Sunday, August 28, 2011

Oh No, Not the Agave Snout Weevil!

This is all that is left of one of my formerly beautiful Agave Americana's after being infested with what I am sure is the agave snout weevil. I have read about this scourge of low desert gardens before and felt lucky that my agave's until this point had not been affected. Now I am unable to say that.

I noticed on Friday that on of the agaves was looking rather flat and assumed that Tex had trampled it in his constant quest to catch a lizard. However on closer examination I saw that the entire plant had collapsed and I was able to pull out all the leaves leaving only the heart which fell over soon after. As I cleared it all away there was a foul smell which I now know is a classic sign of this pest.

The female weevils chew their way into the heart of the agaves in the spring leaving bacteria as they go. They then lay their eggs which hatch out to produce the next generation of adults. Signs often appear in the infested agave in the summer after the life cycle has been completed and it is actually the bacterial infection that kills the plant which is why the smell is so bad. At this point it is too late to save the plant. The only treatment appears to be application of a strong pesticide in the spring to prevent infestation. There is more great information here about this pest here from the wonderful Desert Botanical Garden.

Although I am really sad to lose such a lovely specimen I absolutely don't want to use any toxic chemicals in my yard and so I will just have to let nature take its course, and be prepared for what may follow. Agave Americana is a particular favorite of mine with it's huge sculptured look but if they are all affected by this I am prepared to avoid planting them in the future. This is the way of gardening sometimes hard though it may be. I am just glad I haven't lost a tree, that would be far worse.

Here are the agave's that are left standing right next to the affected ones.

They seem to be fine right now but their close proximity to the others doesn't give me a great deal of optimism. You can also see the palms that self seeded and are growing well in front of the agaves. I am really glad I didn't move them now as I had planned because they may be just what is needed to fill up an empty space.

Even gardening can be sad sometimes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


It is that time of year when everyone who resides here in the "Valley of the Sun" is complaining about the heat. I am no exception. Every year I think I am used to these desert summers throughout the months of June and July and make quippy little comments like, "oh it hasn't been too bad this year", and " I think I am finally getting used to the heat", only to be reminded by mid August that it is worse than ever, and that I will never get used to it! This hasn't been helped this week with several days of 110 plus temperatures that are predicted to last until the weekend. Yuk! We are all feeling fried here and I am having a hard time keeping my seedlings from doing the same. I have resorted to watering them three times a day to keep them going, and still they are looking droopy and sad in between. I will be amazed if they make it through to the fall, actually I will be amazed if I make it through to the fall especially in view of the fact that cool temperatures may not actually arrive until the beginning of November.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What's For Dinner?

I worked all day today and I am tired, and Robert is working this evening, so I have to admit I was short on ideas, and time for dinner for the girls and I this evening. We didn't have much in the way of anything inspiring at home either so I took the girls to our local grocery store and said that they could choose whatever they wanted for dinner. They were very excited by this.

I am not quite sure what I was expecting them to choose, perhaps pizza, or chicken nuggets and fries, or some other favorite food typical of a seven and a five year old. Instead of this they went immediately to the produce section, and quickly chose exactly what they wanted.

Their first choice was brussel sprouts and they were most disappointed when we couldn't find any which I was actually quite relieved about because I am sure they would have been flown half way around the world to be here in Phoenix in August. What they finally chose was cucumber, fresh corn, zucchini, red pepper, cilantro, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. (These items probably also had a fair few air miles clocked up between them!).

We then came home and prepared and cooked everything which wasn't quite the super quick and easy supper I had planned but I am certainly not complaining. We ate sliced cucumber, corn, steamed broccoli and cauliflower with grated cheese on top, zucchini sauted in olive oil with red pepper, onion, salt pepper and a little cumin, and steamed carrots. It was a great dinner and I am so happy that my girls love veggies as much as I do. Not sure quite how that happened but I am very happy nonetheless!

This also inspires me to make much more of an effort to go regularly to one of the wonderful farmers markets here in the valley with the girls. There is absolutely no excuse not to buy fresh local produce especially when I have two girls who love vegetables so much but I am afraid I have not been very organized of late and have got out of the habit.

Friday, August 12, 2011


I was working in the backyard all morning. I am trying to get the river rock wash finished so we can put in some gravel, and then it will all be done.... as much as the backyard of someone with a passion for growing things can ever be done.

As I turned over a few rocks I could hardly believe my eyes when I found these,

Here is a closer view,

One doesn't get a true sense of scale until one sees this picture,

and once I had made sure they were hatched eggs, I took this one,

They are the most beautiful, and most fragile eggs I have ever seen. I am assuming that they are some kind of reptile egg seeing as I found them under a rock. I am guessing that they are gecko eggs because there were loads of geckos in the area where I was working this morning in various stages of growth. Does anyone know for sure?

