Sow There!: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago 2-2-18

Sow There!: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago

There's no better view on the way home from work than a color-filled sky.
There’s no better view on the way home from work than a color-filled sky. Photo by Heather Hacking

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”

This was a quote my friend Martha posted on Facebook a few days ago. Since then, I’ve been noticing trees and have been thankful someone planted them.

This semester I’m a student teacher in a kindergarten class near Orland. I like to take the back roads. My route runs parallel to the river, then takes a jog through the orchards. Last Friday I passed a group of men, dressed in white and unloading boxes of bees. There was a light rain and I followed a rainbow almost all the way back to Chico — colors dipping down into the lines of bare branches.

Whenever I see a rainbow, I feel reassured that I am on the right path.

Trees are important — they provide a large percentage of our local economy. For “city folk,” trees provide a barrier between the roofs of our homes and the brutal summer sun.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has had a love affair with a tree or two. I knew a sycamore at One Mile. The circle of shade became “my place,” where I studied during college. My tree was hit by lightning and the place has never seemed the same. My friend Samantha has a Deodora cedar, planted in the 1920s by her great-grandfather. I can see it from a distance and it serves as a landmark so that I can find her house. The tree grew so large she had to move her driveway in 2008.

Another friend, Sylvia, planted a tree in honor of her brother, who had died. I think she’s still angry at the people who bought the house and cut down the tree.

Trees don’t need to be huge and old to have sentimental value. Last spring I felt honored to be invited to Sherwood Montessori school, where a group of children planted a Fay Alberta peach tree, donated by the lovely Luisa Garza. The kids who threw handfuls of dirt into a hole that day may not yet know the significance of their effort. Decades from now they can pass by their old school in the Chapman neighborhood and see peach blossoms or fruit.

When is the time to plant a tree? Yes, the time is right now.

If you have any doubt, you can head to a nursery where you’ll see row-after-row of bare-root trees waiting for a new home. Bare-root trees are sold in small sacs filled with light soil or sawdust, which makes them easy to haul from the trunk of your car.

If you’ve notice the cycles of orchards in this area, new orchards are planted in the winter months. In the fall, the nuts are harvested. If the trees are ready to be replaced, growers yank them out and make big piles for mulch or firewood. Next, the ground is worked and mounds of earth appear, again in orderly rows. In winter, the new trees are planted. It’ll be several years after that before the trees are large enough for harvest, and many more before peak production.

Our backyard fruit trees are similar. Peaches, for example, produce fruit on one year old-branches, which means you won’t see a harvest until at least the second year. Even then, expect slim pickings. That’s why Martha’s quote about the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.

I’ll also add that it’s a bad idea to buy a fruit tree and keep it in a pot. I’ve had a citrus tree in a 25-gallon pot for at least three years. The first few years I thought it was a lemon tree. When I finally harvested five fruits this year, I realized it is a blood orange. I can only imagine how happy that tree would have been if it had room for its roots to roam.

If you’re inspired to plant a bare-root tree this winter, the National Arbor Foundation has some helpful how-to information: https://tinyurl.com/ybtvmbuh. The directions include soaking the roots 3-6 hours, and never allowing the roots to dry. Dig a very, very big hole to allow the roots to grow easily. Turn the soil as much as 3-feet in diameter. After watering, add about 2 inches of mulch but make sure the mulch doesn’t touch the trunk of the tree.

MORE HELP

If you need help choosing a good fruit tree for this area, check out one of the well-established nurseries in town. Mendon’s in Paradise has a nice selection each year. Hodge’s Nursery along the Midway also holds winter workshops on pruning. Their Facebook page said to expect another session in February.

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Reaching a state of bulb saturation 2-19-16

It's daffodil time.
It’s daffodil time. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

I recently realized I have been planting daffodils like Mark Watney planted potatoes — as if my life depended on it.

Daffodils have been my no-guilt go-to plant when I need to get some dirt under my fingernails.

With the drought, I did not water the bulbs. If it rained, the bulbs were lucky. If the bulbs died in the ground, I would never know.

This week I realized I have reached the spring-bulb saturation point.

Big-box stores hire people with master’s degrees in product placement. In this case, I bumped into a 7-foot-high metal rack filled with spring-blooming bulbs. The rack was erected in such a way that bags of bulbs fell into my cart with almost no effort on my part.

DAFFODIL PLAN

My plan was to fill two big pots with bulbs each weekend. In the spring, my plan was to have two pots of daffodils in bloom each week.

Great plan. Life changed.

