Life may be a bowl full of cherries infested with bugs Jan. 14, 2016

Spotted wing drosophila
Spotted wing drosophila Photo courtesy University of California

It’s bare-root season, when local nurseries have dormant trees and plants for sale.

These are usually less expensive than plants sold in large tubs filled with soil. Roses are among the popular bare-root sellers.

The cool season is a good time to plant trees and shrubs because the roots will benefit from winter rains and have a chance to expand into the soil.

When digging a hole for a new plant, try to dig several days after it rains.

If you dig when the soil is muddy, you’re likely to compact the soil.

Last week I chatted up Bob Scoville, a patient and knowledgable volunteer with the Glenn County Master Gardener Program.

He said he recently learned some pretty interesting things about cherry tree pests, and was eager to share the news with others.

That’s how these Master Gardeners are. They learn something new, they want to tell us all about it.

The critter is the spotted wing drosophila, and its prime targets are cherries and berries.

You can read all about it here:

The critter is among what Scoville refers to as “vinegar flies,” or flies that find their way to rotting fruit.

What is especially alarming about drosophila is that it lays eggs in healthy fruit as well as fruit that has already dropped to the ground. The buggers’ favorite treats are soft-skinned fruit including cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. They’re also known to go after boysenberries and nectarines.

How it works is the adult fly lays her eggs just under the skin of your otherwise perfectly good cherry. The eggs become maggots, and the maggots nibble their way to adulthood.

The University of California Integrated Pest Management website notes that after the otherwise perfectly healthy fruit starts to get nasty, other common vinegar flies will come along and lay their eggs in that same fruit.

The maggot eventually gets full, grows to full-grown, exits the fruit and immediately begins to find a way to procreate. The mating begins about mid May, or when temperatures reach 68 degrees. Things slow down when its hotter than 86 degrees.

Ten generations of the flies may occur each year.

The pests were originally from Japan and are relatively new to California.

Before planting a cherry tree, Bob suggested a homeowner wait until spring and test to see whether the drosophila are in your neighborhood.


In early May, grab a one-quart plastic yogurt container and drill 10-16 holes, about 3/16 of an inch in diameter around the upper side of the container.

It was funny that Bob was so specific about the dimensions of the holes, but there must be a reason, so I just ran with it.

Then add about 1-2 inches of pure apple cider vinegar to the container. (Flavored cider doesn’t work, Bob said knowingly).

Then, here’s the real trick, add a drop of unscented dish soap.

The soap stays on the surface of the liquid, providing a layer that coats the surface tension.

The bugs are attracted to the cider, find themselves in the liquid, fall under the surface of the liquid and can’t break the surface.

The drosophila can be distinguished from regular vinegar flies because the males have spots on their wings, thus the name.

Oh yes, their size is 1/16th to 1/8 of an inch long, thus the importance of the six of the holes in the yogurt container.


The best first step is to prevent the future life cycles by keeping the area clean under the tree, clearing away any fallen fruit.

Don’t compost the fruit, but place it in plastic bags.

If the pest is in your neighborhood, it might be better not to plant cherries, berries and strawberries.

If you already have these plants, Bob suggested providing a protective layer of netting.

Harvesting the fruit early also reduces exposure to the pest, he said.

Chemical controls include Spinosad, an insecticide used to control olive fruit fly.

A Spinosad product is Monterey Garden Insect Spray, he advised,

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Sow There! 12-17-15, How to accidentally grow zygo cactus

Zygo cactus. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record
Blooms of a Zygo cactus (right) are stunning on cold days. On the left is a jade plant.Heather Hacking —Enterprise-Record

A week until Christmas and I am feeling calm and collected.

After one more big shopping trip to the Saturday farmers market, I’ll be done with the holiday hunting and gathering.

This weekend, others will be stuck in traffic along 20th Street. People will drive around in circles, hoping for a parking spot within view of the mall.

Some will wait in line, others will cut in line.

People will ruin their sense of smell by sniffing 150 types of perfume, all which smell exactly the same. How am I able avoid this madness?

I started shopping in October.

