Monday, September 16, 2019

Damp Leaves Don’t Burn


Weather: I wasn’t able to work outside yesterday because smoke was bothering me. I checked my blood oxygen level to make sure I wasn’t getting paranoid, and found it was down to 93. 95 is normal, and I usually register 96. Ten minutes after I put a mask on in the house, it was up to 94.

The problem with chemicals and smoke, either the ones used to dowse a fire or the ones to ignite one, is they don’t just evaporate. They get mixed in the dust on the forest floor. Once, they get thoroughly dry strong winds pick up the dust.

I had the same kind of breathing problems on Monday. This time there had been some wind, that I assume brought debris from the caldera fire site.

Last useful rain: 9/16. Week’s low: 41 degrees F. Week’s high: 86 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, Russian sage, buddleia, bird of paradise, roses of Sharon, datura, chrysanthemums, Maximilian sunflowers

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, alfalfa, white sweet clover, goat’s head, yellow evening primrose, pigweed, Russian thistle, broom snakeweed, Hopi tea, native sunflowers, áñil del muerto, wild lettuce, horseweed, goldenrod, Tahoka daisies, golden hairy, heath and purple asters, Nebraska sedge, quack grass, seven-weeks, side oats and black gramas

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior and miniature roses, yellow potentilla, garlic chives, calamintha, lead plant, winecup mallow, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox peaked, perennial four o’clock, Silver King artemesia, African marigolds, chocolate flower, plains coreopsis, anthemis, bachelor buttons, white Sensation cosmos

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, pansies, nicotiana, snapdragons

What’s Coming Up: Golden spur columbine seedlings are up everywhere. Plants I cut to the ground two weeks ago have already come back with the encouragement of the high temperatures and humidity.

Tasks: The county cut vegetation along the shoulder this week.

Most of the peaches have fallen, though the ones at the top of the main tree continue to ripen during the day and drop after I’ve cleaned the area in the morning.

I ordered some iris that I thought would be shipped in October. They arrived August 31, when afternoon temperature were in low 90s. Temperatures finally cooled on Thursday, and I spent that day and Friday planting rhizomes. I watered them in, and now, last night and today we’ve gotten enough real rain that they may be able to settle.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, chickadees, magpie, geckos, toads, earth worms, bumble and small bees, heard crickets, grasshoppers, hornets, small ants


Weekly update: It may have been in the late 1960s, when I was in graduate school, that I first heard forestry experts had decided fire suppression was bad. They argued fire was a tool used by nature to maintain healthy stands of trees.

I had no reason to question what I heard until this summer. The promos for converting small fires into controlled burns said the natural cycle for fire was one every seven to fifteen years. [1] I’ve lived here twenty years. If I applied a literal reading of their argument, everything should have burned at least once since I’ve been here. Instead, we’ve only had serious spring fires caused by humans or power lines.

Following the pattern of science defined by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, forestry experts have sought an explanation for why their theory didn’t match reality and the fire regime didn’t reassert itself after they stopped putting out fires. They decided the problem was forest floors had become too cluttered from lack of fire, and no longer were able to burn naturally. That’s the rationale for controlled burns.

While the forest service was inducing fires this summer, I was cleaning debris from under some trees that had been neglected. Under the cottonwood, I only found leaves and remains of winterfat that had died when the cottonwood blocked their sun and water.

The Russian olive was a smaller tree. I found remains of grass that died when it first started growing. Inside the grass clumps I often found broom snakeweed whose seed had been stopped by the grass, then nourished by it. Over the dead snakeweed stems, I found winterfat that had started to grow in the ground protected by the snakeweed. Their limbs had gotten leggy or died as the olive canopy expanded and blocked their access to sun and rain.

It was the kind of woody mess the Forest Service deplored. It also had enough layers of wood with some air between to make them burnable, if they could be ignited.

Natural succession under a tree doesn’t necessarily follow the script of foresters. One reason they were reburning a burn scar near Taos was the wrong things had returned. Gambel oak thickets were growing instead of the desired aspens. [2] I might have preferred bunch grasses when I removed winterfat a year ago, but I got purple asters instead.

As I cleaned out debris and clipped dead wood, I put the woody things into a wheel barrow and the rest into plastic bags. The reason was simple: stiff twigs tore the bags.

Early in the season I put the dead wood around the peach and Siberian pea branches that had come down. Each time I set the pile on fire, the small wood disappeared and the bigger limbs charred and dried. It took three tries for the larger wood to ignite and become hot enough to burn. In a sense, this followed the foresters’ model for fire behavior in woodlands: fire consumed the small wood and left the healthy trees.

