Sow there! – Mimosa tradeoffs: shade vs. trash, July 14, 2016

Last week a drive-through coffee barista, who may or my not have been wearing a man-bun, caught me off guard. I wasn’t ready to have a quick but meaningful conversation about my plans for the day. What I really needed was 20 ounces of caffeine.

Don’t get me wrong, this energy-drink fueled young man was pleasant and perky. He simply talked at a pace about three times faster than my ability to comprehend.

Something about this man’s cheerful attitude at 7:45 a.m. on a Saturday made me want to lie.

What was I doing that day?

“I’m on my way to put my pet to sleep. After that, I’m off to jail to bail my cousin.

“But first, I just need to fuel up on some caffeine. Thanks!”

Without coffee, alas, I was too tired to conjure up a lie, so I simply mumbled something unintelligible.

Mimosa madness

“It looks like you have some carpet on your windshield,” the young man observed.

He was talking about the blond tufts of tree fur that had fallen from the mimosa tree.

I had not yet noticed the tawny flakes of mimosa tree waste, even though it had created a fur collar around the bottom of my car windshield.

Mr. Chipper suggested I hop on the freeway and let it blow away. I resisted the urge to turn on my windshield wipers right then and there.

The ugly

Also known as the silk tree, or the Latin name Albizia julibrissin, I really dislike this tree. In early summer the flowers look like soft pink pom-poms. When they fade a willowy, light-brown blanket of tree gunk covers the yard.

The barista noticed the tree trash on my car after only one night parked in my driveway.

But wait, there‘s more.

In the fall, the seed pods accumulate in that little space between the windshield and the hood of the car, causing a rattle if I turn on the heater. Young trees sprout overnight, in flower pots, near fence posts in the lawns of homes within walking distance.

My friend Lincoln, who didn’t exactly love gardening, had so many mimosa seedlings in his front yard he could have trimmed them with a lawn mower.

Many sources including the University of Florida, http://tinyurl.com/p7lw2xn, cite the mimosa as an invasive tree that chokes out native plants along waterways.

Trade-offs

However, butterflies love this plant. I can vividly recall one evening near the Sacramento River when dark butterflies in a mimosa made the tree shiver.

The mimosa also provides an abundant amount of shade and makes a very pleasant sound in a light breeze.

The tree in my yard is the largest on the block, which means all of those volunteers in the neighborhood may have originated in my yard. The trees are only expected to live for 20 years.

This brings up an entirely new sense of dread. The tree is known to have “weak wood,” and I worry it could flop over one morning.

I wonder what the cheery barista would say that day.

“Ma’am, did you notice a tree is stuck the hood of your car?”

Contact reporter Heather Hacking at 896-7758.

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Sow There – Zucchini: Never too much of a good thing July 7, 2016

July 7, 2016

Once upon a time my morning ritual included a slow, quiet tour of the garden. I took the time to watch the colors change, to smash aphids with my bare hands and yank young weeds. In my sepia-toned memories, bees the size of quarters disappeared into the blooms of towering foxglove flowers.

Of course, those memories are only montage moments. The reality is that I worked hard a little each day, to have a really, really nice yard.

How quickly it all can turn to dust.

After all that water rationing, I have lower expectations, which I am learning to embrace.

The “garden” is a black plastic truck bed liner used as a raised bed. Right now you can’t even see the plastic because it is shrouded in vibrant green leaves as wide as two hands.

If I dig among the leaves I find bright orange flowers and the occasional squash.

Does it matter that in a matter of minutes I may have more zucchini than I could possible eat?

Not at the moment.

Some overlooked produce can soon be the size of a small pontoon. No worries. Landing zucchini on your neighbor’s door is a fun new version of doorbell ditch.

Simple food

My favorite simple recipe for summer’s largesse can be found on epicurious.com, http://tinyurl.com/h9jqcam.

Cut the zucchini in half, then slice lengthwise into four, flat strips.

Drizzle with a flavored olive oil, such as jalapeño or garlic, to fry the slices for a few minutes. Then add garlic and cook a few minutes more until just underdone. Add red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and parsley if you have it on hand. (Basil would be good as well).

I also found this recipe for baked Parmesan zucchini. Read the original recipe online at: http://tinyurl.com/k7vrh8s.

