Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mice Update

Well, I am happy to say we don't have any nesting mice in the compost box! Robert emptied it all out and went through it. (I was too scared to do it on my own in case we found a nest of babies because at that point their fate would have been horribly sealed).

There wasn't any evidence of any nest or tunneling, and in fact most of the box was pretty damp and well composted down. I have now moved the box further away from the house and put all the compost back. I will be sure to bury any veggies I am composting from now on and not just leave them in the top as I have been doing, this may be a deterrent.

This whole incident also finally forced us to clean out the garage too which was long overdue. All the clutter is now gone and we have lots of bags for Goodwill so all in all it was a good day.

Did I mention what wonderful weather we are having? I am always struck by how amazingly happy something simple like opening the windows in the house can make me feel. Priceless!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Butterflies, Pumpkins and Mice


I took Emily out of preschool yesterday to go to the pumpkin festival at the Desert Botanical Garden. We have been going every year since both girls were babies and it is a nice fall desert tradition for us. It will be the last chance we get to go mid week because Emily will be in kindergarten next year, and I wont take her out of school for it. We also stopped by the monarch butterfly exhibition. All in all it was a lovely morning with perfect fall weather!

This morning I was watering the compost in one of my boxes and was surprised when a mouse stuck it's head out, took one look at me and ducked back inside. To my knowledge I have not had any rodents in my compost before so I was rather surprised. I am not sure if I should be too concerned or not? I mean obviously I don't want any coming into the house, but they are already living outside, and I am quite happy to coexist with them. If they weren't in the compost presumably they would be elsewhere.

I have done quite a lot of research about rodents in compost today and as usual there is loads of conflicting information out there. I imagine if I keep the compost damper than usual for a while it will deter them from nesting, although it may be too late for that. I couldn't bear the thought of harming them although one of my resident king snakes that I know for sure roam around the veggie garden may not be quite as tolerant!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Kendra!


I can hardly believe you are seven my sweet little girl. I hope you have a wonderful pony filled day! I love you.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gardening is a Funny Old Business!

I seem to have totally lost my green thumb! Nothing is growing as planned this Fall and the amount of actual veggies I have managed to grow this year, (with the exception of the constantly reliable swiss chard), is truly pathetic!

I finally pulled all the cucumbers. They were totally taken over by aphids despite my valiant attempts at saving them so I admitted defeat. I didn't get one cucumber either! Could it have been because I planted them so close to the sage I wonder?

The zucchinis aren't doing great either. I mean the plants and flowers are, but I've only had a handful of actual squash. Time to hand pollinate I think. So strange because there doesn't seem to be a shortage of bees buzzing around the flowers.


On the other hand things that I didn't even plant continue to do well. I have two more melons from the self seeded melon plant which brings the total to six these past few months. A very welcome and unexpected bonus in an otherwise dismal vegetable growing year.


My pepper plants that I seeded very early in the year and were pathetic all summer to the point that I gave up on them are finally flourishing and have tons of peppers on them. Very nice!


The Fall crops that I re- seeded seem to be mixed yet again. The beets are doing well and the carrots have sprouted, but no leeks yet. Seriously? I am wondering whether my little patch just needs a complete rest for a while. Over farming may be a problem I fear.

The weather has been GLORIOUS! Perfect in the early mornings and dare I say it even a little chilly? I finally feel energized and enthusiastic about everything again. It has been a long time coming but I really think triple digits are done, for this year at least.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Aphids!

Can't stand them! I mean really, they are the bain of my life. I just get my cucumber and zucchini plants looking all green and lush and lovely, and am eagerly awaiting their bounty one day, and the next, they are literally smothered in aphids. Infested! I have never seen as many in one place as there are on the cucumbers. I am sure they are absolutely loving this never ending hot weather too. Great! I have done what I can for now with soapy water in a spray bottle, and removed as many of the most heavily infested leaves as I could without destroying the plants, and I will now just have to remain vigilant. They are certainly here to stay but I can probably control them enough to get a decent crop of squash and cucumbers, at least I hope so because they are smothered in flowers and are so ready to produce.

In other equally depressing news, our bath tub has been leaking for god knows how long underneath the tub. I dread to think what it is like under there, and can hardly bear to think of the upheaval removing the tub will cause, but it has to be done. Our bathroom is in a dreadful state actually and we are toying with getting it remodeled which will be pricey I am sure but has to be done eventually if we ever hope to sell this house. I have lots of dreamy green building ideas for sustainable counter tops and low flow faucets and yet I feel strangely exhausted by the whole thing. I don't know where all my energy and enthusiasm went but I would surely like to have it back!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Welcome Back!



