It has been a rough few weeks. The vibrant green of verdant hills has given way to the crunch of yellow straw. Yellow hits the eyes much differently than green. When green, the light is almost nourishing, energizing. While still beautiful, yellow light is blanching, dry like cotton balls in the mouth.
The drought has had a significant impact on the entire ranch, and it is just the beginning of May. While last year the a’wuu’atee (butterfly food) needed watering only once per week, with a few exceptions, the majority of plants will now need watering twice per week this year. I accounted for double watering for about 1/4 of the plants in my rain water budget, and had captured more than enough for a summer and fall watering schedule. However, with the earlier start to irrigation, the leak in Tank 1 resulting in loss of 30% of that water and 90% of the plants taking additional water, including some of the plants from last year, I may not have enough. The late storm in April helped refill Tank 3, because it was still hooked up to the gutters. Unfortunately, I had already taken down the piping system for Tanks 1 and 2 from the gutters. There was no refill, which would have helped greatly for Tank 1.
The humidity is so low so often that the moisture gets sucked out of the troughs, the soil and the plants. I have not seen anything like this in years. The hill spring (photo above), where I planted one of the big leaf maples, is already drying up. This spring typically stays green through the summer and dries in the fall. I knew it would be a dry year, so I prioritized planting within the moist soil of the spring and also in the green portions of the arroyo. I am not sure that will be enough help. The soil is clay in both those locations and requires the spring moisture to absorb into the hardened soil for it to benefit the plants. Otherwise, it is just a location with deep fissures with limited moisture retention. I am watering the arroyo twice a week now and am concerned that the water simply “falling through the cracks” with limited absorption into the hard soil. I am still monitoring this site to make a final assessment of benefit or not.
Speaking of the Arroyo…
Success at the arroyo is mixed. This seems to be a place where a variety of spiders and bugs live – which is wonderful – but not for the red bud. A large spider moved into the redbud gopher basket. There was one hole, then two, and now three. How do I know it is a spider hole? I saw a very large spider come out to check out why there was water entering its hole. There was nothing I could do to save the redbud. Over the weeks, it died. I hate to think what happened to its roots. RIP redbud. You looked so beautiful.
There is still some green in the arroyo. It is all on the north-facing slope. My theory of planting on that side has paid off so far. The plants, with the exception of a purple sage that did not transfer well, are doing well. This is likely to change fairly rapidly. I have been watching with trepidation the growing number of grasshoppers in the arroyo. They are small now, and mostly on the grass. However, they grow massive and eat everything in their path. They are a plague. We have not had them at plague levels for many years. They have always been around, just not to such a degree as I have seen them in the far past – where they ate paint off the house. I don’t know what I will do if they eat all the butterfly plants.
Spring Creek is Still Flowing and Flowering
Fortunately, there is still some water on the land. The spring is still flowing in Spring Creek. As a result, the growth is still happening organically. The cattle were moved out, which has allowed a variety of plants to grow where there is no fencing. The creek is also protected from the winds we get on the hill top. When it is windy, I don’t see butterflies. However, in the creek, there were many blue coppers. They are so beautiful and have quickly become one of my favorites.
I purchased more Wedge-Loc corners to build fence around the Spring Creek. The branch fence was breached three weeks ago when the cattle were still here. Using the Wedge-Loc system will require less work over the long term and allow me to protect more linear feet of creek. I think the branch fencing is still useful. It is natural, beautiful, creates habitat and does act as a barrier. However, if you don’t have a group of people or regular ranch hand helping maintain it, you can lose the protection-ability as grass gets less plentiful and the pressure to browse it becomes greater for the cattle.
We have a proliferation of white lupine, yellow mariposa lilies and purple brodiaea. Also near the creek, one showy milkweed and one narrowleaf milkweed have returned from the original 7 planted in 2020 that the wild pigs turned up. They look strong and healthy. One golden current and a mugwort survived the breach of the branch fence. The mulefat is coming back after being browsed a while back. There are other plants I have not been able to ID yet. I planted the riparian Xerces kits along this creek – so I am not quite sure what things are. I think, for most of the plants, there needs to be more moisture, a slight flooding event, to get the roots going. I believe my limited watering is not enough to get them started. Maybe next year. Happily, the oak seedlings made it through the browsing. They all look strong and healthy.
Providing TA and Creating a Migration Pathway
A small portion of the Resource Conservation District grant is helping expand habitat through public education and provision of plants. Already, two people expanded existing habitat on their home parcels. I have also been thinking about migration pathways. Friends have ranches in a straight line south west and north east of me. How incredible it would be if there was a large supply of milkweed and nectar plants all in a line on the monarchs’ route through Mariposa County. I contacted both individuals, and they said they were interested. I performed site visits and helped select plant locations. Both locations are in moist areas of their ranches. One is in a wash below a spring. The other is a wet section of a creek that runs through the property. I included them in a Xerces Kit grant request. Ideally, we will have two riparian hedgerow kits per site. On my site, I will extend planting along the Spring Creek and possibly along Odom Creek.
April Rain Helped but Not for Long
A. Californica – A Bumper Crop!
One of the bright, happy occurrences this season has been the proliferation of California Milkweed. Last year, this magical plant appeared out of nowhere. I had counted three communities and populations of 13, 7 and 2. This year, I found four communities with populations of 16, 13, 2 and 1. I plan to hike to all of the sites to perform a final count. The site closest to the house ended up with 13! You may recall 4 weeks ago I lamented that I had only counted 6. Again, these plants are magic – popping up out of nowhere.
Ode to a Beagle
You were a bother with your insolence, smell and patio pooping
and daily disappearance from olfactory compelled sniffs and snooping.
My dad dropped you off unequipped for your destructive self-direction
We locked stares, quarreled and chased — but upon some reflection…
It is clear that your bay drove coyotes away.
Your epic snore made me, for quiet, thankful more.
Those ears velveteen changed dog haters from mean.
The prolific fur you shed made me clean under the bed, and
the rugs you destroyed are now redeployed
as outside paths, wool pave, along the well-worn trail toward all my pets’,