How much water does it take to eat? June 18, 2015

People can be pretty darn inspiring.

Last week I had fun talking with LaDawn Haws. Her former front yard included a water-hogging lawn that rarely saw footprints. She took a leap of faith and now has an eclectic, fruit-bearing, flowering yard for dry days.

During our conversation, LaDawn said she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of her lawn conversion. With that news, she poured everything she had into getting the drought work done before surgery.

This whole concept sent me reeling. LaDawn got busy and got something done. When I learned I had uterine cancer I immediately started eating chocolate and didn’t stop until six weeks after anesthesia.

From diagnosis to return to work was about 2 ½ months. I managed to put on 13-18 pounds — depending on how you do the math.

It’s silly and uncomfortable to feel chubby in summer. First off, I don’t fit into my clothes. I don’t want to run around naked when I’m feeling chubby, and can’t afford a new wardrobe.

My Saturday sidekick at work turned me on to myfitnesspal, a free app for smartphones. I think the concept is that if you record every morsel of food that moves through your gullet, you’ll come to a reasonable mind frame before sitting down with a 1,000-calorie chocolate bar.

With the app you punch in a moderate daily calorie goal and spend quality time with your phone after each chew.

You can also record calories burned through exercise, such as a bike ride from home to the downtown farmers market (66 calories).

My friend Ellen, a psychologist, advised me not to call this “thing” a diet. I’m better off saying that I’m making new choices about the foods I’m eating.

When we are “making new choices,” it’s funny how that’s all we seem to talk about. For some of my girlfriends, the talk is constantly about their new boyfriend. For new moms it’s baby talk. For dieters, we chat about nonfat Greek yogurt and how many laps we swam at the gym.

IT TAKES WATER TO EAT

Meanwhile, most of us are “making new choices” about how we use water. When my friends go to trivia night at Woodstocks Pizza, we literally talk about how often we flush the toilet and methods for washing dishes by hand.

One way to battle both the drought and obesity is if Californians simply stopped eating.

It takes a lot of water to grow those low-calorie vegetables that taste just fine with a sprinkle of Ms. Dash.

I found a cool website by the Water Footprint Network, http://goo.gl/ILRD0t, which breaks down the water needs to produce certain foods. The data is based on world food supply, so you’ll need to do math. Note that one gallon equals 3.78541 liters.

 

An article on the Huffington Post is less comprehensive, but list the foods and their water use in gallons per pound: http://goo.gl/d8nBuU

We are training ourselves to think about the amount of water in a 10-minute shower and water usage in a full load of laundry. However, each morsel of food that we eat takes water to produce.

There are 480 calories in a caramel ribbon crunch frappuccino. But I had no idea it takes more than 66 gallons of water just to have one cup of black coffee. I drink a lot of coffee.

Then, of course, is my guilt and shame — chocolate. Could a pound of chocolate really take 2,061 gallons to produce? That’s more water than I use at home in a week.

Even my new, more healthful diet still requires a boatload of water.

Apple trees need 100 gallons to produce one pound of apples. It’s also about 100 gallons for a pound of grapes or kiwis. Strawberries need about half that. Tomatoes might set growers back 26 gallons per pound, and cucumbers 42.

I started looking into food and water use because I wanted to know whether it used less water to grow veggies at home or to buy food at the market.

Until I learn otherwise, I’m going to do both.

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

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Gearing up for garden water budgets, June 11, 2015

Each fuzzy little nub on the cactus may or may not develop into one of these delicious blooms.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Summer is similar to a lot of things that sneak up on you slowly — crow’s feet, spare tires, weeds, credit card debt …

Each day it gets just a little bit hotter. Then one day you wake up and spring is gone.

Some of us spend most of our time in isolated air-conditioned units — home, car, work, car, grocery store, car, home, a friend’s pool. If we park carefully we need only experience the summer sauna in three-minute bursts.

When the weekend rolls around you realize half the potted plants are dead.

A while back we bought a shade sail to protect tender plants. I was reminded the hard way that the sun shifts just a few degrees each day. By the time I noticed the shift in sunlight, those plants were ready for the compost pile.

This 100-degree weather comes right on schedule for our new household water budgets. The past year of spritz-suds-and-rinse showers was apparently just training for the summer of 2015.

