Saturday, October 31, 2009

On-Going Gardening

Sure we got a bit of frost but we saved some plants by covering them and then it warmed back up a bit:

Sunny and warm days in the 70's are great for harvesting herbs and hanging them to dry:

Then it's back outside for preparing a spot for planting fall greens:

We use very light and shallow cultivation so as not to disrupt the soil food web:

Can't wait for the weekend and planting time!:

Guadalupe Peak Hike

The highest elevation (8,751 ft.) in Texas is Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park and that was our quest on this beautiful fall day.

As we climbed high above the Permian Basin floor we were treated to expansive views of the vastness of west Texas and some interesting contrasts - such as this abrupt distribution of plant communities with slope aspect (hotter/dryer S-facing slope dominated by desert shrub/grassland and cooler/moister N-facing slope dominated by mixed conifer forest):

Mixed conifer forest (Ponderosa Pine, Two Needle Pinon, SW White Pine, Juniper sp., Douglas Fir):

What's this? Snow!

But still T-shirt weather!

Another first for us: Williamson's Sapsucker:

New Mexico Agave (looks like it anyway). Fascinating contrast with the conifers:

It's a long way to anywhere here:

We made it to the top!:

We wondered how often those canyons below receive visitors?:

Semi-active gypsum sand dune field:

This salt basin used to be a lake when the area received much more rainfall in the long-ago past (not the dark green vegetation which is irrigated hay of some sort - an unlikely place for agriculture?):

El Capitan - a prominent regional landmark:

This hike was a little over 8 miles out and back but we found it easy due to the great diversity of fascinating natural history observations (we just kept hiking and checking out cool stuff!). Ever get down this way - do this hike!

Beans, Rice and Squash Corn Tortilla Casserole

This one is easy. Just mix up equal proportions of pinto beans and rice and then add winter squash puree until you get a pudding-like consistency (I also added green chile sauce and a tsp. of salt). The main thing is to not have the filling too wet:

Put corn tortillas in a baking dish:

Add a layer of your filling and then more tortillas, etc. until...

...the dish is full:

Add a bit of cheese on top...

Bake at about 375 degree F for 45 minutes or so until the top gets brown and crispy:

Eat with salsa. Re-heat and take for lunches!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Red-shouldered Bug (Jadera haematoloma)

The other day at work Jennifer noticed a curious happening in the parking lot. It turned out to be numerous Red-shouldered Bugs (Jadera haematoloma) - juvenile and adult - feasting on something.

Taking a closer look we noticed the familiar fruit of the Soapberry Tree - it's easy to notice because of its prominent yellowish color (translucent yellow-orange after they dry out):

The Red-shouldered bugs remove the fleshy outer coating of this fruit to get to the seed underneath. The seed itself has yet another coating - in the photo below the bugs have succeeded in final extraction of the seed. Must be very nutritious!:

The soapberry trees in this particular location are numerous and associated with a cut/fill spoil bank. Apparently this tree reproduces well in our "waste" areas and thus we have benefited both the tree and the Red-shouldered bugs that feast on its fruit. It appears an innocuous thing and we hope so. Our actions always matter!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Talus Slope

Last weeks' natural history photo of the week was of Alpine Sunflower - a cute little plant that we saw growing on a talus slope. A talus slope is an accumulation of rocks that reaches a certain angle of repose (steepest angle that it can maintain beyond which individual rocks will tumble downhill). Here's the one where we saw the Alpine Sunflower (lower left in photo):

Another resident of talus slopes is the incredible Pika. But that's for next week....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Underestimated Habitat Value?

Seemingly sterile cityscapes may not be as sterile as they first appear:

While we are not sure if this shrub is native to the area we do know that it provides a valuable nectar source. We saw all of these pollinators in just a minute of observation!

Tachinid fly:

European Honeybee:

Queen Butterfly:

American Snout Butterfly (this was a first for both of us - what a cool critter!):

Gray Hairstreak Butterfly:

Wonders never cease, they say...

Quite a Haul of Antiques

Advantages of small town life? You can hit all the antiques shops in a morning! Carlsbad has a number of excellent antique shops but it was not until this weekend that we finally checked out a store that ended up being a gold mine. Here's Jennifer excitedly unbagging the finds:

Here are just a few (some must be kept secret as they are gifts). Some are not truly antiques - just bargains for the kitchen. Other things such as the potato masher, mixer and little cookie jar have been around awhile. The weathered wooden "bucket" is actually the remains of an ice cream maker. The woven wool rug was quite a beautiful find too. All in all, a great morning of antique-ing and everything was a bargain!:

Zucchini in October?

Yes! And the end of October to boot:

Carlsbad is sweeeet for extended gardening!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Natural History Photo of the Week

Since the "Natural History Photo of the Week" is not click-able why don't we just do it as a post instead. That way we can appreciate a better pic. Mondays seem appropriate - a little early inspiration to help us through the work week!

Here's a good one:

This is Alpine Sunflower (Hymenoxys grandiflora) and is in the Aster family. We saw this gem at the base of a talus slope near Nambe Lake in the Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico. The flowers are huge relative to the foliage and the whole works grows low to the ground. Quite a contrast to our Hopi Black Dye sunflowers that we grew in are garden this summer (those babies grew taller that our apartment!).

Next week: talus slope!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

El Rancho De Las Golondrinas, Part 2, Agriculture

If you liked El Rancho De Las Golondrinas, Part 1, Culture you'll love Part 2, Agriculture:

What's not to love about activities that yield such wonders as these?:

To back up - we headed down into the valley after we left the cultural dwellings:

Telltale signs of damn hard work:

The river valleys here are mainly cottonwood and willow and provide respite for people as well as wildlife:

An acequia (irrigation canal)- must be something growing around here:

More telltale signs (a plow) of working with the earth to grow food:

Here we are - harvested corn and chile (left) fields:

Gotta have orchards or you can't have apple pie:

Before mass-transit, farming communities had everything they needed, even a grain mill:

An ingenious person came up with this:

Water turns the big wheel which ultimately turns a large stone that grinds grain into flour:

Excess water is diverted into a pond - which is very handy in an arid climate:

Another sort of mill - a sorghum press. It's like an apple press except you get sorghum syrup (a sweetener) instead of apple cider:

Or you can just eat 'em like pixie sticks!:

The local staple: beans...


...chile: be cooked for sustenance and enjoyment:

Goats and fiber arts were huge at this time in Northern New Mexico (and still are to some extent even today):

The fiber is combined with dyes and such...

...and processed...

...into colorful to-be-yarn for cloths, rugs, etc.

A weaving loom:

A spinning wheel:
This nicely illustrates the importance of riparian (stream-associated) areas to both agriculture and wildlife (relative to the pinyon-juniper upland in the background, the riparian area has much more moisture, fertility and tree canopy complexity). Not that pinyon-juniper woodlands are not equally important in other contexts - because they are:

I bet these guys are dreaming of simpler times...

...when agriculture was culture and gratefulness for food, fiber and folks was foremost:

What goes around comes around, we are predicting....