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.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Soaker Hoses


Weather: More days when the afternoon temperature hit 97. Some plants showed signs of giving up. This was these shrubs third summer; they made it through last year’s heat and this past winters dry cold, but still weren’t strong enough. They’re like small children: if they had hard times when they’re young, they’re less resilient when conditions get bad.

Last useful rain: 6/16. Week’s low: 46 degrees F. Week’s high: 97 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, yellow yarrow, cultivated sunflowers, coreopsis

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, dark purple larkspur, white yarrow, chocolate flowers, blanket flower

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, tumble mustard, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, fleabane, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy

Bedding plants: Pansies, violas; local petunias

Tasks: One person cut his hay. I spent most of week in the house hiding from the heat and bad air. I only went out to water.

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


Weekly update: One’s ability to grow anything in this part of the country is entirely dependent on others. If you’re not in the path of the ditch, that means you’re captive to poor manufacturing processes.

When I first moved here there were no big boxes, and no Amazon. If the local hardware or dime stores (and we still had TG&Y) didn’t carry something or sold out in spring and didn’t restock, you did without. I remember I could only find one of those two-way soaker-sprayer hoses one year, and never again.

What I did buy were some black soaker hoses made from recycled tires. They worked well, but when I needed to buy more the next year they had cheapened the manufacturing process. They either broke or had large holes. And, of course, the 5/8" hoses sold out and only 1/2" were left most of the time.

Then I discovered something odd. They worked fine in the spring, and failed in the summer. Last year, I cut one apart to see if lime or other debris had built up inside, but couldn’t find anything.

Then I considered the color of the hoses. A friend had warned me he had killed a rose when the water coming out of his garden hose was hot from sitting in the sun. I finally decided the water evaporated inside the hoses when the temperatures rose in June, as they did every year.


A few years later I found some soaker hoses made from fabric in a big box, and ordered more from Amazon. The big box only carried 25' lengths and I needed 50'. Again, the first ones worked well. Then, instead of one seam with small stitches on one side, the manufacturers changed to seams on each side with large stitches. Instead of the water filling the length of hose, and then seeping out through the fabric, it came out though the stitch holes.

I could still live with that, so long as I made sure my plants were aligned to the holes. But the next year, they used cheaper fittings that leaked as soon as they were installed. The hoses became worthless, and the only thing available locally was the black soakers that also didn’t work.


Last summer, after the ground squirrel destroyed so many of the hoses that had worked, I went looking for ideas on Amazon. This time I was able to buy the soaker/sprayers. But again, there were problems. A 50' foot hose wouldn’t deliver water, so I had to install two 25' hoses and a 25' feeder to the second.

Two brands were available on Amazon. There were a lot of complaints about the one having large holes at each end that sent the water high into the air and delivered nothing between. I bought brand B, and had the same problem. In addition, the inner diameter was larger than that in brand A, so the water simply didn’t build up enough pressure to spray with my water pressure.

I’m stuck with brand A, and have to replace a few when I buy them because of bad holes. I’ve discovered they also develop holes if the hose is bent at all. I know there are places where you can lay a hose flat in a straight line, but not in my yard.

Now it’s June. One never really knows if a hose works until the solstice. I have no idea if the material they used can withstand the dry heat we’re having, or if it will grow rigid and fail. Brand A seems to be putting out less than it was, but I finding the problem is sometimes plants have grown tall near it and divert the water so it no longer reaches where it did. When I find a hole, I just hope because it’s too late in the year to replace the ones under plants.


Notes on photographs:
1. Double pink hollyhock (Alcea rosea), 30 June 2018. I only planted singled ones. They perpetuate themselves by going to seed.

2. Big hole at the end of a soaker/spray hose, 8 April 2018. Both holes should be like the one on the right.

3. Recycled tire soaker hose, 12 June 2016. Water no longer is making it through the hose.
4. Failed connector on fabric soaker hose, 12 June 2016.
5. Comparison of two soaker/spray hoses, 15 April 2018. The top one is working better for me.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Regale Lily


Weather: Afternoon temperatures rose above 90 degrees on 5 June, and, except for three days around the rain of 16 June, they’ve stayed there. Friday they reached 97 in the shade of the house.

