Another lawn bites the dust, Chico lawnowner cashes in on CalWater turf rebate, 7-16-15

Things grow. Plants grow a lot. In a few years this front yard will look lush and wonderful, while using very little water. Photo courtesy Jim Matthews

Last week the latest El Niño story breezed across my news stream. The writer was Paul Rogers, who is way up there on my list of favorite water writers.

According to Paul’s sources, there is a fairly good chance that we’ll have great weather this winter. By great, I mean miserably wet.

I want to be hopeful. I want to take the five-gallon bucket out of my shower. I want to flush my toilet just for the fun of it.

The news story compared the possible 2015-2016 winter to the wet and worrisome 1997-1998. As I recall, 1997 was the year Highway 32 flooded and I stayed the night at the Amber Light Motel in Orland.

My 1984 Audi broke down during a rainstorm. We reached Chico only after catching a ride with a trucker, working our way up to Red Bluff and back down the valley. Highway 99 had opened after a work crew cleared debris from the swollen Sacramento River. We watched the news as Marysville and Yuba City flooded.

Will we have a 1997-1998-style El Niño this winter? Maybe.

However, last year there were news stories that the drought would soon be over. The rains never came but people stopped conserving water.

For right now, we have no rain and we have a long summer to endure.

Come drought or high water, my friend Jim Matthews is happy with his front yard makeover.

I’ve known Jim a long time and for those 20-plus years his front yard has looked basically the same. A normal-sized, rectangular patch of green is parked in front of his front window.

He has a tree.

Along the walkway he likes to plant seasonal flowers in pots, usually dianthus.

It’s a pleasant front yard. Children are not afraid to knock on the door at Halloween.

However, the lawn was tired. To keep it green, Jim said he needed to water it every day in the summer. For how lackluster it looked, the lawn was a lot of work.

When he looked at his water bill more closely, he was shocked. During the winter months he used 1 or 2 CCFs (hundred cubic-feet) of water a month. Last June, July and August he used 19, 29 and 18 CCFs, which meant all that extra water went to the boring, old lawn.

What a waste, Jim thought.


Why did he have a lawn all those years? The house had a lawn when he moved in, and lawns were in fashion at the time.

Jim signed up for California Water Service turf replacement rebate. The rebate pays for up to 1,000 square-feet, at a rate of $1 a square-foot.

He was happy with the estimate from Yard Smart Landscape and Design, with a cost of $1.33 a square-foot.

One of his extra expenses was the weed-guard, which was $300.

In the end, he had more square-footage than the CalWater program would pay and Jim considers the rebate similar to using a coupon.

Adam Wrangham is Yard Smart’s owner, and said he’s having fun creating landscape conversions.

Adam said there is so much work being done that nursery suppliers are running short on some plant supplies.

Popular plants, such as agapanthus and daylilies, are more difficult to find, he said.

However, Jim can always add more plants later.bilde

The project included five yards of bark and 15 yards of rock.

It’s new so Jim checks out the front yard more often.

“It looks so clean now.”

He could have reseeded the old lawn and gone to a tremendous effort to fertilize and water like crazy, but why?

He’ll be able to watch his new, drought-tolerant plants grow over time.

If there had been drought-tolerant plants in the front yard when he moved in, Jim said, he probably would have mature drought-tolerant plants in the front yard right now.

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Tackling the drought, one seldom-used front yard at a time, July 9, 2015

Mom’s yard isn’t exactly lush and beautiful right now, but who cares? Her front yard has long been an area she simply walks through to head indoors. The back yard is where she takes the time to actually enjoy plants.Photo by Susan Hacking, Heather’s mom

No parental units were nagged, nudged or coerced for the purposes of this column.

When I think of visits to my mom’s house, her beautiful garden is central in my mental image.

A comfortable sitting area is surrounded by potted plants. She started with bare, rotten Redding dirt – so hard she hired someone with a jack hammer to dig holes for trees. For years she brought in truckloads of mulch and good topsoil. Over time, things grew more beautiful.

The fact that she hasn’t formed a habit of composting is strange to me. However, my Mother is perfect in most other ways.

Her front yard, by contrast, is a pass-through area. My sister and I dump our bags on the front porch while we wait for Mom to answer the pounding on the door.

When Mom mentioned she was tearing out her front lawn, I had to strain to remember she had grass at all.

I did, however, recall her high praise for the nice boy next door who did her yard maintenance.

The boy’s father taught him to write up an invoice and to send my mother a bill. This kept the accounting straight.

When the boy went to summer sports camp, his father taught him to find a replacement for my mother’s weekly mow, which often meant the younger brother.

My mother’s lawn provided an educational experience for the boys next door, but other than that the turf served little use at all.

The boys went away to college and drought hit California.

