My sister and I planned for the last year. We would go to the Hashknife Ranch Colt Sale in Northern Arizona in mid-July. And last weekend we did it! Since my daughter and I started horseback riding together a year-and-a-half ago, I think about horses about 20 percent of the time. You can call this a mid-life obsession, I guess, crisis seems too harsh a word. The Hashknife Ranch Colt sale has given me more to think about.
The sale is a yearly event that the ranch owners treat like a holiday. The mood was one of excitement from the guests and the sellers who were going to make some cash that day. Little children helped the Christmas-like atmosphere. Who can’t resist pens full of adorable colts and fillies milling around on spindly little (and some not so little) legs?
We got there early because I couldn’t believe it started at 11 a.m. Nothing on a ranch starts that late in the morning. We parked in a lot full of trucks and waiting trailers as if the owners planned to haul away a string of horses.
But backing up, the Babbitt ranches encompass some of the prettiest country I know. Last year when we took the train to the Grand Canyon, I fell in love with the sweeping yellow grassed mesas and rolling hills of the Northern Arizona ranchlands. Driving from Flag around the North side of the San Francisco Peaks, you drop in elevation from fir trees to a high prairie of dried grass. The painted desert sits off in the distance. The sky was blue and huge and white puffy clouds floated across it as picturesque as it was cliché and it was like stepping right into a postcard of a ranch.
Anyway, my enthusiasm for this ranchland has continued and we can’t help thinking our father and grandfather and great-grandfather picked the wrong place to have a ranch in the Sonoran desert. But don’t get angry at me–I love that place too, I just haven’t been there for a while. And I seem to like things colder as I get older. And Kale. (I like kale, which seems almost unnatural or maybe too natural, but I digress.)
We walked up to the barns and tack rooms passing the tarp-covered picnic areas and entered a pen where some risers had been set up in a semi-circle around a corner of the corral. This is where the horses would be auctioned off.
A small herd of mares and babies stood in the next pen and we couldn’t stop from rushing in there to see them, even though we weren’t really shoppers, we were lookers, but hopeful one day, we could be shopping here too.
My girls smiled huge smiles as they watched the fuzzy babies stamping around, moving as a group, shuffling as the lookers like us, as well as the seasoned professionals, scoped them out.
“They move in a herd!” My ten-year old exclaimed. Okay, that is sad. She has only seen horses in an arena or in a stall. She has never seen a horse on the range. “Why are they doing that?” she asked, “Why?”
Lesson one: horses are herd animals.
Wow. I had no idea she did not know this.
So we try to explain, suggest she read a book on horsemanship or the psychology of the equine species.
My sister recounts horses she’s owned: Holy Smokes, Socks, Shu-ga (Sugar). Every horse I “owned” was really my sister’s–Sassy, Kathleen and another one whose name was changed to Chapalene. I never really owned them, they were just assigned to me. Every since I was a little girl I wanted to wake up and find a horse in my yard. Not some ratty bike. I tell my husband this every Christmas. That is why he was very afraid when I went to the Hashknife Colt Sale.
Anyway, we went to learn something and the frist thing we learned (or my daughter learned) was horses run in herds. Then she learned you don’t wear a dippy Disney Channel fedora from Target to a cowboy horse auction.
She got harassed by the old cowboy sitting behind us for that. Well, what do you expect?
Speaking of fashion: my sister and I realized we need very long hair that we can braid. One long silver or blonde braid down your back will do. Then you need to wear lots of turquoise jewelry — huge rectangular blocks of turquoise dangling from your ears. Big sunglasses. If you are in really fancy Western dress, you can wear a tiered broomstick skirt in shades of blue to match your turquoise top and accessories. Or you wear your Wranglers and your braid and your round toed boots and a straw hat. We notice that kind of stuff and talk about it. We can’t help it. Next time we go, we will be fancy. This time, I was basic and in tennis shoes because my boots are too pointy.
This time, we were taking it all in.
And all this was before they even sold one colt!
This past weekend we were stuck inside because of the rain. This never happens here so I went a little stir crazy . I know we needed the rain, but it seemed to last forever. One day I went out in it and scatter snail bait just so I could be outside.
Like gardeners everywhere who have to endure winter weather, I turned to gardening catalogs. How handy they arrived right when the rain did.
High Country Gardens had some really interesting plants and pre-planned designer gardens you can order. They sold me on Russian Sage. It sounds good for the hill because it is low water and likes clay soil, plus it is blue in color. I am going to order some.
