Sow there! – Looking forward, planting bulbs, Oct. 20, 2016

Chico Enterprise-Record (Chico, CA) – October 20, 2016

e happened lately within elbow’s distance of my little sliver of the world. Two friends had surgery to remove cancer. Both of my parents and one of my favorite Santa impersonators have retired. My nephew started college. My friend Samantha asked me to be her maid of honor and my mother’s nearly-perfect boyfriend died of a heart attack.

I don’t mean to belittle any of these events by stringing them together, because each is a very big deal, indeed.

My point is that life happens, all around us, all of the time. It’s beautiful, and sometimes sad and often one step in a direction that leads to the next big thing.

More than a year ago, my doctors told me I had a very early stage of uterine cancer. The pea-sized yuck was surgically removed, along with other body parts that were no longer needed.

It’s all good now, but in February 2015, my knees were wobbling.

An acquaintance told me that my outlook would change. He said this had been the case for him, and I knew it was true. He had this wispy sound to his voice, as if he was remembering his first love “You will never be the same,” he said.

I have not experienced the transformation he predicted. Yet, I feel as if life’s dramas have become blurred.

If the joys and sorrows of my life were colors, those colors would blend.

Planting hope

Of course, all of this musing circles back to gardening.

When I plant bulbs this fall, I’m counting on being here to enjoy them in their prime.

The necessary step, of course, is getting my hands dirty.

Up until a few weeks ago, my big bags of bulbs were in a big pile at the base of the television. The theory was that if I tripped over them, repeatedly, I would be more likely to put those puppies in the ground.

My beau invited his band mate to the house to practice for a gig. He cleaned up by shoving things out of sight. My bulbs were tossed into the outdoor plastic storage locker, where we keep the Sluggo and trowels.

At least now if I forget to plant the bulbs this year, it will officially be my boyfriend’s fault.

Food bulbs

While we’re talking about flower bulbs, this is a good time to plant garlic bulbs as well.

The folks at www.garlicworld.com in Gilroy point to November and December as the prime bulb-planting months.

Some folks suggest planting garlic on the shortest day of the year and harvesting garlic on the on the longest day of the year.

That’s easy to remember right now. However, getting bulbs in the ground while you’re thinking about is better than continuing to trip over a bag in the living room.

Garlic is related to the lily family and the plants also send up a nondescript, lily-esque flower. It’s best to snip the blooms so that more energy is sent into the bulb.

Garlic World also states that garlic needs twice as much fertilizer as most vegetables, and that planting garlic near roses will make roses more fragrant.

Bulb season

Last month when I chatted with Jerry Mendon, of Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise, he said his nursery has cut back on bulb sales and now carried mostly daffodils.

At this point, big-box stores sell bulbs cheaper than Jerry can purchase them wholesale, he said.

That makes me really sad, but I’m one of those people to blame because I’ll buy a huge bag of bulbs on impulse when I’m shopping for toothpaste and toilet paper.

Jerry said he hates seeing bulbs planted in rows.

“It drives me nuts. It’s not natural,” Jerry said, getting close to a bulb-induced rant.

When he was a young man he was doing some work on the side for an English gardener employed at a fancy estate.

The gardener “took some ranunculus and threw them in the air, Jerry recalled. Whereever they landed, that’s where they were planted. He also never planted an even number of bulbs, and never, never in a row.

Bulbs do need phosphorous, a nutrient that does not move within the soil. For this reason, it’s best to put phosphorous in the bottom of the hole, then cover with a light amount of soil. The roots from the bulb will grow through the phosphorous zone.

Bone meal, feather meal or cottonseed meal will do the job.

Jerry and his crew will be glad to help you pick out good all-purpose fertilizers, or soils amended with nutrients.

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Sow there! – Gypsum and leaf mold in the garden, Oct. 28, 2016

October 28, 2016

About this time of year the battle with the fall leaves begins. The muted colors are beautiful while dangling in the branches of trees. Next, leaves become a sticky, slippery nuisance on the sidewalks, hood of our cars and on top of our favorite plants.

Chico residents can rake the leaves into neat piles near the street and eventually they will be picked up.

However, a portion of that tree litter can be used in your yard. Last year we swept a big pile to the edge of the cyclone fence.

The fact that the pile sat there for a year has more to do with oversight than good soil intentions. The result was a weed-smothering mulch mat, and eventually some good leaf mold.

A Monterey Bay Master Gardener article, http://tinyurl.com/j9xkqgy makes a good case for adding leaves to the compost pile. Ideally, the gardener would rake the leaves into small rows, then run over them with the lawn mower. If the mower has a catch bag, you can easily dump the leaf confetti into the compost pile.