The holidays came quickly. There was a weekend at the coast. We both came down with a cold.

I never planted all of those bulbs. However, the bulbs that remain can be forced indoors, including paperwhites and hyacinth.

Meanwhile, the pots filled with daffodils are blooming big-time. Just as planned, each week a new pot is ready to move near the front porch for maximum enjoyment.

Now, here’s the funny part: When I filled the pots I placed them just inside the fence on the side yard.

When I went to move them, I realized there were anemic-looking bulbs under the pots.

Poor daffodils. I completely forgot where I planted them. Now I know how squirrels feel.

Looking back, I also bought too many bulbs last year. When I ran out of pots I started tucking bulbs into every corner of the yard, and apparently along the fence in the side yard.

It’s like an Easter egg hunt to track them down — behind the fence, at the edge of the house, in the path of the weedwacker.

SPRING-PLANTED BULBS

If you missed it, Brett McGhie, Butte County Master Gardener, wrote a good article recently about bulbs we can plant right now, http://ucanr.edu/blogs/dirt/index.cfm. If you peruse his articles, you can keep scrolling and find other useful articles from people who have attended many classes to learn about gardening.

Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day, my beau took me to the movies, but we opted out of the whole dress-up and dine-out routine.

If you think about it, Valentine’s Day is the last night I would want to spend a lot of money on a good meal. I don’t want to squeeze in a reservation, feel hurried by the wait staff and suffer through glares from people who want me to eat faster.

We’ll go out one night this week when we can chow down in a leisurely way.

A few weeks ago my guy announced it was time to take down the Christmas tree. The needles were starting to fall onto the carpet, which he claimed is a sign the tree has outlived its usefulness.

However, the tree was a Christmas gift and I did not put up the ornaments until the day after Christmas.

“Nope,” I told him after verifying the pine needle problem.

“I’ll take it down at Valentine’s Day.”

I think I’ll stick with this tradition. Christmas trees are fairly cheap when you buy them on Christmas eve. As far as frivolous, decorative items, I think there is a need for more of these in January and February.

BEE INFORMED

Super-smart university prof. Lee Altier will host a workshop next Wednesday, 5-6:30 on how to build a bee hotel for native bees. Meet at the University Farm greenhouse classroom, at the University Farm off Hegan Lane, 311 Nicholas C. Schouten Lane. Suggested donation is $10 if you want to make a bee hotel. Otherwise the talk is free.

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Sow There!: When is the time to prune grapevines? Now 1-26-18

Sow There!: When is the time to prune grapevines? Now

This year I was able to write Christmas cards for the joy of writing Christmas cards.
This year I was able to write Christmas cards for the joy of writing Christmas cards. Photo by Heather Hacking

Winter pruning can be a multi-step process. Sometimes the second step is fixing your mistakes.

This year I almost made the big misstep with my grapevines.

Months ago, I chatted with Mark Carlson, the man behind the pruning shears in a series of how-to-prune videos. I took notes that afternoon and specifically wrote to lop off 5 feet on each end of the vine.

I trimmed off 5 feet, but the vine still stretched halfway across my cyclone fence.

Recently I traveled through the wine country with a friend who was visiting from South Korea.

Uh oh.

Duh.

Of course, Mark had meant to trim the plant and to leave only 5 feet of growth on either side of the main cane.

Grapes with untamed tendrils are only meant to create ambiance in the courtyards of Italian restaurants.

It’s hard to cut back a plant so harshly. It feels cruel. However, we’re really giving the plants the equivalent of a new, teenage body. The new growth hasn’t had a chance to get haggard through sun and rain and the passing of stray dogs.

In Mark’s how-to-prune roses video, he suggests pruning the plants to about knee high.

His technique is especially brutal. He wears gloves and uses long loppers, cutting off more than half the plant without a glance. Later, he pushes aside the thorns and goes in for a more precise trim.

That’s the equivalent of putting your long hair in a ponytail and making one big chop before a pixie haircut.

OTHER GRAPE TIPS

Marks also noted that grapes need more than a pile of fresh compost to make them grow anew. He suggested a good tree and vine fertilizer application this month. You could do the same for any other fruit tree.

ANOTHER YEAR PASSING

Saturday is the Handsome Woodsman’s birthday. I’m glad he was born.

It’s been more than a year since he died in an automobile accident, but I say hello to him several times a day. The oversized photograph from his memorial service is on the bookshelf. I see his face as I turn the corner into the kitchen.

He never liked to have his photograph taken, mostly because he thought he would look goofy.

