Rivenrock Gardens Cactus Blog

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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.

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.


First Freeze of the Season 2009

   We got down to thirty degrees F last night.  This is the first freeze this year.

   Most years we get a dozen or so nights below freezing. When the temps get below 30 it starts to injure cell tissue in our Nopalea grande plants. The other Opuntia are tolerant of lowers temperatures. 28 is when we can expect real damage on the Nopalea grande.

   Last night with 30, we might have some twisting of the leaves…. any cells that froze and burst open will cause a deterioration in the leaves, which will be sealed off by the healthy tissue, but cause unsightly scarring, and as the leaf continues growth the scarred tissue will not expand, so a curving and twisting of the leaf might occur as the leaf continues growth.  I don’t think we’ll have any real issues with the temps last night… but the next few days will reveal any damage that did occur.



icy times for the cactus


This is a photo of the ice that accumulated overnight on the cat’s  water dish.

You can see a change in coloration near the tip of the cactus leaf….
this might be frost damage… however the plant might not be damaged…
we’ll know more in the next few days.

It’s a shame that just a dozen nights a year can have such a bad affect on the leaves.
It is for this reason that I check the temps on occasion on nights when frost threatens. 

Cactus Watering Time

Cactus Watering



Cactus Watering

We use the small ‘micro-sprinklers’ for most of our irrigation on the cactus.
Cactus is drought-tolerant, but the plants prefer to have regular watering.
There’s a big difference between being tolerant of something, and flourishing.
We do want production, and we want our leaves to be the very best in taste and texture,
so we water to keep the plants and leaves at a high level of quality.

It makes the plants happier to be regularly cared for.


We also have a larger water system,
but we rarely use it as it is not as efficient with water use as the micro sprinklers.
We use the big sprinklers when frost threatens the leaves,
the relatively warm water from the ground @64 degrees
 will keep the leaves from sustaining too much damage from the cold…..
as long as I am sure to wake up and monitor the system, LOL.

The End of Rivenrock? Will the tin soldier ride away?

The Law in its majestic equality,
forbids rich as well as poor to sleep under bridges,
to beg in the streets,
and to steal bread

~Anatole France~

   Since 1993 we’ve been an organically certified small farm in California. I had a job with a contractor which paid our household expenses and kept us solvent even when the farm sales were less than our farm expenses. But two years ago when the factory in town closed down, and most of us were laid off, I decided to go into the cactus growing more full time.  We grow a unique vegetable which we’ve shipped throughout the country.  Initially we shipped the cactus leaves as nursery stock, then governmental regulations tightened and we became more aware of the laws and regulations of shipping nursery stock into other states.  So we switched to shipping the younger leaves for people to eat themselves as produce. Our goal has been to ship to Health Food Stores, and restaurants as well as individuals who might be interested in the leaves we grow. Through the years our customer list grew slowly but steadily at a steady 30% rate. As the years progressed the governmental regulations seemed to grow more onerous… and the last year we’ve lost many of our older customers due to the recession. Other businesses have quit, some people seem to have stopped their regular orders. Yet, due to aggressive marketing, our sales this year are the highest we’ve ever had due to many new customers. Yet this was done at the expense of any profit we might have had.  And again the government has come down on us harder. Now we have been notified that we must complete a fifteen hour ‘continuing education’ credits in water pollution and conservation. I’m all for education, but these government-mandated classes for all farms in the state are not provided for free… we must pay for them ourselves.  The worse part is that they are given in the major population centers of Ventura or Monterrey to which we must take ourselves, and pay for our own lodging for the three days of the course.

   It is this extra bit that has me stymied.  We don’t really make any money doing this cactus business. All of our money goes to shipping, governmental fees of several thousand dollars yearly in order to maintain our licenses, permits, and associated fees and overhead expenses.  Knowing that this trip will lead us into negative financial territory makes me reluctant to want to go.  Knowing that due to these regulations, we must take  a sample of our water and have it analyzed monthly at unknown costs…. I am seriously aggravated at the state of our laws and the level of compliance required even for tiny little micro-farms.

   We have some months in  which to take the classes, and maybe I’ll find some classes nearby, but this more personal posting than usual is to let the people know that governmental regulations are  a double-edged sword. While they give the USA good traceability in produce, and  what is perhaps the safest produce in the world, it also makes for stronger economy-of-scale issues that stymie the small grower… right at a time that we are needing MORE small farms, not less.  If we were a huge corporate farm, with many employees, still we would need just one person to go to the classes, but when it’s a one-man operation, the standards are the same. The costs are the same, but they are a larger share of the profit in a small operation like ours.

