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Last weekend Chris and I went hiking, with Shrek, in the Sangre Mountains to Horn Lakes. It was a beautiful hiking day and nice to have a day mostly off, once a few basic farm chores were taken care of. At this stream crossing there was the most perfectly planted by nature fairy garden on a log. No one could have planted a nicer garden than this one, compliments of mother nature.

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Once we reached the alpine lake we had a picnic lunch and enjoyed just being for a while. Across the lake was a family of coyotes yipping when we arrived. We were careful not to make them feel threatened by our presence, especially since we had a dog with us. After a few minutes they quieted down. We could see them moving about on the other side of the lake, which was quite a nice treat for us to see them in their home place.

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I’m harvesting a good amount of peppers and tomatoes now from my garden. I roasted the peppers in the oven and then put them in the dehydrator with tomatoes seasoned with garlic. By layering the trays every other one peppers and tomatoes, the flavors of both infused each other as they were drying. Today, I took them out of the dehydrator and put them into storage jars for use this winter. They taste delicious!

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This week Lizz began the very big process of potting up fresh stock plants. Each year we replace the previous year’s stock plants with new ones, excepting rosemaries and a few other long-lived plants. We used to keep our stock plants for multiple years, but we’ve found that we get a higher yield of propagation materials if we have younger fresher mother plants. Before we discard the old stock plants we take one last batch of cuttings or root divisions from them and then they are gifted to the compost trailer to go back to the earth and nourish the soil with good organic matter.

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Some years back I told the story on this blog about my experience with the women I used to work with who were from Mexico, and their thoughts about seeing a toad. If you put toads are a good omen into the search space on this blog it will take you back to that first telling of the story, but I’ll give you a short version here.

We have a small toad that showed up in the greenhouse recently as a tiny baby toad. It’s grown quite a bit, as there are always things a toad would like to eat in abundance in the greenhouse like flies or slugs or whatever. So, this toad is growing fast into a healthy creature. Lizz says he/she is a fat little toad and it’s true.

The ladies I used to work with would tell me whenever we saw a toad in the greenhouses at Paulinos that toads are good omens. Whatever positive thought you have in your mind at the moment you set eyes on a toad, means you will have something positive happen in your life. Whenever I see a toad somewhere, in the greenhouses or in the gardens, I always think about what I was thinking of that was good at the moment I saw the toad. Then I feel like it is a good omen of things to come in my life. I like having toads around. They are good for pest control and they are fun to watch. This little creature hops about as we move around in the greenhouse. It seems to enjoy watching us as much as we like catching a glimpse of it.

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It’s the end of August and a full moon tonight. I’ve been out working in the flower field today and also spending time watering the gardens. It’s still a busy time of the year, but the pace is a gentle one as long as you keep focused and don’t slack off on getting tasks accomplished. I appreciate that very much. The mornings are cool, and even though the days are still very hot, they cool down earlier each day so that the evenings are quite pleasant. I caught my first sign of autumn this morning in the cottonwood leaves which are getting spots of golden color. It’s not fall yet, but you can feel a little bit of a shift in the seasons beginning.

I saw a family of evening grosbeak birds at our platform feeder this morning while I was visiting with my parents. I really enjoy watching the wild birds, and when baby birds are involved it’s even more fun to see them learning about food foraging and how to fly, etc. What a gift for me to watch them.

Nature will give you so many amazing gifts if you are present to the process. You will gain valuable lessons too on life and how to best live it. Sometimes the lessons are difficult, other times they are glorious, always they are useful.

As September arrives, and the seasons start to change in earnest, I hope this time of the year will bring you much abundance of mind, body and spirit.

With Green Thoughts, Tammi

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Do you ever have a week that seems to present one challenge followed by another and another, and on and on it goes? We’ve kinda had a week like that here so far.

Challenge #1 Chris discovered a wet area of earth just outside the door of the yarrow greenhouse. That prompted an entire day of digging on his part to find out where the water was coming from. He unearthed the water line that delivers water to each of the greenhouse spickets, but nothing seemed obviously wrong or broken. He was about to give up and we turned on the main water line again when the leak, a very tiny hole on the underneath side of the pipe, presented itself.

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After lots of effort he repaired the pipe and now the greenhouse watering system is back online.

