Sow There!: Turning zukes into zoodles in no time July 28, 2017

Gargantuan zucchinis call for getting creative about ways to gobble all that garden goodness.
Gargantuan zucchinis call for getting creative about ways to gobble all that garden goodness.Photo by Heather Hacking
Simple recipe: slice zucchini into quarter-inch strips, drizzle with jalapeno-flavored olive oil, then sprinkle with crushed pepper.Simple recipe: slice zucchini into quarter-inch strips, drizzle with jalapeno-flavored olive oil, then sprinkle with crushed pepper. Photo by Heather Hacking

If you have attended the Silver Dollar Fair on a hot day, you might recall how lovely it is to enter the Commercial Building and enjoy the combination of oversized fans and the industrial-sized air conditioning unit.

I don’t particularly like shopping, and the Commercial Building is where they sell curling irons, wonder mops and vinyl siding. If you’re patient, you can sample some vegetable juice, if the guy working at the bullet blender booth ever stops blathering.

On this particular day, I was cooling off and gathering free pens when I ran into my friend Richard.

Richard and I soon became entranced by a man with a sharp-bladed, plastic contraption that chopped vegetables faster the chefs at a Benihana restaurant.

My guess is that the pitchman had hoped for a career as a magician, and had likely been a dealer in Vegas. He grabbed vegetables from his produce arsenal, quickly demonstrating the julienne mode, dice mode, followed by thin, uniform slice mode. It looked so easy as his hands glided over produce that would surely take hours to prepare if you ever needed to slice 14 pounds of potatoes for a Girl Scout camping trip.

Richard and I stood with our arms crossed in front of our chests. However, Chopping Chuck kept talking and chopping.

Normally I don’t buy things at demonstrations. When I get home, I fumble around, don’t read the direction and end up donating the contraption to the Salvation Army.

However, the vegetable magician announced that it was late in the day. If he sold all his inventory, he could ride the roller coaster.

“Two for one,” he said.

Richard and I both took the bait and were owners of the quick, safe, easy-to-clean, time-saving gizmo that would hide in the bottom drawer of our kitchens for years to come.

PUT TO GOOD USE

When I returned home from vacation in Costa Rica, I found two gargantuan zucchinis hiding in the raised bed. By the time I ate just one of the tug boats, two yellow crook-neck also needed to be harvested.

This is July folks. If you planted zucchini and squash, it’s time to get creative about ways to gobble all that garden goodness.

My favorite recipe is to slice zucchini into quarter-inch strips, drizzle with jalapeno-flavored olive oil, then sprinkle with crushed pepper. Salt is optional. I use a cast-iron pan which means the entire batch is warm in three minutes.

Yet, you can only cook zucchini the same way so many times before you’re perusing AllRecipes.com for something more creative.

My friend LaDona recently served a pleasant lunch of cold cucumber soup. Yes, there are recipes for cold zucchini soup as well, but unfortunately, this requires cooking.

ZOODLES

A cooking-free alternative is “zoodles,” which means using thinly-sliced zucchini the same way you would use pasta. This opens up an entirely new world of red-sauce enhanced food choices. Another enticing idea is the zoodle Greek salad, with zoodles instead of lettuce, http://tinyurl.com/GreekZoodles. Add cucumbers, Greek olives, red onion and feta cheese and you’re slurping down oversized zucchini like Pericles and Pete Sampras.

QUICK AND EASY

I can see into the future, and my future includes at least six additional yellow squash in the next three days. If only I had a safe, easy-to-clean contraption to prepare mounds of zoodles in minutes.

It was easy to find the long-forgotten slicer/dicer, tucked away in the bottom kitchen drawer with the air popper and the 2-in-1 citrus tool. I’m happy to report that except for some mangled zucchini edges, I transformed produce into zoodles without drawing blood.

NO GOOD NEWS

Part of the reason I haven’t been eating large amounts of zucchini is that I have been consuming gallons of ice cream. That’s what I do when I’m depressed and I’ve been bummed since my Feline Unit went missing.

On a tip from a gal on the lost-cat social media website, I cruised down to the dry creek behind S&S Produce. I walked slowly through the bushes, whistling the two-tone sound that usually makes my kitty race toward my ankles.

Kitties peeked from behind bushes. They looked up from garbage they were nibbling.

Several felines gave me alluring glances and one looked like she would be willing to fold into the cat carrier on the back seat of my car. Hoping to find your lost cat at a known lost cat hangout is a lot like going to a singles bar hoping to bump into your long, lost love.

