Friday, June 29, 2012

Death to the Weeds! #36

The weed killer suited for battle
Between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, our family has experienced nearly all of the major life milestones. We've had a wedding, a funeral, two births-to-come announcements and a wedding announcement not to mention someone turned the big 6-0. One weekend we had a wedding one day and a funeral the next. That was an emotional roller coaster of a weekend.

Our garden is a microcosm of life in the same time period. We've had births, deaths and yesterday I got to experience what I would call a wedding. Or maybe the wedding night. A bee dipped into one flower and dispersed his bounty in another. The pollen is the wedding ring? At any rate, in the end we'll have butternut squash to show for the ceremony.

I've been the messenger of death lately - or actually the hand of death. Waging war against weeds is an endless effort, and today I got serious. I took the weed eater to the garden. The heck with hand-pulling in this heat. The weeds are taking over, and I couldn't let that happen. I sliced them off at the ankle. And if they reappear, I can now deal with them a few at a time.

Rusty enjoys a roll in the grass
Next year, we have a better plan that should eliminate a good part of our weed problem. All those lovely rows make for a beautiful home for weeds down in the troughs where we flood. A few vegetables, like potatoes and onions, may still need mounds but the rest can grow on flat ground. Then we buy these flat hose things with little holes that lie on each side of the plants and water the plants directly. They aren't very expensive but we'll  have to wait until next planting season for that investment. Quite frankly, I can't do another year of this kind of weeding.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

$5 Movies and $300 Speeding Tickets #35

Now a break from my regular farming update. Today, I'm in a financial state of mind. I mention this because I said way back I'd share how difficult it is once you're living on a meager retirement income. You all know I'm a published author, but it takes a while to get established enough to add to the household income. No different than any other business venture. So we continue to find ways to make the money stretch.

Christie is researching coupons online. Trouble is, we eat next to no prepared, boxed or canned foods so they aren't very helpful. But she may come up with something of use.

The $5 movie at our one and only theater is one way to get out for only a little - good thing too because it probably costs more in gas to get there. But we bought the coke in a plastic cup last time and from now on, if we use the cup, our drink will be $1. Good deal. If we want popcorn or candy? Let's just say I carry a big purse.

Over the last forty-five days, we've spent a minor fortune on gas and electricity. I've always budgeted, but I had ways to get around spikes in any line item. I had wiggle room. That's gone. Having to limit unneeded outings is annoying. I gasped at our last electric bill. We haven't been all electric in over twenty years. And we're not accustomed to Arizona summers anymore. Put the two together and it's enough to give you a heart attack when you open the bill.

Another heart attack happened when Frank got his speeding ticket in the mail - $325.00!!! He's going to fight it. He remembers the day he saw the camera go off. He figured it was someone around him because he wasn't speeding. Frank doesn't speed. I can't even get him to when we're late.

We're going to have to do battle over the thermostat. Four people punching in the temp their comfortable with may be part of the problem. We've been pretty careful about the times we run the dishwasher and do laundry, so I'm fairly certain the air conditioner is the nasty culprit. We've had more days than expected over ninety degrees. And after a hot day in the garden, a cool house feels too good.

The really good thing about the prairie is the way it always cools down once the sun sinks low. Last night we sat on the patio, as we do many nights, watched the sunset and enjoyed the fresh, cool air. We romped in the yard with the dogs and didn't break a sweat. Makes the end of the day a wonderful place to be.

Friday, June 22, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow? No Cockle Shells...#34

Looking out into the orchard
I picked my first baby carrots. Why I got such a kick out of this, I'm not sure. They are the tiniest of babies because my purpose was to thin out the clusters. Growing from seed, they come up in clusters so they have to be thinned in order for some to grow to normal size. But these tiny carrots will be great in salads.

Rows of carrots
The main objective of our garden this year is experimental but at the same time to feed us. What are we good at growing and what is good to grow here? Eventually, we could take part in some farmer's markets or supply a couple of organic restaurants. That's the goal of head farmer, Lance. I'm hoping there's a financial silver lining.