It doesn’t matter how much you water, those temperatures combined with the greater exposure to the sun around Thursday’s solstice affect plants. My seedlings have stopped growing, and I haven’t notice any great growth in corn elsewhere. Leaves on some of my alfalfa are dying, while the needle grass in open spaces has lost its green base. The soil between winterfat shrubs has a glazed look.

Last useful rain: 6/16. Week’s low: 48 degrees F. Week’s high: 97 degrees F.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, desert willow, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, fern bush, silver lace vine, honeysuckle, daylilies, lilies, red hot poker, onion, Arizona and red-tipped yuccas, Spanish broom, Russian sage, purple salvia, hollyhocks, snow-in-summer, datura, sweet pea, hollyhocks, yellow yarrow, cultivated sunflowers, coreopsis

What’s blooming in my yard: Miniature roses, Maltese cross, golden spur columbine; foxglove, smooth, and coral beards tongues; Johnson Blue geranium, catmints, Romanian sage, lady bells, sidalcea, winecup mallow, blue flax, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, white-flowered spurge, sea lavender, dark purple larkspur, Shasta daisy, white yarrow, chocolate flowers, blanket flower

White yarrow is a white composite flower. I have some growing amid alfalfa that have a lavender hue. At first I thought it was an optical reflection from the legumes’ purple flowers. Yesterday I looked closer. The ray petals are pink, but fade to white as they age. Since I can’t believe the two cross-fertilized or color can magically transfer from one flower to another, I have to idea what happened.

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Tamarix, cholla, alfilerillo, purple mat flower, stick leaf, white tufted evening primroses, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, showy milkweed, buffalo gourd, scurf pea, alfalfa, white sweet clover, tumble mustard, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, fleabane, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, pansies, violas, snapdragons; local petunias

Tasks: Thursday I passed one of the market garden fields where a solitary man was out with a hoe in the noontide sun. I thought what a lonely and arduous life to raise crops in a drought.

I hate being in the sun. I do my hour of garden work early in the morning and lay down soaker hoses so I don’t have to go outside to water. This year, for the first time, I’ve been going out around noon to water the surface of the seedling beds that dry within hours of being watered in the morning. I’ve also been spraying down the trees I planted last summer and this past spring because they were wilting. I knew I wasn’t giving them the water they needed; that came from running a soaker hose by them every third day. Instead, I simply wanted to cool down the leaves.

I also sprayed the cholla cacti that had been damaged by the ground squirrel because I think they may absorb water from the air as well as from the soil. This past week I started spraying the native grasses in the areas where I was standing with a hose because I think they also manage to use the little water they get in monsoon showers. You can’t spray a hose in a continuous stream on the seed beds; you have to water the surface, wait for it to sink in, and water again. All I did this week was direct the hose outward between the seconds it was directed at the beds.

Animal sightings: Hummingbird, other small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk ants, cabbage butterfly, ladybug, bumble and small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers


Weekly update: As should be obvious by now, I have no knack for growing seeds. I marvel when I read about breeders who hand pollinate, then plant all the seeds they’ve produced, and they actually grow. The only seeds I have doing tolerably well right now are the zinnias and African marigolds that come a hotter climate than this one.

I also don’t deadhead. Since I only work an hour a day, I never get the basic chores done so I can do such secondary work. Thus, those plants that can naturalize have. They’re mainly natives like chocolate flowers, coral beard tongues, blue flax, hollyhocks, and columbine.

Last year I noticed lily leaves growing near the Bradford pear. Bulb growers don’t reveal their secrets, beyond assuring you their products are not harvested from the wild. I knew lilies produced seed, because that’s the purpose of flowers. However, I thought the Dutch used divisions of bulbs rather than seeds to perpetuate their crops.