I am very happy to see that I have a Rustic Sphinx Moth caterpillar or two on my orange bells again this fall. I had them a couple of years ago but didn't see them last year.

They are absolutely amazing to me these huge, green creatures that look like something from out of space. We certainly don't get anything quite like this in the UK where our caterpillars tend to be much smaller and less dramatic. They are very welcome to feast on my orange bells for as long as they desire.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dilemma

My gardening style, (if I even have one which is highly unlikely), is to plant stuff that grows well in a dry climate that I like, and hope for the best. Sometimes things grow, sometimes they don't, and sometimes if I am really lucky things grow that I didn't even plant. I always view this as an unexpected bonus, especially as they are more often than not arid plants that do well in our dry environment because if they weren't they wouldn't have grown themselves here.

I have had two beautiful self seeded palms for several years now in the corner of my yard. I suspect they are date palms, although I know little about palm trees so I am certainly not sure. Anyway, they seeded themselves and have been growing slowly but surely for ages, and are really quite lovely. They require no care because they chose the perfect spot and anywhere else I would be ecstatic to have such lovely freebies growing so well.



My problem is that I like a wild and unruly look in my yard, and I think all the nature we get in our yard likes it too, but I think these palms just make everything look messy and overcrowded. In fact it all looks like a total mess to me.


What should I do? Should I just cut them down, (which would make me awfully sad), should I try to move them which may or may not be a success, or should I leave them where they are and see what happens? Anyone have any other ideas?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fall is in the air, (in the early morning at least).

This morning I was outside early and it felt cool, yes actually COOL! This surely means that fall is on it's way. I like to think so at least.

My garden is mixed right now with the zucchini's and cucumbers thriving. The sage plant does not seem to have had a detrimental effect on the cukes yet.


The zucchinis clearly need thinning out. I always plant too many and then hate to thin out perfectly healthy plants but I will. There are lots of flowers too so soon I hope to get actual squash.


The swiss chard (which is usually effortless to grow), is really struggling to get established, as are the carrots and beets. I suspect that I planted them all too early because I was really pushing the limits of my desert planting schedule to get them in. I will resow again next week and hope for better.

In other news I have dropped my math class. It was a very difficult decision, and not one that didn't weigh on me heavily, but it felt like the right thing to do. I was not prepared for the sheer volume of work, and right now I simply don't have the time or the energy. Other things were suffering, and it simply wasn't fair for my family or for me. I am not giving up however and will try again in the spring and make sure that I am better prepared.

And finally here is Tex. Couldn't resist because he is just so darn cute! :)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hot Labor Day Holiday

The lovely cool down last weekend has been followed by a grim heat up here in the Phoenix area. It is predicted to be 111 today, and similar scorching temperatures over the Labor Day weekend.

I am sure it feels like fall is coming somewhere out there, but it certainly doesn't feel like that here yet. My weekend gardening plans may need to be put on the back burner.

Have a good holiday weekend everyone wherever you are, and whatever you are doing!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

In Too Much of a Hurry.

I witnessed the most appalling exhibition of rudeness directed at a cashier in my local supermarket this morning. It was entirely unwarranted as far as I could tell in that the cashier was doing his best to help this particular customer, but he just wasn't moving as quickly and efficiently as this customer wanted and expected him to.

This event really upset me at the time, enough so that I actually commented to the customer about how rude he sounded which probably wasn't the best idea in hindsight but really, I couldn't help it. As the day has gone on this incident has left me feeling quite sad.

Do we really live in a world where we think it is OK to dish out any amount of rudeness to anyone who happens to cross our path simply because we are in a hurry, or out of sorts, or angry at our spouse, or just having a bad day? Is this really the world we are raising our children to live in? Has it always been this way? Surely not, I seem to remember a much gentler, kinder world not so very long ago.

I am in no way trying to imply that I always behave with the utmost patience and graciousness in every situation, but it does seem to me that we are all in so much of a hurry these days that we sometimes lose sight of so much that is important. Things like patience, and respect, and basic good manners, and gratitude, and just plain kindness.