When my sister and I attended the Native Ways event in Oroville, we gobbled Indian bread and I bought a jar of the batter mix.

On Sierra Oro Farm Trail, my friend liked the garlic and jalapeno olive oil at Butte View. I bought two bottles, one for me and one for the gift box.

Downtown Chico Christmas Preview, gifts, gifts.

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens gift shop, Fort Bragg fFiremen’s bazaar and Farm City bus tour, more gifts.

My sister is so kind. She knows how much I hate shopping, so she handed me a list of things she wanted from her favorite online vegan store.

Mom and I shopped in October. She tried on a Renaissance-style corset at a local clothing boutique. The moment she left my house, I raced back to the store and bagged it.


To fill in the gift gaps, I’ll drop a few coins at the farmers market  Saturday. I can’t think of better treats than bags of granola, flavored nuts, red walnuts, dried apricots, kiwis, farmstead cheese and even chicken feet (if they have them). I could also splurge on artisan bread, fragrant soap, pottery, bees wax candles, winter squash, winter caps, almond butter, jam … If I am able to visit my family in the Bay Area this year, they love it when I bring a box of apples from Noble Orchards. You just can’t buy apples like that in a big city.


I love plants and people often give me plants as gifts.

Way back when, Elaine Gray bought me a blooming zygo cactus during the holidays.

That was 15 years ago, or more. The plant was still alive but I had not changed the soil all that time

The cactus never bloomed again, and who could blame it. That soil probably contained as much nutrients as a handful of styrofoam packing peanuts.

When I had uterine cancer surgery last spring, I brought all my plants from work to my home.

The zygo cactus sat outside for a while, and complained by dropping many of its “leaves.”

(Zygo cactus does not like too much sun).

Eventually I gave it a new pot and some new soil, and stashed the plant in the shade.

One day I heard that it might freeze overnight, so I pulled a few succulents inside, including the zygo.

This week it bloomed.

I’ve heard that plants sometimes bloom when they are tortured. Some genetic trigger is sprung and the plant “thinks” it would be best to procreate now rather than never.

Just for fun, I looked up the care instructions for zygo cactus. As it turns out, a few of the things I did this year may have actually encouraged the plant to bloom.

AUniversity of California pamphlet says to give the plants about 12 hours of darkness each day to encourage the buds to form. This was accomplished by putting the plant in the living room in winter.

Also, the plant needs to be relatively cool when the buds are forming.

I didn’t know it at the time, but placing the plant near the door (and the chilly outdoors) may have lead to the lovely pink flowers.

The lesson here is to appreciate unexpected blooms, and not to blame yourself if your gift cactus never blooms again.

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Sow There! Freeze and thaw, the winter cycle of cold-hardy spinach, Jan. 7, 2016

For the twenty-plus years I have been gardening, lettuce has been elusive.

Early on, I learned that lettuce planted in the warmth of spring will soon bolt, go to seed and die.

Later, the plants were literally yanked from my yard.

I clearly recall the day I was admiring a lanky, flowering lettuce clump when suddenly the plant began to shake. As I watched, wide-eyed and aghast, three-quarters of the greenery slipped into the ground.

Before I could return to the yard with a witness, the rest of the plant had disappeared into the underworld.

Fifteen years later, I thought I had built a gopher-proof raised bed.

With a sense of calm, I planted two six-packs of mixed greens purchased from Sherri Scott of Grub Grown.

The plants quickly grew to twice or three times their original six-pack size.

What happened next, I will never be sure. My guess is that an otherwise underground critter came out of a nearby hole and climbed into my raised bed.

From there, he ate an average of one head of young lettuce every two days until all that remained in the raised bed was lost hope.

Years passed. I grew basil in pots and bought spinach in bags.

Then came the kale craze, and I had good luck growing Tuscan baby leaf kale, from To avoid the gophers, I planted seeds in 15-gallon pots.

For the most part, I could have forgotten that gophers and moles still lurked beneath the soil surface. However, my cat reminded me by bringing three lifeless rodents as gifts.

This year we discovered that a black, plastic truck bed liner will keep out the gophers.

