracks, and little, wet beds formed for white sweet clover and dandelions.

Another task when I’m doing the annual cleanup is restoring the bricks. Since I can’t use my right thumb, I’ve been using that chisel to pry errant bricks loose and scrape off the dirt. I reset them, and hope if I walk over them enough, they’ll stop wobbling.


Notes on photographs:
1. Datura wrightii from 2013 seeds, 23 July 2018.

2. Potentilla fruticosa ‘Gold Star’ planted this spring, seen through the stems of the datura, 23 July 2018.

3. Tiles at top and two rows of bricks, with an oriental poppy (Papaver orientalis) in front, 29 May 1999.

4. The terraces made by two rows of bricks, with the ones in front lining the gully, 13 May 2000; yellow Dutch iris in bloom.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

History Is the Past


Weather: We got rain twice on Monday, once in the early morning, and again after dark. By Friday, the afternoon temperatures were reaching 98. The early summer plants like hollyhocks and Mexican hats went out of bloom, as did some of the pansies. I’m not sure the violas survived.

We got some sprinkles on Saturday. Not enough to do any good, but enough to wash away some of the herbicides I’d sprayed that morning on plants growing in the driveway. I know the label says that rain doesn’t have any effect after a few hours, but it also says I should see results within a day. We’ll see what happens by the end of next week.

Last useful rain: 7/16. Week’s low: 58 degrees F. Week’s high: 98 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, desert willow, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, fern bush, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, Russian sage, buddleia, rose of Sharon, daylilies, bouncing Bess, datura, sweet pea, annual four o’clocks, cultivated sunflowers, coreopsis, black-eyed Susan.

Apples have become visible.

What’s blooming in my yard: Rugosa and miniature roses, caryopteris, hybrid daylilies, golden spur columbine, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, catmints, lady bells, sidalcea peaked, winecup mallow, hollyhocks, blue flax, lead plant, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, white-flowered spurge, sea lavender, perennial four o’clock, larkspur from this year’s seed, white and Coronation Gold yarrow, chocolate flowers, blanket flower, Mönch aster, purple cone fowers, bachelor buttons from this year’s seed.

A couple of my corn plants suddenly started growing; the leaves got broader as the stalks got taller.

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, trees of heaven, purple mat flower, stick leaf, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, scurf pea, alfalfa, white sweet clover, Queen Anne’s lace, goat’s head, prostate knotweed, toothed spurge, Hopi tea, fleabane, horseweed, wild lettuce, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy.

Goat’s heads and pigweed are beginning to germinate.

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum; local petunias

Tasks: Several men cut their hay fields. One market gardener plowed under some of the crops, but left the corn. It was tall near the road and progressively shorter as the plants neared the ditch. Apparently, the water flowed past them toward the road, but didn’t accumulate in their area.

Keeping the water flowing is a constant challenge. I think half the soaker/spray hoses I installed this year have large holes. Most are in places where it’s difficult to replace them, because leaves and stems make it hard to get them to lay flat. I did replace the two that were serving the new crab apples. The trees were suffering, and there was nothing I couldn’t stomp down to lay the replacements. When I looked at them, I saw the problem holes in fact were small V-shaped openings. I don’t think they were made by an animal.

The leaves on the forsythia were wilting. I thought the black locust was encroaching. I cut some suckers near its base, and all the branches on a limb that had curved down in the wind. While I was at it, I cut the new growth on suckers elsewhere for the third time this season.

Animal sightings: Cat, rabbit, hummingbirds, other small brown birds, geckos, dragonfly, sidewalk ants, bumble and small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers; heard crickets


Weekly update: More of Española’s history fell to a backhoe bucket this week. The adobe buildings are the easiest to level; there’s no concrete or wood debris to remove. And, this particular building seems to have little of either.

When the front wall was knocked down, you could see the thickness of the exterior walls. Interesting, the interior wall was also adobe, with wall board laid against it. I don’t know if it was built one room or one section at a time, or if that was the original construction. The roof was thick, but its construction wasn’t obvious from a distance. The fireplace and chimney were brick, and probably added later. The backhoe operator waited to knock them down.

The building complex across from the south Sonic always intrigued me. I was never sure if it had originally been a homestead, or a tourist building. The building on the south side of the road was once the Flamingo Bar. However, it had cinder blocks around the entrance, suggesting it had been built after the road from Santa Fé to Taos was improved.

The main building looked like a house with a smaller building behind it. In 2010, it had eight rooms and two hallways. [1]

A yard wall went around the back with two arched entrances. Beyond the back gate, there was a another building that looked like a house with another smaller building next to it. If there had been more buildings on the north side, they disappeared under the paved drive. Ones knows there had to have been outhouses before city plumbing.

