Sow There! Garden surprises and plants with friends, 2-23-2017

 Broccoli, found recently in the black, plastic truck bed liner/raised bed.

Broccoli, found recently in the black, plastic truck bed liner/raised bed. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Those folks who research consumer habits certainly have my number. Most markets place their seasonal plants just outside the front door.

Don’t be fooled. While it’s true plants need sunshine, and watering makes a mess, the real reason for the plant placement is to create an impulse buy.

Costco knows. Almost immediately after digging in my purse and flashing the membership card, I have bumped into a metal rack filled with spring bulbs. I would not doubt if the carts are equipped with magnets.

In my futuristic consumer nightmare, an iris scanner will register my shopping preferences, and my cart will be programmed toward flowers, chocolate and the free sample booths.

I have purchased enough bulbs and no longer have empty gardening containers. However, I’m sure the stores have more pots and potting soil in easy-to-find locations.

This week the gals at work planned a Galentine’s Day lunch (Valentine’s Day celebration just for women). The lunch-planner assured us we should not feel obligated to give gifts, however she planned to give us all gifts.

Naturally, the others on the lunch list strategized about the gifts we felt obligated to buy.

Chocolate was my first choice, but my cart bumped into the rack filled with primroses. If bought an entire flat — which means 12 four-inch potted primroses — this easily provided seven flowers for the gals and five for me.

The only reason that a five-foot-tall citrus tree did not jump into my cart is because I already had too much stuff in my car.

PRIMROSE PRIMER

Primrose is one of those guilt-free plants. They bloom for a long time in the container, which makes them nice for the office or kitchen table. My theory is that once the plant starts to look ragged, you can plant it in the yard and hope for the best. When Chico’s hot weather settles in, the cool season plants usually die, at least in my yard.

I’ve had success moving potted primrose to the shade, or planting near the base of a wall that blocks the afternoon sun. However, once it stops blooming it looks like miniature romaine lettuce.

What grows there

On my day off there was enough sunshine to remind me to harvest spinach and kale. After the Galentine’s Day candy, I need to consume only salad for the rest of the week.

When I harvested greens last week I nibbled some jagged leaves that tasted just a bit different. The seeds were planted in October by the Handsome Woodsman, and I assumed it was an obscure variety of lettuce. When I went to snip more this week, I saw the smallest, green florets.

He planted me broccoli.

After a few searches online I learned that eating broccoli leaves is something people do. They’re often cooked like collards and kale in butter and garlic. One ounce contains 90 percent of your daily Vitamin A and 43 percent of Vitamin C.

After you grow a broccoli plant, battle the slugs, squirt cabbage aphids with the hose, and expect the plant to bolt as soon as the weather warms, you certainly are going to eat the plant, leaves and all.

I’m just tickled Dave never told me he planted broccoli, so that he left me the surprise.

DON’T MISS OUT

Starting today, and continuing tomorrow, fun things will be happening at the Local Nursery Crawl, localnurserycrawl17.weebly.com. Like other map-following events, people race around to various locations, in this case it will be 14 nurseries. Similar to trick-or-treating, its a challenge to see how many places you can reach before you run out of energy.

Several local nurseries are also planning to have special sales.

THANK YOU BARBARA

A few months ago someone named Barbara sent me a condolence card. Inside was a gift certificate for the Little Red Hen Nursery. There was no return address, but the card was signed “Barbara.”

I’ve talked to four Barbaras, and none of them took credit for the kindness. The Little Red Hen, by the way, is on the Local Nursery Crawl list.

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Sow There! Vegetarian kitty, bearing gifts, 3-2-2017

Mallow weed.
Mallow weed. Courtesy of UC Cooperative Extension
The great huntress.
The great huntress. Heather Hacking – Enterprise-Record

My kitty has gotten into some funny habits lately.

The clock radio starts playing at sunrise. Just a few minutes before I hear tunes, the Feline Unit is at my cheek and licking my face. This relatively new ritual is abrupt and scratchy, but usually, I enjoy the attention while in a half-dream state.

Once my brain starts working, I realize this is a really gross way to start the day.

She’s letting me know — in her loving, kitty way — that it’s time for me to open the cat door so she can take care of business.

A few minutes later she’s back in the kitchen, where I feed her a spoonful of wet food before snapping the cat door shut.

Long before I knew her, the kitty and the Handsome Woodsman lived in Paradise, where she frolicked on 1 1/4 acres and was fed outdoors. She was only allowed inside if it snowed, or if she snuck inside when his hands were full.