We filled about half the bed with clean soil, compost and steer manure purchased in bags. Rather than add holes to the bottom of the bed liner, one side is raised onto a railroad tie. Water drains away on a slight incline.

Rodents? No thank you.

Life was good. Not only did I grow kale and spinach, but loose leaf lettuce in colors of red and green.

Just as the plants were finally coming into their own, a cold snap arrived. The temps dipped to 26 and 27.

One frigid morning my beau padded out to the yard to start my car before I left for work. He shook his head with bad news and said the lettuce and spinach were covered in a frost.

This was a grayish color and as thick as the frost that made it difficult to open the car door.

The greens looked like Han Solo when he was frozen in carbonite.

Yet, each frost came and went and the plants did fine.

Kale, I learned, can snap back after a night as cold as 10 degrees. Spinach will survive nights to 20 degrees and lettuce should be OK on night as cool as 25.

Our recent cold nights were down to 27-28 degrees.

Naturally, this makes me want to plant more greens.

Alyse Pendo lives in Orland and volunteers as a Glenn County Master Gardener.

Some veggies, she explained, actually taste better when they are “frost kissed.” This is due to sugars the plants produce for protection. Artichokes, Alyse said, will often be rejected by shoppers when they are a bit brown at the tips. However, this is when the plants are their most tasty.

Others on the frost-kissed list include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and turnips.

Alyse was understanding as I ranted about gophers of Christmas past.

Now that the gophers were finally blocked out, we talked about planting more seed.

It doesn’t hurt to put seeds in the ground. Spinach germinates at temperatures between 40 and 70 F. This means seeds sown in pots indoors should do just fine. I can place the little pots on top of the fridge or in the spot where the kitty likes to lay in front of the heater, Alyse suggested. I happen to have a seedling heating mat, however I’m fairly certain the cat would make this her new warming station.


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Sow There! Frost, lemons and lemon bar recipe 12-3-2015

Meyer lemons have a thin skin, which means you might need to work on more lemons to gather a good pile of zest for lemon bars. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

If you love lemons, now would be the time to get to know your neighbors and offer to lighten someone’s lemon load.

Winter citrus is a timely treat. Yet, the weather can suddenly turn cold and ruin everything still in the tree.

This usually happens when you’re out of town on a long weekend.

Forward-thinkers are picking boxes of the golden fruit now before they panic on a frosty night.

My neighbor Bob showed up on our doorstep with a beautiful box of Meyer lemons, which are perfect for making lemon squares. (More on dessert below).

The Bossman has a mandarin tree that has produced enough fruit to keep a shipful of sailors safe from scurvy.

Mandarins are great for smoothies. Just peel them and tuck into plastic zipped snack bags. Freeze them with other bags filled with frozen grapes, peeled and frozen kiwis and even fistfuls of frozen spinach and kale.

This week a Twitter friend named Andy invited me to his house where he and his wife grow concord grapes.

These have an unbelievably rich taste and can even be used for grape pie.

All this food is literally hanging around, but chances are very high that we’ll have an overnight freeze.

Concord grapes, like Meyer lemons, taste above and beyond other varieties of their fruit type.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record


A UC Merced pamphlet gives tips for citrus and the cold.

Mandarins, as an example, could be fine after a brief chill of 24 degrees. However, several hours at 26 degrees, the fruit could be ruined.

What happens is the cells burst, and then the fruit dries out quickly. You may recall biting into a decorative lime, only to find it nearly juice-less.

The tree itself can also be damaged at very low temperatures. Younger trees are more vulnerable in temperatures in the mid 20s. If you have a young tree, watch the weather and cover the tree on those chilly nights.

If the tree is damaged, do not prune until spring. When the tree starts growing again, you’ll have a better picture of what parts are dead.


It wasn’t until I made lemon squares that I realized how much labor and love goes into those little slices of toe-curling yum.

The key to adding more zing is adding more lemon peel (zest), which means more time with a grater in your hand.

A few yeas ago my friend Kara offered this great tip: Use a vegetable peeler to carve off large chunks of peel at a time. Then use a small food processor to cut the zest into tiny bits.

