Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Anatomy of Trimming


Weather: Lots of rain the past three days.

Although the days aren’t quite as hot, nothing has recovered. No one has any annuals blooming. One person lost all their melon plants this week.

Last useful rain: 8/11. Week’s low: 55 degrees F. Week’s high: 96 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, sweet peas, Russian sage, buddleia, bird of paradise, roses of Sharon, hollyhocks, purple garden phlox, datura, squash, melons, coreopsis, blanket flowers, cultivated sunflowers, corn tasseling

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Trees of heaven, buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, silver leaf nightshade, alfalfa, white sweet clover, yellow mullein, leather leaf globe mallow, lamb’s quarter, yellow evening primrose, Queen Anne’s lace, plains paper flowers, goat’s beard, pigweed, Russian thistle, Hopi tea, toothed spurge, prostrate knotweed, native sunflowers, gumweed, wild lettuce, horseweed, goldenrod, golden hairy asters, quack grass, seven-weeks grama

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior and miniature roses, yellow potentilla, caryopteris, fernbush, garlic chives, catmints, lady bells, calamintha, winecup mallow, sidalcea, blue flax, coral beard tongues, sea lavender, lead plant, Dutch clover, white spurge, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, Saint John’s wort, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, perennial four o’clock, Mexican hats, African marigolds, chrysanthemums, chocolate flower, plains coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, anthemis, purple coneflower, Mönch asters

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, pansies, sweet alyssum

Tasks: Trimming is impossible when stems are wet. Have spent my time laying the last section of a block walk.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, chickadees, hummingbird, geckos, larger monarch butterfly, bumble bees, crickets, grasshoppers, hornets, small ants

Weekly update: Trimming dead wood is tedious. No wonder people take chain saws and electric pruners to their shrubs. While they get the satisfaction of instant neatness, they miss the contact with the plants that reveals their inner natures.

Most of the shrubs I’ve been clearing of dead wood are in the Rose family. They share a habit of leaving short bare twigs, though the reason seams to vary.

The actual roses seem to abandoned the parts of stems that held flowers, and die back to a node where a new stem grows.


The peaches simply leave dead sticks, usually on the undersides of branches. I think they once held fruit, though not all fruit is isolated that way. A lot seems to be directly attached to the branches.


Sandcherries, on the other hand, extend their branches and abandon the twigs farther back, leaving a nest of dead wood in the center. WheI pruned one back this spring to clear a path, new wood sprang from the cut area, and the branches are back in the way.


Notes on photographs: All taken 5 August 2019.
1. Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) have gotten much taller this year. Partly it’s because the black locust that shaded them is gone, and partly because they’ve gotten more water.

2. Dr. Huey rose stem that’s died back. This particular variety produces so many flowers that deadheading it would be worse that removing the dead ends.

3. Peach (Prunus persica) stem holding this year’s fruit, and a dead one on the underside that snags whatever passes under it.

4. Sandcherry (Prunus besseyi) leaves at the end of a stem riddled with dead twigs.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Equilibrium


Weather: The weather bureau has several classes of precipitation: light rain, hard rain, and thunderstorm. The last is obvious, though a misnomer. It’s not the thunder that’s the issue, but the lightening.

The words hard and light refer to a continuum of noise. Hard rain makes noise on my metal roof, and the hardest rain is the hail that fell for a few seconds Thursday. Light rain makes so little noise you have to go outside to see if it’s actually happening.

However, noise isn’t what the weather bureau means. It means the amount of water that falls in a minute, with a hard rain dropping more than a light one. Thus, we had a hard rain a week ago Tuesday, and a light rain this Thursday. The one lasted for less than hour, while the other went on for several hours. Both times the shoulders held standing water and mud lay on the pavement, but there was more a week ago than this week.