Things changed when she moved to Chico.

Dave insisted she would never be allowed on the bed. He lost that battle gracefully.

I can call her indoors by making a special whistle. It’s a two-tone sound I make every time I give her a spoonful of wet food.

We also put a bell on her collar. She hated this at first, and ran in a circle trying to remove the offending sound. Our goal was to give birds a warning if she was on the prowl. This may or may not be effective, but so far there have been no birds deposited on the kitchen floor.

Rodents, however, may be deaf. When Dave was working at his desk in the kitchen, she rewarded him with rodents and he rewarded her with praise and some wet food.

After the Handsome Woodsman died in a car accident, I couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to the cat. I think animals know when they are needed, and she has become more of a lapdog than an out-and-about cat. With Dave gone, she also climbs all over the counters and sits on the bathroom sink when I am brushing my teeth.

BACK TO OLD TRICKS

My friend Jas, http://tinyurl.com/jastunes, has been traveling to help his mother with doctor appointments and sometimes flops in my living room when he’s traveling from north to south. One day I was meeting friends after work and he planned to join us.

“Why are you late? What’s the hang-up? Should we wait for you?” I said via text.

He replied: “Dear cat, thank you for the giant rat/mouse. Please kill it next time so I don’t need to fish it out from behind the heater.”

Frankly, I was proud of my Feline Unit. Of course, I was sorry my friend had to deal with the rodent carcass, but this was one less rat to find its way into my shed.

“Did you reward her with some wet food?”

He had not.

A few weeks ago, ferocious winds howled through the Sacramento Valley. I was snuggled up in the living room when the kitty arrived proudly in the doorway of the kitchen. She plunked down a rather large mallow weed and looked at me with expectation. Mallow is a sturdy weed, with crenulated leaves and a strong root system.

It took me a second, but I realized that the kitty probably saw the weed blowing in the wind and thought it was a critter. When she played with it, and the weed played dead, she brought it inside for show-and-tell.

I gave her a treat.

Naturally, I called my sister, who is a vegan, to share the news.

“I think the Feline Unit has become a vegetarian.”

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Sow There! Tips for fearless rose pruning, 1-26-17

Illustration from the University of California

Pruning roses is a bit like taking a long walk to see a beautiful view. People walk the Road to Santiago for deeply spiritual reasons, but imagine rounding the bend of a long, dusty road and seeing the Romanesque spires of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Pruning your roses is nothing like that, but its still one of those work-for-rewards activities.

Life is a journey. Sometimes we walk alone, other times with companions. There are always good things ahead to keep travelers on the road.

PLANS FOR SPRING

Janet Oliver, a master gardener in Glenn County, was kind enough to share a few tips from her lifetime of rose pruning knowledge.

Now is prime time. Saturday should be a clear day and pruning needs to take place while roses are dormant. If you pruned roses after growth begins, the plant could go into shock.

Be “fearless,” she advised. She’ll trim off two-thirds of the plant, and more if she’s feeling especially brave.

I’ve never actually taken my roses down by two-thirds, which of course has been a mistake. After the plant worked so hard to produce shiny leaves and strong branches, it seems an insult to say all of that work was worth nothing. However, Janet said the plant will burst back into life, producing flowers on this new growth.

THE BASICS

One goal is to snip away the dead wood. If you look at the plant closely, you should be able to note the sticks that look brittle and broken. If you miss something this week, there’s always next week to make another close inspection when you’re feeling dauntless.

Also check for “suckers.” These are shoots that come from the bottom of the plant and grow faster than the other branches. Suckers do not produce flowers and deserve no sympathy.

The key to all this pruning is to create space between the canes. At the end, you want the canes of the plant to be shaped like a V, Janet said.

WHERE TO CUT

Next, look for what are called the “bud eyes.” This is where the leaves will emerge — very soon. Once you look, you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about. The bud eyes alternate on either side of the cane. Your goal is to snip just above the bud eye that is pointed toward the outside of the rose bush. When the leaves emerge, they will grow in the same direction to which the bud eyes are pointing.

I asked Janet whether there’s really a reason to prune at a 45 degree angle. (Frankly, any form of math irritates me).

She said yes. You create an angle so raindrops don’t settle into the open wound, which can lead to rot.

Suddenly math makes a little more sense.

For much useful information from the UC Master Gardener pruning pamphlet, http://tinyurl.com/hugcq5d.