     My usual outlook is of hope and positive thoughts. Rarely am I dragged into this level of aggravation.    I am sure I will sign up for the classes in Monterrey, they seem very informative and interesting.  But people need to know that excessive governmental regulations strangle small business, they hamper the process of business formulation.  We need to seriously look at what we want for this country, a place where people can transact business legally and efficiently with little governmental interference. If the government requires classes such as this, it should place them within the reach of the people, if it requires monthly water sampling, it should have a method to make such sampling efficient and inexpensive, (the paperwork mentions some samples might cost $8,000 yearly).

   Excessive governmental regulations hamper small business more than the large. If due only to ‘economy of scale’.

    When my dad grew up on an Ozark farm in the thirties and forties, they raised corn and wheat, raised hogs which they sold every fall and winter, and had a hundred or so chickens from which they sold eggs daily. They had five or six milk cows which they milked by hand, using the milk for food and their dogs, and one milk-can daily which they left on the roadside for the milk company to pick up.  They also went to neighboring farms to supply skilled farm labor.  Nowadays they would have to have many more permits, and each operation would require specialized equipment and permits and licensing.  As all these regulations pile onto business, you must streamline your operations, drop aspects that have no profit and require permits,  then you start to specialize. Yet a small family farm should not be a specialist farm, it should have a wide variety of foods and animals to create the ‘loop system’ for bio-diversity.  Yet through the years we have had to drop livestock from our farm, first initially because we did not have proper butchering facilities,  so we stopped the breeding of animals, until we had no more. We stopped using manures for fertilizer years ago because the government is worried about contamination of the soils with bacteria from manures. We stopped bringing in mulches for weed control and soil building because we could not vouch for the exact trees the wood chips came from. We are now a closed system with no outside inputs, and only material going out at a rate of a ton a month. Yet even this production is priced so low, and the shipping and governmental costs are so high, that we make no profit.  One day, it might just get through my head that I’m better off just enjoying the property ourselves, and stop working so hard to make a business out of it.  Yet, I know I can’t, we have such great customers….

   While mulling these thoughts over in my head, I decided I needed to go for a walk. So with my camera in hand, I went down the road and took photos of the things I love about living here.  And it is when in the wilderness, when I am furthest from people and the government, that I am closest to God and nature.  These photos are my world, they are my daily activities and sights…. it is what is most in my heart.



‘One Tin Soldier’


    Listen, children, to a story
That was written long ago,
‘Bout a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley-folk below.
On the mountain was a treasure
Buried deep beneath the stone,
And the valley-people swore
They’d have it for their very own.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.

There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.
So the people of the valley
Sent a message up the hill,
Asking for the buried treasure,
Tons of gold for which they’d kill.
Came an answer from the kingdom,
“With our brothers we will share
All the secrets of our mountain,
All the riches buried there.”
Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.
Now the valley cried with anger,
“Mount your horses! Draw your sword!”
And they killed the mountain-people,
So they won their just reward.
Now they stood beside the treasure,
On the mountain, dark and red.
Turned the stone and looked beneath it…
“Peace on Earth” was all it said.
Go ahead and hate your neighbor,
Go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of Heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day,
On the bloody morning after….
One tin soldier rides away.




Autumn Cactus Fruit Harvest Has Begun at Rivenrock!

Our cactus plants have great fruit that ripens in late summer, and will continue to yield through January
Right now we have a special sending out approximately five pounds of fruit in little plastic ‘clamshell’ containers
We place those into the 15x15x5 inch boxes and fill in around them with Grade C cactus
Grade C is the best grade for home and restaurant and health food uses
Grade C is in general a thicker leaf, this will give you more food per leaf and less time involved in preparation
Here’s some photos of the leaves and the fruit.



In the lots of photos above we can see clamshell containers loaded with the cactus fruits.
These ones are mainly loaded with ‘robusta’ fruits.
We have five varieties that fruit, and the seasons overlap on these.
So the varieties will change as the months progress.
Most shipments will carry two colors/types of cactus fruit, so you get a little variety.
My favorite is NOT the robusta… but many people like it because it is so very deep red in color,
and they like the fact that it may carry more nutrients.

Right now we are shipping two of the representative fruits….
We are picking an Opuntia ficus-indica that we call Lynnwood
The purple one is the Opuntia robusta, deep red juice is in that fruit
We clean the fruits to a degree, but there may still be a stray glochid here and there,
we recommend you wear dishwashing gloves to handle them

These fruits are very spiny while on the plant.
We do a fair amount of wiping to clean them for you.

