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Lookin’ Fly : Cactopia #2

lookin good 9

 

 

In the last week I’ve added two new things to my diet, and have been consuming them each about twice daily (though not together, yet): 1) Cream of Wheat, and 2) Reese’s Chocolate and Peanut Butter Shell Topping (the fun liquid that turns to solid when placed on ice cream).  I don’t think either of these things play a major role in a healthy eating plan.  #1 is purely refined grains (but delicious with butter and honey) and #2 is a combination of sugar, palm oil, coconut oil, peanut oil and artificial flavors.  Yum!

 

On the healthy side of things, I am finally 95% over the swine flu/Bubonic plague after only two full weeks.  I am ready to do a song and dance of rejoice, which I will record and display here on the blog for your enjoyment.  There’s nothing like a persistent illness to remind you that maintaining good health is essential (which obviously does not include hard shell topping…this will be the last bottle of it!).  By last Friday I was so desperate to feel better that I went in for an acupuncture/cranio-sacral therapy/TuiNa (Chinese massage) appointment with my good friends Brent and Iylea at Sonoran Desert Acupuncture.  It was awesome, and it gave me the ability to kick this thing once and for all.  If you’re having any sort of health or body issues, these two are awesome at what they do.  Plus, they’re super affordable and they have chickens and bunnies and gardens outside their tranquil clinic.

 

Before we start on today’s plants, I want to let you know that most of the stuff from the original Lookin’ Fly post is still going strong.  The desert marigolds are still blooming and new plants are popping up everywhere, the California poppies have about another week, and the Gooding’s verbena looks exactly as pretty as it did 9 weeks ago!  Can you believe that?  I can’t.  The verbena is my current favorite plant.  The snap dragons, sadly, are long departed.  And by that I mean dead, not just done blooming.   Potted annuals just aren’t my forte.  Two days without water and they were as good as gone, so I ripped them out and replaced them with a cactus.  Win!

 

Clockwise from top left:

 

Pink Comb Cactus -I purchased this cactus because I loved the multiple shades of pink spines, ranging from dark magenta to baby pink to white.  I had no idea it would bloom, nor that the bloom would be huge and magnificent and be open for many days in a row!  It’s incredible.  And the flower is nearly the same size as the cactus itself.  I hope to have this one around for a lifetime.

 

Bell Cactus – This is one of those Home Depot $1.49 cactus finds.  Don’t you love their selection of tiny cacti?  And at that price you can buy a dozen and not feel too bad about how it goes.  The real name of this plant is Parodia magnifica (I think…it looks a lot like the one in my Encyclopedia of Cacti and Succulents, but I’ve been wrong before).  I bought four of them and stuck them in a small pot, but then last spring one of them suddenly sprouted 17 babies off its side, so now it has its own pot.  Anyway, the flowers are a beautiful yellow with the faintest hint of peach, and this one in particular opened five days in a row.

 

Hybrid Prickly Pear – One whole side of our back yard is lined with Indian fig prickly pear.  I don’t love this type of prickly pear, but for now it’s forming a very nice fence between our yard and the one next door, and it certainly has more interest than a block wall.  Well, remember that deep freeze we had a couple years ago?  After that, the Indian fig dropped about half its pads (they froze), which were then replaced by something closer to Englemann’s prickly pear, but with different (prettier) flowers.  Weird!  So the bottom half remains the original type and the top half is a whole new plant.  Gotta love the desert.

 

Bishop’s Cap - Even though this plant lacks spines, it’s still a cactus.  I’m not actually sure what the scientific dividing line is between cactus and succulents – do you?  Either way, this is one of my favorites.  I bought this one a few years ago at B & B Cactus Farm (you have to take a field trip here, you won’t regret it, even if you don’t buy anything) and it has quadrupled in size since then.  The flowers come and go all summer long, though they usually last just one day.

 

That’s the scoop for today.  How is your week looking?  Hectic?  Boring?  Nicely balanced with a splash of fun and relaxation?  I’m hoping for the latter for all of us!