BUT WAIT, THERE IS MORE

With the plant in its dormant state, you probably won’t see black spots or yellowed leaves, which can be a sign of disease. Check again after leaves emerge and trim anything that looks questionable. Think of it like cutting the mold off of a perfectly good hunk of cheese.

For now, clean up all the leaves from the bottom of the plant. Some of that detritus could be diseased. Don’t compost, Janet said, drop them in the green waste can.

THE DUSTY ROAD

Today is the Handsome Woodsman’s birthday. The spinach he planted in mid-October survived onslaught by slugs, weeks of rain and what has been a very long winter. I’ve planted more seeds since then, but so far only his spinach fills the black, plastic truck bed liner filled with soil. The eggplant he grew last year remained in the rain all winter. I’ll be thrilled if seeds sprout from the slimy purple fruit. (Yes, eggplant is a fruit).

His birthday would have been a special occasion, but we wouldn’t have done anything special. He never let me throw him a party, and we reserved the fancy dinner date for my birthday and anniversaries.

On his birthday last year I think we split a burger downtown, and I probably talked him into playing a few games of pinball.

He once joked that he could always find me in a crowded pizza parlor, because he would recognize the sound of me rummaging at the bottom of my purse for quarters.

This week I’ll be pruning roses. He would have liked that. It means I’m still doing what’s in front of me, expecting good things at the end of the dusty road.

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Sow There! Weeds go to work when Disney lures the gardener away, 1-5-17

The first of the Virginia creeper blooms.
The first of the Virginia creeper blooms. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record
Lettuce sprouted on some unknown warm day and is now growing in the same pot as the fig tree.Lettuce sprouted on some unknown warm day and is now growing in the same pot as the fig tree.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but people in Chico really like dressing up in costumes. Halloween, of course, is a time when normally straight-laced men have a free ticket to dress as their favorite Disney princess, giving new meaning to the term “man bun.”

I’ve noticed other perfectly fine excuses for donning ruby slippers or a top hat. At ChicoCon, the local comic book convention, people create fantastic costumes based on their favorite characters. The trend continues with 5K races. It’s no longer surprising to see runners in sherbert-colored tutus or tall “Cat in the Hat” headwear. If you were lucky enough to score a ticket to see the Yule Logs in concert, you saw more than one grown-up wearing elf pajamas.

I would imagine this trend can’t be centered in Butte County.

Yet, be assured, funny hats abound in the land of the magical mouse. Last week I traveled with my family to Disneyland. We counted at least two dozen styles of mouse ears. This was in addition to the floppy Goofy hats, pumpkin heads, Santa caps and other must-have head-toppers. If you’re debating your options, I recommend the tall, pointed, furry, blue wizard hat. When the teenagers in our group raced to the line for the roller coasters, the old folks could easily spot the pointed blue cap in the far distance, past the barricade of baby strollers.

At Universal Studios, one could cover their head like a minion, or conjure the look of any character from the Harry Potter franchise.

With all this hat action, my rubber chicken shocked absolutely no one.

BACK TO MY BACKYARD

The interesting thing about vacations is that whether I am gone for three days or a month, its always comforting to return home. As my car whizzed past the first flooded rice fields, something inside me started to ease. After the frenzy of SoCal, I nodded my allegiance to empty fruit stands and the familiar patterns of leafless orchards.

Absent, of course, was the Handsome Woodsman, who would have pointed out hawks on the top rungs of rustic fences. We would have replayed our favorite theme-park moments, and wondered what the kitty had been doing while we were gone.

Instead, I turned on the radio and literally heard Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.”

As I neared the Sutter Buttes, and spotted the fields filled with snowgeese, I pulled over to see the view, as I would have done if I had not been traveling solo.

WEEDS MARCH ON

Luckily, I was not alone when I reached Chico. A friend had been house-sitting but the Feline Unit acted as if she hadn’t had wet food since 1998. After a few necessary greetings, I spent the last hour of sunlight noticing what had changed in the yard. Plants are very much like small children, if you look away for half a day, they’ve grown two inches. The portulaca looks like leftover vermicelli and the philodendron turned to a frozen, mushy mess. I’m glad I have vases filled with philodendrons inside the house.

While I was gone, the “Christmas Cheer” poker plant, Kniphofia, had created two-foot spikes in my absence. I’ll enjoy watching the candycorn colors appear over the next few weeks. For some reason, three Gerbera blooms had waited for my arrival, perhaps to reward me for covering this potted plant during a recent freeze. The Virginia creeper (an invasive vine planted by a previous tenant) is showing the first bits of yellow beneath its green, winter shells. Lettuce is growing at the base of the potted fig tree and the spinach Dave planted months ago is nearly ready for the first harvest.