After working under the cottonwood, I had so many bags of leaves it would have taken a month to get rid of them with the restraints imposed by our trash company. I was skeptical the leaves would burn, but I thought it was worth a try.

The leaves and grass got compacted in the bags, then it rained on them. While the plastic kept out most of the water, moisture crept in as it does.

The middle of August I dumped the bags around another peach limb that had come down. They wouldn’t ignite. I usually can start a fire by using a match on a single piece of paper stuck into the twigs. I finally had to put a piece of cardboard over the leaves and start the fire under it for the fire to begin.

Then, the leaves and grass didn’t actually burn like the woody parts of shrubs and trees. They smoldered, and turned black. I had a deep pile of black debris, instead of a thin layer of thin ash when I was done, and the peach limb hadn’t dried. The fire never got that hot.

The Amole fire near Taos was started by lightening on September 2, and had grown to four acres by September 4. [3] The fire behavior was described as "creeping," which is exactly what I had seen happen in my yard when an ember landed in green grass. The blades would dry and burn, and maybe the blades closest to them would then ignite. But, the fire died out when it reached the space that separates bunch grasses.

That the Amole fire did no more than creep calls into question the idea that natural fires caused by lightening maintained the forest floor. It would have been a slow process to build up enough heat to ignite the dead, woody undergrowth that would then burn like the dead twigs in my burn piles.

The Forest Service’s answer was to artificially expand the fire. It cut and chipped trees around the perimeter of their proposed burn area, and added them to the fuel. Then they used "hand" and "aerial" ignition. One assumes that involved chemicals, and not matches put to tinder and kindling.

Fires started by lightening are slowed by that fact lightening usually is accompanied by rain. The Forest Service succeed in getting the Amole fire up to 1,917 acres by last Saturday, but still had a problem. Its spokesperson wrote:

"The fire carried well in the mixed conifer stands on south and west facing slopes. However, on the north and east facing slopes the fuels were not as receptive to burning due to recent rains. Green pockets of unburned fuels remain and an attempt will be made to burn these areas today weather permitting." [4]

That final attempt to finish the burn coincided with movement of water vapor from Kiki and other disturbances in the Pacific off the coast of México. I’m guessing the rising smoke mixed with the moisture and was trapped by it, then fell in the night when temperatures cooled. All I know is that, while I was miserable Sunday morning, the Forest Service was declaring victory. [5]


Notes on photographs: All photographs taken 15 September 2019.
1. African marigolds (Tagetes erecta) are the only annual that has bloomed this year. The odd leaf is from a corn plant behind the marigolds.

2. Purple asters (Symphyotrichum ascendens) that came back after I cut down a winterfat (Eurotia lanata) a year before.

3. June grass (Koeleria cristata) grows under the peach tree, where it seems to need water more than sun. It got trampled while I was picking fruit, much like it would have been if large animals had come through.

End notes:
1. SFNFPIO. "Cueva Fire on Coyote Ranger District, SFNF." New Mexico Fire Information website. 3 August 2019. "Historically, low-intensity wildfires burned through southwestern dry conifer forests like the SFNF every seven to 15 years as part of a natural cycle that removed leaf litter, eradicated disease and thinned the understory, making room for new growth and improving habitat for wildlife." SFNF is the Santa Fe National Forest.

2. cnfpio. "Smoke Expected to Increase on Amole Fire." New Mexico Fire Information website. 12 September 2019.

3. cnfpio. "Lightning-Caused Amole Fire to Aid in Forest Restoration." New Mexico Fire Information website. 4 September 2019.

4. cnfpio. "Firing Operations Near Completion on Amole Fire." New Mexico Fire Information website. 14 September 2019.

5. cnfpio. "Amole Fire Final Update." New Mexico Fire Information website. 15 September 2019.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Nature’s Bounty


Weather: Rain last Sunday from the north, followed by a week of July temperatures with no low-level water vapor. That means all the humidity is from water being sucked out of the ground and plants. Soil that’s not being watered every third day behaves like dry sand when it’s disturbed.

Leaves on a few area cottonwoods have turned yellow. Many of my cherry tree leaves are yellowing, and some spirea leaves have turned orange.

Last useful rain: 9/1. Week’s low: 50 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 yuccas, Russian sage, buddleia, bird of paradise, roses of Sharon, datura, coreopsis, chrysanthemums, cultivated and Maximilian sunflowers.