Most people don’t keep their compost pile hot enough to cook weed seeds, so try to keep weeds out of your leaf mounds.

Great garden gift

Thank you, thank you to my friend John who dumped the ginormous California Master Gardener Handbook ” on my chair at work a few weeks ago. I haven’t had this much fun reading since “Taylor’s Weekend Garden Guides,: Soil and Composting.”

When it comes to allowing leaves to decompose, the garden book recommends adding nitrogen, which could mean steer manure or synthetic nitrogen. This replaces nitrogen that is lost when leaves decompose.

What to do with clay soil

For many years, Bob Scoville has been my Glenn County go-to guy for plant information. I gave him a jingle this week to talk about leaves. As is sometimes the case, we ended up talking about other things.

On Bob’s side of the river, much of the soil is heavy with clay. You may notice your soil is heavy clay if you use garden soil in pots. When the plant dies and the soil dries, the dirt looks like a giant hockey puck. I think this is actually how curling was invented.

People with heavy clay soil might dig a hole and fill it with water. It could be hours before the water drains.

Bob’s solution on the west side of the river has been to add bags and bags of gypsum. We’ve talked about this before, but perhaps not in as great of detail. Gypsum is material you find in sheetrock, which makes up the walls in your house.

Bob buys gypsum for about $6 for a 50-pound bag at Northern Star Mills in Chico. “I just bought eight more bags last week,” Bob bragged.

The material looks like white flour and in the winter he sprinkles it on soil beyond the canopy line of his fruit trees. That’s where the roots reach. A good ratio is one pound per 10 square feet, he noted.

Bob gets very excited when he talks about is Alberta peaches. Apparently they should be entered into the world fair, and he’s intent on producing another mouth-watering crop next year. Having great soil is important.

I envision him working late at night, humming incoherently, wearing a white 19th Century bed cap – as each fist filled with gypsum is unleashed into the air, the sky is filled with a white mist.

When he’s not sprinkling, Bob also mixes gypsum with compost to work into the soil.

Why gypsum works

Good soil has four requirements, Bob explained – minerals, organic matter, water and air. Gypsum helps loosen the soil and minerals are made more accessible to plants. After five or six years, and many years of gypsum, Bob said his heavy clay soil has improved.

Leaf mold

Leaf mold sounds like something yucky you would scrape away with a spackling knife. However, leaf mold is basically a pile of leaves that you have allowed to sit in pile for a long, long time. See my example above.

This brief and informative article from Tulare/Kings counties Master Gardeners, http://tinyurl.com/zehpxt k notes that leaf mold “mixed in with your garden soil will improve soil structure, increase water retention, and provide a super habitat for good soil organisms like earthworms and beneficial bacteria.”

You can also used leaf mold as a compost, once the soil looks like crumbly black cake.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like to look at a rotting pile of leaves for a year, the master gardeners suggest packing a black plastic bag as full as you can with leaves. Before tying the bag, thoroughly wet the leaves with the spray from a garden hose. Next, poke some holes in the bag. Finally, hide the bag out of view and out of full sun. Sun will cause the bag to deteriorate. You can venture into the bag seasonally and give the leaves another good squirt of water.

Just about the time you have given up on the project, the leaf mold should be ready and good to use on your garden beds.

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Sow There! One more song for the Handsome Woodsman, 11-10-2016

Dave Kahl
Dave Kahl in Fort BraggDave  in Fort Bragg Photo by Heather Hacking

The Handsome Woodsman died Nov. 1 in that terrible head-on collision on Highway 99. His job was to “sell the sun” and he had been driving back to Chico after an appointment. Another driver veered into his lane and both drivers died.

There’s absolutely nothing good about this, but I’m so grateful that it had been a good day.

Hours before the accident, we had a tender moment in the driveway. I had arrived home after lunch with a friend. Dave was ready to leave, but had lingered to grab a quick kiss.

I noticed for the first time that he was growing a beard for winter, and petted his face.

Later in the day he sent a sweet text, but my phone battery was dead, and I didn’t get the message until after the accident.

That afternoon he talked to his son, Ben, who lives on the East Coast. It’s likely that the last words Dave heard were “I love you Dad.”

I am also so glad I was not at work that day. We listen to the police scanner in the newsroom and I think it would have been terrible to hear those early accident reports, to watch my coworkers dash out to cover the news story, then to find out it was my guy.

I know this grief thing will take a while.