I’m convinced that weeds have secret stealth abilities, and take note of a vacationer’s departure from the driveway. Secret mechanisms awake and weeds force their energy into flowers and seeds, hoping to reproduce before you can put away your Disney memorabilia. Common groundsel made the big move, trying to bully out the nascent poppy seedlings I planted in the alley. Baby mallow have flocked to the empty spaces like elves at a Yule Log concert.

Ha ha! I say (with my Maleficent howl).

I’m not afraid to do weed battle.

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Sow There! Old-fashioned seed planting; start a new tradition now, 2-2-17

Behold, some of the seeds from my quaint and old-fashioned collection.
Behold, some of the seeds from my quaint and old-fashioned collection. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record.
 What’s that saying? The older I get the more I forget. That’s probably the case. However, when I don’t remember the things I have forgotten, I tend not to give it much thought.

More often, I realize that some of those factoids rubbing up against my brain cells are actually of little or no use. When is the last time I used a compass? I still use paper maps, but that probably makes me quaint and old-fashioned. At our newspaper, there’s a whole generation of folks who are experts at developing film.

Young folks these days may never learn how to build a fire, make popcorn on a stove or address a letter. Yet, I’ll seek out a 12-year-old if I have trouble with my iPhone.

This week I wrote a story about the 100-year anniversary of farm advisers. Way back when, Cooperative Extension educated people about important life skills, like canning food for the winter. I still know people who do canning. I’d put that in the “quaint and old-fashioned” category, with quilting, churning butter, wood carving and making apple-head dolls.

WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE

Before I forget, now is a good time to pass along some antiquated knowledge — planting seeds.

Once upon a time I grew most of my vegetables and flowers from seed. Frankly, it gave me something to do in the middle of winter. Then the Handsome Woodsman came along. He didn’t appreciate soil and seed packets all over the kitchen table, and showed me the wisdom of buying huge plants in early May.

SEED PLANTING 101

One of my favorite resources is the UC Davis Vegetable Planting Guide, http://tinyurl.com/hh22o7m.

The document spells out what seeds you can try to plant in which months of the year.

For February, the guide gives the go-ahead for planting seeds of lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, chard and beets.

Frankly, I’m not falling for that trick again. I think what they really mean is you can plant these seeds indoors.

For about $30 bucks you can buy a heating mat that can be placed in a quiet corner of your kitchen.

Seed packets contain all the useful information you will need, including planting depth.

Plant your seeds in moist potting soil. The dirt in your yard will contain some of those weed seeds you know and hate. Cover your container and place the individual containers in a seed tray, available at a local nursery.

Cover your plants and watch regularly. If they get dry, you can give them a squirt with a spray bottle.

I’ve also had decent luck covering a container with plastic wrap and placing on top of the refrigerator.

The heat from behind the fridge warms just enough to tease those seeds into sprouting.

Once the seedlings emerge, they need sun, which you can find along a bright windowsill.

Note that if you have super-efficient windows, the kind that block out the sun, this isn’t your choice for indoor windowsill action.

Move the plants to the center of the living room at night. The windowsill gets cold after dark.

12 WEEKS

If you rummage through your seed packets from last year or the year before, you’ll note that some of these seeds state they can be planted 12 weeks before the last date of frost.

IN OUR AREA, DATE OF LAST FROST IS AROUND THE END OF APRIL, AND 12 WEEKS BEFORE THIS IS JUST ABOUT RIGHT NOW.

Lettuce is extremely fun to grow. James Loomis, in an article found in Catalyst Magazine, http://tinyurl.com/haeb9wq, highly suggests using a heating mat to sow lettuce seeds in one-week intervals. This way, you can eventually transplant them to the garden over time. Thanks James. With online articles like this, we now no longer have a need for gardening books.

While you’re planting lettuce, plant some chives. I think I’ll bury some chive seeds outdoors, just to be nostalgic. If flowers are your thing, I’ve had good luck in the past planting seeds indoors including pansies and the alyssum. Others to try include poppies and snapdragons, according to this rather worthy write-up by Baker Seed Co., http://tinyurl.com/hqo8zus.

