Rivenrock Gardens Cactus Blog

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Cactus Plantation Panorama

Rivenrock Panorama

Rivenrock Panorama


 I took a panorama photo of the cactus plantation.
The perspective and aspect are skewed….
But it makes for an interesting photo.

A Walk In The Cactus

   I took a walk about the place this morning, taking photos of some of the cactus growing here.
   We don’t actively sell all of the plants in our collection… but we’re always willing to negotiate the purchase of a plant or more if someone wants to explore the possibilities.

    Not all states allow cactus into them without a special inspection for which the state of California charges dearly.
   Some states allow cactus that has no roots… so for those states we can take cuttings of some of the plants… this may make it easier, or more possible, and cheaper to ship.
   Some of our plants, such as the agave and aloe have to be sent with roots, so we wash them, and prepare them for shipment carefully.

   You can see our cactus plant catalog at http://www.rivenrock.com/catalog2.html

   The National Plant Board Rules and Regulations is also a good place to check on importation info for your state.

   You can see that this section of our garden is very wild and rangy. we water a few times a year only, and we don’t worry too much about annual grasses and forbs.   I think that a mono-culture is in essence a bad thing… it leads to soil-chemical/nutrient imbalances, easy pest-proliferation and a less diverse plant community that helps shield against these things. So we allow the weeds to grow… we mow and weedwack,  the chickens eat much also, and scratch the ground killing many of the weeds. By winter-time the weeds have been trimmed or knocked down to where they are by then only a mulch on the ground. As the winter rains fall and stimulate the new weed seeds to growth, the mulch will help to shield them from the elements… it will then rot into the soil in the next year or so. This continual recycling of nutrients is a good thing for your soil.

A Customer's Cactus Photos

We enjoy getting comments on our cactus. It’s also fun seeing that other folks like eating our cactus. And when we get someone mentioning our cactus on their blog… that’s a great thing!

cactus being cooked

cactus being cooked

Submersible water well pump replacement

   We have our well water going into two different tanks up the hill. both gravity feed down… one to the house, and the larger one to the hillside orchard where we grow the majority of our edible cactus.  If something goes wrong with the well, the irrigation tank is most likely to go empty first… this means we’ll (hopefully) have time to fix the well before we run out of water in the house.
   Our irrigation tank went empty the other day…. I was a bit perplexed because the pump vibrated like it was on…. the pipe felt like it had water movement in it… yet the water pressure was so low that the water would not pump up the hill (180 foot elevation) to the water tanks. I shut down all water use… we went into emergency ‘low water usage’ in the compound, and called the well supply guys at ‘Arroyo Water Well Supply’.  Kenny came out, and listening to the tank and testing the electronics…. he reckoned it was a hole in the pipe.  So he scheduled us to have the truck come by in a few days to pull the pump and pipe up and determine the cause.  When they got here,I thought it was a great opportunity to share their expertise and some of the specialized tools that water pump guys use. I’ve been on hand a few times when we’ve pulled the pump….it’s always a fun and interesting thing to see…. but it is also very dangerous…. if the load slips, you can have it all plummet many hundreds of feet down, the electric wires whipping as they follow the hundreds of pounds of pipe into the bore….. yes folks, don’t mess around with your own well… leave it to the pros and keep your fingers so you can make money to pay them.

  The first thing to do is to back the crane truck up to the well… positioning it such that the hook will drop down over the well properly. The boom for the crane goes up pretty high… the well pipe pieces are twenty feet long… so you’ll have the crane pulley at thirty feet or more.   In this case, the well has already been disconnected from the pipe. The electronics must be similarly disconnected. This is not really a job for the average homeowner.   One misstep could result in damage to the well or people.

   The stabilizers on the rig must be employed… this gives stability to the mechanism, removing swinging from the suspension. You don’t want your load shifting as the springs compress or release energy… moving suspended loads are dangerous.

  A water-well service truck has a crane assembly that is used to do the lifting…. once the truck is properly positioned, and the stabilizers employed… one can start to lift the boom… in this case, under the oak trees, some branches had to be pushed aside. One must also be aware of overhead power lines and other dangers.   A major danger is electrocution from contact with wires, another is falling branches and debris that has been snapped and dislodged by the boom.

  Here we see the boom lifted high into the air.. extended through a hole in the branches of the trees.

   Here the crew from Arroyo Water Well Supply in Arroyo positions the hook directly over the well-bore using a weight as a plumb-bob.

   Working the controls is Kenny on the left, and Andy on the right is working as the rigger.

  Once the electronics have been disconnected, and the rubber seal on the top of the well has been loosened, you can wrap a wire rope sling around the pipe, hook it to the hook and lift it on up….. the entire string of pipe will start coming up…. there can be water trapped in the pipe…. it can be a bit heavy.. machinery is helpful… and necessary on deep wells.
   This is an eight inch casing which is a bit larger than most residential wells.  