This week the lily revealed itself to be a Regale that originally came from western Sichuan. [1] The region is mountainous with the climate varying by elevation. [2] The stems can produce up to 25 trumpet-shaped flowers, [3] but mine only ever have two that are streaked with maroon on the outside. The seedling has less external color and is more fragrant than the parents that also started blooming this week.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Some years ago I mentioned I had some hybrid Red Hot Pokers that didn’t bloom as well as my neighbors, and had more subdued coloring. [4] I had planted them on the slope that bordered my main garden, and when they didn’t survive the winter of 2012-2013, I didn’t mourn them much.

A year later one appeared in the main bed, and this year there were three blooming where they were never planted by me. They had shed their hybrid characteristics, and were tall and garish. Since the golden spur columbine has taken over the bed and shoved everything else to the periphery, I was glad to have some different shape and color in the mass of pale yellow. The fact Kniphofia are in the lily family may mean their bulbs can hold their own against the fleshy Aquilegia roots.


Notes on photographs:
1. Regale Lily, Lilium, 23 June 2018.
2. White Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, 23 June 2018.
3. Red Hot Poker, Kniphofia uvaria. 16June 2018.

End notes:
1. "Lilium regale." Missouri Botanical Garden website.
2. Wikipedia. "Sichuan."
3. Missouri.
4. See the post for 8 February 2009.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fire Weather


Weather: The solstice is approaching, and nature noticed. The goat’s beard’s been blooming earlier and earlier in the day. Monday, the crickets out back started chirping later, though I don’t know if they were reacting to the sun or the heat.

Until yesterday, afternoon temperatures were in the low 90s. The warm weather curtained the blooming period of all the catalpas that weren’t cooled by their nearness to the river. I noticed more evergreen trees were browning, but this time they were full-sized smaller species.

A pre-solstice hurricane threw water our way yesterday, though the gentle rain didn’t deposit much water. The clouds that kept it from evaporating were more helpful.

Last useful rain: 6/16. Week’s low: 45 degrees F. Week’s high: 95 degrees F.

What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey and hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, catalpa, desert willow, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, honeysuckle, daylilies, lilies, red hot poker, Arizona and red-tipped yuccas, Spanish broom, Russian sage, purple salvia, hollyhocks, snow-in-summer, datura, sweet pea, hollyhocks, dark purple larkspur, yellow yarrow, cultivated sunflowers, coreopsis. Sugar peas were for sale from a roadside stand on Thursday.

What’s blooming in my yard: Rugosa and miniature roses, Maltese cross, golden spur columbine; foxglove, smooth, purple, and coral beards tongues; Johnson Blue geranium, catmints, Romanian sage, lady bells, winecup mallow, blue flax, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, white-flowered spurge, Shasta daisy, Ozark coneflower, white yarrow, chocolate flowers, blanket flower

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Tamarix, alfilerillo, purple mat flower, white tufted evening primroses, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, showy milkweed, buffalo gourd, scurf pea, alfalfa, white sweet clover, tumble mustard, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, fleabane, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy; brome, cheat, and purple three-awn grasses

Flowers were dense on a number of cholla plants in one area, but not visible elsewhere. Mine, of course, are still recovering from the ground squirrel. This is an unusually good year for the one field. Cottonwoods were dropping their cotton.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, pansies, violas, snapdragons; local petunias

Tasks: One person baled a cutting of hay.

Last Sunday morning I began working to save the chrysanthemums. I hadn’t realize when I changed hoses that they weren’t getting water until I noticed more brown than green in the area. By then the deep rooted perennials and cheat grass had moved in.

The first step is always clearing the major problems so I can see what’s actually happening. I started by digging out or breaking off the dandelions, columbines, and leatherleaf globemallows around the edges.

When I’m doing work that involves repetitive motions, - and what garden work doesn’t - I try to work different areas of the yard on successive days. The idea is I vary which muscles are being used. Thus, I did something else on Monday.