A few folks on social media websites have offered replacements. I’m sure these adorable feline units would be great additions to my empty home. But they are not my Feline Unit. I’m holding out hope that she is trapped in somebody’s garage. Soon she will lose enough weight to squeeze through a hole near the bottom of the sheetrock, and race toward her familiar cat door.

If anyone comes across a friendly, calico kitty with a Manx tail, please send me a note and I’ll reward you with a bowl filled with zoodles.

Contact garden columnist Heather Hacking at sowtheregardencolumn@gmail.com or follow on Facebook.

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Sow There!: Following tips to find lost cat July 21, 2017

Feline Unit still hasn't returned home yet.
Feline Unit still hasn’t returned home yet. Photo by Heather Hacking
Despite many kind advice and a few tips, the calico Manx kitty is nowhere to be found.Despite many kind advice and a few tips, the calico Manx kitty is nowhere to be found.Photo by Heather Hacking

It’s normal to feel a bit of a let-down after the return from a sun-filled vacation. Yet, the main reason for my doldrums is the fact that I have not found my cat.

Thank you for all of the kind advice shared via social media, NextDoor during talks with neighbors in front of their garage doors. The search has felt a little all-consuming, mainly because putting up flyers and driving slowly through the Avenues helps me feel like I’m doing all that I can.

It’s a cat, friends have said. She’ll probably come back. They do that.

After several days of consuming way too much medicinal ice cream, I realized that my overwhelming feeling of distress is cumulative. I lost the cat. I lost the Handsome Woodsman. Both events were sudden, unfair and completely out of my control.

NEAR MISS

A wonderful family sent a note on NextDoor and said they believed they had my cat. They saw my article in the newspaper and spotted a calico with a bobtail. That’s a rare combo, and they were certain they had scored the lost prize.

As it turns out, the man of the household was once the adviser to my housesitter, Thor, when Thor was working on his Master’s thesis at Chico State University.

I didn’t respond quickly enough to the message from the family, and they put the cat in the garage when they had a big birthday bash.

Many sources on scared cats state that cats will hide, even if they hear the familiar voice of their owners. I sat in the family’s darkened garage, whistling the two-tone whistle that should have triggered the kitty’s brain to run to me from the rafters. I thought I heard a rustle, but I’m guessing I heard only squirrel on the rooftop. After prayers and tears, I set a humane trap in the family’s garage and the trap was empty in the morning.

The next day I knocked on doors in the neighborhood near Bidwell Mansion and met a nice woman who recognized my description of the cat. A calico Manx kitty, which looked amazingly like the photo on my flyer, lived across the street. The cat’s name is Lola and has lived there for years. Poor Lola.

The nice family most likely trapped her in their garage, where she was unnecessarily traumatized. I envision Lola squeezing through a tiny crack in the garage and running for dear life toward her home two blocks away.

Lola, I’m so sorry. Maybe you’ll stay closer to home from now on.

However, the misidentification by the family shows that people are looking out for my cat. As I continued to lament and worry, I know I’m not alone. There are lost dog and cat posters on many telephone poles throughout the Avenues, and more adoptable pets at the Humane Society than any cat or dog lady could possibly hoard.

I haven’t given up hope, but resignation is beginning to creep in.

RABBIT REWARDS

Weeks ago, my friend John mentioned he has rabbits and asked me if I wanted a bag of rabbit droppings. Indeed I did.

I went on vacation and since then he has been carrying the poop around in his car.

Rabbits digest lightly and the manure is known for being “cold.” Unlike chicken or steer manure, rabbit poop won’t burn plants when added to the soil. Ammonia in rabbit urine can be harmful, and garden sources I perused suggest waiting for the remnants of the rabbit cage to dry before adding to your prized plants.

By the time John and I made the exchange, his gift was ready for use in the garden.

He suggested I make a rabbit dropping tea, which was easy enough to do by adding the poo to my watering can and waiting a day or two. Some rabbit keepers in New Hampshire, Netherlands, http://tinyurl.com/rabbitTea, also give the precaution to avoid adding fresh manure to a vegetable garden. An alternative is to add the rabbit byproduct to the compost pile, for use later.

Rabbit poop contains phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen, as well as trace elements of other things good for plants, (see more details on a website named Imperfectly Happy Homesteading, http://tinyurl.com/MoreOnRabbitPoop).

Alfalfa pellets, before being digested by rabbits, are often used as a soil amendment for roses.

I neglected to ask John what he feeds his rabbits, but I’m confident the mix is just dandy for my potted plants.

Contact garden columnist Heather Hacking at sowtheregardencolumn@gmail.com or follow on Facebook.

