Tag Archives: desert

Welcome Back!

Low Chill Cherry Tree in the DesertHi Friends!

Well, I’m finally back to writing once again after a long, and what seemed like forever, 5-month break. And boy, did I really missed all of you.

Now, as most of you know, I’ve been dealing with a few health challenges for about 4-years now that conventional medicine has failed to provide any real answers or resolutions for. Those of you who have been following my blog for some time now also know that I’ve been growing and eating my own home-grown delicious high brix nutrient dense fruits and vegetables from own backyard. And doing so has done wonders in helping me to feel so much better and take back my life from this mysterious illness. Despite this, my health suddenly took a turn for the worse.

The reason why I’m telling you all of this is not to seek sympathy ~ though prayers are always welcome ~ I feel I owe you an explanation for my absence and to pass along encouragement for those of you who are facing their own health challenges.

For a few months now, I’ve felt like I hit a wall with my progress. No matter how much home-grown fresh greens, fruits and veggies I incorporated into my diet and despite the fact that I pretty much eliminated everything else (i.e., dairy, wheat/gluten, chocolate, fried foods, etc.) for the past 4 years… I felt stuck. In fact, my progress started to feel like it was unraveling. I was eating clean and better than I have in years… so how could this happen? Well, a recent hospital stay and several procedures later, I now have the answer. My major health issue is mechanical and not illness related at all.

While in the hospital, the doctors discovered (finally!) that I have a fairly severe hernia in my abdomen. OMG! It only took conventional medicine 4 years to figure it out. Years ago, it took them a year of head scratching (and lots of pain on my part) to figure out I had a rather common ailment… gallbladder disease. To add insult to injury to this new discovery, I also found out that I have a rather severe electrolyte deficiency (the issue that brought me into the hospital in the first place) as well as a thyroid issue. Holy smokes!

Needless to say, my situation has been quite debilitating at times and has obviously impacted my ability to write on my blog. It’s also slowed me down quite a bit in the garden, too! Aaaaargh. Two things near and dear to my heart 😦

After picking myself back up from this jolting news and a few trips back to my integrative doctor, I’m working through my new challenges and well on my way to healing. Thank goodness for all my home-grown fresh greens, fruits and veggies! I was able to sail through all the invasive tests and procedures and be around a lot of sick people with no issues. A huge difference from just 4-5 years ago, when I would catch anything and everything that blew my direction and have to deal with post-illness infections.

Though this has definitely been a blow to me and my health progress, garden and blog, I’m determined to push through it and continue to move forward. This also includes expanding my natural health arsenal of holistic/homeopathic medicines to include herbs and essential oils as well. I’ve only dipped my toes into this world and am impressed enough that I’ve actually altered our overall garden plan to include a medicinal and aromatherapy garden as well. Definitely more to come on this new adventure!

Bottom-line… I’m glad to be back, appreciate your prayers and have so much to share with you. For those of you currently facing health challenges, I encourage you to grow your own fresh fruits and veggies. Start small and easy like growing fresh greens and herbs. They are jammed packed full of nutrition and health promoting qualities and practically grow themselves!

Be sure to keep an eye out for the next post in my fruit tree series called Fruit Trees: Planting In the Desert Part I and Part II. I should have Part I up on my blog by this Friday. Also, be sure to check out my Facebook and Instagram pages. I regularly post new photos and helpful garden tips and information there.

As a side note… last year, I attempted to start making garden and orchard related videos for you to watch, but that project stalled out a bit with recent events. When things get sorted out here, my videos will be back on track! So keep your eyes peeled.

Before I sign off, did you check out the photo I posted at the top of this page? This is my 3-year-old low-chill Royal Lee cherry tree! Yes, you can grow cherries in the desert. Only a few short months and I’ll be eating deliciously sweet and nutritious cherries direct from my own backyard. Can’t get any more local than that!!!!

It’s been so great chatting with you again. Hope the rest of your day is beyond awesome!

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Prevent Sunburn on Fruit Trees

All in One Almond

Busy is an understatement around here on the Asher Homestead with the various work activities required in the fruit orchard this time of year. What I have to say next may sound a bit odd to you, but… “We LOVE IT!”.  Especially after being cooped up inside for months.  It feels great to be able to stroll amongst my fruit trees observing the positive effect of last year’s growth. Cheeks kissed by the warmth of the sun and cool breezes skipping across my shoulders (at least the days I was outside – last several days it’s been hair tangling force winds and cold again).

Today the sun’s shining bright, but still too windy and cold to complete the task of spray painting our fruit trees. Painting our fruit trees with a 50/50 solution of 100% acrylic paint and water helps to prevent sunburn, which ultimately helps to prevent borer damage. Borers love to find their way into tree limbs and trunks by way of damaged/wounded areas on the tree (i.e., sun burn damage) which can ultimately result in the loss of a limb, trunk or worse, death to the tree itself.  This small ounce of prevention goes a long way in helping to save your investment… and future fruit crop.