One may has selling pears, apples, and peaches. One person has at least three large melons on the ground.

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, alfalfa, white sweet clover, leather leaf globe mallow, goat’s head, yellow evening primrose, pigweed, Russian thistle, broom snakeweed, Hopi tea, native sunflowers, áñil del muerto, wild lettuce, horseweed, goldenrod, Tahoka daisies, golden hairy asters, quack grass, seven-weeks, side oats and black gramas.

Stems on Virginia creeper turned red.

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior and miniature roses, yellow potentilla, garlic chives peaked, Royal Standard hosta, catmints, calamintha, lead plant, winecup mallow, sidalcea, white spurge, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, perennial four o’clock, Mexican hats, African marigolds, chocolate flower, plains coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, anthemis, Mönch asters peaked, bachelor buttons, white Sensation cosmos

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, pansies, sweet alyssum, nicotiana, snapdragons

Animal sightings: Rabbit, chickadees, magpie in cottonwood, geckos, small toad, monarch butterfly, bumble and small bees, heard crickets, grasshoppers, hornets, small ants


Weekly update: I’ve had trouble with aphids ever since I had someone do some yard work for me in 2013. The insecticides I’d used didn’t seem to help, so this year in May I tried systemics. They seemed worthless as well.

In mid-August I noticed some leaves on a cherry tree and a younger peach were distorted. As I mentioned last week, when I tried to find an insecticide locally I couldn’t.

So, Sunday I finally sprayed the trees with something from a Santa Fé big box that was supposed to handle insects, mites, and powder mildew. It even was supposed to last for 14 days.

I sprayed early in the morning when the bees weren’t out. And, while I sprayed as much of the yard as the bottle would do, I didn’t spray the garlic chives where they’re active.

The air was still. At most there was a 20% chance of rain in Los Alamos, and nothing less than 50% ever comes to my yard. Very little low-level water vapor lay over the state. It was so dry, the Forest Service was exploiting conditions to expand the fire in the caldera and was eyeing one at Canjilon.

Around 3 pm, the weather bureau reported heavy rain in Los Alamos County. At 5 pm, some thunder. Then, the wind started throwing water at my north facing windows. It didn’t last long, maybe 20 minutes, but everything was wet. So much for the insecticide.

When I went out Monday, there were peaches everywhere on the ground. It was trash day, and we’re limited to one of those plastic containers a week. Boxes had been accumulating for weeks, because I was getting rid of the weeds I’d cleaned and bagged.

I spent my yard time breaking down boxes and cursing tape. When I was a kid, sealing tape was considered a luxury and used sparingly. Now, people who ship cover every opening with tape, and sometimes the entire box. It’s dangerous and arduous to get boxes designed for easy opening to flatten.

I finally got out Tuesday. I began by sitting in the June grass under the main peach and picking up nearby fruit. That proved unproductive, so I got out a small hoe - its handle is about 4' long and the blade 3". I used it like an oar, pulling fruit in to where I was sitting.

The younger peaches had very thorny Dorothy Perkins and Woods roses growing under them. I stood with the hoe pulling the fruit out. I developed different techniques for guiding them between dead rose canes. It was more like miniature golf than a putting green or croquette court.

Random thoughts come when you’re doing mindless tasks. Earlier in the summer, when the fruit was just turning color, I speculated on fruit trees being the original model for Christmas trees. How else would someone think of hanging colored balls on a branch?

Later, as the boughs began to hang heavy I thought of the "Cherry Tree Carol" in which Mary asks Joseph to get her some fruit. He refuses, and tells her to get the father of her child to do it. Then, like magic, the fruit-laden bough bends down.

At that time I was going out every week or so and removing fruit to protect the tree. Because it wasn’t ripe, I had to use nippers to cut it. And, it only did so much good. I still had three branches break that had been damaged by aphids years ago. The last is still in the burn pile, where it has only been reduced by three firings.

This week, after I cleared the free fall from Sunday, I came out each morning to find more peaches on the ground. A number were half eaten. I had to wear rubber gloves to handle them.

The phrase "if you don’t like my peaches, don’t shake my tree" ran through my mind. When I sat in the grass under the main tree, I wondered if it was possible to get some of the fruit before it fell without having to pick it. I took the hoe and used it to shake a branch. I was lucky nothing hit me on the head.