During a recent pizza night with friends, we shared our water gripes or gloats.

Its hard for people with kids, because children really do like to run around on the lawn. In my childhood we literally ran around in the middle of the street, and I understand why that’s no longer wise parenting.

AR-150619946Then there are folks with many fruit trees. I love living next door to these people, especially when they share their bounty.

If they want to meet their water budget, something else may need to go.

Other friends have resigned themselves to higher water bills. That’s a bummer. I don’t know about you, but I like to spend some summer coins on air conditioned movie theaters, ice cream at Shuberts and a trip to the Mendocino Coast in mid-July.

One way to save an enormous amount of water is to stop cleaning your house. Rinsing away Ajax uses a lot of water.

The bathroom, for example, isn’t really worth the cost of Mr. Clean. If you’ve been doing this drought thing right, you seldom flush and the room will always smell like water conservation.

PAPER WATER

I’ve been really curious to see how CalWater would calculate my water budget.

I moved last year to my tiny house, which means I don’t have a water history from 2013.

Cal Water apparently determined my new water budget based on a typical residence of a similar type, i.e. a normal-sized single-family home with a normal-sized family.

They weren’t counting on a dirty, small house with potted plants and a dead lawn.

My water use for April was 3 CCF, and 2 for May.

Yet, my water budget is about a million.

I’m only joking about hooking up a nozzle to a water truck and selling water to people who need it more — herb gardeners in the foothills who have fat wallets.

Nope. I’ll still flush my toilet with shower water.

If I don’t do my part, I can’t expect those people in Santa Fe Irrigation District to stop watering their 40,000 square-feet of lawns.

REMEMBRANCES

A few dear friends have died over the past few months.

These were folks who had once been a daily part of my life. Yet, life shifts and we started running in different circles.

In some ways you would think the distance would make the loss less, but it merely makes the loss different. One regret is that we did not have that (one last) lunch like we had planned.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve had fragrant night blooms from the cactus that was a gift from Suzi Draper. The flowers smell unbelievably beautiful and last for only one day.

Suzi died last summer and I met her in 2013 when she could not contain her enthusiasm for night-blooming cacti.

(See fabulous pictures here: http://goo.gl/aMWxf).

While I did not know here well, it was easy to know Suzi was a sweet, much-loved person. Each time the cactus blooms, I think of her.

For some reason, I decided to post a cactus bloom photo on Suzi’s still-active Facebook page. When I scrolled down I saw a link to her obituary.

How strange to read that she died of aggressive uterine cancer, the same cancer which I was recently blessed to detect early.

All these things are now mixed together in my mind — loss of friends, my gift of life and the fleeting beauty of night-blooming cactus.

Of note: if there’s a friend who you keep intending to call for lunch, just call them today.

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

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Sow There! 7-23-15 How to cook corn without heating up the kitchen


Jerry Bonds handles some corn from the secret stash Saturday at the farmers market in Chico. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record
Organic corn is also sold at the Saturday farmers market, while in season. People often tear through the husks to see how the corn looks. The task is not needed and will actually decrease the freshness. Chances are, if its organic, you will find a worm. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Something about corn screams summer. Of course, there are other noteworthy seasonal fruits and vegetables — watermelon, pumpkins, cranberries and peaches. Each deserves their own festival weekend and a crowned princess.

Food adoration is a popular trend.

If you’re into peaches you just missed the Marysville peach festival. However, you can still make it to the Kelseyville Pear Festival, Sept. 26.

There really aren’t that many pear groves remaining in Lake County. However, that doesn’t stop anyone from dressing up in pear costumes.

Paradise, for example, is down to just one remaining apple orchard, Noble Orchards, and that doesn’t keep anyone from celebrating Johnny Appleseed Days, Oct. 3 and 4 this year.

California doesn’t have many corn festivals.

I looked it up.

Even an event long-held in Brentwood has been renamed the “Harvest Time Festival.”

Locally, we have the California Nut Festival in April.

I’m surprised we don’t have a local rice festival. I’m thinking Lundberg Family Farms could pull off an event. They could hire me to book entertainment. I might also invent new ways to throw rice ritualistically, rather than as punishment to young lovers.

