Lovin’ July in Taos

Yes, we have moved past the terrible heat and dryness of June into the glory days of the monsoon season here in Taos. We love the clouds, the thunder, the tantalizing drops of rain, the cooler temperatures. It’s the welcome flip of June’s weather.

A few days ago I went over and picked up ripe apricots that had fallen off the tree into the grass. I was surprised at how many I found that were not overripe or damaged by their fall. It’s been an apricot feast ever since at my house. While visiting a friend in Arroyo Seco a few days ago I saw she has a lush tree with larger apricots but they weren’t ripe just yet.

This is my bucket of bounty. There are a few small apples there too, and two sizes of apricots originating from two different trees. I have an ayurvedic recipe for stewed apples with dates and cinnamon that calls for dried apricots. Thought I might try the fresh ones? The recipe comes in handy when you’ve run out of ways to cook a big harvest of apples. That will be an issue here soon.

I’ve been noticing day lilies blooming all around the local landscape. These were photographed at the Hanuman Temple last Sunday. I love the wild look of these generous plants and the way a few original bulbs will naturally expand their growing area if they find a location they like. They are not demanding or fussy when it comes to care and bloom over a long period. A+

While on the topic of flowers…I took this photo out at the Overland Complex several miles north of Taos. Love those patches of blue reflecting the sky. And I’ll add that if you find yourself there take a look at the beautiful contemporary paintings in the Envision Gallery. Two of them are mine. Two other artists there I like, both as people and as artists, are Mieshial and Katie Woodall.

Last week at the farm market I found these members of the Fred Martinez family selling the first peaches I’ve noticed this summer. Their orchard is in Dixon.

Took this photo a couple of days ago while visiting the Arroyo Seco home and gardens (Living Light Farm & Plant Nursery) of Kathy Fenzl. She and her husband have taken the concept of turning a home lot into a farm to new heights. After my extensive tour I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all they are doing, and so successfully. Kathy told me that there would be an article about their Living Light Farm in Thursday’s paper, so if you want to see and hear more check this week’s paper. I am making short work of what could be a much longer and more thorough tour and commentary.

Here’s a glimpse of the “home” side of the equation. Just off to the right are the two greenhouses of the previous photo. When you’re inside the house looking out the windows to the back of the property the mountains seem big and close. I felt they had found a beautiful location for their project, with a feel of being both sheltered and nurtured by the mountains in an up-close way. And they are showing us the amazing possibilities for growing a wide variety of food plants right outside our “door.” Kudos!

First of my sunflowers.

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!

Petree’s Nursery in Spring

You’d have to include a scenic location when compiling a list of great things about Petree’s Nursery. Yes, those are the Taos mountains in the background and the homes and such between Blueberry Hill Road and the Taos Pueblo.

I’d heard of this nursery and even driven by the sign on Blueberry Hill a couple of times in the short 2 years I’ve lived in Taos. There’s nothing to see as you pass the sign, just a road heading right off to who knows where? But lately I began to have a passion about locating some organic plant food (forget Ace or WalMart) and that’s how I ended up at Petree’s. There were so many choices there it was hard to decide. I ended up taking the recommendation of the helpful clerk and chose her own favorite, a well-rounded dry mix of nutrients called “rose food.”

So back to the right turn at the Petree sign on Blueberry Hill (if you’re coming from the south) I followed the road (Petree Lane) as it headed rather straight downhill. The elevation of the retail area pictured here is dramatically lower than original turn at the top. This place was a real discovery for me in so many ways. I asked the owner, Sylvia, if I could take these photos for a Taos blog and all she said was “make it pretty.” She did share that the nursery became a company in the early 90′ after she and Mr. Petree became a couple. He already owned the land and together they created what you see today.

This is what’s inside those greenhouses in the last photo. Everything you’d need to get your garden off to an early start. I tend to plant my own seeds, especially things like peas and salad greens (arugula, kale, parsley, chard, lettuces, cilantro) which are not that fussy about cool night temperatures. When it comes to cucumbers and tomatoes I like to wait and then buy plants toward the end of May. Because our summers are relatively short it pays to let someone do the greenhouse work for you. That is if you want your tomatoes starting to make fruit in July. Yes we do!

If you’re new to Taos I hope it doesn’t take you as long as it did me to discover the joys and various services of Petree’s. It’s quite a place.