I now have about 250 pounds of peaches in plastic bags rotting in the burn area. I think the limit for those trash containers is about 50 pounds. That means, if I get rid of 30 pounds a week, it’s going to take more than a month to get rid of the harvest. Meantime, not everything has come down. I’m adding 10 to 15 pounds a day.

So far, the rabbit is only eating the day’s bounty. It comes out before there’s enough light to work, and eats its fill. Few ants have been interested, and the hornets are still over on the garlic chives.

But, of course, I can’t use the burn area until the bags are gone. That means, as I remove dead wood from the Russian olive and other trees, it’s going to accumulate and create its own kind of lure for vermin. Some carnivore left the remains of an animal on top of a grass clump in the pile last night.


Notes on photographs:
1. Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) starting their annual sprawl, 7 September 2019.

2. Peaches as they fell Sunday night, 3 September 2019.

3. Peaches raked out from the grasses and dead wood, 4 September 2019.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Duff


Weather: Afternoon temperatures are still climbing into the 90s. The Forest Service found another small fire it could escalate into a major one with aerial ignitions. This one was in Valles caldera. For three days now I’ve been suffering from the effects of the polluted smoke.

Last useful rain: 8/11. Week’s low: 47 degrees F. Week’s high: 93 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, Russian sage, buddleia, bird of paradise, roses of Sharon, purple garden phlox, datura, coreopsis, cultivated sunflowers

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, silver leaf nightshade, alfalfa, white sweet clover, leather leaf globe mallow, goat’s head, yellow evening primrose, toothed spurge, prostrate knotweed, pigweed, Russian thistle, Hopi tea, native sunflowers, gumweed, wild lettuce, horseweed, goldenrod, golden hairy asters, quack grass, seven-weeks, side oats and black gramas.

Áñil del muerto has been blooming much of the summer in fallow market garden fields. It has only now begun to bloom along the roadside.

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior and miniature roses, yellow potentilla, garlic chives, Royal Standard hosta, catmints, calamintha, winecup mallow, sidalcea, white spurge, 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, bachelor buttons

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, pansies, sweet alyssum, nicotiana, snapdragons

What’s Coming Up: Early summer seedlings have not grown; some are still at their second leaves. The ones that did come up have to be watered every day when the temperatures return to July highs. This is now September.

Tasks: With the moisture in early August, hay and other grasses revived. This past week people have been mowing.

Insects and fungus are taking advantage of the disappearing moisture and heat: powdery mildew has appeared on the Dr. Huey roses, and leaves on the peaches and cherries are getting disfigured. When I treated them with the available sprays nothing happened. I’m sure the base chemicals work, but I’m not sure the products do.

One thing I noticed this year was it was difficult to even find insecticides in the plant stores and local hardwares. This week I finally went to one of the big boxes to get something I hope works. I don’t know whether the chains or the manufacturers have instituted exclusive contracts, but I do know it seems as if they have.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, chickadees, hummingbird, geckos, bumble and small bees, heard crickets, grasshoppers, hornets, small ants

The Flame red grapes have been ripening for the past two weeks. I was able to eat a few each day. Saturday morning they were gone; not even a stem was left. I assume the rabbit leapt up, bit the cluster stems, then ate the fruit. It tries the fallen peaches, but only eats a little.


Weekly update: Earlier this summer, I cleaned leaves and dead shrubs from under the cottonwood. Recently, I’ve been doing the same under the Russian olive and some sandcherries. The tasks were similar, but the execution was not.

In each case, I first have to cut low dead branches to create a clearance. I was helped with the cottonwood by having someone cut some of the biggest limbs this past winter. All I had to do was cut smaller branches and winterfat.

The Russian olive was a different problem. The winter of 2013-2014 was particularly severe. Wikipedia said a polar vortex broke down in November, "which allowed very cold air to travel down into the United States, leading to an extended period of very cold temperatures. The pattern continued mostly uninterrupted throughout the winter." [1]

I wasn’t keeping detailed weather notes then, so don’t know exactly what happened. I did post an entry on 11 May 2014 on the consequences. Russian olives are not Siberian, but from a more temperate, moisture climate. [2] Trees everywhere in this area died back.


Once I cut or broke off the biggest branches, I had to defang the tree. It produces sharp, hard, wooden thorns. They aren’t poisonous, but pieces do produce infectiongs if they break off and get lodged under the skin. I didn’t always nip off the ones pointing up, but anything pointing down had to be removed.

