Sow There! Green mysteries, travel plans and tips for crookneck squash, May 11, 2017

Male crookneck squash flower.
Male crookneck squash flower. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record
Rubber chickens might be useful in helping to spread pollen on crookneck squash, if only by lending moral support.Rubber chickens might be useful in helping to spread pollen on crookneck squash, if only by lending moral support. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

I wish skin cream had the same power to rejuvenate that water has to transform a lawn.

During the drought years I watered my lawn once a week, and sparingly. I don’t know if I was even hopeful that the grass would live. It’s certainly not a pristine area, but its good enough for a few lawn chairs and a place to park the raised garden bed.

Honestly, I let dandelions grow because I appreciate their cheery yellow flowers and will occasionally pick some leaves to toss into a salad. (See dandelion nutritional value here: http://tinyurl.com/l9m86gd).

I’m not proud that I have a lawn, even a tattered lawn. If I had done the right thing during the drought years, I would have called Sutherland’s and had two loads of smooth river rock dumped from my back door to street. However, then I would have nothing to complain about for this week’s column.

The fact is, the lawn survived on nearly nothing, and has even bounced back.

STRONG SURVIVE

Most lawn seed is a mix of different grasses. If you have a lawn like mine, you’ll notice that certain types of grasses survive in the shade under the tree. Other grasses clump in the full sun. Bermuda grass grows wherever it wants.

Last weekend I was watering the spinach and kale in the raised bed. Instead of letting the shut-off nozzle do its job, I decided to squirt a patch of tawny-colored lawn stubble as I walked. After giving the grape vine a drink, I turned back around and I swear the brown grass had started to turn a pale green.

Did gnomes sneak around behind my back with cans of green spray paint? I could have spent more time experimenting with the hose and slight changes in hue, but I’m hoping it rains this week. Plus, I don’t really want the lawn to grow because then I’ll need to mow it.

I’m sure there is some scientific principal at work. Does adding a little bit of water suddenly “wake up” the dormant chlorophyll in the grass, which starts the absorption of blue and red light, quickly transmitting only green light waves to our visible eye? I can imagine the sound of the chlorophyll gulping water — a sound similar to sucking down that last inch of slurpie on a hot day.

ONE PLAN/PLANT AT A TIME

This summer I’m planning to travel for several weeks. In fact, I’ll soon be wrapping up my job at the newspaper after 25 years. I’m grateful that the Bossman has said I can continue to write this column because I have many more things to say about gardening and life in general.

For this summer, the plan is to leave the country, unload some mental baggage and prepare myself for the year-long elementary school teaching credential program, which begins in the fall.

For now, it seems silly that I keep buying vegetable plants almost every time I visit the farmers market. Angela Handy sells plants Thursday nights on Third Street, and its rude not to stop by and say hi. One thing leads to another, and soon I’m walking away with a new crookneck or dill plant. Angela hands out free advice to anyone who plunks down two bucks for a seedling.

Her recent advice was “it’s two bucks. Won’t you enjoy it for a while even if it dies while you’re on vacation?”

I’ll have a friend watching the house and the Feline Unit. That means there will be someone to harvest too many zucchini when the veggies arrive all at once in July.

Who knows?

CROOKNECK TIPS

Crookneck squash, I have learned, can benefit from a little human intervention.

If you look closely, you’ll see two different types of flowers. The male flower has a single protrusion in the center — the stamen. If you scratch the stamen you’ll get a bit of pollen on your finger. Next, you find a flower that has a stigma. This is shaped differently and is a female flower. If you add the pollen to the stigma, you should soon get a squash.

In years past I have become frustrated when the male flowers and the female flowers are not open on the same day. You can even tear off the stamen, gently peel open the female flower from the day before, and spread the pollen on yesterday’s stigma.

So far so good. I have one, itty-bitty yellow crookneck. Maybe I can eat it before I leave the country.

For more about squash procreation: http://tinyurl.com/ml38h4k.

Send emails to hkmagee13@gmail.com

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Sow There! Get your garden groove on before the weather stays warm May 4, 2017

Steve, the super-stud and his 6-hp lawn mower.
Steve, the super-stud and his 6-hp lawn mower. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

I can be incredibly ungrateful. Sunday was my birthday and frankly I wasn’t feeling it. My Dad had decided I should celebrate my birthday for the entire month of April. Every day for a week before the “big day,” he called to sing happy birthday to my answering machine. Sometimes I would stand in the living room and listen to him croon without picking up the phone.

