Sow There! June, another excuse to plant more seeds, June 5, 2020

 
  • Withering poppies are ready for seed harvest, just about now. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
June 5, 2020 at 2:45 a.m.

CHICO — Putzing around my garden has been a great solace the past two and a half months. Random meandering, around and around, the hose like the limits of a chained dog. After a while, my mind has slowed down and if I knew how to meditate, I may have indeed reached some form of inner peace. Yet, I do not perceive a great transformation, outward nor within.

Gardening is something to do, and I eventually receive a sense of accomplishment. Tomatoes are mid-way up their metal cages and vine vegetables have found the edge of the raised bed. Progress reminds me that even if the world seems to be swirling in uncertainty, the garden ticks along at its own predictable pace.

In many ways, tending my garden and losing five pounds seem to be the only things for which I have control.

And here we are in June — the longest day of the year still two weeks away, already suffering through 100-degree days.

However, there are still new things for which we can plant our hope. The trusty Chico Valley Area Planting Guide for Vegetables — https://ucanr.edu/sites/bcmg/files/184803.pdf, print it and laminate it — suggests that now is the preferred time to plant Brussels sprouts in sheltered containers. Who knew?

In early July, we can do the same with seeds of cabbage and parsnips. Seeds of corn, beans and melons can be sown now. Another factoid, stuck in my heat-dulled brain, is that June is the time to plant pumpkins.

Pumpkins, some unwanted

Pumpkins are trying to grow in my compost pile. This is where I dumped the orange orbs I planned to bake in the winter. In previous years I would let the vines grow as they may, watering them a little. Invariably, disappointment grew with the fruit that more closely resembled a hardened Nerf football than anything that would merit warming in the oven. Most store-bought pumpkins are hybrids, and the seeds reproduce with unpredictable variables.

Nope, this year I’m yanking out those hopeful pumpkin sprouts as soon as I spot them among the dying poppy plants.

Seeds in the neighborhood

Recently I wrote about poppies growing in the cracks of my alley. Poppy seeds are best planted in the fall. You can bury them just under the soil, and then forget about them. The rains nurture the plants and you only need consider squirting the plants with a hose when the flowers are about to fade.

I buy poppy seeds in bulk at Northern Star Mills, https://northernstarmillschico.com. The shelves with pitchers of bulk seed are on the right, before you step down into the room with the hay bales. In that same area of the store, you’ll find big bins of bat guano, dried sea kelp, fish meal and bone meal. This is where I buy bulk amounts of Osmocote for my potted plants. I simply refill the big plastic bottle of Osmocote that is now depleted.

If you have nothing else to do these days, you can walk around the neighborhood and gather poppy seeds from cracks in the alley or edges of other people’s yards. If you ask permission, you could even meet your neighbors.

Poppies are among the plants that launch seeds to allow the spring-time patches to gain territory. In nature, I imagine the seed pods reaching a point where they explode, seeds flying like cannon balls.

 

Right now, the seed pods are brittle after days of blistering sun. To gather for next year, I carry a small plastic bag into the alley, and carefully grab the dry beige pods with a cupped hand. You can also pull the grayish brown poppy plant by the stem and walk around the yard shaking out your pandemic frustrations, like a seed-sowing pompom.

My guru of erratic gardening, LaDona, parades around her garden with dry arugula in hand. Later she can feign surprise when the seeds grow.

 

When I perused her yard last week, she had a lawn-like area of new arugula sprouts at the base of where mature plants only recently towered. She said the plan is to snip off the new seedlings as microgreens.

In my yard, I have a kale plant that was too impressive to kill, and now looks like the trunk of a small tree. I recently bagged so many dried seed pods I could sow kale across the entire front lawn of Bidwell Mansion.

I’m willing to share, and will send seeds to the first 10 readers who send me their address.

Kale is best planted in mid-October, or follow the same instructions as above for poppies.

June forget-me-nots

This month I always try to remember to plant seeds for zinnias. Zinnia, a sun-loving flower that will bloom all summer. The flowers are as bright as the ceramic pottery purchased in a Mexico souvenir shop. Faded, they’re still lovely.

Zinnias in June. You can sow seeds in March and April, but they won’t grow. The problem is, I often forget to buy zinnia seeds. I’d be tickled to trade kale seeds to any zinnia seed hoarders among my readership.

