Sunday, July 31, 2016

Roadside Survival

Weather: I keep track of the high and low temperatures in the shaded part of my porch. I never consider my notes accurate in the scientific sense. However, since they are read from the same thermometer in the same location, I consider them relatively valid - that is, valid within themselves, if not calibrated to NOAA.

I just compared the first 30 days of this July to last. The average temperature this year was 91.3. Last year it was 84.4. Nearly 6 degrees warmer this year. If I excluded the first two days of the month, which were cooler this year, the difference was 7.7 degrees.

This year we had something that could be called rain on five days. The most recent was July 23. Last year, we had it nine times: four were real rain, and five were scatters like this year. The number of named storms in the Pacific off the coast of México was the same - seven - but their tracks have been different. Last year some came north. This year they’ve all gone west or west-north-west.

There were signs of change this week in what the weather bureau today described as an "unbelievably persistent high pressure system over the sw U.S." A couple times enough moisture made its way north so clouds formed behind the Jémez. They produced no rain, but prevented temperatures from continuing to rise. Eventually, the temperature has to drop as the Earth moves through its summer orbit.

The trees that are suffering the most are the ones where the original owners have died or moved, and their homes are now rented by their children or on the market. No irrigation is being done. A tall evergreen at a different house showed brown boughs this week, while the aspens at another have dropped many of their leaves.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, fernbush, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, purple garden phlox, zinnia. Leaves on the smaller catalpas were bleaching out because there wasn’t enough water to dissolve the iron needed by their roots.

Produce stands opened along Riverside for the first time in several years. One place down the road was picking apricots. The orchard is perhaps 8' below the grade of the road. I assume the high bank trapped heat and protected the blossoms when temperatures killed those on most trees this past spring. The man who didn’t plant seeds until June 3 has squash that’s blooming and corn that’s tasseling.

Beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, scarlet bee blossom, yellow evening primrose, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, white sweet clover, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, wild lettuce, horseweed, golden hairy asters, goldenrod. Little has come back since the mowing crews went through a couple weeks ago.

In my yard: Caryopteris, garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, larkspur, golden spur columbine even though leaves are turning brown, sea lavender, blue flax, catmints, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, white spurge, Mönch asters, purple coneflower, Mexican hats, Sensation cosmos, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Two rabbits, hummingbirds, goldfinches and other small birds, red and brown snake, geckoes, sulphur, cabbage and other butterflies, bumble and small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers. Ground squirrel bit into two more hoses I can’t replace.

Grasshoppers continue to ravage. I saw the beginnings of color on some apples, and saw some more trees that were completely denuded. I can’t believe it’s good for those trees to be ripening fruit with no leaves to do photosynthesis.

The tent forming insects appeared this week. I had a nest for the first time last year that was so high in my cottonwood I couldn’t get to. I tried spraying it with a hose, but it was beyond the water’s reach. What water got there caused it to collapse on itself, but not to fall.

This week one appeared low in the tree, and I cut it down. It was about a foot long and attached to three different branches. I’ve since seen them in apple trees on three different roads. Two were in yards or orchards where people take care of their plants. Those also happened to be roads where the insects don’t normally nest.

Weekly update: Roadside plants might better be called feral than wild to distinguish them from the wildflowers that grow in areas controlled by nature. The feral include natives and naturalized exotics that live on water channeled by man’s engineering.

Paved roads send rain water to their edges, where golden hairy asters and leather leaf globemallows grow a few inches from the drop points. Those perennials regrow after the mowing crews take down their taller competition. This year, only a few are blooming.

After the mowing crews and after the first monsoon rains, the ragweed, Russian thistles and pigweeds germinate in spaces not already reserved by the asters. So far this year, no rain, and few future tumbleweeds.

In my yard the yellow asters have established themselves on the downside of my gravel drive. The Mexican hats control the upside. Each has slightly different water requirements.

My drive follows a downhill slope. The asters are at the low end that gets the most water. Winterfats established themselves along the upper edges of the gravel. When the man used his backhoe to remove them while he was rebuilding my drive a few years ago, they came back along the block walk I installed about 10 feet down slope from the drive. Fewer of them survive along the state roads. I’m not sure if its because they can’t regenerate as easily from constant mowing, or their water requirements aren’t met.

Four-winged salt bushes only grow along the fence of one place that must put out just enough water to support them. Near my house they grow in the low washouts that are perpendicular to the road. In my yard, they grow over the septic tank, which traps water at a level they can use. Since I planted some trees along the rebuilt drive, they’ve come up on the far side that gets some, but not much water through underground seepage.

Irrigation ditches tend to be kept clear in the growing season, so not much grows in them besides sweet peas and goldenrod. This past month the utility company tree-cutting crews have been hacking down the Siberian elms and trees of heaven that sprang up along their banks.

Irrigation water dumps seeds of all kinds, both in the ditches and in the fields and yards. Fleabane has been particularly common this year.

I’m uphill from the local acequia and don’t have access to its waters. However, I have one small patch of fleabane that comes up some years. It appears at the boundary between the taller and the shorter grasses growing in water that seeps from the drive and from the bed I water next to it. This year it started to flower last Monday. That was two days after the last of those sprinklings.

Notes: NOAA. National Weather Service Forecast for Albuquerque, issued 31 July 2016 at 3:46 am.

1. Flea bane, 25 July 2016.

2. Same flea bane from a distance, growing with needle grass.

3. Golden hairy asters, 31 July 2016.

4. Insect tent in the cottonwood, 26 July 2016.

5. Gravel drive at the base of the slope with Mexican hats on the uphill side (left) and golden hairy asters on the other (right), 31 July 2016. White patches are attempt to kill ants.

6. Winterfat growing on the unwatered (right) side of the block path. Sandcherries are watered to the left. 31 July 2016.

7. Watered bed is in front right corner. June grass grows on the other side of the brick delimiter. It has the tall brown stalks. Behind it to the left is the gray four-winged saltbush. Behind it is the chartreuse broom snakeweed, and beyond it the lighter gray winterfat. They almost always appear in that order from a water source. 31 July 2016.

8. Fleabane’s white flowers mark the boundary between the tall needle grass to the upper right and the shorter grasses to the lower left. Winterfat is trying to invade, and if it succeeds will kill all the grasses by overshadowing them and stopping them from getting water. It’s all that can survive dry summers like this, and invasive as it is, it’s better than Russian thistles. 25 July 2016.

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