Right after the first of the year, I received a call from family that a younger relative’s health was not good. I helped them think through their issue, which lead to an Emergency Department visit and ultimately a five day hospital stay. My family member was very ill, so my husband and I dropped everything to make the eight hour drive, carefully per Public Health guidelines, to go help. Fortunately, I had planted most of the surplus plants Deedee brought me from a native nursery (see December 29th post). They all needed to get into the ground to benefit from winter rains. There were about six left. They would have to wait.
We stayed until my family member was ok, which was two weeks. That was two weeks in a city. Although I love where they live, there is nothing like being home, especially when home is a beautiful, rural ranch where you can see the stars, smell the soil and the loudest noises are the song birds chattering to one another. I was happy to be back in my natural habitat.
I hiked the ranch checking on all my plantings and generally seeing what was new. The plantings were still ok, and the branch fences were holding. Sadly, all of the washes were dry. The swale pond did not even have a wet spot. Odom Creek was still not running; it was only wet at the large spring and within a short distance, due to the slight water flow. Even more of a trickle was the little spring on the spring creek. It flowed slowly from the spring to just the other side of the pooled water. Evidence of the drought was clear. When I got back to the house, also site 9, I watered all of the newer plantings from before I left.
My first priority was to plant the buckeye, redbud and cottonwood trees.
I planted the buckeye as part of Site 9, which is ever expanding with all the hedgerows and nectar plants. The redbud is now the lone plant in Site 2, at the base of the spring that flows, subterranean to the arroyo. The cottonwood is in Site 8.
The cows were gone at this time, and were supposed to return in a few days. The redbud was placed out in the field outside of the fenced-in area. It would need protection in order to grow and thrive. The morning a day before the cattle were to return, I saw cows on the hills of the ranch. They were here early. Ack! I had all the supplies available, so I put on my overalls, hooked the cart to the quad, loaded the cart and headed to Site 2 to make the protective cage before I had to start my job.
I chose to use four t-posts with no-climb fencing attached to it. I like to use previously used posts for these projects, posts that are generally bent or messed up in some way. This leaves the nice posts for fencing needs. It can take a little more time to work with bent posts to get them into the ground, but it worked. I chose a thick gauge no-climb fencing from my leftover/ used fencing stock. Instead of a fence tool, I choose to use needle-nose pliers. They have wire cutting capability and grasping capability. The smaller size and lower weight is easier for my hands to work with. They are a great all- around tool that all homes, no matter the location, should have in their toolboxes. Of course, I brought my trusty t-post pounder and medium gauge smooth wire (you don’t want it too thin or too thick. Thin breaks too easy. Thick is too difficult to work with. It doesn’t twist well.). When you pound t-posts in, you should also use ear protection. Admittedly, I forgot to bring my ear protection. I figured it was only four posts and decided to not go back up to the house to get a set.
I did not realize I had an audience while I was working in the field – perhaps due to the lack of that ear protection and the t-post pounding still clinking in my ears. I saw one of my girls get up and move to the west. I looked up, and there they were – a small herd of cows and calves watching me work. After they noticed the dogs, they decided to keep moving along. The girls made sure they kept a wide berth from my location.
Finally, the cage was built. On the way back up the hill to the house, my cart hitch gave out and the cart separated from the quad and began rolling back down the hill. Fortunately, I had already made it about halfway up. The incline was not as great in that area, and the cart didn’t go too far. By hand, I hauled the cart the rest of the way up the hill. Then, I walked back down the hill to get the quad and got back to the house with 15 minutes before I had to start work. Success!
All the major plants are in the ground, and it was just in time before the first really cold weather. Snow did not quite reach my elevation, but there has been frost in the morning. As I write this, the next cold storm is on its way here. The wind has picked up mightily, pushing and gusting. I imagine it will begin howling through the crevices of the house as the rains begin later tonight.
Things are ok here for now, but we will see what this next weather system brings and what butterflies come this Spring. The official Xerces butterfly count is in. There were less than 2,000 adults seen. It is a crushing blow. I hope the habitat I am installing will contribute in some way to helping their numbers grow, but we are only one small part of a much larger ecosystem on which the butterflies depend. I can only dream that there are tens of thousands of butterflies over wintering inland in areas not yet discovered.