While you’re borrowing or buying zinnias, it is not too late to plant sunflower seeds and many other heat-loving flowers.

The good folks at Renee’s Garden, https://bit.ly/2UclBZ4, suggest sowing a second crop of edibles now, including squash, beans and chard, with plans for a late-summer harvest.

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Sow There! Plants that prefer to be left alone May 29, 2020

 

Because it’s not enough fun to have a bush with purple flowers, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’s flowers fade to pink on day two, and white on day three. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
May 29, 2020 at 3:45 a.m.

Bitz is one of those people who always has the best of intentions. When she declared “You really need to see this woman’s yard,” I knew she was speaking from her heart. We arrived in separate cars and separate masks. I’m not into fashion these days, nor makeup or other forms of adornment. However, choosing a mask is an important task. I have masks from a multitude of fabrics — dragonflies, John Deere tractor, cartoon farm, hot chili peppers. One mask shows the bottom half of my face with a huge smile, just in case you can’t tell if I’m smiling under the mouth protection.

When we arrived, we clearly saw that Wendy’s yard is so large a person would have absolutely no problem keeping 10 or more feet away from others.

The gracious gardener gave us the tour, which took us a while; Her yard could easily be featured in one of those garden glamour magazines. Mini paths meander through what might look like overgrown foliage. Yet, Wendy’s plants are merely allowed to grow as they like, within reason.

When I looked around, I thought: When do these people eat or sleep? However, the garden tender soon pointed out that the plants have figured out over time exactly where they grow best. Of course, she’ll do some thinning to keep things in check. As we walked she deadheaded flowers and gathered fresh blooms for the bouquets Bitz and I each received as a gift.

One key to letting plants do their own thing is to choose those that reseed readily. Of course, she has the luxury of a lot of space.

I like this idea, and not just due to the fact that I’m lazy. When I visit LaDona’s yard, one of the things I love the best is that edible plants are growing in odd spots. If I’m hungry, I can walk around and nibble on arugula or chard that just happens be growing near my kneecaps.

Wendy’s yard contains mostly ornamentals, as well as a carefully-clipped mound of fruit trees that are kept small for easy picking. Wendy’s hubby attended the fruit tree pruning workshop at Hodge’s Nursery on the Midway, which helps people keep their trees 5-6 feet tall.

While Wendy watches the flowers grow, the vegetables are mostly the domain of her guy.

As for the seeds everywhere, sometimes this means there are extra plants to share. Many go to friends, and others will go to the curb where neighbors can grab some greenery while they’re walking by. Bitz and I didn’t even need to ask, we were offered some beauties to take home that day.

What I loved about Wendy was the glee with which she pointed out many of her favorites. And with so many plants, she can walk around gleefully all day. I was taking notes to learn what likes to grow in Chico.

Bunny bloom larkspur, she pointed out, has a bloom in the center that looks just like a bunny rabbit. You need to look closely. In the center of the pink petals, a close eye will discern the outline of bunny ears. The plant reseeds easily, as mentioned.

We also fell in love, again, with an old favorite, Love in the Mist. Wendy calls it “Nigella,” (Nigella damescena), which somehow sounds regal and fits the statuesque, drought-tolerant plant. Nigella can fill up an empty space with seeds that pop out of a dry lantern-shaped bloom in late summer. The dried flower stalks make interesting dry arrangements indoors. Wispy blue flowers look like floating dancers in a ballet.

The seeds of Nigella are also used in Middle Eastern cooking, or even more casual munching, and have a mild nutmeg flavor. Some folks toast them and add to cakes (similar to poppy seeds) or to chutney and spices. The writer at A Gardener’s Table blog notes her young daughter will eat them while standing in the yard. Again, this beauty loves to drop seeds, which can be helped along if you rough up the area by scratching the soil with a hoe.

Another plant that loves to sprawl includes Spirea, which enjoys areas of partial shade. This plant grows so well in Chico, you’ll sometimes spot it growing in the gravel in alleys in the avenues.

Sprinkled throughout this particular yard was feverfew, another cheery, sun-loving flower with tiny daisy-like flowers.

Of course, all this discussion of no-fuss does not mean there is no fuss.

