Thursday, June 27, 2013

Baby Huey and Louise Grow Up

Baby Huey and his sister, baby Louise, are rapidly taking over "A Small Tucson Desert Garden".  They enjoy swooping through the mesquite trees and hanging out around the fountain.  Still too young to hunt for themselves, the mother hawk keeps them fed with mice and small birds.  Normally this time of year our garden is full of small desert reptiles, birds and multiple families of quail - not so since the baby hawks arrived.  Humming birds are plentiful, since they can out maneuver hawks, and we have a family of Arizona Crested Fly Catchers, but our usual visitors have found another sanctuary. I wish the pigs (Javelina) would stay away, but no, they come through every 2-3 weeks and eat anything that holds moisture.  Our gopher snake that visited last year has come back, eyes cloudy and ready to shed his skin again.  He is well over 6 feet and hibernates in our flowerbed next to the hose faucets.  Last year at this time his mate joined him, but I haven't seen her yet.  Frankly, I have a phobia about snakes, any snake, and wish them well and far away from me.

Back to Huey, here is a recent video and photo of Huey's smaller sister on the patio:

This weekend it is suppose to reach 112 degrees - a tad hot for any living creature.  It will be interesting to see which of our usual visitors has the courage to seek refuge in our garden.

Monday, June 17, 2013

More Baby Hawks Visit A Small Tucson Desert Garden

Life has taken a twist for Baby Huey and his parents  since he dropped out of his nest a couple of weeks ago.  Now we think there were 3 baby Cooper Hawks, not one, in the nest, with the original Baby Huey having met his demise.  Last week we went a couple of days without seeing Huey and then happened upon a dead immature hawk not far from our house on one of our morning walks.  You would have thought we had lost a beloved pet. But, God is good, and we were greeted the same day with Huey's larger brother and eventually, a smaller sister.

We now have a pic of the mother (right).  She is small, compared to the father, and from what we can tell does most of the parenting which includes  dive bombing us when we come near one of her babies.  We now wear protective head gear when picking up the mail knowing the path runs near the nest.  So far no injuries, except Susan did bang up her knee trying to dodge an attack and ran into our heavy wrought iron door.  The larger father hangs out across the street in Carl and Barb's pine tree.  He is quite impressive sitting on his big pine branch and surveys our house it seems 24/7.  To our knowledge, that's pretty much all he does.  When the mother isn't observing her chicks from the Eucalyptus tree in our yard, she is out hunting.  As you will see, she does a good job at this as the 2 remaining immature hawks are now as big, if not bigger, than she is!

To the left is one of the babies relaxing on top of the fort I built for our granddaughters (see a previous chapter of my blog if you are interested in building one).  Both of the babies have become used to seeing us and unlike their parents tolerate us watching them at close range.  This drives the mother nuts of course and when she has dinner she drops it (usually a desert mouse) in front of the baby without bothering to land if we are watching.

I have stitched together another video of the two immature hawks and as you will see they are not camera shy.

We didn't see the young hawks today, which is unusual, but did see the dad hanging out on the pine tree.  Till next time!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Baby Hawk Visits A Small Tucson Desert Garden

Although I haven't posted in a while I assure you "A Small Tucson Desert Garden" is alive and thriving in Tucson, Arizona.  In a later post I will have some photos of what the garden looks like now.  BUT, today, I just had to share a very special visit by a baby hawk and have added some photos and video.  We believe this particular hawk is a "Cooper's Hawk", although we generally have had Harris Hawks living here.

We have had hawks living in our Eucalyptus trees for years.  As a side note, Eucalyptus trees are big, beautiful and thrive in our desert, BUT I do not recommend you plant them near your garden or home.  They are messy, the leaves and roots are mildly toxic to plants growing near them, and the branches are brittle and can break during a monsoon storm.

Our hawks are majestic predator birds that are thrilling to watch and help keep our garden mice and other rodent population to a minimum. Their nests are large - and now we know why, their young are huge.  "Baby Huey", as we affectionately call him, is almost as big as the mother - and he still can't fly!