Challenge #2 The same greenhouse which had the outside water leak also decided to deflate unexpectedly this week. The greenhouses are covered in two layers of 6ml plastic that is inflated with air by a small fan that runs 24 hours a day. This inflation helps keep the climate control inside the greenhouse a bit more even and it keeps the outside plastic from ruffling in the wind and getting torn off. So, plastic that doesn’t inflate is a really bad deal. First we thought it was a bad fan, but no that wasn’t it. The electrical outlet seemed not to be working, so Chris checked the breaker and found it had gone off. When he tried turning it back on, sparks went flying and then the whole thing shorted out.

Ok, this  isn’t something Chris could repair alone, so we called our electrician, Ed, and after about an hour’s time and replacing some old wiring, everything was fixed and the greenhouse is re-inflated. Whew!

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Challenge #3 This is an old challenge that has been haunting Lizz and I for several years and nothing we’ve tried to date has solved the problem. As often happens with perennial gardens, grass and stubborn weeds can move into the garden and become a huge problem to get totally removed.  Not for a lack of trying many different solutions to the problem, we have been unsuccessful in solving it, and this year with all the extra rain in spring the grass and weeds have been extra large and extra persistent!

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Last week I was so frustrated by the whole deal. Lizz has spent hours and hours tending the gardens! I have spent hours and hours tending the gardens, mainly digging out bindweed and grass and as soon as we think we’ve gotten the problem under control, a few days pass and it looks the same way it did before…just like the first picture with the rabbit in it. There is no pleasure in this kind of gardening! I made a desperate decision. We would lay down a thick layer of cardboard mulch over top everything that was growing in a big area of the garden…weeds, grass, perennials and herbs. Lizz has been working on this for more than a week. It was a very big task.

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This morning we hauled loads and loads of wood mulch and covered the cardboard with about 6″ of wood mulch. The garden is effectively a new garden now. A big area is no longer planted in perennials and herbs. There are several shrubs planted in this part of the garden, which are small right now, but will mature and fill in the space over the next couple of years. What was a very large perennial and herb garden will now have several smaller areas planted in herbs and perennials, with larger areas in shrubs.

This had been the long-term plan for the garden anyway, but I had thought it would be several years out before it actually happened. We have so many gardens here on the farm that really there are more gardens to tend to then is reasonable, so I’ve been planning and slowly implementing a shift to some areas becoming more wildlife and pollinator hedges with a lot more shrubs and less perennials and herbs, leaving special areas in the gardens that are planted with perennials and herbs. There are still loads of those areas as part of the gardens, but as we get older it feels better not to have quite so many areas that require intensive weeding care.

The new area really looks good and the areas left that have perennials stand out more now. I’ll spend the fall season putting in some rock borders to further define everything. We have a lot of iris to lift out and divide, so that will be part of the process too. Then we’ll have many colors of iris for sale in the farm stand next spring.

There is still a large area that Lizz will put cardboard down in and we’ll cover with wood mulch, so the project isn’t complete by any stretch of the word, but hopefully we’ll have an upper hand on some of the grass and bindweed now. Once all this is done, there are pathways throughout all the various gardens to be mulched with wood mulch too, so the fall is going to be garden busy, but in a good way.

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A few weeks back I was sharing about the garlic harvest. I have a bumper crop this year and these baskets above are only a small portion of the harvest. Sometime before too much longer I’m going to take my friend, Jame’s advice, and puree up a bunch of peeled garlic with olive oil and then freeze it for use this winter. I think I’ll also roast a bunch, as Chris and I really enjoy roasted garlic in our cooking. Of course, some will be planted back into the food garden next month as the beginning of next year’s garlic crop.

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Other great news, among all these farm challenges, is that I finished my book manuscript this week and sent it over to my editor at Storey Publishing. That feels like a huge project accomplished, and indeed it is. Now that the manuscript is in the hands of my editor, she’ll go to work on it, with the Storey team, and later in fall it will come back to me for some editing work that always needs to be done on these book writing adventures. Then later still in the winter, I’ll have a last bit of work to review the final edited book and then it goes to the printing and marketing stages. With a bit of good fortune it will be on schedule for release in December 2016 or January 2017. As you can see, book projects take a long time before they end up being for sale in a bookstore, but this first very big portion of the project is complete now.