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In the the midst of a gopher siege, grow in a barricade — Feb. 5, 2015

By Heather Hacking, Chico Enterprise-Record

Onions in a trough was the way Tom Orendorff learned to keep gophers at bay. One year he planted 400 onion sets in his yard, and harvested three onions. The gophers don’t bother the tomatoes, he said, but love the onions, Dec. 12, 2014. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record
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Last December, a day after the “big storm,” I cruised out to the town of Nord. The assignment was to chat with folks who had witnessed water running down their street.

Six homes were flooded in the little town, but not the house of Tom Orendorff, who was nice enough to chat about the near-miss.

One thing led to another, and soon Tom and I were gathering Granny Smith apples from his well-watered back yard.

In some ways, a limited amount of flooding could have been a good thing. His back yard has so many gophers it looks like a prairie dog preserve.

If the gopher holes had been flooded, the intruders might have marched out of their holes, where Tom could have chased after them like a cat.

Near the apple tree, Tom had two large animal troughs filled with soil.
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“What’s that?”

“Onions,” he explained. For some reason the ridiculous amount of gophers in his yard don’t bother the tomatoes, but they gobble the onions. One year he planted about 400 onion starts and harvested three.

I admired Tom for his ability to innovate beyond adversity. A less-dedicated gardener might have moved to a condo with cement walkways and a club house filled with plastic bouquets.

Nope. Tom had filled troughs with soil.

I neglected to ask him why anyone would have need for 400 onions.

Why Tom?
Did an evil sorcerer cast a gopher curse on my new friend? Did prior generations of gophers develop a grudge against Tom?

Why else would gophers have decided to dig holes about every three feet across his great expanse of lawn?

Perhaps Tom is just too kind. Obviously he does not trap nor poison the creatures. Maybe his parcel of land is the only safe gopher ground from the railroad tracks to the highway.

Ideas planted
I did not buy a horse trough that day, but the idea lingered.

My yard is only in the mid-range of gopher devastation.

I also have moles. A week after we made a gravel path from the back gate to the shed, moles began happily pushing up the soil. I stomp on the mounds and make mean noises, but the moles have not yet packed up and moved to Tom’s house.

Last weekend I finally planted some “garlic” in a large plastic pot near the front door.

The garlic was a cluster we bought at the farmers market with good intentions.

They disappeared at the back of the crisper drawer and after an unknown period of time, began to grow. By the time the cloves were rediscovered, two-inch green stems had emerged. The next step in their growth cycle was sitting on the little coffee table near the front door. The logic was that I would remember to plant them if they were within close proximity to my garden clogs.

My plan is not really to grow fabulous garlic cloves. Apparently I’m not really that into fresh garlic, otherwise I would have eaten the cloves before they reclaimed a life of their own.

The idea now is to grow garlic within close proximity to the front door. I can snip off the green tops for salads in summer.

I’m also planting the stubs from green onions. These usually have a quarter-inch of roots at the end and can be planted in the pot like an onion start. If things go well, the onions will grow very large and be used to bonk gophers over the head if there is a flood.

Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why Tom was growing 400 onion plants.

How others grow garlicone
A fairly in-depth article on organicgardening.com, http://goo.gl/4hU83e, notes that garlic is best when planted in the fall. Expect smaller bulbs if you plant in the spring (or January).

Space individual cloves 6-8 inches apart, and two inches deep. Water about an inch per week.

About mid June, you might notices “scapes.” If that word is new to you, you’re not alone.

The word is used for the “flowery tops that curl as they mature and ultimately straighten out into long spiky tendrils,” the website states.

To send more energy to the bulb, lop off the scapes and add them to salads or soups.

Once the leaves on your garlic are mostly brown in mid summer, dig them up. Next, hang them for six weeks in the shade. However, my experience is that “new garlic,” is incredibly delicious and best eaten before I forget about it in the back of the crisper drawer.

Other contacts, @HeatherHacking on Twitter and Facebook.

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Sow There! Let’s do our dance in the light, 2-16-17

The first hyacinth of the year.
The first hyacinth of the year. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record
Daffodils, at long last.Daffodils, at long last. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Some say that a great deal of vacation happiness includes the anticipation of taking a vacation. You plan, you dream, you let out a little pre-sigh. A study was actually done in the Netherlands on the link between pre-vacation plans and happiness, http://tinyurl.com/gvab559.

Lottery tickets function much the same way. When I buy a lottery ticket I make imaginary plans. I can assure you, the little daydreams I buy with that dollar certainly bring more happiness than the disappointment I receive when I don’t win.

