Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Year's Snow in Tucson

New Year's Eve was spent at a friend's house near the ranch. We did chores later than usual that morning, knowing we'd be doing them well after midnight for the second round. Flakes of snow came fluttering down as we set off fireworks in our friend's driveway. For Tucson, this is a pretty big deal.

The snow stuck and had blanketed everything when we showed up to check on the ranch in the wee hours of January 1, 2015. I have learned not to fight too much with Mother Nature, so there is nothing covered with blankets to hold off the freeze. The plants need to go dormant for winter and be able to survive in our funky desert microclimate, otherwise it becomes far too much work and stress on me to try and baby them. Pictured is the raised bed with kale growing in it. And the kale, so far, has toughed it out.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


I planted artichokes in the raised beds of the Three Sisters Garden in 2012. They produced well. I picked the blooms and ate artichokes until I got tired of them and let their flowers run their course.

Artichokes are related to the thistle plant. If you let them go to seed, they make spectacular purple flowers that eventually dry out. This triggers the plant to go dormant and die back.

They are perennials, which means they will return year after year, sprouting back up like a Phoenix rising from its ashes.

My artichokes have been very low maintenance. I've even stopped watering them altogether. They are growing in a raised bed fertilized with composted cow manure and shaded by Canary Island date palms and wild amaranth when in season.

I went through last week and cut all the dead from the plants, discovering new growth beneath. All of the plants had flowers still attached and I sat and picked out the seeds, pictured below. Come spring, I'll drop them in the soil and hopefully have many more artichoke plants in the future.

Barren Space

There are spaces on the ranch that are fairly barren. They might grow a scant amount of short, scrubby grass that withers and dies with the first blasts of summer heat. Mostly it's because there are no trees shading these spots and the ground is flat.

Here is a section of this barren land behind the cow corral that I have decided to experiment with. Old fashioned furrows of earth, dug up with a hoe and layered with compost and mulch were slowly added over the course of a week. (The cows were fascinated.)

After they were built, I planted mangel seeds and sprinkled the rows with a pasture seed mix appropriate for our climate. I watered once and decided to let nature take over from there. This spot is far from the reach of the hose and I had to connect three hoses together to get to it.

It took a few weeks of waiting. And even though it's winter here, we did get some rains. I also noticed that the dew forming in the mornings was watering these little furrows daily.

Some days the dew forms frost on the rows and is melted down into the earth once the sun comes up, watering naturally.

I was skeptical that it would work, but my doubts were soon laid to rest...
The pasture grass has started to come up all over the rows but most heavily in the dips where the most water would naturally pool and soak in. No signs of the mangels yet. Mangels are a giant beets used for fodder for livestock.

Sustainability has always been my goal, and the more food I can grow for my livestock, the better. When the weather warms up, I plan to drop in organic, non GMO fodder corn seeds and transplant some mesquite trees to help nurture this once barren space.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cow Butts

Left: Beef. Right: Dairy.

Fleece Drying Table

This handy dandy table was made from scraps around the ranch: 4 thick beams, two long pine boards, two short ones, and a couple of pieces of old fencing. The top is covered with plastic bird netting. Mom and I built it in about thirty minutes and it has made the washing and drying of fleece much easier.

Big Rattler

There is construction going on to the west and east of the ranch. That always stirs up wildlife and gets them on the move to new places. Unfortunately for this big guy, taking up residence underneath my camper where my dog naps was not a good choice:

He was 5 feet 2 inches long without his head and he was pretty scary. Max let us know he was there and knew enough not to get bitten. I have never seen a rattlesnake this big in my life and to have it right beneath where I work every day was unsettling to say the least.

Pallet Privacy Screen on a Budget

In recent months my neighbors have not been as friendly as when we first took ownership of the property. They like to watch me. A lot. And talk about what they see to each other--not in a nice way. (Since this post, one has moved and the other has been evicted. Another has their property up for sale. I suspect their displeasure has more to do with the failing economy and how it has affected them. A a man of authority told me not long ago that when the economy goes bad, many neighbors look for a scapegoat to blame their troubles on or to commiserate about. Lucky me.)

One of our ramadas is used to host private barbecues and gatherings from time to time and since I don't enjoy people staring at me or my guests, I decided there needed to be a privacy screen installed. I'm always on a budget and I have a lot of leftover pallets around that came in with hay deliveries over the years, so rather than take them to the trash, Mom and I repurposed them into a country style privacy screen for the party spot.

This screen was created using 8 pallets, some leftover wood to fill in any gaps, and a few fence boards to cover the seam. I was going to leave the screen plain, but Mom suggested a false door. That made me think it ought to look like something of importance that would give the curious neighbors more to ponder and discuss. (Perhaps that would take their mind off their own troubles.) So I set up a General Store for all your old fashioned necessary sundries.