“It’s just me,” I would say from the other side of the camera lens. “Just look at me like you love me.”

Those are the moments I have captured in photographs.

Usually I walk through the kitchen and say hello. Other times, usually when my mind is quiet, I’m surprised by how much it still hurts.

This December I had a “movie moment.” We all have them — color-filled times that we know are important to our personal storyline.

In my case I was writing Christmas cards. I sat on the living room floor with red envelopes displayed in an arc.

I was humming.

Things had changed. Life was good again. I was writing dozens of Christmas cards to people I loved.

A year earlier, the death of Dave had surrounded me like a cave. Back then I had also sat on the living room floor writing letters. They were thank-you notes, written to people who had sent me sympathy cards. Letter after letter after letter … Even at the time I realized writing those letters could keep me sane.

This year I was able to write Christmas cards for the joy of writing Christmas cards.

Saturday will be the Handsome Woodsman’s birthday. I’ll share more moments with him on that day. I also know I’ll be OK.

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Sow There!: Weeds won’t wait, and neither should you 1-18-2018

Sow There!: Weeds won’t wait, and neither should you

Even in winter yard work must be done when weeds start popping up.
Even in winter yard work must be done when weeds start popping up. Photo by Heather Hacking

Some might consider mid-January as the “dead of winter.” Yet, if you take a quick look outside you’ll see that idea would be dead wrong. Each day the garden is waking up, stretching slowly with a chilled yawn.

In early fall, I plant poppy seeds in the cracks in the pavement in my alley. The cars roll over many, but enough survive and bloom that I continue the ritual. The seeds are dirt cheap when bought in bulk at Northern Star Mills on The Esplanade. When I get the itch to hope something will grow, I’ll scatter the poppies like bird seed or toss them into the unattended yard next door.

The seeds in my alley sprouted, but remained about an inch long for weeks and weeks, like stubble on a shaggy Santa Cruz surfer’s chin. One day I noticed the overcrowded plants had taken a growth spurt.

Was it the equinox? Did my seedlings have a mysterious inner alarm that buzzed on Dec. 21?

“Get up. Wake up. Get moving.”

Maybe poppies are like migratory birds, triggered by a certain turn of the earth and mysterious magnetic fields. All I know is that one day the poppies were an inch long, and then they seemed to grow an inch each day.

Poppies are wildflowers. Wildflower is another word for weed, depending on whether the plant grows in your yard vs. Table Mountain.

GARDEN CHECKLIST

The thing is, when the plants begin to wake up, gardeners need to stop binge-watching the Cable Girls and get busy.

Many garden magazines print garden-to-do lists with tasks listed month-by-month. I’m here to share the gardener’s “hurry-up-and-do list.” December, for example, is just about the latest you should plant spring-blooming. I scrambled to get those bulbs into pots on New Year’s Eve. They were sprouting in the bag. If I had waited any longer they might have sent roots into the floorboards near my TV.

The end of January is also just about the latest you should prune roses, and I’ll get to that after I put away my Christmas decorations.

Snipping grape vines is another job before the end of this month. I’m proud to say I clipped the climbers earlier this year. However, I’m certain I did not know what I was doing.

MORE ON WEEDS

Meanwhile, I’m busy picking weeds.

Thanks to the poppies, I’m looking more closely at all things green and bountiful. The wheat at the Patrick Ranch along the Midway has punched through the tough brown clods of earth. Almond buds are swelling. The bulbs I planted “last year” are starting to grow in pots outdoors.

If poppies are awake, that means other weeds are also hidden in plain view.

I see common groundsel starting to bud near line of the fence. Groundsel is one of my least favorite weeds, and blooms faster than I am able to locate my hoe under a pile of winter leaves. If you wait until spring to yank groundsel, the plants will have scattered enough seeds to cover all the terrain in the Avenues.

I don’t know about you, but I’m stepping up my weed-yanking game.

Yard work also burns calories. I ate so much chocolate this winter, I should volunteer to yank weeds for all of my neighbors. In fact, I ate so much chocolate “last year,” I should volunteer to clean out all the rain gutters for every house along The Esplanade.

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The key to happiness is watching your plants grow 2-11-16

A pink hyacinth bloom really brightens up the kitchen table. This flower has been a source of joy for weeks, transforming from bulb to bloom.
A pink hyacinth bloom really brightens up the kitchen table. This flower has been a source of joy for weeks, transforming from bulb to bloom. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record
These bulbs were placed in hyacinth vases at different times, which theoretically means the blooms would be staggered.These bulbs were placed in hyacinth vases at different times, which theoretically means the blooms would be staggered.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

I have no clue where I first heard that anticipation of taking a trip is more fun than actually taking the trip. How much this is true doesn’t really matter. Planning a trip is fun and taking a trip is fun.

