New Cacti


Echinofossulocactus albatus
     I recently purchased two new cacti, not for the cactus garden, but for the tables in the yard.  The first, Echinofossulocactus albatus, is a small size cactus that makes a good potted plant specimen.  It is a bluish-green sphere that has a white, wooly top.  It produces small, yellow or white flowers and can propagate by seeds or shoots.  It originated in Mexico.

Epostoa blossfeldiorum
     The second cactus is an Epostoa blossfeldiorum.  Right now it is a small, potted plant, but it can grow up to 13 feet tall (4 m).  Extremely slow-growing, it may reach 4 feet in 30 years.  It is a columnar plant that has yellowish wool and bristles and flowers nocturnally in mid-summer with creamy white flowers.  It originated in northern Peru.  It doesn't like frost.  The nighttime temperatures here now are 48-50 F (9 to 10 C), so it should be ok outdoors.

     Have you noticed in your area when there is 10 hours of daylight things start happening?  I feel seeds and bushes and trees start waking up from their winter's nap around the end of January when this happens.  There are two interesting websites where you can check the hours of daylight for your city or latitude.  Google "daylight hours explorer" for one of the sites where you can move a bar for the latitude and another bar for the day of the year, and it will give you hours of daylight.  The other site is  Click on sun&moon, and then click on sun calculator.  Here you can input or choose a city and the site will give you sunrise and sunset times and hours of daylight.

Royal Velvet amaryllis
     Hooray!  My amaryllis finally bloomed this week.  The second bud has not yet opened, so I am watching and waiting for that.

An Early Spring?


bulbs emerging early
     Many of the gardening blogs from all areas around the US have mentioned the warmer than normal temperatures.  We have experienced the same thing here in the desert.  The first week of January it was in the low 80's.  Normal is about 65 F (18 C) during the day.  The second week we were above normal too, but only in the low 70's.  We are finally back to normal this week with temperatures around 68 F (20 C).

petunias and pansies
     Many plants in the yard are showing the effects of the unseasonable warmth.  My bulbs are peeking up.  The petunias in the garden are flowering profusely. 

blue marguerite
     My blue marguerite  is blooming away.

     The gazania have all suddenly started flowering.

amaryllis two weeks ago

amaryllis one week ago

     Let's hope we don't have another freeze.  But for the last two years we had freezing weather the first week of February.  Oh, and the amaryllis I received as a Christmas gift from my brother and his wife is growing taller daily and will soon bloom.

amaryllis today


Two buds!

Shamrock Farms Dairy


milking cows barn area
     While the second set of relatives were visiting during the holidays, we went on a tour of Shamrock Farms Dairy.  Founded in 1922, Shamrock Farms is the largest family-owned-and-operated dairy in the southwest.  It is located about an hour south of Phoenix in the middle of nowhere.  The dairy has 10,000 cows on over 240 acres.  There is also an organic herd of 900 cows on the property.

     The farm was very clean, and there was no odor.  They use a state-of-the-art manure mangaement and recycling system whereby manure is used as a natural fertilizer at nearby farms.  They try to reduce their environmental "hoof-print" through water stewardship, reduced fuel consumption, responsible packaging, and  manure/methane management .  The farm keeps a closed herd, meaning no new cows are introduced to the farm.  The cows are artificially inseminated, and all calves are raised from these cows to ensure the highest quality dairy stock.  The night before we toured the farm, 19 calves were born.

sheltered calf nursery area
       The tram tour took us to many parts of the farm.  All cows had plenty of room to roam in the fresh air.  There were separate areas for different parts of the herd:  heifers that have not given birth, pregnant cows, new mothers and their calves, and milking cows.

milking barn

     The most interesting part of the tour was the milking barn.  Milking goes on for 21 hours a day.  It starts at 5:00 am and ends at 2:00 am the next morning.  The cows are milked twice a day.  A lead cow moves her group into the milking area.  Each cow is showered before milking, they get into place, their udders are wiped with iodine and then dried with a towel.  A separate, clean towel is used for each cow at each milking.  That's a lot of towels and laundry.  Then the milking apparatus is put on and milking commences.  When milking is completed, the milking apparatus drops off automatically and the cows walk out of the milking barn.  All the cows seemed very used to the routine and knew what to do.

lead cow moving her group into milking area
     In the summer here where temperatures can regularly reach 110 to 115 F (43 to 47 C), all the barns are kept at 78 F (26 C) by using ventilation fans and high-pressure misting systems as seen in the photo above.

feed storage area
     We were also shown the area where all the feed for the cows is stored, and the water tower that held 500,000 gallons of water (used for showering the cows, laundering the towels, keeping everything clean, and for herd drinking).  Each cow drinks 30 gallons of water a day.

     Organic feed for the organic herd is grown on their own pasture.  Shamrock Farms is the first dairy in Arizona to receive the USDA organic certification.  The organic milk goes from the cows to the grocery in less than three days.

cow with ear tags
     Each cow has an ear tag on each ear that has the entire history of the animal, including birth parents and day, any injuries or illnesses, amount of milk produced, etc.  The cows seemed happy and content, which makes for better milk.  And we were happy we took the tour and learned how one of our major food groups is produced.

Cotton Harvest


Cotton field nearing harvest
     So much has been going on in our home lately, I'm lucky to have a few minutes to get this post up.  Between another set of visitng relatives, a dog in the hospital because she got into a relative's human medications, and the usual colds and viruses going around, there has been no time for anything.  The harvesting of the cotton fields here has been going on for a month and is now finished. 

closer to harvest
       I don't know whether the fields are sprayed with a defoliant or the leaves are left to die off naturally, but when the leaves are brown, harvesting begins. 

cotton bale
       The cotton is havested into huge bales like the one in the photo above.  The bales are about ten feet high.

cotton bales lining the fields
      The harvested cotton bales line all the fields in the area, and  the edges of the roads that run along the sides of the fields.

harvested field
     The bales stay along side of the fields for a few days until they are picked up for processing.  After that the fields are quickly plowed and planted again.  And all we are left with are stray cotton balls blowing down our rural roads.  Sometimes it looks like blowing snow.