Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Big Chill

When the weather cools to that perfect high of around 70, we start seeing hot air balloons more frequently, early in the mornings when the atmosphere is cool enough for their warmed balloon interiors to make a difference and provide the essential lift.

Chilly morning hot air ride
Tucson gets about 20 nights of freezing temperatures a year, usually a glancing blow of a few hours just below 32 degrees.  The first one usually occurs right around Thanksgiving, so we were right on schedule.  Problem was, it was predicted to be a hard freeze -- 24 degrees.  It was time to deter the Big Chill.

Out came the styrofoam cups, insulating caps for columnar cacti.  Out came the paper bags, ditto.  Out came the plastic picnic tablecloths with the fuzzy underside (important), old beach towels and coverlets.
We even used a few baseball caps for our larger cactus "heads".

One of my very favorite plants in our backyard is the chuparosa.  It begins flowering in November and flowers all winter long, its tubular orange flowers providing nectar for our year-round Anna's and Costa's hummingbirds along with the nectar robbing mustard headed perpetual motion verdins.  We have a few of these magic winter plants, but my favorite is right outside the dining room window and is the size of a Volkswagen beetle.  I was determined to save this plant from freezing -- it wouldn't kill it but would literally nip it in the bud, likely nixing any more flowers for almost a year.  Several years ago we had a freeze in the high teens and the chuparosa looked like it had been freeze-dried.  We cut it back to medicine ball size in the spring and it bounced back, but I wanted a natural food source for our hummers.

I took every large plastic tablecloth I had, plus some old towels and a bedspread, draped them over the chuparosa and clothes-pinned them together.  We put a trouble light under the cover and kept it lit all night.  It looked like The Blob was having an eerie picnic in the back yard.  Out of appropriate covering, the two rows of green beans we'd been nursing along in our feeble winter vegetable garden would have to fend for themselves.

By night
By day
We saw hummingbirds zipping under the cover at first light, the sugar water in their feeders frozen solid. As I uncovered the chuparosa today, a Costa's hummingbird flashed his royal purple gorget at me, whether in thanks for saving his favorite winter plant or to urge me to get out of the way, I'll never know.

Success!  At least for Round One...
The hummers' food survived.  The green beans -- not so much -- but I can get great ones, cheap, at Costco.  Our flashy hummingbird winter companions?  Priceless.