Sow There! Lessons on the farm, June 14, 2019


  • Farmers can grow a lot of food on 400 acres, and some of this lettuce made it into our dinner salad. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
June 14, 2019 at 3:30 am

The book “Farmer Boy,” was a connecting thread during my year of teaching third grade. The story follows the husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder, when Almanzo was a hard-working farm boy.

I thought I had read the entirety of the “Little House on the Prairie” books by Ingalls Wilder in my childhood. Somehow, I  missed “Farmer Boy,” and was able to enjoy it as I read out loud.


So many practical life lessons are found within the pages, including wise money management, the reality of hard work and how to grow a prize-winning pumpkin.

Farming, gardening, appreciation of food — these things helped confirm I had landed I the right place.

In the book, the family works most days from sun-up to sun-down, often as a full family unit.

When it came time to teach my students about the changes in the season, I was glad to have a background as an agricultural reporter. Our lessons included tasks being done each month on local farms, with a focus on tree crops and rice.

We also worked in the garden every other week. However, our bursts of hard work were much shorter than the sun-up-to-sun-down chores of our friends in the book.

“Do you think you could work like this all day,” I asked a few children as they dug a trench along the fence line.

“Oh yes.”

“No problem,” children said as they dug fresh earth.

“Maybe part of the day,” my children reported after the novelty of a shovel had worn off.

Farm visit

I wanted to know, because in May we took our big two-night camping trip to Full Belly Farms in Guinda. The farm is 400 acres in the Capay Valley, about halfway up the hill near Clear Lake. A big part of the “curriculum” during our trip was to experience hard work. We yanked fat, white bulbs of garlic and learned to strip the outer muddy husk. We gathered strawberries, with most of the fruit deposited into baskets. We also liberated friendly chickens of hundreds of eggs. We did not wake up at the crack of dawn, yet 6:30 a.m. was a close compromise.

The big task was working as an assembly unit to fill 275 community supported agriculture boxes with organic produce. I like to think I prepped my children for this task by our beanbag circle, where we started in sl-o-o-o-w-w-w motion passing the bags, mimicking a machine that moved faster and faster.


The field trip was one of the most difficult tasks of my school year. Field trip forms disappear in children’s backpacks, I needed to recruit parent chaperones and create a menu that avoided known allergies

I was also nervous. I had amazing parents to help, but the bottom line was that the responsibility was mine.

A mentor teacher helped soothe my nerves and held my hand as I planned. Later, I was thrilled with expectation when I saw photos from the trip she took earlier in the year.

The flowers were bursting and her children frolicked among the farm animals. They waded in a creek and sang songs around the fire. If there was a soundtrack, it would have been straight from Disney.

The field trip

By the time I was ready for my trip, our forecast was for rain. I sent out an urgent plea for families to pack raincoats and hoped for the best.

That first day, I must say, was not the best. We huddled in tents. My children frolicked in rain — several played tag on wet grass while wearing their only dry sweatshirt.

I learned that there is almost no force in nature that can keep a child from sloshing through a mud puddle, even if they only have two extra pairs of dry socks.

Yet, the next day we had only a drizzle and a rainbow to greet us when we woke up at 6:30 a.m. for chores. The children worked like a fine machine for the assembly line and we feasted the next day on fresh eggs served from a black iron skillet. There was a clear sky for toasting marshmallows and our imperfect campfire skits prepared us for our class play.

Life on a farm isn’t always perfect, but it can be just fine when we work together and have access to the farm’s clothes dryer.

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Sow There! An eye for statuesque beauties, June 7, 2019

An eye for statuesque beauties | Sow There!

Bear’s Breech, a surprisingly tall and orante flower that seems to do the impossible in partial shade. (Contributed by Heather Hacking)

June 7, 2019

I remember my grandmother’s voice on an early evening as we sat in her yard. The lawn behind her yellow stucco house was green and wide, a place where we could run around in the dresses she made on her sewing machine, and impress her with the cartwheels we had learned in gymnastics class.

“What are those Gram,” I asked, pointing to some tall flowers that looked like they grew from stakes in the ground. “Hollyhocks,” she recalled. “When I was a girl, we used to take the flower and put it on a finger, and pretend it was the skirt of a beautiful ballerina.” Her voice was soft and just a bit girl-like, as she demonstrated the long-ago dance on an overturned index finger.