It was after I had removed dead wood that I noticed the differences in the duff beneath the three species. Standard texts tell you that the duff is composed of three layers: the top strata of leaves and twigs, the bottom one of humus, and a middle one of organisms converting the one to the other. [3]

I know this basic model is valid. I remember seeing the various sorts of insects and worms that inhabit the middle world when I was in camp in Michigan. It was second growth hardwood, and I remember I would see them if I kicked over piles of oak leaves. But, of course, that was more sixty years ago, so I wouldn’t swear they were oaks.

That model does not appear here. As I mentioned in the post for 9 June 2019, the cottonwood leaves were fairly large and created a mat that stopped water from penetrating. It probably evaporated before it had time to seep down. [4] There was no humus, just bare dirt under the leaves.


Sandcherry leaves are smaller and seem to blow away. One is growing under a catalpa, and its leaves also move on. What falls to the ground are the dried shells of the seed pods. They create a web that allows water to go through. There were no signs of humus, but the soil had darkened from contact with decaying materials.


Russian olive leaves are small ovals that do drop. What I found under the tree was a caked layer of leaves and twigs, completely dried even though I watered the area every three days with a sprinkler hose. It had so much integrity, I could pick it up. It seemed like something that, given enough time and water, would turn into peat moss.


Under that layer, the ground was even darker than it was under sandcherry. Ironically, this hated invader seemed to be the only species capable of creating soil in this arid environment.


Notes on photographs:
1. Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), 24 August 2019. You can see the dead branches at the base of the tree on the right. I have a limited ability to cut thick limbs. Often the loppers act pliers that twist and break what I can’t cut.

2. Russian olive thorns, 15 March 2014. They are aborted twigs.

3. Russian olive as it was recovering on 19 April 2014. All the low growth was dead, and it was putting out new stems from the trunk. All of that still has to be removed. I haven’t worked that far under the tree yet. I’m still removing pigweed from the periphery.

4. Cottonless cottonwood (Populus deltoides) duff, 30 August 2019. Different colors marked the different generations of leaves, with the grayer ones the older. You can see in the bare spot that there has been no creation of new soil. There’s a volunteer juniper growing with it.

5. Sandcherry (Prunus besseyi) duff, 24 August 2019. The bare shot shows this duff is sitting on the bare ground, without interacting with it. However, you can also see that debris allows water to penetrate.

6. Dried Russian olive duff, 30 August 2019, seen from the side.

7. Duff under the Russian olive after the caked layer has been removed.

End notes:
1. Wikipedia. "2013–14 North American Winter."

2. Kris Zouhar. "Elaeagnus angustifolia." United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service "Fire Effects Information System" website. 2005.

3. B. J. Stocks. Moisture in the Forest Floor - Its Distribution and Movement. Ottawa: Canadian Forestry Service, 1970. 1.

4. Stocks discussed the problem with evaporation from the duff.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Supply and Demand


Weather: The rains coincided with morning and afternoon temperatures dropping about 10 degrees. From June 25 until August 8, 35 of 43 days had highs in the 90s. Now they’re in the 80s. Morning temperatures usually were in the upper 50s or 60s. Since, they’ve been in the low 50s. Both were the result of changing sun angles and tropical water temperatures that control the change in seasons.

Meantime, the Forest Service was nursing a small fire near Coyote, slowly getting it up to 300 acres between the rains. [1] Finally Thursday, it was able to act. Thursday the Cueva fire became a thousand acres, [2] and we got the smoke.

Portugal has a climate like ours, if not drier. Its government is experimenting with restoring the forests by reintroducing brush-eating livestock, rather than controlled burns. It’s been recruiting goatherds and their flocks. [3]

This, of course, is one of those things the goernment prohibited when it took over barren lands. Overgrazing, especially by sheep, had destroyed low vegetation and caused serious erosion. I understand, goats aren’t as destructive as sheep, but they still eat plants to the ground.

The real problem, the Portuguese find, is people no longer want to be goatherds. It’s a lonely job. Here it would be worse here because the remote forests aren’t served well by our uneven internet and cell phone towers. But there are people is this area who have herds they move from one person’s yard to another for a few hours of grazing.

Last useful rain: 8/11. Week’s low: 44 degrees F. Week’s high: 93 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, purple garden phlox, datura, squash, melons, coreopsis, blanket flowers, cultivated sunflowers, corn tasseling

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

What’s blooming in my yard: Betty Prior and miniature roses, yellow potentilla, caryopteris, fernbush, garlic chives, catmints, calamintha, winecup mallow, sidalcea, blue flax, coral beard tongues, sea lavender, lead plant, white spurge, pink evening primroses, 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, bachelor buttons

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

What’s Coming Up: Purslane

Since temperatures have dropped and moisture returned to the air, some seeds have sprouted. Most won’t have time to mature before frost. This week I finally had a Sensation cosmos bloom. After the heat of June and July it was only 3" high and produced one flower.