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Sow There! Wandering and whistling in search of much-loved cat July 14, 2017

Feline Unit has gone missing.
Feline Unit has gone missing. Photo by Heather Hacking
Still holding out hope the calico kitty will return.Still holding out hope the calico kitty will return.Photo by Heather Hacking

Nothing ruins a post-vacation buzz more than returning home to an empty house. My sister and I spent 18 days in Costa Rica, and my kitty decided to go an adventure of her own.

My gracious friend Thor endured a Chico heat wave to watch over my house while I was gone. I left him a color-coded map of plants to be watered, and he planned to play his guitar in between long, playful moments with the cat.

At my request, he sent comforting photos of the Feline Unit sleeping spread-eagle in front of the air conditioner.

But then something happened.

About three days before our return flight, Thor said the cat had stopped her hops through the cat door and had left her food bowl untouched.

The night I heard the potentially heart-breaking news, I was sleeping next to my sister at an AirBNB in Alejuela, Costa Rica. In my dream, the kitty jumped up on the bed to snuggle. I reached for her and grabbed my sister’s kneecap.

Why did she wander off just days before I returned?

The kitty was probably just hot and found a shady place to hang out until my return, friends said after I posted a worried lament on Facebook. I was certainly grungy enough after 14 hours of travel, wouldn’t she come running when she smelled my dirty socks and heard me whistling at the back door?

Apparently not.

GONE TO DUST

There were a few other losses during my absence. I should have moved the potted Japanese maple to the center of the shaded picnic table. The dogwood tree, a gift from Mark Carlson in April, looks like someone left it in the bed of a truck in Arizona. Yet, there are small shoots struggling for life at the base of the dried, dead trunk. People who live in Chico when its 108 degrees should expect a few plants to do a death dance when they’re take a long vacation.

I don’t have room in my heart to worry about a few dead plants. My mind was fixated on the more important thing that was not within view.

Feline Unit is not at the Chico Humane Society. I was there when they opened the gate at noon Tuesday. The website, (https://buttehumane.org), had a picture of a cat that I was certain was my undersized Manx calico. However, the beautiful cat in the cage was twice the size and has a tail.

I was mad at myself for lingering at the cuteness of the other confined critters. It felt disloyal to be looking at other cats when I am holding out so much hope that Feline Unit will find her way back home.

Angie, the wonderful woman who works at the shelter, wrote down all the local social media lost pet Facebook pages. Following her suggestion, I also moved the dirty cat box to the back porch, hoping the cat will recognize her personal stench from blocks away.

Meanwhile, my luggage remains unpacked and I’ve been wandering my neighborhood making the two-tone whistle that usually brings the Feline Unit running for a dollop of wet food.

If there is any upside, I’ve met several of my neighbors, a few who saw my post on the NextDoor neighborhood website. My new friend Lollie and her 3-year-old sidekick pointed to the empty lot in the avenues where many cats are known to kick it on lazy afternoons. Another woman, who lives in an alley, recognized the cat from the photo I showed her on my cell phone. She said it had been about three days since she last saw my scampering Feline Unit.

Needless to say, if someone sees my cat, please call the phone number attached to her collar.

For now, I’m trying to shake off terrible mental images of the sweet Feline whisked away by an angry mob of magpies or stuck at the bottom of a dry storm drain. Other times I’m angry that some wet-food endowed, soft-hearted family has decided my calico kitty is a perfect complement to their cream-colored furnishings. Or maybe she wasn’t really all that attached to me after all. She was the Handsome Woodsman’s companion before she knew me. Maybe she wandered away due to a broken heart.

For now, I’ll continue to hold onto hope and to wander the streets whistling.

Contact garden columnist Heather Hacking at sowtheregardencolumn@gmail.com or follow on Facebook.

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Sow There!: An adventurous start to a trial-run retirement July 7, 2017

The much-recommended Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack.
The much-recommended Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack. Photo by Heather Hacking

Pssst. I’m officially unemployed. It’s weird. It’s great. I’m glad it’s not permanent.

My parents are both retired, and they highly recommend their lifestyle choices. For a few years now, Dad and Lynda have sent me pictures of their feet, usually with a sunset, beach or the Bellagio fountain as a backdrop. Mom and Steve send images of calm lakes and shorelines, without pictures of their feet.

When I decided to quit writing for the newspaper and return to college, I gave myself several weeks for “me time.” So far, this has included cleaning out my shed and planning a trip to Costa Rica with my sister.

You would think planning a trip would be more joy-filled. However, my sister and I have vastly different ideas about just about everything. She wants peaceful accommodations away from other people. I would prefer a lively hostel where we could meet travelers from around the globe.