A lot has happened in a week and a few days. Its tragic, yet beautiful, how people have reached out, most of them awkwardly and not knowing what to say. I feel loved. I know Dave was loved. I hope people will turn to the left and the right and love on each other.

MUSIC

Dave was a singer/songwriter and I’ve had his songs in my head almost constantly this past week.

The thing about living with a musician is you rarely hear the song in its entirety. You hear the guitar riff, perhaps 10-12 times in a row. Then there’s a chorus. The lyrics might even change each time you hear them. I would laugh sometimes at a gig, because the songs sounded so different when I could hear them from start to finish.

Now I’m listening to the songs in my head more closely, and wishing Dave had written down his lyrics. There are several songs “about a blonde” that will be lost except for in my memory.

Thursday morning a song popped into my head that was not part of Dave’s repertoire, “Let it Rain,” by Eric Clapton. Somehow, the last four lines of that song said everything that remained to be said.

SOME THINGS TO GROW

Dave loved mushroom hunting, the rugged California coast, creating his own parking places, petting our cat and afternoon naps. He was a strong believer in God, and almost always apologized for his part in an argument. He had recently grown to tolerate my rubber chicken and couldn’t help making puns.

When we first started dating about five years ago, I was impressed he could rattle off most of the names of plants in his neighborhood, or maybe he had studied just to win my heart.

He also loved gardening, but his approach was much more functional. His job was to grow the vegetables. I took care of the flowers.

Much fun has been had ridiculing his eggplant and the black, plastic truck-bed liner used as a raised bed.

These days I visit his part of the garden more often, talking to him and imagining him sitting in the faded, green resin lawn chair, smoking a cigar.

STILL GROWING

A few weeks ago the Handsome Woodsman texted me a photograph.

“Why did you send me a picture of dirt,” I asked.

“Look closer,” he wrote. “We are going to be proud parents of lettuce.”

I did look closer and saw the tiniest of green sprouts emerging from the big brown blotch in the digital pic.

His timing had been perfect. Seeds in the ground, then came the rains, then warm weather. Now his winter garden is my gift.

He also removed the rest of the summer plants, leaving just one eggplant with several purple fruit hanging like early Christmas ornaments.

NO FLOWERS

I know some of you who know me through the column will want to reach out. A few people have sent me flowers, and I love them, but my house is small.

I would encourage you to buy a gardenia plant, or some other fragrant favorite, and give it as a gift to someone you love. Please send me a photograph of your plant, in honor of Dave.

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Sow There! You’re doing a great job if you plant bulbs before Christmas, Nov. 17, 2016

There are bulbs in there ... probably.

There are bulbs in there … probably. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

This has been the first year in many that I finished planting all of my bulbs before Christmas. The fact that I did not buy as many bulbs as in previous years and gave some bulbs to others should not detract from my overall sense of bulb accomplishment.

I’ve planted bulbs as late as mid January, and honestly I do not remember if those blooms were less vigorous because of the delay. The point is to get them in the ground, rather than allow them to get lost in plain view just inside the door of the shed.

A good goal is to plant bulbs before Thanksgiving (which means this weekend). After the big food holiday, we switch into holiday mode — gift buying, tree decorating, party hopping, parking place hunting … If you haven’t planted your bulbs by Dec. 22, you might consider sticking a bow on the bag and making them another gardener’s problem.

POTTED PLEASURES

Theoretically I have a lot of bulbs already in the ground, primarily daffodils. By this time of year I would expect to see the very earliest of green stems pushing up from the soil.

Not yet.

The drought hasn’t been kind to a great many growing things, and I won’t be surprised if some of those daffodil bulbs became emergency squirrel food. Squirrels tend to dig up daffodil bulbs, wiggle their noses in disdain, then return to their search for tulip bulbs.

At this point I have more bulbs in pots than in the ground. After the potted bulbs bloom, I lug them to the back of the house, out of sight.

One day in late summer I was feeling brave, and perhaps bored. I dumped the soil into a wheelbarrow and sorted through the bulbs. Perhaps an eighth of the stash was rotten, but most seemed ready to grow again, especially the hyacinth. Sorting through all of those pots was a big job, and by the time the day warmed, I was hot and cranky.

Yet, the advantage of bulbs in pots is you can give the blooms as a gift, take them to work or move them to the kitchen table.

Another step forward

Of course, chit-chat about bulbs is not what is primary in my mind right now.

Perhaps if I started right now I would have enough time to write all the thank-you notes that are merited. So many people have provided small and large kindnesses after the death of my Handsome Woodsman Nov. 1.