If you’ll be making lemon square again, you can get extra zesty and freeze what you don’t need.

Also, its easy to burn the crust when baking lemon squares twice.

See the instructions below for the time-tested aluminum foil trick.

For crust:

1 cup all purpose flour

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (the same amount of regular sugar also does the trick)

1 stick butter, melted/not hot (or omega-rich butter alternative)

For filling:

2 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 Tbs all-purpose flour

6 Tbs juice from two lemons

2 tsps (or more) finely grated lemon zest


Set oven to 325 degrees.

Spray an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Line the pan with foil, so the foil overhangs all the sides. Then spray the foil with cooking spray.

Mix flour, salt, powdered sugar in a bowl, stir in butter to form dough (I put the butter in the microwave on defrost for about a minute to soften it).

When the mixture forms a dough, press into the bottom of the foil-covered pan. I used wax paper to flatten the dough. Another suggestions is to flatten with a measuring cup.

Double bake:

Bake the dough for 15 20 minutes, until pale brown.

In the meantime, whisk eggs, sugar, flour, lemon juice and zest in medium bowl.

When the dough is done, pour in the lemon mixture. Bake 20 minutes more.

While still warm sprinkle with a light dusting of powdered sugar, so the warmth helps the sugar stick. Some folks might use a flour sifter, for fancier application.

After cooling, you can tear away the foil and cut into small squares.


If you make a mistake or the lemon bars are not exactly perfect, you need to eat those mistakes before anyone notices.

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Sow There! Frost and plants, big decisions 11-19-2015

Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise is well stocked with chrysanthemums, a great table centerpiece that can be tossed out after the season. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

What’s most important? What can you live without? Are some things no longer worth the bother?

These aren’t just questions we ponder after age 40. We ask these questions when we hear frost is on the way.

A cold night last week had me worried. It turned out to be a false frost alarm, but the scare was good training.


Plants can freeze in the ground. Yet, potted plants are even more vulnerable because the roots are not protected.

As we transition into cold weather, try to keep your container plants well watered. Heat becomes trapped in the moist soil during the day, and will be released overnight.

For cold-sensitive plants, cover with a tarp or old sheet before nightfall. By the time it gets dark, most of that heat from the soil will have escaped.

If you work close to where you live, take an afternoon break when frost is predicted and cover sensitive plants before the daylight is gone.

Knowing what’s cold-sensitive and what is not may require some research. Temperatures below freezing, 32 degrees, does not necessarily mean plants will be damaged. Most plants that grow in this area will not be damaged until the cold dips down to 20-25. The longer the cold lingers, the more damage is possible.

Check out this list from Louisiana State University:

What you use as a cover is up to you. For small plants, a cardboard box or plastic tub might do the trick. You can also try sheets and blankets. Note that plastic that directly touches the leaves could burn the leaves.

On the rise

Just as hot air rises, cold air drops. If you have plants that might die in cold weather, move them to a location on an upward slope, or onto a porch. The coldest of air will drop to the lower zone.

Cool-season annuals at Mendon’s Nursery.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Several weeks ago my sister and I went on the Farm City bus tour, which included a stop at Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise. I took the opportunity to ask one of Mendon’s knowledgeable staff about portulaca. What was the best way to keep it alive during winter?

In case you aren’t familiar with portulaca, it also goes by the name of moss rose. The succulent does well in hot, hot places, including my metal wheelbarrow filled with poor soil. It flowers profusely in the middle of the hot, hot summer.

The Mendon’s guy was quick with his answer.

“It’ll die. It’s a heat-loving plant. Treat it like an annual.”

I loved that he was so succinct.

No judgement. Let it die.

I feel the same way about chrysanthemums.

Mums were on sale at Mendon’s that day and they are lovely. They come in a variety of fall fashion colors.

Now I have a chrysanthemum bouquet in the center of my kitchen table. More than two weeks have gone by and it shows no sign of fading.

After numerous attempts, I have never been able to make chrysanthemum bloom again. However, as a living bouquet it might thrive all winter.