At the time, age 7, I thought this was sad. Didn’t she have any real dolls to play with? Later she would tell me her stories, about working for her keep from the age of 14 in someone else’s big house on a steep hill in San Francisco.

I’ve shown the flower skirts to children since then, often with the same quiet tone, and usually I receive the same unimpressed reaction I gave my grandmother that day. The tall flowers remain special to me, a reminder of that moment with my grandmother in her yard – with the apricot trees and a view of sloping hills that are now covered in tract homes and strip malls.

Last week, I took a stroll around the Patrick Ranch museum at dusk. When I work my occasional part-time job at the ranch, the garden tour is my ritual. When I closed the white picket gate, I almost bumped into a tall beauty – white hollyhock, with blooms at eye-level.

Tall flowers, I thought. I like tall flowers. My mind was running with this idea – perhaps a future column. Hollyhocks, cosmos, foxglove, phlomos.

Maybe I would consider butterfly bush in this category, but likely not. If butterfly bush is a tall flower, I would need to include oleander, and then I would be talking about any flowering bush, including those that grow in the median of the freeway.

I continued my stroll, turned at the edge of the house, and ran into something even more delicious. There, in the partial shade of the redwood trees, were dozens of tall, overly-ornate blooms in quiet colors of light and dark mauve. I may have overlooked this flower before, but on this day the flowers were tall and brave.

Bear’s Breech, I learned, after scouring many websites with a vague description of the plants’ attributes. I shouldn’t be surprised that the gardeners at the Patrick Ranch museum know how to choose the best flowers and put them in ideal locations. A home gardener would need a lot of room to let this beauty settle in. The dark green leaves rival the size of an elephant ear. In the large clump, the flowers contrast the horizontal angle of the leaves, somewhat like skyscrapers bursting above the fog.

Tall flowers – strong and sturdy. I admire that.

Yet, for some reason, when I try to grow tall flowers they end a flop, literally. I’ve grown foxglove in the past, and needed to stake the blooms that dared to grow very large.

This same luck was had with gladiolas, which I would not recommend. My gladiolas grew almost sideways. Later, the corms continued to multiply for years. What I accidentally grew was a wide clump of clumsy flowers. Why would I grow gladiolas when I can buy the for $6 a bunch at Trader Joes – uniform and straight as a tent stake.

Cosmos, another tall flower, will grow at least four feet, and is easy to grow from seed. I enjoyed these along my fence line one year, with cool impatiens at the base. Cosmos will certainly flop over as well, but they’re so willowy the flop adds to their charm.

Whatever you do, please do not accidentally plant Four O’Clocks. These flowers are easy to grow, but you’ll fight to get rid of them for a decade. These flowers are named because they open at 4 o’clock (in Wisconsin). In Chico, it’s so hot at 4 o’clock you only see the flowers in the cool of a 6 a.m. stroll to your car.

Until I learn to grow tall flowers, I’ll continue to enjoy the in the places where they grow.

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Sow There! Poppy plants making their presence known, May 24, 2019

Poppy plants making their presence known | Sow There!

Poppies don’t need much encouragement to grow. Just give them a tiny bit of soil, let the rains comes, and hope that no one comes along to spoil their fun. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
May 24, 2019 at 2:01 am

The poppy plants are blooming in the alley — three of them.

Most years, the alley is boldly orange, with lacy plants reaching from the cracks in the pavement into the roadway, destined to be smashed by folks who drive fast and take shortcuts.

The poppy plant is a fearless survivor and will grow deep roots into the smallest crack in the pavement. The itty-bitty amount of soil in those cracks is rich, made from leaves that decayed after being blown toward a wooden fence.

The plants are almost my hidden secret. People who drive through alleys are usually driving fast, and sometimes trying to avoid the police.

When the plants are in full bloom, they seem oddly out of place, which I also enjoy, like roses growing from a garbage can.

As with any garden bed, weeds happen. In late winter, I spend some time yanking out the other plants that find a way to grow in a small crack in the urban landscape.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that the plants were gone.


My first guess was that Mark Carlson had stopped by to do a “good deed.”