 

The Sunday Snatch featuring Mystery Prickly Pear

Well hello!  It’s a fine Sunday afternoon, and a very reasonable temperature to get tons of things checked off your to-do list in the yard.  Or, to sit and have a michelada on the patio.  Your choice.

 

Let’s take a break from the snatch for one moment.  Did you see the first season of True Detective?  I’m on the slow boat with almost all shows, so I’m just now on the 5th episode.  I think I like it, but I also think it might be the same boring woman-as-victim, man-as-everything-else dichotomy that pervades so much of our culture.  Yes?  So now I find myself irritated and trying to think of shows where women are not primarily positioned as victims/mothers/wives/caretakers/supporters of men.  It’s a reach.  And I’m not saying that those positions (well, those beyond victim) are solely a bad thing.  They’re just so narrow in comparison to what real life has to offer.  At this point in the day my girlfriend has come up with Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica (if you haven’t watched BSG, just do it already – even if you think you’re not a sci-fi fan – it’s good).  The only one I can think of is Selena Meyer on Veep, which I LOVE.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus is so dang funny and sharp, and I love that she admits she has to ignore sexism on a daily basis and just plough on through.  It just seems like it’s time for us to see consistently strong women on the screen that aren’t always being raped/murdered/saved by men/saved from themselves/derailed by relationships/dragged down by fights with female friends/flattened by life.  Right?  It’s tedious.  So for this week’s homework, beyond the snatch, tell me what you find in the shows and movies you watch.

 

veep_selina

 

Alright, let’s get down to business.

 

I’ve loved whatever type of prickly pear this is for years, but just got my hands on some as of yesterday.  Let me describe them to you, because after a couple hours of searching plant databases, I cannot find their species (genus Opunia, of course).  They are a lovely medium green, the pads are 10″ long x 7″ wide, they have a nice smooth oval shape, the spines are irregularly spaced on the new pads but are scattered throughout on older pads, and they get TONS of huge orange flowers followed by green fruits.  They might be a little sun sensitive, because the healthy specimens I see are found on the east side of walls or buildings.  Any guesses?  I’ve spent a lot of time here trying to figure it out, but I still have no idea.  I guess there are at least 200 species of Opuntia, and I’ve looked through approximately 60, so I’m going to leave this one to someone who is at least 10% more of a plant nerd than myself.

 

Do I even need to go over the drill anymore?  With a large pair of snippers, cut off pads, catch in bucket, let scabs heal for a bit, plant in ground, wait one year for amazing new pads and flowers.  Easy!  I’m adding 5 of these guys to my back garden today.

 

orange prickly pear

 

 

orange prickly pear 2

 

orange prickly pear 3

 

 

orange prickly pear 4

Road Trip Soundtrack

Do you cry at the movies?  I find that with each passing year I can well up with incredibly little provocation.  A couple weeks ago the second-to-last episode of Parenthood aired (I’m waiting on the edge of my seat for the show to be renewed for a 6th season…nerd, I know) and I cried a minimum of 9 separate times.  Did you see the movie “Get Low” a few years back?  That speech at the end by Robert Duvall’s character had me weeping.  If not for the two percent of self control I had left, I would have wailed and snorted and choked in that packed theater, much to the horror of those around me.

 

They say we cry at shows and movies because scenes depicting various types of pain cause oxytocin to flood the brain, allowing an empathetic response that promotes better survival for all of us.  The thing is, our neurons do not distinguish between screen life and real life, so it all feels (relatively) the same.  Scientists are finding the same to be true of other types of brain chemical responses to media, whether it be the news, violent films, video games, or even your Facebook feed.

 

These sorts of things remind me how important it is to unplug from the digital world for large chunks of the day.  Instead of stimulating the ol’ brain with new posts/pics/updates/headlines/tweets/tags/videos/etc., what about doing something that involves actual connection to other people and/or the physical world we inhabit?  Eh?  It’s an increasingly novel idea, it seems.