Two photos show the Lynnwood fruit opened up, and the rind pulled back.
This gives you a nice little ball of cactus fruit.

One photo shows the fruit sliced open… notice the little seeds,
don’t try to bite them, they are hard little things.
They are also too small and numerous to spit out…
so either juice the fruit (it is very sweet), or just swallow the little seeds.
Some folks have digestion issues with little hard seeds, so be aware if that fits you.

Observe how deep and dark red are the Opuntia robusta fruit
These are not a personal favorite of mine, but we know that many people like dark-colored juices.
Fruits and vegetables of deep red color are often said to have a very high nutritional content
I’m no nutritionist, and I don’t know. But they don’t taste as good to me as the other varieties we sell.
We’ve had people buy them for the deep red color to the juice,
it can be used to impart a pinkish hue to other foods… if you like that
The juice is almost blood-red, it’s kind of scary on the knife.

These robusta fruits have to be sliced in two, then the insides scooped out with a spoon.
They don’t separate from the rind easily the way the other fruits do.

Some of the photos show two clamshells loaded with fruit, and packed into the shipping box.
Then we pack around and over them with Grade C nopal cactus
We pack it up until we get to almost fifteen pounds.
We sell it as twelve pounds. You pay shipping on twelve pounds.

We’re selling these lots of fruit and leaves for just $40 plus the shipping costs.
We will be shipping these by UPS Ground.

You can go to ‘Rivenrock Cactus Fruits’  to see this offer…



Cactus Apple Damage

   Our Cactus fruits are just now starting to ripen.   The scrub jays (a type of bird) like to tear the rind off and eat the sweet pulp inside. The yellow jacket wasps will then congregate and take the sweetness themselves. So we trap the yellow jackets, and try to shoo the jays away.

   The jays are pretty birds, we occasionally find a fallen feather…. very striking and blue.
   But the jays are a raucous nuisance… they steal the food from the cats…. the cats would like to catch them, but jays are very smart and know to watch for the cats.
   Jays love peanuts also… I know people who leave peanuts out for their jays, they enjoy watching them take the peanuts and hide them in the ground.  I suppose they probably disseminate the seeds of a great any plants in that way. When I see an oak seedling at the top of a hill… I know it was brought to the top by some creature, as the wind would not blow it there.

   There are places you can see acorns stored in the bark of the oak trees.  The jays will poke a hole into the bark, and then shove the acorn in to keep it out of the reach of other creatures, and also raise it safely from the ground so it will not rot or sprout. High off the ground, snug in the bark of the oak, the acorns will sit until the jay wants it again.    Watching how animals store food in this way, it makes me think that ancient humans observed such behavior, and took it further, construcing methods to store foods for the off-season.  This would give them more variety in their diet through the year.


Cactus Apple

   These particular cactus fruits are from the species Opuntia robusta.

Hot Enough For Ya?

There’s been some high temps here and there.

   Usually our temperatures are fairly mild… sure, most days are in the mid eighties to low nineties every single day for six months each summer.  But really, that’s nothing to complain about. I just have to make sure I start my work in the morning,  and I can also get some work done before it gets dark also.

   Usually we get cool nights, so the mornings are cool, and the cactus is crisp. That’s when I like to pick it, when it’s got the cold of the night still in it… but after it’s sat enough in the light and warmth of morning to lose any dew.

   But the last few nights we’ve not gotten cool. Each night the night time temperatures never got below 80 degrees. And the house was still 85 degrees in the morning.

   This photo show our indoor/outdoor thermometer. The right side is the outdoor sensor… which was on the sunny side of the house… it was reading 118 degrees…. I worried it would break off the top of the thermometer… I’ve seen it do that on TV.

   It was only 105 degrees on the shady side of the house.

  And it was 95 degrees indoors. This was at eleven AM.. by four PM it was over 100 degrees indoors.

   The cactus likes these temperatures. As long as Igive them some water to balance the heat of the sun, they grow strong and tender and fast.  But I have to keep them watered, otherwise they turn yellow trying to reflect the solar radiation off of them.  When well watered during high heat periods, they can remain healthy and happy and unstressed.


Hotter than July

Hotter than July


~Stevie Wonder~
‘Master Blaster’

Everyone’s feeling pretty
It’s hotter than July
Though the world’s full of problems
They couldn’t touch us even if they tried
From the park I hear rhythms
Marley’s hot on the box
Tonight there will be a party
On the corner at the end of the block

You ask me am I happy
Well as matter of fact
I can say that I’m ecstatic
‘Cause we all just made a pact
We’ve agreed to get together
Joined as children in Jah
When you’re moving in the positive
Your destination is the brightest star



Give me some water



   Water is good….