Painting Fruit Trees

Before painting the fruit trees, it’s helpful to be able to inspect the surfaces of the tree and visually take-in the beauty of each tree’s bark color and patterns.  Like in the first photo above. The picture shows the attractive bark of a Flavor Delight Aprium © [a cross between an apricot and plum].  You can see the flower buds swelling along the smaller ancillary branches.  The buds will be opening soon and, here in the Las Vegas area, produce fruit sometime in early June.  The fruit from this tree is especially tasty and sweet. Here’s a photo of our Flavor Delight Aprium [on the left] and May Pride Peach fruit from last year’s harvest. Delish!

Fresh fruit from our orchard

When the fruit trees were between 1-2 years, it was fairly easy to make up a small batch of the 50/50 paint solution and paint it on the trees generously with a paint brush.  Now that the trees are older, there are a lot more branches to contend with and the entire structure of the tree is wider, taller and much more challenging to paint.  Getting into the interior of the tree to paint is the trickiest to complete without an “eye poke” or  scrape or two to the back of my hands and arms. That’s why we changed up our strategy this year by purchasing a refurbished hand-held paint sprayer and wearing appropriate protective gear to accomplish our painting task. Here’s a list of our essentials…

Protective Gear List

  • Gloves
  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Protective eye goggles / glasses
  • Disposable mask
  • Bandana (thought about this to protect my hair from paint over spray, but this was not an issue – at least this time around)

Our Paint Supply List

  • Hand held (HVLP) paint sprayer [HVLP = high volume low pressure] (refurbished – a less expensive option)
  • Heavy duty extension cord (for outdoor use)
  • Paint filters (to filter out any globs of paint before it can clog our sprayer)
  • One gallon of water-based 100% acrylic interior “flat” paint in white (objective is to reflect light/heat off trees)
  • Paint can opener
  • Water
  • Measuring cup
  • Small bottle brushes (to clean paint sprayer)
  • Stir stick
  • Rags and/or paper towels (for clean up)

With all of the winds we’ve been having, it’s been next to impossible to finish painting our trees.  It’s my hope ~ dream ~ prayer that I’m able to wrap up my painting task this weekend.  The swelling flower buds are getting ready to burst open and painting  the flowers (my future fruit) would not be a good thing.  Our pollinators would agree!

Hope you have a wonderful day ~ be sure to spend some time outdoors and enjoy!

God Bless,

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Spring is in the Air

Spring is definitely in the air. There was some question about that a couple of weekends ago, when the heavenly blue spring sky filled with dark menacing looking clouds from a storm that “blew” into town suddenly.

Funny thing about the desert… you always know when a storm is coming in.  One minute, the air can be still and tree branches motionless. Then, the next minute, everything is being blasted and thrashed about violently by intense winds. Sometimes a storm is just passing by or it may decide to stay for a day or two and bring with it much-needed rain.

Usually I agree that rain in the desert is a really good thing, it’s just not on my top 10 list of things that would make me feel better right now.  Because I’ve been feeling so under the weather lately, the spring-time weather was a welcome treat and I did not find any comfort in the gloomy rainy weather that was about to descend upon us. To top off the bleakness of this unwelcome storm, this illness I’ve had for well over a month decided to “kick-into-gear” again.

Along with the storm, the wacky virus was back big time wreaking havoc with my upper respiratory system (again).  I actually went through an entire box of tissues that weekend. It’s a good thing the local stores were fully stocked. After seeing my primary care physician (who was of little help), I went to see an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist who determined I have severe sinusitis and asthmatic bronchitis and put me on another course of antibiotics and prescribed an inhaler. Please keep me in your prayers for a quick recovery. Until I get this “thing” under control and back to my normal-self, I will probably only post on my blog 1-2 times each week. Thanks for understanding.

Spring Time in the Orchard

In my last post, I briefly mentioned my fruit tree orchard. Despite being sick, I’ve managed to get outside just enough to keep my trees healthy and happy (basically making sure they get watered). Fortunately, hubby and I were able to finish up all of our winter tasks in our orchard just before our lives came to a sudden halt due to this virus.

I took the photo (above) during one of our volunteer days at the Orchard in January.  The weather was unusually warm for this time of year, and as a result, these “early season” Peach trees started blooming earlier then expected.  When fruit tree flowers emerge too early in the season, depending on the variety, there is a risk of losing that season’s fruit if another frost were to occur. Early or not, it was a real treat to walk in the orchard taking in such a stunning sight. And the honey bees!  The trees were covered with them busily tending to their daily task of pollinating fruit trees and gathering pollen for their fellow workers back at the hive.

In my own orchard, I like to take a stroll through the trees while I water and closely inspect each tree to make sure everything is as it should be and pests are under control.  During last week’s routine watering, I began my “observation stroll” and made a happy discovery.  Several of my fruit trees have teeny tiny fruit on them 🙂  Our trees have been in the ground for a little over 2 years now, so I expected there to be very little fruit, if any this year.  Last season, we harvested one small apple from our Golden Dorsett Apple tree.  It was definitely a surprise and completely unexpected.