Last useful rain: 7/16. Week’s low: 59 degrees F. Week’s high: 95 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, red-tipped and Arizona yuccas, fernbush, Spanish broom, sweet peas, Russian sage, buddleia, bird of paradise, roses of Sharon, hollyhocks, gladiola, purple morning glories, purple garden phlox, datura, squash, melons, coreopsis, blanket flowers, white cone flowers, cultivated sunflowers, corn tasseling

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Trees of heaven, buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, silver leaf nightshade, alfalfa, white sweet clover, yellow mullein, velvetweed, prairie white evening primrose, leather leaf globe mallow, lamb’s quarter, Queen Anne’s lace, plains paper flowers, goat’s beard, pigweed, Russian thistle, Hopi tea, toothed spurge, prostrate knotweed, gumweed, wild lettuce, horseweed, goldenrod, golden hairy asters, quack grass, seven-weeks grama

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior and miniature roses, yellow potentilla, caryopteris, garlic chives, catmints, lady bells, calamintha, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, sidalcea, blue flax, coral beard tongues, sea lavender, lead plant, Dutch clover, white spurge, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, Saint John’s wort, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, Mexican hats, chrysanthemums, white yarrow, chocolate flower, plains coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, anthemis, purple coneflower, Mönch asters; pansies that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana, pansies

What’s coming up: Hollyhock and pigweed seedlings.

Tasks: After rains, I’ve been pulling wild lettuce and heath asters.

Continued resetting and replacing Saltillo tiles. When I lifted them I discovered the ground underneath had turned red. I also round some hole about an inch and a half in diameter. Don’t see how either an animal or water could have created them, but one must have.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, chickadees, hummingbird, geckos, sulphur butterfly, bumble bees, crickets, grasshoppers, hornets, small ants


Weekly update: I found a gumweed blooming in my driveway. The last time I saw one was in 2016. It reminded me how much the local biome has been delimited since I first moved here.

The area was originally prairie, that converted to steppe as people grazed animals. In the last thirty or forty years it has become an exurb of Española. To the west, toward the Río Grande, people build modern houses and landscaped their yards. To the north, where the road skirts the badlands, they brought in double wides. Some resided them and maintained a yard. Others left everything alone.

When I moved here in 1991 most of the plants along the shoulders of the road were pigweed and Russian thistle. But, mixed in were whorled milkweed, ivy leaf morning glories, and woolly plantains. More common were the gum weeds and golden hairy asters.

Some of the seeds blew into my yard, but never naturalized. My soil and water weren’t to their liking.

Houses changed hands, and the new residents tried to control the roadside volunteers that their predecessors had let be. Slowly, the Aesclepias verticillata, Ipomoea hederaea, and Plantago patagonica disappeared.

Sometimes, someone get on his rider mower and cut the roadside vegetation, especially on the curve outside by house where tall plants could block visibility.

Finally, the county began to send out a crew with a blade that reached out six feet, but, of course, was raised a little from the ground. This year they were out in mid-May.

When the original vegetation was destroyed, pigweed (Amaranthus albus) and Russian thistles (Salsola pestifer) moved in. Neither minds being cut, and both will produce seeds on plants a few inches high, below the level of the reapers.

The result has been the gradual reduction of the species in the neighborhood seed bank, so that what was once unique, now looks like every other part of the of the countryside.

As they say, it takes a village to raise a child. A village also defines the common vegetation, even for those who would prefer something else.


Notes on photographs: All taken by the road on 29 July 2019.
1. Sulphur butterfly on Caryopteris clandonensis.

2. The roadside where the gumweed (Grindelia aphanactic) once grew.

3. Russian thistle that sprawled when it couldn’t grow tall; it has a single yellow flower to the top left.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Forest Evils


Weather: The smoke came from a fire near El Rito. The heat came, as it does every summer, but without the complete aridity of last summer. Disturbances in the Pacific have kept moisture high in the atmosphere. Sometime, it even fell as rain.

Last useful rain: 7/16. Week’s low: 50 degrees F. Week’s high: 96 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, desert willow, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, red-tipped and Arizona yuccas, fernbush, Spanish broom, sweet peas, Russian sage, blue flax, hollyhocks, datura, coreopsis, blanket flowers, white cone flowers, cultivated sunflowers

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Trees of heaven, buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, silver leaf nightshade, alfalfa, white sweet clover, yellow mullein, velvetweed, Queen Anne’s lace, plains paper flowers, goat’s beard, Hopi tea, gumweed, toothed spurge, golden hairy asters, wild lettuce

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior and miniature roses, yellow potentilla, catmints, lady bells, calamintha, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, sidalcea, coral beard tongues, sea lavender, coral bells, lead plant, Dutch clover, white spurge, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, Saint John’s wort, large-flowered soapwort, Mexican hats, white yarrow, chocolate flower, plains coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, anthemis, purple coneflower; pansies that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana, pansies