I wouldn’t say I was dreading my birthday, I just wasn’t looking forward to it. My Dad and his lovely wife Lynda would have none of that. They insisted on squeezing in a quick visit to Chico.

Dad and I have a long-standing joke that if he ever rolls into town on short notice, he shouldn’t expect me to clean my house. I’ll gladly run an electrical cord out to his van and he can use the bathroom at a nearby coffee shop.

On this visit, the birthday-wishers stayed in a hotel.

Mom and her beau pulled the same trick, insisting on breaking through my cone of moodiness. I’m really lucky my folks are so pushy. Who knows, I might have spent the entire weekend bingeing on ice cream and listening to Adele songs on Pandora.

Mom wins the pushy parent contest this year. When she saw that my yard was so overgrown it could qualify as an urban wildlife sanctuary, she returned a few days later with her boyfriend and a lawn mower.

“But I have a big project in school due that day,” I protested. “Could you bring the lawn mower in mid May?”

“You don’t even need to answer the door,” Mom persevered. “If we don’t come soon, the weeds will be too high for Steve’s (6-horsepower) lawn mower.”

The kindness had the impact my folks had hoped. I realized my parents rate among the best I could hope for, and certainly better than I deserve. The best birthday present is to know you are loved.

More gardening to come

Consider yourself warned. Those higher-than-average temps that hit this week were a hot reminder to get your garden groove on. Saturday and Sunday should be the perfect weather for inviting friends over for a barbecue or planting the remainder of the vegetables you plan to grow this summer. If you’re smart, you’ll also install drip irrigation that can be operated by remote control from your pleasant perch in front of the air conditioner.

Sunset’s Northern California garden check list, http://tinyurl.com/lsvfbe7, says the time is now for planting seeds of cucumber, eggplant melon and squash directly in the soil. If this week is any indication, it should be a long, hot, and possibly fruitful summer.

Most folks in Chico plant their tomatoes as soon as they feel a tingle of a warm breeze. If you’re behind the trend, get those beauties in the ground.

Recently, I was cleaning my desk at work and came across some hand-written notes by the late tomato expert Mike Morgenroth. Mike was the guy who sold the little yellow envelopes of tomato seeds at the Saturday Farmers market. Back in 2012 he invited me to his growing grounds for a tomato pep talk. (The article is still online here: http://tinyurl.com/lrz8pvt).

Among Mike’s sage suggestions was to avoid drowning tomatoes. Instead, water with a drip system about once a week, and only when the surface of the soil is dry.

He also added gypsum and compost to just about anything he grew. Gypsum is calcium sulfate dihydrate. Most soil in Chico is low in calcium, he advised about two years before he died. Lack of calcium can lead to the dreaded blossom end-rot. His wisdom on compost was to add compost to anything you plant. He said about 10 percent additional compost (10 percent of the soil in a raised bed, for example), should do the trick if applied every year.

PLANT SALE

There’s plenty to do this weekend – Richardson Spring open house, Endangered Species Faire, working in your yard and the Pioneer Day Parade in downtown Chico, to name just a few. I also got a call about the Friendly Garden Club’s plant and bake sale at the Orland Fairgrounds Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Karen said shoppers should also bring their questions. Club members will be ready to share their know-how.

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Sow There!: Lawn mower lament 4-27-2017

Tiny flowers in full bloom on catchweed, also known as Velcro weed.
Tiny flowers in full bloom on catchweed, also known as Velcro weed. Heather Hacking-Enterprise-Record
What a mess. Heather Hacking-Enterprise-Record

The lawn mower is at the top of my list of resentments. Try as I might, all it gives me is silence.

I tugged and tugged on the machine until I was in tears and near swear words. When I took a rest, lamenting my lack of lawn mower skills, I realized I was wearing away at the thin rope that appears vital to the uncooperative contraption.

In the past, taking care of the lawn was my Handsome Woodsman’s job. During the drought years we watered once a week, and he only had to bother with the lawn a few times a year. He would cut the grass as short as a competitive golf course. Many months after the grass was overgrown, he’d torture the lawn once again.