The Golden Dorsett Apple is a great apple tree for the desert.  It’s considered an early apple and is harvested here in Southern Nevada around early July.  The apple’s fruit starts out a pleasing pink/red color (see above) and turns golden-yellow with a slight red blush when it is close to harvest time.

After successfully picking the apple from the tree, I did a happy dance all the way into the house (yeah, I know) then gently placed the apple in the refrigerator fruit/veggie drawer where it sat undisturbed for a couple of weeks.  Okay, I did sneak into the refrigerator every few days or so to pick it up and admire it – being my first homegrown apple and all.  The natural next step… slice the pretty little apple into, well, bite size pieces and chow down.  To our surprise, the little gem tasted pretty good.  As far as this year’s harvest, it’s hard to say if we’ll have more than one apple.  All I know is last year, my Golden Dorsett Apple had just a couple of flower clusters.  This year, the tree is simply covered with flowers!

For the rest of my orchard, most of my other fruit trees flowers have gone down for the count and as a result, teeny tiny fruit have begun to emerge.

Here’s the run down of our trees with fruit (as she says with school girlish excitement – I know… I’m easily humored)…

This tree has about eight or so fuzzy fruit!  I’m so pleased with the volume of fruit on this tree, but more than likely I’ll thin out most of the fruit to ensure the tree’s energy remains focused on growth (roots, branches, etc.) rather than on growing tons of fruit. Next year, I can let the tree go crazy growing fruit.  Here’s a link if you’d like to check out the details on this fruit tree: http://www.davewilson.com/br40/br40_trees/aprium.html

There is only a couple of fruit on our Flavor Queen Pluot tree.  It’s just adorable – it’s about the size of a small pea.  Pluots are a cross between a Plum and an Apricot (predominantly plum).  The sugar content is high in these fruits, and when ripe, are as sweet as candy.  MMMMMMMM.  Here’s a link if you want to check it out: http://www.davewilson.com/br40/br40_trees/pluot.html

This tree had a ton more flowers than the Flavor Queen Pluot and I can see dozens of little fruit forming.  Again, I may need to thin out fruit.

The May Pride Peach is one of the grafts on my multi-peach tree.  There are a total of four different peach trees grafted onto this one tree – Desert Gold, May Pride, Eva’s Pride and Mid-Pride.  Basically the tree is called a 4-in-1 (originally it was only supposed to be a 3-in-1, but we lucked out and received a tree with the extra graft). The May Pride Peach is the only one with fruit (about six fruit total). I may thin the fruit down to only three – we’ll see.  Here’s more info: http://www.davewilson.com/br40/br40_trees/peaches.html

My fig is also showing signs of fruit emerging.  Last fall, my fig tree had at least a couple dozen fruit on it, but they came so late in the season that when the cold hit, the fruit never grew beyond a couple of inches then became inedible and hard as rocks. I guess my tree is trying to make up for the lost crop 🙂  More info: http://www.davewilson.com/br40/br40_trees/figs.html

I was out briefly watering my trees the other day and discovered that some of my other trees have fruit as well (sorry, no photos yet). My Weeping Santa Rosa Plum, Dorsett Golden Apple, Saturn Peach and Artic Star Nectarine. As for my other fruit trees (Pink Lady Apples, Asian Pears, Almond, Wonderful and Eversweet Pomegranates, Sweet Cherries, and Blenheim Apricot) I’ll have to wait until next year.

Well, it’s about time to sign off, so I’ll leave you with a photo I took at the end of January of a hauntingly beautiful sunset here in Southern Nevada.

God Bless,

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Part I – Demystifying Seed Company Terminology

Organic, non-hybrid, heirloom, GMO, open-pollinated… do you know the “real” meaning behind these words and other terminology commonly used by seed companies to describe their seeds?  Read on to debunk these terms and become an educated consumer.

What made me decide to tackle this subject?  Well it started on Sunday, when hubby and I were visiting my brother and sister-in-law, and an important topic was brought up over dinner. The subject: collecting and using seed from a previous seasons’ crop.  As our brief discussion progressed, I realized I had gaps in my understanding of which veggie seeds could be collected at the end of a growing season and could then be planted the next planting season without issue.  And why?  I felt I had a good grasp of this subject until I was pressed to respond to a few questions.  The conversation definitely sparked my interest in a big way and I was determined to remedy my knowledge gaps. With a new mission in hand, I began a two-day intensive research and reading marathon. Extreme?  Maybe. I’m sort of anal that way and everyone gets to benefit 🙂  I just wish I was this way with my art 😦

In my search for some answers, I came upon several different ways seed companies describe (or define) their seeds.  Though I’ve seen these terms a hundred times before, as you probably have too, it left me with a lingering question, “How well do I know what these terms REALLY mean?” So naturally, my quest expanded and the timing is perfect to become a more informed consumer.  Hubby and I decided that we would setup a temporary raised bed just outside the back door to grow some veggies during the winter and spring growing season and I need to purchase some seeds.  How cool is that!  I don’t have to wait until the pool demo is complete to start growing veggies.