Saturday at the farm market my friend, Lauren, learned what those wagons at the official Taos Farm Market booth are for, and they’re free for the asking. I don’t think I saw those last summer. How nice! Every week there are more farmers with booths and more customers appreciating what’s coming into season. Peas are starting to show up and they are in high demand when word gets out. My personal favorite buy right now is the $4 bag of fresh sprouts, including sunflower sprouts, which I love. Favorite flower starting to show up: Dalias.

I don’t recall the grower but one booth was offering this freshly picked camomile, with the suggestion that you allow it to dry then use it for making tea. I loved the fresh beauty of it and the container too. I’d bet the tea that results will have a more delicious flavor than store bought.

This peacock was putting on quite the show Sunday at the Hanuman Temple. He allowed plenty of time for crowds to gather and camera toters to find their equipment. Loved this photo of the intent observers.

And that would be the “object of attention” there on the lower left, the female. This is the first time, for all the many times I’ve been to the temple on a Sunday, to see this display. The building that houses the temple room is just behind the peacock.

Alfalfa blossoms

Flowers of May

This photo could have been taken in Sun Valley, Idaho, where I was living before moving to Taos two years ago. Mountain towns seem to be the perfect home for this extravagant showy poppy. I’ve been noticing the local hollyhocks are starting to reach for the vertical and some are budding already. Won’t be long before they will dominate the Taos historic district with their tall beauty.

I found these perfect Bleeding Hearts in a flower bed in front of Moby Dickens book store in the John Dunn Plaza. I once did an oil painting of Bleeding Hearts, which I think I still have. I’ll see if I can find the file to add here…

I don’t have a date for this painting but it would be somewhere around 2005. I had just started painting in oils on wood panels and was like a kid in a candy store. I was looking for things I loved, pure and simple, and didn’t have much of an identity as a painter or knew what my style might turn out to be. I was all over the place, and it was all just for the pleasure of doing/exploring. I eventually turned away from flowers as subjects and really hadn’t looked back until this fall when the Gallerie Corazon in Santa Fe found my flower paintings on my website. Seems I’m spiraling around back to them for now?

This local scene in the historic district is along the north side of Bent Street.To the left is a local artisan co-op. My focus was on the tree which was dropping little green fruits which turned out to be baby apricots. I was pleased to find this contented old apricot tree flourishing in its location.

I’d be remis if I didn’t include this photo of a bouquet of peonies taken at last Saturday’s farm market. When I was growing up in Oklahoma we lived next door to an older couple who seemed to specialize in peonies. Their backyard would come alive with them for a brief time in May with variations in size, color and types of this showy flower.

The same couple also had many beautiful and large crystal clusters setting out on a wall around their front porch. I loved visiting those crystals. I remember being told they had come from Arkansas. I recently read something far-out online about deeply buried crystals beneath areas of Arkansas starting to re-activate after some very long time (Atlantis?). My family took little vacations to Arkansas when I was very young. When I was older we went to the mountains of Colorado instead.

Meet Daniel Cordova, owner of Cerro Vista Farm, located near Questa (north of Taos a ways). I think of Daniel as the “big daddy” of local “truck” farms in the area. You can see his truck there behind him. Later in the summer you won’t see him much. He has a big contingent of products and a crew of able and affable folks exchanging the farm’s beautiful food for cash. Personally I think they have the best lettuce.

I’m hoping this summer to have my own cutting lettuce. I’m off to a fairly good start thus far, but the wages of high elevation sun, wind and lack of humidity make it a challenge for me to do something here I thought I understood from years of interest and experience elsewhere. I do have pea vines starting to flower now and am cutting a green mix of kale, arugula, parsley, chard and baby lettuces every day.

Stopped along Maestas Road on the way to town the other day to photograph our acequia ditch as it flows northwest toward the property I live on. The source of this water is the Rio Chiquito which comes off the Sangre De Christo mountains and eventually flows into the Rio Pueblo which joins the Rio Grande. A well near this river supplies the drinking water for our neighborhood (tests drinkable without added chemicals).

Taos Farmer’s Market booth


The Perfect Fall Weekend

A snapshot of the perfect fall day in these parts, taken from the bridge heading into the Ojo Caliente parking lot. I was informed by a passerby that that’s a beaver dam in the foreground. On closer inspection I realized that could only be the case. The trees are cottonwoods, a common native tree that likes to live near water.

Staying with the cottonwood theme, here’s a close-up of the leaves in all their yellow glory. They are similar to aspen trees this time of year in their color. To see aspens now you just have to drive up some mountain or other for higher elevation than Taos or Ojo. Looking east to the Taos mountains now you can see patches of yellow aspens but I’ve been too busy to drive up for the gorgeous photo shoot that I’m sure would be waiting.