Tasks: I decided this week, if ever I was going to get ahead of Nature, I would need to spend more time working outdoors. Since I had limited myself to an hour to conserve my muscles, I thought the best way to increase my work was to devote shorter amounts of time on more projects. Thus, I spent a half hour or more pulling heath asters, a half hour or less doing something strenuous like clipping dead wood, and a walk hour cooling down by replacing broken tiles.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, chickadees, hummingbird, geckos, monarch butterfly, hummingbird moth, bumble bees, crickets, grasshoppers, hornets, harvester and small ants

Weekly update: We had good solid rains last Sunday, and again on Tuesday. There wasn’t even much thunder or lightening, but apparently enough to ignite an area of ponderosa pine near El Rito. By Wednesday it covered 20 acres with low to moderate potential to grow. Then, in the last two days, the Forest Service spread it to 2,000 acres "to mimic natural fire conditions" [1]

Thursday, when they started lighting fires, the air was so foul I couldn’t go outdoors. Nothing was visible, but my shoulder and eyes hurt. When I came back in at 6 am, my nose was stuffed up and I was breathing through my mouth.

The weather bureau’s air-quality forecast showed thick smoke to the west, still coming from México, though it picked up additions as it flowed over the fires in southern New Mexico. I assumed that was the reason, because the last Forest Service update had not made its plans explicit. I didn’t work outside that day.

During the night, a mild wind was apparently enough to keep smoke, from whatever direction, from settling. I was able to be outdoors yesterday. However, in the evening, between 7:30 and 8:00 pm, the smoke returned in a haze over the Jémez. I could smell it on my back porch. I abandoned plans to check to see if any of this year’s shrubs needed water after temperatures had been in the 90s for hours.

The Forest Service website cloaked increasing the fire hundredfold in bureaucratic language that masked economic realities in philosophical phrases:

"The Carson National Forest is working hard to use lightning-caused fires to achieve many resource objectives. A values-driven strategy is being implemented on these fires which allows fire managers to incorporate different tactics to accomplish desired results. These tactics help reduce firefighter exposure while increasing the probability of meeting predetermined desired effects in relationship to values at risk. This assists the Forest in meeting land management objectives and managing these fires with the primary objective of returning natural fire back into this fire-adapted ecosystem." [2]

What this means, when translated into English, is that controlled burns in the spring no longer are popular: they cost money and they upset the public. So now the Forest Service is exploiting existing fires, when firefighters already are in the area, to accomplish the same ends.

While they trumpet their concern for the lives of the firefighters, money is still a factor. A spokesman said that by artificially expanding the El Rito fire they "significantly decreased the duration of the fire, thereby reducing the risk to firefighters." [3] The shorter the duration of the fire, the lower the costs.

There are other ways to maintain forests. One can send in crews to clear downed trees. Some in private business try to promote this as a way for them to go in a cut wood for profit, thereby replicating the conditions that caused the problems in the woodlands in the first place.

This general approach is rejected because it costs money. Remember, this May the Trump administration wanted to close nine centers that trained fire fighters and transfer the rest of the program to private contractors. [4] Because many of those centers were in states that voted Republican, the plan was abandoned.

The preference for fire is mainly driven by cost-benefit analysis, but it is bolstered by a romantic view that forests should be self-sustaining ecosystems like they were before whites settled near them. While we like to think we can restore Longfellow’s "forest primeval," it was an illusion even in 1847 when he wrote of a lost Acadia. [5]

Nature changes in response to humans. As forests have been preserved, people with and without money have moved near them. The first priority of the Forest Service is always protecting the nearby structures. If they exist, it brings in the chemicals; if they do not, they stop its spread and let it burn itself out.

One can’t fault any of the objectives. While I might prefer creating lots of relatively low-paying seasonal government jobs for individuals who don’t want to spend their days in a cubical, I also realize it’s difficult, with the best intentions, to manage such programs without graft and incompetence. But still, I do wish that while they wanted to preserve "wildlife habitat," they would do more than give a link to program lending HEPA filters to the rest of God’s creatures. [6]

Notes on photographs: Sea lavender (Limonium latifolia), Kelway anthemis (Anthemis tinctoria), and hybrid daylilies (who knows what Hemerocallis) on 6 July 2019.

End notes:
1. atperea. "Fire Activity and Size to Increase on the Francisquito Fire." New Mexico Fire Information website. 18 July 2019.