Bryce Lundberg could have a special booth to promote fava bean jewelry and there could be festive games like rice cake disc golf and mallard duck egg hunts.

Food-specific festivals are fairly common and proof that if you get a lot of people thinking about the same idea, the idea gets kind of wacky.

Vermontville, Michigan, has a Maple Syrup Festival that includes the town’s trademark maple syrup cotton candy.

This weekend is the Gilroy Garlic Festival, where this year Tom and Stacy Davenport will renew their wedding vows. The couple are the winners of the Garlic Dream Wedding, which will include garlic bouquets and boutonnieres.

A lot more could be said about food festivals, however, I have some important and useful information to share about corn.

Last weekend I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Jerry Bonds, who will turn 85 this August and has been selling at the Chico Farmers Market for almost as long as the market has been in town. The occasion was the 35-year birthday for the Saturday market.

Jerry wasn’t selling corn last weekend, but he keeps a stash of the golden ears tucked among his other veggies.

I felt like a pampered princess when he picked out a few cylindrically shaped vegetable units and placed them in my market shopping bag.

Jerry recalled a Sow There! column from “just a few years ago,” where I talked about people who jab their fingers into corn kernels to make sure they’re fresh.

I looked it up. That column was in 2005.

The poke and squirt mode is a lot of fun, however Jerry explained that pulling back the silk will degrade the freshness of the ear of corn in no time.

Organic corn will almost always have a corn earworm near the tip of the ear. Jerry said this is normal, and the caterpillars can easy be cut off with a knife. I love a great ear of fresh corn, however, I hate boiling water in the middle of summer. Usually if I go to the trouble of making corn, I’ll make eight ears at a time. We’ll gorge that night and add fresh corn to salad and salsa for the rest of the week.

Jerry’s grandson, Jason Shirley, said the easiest way to make corn, without causing your cooling bill to spike, is to cook corn in the microwave.

Without unwrapping the husk or silk inside, wrap the corn in a dampened paper towel. Microwave for three minutes. The silk and husk will easily pull away.

Jason also grills corn outdoors, silk and all. You know when the corn is done when the outside husk is crispy. Before eating, you’ll need to let the ear cool a bit, so you can cut away the inevitable worm.

Those nice folks at the Glenn County Master Gardener program are at it again. This time it’s a workshop all about drought — how to mulch, finding an irrigation balance, taking out your lawn and choosing drought tolerant plants.

The free workshop is 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Willows Public Library, 210 N. Lassen St.

No registration needed. Just show up and be prepared to take notes.

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Examples of drought tolerant gardens abound, June 4, 2015

The home of Bob and Connie Prevot is one of the stops on the Paradise Garden Club tour this weekend. Each of the homeowners on the list has taken steps to save water. Bill Husa — Enterprise-Record

We’re on the verge of another long, hot summer and people seem to be taking water conservation up a notch.

Granted, this is also the first week when we’ll pay penalties if we exceed our new water budgets.

(To check out your personal water budget online, go to: https://usage.calwater.com and punch in your account number).

I know people have been converting their lawns over the past year, but its just now that I’m noticing them left, right and right in front of me.

Several weeks ago we had a follow up visit at UC Davis in Sacramento. With 35 minutes to kill, we decided to take a leisurely stroll and check out some horticultural handiwork.

The folks who live near UC Davis really had their conservation mojo going on. Similar to Chico, towering trees have spent the last 100 years fighting each other for the right to cast shade.

The houses are built close together, with small front yards that end abruptly.

On several blocks we wondered if homeowners had fed on each others’ enthusiasm. Or perhaps there was some neighborly conservation competition.AR-150609897

One small yard was almost completely covered in plants with silver foliage. I looked this up recently and plants with silver and/or fuzzy foliage are often drought tolerant — think lavender, sage, dusty miller.

In the little yard next door, the residents had gone hog-wild with geranium. You guessed it, geranium will do a mighty rebound after being nearly killed by lack of water.

A few more yards down the way and we spotted a yard in that unfortunate stage of drought conversion. I’m less than thrilled by yards covered in a thick layer of bark and just a few baby drought-tolerant plants.

Much better was the nearby bark-covered yard with interesting large ceramic containers overflowing with ornamental grasses.