During my research, I came across the following terms and acronyms:

  • Organic
  • Certified Organic
  • CCOF
  • Open-Pollinated (OP)
  • Heirloom
  • Heritage
  • Hybrid (or Non-Hybrid)
  • Ecologically Grown
  • Chemically Untreated
  • Patented (PVP) (or Non-Patented)
  • GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) or GM (Genetically Modified)
  • Genetically Engineered
  • Genetically Altered
  • Safe Seed Pledge
  • CRG Pledge

Organic vs. Certified Organic

Most people these days are familiar with the term organic and are aware of the many positive health benefits consuming organic foods have.  Since its introduction to the food and agricultural markets, the term “Organic” has been often abused and can be very misleading to uninformed consumers. In my research, I encountered many different definitions for the word “Organic”, so I went to the source. The folks who create and enforce standards in the usage of the term “Organic”… the USDA.

Just using the word, “Organic” on a product’s packaging in no way ensures the product is organic.  For a product to be organic, a company must follow USDA / National Organic Program (NOP) standards to be able to legally sell, label and represent their product(s) as organic.

According to the USDA, to use the term Organic (and the USDA Organic seal), a product must consist of at least 95% organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt).  Use of the term Certified Organic pertains to individuals or companies who have been approved through a rigorous certification process with the National Organic Program (NOP) and its accredited certifying agents and who continuously comply with NOP regulations.

What is the National Organic Program (NOP)? NOP is the USDA program that regulates organic standards for farms, wild crop harvesting, or handling operations that want to sell an agricultural product as organically produced.

NOP regulations – check it out

National Organic Program (NOP) definition of the word “Organic”

“Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

NOP also states that “the organic standards describe the specific requirements that must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent before products can be labeled USDA organic.  Overall, organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.”

Read more at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop

In addition to the information above, I thought you might be interested in what the USDA labeling requirements are (these are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in a product).  I summarized information I found on the USDA’s Organic Labeling and Marketing information sheet.

Products labeled “100 percent organic” or “organic” (which must be at least 95% organic ingredients) must meet the USDA requirements for these designations and may display these terms and the percentage or organic content on their main product label. The USDA seal and the seal or mark of involved certifying agents may appear on product packages and in advertisements.

Products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients” and the percentage of organic content and the certifying agent seal on their main product label.  However, the USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the package.

I encourage you to go to the USDA website.  They have tons of information and definitely more complete info than I have provided here.

Other Terms

Though use of the term Organic is regulated and has standards in place, other labeling terms that currently have no restrictions on its use include “no drugs or growth hormones used”, “free range”, and “sustainably harvested”.

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CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers)

During my research, I stumbled across the term CCOF and in one case a CCOF label was displayed.

CCOF is a company that provides certification services throughout North and South America to all stages of the organic food chain including farms, restaurants, and retailers and is one of the first organizations to perform organic certification in North America. CCOF certifies to the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) standards and CCOF international standards and offers full use of the USDA seal.

This company states that they provide a variety of other services beyond organic certification to include trade association benefits, marketing and PR services, ongoing support for organic farmers, and more.

Learn more about this company

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Definitely more to come – I’ll continue with my list tomorrow.

God Bless,

The Artistic Desert Gardener

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Praying Mantis MIA

Well, now I did it.  I gave away the location of my praying mantis and revealed his identity in a photograph; now he’s missing in action (MIA).  He’s been faithfully dangling underneath the leaves of my Black Mission Fig without a care in the world for the past two months and now he’s nowhere in sight.  The pressing question of the hour… “Where did he go?”

Yesterday my mom, who is visiting with my dad from California, scoured the undersides of my Black Mission Fig leaves in search of my little green buddy, but she was unable to locate him.  I joined in the search and I confirmed that he was officially missing 😦  Perhaps he did such a great job of keeping the tree “pest-free” that he moved on to one of our other fruit trees to eat from a new smorgasbord.  I’ll have to keep an eye out for him.

Bugs (good and bad) come and go in the garden – normal life stuff. What’s strange about all of this is on the very day my little green buddy was reported missing, I spotted a new larger praying mantis near the back porch light while Pinny and I were watering the backyard orchard.  My buddy was the first and only praying mantis I’ve seen on our property.  To my delight, there are more.

Yesterday, I had gotten a very late start with my watering so Pinny and I were out in the backyard after dark with only the distant back door light illuminating our way around the orchard. As I was watering, a large fluttering shadow coming from the back door area caught my eye.  The movement of the shadow was quite erratic and for a moment I thought the shadow might be from a small bat catching moths near the light, but when I turned in that direction I could see the shadow was coming from a large long green insect of some sort.  Pinny and I walked up to the back door for a closer look. When we reached the back door stoop, I could clearly see that it was a praying mantis, which now decided to start doing flybys around Pinny’s head.  It was comical to see Pinny twisting, turning and lifting her head up to catch a glimpse of her attacker, but the assault abruptly ended as the praying mantis landed on the stucco wall near my back door.