Tuesday, I returned to the mums to remove the loose sticks that crisscrossed the area so I could get to the cheat grass, and occasional purple aster. The cheat grass had gotten very tall. When I dug it out with the chisel, the seeds and flowers broke lose and fell on my pant legs, where I had to pick them off to avoid planting them. Underneath, they were harboring dandelions.

I didn’t get back until this morning, when I removed some of the dandelions with a spade and broke others off. Some had come up inside mum plants. I removed a little more cheat grass, then was able to use the chisel to uplift the many columbine seedlings that had come up. Again, many of the seeds had been stopped in their travels by the dead flowering stems and dropped near or inside the mum’s roots.

By the time my hour was up, the bees were beginning to buzz around the columbines, ensuring a new crop of seedlings next year.

Animal sightings: Hummingbird, other small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk ants, viceroy and cabbage butterflies, bumble bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers, earthworms where I was weeding; small bees arrived on purple flowers

I planted some more melon seeds Monday, and placed a piece of wire mesh fencing over the top of the area. It was weighted by bricks at the two ends. Wednesday I found a deep furrow on one side, too big to have been caused by a bird. I don’t think the animal was able to get under. If things start to come up, I still can protect the seedlings by maneuvering the bricks to raise the fencing a little.

I suspect it was the rabbit, which seems to be more stubborn than smart. The ground squirrel wouldn’t have let a mere sheet of wire stop it. Since it can’t get water by biting into my hoses, it’s loosening them at the fittings. When I went to see why some trees weren’t doing well, I found the end cap wasn’t tight. Then Thursday, I found a hose loose at its connection, where it had been fine two days before.


Weekly update: Fire weather has different aspects. The first to arrive are conditions that make fires possible: high heat and low humidity that prepare fuels, lightening that ignites them, and high winds that fan the flames.

Sunday night the second-hand smoke phase arrived. I woke with my muscles sore from breathing. In the morning, I looked at the weather bureau’s air quality map. Vertical smoke was to the south and east of the Sangres. Tuesday morning, it was surrounding the area, and by midnight the entire state was blanketed.

I’m not exactly sure what vertical smoke means, beyond some measurement of the number of particles in the air. I believe it’s the smoke that’s risen from a wild fire into the upper atmosphere where it circulates. Some must drift down, especially in the night, and mix with the automobile exhaust from cities like Santa Fé. When that mix drops into valley, it only affects the few with compromised lungs.

Wednesday I stopped attempting any work outside beyond watering, and always wore a surgical mask. When I woke from my nap Thursday afternoon it had just stopped raining. The smell of smoke was strong outside. First-hand smoke was arriving from a just ignited fire in Valles Caldera.

Rain brought some relief yesterday. This morning the vertical smoke was gone, but we faced what I call the third fire weather phase. They’ve been dropping water and fire retardants on the San Antonio fire. I assume some of that lands on the ashes, and together they become part of the soil surface that dries out in high heat and low humidity. Once turned to dust, they’re picked up by high winds anytime during the year and blow, usually to the northeast towards the Española valley.


Notes on photographs:
1. Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) and perennial sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolia) blooming together, 16 June 2018.

2. Goldfinger potentillas (Potentilla fruticosa); smooth brome grass (Bromus Inermis) has colonized the area in front, 16 June 2018.

3. Maltese crosses (Lychnis chalcedonica); Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) leaves are in back, 16 June 2018.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Dead Evergreens


Weather: We had rain last Sunday, and by Tuesday the humidity level was back down to 5%. I decided that number didn’t mean much, because it didn’t indicate the source for the water in the atmosphere. In much of the country, 90% of the moisture comes from oceans, lakes, and rivers, and the rest from plants. [1]

That number is deceptive because it includes the moisture from the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Ronald Hanson separated near and far bodies to water to suggest almost all the precipitation in the southwest came from plants, rivers, reservoirs, and the soil. [2]

During the summer monsoons we might get some moisture churned by a hurricane if it survives its transport across the intervening deserts. This past week, Aletta emerged off the coast of México and one could see its tail of water vapor reaching the Río Grande valley on Satellite images, but nothing showed on the radar scans taken closer to the surface.