Also, I was just being crabby while trip-planning. Finally, I realized that none of the trip-planning ideas sounded ideal because ideally, I wished I was planning the trip with my Handsome Woodsman.

I have 100 percent confidence that once my sister and I get our backpacks moving, we’ll have a trip to remember until our retirement days. We may even send our parents pictures of our feet.

PACKING TIPS

When we bought our matching Osprey Farpoint 40 backpacks, my sister sent me a link to the “Hey Nadine” video blog. This young gal has traveled to more than 49 countries (many of them solo) and looks like she still gets carded at the bars.

Of particular interest was her packing tips — how to leave most of what you think you will need at home.

We took notes, downloaded her list of essentials. We placed everything in plain view on our beds, ready to cram our recommended items into the backpack Nadine had recommended.

After the first test zips, we both still had many must-have items remaining on our beds.

What the heck? Nadine’s bed was covered with stuff and we watched (in fast-motion) while she expertly shoved all those girlie things into her backpack.

“Heather,” my sister said gravely. “Nadine is a size 1. That means all of our clothes are at least twice as big as her clothes. We need at least two backpacks each.”

Don’t worry. I made sure the rubber chicken will be onboard.

The big problem is the liquids. We’re heading to Costa Rica, which means we will be dousing ourselves in bug spray morning and night. We’ll also slather our alabaster skin with suntan lotion. Both of these protective items are extraordinarily expensive at 10 degrees from the equator because Costa Ricans know blonde chicks will be miserable without these liquids.

So much for the easy-lifestyle backpacks. We’ll be huffin’ it with our Osprey Farpoint 40s on our back and a bag filled with liquids grudgingly passed from sibling to sibling.

WHY COSTA RICA?

Folks have asked me “why Costa Rica?” Here’s the honest truth. I put a post on Facebook asking friends where I should travel this summer. My original choice was Sud Tyrol (at the border of Austria and Italy). However, my travel companions changed their mind.

My college buddy Patrick had suggested Costa Rica. In fact, when I did not choose Costa Rica as my first choice, he was really mad. He lectured me. He told me I was making the wrong choice. He made me feel small and unadventurous.

Plan B is Costa Rica. Coincidentally, two tickets to Costa Rica costs half the price of one ride to Europe.

Meanwhile, I’ll miss my summer garden. Green tomatoes, zucchini, and squash will be bountiful about 10 minutes after I board the plane. However, my house-sitter, Thor, will be here to send me pictures of the harvest. If he kicks back in the green resin lawn chair, he might even include a picture of his feet. He’s helpful, but I don’t expect him to shred the excess zucchini and tuck it into Ziploc bags to freeze for my return.

My sister and I plan to gobble every exotic fruit we can find and send Thor pictures of our fruit baskets and our feet.

Garden enthusiast Heather Hacking can be contacted at sowtheregardencolumn@gmail.com.

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Sow There! Too many peaches sparks the need for new salsa recipes 8-13-15

To prove the extent to which these Armenian cucumbers will grow …Ashley Gebb — Enterprise-Record

Having too much food is a wonderful problem.

Mom and I were in a peach-picking frenzy last week at the Chico State University Farm. It was the first day for public picking, and we got there just a few minutes after 8.

(Sorry if you missed the U-pick party. It only lasted one week).

As these things go, the big part of the U-pick fun is frolicking in the shade of the trees and pretending to be Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The trees were so laden with fruit that the branches literally drooped. A few were even broken, and this time it was not my fault.

Finding the perfect peach is a bit like how my friends describe dating on match.com. You can run up to one piece of fruit, large and lush, and think it is surely perfection. Yet, if you look to the left or to the right, you’ll spot another, that may or may not be just as nice or better.

At the end, we end up with too much of a good thing.

I knew I wanted to fill a bucket, and Mom was a picking fool.

I didn’t realize until check-out time that she was picking fruit for me as well.

At the end of the adventure, we had 30 pounds, most of which was for me.

I felt like summer Santa Claus, delivering peaches to my coworkers and filling the fridge at my dad’s house.

We gave fruit to the neighbors and still had too much to fit in our own fridge.

Now I wish we had eaten that watermelon I bought on sale over the Fourth of July.

What was I saving it for? Thanksgiving?

To add to the over-abundance, the garden we planted in the black plastic truck bed liner is at its prime production.

The result is that we need to eat one zucchini and one peach each day.

HODGEPODGE RECIPES

Odd thoughts pop into your head when you’re chopping vegetables.

If you think about some of the most common recipes in the world, many were invented to avoid rotten food.

What to make for lunch?

Peach salsa.

Available outside my front door: jalapeño, tomatoes.