The praying mantis was a beautiful specimen and displayed the normal animated characteristics as it cocked its head back and forth as it watched Pinny pushing her ball around in the dirt. Upon closer inspection I could see the eerie black eyes so common in praying mantis at nighttime.

Though my fig protector is MIA, all of this is a great sign.  First, new hatchlings from an unknown egg sack (obviously nearby).  Next, a dedicated praying mantis in my front yard orchard, then a new specimen in the back yard.  I can rest easy knowing that I have what seems to be a prolific source of more than one protector around my property 🙂  Good job my little green buddies.  Good job.

Happy Labor Day!

God Bless,

The Artistic Desert Gardener

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Meet Pinny Our Border Collie

Pinny, our 2 ½ year old Border Collie is one “smart pup”.  Before Pinny joined our family, I was skeptical about the Border Collie’s high level of intelligence.  After living with and training our beautiful girlie for a little over two years, I am 150% convinced that the Border Collie IS the smartest dog breed around.

Pinny is short for Pinnacle

Hubby and I train with Pinny regularly in both agility and obedience, though our focus lately has been on obedience training.  Now please do not misunderstand and think that she has an obedience issue.  On the contrary, she is the best-behaved little girl and wants to please us at every turn and command. Right now with the transformation project in full gear and the backyard unfinished, there really is no place for her to safely run her agility equipment.  Our hope is to remedy this sometime next year for her.

Since she was a small puppy, we’ve taught her a number of toy names.  At first it was just for fun, and visitors to our home would be amazed at her ability to retrieve the correct toy by name. Then, we just kept going and made it a fun game for her (and us).  Border Collie’s are extremely active dogs and need to be constantly challenged, so this is one way to fulfill that need.

How many toys does Pinny know?  Hubby and I haven’t been counting so neither of us knows the answer. So I thought it would be fun to include a count and short description at the very end of a couple of posts each week about Pinny and her toys. 

What does this have to do with our transformation project or gardening?  Pinny is an integral part of our garden’s success and Border Collies are naturally great farm dogs.  See, she regularly scares birds and squirrels away from our fruit trees and later will have the job of doing the same in our veggie garden.  When we get our chickens, she’ll also help watch over them while they are out stretching their legs and getting some fresh air.  Besides, Pinny jumps into practically every photo I take so I thought it would be nice for you to get to know her a little better – and I just thought it would be fun. 

Fun Fact:  As of October 2010, a female Border Collie named Chaser was taught the names of 1,022 toys and could accurately retrieve each one by name – pretty amazing.  With the cost of 1,022+ toys, this number may be beyond Pinny’s future.

Toy #1: Mollie

This is Mollie (which is short for molecule – it has three lobes on it and sort of looks like a molecule).  Pinny has two of the same toy – one orange and the other aqua – and has a hard time differentiating between the two colors, so we allow her to retrieve either one when asked, “Where’s Mollie?”.

 

 

Have a great holiday weekend.

God Bless,

The Artistic Desert Gardener

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Protector of the Fig

First, A Little Weather Talk

Happy September! Wow, what happened to August? For that matter, what happened to June and July? Summer’s almost over and you can almost smell Fall in the air.  Fall officially begins on September 23 this year and will continue to grace us with its presence until December 21.

Now we’ve all heard it a million times before, but I just have to say it out loud… what happened to the year?  Really. Soon we’ll be bombarded by an onslaught of holiday songs, eating tons of sugary candy, and ooohing and ahhhhing at the sweet little ones all dressed up in their adorable pint-sized costumes.  Then it’s “that time of year” again, the crisp cool air-filled with delectable aromas, over-the-top buffets and festive seated gatherings offering a variety of annual favorites, and everything’s all glittery and twinkling. Glittery… now, that’s my favorite.

Before Fall gets here, we have time to enjoy one last Summer holiday with our families.  Here in Southern Nevada, the holiday weekend should be a nice one with daytime temperatures expected to be around 100 °F.  A nice break from the 107 °F – 110 °F temperatures we’ve been having. Listen to me, going on as if it was super hot or something. Us Southern Nevadans are used to seeing at least a few days of 115 °F – 118 °F and night-time highs in the low-mid 90’s. It’s been very mild this year.   Some say we’re in a normal cooling cycle here in the desert, so I guess we should enjoy it while it’s here.

Now, Meet the Protector

Yes.  We have a real-life protector of our orchard, rather, of our Black Mission Fig tree. He/she (not really sure which, but I think its a boy) is a dedicated hard-working Praying Mantis and has been very loyal to the Fig.  Every time I check on my new little friend, he is happily hanging out somewhere amidst the canopy of the fig. The mantis seems to be very content under the cool shady umbrella the fig tree provides.  Now this all may sound quite ordinary for a praying mantis, but what’s interesting about this story is the fact that I saved the mantis’ life and introduced it to its new “fig home” over two months ago.  It really likes this tree.