Not having enough money to take a trip is just a bummer. Hearing about other people’s plans to take a trip when you can’t take a trip does not bring happiness.

Not even knowing what it might be like to take a trip is just plain sad.

This week I decided to check up on this trip happiness factoid. Is planning a trip really more fun than actually taking a trip?

I must say, I was rather shocked to find a New York Times blog (http://tinyurl.com/zoqkgtg) about a study on the quantification of happiness, trip-planning and travel.

The article goes into some depth about the overall happiness of these nearly 2,500 people in Holland who were or were not taking a trip.

There was even a research survey conducted. You can read all the details here:http://tinyurl.com/hy45mhj.

Obviously, some graduate student in the Netherlands gained happiness by finding a topic for her master’s thesis.

So here’s what I’m thinking … this happiness and anticipation isn’t isolated to trip-taking.

I’ve made a habit of finding anticipatory happiness from my plants.

This week I am quite content watching my hyacinth bulbs bloom indoors. You can also believe me when I say the entire process has been joy-filled.

One of the easiest bulbs to force this time of year is the hyacinth. I bought a jumbo bag at a big box store in August and gave half the contents to my mom.

If you can’t find any hyacinth vases at local thrift stores, you need to move more quickly next year. My mother and I spent the good part of a Sunday buying all that we could find.

A hyacinth vase is formed so that the bulb sits about a third of the way down the vase (see photo). Next, you carefully fill the vase until the water just barely touches the bottom of the bulb.

You might add half a teaspoon of water to the vase once a week.

The vase is clear, so you get the excitement of watching as the roots emerge from the bulb.

As of this week, three of the four hyacinth bulbs on my kitchen table are blooming.

They smell amazing.

No doubt, watching these bulbs over the past several weeks has brought me great joy. Was the joy of emergence more or less than the joy of actually being able to smell the flowers?

Yes. If I go back to school for my master’s degree, I’ll conduct a research project on the joy of watching plants grow.

As plants grow there is always something to anticipate. If love to garden, you probably agree that this brings joy.

LOTS TO DO DURING DRY SPELL

My buddy Dan Reidel recently wrote about El Niño, and how we should expect a break of about 10 days before the return of the rain. Read the details here,http://tinyurl.com/jqhw7vh

This is excellent news for almond farmers, who may have great weather during bloom.

For the home gardeners, its a great time to get some things done in the yard.

I’m hoping the Handsome Woodsman breaks out the weedwhacker this weekend, to beat back the grass that remains in that area we once called a lawn.

If you have some garden raised beds, this is a good time to work the soil, add compost, etc.

If you grew tomatoes last year, borrow a rototiller. Tomato hornworm pupa spends the winter in the soil. By finding and mashing those leather-looking pupae, you can cut back on summer tomato damage considerably.

You can also plant cool-weather leafy vegetables by seed, including lettuce and chard. If you work the soil really well, now is the time to plant carrots by seed.

Contact reporter Heather Hacking at 896-7758.

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Words of encouragement when battling invasive plants 2-4-16

Unruly privet, with a boatload of berries, is already taking over this section of alley in the Avenues. Each bird-luring berry has potential to be planted in your back yard.
Unruly privet, with a boatload of berries, is already taking over this section of alley in the Avenues. Each bird-luring berry has potential to be planted in your back yard. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

If you sent me an email or a note on Facebook last week, thanks so much. I’m glad the short, but heart-felt rant about privet hit a nerve. I needed the encouragement to stay the course and rekindle my resentment against privet.

It feels really good to know others also hold a grudge against certain plants.

Susan Mason sent some useful information. If you don’t know her, Susan is a plant-yanking rock star and cofounder of Friends of Bidwell Park. If you looked at her hands I’m betting she has callouses from making our favorite green places better places.

In her very helpful email, she said her group has spent 4,835 hours removing privet, at last count.

Additionally, the Mount Lassen Chapter of the California Native Plant Society “logged almost 1,500 hours of privet removal on other Chico creeks, she noted.

This is unbelievable people. Lets give these people some rest.

Here is a link to some good photos of one common type of privet, http://goo.gl/lMVwtm. If you learn what it looks like you can kill it in your yard. You can kill it if you see it growing from the crack in the pavement. You can shame your neighbors if they have privet growing as a hedge.