I bought a cheap-o weedwhacker, but after about 10 feet of grass, bits of string litter the grass. I triple-checked the printed directions for how to reload the string, but after three tries, 18 feet of string and tears, I decided to focus on something more rewarding.

The gravel patio outside the front door of my house is covered with potted plants, most of which are in full or partial bloom.

If the grass lawn goes to seed it won’t be the worst thing in the world. However, I hope the house doesn’t look so abandoned that squatters try to move in. The past few weeks I’ve literally been using an electric hedge trimmer on the grass. The trimmer is not ergonomically designed for low-lying greenery, and the pain in my shoulders makes me resent the lawn mower all the more.

Now sunshine and rain caused a grass growth spurt, and the grass is as tall as the weeds that grow on the sloped hills near Horseshoe Lake.

I can imagine Dave laughing at me. Before he died he tried to teach me how to start the lawn mower. It wasn’t our happiest moment. I tugged and tugged as he repeated instructions, often using that “tone,” that could sometimes lead to a spat.

When he decided to show me the ropes and fired up the machine, I announced I would clean the shower if he would just take care of the “manly job.”

I’m not usually the type of gal who considers certain jobs to be “man’s work” or “women’s work.” I just wish my particular lawn mower was not specifically built to be operated by someone with beefy forearms.

My friend Samantha, who owns a farm and drives a rig that can haul multiple tons of hay, said no problem, she could fire up the law mower. I was really hopeful until she also called it quits and gave me the phone number of her gardener.

For all those folks who converted their lawn to tanbark or decorative drought gardens, you have a right to laugh at me. I also wish I was looking proudly over quaint lavender and sage plants surrounded by smooth river rock. Mostly I just wish the Handsome Woodsman was here to mow the lawn.

SPRING INTO ACTION

Life is pretty busy right now. I’m taking classes to become an elementary school teacher, and studying has cut into my weed-whacking habits. Now I know why they call the season “spring.”We enjoy the plants that become wildflowers in Bidwell Park. But the “wildflowers” in our backyards are merely seeds for more weeds.

This week I filled an entire black plastic garbage bag with grass cuttings and Velcro weed. My advice for Velcro weed is to use a hoe. The plant fights back and makes welts on your wrists if you try to yank it with angry fists.

CRUCIAL TIMING

If you live in Chico, you’ve spent some quality time with Velcro weed, also known as catchweed (http://tinyurl.com/kjp5e48). It doesn’t appear to have flowers, but if you look closely there are white petals so small I can only see them if I’m wearing my magnifying glasses. When we don’t see the flowers, we think we have another week to deal with the invader. By then, tiny, tiny seeds have blown into new hiding places in your soil.

Luckily, I’m able to compartmentalize. If I look the other way while walking past the lawn, I can pretend like it doesn’t exist. By the time summer arrives that yard will look about the same as it did during the drought years.

 

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Sow There! Tips to remove bugs from leafy greens 4-20-2017

A lady beetle and aphids.A lady beetle and aphids. Jack Kelly Clark — UC Cooperative Extension

Brown armorated stink bugs eggs, and nymphsBrown armorated stink bugs eggs, and nymphsDavid. R. Lance — UC Cooperative Extension

The bugs in my gorgeous, lush green patch of spinach, kale and broccoli have been working overtime, as if they have a deadline to procreate. A few weeks ago I bragged on Facebook about my leafy green abundance. Two friends immediately asked me to drop greens on their doorsteps on my way to work. I was glad to oblige. It made me feel like the Great Garden Provider.

I love tasty greens. Yet, there is a limit to how many times I can choke down iron-filled goodness. When I have more greens than I can chew, I cram them into a plastic zip-bag and store them in the freezer.

My friends aren’t alone in wanting to nibble from my garden.

This week I spotted a stink bug sunning itself on an eight-inch spinach leaf. It must have recently gorged itself, because it moved slowly enough for me to fold the leaf and smash it without incident. A few days earlier I found a stink bug in the house. It flew from the lace curtain toward the living room globe light, doing a solo impression of the Blue Angels fighter jets. I didn’t care if my living room smelled like sulfur. I stopped that bug in its tracks.

