Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Larry, Moe, and Curly Prune a Cactus

What kind of cactus?  I don't know.  The kind that is BIG with prickly stuff on it - but not too spiky or I wouldn't have dared.

On Saturday Stubble, one of his friends, and I took on a HUGE cactus.  Well, huge for us.  Judging by the 6 foot tall stockade fence on top of a 2 foot high retaining wall that it was leaning against, the cactus was at least 9 feet high.    And just guessing by the sound of gushing water that came from underneath it every time the sprinklers were turned on, it had grown through something important.

Earlier in the week I had watched a video on an Arizona landscaper's website that described how to cut back a large cactus.  The process involves a pruning saw, a large piece of carpet, leather gloves, and patience.

The Bearded One (always ready to improve on procedures) suggested that our sawsall might be of use (there goes the patience part).  As it turns out, what the sawsall does is to turn the cactus to mush while making no appreciable progress at severing the desired section.  Sadly, the boys put away the power tool and the "Diablo" blades - chosen for their name rather than their usefulness...  The non- corded, non-battery powered pruning saw cut through the cactus in no time flat.

Comedy ensued as the three of us tried to use the pruning saw, control the portion of the cactus being cut, and keep everyone safe from the visciously toothed (and hugely overgrown) Aloe adjacent to the cactus.  All while balancing on the retaining wall.

Surprisingly nobody fell of the wall or had cactus land on their heads, but both Stubble and I were greviously wounded by the Aloe.

In a remarkably short time the desisred portion of the cactus was removed and we started on the irrigation.  I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when we discovered that the damage was to a portion of drip line rather than to a sprinkler riser.  The cactus, not one to give up easily, held onto the drip line as we pulled and hauled at it.  After much sweating and cursing, we abandoned the drip line in place (under the cactus) and ran a new line which works just fine, thank you very much!

Our souveniers from the experience are about 300 pounds of cactus in the composting bin, a horrible sunburn on Stubble's shoulders ( I told him to use sunscreen), and battle scars from the aloe on all parts of our wrists and arms that weren't covered by leather.

I sincerely hope that every plant "downstream" from the cactus will be appropriately grateful for the repair when they are watered each month (during the summer -during the rainy season they are on their own).

For those of you who care about such things, from the internet search that I did after writing the major portion of this - the cactus is of the San Pedro variety - very fast growing and known for it's mescaline content.  (shhhhhhh!)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

All Creatures Great and not-so-Great

"The birds are screaming," said Ms. Flippers on Friday morning.

We have a family of house sparrows nesting in a v-shaped support under the deck.  The Bearded One tried to evict them by removing the beginnings of their nest several weeks ago, but they were too fast for him in the end.  He went to work one day and by the time he got home, the nest was completed and they had already begun to live in it.

 It isn't that The Bearded One hates birds, although he would rather that they didn't make a terrible racket outside the bedroom window early in the morning, it is that they use things that he cares about as a bathroom - like his car and the deck furniture and the deck itself.

One thing that Bearded One would dearly love to do is to remove the old (and now useless) TV antenna from the chimney.  The house has been modified for both cable and dish, yet the old antenna is still there providing a handy perch for birds that want to foul the stairs and handrail leading from the patio to the deck.  Last weekend he got out the power washer.  He cleaned the stairs and after much intervention and much grumbling, agreed not to power wash the deck while the birds were in residence - the fact that there were eggs in the nest did a lot to dissuade him.

The nest was occupied, the eggs had hatched, and on Friday morning (following an unexpected summer rain on Thursday night) it was collapsing.  Ms. Flippers, an incipient wildlife biologist, was concerned.  We got gloves and tried to push the nest back together, but it was too far gone.  Deciding that if we did nothing the nestlings would die but if we did SOMETHING there was a chance - we got a 4 cup gladware bowl, slid the remains of the nest (and one of the nestlings) into it, retrieved the second nestling from the bare wood of the deck support and gaffer taped the entire thing in place.  Then we sat back to see whether or not the bird parents (who had been watching the entire enterprise from the back fence) would return.

Yes, with in about 10 minutes they were back and have seemed to be unaffected by the presence of  the plastic bowl.  We still hear cheeping from the nestlings and see them feeding every evening while we watch Jeopardy, so we know that all is well.

All being well - that brings us to the crows (again).  There is a HUGE flock of them in the neighborhood and they LOVE our yard - well, not so much the yard as the power line that runs across the back of the property.  It is the perfect vantage point for them to survey the "done-ness" of the produce.  They started with our peaches.  They have moved on to our tomatoes and our cucumbers.  At this point we are thankful that they seem not to care for the Persian Cucumbers... because that is all that we have left that has not been pecked to inedibility.  We have yet to get an undamaged tomato off of any of the myriad plants that we put in.  They have also started in on the green beans.  We tried the Trail of Tears beans that are green to purplish red with black bean centers.  They are a "dual use" bean - either as snap beans or as dry beans.  Very cool!  Except the dang birds eat the "outside" bean and then spit out the black inside bean, leaving quite a mess in the garden.

The Bearded One has installed an electronic scare crow - the same one that we used last summer as a "scare raccoon" by the pond:

(see this), (and this), and (this)

You just set the frequency differently and aim it at the garden.  Since its installation 4 days ago we have had no crows show up to feast.  Of course, we have had no mature edibles for them to attack either.  Time will tell as far as the crows go, but we do know that Stubble and  The Bearded One can no longer go into the back yard because the high frequency hurts their ears.  The "new" plan (should this prove to work long term) is to hardwire the Yard Sentinnel(s) - I figure I need two more of them - and install an off switch near the back door to allow for man-type back yard work.
Now for the majestic, non-garden eating part of the animal world:

Last weekend it was The Bearded One's birthday.  We celebrated by having good weather and going sailing.  While we were tooling along the coast with me reading a biography of Jimmy Stewart, Stubble handling the jib sheets, and Ms. Flippers fishing off the stern; the Bearded One suddenly ordered,

"Reel it in!  There are dolphins!"
And there certainly were dolphins.  Usually if we see them at all it is one or two playing in the breakers outside the harbor.  This time is was a pod (if that is the correct term) heading north along the same course we were following.  There were probably 20 of them - racing each other and dancing in the sunshine.  They were beside us for quite awhile and it was pretty spectacular.  I much prefer them to crows.

And the really whippy part of this display of nature is that the night before, Ms. Flippers had given him a dolphin sculpture as a birthday gift.

Happy Birthday Bearded One.  Isn't it nice that I was able to arrange for live dolphins at the last minute?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A savage horde of Crows

They are in the neighborhood.  They love sweet things.  Juicy things.  Soft things.

Like peaches.

Except for the first two pickings (My husband got about a dozen and I got about a dozen.  Ms. Flippers got 2 and Stubble got none) - the CROWS got ALL OF THEM.

Dang black winged vermin!