I took this photo near the same bridge. It’s a non-native species of olive trees which has adapted well here (invasive you could say). It has no fall color but is clearly in the process of losing its leaves. Note the little olive seed pods.

These cottonwood leaves have fallen from their branches and are well along in their process of breaking down into food for the soil. In this circle of life the cottonwood tree feeds the soil beneath it, it’s own source of nurturance. In the same way our own gardens can benefit from a winter mulch composed of the dead and dying plants we have enjoyed over the growing season.

I took this photo of pinto beans at the farm market on Saturday. They come from the San Luis Valley, which is mostly over the state line in Colorado, but close enough to Taos for a trip to its farm market. It’s a large flat valley with mountains on either side that provide good irrigation for the crops. The soil is naturally fertile. I believe it was covered with water back in ancient history.

This is Vicente on the left chatting with his helper who is cleaning up the beans that will soon be poured into a plastic bag, weighed, and sold to eager Taos customers. I love seeing the many local foods that have supported humans in this region for hundreds of years. Pinto beans must be close to the top of that survival list, along with corn.

I took this photo, on the same Saturday morning, an alfalfa field along my road, Maestas. It borders the Rio Chiquita, which you can sense by the presence of the yellow-leaved cottonwoods. Just behind where I’m standing is the acequia ditch that comes off this river and is heading left to right towards the property where I live. I will speculate that the dip you see in the green down the middle of the photo is a ditch that helps move acequia water into the field.

As I’m writing this four days later it’s cloudy and cold out and last night’s snow is melting quickly. I still have some cosmos, gaillardia and marigold flowers looking alive, though it’s hard to believe. I’ll go out now and pick a bouquet, perhaps the last of the season. Halloween and the Day of the Dead are peeking around the corner. The New Moon was yesterday. The veils between the 3D human world and that beyond are thin now, ushering us toward a more inward time, the “fruitful darkness.”

Occupy Wall Street/Taos

I caught up with the Occupy Taos marchers/protesters last Saturday as they were heading for the weekly Farm Market. I believe there was an international effort that day to demonstrate solidarity with the ongoing Occupy Wall Street event in New York. I talked to one of the marchers and he acknowledged that there was no real enemy here in Taos to focus on, such as the Wall Street financial district which symbolizes an out-of-touch financial, corporate and political elite. In his opinion the marchers were mainly “preaching to the choir” here in Taos, but he was content with that.

It couldn’t have been a nicer day for a farm market or a walk around town carrying a sign. The temperatures were in the low 70s and there was no wind to ruffle feathers, no signs of tension in the air. At times the group sounded like a marching band, as they had some horn players along, and when they were along a street they suggested drivers honk to show support, which most did. One of the main themes of the people speaking through megaphones was that we (Taos citizens) are all part of the 99% of people in the US who are not part of the elite, those 1 % who benefit most from the current distribution of wealth.

Looping back through the John Dunn shopping area by myself I took this photo at an outdoor cafe. It was the kind of weekend in October that rewards the tourists who visit Taos this time of year.

I met up with the marchers again as I entered the Plaza. They were headed back to their position on the main street, which is also a highway and a constant source of slow-moving traffic–a perfect place to advertise your message. As it turns out there was a crew of civic-minded locals doing volunteer work to upgrade the Plaza. Interestingly they are installing a horse shoe pit in the spirit of a return to some time in the past when there was one and it saw a lot of use by locals.

There was a band playing in the bandstand ( in the upper middle, in shadow). I guess they were doing their part as volunteers as well. I’m glad I happened into town just in time to take these photos which illustrate a segment of the population mix of Taos out putting their vision of a better world, a better community, into action.

Can anyone interpret this Taos graffiti?

Week in May

Perennials are the ticket when it comes to feeding the hunger for early flowers in spring. It’s worth anyone’s time to figure out which flowers will overwinter well and can handle the hot-then-cold vagaries of the Taos springtime climate. This is blue flax, basically a wild flower, but it can be showy, like in this photo, and has captured my heart by coming back strong from seed last spring. Each year it will just expand its growing territory.

Last week I had a welcome visitor, my former husband, Mr. Cartwright, whom I met and fell in love with 34 years ago. This is a common thing for us. In time potential projects that call for a patient, helpful man pile up and I eventually reach out and invite him for a week’s visit. This time he took the train from southern California and slept outside in the back yard in my 3-man tent (on an air mattress). I was noticing how nice the tent looked one afternoon just after we had hung the hummingbird feeder (repaired). I got my camera and took this photo. Some people will be able to see the hummingbird that flew up almost immediately, the first one I’d seen this season. A magic moment.