When he’s in the neighborhood, he’ll stop by to say hello. If I’m not there, he sometimes does something nice. Sometimes I’m so busy, I don’t notice one of his good deeds until weeks later.

He weed-wacked my tall grass, for example, and I texted him days and days later with words of gratitude.

Poppies don’t need much encouragement to grow. Just give them a tiny bit of soil, let the rains comes, and hope that no one comes along to spoil their fun. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

Another day, he chopped down a most hateful privet. The privet had grown so large, I had tried to convince the PG&E tree crew that the plant was interfering with the power lines. The workers gave my request very little thought before moving along to something more important.

When I saw the blank space where the privet had dominated, I didn’t notice at first. It’s sort of like when someone gets a giant mole removed from their face. You know something is different, but in the absence of that big thing, you can’t quite figure out what has changed.

Now Mark does privet maintenance. Serious nuisances, like privet, don’t die easily. Mark works in landscaping and carries seriously potent privet spray in his bag of tricks. More than once, he has stopped to torture the privet sprouts trying to grow from the giant privet trunk.

When the poppies showed up missing, I thought Mark must have meant to do another good deed. My first thought was to call up and complain. Yet, that would have been completely unfair. When someone does something incredibly nice, you need to thank him, even if it’s completely opposite from what you would have hoped.

Many a marriage has likely survived by following that simple thought process.

I still complained, but I chose to complain to my neighbor.

Del has a work shed in the lot next door, and he is about the coolest guy you could ever imagine.

He has a vintage truck and decorates his work shed with wrought-iron brick-a-brack. He wears a leather cowboy hat and has straight, shiny, long hair. He looks like he should be in a magazine about guys who do cool things in sheds.

Del listened to my rant, and after what might have been a deep breath, he admitted he had decimated my poppies.

It happened fast, he explained, as if the speed of their demise would comfort me. He saw some weeds and picked up a shovel.

“Once I got started, I just didn’t stop,” he said sheepishly.

I was impressed that in 20 minutes, he had cleared everything growing from his cyclone fence to the mock orange hedge 40 feet down the way.

I had to forgive him as well. Maybe next time I need a privet removed, I’ll ask him if he has some spare time.

The good news is that a few of the poppies survived. Did I mention that they are freakishly hardy? Three plants is enough to make me smile when I take a stroll around the neighborhood. I’ll make sure I pop some poppy seeds on Del’s side of the fence next fall.

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Sow There! A good deed finally notices — amaryllis, May 17, 2019

A good deed finally noticed — amaryllis | Sow There!

When the amaryllis blooms arrived, in late March, they stopped small feet in their tracks. (Heather Hacking -Contributed)
May 17, 2019 at 3:30 am

One of the best types of gifts is the unexpected. Of these, I have received many — much more than I ever could have deserved. Many times I have relied upon the kindness of strangers.

Receiving gifts, witnessing good deeds, remembering to do for others — all help reaffirm that most of the world is filled with goodness.

Last fall a bag of bulbs arrived at my former workplace. My friend dropped the gift on my doorstep when I was not at home.

“A nice lady brought these to the newspaper for you,” my friend wrote.

Inside a brown paper were several huge dormant chunks of plant life. I guessed they were amaryllis, but was certainly not certain. I also guessed they were from someone in Paradise; The bag said “Black Bear Diner.”

As sometimes happens at my house, the bag sat just inside my doorway. I put things there for which I intend to give immediate attention.

Months later, I did the right thing.

The bulb was fairly unimpressive at first, sitting in a bowl with water and pebbles.

(That bowl was a mistake. One day I realized the plant’s roots had pushed so hard the glass broke).

The children didn’t notice this new thing. There’s a lot to do when the children walk through the threshold, including fish around in their backpacks for homework and listen to my voice telling them to find their seat quietly.

Weeks passed, and no one noticed it was growing. Then the blooms arrived, in late March — deep red and so large you could easily think they were made in China.

The five-gallon plastic pot was just the right size, and then the show as on!

We measured the flowers and touched the fuzz-covered stamens. We wondered if the plant would fall, even after I propped it up with sticks.

After the flowers faded, I wanted more.

I had more bulbs by my front door, but there was a lot going on around Easter. Mainly, we had many surfaces covered with bowls of wheat grass, which became our Easter baskets.