You could make the same argument for orchids in bloom. When you give someone an orchid, the flowers will be stunning for months.

When the blooms fade, give the orchid plant to someone who knows how to care for orchids.

Poinsettias — exactly the same.

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Sow There! 12-31-15, When pepper Christmas tree gets gobbled, try a Valentine’s Day tree

Hyacinth bulb vases are ideal for forcing bulbs inside, because you can watch the roots grow into the water. However, this little fish bowl is a close second. Just add pebbles. Heather Hacking – Enterprise-Record
Heather Hacking-Enterprise-Record O’ Valentine’s Day tree. I don’t think you can really call it a “Christmas” tree if it gets placed in the tree stand Dec. 30.

This is a tough time for gardening. Every time I have a day off I think about putting more bulbs in the ground. Then I realize its uncomfortably cold outside.

On those long, dark Sundays, I found better things to do, like bake holiday cookies.

Even my cat doesn’t really want to go outside. She’ll take a little dash outdoors when absolutely necessary. The rest of the time we can find her curled into the new animal-print kitty bed with a 4-watt warming coil at the bottom.

If she could talk she’d be musing, “Living the dream, living the dream.”

To satisfy my garden itch, the kitchen table is now overrun by hyacinth bulb vases. I love checking them each day, often in awe that so many roots could grow from such a compact bulb unit.

While visiting my friend Perrin recently, I noticed she had little glass bowls filled with pebbles and hyacinth bulbs.

I cruised down to my favorite thrift store and found a cute little fish bowl. This is about the size you would use for a guppy won by tossing dimes at the county fair. I happened to have a bag of clean pebbles on hand, in the cupboard with other staples like flour and rice.

So far, there are four hyacinth bulbs in various stages of growth on the kitchen table.

If I do this right, I can continue to add water-filled vessels and have a bouquet of hyacinth flowers ready for Valentine’s Day.

That will be about the time we take down the Christmas tree.


Yep, one of my Christmas presents from my handsome woodsman was a four-foot tree.

I know it was an impulse buy, because I doubt he would pay $26.95 for a silvertip tree on Christmas Eve. That was the price on the tag. I’m guessing he paid the guy five bucks.

It’s beautiful. I love it. I have an excuse to keep a tree in the middle of the living room for several weeks.

Both my mother and my stepmother keep fully decorated (fake) trees in their living rooms year-round.

Several weeks ago I bragged about our indoor pepper plant that made a perfect a Christmas tree. It looked great for about a week. Yet, my beau noticed some holes in the leaves.

I didn’t want to believe it was a big deal. Maybe the bugs ate the leaves when the plant was still outside.

However, more holes appeared and the leaves started to droop.

After another week we both agreed that the bugs had to go outside before something hatched and flew away with my ornaments.

I inspected the plant in the sunlight. There they were, the hungry larvae nibbling their way across the foliage, just as happened recently with the kale plants in the raised bed.

In this case, the larva were dark green, the exact same color as the pepper plants.

As the holiday got closer, I couldn’t wait to start giving my guy some gifts.

First there was the Snark guitar tuner, because he was going somewhere and needed to be well tuned. Then, I thought he would look good in that new pair of 501 jeans.

I gave him a few gifts each day, and one day he went to the stores to buy me a thing or two.

Waiting until the last minute, apparently, is a good bargain shopping strategy.

The Christmas tree was one of the final gifts. He couldn’t really wrap it, so he had it hidden in plain view in the yard.

Because the tree will be around until Valentine’s Day, I’m thinking I could even call it a Valentine’s Day tree.

My beau could start buying Valentine’s Day gifts now, and place the wrapped items under the tree.

I could even make Valentine’s Day ornaments out of thick red paper, like we did in fourth grade.

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Sow There! How to plant paperwhites and surprises in the yard 11-12-15

The jumbo paperwhite bulbs are Narcissus Ziva. The flowers are easy to grow indoors and will grow in a dish with rocks and water. Heather Hacking-Enterprise-Record

With all the factors that can botch human attempts to grow food, it’s impressive we ever moved past hunting and gathering.