2. atperea. 18 July 2019.

3. atperea. "Ignitions Complete, Firefighters Securing Containment Lines." New Mexico Fire Information webiste. 21 July 2019.

4. Catherine Boudreau. "USDA Ends Long-standing Forest Service Job Training Program for At-Risk Youth." Politico website. 24 May 2019. It was going to transfer them to Alexander Acosta’s Department of Labor, but, of course, he since has resigned and no one’s in charge there.

5. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie (1847) began
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

6. atperea. 21 July 2019.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Tiles


Weather: Temperatures started rising into the 90s on Wednesday, and the shrubs that were planted this spring had to be given additional water. The seeds and bedding plants all have stopped growing, and some are shrinking in size. The area corn is no more than 2' high. I think the flourishing squashes must have been transplanted, rather than grown from seed. Most of them are in the shade.

Local evergreens continuing to turn brown. Apparently, the water from the winter and spring hasn’t penetrated to their root levels. This is even the case with one man who floods his yard.

Last useful rain: 7/13. Week’s low: 42 degrees F. Week’s high: 97 degrees F in the shade. Smoke came mainly from the Naranjo Fire near Cuba.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, desert willow, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, lilies, daylily, red-tipped and Arizona yuccas, fernbush, Spanish broom, sweet peas, Russian sage, blue flax, hollyhocks, datura, bouncing Bess, squash, yellow yarrow, coreopsis, blanket flowers, white cone flowers, cultivated sunflowers; ripe apricots falling on ground

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Trees of heaven, buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, silver leaf nightshade, alfalfa, white sweet clover, yellow mullein, velvetweed, Queen Anne’s lace, plains paper flowers, goat’s beard, Hopi tea, gumweed, toothed spurge, golden hairy asters, wild lettuce, native and common dandelions

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior and miniature roses, catmints, lady bells, calamintha, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, sidalcea, coral beard tongues, sea lavender, coral bells, Dutch clover, white spurge, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, Saint John’s wort, Mexican hats, white yarrow, chocolate flower, plains coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, anthemis, purple coneflower; pansies that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia much shrunken, nicotiana, pansies

What’s reviving/coming up: Leaves on ragweed and native sunflowers becoming visible

Tasks: One man cut his hay. I cut the alfalfa near the crab apples with the string trimmer for the second time this season. I thought about clearing the dead stems from the walk, but realized the leaves dry and blow into the nearby grasses.

Failing hoses had to be replaced. I think the problems were caused by the heat, but I’m not sure exactly what happens. The plastic gets brittle, rather than flexible. I suspect it also expands, so the water holes get smaller. Thus, when the same amount of water goes through that flowed when it was cooler, it puts more stress on the holes. The ones that fail are always near the inlet fittings. I suspect that area gets damaged during manufacturing, and so is the weakest spot when the heat rises. It still means, when the hoses are most necessary, they are least reliable.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, geckos seem larger this year, sulphur, monarch and cabbage butterflies, bumble bees, dragonfly, crickets, grasshoppers, hornets, mosquitoes, small ants


Weekly update: The heat melts my resolve to work outside everyday. My body keeps aging and no longer responds when I think about going out to work at daybreak. When my muscles are willing, the air is too warm. Thus, only critical tasks gets done.

This week I looked for work in the shade. The forsythia was ignored for years because the black locust got so near, the thorns kept me away. Then, when it crowded the olive family shrub, I let the forsythia alone so it could muster its resources in its own way.

The locust is gone, and the Forsythia intermedia is recovering. I spent one morning sitting under it clipping dead wood. That kind of work is hard on the wrist, and so I can’t do it again for a week. In the meantime, the shrub can continue to grow.

The only other shady place is on the northwest side of the house where I need to cut more peaches that are weighing down the tree. However, that uses the same tools and same muscles, so I have to alternate working on the Prunus persica with the forsythia.

The peach is near the house, where the some tiles I placed near the foundation blocks to carry away water have been disintegrating. Saltillo tile is not made for the outdoors. When I bought it, I was told to buy a particular type of sealer and apply several coats. I put it on both sides, but I’m not sure if every tiles got the same treatment. I’m never as systematic as I should be.