Stink bugs aren’t the only invaders taking up residence in the raise bed. As I snipped leaves Wednesday I removed slugs, which I prefer not to smash with my bare hands. I also spotted the “mystery cluster” of tiny, tiny white eggs, oddly beautiful in the spring sunshine. I wish I had taken a picture, but I instinctively pinched between the tips of my fingers.

Are these eggs of the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug? http://preview.tinyurl.com/lpvnlmg. Some sources describe the eggs as white to light green. My unwelcome eggs were as white as a game show host’s teeth.

The trusty UC Cooperative Extension Integrated Pest Management website described the stink bug eggs in clusters of 12-21, as was the case on my spinach. I wish I had taken a picture to send to the Master Gardeners, but I was too hasty in destroying the evidence.

Brown marmorated stink bugs are here to stay, according to all I have read. They’re fairly tough against any kind of insecticide control. The critters scurry when you start jostling the leaves. The IPM website suggested using a vacuum to suck the bugs from under the canopy of leaves. I don’t know about you, but that’s not going to happen in my yard, not unless I bought a dedicated stink bug shop vac.

In the meantime, I just want to get through the spring and harvest as much of this green stuff as I can without adding bug protein to my diet. So far, So far, I’ve had good luck rinsing the greens in a bowl of water, swishing around, and repeating the process twice more. If I’ve been eating bugs, I haven’t noticed so it doesn’t matter. From here on out I’ll check each leaf after it is snipped.

HOW TO NOT EAT APHIDS

Another recent arrival are aphids. I should have know they were in the vicinity when I started spotting lady bugs in the tall grass.

A rather lively discussion about aphids on leafy greens was included on a website called Paleohacks, http://tinyurl.com/kh2jvhl. My garden also has aphids. I find them in the middle of a leaf that looks strange and curled. When I open the leaf, the bugs are clustered together like an aphid slumber party.

A few of the paleo gardeners said to just eat the salad, bugs an all.

I may resort to that, but only if it is due to oversight.

One gardener said she adds some apple cider vinegar to a bowl of water and soaks the leaves for a few hours. The vinegar will kill the bugs.

“It might not completely remove them, but that ensures that you won’t be eating anything other than some shells.”

These paleo folks are tough, tough cookies.

Another woman inspects each leaf and wipes away the hangers-on with a paper towel. Yet another said she soaks the leaves for 20 minutes in warm water, allowing the bugs to float to the top.

In the meantime, I’ll try my trusted technique of spraying the leaves with a diluted solution of Dr. Bronner’s dish soap and water. The aphids turn black, which is a beautiful thing to behold.

Contact reporter Heather Hacking at 896-7758.

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Sow there! Water and weltschmerz, 4-14-2017

In late March, and again last week, the gravel bar along the Sacramento River at Big Chico Creek was closed to travelers.
In late March, and again last week, the gravel bar along the Sacramento River at Big Chico Creek was closed to travelers. Bill Husa — Enterprise-Record

I’m feeling more cautious about weather these days. Surely it’s the lingering impact of hard rain being less than a friend. We wished for the end of the drought, then we wished for the rains to stop.

Problems at Lake Oroville, scars along the riverbanks, debris strewn across once familiar walking trails …

My favorite spot along the Sacramento River is blocked by a gate. A thick layer of fine silt remains on the road, where the river rose and fell and rose again. The fact that I can’t go there makes me want to go there all the more.

This isn’t the first time I’ve lost a favorite spot along the river. Once upon a time I spent many hours casting a fishing line near a rock outcropping where a twisted tree grew. Back then you could walk down a steep path to a thin beach.

Over time, the river changed. The beach disappeared and a new gravel bar emerged downstream.

The last time I drove River Road, I saw that old tree — my old tree — toppled over on its side.

Does anyone else remember that old, rusted car near this same bend in the river? How that car landed on the bank and how it was removed will remain one of those great mysteries.

The older we get, more and more of our favorite places and things become only memories. Yet we must feel thankful we are old enough to have so many memories.

MOVING ON

Thank goodness for gardening.

Change in the garden is never permanent. When a plant grows and dies, we can rush down to the local nursery and find something bright and new.

Many garden books talk about succession planting. Usually the term is used for food crops. You plant a row of lettuce one week, then plant more seeds a few weeks later. If your life depended on the food grown in the garden, succession planting would help avoid hunger if a sudden cold snap or storm obliterated your careful cultivation.