My recent experience growing vegetables reminds me why I prefer growing flowers.

We elevated our planting area to keep plants away from gophers and moles. Just when the kale was looking tender and tasty, cabbageworms made those plants their edible home. Earwigs sneak in at night. When I’m at work, birds swoop down and nip at young sprouts.

After all of that, it’s so much easier to bring several dollars down to the farmers market. Farmers must have magic spells that help them food grow.


This week my boyfriend Dave called and said he spotted a white rabbit among our potted plants.

I guess I just didn’t believe him, or didn’t believe something cute and cuddly could be a problem.

Later he called and said the rabbit had climbed into the black fabric pot where some spinach managed to grow.

In broad daylight?

Where was our cat?

I asked for photos.

This was not a scrappy, tan-colored jack rabbit with gangly legs and ears. This fluffy white bunny must have escaped from a neighbor kid’s 4-H pen.

I think we all understand why the rabbit made a mad dash and headed to my yard. The critter could clearly smell that something green and edible was growing nearby.

Heather Hacking-Enterprise-Record There’s a new pet in town, this one a bunny that apparently likes my yard better than its own. The attraction may very well have something to do with young spinach plants .

Moving on up

The precise reason that I purchased black fabric pots is that they are lightweight and portable. The leafy vegetables in pots can be moved onto pedestals high enough to frustrate the white rabbit.

We had dinner with friends Robert and Marie this week. The couple moved to a new home recently. Marie was proud of her new yard, and quite willing to give me a tour via flashlight.

When you move to a new home its not a bad idea to go to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore every week. You’re bound to find something you need.

In the case of our friends, they picked up some older kitchen drawers and filled them with dirt.

The drawers were placed on top of boards that are balanced on two sawhorses.

Marie bought lettuce starts, now growing undisturbed by the myriad of perils that exist in my yard.


Meanwhile, it’s a little bit easier to control the growing environment indoors.

Recently my mom and I split a big bag of Costco paperwhites, Narcissus Ziva. They’re billed as extra large, and I must say these bulbs are as big as daffodil bulbs. Many of them have attached bulblets.

Paperwhites are known for being grown indoors. You can use a shallow container filled with just a bit of soil, or fill shallow containers with pebbles and water. No drainage holes.

Last weekend I scored some white ceramic containers at the thrift store. These are for baking very small loaves of bread, and still had a sticker on the bottom from Michael’s.

Next, I hit the dollar store for several bags of small, clean stones.

Because of the large size of the bulbs, I could only fit three into each small container.

To grow paperwhites, place the stones about 1-2 inches deep in the dish, then add the bulbs, with the wide section touching the pebbles. Add more stones so the bulbs stay in place. Most people group the bulbs so they are almost touching.

Next, add water so it just barely covers the roots of the bulb. Too much water will rot the bulb. You’ll need to check the water level every few days, more often if your cat drinks from the containers.

After about three weeks, move the plant to a sunnier location. You may need to stake the flowers so they don’t flop over.

Note that when planted in water, the flowers are relying on the bulb for stored energy. Plan to toss the bulb after bloom.


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Sow There! How to shop early for Christmas 11-26-15

In a small house all you need is a small tree. In this case, a pepper tree will do. Heather Hacking-Enterprise-Record

Gotta love those forward-thinkers at the bigger-box stores. Like it or not, we can peruse Halloween costumes in August and buy Christmas wrap by the second week in September.

I think the grand plan is that we buy things in the middle of the summer and hide them from children. These gifts are so well hidden, the parents forget and buy more gifts in October and November. By the time the holiday comes around, people have too many gifts.

For those extra gifts, many charities have barrels around town and you can make other children happy with those things you bought in August. We’ve put together an online map with gift drop-off locations. Check “share the season”:

After years of resistance, those mass merchandisers have finally worked their way into my brain. Not only did I start holiday shopping early, I think I’m done. Thanks to the early reminders, I started buying holiday gifts when I was still wearing shorts and Croc sandals.