Located in crisper drawer: mild peppers, Armenian cucumber, white onion

Available, available, available: peaches.

Also handy: lemon juice, minced garlic, salt and pepper.

ARMENIAN CUCUMBERS

If you haven’t discovered these gems, grab one at your next visit to the farmers market. They’re huge. One will last you three days.

The curcubits have very light green, crenulated skin.

One day I bought one that was shaped like a circle, and popped it over my neck. I had a great time at the market because I forgot I was wearing a cucumber around my neck.

For the next hour, everyone was smiling at me. What a great town. I love my life. People really like me.

Later I saw my reflection in a window and remembered my light green accessory.

The Armenian cucumbers are also slightly more firm than a burpless, dark green cuke, which helps them last a day longer when sliced.

For a simple snack, serve cold and sprinkle with lemon pepper.

Just like summer salsa, most of our favorite winter recipes began by throwing everything that was edible into a single pot.

Stew, goulash, omelette, quiche, shepherd’s pie, moussaka, soup.

What’s really sad is that we have recipes for tater tot casserole. This means that when a Midwest housewife looked into her cooling unit in the 1970s, all she could find was frozen corn, hamburger, American cheese and frozen potato units. What’s even more sad is that this recipe endures despite what we now know about childhood obesity.

Recipe of excess

When I think about any of the foods above, I think you could certainly throw in a zucchini and nobody would notice.

Here is my favorite new recipe:

Zucchini sliced thin, or sliced Julienne. Three tablespoons olive oil. As much garlic as you dare. Half teaspoon crushed red pepper. Sea salt. Parsley or other herb.

Heat oil in skillet, cook zukes for five minutes. Add other ingredients and cook for one additional minute.

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Sow There! – Daffodils make a great go-to bulb, Sept. 1, 2016

September 1, 2016

I don’t quite fit the profile of a frequent Costco shopper. We have a cat but no kids. I’m not the leader of a Girl Scout troop. My house is too small to store 60 rolls of paper towels. Yet, I roam the clean, double-wide aisles of Costco at least once a week.

The behemoth of shopping for folks with big-pantries is located just a few blocks from my work. When I desperately need a break from my desk, I’ll flash my membership to card and gather free snack items.

It’s like adult trick-or-treating.

With all of these snack visits, I somehow missed the big rack of spring-blooming bulbs.

Like most big-box stores, Costco stocks kayaks in winter and sweaters in mid summer. Right now you can buy Christmas wrap.

While I regularly make fun of this trend, including making loud, cackling noises at the mechanical witches, I appreciate the reminder to buy fall-planted bulbs.

If I time it right, I can buy the bulbs in August, then procrastinate for several months. Bulb-planters can also place bulbs in the ground every two weeks, from now through Thanksgiving, to allow for a staggered bloom.

Not loving leftovers

Yet, you can’t buy a small package of bulbs at Costco. I still have some paperwhites remaining from last year.

Bulbs are resilient. I stored them in the shed, which is relatively cool and dry. When I pinched them this month the bulbs still feel firm.

About 20 years ago I tried to buy a bucket of shriveled naked lady bulbs at a garage sale. They looked like prunes and the lady refused to take my money. I put them in the ground and some of them grew. I divided them over the years, and even planted some in the yard of my neighbors.

That’s great, but life is short. If you want fantastic blooms next year, buy fresh bulbs.

Care of old bulbs

Some people will dig up their bulbs after bloom and store them for the winter. For best results, snip off the flowers as soon as the blooms start to fade. This

directs all of the plant’s energy back to the bulb, where energy is stored for growth next year. Allow the green leaves to die back naturally, to direct that energy to the bulb. Once the leaves start to turn yellow, stop watering.

When the soil is dry, you can dig up the bulbs.

Instead of all that, I let the leaves die back then stash my containers filled with bulbs along the side of the house.

A few weeks ago I needed one of those 15-gallon containers to replant a hibiscus plant.

The bulbs still seemed viable, in particular the hyacinth bulbs. I was already dirty and sweaty by this point, so I kept going.

Some of my pots looks almost empty. Others had a few rotten bulbs. Of the four giant pots I investigated, I ended up combining the bulbs into three containers.

I’m glad I spent the time, but it was a lot of work. In the future I think I’ll dig down a bit with a trowel and decide whether to simply add a few new bulbs in each container.

Those professional bulb-growers really know what they’re doing. They have the perfect soil, automatic drip systems, the right timing and application of fertilizers …

When we buy those bulbs they are ready to grow and burst.

Extra advice

If you love tulips, don’t expect them to bloom beautifully more than one year. This area just does not have the right climate. Also, ground and tree rodents love to eat tulip bulbs.