I’m trying my best to take people’s suggestions. I had a counseling session, went to a grief meeting, indulged in a massage, soaked in a friend’s hot tub and took several day off from work. I must admit, I did some of those things in case people started telling me what they thought I should do. This way I can say I’m taking good care of myself.

The reality is simply that things will be tough for a while.

Luckily, my job does not include operating heavy equipment nor being in charge of the lives of small children.

One day one of my sweet coworkers saw me crying at my desk and stopped to offer comfort.

“Is there anything I can do?” she asked so sincerely.

“No, there’s not.”

However, it is helpful to know that so many of you are willing to do anything I needed, if I knew what I needed …

The Handsome Woodsman’s adult son is staying with me right now, which has been important. We’re both muddling through, aching in nearly the same way and missing the same, very tall man.

 

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Sow There! Bugs in the garden are easy to spot when you have a day off 8-6-15

  1. Aphids are slimy after being sprayed with soapy water. The Portulaca has not been doing very well after aphids and ants found the plant to be the perfect snack zone for the suckers.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

    I had an extra day off work this week and nowhere in particular to go.

    As a treat to myself I decided not to go to the gym, not to wash clothes and to forget about the dirty dishes in the sink.

    It seemed perfectly reasonable to spend my idle time staring at my plants.

    Just a few days prior, my beau had spotted the first hornworm of the season.

    Mom was visiting and I guess I was showing off. I grabbed the hornworm carefully between the blades of pruning shears and sashayed around the patio with the green gobbler.

    Mom cheered me on and shared the oft-told story of Uncle Jimmy and the hornworms.

    Long ago, mom’s grandmother offered a nickle per bug, which sent the grandchildren into a hornworm finding frenzy. Uncle Jimmy demonstrated exceptional zeal, laying his hornworms on the ground and systematically stomping on them: “five cents, 10 cents, 15 cents,” he chanted.

    In another version of the story, the hornworms are fed to the chickens after payment.

    Farmers are harvesting almonds this week, which is ahead of schedule. It may be my imagination, but it seems like tomato hornworms are ahead of schedule as well.

    If you have 8 minutes you can watch a video of the entire life cycle of the critter, from egg to gorgeous sphinx moth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk2PYeRvmWI

    This video was personally reassuring that I am not the only one who spends hours staring at plants.

    One reason we don’t spot hornworms earlier is because the eggs are tiny, about 1.5 millimeters. For perspective, the length of a flea is 1.5 mm.

    Also, the small, medium and large hornworms are the exact color of the tomato plant upon which they are feasting. The best way to spot them is to find a stem where all of the leaves are eaten, and travel with your eyes toward the center of the plant. Hornworms also give themselves away by dropping dark-green globs of worm poop. Look for the worm several inches above the leaf covered with worm poop.

    While continuing to stare at plants, I also found some great praying mantises in the sunflowers.

    The biggest bug jackpot was in plain view and sucking the life out of the poor Portulaca.

    Portulaca, also known as moss rose, is a great container plant known for surviving abysmal heat. As the petals drop, you can often find a little bundle of black seeds, which are fun to sprinkle in bare soil.

    I dug my fingernails into some black spots, only to find something black and sticky.

    Yuck.

    Fortunately, I did not need to rush off to work this day.

    Almost every stem of the succulent plant was covered with tiny black bugs – aphids.

    Ants were also standing periodically, keeping care of the aphid herd to collect honedew (the excretion of plant-sucking aphids).

    Nature is fascinating.

    Similar to early ranchers in the Sacramento Valley, the ants saw this portulaca as a vast prairie, perfectly suited for aphid ranching.

    Never mind that a monstrous woman with a squirt bottle filled with soapy water would come along and dash the ants’ pioneering spirit.

    If I had a few more days off from work I would take an eight-minute video to show what happens to aphids after being sprayed with soapy water.

    After mom’s visit, my sister stopped by. I offered her a basil plant for her kitchen window, but she was afraid the pot might have bugs in the soil.

    I had no idea what she was talking about. The aphids, ants, hornworms and praying mantises were currently preoccupied with other greenery.

    Yet, when we reached for the basil plant, a particularly fuzzy spider made a quick exit.

    Over the next few hours I had fun putzing around the yard, offering my sister plants. Even though there were no more spiders, every once in a while I squealed as if a spider had jumped onto my arm. No matter how old I get, its still fund to tease my older sister.

