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Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

Foiled Again

In the midst of having my daughter and granddaughter here for a visit (yes, pictures will follow, but I just had to get this in…) we had a dramatic shift in our weather. It had been warm with nights of having fans blowing on us to keep us all cool, or at the very least, comfortable. That was until last night.
This year has been a strange year, gardening-wise. We had cool weather last until the end of June. Even cold-loving seeds planted in late May were hesitant to do much of anything. Beans crept along…corn seems to be held in stasis…the tomatoes and zucchini planted in containers on the deck just sat there. When July hit, so did the hot weather of summer bringing with it the intensity of our 7,000 ft. summer sun. The monsoons never really amounted to anything. We watered and watered hoping for storms to come through to stimulate the garden into doing something.
But last night was the kicker. We got frosted. Usually we don’t see any sort of frost until around 15 September, but in actuality we can have frost on any day of the year. Such is mountain living.
I was glad for the cool night for good sleeping. I vaguely remember Daisy trying to get under the covers with me while Mooch snuggled up along my leg, purring and vibrating, glad for the warmth. But when I got up this morning and turned on the TV to see what the forecast was for today, I saw the notice -a new record low temperature had been set for Flagstaff last night. Flagstaff itself was 36 F. Seeing that I knew we had to have gotten lower, most likely at least 32 F if not lower. I only had to walk outside and view the damage. The container tomatoes, zucchini, and some of the flowers on the deck were hit. So were the green beans and corn. The pumpkins were totally taken out. Sorry, sheep. It’ll be store-bought pumpkins again this year. Some of the plants might try to come back, but we really don’t have much time left in our growing season for them to make a good comeback. Darn.

I just have to remember the definition of what an optimist is: Optimist – A gardener in Flagstaff, Arizona. I know I’m not alone. Most other mountain gardeners have this same problem.
At least I hope I’m an optimist…some years I just feel like a fool.

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It’s been an odd summer here at Oleo Acres, one of the cheaper spreads here in the mountains of northern Arizona. We had a slow start to summer as the garden has attested to: cold nights into mid and late June saw a very slow start to seeds and transplants, winds kept drying out the newly emerged seedlings, and now the hot, high-altitude sun takes its toll on all of us. While now we just have about a 30 F degree swing between day/night temperatures, in June we still had temps swing from 75 F in the day to in the 30s F at night. Plants need to be made of strong stuff to endure those swings. Throw in the stress of our thin air allowing for more intense rays of the sun, and some plants just don’t survive.

I planted my Bush Goliath tomatoes in containers on the front deck this year. While they (I have only two plants) are still only about a foot tall, you can see above the large tomatoes they produce. Clearly, they like where they are.

I was a good Do-Bee, limiting myself to only one zucchini plant. It’s doing very nicely perking right along in a matching container between the two tomato plants. Can you spot the small zucchini already forming? Watch out neighbors! I take the August 6th holiday of “Sneak Some Zucchini On Your Neighbors’ Porch Night” to heart! (heeheehee…forewarned is forearmed)

Some of the raspberries are starting to form fruits. These are very young plants who, not knowing about our late frosts, decided to bloom a bit on the early side this year. I was worried that most of the blossoms had succumbed to frostbite, but apparently the plants know more about it than I do. I can’t help myself from noshing my way past the strawberries first, then “checking” the raspberries to see their progress. Of course they would have more progress if someone stopped eating all the fruits.

Above is a cluster of fruits forming on our one blackberry. The blackberry was here when we bought the place back in ’92 and is the only one. However, what it lacks for in company it makes up in generous amounts of huge blackberries. Some years I can get a batch of jam out of my pickings. Most years I have to freeze the berries to add to the following year’s harvest to make jam. The plant live right up against the south wall of the basement. I know it loves the heat from the masonry as well as it’s pretty well protected against the prevailing winds. I’m a firm believer in the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” philosophy. Clearly, the plant likes where it is. So be it.

And I decided that even a tired, old chicken feeder can’t retire on a “farm-ette”. I sowed it with leaf lettuce seeds that came in one of those tapes. The seeds are supposed to be evenly spaced. Apparently the company who makes the tape and me have a dichotomy of opinion as to what that spacing should be – and that all the seeds need to sprout to make it so.