I talked to Dad this week. He was on the 14th floor of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, chairs pointed toward the fountain below, the majestic sound of Copeland’s Appalachian Spring blaring from the televised webcam. He assured me that actually being on vacation is undeniably more fun than planning a trip.

Maybe I’ll plan a vacation.

FILLING TIME

When I saw the first daffodils in my yard I realized I’ve been shuffling past those things that normally bring me joy. For the first few months after Dave died, my brain was covered in that protective fog that blurs the sharp lines of reality.

It was not my intention, but life became incredibly busy — stories to write, a funeral to plan, house guests, a pre-planned family vacation, responsibilities as a maid of honor …

Next I received an unexpected gift. I planned and served as tour guide for two weekend getaways with 39 Korean college students. (This, by the way, was joy-filled. They also liked my rubber chicken).

One day I was waiting on a bench at the Vacaville Outlet malls. The Korean students passed by intermittently, each time with bigger smiles and more shopping bags dangling from their arms.

I had 30 minutes before the coach bus arrived to take us back to Chico.

For just a few minutes I had nothing to think about, nothing to plan, no one to entertain. As if landing from some distant place, the tears arrived.

I wasn’t thinking about the Handsome Woodsman. I wasn’t thinking about anything at all. It was as if I simply exhaled and my body realized there was a lull. Now was a chance for few tears to escape.

SOME THINGS OVERLOOKED

Spring does something to animals, and our natural world — an awakening. For some of us, it brings metacognition.

Last year at this time I would have noticed my daffodil buds were ready to pop. I would have taken photos of the “almost blooms.” The next day I would have checked again, so I would not miss the first hint of yellow. This year I was just too busy to notice.

In winter, I ritualistically visit the Llano Seco Wildlife Refuge. There’s a strange quiet that occurs when tens of thousands of winter waterfowl become one dull roar.

Last week I drove down 7-Mile Lane and it was too late. The birds had already said their good-byes.

Yet, like most things good, good things find us.

When the kitchen scraps were overdue to be dumped on the compost pile, I noticed the first few daffodils bobbing in plain view.

This prompted a closer look at the Virginia creeper vines, also ready to do their dance in the light.

With nothing better to do that day, I ate spinach and kale from the raised bed — dirt and all — and moved a pot of hyacinth bulbs to the walkway.

Spring does not officially arrive until March 20, but spring can easily be placed in the same category as vacations. If we miss out on the anticipation, we miss out on some of that happiness.

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Sow There! Valentines sentiments that last, buying live plants, 2-9-17

This Daphne odoro plant is long dead, another testament to the give and take of the garden world.
This Daphne odoro plant is long dead, another testament to the give and take of the garden world.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Cynicism about Valentine’s Day returned quickly.

For the past many years I had joined the monogamous masses and learned to enjoy flowers at that certain day that marks the midpoint of February. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad people are swooning and smooching. I wish I was one of them.

The big Valentine’s Day displays always manage to catch me off-guard. This week I popped into the grocery store to buy some coffee. I had to walk in a long arc to maneuver around the ginormous display of red, white and pink flowers. There was no escape, they were directly along my path to an everyday purchase.

My guess is that the other entrance to the store had a similar assemblage of merchandise suggestions.

GREEN DAY

I’m thinking we could use a Gardener’s Day. If I had my choice, it would be April 30, which happens to be my birthday. Nurseries, garden tool companies and grocery store chains could rally around the cause, providing huge displays of appropriate gifts for people with dirt under their fingernails. Logically, there would be a way to include dark chocolate.

In the meantime, Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to buy and receive live plants, even if that means buying them for ourselves and receiving them ourselves.

A FRAGRANT PLANT LIST

• I spotted some daphne odoro in bloom this week, which is among my favorite fragrant plants. A live plant can be enjoyed indoors for several weeks, and then planted at the recipient’s leisure. My luck with daphne has been mixed. One survived in a partially shaded spot for about six years. I changed houses and the plant did not adjust to the new digs.

Many years ago, John Whittlesley of Canyon Creek Nursery said the trick to not killing daphne is to withhold water on days when the high temperatures reach 89 degrees. Apparently this is the temperature at which daphne-killing bacteria multiply quickly.

My second daphne died during a summer heat spike when I chose death by bacteria vs. death by lack of water.

• In my mind, you can’t really go wrong with jasmine and gardenias. If you want to learn what plants grow well in this area, check out the landscaping at Chico State University or Enloe hospital, both which have gardenia in semi-shaded locations.