But you can’t let bulbs go to waste. That nice lady form Paradise would want me to enjoy them.

Last weekend I reached for the bag just in time, or too late depending on your perspective. One of the remaining amaryllis bulbs had bloomed — inside the bag. There it was, just past its prime and almost knocking at the brown paper to be fully valued. Other bulbs had emerging green stems.

I took a break from all other things and placed those beauties in pots outside. If they were going to grow despite me, I should give them a little help.

The Gardener’s Supply Company, provides some basic instruction for the big, big bulbs. None of the instructions suggested keeping the bulbs in a paper bag for nine months. The information also suggested a heavy pot so the big plant doesn’t topple.

Bury the bulb ¾-inch under the soil and water lightly until either a flower stalk or leaves emerge. Next, water regularly. Give indirect light (or place in a classroom). Turn the pot every once in a while to encourage the plant not to lean. In six to eight weeks, the show begins.

Just like any other bulb, deadheading will help more energy to be directed to the bulb for next year. Amaryllis can also last about as long in a vase as on the plant, this source of garden information states. After flowering, let the flower fade, and cut the stalk to about an inch from the top of the bulb. Continue to water and feed with houseplant fertilizer. In August, stop watering and let the foliage die until the pot is completely dry. Then, store in a paper bag until you’re ready to drop the bulb on someone’s doorstep.

Thank you, unknown woman, for your kindness. Your gesture brought joy to many.

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Sow There! Bright, white flowers for hot nights, May 10, 2019

Bright, white flowers for hot nights | Sow There!

Thank you, wise gardeners at the Patrick Ranch Museum, for planting flowers that brighten my way through darkness. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
May 10, 2019 at 2:35 am

Oh the bliss of coaxing a good friend into taking a nice stroll around the neighborhood.

I much prefer this type of exercise to going to the gym. With a good friend, you can solve most of the world’s problems and see the world through quieter eyes. People are tinkling silverware in the sink or playing board games with their children. Sometimes people are sipping wine and singing at the top of their voices.

At night, you can smell the flowers down the road, even if you can’t see them – Daphne odora in February, or honeysuckle in spring and into early summer. The Handsome Woodsman would always stop and pick me a gardenia on our evening walks, they’re easy to spot – bright and white under the glow of the streetlights.

Thank you, wise gardeners at the Patrick Ranch Museum, for planting flowers that brighten my way through darkness. (Photo by Heather Hacking)

I spend some time in the early evening and into the night out at the Patrick Ranch Museum, where I have an intermittent part-time job. Lately, I’ve become enamored by flowers best viewed under the light of the moon.

The master gardener at the ranch must share this enthusiasm, because white flowers are easy to spot. The Dahlias are huge right about now, as if waving hello from the shadows near the porch of the Italianate grey, brick house. Candy tufts bounce with brightness in the otherwise darkness. Even bright yellow flowers like coreopsis have a dainty glow when you’re otherwise fumbling around to see the sidewalk.

At my own house, I have Vinca Rosea, which survived the winter when I covered the plants during cold spells. They’re haggard, but I sort of like the fact that they brighten my way late at night. Sweet William is almost overlooked in daylight in the shade of the picnic table. Yet, at night, this beauty is a stand-out.

FTD Florist ( compiled a list of white flowers for every season – no doubt to entice the wedding clientele that makes up a good percentage of their business.

For the impending summer, the florist touts white clematis, daisies, hydrangea, scabiosa and phlox. They also mention jasmine, which is still blooming along my neighbor’s fence.

Around here, it’s difficult to take a walk without walking under a towering Magnolia tree. The flowers smell heavenly outdoors, but make the house smell funny when you try to enjoy them inside. Plus, I usually end up bringing home ants on those oversized blooms.

I have a few of those faux wine barrels made from hard plastic. With an investment of as little as $20, I plunk a few six-packs of white Vinca Rosea into the soil. Vinca Rosea is one of my go-to plants for Chico, and should be purchased as soon as you spot them. They’ll bloom all summer and are fairly forgiving about the torturous summer heat

More from FTD

As for that FTD website, the narrative includes the type of flowery writing one would expect. They also include what the blooms represent. Again, this information is probably most important to superstitious brides who want to ensure (or avoid) flowers that boast of purity, hope, wisdom, et al.