Already, the first relief on the food bill is reality, small but it's something. We are now able to have salad out of our garden. Green salad bowl lettuce, rainbow chard, endive, radish blend, spinach and tomatoes make a really good salad. Tonight we'll be able to add baby carrots to the mix.

The experimental side is evident when you see the list of vegetables we tried this first year. So far, at least they are growing. Some are so very small, it will take time to see if we're successful.

Rainbow chard
We have okra, Aztec spinach, asparagus, green basil, purple basil, chamomile, zuchini, tomatillo, several kinds of tomatoes, broccoli, three kinds of cabbage, wonder berry, black valentine bean, brussell sprouts, twelve kinds of peppers, cauliflower, parsley, rainbow chard, mustard Chinese tatsoi, dill, black cumin, carrots, radish blind, four kinds of onions, leek, green salad bowl lettuce, spinach, endive, several kinds of squash, potatoes, corn, peas and several kinds of beans. Then don't forget our orchard, strawberries and blackberries.

Salad lettuce and onions
Not everything will produce this year. Boo hoo to the frost that took the apricot, peach, and most of the blackberry flowers. And until everything matures, not sure how much we'll end up with on the table. When the end of harvest comes, we'll sit down and evaluate what worked and what didn't.

Another view of the orchard
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A note outside the farm news - my book Sleeping with the Lights on is the book of the month for July on Yea!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ba Ba Black Sheep #33

Eight days old
Last week I watched a lamb come into the world. My neighbor, Eunice, the wonderfully generous lady I've told you about in prior blogs, called and asked if I'd ever seen a lamb born. I'd been working outside, covered in dust and sweaty, but I ran a brush through my hair, jumped in the car and sped (as fast as a bumpy dirt road allows) over to her farm. I was darn near too late. The last leg cleared the mom as I stepped up to the stall. Truthfully, birth is a miraculous thing but not so lovely to see. The absolute best part was watching that little guy get on his feet and begin feeding within an hour - all part of the miracle. I learned all sheep are born black and turn lighter as they grow. Eunice and Dave have nine lambs at the moment. One sheep had triplets and rejected one of the babies for some unknown reason. Eunice has to hand-feed the baby every four hours, twenty-four hours a day. Right now, I'm glad we raise veggies and not animals.

What goes on day to day around here reminds me of something a supervisor at a day job said years ago. She gave a pep-talk to her young staff. We were understaffed and not all tasks were clearly assigned (not my job, man!). She talked about being raised on a farm and when something needed doing, you just did it, regardless of what the task was. Things fall apart if you don't. I got it, but then I was a little older than the rest of the crew. I really get it now.

Change of topic just because. The in-laws are getting closer to becoming in-laws. Lance and Christie have announced wedding plans. With Christie living right here, I get in on the buzz of bride-to-be and mother excitement. Her parents visited from Phoenix a few weeks back. We had dinner, and they were awed by what Lance has taken on and accomplished. Me too. And we love Christie to pieces.

Looks like the first stalks of chamomile are dried. I think I'll try a homemade cup of chamomile tea. Cheers!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Before and After/ Brown to Green #32

Back in March, blackberry patch
Blackberry patch a couple of weeks ago
Blackberry patch today
The blackberry bushes are flourishing but the weeds outstripped them. Between weeding the garden and the time spent at conferences and writing, I'd neglected the berry patch. There was no way to hand pull all the weeds and spraying is out. I asked Frank to take his mower down the aisles. Then I used the weed eater on the areas he couldn't get close to. Next, I yanked out the offending plants in the mists of the bushes. I also had to get up at 3:00am to take Advil. My back did not think kindly of my accomplishment.

Backyard in March
Backyard today
When we moved in the yard was non-existent. There were a few patches of what I called weeds or at the best wild grass. The realtor scoffed at me and said that was grass. Okay, maybe, but mostly dirt, and the mud was awful with three dogs. Frank has worked hard to get us ground cover. Granted, we have some hefty patches of weeds. When the grass came in, the weeds liked all the water and fertilizer. So we weed and weed.Seems to be a theme here!

Here are a few before and after pictures of outside. Pretty good progress in a little over three months. Most of our crop is behind schedule, but we'll still benefit although later in the season. Next year we'll start earlier.