Anyway, all that was more twenty-five years ago. There’s a place where the porch connects to the house that has no eave trough. I could never find anyone competent willing to do the work. So, water comes down in winter, then freezes and melts. The tile tops became pock marked, and some cracked.

I’ve been saying I needed to replace the broken tiles, but I also said that’s winter work. It can be done anytime, and work hours in the summer are few.

Well, this week, I changed my mantra, and began replacing tiles.

When I removed tiles, I discovered they had delaminated on the underside. I realize that’s not technically true, since I don’t think tile is created in layers. But, the effect was the same. Pieces broke off horizontally.

I used the chisel to pry up the pieces that then had buried themselves in the dirt. Next, I used the drywall trowel to relevel the ground. Water that seeped through the cracks had eroded the nearby dirt, leaving humps in the center.


As I mentioned last week, cracks attract seeds. The sprouting plants push tiles farther apart, and perpetuate their problems. Thus, when I reset tiles, I also filling up the spaces.

That will be fine, until I get down to the section where the electric and telephone wires enter the house. The ground post created an area that couldn’t be tiled. The blue flax moved in. Since the Linum perenne kept dying out in the bed where I planted it, I left them. Now, when I get to that area, I’ll have to figure out how to move tiles without destroying too many of the plants.


Notes on photographs: All pictures taken 13 July 2019.

1. Plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) is an annual that was included in a sample seed mix that was sent by one nursery. None of the other seeds germinated, but a couple of these floated in water to places they like and bloomed. Last year I bought a packet of the seed, and scattered the seeds with the perennial lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) and blanket flowers (Gaillardia aristata) seeds whenever I cleared a space. The winter must have been idea for it, because a number came up this year.

2-5. Saltillo tile.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Rounds of Labor


Weather: We’ve moved into summer with long periods of low humidity punctuated by moisture moving from tropical storms formed on either side of Central America. Since the solstice afternoon temperatures have been in the 90s.

This week, I noticed the knots have been blown out of the south facing vertical board fence.

Last useful rain: 7/6. Week’s low: 46 degrees F. Week’s high: 96 degrees F in the shade. Smoke from Mexican fires continues to enter area, but now it’s being supplemented by lightening caused fires in the Gila Wilderness.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, desert willow, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, lilies, daylily, red hot poker, Spanish broom, sweet peas, Russian sage, blue flax, hollyhocks, golden spur columbine, datura, bouncing Bess, yellow yarrow, coreopsis, blanket flowers; green apples visible from road

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, cholla and prickly pear cacti, showy milkweed, white prairie evening primroses, tumble mustard, buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, silver leaf nightshade, alfalfa, white sweet clover, yellow mullein, Queen Anne’s lace, plains paper flowers, goat’s beard, Hopi tea, golden hairy asters, wild lettuce, native and common dandelions

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior and miniature roses, catmints, Rumanian sage, lady bells, Goodness Grows speedwell, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, sidalcea, coral beard tongues, sea lavender, California poppy, coral bells, Dutch clover, white spurge, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, Mexican hats, white yarrow, chocolate flower, plains coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, anthemis, bachelor buttons, purple coneflower; pansies that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana, pansies

What’s reviving/coming up: Perennial four o’clocks are often the last thing to emerge. Two, which had planted themselves, were visible this year on May 18. One I planted on the west side of the house, which never did well, appeared June 8. This week, the one from May under the cottonwood started to grow. On July 2, I saw six seedlings in the area. I assumed that was because I had started watering the tree more often, but no, it’s the cycle. The original parent plant, now crowded by garlic chives, made itself known yesterday.

Tasks: I was able to burn again yesterday. The brush pile had gotten much higher from the winterfat I’d cut from under the cottonwood and the skunkbush I removed that was crowding its more desirable neighbors. I had laid the debris the length of the partially burned peach limb. This time, the fire got most of that wood. It had been dried by two fires and the weather. What’s left is already buried by the next round of fuel, this time white sweet clover plants.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbird on coral beard tongues, chickadees and other small dark birds, gecko, sulphur, monarch and cabbage butterflies, bumble and small bees, crickets, grasshoppers, hornets, mosquitoes, small ants.

Few of the seeds I planted June 21 have come up. Nothing has emerged where the small ants were active. On June 24, I found the cantaloup seeds had been dug up and the shells left behind. Then two weeks ago, the rabbit appeared. It hadn’t been around yet this season, but now it was lurking in the area along the drive where the other melon seeds had been planted. If anything did come up, it was eaten immediately.