   It is fundamental to life on Earth



   Here’s some photos of our Opuntia ficus-indica getting some fresh water…..


   They are so efficient at getting water from the ground, that a day after watering, the soil already seems dry.


~Eddie Money~
‘Give me some water’


Chapter 8


The highest goodness is like water.
Water effortlessly benefits all things without struggling.
It is content to flow to the low places that people scorn.
In this way water is in accordance with the Tao.



Chapter 15



The ancient masters of the Tao
had a subtle, perceptive, penetration.
Their wisdom was unfathomable and cannot be comprehended.
It is because they were unknowable
that we can only describe the way they appeared.
They were as careful as someone crossing an iced-over stream,
They were as aware as a warrior in hostile territory.
They were as considerate and humble as a guest,
as changeable as melting ice.
They were as unpretentious as an un-carved block of wood,
and as approachable as a wide open valley.
They were as clear as a glass of water.
Do you have the patience to wait…
till the mud settles and your water is clear?
Can you remain motionless…
till the right action arises by itself?
The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
He is at hand in every moment,
His vigor will not be easily exhausted,
And his need for renewal will be reduced.



Chapter 34

The Tao flows all around like a great river,
To the left and to the right it surrounds all.
It gives rise to all, and nourishes and clothes them,
but lays no intention on control.
It is merged in all things, and hidden in their inner being;
Thus it may be termed small.
All things return to it at the end of life;
Thus it is called great.
The sage models himself after the Tao,
Unburdened, not striving, content with what is.



Chapter 44


Fame or integrity, which do you hold most dear?
Your wealth or your life, to which will you cling?
Gain or loss, which one increases your anxiety?
In fame and wealth and gain can be found the seeds of failure,
And in integrity and life and loss can be found the root of treasures.
Thus it is that a contented person is never ashamed of what they have,
Having self-restraint he can avoid trouble,
In this way he can endure long, and live contentedly.



Chapter 46


When the world is in accord with the Tao
horses work and fertilize the fields with their droppings,
When The Way is forgotten,
warhorses are bred and feed on the people’s autumn harvest
in the parks of the cities.


There is no worse calamity than desire,
There is no greater misery than knowing no contentment,
There is no greater catastrophe than losing self-control.
Contentment can come from realizing one has enough,
Attaining contentment, one can attain internal peace.




Chapter 78

There is nothing more flexible and yielding than water.
And yet there is nothing better for attacking the hard and rigid,
there is nothing that can do what it can do.
So it is that the rigid can be overcome by the flexible,
and the haughty by the humble.
Yet even knowing this;
still no one will put this into adequate practice.
For this reason it is said that the ones who accept the humiliation
of the country are fit to be its rulers.
Those who take the sins of the people
onto themselves are able to act as King.
This is the paradox of truth!



In dwelling, live close to the Earth.
For the mind, depth should be sought.
In conflict, be fair and righteous.
In government, self-mastery, competence and timing is preferred.
The sage does not strive,
Therefore no one can strive against him.



Another happy customer

A fellow named ‘M’ at a major zoo just purchased a fifty pound box of our ‘Super Economy’ Grade ‘D’ cactus.  This is the best cactus to use for feeding reptiles, or making stews or other cactus dishes that will get a bit of cooking… they are in general the thicker older leaves, twisted and bent etc…. fine for feeding a tortoise though… or for a chili or stew recipe that will cook them some.


   This is what he said…


  ” I wanted to let you know that the cactus pads arrived this afternoon and they look great!  I really appreciate it.  I’ll be in touch, I’m sure to purchase more once all of this is used up.  I did have a question about whether or not you sell the fruit too.  If so I’d be interested in hearing prices for that as well.”


   Great M, we’re glad you like the leaves.  I’d be interested in finding out how the tortoises and other animals responded initially, and again later after having gotten used to the leaves.  From what people tell us… captive raised animals who’ve never eaten cactus initially approach it cautiously… but after a few bites they decide they like it a lot. And the next time the handler approaches with a cactus leaf, the animal will instantly recognize it, and respond in such a way that the keeper is often astonished at how much the animal relishes the cactus.


   We will be selling fruits later this summer when they start to ripen. We have five varieties we grow for fruit…. and soon the harvest will begin.