PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

Mountain Gardens--finding success with plants for the high desert and East Mountains of New Mexico

Monday, December 17, 2012

Winter Work in the Mountains

Lest anyone think we spend our winters recuperating from our hectic summer pace, our feet up in front of the fire enjoying the empty hours--here are some of the chores that keep us moving.

When the first hard freeze hit, icing caused the pumping rod on the windmill to noodle up. When the fan continues to turn, the captured rod can't slide up and down, and begins to twist. It can get amazingly distorted, preventing it from functioning after the ice melts. Bad things happen if this isn't caught soon enough. We know this, yet somehow the first hard freeze always catches us by surprise. This year wasn't as bad as past years, but we still had to straighten the rod. This is bad enough.

 Someone has to climb the 30 feet up to the fan assembly, disconnect the rod and lower it down. This takes muscle and know-how. Wilbur is elected (sometimes it's good to know no-how). We already stabilized the 380 feet of rod in the ground before separating if from 20 so feet above (it takes a crane to pull the whole length of rod if it should by some terrible bit of luck slip).

On the ground, Aly and I have the top sections of rod on a looong rope lowering it down (no photo obviously because it's reaallly heavy, and I can't be taking pictures which they keep yelling, this being an exciting part). Aly and I eventually get the rod down and beat it back into shape. By this time, there is a little breeze, and Wilbur is getting nervous. We haul the rod back up and he gets it reconnected. At this point he was supposed to climb onto the box at the end of the tail, and change the 5 gallons of hydraulic fluid that keeps things turning smoothly; this is quite a trick for a young guy on a still day. He’s not young, and the fan is beginning to strain at the chain. The fan will have to grind away, as we decide to save this task for another day.

Back on the ground, the three of us try to get the sections of rod hooked back up. This is another tricky part. The unchained fan is turning erratically despite the brake.  This is moving the top section of rod. A couple of years ago, I helpfully aligned the two sections while Wilbur and Aly were looking away, so as to quickly thread the sections together. When the two sections bumped, the fan drove them together crumpling the top back into the “S” shape we had just spent some hours fixing. I was unpopular for some time after that, but learned an important lesson—never show initiative when repairing a windmill. This time the sections joined smoothly. We are always surprised when this happens. 

 Chores are unrelenting during the winter. Most are not as dangerous as working on the windmill, but there’s often a little frisson of anxiety when working around farm equipment. We bring in our own wood for heat, and we each have our own chain saw—mine is the smallest, but it gets the job done. All that wood has to be split, and Wilbur split his fingernail in half the last time he used the splitter. We weren’t surprised when this happened as he tends to bleed on every job; if these were the days of blood sacrifice, this place would be a temple. 

It’s gotten cold again (windmill’s disconnected-yay), and it’s snowing, so we’re using more propane in the greenhouses (boo). We have lots of tanks that need to be kept filled, because if the two propagating houses freeze, months of work is lost. This is Wilbur’s job, another case of know-how. After he dealt with the propane, we all bundled up and went out to put the snow blade on the tractor. Pretty soon, he’ll go back out to plow the half mile of drive. If it gets bad enough, Aly will join him on her tractor.  They have the tractor know-how. I’m just the cook. It’s good to have people with know-how. 

Got to go; just got the second section of scaffolding up on the wall we’re building. When we get time, we work on the interior. Chores...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Great Green Walls

There's an interesting article in my latest Lawyer's catalog about the Great Green Wall initiative. There are plans afoot to build what is essentially a windbreak nine miles wide and 4,400 miles long from Dakar to Djibouti (east coast to west coast). This amazing multi country project will attempt to halt environmental degradation and slow creeping desertification.

In China, a Great Green Wall being planted for the same purpose will cover 42% of the country by 2050. The Chinese have planted 56 billion trees in the last ten years. There is a lot of controversy over these projects--but as the Amazon loses 2,700 million acres a year, replacing some of that biomass elsewhere can't hurt.

There is a lot of renewed interest in the windbreaks planted during the Dust Bowl period, which had a major impact on loss of topsoil then and for many years after. Lawyer's notes that most if not all of these have disappeared, making room for modern irrigation systems.

Today, as I watch my New Mexico soils heading north on every errant breeze, I am contemplating my own wind break. I am still plotting the best layout, and assembling a variety of trees and shrubs, but this spring, come hell or high water, the planting begins.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fruit Explorers Follow Up

We've just had our second meeting of the tentatively titled New Mexico Fruit Explorers (see October post) and we've already got a pretty impressive membership. Naming no names (without permission) we have some truly knowledgeable folks whose expertise spans apples, apricots, figs, Chinese dates and more.

Though nothing is firm yet, we're talking about hosting workshops (got some great grafters!), tours of our respective holdings, and field trips. Meetings are on the first Saturday of the month, and anyone with an interest in fruit is welcome. Amateurs to experts, or even if you just like eating it, and would like to know more. Email for more information.