Five years ago some elephant garlic appeared next to my garage. During the winter, the ground squirrel ate it. It must have dropped a piece or a seed blew away. A couple weeks ago I found one plant about four feet from the original.


Weekly update: Some experts write calendars of tasks to help the novice gardener. They assume some kind of regularity, like the cycles of the moon. In my yard, there are annual tasks, but their timing depends entirely on the unpredictable weather.

In a good year, I simply do what could be called regular maintenance. I have to weed every bed at least once a year. I always think it would be nice to actually have this completed so all I had to do was pull out new invaders. However, I’ve come to realize this would take a work force like that found on pre-Civil War plantations, one that could be deployed en masse during the lulls in the cotton growing season.

When I do seem to be caught up, I work on projects that have been neglected. Since I didn’t do anything two years ago because of the partially torn ligament in my right thumb, there has been a lot of neglected areas that needed attention. I did some last year, but spent more time cleaning overgrown beds.

This year, I’ve had a little more time to dead with problems. One was caused by June grass that lodged itself between the concrete blocks in front of the entrance to the house. Herbicides didn’t touch it, probably because they depend on a plant’s metabolism to be effective and many grasses have a different feeding cycle.

I bought a battery powered string trimmer this year, and, at least, was able to cut it down. But, of course, that won’t remove it or kill it.


This past week I started digging it out. Actually, digging isn’t quite the word, since I was using a chisel to get into the cracks and remove the roots. Since it is a bunch grass, that means it produces new clusters every year. Each has to be treated separately.

Once I got them removed, I discovered the area underneath was covered by at least an inch of dirt. I used to wonder when I saw plants on the prairie that were higher than their neighbors, if they held the soil while the wind took the nearby dirt away, or if they captured the dirt from the wind. The plants in the blocks answered that question: they provide their own soil.


While I was feeling good about finally getting to clear a nuisance, disaster loomed elsewhere. I went from working on my own schedule to running from the devil as the wild lettuce started to bud. I had let the plants grow, knowing I could wait until they bloomed to do anything. Since they’re biannuals, I assumed I was safe so long as I kept them from going to seed. I spent a couple mornings with loppers cutting them down.

Then, just as I thought I had that problem under control, the white sweet clover started to bloom. I was out this morning again with the loppers trying to get them before they went to seed.


Notes on photographs:
1. Pansies (Viola wittrockiana) blooming in the shade of the peach tree, 7 July 2019. The Queen Anne’s lace is growing wild in the runoff trough for a culvert. The pansies were advertised as Delta True Blue and there was no sign of a yellow one in the pack.

2. Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum), 6 July 2018.

3. June grass (Koeleria cristata) that’s been cropped by the string trimmer, 7 July 2019.

4. June grass that remains after part of the clump was removed, 7 July 2019. It’s surrounded by its captive soil.

5. What’s left of the peach limb (Prunus persica), 6 June 2019.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Bullies in the Hood


Weather: The solstice was the first day with low humidity in Los Alamos and Santa Fé. That it coincided with that solar marker may be chance.

Last useful rain: 6/17. Week’s low: 43 degrees F. Week’s high: 92 degrees F in the shade. Smoke from Mexican fires continues to enter area; sometimes it was replaced with smoke from Arizona.

What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey rootstock and hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, catalpa, desert willow, silver lace vine, Japanese honeysuckle, red-tipped yucca, lilies, daylily, red hot poker, Spanish broom, sweet peas, purple salvia, blue flax, larkspur, snow-in-summer, hollyhocks, golden spur columbine, datura, yellow yarrow, coreopsis, blanket flowers

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, cholla cactus, showy milkweed, white tufted evening primrose, tumble mustard, buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, alfalfa, wild licorice, nits and lice, plains paper flowers, goat’s beard, Hopi tea, strap leaf and golden hairy asters, native and common dandelions

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior, Dorothy Perkins, rugosa and miniature roses, catmints, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, smooth, foxglove, coral and purple beard tongues, bouncing Bess, Maltese cross, California poppy, Dutch clover, coral bells, pink evening primroses, Queen Anne’s lace, Mexican hats, white yarrow, chocolate flower, plains coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, anthemis; pansies that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana, sweet alyssum, snap dragons, pansies

What’s reviving/coming up: Friday I put in more seeds, because so few had come up. Ant hills have been multiplying, and the sidewalk ones were patrolling the beds. I tried sprinkling an insecticide over the beds when I was done to slow the depredations.