On our way back to the hospital we saw a yard with a fabulously lush lawn.

The green space was so green I stopped to make fun of it, and to take pictures.

We’re in a drought, right? Nobody has lawn like this anymore, except maybe at Disneyland.

When we got close, we learned this was high-quality “AstroTurf,” lawn carpet, plastic greenery. When we lingered longer, we saw that the same synthetic grass was placed in the strip between the sidewalk and the street. One more fantastically fake touch was plastic no-mow along the driveway near the house. Instead of driveway strips of grass, these clever folks had placed greener-than-life carpet strips.

 
CASH FOR GRASS

CalWater has announced a $1 a square-foot lawn replacement program (see important details online:https://calwater-turf.droplet.us). I’m excited to see what people come up with for their yards in Chico.

Maybe we’ll see more yards like that one on Citrus with the bowling balls.

I’m wondering if those cacti qualify as “climate appropriate plants.

If you’re interested in seeing more drought tolerant yards closer to home, the Paradise Garden Club is holding their annual yard tour Saturday and Sunday. Read more details: http://goo.gl/C9iMzq

Even my father has gotten into the drought act.

He moved into a fantastic new house a while ago. Being the gracious adult child that I am, I have been giving him a hard time about his lush new yard.

The former homeowner obviously loved the place. In her cleverness, each season produces a new batch of flowers along walkways and terraces.

I was mostly kidding with Dad, but it seemed like he had more plants than your average home. Down the street the (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation flood control) lake was several feet lower each time I visited.

I understand Dad’s rationale. The landscaping is beautiful and the yard is part of the reason he loves his new house. Should he sacrifice this fine feature the very first year he moves in?

That’s a tough choice.

This most recent visit I was pleased to see Dad bragging bout the mound of mulch he had spread throughout his beautiful terraces.

I’ll try to restrain myself and not ask him whether he is living within his new state-mandated water budget.

Contact reporter Heather Hacking at 896-7758.

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Even in drought, just a few garden plants can multiply, May 28, 2015

This bed liner was laying around pretty much serving no purpose.Contributed photo

I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly fond of living within a budget.

My boyfriend will confirm that I also do not particularly enjoy being told what to do.

Beginning with our next water bills, all households in California will have a new “water budget.”

None of this should be a big surprise, because the entire state has been talking about water, and the lack thereof, for several years.

What’s new is that we will have an actual number; we can officially see the expectation the leaders of California have for our particular family.

I think I’m not boasting by saying I’m doing my part. I write all these drought tips, and it would feel hypocritical not to live (mostly) by the words I write.bilde

If Gov. Brown was going door-to-door handing out gold stars, I think we’d get a shiny sticker at our house.

If Gov. Brown asked to use our bathroom we would also politely ask him to take it outside.

There he would find that half our lawn is the tawny color of the summer hills of Zamora, and the remainder of the lawn is watered once a week.

Change in plans

My beau and I talked about not having a garden this year. That’s how I remember the conversation.

We already have too many plants.

If we grew tomatoes, for example, we would only grow a few bowls from a few plants.

We like going to the farmers market. We can buy vegetables at the market.

Let’s leave it to the pros.

However, one day we were innocently visiting Costco for free snacks on a Friday and three one-gallon tomato plants fell into the cart.o e

What would fresh, home-grown tomatoes be without some fresh basil? The best way to have fresh basil is to grow it right outside the front door.

One jalapeño in a pot would really make the ensemble. Its just one more plant, which can be watered when we are hitting the tomato plants with the water saved from rinsing vegetables in the sink.

Right?

One day I spent the day away from the house and returned to find a garden bed filled with soil.

The “bed’ is actually the black plastic bed liner of an old diesel truck.

For a variety of reasons, we had one of these black plastic containers sitting on the tawny, dry portion of the lawn.

My guy is right, of course. If we’re planting tomatoes, jalapeños and basil in pots, we might as well have some squash and eggplant in another (large) container.

We also hope the bed liner will solve the problem of the overabundance of moles, gophers and voles in the yard. Unless the feline unit picks up these critters and gingerly sets them inside the new garden bed, the underground intruders should stay away from the new raised soil.