The white stuccoed adobe was located at the base of the hill going out of town on the south. The local ditch entered the area above the Flamingo Bar, and split with one branch going to La Mesilla. The branch that went to San Pedro crossed under the road, then circled the property on the south and west sides. The construction of that segment of the ditch would have made it prime growing land.

Before the ditch brought water from Santa Cruz lake, land there would have been irrigated from an acequia that came directly from the Santa Cruz river. The row of trees on its north boundary suggested it once might have flowed there.


I always suspected the building might originally have faced Middle San Pedro Road with grounds that extended to the river. Once the main road was built, the owners, like many who faced Middle San Pedro, may have reoriented the building to the east. That was when it was possible it might have been converted to a more commercial use like a small inn.

When I first moved here the main building was used by the Oasis Cyber Café. In 2002, Anna Dillane open the Boomerang Thrift Boutique in the back building. In 2010, she rented the main building, [1] and in 2014 Nurturing Seeds Day Care was using back building.

Then in 2016, everything closed and a "for sale" went up. I don’t know if the owner or the tenants didn’t renew the leases. Both probably had small profit margins and competitors in town.

When Oasis was there, the grounds were maintained. The area in front of the yard wall was filled with daylilies and sweet peas. An apple occasionally bloomed, and a productive apricot grew on the north boundary. With neglect, Siberian elms and trees of heaven crept in from the ditch.

Dillane didn’t neglect the building. She had friends paints murals on the exterior: [1] pink storks under the main window, a frieze of wisteria at the top.


Notes on photographs:
1. Daylilies and sweet peas blooming at Oasis Cyber Café, 12 July 2008.

2. Main building showing the entrance, depth of the building on the north side, and two chimneys, 15 January 2012. The picture was taken in the morning, and the camera lens reflected the light in iridescent streaks.

3. Area behind the entrance, 10 July 2018. The blue wallboard was against a thick adobe interior wall. You can see details of the roof construction.

4. Southeast corner of the main building with mural work, 6 July 2012.  Russian sage blooming in front.

End notes:
1. "Boomerang Thrift Boutique." Horsetail Trails website. 5 January 2010.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Market Gardens


Weather: Another week when promised rains failed to appear. It’s true some fell during the night last Sunday after dark, but that was supposed to be a prelude to days with 60 to 70% chances of heavy rain. Instead, we got strong winds for several hours on Friday and Saturday, with humidity and nothing precipitating.

This has been happening for at least a year. One can see the moisture blanketing the area on satellite images, so one knows the weather bureau isn’t daydreaming. But something is happening that’s preventing it from falling. Something more than the highs and lows, or ridges and troughs, it talks about.

I suspect that something isn’t just missing from the written forecasts. It could be missing from the forecast models themselves. I’ve long since learned to discount predictions to "maybe" when it says 50% because the models don’t include the contours of the land. But, more than that is going on.

Last useful rain: 7/8. Week’s low: 56 degrees F. Week’s high: 93 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, desert willow, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, fern bush, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, Spanish broom, Russian sage, bouncing Bess, hollyhocks, datura, sweet pea, hollyhocks, annual four o’clocks, cultivated sunflowers, coreopsis, black-eyed Susan

What’s blooming in my yard: Rugosa and miniature roses, buddleia, hybrid daylilies, golden spur columbine, coral beards tongue, large-flowered soapwort, Johnson Blue geranium, catmints, lady bells, sidalcea, winecup mallow, blue flax, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, white-flowered spurge, sea lavender, perennial four o’clock, white and Coronation Gold yarrow, chocolate flowers, blanket flower, Mönch aster

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Tamarix, purple mat flower, stick leaf, white tufted evening primroses, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, scurf pea, alfalfa, white sweet clover, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, fleabane, horseweed, wild lettuce, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy

Bedding plants: Pansies, violas; local petunias

Tasks: White sweet clover was the enemy of the week. It gets to be six feet tall and is covered with tiny flowers that turn to tiny, hard seeds. The legume took over the rugosa roses last summer. I spent one morning out with loppers cutting quarter-inch diameter stems, but only made a dent in half an hour. Then my thumb hurt too much to go back the next day.

Instead, I returned to clearing the main bed where some clover plants were blocking the path of the hose spray. One plant had been there for years, and, even with a spade, I was only able to remove some of the root. The area around it was filled with new plants about a foot high. If the ground is wet, one can remove them by pulling gently. The roots on young plants are narrow and vertical.