 

My one suggestion to help cure the digital black hole disconnected mental state (beyond gardening, duh, but it gets boring always talking about gardening, don’t you think?) is to go on a solo road trip.  I know, you’ve got a partner/kids/a job or two/pets/a house/blahbity blah blah.  I know.  But even if you can just swing it for a night, it’s so worth it.  If you’ve never done a solo trip, maybe it sounds boring or scary to you.  Yes and yes.  But that’s part of the fun of it.  You will notice new things about yourself and your inner dialogue, the people around you, and the environment you’re traipsing around in.  So in the next few months as summer presents itself, grab your keys, pack a tent, shut off your phone, and head somewhere you’ve never been.

 

I’ve done solo trips to the following places, and each one has had an accompanying soundtrack.  That part is key, because when I don’t have the opportunity to head out on my own, I can turn on these songs and be right back on the open road:

 

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument narrated by the whistling of one Mr. Bird

08-water-pools-in-wave-670

*

Capitol Reef National Park accompanied by Lady in the Moon, Neko Case

capitol reef

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Kodachrome Basin State Park with the fine sirs of Calexico

kodachrome basin

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Canyonlands National Park with my buddy Brandi Carlile

cheslerparkevening

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Dinosaur National Monument guided by The Avett Brothers

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And, last but certainly not least, Canyon De Chelly with Gregory Alan Isakov

Canyon_de_Chelly_Spider_3

Obviously I have a thing for the Colorado Plateau.  You could scramble around that region for a lifetime and still not see any of it, don’t you agree?  Anyway, I do hope you’re able to take a solo trip or two as the years roll on.  It’s good for the soul.  While you can’t look over at anyone and say “remember the time I almost rolled the Honda off the cliff while trying to reach the Green river?”, you’ll have memories that are fully yours that will be seared into your brain forever.  I call upon mine when I’m feeling particularly loony (weekly, at least) and I remember that there’s this whole world out there that could care less about the finicky little details of my life, and that’s just great.

 

Staking Trees – Just Skip It

Remember how I mentioned I was sick about a million days ago?  Well here it is, day number 11, and it’s possible that this bird flu or SARS or whatever it is, is finally lifting.  I’m still dreaming of getting my hands on one of those dental suction tools and sticking it up my nose and then down my throat to clear out the goop once and for all.  Can anyone make this happen?

 

Let’s talk about trees for a minute.  Anytime I’m working on a project my number one recommendation is to plant a couple, better yet a bunch, of native shade trees.  It’s a basic first move, it’s easy, and it makes tons of sense to shade your house and yard from our intense (relentless) sun.

 

One of the main things that goes wrong for people and their trees is the act of staking them when it’s unnecessary, and it’s almost always unnecessary here in the desert.  Properly grown trees are allowed to develop multiple trunks that stand up to wind without the help of a stake.  Like this:

 

no stakes 1-03

Lots of times, though, you’ll see poorly-grown trees that have had all but one trunk trimmed away, leaving this:

no stakes 2-02

If you’ve purchased one of these crappily-grown trees, you’re aware of the staking battle that follows.  If a tree needs serious staking to keep it from being essentially horizontal, it becomes hard to create an exit strategy.  The longer the tree is staked, the less strength it develops to stand on its own.  I could get into the scientific nitty-gritty of this, but here’s the main point: buy native trees that have multiple trunks (desert willow, native mesquite, palo verdes, ironwood – they should all have multiple trunks), leave them alone for the first 2-3 years after planting, then do some light pruning to get the shape you desire.  I’ve seen trees that have been in the ground for 5+ years and still require their original stake to stand up, and my opinion is that they’re mostly a lost cause.  Just start over with a specimen that has been grown by someone who knows what’s up with our desert trees.

 

 

 

Heat-Proof Container Plants

As we creep up into the 90s, I’m reminded that my idea of lovely hanging baskets and container plants is not a great fit with our climate:

 

not great for desert

 

 

Isn’t that beautiful?  With a boatload of water, some filtered sun, and a couple dedicated misters you can probably pull something like this off in our heat.  But doesn’t that sound like a lot of effort?