To help with drainage, my guy placed the bed liner at a slight angle, elevated on an old railroad tie (see pictures).

We’ll see how it all goes. So far, there are no drainage holes in the bottom and we’ve been watering just enough that no water runs down the empty side of the bed liner.

After looking at the photos, I realize we also need to cover the soil with a thick layer of mulch.

Right now, the bed liner is only half-way full. We’ll see if we have enough self control to leave it that way.

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

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Change is good, drought-tolerant garden change is even better, June 25, 2014


What’s not to love about a love patchwork fence? The artwork is easy to spot right outside Bitz Haley’s kitchen window.Heather Hacking—Enterprise-Record

I’m learning a thing or two about yard transformations. Just like changing the color of our hair or buying a red, racetrack-ready convertible, changes to our exterior living spaces can be an astounding expression of (new) self.

When I was hoping to buy a house last year I read that the majority of changes to a home take place within the first year of ownership.

The remaining changes take place in a scramble, one month before the home is about to be sold again.

That’s a shame because change is good to mix things up.

Bitz Haley invited me to her cool new/old house where she has worked and worked and worked over the past two years.

I frequently spot yards being converted to drought gardens. Some of these are just plain ugly.

I know, I know … the one-gallon lavender and six packs of Dusty Miller will one day be large and wondrous, billowing in the summer breeze. Yet, it’s hard to visualize the future when that pile of wood chips is blocking my mental view.ddf

Bitz’s yard has had time to fill in, with flowers, long stalks of grass and silvery leaves, many of them billowing in the breeze.

About two years ago she decided to take on the project. When she spotted plants she liked while driving around, she’d stop the car and snap a photo. Then she asked nice folks at nurseries to help her find those plants.

As she had hoped, these plants are doing well including rose of Sharon, cypress, bottle brush, tall billowy grasses and flowers for which she has mostly forgotten the names.

She’s able to water them all by hand.

The garden areas are mulched with wood chips. For the paths, she picked smaller, smooth stones suitable for bare feet. The stones are kept in place with four-inch wood rounds cut in half. She had a lot of help from her friend Tom, who literally helped move the rocks, and also allowed her to gather rocks from his property in the foothills.

At the back of the yard, closest to the house, is a round labyrinth. The foundation is red lava rock with alternating round and elongated stones creating the walkways. The last brick of the maze was installed 11-12-2013, which is also the same day her grandson was born.

Bitz has crafted intriguing attractions here and there, including a wooden bench almost hidden in a corner. A small tree threatens to someday shade the resting spot.

The back yard is green and lush, although even this is mostly an illusion.

sfe

Pavers were professionally installed and she invested in shade structures for an outdoor dining area. Numerous garden beds are covered with mulch. After two years, her bushes are reaching maturity.

In several other planting areas she has lush, green, no-mow faux lawn.

The good stuff isn’t cheap, but Bitz found a landscape store selling some scraps. She as able to piece together the shapes she needed.

She said the fake grass is very much like carpet, and she sweeps away the leaves in the fall.

In one corner, she has a child’s swing hanging from a tree, and an adult’s hammock in the shade of the same branches.

Along the once-dowdy fence outside Bitz’s kitchen window is a crazy-colored “patchwork fence.”

When she turned 50, friends came over to paint the fence. Each friend or family member had their own fence slat, or two if they really had something important to draw or say.

Mostly people used the space to tell Bitz they loved her.

Windows over the kitchen sink are often aimed at the most beautiful part of the yard. For Bitz, her love mural is indeed the most beautiful.

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

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Tilth is a good dirty word in potted plants May 21, 2015

Heather Hacking, Chico Enterprise-Record

Last summer I planted a six-pack of Vinca rosea in a big, thin metal bucket near the front door.
AR-150529953
Vinca rosea is one of my go-to summer flowers and thrives despite the heat.

By now, I know this plant pretty well. When the cold nips at the doorstep, these summer stand-outs turns black and die.

Yet, these particular plants did not die. There were times I could have tossed the plants on the compost pile, but they seemed just barely alive.

In early spring I watched them struggle back to life, and now they have a prominent spot on the picnic table.

Other plants have died just as mysteriously as the Vinca rosea have lived.