It all started on a hot and mildly windy day in late June.  How do I know what the weather was like or even the actual day? I’ll give you a hint.  It’s called a “Garden Diary”.  Yeah, you know I’m gonna be writing about that in the near future.  Keep an eye out for it.

Okay, back to my story…  On that late day of June, hubby and I were working on the garage patching and sanding away at our newly installed drywall.  Overcome with drywall dust and desperate to remove the mask that was cutting into my face, I decided to drag around the shop vac on the other side of the garage and suck up some of the piles of powdery mess left all over the floor (drywall is one of the messiest jobs). 

As I proceeded to vacuum up the mess, I came across a teensy tinsy little green thing crawling around within the cement floor joint. It all happened so fast, but before I could get a closer look at the miniscule little garage visitor, Schloop! The little guy was sucked right up to meet certain death.  There was little hope of escape from the dusty bowels of the vacuum or from the larger and more predatory critters purposefully imprisoned just minutes before the visitor’s unexpected entry.

The whole event saddened me, because at the very moment I saw his miniscule body yanked away from his strange new world to a powdery grave, I realized that I may have just sucked up one of the best friends a gardener could have.  A baby praying mantis.

Continuing on with my task, I remained in disbelief over my carelessness. In an instant, I, of all people, eliminated an important recruit for the garden.  Where did it come from and how did it get in the garage?

My thoughts began to wonder back to years ago in my garden in Southern California. There, we placed praying mantis egg sacks in the garden and were delighted every time the little hatchlings would emerge and enter into their new garden world.  They were very hard workers and I befriended one (or, I like to think so).  Overtime, my green friend grew to be quite large (a female I believe) and when I would visit in the garden, I’d gently hold out my finger in front of her.  She was the friendliest mantis I’d ever encountered and would always accept my invitation by walking out onto my finger, look up at me and cock her head slightly.  It was incredible how animated she was. 

Now if you’re a little squeamish about insects in general, perhaps you may want to skip this part.  I’ve always been adventurous and inquisitive when it came to insects, lizards, snakes and such, so it was a very natural thing for me. The reason she accepted my invitations so eagerly (I’m convinced of this), was on one our first encounters, I caught and offered her a small white moth.  To my amazement, the moth was quickly snatched from my two finger grip and devoured like only a praying mantis could (eeeuuww).  Thought you’d enjoy the little side story.

Shortly after the incident with the vacuum, my husband pointed out another little green critter nearby. I quickly went to see and yes – it was a praying mantis.  Quickly scooping up the little praying mantis with my hands, I knew the perfect place to put my new little friend to work, my Black Mission Fig tree.  That was over two months ago, and he’s still there.  Guess it felt the fig tree was the perfect place, too.

Now, every time I check on or water my front yard orchard, I look for my new little recruit to find him dangling from the underside of one of the fig leaves looking happy and content.  Our fig has been pest free, so he’s doing a fine job! Today, my little buddy is about 2 ½” long.

 

Praying Mantis Facts

  • Awesome natural pest control – I highly recommend you place out a few egg sacks at the appropriate time of year.  Praying mantis have big appetites, but watch out, they usually eat each other during their nymph stage and while they mate – typically, it’s the female doing all the munching).
  • Very Territorial – praying mantis stake out an area to be called their own and will fight (and eat) intruding praying mantis.
  • Animated little guys – once you experience a few in your garden, you’ll find them to be silly and very animated. Something to enjoy while you work in your garden. 
  • A Great Pet –  Yes, believe it or not, because of their unique behavior and appearance, many people actually keep praying mantis as pets.  They feed them moths (which, apparently is a favorite), grasshoppers and such, and use a spray bottle to moisten napkins or add droplets to the walls of their enclosure to provide water.
  • Green color acts as camouflage – these guys blend well into their surroundings which aids the mantis in ambushing their prey.  This camouflage also makes it challenging to locate them if you’re checking in on them.
  • Praying for Food? – If you’ve never seen a praying mantis in person than I’m certain you’ve seen one in a photo or on-line.  You know that their front legs are angled into a position that looks like they are praying.  What you may not know is that these front legs have several spikes along the underside, which helps the mantis to quickly snare and pin their prey in place.
  • Turn Head 180 degrees – This unique ability helps them to quietly spot potential prey without having to give away their position.
  • What Big Eyes You Have– Along with being able to turn their head 180 degrees, praying mantis has great eye sight which is aided by two large compound eyes and three simple eyes located between them.  It’s been documented that they can actually see about 50 feet away. Cool. What many folks don’t know about praying mantis is that at night, their eyes change from green or light brown to an eerie near black color. Quite an ominous sight if you encounter one at nighttime.

Hubby and I were some of the fortunate souls to witness this.  Back in California, we decided to look for my little green garden buddy at night. With our flashlights in hand, we scoured the general area she would hang out in then something caught our eye.  On the ground alongside the house was a medium-sized praying mantis.  From the size alone, I could tell this was not MY little buddy.  This praying mantis was unlike any we had ever encountered in the past.

