Posted in family life

wildlife in the backyard

As I haven’t had the chance yet to pick up some brown paper lunch bags to cover the sunflower heads, the local birds are enjoying quite the feast in our yard. Rondel was absolutely thrilled, a few mornings back, to come across a rosy-faced lovebird breakfasting on the ripening seeds – and I’ve seen more of them every day since then!

The lovebird isn’t a native species – the Arizona Field Ornithologists website has a lot of information here. However, it is still really neat to see them hopping through the yard and on the sunflowers! Growing all these plants has turned our backyard into a living science lesson, with so many different insects and birds coming for food or to make a home. Rondel especially has been taking full advantage of that fact, prowling the yard for hours every day looking for bugs and other animals: he’s caught or observed so many different varieties of butterfly and moth (including one that looked so much like a leaf I almost missed it), countless crickets, soldier beetles, ladybugs, green lacewings, stinkbugs, crab spiders, orb spiders, and more that we weren’t able to identify.

Of course, when the yard looks like this, I would be more surprised if there weren’t butterflies and moths:

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My experimental lawn alternative was rather a failure due to my impulsive decision to add some wildflower seeds to the mix… but while the end result is most definitely not a lawn, it is certainly beautiful right now with everything in bloom. We’ll just try again in the fall to get something more walkable 🙂 and for now let our budding naturalist enjoy his private field for exploration.

Posted in family life

mary, mary, quite contrary

Finally, finally, our yard has come to life.

It’s been almost two years since we moved in to a home with a large empty dirt yard, and  slowly began to shape it as time and budget allowed – and the final step, this spring, was to add irrigation and plants.

  1. Instead of grass, we planted a lawn of clover and herniaria. And then on impulse I threw in a bunch of wildflower seeds and they took over. Not so great of a decision there – but they brought all the butterflies to our house while they lasted, and they aren’t perennial so the main staples of the lawn should eventually fill in the space. Rondel spent a few days prowling through the wildflowers with an old salsa container trying (and succeeding, surprisingly often) to catch the visiting butterflies.191140
  2. On another impulse, fortunately with a more fortuitous outcome, I planted a row of mammoth sunflowers along the eastern side of the lawn, in between the lawn and the gardens. They still have another two months to grow (and won’t those bright blossoms be a gift in the hottest, most barren part of summer here in Phoenix?) and already the largest is taller than me! 

  3. On the west side of the yard we planted our first two little saplings, a lemon and a peach (we have room for three more on the east side, but the ground isn’t ready). And the little peach tree has the softest, fuzziest baby peaches on it right now! We pruned off most of them so the tree wouldn’t be over-stressed, but we left a few – I don’t know exactly which variety it is but I believe it should typically finish ripening by mid-May, depending on the weather. 191138
  4. Speaking of weather, our cold, wet winter has turned into an uncommonly mild and rainy spring, which I really appreciated when I realized that my cantaloupe vines were taking over everything and I seriously needed some sort of trellis to provide them with the necessary space to grow. Two trips to Lowe’s (something is always forgotten) and many hours of work later (spread out over several days), I got them built and in place, and un-tangled and tied up as much of the viny mass as possible. They’re like tunnels over the path between the garden beds and if the cantaloupe grow to the top I will be very happy but not at all surprised as they are already halfway up. Word to the inexperienced: have ample space or trellises in place before your cantaloupe have seven-foot long vines twisting around each other and trying to take over the neighboring garden beds! 

  5. Cantaloupes are not the only vining plant we have growing right now, though the others are still much more restrained. Opposite from the cantaloupe on the north side we have cucumbers and butternut squash, and on the other side of the southern trellis from the cantaloupe we have pumpkins. I am doing my best to train these up the trellis as soon as they are long enough to reach it to avoid the tangled mess that is the bed of cantaloupes…191150
  6. In the remaining un-trellised bed I have mostly herbs: lavender, rosemary, oregano, purple basil, sage, mint, and dill. It is so convenient to have those herbs on hand when I’m cooking (especially the dill, which I love and which is expensive and doesn’t last well when bought at the store). I am, however, going to have to put a barrier around the mint to keep it from spreading, as I ignored everyone’s advice about it when I planted it and have been amazed at its rapid growth in just the past two months. The basil has also grown like crazy and I’m thinking there will soon be enough to make purple pesto. This bed is probably the kids’ favorite since they can pluck a leaf off any of the plants for a quick bite whenever they walk by 🙂191146191147
  7. Finally, out front, we have a blackberry bush filling in the planter along the front wall! We are in the middle of blackberry season right now and Limerick makes sure to go outside at least twice a day to see if any more berries are ripe! There aren’t a ton of berries this year, but given the amount of new growth, next year’s crop is going to be insane. (And yes, that’s a tomato cage. I didn’t have any stakes and I wanted to encourage one of the main stalks to grow more vertically…)IMG_5399

How does your garden grow?

Head on over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of today’s linkup!

Posted in family life

playing in compost

More than a year and a half after moving in, we’re finally nearing the end of the backyard project: we’re putting in the lawn!

Most lawns out here are bermuda grass in the summer, overseeded with rye in the winter, which makes for a nice grass lawn but takes a lot of effort (and water) to maintain. So since we had a blank slate to work with, I wanted to try something different, and I’ve been researching the question for the past year or so. Most lawn alternatives aren’t quite hardy enough for the summers here, but I ended up choosing a miniature clover variety, interspersed with Herniaria glabra and Roman chamomile (and wildflowers for fun, in hopes of butterflies).

The exciting part for the kids, of course, was spreading compost out over the native soil (which seems like clay to me, though it once supported cotton fields). When you’re little, rolling around is soft dirt is pretty awesome, especially when the air is cool and the soil is warm enough to steam up into the air.

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And of course there’s jumping into the piles before they get raked down.

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Not to mention running all over it, soft underfoot, warm against the chill of the morning, cold air rushing in your face and lungs:

Or digging in it, rolling around in it, burrowing into it, and just generally becoming covered in it!

You could even help spread it out, if you were feeling so inclined.

It was definitely an adventure getting them all cleaned up afterwards, but the happiness of getting dirty was more than worth it. They lasted almost two hours before wanting to come in and eat breakfast, and went out again later in the morning! Now, while we’re waiting for the seeds to germinate, they are pretending it’s all lava and creeping around the completed edges of the yard instead 🙂 And I’m just waiting to see if all the effort pays off and green can come out of all that brown.