Today I am feeling badly that I almost let down my guard.

I had learned the evils of privet 20 years ago from my friend Shelley. However, when I moved to this new place and saw the plant growing everywhere, it seemed easier to let it grow than to spend time finding something else.

In her helpful note, Susan continued by saying that there are actually three invasive privet species in town, Ligustrum japonicum, Ligustrum lucidum and Ligustrum ovalifolium.

Now we know.

I asked Susan whether there were other plants we should really watch for.

One resource is www.plantright.org, which has the hot list of plants a lot of people don’t like. If you check this out, you’ll notice that many of these are some very lovely plants. These might even be things you would buy in a six-pack at your favorite big-box store, such as periwinkle and Pampas grass.

In her note, Susan says that periwinkle was purposefully planted in Bidwell Park in the 1950s by Boy Scouts with very good intentions.

Next time you’re in the park you may admire the pretty blue periwinkle flowers. Yet, make a mental note of how this plant can sprawl for acres and acres.

When Susan and her fellow plant pickers work in the park they also yank olives, ailanthus and hackberry.

A University of California research article, talks about how much easier it is to identify plants that might really take over, rather than waiting until those plants really take over.

When we’re done talking evil and invasive, we might as well talk about really evil and really invasive. There’s a list for that as well.

Susan helpfully pointed me (and us) in the direction of the California Invasive Plant Council, which conveniently lists plants we should learn to hate.

Here you will find English ivy, scarlet wisteria, Russian olive and edible fig.

Uh oh. I don’t know about others, but we went out of our way to procure a fig tree. I guess it wasn’t that hard. It was a volunteer in someone’s yard.

The nice thing about this second website is that alternative plants are listed.

Now I’m in the market for some fast-growing plants that will cover up a cyclone fence. Vining plants welcome.

Does anyone have some volunteer plants they are willing to donate to my cause?

Contact reporter Heather Hacking at 896-7758.

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Sow There! Making less of resolutions and watering your plants, Jan. 5, 2018

This Vinca rosea looks unnaturally fresh for January. By this time most years the freeze would have turned the summer shiner to mush.
This Vinca rosea looks unnaturally fresh for January. By this time most years the freeze would have turned the summer shiner to mush. Photo by Heather Hacking

On the last day of the old year, a few friends gathered for a celebratory grease-fest at Jack’s restaurant downtown.

Talk turned to self-improvement, resolutions and one-word affirmations. Katie shared that she chooses a single word for the upcoming year, and then tries to be mindful of the word in all her endeavors. This year her word is “less.”

Less stuff. Less worry. Less fuss. You could go on and on, but that would defeat the purpose.

I had no doubt that my friend Katie is “trendy,” but it turns out her one-word idea is an actual trend.

A few days later I noticed the topic: “New Year’s word,” was literally “trending” on social media. I would credit Katie, but I think she would prefer “less” credit.

STARTING AGAIN

Resolutions are cool and I am resolute that I will make one — in my own sweet time. But first I want to finish eating all my Christmas chocolate. By the time Chinese New Year rolls around, many of my friends have finished the cycle of heart-felt promises and broken promises.

Even if good intentions fall flat, I think the New Year/fresh start things is a grand idea. We all get to make a fresh start, some of us try this again and again and again.

All days are arbitrary in the larger scheme of life. If we need a day on the calendar to prompt us to clean out the garage, join a gym or stop being a big jerk, I say seize the day.

Personally, I have one resolution this year, to pass the Reading Instruction Competence Test (RICA) which is one of the big hurdles ahead before I can become an elementary school teacher.

As soon as I finish those chocolates I’ll start studying.

LET IT RAIN

The rain this week was nice, but we’ll need more of it before we have enough. Normally, late fall is a really good time to buy new perennial plants for the garden. The rains come, roots grow, flowers arrive in the spring. However, if you planted something in October, those plants sat there and withered. Sure, many plants are dormant now, but your plants may also be dead.

DON’T SAY THE D WORD

The dreaded D word came up during a party I attended before Christmas. For some reason, we whispered the word “drought,” in that way one lowers their tone when asking about an absent, estranged husband.

It’s too early to talk about dreaded words, but my friend who is an almond farmer said she’s already irrigating her orchard. She opened her eyes wide with worry and spoke in a hushed tone. I dared not ask about the groundwater elevation in her well.

In December, it was dark when I left the house and dark when I got home. I should have also noticed that it was dry and that my potted plants were dying.