If you’re bored with normal, happy, yellow daffodils, mix it up. Some daffodils grow with a peach-colored center, others are white with yellow center, yellow with orange centers or yellow and yellow.

Check with your gardening friends before buying. The best bet is to trade 10 bulbs from your bag for 10 bulbs in their big bag.

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Sow There! – Why aren’t my plants producing squash? July 28, 2016

July 28, 2016

As it turns out, growing squash is not as easy as I had hoped.

Several weeks ago I wrote about summer squash and how it grows so easily people are giving it away.

Two coworkers came to my desk and asked if I could share the squash overflow.

I would if I could. However, our squash plants have turned out to be duds.

When it comes to gardening, my boyfriend and I divide the labor. He takes care of the vegetables growing in the black plastic truck bed liner filled with soil. I take care of the potted flowers in our outdoor sitting area.

We were super excited when we had dozens of bright yellow flowers among the giant squash leaves.

Squash plants produce both male and female flowers on the same plant. Male flowers are longer and produce pollen. Female flowers are shorter and have a little round fruit at the bottom. If the plant only produces male flowers, you have a predictable problem with production.

We did manage to harvest about two mature crook-neck squash, however just as many shriveled in the sun.

“Can you please call one of your sources and find out what is wrong with our squash and zucchini,” my boyfriend said calmly and with clarity.

A case for the experts

We literally had a team of Glenn County Master Gardeners trying to problem solve this question.

Bob Scoville, my good buddy at Glenn Master Gardeners, asked his plant horticultural friends for ideas.

In general, squash problems include too much water, heavy soil, uneven watering, excess nitrogen, too few nutrients, squash bugs, lack of mulch … Another possibility is the lack of bees.

This made us think hard. You don’t notice the lack of bees if the bees aren’t there.

Now that we thought about it, we can’t recall seeing bees on the squash. Bob said if a neighbor had been using insecticides, it could have impacted the bees on my block. The yard next door was zapped with herbicide, but that was once and several months ago.

Wind-pollinated tomatoes

Our tomatoes are doing just fine, with or without bees, because they are pollinated by the wind.

Plus, I tickle the flower stems on a regular basis, which helps the pollen jostle free.

Squash, on the other hand, has very sticky pollen and won’t be jiggled loose with wind or tickling.

Michael Ann Foley, Glenn master gardener, suggested we try hand pollination. Here you take a Q-tip or small paint brush and brush the longer male flowers to collect pollen. Then rub the sticky pollen on the pistil of the female flower. Remember that the female flowers are the shorter blossoms, with the itty-bitty fruit on the bottom.

You can also remove the male flower from the plant, fold back the petals and rub the sticky pollen from the male flower into the female flowers.

The flowers are only ready for pollination for that one day.

Another master gardener, Pam, explained that sometimes a squash will start to develop and then shrivel. This is often because of incomplete pollination, or it could be due to an attack by squash bugs.

More on squash bugs from the University of California here, http://tinyurl.com/hsd7ytk

Blossom blessing

Many people love eating fried squash blossoms. Here’s a video how-to: http://tinyurl.com/z2graxa

Early in the plant’s growth cycle, all or most of the flowers are male, which provides blossom-eaters a bonanza. As the plant matures, the female flowers arrive.

You can read more details about squash, the problems and the triumphs, in this publication by the University of California: http://tinyurl.com/j9ryvee

More free advice

Those helpful folks in Glenn County provide a lot of opportunities for free advice. You can walk in from 2-4 p.m. Wednesdays at the office in Orland, 821 E. South St.

 

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Sow There!: Magpies, a bird no feline can love June 30, 2017

The Feline Unit is no match for magpies.
The Feline Unit is no match for magpies. Photo by Heather Hacking

Several little gray birds arrived in my yard this week. They were the size of finches and immediately started pecking at the scraggly lawn. I watched from the bathroom window, fairly elated. When the lawn was three-feet high and the grass was dewy in the mornings, I noticed slugs on the top of the grass blades.

“Go get ’em,” I silently cheered to the birds. “Eat, be plump, be happy.”

Within seconds, an adult magpie hopped into the center of the lawn, taking a strong stance as if she owned the entire block. She found something larger than a slug, and slurped it down, then chirped in a mean, motherly way.

Several more baby birds popped out from behind the Virginia creeper vine.

The breakfast party was on.

Another adult landed like a gymnast, solid on its feet and with a sense of achievement. Soon another big bird arrived, and another. I guessed these were the males because they pecked at each other in a none-so-playful way.

My next thought was, “Oh no. My cat!”