Aletta’s water served a different purpose. It diffused some of the solar radiation, even though afternoon temperatures were still in the low 90s. The sun’s heat, and implicitly the journey to and from the solstice, remain what drives our weather.

Transpiration, or the release of water by plants, is a function of photosynthesis. When temperatures rise, plants open their pores and release water. [3] The moisture then creates a cooler zone around the plant. The wind moves that cooled air away, forcing the plant to emit more water to protect itself. Thus, the winds and high temperatures caused by a lack of cloud cover reinforce each other in producing drought conditions. [4]


Different categories of plants handle extreme heat differently: some like grasses have changed their metabolic cycles to operate at night, and others like cacti slow themselves. Seeds that have sprouted wilt by noon and stop growing, peony buds die unopened, and daylily, hosta, and morning glory seedling leaves lose color in the sun. Evergreens reflect less light than desert sands, and so retain their heat and suffer more. [5]

Last rain: 6/3. Week’s low: 43 degrees F. Week’s high: 93 degrees F


What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey and hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, silver lace vine, honeysuckle, daylilies, lilies, red hot poker, red-tipped and weeping yuccas, Spanish broom, Russian sage, purple salvia, hollyhocks, Jupiter’s beard, snow-in-summer, datura, sweet pea, hollyhocks, dark purple larkspur, yellow yarrow

We had the apricot and cherry frosts this year, but were spared the catalpa one in late spring that destroys emerging leaves. As a result, the tall, white-flowered trees were in full bloom everywhere this week. The one in my yard was fragrant and had more internal leaves than it had last year.

What’s blooming in my yard: Rugosa and miniature roses, desert willow, cultivated tamarix, Maltese cross, golden spur columbine; foxglove, smooth, purple, and coral beards tongues; Johnson Blue geranium, catmints, Romanian sage, winecup mallow, blue flax, tomatillo, pink evening primroses, Shasta daisy, Ozark coneflower, white yarrow, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Cholla cactus, alfilerillo, purple mat flower, white tufted evening primroses, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, showy milkweed, buffalo gourd, scurf pea, alfalfa, white sweet clover, tumble mustard, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, fleabane, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy; brome, cheat, purple three-awn, and rice grasses.

Three awn and dead western stickseed were releasing their seeds.

What’s coming up: Zinnias and African marigolds were putting out their second leaves; the other seedlings were in remission.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, pansies, violas. At least two people had put petunias in containers.

Tasks: Now that I finished clearing the garlic chives from the pinks and snow-in-summer bed, I started salvage operations in the main garden. I began by cutting down the white sweet clover that had reached three feet in height. Heavy blades like loppers and pruners don’t cut green stems, and the smaller nippers can’t handle the thickness of the stems. I did managed to get the much abused, dull loppers to do it anyway, because I didn’t care how much they tore the stems.

When I cut down the unwanted sprouts that had come up far from the parent black locust, I discovered the elms they were hiding. Neither can be controlled by simply chopping them down, and both come up in the middle of other plants where they can’t be poisoned.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk ants, cabbage butterfly in alfalfa, bumble bees on sweet peas, small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers eating flowers of Shasta daisies; heard crickets

Someone imported a herd of goats to mow down its grass; it was gone an hour after I first saw them.

Thursday morning I discovered a small trench where I had planted melon seeds on Tuesday. It wasn’t there when I watered the area Wednesday noon.

Strong, twisting winds around 8 pm Wednesday brought down more dead wood in the black locust. This particular limb had been there several years, and was taller than the newer growth. The birds used it, rather than the utility line above, as their sentry point.


Weekly update: Drought is insidious. One can see the damage on the surface, and one hears about changes in the levels of the water table. What one doesn’t observe what happens between those two levels until the tall evergreens start turning brown. Then, it’s too late to do much.