 

My solution for potted and hanging plants looks more like this:

 

heat loving containers

I know, it’s not as much of an in-your-face display of color and foliage.  But, don’t you think it has tons more character and a unique offering of form?  Plus, I regularly forget about this pot for weeks (months) at a time, and it’s all still alive!  Try that with Mr. Dead In Two Days Without Water Petunia Pot.

So next time you’re in the market for a heat-proof container planting, here are my recommendations:

*Mix it up with form –  combine something vertical with something spiky with something roundy and you’ll have instant interest.

*Mix it up with flesh color – our desert plants have skins of all colors, so skip the solid gray-green palette.

*Try a gradient planting – yellow barrel cactus (roundy) + green San Pedro cactus (vertical) + blue Parry’s agave (spiky) + purple prickly pear (?) = show stopping.

 

 

A Modest Shade Structure

trampoline 1

 

 

Well, the shade structure frame is finally up!  What do you think?  A little goofy?  I wanted something circular to mimic the circular garden space around it, and I think this solution fits the bill nicely without breaking the bank.

 

This is a project that falls into the “what if I have less than $100 for some shade, but plenty of DIY skills” category.  Is that you?  If so, let’s review this gem.

 

If you can’t tell from first glance, this is a reorganized trampoline frame.  The legs have been stacked together in order to form four 10′ tall poles.  I bolted the leg sections together (2 per joint for a total of 6 bolts per leg) using self tapping screws that end in the hollow core of the tubes.  The circular part is also bolted together, and then the circular part is bolted to the leg part.  All in all a decent amount of time was spent drilling and bolting – I’d say 6-8 hours.  The 10′ tall legs are buried 2′ in concrete footers, leaving 8′ above ground.

 

Next up I will add a 10′ circular tarp to the top – reflective silver facing the sky and white facing the ground – secured with small eye bolts.  Then I’m pondering some canvas drop cloth curtains for the west side, some round string lights for the perimeter, and a couple hanging plants around the sides.  I’ll show an updated photo when those supplies arrive.  When it’s complete I plan on putting the kiddie pool, some chairs, and a huge fan in there, and you will find me in that position until October.  Come over and say hello!

 

Cost:

Trampoline frame: free on craigslist

Concrete for footers: $12

Screws: $20

10′ Tarp: $45

Drop Cloth Curtains: $20

 

trampoline with bling

 

Lookin’ Fly : Cholla Flowers

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How much time do you spend pondering the water situation in the West?  Some?  None?  I think about it a lot.  Maybe I am somewhat prone to thinking about catastrophes and potential survival situations due to the ol’ INFP/INFJ personality characteristics.  I’ve mentioned to you before that I added “Cargo Ships” to my Google news feed after watching Captain Phillips (so much interesting stuff about ships – but never good).  Well, I’ve also added “Colorado River” and “Lake Mead” to the list, and let me tell you, no good has come from knowing more about where our water resources stand (beyond fretting, that is, and spreading the good word about planting cactus instead of  citrus trees).  To make things more fun, I now watch these two sites regularly, one showing the daily elevation and input vs. output of Lake Powell and the other of Lake Mead.  And then there’s this handy piece of information, showing us where Arizona sits in the game of rights to water from the Colorado River.  There are all sorts of people writing articles about where our water issues are headed, and none of them sound too great.  In fact, a first round of alarm bells is supposed to go off when Lake Powell hits an elevation of 3575 feet, which happened sometime in March.  Another series of bells go off when Lake Mead hits 1075 feet, which is potentially going to happen sometime this summer since we’re only 21′ away from that mark.

 

Should I go on?

 

I’m not sure what it all means.  Do you?  I think it might mean that a huge percentage of us will have to move out of the desert, and maybe not too far from now.  50 years?  Maybe that’s being optimistic.

 

Clockwise from top left:

 

They’re all Cholla Flowers!  Staghorn Cholla, to be precise.

