Easier Said Than Done

Starting a garden in Tucson is not an easy proposition.  The ground is hard-baked from the sun, loaded with rocks and roots, and wholly nutrient deficient.

Instead of dealing with this reality in the spring and summer we used pots in the greenhouse and created one raised bed into which we added soil and compost.  I wrote many blog posts about the ups and downs of our first gardening experience.  I will be forever grateful to Audrey 2 for providing us with big, healthy, delicious zucchini.  It was our first bonafide success.

One thing we decided to do for the fall planting season was create a larger in-ground garden, so we are dealing with the challenges of preparing a plot for the first time.  After a season of trial and error, we found a wonderful nursery  (Mesquite Nursery in Tucson) that has everything we need for our garden as well as helpful master desert gardeners.  We left the other day with packets of seeds, potting soil (for the seedlings in the greenhouse), bags of soil and soil conditioner and lots of good advice.  And let’s not forget this:


Low tech but great info.  We were relieved to learn that we have about two weeks before we put any seeds directly into the garden.  This is good news because it will likely take us every bit of those two weeks to turn this:


into an appropriate place to plant seeds.  And I use the word “we” very liberally here because loosening the soil with “our” tiller (taking a rest in the heat) and the subsequent digging down into this 25 x 7′ plot became David’s job very quickly.  After gamely hanging in with him in the 100 degree heat, shoveling away loosened dirt and picking out stones, I got the vapors and had to retire.  He hung in there, loosening the dirt:


Digging up the tree roots:


And yanking them out:


Oh man.  This is some job.  The goal is to dig down about eighteen inches and then add the soil and soil conditioner that we bought.  The good news is that this phase only happens once.  Eventually, David also got the vapors and we both jumped in the pool.   Heaven.

Since I am pretty useless with the heavy lifting, my job is to start the seeds in the greenhouse.  Hard not to get excited about these:


These are the varieties that we can start in the greenhouse.  The root vegetables like carrots, onions, radishes and beets need to go directly in the garden.  It makes sense that you wouldn’t want to transplant those!   Our handy cheat sheet also tells us about the time from sowing to harvest:


Who knew that it would take more than 100 days for celery to be ready to harvest?!  I think not.   Bring on the carrots and bok choy!  We also learned about sequencing the planting, especially with the root vegetables.  Each time you pull a root vegetable, it’s gone, done.  The other vegetable plants continue to provide even after cutting off leaves (lettuces) or fruit (broccoli).   In order to keep a steady flow of root vegetables you have to keep sowing new seeds after the initial planting.  So we’ll plan for all of that.

I’m very excited about our garden and I’m sure I’ll continue my role as garden archivist in order to bring all the updates to the blogosphere.

And one last shout out to my ridiculously can-do husband for contributing all the grit and muscle.  Love you honey.


Positively Biblical

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.

Much better.





Fun in Tubac

photo 5

David and I are incredible homebodies.  We set our life up so that we have so much of what we love in our home and the surrounding area in Tucson-hiking,  gardening and doing our creative stuff.   And we seldom need to go in search of better weather.  That being said, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed traveling together when we’ve carved out the time to do it.  Last year we spent a week hiking in Sedona and another beaching it at a spa resort in Cancun.  Plus we take at least a few trips a year to see our children wherever they may be.  On long weekends though we enjoy checking out smaller towns outside of Tucson that we can visit in a day.  Today we decided to head to Tubac.

Tubac is an artists’ colony type place about an hour south of Tucson.  We actually went there once before when the town was hosting an annual art and craft show.  Plopped down in what seemed like the middle of nowhere were hundreds of artists and artisans set up in exhibit tents winding around the streets of tiny Tubac.  We enjoyed that day and could see some of the charm of Tubac but we were interested in going back and seeing the permanent galleries during a quieter time.   So off we went.

When we arrived at 11:00 we headed right to lunch.  Since David and I get up at around 4:00 a.m. we are definitely “early birds” when we eat out.  We headed to the charming Shelby’s, a cafe that Arizona Highways Magazine named one of the “25 best places to grab a bite in Arizona”.  So here I am relaxing after that very yummy bite:

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I had the veggie burger, not the fish and chips, but I was charmed by this sign nonetheless:

photo 4

After lunch we meandered around the small “downtown”, visited the galleries and chatted with the gallery owners.  Many of the owners also use their gallery spaces as studios and we could see some works in progress.  Most folks were happy to chat with us because this is a slow season for them.  We didn’t buy anything; in fact, our own creative juices got sparked instead.  Can we make a copper water sculpture?  How about those beaded necklaces?

Mostly we enjoyed being in such a lovely place on a lovely day.  You can see the beautiful rolling mountains that form the backdrop to the town in this photo:


After we had seen and visited most of the shops and galleries we came upon a shop called  “Untamed Confections”.  Well really, who could pass that up?  So in we went and we came out with this:


I am glad it was called “Midnight Gold” and it looks really big in this picture because it was the most expensive candy bar I have EVER purchased.   In fact, on our way out of town, David was bemoaning the high cost of gas off the highway and I reminded him that we had just spent $15.00 (yes you read that right!) on a candy bar.  Okay, the candy was pretty divine and is rich enough to last us a week but still…

We had a terrific time in Tubac.  And now we’re back home.


Ahhhhh.  Hope you’re enjoying your long weekend!