Bulbs, for one thing, were a hassle to keep around thanks to the critters from the nearby oak trees and burrowers in the soil. Wendy buys ¼ inch aviary wire at Collier’s Hardware and folds it into baskets. She places the baskets in the ground, fills with bulbs, then covers with soil.

Some other choice plants in her yard include the money tree (with half-dollar sized circles that turn opaque as they dry), and several others I forgot to write down during all the excitement.

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Sow There!The middle of the neighborhood nest May 22. 2020

An overload of poppies in my yard can be linked back to the inspiration of my neighbor Bob, who may not have planted poppies, but allowed them to thrive year-after-year. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
May 22, 2020 at 3:30 a.m.

There’s been a surge of neighborly love in and around my tiny square of the planet. TCN (Totally Cool Neighbor) took a run to the dump. “Look around the yard,” he said, “and pile up anything you want to throw in the back of my truck.”

Words like that can make one jump into action, especially if several days have melted into one another, without any evidence of accomplishment. I could look around my yard each day for a week and overlook my mountain of mess. Yet, when your neighbor (or your mom) scans the area, suddenly piles of garbage come into clear focus.

I found broom handles, miscellaneous broken pots and bags of Bermuda grass.

With the help of TCN, we hoisted the heavy tailgate from an early-1990s Ford truck. The truck, long gone, had been the Handsome Woodsman’s final backyard project. It’s been 3 ½ years and he hasn’t returned for the tailgate. I hated to see that perfectly useful hunk of steel go into the landfill, so my neighbor said he would drop it off at the pick n’pull.

Hauling away my junk was above-and-beyond kindness.

Next, there was a problem with my car. I noticed that when I drove over a speed bump, I heard a terrible scraping sound, the kind of sound you would hear in a Terminator movie. Not good.

I rarely drive these days, so I finally crawled onto the concrete in my driveway to have a look. What I saw looked like twisted metal, aluminum to be more precise, which had folded back like the lid of an old-fashioned sardine can (the kind with the key). I was feeling like an action figure that day and thought I would get under the car with a crowbar. Soon I discovered the angle provided no torque.

The young buck who lives next door took a peek. Before I knew it, he had the car up on a jack and unbolted the mangled shield that protects important engine parts. Jordan banged that puppy back into shape with a mallet and bolted it back into place. All I could do was stand and offer encouragement, and the occasional pair of pliers. What was even more amazing was that zero curse words passed his lips during the hour and 10-minute car surgery.

Again, over-the-top kind.

I scrambled into the house to try to find some way to say thank you. Quietly, I handed his wife a $25 gift card for a chain restaurant, which was about the only thing of value I could find in my purse. We’re in Phase Two of emergence from the pandemic, maybe the restaurant is partially open.

With most of my neighbors standing around and others doing good deeds, another neighbor ventured into our neighborly love nest. Keith had news about Bob, who was my neighbor up until just a few years ago. Keith had read Bob’s name in the death notices, which caused us all to pause.

Bob owned the metal shop next door and was my “neighbor” for about 20 years. I never really knew what was in the shed, but I could frequently hear him tinkering. Once upon a time the sliding door was ajar, and I saw a metal fishing boat.

Occasionally, Bob would emerge with a weed-wacker, and more often, he emerged with something to talk about.

The shop may have been his man cave, because I only saw his wife once or twice, probably to drop off some important things, like dinner.

My neighbor had a booming and commanding voice. You might think he was gruff, but that was just the way he talked, the same way a German shepherd barks as if he means business. It didn’t take long to learn that Bob was quite soft on the inside. His directives invariably included good advice or — you guessed it — kind gestures.

“Go get a bowl,” he would yell in a way that made you immediately go inside the house to get a bowl.

When I would return, he had a white, five-gallon bucket of cherries which he scooped out with his huge hands. “Grab another bowl,” he might say, and I would do as I was told.

Over time, we built some trust and Bob let us pick from his apricot tree, but not too many, and never the fruit that was easy to pick. I recall the years when we dried so many apricots in the food dehydrator, I had to give bags of dried fruit to friends and family.

Sometimes we’d have long talks, the topics of which I do not recall, neighborhood things. Mostly, we watched out for each other.