Tasks: One man finally planted his vegetable plot this week. Another, waited to last week to put out plants he protected with plastic cylinders. He probably has a problem with rabbits.

Two people erected small canopies to sell produce on roads in town. One listed cherries, onions, and sugar peas.

I continued to pick peaches from low limbs, either to protect the branch or my forehead. So far the unripe fruit hasn’t started to smell or attract insects to their trash bags. Apparently, the chemicals that cause rotting haven’t developed yet.

Animal sightings: Chickadees, gecko, monarch and cabbage butterflies, bumble and small bees, red and brown dragonflies, heard crickets, hornets, mosquitoes, small ants

Now that the sweet cherries are gone, so too are the birds. I managed to get four sour cherries this week, my entire harvest for the year.


Weekly update: We all know the bullies, the plants that naturalize and crowd out their neighbors. Most are prolific seed producers, and many have deep roots that penetrate under the plants with radiation fibrous ones.

Golden spur columbine has been one of my problems. The two I planted in 1997 have taken over a fifty-foot bed. Every time I clear a space to plants seeds for some other perennial, the seeds it already deposited wake up and take over.

A couple years ago I noticed the red hot pokers that had self-seeded from another area were able to hold their own. Even when the Aquilegia chrysantha seeds came up directly under their leaves, the Kniphofia uvaria cultivars managed to survive.


That led me to think maybe plants with bulbous roots would be able to withstand the siege on their space. I bought a variety of hybrid daylilies in colors that contrasted with the columbine’s butter yellow. The Hemerocallis cultivars survived, and bloomed, but every year the columbine grow so close the daylily leaves are lost to view. And, of course, the flower colors weren’t exactly what was described.


Last fall I ordered some bearded iris to see if they could work. Unlike the daylilies, which send up several shoots from the crown the iris leaves are closely united near the ground. That makes it hard for the columbine seedlings to germinate within the plant’s domain. The Iris germamica bloomed in spring, and so far are holding their own.

I also got enticed by a catalog that offered Asiatic lilies for naturalizing. The price was much lower than the specimens sold by the local big boxes. They too made it through the winter, no small achievement for bulbs. Many fail that first test.

Now the Lilium are blooming. It will take another year to know if they will succeed. Bulbs usually bloom the first year, because they spent the summer in ideal conditions. It’s the second year that matters.


Notes on photographs:
1. Unidentified daylily cultivar and golden spur columbine, 1 June 2019.
2. Golden spur columbine seedlings, 22 June 2019.
3. Red hot pokers and golden spur columbine, 22 June 2019.
4. Daylily cultivar surrounded by golden spur columbine foliage, 22 June 2019.
5. Asiatic lilies, so far free of golden spur columbine plants, 22 June 2019.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Magpies


Weather: We went from mornings that were cool with hot afternoons, to nights that didn’t cool and hotter days, to cold mornings again. The little rain we got last night was enough to relieve the stress of plants that couldn’t cope with the heat.

Last useful rain: 6/15. Week’s low: 42 degrees F. Week’s high: 94 degrees F in the shade. Smoke from Mexican fires continues to enter area.

What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey rootstock, hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, catalpa, silver lace vine, Japanese honeysuckle, red-tipped yucca, red hot poker, Spanish broom, sweet peas, purple salvia, blue flax, larkspur, snow-in-summer, Jupiter’s beard, golden spur columbine, yellow yarrow, coreopsis

The catalpas have been blooming from the bottom up. The smaller trees and branches nearer the warm ground bloomed first. Toward the end of the week, with warming night temperatures, the taller trees and higher branches started flowering. They have bloomed toward the end of May in the past.

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, showy milkweed, white tufted evening primrose, tumble mustard, buffalo gourd, bindweed, datura, green leaf five eyes, alfalfa, wild licorice, fleabane, plains paper flowers, strap leaf aster, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions; rice, three awn, and brome grasses

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior, Dorothy Perkins, rugosa and miniature roses, Asiatic lilies, catmints, Johnson’s blue geranium, winecup mallow, smooth, foxglove, coral and purple beardtongues, Maltese cross, California poppy, Dutch clover, coral bells, pink evening primroses, Mexican hats, white yarrow, chocolate flower, blanket flower, anthemis; pansy and Rocket snapdragon that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana, sweet alyssum, snap dragons

What’s reviving/coming up: The warm nights encouraged a few seeds to germinate, but so far nothing more than one of a kind came up before the mornings cooled again.