THE YEAR IN POTS

Most of my plants are in pots this year and I’m trying to grab some knowledge quickly so I don’t kill them.

Drought-tolerant plants tend to have certain features, including fuzzy leaves, silver foliage, succulents, waxy leaves and long taproots, a website called Enjoy Container Gardening explains, http://goo.gl/9yZxdT

Dusty miller, for example, has silvery, fuzzy leaves. Now I know why it has survived in my garden.

Other fuzzy plants include lamb’s ear and that wild plant in Paradise with hot pink flowers that looks a lot like lamb’s ear.

It makes sense that silvery plants are drought-tolerant, as this category includes sage, salvia, lavender.

Some other specifics in the article are sunflowers, sedum, zinnia and geraniums.

Note, most of the plants in my pots do not have these drought-tolerant attributes.

What goes in the pot

I’m no expert on planting in pots. However, I have read numerous times not to use dirt from the yard.

You would think that buying potting soil would do the trick. However, the texture just seems wrong to me.

During my time off from work I chatted with Bob Scoville, one of the valiant crew with the Glenn County Master Gardener Program (865-1110).

He said he has heard to add perlite to pots as a soil amendment, to help with water retention.

Perlite is white and is actually a volcanic glass. It holds water and water-soluble nutrients. Bob said it is known to improve the “tilth” of soil.

Tilth? What the heck does that mean?

Bob chuckled.

Tilth is a word that appears on the first page of Bob’s Master Gardener’ handbook.

He said its hard to define, but easier to see and feel.

“Good tilth – you’re able to grasp it in your hand,” and it will be firm, but not soggy, workable but not solid.

“When you have really good soil you know what it feels like in your hand,” Bob said with a flair for soil romanticism.

“Tilth is the word that describes that feeling you have as you feel it in your hand,” he said, confusing me all the more.

However, I knew I wanted tilth. I wanted tilth badly.

He started to describe the 12 major USDA soil classifications. I noted I had surgery recently and did not have the mental stamina for an extended soil lecture.

Instead, we focused on the merits of coffee grounds as a soil amendment.

Bob read an article recently in Sunset Magazine (http://goo.gl/rEJHBS) that raved about coffee grounds.

The Sunset folks say coffee grounds contain phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and copper.

In addition to improving tilth, coffee grounds provide a small amount of slow-release nitrogen, Bob continued, which is good for his citrus plants.

It would seem natural that if coffee grounds are good, ground coffee would be event better. Bob fielded this questions from a gardener, and explained to her it doesn’t work that way. Running water through the grounds leaches out salts that are bad for plants.

One can only imagine how those salts react in our human bodies.

Bob said when he makes a pot of coffee at home, he scoops out the grounds and adds the dark stuff just a few inches under the soil near his plants.

I’m doing the same with my potted plants. We’ll see how much tilth happiness this brings.

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

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Outdoor living area is biggest room in the house May 14, 2015

By Heather Hacking, Chico Enterprise-Record
POSTED: 05/14/15, 11:10 AM PDT | UPDATED: ON 05/14/2015 0 COMMENTS
The morning of Mom’s Day was a flurry of last-minute housekeeping. We had reservations at a restaurant, but there seems to be something instinctive that causes moms to check their children’s homes for health and safety hazards.

It starts with checking behind our ears when we are infants. In the teen years, moms might smell their children’s breath after a date, checking for booze. Once children live on their own, Mom might check in the broom closet to see if a deadbeat boyfriend is hiding his guitar and knapsack. She might also check under the couch for toxic lint.

NEW LIVING ROOM

Before Mom and my sister arrived last week, we pushed the wheelbarrows out of the way, cleaned up a few piles of garbage, cleared off the table and wiped down the chairs.

This was all in our new outdoor sitting area, which has become the largest “living room” of the house.

When the weather is this beautiful, I can spend almost all of Sunday working “around the house.” It’s time to lift the daffodils from the 25-gallon containers and use the soil to plant tomatoes. There are always weeds to be yanked and I’m still trying to propagate star jasmine from cuttings.

Before I know it, the mosquitoes are ready to bite and I haven’t done a thing indoors.

Last weekend when Mom asked to use the bathroom I was embarrassed.