I first noticed the problem with deep water levels in 2011 when the leaves on my catalpa turned white. As I wrote on 21 August, the immediate cause was a lack of iron. I reasoned that sufficient iron was in the soil, else the tree wouldn’t have grown. However, iron was water soluble, and I thought it possible enough water had been pulled from the level of the tree’s roots so the iron no longer was dissolving at the same rate. I started giving the tree more water, hoping some would seep down to the lower roots.

Most do nothing because the trees don’t die, and appear normal the following spring after the winter has replenished the soil. The etiolation doesn’t begin until mid-summer. The week of rain last October may have done as much for this year’s catalpa florescence as the spring frost cycle.

Many of the tall evergreens that died were near houses that were vacant, had changed hands, or become rentals after the original owners died or moved because they were too sick to remain in their homes. The new people may not have cared, or assumed that trees simply existed without care. They usually were quick enough to call someone to cut down the carcasses.

Some, especially piñons may have been killed by bark beetles. However, my understanding is they attacked plants that already were having problems.

The first to die were what I thought were Douglass spruces. I was never sure because the range of Pseudotsuga menziesii menziesii is 7500', and this is much lower. [6] That alone would explain why it was the first tree I saw die in 2013. Another went in 2015.

Those trees were all close to the river, maybe 1000' to 1500' away. Two years ago three tall evergreens died on a property along a road that was twice as far from the Río Grande. It had been vacant for a year, and while I never saw anyone irrigating, someone must have been running a ditch somewhere in the vicinity.

Last year tall trees died in three more places.


Notes on photographs:
1. Remains of what had been a row of five tall evergreens after the house was vacant, 23 May 2018.  You can see the roof of the one-story house at the bottom left.

2. Dead evergreen in area where other trees are doing OK at house with a neglected yard, 23 May 2018.

3. Dead evergreen towering above a one story house, 23 May 2018.

4. Dead evergreens fifty feet from an arroyo that no longer runs freely, 23 May 2018. They all are above the roof of the one story house in the foreground.

End notes:
1. "Evapotranspiration - The Water Cycle" on the U. S. Geological Survey website.

2. Ronald L. Hanson. "Evapotranspiration and Droughts." 99-104 in National Water Summary 1988-89--Hydrologic Events and Floods and Droughts. Edited by R. W. Paulson, E. B. Chase, R. S. Roberts, and D. W. Moody. U. S. Geological Survey, 1991. Abbreviated version on U. S. Geological Survey website.

3. Evapotranspiration.
4. Hanson.
5. Hanson.

6. E. O. Wooten and Paul C. Standley. Flora of New Mexico. Washington: National Museum, 1915. 25. They identified the species as Pseudotsuga mucronata.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Garlic Chives


Weather: The only plants that likes this combination of cool mornings and hot afternoons are the roses. The Doctor Huey rootstock is prospering everywhere. Seeds either haven’t come up because of the cold, or stopped with their first leaves because of the heat. Cool loving flowers like lilacs had truncated blooming periods, while leaves on the warm season daylilies are losing color if they’re in sun.

We had rain a week ago Monday and Tuesday; the ground was dry at least two inches down where I was working last Sunday. All the humidity in the air is coming from the river, ground, and plants.

Last rain: 5/22. Week’s low: 36 degrees F. Week’s high: 91 degrees F.