A great find!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Two news stories have been affecting me deeply over the past few days.

The eruption of violence in London and elswehere in the UK has left me feeling shocked and deeply saddened. I simply can't believe that this kind of senseless violence is occuring in the city where I lived, and loved to live just twelve years ago. I just spoke with my Mum and she said that the only thing keeping her going is the fact that groups of volunteers are now assisting with the clean up. That gives her hope she said.

The other tragic story that has really affected me is the one of an English school boy being mauled to death by a polar bear during an adventure expedition in Norway over the weekend. Four others were severely injured as they tried to fight the bear off. The bear was finally killed by an expedition leader. This is tragic on so many levels. I simply cannot imagine what the families of the slain boy, and those who were injured are going through right now. There has been a lot of discussion in the press that the bear was underweight, and it has also been reported that encounters of this kind could well become more common as sea ice retreats, and polar bears are forced to hunt further inland.

To be clear, polar bear attacks are rare and these youngsters were in an especially unique and vulnerable situation to encounter a polar bear in the way that they did, however this whole tragic scenario rings many warning bells for me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Good Thing?

We occasionally eat fast food, not often but sometimes. One of the places we go to is Baja Fresh and so I was of course happy to see that they are now serving their food on compostable plates, and using compostable paper too. These plates really are great but I wonder how many of them are actually getting composted? Ours did but I wonder how many other people are composting their plates after eating their takeout mexican food, and what happens to the majority of the plates that are thrown away in the store? Are they really going somewhere to be composted or are they just getting thrown away as usual? It makes me want to go down there and collect all the compostable plates and compost them in our backyard compost bin!

I really do appreciate that efforts are being made by large companies to "go green" but I wonder sometimes how much some of these things are truly thought through before they are implemented. In reality they may actually be helping our earth more by ensuring that the Mahi Mahi in their fish taco's is US long- line caught. Insisting that their food is sustainably sourced will make the greatest long term environmental impact for any of these fast food companies I think.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lazy Morning

I had planned to get up early this morning and get started with things but it didn't happen I am afraid. I worked late last night and was also tired after doing some yard work at my father in laws that needed doing in the afternoon. So, the girls and I are having a lazy morning and it feels quite nice.

I have many chores to do, washing to fold, and packing and organizing to do for our last camping trip of the summer. It is our annual trip with friends and we are all excited, just two nights but nice nonetheless.

The girls and I have planted the cucumbers and summer squash and we had a HUGE storm last night with what I think must have been close to an inch of rain, (it felt like it anyway), so everything outside got a good soaking. We also planted sunflowers against the wall at the top of my new garden which will brighten up a plain wall. I also plan to grow peas up against the eastern facing wall. When my Dad was here last he put tension wires up along that wall and they will be perfect for peas to climb up. I have a lot of work to do with the soil though because it is not good right now and I already used all the compost I had ready planting the summer squash and cucumbers. I am excited to have a proper fall garden again because I didn't really do one last year though I can't remember why exactly.

I can hadly believe that the girls go back to school next week. Emily will be in all day Kindergarten this year which is a real milestone for her and for me. I am sure it will be strange for a while.

Right, I must go and get this day started.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A story about a baby Quail..... and it has a happy ending!

You may remember this picture of the Gambel's Quail's nest that was under a cactus in our frontyard a couple of months ago. This is the second year running that they have nested there and from what I read here I understand that it is quite unusual to actually find one of these nests.

We had been watching the Mother on the nest from a distance for a while and got back from a camping trip to find that the eggs had all hatched and were gone. That evening Robert heard a very loud cheeping sound in the back of the garage and on closer investigation found the tiniest, fluffiest baby quail that had somehow become separated from it's flock and ended up in our garage. He immediately put it in a high sided box while we decided what to do.

We looked on the internet and found the number for a Quail rescue organization here in Phoenix called Arizona Covey which is run by a lady called Jeani Garrett. She takes in rescued Gambel's Quails and rears them in her home. We called her and spoke to a man who said to take the baby Quail right over which we did. It wasn't too far from where we lived thankfully because the baby Quail seemed to us to be getting rather distressed and weak.

When we arrived we handed over the baby to the man who took it into a room absolutely full of Quail's in various stages of development. The man said he expected our chick to do fine. The girls kept saying over and over how happy they were to have saved the little Quail. I love that there are people who devote their time and money to saving creatures like this. It makes the world a much better place.

Since then we have seen a family of Quail every now and again in our neighbourhood, two adults with at least nine babies. I am sure these are the ones our baby came from and I am glad to see that so many have survived because these birds are very vulnerable to other predatory wildlife.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I treated myself to this beautiful variegated agave yesterday and was happy to see the little succulent growing next to it.

I shall plant it today with a little help from Emily.