I thought ahead and made purchases on the Sierra Oro Farm Trail, at the downtown Chico Harvest Sidewalk Sale, and during my regular trips to the Chico farmers market. I’ll make one more dash for perishable gifts, but other than that I think I’m done.

Close friends will nod knowingly when I say I hate, hate, hate mainstream shopping. I lack patience, dislike overwhelming smells and pay very little attention to fashion. Sometimes I’ll have a panic attack while circling around the mall and looking for a parking place. It’s no fun to shop with me because I’ll growl if I see obstacles ahead, such as double-wide baby strollers.

I realize this makes me a poor consumer unit.

We’re Americans. Half the economy is tied to nonessential purchases. By the time we can spell the alphabet we also know how to ask Mom for something made by Mattel for children age 4-6.

The best way to convince me to shop is to throw a big can’t-miss community event (see examples above).

Chico’s Christmas preview really has it right. This isn’t shopping, its a big street party with shopping slipped in on the side. Christmas preview has bowls of chocolate, a tower of cupcakes, music on most street corners and ballerinas dancing in the windows. Somehow I don’t even mind when the double-wide strollers stop in the middle of the sidewalk.


With most of my presents ready to wrap, the rest of the holiday preparations are falling into place. As luck would have it, I never took down the white Christmas lights down from the living room.

Also, we had a cold snap a few weeks ago. Our jalapeno plant had grown fabulously large this summer in a black fabric pot. When it got really cold, I dragged the plant into the living room. The somewhat leaky fabric pot was placed inside a better-looking plastic pot. The pepper bush already has dozens of red jalapenos hanging from the branches, which are even better than actual ornaments. It took just a minute to unravel some of the white lights from the door frame and drape the string of lights around the pepper plant. The pepper plant was growing inside a tall metal tomato cage. That cage is great for hanging ornaments.

Many regulars at the Saturday farmers market remember Mike Morgenroth, who sold tomato seeds in yellow envelopes. Before he died, he taught me that several plants we grow in summer will survive the winter if brought indoors. Hot peppers, eggplant, basil and tomatoes are actually perennials, he said. In Chico we think they’re annuals because they die when it gets cold.

I know basil will grow indoors, and now it’s time for the hot pepper Christmas tree.

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Passion vines and butterflies, a delightful combination, 10-09-15

Agraulis vanillae, takes a little break on a zinnia flower.Heather Hacking—Enterprise-Record

My yard has been blessed with butterflies all summer.

There’s something special about these insects, as evidenced by their popularity in greeting cards, jewelry and tattoos.

Is it because they are so delicate? As if the mere wind could crumple their wings? Or perhaps because of the way they move — dancing softly, hesitant to land. Maybe because they are fleeting, a creature that flutters by but will likely not linger.

Early in the season I spotted one small, orange butterfly.

It’s been a dry summer and not much has bloomed in my yard.

Soon there were two of the insects, which is always more fun. I like to imagine they are in love or in some other insect way enjoying the wave of air in tandem.

As the summer months continued, more and more butterflies flitted by. They came in pairs and sets of three. Recently I counted a row of six. A group of butterflies, by the way, is called a kaleidoscope.

One Saturday afternoon photographer Dan Reidel and I had an assignment, but I needed to stop by my house.

As I retrieved something inside, he spotted the 10-foot-high sunflowers and went hunting for a photograph. The butterflies danced by his camera lens.

“I think I found the source,” he said a few minutes later.

A few tendrils of a passion vine had grown over to my side of the fence. On a few green strands we spotted at least 10 caterpillars.

This was mesmerizing. Orange critters with black, lash-like protrusions, some were already in their tan-colored cocoons. One had a milky-gray streak down its side, which I guessed was the start of its metamorphosis.

More time has passed, and the caterpillars have devoured the passion flower vine. When I peek through the slats of the neighbor’s fence, I see that most of the leaves are gone. Dozens and dozens of caterpillars hang from the nibbled vines.

The sad plant reminds me of the childhood book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”


My new friend Don Miller teaches in the department of biology at Chico State University and was nice enough to share what he knows about the visitors to my yard.

I emailed him some photographs.