And Bob kept a garden. At times he would grow seedlings in a make-shift greenhouse he crafted from the camper shell for a pickup. He grew vine vegetables. The poppies ran wild on a pile of gravel that never moved in 20 years. Those poppies were the inspiration for the poppy seeds I plant every year in the cracks in the alley.

Several years ago, the occasional banging from inside the shed grew less frequent, and then little at all. That final year that I knew him, Bob would come and sit in an old Adirondack chair, contemplating the sky, or even napping. We could tell he was slowing down. Heck, it had been 20 years and he was not a young man when we met.

When he had not been around for a while, we worried. Somehow, I had the phone number for his wife, and she confirmed he was slowing down.

It’s been years now, and the old metal shop was purchased by Totally Cool (new) Neighbor. I’m glad to have TNC in my life.

I never gave Bob a moniker, but he was the original Totally Cool Neighbor.

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Sow There! Enough with the home improvement, already, 5-16-2020

 

Heather Hacking — Contributed

Magnolia Gift and Garden, with enough plants to fill a new planter box.

May 15, 2020 at 1:45 a.m.

Gardens in my neighborhood really are more beautiful than usual, and that’s not just because I’m wearing shelter-in-place glasses. On our walks in the neighborhood, my buddy and I often huff along 12th Avenue. We have admired a couple working elbow-to-elbow to transform their front yard. Each time we pass, there are more plants transferred from one-gallon containers into a careful nest of lush mulch.

When I checked my mailbox this week, I checked in with my neighbor Penny, who was painting long pieces of wood with some dun-colored goo. She was eager to share her technique for new planter boxes. First, she and her guy singed the outside of the wood with a flame thrower. I looked this up, and there is a technique called Shou Sugi Ban ), used for protecting wood in Japan. Next, they scraped off the blackness and put on a coat of some goo that should “protect the wood for 100 years,” Penny said with confidence, paintbrush in hand.

Days later, 1/4-inch mesh was neatly placed in the assembled boxes, to thwart the gophers that terrorize our neighborhood. Unloading the tow-trailer filled with soil will be the next big job.

I’m assuming that eventually, the industrious couple will buy some plants.

I wish I had put more muscle into my sheltering-in-place. For much of March, there was banging behind my back fence while they built a new two-story shed.

My excuse for not joining the home-improvement bandwagon is that I had work to do for my job at the college. My boss and I spent a week, each hunched over our keyboards in separate locations, writing a 67-page report. To celebrate the completion, I spent a day with power tools – leaf blower, lawnmower and hedge trimmer. I think there also might have been celebratory chocolate.

I read somewhere that most of the home improvement projects made to a home are completed within the first year of the home’s purchase. The remainder of home improvements is made the month prior to when the home is sold. Thanks to the Great Seclusion, folks have accomplished things that could have easily remained on a “to-do” list for decades.

On the move

And now, with all that idle energy put to good use, the Great Awakening has begun. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced we’re transitioning to Phase II of the pandemic precautions. What this will look like, exactly is still unclear. However, I think it has something to do with haircuts and I might shave my legs.

On my birthday a few weeks back, I knew I would feel lonesome and sad if I stayed home and scrolled through “happy birthday” messages on Facebook, listening to the radio to drown out the quiet.

I invited myself to my Mom’s house about an hour away and we sat in her backyard. This was nice, and despite the lack of hugs, it seemed like life the way we once knew it.

The next day, Anina had a little backyard gathering, again, with everyone in lawn chairs and entering through the side gate. We each brought our own snacks, which is a lot like the old days when we brought our own beer.

Sitting with people, talking with people, face-to-face, without Zoom — what a small but necessary joy!

I think I’ll continue this re-enter to society cautiously. I’m not ready to join the beer pong Cinco de Mayo party that was held on the front lawn down the street. I’m also not quite ready for a visit to the beach.

More recently, friends made excuses to entice me to see them face-to-face. Roger Aylworth and his wife Susan called ostensibly to ask advice buying star jasmine. They could have easily have googled the topic, but I agreed we were overdue for a chat. We met on a rainy day at Magnolia Gift and Garden, where everyone was wearing masks and meandering gently among the greenery. The shop has a table of vegetables from the Butte College Horticulture group and another long display from Spring Valley Nursery. If I had recently built raised beds that will last 100 years, I could have easily spent hundreds of dollars on plants.