   But here, wells tend to be deep…. usually many hundreds of feet deep, and you have to disconnect the pipe pieces at each joint. To do this you use a slotted  slip-plate such as above… it fits around the pipe loosely enough to be fit into place easily…. but it is too narrow for the pipe joint to slip through….. so while the joint is a bit above the well… you stop the crane, fit the slotted plate into position over the well casing, and then lower the pipe string down to have it all rest on the joint union… sitting  suspended over the well…

   Here we see the joint resting on the plate, and the technician is disconnecting the upper pipe from the joint union. then the lower pipe pieces will remain hanging in the well while the crane is used to set the removed pipe piece off to the side.

   The first piece is being pulled off to the side. in our case, this one top stick of pipe piece is metal. the rest of our pipe is plastic PVC which in the last decade has become a common replacement for metal pipe, especially with our iron-rich water.  These removed pieces just need to be set off to the side and out of the way. But we want them close by, we’ll be putting them back into the ground in another hour or two (if all goes well… no pun intended).

   Now, we have the top joint union.. a female piece sticking out of the bore.. held in place over the top of the slide plate…. we thread a ‘lift plug’ into the pipe…. this plug has a loop at the top that will accept the hook, and with it we can lift the pipe up again… pulling it up to the next joint…. repeating the process one pipe piece at a time.. until we have them all up… and the well-pump itself is pulled out.

   Once the hook, attached to the plug, threaded into the pipe is lifted… you pull the slide plate out, and bring the entire pipe assembly up… “one joint at  a time”… they say.

   Here we see what the iron-rich ground water has done to the white plastic PVC pipe.. it has stained it rust-red…. the top of the pipe is less red… it only gets wet during times of high ground water…. lower down is where the water usually is… and that pipe is wet, and rusty seeming.

   Here we see how much rust content is in this water. It’s high in dissolved solids…. magnesium…., iron.. we have a serpentine soil locally.  Our cactus do like this soil though.

   Note that the technician always keeps the wires in the slot of the plate… this keeps the wires from becoming pinched by the extreme weight of the pipe assembly.

  After pulling up one stick after another….the pump is exposed.
   The rubber contraption on top is called a ‘torque arrestor’. It serves both to center the pump as it is lowered or raised, and also while it sits in the bore being used. Most wells have some side play as they are installed… they are not really perfectly straight down…. so you need this appliance to keep the pump from leaning against one side of the bore reducing its efficiency and risking damage to the bore casing.

   This particular pump is the Jacuzzi 1.5 H.P. 220V  submersible water-well pump. It has a stainless steel housing, and is known as one of the best pumps on the market.   As we pulled the pump higher and higher and saw no hole in the pipe, we worried perhaps the pump was defective, and such a pump is nearly $1,000 pump alone.   How much was this project going to cost us?


    Then Andy noticed some rust streaks running down the housing…. he cut the tape over the connector from the pipe to the pump, and then we all saw the problem… there was a 3/4″ hole in the pipe union…. the well tape used to help protect the metal pieces had been wrapped around the pipe and electric wires… this left a tiny gap that water was able to enter and rot the pipe. Due to a little sloppy workmanship by another company five years ago, we had to call Arroyo Water Well Supply out to get us running again. It was interesting having Kenny and Andy explain to me the little things that make a project last longer. Learning from the pros is the way to go.

   Now, this is something. That stainless steel housing cleaned up right nice with just a regular old rag. After five years of sitting in that rusty water, the pump still looks very good.

   This is the replacement pieces the techs used for our assembly. They are brass and likely to last a little bit longer than galvanized metal.  They will also be properly pipe-tape wrapped.

  first the well-tape must be placed over the metal pieces…. the tape will protect the metal very well. we’ve pulled the well before when we still had galvanized pipe, when cutting the pipe tape off from each joint where it holds the wires, the pipe underneath the tape will be shiny and new looking, yet the rest of the pipe, unprotected will be rusty and pitted.

  Here we see Kenny finishing the pipe wrapping. As long as there is no gap to allow water entry, this will help the metal endure many years of use.

  AFTER the metal components are taped, and after the torque arrestor is taped into place… the power wires are taped to the pipe. This is just to keep the wires in place, and not drooping all over the place. You don’t want loose electrical wires floating around in a well.
   the other crew had only put the tape of the wires and pipe together.. it is that tiny little gap that allowed the water intrusion that deteriorated the metal.


   Our wires were about thirtyfive years old… both techs agreed that they should be replaced….. we used new 10 gauge wire as replacement….  some things it’s best not to skimp on too much. It is too much work and expense pulling a well pump over lack of a small expense that should have been done properly in the first place… (like the pipe union should have been properly wrapped).
   These fellows have a handy little roller assembly that hooks onto their truck to allow the wire to unspool nicely and safely.