I took a peek, so I’d be in the know about some of the flowers nearby. The aforementioned jasmine, for example, is good luck. Sweet William includes gallantry and finesse. My beloved gardenia – beauty and love, as well as remembrance of someone who has passed away.

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Sow There! Feeling a change in the weather, and growing old, May 3, 2019

Feeling a change in the weather, and growing old | Sow There!

A flooded bike bath in lower Bidwell Park on April 6 in Chico. (Matt Bates — Enterprise-Record)
May 3, 2019 at 12:19 pm

I remember a trip to Disneyland with my Uncle Jimmy. I was 7, and my cousin and I bounced around in the back of the VW van. By “bounce,” I mean we weren’t wearing seat belts. On this particular trip, my uncle also pulled over to pick up a hitchhiker.

We chugged along slowly, singing Jim Croce songs, and coasting on diesel fumes down the backside of the Grapevine.

“Is it going to rain,” I asked, looking out the dusty windows as we neared the happiest place on earth.

“No,” my Uncle said. “The air is just really smoggy down here.”

Back then, we had leaded and unleaded gas. We didn’t worry about smog and its impact on childhood asthma. We were going places!

Starting in my 20s, I became more aware of the dire predictions for our planet. Scientists used computer models to discuss continued deterioration of obscure topics like the ozone layer and polar ice caps. Those graphs stretched out into the vast horizon of my future. I’d be ancient by the time we reached 2020 or 2030.

In my 20s, I saved my cans and bottles. Yet, part of the incentive is that I could get cash to pay for necessities like pizza.

Last week, we had temperature spikes into the 90s, just at the time our tender young plants were poking up from the surface of the soil. The garden gals at our school kept busy, watering the containers twice a day. It was too soon for heat like this. It’s only April.

Just a few weeks before the heat, we had a sudden downpour ( that caught a lot of folks off guard. I was still in my classroom when I noticed a sound like a fireman aiming a hose at the sidewalk.

The parking lot had started to flood. I knew from experience that if the drain was clogged with leaves, my car could become trapped. By the time I thought to move my car to higher ground, the rain felt like the downpours of Costa Rica and I had to wait for the nasty storm cell to leave town.

Flash floods. More extreme weather events. Extreme droughts. Frequent wildfires. These were the things scientists talked about when I was young, when my friends were smoking clove cigarettes and when motorcycle helmets were optional.

I could look back at those graphs from my youth to compare. Yet, I know this just doesn’t “feel right” in my bones.

Is there a seasonal rhythm that becomes imprinted upon our bodies? In spring, we feel like wearing sandals and cotton dresses. In November, our nostrils begin to tingle with cool, damp air and the chemicals of decaying leaves.

These recent weather events make me feel like I’m a tourist in my own land. I also feel protective of the tender plants in the school greenhouse. I wonder about the children who may never know early March the way it felt way back then.

Will atmospheric rivers and wildfires “feel” normal to young people when they are old like me?

The squiggly lines on a chart or graph predicting 2050 or 2070 likely appear to young people as they did to me in 1986 — a meaningless timeline along an endless plane of the unknown future.

My Dad follows the news from the NOAA observatory at Mauna Loa, Hawaii ( The predictions are for things to change so rapidly that young folks will feel rapid change as the status quo.

Another year around the sun

Of course, some of my recent thoughts may stem from my birthday – one of those milestone years. At this age, there’s less worry about paying for your next pizza, and more time to reflect on whether you recycled your share of pizza boxes.

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Sow There! Garden victories and small, helping hands, April 26, 2019

Garden victories and small, helping hands | Sow There!

For some reason, most of the cartons we collect in my classroom are from chocolate milk. (photo by Heather Hacking)
April 26, 2019 at 2:20 am
There is plenty of star jasmin in my neighbor’s yard for sharing. (photo by Heather Hacking)

With very little thought, and even fewer options, I’ve found a solution to gardening after the attack of the voracious snails.

Plant more seeds.

Planting is a fairly easy task when you have lots of little hands to help.

My class has time in the garden one day every other week. However, I’ve found I have no problem recruiting volunteers when I head out to the planting table after the final bell. Several of my children stay for afterschool programs. Talon is almost always eager to get his hands dirty. He’ll get them clean as well, and has learned washing out milk containers is fun.

