Spinach Unleashed

It can be difficult to anticipate future needs when growing vegetables for CSA box customers. Cultivated varieties of vegetables are bred to bear early, but even so, time creeps on inexorably and the garden crew at Echoing Hope Ranch is often faced with this situation: we should have planted more of this or that two weeks ago. This is our first year of intense production, though, and we’re learning!

About three weeks ago I was in the ranch truck on a mission to Bisbee to buy something we needed, I don’t remember just what.

It occurred to me that we were out of spinach seed, and spinach had been doing well in the greenhouses. I knew what spinach varieties were available at the Ace hardware store, but I wanted something different. On a whim I stopped at a Dollar General store to see if they even carried garden seeds. I bought a packet of some giant Italian variety of spinach for a buck and change. Well, that Italian spinach variety just went nuts in the greenhouse, producing succulent and fleshy leaves approaching a foot in length.

A week from now, with hot weather approaching, these burgeoning plants will begin to bolt, so CSA customers are getting large bundles of spinach this week. Certain chicken and goat friends of mine will get the remainder!

Spinach Bed A Week Ago

Spinach Bed A Week Ago

Spinach Bed Yesterday

Spinach Bed Yesterday

Larry

Rows In Collision

Years ago when I was a novice gardener I would carefully lay out planting rows with a tape-measure, stakes, and strings. I was likely influenced by OCD-ish book and magazine garden writers.

These days I mark out the four corners of a vegetable planting and just eyeball the rows, my rationale being that these rows will only be there for a few months, and I really don’t mind a bit of asymmetry in a garden. I just want to get the seeds in the ground quickly so they can go about their business!

About ten days ago I planted a patch of cowpeas at Echoing Hope Ranch. A few days later I expanded the patch, doubling its size. I had left a couple of stakes on the ground indicating where I had left off, but one of those stakes might have been kicked by someone. Who knows?

The result was a very peculiar sight which almost induces vertigo, like one of H.P. Lovecraft’s descriptions of the architecture of the alien Old Ones. Here’s what it looked like this morning:

Skewed Cowpea Rows

Skewed Cowpea Rows

The rows will eventually fill in and this misalignment won’t be visible. Right now it’s an amusing sight for the whole garden crew!

Larry

Vegetative Construction Project

A re-post from Facebook:

Look carefully at this photo. It looks like a jumble of colors and lines, but camouflaged within are a couple of recent Peniocereus greggii shoots, AKA La Reina de la Noche, AKA Night-Blooming Cereus.

This particular plant is the first one I ever saw, over a year ago, so I was distressed when hungry jackrabbits without a shred of aesthetic sensibility ate the plant to the ground last winter.

About two weeks ago the plant mustered energy stored within a large tuberous root and, even though we haven’t had rain in over two months, managed to send up two roughly-designed shoots.

I can picture the scene in the plant’s construction headquarters. The foreman tries to rally the workers:

“Hey, guys, gals, and all of you asexual enzymes and proteins, we gotta get some sort of photosynthetic structure up there into the light, or we’ll all die. You wanna keep this job? Well, fuck symmetry — we need something quick and dirty. This chlorophyll won’t keep too much longer!”

Pardon the profanity, but cell-division crews are even coarser than drywallers and roofers! You ought to see what they do after hours!

Brand-new Shoots

Brand-new Shoots

Roadrunner Story

Here’s an interesting anecdote from John Forrey, a great photographer here who lives here in Cochise County.

A preamble: John was commenting on a photo by Charles Morton, another skilled photographer who lives just up the road from me. Here’s Charles’s photo followed by John’s comment:

05/26/16 Roadrunner carries his prize catch around! McNeal, Az

05/26/16 Roadrunner carries his prize catch around! McNeal, Az

“I saw one perched on a rock with a big lizard in his beak. I wondered why he wasn’t munching it down. After a few minutes another roadrunner came running and got on the rock with him. They immediately started to mate and the instant they finished she grabbed the prize from him and took off! Wish I had my camera with me. So that’s why the male walks around with a lizard in his beak.”

Larry

Copper, The Pot-bellied Pig of Slaughter Ranch

Thursday was Field Trip Day at Echoing Hope Ranch. Various staff people and ten or so clients piled into four vehicles and headed east for a visit to a historic site known as Slaughter Ranch.

I had vaguely heard of Frank Slaughter, who served as a Cochise County sheriff and was part of the team of lawmen who tracked down Geronimo. He bought the ranch property in 1884 and was one of the first ranchers to run cattle in Arizona.

The ranch today is a marvelous place, blessed with abundant spring water and with well-irrigated grounds dotted with picturesque old cottonwood trees. Restored stone buildings serve as a museum complex. The centerpiece is an acre-sized pond with a stone wall bordering it.

Ramon, one of our ranch’s staff members, took advantage of a propane BBQ conveniently located by the pond and several picnic tables. He cooked the hot-dogs, hamburgers and cheeseburgers for everyone. After we ate my co-worker Mallory and I gathered up several clients and walked up a trail to a lookout butte where supposedly the ruins of an Army fort can be seen.

Before we left Ramon tried to give us additional cheeseburgers. “I just hate to waste food!”, he said. I politely declined but Ramon cajoled Mallory into taking one.

I walked ahead with a couple of clients. Later Mallory and her clients caught up with us. She had a half-eaten cheeseburger in her hand but seemed disinclined to eat it.

“Larry, you won’t believe what just happened! We were walking along and Jim spit tobacco juice on this cheeseburger! So disgusting! I can’t eat this, and I’m full anyway.”