Looking out front door in March

Looking out front door now


Garden early March
Garden at the end of March

Garden today

Orchard in March
Orchard today

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Big Guns Needed - Blister Beetles! #31

Attacking the bean plant
I intended on writing about other things, older things I haven't gotten to, but this Blister Beetle hatch is way to big to put off.

Although they feed on bees and grasshopper eggs, Blister Beetles are also known to attack leaves which they are doing to our crops. The Blister Beetle genus, Epicauta, is highly toxic to horses. Horses can die after eating alfalfa containing a few of these nasty creatures. The toxic chemical the beetle releases is cantharidin which is what doctors use to remove warts.

Several on the corn
Lance accidentally stumbled on a hatch last evening in our yard. There must have been a hundred in a cluster - a new hatch. He captured one in a plastic baggy, which ticked the beetle off and he spewed his green poison. Once Lance figured out what it was, he did a search through the garden and found two more hatches. One was under the cherry tree and one next to the corn/bean rows. That group had hatched in a clump of weeds in the part of the field we don't garden, had spread onto the corn and beans. Lance was up until 10:30, with flashlight, killing them as they hatched. Luckily, the organic spray we use on the tiny black bugs that tried to take out our broccoli and spinach works on these beetles.

Hatching in the weeds
There was another hatch today near the corn and beans. This could happen several times between now and the end of July. Beetle Patrol will be an around the clock endeavor!

So now we can add Blister Beetle to our list of pestilent visitors which includes frost (killed eighty tomato plants, damaged the potato plants, froze off the flowers from the peach, apricot and blackberry bushes), wind which threatened our baby pepper plants and tomato plants, tiny black bugs that nearly destroyed all of our spinach, broccoli and rendered our radish tops really ugly.

Lance waging war on the Blister Beetles
The frost damage did not have a happy ending, although the blackberries are sending up more flowers so we should get some berries this year. We saved a few of the spinach and broccoli plants. The windbreaks have taken the stress off the peppers and tomatoes. And thank goodness Lance stumbled on the Blister Beetle hatch. If he hadn't, we probably would've lost all our corn and beans. Happy ending. It isn't over and he's going to have to patrol the fields often, but at least we know about them.

We may still have corn knee-high by the 4th of July!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Messy, Dusty and I Love It #30

Lance struggling with making a windbreaker
The pepper plants love the heat but not the wind. The directions say plant in a warm, sunny place out of the wind. Hahahaha. In Paulden? But we WANT peppers - all kinds. So we constructed a wind barrier around them while the wind was blowing at over twenty miles an hour. We didn't have time to get into Prescott or the money to buy anything special, so we used the row cover cloth. Our barrier lasted for a few hours. Lance and Christie had left when the wind picked up speed and began tearing through the cloth. Frank and I struggled to repair and add reinforcement. The wind here is so wicked. The house behind us got caught in a whirlwind and their stuff flew through the air

New and improved windbreaker
We had no choice but to rethink the design and buy better, stronger material. Discretionary funds are pretty depleted. But the peppers are happy. We had some tomatoes covered with blankets. Lance found the blankets were settled on them too heavy so he put windbreakers up for them, too. We'll just have to pay attention to the things that like to gnaw on them.

I've coined a new phrase and didn't realize it until my sister laughed at me. She called, asked what I was doing, and I said I was getting on my going into town clothes. The meaning, of course, changing out of dirty gardening clothes. I guess I do feel like I live way out there, and we do 'go into town.'

Adjusting. I'm still in that phase. I'm trying to decide which things I should keep working on and which I should say to hell with - let the situation adjust to me.

Okay - what to let go and what to adjust. I've complained about the dust before, and I'm not cleaning the floor everyday, but it still bothers me. Not adjusting. Until we moved here, I didn't kill - anything. Now, many bugs are my enemy. I've learned to kill. Adjusting. I like everything to have a place, and I do mean everything. No one else seems to care about this. I'm attempting to ignore or help others create places for their stuff. Halfway adjusting. We're on a fixed income. No more impulse buying. Adjusted. I prefer to write in the morning, when I feel most creative. BUT the garden work needs to be done in the morning before the heat is so overwhelming. So, I've found my afternoons can be creative. Adjusting most days.

