Cherries, Peas and Hollyhocks

Cherries, a special offering of the spring season (until the Summer Solstice June 20) appeared at the farm market last week, along with more fine local peas. Radishes are also abundant, along with the first of summer’s beets. I noticed this morning on the online “Weather Channel” that our Taos temperatures will start creeping up into the low 90s for the first time this season. I guess that’s right on time for the start of the summer season. Peas don’t like the heat so they will scurry to finish up their  seed-making task and step off stage left. I’m just starting to harvest my peas. I’ll make sure to keep up the watering.

More cherries here from Mary Campbell’s farm in Dixon. To her left is Harvey, who is a farming neighbor. He was claiming to be old so I asked the year he was born and he said a number that was before 1930. Old enough to qualify in my book. I mention it because Harvey is still in the game. He and Mary seemed to be sharing a table. And the handsome fella to the right is from Oklahoma, working and living this summer on Mary’s farm to learn the trade. There is an official name for this exchange which I missed, but it’s good to see young people’s interest in farming.

Speaking of beets! These look young and fresh and I’m sure packed with nutrition. My favorite way to cook beets is to drizzle an oil and Balsamic vinegar mix over them and bake them in the oven in an aluminum wrapping. Brings out the sweetness.

My peas, the photo taken a week or so ago. I wanted to show illustrate how beautiful the flowers are, as well as the tendrils clinging to the sticks that make up the tipi they like to climb.

Also thought I’d mention how my pea growing experience each spring brings back memories of the ten years I spent as a nanny to my granddaughter (now 12). She loved my peas from the time she was old enough to pop them into her mouth. It feels good to know I leave behind that legacy of her knowing where food came from before supermarkets. She also loved the seeding time in the garden when I first turned over the soil with a trowel, revealing a world of earthworms. Loved those worms!

This shot was taken in the orchard on the property. Looks like there will be some apricots this summer. All this grass you see has been mowed the past couple of days, along with the alfalfa field. Some of this grass will get bailed and reserved for Barney, the horse who lives here.

And these are the wild plums that never had a chance to evolve last summer due to a late freezing night when they were flowering. What a beautiful sight. They grow on plants that are more bushes than trees and they are small in size when ripe, but delicious. They remind me of picking wild blackberries in California back in the day. Wild fruit=gifts of nature.

This is farmer John, half of the married couple who own the property where I live. He’s using this small tractor to pull out old fenceposts near my house. He is proposing to build a new latia (coyote) fence along the side of my back garden that runs along the road to their house. Now that would be nice.

Here come the hollyhocks. They make the OptiMysm metaphysical store look very inviting.

Happy Summer Solstice!

Chollas Bloom Magenta

I was excited to see examples of these same blooming Cholla Cactus just down the road from my house last week. However I took this more accessible photo last week next to the road along the Rio Grande gorge. I was on my way to Ojo Caliente and decided to take that route since I live near the southwest end of Taos, close to Hwy. 68. I had a hunch I would find these marvels and was I ever delighted.

In this photo you can see the gorge environment of the cactus. I looked up “Cholla Cactus” on Wikipedia and learned that there are 20 species of Cholla. I read down the list of descriptions and chose “Tree Cholla” for these. Says the blooms are deep lavender to red and the range is the “Chihuahuan desert into New Mexico and Texas and the semi-arid southern areas of eastern Colorado and western Oklahoma–2,000 – 7,000 feet.” Plus they do get tall and have branches, thus the “tree” part fits. I remember staying near the Pacific Ocean in Baja, there were Chollas there. You have to be very mindful of them–very painful if you came in contact with even a tiny spine.

I was doing some watering in the garden the other day and this Swallowtail came around not two feet from where I was standing. I focused all my attention on the opportunity to observe her (?) at close range and my presence did not seem to be a problem. Of course my camera was in the house and I started wishing I had it. After several minutes I took the chance and ran into the house and was able, gratefully, to get this one shot before she flew off. This story does illustrate the idea, “build it and they will come.”

And while we’re in the garden, yes, the peas are blooming and forming those pea pods like crazy now. I forget whether I planted edible pod or shelling peas. Guess I’ll soon find out. Smartly I planted another group of peas a couple of weeks later so all my peas won’t come at once. I went ahead and planted climbing beans and they are just coming up. I was a little late on that idea but hopefully they will catch up.