Went to the farm market yesterday and it was not a perfect day for it like last week. It was cold and breezy. What I really zeroed in on were seeds and dried food from last falls harvest juxtaposed with early edibles. In this photo courtesy of Ladybug Farms we see coriander, beans and safflower. I am really starting to perk up at the idea of saving seeds and finding ways to carry the bounty of summer into winter. I talked to one woman who said they freeze some of their peppers and tomatoes to add to soups in winter. She said when her young son started school he complained about the taste of canned vegetables he was served there at lunch. A new taste for him.

Here’s a nice selection of salad type plants that will show up early and deal with the cooler spring weather. These were likely grown in a greenhouse for some protection: cilantro leaves, parsley and chives. This display was on the Ladybug Farms table so I would guess they let their cilantro mature and then collect the seeds. Looks like turnip greens on the left. That’s an early crop. Beets would be too. I planted some a week ago but they haven’t come up yet.

But the people with the goods in the SEEDS category were Ron and Debora of Mergirl Gardens (& Bee Sanctuary) from Alcade. They will sell you seeds they’ve saved by the spoonful. I really like this concept and plan to give their offerings a careful look next week. I had just met up with some friends from out of town before taking this photo and was a bit distracted. They also sell feathers from their own fowl. I was especially excited about their turkey feathers.

Couldn’t resist this lovely display of dried tomatoes. Debora had a bag for sale that was $10, which seemed expensive until she said it took 10 pounds of tomatoes to make it.

I was able to get to the Talpa Gardens booth before all the chard and spinach was gone (like last week). Since it was not great weather there was less competition for sure at 9:30 in the morning. Let’s hope the customers were just waiting for things to warm up outside before venturing out.

One of my companions (fellow artist and a blog fan from Cincinnati) pointed out that I never included any photos of myself, so she took this one of me at my favorite spot, right next to the sunflower sprouts. I was eagerly waiting in line to make my purchase. The ones I bought the previous week kept well and I will keep buying them to supplement the salad plants I can grow at home. Today I harvested my first dozen or so leaves, mostly arugula and Russian kale.


First Farm Market Day

Today was a perfect day for the opening of the farm market season here in Taos. I got there later than was ideal and missed out completely on the greens that the folks from Talpa Gardens had for sale. They were just standing around visiting with friends and congratulating themselves on selling out their produce by 10 AM. The market opens at 9 AM, so that took no time. Looking around I noticed they did have much competition. There were few vendors offering produce. It’s early.

I also had in mind to look for some nice heirloom tomatoes and found these in the photo above. They were grown at Rancho Arco Iris farm in Dixon. I apologize to the woman in the photo for not catching her first name, but I’m offering a link to the farm’s site. I bought two of her tomato plants, a cherry type and a regular sized red one. Seeing it’s half way through the month of May it would be early to set them out now. Most garden types here seem to agree that for tender plants and seeds it’s wise to wait for June 1st. But I have “walls of water” to put them inside, so I think I’ll be OK. Also I’m a computer weather junkie so I usually am aware if there’s going to be a night time freeze so I’ll have a chance to cover them, which is easy to do. Last year this time I believe I waited and that worked out great. I had tomatoes in early August.

These tomato starts from Living Light Farm in Arroyo Seco were a little bit more expensive, $3.50 each, but there was a lot of variety and they also had little flats of lettuce mix and other things to get your garden started early. Their booth was very popular.

My favorite vendor of the day was this woman selling her sprouts. I LOVE sunflower sprouts and hers were very fresh and inviting. I got a small bag, a mix of what she was offering just because it all looked so wonderful. I will definitely plan to buy my sunflower sprouts from her every week. Didn’t get her name but I will be checking back with her and will correct that in an upcoming blog.

Everyone loves lilacs and there was some tension around Taos when we had our cold weather recently, that it might have killed the lilac buds. Perhaps it did in some places but I took this photo in the historic district last Sunday. Stopped to take in the smell and figured a photo was in order.

Also on Sunday I had lunch at the Hanuman temple and ran into my good friend, Fred Bloomfield, also known as Ram to me. Some people were addressing him as Swami, so I’ll mention that as well. He likes to spend time in India in the ashram where the spiritual teacher of Ram Das and others found enlightenment. I first met him in Ketchum, Idaho, the town I moved here from. I think he was taking a break from Taos at the time and also likely doing some driving back and forth. He was very welcoming to me when I first moved here and his friendship the past year has helped me feel at home. Yeah Ram!