Am I the only person that feels this way? Is it just me, or do others experience situations like I did today and feel the same sadness I am feeling?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Crazy Storm

We had a huge, and very scary monsoon storm yesterday evening. I watched with the girls as torrential rain was blown horizontally, and as all the trees in our backyard were blown almost in half. Fortunately for us the only real casualty was my little desert willow tree in the front yard that was split down the middle. I think I may be able to salvage it, I hope so anyway.

Others in our area were not so fortunate, and although the damage seems to be completely random and sporadic, it was considerable for many with trees down all through our neighbourhood and beyond. I love to get rain, but I never enjoy the really intense and destructive monsoon storms.

Another minor casualty was this little nest that was blown out of one of our trees. It is the goldfinch nest that was in a tree just outside our backdoor. We all enjoyed watching the activity that went on in and around it earlier in the year as young goldfinches were hatched, and successfully raised from within.


Isn't it pretty! It is lined with the softest feathers. I am always amazed by how intricately birds nests are constructed. So clever!

Life has got crazy this week too. I seem to be totally consumed with school runs, housework, yard work, homework, my job, (although thankfully that is very part time right now), dinner preparation, and volunteering at Kendra's school. I started back at school this week too and am irrationally stressed about it because I am taking math, the last prerequisite class I need, and the one that I have delayed for as long as possible due to my intense fear and dislike of anything to do with math. Occasionally I manage to squeeze in some blogging, exercise, and drumming too. So much for trying to live a simpler life. Is that even possible these days?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Seriously?

Seldom do I hear a piece on NPR in the morning that makes me choke on my fair trade java, but that is exactly what happened today.

Listen HERE !

After doing more research I come to find that this issue is everywhere on the Internet and that claims have even been made that crumpling these packets is harmful to ones hearing. Yes, really!

Seriously? Is this what people are doing with their time these days? Aren't chip packets supposed to be noisy?

For the record, I love your compostable Sun Chip packets Frito Lay! Thank you for taking the time and trouble to develop and produce them, and I will be buying your product specifically for it's innovative and environmentally conscious packaging considerations, oh and because Sun Chips taste so good.

Now I am off to wake up the girls. I think I have a packet of Sun Chips somewhere, opening that up should work......

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Swiss Chard and Pesto

I planted beets, carrots, and swiss chard yesterday. In my opinion swiss chard is one of the very best veggies for us desert dwellers to grow. It grows well in poor soil it seems, and goes on for months if tended to occasionally. I only pulled mine out back in July and could probably have kept it going longer if I had continued to care for it. It is also a very versatile vegetable. I use it many different ways and often use it in place of spinach. It is my absolute favorite vegetable to grow and eat. I hope it grows fast so I have some again soon!

I also made a huge batch of pesto yesterday which I froze. I had enough pesto from last summer in the freezer to last pretty much all winter. Now that I make my own pesto I struggle to eat the stuff that comes in jars even though I used to love it. It is simply not the same as home made.

The weather remains hot and extremely humid. I have never been to the deep south in the summer but I imagine this is close to how it feels. I am constantly sweaty, a feeling I am not used to here in the normally dry desert. We did get some rain the night before last but it didn't bring any real and lasting relief. Did I mention that I am more than ready for this weather to be done?

Monday, August 16, 2010

First Day of School 2010 and Other Most Wonderful News.....


The big day has arrived and both my girls went back to school this morning. After spending almost every minute with them all summer it seems a little strange, but not as bad as last year. I have much I can be doing while they are having fun at school.

On another and most marvelous note, my dear friend Kavita over at BODAAT has a sister called Aarti who won The Next Food Network Star last night! This is amazing, especially as she and her husband have sacrificed a great deal, and worked very hard so that she could chase her dreams.

'The Next Food Network Star': Let's Paarti!

This is truly a beautiful story of dreams coming true, and I couldn't be any happier for Aarti and her whole family.

You can all start watching her new cooking show on The Food Network in a week or so. Whoop whoop!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Companion Planting Confusion

I am feeling much better again the past couple of days. Thanks for all the kind thoughts, it really helps!

My zucchini seedlings are growing very well indeed. They sprouted within about four days and are now bigger than in this picture.


I had a bit of a panic last weekend when I realized I had forgotten to plant cucumbers. The window for doing so this time of year is quite short as with summer squash. So, I ran outside last Sunday afternoon and quickly dumped a few cucumber seeds into the ground.