A website called Growing for Market, http://tinyurl.com/l8xtr5l provides some rules of (green) thumb for planting intervals, which are used on the farm and can be used in your backyard.

• Green beans, every 10 days

• Cucumbers, plant new seeds after three weeks

• Kale, three weeks

• Lettuce, 10-14 days

• Spinach, 7 days

Other sources say to pull plants after they pass their prime. This beats going out each morning and snipping off the flowers when the plant is trying to go to seed and die.

MORE SUCCESSION PLANTING

One way I’ve been practicing this idea of succession planting is to buy seasonal flowers one six-pack at a time. This way I have one small project, and another excuse to buy plants the next weekend.

If you visit the nurseries often, you’ll also have more variety in the yard. Nurseries stock different plants depending on what’s coming into season. Weeks ago, all you could find were primrose and pansies. This week you’ll find six-packs of cosmos and shade-happy impatiens. When those plants from the early part of the season die, you can find something more suitable for the warm season.

More thoughts on food

For vegetables, it’s time to get busy with seeds, if you haven’t already.

The UC Davis vegetable planting guide, http://tinyurl.com/lb8v6q8notes that now is the time to plant seeds for spinach, fava beans, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, squash and melons. Hot-weather plants including tomatoes and peppers can be purchased as small plants.

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Sow There! Gifts of spring, for the giver and grower, 3-23-2017

Daffodils are blooming up a storm these days.
Daffodils are blooming up a storm these days. Photo by Christina Chavira
Heather Hacking-Enterprise-Record Tools for the task at Sherwood Montessori School.
Heather Hacking-Enterprise-Record Tools for the task at Sherwood Montessori School.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like celebrating. This spring thing has put something new in my step, and I may have needed that boost more than most people.

Monday I was honored to be on the invite list for a spring tree-planting at Sherwood Montessori School. My new friend Richard Hirschen gave me a tour of the school’s new garden and food center, which is just half a block from the group’s classrooms on the Chapman School campus.

You can check out an adorable “monster smoothie” video about food grown and consumed by the kids: http://tinyurl.com/k4xfjot.

“In a lot of cultures spring is the new year,” Chef Richie said. “There’s so much to be thankful for.”

On this first day of spring, the gardening group created a home for a Fay Alberta peach tree, which was donated by garden helper Luisa Garza.

We gathered in a horseshoe shape, 150 pairs of little hands linked in a chain. With Chef Richie’s instruction, the children said kind words to the tree. Next, they scooped soil and poured water, giving the new tree most of what it needs. Sunshine had already been provided.

These kids may not realize the full potential of this simple act. Right now, the tree has only one flower, and looks more like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree than something that will produce buckets of fruit. Yet, soon those kids will be taller and so will the tree. Lessons for the future include how useful it is to have fruit within arm’s reach, and what a warm peach tastes like on a summer day.

I like the idea of these same kids driving by their “old school,” with their own children.

“I planted that tree when I was in kindergarten,” the mom or the dad may say.

I’ll drive by as well, maybe to check if there are warm peaches hanging over the fence.

Spring planting, spring vacation, spring celebrations … I can understand them all, except for spring cleaning. On these days when the bees are buzzing, sweeping the back of my closet is the last thing on my mind.

SPRING BULBS

This week my friend Chrissy has been sending me photos of the daffodils in her yard.

Chrissy doesn’t particularly love to garden, so last fall I brought over a bag of bulbs. Her friend Patrick also stopped by and helped pop bulbs in the ground. This was before the big winter rains, and digging holes in her back yard felt like working in a coal mine. In fact, I didn’t have much hope for those bulbs, as they certainly weren’t buried anywhere near six inches deep.

However, nature had its way. Each day for the past several weeks, blooms arrived. I get to peek into her backyard because Chrissy has been sending me text photos.

She sent photos of freesia blooms as well. I’m not certain if I actually planted those, but I took credit just in case.

The good thing about a good gift is that it’s a gift for the giver as well. I’m certain my joy from receiving these photos at least matches the joy Chrissy receives looking out her sliding glass door.