Luckily, I dragged the hose around the patio before I lost anything with sentimental value.

Paul Rogers, one of my favorite reporters from the dreaded drought years, reports that it’s too early to become really, really worried about dry weather. We still have January and February (and March) before we think about putting the 5-gallon bucket back in the shower. Yet, I’m glad I didn’t spend all my Christmas cash on new bare-root fruit trees.

Tuesday, reporter Laura Urseny noted that Chico folks have still been conserving water vs. pre-drought days, which makes me think all of those lawn-to-drought-garden conversions have permanently reduced local water use. Or maybe more people are forgetting to water their plants.

The bottom line is that if you haven’t checked your plants lately, give them a drink. Fill up the bird bath while you’re at it.

The upside to wacky weather has been that we also have not had a really hard freeze. When I watered my potted plants, I noticed the Vinca rosea was still flowering. Normally at this time of year the cold weather has turned this summer beauty to mush. I don’t know whether to enjoy the extra blooms, or go back to worrying.

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Sow There!: Worms, chicken costumes and things to plug in, Dec. 29, 2017

Red wigglers, they certainly can worm their way into someone's heart.
Red wigglers, they certainly can worm their way into someone’s heart. Photo by Heather Hacking
The rubber chicken finally, fully adorned.
The rubber chicken finally, fully adorned.Photo by Heather Hacking

After all the planning and careful decision-making, it’s gratifying when a holiday gift is a big hit. For my niece and her hubby, the big moment arrived late Christmas morning. The three children had unwrapped Minecraft socks, Nerf guns and art supplies, building a pile of wrapping paper that blocked the front door. These were great gifts and many moments were spent reminding the young boys that they were not allowed to point a Nerf gun inside the house.

After a snack break, (apples and peanut butter) each child was given a wrapped gift, which by shape and size the children guessed was a DVD.

Nope, it was a video game, with extra DVDs for extra video game add-ons.

Minecraft.

Just so you know, I do know about Minecraft. The third-graders in Miss Clark’s class wore Minecraft T-shirts and read Minecraft books. They talked about mysterious (to me) digital weapons and murmured about zombies and beet-loving pigs. However, I had never played the game. In fact, I have still never played the game.

“This is an Xbox game,” the eldest child in my family deduced, holding the Minecraft game in her hand. “We don’t have an Xbox player.”

The kids scanned the remainder of the presents under the tree. There must be an Xbox in the unwrapped pile of presents. Yet, all that remained was an unwrapped Pepperidge farms sausage and a pair of socks.

The dad of the house stood up and unveiled the Xbox in a smooth swoop of his hand. The new center of the family’s universe had been hidden in plain view.

He had hooked up the electronics the night before and hidden it under a wrapped box with a cut-out bottom.

The youngest of the three children literally bounced up and down for about half a minute, which was enough time for his mom to grab and press record on her cellphone.

I think this was the last time I made eye contact with the family that day. Soon there were four sets of hands on Xbox controllers and distracted responses to my questions about how the game was played.

The 6-year-old child appeared to have completely forgotten that he cried the night before when he opened four separate presents containing artificial poop.

“This is the best ever,” my niece said, while reviewing the video of her son bouncing up and down in a joy-filled Minecraft meltdown.

WARM WORM WISHES

I know how she felt because I found the perfect gift for my mom’s boyfriend.

Thank you, Worm Farm in Durham, for popping that pound of red wiggler worms into the mail before the new year. When I arrived at mom’s house on Christmas Eve, I was led to the garden to tour the compost bin/worm production area at the side of the house.

Mom’s beau, Steve, showed off his two matching circles made of chicken wire, each about 3 feet in diameter.

The fall leaves haven’t lost their color, and the bins looked like they were filled with large-sized confetti.

When he reached under the leaves barehanded, I saw that the red wiggler worms had found a cozy spot to reproduce, eat garbage and obtain happiness.

Steve looked pretty darn pleased as well.

Mom also had her triumphant gift-giving moment. She likes to sew and when I was a child she made amazingly trendy outfits for my Barbie dolls. Barbie had camping outfits and ’20s flapper costumes, Little House on the Prairie skirts with matching aprons …

This year, mom created a red cape and matching Santa hat for my rubber chicken. It’s a seasonal costume so I’m hoping she is inspired to create a happy bonnet and sundress in time for the rubber chicken’s Easter outings.

RED WIGGLERS

A few more things should be noted about worms. Red wigglers do not dive into the soil like the night crawlers we see while digging a hole.