I generally try to do companion planting and when I checked later that evening I discovered that cucumbers shouldn't be planted near sage. This was a shame because I had planted the cucumber seeds right next to this...


my vibrantly healthy sage bush!

Despite doing more research I couldn't find out what actually happens if you do plant cucumbers near sage, and they seem to be growing vigorously so far. I wonder if sage makes the cucumbers bitter or something?

I asked my Dad what he thought would happen and he said, "I have no idea but I think you are about to find out!" Made me smile. It will be an interesting experiment for me this fall.

Apologies but here is yet another awful picture of my goldfinch family.


The reason I am posting another one here is because you can see a male goldfinch this time. He is the very bright yellow one towards the back of the fountain. I hadn't seen any males before but often see one or two flitting around now with all their ladies. So pretty.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Out of the Blue

It is so strange. Suddenly, and quite out of the blue today I am feeling low, and rather depressed, and yearning to be away from this scorching desert.

I think it is common knowledge that this place is not ideal for me in very many ways. I am not a suburban dweller, and I am not someone who loves the desert, although there are many people who do.

Most of the time though I manage to make do, and I choose to be happy, knowing that it is not forever, and that one day, sometime in the future we will move to somewhere more temperate. A place that has seasons, and regular rain, and chilly misty mornings, and fall leaves that one can scrunch through, and summer afternoons that one can sit out in and enjoy, and a view of green fields, and just plain grey, drizzly days that are perfect for hiding inside with a good book.

For now though I am sad, and I am missing England, and perhaps I just need to feel that way today. That's all.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Oak Creek Canyon

Our final camping trip of the summer was up at Oak Creek Canyon which is in my opinion one of the most beautiful places in Arizona.

It is of course peak tourist season right now and it was very busy, but we had a great camping spot down by the creek, and we did a fantastic hike up into the canyon as well.










It was a great trip, and a fantastic way to end this summers outdoor camping adventures.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Desert Senna

Very occasionally small areas of my yard look close to how I want them to look. I generally go for a wild and unruly style, and this is helped by encouraging native plants that grow well, and require little or no maintenance.

Desert Senna is a native plant here in the sonoran desert and it is looking rather pretty in my yard at the moment. There is brittlebush here too, another native, although that will not flower until next spring.



I only wish the rest of my yard looked as pretty but nothing else is flowering right now.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Low Desert Planting and Harvesting Calendar

I wanted to remind those of you who live as I do in low desert areas that Greg Peterson and Matt Suhr of The Urban Farm have been kind enough to compile and share their Low Desert Planting and Harvest Calendar.

If you have recently moved as I did from more temperate climes you will not be used to the different planting seasons here, and with the Fall planting season almost upon us again I imagine this guide will prove as invaluable for you as it has for me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lizard or Gecko?


The other night I found and set free not one, not two, but three of these tiny little creatures from our bathroom. I like to think they were geckos although I am not sure why. They seemed to have rather big "fingers".

After a bit of research I found that determining the difference between the two can be difficult without a very detailed physical examination. Whatever they were they were very sweet and I am glad we have them around.

I was tempted to leave them hanging out in the house but was worried the dogs would harm them in some way. Hopefully they will find a good home outside and do their good work out there.

I got the summer squash planted and the yard tidied up quite a bit. What a perfect weekend for weather! Now I need to concentrate on getting ready for one final summer camping trip we are going on this week with friends.

The girls are back at school in two weeks which must mean the extreme summer heat is almost over.................really it's not? Oh well I can always dream!

Update-
Thanks to my resident nature expert Jenn I think we have an I.D on these little creatures. They look remarkably like mediterranean geckos to me and I now realize that these are what live in my compost boxes too. Thanks Jenn as always! :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mesquite Beans

I had another very productive day outside yesterday. It was very humid, but also much cooler, and it was a perfect summer day for yard work.

I spent some time collecting the beans that had fallen from my mesquite trees.


These beans can be milled into delicious flour and used for "cookies, breads, breading for meats, as a seasoning and in drinks like protein powder."


Phoenix Permaculture Guild have an annual Mesquite Bean Milling Get Together each year for this purpose.

To get beans suitable for milling, one has to be organized enough to collect the beans straight from the tree, or actively shake them from the trees and collect them immediately afterwards. Of course I have not managed to do this yet although each year I aspire to do so. Usually by time I think of it they are already spread all over the yard, and by this time they can't be used for flour.