Tasks: I spent more time cutting winterfat and raking excess leaves from under the cottonwood. The rain Saturday evening did not penetrate the leaves and reach the ground under the tree. The ones near the river, before humans, must indeed have gotten their water from the rise in the river when it rained, rather than from the rain directly.

I cut more unripe peaches from the twenty-year-old tree to relieve the stress of so many fruits on the ends of branches. There often were clumps of four to six. As I cut them, I could see the branches lifting.

The hoses that spray started to fail this week with the afternoon heat. That meant trying to make them lie flatter so the water went into the bed and not into the weeds. It also mean experimenting with partially opening valves to see if lower pressures would force more water into the beds. It’s still trial and error with hoses that are questionable, but all that’s available.

Animal sightings: Chickadees, gecko, one sulfur and many cabbage butterflies, bumble and small bees, heard crickets, hornets, mosquitoes, small ants


Weekly update: Thursday and Friday afternoons a flock of magpies descended. The members of the crow family are noisy and leave large droppings. They also do not scare away easily. I felt like the abandoned stage characters who cry "Alas, why me?"

Why now isn’t any easier to answer. This is the southern end of the range of black-billed magpies. They evolved three to four million years ago in the Pliocine, [1] and spread when temperatures cooled in the Ice Age. [2] Today they are associated with riparian parts of cold-weather steppe vegetation. [3]

Pica hudsonia are not migratory, although they may move to lower elevations in winter. [4] They also "may erratically wander" after the young are self-sufficient. [5] In Santa Fé on 9 July 2014, Anne Schmauss said she had heard "more than the usual number of magpie reports right in town in the last week or two" but the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited could provide no explanation. [6]

Thomas Hall said congregations often are found around food sources. In the past that was bison and cattle herds. They fed off the insects in their hide hairs. Today it more likely is road-kill or "ripening fruit and nut orchards." [7]

Cherries have been ripening this past week. However, I don’t think there are any orchards in the immediate area, and the scattered large trees are at least a mile away. The quail got all my ripe ones, and left the unripe and half-eaten on both my sweet and sour trees.

The other possibility is some disturbance in their home range. The only local fire is about five acres in El Rito, which is 55 miles north. It has been burning slowly since started by lightening 7 June. [8]

There might be some construction project somewhere. People continue to move into empty land, especially west of the Río Grande.

The magpies landed in the trees around my house, and in the grasses in the back yard. When I chased them off, they didn’t fly toward the open land of the prairie, but circled looking for another place to roost.

They were most attractive when they were leaving. That’s when one could see the black, white, and blue stripes that turned into Vs when the wings were spread.


Notes on photographs: All taken 16 June 2019.
1. Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa); the low horizontal branch has more flowers than the upper one.

2. Clusters of unripe peaches (Prunus persica).

3. Smooth beardtongue (Penstemon laevigatu) that naturalized.

End notes:
1. Wikipedia. Black-billed Magpie."

2. Gang Song, Ruiying Zhang, Per Alström, Martin Irestedt, Tianlong Cai, Yanhua Qu, Per G. P. Ericson, Jon Fjeldså, and Fumin Lei. "Complete Taxon Sampling of the Avian Genus Pica (Magpies) Reveals Ancient Relictual Populations and Synchronous Late-pleistocene Demographic Expansion Across the Northern Hemisphere." Journal of Avian Biology. February 2018.

3. Charles H. Trost. "Black-billed Magpie." Cornell University website. 1 January 1999.

4. Thomas C. Hall. "Magpies." Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage. Edited by Scott E. Hygnstrom, Robert M. Timm and Gary E. Larson. Lincoln: Great Plains Agricultural Council. 1994.

5. Wikipedia.

6. Anne Schmauss. "Reports of the Fascinating Magpie Abound in Santa Fe." The [Santa Fé] New Mexican. 9 July 2014.

7. Hall.

8. cnfpio. "Carson National Forest Preparing for Firing Operations on Gurule Fire." New Mexico Fire Information website. 15 June 2019.