I know, I know, I mention cholla way too much and you already know how much I love it.  But I do!  And you should, too.  It’s low water (let’s just say no water, because rain alone will do just fine), birds love the fruit, pollinators love the flowers, and they’re just all around awesome.  All four of those pictures are from the same kind of cholla – Optunia versicolor, to be exact.  It’s marvelous that they range from red to orange to yellow to brown with all sorts of variation in between.  Plus, I’ve already shown you how to snatch some of these lovelies and add them to your space.  So let’s gather up our optimistic selves and dream of ways that we can continue to live in dry climates.  One way would be to stop dumping water on non-native landscape plants and instead cultivate what grows here naturally.  Cheers to cholla this fine dry day.

 

 

 

The Sunday Snatch featuring African Daisy Seeds

Happy Easter everyone!  Squee finally laid some Cabury Creme Eggs and 2 baby chicks, which we’ve been waiting a long, long time for, so it’s truly a great start to the day.

 

You know I typically stick to talking about plants from our general area, so today’s snatch is a bit of an outlier.  I’ve always called these flowers African Daisies, but now that I’m looking into it they’re also called Namaqualand Daisies and Glandular Cape Marigolds (slightly less of a ring to that one).  They’re from southern regions of Africa, including (you guessed it) South Africa and Namibia.  They germinate with just about the same amount of winter rain as the native wildflower seeds in my yard, so there’s very little to feel guilty about as far as the non-native aspect goes.

 

daisy 1

 

While I’m not interested in carpeting the whole yard with these flowers, I think they look nice when they come up between various cacti, flowers, and shrubs.  They add a splash of vibrant orange or yellow for about a month that’s hard to replicate.  I love pairing them with purple verbena.

 

This snatch is really easy – probably our easiest yet.  All you need to do is scope out a yard (more ideally an easement…don’t go creeping around someone’s backyard, please) with these growing, stop for a minute to tie your shoe, then pinch off a few of the whirligig-shaped seed heads.  If the seeds are dry and ready, they will easily come off into your hand.

 

daisy 2

daisy 3

daisy 4

I spent about 3 minutes collecting seed from my own yard and came up with this bowl full – enough to get a decent new crop going.

daisy 5

I’ve noticed that the mourning doves are eating the heck out of the wildflower seeds in my yard, so I’ll probably store these until the first winter rain comes in November.  If that sounds like too much planning for you, take your seeds and tuck them under a nice layer of mulch where the birds will have a harder time finding them over the course of the summer and fall.  After you get one crop of these established they will reseed year after year, all for just a few minutes of your time!

 

 

Cloudy April Skies

Today I’ve found myself secretly hoping that climate change shifts our weather so severely that the monsoon season begins in April rather than the beginning of July.  But that it still lasts until September.  Wouldn’t that be lovely?  I’m trying to soak up the dark, roundy clouds outlining the sky right now as much as possible, knowing that we’re set for blue, cloudless, hot-as-blazes conditions for the next 2+ months (and then another 4+ months of heat after that).  Yikes.  It must be the way other people feel about impending winter snow and cold.

 

desert museum
On the upside of things, we finally have some trees that are getting close to making shade, the shade structure is (partly) going up tomorrow, and we bought the requisite baby pool for summer dipping.  It’s mostly for the dogs, but once it’s steadily 95 it’s all mine.

 

Is your yard ready for summer?

 

 

Shade Sail Installation : Part 2

I’m back!  I had to take a day off due to this spirit-draining illness that has grabbed me, but I suspect things are on the way up.  I’m committed to drinking as many gallons of ginger + garlic + cayenne potion as necessary today to scorch the remnants of this micro-creature.

 

Alright, so we’re back to shade sails.  Remember part 1?  In that post we talked about digging the holes, setting the posts, and drilling holes in the steel to prepare for the attachment hardware.  Nothing too complex about any of that, it just takes time, tools, and a moderate attention to detail.  You can do it.