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Sow There! Don’t buy the hype on specialty fertilizers 5-12-2016

Cacti may be remarkably different plants than others, but the still need the same type of food. Local nurseryman Jerry Mendon says you don't need to get fussy with fertilizer. Just give plants some basic food.
Cacti may be remarkably different plants than others, but the still need the same type of food. Local nurseryman Jerry Mendon says you don’t need to get fussy with fertilizer. Just give plants some basic food.Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Folks who have known Jerry Mendon since before pluots were invented, know that he’s a straight-forward type of guy. When I chatted with the long-term Paradise nurseryman a few weeks ago he was mirthfully annoyed by fertilizer hype.

What sparked the conversation was Jerry’s recent encounter with specialized palm tree food.

Phooey.

Jerry didn’t actually say “phooey,” but that’s what he meant.

“This got me to thinking,” Jerry actually did say. “To a plant, fertilizer is food. It doesn’t matter what kind it is.”

As a practical man, the idea of having 15 kinds of specialized plant food on a store shelf is irksome.

The Patriarch of Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise said it’s not just palm food. Gardeners can find azalea food, vegetable food, rose food …

“When a person says what kind of food do I need, I ask them what do they already have.”

The whole trend of specialty foods started in the 1950s, he recalled. Before that, there were just a handful of fertilizer brands, made by four main companies.

“About the mid ’50s, someone on Madison Avenue got the brainy idea that if we came up with foods for everything,” customers would buy more than one bag of plant food.

Now we have bulb food, citrus food, snapdragon food, Jerry said.

“They’re all in the same range” in terms of phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium.

When you look at the numbers on the side of a fertilizer bag, you’ll see something like 5x5x5. That means 5 percent nitrogen, 5 percent potash (potassium) and 5 percent phosphate (phosphorus). Other combinations like 6x10x4 are right in that same ballpark, Mendon said.

SOIL AMENDMENT

While I had Jerry on the phone, I picked his brain for what to do in my own vegetable garden this year.

We have a black plastic truck bed liner used as a raised bed. Last year we filled half the bed liner with brand new soil, mixed with sphagnum peat moss, seasoned steer manure, organic (bagged) compost and a bunch of cheap topsoil (less then $2 a bag at a big-box store).

The bed liner is on a slope, and nutrients drip out the bottom.

My plan had been to add more steer manure this season.

Jerry, who was already on a roll from the fertilizer conversations, said the steer manure really wouldn’t do much and was “not worth the price.” Also, big animals are fed so many chemicals, I would be introducing all of that into my vegetable plot, he continued.

“The maim thing with soil is to get some sort of mulch in it,” Jerry urged. This loosens the soil. Next, add something that will provide “food” for plants.

He suggested a soil amendment called Paydirt , which contains a large percentage of aged chicken manure. Other ingredients are redwood sawdust and mushroom compost.

He also suggested mixing very good soil with an equal part of garden soil.

Mendon said he gives this same advice for people growing tomatoes in 10-gallon buckets.

Some plant advisers will say that adding soil from the yard is not the right choice. Yet, Mendon said he disagrees. Native soil helps with moisture retention.

Paradise is known for having heavy soil. Mendon said he sells a lot of Bumper Crop, a soil amendment that contains trace minerals and bark. The amendment is treated with nitrogen. Normally, as bark decomposes it grabs nitrogen from the soil. The extra nitrogen in this bagged product counteracts this issue.

For my half of a truck bed liner, Jerry recommended I add about six bags, which sell for about $8 each.

NO QUICK FIXES

He said to also be wary of products that contain ammonia sulfate. This is a quick release fertilizer that can do more harm than good.

An article from the Almaden Valley Nursery, http://tinyurl.com/j6zdcm9, notes that the product can make dull grass look green in two days. Yet, only the foliage was fed, not the roots. Over time, salts in ammonia sulfate can build up and change the pH of the soil, this article states.

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Sow There! Better friendships through food sharing 6-23-16

Donut peaches
Donut peaches Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record
CurrantsCurrants Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

I rarely go a week without visiting a farmers market. I love the colors, enjoy running into friends and I usually find something to eat. However, my freezer is packed with fruit and both crisper drawers in the fridge are full.

When I visited Mom, she showed me her new raised beds and sent me home with a bag full of squash.

Our paper’s advertising director, Fred, shared some of his plum harvest with his fruitless coworkers. My boss at work — even more squash.

Sharing food from our yards is one of the beautiful things about living in bountiful California.

My coworker Sally lives on the outskirts of town where residential streets blend into orchards. At times her neighbors have held garden parties. The friends begin the tour in one yard, spend a half an hour, and visit each gardener on the block. Because so many people grow food, people swap melons for tomatoes.