For this one, cut the zucchini lengthwise and into four wedges.

Mix 1/2 a cup grated Parmesan cheese with a quarter teaspoon each of several dried herbs including thyme, oregano and basil. Add 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, salt and pepper, and two tablespoons fresh parsley. Place the zucchini in a baking dish treated with nonstick spray. Sprinkle with cheese mixture. Cook on 350 for 15 minute, and broil the last 2-3 minutes.

I can’t think of very many reasons to fire up the oven during the middle of the summer. I have a perfectly good toaster oven that can be placed on the back porch.

Thick strips of zucchini also do very well on the grill.

My friend Peggy likes to cut the vegetables into noodle size and freeze them in single serving bags. Perhaps this is the original “pasta primavera.”

Other recipes will use thin strips of zucchini instead of lasagna noodles. Again, a toaster oven on the back porch is more civilized than the indoor oven.

A few more thoughts

The big, floppy Dumbo leaves of summer squash and cucumbers will naturally wilt during the heat of the day. I learned the hard way that the wilting is not a desperate cry for watering. In fact, watering at mid-day could result in sun-burned leaves.

Most likely the plants will revive when the evening temperature are cooler.

Cucumbers need 1-2 inches of water each week. Water slowly to ensure the water has a chance to absorb. Better yet, use slow-drip irrigation.

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Sow There! Slice of drought garden heaven found on Sixth and Citrus in Chico 6-30-16

The plants are intriguing and varied in the yard of Wayne Wade, along Citrus Avenue at West Sixth Avenue in Chico.
The plants are intriguing and varied in the yard of Wayne Wade, along Citrus Avenue at West Sixth Avenue in Chico.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

We’ve heard a lot about drought gardens over the past several years. By now, most of us can say we have “drought gardens.”

Look around. Are things dead or mostly dying?

Dull spots? Drab spots?

Is most of the lawn the color of post-harvest rice straw?

Drought garden.

My Dad notes that drought garden is actually an oxymoron.

Perhaps we should even find new terms for what isn’t growing around our homes. Dirt sculpting? Rock arrangement? Dog run?

DRY BY DESIGN

This week I was chatting with Peter Bonacich of California Water Service and he mentioned the landscaping at the Cal Water pump house at West Sixth and Citrus avenues in Chico had been redesigned with decorative rocks and some drought-loving plants.

When I arrived at the proper coordinates I realized that the Cal Water garden is only a small part of this dry-weather wonderland.

First off, this is the same block where you will find the cactus and bowling ball house. I’ve live in the avenues for 20 years, and smile every time I walk by this odd combination of prickly plant meets the Big Lebowski.

The cactus and bowling ball people, Bryce and Blanca, were in love with cactus long before Jerry Brown dreamed of a drought emergency proclamation.

When I stopped to check out the pump house garden this week, I soon discovered that drought gardens were sprouting like daisies.

On this particular Wednesday, a young man was busy moving a giant mound of soft, shredded bark.

Homeowners can be curious when they see someone snapping photos in their front yards.

I soon met neighbor Bruce Ertle, who became my Sixth and Citrus tour guide.

Like several people within the immediate proximity, Bruce has transformed his lawn over time. Thirsty shrubs are gone, replaced by bushy deer grass, a dogwood tree and lavender. He experimented this year with California poppies, which were nice for a while, but now look ratty after the bloom, he said.

Bruce encouraged me to chat with Wayne Wade, who answered the door with a coffee cup in his hand.

Wayne said he’s always loved cacti, and really made the shift to the prickly plants over the past couple of years.

“I don’t miss my lawn a bit,” he said.

This week, about half a dozen reddish-colored buds were about to burst on the tallest cacti.

He said they often bloom at night so I drove back by the next morning. The San Pedro cactus flower was occupied by the largest carpenter bee I’ve seen in my life.

DRY DRUNK

Normally bees will flit in, grab some pollen and be on their way. This critter was literally rolling in the stamen, lingering inside the six-inch in diameter flower like he was celebrating Mardi Gras.

Inspired I was ready to kick off my shoes and dance in the sand, but they expect me at work in the mornings.

Wayne explained that most of the cacti in his yard were from cuttings, including several from his cactus and bowling ball friend across the street.

Wayne was eager to point out that the woman immediately next door also has it going on. She has had fun with rock borders and rock sculpture, as well as many plants that will slowly fill in over time.