Yes, this flower, some kind of garden thistle but I don’t know the name, was blooming in my garden and yet I don’t feel it’s fair to take much credit for this magical photo. Thank you dear dslr camera for the way you can focus on some areas and blur others. There are some gaillardias blooming behind it, adding mysterious colors to the background. Cosmic! Both plants are perennials that returned from last year. What joy to see flowers like this already. Last summer I planted all my flowers from seed and had to wait at least another month from now for flowers.

And yes, the alfalfa field near my house got mowed and this photo captures the baler spitting out his little bales as he traverses the neat rows left by the mower a few days ago. The “hay” is allowed to sit in the sun a few days before the baler comes. Today while I was creating this blog the owner came in his truck and (likely with some help) picked up the bales and stacked them (four high?) in the truck for the short ride around to the other side of the property where his horse barn is. He earlier predicted that because of the drought and resulting lack of acequia water this summer he will only be able to get one crop out of this field, which usually provides two.

Preview: Black Eyed Susan

May=Garden Time

No, this is not my garden today, but last fall. Back a year ago now when I first moved into this small house I envisioned it surrounded by flowers. I had to work hard initially to ensure that happened and I blogged about my method, calling it “pioneer gardening.” That’s what you do when the previous tenants of a rental house have little or no interest or enthusiasm for growing flowers and vegetables like I do. Thankfully I did the hard work last May so now I can just improve the soil a bit and rearrange some planting areas, pull some weeds and I’m pretty much good to go.

Back in Ketchum, ID, the first thing I’d plant were peas. They seem to like the cold and would shrug off a little late snow or a frosty night here and there. Last May I skipped the peas entirely as I was very worried about the wild rabbits eating the seedlings before they even had a chance. But that was last May and now I’ve had time to live with the rabbits a season and rabbit-proof my fenced back yard. The photo above is one of three planting areas for peas, each small and offering vertical support. Around the front of the peas will be sunny so I’ll probably wait for the end of the month and drop in some heat-loving food plants like eggplants and peppers.

This is the way I start my salad plants, I sprinkle a few seeds (then cover with fine soil) of maybe half a dozen different edible salad-type varieties for what’s called a “cutting” mix. You keep cutting the leaves while they’re small (2 or 3 inches) until the plant starts to go to seed. Then you pull it out. Here I can discern arugula, spinach and some Russian kale. These were planted before that last cold spell and snow event we had a week ago and they survived.

To prepare the ground I add fresh soil amendments, for example from Ace I bought a product called “peat and sheep” and some organic compost. The soil here tends to be too alkaline so a little acid, as found in peat, is balancing. I hoping the sheep means sheep manure. Anyway, I apply maybe an inch layer of a combination of the two and then turn the soil with a trowel mixing the new with the old. I cheer every time I see an earthworm and treat them kindly. They are indicators of decent soil and if you can keep them around they will continue to make it better with their “castings.”

Here you can see all three of the pea planting areas. The one on the far right is new and there are mixed salad plantings on either side of it. This bed gets morning shade. Figured the salad plants might appreciate that. Last summer I underestimated the intensity of the New Mexico sun here at 7,200 feet and closer to the equator than Idaho. I thought my salad plants wanted sun. Got that wrong. The bed just to the left will be home to something that likes it hotter. Mediterranean herbs would work, sweet basil, peppers. I’ve planted chard in that back bed just in front of those onions (with sun and shade).

Now the front area, which faces south and is backed up by the structure of the house I reserve for the plants that really like the heat, such as tomatoes. Last year I grew zucchini, potatoes and lemon cucumbers there and the rabbits were not interested in any of those crops.

Here’s how the front garden looks now. I’ve pulled the weeds, added the soil amendments and am starting to water periodically just as though there were flower seeds planted. I do this for two reasons: one, there might be seeds in the soil from last year’s flowers and I want them to germinate and, two, the soil needs a degree of moisture in order to keep all the life there thriving, all the micro-organisms and the worms. Despite my amendments this soil is sandy and doesn’t hold moisture well so I have to pay attention to watering it.

If you look closely you can see a few mounds of green here and there. Those are blue flax, a wild flower that I’ve had success with in Idaho. I introduced it here with seed last May and it seems to have overwintered well. A few plants have started blooming in the morning with simple 1″ blue flowers that fade by afternoon. Best of luck with your garden.