Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Spring Equinox

Spring has finally arrived

Well winter is finally over, but not without a last blast here. We got quite a snow squall, which even coated the ground for a few hours but thankfully it melted off right away. The Chiricahua and Dos Cabezas mountains got snow caps, which were really beautiful. The Dos Cabezas lost the snow in a day, the Chiricahuas still have a white top though.

We lost our tomato plants due to a windstorm which tore the plastic enough to let the cold air in, so will have to replant them. The strawberries and asparagus also seem to have been burned by the frost but they may survive. Definitely for next year, will need to have better methods of protecting the tender plants, small cold frames seem the best idea. The fruit trees are starting to put out leaves, and the blossoms didn't turn black and drop so who knows - may even get some fruit out of them this year?

Got all the trees planted except for the palm and hydrangea, don't want to damage them while working on the house so may hold off on putting them in for a while. So things are progressing...

Had an unusual encounter last night. I went out to check on something and nearly stepped on a large coyote. He looked so much like our Lobo dog that I thought it was him for the second it took him to realize that a human was about three inches away from him and take off. Only after the wild dog got to the fence did I realize that all the dogs were in, sleeping soundly. I am pretty sure he was after water, I had several buckets of water (actually grey water from the washing machine, we use it to water the trees and garden) right near the spot where he was sneaking in. The surprising thing to me was that he was that close to the camper, with the TV on and had to slip past one dog to get there - he apparently didn't even notice me opening and closing the door. Another strange incident happened today, when Beth and I were both in here getting coffee - we clearly heard someone say "Roy" from what seemed to be the other side of the camper. It was loud enough that even half-deaf Deamon dog heard it - so I went to see who had called my name but no one was anywhere in sight; and we can see for miles! I wonder what is the next strange event to come?

That is it for this edition.

"We must find a way, or we will make one." --Hannibal Barca

Monday, March 13, 2006

Digging it...

Well the planting has begun. We had a nasty winter storm blow through which provided a lot of free electricity (the wind plant was whizzing along at terrifying speed!) so we have not had to run the generator at all for days. We had been running the generator a few hours every evening to recharge the battery bank, as it is not real good for even deep cycle batteries to be discharged deeply. Anyway this afternoon the wind died down some so we got to work planting – got the blackberries, a peach, a cherry tree and a pair of pecan trees in as well as two rows of onions. Beth got the seeder set up for use (set for broccoli) tomorrow, so we can get much more of the garden using the mechanical seed planter.

Still have lots to get planted, including almond, Douglas fir, blueberries, grapes, two beautiful dwarf nectarines that are about covered with blossoms etc and our very first palm tree! It is a Mexican Fan palm, and they are supposed to be able to stand the cold and can grow to over 100 feet. I hope to have a pair of them in our driveway and at the house. I planted some Canary Island date palms, (seed) which are cold hardy to 16 degrees so will be borderline for this place – may have to bring them in on extra cold nights as it gets down to ten sometimes. Since ordering and planting the Canary Is. Date palms I found out about a dwarf date palm which is supposed to be even more cold hardy, will have to check that out. I also planted some other seeds for fun, including tea plants, (they supposedly can grow at this location) dwarf pomegranates, coffee trees (the true Arabica, will have to grow these in a greenhouse) and pistachios. We found a place that sells pistachio trees, expensive at $45 each and you must have both male and female trees and they only had female trees. As soon as they get in some males we may well buy a pair of them – we both LOVE pistachios and it would be great to have lots of them for free!

There are a number of commercial pistachio orchards right around us here, so we know they will survive the climate. They make beautiful trees, and apparently do not have to have the trunks painted to protect them from sun scald like many fruit trees do.

Having some trouble obtaining seed for the Hopi blue corn – lots of places list it on the internet but no one seems to respond to orders for it. R H Shumways has it, but expensive – so may end up having to order some from them. Hopi blue corn is desert adapted, can be planted deeper than ordinary corn to take advantage of soil moisture, grows in a bushy form (about five feet tall) and produces three to six ears per plant. It can be eaten fresh as sweet corn (supposed to have a delicious flavor superior to all other corn) or allowed to dry and ground for flour, meal or animal feed – or it can be popped like popcorn and produces light blue popcorn. I would recommend it for friends in the east but it is susceptible to root rot in wet ground, so is not very suitable for the east. Hopi blue corn is also not a hybrid, that is it is true to seed – you can actually save your own seed and replant for the future. Anyway I really want to start growing our own Hopi blue corn, perhaps will eventually plant a large patch like an acre or two for feed – and use it to feed some chickens and pigs!

Still didn’t order any baby chicks – we need to have a chicken coop and a pen as well as a brooder before we could do that. We are hoping to have a nice mix of different breeds, including some of the “top hat” Polish and French varieties as well as the heavy breeds like Brahmas and Cochins. The very best breed for scorpion killers are supposed to be the Black Jersey Giants, so we ought to have a few of them, but they are supposed to be difficult to clean for the kitchen – the black pin feathers are tough to get rid of and unsightly. I don’t care to get too many chickens, we don’t eat that many eggs anyway and they may become victims of the local predators but a dozen or so would be neat.