R. Wigglers like it best about 6 inches under the soil. This means that any time you need to grab a fistful of worms for a small child, it’s as easy as unveiling an Xbox. The worms reproduce rapidly by producing yellow-ish, pearly balls that contain tiny worms.

(If you accidentally spot worm eggs while planting snow peas in a third-grade classroom, you can easily lie to children and say they have discovered fertilizer pellets.)

Wigglers love coffee and melons, according to UncleJimsWormFarm.com. They’ll do well in Northern California’s cool temperatures, but it’s the heat in my mom’s hometown that might require some TLC.

Uncle Jim suggests creating shade and remembering that heat will dry out the compost/worm bed. Add more water in the summer.

I think I’ll wait a few months, then head over to Steve’s house with a bucket. By then the worms should have reproduced enough baby worms that he won’t notice if some go missing. If all goes well, mom will have had time to craft a summer safari outfit for the rubber chicken.

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Sow There!: Gifts to buy when you intended to not buy gifts, Dec. 22, 2017

This floater is a Christmas gift for a 6-year-old family member.
This floater is a Christmas gift for a 6-year-old family member. Photo by Heather Hacking

This week I went shopping for a thank you gift for my amazingly kind and gracious mentor teacher. My thought was that I would buy “a plant that would not die.”

I’m not saying she’s an “air-fern-only” type gal. In fact, I have every reason to believe she nurtures most living things.

However, she’s busy planning ways to educate the future thinkers of the world and may not want to drag a hose around during winter break.

Because I love plants, I’d love to give them to everyone I know. However, sometimes people think that if I give them a plant I expect them to keep it alive until the release of “Guardians of the Galaxy XVI.”

I visited the Little Red Hen Nursery and the gal in the red apron was honest and helpful. She pointed toward one particular row of “will not die” plants. Hardy perennials, she said.

As we exchanged words, we each exhaled puffs of smoke in the frigid air, as if we were sucking on electronic cigarettes. Maybe the end of the year is not prime time for buying plants, I concluded, as I bought a gallon-sized dianthus for myself and headed into the Little Red Hen gift shop.

A better idea for a plant-related gift this time of year is to give a pot filled with dirt. My friend Chrissy called recently. She had lemons waiting for me, and I traded her a container of soil.

“Put this in your yard somewhere and let it get watered by the rain,” I said with the instructive, yet kind teacher tone I have been learning these past several months.

Of course, I tucked bulbs in the container and in several months she’ll realize I handed her a pot filled with hope. With any luck, we might actually receive some actual rain.

TWISTED GIFTS

Other items on my holiday shopping list include worms and fake poop.

Mom has a tremendously likeable boyfriend, and the merry couple recently built a compost pile.

I’ll overlook the fact that I have been lecturing my mother for about a dozen years to save her kitchen scraps and improve the tilth of her soil. She ignored me until she met Steve, and now she has embraced composting like it’s the latest new fad.

She’s happy, their fingernails are dirty and that’s all that matters.

The fact is, I had vowed not to buy presents this year, except for the family members younger than 12.

However, my mom’s boyfriend continues to do really nice things for me — likely out of pure goodness of his heart.

He heroically mowed my lawn when it was a yard high and hauled away a trailer filled with junk from my yard. During my recent trip to UC Davis to reconfirm my cancer-free status, Steve drove my mother and I. He even waited in the car while we toured the UC Davis hospital with my rubber chicken.

Steve’s definitely on the list for a thank you gift.

When I asked mom what Steve might like, she said she had no idea. She tried to secretly buy him a leaf blower, and then he started talking about buying a leaf blower.

“Do NOT buy a leaf blower right before Christmas,” Mom said, which should have been an obvious hint.

“But there are leaves out there now,” Steve said logically.

She gave him the leaf blower as a late Thanksgiving gift.

“Could you give him something for the (new-and-now-cherished) compost pile?” she said, brainstorming out loud. “Maybe some additive or something, for the compost pile?”

I’m on it.

Worms.

We have it all in Northern California — world famous ice cream, award-winning beer, California’s longest river and a worm farm.

During my many years as farm reporter, I had several excuses to visit the Worm Farm in Durham, an old turkey ranch that now supplies worms, worm castings and supersoil for worm connoisseurs throughout the country. A pound of red wigglers (worms) will arrive on mom’s boyfriend’s doorstep sometimes in early January. I’m quite certain he will not think to buy these himself.

As for the fake poop, that’s another silly family story.

My great-nephew (yep, I’m a “great” aunt), has been asked repeatedly about what he would like for Christmas.