This week, I strategically waited until the afterschool group was finished making slime. You never know. Some of those children may have preferred working in dirt vs. rolling in goo, but I did not want to risk rejection.

Tuesday, I had kids ranging from 5-12 scooping and poking at the soil.

Within minutes, we had filled all the pint-sized milk cartons I had collected throughout the day, and transplanted dozens of tomatoes into new cardboard homes. I’m so glad children like drinking milk.

My friend Tollie likes to keep the afterschool garden crew posted on how many ladybugs she finds on the plants. At one point, she had six critters crawling up her little arm. I’m glad she loves her job, because she’s a little young to handle tender young plants.

The slightly-older workers learned the economy of dividing garden tasks. As one scooped 2 inches of soil into containers, another wrote the plant name on popsicle sticks. Others poked seeds of lettuce 1/8 of an inch into fresh soil. My job was to gently remove the young tomatoes from the plastic six-packs.

It’s refreshing to see how much children learn without guidance. Collin, for example, effortlessly located the snail shack in the cracks between the wooden raised bed. I will use that information strategically.

One big bummer is that when I get home, I look around my own yard and wish I had about five sets of hands to make a dent on my home gardening to-do list.

Star Jasmine

Now is a good time for making cuttings of star jasmine. Before moving into my little cottage, I lived in the little cottage directly next door. Years ago, I planted a star jasmine on the arbor.

The arbor rotted away long ago, but the star jasmine is now a happy tangle with nothing to climb. I still consider it “my jasmine” even though it’s technically in my neighbor’s yard.

Last spring, soon after the plant flowered, I cut away some new growth. I dipped these in rooting hormone and placed them in 1-gallon plastic pots. To increase my odds, I planted several.

Somehow, I managed to keep these watered all last summer and through the winter. They were carefully protected from sun under a green resin bench.

For more detailed instructions on growing jasmine from cuttings:

At least three of these cuttings survived. Even more amazingly, I remembered they were under the bench.

Room to roam

I knew just the place for them to grow.

Last summer, I spent an amazing amount of time digging out English Ivy that had devoured a patch of my cyclone fence. I left the 2-inch “stump” that had once been the ivy. I like to walk by now and again and laugh about my victory over nature. If you’ve ever tried to destroy ivy, you know why I feel justified in gloating.

This week, I plunked the star jasmine in the ground about 10 feet away from the ivy gravesite. Only a few days have gone by, but already the jasmine is finding a way to climb the thin metal.

As for the jasmine in my neighbor’s yard? There’s plenty. I snipped a few fresh tendrils and am hoping I can propagate more jasmine for next year. Sure, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and purchased three mature plants at a local nursery. Yet, aren’t delayed victories part of the reason we love gardening?

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Sow There! Greenhouse lesson No. 2, snails and slugs know no boundaries, April 19, 2019

Greenhouse lesson No. 2, snails and slugs know no boundaries | Sow There!

Recently, snails and slugs were friends of our class. If only they had kept away from the greenhouse. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
April 19, 2019 at 3:30 am

They found us. The enemy slithered beneath the 10 mil. plastic protection, or perhaps hitchhiked on a dirty trowel. The slugs and snails could have hidden craftily in the cracks of the cement or may have been dragged along the bottom of a shoe.

However they arrived, I found one slug and seven snails in our greenhouse Monday morning. I could see they had quite a party, masticating through tender tomato sprouts, toppling the stems of kale.

They seemed to have enjoyed attacking the most vulnerable — the youngest plants just recently stretching toward the light. Or maybe the moist path simply made things easier for their joy-filled ride across our six-pack plastic planting containers.

It’s one thing if the loss of dozens of defenseless plants had been my loss alone. Yet, these tomatoes were tenderly planted by my students. The children measured to a depth of a quarter or half an inch and handled a tiny seed. They cupped their hands to let water fall gently — like rain. They stayed (mostly) attentive as adults explained how roots would reach into the soil, then a sprout would appear.

A few days later I showed what reality looks like.

Just so you know, many of my children love snails. They find them in the garden and give them names. They let the mollusks crawl up their forearms and watch with wonder as their antennae feel the breeze.

This day I heard grumbles and grunts.