PLAYFUL KITTY

You know how cats are. If you walk by in your bathrobe a cat will instinctively swat at the tie of the rope twisted around your waist. You can accidentally move a pebble while you’re walking and the cat will go into a full charge.

The birds in my yard looked tough. They had a family. My Feline Unit would be no match.

I know from experience.

When I first moved into my house I heard a loud ruckus in the yard. It sounded like the birds were screaming. We rushed outside and saw the cat, cowering under the hedge. These were scrub jays that day, another bird with an attitude. If birds had hands, these scrub jays would have had their hands raised in fists.

Other jays were coming into the yard to join mass beating of my cat.

For good reason.

The Feline Unit was inches away from a baby jay. She looked scared. The birds were moving closer, and did I mention the squawking?

I took the cat inside and the Handsome Woodsman took the baby jay to a hedge partway down the alley. The noise stopped.

MEATY MAGPIES

I can only imagine what these four stout magpies would do to defend their tiding*, which now included about 10 birds happy to be ridding my lawn of slugs.

If you don’t know magpies, http://tinyurl.com/yb56wlqq, we have the yellow-billed birds around here. They have white bellies and black heads and wings.

The cartoon birds Heckle and Jeckle are magpies.

In real life, the birds are omnivores and mostly eat bugs, grasshoppers in particular. They’ll also go after raw meat, fruit and acorns in the fall. (I looked this all up online. Normally I know nothing about magpies).

This is the first time I’ve spotted magpies in the yard. I’m hoping they scared away the scrub jays. In my drives around town I have spotted these beefy birds closer to the orchards, out near Fifth Avenue toward the river.

BIRD FAMILY

Magpies are members of the Corvid family, which also includes crows, ravens, rooks and jays. I’d group these all among the toughest birds found in backyards.

(*Tiding, by the way, is what you call a group of magpies.)

Garden enthusiast Heather Hacking can be contacted at sowtheregardencolumn@gmail.com.

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Sow There! Hot weather means paint-eating goo and bug guts June 9, 2017

Berry splats on car paint, not a good combo.
Berry splats on car paint, not a good combo. Heather Hacking
No, it's not pretty and its a pretty darn tough job to remove all this tree gunk from the exterior of a car.
No, it’s not pretty and its a pretty darn tough job to remove all this tree gunk from the exterior of a car.
When you buy a new car you vow to wash it regularly, wax twice a year and never toss fast-food bags into the back seat. Six months later your car smells like dirty socks and you can barely see through the passenger side window.

Several months ago I bought a used Prius that has fewer dings than any car I have ever owned.

My old car was a Toyota Camry. When I drove it to the junk yard as part of the Cash for Clunker program, the gal was impressed to read 312,000 miles on the odometer.

That old car fit my lifestyle. The air conditioner worked great, the radio rocked, and I never felt inclined to give it a wax job. At home I park in the shade of my loquat tree, which dumps sticky fruit during the month of June. Over time, the hood of the car had so many scars, it looked like a distant planet in an asteroid belt.

In my mind, the car’s flaws provided protection from joy-riding car thieves who would be too embarrassed to ride without style.

My new (to me) car is shiny, and the loquat tree is dumping fruit.

WHAT IS A LOQUAT

For those who don’t know the loquat, there is good reason. Only a sliver of tart fruit surrounds a large pit. Squirrels suck some of the juice from each fruit, then dump the rest onto your car.

The pits end up everywhere, and the remainder of the year you’re yanking tiny loquat trees from your flower pots.

As for the hood of the car, the fruit dries quickly and will easily strip away the paint.

SPOTTED PAINT JOB

Bugs, fruit, bird poop — it’s the acid that bites into the paint job. Same goes for Halloween pranks including eggs and silly string.

At work, I sometimes park next to a woman whose car is covered with purple berry gunk, some of it which looks partially digested by birds.

She may have given up on the car during the drought, finding it difficult to meet her water budget while keeping her car unblemished.

As for my loquats, after half a day in the hot sun they become pliable. This would be perfect if I parked under an apricot tree, at least then I would have dried fruit.

If the loquats remain in the sun until 5 p.m. I’m dealing with burnt-orange tar.

FRUIT REMOVER

With the Prius, I have vowed to be more vigilant.

Here’s my new trick. For several years, the Handsome Woodsman transformed his old underwear into household rags. I cut them into squares and store them in the laundry room.

The soaked rag square is perfect for covering a glob of fruit goo.

I drive a Prius, which means I drive slowly. I can even leave the rag on top of the car while I drive to work. After about an hour, the fruit stain is soft and easily wiped away.