I also really like the “garden in a box” packages they sell and I’m really tempted to get one. I’m thinking about Habitat Hero Birdwatcher pre-planned garden by designer Lauren Springer Ogden. All the plants are for sun, low water and clay soil. I’ve never ordered from them so I’m thinking of testing out a few plants first. Since they are based in New Mexico, the plants also withstand cold weather but I don’t know if they will take humidity. Also, they will have to travel from New Mexico here so there is a possibility they won’t last through the mail.
The mail order plants I highly recommend–like a broken record–are from Annie’s and this catalog is full of wonderful temptations.
I know Annie’s plants arrive healthy and ready to grow. My upper hill is full of Annie’s wonderful Bill Wallis geraniums. They flower almost all year and are reseeding. My verbena bonarensis are also amazing and pretty well adapted to the hill, although the ones with full sun have done better than the others. A few things died from the dog trampling them like a tiny fragile cigar plant (which I should not have ordered!) and a heleborous or two. Oh ya, I also killed my beautiful Geranium Maderense when I over pruned it, but it is reseeding too and I still have one big one left, which I hope blooms this spring. (My post called “Easter Greetings” from March 2013 shows both Geraniums.) And my post here, shows another geranium that I bought from Annie’s–it is a more typical geranium with a heart shaped flower. You can also see the verbena boneriensis behind the alstromeria on the hill but it isn’t blooming yet so it looks a little stick-like. It definitely needs to be planted with lower-level plants growing in front of it. But once it blooms, it will bloom all summer.
Anyway, I know you can’t go wrong with Annie’s recommendations. She grows her plants in the Bay Area so they don’t have to travel far in the mail.
I am looking at her “indestructibles” collection and the orange alstroemerias on her web site. She sells out fast so create your wish list on the site and you will get an email telling you when they are in stock and you can order! Then plants arrive in the mail. How great is that! (Just make sure you are home when they get here so you can unpack them and plant them in 24 hours. They usually arrive within two days, I think, but check their website to make sure.)
(My sister lives in Flagstaff, Arizona and has a beautiful and bounteous vegetable garden every summer. Here she shares tips on how to successfully garden in a dry, cold, high-altitude desert. Thanks for the advice, Cathy!)
Many people have tried to garden in the high desert of Flagstaff, Arizona and failed. Although there are Ponderosa pine and wild grasses in abundance, and the climate is cool, the area is arid, the wind blows, and the soil is rocky. There are also numerous rodent species that eat all of the greenery in an unprotected garden. All of these factors must be taken into consideration to have a successful garden experience.
To start a vegetable and flower garden in Flagstaff, one must make raised, wooden flower beds about 6 feet by 3 feet x 2.5 feet. The beds must have tight wire mesh fencing on the bottom to keep burrowing animals from coming in and eating the plants, roots and leaves.
The flower beds must be filled with enriched soil, that can be made prior to the garden season. Large bags of garden soil can be bought at any nursery, along with bags of potting soil. Mix together in a 2:1 ratio. Next add a bag of steer manure , or even better, about 40 pounds of good, seasoned horse manure. All of this should be well mixed and put in the planters, leaving about 3 inches from the top. Add some Miracle Grow Fertilizer on top of the soil in the raised beds, and the beds are ready to plant.
A sprinkler system must be installed in each of the beds before planting. Spring planting in Flagstaff must be after the last frost. I try to plant by May 15, using plastic “Walls of Water” to trick the tomato plants into growing faster. These can be purchased at any nursery. The plastic sides are filled with water, and the tomato plants are planted in the soil inside of the walls of water. The plants don’t freeze using this technique.
We also put PVC pipes in the garden beds, at each corner and in the middle of each side. The height is about 3 feet from the top of the garden bed. We cover the garden bed and PVC pipes with black bird netting to keep the rodents from jumping in the garden and eating it. The netting hooks on to the side of the wooden planter all around to allow access to the beds.
Occasionally, we find a squirrel stuck in the netting by his legs. Not a pleasant sight !
During the season, fertilize twice with miracle grow or fish oil. I have had some luck using Mole Mix sprinkled on the ground , to keep the rodents away. The crops will start to be ready by July 10, with 3x weekly soakings. Crops last until September 15, when there is a typical hard freeze. Potatoes and carrots can be left in the ground until the end of November, and then harvested.