Of course, it’s all part of the lessons of life.

“Remember in the book ‘Farmer Boy,’ when Almonzo’s family worked so hard to save the corn crop from the freeze?” I said with the kind of tone people use when they are taking out the garbage. “Growing things isn’t always that easy.”

I shouldn’t complain. We still have 60 tomato plants that have been transferred to pint-sized milk cartons. We’ll rescue more milk cartons from the lunch garbage can and keep plugging seeds in the ground.

Our goal is to sell the plants at our school’s May Faire, and raise money for future field trips.

The garden gurus reassured me with reasonableness. We still have time for heat-tolerant spinach, followed by squash and cucumbers.

Perhaps more importantly, I now know that greenhouses need the same type of protection we provide our plants outdoors.

The University of Connecticut compiled some helpful hints about preventing snails and slugs in a greenhouse at

My children have only me to blame for tracking down this information after what we now call the Great Third Grade Tomato Plant Massacre.

Among the tips from the university:

  • Keep a clean greenhouse. Rinse off tools and check the bottom of containers that will be stored inside.
  • Water in the morning, providing less smooth surfaces for critters to slither.
  • Check daily (or hourly) for slime trails. Track the trails to your offensive critter.
  • Store plants on metal racks. Wood has more crevices for tiny slugs to hide.
  • Create copper barriers, including copper tape sold at gardening stores. This creates something like an electric fence as the mollusks get a shock when they encounter copper.
  • Remove weeds directly outside the greenhouse. Plants can become a breeding ground for invaders that will somehow think your prized sprouts are tastier than the weeds within which they were born.
  • Use heinous chemicals sparingly.

In my garden at home I use Sluggo, a product that contains iron phosphate. Snails and slugs feed on the grain in the pellets, then can no longer eat and will die.

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Sow There! Rain on freesia flowers, and other April mishaps, April 5, 2019

Rain on freesia flowers, and other April mishaps | Sow There!

Only time will tell if these darlings grow and prosper. Tomatoes are touchy plants, and may not appreciate warming up then feeling the wrath of unpredictable April storms. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
April 5, 2019 at 2:41 am

Planting your garden after the first tease of warm weather can be risky. You may have learned this the hard way Tuesday night. Hail is no stranger to the April landscape. However, the pounding of rain on the pavement was indeed a surprise.

I heard about the tornado warning, checked an online weather website, and determined the big red dot of the storm was north of my location.

 Then I heard the rain, and more rain, and a ridiculous amount of rain. I was still working in my classroom and realized I should move my car before the parking lot looked like Sycamore Pool.

When I was a reporter, I wrote many stories about people driving their cars through “just a few inches of water,” and ending up in the passenger seat of a tow truck.

I waited it out.

I have a shade triangle hanging over a patio in my yard. When I returned home, the all-weather fabric was drooping like a rhinoceros sleeping in a hammock.

Hail and privet berries are not a pretty sight.

Tiny ice balls also filled my potted plants and the once-delicate freesia flowers were pressed indelicately into the gravel.

Sure, we can write a long list of things we would have done if we had known:

• Picked all of the freesia flowers

• unclogged the drains in the alley

• covered the lettuce seedlings

• driven out of the parking lot while it was still dry

• heeded the tornado warning.

Of course, there’s no use in complaining. We still have many weeks to put more seeds in the ground. We’ll be growing all summer and we’ll have water in our wells.

Danger zone

Something about a storm draws me close to doing something stupid. When the pounding of the rain really picked up momentum, I wanted to race outside and watch for funnel clouds. I know it’s stupid to stand in water when there’s lightening above, but I wish that I could. I like that feeling of my hair standing on end and the tingle on my skin.

Instead, I had to stand by a window and remember I am a sane, responsible woman who is needed to shepherd school children.

Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but hear the birds — geese was my guess — squawking over my roofline. They had the good sense to fly elsewhere, long before I received a tornado notice on my cellphone.


Another reason to plant when reliable warm weather has arrived is that plants don’t always appreciate being tortured. I recall a conversation with Jerry Mendon about tomatoes. He said that people are often eager to get their plants in the ground on the first day it is warm enough to wear shorts.

Yet, tomato plants can be stifled with a cold jolt, he said. Better results are found when we wait for the warm weather to stay, then give the plants a stable environment where they will thrive.