Just a few doors in the opposite direction, another planting strip nearby is almost a drought-conversion how-to.

Lush green grass grows next to dismal looking dead sod. Next there is some bare dirt and then a strip of decorative rock.

Perhaps the best view of this particular block is to stand in the middle of the street and twirl in a circle. Wearing shoes is optional.

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Sow There!: A view of the garden in slow motion, 6-7-18

The fun is over when the kale hits the bucket. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
The fun is over when the kale hits the bucket. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
PUBLISHED: June 7, 2018 at 6:58 pm

I’m convinced that if we could view the world in slow motion, what we could learn would be without limit. We seldom give ourselves time to linger with eyes wide open, but when we do, colors grow brighter and we can learn more about the space within our reach.This week I’ve been mesmerized by the insects in my raised bed. Of course, I have spotted the creepy-crawlies many times before — the gray, black, green or red buggers that make our food crops pock-marked and sticky. The bugs likely don’t notice me at all. They keep munching as my shadow comes and goes.

I had intended to yank the kale weeks ago, but became sidetracked. (It was hot and doing any work outside fell lower on my to-do list). By the time I looked again, the aphid population had grown about tenfold.

Then things became interesting.

Ladybugs arrived, their broad red, folded wings a sharp contrast to the sun-scorched green of the remaining kale.

Ladybugs (more accurately known as lady beetles) love to eat aphids, and for some reason I did not want to deprive them of their feast at my garden version of the Home Town Buffet. More ladybugs arrived, as well as those black and bright orange bugs that breed in dry leaves.

As I spent more time watching I noticed the amber-colored specks on the back side of the leaves, eggs of unknown origin. I also found silver clusters, arranged like a piece of jewelry — too small to view without a magnifying glasses.

I’m certainly no entomologist, but I felt a certain kinship with bug watchers. I imagined Charles Darwin, sitting on a rock on the Galapagos, silent and breathless as he watched flightless beetles. What a luxury to have so many minutes to string together, that time spent watching nature would lead to evolutionary theories.

But my fun had to end. I had other things to do, don’t you know.

When you look closely, there's quite a lot to fill your eyes in some failing kale. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
When you look closely, there’s quite a lot to fill your eyes in some failing kale. (Photo by Heather Hacking)

Bug control

Spraying soapy water really does work for bug control. After a good squirt, you return to a blackened bug boneyard. The Colorado State University extension theorizes that the suds damage insect cell membranes, and remove the protective wax from their bodies. This works with soft-bodied bugs including aphids, mealybugs and spider mites.

Ladybugs, lacewings and bees should be OK, the smart folks at Colorado State say. Yet, I still wouldn’t want to douse the bodies of my beneficial insect friends.

In the end, if the bugs get too bad, and you repeatedly spray with diluted soapy water, you can cause damage to the plants, the wise folks at the extension continue. This is especially true for garden stalwarts like tomatoes and Portulaca. If you try this at home, wash off the plant with water within a few hours after giving aphids a soapy squirt. The Colorado State website also reminds us to use just a dollop of soap in our squirt bottle (one or two teaspoons per pint), and stay away from harsher soaps like what we use for laundry.

By the time I had watched, waited and watched some more, the kale was so infested it would have taken a Costco-sized jug of soap to keep the critters under control. Rather than wait for an army of ladybugs, I filled my 10-gallon bucket with soapy water, clipped the kale at the roots and dunked large branches into the suds. Maybe next year I’ll have the time to sit by the raised bed and discover what would have become of those silver, jewel-like eggs that had been a sweet diversion.

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Sow There!: Saying goodbye to Kindergarteners, 5-17-18

PUBLISHED: May 17, 2018
Tuesday was the day I have known would arrive and I said goodbye to the 28 bright lights in classroom 6. My final day as a student-teacher was similar to the days that came before, except the children knew and I knew that it would be my last.

When you begin the teaching credential program, no one warns you about the ache of knowing you won’t be there the next time a child loses a tooth or when yet another child learns to tie her shoes. Yet next, new mouths and feet arrive.

I was flattered and my eyes a bit misty when the kindergartners asked if we could do the acorn dance one more time. We curled up in a ball on the floor, then moved through the oak tree life cycle, gently swaying in the autumn wind before growing spring flowers. I hummed Johann Strauss’ “Blue Danube Waltz.”

My wise and kind mentor teacher and indispensable room helper asked the children make me a going-away book titled “Why You Must Hire Miss Hacking.” In the children’s pictures, my smile was wide and my arms outstretched, somewhat like an oak tree. “She taught us,” to do math, spell and “how to be a superstar,” were among the parting words. Another boy wrote “You must hire Miss Hacking because she loves me.”

I’m so glad he learned that.

The document may end up being used as one of my letters of recommendations.

Celebration

After nine months as a student-teacher, 2 ½ years of attending classes and nearly a year without a real paycheck, the idea of become a teacher is becoming very real. A few weeks ago, I received the news that I passed the most recent make-or-break, high-stakes, super-stressful hurdle — a passing grade on a 61-page teaching plan and written reflection.

I celebrated the victory for approximately one minute, then started stressing about the next super-stressful, high-stakes part of the process — the job interview.

I have a new circle of future-teacher friends and frequently we ate burritos before class. Recently we talked wistfully of a time when we could sleep in late, stop worrying about test scores and begin making crafty displays for classroom learning tools.

“It must be so hard on your own kids when their mom has been so busy with school,” I said to my friends who are moms.

“I have a cactus that blooms at night and only for one day,” I said as we ate quickly to make it on time to class. “I was so busy this week I realized the cactus had bloomed and I had completely missed it.”

My cactus is certainly less important than soccer games and reading bedtime stories to your own children, but we all agreed we looked forward to the end of the college semester.

Over the past year and a half I have joked darkly that if the Handsome Woodsman had not died, I surely would have neglected him over the past few years. Right now, I really wish he was here to help celebrate.

Second chances

After the conversations with my teacher chums, I received a bright reminder of how many joys remain ahead. My cactus — the one that blooms for only one day — decided to bloom again. This time, I remembered to rush out at night and gaze at it under the glow of the solar lights.

Lasting learning

Thank you to the readers who sent a quick note about the lingering drought habits. Chris has a bucket in his shower that he uses to flush his toilet, every so often. Others shared news about similar routines.

During dry times, Chris and his family installed low-flow sprinklers, and use them about once a week.

“I think I’m still using water conservation as an excuse to avoid washing my car,” he wrote.

Maurice said his family took out their lawn. They worried what the dog might think, but their fur-covered family member adjusted just fine. The hard part about the continued conservation effort, Maurice said, is to not get upset about others who have jumped back to watering all the time, even when it is raining.

Don’t worry Maurice. Another drought will come along, and you’ll be ahead of the game without your lawn.

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Sow There!: Garden habits: Did the drought change your life? 5-10-18

PUBLISHED: May 10, 2018 I’m curious if anyone else is sticking with those water-saving lifestyle changes we made during the most recent long, miserable drought.

I know my friend Jim had his lawn hauled away in a dump truck and replaced it with wood chips. He planted less thirsty plants, installed a drip line and sold his lawnmower on Craigslist. My mom and my friend Bitz did the same. Countless others cashed in on rebates for low-flow appliances and toilets.

Those permanent changes to turf and machinery will continue to create water savings until today’s homes fall down and are replaced by high-rise condos.

Other folks I know bought rain barrels, or built them based on YouTube videos.

During the drought, water leaders talked about teaching people new habits and changing the way we live life as we know it.

Statewide we had a great public relations campaign with a temporary outcome. Or did we?

I still have a five-gallon bucket in my shower. I know that’s weird, but it doesn’t bother me and I live alone. After a shower, I have enough water to pour into the toilet and save a single flush. I’m glad I don’t have a thirsty dog who likes to lap up soapy water.

Yet, before you give me a mental high-five, I need to admit that I planted grass seed and am currently watering my lawn once a week.

When I need to mow the lawn I grunt and grumble and wonder why I did not stick with the wisdom of the drought propaganda.

Please share

What’s up with water in your life? Have you made lingering changes? Are you back to pre-drought habits? What’s changed? Any regrets?

Disappearing kale

I’ve talked about the lush green kale that’s been growing in the black plastic truck bed liner where I grow things. Now that I learned to strip out the stems and massage kale with a little olive oil, I should be pale green from eating so much iron-enriched greenery. I shared the news with friends on social media and repeatedly offered the leafy stuff to my friend Anjanette.

Anji is about as busy as I am and the kale remained in my back yard.

My friend is the type of friend who will say no when offered a favor, but will always come through when she is asked a favor.

In this case, I desperately needed cardboard paper towel and toilet paper rolls for an engineering design lesson in my kindergarten class. When Anji dropped by my doorstep to deliver the goods, she remembered that she could grab some kale.

The thing is, she didn’t have any scissors.

When I watered the kale that afternoon I thought the raised bed had been rampaged by gophers. Entire plants were gone. That’s how gophers work. They yank at things 14 times their size and leave nothing in return.

Did my friend take the entire plant?

Yep.

I wasn’t upset. Actually, I was relieved gophers had not found a way to infiltrate the plastic truck bed liner. It was just that yanking the entire plant wasn’t the way I would have done things.

Then I realized this was the push I needed. Each day that goes by it is bugs that are devouring my kale jungle, not gophers. I check each leaf at harvest, and these days about one in four has a colony of tiny critters. I smoosh the leaves together to stop the life cycle, but this is time consuming, and frankly rather gross.

Anji was right. It’s time to say goodbye to the kale and make room for something new.

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Sow there! Three cheers for an empty space, privet be gone, 5-3-18

A stump remains where a privet used to stand, spreading its evil seeds. - Photo by Heather Hacking
A stump remains where a privet used to stand, spreading its evil seeds. – Photo by Heather Hacking
PUBLISHED: May 3, 2018Privet.

Just the sound of the word has a certain sting. It’s a sharp two syllables. If you say the word quickly and repeatedly, it sounds like the voice of a small, angry animal.

Privet. I hate it. Left unchecked, a small sprout of privet becomes a bush, which becomes a tree, which becomes a very real problem.

One of these trees grew, until recently, at the edge of my yard.

Privet produces about a million black berries each year. Birds love them and love to discard the remains onto white patio furniture and the hood of your car. The juice dries like the muck they use to reseal the cracks in big-box parking lots.

The sprouts are unassuming at first, usually hidden beneath plants that we love. By the time privetis knee high, you need to yank with all of your might, often unearthing the plants that you love.

If you know privet, you know exactly what I mean.

My privet tree thrived at the edge of the property line, growing swiftly to shade part of the raised bed where I grow summer vegetables. The Handsome Woodsman hacked back the overhang several years ago, but the plant now knows he is gone. Way back when, I asked him to kill it with his chainsaw, but he said he preferred to keep it for the privacy.

Last summer PG&E sent me a note in the mail that said the trees along my property line would be trimmed to provide clearance for the power lines. I wrote a note on a paper plate and pinned it to the fence post: “Please feel free to cut down this entire tree.”

When the work crew arrived, I was at home. I raced out there in my pajamas and told them, perhaps frantically, that I would really, really, really love it if they could chip the entire tree into sawdust.

I was told the tree was not on their to-do list. The guys kept driving and didn’t look back.

Garden art

Despite the fact that every weed list on the planet includes the evil and invasive privet, people actually plant it. It makes a nice hedge for hiding your elegant mansion. People spend hours and days pruning it into shapes, including Mickey Mouse or dancing ladies.

The art of privet sculpting likely emerged as a way to vent frustration in a positive ways. I’m thinking high-end gardeners also encourage the planting of privet for job security.

Garden gnome

Recently, I’ve become friends with Mark and Linda Carlson. Mark is an enthusiastic, energetic, retired landscape man, and shares a deep understanding about my dislike of privet. One day we were chatting in his lovely back yard, and he mentioned he could probably take care of my privet problem.

I haven’t known him that long, and you know how these things go. I smiled and nodded, and generally thought that sounded like one of those ideas that would never happen. Why would a new friend do something so grand?

One morning I backed out of my driveway and noticed something was different. Actually, a lot was different. There was sun on my raised bed and a giant stump where my worst garden foe once thrived.

Except for some sawdust and about a million black seeds on the ground, all of the greenery and wooden mass of misery had been hauled away. I had been so busy with student-teaching that I had not noticed that days earlier the garden gnome (Mark) had performed a grand deed.

I must say, at first I missed the privacy. My property line is in an alley, and that alley leads directly to a liquor store. Some nice people cut through my alley, others are not so nice. Now there is a clear view from the high-traffic pedestrian zone into my back yard. It felt a bit like when you get a new haircut, it always seems too short for the first few weeks.

Yet, would I trade the open space for the privet?

Nope.

The stump remains as statement of what has come and gone. The remaining wood is more than a few feet across, standing almost defiant. Mark, whose kindness has not seemed to end, said he would spend more time this summer, when I have finally earned my teaching credential, and help me decide what to plant next.

Whatever it is, I’ll need to make sure it’s fast growing. I’m fairly certain some of those hundreds of thousands of berries are eager to take over the barren terrain.

Garden enthusiast Heather Hacking can be contacted at sowtheregardencolumn@gmail.com, and snail mail, P.O. Box 5166, Chico, CA, 95927.

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Sow There!: Losing the bug battle and bagging the greens, 4-26-18

PUBLISHED: April 26, 2018 at 7:22 pm

The battle with the bugs of the leafy greens has begun. I see my defeat on the horizon. I am outnumbered. Even if I continue to kill the critters each time I turn over another leaf, more will be on their way. The next generation and the next, will fight to the death to defend their homes.

I harvest kale and spinach and smash eggs that reappear faster than a regenerative foe in a video game.

I shouldn’t be surprised by the bug cycle. It happens each year around this time, just when my cool-season greens have reached their prime. You can’t blame the bugs. The weather is cool and inviting. I leave the food sitting out all day and all night.

Unlike years in the past, my plan is to not continue to fight. My plan is to quickly strip all of the spoils of the war and fill my freezer with bagged spinach and kale.

So far, I have managed not to eat too many bugs, although I have stopped eating directly from the garden. I check each leaf at harvest and smash eggs if I find just a few. I realize I may be eating some bug goo, even if I wash carefully. Luckily, this doesn’t bother me that much. What I don’t want to come across at the end of my fork is a stinkbug.

So far, I have only killed one helmet-shaped critter among the greenery.

Stink bug patrol

We should all be on the lookout for stink bugs, by the way. I wrote about them three years ago when the county ag commissioner said the garden invaders are here to stay. They like to make winter homes in piles of leaves and under our houses, ready to emerge in the spring. My neighbor has reported the critters crawling up the walls in her living room. So far, the stinkers have kept away from my inner sanctum.

Our ag commissioner, now retired, said that chemical control does not work on the bugs, which emit an offensive odor when squished. In January, Laura Lukes, a Butte County Master Gardener, provided some tips of stink bug control, https://tinyurl.com/y7mu6wdl. If you check Laura’s helpful hints you will note these tips sound like a lot of work. My best advice is to learn to enjoy squishing them, and to be thankful that they move slowly.

Tomatoes

This week I planted my tomatoes in the raised bed, with the aforementioned stink bugs likely looking on with joy. One trick for planting tomatoes is to bury the plant more deeply than the container in which they were purchased. This means burying the lower leaves under the soil. Tomato plants will send out more roots from the submerged stem and become established more quickly. This year I opted to bury part of the stem sideways, so that the plant stem was horizontal for several inches, with the largest leaves above the soil.

My plan was to water the new plants sufficiently. I set the hose on drip and set the timer on the my microwave. When the dinger alerted me, I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to remember.

The next morning I heard that microwave dinger in my head. I had left the hose running all night. Two days later, the tomatoes were still alive and I’m hoping the long soak in the raised bed will also cause the cucumbers and zucchini seeds to sprout. I bought fresh seed packets for summer veggies and planted them the same day I forgot to turn off the hose.

If you still intend to plant veggies by seed, the UC Davis seed planting guide suggests cucumbers, lima beans and melons planting by seed for the month of April.

Garden enthusiast Heather Hacking can be contacted at sowtheregardencolumn@gmail.com, and snail mail, P.O. Box 5166, Chico, CA, 95927.

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Sow There! Watching gory tomato hornworm videos from afar, 4-19-18

PUBLISHED: April 19, 2018 

My tomato plants remain hidden in plain view on my front porch. When it hailed Monday afternoon, I was glad I had forgotten to transplant them from their four-inch pots to the raised bed.

I bought the beauties from Kinnicutt Family Nursery more than two weeks ago at the Saturday farmers market. On that day, I was wearing shorts and had intentions of planting the tomatoes before dusk.

Beth, the plant gal at the market, had an inspiring display of plants. She helped me decide on Isis candy cherry tomatoes. I drew a word picture in my mind — Egyptian goddess, sweet and cheery. Beth also suggested champion, a tomato type that produces early with medium-sized fruit.

Limited space

There’s only one raised bed in my back yard and I’m a bit concerned about planting tomatoes in the same place again this year. There are plenty of gardening rules of thumb, most of which I don’t follow. One is that you need to rotate your tomato to outrun the tomato hornworms.

Just in case you aren’t familiar with tomato hornworms, these are those green gobblers that systematically devour the leaves from your tomato plants. If you don’t check your plants for three days, the worms will have grown to a ghastly size and made your plant as pitiful as Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

Most gardeners with the time will stand over their plants for extended periods of time searching for the monstrosities. The easiest tactic is to find a stem that is almost entirely stripped of leaves, look for dark green globs of worm poop, and look under the leaves for the cigar-sized (or smaller) worms. The worms will be exactly the same color as the tomato leaves.

If you don’t catch hornworms, they will burrow into the soil where they pupate, emerge as glorious sphinx moths, then spread eggs on your tomato plants like Mardi Gras confetti.

Commercial farmers rototill the soil after each season, which will dice up the pupating critters. However, I’m not going to dig through my entire raised bed. That’s just not going to happen. If I had that kind of free time I would clean my house.

Hornworm video stars

To successfully avoid cleaning my house, I spent some time watching tomato hornworm videos. One gore-filled clip should have included a warning for viewer discretion: https://tinyurl.com/y8xozegj.

The videographer, named Steve, got up and ugly with tomato hornworms, showing every step of the lifecycle — from egg, to plant-sucking worm, to grubby burrower.

Just when I thought I was done watching the action, Steve zoomed in on a hornworm “natural predator,” the yellow jacket. In the video, the yellow jacket digs into the hornworm’s flesh, like some zombie horror movie. I hate horror films, but while watching this insect film I found myself rooting for the predator.

These days you can watch just about anything on YouTube, including this short flick of a yellow jacket eating meat out of a man’s hands, https://tinyurl.com/yaoa7jr2. I am grateful to Steve. I’m understandably wary of yellow jackets after being stung and walking around with an arm swollen to twice its normal size. In Steve’s images, I was able to calmly watch a yellow roll meat into a neat ball, which the bug carried off to devour privately.

Do I still generally hate yellow jackets? Yes.

However, seeing them in this new light gave me respect for their meat-grubbing ways. In spring and early summer, yellow jackets eat insets in the yard, including hornworms. It’s later that yellow jackets crawl into your sugary soda can.

Tomato rotation

As for the tomato hornworms, ideally you should rotate the location where you plant tomatoes each year. I asked Beth about planting tomatoes in pots, but she reiterated what I already knew. Tomatoes don’t do well in pots. However, hot peppers grow well while contained, she said. Beth suggested trying peppers and cucumbers in a large pot. Add a tomato cage and the cucumbers will grow up the wire, she added.

Hail check

During my recent visit to the garden at Nord Country School, I watched as the children planted cucumber seeds. Inspired, I rushed home and planted cucumber seeds in my own garden. Nothing grew.

More recently I checked the seed packet, which is marked for sale in 2011.

Meanwhile, I finally ate the winter squash that had been sitting on my counter since mid-January. Now I have dozens of squash seedlings growing out of my compost.

Garden enthusiast Heather Hacking can be contacted at sowtheregardencolumn@gmail.com, and snail mail, P.O. Box 5166, Chico, CA, 95927.

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Sow There!: What you’ll learn in a garden built for kids, 4-12-18

PUBLISHED: April 12, 2018 at 6:40 pm

Last week I cashed in on an invite to visit Nord Country School and Ernie Dalton’s school garden.

It’s not technically his garden, of course, in the same way that any patch of earth is never really our own, only borrowed. It’s what we do with that patch today and tomorrow that makes it our own, for a moment.

Ernie has had many moments over the past 17 years. That’s how long he’s been leaving his fingerprints in the soil at the school, which is close to his home. A few years ago, Mark Koch came alongside. Now the two work elbow-to-elbow, when they’re not bumping elbows with the children at the school.

Mark and Ernie led me slowly through the neatly-tended garden beds and moderately mature fruit trees. We had only scratched the surface when children arrived to make footprints along the path. They were quick to check how much the radishes had grown since the last visit, which was a lot. Or how much the carrot had grown — not much. The flowers on the fruit tree had faded, and children were shown the tiniest of fruit that would grow by the next time they gathered under the trees. On this day, kids plopped cucumber seeds onto freshly-turned soil, which are likely sprouted by now after a good rain.

The compact orchard has been filled with kid-friendly trees. It all started with cherries, Ernie said with a bit of pride and a note of nostalgia. The first tree is just a stump now, left as a memorial to the garden’s beginnings. Kids love growing things they can nibble right then, and again later, including cherries, grape, raspberries, peaches.

A favorite includes Indian peaches. You won’t find these in stores, Ernie explained, because they’re not the kind of peaches you can toss into the back of a truck and expect to arrive in good condition at your big-box store. The beauty of the Indian peaches, especially for the Nord School kiddoes, is that the pits can be planted. For most fruit trees, if you plant a seed or pit, the fruit on the tree may look nothing like the mother plant. But Indian peaches stay true to their roots.

As proof of how well the fruit is devoured, Ernie showed me a bucket of pits. Nearby was a row of young Indian peach trees, which was what remained after children brought trees home.

As I admired the hard work of Mark and Ernie, and watched the kids come and go, I thought how fortunate for the teachers at this school. Through the inspiration of their garden keepers, students could graph the growth of peach trees, learn about plant life cycles, hunt for bugs, and learn the difference between a vegetable and fruits we often mistake for vegetables. *

Then, along came Hudson Wesner, a tall boy for the second grade, who was no newcomer to the shovels and spades. Many children volunteer in the garden during recess. Ernie calls it “kid power,” which keeps him from bending endlessly to pull weeds. “Hudson is the No. 1 worker,” the men with grubby fingernails said.

This is Hudson’s third year as a garden worker, and he’s learned “never to step on flowers,” the boy said during a quick Q&A before he returned to class. Gophers, he said, will eat all your hard work and you need to know which plants are weeds and which are the plants you want to let grow.

Hudson will be moving soon, but Ernie and Mark know that they shared something very special with the child, and watched something grow in him from kindergarten through most of the second grade.

As I think about the value of a school garden, I realize that what children learn and what grows there is entirely dependent upon the amount of time dedicated by people like Mark and Ernie and others.

Dash for dogwoods

But wait, there’s another Mark to brag about this week. I made it over to Mark and Linda Carlson’s house, just in time to see their dogwood trees in full bloom. The glory will last just a bit longer, Mark said in his usual wave of arms and excitement in his voice. If you know someone with a dogwood tree, look around the base of the canopy of the trees. The trees seed easily, so ask if you can dig one up. Better yet, grab two. Mark says the transplant rate is about 10 percent, which is why the trees are seldom sold as bare-root.

An easier route is to head to a local nursery, where you’ll find potted plants in bloom. This will help you pick the exact color of blooms you prefer.

The sad transplant statistics made me feel far less guilty about the young tree Mark gave me last year — the tree that died when I was traveling in Costa Rica.

Dogwoods grow best in full sun, but not where they will catch reflected heat, such as from a tin roof next door, Mark said. Mark likes to grow peonies at the base of his trees.

* “A fruit is the mature ovary of a plant. So, a tomato is botanically a fruit but is commonly considered a vegetable. According to this definition squash, pepper and eggplants are also fruit.” (Source, UC Davis, http://vric.ucdavis.edu/main/faqs.htm)

Vegetable, the edible product of an herbaceous plant-that is, a plant with a soft stem, as distinguished from the edible nuts and fruits produced by plants with woody stems such as shrubs and trees. Vegetables can be grouped according to the edible part of each plant: leaves (lettuce), stalks (celery), roots (carrot), tubers (potato), bulbs (onion), and flowers (broccoli). In addition, fruits such as the tomato and seeds such as the pea are commonly considered vegetables.

Garden enthusiast Heather Hacking can be contacted at sowtheregardencolumn@gmail.com, and snail mail, P.O. Box 5166, Chico, CA, 95927.

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