“Poop,” he has said after repeated inquiries.

He’s 6 and he thinks he’s hilarious.

When they’re out and about, my Mom will make jokes about following dogs around to try to bag his Christmas present.

In a concerted effort to teach him a lesson, and share in a family joke, each of us is tracking down plastic poop. We’ve been surprised at how many varieties of the lesser-sought Christmas item exist in novelty stores, and even big-box stores. I tracked down a disgustingly life-size specimen called “The floater.”

Depending on how things go, we may or may not provide him with other Christmas gifts.

SHOP LOCAL

If you haven’t located that perfect holiday gift, you still have Saturday to shop at the Saturday Chico farmers market, Second and Wall streets, 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Everyone needs food and you can get some dandy stuff, grown by real people with local dirt under their fingernails.

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Sow There!: Take the lazy gardener pledge, then blame it on tryptophan Dec. 17, 2017

If you’re one of those people who thinks you need to do everything right for the holiday, you could be heading for a swim in the nut bowl.

Possible to-do list: Buy thoughtful gifts, decorate the tree, write holiday cards, bake cookies, ring the Salvation Army bell, host holiday party, attend community holiday events, dance like a crazy fool (Santa hat optional) at a Yule Logs concert …

By the time the actual holiday arrives, you’re conked out on the couch. Nope, it’s not the tryptophanfrom the turkey. You’re just exhausted from trying to be a holiday superwoman.

(Read more about the myth of tryptophan below.)

My vote is that if a holiday tradition involves more than an hour of work, includes idling in traffic or began when my Danish relatives landed in Minnesota, you can forget it happened. If you’re really nostalgic, you can record the tradition in a whimsical book intended for your ancestors.

Personally, I have new holiday traditions, like the aforementioned Yule Logs concert.

It was easy to delete “bake holiday fudge” from the to-do list. Each year I tried this silly maneuver I ended up gaining eight pounds. I still write holiday cards, but my excuse is that I’m a writer.

Yes, I’m getting old, but I think on this point I’ve also gained wisdom. If a tradition has me muttering “happy holidays” between clenched teeth, it’s no longer joy-filled.

BE LAZY, BE A HERO

Laziness. Busy-ness. Messy nester? No reason to feel bad. Some big names in wildlife and conservation have declared that leaving nature’s mess alone is good for the planet. In fact, they’re asking those of us who would rather watch Netflix than raise a rake to keep up the poor work.

The CornellLab, The Nature Conservancy and Habitat Network have asked us to take a Messy Gardening Pledge, https://tinyurl.com/ycx9d6pe.

If you’re too lazy to check out the detail on your own, here’s the lowdown. The groups point out that native bees will make homes in your brush pile. Rotting leaf piles harbor insects, which become food for birds and rodents. If that doesn’t sound nice enough, how about the butterflies that can find homes in your garden detritus?

But wait, there’s more. If you sign up for the pledge, which actually takes just a bit of effort, you could win a Lazy Gardener Window Decal or a poster. The poster is really lovely. Either one could be covered up with dust in no time.

The group doesn’t advocate that you do nothing in your yard until old age. However, winter is a key time for critters that need places to hide and feed. Clean it up in the spring.

TRYTOPHAN MYTH

For decades, my family eats too much, plops in “The Blues Brothers,” and some of us fall asleep on the couch. No one blames the lovely red wine, they blame the tryptophan in the turkey.

Yes, tryptophan is a mood-changing amino acid contained in turkey, however, any other form of poultry contains just as much of the snoozy stuff.

We like to blame our food comas on eating turkey, but the reality is that we’re ready to zonk out on the couch because we stuffed ourselves silly.

I looked it up because I also believed turkey was to blame for the nodding off after the eggnog. WebMD had the not-so-skinny truth. The explanation is a bit complicated, but the bottom line is that the combination of poultry and carbs can cause your eyelids to struggle to stay open.

It takes a lot of energy to digest five handfuls of mixed nuts, two ounces of fancy cheese, a full plate of carbs and poultry and a tiny, tiny slice of eight desserts. If you’re like most folks, you might have washed it all down with a couple of glasses of booze.

By the time Uncle Ned is trying to head to his Jeep to drive back to Kansas, you can barely raise your head to nod goodbye.

Follow garden enthusiast Heather Hacking on Twitter. For email: sowtheregardencolumn@gmail.com, and snail mail, P.O. Box 5166, Chico CA 95927. You can also check out ancient articles at norcalblogs.com/sowthere.

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