That leaves me catching up on other tasks that have been set aside to allow time for writing. Hopefully, now I have a bit of time for a little fun (hiking, working on my needlework, and reading books for pleasure), and I have friends who have been patiently waiting for visits and who have been giving me so much moral support during my writing. I’m looking forward to starting to catch up on a little visiting too.

It’s almost the autumn! In fact, today was actually a bit chilly, but that will be short-lived, as tomorrow we’re supposed to be back in the 90’s again for temperatures for the foreseeable future. Summer is still here for a while, but soon the autumn will arrive. I can’t wait! My favorite time of the year, with comfortable temps, beautiful fall colors in all of nature, time for my own gardening and personal projects. Maybe even a camping trip mixed in with a bit of luck. We still have plenty of farm work to do, but nothing like the late winter, spring and summer seasons when farm chores seem endless. It’s a season to look forward to.

With Green Thoughts, Tammi

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Last week Morgan and Kayelan visited the bee yard with Lizz when she went out to do her regular check-in of the hives. Here they are looking at a frame of honeycomb from Lizz’ top bar hive. They also checked on the two farm hives and all the bees are doing well and thriving.

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The past week has also brought an increase in the amount of seed harvesting ready to be done. This is the time of year when ripening seed keeps Chris busy, busy, busy. The seed in the forefront is sea kale.

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My garlic harvest is all cured now and waiting for me to make time to cut off the dried stems and put it into shallow baskets for storage through the winter. It was an exceptional year for my garlic crop and I’m very pleased with the yield.

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Last weekend we went for a hike with our friends James and Michelle to the Cowboy Cabin. This is an old homestead cabin from days long ago that is near to us and a beautiful hike. The cabin is well-kept and still has furnishings inside. Great fun.

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This is a rock squirrel and they always show up mid to late summer, usually to forage pears from our fruit trees, There aren’t many pears this year, but this critter isn’t daunted by that news. He’s decided sunflowers from the birdfeeders will work nicely in place of pears. He comes across the road from a neighbors barn, fills his cheeks with as much as he can and then scurries back to the barn, no doubt to stash his loot towards a winter stockpile. He’s fun to watch, even if he is greedy about taking too much.

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Greetings,

It has been quite another busy week here, with a few exciting things happening. As some of you know, I’ve been writing a new book over the past year and it’s now down to the wire as my deadline for turning in the finished manuscript is quickly approaching (end of August). There is still so much work to get done on this project, so I’m pretty much hunkered down to writing, writing and pulling weeds! Oh my!!

As part of my book project I’ve been interviewing people and companies that are doing interesting work with some of the plants that I’m profiling in this book. This past week I have done wonderful interviews around milkweed and cranberries…oh, and black walnut too. I feel these personalized stories are going to make the book all the more magical to read. At least that is my hope.

Francois, who is the person I’ve been communicating with at a Canadian business called Encore3, sent me a link to a short video they made at a field day event today in Vermont. This company makes incredible products with milkweed floss (the seed hairs that are attached to the seeds in the milkweed pods). In this clip they are talking with potential milkweed farmers to raise the milkweed needed for their products. One of the things that is really special about this project is that they hope to be growing milkweed crops eventually all along the migratory path of butterflies, especially monarch butterflies, from Canada, through the U.S. and into Mexico.

Here is the link to the video and I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch it.

http://www.wcax.com/story/29619199/will-milkweed-grow-on-vermont-farmers

As you know, Chris and I are passionate about our work here at Desert Canyon Farm around pollinators and beneficial insects (other wildlife too). Of course, pollinators include butterflies, so they are one of the insects we are focused on supporting with habitat and good sources of food in the perennial seed crops we grow, along with our many gardens here.

Next spring we are hoping to have expanded greatly our offerings of pollinator (and other wildlife) friendly plants for sale in our Farm Stand during our Spring Open Farm Days.

The photo above is of Fennel, which is a great food plant for butterfly larvae(aka caterpillars), and is also pollinated by beneficial wasps. Added bonus is that we have fennel to use in our cooking and I can make medicine from this plant for digestive health. This picture is of Florence Green Fennel, but my personal favorite is Bronze Fennel, which looks lovely in my garden.

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This is a photo of Butterfly Weed or Pluerisy Root as we herbalists call it. It is a milkweed species, Asclepias tuberosa, and it grows very nicely in this part of the county. The butterflies love this plant too, but so do the bees and other beneficial insects. It is a showy creature in the garden, with large clusters of flowers that are an amazing orange color.

