Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Working Week

My husband spent the week at Dryad last week, working on various springtime projects. We live behind four gates from the nearest county road, and the last gate for us needed shoring up a bit. One of the posts was removed, a new posthole dug, and new post put in.

The gardens of course needed a great deal of attention with weeding and trimming being the order of the day. Right now, the roses are absolutely glorious and I think deserve an entire post of their own - we have well over 90 plants of many varieties - climbers, tea roses, standards - and many of them have started blooming now.

Some of these roses are ones that have been grown from cuttings and are vigorous growers, others need more nurturing. We've been concerned about some of the plants that have had a hard time recovering from the grasshopper plagues of the last couple of years, but it looks like most have pulled through and are thriving again. The iris are adding some wonderful color as well - these plants have all been given to us by other iris lovers and have really come into their own the last couple of years.

Finally, the problem of thistle infestation was addressed. We have encountered yellow star thistle, but the primary culprit is bull thistle, a thoroughly noxious and non-native plant. We've tried various attacks, including hoeing it out, but really had not enough of an effect until we bit the bullet and went for the chemical route. It wasn't our first choice, but it does seem to be working, and each year it the volume of spraying is reduced and so are the number of plants. The Transline tank is rigged onto the back of the ranch four-wheeler and then taken to the infested areas. (The first couple of years, the tank was backpacked in - a cruel and arduous task!)

A great deal of research was done to make sure that the herbicide would absolutely NOT cause any harm to any of our beloved ranch critters. Also, passing classes in appropriate usage and getting a spray permit is required before you can purchase the Transline.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mid-April Update

The gardens are starting to get lush - the iris are blooming wildly. All of our iris have been given to us, dug up from other gardens. The old bathtub in this photo will be used for a mini-herb garden, I need to get cracking!

The roses are starting to bloom also, although they won't come into their own until next month. They all got a good fertilizing before we left for the week.

The front garden got some motorized attention this weekend:

The mosquitoes have hatched, and I have a bite to prove it. The down side of spring!

All the dark-eyed juncos have flown north, but we are not yet seeing any of the flycatchers - Western Kingbirds or Ash-throated flycatchers - moving in yet. There are three house finch couples nesting under the eaves of the front porch. Two couples are in little lanterns that we set there a few years ago as decoration, but the finches have found these conducive to baby-making. I can see well enough into one of the lanterns to spy four little blue eggs; the other nests are either too high and tucked away or too jam-packed full of nesting material to see into.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

Our nature walk yesterday was awesome as ever - we certainly saw a variety. And as my title implies, lots of natural nature. We saw a dead skunk in one of the little creeks - there wasn't much left of the body of it, but we could tell what it was from the head and the bit of tail left, and (sorry this is going to be kind of icky) a coyote had taken a big poop right in the middle of the whole thing. What the heck, the coyotes poop on everything interesting. You'll be thrilled to know that I did not take a picture of this mess.

While we were walking to our picnic rock by the river, my husband started to step over a rock, yelped and backed up fast. I knew what that meant - rattler! Usually they don't come out of hibernation till May timeframe, but it was warm yesterday, so I guess this one wanted some rays. It didn't buzz and was quite calm and let me take a snap. And isn't it cute nestled in among the spring wildflowers?

As long as I'm on the subject of various "undesirables", the scorpions are busy too. I found one on the hallway floor last night just outside the pantry. The ones we get around here are tiny, but pretty basically revolting anyway. I tried to get that little number onto a piece of paper to escort outside, but it scurried under the pantry door and it's lurking in there somewhere. They get in between the plates in the cupboards too, I always am re-washing because ewww. (Apologizing to scorpions, I'm sure they have their place in the grand scheme of things.)

And then, while we were watching a little white-breasted nuthatch foraging on an oak tree, a kestrel flies into the same tree, trying to catch that very nuthatch. Only about 8 feet away from us! It didn't succeed, possibly having been distracted by humans it wasn't expecting. We like the kestrels and all, but we like nuthatches too!

And last, we found a hatched wild turkey egg. Gooooooo turkeys!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Old Journal from the Ranch

I found this snippet from an old journal – I didn’t keep the rest of that journal but did keep this page from what appears to be a couple of years after we bought the place. I won’t embarrass myself by posting the drawing I refer to, and I promise to talk about Chaps the horse-fellow again. (Below a picture of me with Chaps - in this picture he is very interested in my sketch book.)

There is a rock at the edge of the meadow below the house that is shaped like a short fat rodent. I have made a drawing of this rock and go back from time to time to see if it still looks like an animal. So far it has and I am grateful because it means that I can draw it again from another angle the next time I visit. In the lee of that same rock are plants that I have watched grow through the seasons of a couple of years. One is a plant that blooms in the late spring with a long square stalk and a series of small red blossoms hanging along the sides of the stem. Now, in January, the leaves are a dark glossy green and deeply serrated. Last year’s dead stalk is still there, surprisingly, I suppose there had not been enough hard rainfall to knock it down.
The other plant we call a wild cucumber. It is vine-like, turning in the branches of another shrub and from it in the summer will hang spiky green fruits the size of my fist. This plant has not pushed it self up yet, but I can see wispy pieces of last year’s vine and two or three deflated carcasses of the old fruits. I wonder if the fruit is edible.

I love to watch the horses graze, the sound of their teeth snipping at the short grasses is hypnotic. They don’t seem to mind me watching them, but they know me by now, and ignore me, mostly, unless they think I may have a special treat for them. One day recently, I sat on an old oak stump to watch them and enjoy the day. I heard leaves rustling in the little wash below us and from behind the trees stepped a yearling mule deer. He walked past me slowly not twenty feet from the stump, so I watched him too. He made his way past and up the hill behind me and I was glad that I was still enough that he didn’t fear me.

My favorite horse is Chaps, a gray Appaloosa. He is short and strong and square and gives me kisses that I maintain are only partially due to the carrot treats I give him. He is not a towering intellect but is smart enough, I guess, for a horse.
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