I’m thinking this should be my new go-to gift — planting bulbs in other people’s yards. Sure, it’s a nice thing to do for others, but it’s also a really nice thing to do for myself.

GET DIGGING

Because we are on the subject, I couldn’t help but notice that spring-planted bulbs are on sale in nurseries.

The Master Gardeners of Sacramento website, http://tinyurl.com/nxljwvh, has an easy-to navigate chart for bulb planting. (Chrissy, if you are reading this, we need to go on a bulb-buying adventure).

The “plant-it-now” list includes begonia, tuberose, lily, dahlia, canna, calla and gladiolus.

If you invest a little money for some beautiful pots, you could give living bouquets to all the folks on your summer birthday list. Planting bulbs in pots also keeps the good stuff from the grasp of gophers and moles.

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Sow There! Gobbling up early spring greens, 3-30-2017

The black plastic truck bed liner is overflowing with spinach, kale and broccoli.
The black plastic truck bed liner is overflowing with spinach, kale and broccoli. Heather Hacking—Enterprise-Record

Each time I walk across the overgrown grass toward the raised bed, I feel like one of those soon-to-be empty-nest parents. They grow up so fast.

Back in October, the first of the seedlings muscled their way from the soil to the surface. Just a few short weeks ago, I was thrilled to be harvesting the first handfuls of fresh spinach and kale. Then a few broccoli florets arrived — bite-sized pieces that I ate while wearing my bathrobe and standing near the fence.

This week I ate lightly sauteed spring greens for dinner. Then raw greens with lunch. On the weekend I ate greens for lunch and dinner. At a dinner party last Friday, you guessed it, the chef served kale with ginger and citrus. I copied that recipe and added a few shakes of crushed red pepper.

I’d be sick of the green stuff by now, but the seeds were planted by the Handsome Woodsman about a week before he died. When the plants have lived out their life cycle, they too will become a memory.

BROCCOLI BLAHS

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend planting broccoli in the Sacramento Valley. Our weather turns warm too quickly, which means the florets turn to flowers quickly. I like buying locally grown broccoli at the farmers market, but you need to eat it fast otherwise you’ll get flowers in your refrigerator crisper drawer.

Annual plants can be similar to salmon. Once they produce seeds (or spawn in the case of salmon) they figure their work is done and they die. That’s why we pinch off flowers from plants like coleus and basil that are enjoyed for their leaves.

I chatted with Danny Robinson this week, manager of the Gorrill Ranch along the Midway. Before farming rice and nuts in the hot, hot valley, he grew broccoli in the Salinas area, which is where we get cool-season crops including Brussels sprouts and lettuce.

However, if you love broccoli leaves, a taste for which I have recently acquired, by all means, stick some seeds in the ground at the start of the next rainy season.

BUG WASH

Another note on winter greens: As soon as you discover that your plants are in high gear, the bugs discover your plants as well. Watch for eggs on the bottom of the leaves, particularly before you put them in your mouth. I like to submerge the leaves in a large bowl of water, swish them around, and repeat two more times. This is what I call “triple washed.”

ROAST ‘EM

In addition to the quick ginger/citrus saute, you can also enjoy oven-roasted kale.

Put leaves in a bowl, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Swish the leaves around to coat. Next, give a shake of sea salt and generous tablespoon of chili powder. Put in a preheated oven at 400 degrees and cook for 5 minutes. Move the kale around, then bake for another 5-8 minutes. You’ll need to watch closely because the leaves can turn to carbon flakes if you cook just a minute too long.

SPRING TEMPTATIONS

It’s not quite summer vegetable planting season, but if you already have some squash or tomatoes in the ground, you’re not alone.

It goes like this: It’s a sunny day and you happen to be in the nursery — again. There’s so much sun on your shoulder you can almost feel the Vitamin D soaking into your skin. You tell yourself you’re buying a single six-pack of annuals for that empty pot on the front porch.

Suddenly, your cart is filled with summer vegetable plants.

I know. I already have a zucchini plant in the raised bed. However, it’s really too early to go gung-ho. As of now, there’ still a 40 percent chance that we’ll have a frost (http://tinyurl.com/n5gf2b7). Those hot-season plants need hot weather, which will be here to stay in about a month.

If you’re really itching, plant another crop of kale and spinach, and enjoy it while it lasts.