If you’re wondering why I don’t cut down the loquat tree, the answer is shade. That tree is tolerable 11 months out of the year and keeps the sun from stripping the paint from the furniture in my bedroom. Life is always full of trade-offs.

OTHER TRICKS

I spent way too much time this week looking for miracle removers for bug and fruit guts. I’ll stick by my rags, but here are a few other gems.

Snopes.com vouches for the miracle work of WD-40, http://tinyurl.com/loquatbegone. Those helpful folks at Snopes also affirm that pigeons hate the smell of the degreaser, and spraying the tried-and-true goo might keep the critters from your yard statues.

WD-40 also removes duct tape residue and detangles jewelry chains. Who knew?

WHY WD-40?

Since we’ve already tiptoed into obscure facts, here’s a bit more from Snopes.com, http://tinyurl.com/moreWD-40. In 1953 some very smart engineers at San Diego Rocket Chemical Company were trying to develop a degreaser for missiles. On their 40th try, they came up with a formula to achieve water (W) displacement (D).

Leave it to engineers to mastermind a great product, but drop the ball on creation of a clever name.

Contact columnist Heather Hacking at sowtheregardencolumn@gmail.com.

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Sow there! – Recipes for good eggplant few and far between, Aug. 11, 2016

Sow there! – Recipes for good eggplant few and far between

August 11, 2016

I’m not a big fan of eating eggplant. The texture is mush and the taste is bland unless mixed with foods that actually contain flavor.

As an ornamental, this member of the nightshade family is a beauty. The shiny, deep-purple skin makes eggplant an old standby in still life paintings. The flowers are also stunning, with lavender, pointed petals and contrasting yellow centers.

Yet, you lose that aesthetic beauty when the gray slices of eggplant hit the frying pan.

There are exceptional recipes, of course. Eggplant Parmesan is amazing. Also note that if you crispy-fry cardboard and slather it in marinara sauce and melted mozzarella, people will throw their arms in the air and exclaim “Mama mia!” I’ll also forgive the use of eggplant in stews and stir-fry. These dishes are a free-for-all and its hard to even know what you’re eating.

In contrast, my Handsome Woodsman claims he loves this summer and fall vegetable beauty. Among his favorite eggplant dishes is stewed tomatoes, garlic, onion and generous portions of eggplant. It’s actually tasty, as would be any bowl of mush seasoned with garlic and onions.

I was beginning to doubt his claims of deep eggplant appreciation. Over the past two years I have purchased particularly pleasing purple, fiber-filled eggplants. These looked beautiful when sitting, untouched, in the brown wooden bowl next to the microwave.

Of course, it’s my fault. He won’t cook a shared eggplant meal if he knows I will complain.

Ticklish food plants

Early this summer my beau came home with half a dozen eggplants — the actual plants — with green leaves.

We don’t seem to have bees in our backyard, but veggies are doing well if we remember to tickle the stems whenever we see flowers.

He tickled the plants when I wasn’t looking and now we have dozens of gorgeous, purple eggplant ready for him to eat.

By the way, tickling works for other plants, including peppers and tomatoes. These plants have flowers with both male and female parts. Often, wind does the job of moving the pollen where it needs to be. However, humans can help every flower become fruitful by tickling the stems. I even like to rattle the cage.

Eggplant suggestions

Back to eating: My bossman suggests slathering sliced eggplant in olive oil and garlic and grilling on the barbecue. Finish with a generous amount of Parmesan cheese. We also thoroughly enjoy the eggplant sushi tacos at Izakaya Ichiban on Notre Dame Boulevard. Large eggplant is sliced thin, breaded and frozen in the shape of a taco shell. When prepared, the shell is deep-fried and filled with sushi goodness.

August is hornworm month

August is national tomato hornworm month.

I had my first hornworm encounter this week, which means I found one worm and soon found two others.

Next time you’re standing next to your tomato plant and popping fruit into your mouth, be on the hunt for stripped stems.

This means you have a hornworm.

Other obvious signs are little globs or dark green or black on the leaves. This is hornworm poop.

Follow the stripped leaves with your eyes until you find the perfectly camouflaged hornworm. I like to chop them in half with the garden clippers.

From now until tomatoes are done for the season, gardeners may want to check their plants daily. To make it easier to see new hornworm damage, snip off the stripped stems as soon as you kill a new nibbler. This way you’ll be able to spot new damage.

At the end of the season, check for hornworm pupae under the surface of the soil where tomatoes once grew. These are leather-looking, lifeless bug capsules that will later hatch into the glorious sphinx moth. The big moth is helpful to pollinate night-blooming flowers. However the flyer will also lay eggs for future hungry hornworms.

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