Mom decided to be done with the front lawn once and for all.

I was shocked to hear she formerly had 24-by-34-feet of lawn. I wish I had at least kicked off my shoes and frolicked at least once in the past 18 years.

There is no lawn replacement incentive program in Redding. (For information on the program in Chico,

Her project cost $1,500, start-to-finish.

Workers tore out all of the lawn, moving the material to her back yard to create a berm. It’s been a while, but in years when a very hard rain occurs, Mom has some flooding issues in the “back 40.”

The crape myrtle is the main feature in the front yard, and has done really well over the years. Bonus that these trees are drought and heat tolerant.

Mom planted an additional crape myrtle tree, plus two miniature crape myrtles. She also chose some new lavender and rosemary plants.

“I’m still looking for some white no-water grasses,” Mom said. She knows she saw some in a magazine article, but will need to track them down.

Also, she left some shrubbery at the perimeter of her yard. This will be watered with a new drip irrigation system. If the existing plants don’t like the new watering schedule, she’ll let them die with absolutely no remorse.

The sprinklers have been capped off and smooth river and bark mulch now replace the lawn area.


She said she already saw a water saving from her first bill, and will check once she goes a full month without the front turf.

Another neighbor has taken out half of his front lawn, Mom noted. Another woman on her street came by to chat about the rocks and bark.

Drought gardens are not particularly beautiful when they are brand new. However, the previous few weeks this column featured water-saving gardens with more time to mature. Mom’s choice to leave some of her plants in place, for now, may help during the transition.

With the rate of lawn conversions, I could probably write about them for the rest of the summer. If you have a great yard to share, drop me a line at Other contacts, @HeatherHacking on Twitter and Facebook.

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Food not lawn grows in a Chico drought-conscious yard, July 2, 2015


What could have become a seldom-used side yard is another source of full sun and food.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Very soon we’ll see more examples of newly-converted drought gardens.

So many Chico people signed up for the California Water Service yard conversion rebate program that more money has been set aside for Chico yards.

My friend Jim recently had his application accepted. I won’t be surprised if he invites a few of us to sit in lawn chairs and sip fruity drinks while we bid a sad farewell to his yellow sod.

I’m not a huge fan of new drought gardens. You need to strain to even see the little plants hidden amongst the mulch.

However, looking at a large expanse of dying grass is even more depressing than a large expanse of mulch.

Consider the drought demo garden in front of the red barn at the Patrick Ranch. The Butte County Master Gardeners put a ton of work into that mulched little patch of earth. Yet, for the past two years it looked like a mulched little patch of earth.

I visited recently and everything had changed. The garden is in full bloom, it smells great and fat carpenter bees treat the plants like a smorgasbord.

(See short video here:

That’s why it was such a thrill to visit the yard of LaDona Knigge, who has been working on a drought conversion long before we had mandatory conservation budgets.

She and her late husband Willis Geer hired a landscaper named Jim Belles to get everything started.

LaDona had attended a workshop about “food not lawn,” during the sustainability conference at Chico State. She embraced the idea that if you grow something, it might as well be edible.

After digging up the sod in 2010, Jim flopped the lawn chunks to build a little berm on the front lawn. “The bones” were planted that first year, including a peach tree, fig, persimmon and citrus.

Over the years, new plants went in that were edible, and/or fragrant, colorful and would not grow in Wyoming, she explained

LaDona lost her husband unexpectedly in May. Working in the yard has been part of her grieving process. She and her husband spent a lot of time in the yard, dividing chores and sharing in the enjoyment of the food they grew.

As we toured the yard this month, the edible-ness was clear. If we had walked more slowly, we could have nibbled our way around the yard and been full by the time we reached the side gate.

Blueberries were cleverly growing in the acid-soil and shade of a towering redwood tree. The fruit trees, trimmed small for an easy harvest, created a sweet barrier between the street and the front door.

Along the front walkway, chives were in full bloom with a tomato plant growing in a mulched bed. In other would-be bare spots LaDona grows sage, rosemary and oregano.

Some of the plants include currants, salvia, squash, lemon balm, citrus, catmint, kumquat, butterfly bush, coneflower, fig, euphorbia, artichokes chives, parsley, feverfew and hibiscus.

What’s interesting is that most of the yard is covered with mulch, with only a small chunk of the home’s original lawn remaining. After five years, most of the yard is lush and productive.

During my visit, she served lemon verbena tea, with leaves harvested from the yard, and salad that included fresh basil. She also sent me home with a bag of peaches.

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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.


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,, 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:

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 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.


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.


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:

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 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: 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.


CalWater has announced a $1 a square-foot lawn replacement program (see important details online: 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:

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.


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 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.


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 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.
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.


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,

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 ( 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 Other contacts, @HeatherHacking on Twitter and Facebook.

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