GIVING TREES

If you think about it, one mature fruit tree produces a barrel-full of fruit. Nobody likes to eat the same food day-after-day.

Yet, if each person on your block grew a different type of fruit, you could hold fruit-salad parties.

GATHER AND SHARE

The Jesus Center 1297 Park Avenue, will also gladly accept your fresh garden edibles. You can take them to the back door near the kitchen, or through the front doors on Park Avenue.

DRY STUFF

We’re big into using the dehydrator when someone shouts out an offer to raid their fruit tree. Some of our favorites dried fruits are peaches, Roma tomatoes, persimmons, plums and apricots.

Dried fruit can be chopped into bits with scissors and added to salads or oatmeal.

You can also combine dried fruit, almonds and chocolate chips for a home version of trail mix.

FOOD GARDEN

LaDona Knigge sent me a note recently with an invite to pick some of her donut-shaped peaches.

It did not take me long to dig the dehydrator out of the shed and gather up the grocery bags with the strong handles.

LaDona is a clever gardener and her specialty is growing food in just about every corner of the yard.

Beginning in 2010 she and her late husband Willis Geer turned an ordinary home with a front lawn into a food oasis.

By the time the drought slowly crept into our lives, she had colorful balls of food growing right outside her front door.

It takes time and care to grow good among a home’s landscaping.

Her peach tree is near the street, with the heat from the sidewalk doing magic on the ripening fruit. She keeps the tree trimmed small for easy reach and no risky moves on the top of a ladder.

Most of the yard is mulched, which would earn her a gold star in a drought garden contest.

In other parts of her yard she might cut a branch here and there to allow plants the sunlight they need. Or she might tuck an herb in an area that has a nice mix of sun and shade.

The result is that a visitor can walk around the yard nibbling at just about every arm’s length.

In the front, bright red currants look like salmon eggs, ready to put on the end of your fishing rod. Dried or fresh there are many recipes that call for currants, http://tinyurl.com/hsc624u.

Along the fence, LaDona has two blueberry bushed that doubled in size since the last time I visited. The plants are under a redwood tree, which is fine because blueberry plants do well in acidic soil. She said she trimmed a redwood branch to allow the two to coexist.

Along her side yard she has artichokes and herbs galore.

On the other side of the yard, a neighbor’s apricot tree branches out onto her side of the fence.

DRIED FOOD FOR THOUGHT

I haven’t tried this yet, but it sounds like a fun recipe found on epicurious.com,http://tinyurl.com/gslowzo.

Combine 1 1/4 cups dried figs with 2 1/2 cups additional dried fruit, such as applies, apricots, pears or prunes. Zip the fruits in a food processor until the mixture is like a paste. Mix in two tablespoons honey, two tablespoons orange juice and 1/2 cup cocoa powder. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Next, roll into balls a little bigger than an inch wide.

I’m thinking while we’re at it, you might as well roll the balls in some coconut flakes.

 

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Sow There! Mid-summer veggies; what now? 6-9-2016

Just a few days after this picture was taken, these beauties are ready to be eaten, preferably while watering and while wearing my pajamas.

Summer vegetables are the sprinters of the plant world. They get out of the box at full speed — grow, produce, set seed and die — all within a single season.

Zucchini is just the best example. We put seeds in the ground in May. By early June the plants are growing several inches a day.

In mid July I will be picking one or two a day, try to find new zucchini recipes, choke down zucchini slices like they are popcorn, hand zucchini to friends, using the toaster oven outside to bake zucchini muffins, hand zucchini to strangers, plan to carve a canoe from zucchini that grew and grew …

Just about the time I remember how to actually spell zucchini without spell-check, the plants are tired and ready to die.

Is it worth it?

In addition to the plants in our black plastic truck liner raised bed, we have four tomatoes in 10-gallon pots. As of right now there are two medium-sized red tomatoes and about four golf-ball sized tomatoes. We also have dozens of dried, fruitless flowers.

“Is this worth it,” I said out loud while the cat circled around my ankles like a figure 8. “Couldn’t we just buy a tomato here and there at the store?”

Yes, my Handsome Woodsman confirmed. Yet, when was the last time I bought tomatoes and ate and enjoyed the fruit whole? When was the last time I treated a store-bought tomato like a sweet summer fruit?

He is right on this particular point. When I eat tomatoes I am standing in the yard, usually in the morning. I pick a fruit and let the flavor explode into my mouth.