The Handsome Woodsman and I would walk in the evenings, and he would almost always rush ahead to search for a gardenia to tuck behind my ear.

For happy gardenias, Monrovia, suggests adding an ample amount of compost to hold water. Gardenia will wither in heavy soil. Coffee grounds may be added to the soil because gardenia enjoy slightly acidic soil.

• Jasmine also provides olfactory pleasure, but it won’t be blooming just yet. Some useful information at gardeningknowhow.com, points out that spring is a good time to take jasmine cuttings. Dip the cuttings in rooting hormone and push the ends into peat. Next, keep the cuttings moist.

Last year my cuttings failed, likely because I used regular garden soil. It’s time to try again.

DON’T FORGET ROSES

Red roses are the stereotypical Valentine’s Day sign of strong infatuation.

Tip for boyfriend coolness points: Send at least a dozen red roses, and always send them to her work. For your favorite gardener who owns garden gloves and pruning shears, you can find an exquisite rose plant and offer to dig the hole on a spring Saturday.

BLOOMIN’ HOPE

When I spotted all those flowers at the grocery store earlier this week, I couldn’t help but wonder. Are people expected to buy the flowers and hide them on the back porch for the next four days?

For fresh flowers, last-minute purchases are best.

Early next week, the Sabbath House can be spotted downtown with their glorious flower cart.

Sunday morning you’ll find the cart in front of Bidwell Presbyterian Church and First Street, and Monday and Tuesday near City Hall. The pleasant gals who work at the cart can wrap up just a single posy or a bouquet chosen among dozens of different flowers.

Read more about Bloomin’ Hope: http://tinyurl.com/z9f3e5n.

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Sow There! Respect and disdain for the mighty weed, 1-12-17

Common groundsel seems to be doing just fine on death's doorstep.
Common groundsel seems to be doing just fine on death’s doorstep. Heather Hacking—Enterprise-Record
Common groundsel.Common groundsel. Heather Hacking—Enterprise-Record

I’m not a scientist, but I have some skills in observation.

After some careful reasoning I have concluded that the weed common groundsel can produce flowers after being yanked from the ground.

Months ago my co-worker Risa established a compost tub right outside the door to the newsroom. The experiment has mostly been a failure.

Journalists eat the majority of their meals in their cars. When we are working and snacking on deadline, we don’t think about adding our mandarin peels to the bin at the side of the building.

Plus, the plastic bin is covered with a lid. With no water added, the scant food scraps are just as likely to become fossils as they are to decompose.

Recently I decided to lift the lid to the compost after reading yet another press release predicting rain.

I’m easily distracted and realized there were weeds growing in the gravel near the bin. Practicing my best “downward weed” yoga move, I plucked more than a dozen happy weeds.

I had to look up the name of the weed, but I recognized them from my own yard.

Groundsel is an attractive (yet highly toxic) plant that looks like it intends to produce sunny, yellow flowers. Instead, of petals we get those wispy spikes that help spread tiny seeds from here to Gridley.

When I returned a few days later to replace the lid, I noticed the weeds I had plucked looked very much alive. The flowers were intact, and if I wasn’t mistaken, even appeared to have opened slightly.

It makes sense. If you place the bottom roots and the lower portion of a green onion on moist paper towels, the roots will continue to grow. You can later plant the onion in a pot and harvest it when pulling common groundsel.

CHOOSE YOUR ENEMIES

Plants are survivors. We admire these traits in plants that we actually hope will grow in our yards. Fine Gardening magazine produced an online article (http://tinyurl.com/jrmwudo) about reproducing plants through root cuttings. Anyone who has attempted and failed to dig out Bermuda grass understands this process.

I’m convinced that if an asteroid hit the earth, killing most forms of life, the roots of some of these weeds would somehow survive. The earth would be repopulated by common groundsel, slugs and squirrels.

As for the common groundsel, I’ll continue to pluck this plant when I see it near our compost bin at the office. I can’t help myself. However, I’ll give up on the idea that my effort is doing anything more than providing a stretch for my hamstrings.

MODERN WEED WARFARE

We live in a modern world and the weeds hated by our grandparents may not be worthy of our continued efforts at eradication.

While researching for this article, I found some blogs on the health benefits of dandelion leaves. One writer pointed out that bees love flowers, and dandelions produce flowers.

Maybe I’ll find some dandelion seeds and plant these in a circle around our newsroom compost bin.