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Sow There! Tackling neglected tasks, one mound at a time. May 8, 2020

Moving a pile of mulch is a “beast” of a task. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

May 8, 2020 

Is that light? At the end of the tunnel? Will there be a day, maybe someday soon, when men can get haircuts and I’ll have incentive to shave my legs?

Part of my daily routine is to listen to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s noon briefing on the radio. On many days, I listen to the statistics and wish I had watched another episode of “Outlander.” Yet, it’s important to be informed. Sometimes our state leader will tease us, and hint there is a fragment of hope. “There will be another update” on Thursday or next week, or next month, he’ll say, leading me to think he has a team doing math in a dark room near the capitol.

Most recently, he said if this and that and another thing happens, we might be able to start thinking about possibly returning to some tiny fragment of life as we once knew it. We just need to hang in there a bit longer, wear masks in public, wash our hands, keep our hands off each other and try not to breathe, and then maybe …

Hurray.

I needed that tiniest bit of hope because living life in limbo has really gotten on my nerves.

This week my friend Joe stopped by for a long-overdue chat. He stood a safe distance away while I crawled around on my hands and knees, elbow-deep in wood mulch.

The wood chips have sat in a mound for about a year. It was that long ago that I chased down the tree-trimming crew and asked if they could dump the mulch in my yard instead of driving the heap to the compost facility north of town.

I had good intentions that the mound would smother the unsightly Bermuda grass. One day I moved the mulch around, creating a path around the raised bed. That day, long ago, I found something more interesting to do.

When Joe visited, he kept me entertained and I needed something to do with my hands. I dug down into the partially-composted material and was aghast that the Bermuda grass was not only alive, it was thriving. This plant is as tenacious as the deepest of sea creatures, faded from lack of sunlight yet still as difficult to pull as a sailor’s knot.

I huffed and I puffed as splinters worked their way into my kneecaps. Good thing Joe had some stories to tell, because he kept me from going inside and watching another episode of “Outlander.”

“I think I know what you’ll write about in your garden column this week,” he joked as he sipped on some chilled water.

“Just make sure you leave out all those four-letter words,” he advised.

Just then, my friend LaDona rode through my alley on her bicycle.

“This is all your fault,” I said instead of a friendly greeting.

“When I saw the mulch in your yard I was inspired,” I said to LaDona, wiping the glean from my brow and spreading tiny fragment of mulch into my hairline. “You put the cardboard under your mulch, so I thought I would do the same. I’ve been here three hours and the mound hasn’t moved.”

LaDona agreed moving mulch is a beast of a job, and that’s why she had mulched her turf over a three-year period.

Catching up with Joe was great. Had it been another time, and not a pandemic, we probably would have scarfed down a burger at the Bear and not lingered as long. Plus, I accomplished a big job.

Also, the governor is right, and some day life returns to normal, I will no longer have the luxury of blaming my friends for inspiring me to work in my yard.

Tuesday, LaDona and I took a walk in our neighborhood. Now that I’ve moved a mound of mulch, I couldn’t help but notice many yards with neatly-strewn chips of wood and happy, drought-tolerant plants in strategic locations. As soon as I’m more comfortable visiting the local nurseries, I’ll be inspired to do some plant shopping.

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Sow There! Secret things we do during Great Seclusion, May 1, 2020

The edible wild garlic, also known as three-cornered leek and the Latin name Allium vineale. (Heather Hacking – Contributed)
May 1, 2020 

With certainly, I can’t be the only socially-distanced, questionably-sane coronavirus avoider doing some wacky things during the Great Seclusion.

Nobody’s watching. There’s no one to impress. One day I looked down and realized I had been wearing the same shirt for three days in a row. For a while, I decided not to wear deodorant, just as an anti-social experiment, but soon realized I was just annoying myself.

Wild garlic

For decades, I have celebrated the destruction of the three-cornered leek, AKA Allium vineale.

  • The edible wild garlic, also known as three-cornered leek and the Latin name Allium vineale. (Heather Hacking – Contributed)

If you live in Chico, you know this flower. It bloomed last week and the week before, with cheery white blooms upon thin, bulb-like stalks.