If I make an omelete, I grab cherry tomatoes off the plant and throw them into the eggs whole.

MENDON’S OPINION

When I called Jerry Mendon at Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise, I had several questions, but asked him about tomatoes as well.

“Are they worth it?”

I could tell he was wondering whether this was simply a rhetorical question.

After a pause Jerry said it like it is.

“I can’t stand store-bought tomatoes,” he said. The varieties are bred for mechanical harvest. The fruit has a tough skin. They are picked green for better packing, he said, among other things.

He’s right of course.

WHAT NOW?

The conversation quickly shifted to dead tomato blossoms. Jerry confirmed that when it gets hot quickly flowers fade.

The reason has more to do with sudden change a in temperature vs. the actual temperature, he said.

Very soon we’ll have another flush of summer fruit, he predicted.

The best time for tomatoes to set fruit is when night-time temperatures are between 60-70 degrees.

Meanwhile, he suggested adding a heaping teaspoon of plant food about every two weeks to my 10-gallon containers. The first number of the plant food is nitrogen, and he recommended using fertilizer with a 4-8 as the first number. The other numbers matter much less.

As noted in an article about a month ago, http://tinyurl.com/zlt3ox4, there’s no reason to buy specialty fertilizer for different plants, Mendon maintains. Plants can’t read the words on the bag, they just want plant food.

MULCH NOW

As for the rest of the raised bed, it’s probably time for me to add mulch. The problem is that I keep adding seeds to the open spaces in the soil.

Mendon recommended adding a mulch called Bumper Crop, which contains nitrogen. Mulch is always great for keeping in moisture and preventing weeds. However, as the mulch breaks down, it robs nitrogen from the soil.

Bumper Crop has the extra nitrogen to offset the depletion of nitrogen, Jerry explained.

MORE PLANTING

Its not too late to plant basil seeds in the ground. Basil seeds grow easily. The leaves can be harvested for salads or to eat with tomatoes while you stand in the yard.

I personally always forget to plant fall-ripening food like pumpkins and winter squash. Now is a good time to place those seeds in the ground.

I was flattered that Jerry remembered I was growing things in a black, plastic truck bed liner. He said I should be careful not to plant seeds too close to the edge, which will be about a million degrees. His advice is to keep plants 10 inches from the edge. The good think about vines is that the leaves will grow over the edge, taking up very little space in the actual raised bed.

The vines can also be trained to climb as chain-link fence. Just be careful the vertical growth does not block the sun in your garden area.

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Sow There! Two is a crowd when it comes to cats in the yard, 5-26-16

Mystery kitty.
Mystery kitty. Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Our cat, the Feline Unit, is a talker. She follows us around the house demanding wet food, saying hello, and demanding wet food.

Sometimes we hear her having long, soulful conversations with neighborhood cats. These aren’t the hiss-fits you hear when there are too many tom’s circling a dumpster. These are friendly little cat chats. I know it’s more than one gentleman suitor because I recognize their different voices.

Saturday evening I was in the yard salvaging the last of the kale and killing cabbage worms.

Up sauntered the most bizarre-looking lion kitty. At first I thought this orange cat had been shaved. It has a giant mane of hair and a ball of hair at the end of its tail. The rest of its fur is thin.

I looked up this bizarre cat hairstyle online. It’s called cat alopecia, and can be caused by mites, fleas, thyroid problems and cat neurosis.

I ignored the cat when it talked to me, but I recognized its voice. This was probably my chance to hiss, stomp my feet or throw pebbles. Yet, I was having a nice moment with my kale.

The cat hid under the wheel of my boyfriend’s car, telling me very important things.

Then it happened. I bent down to pull a mallow weed and the cat was on my hand faster than a racing pig at the county fair. It rubbed three parts of its body onto my extended hand before I had a chance to retract my fist full of mallow.

I started walking, fast mind you, toward my door. It followed, all of its meek disposition suddenly gone.

By the time I called Mandy, the cat was at the screen door, talking loudly.

“Congratulations on your new cat,” Mandy said. “What are you going to name it.”

Here’s the thing. There is NO way I am adopting a new cat, no matter how much my heart feels for this poor, very, very desperate, strange looking creature. We can’t have two feline units in the house.

I walked closer to the door while talking to Mandy. The cat’s cry increased four decibels and Mandy howled with laughter.

I’m thinking I’ll box up the cat and give it to her as a wedding present.

I can see how my kind-hearted friends end up with 12 cats in their yard. Every creature needs food. Every kitty wants love. Next thing you know you’re buying cat food in bulk at Northern Star Mills and walking around with multiple colors of fur stuck to your black skirts.