He had recently been to S&S Produce and noticed a passion vine stripped almost bare. A crazy collection of butterflies could be spotted nearby.

Don has also talked to Diane at KZFR radio, who has the same plant with a multitude of butterflies. A co-worker at my office has had the same experience with passion vine.


Passion flower, Passaflora, is not a native plant. For that reason, it’s fairly remarkable that the butterflies and the plant have been able to find each other, Don said with awe.

The butterfly is the Agraulis vanillae, known to flit about the extreme southern parts of the United States, and into Mexico.

The insect expert said this particular butterfly is “married to” the passion vine, and is known to seek out just this plant.

A chemical compound in the plant is poisonous, but this particular butterfly is immune. When the caterpillar eats the poison, it becomes poisonous as well.

Other butterflies are known to habitate just one plant, including thepipevine swallowtail butterfly.

So why so many Agraulis vanillae butterflies this year? Don theorized that a mild winter allowed more to survive. That’s the same explanation for the summer infestation of grasshoppers north of town, in the area near Wookey Road.

As for “my” butterflies, Don said the party will continue as long as there is life in the passion vine and no hard frost.

I couldn’t help myself. I dropped the hose over the fence and watered my neighbor’s passion vine.

You can watch a cool video of this insect at

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Sow There! Forcing paperwhites and hyacinth bulbs 12-10-15

Paperwhite bulbs grow just dandy indoors in a bowl filled with pebbles and just a little waterHeather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

My Handsome Woodsman was out in yard this week, bright and early, raking golden maple leaves into soggy piles.

Why was he raking? Certainly not because he was following any sort of chore list.

Nope. The air was crisp. He wanted a little exercise. The cat was inside, bleating for wet food.

Why do people like gardening, raking leaves, mowing lawns, planting seeds?

For a lot of reasons.

If there was a Jung/Briggs Myers personality test for gardening, we could sit and ponder the various personality types.

The yard show-off. The contemplative cultivator. Hungry utilitarian.

Others might be lumped into the category of “watchers.”

We all love the really big shows — Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, the walkways of Disneyland , the George Peterson rose garden at Chico State.

However, I’m just as thrilled by the single bud that changes every time I take a new look.

For the past month we’ve had containers of paperwhites on the kitchen table.

These started out as big, fat bulbs – Narcissus ziva. For several days we watched as the bulbs sent out long tentacles that soon hid under the pebbles at the bottom of the containers. Next, green sprouts emerged from the bulbs.

The green grew and grew.

At one point I started marking the height on a piece of paper so I could note the progress the next day. Soon, I was marking the height in the morning and was impressed at the new measurement that night.

Around Thanksgiving, these babies were growing an inch or more each day.

This week the plants are flopped over. The flowers are nice and white, but rather small compared to the length of the greenery. I’m thinking this particular brand of paperwhites is intended for outdoors.

At the very least, I should have moved the plants to a sunnier location.

We tied the leaves together with a holiday ribbon. Yet, they grew more and flopped again.

Someone who liked to solve problems might build an elaborate paperwhite trellis. However, I’ve already moved on to hyacinth bulbs.

If I ever get a chance to teach third grade, I’ll have a bulb growing year-round.

What fun to watch the roots reach further into the water each day.

Later the foliage will emerge, followed by a powerfully fragrant bloom.

You can’t help but wonder how all of that plant infrastructure was crammed into that small bulb.

The Better Homes and Garden website,, says to buy pre-chilled hyacinth bulbs, or put the bulbs in the refrigerator for five weeks. Keep bulbs away from fruit.

The bulbs themselves can be irritating to the skin or eyes, the Better Homes gardeners note, so wear gloves while handling

Next, you’ll need a hyacinth vase. This has a bowl at the top, which perfectly fits a hyacinth bulb. The neck of the vase narrows, then gets larger closer to the bottom.

After placing the bulb in the top chamber of the vase, change the water every once in a while and turn the vase so the plant does not lean toward the light.

If you’re a “watcher” you could enjoy the plant until it reaches the bloom stage and gift it to a friend who loves immediate garden gratification.

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