Tasks: Some farmers got in another crop of hay. I’ve noticed since I bought the string trimmer to cut my brome grass and alfalfa, the grass has not regrown, but the alfalfa needs mowing every couple weeks. The legume is the desirable plant. The grass is planted with it to keep its from choking itself. Mine, of course, are in different parts of the yard.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, chickadees, hummingbird, geckos, monarch butterfly, bumble bees on alfalfa, small bees on garlic chives, heard crickets, grasshoppers, hornets, small ants

I’ve been told by friends about birds that get giddy from eating fruit that’s dried and fermented. I haven’t seen the birds here, but I’ve noticed the eating habits. My sandcherries were ripe in early July. Without the ground squirrel climbing the shrubs, the dark berries stayed put. Now that they’ve shrunken in size, they’re disappearing. I assume the local birds simply couldn’t handle the larger diameters, and the increased sugar content was just a bonus.


Weekly update: Fruit is hanging heavy in local orchards as the apples begin to change color. My peaches are turning red at the tops, and may soon be ripe.

I talked to my neighbor whose son wanted the fruit two years ago for preserves. Last year, frosts killed the blossoms and there was nothing. He must have found another source, because he’s not interested this year.

The laws of supply and demand never change in agriculture, despite the opinions of ideologues and egotists. One cannot manipulate them to meet one’s needs.

Southerners had this illusion before the Civil War. They knew cotton was in demand, and assumed the British would support the rebel cause to keep its mills running.

British middlemen had different ideas. They recognized the problems with single sources, and perhaps anticipated the problems with war. In 1851, they began importing more cotton from Brazil, Egypt, and the East Indies. [4] The next year, an entrepreneur sent seed and gins to Sierra Leone on the west African coast. [5]

In 1859, when Lincoln was preparing to run for President, the newly formed Cotton Supply Association of Great Britain sent seed to "Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Malabar, Ceylon, Singapore, Sydney, Savanilla, and Baranguilla, in South America; Honduras, Guatemala, Cuba, Jamaica, Hayti, Tunis, Lagos, Fernando Po, Sierra Leone, Cape Coast Castle, Natal, Monrovia, Macedonia, Aleppo, Jaffa, Sidon, Kaiffa, Broussa, Salonica, Constantinople,

Messina, Attica, Argolis, Laconia, Arcadia, Achaia, Eubaea, and many other places. Cotton gins were forwarded to several of the above towns and countries, and cotton presses were sent to Cape Coast Castle." [6]

When hostilities ended, Southern planters thought of ways to sell their hoarded inventory. Only, they’d been replaced in the market. Cotton production didn’t become profitable again until mills in this country increased production to meet the requirements of a population swollen by immigrants.

Then, prices were never as good as they had been during the shortages of the Napoleonic wars that started the cotton boom. Clothing is a necessity, but the price cannot be manipulated the way food can be in a famine. People simply do without for a short period. Thus, the price of finished goods is always low because the market is dominated by the lowest paid, and the cost of raw materials cannot rise.


Notes on photographs: All taken 18 August 2019.
1. David phlox that has multiplied along the northwest side of the garage, with some purple coneflowers that also naturalized.

2. Elberta peach. This tree was planted in 2012, and this is the first year it’s born fruit.

3. Flame grapes. They were planted in 2012, and this is the first year they’ve born. The seedless grapes are small, not particularly flavorsome, and are not ripening all at one time. They are at the stage of attracting hornets.

End notes:
1. SFNFPIO. "Cueva Fire Update – Aug. 15, 2019." New Mexico Fire Information website. 15 August 2019. 294 acres.

2. SFNFPIO. "Cueva Fire Completes Firing Operations, Meets Objectives." New Mexico Fire Information website. 16 August 2019. 1,011 acres.

3. Raphael Minder. "Scorched Portugal Turns to the Goat as a Low-Cost Firefighter." The New York Times website. 17August 2019.

4. E. J. Donnell. Chronological and Statistical History of Cotton. New York: James Sutton and Company, 1872. 389.

5. Donnell. 398.

6. Donnell. 478

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.