Wednesday night my boyfriend and I sat at the kitchen table when we heard the familiar sound of the cat door and kibble being nibbled.

However, our cat has a bell and a collar that clinks on the rim of the metal bowl.

Sure enough, the lion kitty had walked into the laundry room and was happily chomping.

WHAT TO DO

I talked at length with Tracy Mohr, animal services manager at the Chico Animal Shelter. She said cats can have up to a two-mile roaming range. In all likelihood, this cat probably lives somewhere nearby. Cats often roam, she said. They might spend all day at one home, then spend the evening at another house begging for food and attention.

This makes sense, because I’ve been hearing this particular voice for a while. What’s new is actually seeing the cat. For all I know, it could have been been eating out of the laundry room for weeks.

My best bet, Mohr agreed, is to make my home inhospitable.

For the past 40 years society has trained people to take strays to the local animal shelter. Mohr said the reality is that only about 2 percent of lost cats are found this way. Most lost cats find their way home on their own, she said. The worst thing to do is to transport the cat to another part of town. Then the owner will never find their cat, she said.

This is a great time to make the pitch for having a microchip installed for pets. Mohr said I could bring the lion kitty down to the shelter to check if there is an owner nearby.

 

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Sow There! Organic pest control and mounds of free earth, 6-02-16

Do you want some free topsoil? Is that a rhetorical question?

Do you want some free topsoil? Is that a rhetorical question?Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record

Last week I let myself wallow in melancholy.

I write a garden column and where is my garden?

I have a patio covered with potted plants, a mostly dead lawn and a few rosemary plants.

My vegetable garden is a black plastic truck bed liner, containing tired spinach and kale.

Then something amazing happened.

A neighbor who usually keeps to himself asked if we wanted to help ourselves to a giant mound of topsoil. I did not ask questions. I grabbed a five-gallon bucket.

My boyfriend was also inspired. He called me at work to reassert his love for eggplant.

Normally I would be hurt that he went plant shopping without me. Yet, in this case, I saw his solo spending as a time-saver.

When I came home there were a pepper plants waiting. He picked out a six-pack of beans because he loves me and knows I love beans. Of course we planned to plant squash and zucchini, a topic which did not merit discussion. He also bought two six packs of gazania flowers, which have doubled in size in less than a week.

Quite a workout

While the plants were still fresh in their six-pack containers, I personally hauled 80 gallons of soil from the neighbor’s front yard to our backyard vegetable area.

Anyone who says gardening is not hard work is invited to my house next time I need to haul 80 gallons of soil.

MENTAL TRANSFORMATION

My how a mound of dirt can change your outlook on life.

My black plastic truck bed liner was no longer a poor-man’s solution to a terrible gopher problem. My raised bed is actually a great example of how to recycle and reuse. The bed liner had previously been about a third filled with soil. Now our growing area has doubled.

GOODBYE SWEET KALE

The hard part of all of this was tearing out the spinach and kale, which have served me so well since November. I hated to let it go when there might be one or two handfuls of leafy greens in the future.

Yet, the more I looked, the more I realized these plants were heavily infested.

My method of pest control has been hand squishing. Specifically, when I found clusters of eggs on the back side of the leaves, I squished the eggs between the leaves.

When I found worms, I cut them in half with the garden clippers. Earlier in the season these were fuzzy, green worms, which I determined to be cabbage worms,http://tinyurl.com/za5eye5.

This past week the worms I found were the same size, the same color, but decidedly not fuzzy.

I sent a photo to the ever-helpful Bob Scoville at Glenn County Master Gardeners. Scoville, the super sleuth, determined these were larvae for the diamondback moth. The distinguishing feature is the “prolegs” at the end of the worm, forming a distinctive V-shape. Bob referred me to the University of California IPM website: http://tinyurl.com/j2bgn5n

 

I will give myself a big pat on the back for hand-picking pest control. However, now that I see more clearly what I’m battling, I’m bringing on the soapy guns.

Rodale’s Organic Life website, http://tinyurl.com/h9fydvd, talks plain about killing creepy-crawly with soap suds. The reigning organic writers also provide recipes for garlic water spray and using milk or baking soda, vinegar to kill without harsher chemicals.

One quickie recipe even is said to help deter deer: 1/4 cup milk, four drops natural dish soap or liquid castile soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s. Spray on the new leaves deer love to browse. Repeat every 10 days.

Paradise friends, let me know if this works. If it does, it’s new worth sharing again.

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