The patio looked great, but I couldn’t ask her to pee outside, at least not on Mother’s Day.

I’ll start “spring cleaning” the inside of the house when the temperatures are unbearable outside. This way I can clean behind the couch with the air conditioner at full force.

WHAT’S OUTSIDE

After the septic workers came and went, a truckload of new gravel was spread in the driveway outside the side door.

We found a long-forgotten shade structure in the shed and placed it over the picnic table. This is the kind you might set up if you are camping for a week.

Another ratty-looking picnic table was completely covered with sun-loving potted plants and pushed near the front of the driveway. This creates a secluded outdoor area. Potted shade plants have been tucked under the table.

At Costco we bought a “shade sail,” which created another covered area for plants that would otherwise burn when summer arrives.

Just to be safe, another 13-foot shade triangle is in the box and sitting on the dining table.

Right now we spend an hour or more each evening outside, petting the cat, listening to the birds and fussing with the many potted plants all around.

WATER WATCH

Last week some of us were on a girl’s night out, chatting about gardening and saving water.

In particular, how did we save water when washing our faces at night?

One friend said she used the hot water in the kitchen because it is closer to the hot water heater. While the water is warming, it fills a tub she uses to water some outdoor plants.

Another friend said she places a wet wash rag in the microwave. She adds a tab of soap, lathers, then rinses with cold water.

For my part, I keep a tall plastic water cup in the bathroom. It takes about 20 ounces for the water to warm, and this water is dumped into a five-gallon silver bucket in the shower.

The bucket also catches water when we shower. After a few gallons, the water can be used to dump directly into the toilet bowl for a flush.

The fact that we were all talking about this while scarfing asparagus at a swank restaurant bodes well for surviving the drought.

Saving water — it’s not just a lifestyle, it’s something to brag about.

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Sow There! Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, a great place for healing May 7, 2015

flowers

By Heather Hacking, Chico Enterprise-Record

Native iris, found along the coast, are smaller than the bigger bloomers that thrive in the Sacramento Valley’s summer heat. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record
I love the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens the way I love Disneyland. Both are magical places where I could return again and again. When I visit places like this I fantasize about accidentally being locked in overnight.

For some reason, when I visit out-of-the-way tourist attractions with a bazillion people, I see people I know. At Disneyland last winter I spotted a state legislator’s aide.

I did not flag him down. He looked happy with his family and I didn’t feel like talking politics.

At the State Fair last summer I bumped into Sheri, my coeditor from college newspaper days. I also had a brief chat with John Garamendi who was hanging out with the gang at the Colusa County booth.

When stomping around the Mendocino Botanical Garden, http://www.gardenbythesea.org, last week, we ran into Erin, my friend who sells beeswax candles a the Chico farmer’s market.

I’m glad she was there because she pointed out a snail on the chard and encouraged me to squish it with my garden clogs.

The visit to Fort Bragg was a gift from my father and step-mom, to celebrate both my birthday and the removal of cancer from my body.

I’m on this very “high-on-life” kick, which I’ve heard is a normal part of the healing process. Either that or the world really is more beautiful than it was before I had surgery.

One thing to love about botanical gardens in general is that each plant has a name plate.

This is important if you are one of those geniuses who is able to memorize every plant name you see.

My boyfriend and I made a point to memorize the names of two new plants. We did this by taking photos of the name plate and the plant, and reviewing the images several times during the weekend.

We already knew the names of rhododendron and heather (two of the most numerous of the plants in the garden collection).

It’s easiest to spend the whole day at the garden if you have a lunch stashed in the car.

While the gardens look wild and unkept, you can tell there is a lot of “keeping” going on. On this particular Thursday, crews of young and old were carting stinky piles of manure and compost to various locations. We also walked down a side road and found the piles of general soil amendment.

With the evidence of thousands of hours of work, I was surprised to see a familiar weed — the Velcro plant — hidden among the greenery. This was comforting in a way, because even the best gardeners can’t keep all the weeds out.

The garden also sells plants. I mostly ignored this section because the climate on the coast is dramatically different than Chico, which is exactly why people from Chico love visiting the coast in July and August.
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However, rhododendrons can be babied if kept in the shade in the Sacramento Valley.