Decidedly, they’re pretty for a minute. When I first knew the plant, I gathered the flowers and put them in vases. Soon you learn that once the weather warms, the leaves flop over into a matted straw-colored mass, killing your grass within an 18-inch radius. But that’s not the end. Before the ugly retreat, the plant reproduces bulbs underground, as well as the black, foot-ball shaped seeds within each flower. The flowers flop over, as previously mentioned, spreading the overall “territory” of this momentarily-attractive weed.

Right about now, you can spot neglected yards all around town with a tall stand of white flowers and green leaves, which turn to the aforementioned blah brown mess for the entire summer.

My friend Bonnie moved into such a yard. When she had a new beau, he worked hard to be indispensable, including touring the yard with a weed whacker. The entire neighborhood smelled like garlic for days and the dog hid indoors.

Did I mention that Allium vineale is also known as wild garlic?

Yes, you can eat it

Why not?

During the Great Seclusion, I’m not rushing to the farmers market every week. My research reassured me that yes, you can eat the leek, which I have disdained these past 30 years.

I yanked a few small bulbs, diced them into tiny bits, and added some flavor to the black skillet filled with chard from LaDona’s back yard.

The taste is more pungent than the garlic chives I regularly grow in my raised beds.

A permaculture website in the United Kingdom goes a step further to recommend eating all parts of the plant. Gardener Chris Hope harvests the leaves in fall and winter, to use like chives or green onion tops. When the brown leaves flop over, she harvests the bulbs, just as we would do with regular garlic.

The garden writer has many other articles about commonly overlooked plants suitable for the dinner plate, including dandelion and rosehips. If you like what she has to say, you can buy her deck of edible plant playing cards.

For now, in this time of bitter choices, I’ll continue to experiment with three-cornered leek. I still consider them weeds in my own yard. Yet, I can find a steady supply in other people’s yards.

Along comes a wild hair

There’s not much that is glamorous about the Great Seclusion.

When I returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., in March, I decided to see what it would look like if I stopped shaving my legs. I’ve shaved the bottom half of my legs since early high school, and I was bored and curious. My vision was that the hair would be like the soft light hairs I never shave above the knee.

Nope.

If things keep growing the way they are, my calves may soon look like the tops of Bilbo Baggins’ feet.

Leg, mid-experiment. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

When I saw my friend Robert at the post office weeks ago, he had a scraggly beard, and said he had been growing it for no particular reason other than a private personal protest.

However, Robert looked quite handsome as a shaggy man. I predict my gams would look something like Cousin It.

I certainly hope I do not offend anyone who makes a plush choice. My online research revealed several articles about the rise of shaving legs in America, which sounds like an evil collaboration by the fashion industry and razor companies. When hemlines rose in the 1920s, razor companies began to hair-shame. According to Allure magazine, something like 75-85 percent of American women currently slathers and shave. I’m just not ready to join the other 15-25 percent.

A few weeks ago, there came a critical juncture in my experiment with hairy legs. A new guy sent me a note and asked if I wanted to go for a walk.

Hmmm. Should I shave my legs? At this point, my calves were still at the scruffy stage, and not yet half-way unruly.

I sent out a note to my girlfriends via social media to ask for advice.

A photo was attached.

“I know you own tights,” Tania said.

“It’s a new guy, shave them puppies,” my best friend from high school advised.

“Denude,” “Be true to yourself,” the opinions varied.

I brushed my hair, changed my shirt and even painted my toes. However, I’m not done with my experiment.

When we took the walk through the Chico State campus, we stopped for a socially-distanced chat on the steps at the amphitheater. I propped my legs up on the rock wall. With the reflection of light from the creek, I hoped he was mesmerized by my smile.

He was nice. Yet, he has not called for another walk.

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Sow There! Sowing alternatives to the perils of the grocery store, 4-24-2020

As soon as the poppies are done with their spring show, the mulched area in my yard will be prime real estate for edible plants. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
April 24, 2020 

Has it been two or three weeks since I ventured to a local supermarket? Frankly, I can’t remember. At some point I decided grocery shopping made me feel uncomfortable. It was hard to breathe when my mind raced to avoid touching my face, watch for the proximity of strangers, and double-check whether I wiped off the credit card.

Nope, if it doesn’t come from my cupboards or mail delivery, I can probably live without.