Once the visible plants were gone, I found seedlings which resembled those of the neighboring golden spur columbine. Since there are so many of the yellow flowers, and I suspect a plentiful seed bank, I felt no compunction about removing all the three-leaved seedlings with the chisel. It did act like a hoe and eliminated the need for my right thumb to prick them out individually.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbirds, other small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk ants, bumble and small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers; heard crickets


Weekly update: When I first moved to Española, several produce stands were active on Saturdays on the main road from Santa Fé to Taos. Arlo Martinez died in 2009, and his stand finally was razed last year. Another painted red, white, and blue hasn’t been used for several years. It remains abandoned like some older ones on the roads north of town.

The farmers’ markets, especially in Santa Fé, have created a new outlet for market gardeners. Many of the ones I saw in the local market a few years ago weren’t strictly local; they came from places like Velarde, but to kin in the valley that’s local.

I’m not sure any landowners in my immediate area are market gardeners. Instead, I believe men rent land that has access to water from the ditch for a season. This has the advantage that, if they practiced crop rotation, they could simply rent different fields each year and leave the owners with the fallow ones. A few subsequently tried to plant alfalfa in the improved land, but it failed to take hold.

Usually I see two or three men working together, but one year it was a couple and their young children. The farmers usually planted corn or peppers.


A few years ago I saw a commercialization of this rental system, when larger operators rented fields and hired crews to do the work. I believe this was the consequence of the expansion of the big boxes north of town onto land once owned by the Merhege family [1] and others. The land became to valuable to farm, although it was an ideal site for a u-pick-it. For sale signs sprouted instead of crops.

One field I’m sure was rented each year by people who had land near what was once San Juan pueblo, and is now Okay Owingeh. They often planted peas. This year they put in onions.

A third group may have entered the area this year. The drought and lowered levels in the Río Grande and its tributaries were creating problems for farmers in Dixon and Alcalde this spring. According to Andy Stiny, some simply weren’t planting, or had switched to drought tolerant crops. [2]

I suspect some others started looked at unused land along the ditches fed by the Santa Cruz dam and lake. In the spring, it had water. And so, some new areas were brought under cultivation. But because the tillers were absentee, they did less cultivating, and their furrows were taken over by weeds. One was plowed under around the Fourth of July.

This wasn’t just about inattention. When the heat of June hit with the low humidity, things stopped growing. Watering the roots wasn’t enough. The usual crops, the corn and peppers, simply stopped growing. Less indigenous plants suffered more.

This past week I read an article that suggested these men may face another problem in August. The USDA cancelled the contract of the company that supplied the farmer’s markets with the ability to take food stamps, and the company with the new contract wasn’t functional yet. [3] I don’t know how much that affects the ones who sell in Santa Fé, but I did see people using food stamps in the local market in 2015.


Notes on photographs:
1. White sweet clover (Melilotus alba), 9 July 2015.

2. Market garden with peppers and corn, 9 July 2018. This one is often cultivated by a couple men.

3. Market garden with corn and something with visible white flowers, 9 July 2018. This field was planted this year for the first time. The edges were left to nature. Russian thistles are growing at the left.

4. Plowed under market garden field, 9 July 2018. This field was planted for the first time this year. Notice that while the field is broad, long log agriculture was practiced.

End notes:
1. Joseph Merhege died in 2013; he operate the best known of the market gardens north of town.

2. Andy Stiny. "Drought Challenges Northern New Mexico Farmers." Santa Fe New Mexican. 26 May 2018.

3. Michael Hobbes. "Hundreds of Farmers Markets May Stop Accepting Food Stamps." Huffington Post. 13 July 2018.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Raspberry Flowers


Weather: We were supposed to get rain Thursday night, but of course didn’t. The water went north along both sides of the mountains, but bypassed the valley. The weather bureau claimed temperatures were lower, but 89 is still high, especially when the heat lasts longer in the day. The traveling water vapor did increase the relative humidity so plants didn’t need emergency watering every noon, though some seedlings suffered when I sprayed them less often.