As we moved in for a closer look, we positioned our light directly on it – bad idea.  It quickly turned its whole body in our direction and with its big scary black eyes staring at us, opened its mouth, and proceeded to fan out and quickly flicker its colorful wings (another new sight).  Well, it was enough to send both my husband and I running and screaming to the back door of the house like a bunch of frightened little school girls. Well, maybe not the screaming, but it sure surprised the heck out of us.

  • Lifespan – praying mantis can live up to 10-12 months.

There’s tons more info out there on these great little helpers. I encourage you to do a little bit of research on your own.

Hope you plan to celebrate the holiday weekend with your family and/or friends.  Now go out and get some great BBQ fixings at the store and I’ll chat with you tomorrow.

Many Blessings,

The Artistic Desert Gardener

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Kill the Weed Beast

I know, my title for today’s post sounds rather harsh, but this is a desperate situation that calls for an all out declaration of war.  The enemy… a dreaded noxious weed called horsenettle.

For some time now, hubby’s been in full hand-to-hand combat with this vile weed.  I spoke briefly about our struggle in my August 22nd post – my husband had a mild case of heat stroke that day from his unwavering assault on this prickly beast of a plant.

Let me introduce you to your worst nightmare (as far as weeds go).  Meet Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense L.) a.k.a. The Beast.  This weed actually has been called several names (some of which I will not repeat here in this blog).  A good one is “apple of Sodom” and my favorite (besides the name we gave it)… “Devil’s Tomato”.  How appropriate.  Do you see a theme here?

Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense L.)

Horsenettle is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and is closely related to the potato.  Hubby and I are uncertain as to the actual species of horsenettle this is, but it is a horsenettle all the same and is considered by the State of Nevada to be a noxious weed.

This weed is a herbaceous perennial.  Beware, this weed has hard spines along its stems and leaves that can easily penetrate through thin gloves and skin.  These spines can break off easily and be very painful for the unfortunate gardener who comes in direct contact with this beast.

The genius of this weed (and its tactical advantage) is in the way it easily propagates. This weed’s roots go very deep and are beyond the average gardeners’ arsenal of tools and ability to eradicate it through digging.  These deep roots also spread laterally sending out runners like a virus popping up new plants where you least expect, choking out nearby plants.  Another way of spreading is by seed. Small green round seed pods fully mature to a yellow color then break open depositing 60+ more seeds right into your beloved garden beds.  Also, if you have an encounter with this beast and hack it into tiny pieces, each of those tiny pieces will root and grow into a new plant. Yikes!

Some people see this weed as beneficial and consider it to be a beautiful wildflower with its delicate purple star-shaped flowers.  All I have to say to these people is, “Are You Crazy!?!”

Now the worst part (yes, there’s a worst part).  This plant is poisonous and if ingested can kill both livestock and humans.  An especially dangerous prospect if your beloved dog loves to chew on plants in the garden or your child picks and eats the little yellow seed pods.

Okay, so I’ve described the beast and warned you about its unfriendly nature.  Now, how do you get rid of it?  Well, there’s no real simple answer to that question.  Hubby and I have read about everything we can on this weed and have followed expert recommendations using the least invasive and least toxic methods first.  We try to follow organic practices as closely as possible and it breaks my heart if we have to resort to chemicals.  Here’s been our approach…

Strategy 1 – Dug around soil surface to pull multiple weeds out. Results: Weeds came back in same spot and in surrounding area.

Strategy 2 – Dug much deeper to try to get out as much of the root system as possible (after finding out how it propagates). Results: Took longer for the weed to come back, but it did come back and in the same general area.

Strategy 3 – Followed recommendation to pour Distilled White Vinegar on weeds (we also dug deeply around each weed exposing as much of the root system as possible).  Results: the leaves and roots turned brown and shriveled up. We pulled out and threw away what looked like dead plants. Within a few days, the darned things were back in almost the same spot.

Strategy 4 – Followed advice of local experts and used Glyphosate – Super Concentrate (basically Round-Up on steroids). Results: again, the leaves and roots turned brown and shriveled up and we  carefully removed the remains.  The plant came back near by (probably a runner).

I also want to point out that hubby is outside battling this weed several times each week.  Both of us are on high alert and scout the area the weed is growing very closely.

Well, hubby and I have fought the good fight for over a year and enough is enough. It’s time to bring in the big guns. One of our fruit trees is being threatened by this weed as it regularly appears  in and around the tree’s water basin. The fruit tree is my Blenheim Apricot and its growth is markedly less than all the rest of our fruit trees.  It needs help.

Strategy 5 – Use a targeted herbicide; hubby has been carrying on a question and answer conversation with Dow Chemical via e-mail and we’re expecting a recommendation from them any day.  Maybe now we’ll be able to get rid of this thing.  Only time will tell.

