October in Tucson is spectacular. Cooler temperatures but still dry and warm. Little or no rain. And sunrises like this:
I hope your day began as beautifully as mine did.
Monsoon season in the desert can be quite a spectacle. When I first moved to Arizona I had a hard time getting my head around the idea that dangerous rain and flash flooding could even happen here. A flooded basement in Scottsdale let me know that rain damage could and did happen in the summer in the desert. And I heard plenty of stories about people drowning in the rushing water in the washes.
Summer in Tucson is even more tropical with afternoon rain a common and welcome occurrence. Since we moved here, I’ve seen lots of surprising monsoon-related things, from snakes climbing onto my deck to escape the water to helicopters plucking stranded hikers out of the canyon after an unexpected microburst. But as we ventured out today we encountered a less than delightful monsoon-related phenomenon:
If this photo makes you think of plagues and locusts I get it.
This was not our first encounter with this. Last summer, upon heading out for an early morning walk on a super-humid day, the swarms were everywhere, both in the air and on the ground. As we considered turning around (I mean, really, what price fitness?) we met up with one of our neighbors who told us that these are flying ants-unpleasant for sure, but harmless. A quick google search told us that intense humidity and moisture can create the perfect mating environment for these ants (which don’t bite by the way). This swarming business is related to the mating activity. Quite the frenzy if you see it up close.
When we ran into the flying ants on the road this morning we knew what was going on but it wasn’t any more pleasant to be around. I was disappointed that I didn’t have my camera with me, but lo and behold I had my own personal swarm outside my kitchen door. That’s when I took these photos. I tried to get some close-ups but given all the frenetic activity it was a challenge. The ants taking a rest from the mating ritual:
I was not resting but rather swatting frantically so I could get closer:
As the humidity lifts these should clear out–can’t be soon enough for me! So as not to leave my readers with a pretty creepy visual I will share a few shots of the more lovely aspects of a well-watered desert:
The prickly pear, plump and ripe.
The stunning blooms of the barrel cactus.
One bloom opening to greet the day.
After yesterday’s idyllic walk in nature- its majesty!, its beauty!- we woke up this morning to an impressive display of its power as the wind howled around us. Over our morning coffee we heard a cacophony of wind-generated noise although it was still too dark to watch the show. Eventually we could see some of what was going on out there:
Upon hearing the ominous sound of some object in our yard being seriously moved around by the wind we stepped outside and saw THIS:
That’s our Weber grill floating (well not exactly floating I guess) in the pool!
Having lived in Arizona for a while I had heard stories of “microbursts”, mini-tornadoes that do significant damage in one small, concentrated area while leaving most of the surrounding area intact. I imagine that some combination of physics and earth science knowledge would help me explain how this grill, nestled next to our house in a relatively protected corner could be dragged twelve feet into the pool, but those were two subjects I actively avoided. Frankly just looks like another case of paranormal activity to me.
In any event we (okay David) will have to wade into the still-very-cold water and figure out a way to get this out of there. As we contemplate this I will award the quote of the day to David’s co-worker, Chris, who texted: “Underwater salvage in the desert. Who would’ve guessed?”
Indeed, and thank you Chris for making me smile.
OK, well not exactly a bounty. But the experience of seeing this:
and then become part of this:
was all pretty exciting to a brand new gardener like me. (That’s a red quinoa salad and the featured herb is cilantro).
Truth is, I never really tried to grow anything before, probably because my track record with even the most sturdy potted plant was abysmal. I have failed to keep even small cactus plants and succulents going and that’s saying something considering how little attention they need to survive!
David and I had talked a bit about wanting to try our hand at organic gardening and after I was away for a weekend in January I returned home to this:
David actually built this greenhouse complete with misters and solar powered fan! Yup, he’s that kind of guy 🙂 After that he added this raised bed.
Tucson has all kinds of gardening help in the community and we attended a free “getting started” class at the community garden and food bank. We gleaned what we could from them and escaped before the class moved into the dreaded “group work” phase. So, we purchased our organic soil, organic compost, organic seeds and got busy planting. We also bought a compost receptacle to start making our own.
There has been a ton of trial and error. We initially started seeds in the greenhouse- tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil and dill- and planted arugula, kale, green onions, radishes, cilantro and carrots in the raised bed. After the critters helped themselves to our first round of seedlings in the raised bed we put up a fence and also replanted most things in the greenhouse. As the weather warmed up we started having some success and last night’s dinner also included this home-grown salad:
This a mix of kale, uber-peppery arugula (pulled that too late), tiny little carrots (pulled those too soon), and bits of green onion that really resembled chives because they never really took off.
We are waiting on some zucchini, pole beans, tomatoes and basil and have planted some more pots of lettuces, carrots and radishes. As the weather gets hotter I’m not sure how successful this round will be. Apparently, the fall is the best growing season in Tucson and hopefully as we learn more about tending the soil and the plants we’ll see better and better results.
This process has been a fascinating one for me so far. The truth is that there is a simple (ish) science to gardening–after all people have always grown their own food. To me however, this simple and natural process has always seemed more like magic, and I was delighted and more than a little bit surprised when seedlings first peeked out of our soil. I admit to having fussed and fretted over these plants visiting the garden multiple times each day- my need to nurture something (if we consider fussing and fretting nurturing) running the show. As I am reminded over and over, all we can do is provide the support and the ingredients to encourage growth. The rest will happen as it’s meant to, right on “schedule”.