Last useful rain: 6/16. Week’s low: 47 degrees F. Week’s high: 93 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, desert willow, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, fern bush, silver lace vine, daylilies, lilies, red hot poker, red-tipped yuccas, Spanish broom, Russian sage, bouncing Bess, hollyhocks, datura, sweet pea, hollyhocks, annual four o’clocks, yellow yarrow, cultivated sunflowers, coreopsis, black-eyed Susan

What’s blooming in my yard: Miniature roses, buddleia, Maltese cross, golden spur columbine, coral beards tongue, large-flowered soapwort, Johnson Blue geranium, catmints, lady bells, sidalcea, winecup mallow, blue flax, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, white-flowered spurge, sea lavender, perennial four o’clock, white yarrow, chocolate flowers, blanket flower, Mönch aster

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Tamarix, purple mat flower, stick leaf, white tufted evening primroses, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, scurf pea, alfalfa, white sweet clover, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, fleabane, horseweed, wild lettuce, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy

Bedding plants: Pansies, violas; local petunias

Tasks: I’ve been cleaning the main bed and rescuing plants from invading golden spur columbines, dandelions, and cheat grass. They all but decimated the anthemis and coreopsis. They shaded the plants and kept water from dripping on them, then columbine dropped its seeds between dead stems. I did find a few anthemis seedlings I’m hoping will make it through the summer. They are perennial.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbirds, goldfinch, other small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk ants, bumble and small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers; heard crickets

The neighbor’s cat seems to come every morning and promenade the yard. I’ve found it many places, usually resting on a concrete block. It no longer runs, but watches me. As soon as I walk away, it disappears. It doesn’t distrust me so much as wants to keep its ways secret. I suspect it goes home when it gets hungry or when the temperatures get so high the air conditioned rooms filled with children and a dog are preferable.


Weekly update: My total fruit harvest so far this year has been eight raspberries and three sour cherries. The birds punctured three sour cherries, which withered away. The frosts took the apricots, peaches, and sweet cherries.

The raspberries were Canbys. The Willamettes I mentioned in a 2007 post died out during the winter of 2014-2015, and this was what I found in the local store. One Missouri nursery dropped the cultivar because canes are killed in "late season cold" snaps and it "performs rather poorly on clay soil." [1]

Not exactly ideal for northern New Mexico, but my requirements were a bit different. Beyond surviving and producing fruit, the most important attribute was that the flowers and fruit appeared early. The canes don’t like heat, [2] and if the critical period for fruit development occurs after the heat sets in, the berries don’t develop. I’m still digging out some Heritage because the late summer variety only produced tiny berries that attracted hornets. [3]

This was the first time I noticed the flowers. The petals begin falling the day after they open, [4] and when I was working my schedule probably did not synch with theirs. Just as important is the fact the five-petaled white flowers hang below the leaves where they aren’t particularly visible.

When the petals fall they leave a fringe of white male stamens with dark anthers at the end. Inside, are slender female threads. Many researchers believed the two met on their own and fertilization occurred even before the flowers opened. [5]

Many nursery catalogs claimed raspberries were self-fruitful. They weren’t attempting to be botanically correct. They only wanted to assure potential buyers they didn’t need to plant several varieties like they would apples.

Other researchers tested the autogamous theory and found, if bees were kept from the canes, the berries contained fewer segments. The core receptacle that would develop inside the hollow berries contained the nectar that attracted them. [6]

I realized that structurally a raspberry was more like an ear of corn than it was a stone fruit of which it was a subclass. Those inner threads were like the silk. Each led back to an ovary that developed into a berry segment or a corn kernel. The ones were attached to a white cone and the others to a cob. When I looked carefully at one of the berries I even saw some vestigial threads that hadn’t been pollinated.

Technically, of course, raspberries are drupes or stone fruits. Only, instead of a single pit like a peach, the stone is a grain embedded in an individual drupelet. The exterior is hairy, so when I ate the fruits I had three sensations: the sweetness of the mesocarp surrounding the pit, the fuzzy duskiness of the skin, and the grittiness of the stone.


Notes on photographs:
1. Canby raspberry (Rubus idaeus) flowers, 24 May 2018.

2. Canby raspberry flower after the petals fell and the sepals remained, 24 May 2018.

3. Canby raspberry fruit 35 days later, 30 June 2018.

End notes:
1. "Raspberry Varieties We Have Grown." Lakeview Farms website.

2. Marvin P. Pritts. "From Plant to Plate: How Can We Redesign Rubus and Ribes Production Systems to Meet Future Expectations?" International Society for Horticultural Science. International Rubus and Ribes Symposium, Dundee, Scotland. 30 September 2002.

3. Lakeview Farms also stopped selling Heritage because of "its slightly smaller size, attractiveness to stinging insects, and moderate prickerish canes. It is prone to sunburn injury and must be irrigated intermittently if the temperature gets hot enough." It’s the only variety being sold in this area. The Canbys were a fluke, and haven’t appeared since.

4. S. E. McGregor. "Raspberries." In chapter 7, "Small Fruits and Brambles" of Insect Pollination of Cultivated Crop Plants. U. S. Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. 1976.

5. McGregor.
6. McGregor.