Echinacea

Another important medicine plant is Echinacea, often called Purple Coneflower, and there are a number of species of this plant growing here too. This is Echinacea purpurea, but we grow about 5 different species here in our gardens, and Echinacea paradoxa (the yellow echinacea) is one of our seed crops. Another favorite of butterflies and other pollinators. I use the flowers, seeds, leaves and roots for herbal medicine.

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So, I’ll leave you with this last photograph to give you sweet dreams tonight. It’s time to call it a day. Tomorrow will be full with tasks and writing needing done. Have a great weekend, whatever you are doing, and I’ll be back in touch soon.

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Each spring during our Open Farm Days we plant a big fairy garden to raffle off during our spring open days. This year we planted two fairy gardens and raffle them off on different open days. Tickets cost 1.00 each and the money that is generated from ticket sales is used to buy fresh produce to donate to our local food bank after our Open Farm Days are past. Two weeks ago I went to Spencer’s Farm Market and purchased apricots, peaches and tomatoes with the raffle ticket monies. Then I delivered the produce to our food bank on behalf of all of us at Desert Canyon Farm and our visitors who bought fairy garden raffle tickets. Carol and Sean each won a fairy garden in the process, so they are the lucky ones too, but in truth, the real winners are all of those folks who bought tickets and made this food donation possible. Thank you!

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In our county we have a native gourd that grows here. It’s called Coyote Gourd. There is one plant that came up years ago in my garden and for a long time I tried to remove it…it’s a bit of a big whiley plant you see. Removing the plant has never worked, so a few years ago I gave up on that task and just accepted the fact that it was going to grow in the garden and I welcomed it instead of trying to get rid of it. This is a perennial gourd, so this year its back again. This week I’m seeing the tiny gourds start to form. If you look closely, you can see a small striped gourd growing on the vine in this photo.

Coyote gourds come with their own legend. This legend belongs to tribes in the Sonoran desert. Legend says that this plant used to produce delicious melons, which farmers would harvest for fresh eating and to sell at the market. One day the farmer had his cart filled with the tasty melons and as he was distracted doing something else, Coyote (who is always the trickster in these stories) decided to play a mean trick on the farmer. Coyote went sneaking around the cart and pee on the melons, which of course left them tasting terrible. From that day forward no one could stand to eat the melons because they no longer tasted good, so they were then called Coyote gourds.

The gourds are terrible tasting, that is definitely true! I know because I was silly enough once to taste the pulp inside the shell. It’s bitter and soapy tasting from the saponin constituents the gourds contain. It does have some ethnic medicinal value in the southwest, and some friends of mine from Mexico have told me that there they use the pulp to make a soap for cleaning and washing clothes.

Some of the local women here in my town pick the small round gourd fruits when they are fully ripe and about 2-3″ in diameter. They dry the gourds so that the seeds can be shaken loose and it will rattle a bit. Then they lightly sand the exterior shell with some fine steel wool and paint the outside shell of the gourd with colorful designs.

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We have had numerous batches of baby curved bill thrashers this spring and summer. The latest nest-full has now left the nest and is out and about on the farm. You can see a thrasher in the Cholla cactus, which is where the parents always build their nests. Anyway, there is one specific youngster thrasher that has been giving me a bit of a hard time lately in one of our greenhouses.

We call this greenhouse the woodstove house, as we use wood pellet stoves in winter to heat the greenhouse. This young thrasher has been hanging out inside the woodstove house each day, when the end doors are fully opened to vent the greenhouse of hot air, hunting for insects…mostly ants, which have a nest just outside the south door. The bird hops around on the floor and the benches. At the end of the day when it is time for me to close up the greenhouse doors for the night, I’ve had a doozies of a time getting this young thrasher to go outside of the greenhouse.

It’s almost a game, or so it seems, with this critter. He seems quite comfortable around me and not at all scared or skittish. He hops along the benches and on the floor waiting for me to catch up with him, and then he waits for me to talk to him, then hops off in a different direction (usually not in the direction of the open door). Eventually, he hops or flies out of the door to the woodpile outside, and I close the door for the night.