Of course, this means buying plants in 1-gallon containers.

Time will tell what this frigid night means to my class’ tomatoes. They are safe in the greenhouse, which was probably as cold as my refrigerator. Last Friday, we transferred a few dozen seedlings into pint-sized milk cartons. We also planted seeds of Tuscan baby kale. Those seeds may have decided to go back to sleep.

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Sow There! Garden voyeurism – quick and not dirty, March 29, 2019

Garden voyeurism – quick and not dirty | Sow There!


Camellias are beautiful when in full bloom. What a treat to have the blooming nearby, in someone else’s yard, where you can enjoy them without cleaning up. These flowers were glorious to see this week all around the yard at the Patrick Ranch Museum. (Heather Hacking — Contributed

March 28, 2019 at 3:30 am

One of my favorite things about early spring is being a garden voyeur.

I can drive by many lovely yards at 25 mph, gasp at the beauty of unbridled spring, and never need to clean up after fleeting beauty.

In some ways, spring flowers can be like confetti. It’s a lot of fun at midnight when 100,000 tiny pieces of paper are flying through the air. It’s an entirely different experience when you’re dragging the vacuum at 3 a.m.

Tulip trees, for example, are a real treat. They’re actually in the magnolia family, but everyone I know calls them tulip trees.

With a gray sky as a backdrop, you might literally gasp when you see the contrasting beauty of this pink bush in flower flame. For some reason, people who own “vintage” white houses with lots of bricka bracka love to plant a tulip tree prominently.

Yet, wait for one windy night and the tree soon looks like a prom queen who should have left the party when she could still find her shoes.

Those majestic magnolia/tulip blossoms make a mess on the sidewalk. You can slip and fall. Pink petals turns to brown mush. Someone who lives in that “vintage house,” might need to sweep the walkway to avoid a lawsuit.

I feel the same way about white camellias. When they bloom in bitter winter, it’s a sweet reminder that spring is on the way. The soft blooms are like cold-weather roses.

The large, shiny leaves are perfect for making leaf-shaped chocolate treats (Dip the leaves in chocolate, freeze on wax paper, then peel away the paper).

Raindrops on camellias are worth a pause. As each drop moves down the curved leaves, they catch the color from the nearby flowers. Look again the next day, the water may have turned the flowers brown and gunky.

Camellias also plop onto the ground, as big as a saucer, and are shorter lived than cookies left in the break room.

Of course, I have some glorious, messy short-timers in my own yard. The former renter at my house planted what I suspect is Virginia creeper. The vine has stretched about eight feet along the dingy metal fence. Last year I painstakingly tore out the tenacious ivy, and the Virginia creeper has wasted no time in taking up the empty space.

Over spring break, the Virginia creeper bloomed. It’s lovely. For weeks I watched the buds form and was filled with happy anticipation.

After one nasty night of hard rain and wind, the ground is littered with yellow blooms. They’re small flowers. If I’m careful, I won’t slip and fall.

I also have what I think is a mulberry tree. The shade from this gal is so worthwhile. I’m certain I have saved thousands of dollars in energy costs thanks to this tree. Yet, the leaves are tough and resist the leaf blower. Every once in a while, the tree needs to be trimmed with a chainsaw, otherwise those strong limbs will dent the rain gutters.

Yes, gardeners suffer from these beautiful inconveniences. I’d say it’s all worth the backache. The alternative is to choose low-maintenance plants you’d find in the planter box at a gas station. At a gas station you don’t find plant litter, you find cigarette butts and Slim Jim packaging.

Again, from a distance, I’m also enjoying other people’s weeds. Sour grass, a form of Oxalis known as yellow wood sorrel, brings back memories of childhood. My Auntie Jeanne always had the plant near her front yard — the place near the street where we were not supposed to play. My cousin and I learned that if you chew on the leaves, it has a tangy/sweet flavor.

Oxalis is mildly poisonous, but I survived sour grass nibbling with most of my wits intact.

These days I’m wise enough to know people walk their dogs and might stop to “smell” those flowers.

As with anything that grows too easily, wood sorrel will take over any territory left untended. You can drive by homes that are now filled with lovely yellow flowers. You can drive by, smile, and keep driving.

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