I had wanted to get photos of Baby Huey and his mother together, but she appears only to visit him at feeding time. This consists of swooping down, dropping a desert mouse in front of him, and then shooting back to a pine tree across the street - no time for a shot.  Eventually, she flies back to our Eucalyptus tree and perches on her "look-out" branch to watch Huey waddle around our yard.  The mother will squawk at us if we get close to Huey, but, being used to seeing us in the garden, she will allow us to get within photo distance before warning us off.  

The following is a link to a musical video I posted on YouTube  of a song I wrote about likening the relationship between God and man to a mother bird and her chicks. I posted this song a couple of months before Baby Huey's visit.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Frozen Tucson Garden and a Friendly Garden Fort

Tucson was hit with freezing temperatures in late February, 2011, the likes of which this and the previous generation of Tucson gardeners have never experienced. In the Tucson Mountains, where our desert garden dwells, the temp dropped to 16 degrees - unbelievable. The potted flowering cactus to your left froze to the ground, as did many others in my garden and our region. Fortunately, the Sonoran Desert surrounding the Tucson area abounds with cactus of all types that did make it and we will survive. Generally you will find many articles in the paper this time of year by master gardeners instructing you on how to prune and rejuvenate plants that were damaged by frost. Not so this year. The most popular recommendations have been to replace your damaged plants with new ones and not bother with the severe pruning (and unsightliness) of trying to bring back a struggling survivor. I'll be replacing most of my potted plants (goodbye hibiscus) as well as several varieties of desert plants in my garden beds. My Turks Cap, which have been going great guns for several years now, DID survive, while other more hearty plants bit the dust (rhuelia, cassia, acacia and tacoma stans). No worries though, and I am looking forward to meeting the new plants I will be bringing into my garden this spring.
My granddaughters in front of their "fort" that I put together to entertain them last summer. It is made from inexpensive materials and was based on the vine trellis structures for my backyard raised bed vegetable garden (see my raised bed gardening posts in the index) Basically all you need is re bar, 1/2"metal electric conduit and pole connectors, reed fencing, plastic vine ties, clamps and shade cloth. I added some garden posts in the front to give it that rustic island look. The re bar is pounded into the ground and the hollow conduit is slipped over it to provide the frame - just like the shade structure of a raised bed garden. Reed fencing is then attached via the plastic vine ties to the frame and shade cloth draped over the top and attached with the same clamps used to keep the shade cloth in place over your raised bed. We poured sand on the floor which my youngest granddaughter uses as a sandbox. All of these materials you can get at Home Depot. The nice thing about this fort is it blends in with your garden. The fencing behind the fort is made from the branches of the ocotillo cactus and will be a topic for a later post. Saguaro later and Tanque Verde much!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Saguaro Tales

Ah, what a spring! Record breaking rains since November have changed the look and feel of the Sonora Desert in Southern Arizona. Saguaros and prickly pear are plump, weeds abound and everything looks good. So good, in fact, the Arizona Daily Star warned in this morning's paper to brace ourselves for a big wildfire season. My desert and oasis garden plots are happy and quite oblivious of the approaching summer heat.

I have included two photos of Aunt Judith (saguaro cactus) and me for comparison purposes to illustrate how fast Saguaros grow. The first photo was taken about 5 years ago and the second 5 days ago. As you can see, a saguaro is a slow grower, but can reach a height of 40 to 60 feet in the Tucson Mountains where I live. Saguaros can live to be 150 years old and its growth rate is dependent on rainfall.

Strawberries in my 3 fiberglass whisky barrels are producing faster than I can eat them. I now have completely protected them with chicken wire to keep the birds and other critters from gnawing on them. I must admit that strawberries are so cheap right now (99 cents a basket at Sunflower Market) I sometimes question my sanity. The store bought strawberries, however, are not as sweet as mine and perish quickly in the refrigerator.