  Here the wires from the pump are crimped to the replacement power line wire. A good secure connection is critical.

   You pull on it a bit to see if it holds well.

   Two types of tape are used on a water-submersible electrical fitting… the first is a rubberized thick tape… you pull on it a lot as you feed it around the wire… several times…. make it really tight and thick.. running up and down the wire several inches from the connection.  After a short time a chemical or friction change happens and it all tends to solidify into one mass of rubber material around the wire… effectively sealing out moisture.

   Here Kenny wraps a water-submersible electrical tape over the rubberized tape.  You can see this tape is shinier than the rubber tape.

   This is a slice off the old wire… you can see the solid copper core in the center… the manufacturer’s insulation….. (green), then a thick layer of rubber from the rubberized tape…. then you can see the individual layers of electrical tape over that.
  Kenny says they put the rubber tape on a lot thicker than this example from the other crew.


   Kenny and Andy guide the pump into the bore… and then the entire process goes in reverse… one stick at a time.


   As each length of pipe ‘stick’ goes into the bore, it is wrapped near the top with tape to secure the wire to the pipe… one wrapping every twenty feet of pipe is adequate…. it is convenient to wrap it near the top of the stick… then lower the rest of the way down onto the plate to ready for the next stick.


   One at a time.. the pieces are picked up using the hook and plug, and lowered over the pipe sitting in the bore…. threaded down, tightened… then the assembly is lifted a few inches to allow the plate to be slide aside… and the assembly goes another twenty feet into the hole…. repeated many times, until you reach your eventual depth placement.


  Oh, sweet water of life!

   This looks nice… sure it is cloudy and silted, but we’ve had no new water for days now although we had a little in one tank… you don’t want to irrigate or take many showers when you don’t know when the well will be running again… the well stirred up much of the sediments on the well bottom…. both while it was shooting water inside the bore when it had a hole.. and also the simple action of removing and lowering the pump gets the water cloudy.  But I can pump it quickly into the tanks, and out through the sprinklers… that will allow the sediments to be expelled from the system.. in a day or three we’ll have clear water again.

   So there it is.. a simplified example of pulling a well. We extend special thanks to Arroyo Water Well supply of Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach at (805) 489-2258  they answered my questions and allowed me to watch closely so I could learn more about the process.

Critters in my mug

   We have a few cats that live outside year-round.   They sleep under the porch and in some of the sheds and trees we have on the property. They serve the vital function of helping keep the numbers of rodents down. some of our neighbors are overrun by packrats and mice…. we don’t have any such trouble… generally…

   That’s because outdoors cats eat rodents outdoors.

   We’ve also got two kittens we bottle-fed as their mother had been killed. They barely had their eyes open when we found them…. the rest of the litter had died, and these two were cold to the touch, unresponsive and immobile…. but we warmed them up, and got them hydrated again using an eyedropper and kitten milk replacer….Chica the chihuahua served as a surrogate mother to them.. and they still run to her to say hello. They have some dog social habits…  we raised them as indoor kitties but let them in and out the doggie door as they pleased, and when we walk the property… we often have the two dogs and the two kittens all accompanying us. It is cute seeing the kittens playing in the field with the chihuahuas.

   All was fine until they started to hunt…. and I don’t want to discourage them from this activity as their predatory instincts… while deleterious to the local small animal population does reduce the numbers of gophers eating our cactus, mice getting into sheds (and house), and rabbits causing HUGE damage to our terraces with their large tunnels.

   But we have to draw the line at them bringing rodents into the house to play with and eat. For months we’ve found bloody evidence of their nocturnal forays…. we’re happy and proud that they are great hunters… but please, don’t bring rats into the house!  They tend to bring them in alive and play with them before killing and eating them…. and some of their prey have escaped… and I’ve had to catch them….. usually I can be found with a drinking mug in hand… when a cat brings a rabbit, rat or mouse into the house and drops it near our feet… I quickly spring into action… I down the last of my liquids quickly, and set the mug over the erstwhile prey… and take it outside to be released….

   We’ve now taken to closing the doggie door at night, the cats can go out, but they can’t come back in…. so for a couple of weeks, we’ve been able to keep the carpet clean(er) than before. And I don’t have to gulp liquids down so I can use my drinking vessel as an emergency capture device.

   Here’s the last two critters the kittens brought into the house… one is a large shrew.. the other is a small cottontail bunny such as are so common here, and a major food source for local predators.
   I took both critters outside and released them.  It’s a strange thing to release critters when I’m wanting the cats to eat them anyway… but I can’t bear to give a little critter back to a cat, that seems a bit unfair even if I took it from the cat in the first place… and I don’t want to kill them myself….