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Sow There! Don’t indulge in too many happy weeds, 3-9-2017

Sourgrass, surrounded by a lot of other happy weeds destined to be decimated by the hoe.
Sourgrass, surrounded by a lot of other happy weeds destined to be decimated by the hoe.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record
Sourgrass.
Sourgrass. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

When I visit the river, I look up to see the “majestic” birds drifting high on circles of wind. I can spend a long moment watching a bird, remembering things that have come and gone and hoping for things that will soon begin.

You can’t help but wonder what it must feel like, to ride something you can only feel with your wings.

Page 106 of my “North American Wildlife” book shows the silhouettes of seven birds of prey. Knowing their shape helps with easy identification from the ground. The osprey stands out with a distinct bend in the wing, as if the bird has an elbow.

The outline of the vulture and the eagle are almost identical when soaring, shaped like elongated, fringed rectangles. From the ground, it would be difficult to tell the two apart, unless you noticed the eagle has a wingspan about 12 inches longer.

Both big birds eat carrion. But because the eagle is also a hunter, it is held in the same regard as polar bears, grizzlies and Siberian tigers. Vultures are viewed as bottom feeders, eyeball gougers and bad omens.

I think the real reason the vulture is reviled is because it makes a sound surprisingly similar to a flushing toilet. Listen here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Turkey_Vulture/sounds.

GOOD OR BAD PLANTS?

Many plants receive the same form of discrimination. If you look around right now, you’ll find the happy yellow flowers in the wood sorrel family, a form of oxalis. One particular variety is buttercup oxalis, which I learned to identify as sourgrass.

The leaves are like shamrocks and the plant reproduces wildly through bulbs deep in the soil.

If your yard is like mine, a lot of things are dead after the drought. This left room for weeds to find their way. During recent rainstorms, I’ve been yanking and tugging at cheeseweed, common groundsel, and three-cornered leek. However, a fond spot has developed in my heart for sourgrass.

The flowers are too happy and yellow to yank. I like the way they bob up and down after a visit from a bee.

Likely I’ll revisit my plant love affair once I start to see the okra-shaped seed pods, which contain up to 5,000 seeds each.

When I was a child the weed grew in the front yard of my Auntie Jeanne and Uncle Lars’ house in Benicia. My aunt showed me how the plant could be chewed, for a tart little treat. I think she also taught me not to swallow the stalk, but to spit the masticated green stuff into the bushes.

When I checked out buttercup oxalis on the University of California IPM website, http://ipm.ucanr.edu, I found a discussion about how cattle can die if they eat large quantities of sourgrass. Apparently the compounds that make the plant taste sour can also cause kidney stones. It’s probably the same if humans ate only sourgrass for weeks at a time. I’m glad I know. If I’m ever on one of those survivalist shows I’ll stick to miner’s lettuce.

However, for a sweet little treat, and happy flowers, sour grass is fun to have around. Just make sure to nibble plants that aren’t in the path of your neighbor’s dog.

BELATED BRIDE GIFT

I finally got around to giving my friend Samantha her wedding gift. In January I had the honor of being her maid of honor at her soiree at the Sacramento Train Station museum. She chose calla lilies as her bouquet.

I tried several methods of preserving her flowers, all which resulted in mold or brown sticks. This ruined my grand plan to make a shadow box display filled with well-preserved blooms.

Luckily, I spotted calla lily bulbs at Costco.

I handed her a pot filled with dirt and asked her to put it near her front porch.

If all goes well, she’ll have a calla lily reminder of her wedding sometime this summer.

Callas in pots dislike too much nitrogen and the soil needs to be totally dry after bloom (for dormancy). Next, move the pot to a dark area for two months. The tricky part is to remember to start watering them again and move them back to the sunny location.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRIMROSE PRIMER

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

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

What grows there

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

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

He planted me broccoli.

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

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

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

DON’T MISS OUT

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

Several local nurseries are also planning to have special sales.

THANK YOU BARBARA

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

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

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

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

My kitty has gotten into some funny habits lately.

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

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

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

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

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

Things changed when she moved to Chico.

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

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

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

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

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

BACK TO OLD TRICKS

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

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

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

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

“Did you reward her with some wet food?”

He had not.

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

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

I gave her a treat.

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

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

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