However, yesterday he got up above the ceiling heat retention blanket and would not come down. He seems quite happy  hopping on top of the ceiling blanket. The blanket is in three large sections that are pulled closed to shade the plants during the day. They are clipped closed using clothes pins. I unclipped both seams of the cloth, thinking the bird couldn’t figure out how to get down below the cloth. So, now he has big open gaps in the blanket to easily fly or hop down below the ceiling blanket, but no…he’s not interested in doing that. He just continues to hop around on top of the cloth, every so often poking his head down over the edge of the cloth to look at me a bit. I tried and tried to get him to come down, to no avail. Eventually, I just left the ceiling blanket pulled apart and the doors open for the night and hopped he would be out of there this morning. He was! Lizz and I re-clipped the ceiling blanket closed again and I’m wondering what kind of shanankins the young thrasher will pull next.

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This is the desert driveway garden, where the thrashers cholla cactus is planted. The garden looks very beautiful right now. There are lots of things blooming in the garden including the fernbush, desert zinnias, some penstemons and cacti…all kinds of things. A family of quail also lives in this desert garden and this morning I saw them scuttling along…two parents and about a dozen chicks! Such fun!

 

 

Arkansas river 7-1-15 flood stage

It’s pretty much dried out around here now, although this afternoon we’re getting a light rain shower…enough to cool things off, but so far not really measurable. We could use some more rain now.

That said, last weekend the Arkansas river was just barely below flood stage when I went for my morning walk. Here is a retaining wall along my route, where the river curves. The high waters have damaged the wall and it literally moved out towards the river water about 6-8 feet. The top of that wall normally is about 15-16 feet above the water level of the river and at this point the water was only about 6 feet below the top of the wall. Lots of water!

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We returned from visiting Chris’ family in Nebraska on Thursday night. It was a lovely visit. When we got home the currants were ripe and ready to pick, so Friday I picked them, and more again yesterday. Tonight I’m freezing currants to be used this next fall and winter in bread.

Ted's pollinator garden

While we were visiting the Hartung family I took some pictures of their pollinator garden. It includes echinacea, butterfly bush, zinnias, and other flowers that will attract butterflies.

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They are birdwatchers, along with other wildlife like squirrels and rabbits, that frequent their yard in the heart of the city. This is one section of their bird and pollinator garden, with all types of birdhouses.

In the back yard they have feeders up and we had a lot of enjoyment from watching the birds visiting the feeders. Cardinals come regularly. I enjoyed them a lot, as we don’t have cardinals here at our farm.

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The biggest treat for all of us was watching the little screech owls that sit in the trees of the yard and watch us watching them! I counted four owls, but there may have been more around. Apparently, they are in the neighborhood every summer. I took some pictures at dawn, but the light wasn’t very good. Still, I think you can have some fun seeing one of them in the tree.

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It really was a very nice visit. Coming home means everything is behind and needing to be caught up, so that is what we are attempting to do this week. There is weeding that never ends, seeds to be picked, plants needing planted in the gardens, greenhouse tasks to be done, book writing to be done…oh my. Guess I best get back to it.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bumble bee pollinator

Last year we had so many different types of bumblebees working the flowers here…large, small, all different color variations. This year, so far, we are seeing practically no bumblebees. Where are they?

We’re speculating about this almost on an hourly basis, because it is so obvious that they are missing in action. Here are some of our theories, although at this point, we do not actually know why they aren’t here in abundance like they should be.

1st Theory: Bumblebees nest in or close to the ground, often in vacant mouse nests. We had so much rain this spring that water was literally running on the farm land, sometimes 4-6″ deep, and at several different points the ground was so saturated that the water didn’t even soak in for a good long while. Maybe their nests were drowned out?!

2nd Theory: With the spring rainy season, temperatures were extra cool, although not freezing cold, and flowers were late starting to bloom. Perhaps the bumblebees didn’t have enough of a food supply here early on, and they left in search of better food sources?!

3rd Theory: Perhaps someone in the area has been spraying harmful pesticides and the bumblebee populations have taken a hit. We don’t feel confident that this is the main problem at this point, because we are seeing lots of native bees and our honeybees are doing great…but it could be a factor.

In any case, we need them back here pronto! We miss them a lot. We have flower seed crops that rely solely on bumblebees to pollinate the flowers, like bears breeches and penstemons, so we are hopeful that the bumblebees will begin to re-appear. There are lots of flowers in full bloom here now, and they are thriving with all that early spring moisture, so now we just want this group of pollinators to show up and get to work.

All for now.

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