The second best thing to use them for other than flour I think is compost. I had an entire bin full of mesquite beans from last summer that made great compost which I spread on the garden yesterday. At least they aren't going entirely to waste, and they are going back into the earth to play a valuable role in food production for my family.

I am ready today to sow my summer squash seeds. It feels so good to be back outside playing in the earth again. I hadn't realized how much I have missed it throughout this summer. I already feel a wonderful sense of fulfillment, and am energized all over again.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cloudy Skies



This is what the sky looked like over our backyard yesterday evening. However, despite flash flood warnings, and reports of deluges elsewhere we didn't get more than a few drops of rain. I am absolutely craving a good downpour with the fresh smell, and clear air that it will bring.

I managed to conquer my inertia, and the humidity today and got loads done outside in the front, and backyard. I got most of the vegetable garden cleared and dug over as well.

How is it that the garden soil, freshly dug through and turned a mere few months ago is now as hard as a rock again? Desert soil, there really is nothing quite like it!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summertime Inertia Has Hit!

The mid summer inertia I typically get every year has finally arrived, and arrived with a vengeance! It usually occurs a great deal earlier than this, and I attribute it's late arrival this year to the frequent escapes the girls and I have been making to cooler, more welcoming summer places up north.

It also happens to have hit about the same time that I need to be getting my vegetable garden in order so that I can begin to plant my Fall crops. It has been just about all I can do to stagger out there each day into the heat and humidity, (about 70% today), to get a bit of clearing and digging done. This weekend I need to plant summer squash as I have a very short window in which to do so. Many of the other crops can wait until the beginning of September thankfully.

The rest of the yard needs work too. Everything is very overgrown, more so than I like, and I can't bear to look at it anymore. The mornings are the best time to go out, the evenings the worse with the incredibly awful mosquitoes that we have this year. Ridiculous that we have so many in this "dry, desert" environment, and totally attributable I am afraid to the ways in which we are changing this place forever to suit our own needs and desires.

On a brighter note here is the first melon from my self seeded melon plant. It really tasted good, and there are four more to come with any luck.


The English person in me is particularly excited about growing my first melon! Melons were always a special treat for us as children, and they aren't something we generally have the climate for in the UK. I did however find this interesting article that describes four newer varieties of melon that are easier to grow in the UK, and I am sure having a greenhouse would help too. Melons still represent something very exotic for me though, and I imagine they always will.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Request For Any Bird Watchers Among You

Please excuse yet another awful photograph but I wanted to put this out there to see if anyone can help me to identify these birds.


They love to bathe and drink from the fountain next to our patio and I love watching them. We now seem to have an entire flock of these beauties residing in our yard after having raised young in their numerous nests.

Bird identification is certainly not one of my talents, and after looking through a bird book today my mind is positively spinning with all the possibilities of exactly what they could be. Are they Vireos perhaps, or warblers of some kind? Does anyone know? Thank you in advance!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Self Seeded

I have several Cantaloupe melons of various sizes growing in my veggie garden. This is the biggest.


The funny thing is that I didn't plant any Cantaloupe melons, in fact I don't think I have ever planted any. I think a melon seed must have escaped from the compost box and self germinated. I love it when that happens!

No snake encounter this morning and I rather missed it I have to admit.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Little Snake

The day before yesterday I came across a little black and white snake slithering through my melon patch. Today as I went out to water, I almost stepped on what I am assuming is the same little snake just as I passed through the garden gate. It looked at me for a short time, and then slithered away down the side of the house. I ran into get my camera and managed only to get this very poor shot I am afraid.


By the time I had my camera the poor thing was thoroughly terrified, and I didn't want to scare it anymore.

It is a juvenile King Snake I think which leads me to believe that there are probably more because where there is one baby snake, there is likely to be a family of baby snakes. I imagine somewhere in our yard there is a clutch of King Snake eggs hatching, or perhaps already hatched. I know we have at least one adult King Snake because I have seen it at dusk, and I found a beautiful, perfectly shed snake skin on the patio last year which I blogged about here. I am happy to have these creatures as always. I am sure they will help to sustain natural balance in our backyard.

My poor blog is so neglected, as is my veggie garden, and many other things in my life this summer. My children however are not at all neglected because I have been taking them camping, often. I will post pictures one of these days. Suffice it to say these desert summers are best spent away in the coolness of the northern pine trees. How lucky we are that we get the chance to camp so often. Lucky indeed!