Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Arizona monsoon, gardens and horses

Well, its August 29, 2006, and we are almost done (I hope) living through our first Arizona monsoon season. Before we moved here, we made dozens and dozens of trips to Arizona, and we also did our homework about the weather of this area we have chosen to live.

We know that the temperatures are much more moderate than areas such as Tucson and Phoenix, with summer temps rarely over 100, usually at least 5-15 degrees cooler. We also gathered a 10 year average of rainfall, wind speeds, sun days and winter highs and lows.

They lied. While the temperatures are definitely cooler in the summer than the surrounding areas (we are on a small mountain with an elevation of about 4300-4500 feet), and the evenings are absolutely fabulous, the monsoon facts were definitely off their mark. Since the monsoon season started, we have wracked up about 30 inches of rainfall. Sure does wonders for the garden, and
really makes for a long, long garden season, but it also makes everything down in the valley a total mess. Since we live on the top of the mountain, we don't get much standing water (except for the footers of our house, which quite frequently turns into a swimming pool for the dogs), all of the "extra" water runs down the hills into the valley below, effectively turning our land into lakefront property. If anyone told me that we would be sitting outside at night listening to a million frogs singing in the middle of the desert, I would have checked to see what kind of meds they were taking. However, for the last 2 months, that's exactly what we have been doing. Apparently, this area of Arizona has a type of frog that buries itself deep into the ground, and during the first downpour of monsoon season, they hurry out and do their living, breeding and eating, at a foracious rate. Apparently, these frogs can lay eggs that will hatch and grow into a complete adult in less than half the time as your "ordinary" frogs. Of course, with these rains and frogs, comes the frogs best meal - mosquitoes!!! In the 20+ years we have been coming to the desert (during winter and summer), I don't believe I have ever been bitten by a mosquito, even when we lived in the Mojave desert, with its version of the monsoon. I am not usually the
kind of meal a mosquito likes, some people say it is because I eat lots of garlic, but I have never
had a big problem with mosquito bites like alot of other people. However, the mosquitoes here do not care how much garlic I eat, just that I exist, and I have blood! But, we are told that the monsoon will be ending soon, the average end to the monsoon season is September 13th. I will be sorry to see it go (not!!), along with the above-average humidity and flies trying to find a haven, which, by the way, have their own way of using the rain. They lay their eggs, and within 8-16 hours after a rain, they all hatch. They look like an ordinary house fly that never grows up. They are about half the size of the flies we are used to back in the east, and never get any bigger. Any area that shades them from the rain is a great place for them to be. Have an awning? Perfect for them!!

In the meantime, the garden absolutely LOVES the monsoon. If you sit still for an hour, you can watch the corn, tomatoes, cantalope, broccoli, radishes, squash, beets and asparagus growing. (not really, but it seems like it. The rain, and then the warm sun afterwards, just makes everything pop). There is one thing wonderful about desert dirt. Even though it does
not have much in the way of organic material (our horses have contributed greatly to solving that problem), the sandy dirt makes the best root crops we, poor eastern gardeners who have
had more rocks than dirt in their gardens), have ever seen. Icicle radishes are 8 inches long and straight, carrots are straight, potatoes and beets don't have strange lumps and curves from growing around rocks, and round crops are actually round!!! They like to hide, though. Back east, we always brushed a little dirt away to try to see how big the veggies were getting. Here, you just have to pull one up. You just cannot see how big they are from the top. The first radishes that we picked were pulled simply because the tops were big, and we wanted to see what they were doing underground, and holy cow, they were full grown and long. Also, a strange thing here is growing asparagus. It grows, produces, makes some seeds, dies back, and grows all over again, in a continuous cycle through the year!!! I think someone told me that asparagus is related to a native plant here, and will just keep on doing that. I never imagined being able to pick asparagus 3 or 4 times a year. You don't even have to can or freeze them, because you can just keep eating them fresh. Of course, we have let them grow and reproduce so that we can have a BIG asparagus patch. After the first die-off, we thought they really died off. Then a couple of weeks later, up it came, twice as many. Roy is in his glory, he is an asparagus-lover (me, not so much), but next year he will be able to just go out and cut what he wants, when he wants.

The spinach is ready for cutting, and the squash is blossoming, and the tomato plants are turning into little trees. Even though I have thinned them twice, they are still crowding each other, but seem to like it. There is enough tomato smell to make me sneeze!!!

The "baby" horse is growing by leaps and bounds. He is just the most loving little guy that we could ask for. We have touched and played with him since the second he was born, and, at 3 months old, he prefers people to his mother (except for his drinks!) and anything you want to do to him is OK by him. He stands to have his feet picked up and cleaned better than alot of grown up horses I've owned. You can throw blankets on him, over his back, his head, under his belly, or wrap a rope around him or his legs or feet, and he just stands there and waits to see what else you want to do! If he's with you, that seems to be all he cares about. Now, if the rain will stop for awhile, we can do some more things with his training. He will even stand completely still while you put fly repellent on him (even his face), which even his mother doesn't do!!! But, he's not an old nag. He can run like the wind, stop on a dime, give you 5 cents change, and spin around and jump off the ground a few feet!!! One of his biggest charms (and pains) is he is SO
inquisitive. His head or his feet have to go into any holes he can see. Empty feed dish? That's for his front feet. If its hanging on the fence, 2 or 3 feet off the ground - still where his feet are supposed to be, first one foot, then the other. Water in it? Good, he can wash his hooves!! So, everything must be taken away after feeding and watering. He has (had) a horse ball to play with. Now its a pretty well flattened horse ball. After throwing it around for awhile, he will position himself over it, just so, and then flop down on it, rolling himself back and forth. That doesn't work as well as it used to, since he popped it. (Its guaranteed unpoppable - hmm)
We are thinking that it just might be time to start weaning him from his mom, because he just drives her insane. He eats hay and grain, but when he wants a drink from mom, he doesn't care what she's doing - even sleeping. He gets right down there and gets what he wants anyway!

Well, I'm including a few pictures with this epic, one is the "doggie swimming pool", the house footers, one is of the "baby" driving his mother insane, and a couple of our "straight" and "round" veggies. (you have to understand, back east, these kind of veggie never look this way).
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