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.

Morning Flowers

Here’s a few photos of cactus flowers, and some other plants along our road.


Opuntia Flower

Opuntia Flower

Opuntia robusta flower

Opuntia Flower



Red-Hot Poker

Red-Hot Poker

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.

Old Lady Cactus wearing flowers in their hair


   We’re not in San Francisco, but these old lady cactus wear flowers in their hair. 

    I picked these little plants up at a plant sale in 1998.
   In that twelve years they have gotten to nearly six feet tall.  They have bits of the oak tree blossoms in their hair.

Tilling time

   Timing is everything….
   The best times for roto-tilling vary on location, soil types, prospective crops, cover crops and local weather conditions…
   In this area, we get most of our rain in the winter… and the temperatures in winter are usually pretty decent.

   Most of the native forbes growth here is in the winter when the rains enable growth, and the nice temps encourage lush growth.  I like to let the winter-time native weeds and grasses grow through most of the winter. They can form a nice dense carpet of green that I can then roto-till into the soil… putting that nourishment back into the soil, while simultaneously adding a huge amount of green matter to the soil. This will in time break down into that soil-building material called humus. An abundance of humus is usually characterised by a dark soil, with excellent friability (workable, breaks apart easily, has air/water pore spaces). These same characteristics enable easy penetration by roots, and a flourishing soil micro-fauna/flora environment…. this is the true key to building soil. You need to get those little critters that are in the soil to high numbers…. they will secret enzymes that help plant growth, and further break down the natural soil particles, freeing the good minerals for the plant growth.

   Soil must not be tilled when it is too wet, nor when too dry… it is something you have to learn for your own soils…. if you really must till today for some reason, but your soil is too dry, you should have watered it a few days beforehand, tilled dry it can turn into a powder that repels water, and when still dry can easily blow away. If it is too wet, you will beat it into a mass much as a potter expels air from clay.

   Treat your soil right…. if you don’t, you’ll lose harvest.  Your soil will also be harder to work… weeds will be harder to pul out….. and you’ll have more hard or powdery patches where nothing good will grow.


  This is one of our terraces…. it has not been tilled for nearly a year… and the native nettles (a really excellent green food source full of minerals) have grown pretty rampant at this end…. the other end of the terrace has more shade, and the chickweed (another wild edible green) have grown heavily at that end.  This is a good stage to till them into the ground… they have not yet set seed, but are just now starting to open flowers… so the top growth has nearly as much nutrients as it will ever carry, and it is still no risk at all of having viable seeds that will mean a quick resprout.

Continue reading Tilling time

Persimmons, peppers and cactus

    We did some cactus picking and boxing yesterday… as we were leaving the hillside orchard where we grow most of our cactus, we picked some peppers and persimmons to bring to the house as well as a few cactus leaves.

   Fresh foods are good… everything has its season… persimmons are best kept on the tree through frosts… then they have to get really gross and mushy… then they are the sweetest… but you’re not likely to find them sold that-a-way… they won’t last in transit while mushy.

   The peppers are at the end of their season… but with luck the plants might live through the winter and yield again next year.



Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem Artichokes

   Jerusalem Artichokes are actually a type of sunflower. They can survive and produce a little even in barren soils that a lot of other plants don’t survive in at all…. for this reason they are considered a ‘famine food’ that may pull a people through hard times while they wait for their crops to grow back, or foreign armies to leave.  But it is best considered a one-year root crop, replanted in a new area each year, and the old area mown several times and water withheld to stop it regrowing in that spot.  In some areas they can become an invasive weed… but in this dry area all we need do is withhold water for the summer.  The second-year harvest is not as good from a patch, so start anew yearly in a fresh spot.  If you really want some decent production, give it good soils, and a nice watering every week.
   Ours have always had good success as far as resistant to pests… except for gophers which gnaw on some of the roots, but don’t do near the damage I’d expect.

  These are Jerusalem Artichoke tubers fresh out of the ground. We always let the winter kill the parent plants. Then whenever we want to eat some of the tubers, I go and dig up a plant or two. I keep most of the tubers for eating, and plant the rest in another area already prepared so I can easily slip the tubers into the soil three feet apart.  By March I’m seeing evidence of growth on the tubers I harvest from their ground storage…. that is the time to dig the rest up and re-plant them in the new area. Like any tuber, once they grow shoots you don’t want to eat them.

   Notice the knobbly texture…. these things are ‘The Dickens’ to clean. You need a tiny paring knife, and plenty of patience. This is something you don’t want to clean a lot of.  Really… the ‘clean/prepare-to-eat’ ratio on this plant is terrible!!! Another reason it is a famine food…. pretty-much, folks just don’t want to have to mess around for a  long time to have a bite to eat… that’s why ‘Fast-Food’ is so popular.

   From the tubers above, about half of what we got from one plant, the little cleaned pieces were individually sauteed in olive oil. Delicately…. I like them sliced thin and fried a bit quick…. eaten half raw is fine….. they are good raw even.  But I like that heat, the taste of the oil… and the pepper and garlic I mix with it…. each tiny little sliver is a delectable morsel…. gained at great cost from the earth. These little plants do OK at taking care of themselves if you have the weather giving you regular rain in summer… but here they still require regular irrigation… and the great effort expended in cleaning  them makes me loath to shovel these down like I do so much food (oh man, can I eat!).