WEEKEND TO-DO LIST

The large amount of rain we received this week has made a soupy mess of our back yards. The big bonus is that it is now easy to yank weeds. You’ll spot them easily, because they are the plants that look fine after a good, long rainstorm.

If you have time, prune winter-dormant plants such as roses, fruit trees, grapes and flowering vines.

The University of California Backyard Orchard website has a wealth of research and tips for fruit tree pruning: http://tinyurl.com/z8k2to2. When you’re successful and have more food than you can handle, please drop off a bucket of fruit at the newsroom. We might even remember to compost.

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Sow There! Tried and true tips for frost in Zone 9, 12-22-16

Icicles hang from a lemon tree.
Icicles hang from a lemon tree. Enterprise-Record file photo

My coworker Laura is the weather queen in the newsroom. She starts work very early, checks with the National Weather Service and Western Weather Group, then posts the weather info online. Once I’ve read the results of her hard work, I’m giddy with knowledge and share the synopsis via social media. More importantly, I know when to rescue my plants.

During this recent downward turn in temperature I moved the most important plants to the center of the living room. My house is small and my main room now looks like the Rainforest Cafe. If I’m carrying too much junk through the front door, I turn to the side and shuffle across the room sideways like an economy airline flight attendant.

We tend to think of “freezing” as 32 degrees, which is correct for water. However, many plants will withstand temperatures below this icy threshold.

I don’t like to take chances. If Laura says it’s going to be cold, I react as if Ice Man from Marvel Comics has a cough and is walking through my neighborhood.

The first defense in battling cold is to make sure your plants are in good shape and that you are not allowing them to dry out. Healthier plants do better under stress. Moist soil also retains heat better than dry dirt.

For plants too big to haul inside, my best strategy is to cover the entire plant before darkness falls. In this area, the soil will warm during the day and release stored heat at night.

The problem is that I rarely get home before it’s dark. By nightfall, a lot of that stored heat has escaped.

When the cold settled in this week, I covered everything and left the yard looking like I was in the middle of doing laundry.

The Handsome Woodsman’s stained work shirts do wonders. He was an extra large and it makes me smile to think he’s still helping with the gardening.

MORE FROST STRATEGIES

Mother Earth News — “The Original Guide to Living Wisely” — asked readers in 2013 to share their tried-and-true winter gardening tips. Here’s some frost protection tips from readers in Zone 9: http://tinyurl.com/originalwisdom.

• Cut up milk jugs for mini-greenhouses.

• Use leftover wire fencing to make tunnels (mini hoop houses) then cover with 6 mil plastic. This reader successfully grew lettuce and other cool-weather edibles.

• Quilted cloth coverings.

• Old sheets draped over bamboo stakes

• One gardener uses a four-man camping tent, pops it up, and zips the plants inside.

• Place five-gallon buckets over small potted plants.

PLANTING NOW?

Just for fun, I checked with the UC Davis seasonal vegetable planting guide for the Sacramento Valley (which makes no claim about being an “original” guide): http://tinyurl.com/hh22o7m

For early January, the guide states we can still plant seeds for cauliflower, broccoli, onions and cabbage. However, I’d want to hear from the “original guide for living wisely” to know if winter seed planting was successful in Zone 9. Maybe they mean we can plant seeds indoors on a heating mat.

The UC guide also says tomatoes and carrots can be planted now. I’ve had success planting tomato seeds in January in the windowsill, after covering the container with plastic wrap. Maybe that’s what they meant to say.

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Sunday is the big holiday for most Americans — a day for storing calories for the winter and loving on your people.

My wacky family is great, and I know I’m among the fortunate. Also, many people have kept in close contact this year after the death of the Handsome Woodsman.

People who I hardly know will stop me for a bear hug, and to tell me to keep writing about this grieving thing.

I don’t feel particularly “brave,” as many have said. I feel raw and often numb. Sometimes I’ll sit and think for long periods of time and not know what I was thinking about.

Lately I’ve been mourning the final drops of dish soap or shaving cream that Dave and I shared. Other times I’ll wish I could use those products more quickly so I can switch brands and have one less sad reminder.

And then I hear from kind folks who tell me they also have lost someone close to them. They reassure me that this stiff piece of wood that feels like it is lodged in my body will ease over time.

Those moments of sadness will be equally matched by warm, sepia-toned memories.

I believe them. I do. I can read it in their faces.

Those truths are probably closer to the “original guide to living wisely.”

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