One of the treats I watch for are the butterflies that visit the garden and flower boxes along the deck. I was treated to this visit by Mr. Swallowtail as he sipped the nectar from the Rocky Mountain Penstemmon we have growing up everywhere. The day before this, a lovely Mrs. Hummingbird tried out both the penstemmon and the bright red petunias. Both were welcomed treats and visitors. I hope they return.

I hope that all of you have the time and opportunity to enjoy the gardens and plants about your homes. While I don’t like to be outside at all in the hot midday sun, there’s nothing like having a cup of coffee with Mother Nature in the cool of the morning we have here in the mountains, taking the time to appreciate all her labors.
…I guess I just need to do it using stealth tactics I learned in the military so those darned sheep don’t hear me being quiet. For some reason they believe they should be fed before my first cup of coffee. How dare they! 🙂

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My Soul is Dancing

It is raining in Arizona. Not the torrents coming from vicious monsoon storms, but a soft, gentle, constant rain. One that seeps into the needing earth giving both the land, and my soul, some much needed moisture. I should be out dancing in it instead of inside at my desk.
These gentle rains seem to revitalize me. Sometimes the sun and dryness here can be very harsh. Maybe it’s my Celtic/Viking genetics. You know, the genes that keep telling me I belong in a more northern climate with ferns and forests instead of the high mountain desert area I live in. I like it here, but some days the harsh environs gets to me.
I know a shepherd in Oregon who used to live in Sedona, just off the rim from us. She had been raised in Arizona but moved to Oregon when she “grew tired of looking at the bones of the Earth”. I had never thought about it until I heard her say that. “The bones of the Earth.”
I do like it here. Maybe it’s just this type of rain brings back memories of growing up in the Midwest where rain occurs much more often. Before living here my HHWB (Hired-Hand-With-Benefits) and I spent seven years in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Rain was a weekly occurrence. Plant seeds in the garden and jump back or you’d be flattened by the plants shooting skyward. Well, OK…maybe not quite that fast, but fast enough to see the growth from day to day. Here I beg and plead plants protected in Walls-of-Water to please grow and give us a few tomatoes for our table. Between the dryness, the 50 degree day/night temperature shifts in summer, and the rats-with-antlers (aka elk) it’s a wonder that people can actually make a garden work. (Please don’t tell my fellow Master Gardeners this or I’ll never hear the end of it. I’m supposed to be “upbeat” and “enthusiastic” about gardening here. heeheehee)

A shot, from the house, of the stream and a bit of the pasture. The grass is turning a luscious green and getting deep. This means wonderful grazing for my sheep!

Above, a rarity to be treasured – a puddle down by the gate into the pasture.

A shot of the pine near the front door, its needles soaking in the cherished moisture.


Don’t get me wrong. There are some real advantages in living here, as there is in any place you are. We may get snow that is three feet deep in one storm, but in about two days the roads are high and dry after the sun comes out. Being 7,000 ft. closer to the sun will do that for you. The breezes are fresh with the scent of pine. And that harsh sun I mentioned earlier will brighten every corner of your life…as well as every corner of the house and barn, summer or winter.
But as with anything in life, moderation is a key factor. Too much of our sun is harsh on the eyes and skin. It bleaches out the fleece of uncoated sheep. Plants labeled “full sun” will wither and die unless part of the day isn’t spent in shade. Like Icarus, we dare not get too close.
Days like we’ve been having, with the soft rains, also make me think of New Zealand, with the lush gardens and neighborhoods where missed family live. I look at my ten year old apple tree, barely as tall as me, and think of Val’s apple trees – tall, lush, laden with fruit. Of Ross and Kelly’s yard with Sam the Cat and I checking out the plants and trees.

So, for today, I shall dance in the rain as I plant my sweet pea seeds and feed the sheep. I know I won’t be alone in my appreciation of the weather…already the sheep and chickens have started dancing without me. The sheep are just dancing for the joy of it. The chickens are dancing with the worms they have now found. Too bad their dance is at the worms’ expense. 🙂
May you find something wondrous to dance about in your day today…

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