I have elected not to plant a spring vegetable garden in my two raised beds this year. One, I am busier now during the week, but most of all I am not up to the challenge of fighting the oncoming heat wave that blasts Tucson in June. I find the late summer monsoon and fall growing season is much more satisfying and less frenetic than fighting to squeeze a spring garden in.

Hot air balloons greet us in the cooler spring months and the one below has become a pleasant reminder of the beautiful weather we are enjoying now. The photo below captured my wife and 5 year old grand daughter Alison wrapped in a blanket and listening to the "whoosh whoosh" sounds coming from the gas burner in frantic attempts for the pilot to keep it aloft.

In closing I have added a photo of my Mother's "Tombstone Rose" for my brothers to see. This incredible plant was planted by my Father several decades ago and continues to amaze us when it forms hundreds of blossoms in the spring. The world's longest rose bush is just down the road in Tombstone, Arizona and has a trunk 12 feet in diameter and covers over 8,000 square feet. Each spring it produces over 1 million tiny white blossoms. They say it grew from a root of a White Lady Banksia rose brought over from Scotland in 1885.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Raised Vegetable Bed Protection Update

The wire cages I manufactured to protect my vegetable garden have worked out great!  They are very light and easy to lift off my raised beds.  I can now report with confidence that they are also effective in preventing chipmunks and gophers from ravaging your harvest.  The pvc handles on top are a must for easy removal and replacement.  See my September 2009 posts for more information on these cages and their purpose.

I added a third irrigation tube in the center of the bed to better distribute the water.  Prior to that I was hand watering my new vegetable seedlings to get complete coverage.  All of my raised beds and fiberglass barrels are now on timed irrigation and it has been working beautifully.  We have been enjoying radishes, romaine lettuce and spinach for the past two weeks. I have been picking off the larger leafs for our evening salads which seems to promote speedy growth of the remaining smaller leaves.  I did this last fall and was able to keep ourselves in salad fixings for months.    

Tomatoes are just now starting to ripen. I had 5 plants before the chipmunk invasion but am now down to one.  Still, there are plenty growing and they will liven up our salads for several more weeks.

This is my third attempt to grow snap peas in the desert.  So far, so good, but I am bracing myself for the worst.  I am hoping that consistent watering provided by my make-shift irrigation system (see prior blog posts for construction and layout) will make a difference this time.  My wife loves snap peas so I have to get this right!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mexican Sunflower - a love-hate relationship

Mexican Sunflower (tithonia fruticosa) is one of my favorite desert plants.  It has a commanding presence in the summer garden with its tall leggy stems, large green leaves and bright yellow sunflowers.  A profuse bloomer when watered, it attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.  Birds also love to eat the spent dry flowers, so be sure to dead head them and leave on the ground.   But, in winter, Mexican Sunflower is not a pleasant sight to behold.  It no longer flowers and the large leaves turn wrinkled and brown. If it is a featured plant, like my two were, it becomes a blight on your winter garden.
So, last winter, I dug up one of them, divided the clump, and planted two pieces in an area that would become a back drop to my oasis garden.  I didn't have the heart to dig up the other one, so I severly pruned it back and waited for new, fresher growth in the summer.  Well, even after much attention the clumps never produced.  So I began calling the various nurserys in town only to learn Desert Survivors was the only one who carried the tithonia fruticosa variety.  Unfortunately their plants were still in the greenhouse and wouldn't be ready until fall.   I had to wait.

Then, one morning when watering I noticed a very small plant growing among a patch of salvia leucantha that looked like Mexican Sunflower.  A seed must have been carried by a bird or blown over and dropped there.  I gently dug it out and planted it in the hole that previously housed the clump and surrounded it with chicken wire.  It grew!  A miracle according to some who told me you can't transplant Mexican Sunflower.  I will be diligent in my efforts to keep it healthy until next summer when I am hoping it will shoot upwards and blossom.

The 1/2 inch wire mesh cages I described in my last post have worked well in protecting one of my raised vegetable beds from small critters.  The handles work great, making them easy to lift off the bed while I water and putz about.                               
So right now life is good.  I'll keep you posted.