And at the end of the day, my messy, dusty, unorganized existence is a happy one. I step outside, see the flowers on the perennials, the veggies in the garden and the lush green in the orchard. I sit with people I love at the table on the patio and share a meal (not cooked by me!), watch the sunset and enjoy.

I'll worry about the mess tomorrow. Unless I'm worrying about the wind or bugs taking out the plants.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

No Bugs Under the Blankets! #29

See the pears?
Farming is not for the faint of heart or weak of limb. Although, Lance is the lead in the vegetable garden and does ninety percent of the work, the other ten percent leaves me exhausted at times. My main pursuit is to eliminate the weeds. If you are at all familiar with fertile prairie, you're laughing at me. The big problem is we let them get ahead of us. But then I think they multiply while we sleep. We're going organic so manual labor is the about the only way to take care of the monsters. And if I don't get out of the vegetable garden soon and into the blackberry garden, we won't be able to see the blackberries to pick them! This is the weak of limb part.

Blankets protect our babies
Pepper plants in the foreground
The weeds came back with the blackberries
Weeding the blackberries in March
The faint of heart part comes in when our little babies die or get eaten alive by bugs. Like I mentioned in prior blogs, the weather took out tomato plants and rendered our peach and apricots fruitless, the bugs destroyed some leafy greens. We got a scare with the potatoes - again the weather. The night that happened, we realized that whatever the reported low will be for Paulden will actually be about seven degrees colder here. The tops of the potatoes were black. I took little manicure scissors and cut off all the black areas. We then mulched and covered all the plants with the blankets. They seem to be responding.

Frank has worked hard on the lawn
The blankets are the best thing ever! If only we'd known about them earlier. Lance visited a large successful farm in Chino Valley. His friend is the owner's daughter and she encouraged him to 'just go talk to my dad'. He didn't want to intrude but the man was extremely gracious and helpful. So now we cover our babies in blankets which keep out the nasty bugs that devastated our leafy greens. They also help to keep the moisture in and keep down the weeds. We were able to actually save some broccoli and chard that we thought the bugs had destroyed.

Last night we had asparagus, and in our salad we had radishes. Next week we won't need to buy any salad greens or spinach. Our garden is beginning to feed us! Now, if we could only eat the weeds.

Monday, June 4, 2012

His Mother Made Him Do It? #28

Man of Your Dreams Contest
Or so he had me believing. I took a couple of days away from Tortuga Flats Farm and went to the AZ Dreamin' Readers' Conference in Chandler, Arizona. So this is a brief interlude from blogging about the prairie.
JP steals the show.

Me, JP and sister, Deb
My centerpiece that Nancy won

JP, the model without his shirt, had me fooled. One of the events at the conference was a Man of Your Dreams contest. Male models are a big part of romance book covers. Who doesn't know who Fabio is? The latest favorite cover model is Jimmy Thomas who you see at the top of this blog. He was there, strutting his stuff with his entourage of fans. I'm a bit mystified by the adoration these guys receive, but hey, who am I to figure out how the female hormones surge?

So back to the shirtless cutie! We (my sister went with me to the conference) met him on Friday night at the wine reception. If the air conditioner had not broken down, I might have thought all the ladies at the reception were getting a little overly heated from the three male models working the crowd. Shirtless cutie told us he was there because his mama had convinced him to enter the contest. Boy did he know how to work a room full of women. As the weekend wore on and we saw his stuff, it was pretty evident the kid's a pro. But he was very clever and funny and ended up the winner.
Fun with fellow attendees
The book store

Nancy Dow

Meeting Nancy Dow - a Facebook friend who won one of the tickets I gave away - was a blast. Fun lady. And I also met Leslie Jones, the other winner. We had a great time visiting.

I also met some nice ladies who read. Need more of those. I took part in a speed meet - 20 tables in a hour. I was hoarse after that race. I conducted three book clubs, had some good food and lots of laughs. 

Now it's back to weeding!
Only at a romance conference
Speed meet all the attendees
Dinner time
With Nancy and author Donna Hatch

Jimmy again

Leslie Jones
Jimmy Thomas at the wine reception