What’s blooming in the area: Catalpa, yellow and pink species roses, Dr. Huey and hybrid roses, privet, silver lace vine, honeysuckle, daylilies, red hot poker, red-tipped yucca, Jupiter’s beard, snow-in-summer, purple salvia, datura, sweet pea, oriental poppy, pink evening primroses, dark purple larkspur, yellow yarrow

What’s blooming in my yard: Rugosa and miniature roses, yellow potentilla, beauty bush peaked, cultivated tamarix, chives, peony, Bath pinks, Maltese cross, coral bells, golden spur columbine, foxglove and smooth beards tongues, Johnson Blue geranium, catmints, Romanian sage, winecup mallow, blue flax, Shasta daisy, Ozark coneflower, white yarrow, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, alfilerillo, purple mat flower, white tufted evening primroses, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, fern leaf globemallow, showy milkweed, scurf pea, alfalfa, wild licorice, tumble mustard, fleabane, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, golden hairy and strap leaf asters, Tahoka daisy; brome, cheat, and purple three-awn grasses

What’s coming up: watermelons planted 9 May; Canary Bird zinnias, Crackerjack marigolds, and California poppies planted 18 May

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, pansies, violas; local petunias

Tasks: One person cut his hay; another who is not irrigating this year burned areas along his fences.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbird, small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk ants, hornets more common than small bees, a few bumble bees, other small flying insects, earthworms where I’ve been weeding; heard crickets

When I was working Friday morning the bird on the overhead utility line started making more noise than usual. I though it odd, since I’d been out for at least half an hour. When I went around to the front of the house I startled the neighbor’s cat who apparently comes over when the young kids get too rambunctious.


Weekly update: Garlic chives serve many purposes, beyond the culinary. As I mentioned in a post years ago, they can be an effective ground cover because the leaves only get about 8" high and curve like grass. More important, they perpetuate themselves by reseeding, which they did in the shade under the black locust.

Of course, anything that can successfully reseed has the potential to become a problem. The locust stand is above the retaining wall, and the heavy seeds blow down into the bed below which is reserved for pinks and snows-in-summer. They fall between the matted stems, and come up between the desired plants, often close to the roots.

Each summer I weed that bed twice, taking out the garlic chives, winecup mallows, hollyhocks, and golden spur columbine that have invaded. I’m never very successful because they all have deep roots I can’t dig out without destroying the plants around them.

I didn’t do any weeding last summer, and the garlic chives took over. There were areas where nothing else was growing. A couple weeks ago, I used the spade to dig out what I could safely. That loosened dirt around other plants that I clawed out with my right hand.

I basically used the muscles in my forearm and back, but I still thought I can’t keep doing this. I tried to visualize the ideal tool. Forked dandelion sticks and narrow weeders never worked for me because they were too cumbersome. I have a heavy cast aluminum narrow trowel, but even it’s too wide to be unintrusive.

I had a vision of something like a wood chisel when I went to the local hardware store for inspiration. The first place I went didn’t have single chisels - it sold packages of four for thirty dollars. The clerk suggested alternatives like auger bits, but they had the same problems as dandelion diggers: their handles were too long and so narrow I would have to use by right thumb to grasp them.

The second hardware store had what I had decided I wanted, a 3/4" wood chisel with a short, fat handle. And, it worked. It was the width of a garlic chive’s bulb. After I dug the trowel down to create a crevice, the flat back side worked as a lever that slid under the root base and lifted it.

Allium tuberosum are in the Amaryllis family. Once I got a good look at its roots, I understood why I had never been able to do much more than cosmetic work. The leaf stems turn white at the base, then red where they attach to a bulb about an inch underground. That’s where they break because under the bulb are roots that radiate out more than an inch in every direction. The chisel was able to get under those anchors.

I also discovered plant clusters were more difficult to remove because their individual sets of spokes were entwined into mats that could only be removed by yanking them with my left hand from underneath. Then I could use the chisel to remove the satellites.

I finished the first round this morning, and planted sweet alyssum plants in the holes left by their removal. The alliums do doubt will return. I don’t know if the broken roots that remain in the soil will regenerate themselves, but I’m certain there are seeds down there and more will arrive in late summer. I’m hoping the alyssum will survive the coming heat and cover the empty spaces like a ground cover shield that protects against invaders.


Notes on photographs:
1. Doctor Huey hybrid rose, 30 May 2018.

2. Single garlic chive plant root, Allium tuberosum, 27 May 2018.
3. Cluster of garlic chive roots, 1 June 2018.