Still waiting for the backhoe to arrive so we can get to work on our house – need to dig out the trenches for the foundation footers as well as for a septic tank and water cistern. We hand dug out a spot and built a septic system (rock and cement) which we are using now, but it is too small for a house and on the wrong side of the road. I guess we could hitch up the pregnant mare and use the Fresno scraper to level off the spot for the house as well as the footer trenches, but her collar no longer fits properly (her neck has gotten fat) and I do not wish to over work her while she is heavy with foal. That mare would happily do about anything you ask her to, but excavating is heavy work and she has not been working since we got here so would be a lot of work for her. After the baby is born, I plan on getting her back to work (slowly little by little) so she can build up her muscle (lots of stone to gather) pulling the stoneboat while baby trots and plays. Oh well with a bit of luck we will have the backhoe Tuesday, so will have no further excuse for not getting to work on the house.

After the house is up, I hope we can find a spot to put up a small greenhouse. Not for any sort of “commercial” venture, just for fun so we can keep a few tomato plants year round as well as some more tropical plants like the coffee trees. I think it would be neat to raise a couple of vanilla and cacao too as well as a banana tree and a couple of dwarf citrus trees.

On the world news front they have shut down the idea of turning over control of our ports to a Dubai government company. It certainly looks like the Dubai people backed out in order to protect their boy in Washington, as Bush appeared to be in direct conflict even with his own political party. Several states have pushed through laws which are unconstitutional on abortion, expecting the issue to go to the now-stacked Supreme Court and overturn the Roe-v-Wade decision. I guess we should expect the country to go into the crapper all the way, not just run bankrupt but with tremendous loss of our freedoms. All of which gives me great incentive and motivation to get our place set up so we can survive without oil if needs must and not starve or freeze to death. Who knows, maybe we will live long enough to see the day when we can elect our presidents directly by our popular vote, and be a real democracy?

That is it for this edition, still have lots of fence to get built, a house to put up, barn etc so the posts will likely be of the boring type for some time to come. We are going to start saving up to buy one of the small well drilling rigs like the Deeprock model we had years ago – they want way too much money to drill a well and if we had our own rig we could actually drill several wells. The small rigs run several thousand dollars so it will be a while, but in the long run it is worth it – the well drillers hereabouts seem to want $8000 and up, and you run the risk of them drilling a dry hole. If we had our own rig and drilled a dry hole, we could just pull up the rig and drill in another spot. I guess we could build such a rig but I think that is beyond our capabilities, in particular the fitting that connects the flushing water to the drill rod.

No news in the paranormal or treasure-hunting/prospecting arenas. Haven't had time to check out the latest news in the former, nor time to get out and do some digging in the latter. A friend gave us a lead to check out some time, which is up near the town of Cochise; can't wait to try our luck...


“We must find a way, or we will make one.” –Hannibal Barca

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Ember days of March...

More Wisdom of the Ancients, Permaculture and Excrement

I’ve been studying the ancient methods of farming in arid regions, with an eye to incorporating these ideas into our place. I was surprised to learn that in Israel attempts are being made to re-use ancient Byzantine farms and irrigation systems dating to the sixth century AD. These are by no means the oldest irrigation systems in use today, but most of the ancient systems use no pumps or power system being fed entirely by natural (gravity) methods. I am also amazed that modern farms use practically NONE of the ancient methods, in spite of the facts they are extremely advantageous.

The Hopi and Zuni tribes used several methods which should work well here. These include direct irrigation, waffle-grid, buried terra cotta pots (which seep water thus watering your plants) flood plain planting, gravel mulching, sand dune fields for beans (the sand holds moisture, but requires windbreaks to prevent the plants being buried or exposed by drifting sands) and terracing. Terracing is labor intensive, but requires little maintenance once established and slow the flow of moisture (allowing the plants to make better use of the available rainfall)and retards soil erosion very effectively. Arid land farming involves rainwater harvesting on a large scale – we have four terraces now but will have to build many more.

I hope to get a number of trees established. Trees are a form of permaculture known as “silviculture” and can last for centuries with proper upkeep. The large number of commercial orchards in this county are some indication that the idea can work here, with careful attention for the water needs of the plants as well as the regular care. Nut orchards, specifically walnuts, have a dual purpose in that the trees can be sold for valuable lumber when mature, some of the others also produce valuable lumber (American chestnut for example) and we plan on putting in several acres of nut orchard. The fruit trees will be for our own use, largely. In my opinion permaculture should be an idea whose “time has come” as our intensive but short lived forms of agriculture cannot last, with catastrophic results for our civilization.

I ran across a magazine titled Permaculture, based in England. It looks to be pretty interesting stuff, from how to raise chickens to providing your own power. Among their book selections, one is titled “How to Shit in the Woods” by Kathleen Mayer. Now this is a book many of us could have used! I know that such a subject seems painfully obvious, it is surprising how many people have no idea how to go about handling the problem of the “call of nature” while out in the wilds. Proof is easy enough to find, for many of us have found the ‘spoor’ of some unlucky person who either did not know how to do this in a sanitary manner or was just too damned lazy. What a pleasant surprise it is to be out hiking in God’s country, only to find you have stepped into someone else’s shit pile; a person for whom the world is their toilet, a person who cares not a whit for the beauty of nature or the health risks of human excrement perhaps reaching our public water supplies. One does not always have a shovel or hoe to excavate a hole, but one can almost always find a stick, a flat stone, or even the heel of a shoe to make some kind of a depression in which the excrement can be buried. There is justice in the world however, as we can be sure that some of these outdoor defecators who cannot be bothered to attempt to bury their excrement, even by covering it with a rock, have just as good a chance as anyone of stepping into someone else’s shit.

That is it for this edition…


“We must find a way, or we will make one.” –Hannibal Barca

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