A tortoise, and peanuts too!

Living alone as I do most of the year, I have few dependents. Just an orange Desert Dog and a couple of Van-pattern cats. I needed one more genus of creature to fill out my life here, so I ordered a Sulcatus hatchling tortoise from a reptile breeder in Sacramento. The little reptile should be shipped to the ranch within a day or two. The species is the third-largest tortoise still existing in this world, and could eventually grow to three feet in length.

This morning I met a neighbor and friend out on my road. Michael wanted some silty sand, and there’s a big pile along my road, left there by another neighbor when I had my road refurbished earlier this year. While Michael shoveled sand into his truck, we talked. Michael said:

“Ya know what, Larry? You guys at Echoing Hope Ranch oughta be growing some peanuts.”

I was intrigued, and this afternoon I ordered a quarter pound of peanut seed from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Maybe next year we’ll be making and selling peanut butter!


More Russian Kale Dialogue

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Baby Kales Talking/caption]

“Hey, here comes that guy that waters us. I could use a good root-soaking!”

“I’m kinda wondering about that guy, truth to tell. Look what he’s doing over in that carrot bed!”

“Shit, he’s pulling up half of the plants! What’s got into him?”

“Y’know, I saw a documentary about plantopathic gardeners. They get some sort of sick thrill from pulling up plants, plants just like us, by their roots! It could be that Larry is a serial thinner!”

“Oh, no, here he comes!”

“Hey guys, I gotta do this, but it’s for your own good. You are growing too thickly. Some of ya have to go! I should tell you that most of you are destined to be eaten by humans.”

“Oh, Larry, is that why you planted us? I thought it was just because you like plants! All of my illusions are being shattered!”

I’ll omit a description of the sad carnage which followed this exchange! Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!


Glass Fragment Found While Hoeing

Re-posted from Facebook:

A couple of days ago, before this heat wave descended upon us, I was out in the Echoing Hope Ranch garden hoeing between cowpea rows. The soil was moist and friable due to a morning sprinkler irrigation. A killdeer was maintaining a safe distance from me, probing the ground for provender while keeping an eye on me, as you never know what those erratic humans might do!

A glint of something in the soil caught my eye. It was a fragment of glass. For some reason glass fragments are common out in the garden; perhaps it once might have been a household dump site.

I picked up the arc-shaped piece of glass, noticed that it had a pleasing iridescence, and stuck it in my pants pocket.

It’s a hot afternoon here in Cochise County. While sorting laundry I came across the chunk of glass. I became curious; could I capture that thin film of iridescence in a photo? I set up my tripod and shot this photo with the camera set at 1/13th of a second exposure.

Garden Glass Fragment

Garden Glass Fragment


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


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!


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!


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: