Sow There! Organic pest control and mounds of free earth, 6-02-16

Do you want some free topsoil? Is that a rhetorical question?

Do you want some free topsoil? Is that a rhetorical question?Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Last week I let myself wallow in melancholy.

I write a garden column and where is my garden?

I have a patio covered with potted plants, a mostly dead lawn and a few rosemary plants.

My vegetable garden is a black plastic truck bed liner, containing tired spinach and kale.

Then something amazing happened.

A neighbor who usually keeps to himself asked if we wanted to help ourselves to a giant mound of topsoil. I did not ask questions. I grabbed a five-gallon bucket.

My boyfriend was also inspired. He called me at work to reassert his love for eggplant.

Normally I would be hurt that he went plant shopping without me. Yet, in this case, I saw his solo spending as a time-saver.

When I came home there were a pepper plants waiting. He picked out a six-pack of beans because he loves me and knows I love beans. Of course we planned to plant squash and zucchini, a topic which did not merit discussion. He also bought two six packs of gazania flowers, which have doubled in size in less than a week.

Quite a workout

While the plants were still fresh in their six-pack containers, I personally hauled 80 gallons of soil from the neighbor’s front yard to our backyard vegetable area.

Anyone who says gardening is not hard work is invited to my house next time I need to haul 80 gallons of soil.

MENTAL TRANSFORMATION

My how a mound of dirt can change your outlook on life.

My black plastic truck bed liner was no longer a poor-man’s solution to a terrible gopher problem. My raised bed is actually a great example of how to recycle and reuse. The bed liner had previously been about a third filled with soil. Now our growing area has doubled.

GOODBYE SWEET KALE

The hard part of all of this was tearing out the spinach and kale, which have served me so well since November. I hated to let it go when there might be one or two handfuls of leafy greens in the future.

Yet, the more I looked, the more I realized these plants were heavily infested.

My method of pest control has been hand squishing. Specifically, when I found clusters of eggs on the back side of the leaves, I squished the eggs between the leaves.

When I found worms, I cut them in half with the garden clippers. Earlier in the season these were fuzzy, green worms, which I determined to be cabbage worms,http://tinyurl.com/za5eye5.

This past week the worms I found were the same size, the same color, but decidedly not fuzzy.

I sent a photo to the ever-helpful Bob Scoville at Glenn County Master Gardeners. Scoville, the super sleuth, determined these were larvae for the diamondback moth. The distinguishing feature is the “prolegs” at the end of the worm, forming a distinctive V-shape. Bob referred me to the University of California IPM website: http://tinyurl.com/j2bgn5n

 

I will give myself a big pat on the back for hand-picking pest control. However, now that I see more clearly what I’m battling, I’m bringing on the soapy guns.

Rodale’s Organic Life website, http://tinyurl.com/h9fydvd, talks plain about killing creepy-crawly with soap suds. The reigning organic writers also provide recipes for garlic water spray and using milk or baking soda, vinegar to kill without harsher chemicals.

One quickie recipe even is said to help deter deer: 1/4 cup milk, four drops natural dish soap or liquid castile soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s. Spray on the new leaves deer love to browse. Repeat every 10 days.

Paradise friends, let me know if this works. If it does, it’s new worth sharing again.

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5-22-14 Sow There! Cactus bloom is worth the wait

Thursday, May 22, 2014
Author: Heather Hacking hhacking@chicoer.com @HeatherHacking on Twitter
I read somewhere that a certain percentage of our happiness is obtained in the form of anticipation. That makes sense.

Unless you are an Eeyore or a stress-monger, its a lot of fun to plan a trip, prepare for a party or simply dream big. The trick is that when the actual “moment” arrives, you’re able to enjoy it for what it is and not for what you had hoped.

Before my family trip to Mexico, I had a pile of terra-cotta pots that were no longer needed.

Terra-cotta is decorative, but I know myself. The pots absorb some of the moisture from the soil and the plants can dry easily.

If I left town for three days and my plants died, I’d feel I had done some heinous injustice to the plant world.

For cactus, however, the light orange containers are preferred by some cacti curators.

A website called “The Fuss Free Zone,” http://goo.gl/XvpHFB, notes that the weight of a terra-cotta container helps if the cactus is top-heavy.

Also with cactus, drainage can be a good thing.

When I offered my extra pots on Facebook, cactus queen Suzi Draper said she’d pick them up. I love when the idea of recycle and reuse really works.

Suzi, by the way, is the lovely gal who invited me over last spring to view her cactus in bloom. This was no ordinary cactus; this was luscious, soft pink cactus that blooms in the darkness. The plant sends out a tropical scent that should be captured and smeared on sheets at luxury hotels. I took a bazillion photographs last year and enjoyed every minute I spent with those plants.

Somewhere during the recent correspondence, likely an act of extortion on my part, we worked out a deal where Suzi grabbed the pots and left me a cactus.

Honestly, I was expecting a cactus pup, a prickly baby that would grow in a six-inch pot until 2020 when it needed a larger container.

I was thrilled and pleased when she left a 16-inch bulbous prickly mound that was about to pop. For weeks, I thought very little about the plant, except to water it when I was around.

When we arrived back from Mexico, filled with profound cactus appreciation, my new prickly friend was about to do it’s thing.

Or was it?

The furry little nobs on the sides of the cactus began to grow, ever so slowly, like a pimple you know is going to pop in two weeks, just in time for prom photos.

Each day I looked and the cactus had changed.

After a few more weeks, the nobs began to elongate each time I looked. I took photos at morning and night, just to prove that the protrusions really did move with the sun. After more days of daily observation, flower heads began to form, taking on a greenish/red tint, and shaped like large asparagus.

Would they pop today, I wondered each day.

Suzi sent additional encouragement and advice, and she warned me to the flowers would bloom at night.

Fleeting beauty

One busy day, I woke up and the flowers had the audacity to open without me. Twenty one blooms.

If I had known, I would have found a way to add “watching flowers” to my time card at work.

During an early lunch break I dashed back home and decided to drink in the fragrance and watch a fat carpenter bee do the same.

As for the scent, the closest description I can think of would be plumeria (a tropical flower that grows in Hawaii, http://goo.gl/R96sUI).

As luck would have it, the plant was willing to extend the show. Five buds remained that night. Some time about midnight, I checked for the umpteenth time, and the five blooms were dancing in the moonlight. More furious flash photography ensued.

Even after the show ended, I checked several times each evening as the long “stems” of the flowers faded, finally turning to flaccid stalks that draped over the side of the terra-cotta container delivered by Suzi.

The flowers may have only bloomed for one day, but this plant entertained me for at least a week.

To entertain yourself with photos, check out my Pinterest photo spread. Note, I’m not sure if I have the correct name of the cactus: http://goo.gl/GRFQ71

Some care and feeding

The newspaper, Arizona Central, has an advice column online: http://goo.gl/rmRW9P

The writer recommended morning sun, with protection in the afternoon.

Suzi, to whom I am incredibly thankful, says she adds some cactus fertilizer, including calcium, about every three months.

For more inane prattle, check out my blog at www.norcalblogs.com/sowthere. Other contacts, @HeatherHacking on Twitter and Facebook.

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New love the lowly loquat 5-5-2016

An aphid village is revealed as the vegetable garden is tended.
An aphid village is revealed as the vegetable garden is tended. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

I learned something this week: The beauty of loquats is in the eye … and in this case the mouth … of the beholder.

Recently I poked fun of the lowly loquat, a mostly meaningless fruit that ends up as goo on my walkway. A week after those words were printed, I was on top of the camper picking fruit for my coworkers.

Audria and Susanna wanted to know how loquats taste. Can you make them into jam? Can you use them like other fruit? With pork? In salads?

They didn’t believe me when I said they weren’t worth a trip up a ladder. They did not seem to care when I explained that even squirrels won’t eat them.

I’m not totally stupid; I knew it would be nice of me to bring them some fruit and let them decide for themselves.

Just so you all know, I am afraid of heights. My stomach starts to get queasy just looking at a tall building. \

To avoid that whole ladder thing, I climbed on top of the camper, which was parked under the tree after our recent trip to Yosemite. I climbed the camper ladder, pretending in my mind I was climbing out of a deep swimming pool. Next I sat on my rump and managed to reach the lowest hanging fruit, without standing up.

By the way, loquats bruise easily and should be picked when they are yellow, not orange. I learned this the hard way. By the time the fruit was delivered to my work friends, it looked like I had dumped my sack on the ground and hit the loquats with a hammer.

Apparently they still tasted good. Susanna said they were sour and sweet, like sour candy.

I tasted them as well. I agree, they’re different in a fun way. However, unless there is a natural disaster and I need to forage off the land, I think I’ll leave this particular fruit to the squirrels and these girls.

Audria found an article titled “Loquats: Here’s What You Do with Them,” from the Full and Content website, http://tinyurl.com/j44hham.

Writer Lisa Rawlinson provides some great loquat recipes, some fairly straightforward and others combining lesser-eaten foods. Jam and loquat mojitos were on the list. Then she suggested a Brussels sprouts and prosciutto pizza.

I’m guessing Susanna and Audria would love this.

GREEN LIGHT FOR SUMMER VEGGIES

This is a fun time of year for playing in the garden. For the past few months we’ve been harvesting spinach and kale almost daily. With so many leafy greens, I stuff them into plastic snack bags and add them to my stash of frozen fruit.

Just as the plants have awakened to the spring weather, so have the bugs. It’s much less fun to harvest greens when you’re looking under every leaf for microscopic gray, green or yellow critters.

Kale and spinach are trying to send up flowers. I lop these off to save the plant energy. Within this tight clusters of leaves I find aphid villages.

They’re just aphids, but I don’t want them breeding in my compost pile. A squirt bottle filled with water and a tablespoon of dish soap is used to douse the aphid colony before I move on to inspecting the bottom side of leaves.

The next phase is summer veggies. As soon as we got home from camping, I planted crook-neck squash. My thought is that by the time the squash branches out, the lettuce and kale will really be done for the year.

I also planted “green squash.”

I wish I had more clues other than “green.” However, I can only blame myself. I grabbed the seeds from the local seed exchange a year ago. When I wrote down the name, “green squash” is all the description I could muster at the time.

In a way, I’m glad. It will be fun to let the mystery unfold.

Other contacts @HeatherHacking on Twitter and Facebook.

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Sow There! Thanks for the garden memories, Facebook 5-19-2016

Wild viola spreads into empty areas when they get a little rain in the winter.

Wild viola spreads into empty areas when they get a little rain in the winter. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

I have a selective memory.

If I select to remember something, I have several options. I can write things down, and then try to remember where I placed the notes. I can review my innermost thoughts by reading my journal. Sometimes my sister takes it upon herself to remind me of things I might just assume forget.

So far, my selective memory and I have survived just fine, thank you very much.

Recently, Facebook has decided to give me friendly reminders from my past. For the most part, this is mildly enjoyable. I understand the social media giant is trying to keep it real, keep it lively and find new ways to sneak advertisements into my daily life. But really?

This week I received a collage from four years ago that reminded me that I looked a lot better when I was 10 pounds lighter. Facebook also sent me several images of my garden from before the drought. Is there a correlation? Did I buy fewer boxes of Girl Scout cookies when I was busy working in my beautiful garden.

In one series of images the very thin Heather is in Las Vegas with Uncle Bob and Auntie Joanne. We posed in front of the dessert buffet at the El Dorado. We posed with the rubber chicken in front of the “Pawn Stars” storefront.

My takeaway from all of this is that I really need to send Uncle Bob and Aunt Joanne a long, soulful correspondence. Maybe I’ll bake them some cookies.

Yet, what if the Facebook algorithm had provided a flashback to a time better forgotten? What if I suddenly had doubts about my career path, questioned my sanity or relived personal trauma? Could I call in sick and tell the boss I was suffering from Facebook-flashback-itis?

I’ll try not to worry too much about any of this. Before we know it, Facebook will have moved on to the next new thing.

GARDEN MEMORIES

Thank you Facebook, for reminding me why I love gardening and how much I have missed it.

Two years ago I left the little home and garden where I had lived for two decades. My new house is directly next door.

Over that time, the empty places in the yard have grown, due to drought and the fact that the new renters are not gardeners.

Those flashback Facebook photos reminded me that with a lot of work, the world can be beautiful again.

After just one season of nearly-normal rainfall, the sage is blooming in that yard next door, as are the roses. Wild viola is already moving in to areas where other plants have died.

I’m tempted to dig up some plants from the yard. Yet, last time I tried that I was caught.

The jasmine next door also bloomed as if it had been restrained for the past four years.

SHARED JASMINE

This reminded me that the jasmine is actually on both sides of our yards.

Last year I tried to take cuttings. I found a long list of instructions, some of which I followed. This included buying and using rooting hormones.

Nothing happened. The cuttings died.

Now I’m trying again. Instead of actually cutting the plants, I’m taking a long tendril that looks like it was going to grow roots on its own. I placed the portion of the plant with the mini roots into a pot filled with soil. This portion of the jasmine vine is still connected to the mother plant.

Once there are more roots, I’ll snip the connection of baby to mother.

We’ll see. I’ve had good luck with this method for Dusty Miller.

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Its easy to forget that privet is evil an invasive 1-28-16

Privet ...

Privet … Photo courtesy of University of California

If you live long enough, you might end up taking back some strongly stated opinions.

You may eat crow, swallow those words and see pigs fly.

I can’t remember if it was my mother, my sister or both who noted that I had allowed privet to grow in pots.

“What are you doing?”

These were not small, accidental springs or even a partially hidden volunteers.

As the plants in my pots have died, privet has taken over and I have continued to water the evil and invasive plants.

“I thought you said no one should ever, ever grow privet” the close family member reminded me.

She was absolutely correct. I’ve spent far too many precious moments ranting and raving about privet, yanking it out by the roots and adding it to the list of least wanted.

Most neighborhoods have one or more evil weeds that would take over all the soil if given a chance.

Mimosa trees, for example, are known to be take-over artists. In just a few short years you could have a yard with nothing but two-foot tall lacy mimosa shrubs.

My sister’s friend Debbie bought an older home in the Bay Area. The selling agent must have visited the home half an hour before potential buyers arrived.

When Debbie bought the home she learned the yard was so infested with ailanthus (Chinese tree of heaven). Shoots from the plant came up from the wooden deck, growing four feet each week. If you know this tree, you know this isn’t an exaggeration. Unfortunately, evil and invasive weed infestation is not one of the disclosures required in the real estate industry.

In Chico neighborhoods, people often battle Velcro weed, wild garlic, Johnson grass and wild grape.

NOW BACK TO PRIVET

In case you aren’t familiar with privet, its a hardy, quick-growing plant from the Ligustrum family, often used to form a hedge. You may be familiar with plant from films. If the character lives in a huge, New England manor, the mile-long driveways are often flanked with privet.

(This privacy factor is why I was considering putting some of those sprouts along my wire fence).

The plant can be a bush, if whacked back, or can disguise itself as a tree.

Underneath the bush or tree, you’ll see a pile of slightly purple, black berries.

After the birds gobble those berries, they drop their bird poop on light-colored cars.

My boyfriend’s car was so splattered it looked as if the clan of Duck Dynasty had decided to chew wads of tobacco and use my boyfriend’s car as a spitting target.

With the help of the birds, seeds are distributed throughout the neighborhood.

It’s no surprise the seeds made it to the empty pots near my front door.

“What’s the deal?” my family member asked?

I guess I wasn’t thinking.

It was easy to refresh my memory through an online search for information. I typed in “privet” and “invasive.”

LEMON TIPS

We have not had a hard freeze in the valley, which means people still have plenty of lemons to share. Laura, my friend at work, shared her trick for easy lemon zest.

She keeps a lemon in the freezer. When she needs a little bit of lemon zest, she pulls out the frozen ball and grates enough for that meal or beverage.

You can also juice several lemons right now and freeze the juice in ice cube trays. Most recipes, including my favorite lemon bars, require just a small amount of lemon juice.

Before discarding the lemon peel and remaining pulp, some people like to rub the citrus all over their sinks in the kitchen and bathroom. You can also grind up the fragrant fruit in the garbage disposal to freshen up the pipes.

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Rain is a good reminder of how tired we are of drought gardening 1-21-16

A old wheelbarrow planted for drought.

A old wheelbarrow planted for drought. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

This drought has been tough for garden columnists.

I’m sure I’m not alone. Other writers in California, Nevada and parts of Oregon must also be weary of drought-tolerant topics, drip irrigation checklists and the multitudinous benefits of mulch.

We’ve yammered on cheerfully about lawn conversion projects and the joys of houseplants. We’ve yanked cactus spines from tender skin, watered hardy bushes with dishwater and waited to wash clothes until we had a full load.

However, rain clouds have parked it over my house. El Niño may really be here.

There is still time to go buy cute rain boots. These are necessary because there are actual puddles in my gravel driveway.

Hurray.

Now what? I rattled off a quick note to Kay Perkins, one of my go-to gals for garden advice. Kay has been down and dirty establishing the drought-tolerant garden at the Patrick Ranch, along with those diligent volunteers from Butte County Master Gardeners.

“Here’s what I’m thinkin’,” I told Kay via email. “If we plant drought-tolerant plants now, in the wet season, will they have enough time to build up a good root system? When summer comes along, will these drought-tolerant plants be able to make it without extra water?”

I was hoping for encouragement to load up a cart at the local nursery.

The answer, of course, is that it is not that simple.

Kay checked with Eve Werner, of Eve’s Garden Design. Eve agreed now is a good time to plant native and summer dry plants.

“As soon as it starts to warm up, they will begin root development that will help them be drought ready in the summer,” Eve replied. She also noted its important for native and Mediterranean plants to have the root ball slightly higher than the surrounding soil.

“If the roots are not well formed or if the root ball falls apart during planting, lightly prune to reduce, but not eliminate, top growth,” Eve said. “Sages, lavenders, rosemary and buckwheats should be planted without a ‘berm’ around the plant so that water drains away from the plant stem,” Eve advised.

Another native plant expert, Cindy Weiner, adds that it “takes natives a couple of summers to become fully established. Until that time, they will need supplemental irrigation during the dry season. Typically, that means once a week the first summer and twice a month during the second.

“After a couple of years many natives will no longer need any further irrigation, but some will do better with continued irrigation. A lot depends on the habitat to which the plant is native. A plant native to redwood forests of the north coast, riparian areas, or higher elevations in the mountains is likely to need ongoing irrigation,” Cindy stated.

EASY DROUGHT MISTAKES

Some people have terrible luck with drought plants because they think the plants need zero water. Those first two years, the plants definitely need water to become established.

After that, some people will kill their plants by loving them too much — continuing to water them when they do not need water.

Part of the bad luck is that certain fungi can kill dry-loving plants, and the fungi only grows when its wet.

I’ve heard it suggested that people put all their drought-tolerant plants in one place. This way they can take care of them in the same way, in this case, watering at first and neglect later.

Kay also provided a link to this very thorough guide to native plants from Native Again Landscape,http://www.native-again-landscape.com.

SEEKING LEMON RECIPES

We’re still in the middle of the winter citrus season, and some folks are swimming in lemons.

What ways can we use lemons to help us maintain this winter weight gain?

Do you have a very cool citrus recipe to share or any other tips on using or storing lemons?

Please share.

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Timely tips on growing tomatoes 4-14-2016

Celebrity tomatoes from last September.
Celebrity tomatoes from last September. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

The older I get the more I’m convinced that almost no one cares that I have become wise. If I’m going to look the part — crow’s feet and wisps of gray — it would be nice if it seemed like society appreciated that there was some learnin’ that took place before I became this way.

You can’t blame the younger generation for not caring what elders know and think. We were exactly the same way.

I was intent on learning things my own way, thank you very much, which more often than not was the hard way.

My parents would share a thought or two. Yet, the gesture of offering advice was proof to my young self that they clearly did not understand me. Even now, I’m more likely to take their thoughts into consideration rather than taking their word for it.

How did I get rolling down this glum road? For starters, it’s my birth month.

Also, my family is still reeling from the death of my mother’s partner. He was one of those guys who built his own airplane, knew electrical wiring and used many machines that started with the word “skill”.

I won’t say that all of this knowledge is “lost.” I’m sure he was mentor to more than a few along the way. However, he’s no longer here to share his expertise.

Perhaps the best thing my generation can do is disguise our knowledge in forms where the next generation will actually seek answers.

This means people with gray hair should be creating blog posts, writing Facebook self-help quizzes and creating YouTube how-to videos.

TIME FOR TOMATOES

This brings me to the topic of tomatoes. I’ve had the pleasure of asking local nursery legend Jerry Mendon, of Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise, for advice. He’s an advocate of waiting just a bit longer before putting warm-season vegetables in the ground. The reason is that a cold snap could cause plants to go back into a slumber. He prefers to plant them in early May.

The problem is that there are great sales on tomatoes and other vegetables starting in early April. They’re cheap. Buy just one.

In my experience, it’s more fun to take three shopping trips and buy plants three separate times. This way, if you plant too early, you’re only stunting the growth of one or a few plants.

MORE TOMATO TIPS

While I’m on a roll, I might as well make myself feel useful and share more tomato tips I have amassed.

• Tickling tomatoes works: We think bees are needed for tomatoes. Bees help, but tomato flowers have both male and female parts. When the temperatures are right, and the humidity is right, and there is a breeze, the pollen will shift around and do the job.

We can help if we tickle the flowers gently in the morning while it is still about 60 degrees. In larger greenhouses, people are known to use electric toothbrushes. I like to tickle about 3-4 inches below the blossoms, giving the stems a gentle jiggle. You can read a more scientific description from the University of California:http://tinyurl.com/gp98pwa

BURY DEEP

Tomatoes actually benefit by being transplanted more deeply than the original container. If you look at plants you buy in the store, sometimes they are lanky. If you bury some or even most of the stem, the tomato plant will send out new roots from the main stem.

You can also propagate new tomato plants from a cutting from an existing plant. You can try this with sucker stems, and simply place the stem in a glass of water. After the stem creates roots, you have a new plant.

A tomato how-to from Bonnie Plants recommends putting the plant 2/3 under the ground, with only 1/3 of the foliage above the soil, http://tinyurl.com/hypamzw. This seems so extreme, however I think I’ll try it this year, if only to put someone else’s knowledge to good use.

Some folks will also lay the plant on its side, burying the majority of the plan and allowing just the top above the soil.

GOOD, OLD ADVICE

While looking online for fresh tomato tips, I came across one of my own articles from 2009,http://tinyurl.com/gv48rzl. I was quoting Jerry Mendon again back then, who reminded us that tomatoes actually perform less if they are given too much fertilizer. He recommended a 5-5-5 fertilizer, which provides just a mild dose of what tomatoes need.

SOMETHING NEW

Here’s another gem from the Santa Clara Master Gardeners, https://mastergardeners.org/growing-great-tomatoes: Don’t be shy to trim back your tomato plants. If they grow more than a foot over the cage, snip off that extra growth so the leaves don’t flop over and shade the rest of the plant.

But wait, I realize that I know even more about growing tomatoes, but have run out of room in this column. Isn’t that just like life, we learn all that we learn, and then run out of time or space.

Contact reporter Heather Hacking at 896-7758.

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Wildflowers come and go quickly 3-31-2016

Poppies don't always know their place and sometimes grow in places where they are most needed.
Poppies don’t always know their place and sometimes grow in places where they are most needed.Heather Hacking-Enterprise-Record

The past two weeks have been rough for my family after my mother’s boyfriend died. There’s never a good time to lose someone important, and “suddenly” is one of the worst times.

Mom did not usually bring her beau when she visited Chico, so I only met John a few dozen times. He was always kind and often witty. When they first started dating my mother was like a teenage girl; it was hard to have a conversation without hearing about some cute thing John had said or done.

This was so adorable for a woman in her 60s that I would egg her on when we talked on the phone … “Tell me Mom, what cute thing did John say or do today?”

Death is never timely. However, what makes this even more heart-breaking is that Mom recently retired. She and John had places to go and things to see. They had planned to do these things together.

The day after we heard the news, my niece sent me a note on Facebook. “Happy one-year anniversary of being cancer-free,” she wrote.

I had not intended to celebrate the anniversary of my uterine cancer surgery. Yet, being alive at this moment is something for which I should give more than just a passing nod. I also recognized that my niece was reaching out the way that death sometimes compels us to do.

When we don’t know what else to do or say, we can reach for the hands of the ones who are still living.

My mother has been incredibly brave. She cries a lot but she also says she is grateful to have had John in her life for many years.

Analogies

The garden lends itself to analogies, many of them applicable to lessons we learn in life and love. Beauty in the yard can be fleeting. Plants need to be nurtured. Sometimes what we work so hard to protect is snatched away when we aren’t looking.

For years now I have planted poppy seeds in the cracks in the alley.

I’m also known to carry a plastic bag of poppy seeds when I take a walk in the neighborhood or at a neighborhood park.

Scattering poppies is easy in the fall. The seeds sprout and receive winter rains.

I’ve also learned the hard way that seeds placed in unpredictable locations can fall victim to folks with good intentions.

When the city first built the roundabouts on Eighth Avenue, I took it upon myself to plant poppies in the fresh, bare earth.

City workers took it upon themselves to clear this area of all vegetation. I can’t blame them. They didn’t know the difference between a weed and a wildflower.

As for my alley, several times this winter I spent time picking vetch from the cracks in the concrete, carefully allowing the poppy plants to remain. Common groundsel also bullies its way between the lacy leaves of our state flower.

Right about now it’s poppy showtime. The field at Sierra Nevada Brewery off 20th Street is currently spotted with golden blossoms. You’ll also note poppies at the end of freeway offramps. I may have even planted those flowers by tossing seeds out of the car window.

Yet, something happened to the poppies growing in the cracks of the alley. My beloved neighbor asked his son to help knock down some weeds in a chemical way.

I was glad, because the son caught the weeds just in time, before they had a chance to set seed.

I wish the son had continued toward the other end of the alley and zapped the privet growing over the side of another neighbor’s fence.

It takes several days for glyphosate to do its job. The weeds start to fade before they turn yellow.

I thought the poppies in the alley looked a bit dim. But maybe they were fading as the weather warmed.

Yet, my Handsome Woodsman said he was fairly certain the son had continued spraying down the alley.

The son was just doing his best and didn’t recognize that something beautiful was about to happen.

What’s a bummer is that the poppies were just about the bloom. They would have been fabulous just about now. Now they are gone.

Contact reporter Heather Hacking at 896-7758.

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2-25-2-16 How to build a backyard bee hotel

People built bee hotels Wednesday at the first in a series of gardening workshops put on by the Chico State Organic Vegetable Project at the Chico State University Farm Greenhouse Classroom.

People built bee hotels Wednesday at the first in a series of gardening workshops put on by the Chico State Organic Vegetable Project at the Chico State University Farm Greenhouse Classroom.Emily Bertolino — Enterprise-Record
A bee hotel framework was made of fence boards and placed inside Wednesday were branch cuttings of a variety of sizes during a workshop at the Chico State University Farm Greenhouse Classroom in Chico.A bee hotel framework was made of fence boards and placed inside Wednesday were branch cuttings of a variety of sizes during a workshop at the Chico State University Farm Greenhouse Classroom in Chico.Emily Bertolino — Enterprise-Record

Bees are pretty darn important and they’re having a hard time.

Many news articles have informed the public about hives that collapse, bees in short supply and people who steal bees. That’s all true.

Yet, we often forget to talk about the other bees — those solitary bees that dig holes in raw dirt and make homes in forgotten piles of waste wood.

Solitary bees like to feel the wind in their hair, don’t ask for directions and answer to no one.

This week about 60 people crowded into a classroom at the Chico State University Farm for a workshop on building bee hotels.

Our bee helpers were Natasha Aybar and Lee Altier.

When we think bees we think “social bees.” These live in hives or are attached to Winnie the Pooh’s head. Social bees are also used extensively in agriculture, including the almonds being pollinated right now.

Yet, only about 10 percent of the world’s bees are social.

Of the estimated 1,600 types of bees in California, about 70 percent live in holes in the ground. Another large portion live in holes in wood or stone.

Solitary bees, unlike honey bees, do not die after stinging. However, they are also less likely to sting because they are not protecting a colony.

CONSTRUCTION

Before the workshop Wednesday, Lee and Natasha had built wooden frames from untreated fence boards.

With the frames in place, they cut chunks of tree limbs into sections 3-6 inches long and one to six inches in diameter.

Next they drilled holes into the chunks of wood. This is where the bees will build a nest.

In nature, solitary bees might find a hole made by a beetle. Certain bees also make their own holes.

When you get busy with the drill, make the holes anywhere from 1/8 to 3/8 of an inch wide and 3-6 inches deep. The holes also need to be smooth. If they’re scratchy or have splinters, the bee will choose another condo, Natasha explained.

Next, arrange the pieces of wood into the bee frame.

You can keep it simple, or provide a variety of different shapes and sizes.

Other material could include bundles of reeds, or even small plastic piping (with holes 1/8 to 3/8 of an inch wide).

Material gathered for the project this week included kiwi prunings and grape vines.

Some people will also drill holes into adobe bricks.

For some simple examples, check this website: http://tinyurl.com/jdo43k2

Note that the individual holes/homes may be close to each other, but these are still solitary bees. The house will be like a big-city tenement house, with individual residents passing each other but not saying hello.

When completed, the best place to park the hotels is where they will receive morning sun.

It’s also best to put them a few feet off the ground where they won’t be jostled by critters or children.

A few websites note that the holes could be inhabited by other critters, such as hornets or even bee predators. That’s part of nature.

The workshop this week was put on by Cultivating Community, North Valley.

ANOTHER WORKSHOP TUESDAY

If you missed the workshop last week, another one is planned Tuesday, at the Chico Grange Hall, 2775 Old Nord Ave. A potluck starts at 6 p.m., with a talk immediately after.

Another way to help bees is to plant things that they like. For more, eheck out Xerces.org Among the resources online is a list of what to grow to make bees happy.

LOCAL NURSERY CRAWL

You’re in luck. The Local Nursery Crawl is today and Saturday.

Nurseries on the crawl are expecting more visitors and will provide extra surprises including sales, plant workshops and raffles.

If you collect stickers from six nurseries, you get a Nursery Crawl tote bag, while supplies last.

The whole point is to visit new places and learn what they offer.

Most nurseries have specialties and staff prepared to answer questions about these special plants.

To print out the list of locations: http://www.localnurserycrawl.com.

 Other contacts @HeatherHacking on Twitter and Facebook.

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Weeds are overdue for whacking, 3-19-15

By Heather Hacking, Chico Enterprise-Record
POSTED: 03/19/15, 6:24 PM PDT | 0 COMMENTS

Three-cornered leek, pretty now, eyesore later. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record
Yes, I have a “Most Dreaded” weed list, and right now most of those weeds are in bloom.
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It’s early spring and weeds are like that. They bloom early and they bloom when you’re not looking. They throw out their seeds when you’re still wearing sweaters and before you’ve had time to find your garden spade in the shed.

In fact, if this was a normal year, it might still be raining. We’d be indoors daydreaming about wasting water, while weeds grew and flowered.

Studies still need to be done, yet I hypothesize that weeds may be biologically attuned to the sound of our car engines. When weeds sense our cars have pulled out of the driveway, especially for a long trip, they quickly flower and seeds are strewn.
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NEW, OLD FOES

Some people spend a lot of money on the right weed killer for the right type of weed, but it’s much easier to simply yank the weeds before they produce seeds.three

I know, I know. Some weeds send out underground shoots or have bulbs and require digging.

Digging can be considered a form of exercise and exercise is recommended by doctors.

I never put weeds in my compost pile, but use the green waste container so any potential seeds are someone else’s problem.

Even starting early and looking often, weeds can be tricky.

They literally hide under other plants. The flowers are sometimes so small they can easily be mistaken for a dab of lint. Some of the flowers are even green.

Other weeds have pretty flowers, which can trick a gardener into keeping them around. I learned the hard way with wild garlic, also known as three-cornered leek. The flowers are delightful right now, and look a bit like Lily of the Valley, only totally different.

This plant reproduces by bulb and by seed. The main plant dies right after flowering and leaves a brown spot for the next 10 months.

The best advice is to have yanked this plant two months ago. If you want some delicate, pretty blooms, buy some cut flowers at Trader Joe’s.

THE MOST-HATED WEED

As much as I dislike three-cornered leak, the plant I hate the most is the one I call “velcro weed.” This plant is sticky and grabs onto the bottom of your shoes, your socks, the hairs on your legs.

The plant also fights back: If I yank a bunch of this weed without gloves, I end up with welts up and down my forearms.

Look closely, because the plant is blooming now. The flowers are green — tiny and green.

The University of California calls this weed “catchweed bedstraw.” Apparently, people would shove the plants into a sack to make mattress. Likely the plant is found everywhere because seeds traveled in people’s hair.

See more details at the University of California Integrated Pest Management website: goo.gl/iILIwE
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One good thing about this plant being clingy is that it is pulled up easily. If you use a hoe, you can do a circular motion and most of the plants will stick to one another in to a big, weedy mess. The plant also has a single taproot, which is a cinch to yank.

My problem is that my neighbor Bob has a formidable mound of velcro plant growing on the other side of a locked fence. The plant is literally sticking its flowering head over into my yard.

Perhaps I’ll hop the fence one night and fix the problem for both of us.

OTHER CHALLENGES

Another common weed in my yard, in the cracks in the ally and in soil in strip malls everywhere, is a weed called groundsel, http://goo.gl/JxIaen. This plant grows over the winter, and flowers right about now. The blooms are yellow and are pretty for about 10 minutes, before turning into a cotton-like wad of seeds.

It’s pretty easy to yank these out of the ground before they flower.

Some weeds I do enjoy, if only for nostalgic reasons.
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I’m fairly partial to Bermuda buttercup, the yellow member of the oxalis family.

I grew up calling this plant “sour grass.” If you chew on the succulent stems (but don’t swallow) the taste is sour, http://goo.gl/nbEIPH

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