Jim (not his real name) is older than most of the clients, perhaps in his mid-forties. He’s a big slow-moving guy and chews tobacco incessantly. Usually he has a pop bottle to spit in, a bottle which looks quite nasty towards the end of the day. Jim works for the garden crew in the mornings, so we know him well. I said:

“Why don’t you just pitch it into the bushes? Something will eat it!”

“Oh, I hate to just waste it. I know! I’ll wrap it up and tuck it into my cowboy boot! I’ll give it to Copper the pig when we get back.”

She did that; the little parcel fit right in the boot next to her ankle.

I should explain that the ranch has a free-roaming Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Copper, a friendly beast which knows that a picnic means dropped food.

After looking at the low ruins of the Army fort and appreciating the wonderful view of the thinly-inhabited San Bernadino Valley, we made our way back down to the pond and the rest of the group. As we were packing up to leave I ran into Mallory. I said:

“So, did you give that cheeseburger to Copper?”

“Oh, it was so funny! I had forgotten all about that cheeseburger. Copper found it, though! She was snuffling at my boot and that reminded me of what was in there! Copper ate it in one bite.”

Somehow in the turmoil of getting ready to leave on that field trip I forgot to fetch my camera from my truck. The ranch site offers numerous photographic opportunities, so next time I visit the ranch I’ll be better prepared!

Larry

Elephant Garlic Harvest

I’ve decided to re-post Facebook posts here, partly for archival reasons and also so that those who avoid Facebook can read them. Here’s the first one:

Last week the garden crew at Echoing Hope Ranch dug up two patches of Elephant Garlic with the help of some of the resident clients, all of them guys in their early twenties. It was a pleasant experience for all of us. My boss and I loosened the deeply-rooted bulbs with shovels and the clients pulled the garlic and loaded it into a cart.
The garlic bulbs are drying in one of the greenhouses, loosely stacked in slat-sided wooden boxes. This morning I noticed that some of the bulbs had snake-like scapes, the flower-stalks, erecting themselves and blindly rising towards the light. The flowers-clusters had expanded and burst their papery shrouds, leaving oddly comical hat-like remnants. Before I succumbed to practicality and snipped off and discarded the scapes I shot a few photos:

The Eyes Of Helios

Yesterday at dawn I was standing outside watching and photographing a particularly nice monsoon-season sunrise. As the sun was barely peeking over the Swisshelm Mountains it began to look like two smaller suns, side by side, and this created what I hope was the illusion of a pair of incredibly bright eyes:

Eyes In The Sky

Eyes In The Sky

I noticed a shimmery sound to my left and the form of Eos, Goddess Of The Dawn, materialized next to me.

“Oh, hi, Eos! You startled me!”

“Hey, Larry. I noticed you down here and thought I’d better give you a heads-up. Those really are eyes on the eastern horizon. They belong to Helios, and the big H can be a bit cranky first thing in the morning. If I were you I’d get inside, and take that orange dog with you. Otherwise you might find the gaze of Helios mortally intense!”

“What’s a Greek god doing in the Arizona desert?”

“Oh, he gets around. Hey, I gotta hustle over to the San Pedro Valley. I have some new Anasazi sprites helping set up the sunrise over there and I need to see how they’re doin’. See ya!”

Eos shimmered off into the sky, and I called Dingo and hustled her inside.

Larry

An Ocotillo, a Spider, and Doomed Ants

Yesterday afternoon I was out walking with my dog. The sky was overcast and the air was blessedly cool and humid. I squatted down to observe the new growth of an Ocotillo which I had planted some months ago. An odd sight caught my eye, little winged insects were seemingly suspended in a vertical plane to the left of the thorny Ocotillo trunk. Looking closely I could see that the insects were winged ants, probably part of a monsoon-induced nuptial swarm. They were caught in a barely-visible spider’s web, one side of which was anchored to the Ocotillo and the other end — I suppose anchored to the rocky soil?

Doomed Suspended Ants

Doomed Suspended Ants

Ocotillo and Spiderweb

Ocotillo and Spiderweb

This scene told a story to me, a tale of a lone spider seeking an anchor point for its web and ants hoping to mate but having their flight rudely interrupted. I saw the tiny spider lurking among the Ocotillo’s thorns, probably waiting for me to leave so that it could harvest its net’s yield.

Addendum: the following morning I revisited the Ocotillo and found the web almost emptied of prey. The spider was perched near the top of the stalk:

Dinner Time!

Dinner Time!

Larry

First Monsoon Storm!

This time of year residents of Southeast Arizona are weary of hot, dry days and clear blue skies. The rains almost always come by midsummer, but when?

Monday evening (June 22nd) I was watching a storm building over the San José Mountains in Sonora, just seven or eight miles south of our cabin. One leg of a rainbow contrasted nicely with the blur of falling rain, and I fetched my camera. This first shot was taken at about 7:00 PM, while the sun was still shining here. Along with the rainbow fragment there were interesting cloud structures forming:

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First Monsoon Storm #1

The storm seemed to be moving towards me rapidly. As the sun began to set lightning and thunder gave a portentous feel to the scene, but the rainbow was still visible. An odd hole in the clouds was forming. A few drops of rain began to fall and I managed to capture part of one lightning-strike. Notice the little curl of inter-cloud lightning in the upper-right corner:

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First Monsoon Storm #2

The roundish hole or opening in the clouds looked like a portal to another world. The wind was picking up and I backed into my doorway.

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First Monsoon Storm #3

A violent storm! The wind was gusting at over 50 mph and the hole in the clouds moved in closer. I took one last shot and raced to get my windows closed:

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First Monsoon Storm #4

After all of the tumult of the storm I only received perhaps an eighth of an inch of rain, but with any luck this first storm of the season is a harbinger of more!

Larry