Tuesday, October 8, 2019
Now for something completely different: the fun and games of trying to raise a miniature orchard on a large lot in a rural town in central Arizona. Wheee!
Many of you readers have been following my reports -- admittedly few and far between -- of my Go Fund Me campaign ("Rare and Endangered Orchard"), and have read a few tales of my adventures on this venture. Ahem. But a lot of it looks incredible, I know, unless you've actually tried fruit-farming in Arizona.
The main problem, bar none, is water. This isn't called the Great Desert State for nothing. The topsoil is actually quite good, which is why the town of Buckeye came to be founded in the first place. The tale goes, after the Great Locust Plague of the 1870s, ruined farmers from Ohio went looking for some of the still free-for-the-homesteading lands to the west. A bunch of them -- driven by the harsh winter -- went south as far as Arizona, intending to turn west for the fabled lands of the west coast.
Most of them completed the journey, got to the west coast and then turned north, if you please, for the recently-opened-for-settlement lands of Oregon and Washington. They finally ended their march in the lush and lovely Klamath River valley, and there they eagerly started claiming and plowing the land.
Now unknowingly, this gave them the ultimate revenge on the locusts that had ruined them in the first place. It seems that the great locust swarm, having fed themselves well on all the crops in the midwest, went home to lay their eggs -- and their home just happened to be in, yes, the Klamath valley. There they dutifully laid their eggs and died, no doubt expecting that their next generation was safe. Ah, but when the farmers plowed and harrowed the Klamath valley, they exposed those eggs to the wind and rain and sun -- and to all the birds in the territory. Farmers' accounts from that time mention the peculiar phenomenon of huge flocks of birds following the plows and harrows, and pecking up the ground as if there were no tomorrow. Well, that smorgasbord for the birds meant the extinction of the Rocky Mountain Locust. The breed hasn't been seen since. Thus did the farmers get their revenge -- not to mention bumper crops thereafter -- on the locusts, without realizing it.
But not all those refugee farmers made it all the way to the west coast. A number of them, from Ohio if you please, stumbled across the land flanking the Gila river. Seeing that the land was reliably watered from the river, besides being deep old-river-bottom silt, they decided to settle where they were. They named their biggest town Buckeye, in memory of their old territory, cleared it and farmed it, and they've been farming it ever since. My yard is a subdivision of an old farm that was broken up for residences after World War Two. There are working farms within a block of my house.
Aside from the salt content in the soil, which makes it impossible to grow avocado trees -- and the eternal war with the #%&$*@ gophers -- the only problem is getting enough water during the summer. That's actually the major problem. In a year when the summer "monsoon" rains are plentiful, all you have to do is plant your crops and stand back. For professional farmers who can pay for regular irrigation from the Gila river, a dry summer is survivable. For mini-farmers like me, it's a different story. Not having irrigation, I have to water my trees from "city water": purified for drinking, and therefore expensive.
This year started with a fine, cool, wet spring -- which promptly turned into an excessively hot and dry summer, starting on Mayday. There were maybe three rainstorms, all short and light, between Mayday and the end of September: a "non-soon" rather than a monsoon. This meant that my trees, which had put out lots of branches during the spring, had to be watered by hand -- every other day -- all summer. I tried to keep the watering contained to small areas right around the trees' roots, but the mini-topography of the land -- including treacherous tunnels dug by those #@$%&* gophers -- carried a lot of it off to other patches. This meant that the native grass, and weeds, grew unchecked. Being distracted with mundane problems, not to mention short on cash, I wasn't able to keep up with the mowing.
So I finally got around to it last week, and it was a battle. The grass is almost up to my waist, and some of the weeds are over my head. Worse, some of those weeds have thick woody stems. This is the only yard I've ever seen that has to be mowed partly with a power-saw. No kidding. Even machetes won't cut through some of those stalks! I'll be at it for the next couple weeks, at least.
The cut grass, weeds, and twigs from the Palo Verde and Mesquite trees form a thick mat on the ground that we'll have to rake up and feed through our new wood-chipper. Some pieces are too thick for the wood-chipper, and will have to be cut into billets for firewood -- which is where the power-saw will be helpful again. What does get chipped and shredded will more than fill the compost-pit, which we'll have to expand.
And what am I going to do with all that firewood? I suppose I can burn it to charcoal, and then plow that into the topsoil, but the plowing-in will take a lot of work too. And that's not even counting the pruning we'll have to do on the pomegranate trees and the grapevine. *Sigh* I always knew that farmers have to work hard, but the sheer labor (or money, to pay for somebody else to do the labor) of working even a micro-farm like mine is incredible.
I no longer sympathize with the Beatles' song, "Hard Day's Night". Working "like a dog" is nothing compared to working like a farmer!
So if I don't keep up very well with my blog entries, or comments on my FB page, or Go Fund Me page, or even on the Sci-Fi blog "The Sietch" (which I heartily recommend), it's because I'll be outside swinging the heavy-duty weed-whacker or the power-saw. Patience, fans! At any rate, you'll know where to find me.