 

Part 2 is also doable.  I won’t say easy, but definitely easier with some of the tips I’ll share.  At first I thought I would give you the complete top-to-bottom installation manual, but then I realized I’d have to produce all sorts of detailed diagrams and well-worded instructions, and I don’t think it’s all that necessary.  We’ll go over the basics, and I bet you can figure out the small stuff while you’re in action.

 

Let’s start with the mounting hardware – there’s quite a lot.

 

In the 3/8″ hole at the top of the steel post, you’re going to insert a 3/8″ stainless steel eye bolt.  Secure that bolt with 1) the nut that came with the eye bolt, 2) a 3/8″ washer, 3) a nylon lock nut.  The nylon lock nut will have to be secured using a wrench (but isn’t all that hard to twist).

 

Once you have that part set up, you’re ready to attach the hardware that will connect the eye bolt to the sail.  The picture shown is not quite accurate – I could explain why but it’s a long and boring story, so let’s not.  What’s missing in the photo is a length of 3/8″ steel chain, another 2 “D” shackles (more on that in a minute) and something called a “quick link.”  Tons of hardware.  Here’s the order of the whole works:

eye bolt + D Shackle + 6 links of 3/8″ chain (buy it by the foot, have it cut at the store into equal lengths) + D Shackle + 8″ long 3/8″ turnbuckle + 3/8″ quick link

 

This whole series of stuff attaches to the corner of the shade sail.  Why so much?  One reason is that shade sails stretch over time, so you need a way to take away the slack over time, which in this case can be done by closing the turnbuckles or taking away a link of chain.

 

shade 1

 

The particular brand of shade sail we went with for this project, made by Tenshon, is made for use with a 3/16″ steel cable that is inserted through the perimeter of the fabric.  The cable is what gives you the most ability to tension the sail (less movement in the wind = longer life) and it also distributes the weight of the wind against the sail more evenly, rather than causing distress at the corners.  In order to weave it through the sail you’ll need to wrap up the end with duct tape (or the cable will fray and not move forward).  Better done with two people, but I managed on my own.

 

shade 2

 

 

shade 6

 

When the whole cable is through the sail, you’ll secure the two ends with a series of two cable clamps.

 

shade 7

 

By this point in the game you have your sail stretched out on the ground, cable through the perimeter, and hardware hanging from the posts.  The next part requires 2 people, 2 ladders, and a piece of equipment called a “come along.”  The fantastic installation manual I was using said “you may want to consider using a come along for extra help.”  What they meant was “without a come along, you will need hulk-like strength, summoned with all the anger of the world in one key moment.”  It’s not an option, at least if you have your poles set at the distance the same installation manual recommended.

 

shade 3

 

You put one hook of the handy-dandy come along on the eye bolt (on the post), and the other hook on the corner of the shade sail.  Then, from your ladder perch, you start ratcheting until the corner meets the quick link.  Repeat for corners 3 and 4 (corner number 1 is done by hand).  Ta-dah!  I know, you think I’ve left out tons of steps.  Yes and no.  It’s one of those things that you have to get your hands on, then it will all make sense.  Plus, this post is getting way too long.

 

shade 4

 

 

shade 5

 

 

Isn’t it a beauty?

 

Okay let’s talk money for one minute.  Part #1 came to about $400 in materials.  Part #2 breaks down like this:

Connecting Hardware: $150

Steel Cable: $50

Come Along: $30

18′ Square Sail: $380

Total: $610 (no labor included)

Part 1 + Part 2 Total: let’s call it $1000 (no labor included)

Here are some ways this could drop: there are cheaper sails out there (I’ve seen an 18′ square for $60 – I can’t vouch for quality), you might find a deal on hardware online (?), you could mount one or more corners to a stable house beam and not use steel poles.  So as a DIY, you could bring that $1000 down by as much as $500, maybe more (I don’t feel like doing the math right now).

 

If you’re not into DIY (who has the time for this stuff?!) installation can be costly.  For this same installation, not including materials, I found quotes ranging from $1600 to $3500 (!!!).  What’s my charge, you ask?  Less than $1600!  Inquire within if you’re preparing for summer and shade is becoming an urgent requirement.

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