The grand finale of the garden adventure was reaching the bluffs at the edge of the property. Visitors exit the manicured section through a magical gate made of long twigs. A short distance farther is the ocean.

This admission-only seaside meadow was sprinkled with wild California iris and tall grass. The blooms of the ice plant were so bright I would wager the staff drags fertilizer out to the bluffs.

It had been a long day and we had photographed, touched and smelled thousands of living things.

This particular sliver of coastline was the most beautiful I had ever seen. Although, I had already said that about other slivers of coast over the past several days.

If I had to distill the trip down to a single best moment, this was it. Blooming ice plant at our feet, the distant roar of the blue sea, a slight breeze and a much-needed nap — you can’t help but be thankful for all of that.

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Tilth is a good dirty word in potted plants, May 21, 2015

By Heather Hacking, Chico Enterprise-Record

Last summer I planted a six-pack of Vinca rosea in a big, thin metal bucket near the front door.

Vinca rosea is one of my go-to summer flowers and thrives despite the heat.

By now, I know this plant pretty well. When the cold nips at the doorstep, these summer stand-outs turns black and die.

Yet, these particular plants did not die. There were times I could have tossed the plants on the compost pile, but they seemed just barely alive.
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In early spring I watched them struggle back to life, and now they have a prominent spot on the picnic table.

Other plants have died just as mysteriously as the Vinca rosea have lived.

THE YEAR IN POTS

Most of my plants are in pots this year and I’m trying to grab some knowledge quickly so I don’t kill them.

Drought-tolerant plants tend to have certain features, including fuzzy leaves, silver foliage, succulents, waxy leaves and long taproots, a website called Enjoy Container Gardening explains, http://goo.gl/9yZxdT

Dusty miller, for example, has silvery, fuzzy leaves. Now I know why it has survived in my garden.

Other fuzzy plants include lamb’s ear and that wild plant in Paradise with hot pink flowers that looks a lot like lamb’s ear.

It makes sense that silvery plants are drought-tolerant, as this category includes sage, salvia, lavender.

Some other specifics in the article are sunflowers, sedum, zinnia and geraniums.

Note, most of the plants in my pots do not have these drought-tolerant attributes.

What goes in the pot

I’m no expert on planting in pots. However, I have read numerous times not to use dirt from the yard.

You would think that buying potting soil would do the trick. However, the texture just seems wrong to me.

During my time off from work I chatted with Bob Scoville, one of the valiant crew with the Glenn County Master Gardener Program (865-1110).

He said he has heard to add perlite to pots as a soil amendment, to help with water retention.

Perlite is white and is actually a volcanic glass. It holds water and water-soluble nutrients. Bob said it is known to improve the “tilth” of soil.

Tilth? What the heck does that mean?

Bob chuckled.

Tilth is a word that appears on the first page of Bob’s Master Gardener’ handbook.

He said its hard to define, but easier to see and feel.

“Good tilth – you’re able to grasp it in your hand,” and it will be firm, but not soggy, workable but not solid.

“When you have really good soil you know what it feels like in your hand,” Bob said with a flair for soil romanticism.

“Tilth is the word that describes that feeling you have as you feel it in your hand,” he said, confusing me all the more.

However, I knew I wanted tilth. I wanted tilth badly.

He started to describe the 12 major USDA soil classifications. I noted I had surgery recently and did not have the mental stamina for an extended soil lecture.

Instead, we focused on the merits of coffee grounds as a soil amendment.

Bob read an article recently in Sunset Magazine (http://goo.gl/rEJHBS) that raved about coffee grounds.

The Sunset folks say coffee grounds contain phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and copper.

In addition to improving tilth, coffee grounds provide a small amount of slow-release nitrogen, Bob continued, which is good for his citrus plants.

It would seem natural that if coffee grounds are good, ground coffee would be event better. Bob fielded this questions from a gardener, and explained to her it doesn’t work that way. Running water through the grounds leaches out salts that are bad for plants.

One can only imagine how those salts react in our human bodies.

Bob said when he makes a pot of coffee at home, he scoops out the grounds and adds the dark stuff just a few inches under the soil near his plants.

I’m doing the same with my potted plants. We’ll see how much tilth happiness this brings.

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