 A joke:     Why don’t bunnies make any noise when they mate?
Answer:   They have cottonballs!


bunny in mug

bunny in mug



hay time

   Our neighbors were out loading their hay to take into the barn for storage through the summertime.
   In most places hay is stored to be used through the winter to keep livestock alive.   But here winter brings us much green grass and plenty… but we are dry and most plant life is dead or dormant in the summertime. So local people take advantage of winter rains to grow grasses… we harvest them in the spring when they go dry, and then we can store them to feed them to livestock in the summertime.

   We don’t raise any livestock anymore…. but we harvest our grasses to use as mulch.

Sunset From the Cactus Patch

sunset from the cactus patch

Sunset from the cactus patch….
Our cactus  have a good view….
We live further down the hill….
We don’t have the same view our cactus have.

You can see from this photo that we are on a South-Facing hillside.
In general south-facing hillsides are a good place for plants. They tend to be free of the shadow of other plants…
so plants will often have a much higher growth rate, as long as moisture and feed issues are good.

On the other hand (proving there are many variables in agriculture),
we know that quite often for fruiting orchards, north-facing hillsides are preferred.
This is so that the trees will get more winter cold, and delayed warming and flowering in the spring.
Early blooming on a south-facing hillside makes the tender sprouts and flowers susceptible to a late frost. So delaying blooming time by keeping the trees in the shade of a hill in the spring often saves a crop.

For us, the full sun of the southern exposure is the preference of the cactus. They like all the sun they can get. We can space them a bit tight, yet they all still get a full sun exposure to the south since they are raised above the other plants to the south of them. Yet they still shade the ground of the plants to their north, thereby reducing soil evaporation, and keeping the soil cool. Much of the soil in our cactus patches hardly ever gets a shaft of light…. almost all of the photons from the sun are all caught by the plants… converting sunshine, carbon dioxide and water/foods to sugars in the process of photosynthesis… using a mechanism called CAM that is particular to succulents such as cactus, sedums, euphorbias, and others.




The Cowboy meets the Windmill

                                                   Windmill Nursery


    Windmill Farms….
    On the intersection of Hwy 101 and the Los Berros/Oceano turnoff in Nipomo is a little family biz.
    Over the years they have gently expanded their operations to include a petting zoo and fresh vegetables they grow on an acre or so behind the main shop where they sell produce.  I really like the series of little houses they’ve built for the petting zoo. It is so ‘Ghost Town’ looking… so ‘Western’…. so very unique.
    The foods inside are really good and fresh, and their brother is a pro-fisherman.. so sometimes they have fresh fish for sale.  I like to stop by for Albacore when it’s in season in the Fall.

    Once in a while they’ll have a BBQ open… I took the photo below of their main BBQ fellow Billy Ruiz, the owner of the BBQ operation who they contract to come by and cook meat. Like a lot of the pro BBQ people in the area, he has a trailer with all of his necessary tools and implements. He just backs it in, opens it up, and fires up the wood and he’s ready to start.
  The name of his BBQ business is Cowboy Flavor, and I tell ya, he knows his way around a steak! In fact, he’s so good that President Reagan had him go to his ranch to BBQ for the President and his guests at the ranch on a regular basis.


Please don't let my dreams run dry...

   We’ve been oranically certified since 1993….
   This is one song that runs right into and through me…
   All I want to do is grow cactus, and live in this beautiful, quiet, remote canyon.


Jason Aldean
‘Amarillo Sky’

He says
“Lord, I never complain, I never ask why…
please don’t let my dreams run dry”

On his knees every night he prays
“please let my crops and children grow…”
’cause that’s all he knows

And he takes the tractor another round….


Harvesting Cactus Again

  We had a fellow write us today asking when we’d be sending bulk edible cactus shipments….
By co-incidence we were just sending off our newsletter offering list members the first harvest of the season.   Yes, you too can get in on the VERY FIRST pickings of cactus this season… but only if you are a member of our newsletter list and get the info directing you to the ‘secret page’ with the order forms.

   We have the newsletter to keep people apprised of our sales activities, which is all dependant on the cactus growth. Whenever we have a new offering, we tend to share this on the newsletter. It makes it sure and simple for me.. we try to let the subject line give a quick bit of info on the main purpose of that letter. We are more active with the newsletter in the spring, when the offerings may change weekly due to repressed growth and high demand… but through the late summer and winter it is monthly at best.


   If you’re not a member of the newsletter, you could register from our site at www.rivenrock.com or from the field below  

Right now we can only offer five pound boxes of edible cactus, and only to list members.

   You can see a sample of our newsletter at http://www.nopalcactusblog.com/2009/05/16/sample-rivenrock-e-newsletter/

   As the weeks go by, we’ll add larger box sizes to the offerings. The leaves are growing well now, and we have good weather forecast which keeps growth active, so we may be able to offer list members an early offering of leaves in bulk within a month. Also, within two weeks I expect we’ll be offering the cactus in 16 lb lots.