What sickens me the most about this whole thing (besides the use of some strong chemicals in our near future and possibly losing a fruit tree), is the fact that we “fed the beast”.  Yes.  Hubby and I encouraged this beast to grow  and flourish within our yard.  As unsuspecting new homeowners on a fast track to make the property safe, we had to cover over several deep trenches in the back yard just along the backside of our home.  We pulled several large weeds (some of which were horsenettle – we didn’t know it at the time) and as we shoveled dirt into the trenches, we noticed several yellow balls in the bottom of one of the trenches.  We proceeded to cover the tiny yellow balls with dirt.  And there you have it… the beginning of our dilemma.

Just in front of the window on the right side of the house was a large trench (about 2-3 feet deep). This trench contained several small yellow balls (we know them today as seed pods). The plants you see growing just outside of the trench are horsenettle. If we only knew.

This goes back to education and research.  If there’s one thing you can take away from my post today it would be… learn from my mistake.  If you encounter an unwanted plant in your garden, research it, take a clipping to your local nursery or better yet, your local cooperative extension and get it properly identified. Take the precaution to clip off and discard any visible flowers and/or seed pods in case the plant spreads (take the necessary precautions in case the plant is poisonous).  Learn everything you can about the plant then take the necessary steps to eradicate it.

Well, with that lesson learned, I’ll be sure to give you an update on this challenge as we make further progress. I hope you have a wonderful day and hope someone makes you smile 🙂

God Bless,

The Artistic Desert Gardener

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Future Veggie Garden

A few days ago, I shared with you one of the projects hubby and I will be working on in the month of September… the Kitchen.  Here’s a quick update on the Kitchen before I share photos and details around the pool portion of our transformation project (which will ultimately be transformed into my veggie garden). 

With our kitchen project officially kicking off this coming weekend, a swift kick in the nether-region may be needed to get me to make a decision on the paint I’ll be using for the cabinets. Tick tock, tick tock. See, I LOVE the cottage-style of decorating (have for eons).  The loose slipcovers, chippy painted furniture (not too chippy please), the comfortable casual feel.  It’s so warm and inviting.

Here's Ginger, my Flame-Point Himalayan, enjoying her cottage setting. Cottage and Kitties... a match made in heaven.

 

And of course, Max, my Lynx-Point Himalayan, lounging on his cottage-inspired chippy furniture. Behind him is a plein-air painting I did a few years back while attending a workshop on Ortega Highway near San Juan Capistrano, California.

Anyway, before I get lost in “cottage-land” let me get to my point…

In keeping with my decorating style, I want to lightly distress the painted cabinets in the kitchen and I’ve been reading about a new paint product that some of the popular vintage design blogs have been raving about.  Typically, I’m fairly immune to “ravings and following trends”, but as an artisit with experience in painting furniture, I do have to say that this new product has peaked my interest. The paint is called Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint (ASCP). It’s pretty pricey, but I think I may give it a try.  I’d also like to purchase some milk paint (another popular paint product used to achieve an authentic vintage look) and compare the results, but it may not be in the budget.  My final word on Chalk Paint… the jury’s still out on that one, but I’ll be sure to give you an update. 

Pool Demo Project

When we first saw the house, we knew the pool area was the perfect location for a veggie garden.  It had plenty of room, it was completely enclosed, and, oh yeah, it had a pool.  A very large one at that. From day one, our intention was to rid ourselves of this water guzzling monster.  The decision was an easy one… we’d had a pool before so “been there done that” with the expense, time and money thing, the pool equipment was MIA, electricity to the pool had been severed near the electrical box, the water source was a mystery… there was what looked like a possible water line outside of the pool area going to the pool, but it wasn’t functioning, and then there was the missing slide.  Someone hacked away at the metal bars holding the slide to the decking in order to remove the slide.  Fine by us.  It was one less thing we needed to demo.

Here's the view of our future veggie garden from our kitchen window.

While we were digging holes for our fruit trees, we decided to dump some of the “un-useable” soil directly into the pool area.  The dirt was placed on the steps so it would be out of the way when hubby started to jack hammer holes into the bottom of the pool area.

This tool worked like a champ drilling holes in the pool.  Luckily, he did most of this work while the weather was still fairly cool.  There were a few days when he was doing the last few holes that it was too warm to bear.

Yup, that thar’s a lot of drillin’!  Listen to me, talking as if I jack hammered the holes.  This project could only be accomplished by one person and that was my sweetheart.  Though I provided the occasional cold drink and took a snapshot or two, this was all my hubby’s handiwork.  Thank you sweetie for sparing me the jittery arms 🙂

I know, there’s just a ton of holes, but we wanted to make certain that the city inspector would be satisfied with the drainage. And he was.

Next steps, sweep aside the loose cement pieces and fill the holes with small rock, cover with landscape fabric to keep the debris out of the holes (actually it was the inspector’s suggestion to use the landscape fabric) then begin the filling process with a few feet deep of small rock (about 6 ml). Fun, fun, fun! All in a day’s work.

May you have a truly blessed day,

The Artistic Desert Gardener

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Have to share this…

The sunset yesterday evening was so beautiful, I had to share.  Hopefully, you got to see it firsthand, but in case you missed it, here you go…

Inspiring.  Have a great weekend!

Blessings,

The Artistic Desert Gardener

Psalm 118:24

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