Each day I walk at least three miles in my neighborhood. You would think I would be in fairly great shape after a month. Yet, my otherwise toned body is surrounded by this shelter-in-place pudge. The last time I shopped in hoarding mode, I nervously stocked up on my favorite foods.

Soon, I devoured all those barbecue potato chips and chocolate-covered almonds.

Indeed. I needed a variety pack of novelty ice cream bars.

“That should last you for a month,” he said as he dropped off a box of 40.

“You underestimate me,” I replied.

The empty boxes were soon delivered to the green waste can under cover of darkness.

Love in a box. One of the recent surprises from my step-mom included this box of chocolate-covered, cream filled cookies. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

Even if I foraged the cupboards for two months, I certainly wouldn’t starve.

Last fall my friend Thor came to visit and he must have been really bored. He rearranged my pantry items.

“Why do you have so many cans of water chestnuts, baby corn and cream of mushroom soup?” he asked, placing a can of jackfruit near the pyramid of pink salmon.

“Zombie apocalypse,” I explained.

In the past, many of us only wildly speculated about the possibility of a pandemic. Now is the time to eat those canned beets and kidney beans. Otherwise those emergency foods will be so old we could kill zombies via canned food botulism.

It’s my birthday next week, so I’m certain I won’t need to wait much longer before restocking my supply of sweets. If the pattern continues, my folks will manage to send brown cardboard boxes to my doorstep, filled with chocolate in the shape of dragonflies and Frito’s jalapeno bean dip. My frequent walking buddy, LaDona, has offered to host a socially-distanced birthday party in her cul-de-sac, but that would only be fun if we all wore surgical gloves and tossed around a beach ball. I’ll probably gain five additional pounds that day, looking wistfully out the window.

Seed scramble

Someone told me that garden seeds are among the items stores have had difficulty keeping in stock.

Thank goodness my mother delivered all those seed packets on the eve of the Great Seclusion. Many of us are hopeful for a bountiful vegetable garden in lieu of washing store-bought produce in soap and water.

So far, my radishes and miscellaneous squash are in the sprout stage. This week I filled a 25-gallon plastic half-wine barrel with soil and planted spring greens.

LaDona has an enviable edible garden. She covered her scraggly turf with layers of cardboard, which was covered in wood chips. Clumps of perennial herbs grow undisturbed by weeds and she allows her veggies go to seed. When I visit her backyard through the side gate, I keep a safe distance from her while nibbling on volunteer arugula. Recently, she sent me home with two small artichokes, which I soaked in a bowl of water. I had so much time on my hands, I counted 15 earwigs, some in the pupal state, that emerged from the buds.

I’m hopeful that before I shrivel from a Vitamin K deficiency, the seeds planted in my 25-gallon barrel will be bursting with spinach and red leaf lettuce. Beans have also been planted along the cyclone fence and zucchini seedlings are gasping for sunlight in the black plastic truck bed liner.

I have time on my hands, and if my neighbor keeps delivering ice cream novelty bars, I should have plenty of cardboard. I’m shamelessly planning to copy LaDona’s edible garden lead.

Ah, all those months when I was too busy working to visit friends, too dramatically swamped to pull weeds, too frazzled to catch up with my parents and my toenails were never painted. How many times did I wish that I just had time to watch the grass grow?

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Sow There! Easter surprises triumph over pity party, April 17, 2020

| Sow There!

Easter lilies, the perfect poor-me pick-me-up. (Heather Hacking-Contributed)
April 17, 2020 at 2:30 a.m.

For weeks now, I have been wishing I had stocked up on a few things that can’t be delivered in a cardboard box from Amazon. The big-ticket item was 10 bags of topsoil to fill four plastic faux-wine barrels begging for some filling.

In particular, there is a Daphne odora that deserves some space to roam.

Daphne ordora has a much better chance in a huge pot.

Sure, I could dig a huge hole in my yard and harvest some of this prime Chico backyard soil, but then I’d have a gaping eyesore on my hands.

On a few occasions, I had that particular itch and drove by the big-box home improvement store. The idea was if the store looked mostly vacant, I would make a mad dash through the garden section, quick as a 1970s streaker at a college bowl game.

Yet, every time I saw the wall-to-wall pickup trucks in the parking lot, I chickened out and drove home.

For a while in late March, the town looked more like a home-improvement holiday than a time for shelter in place. Was I the only person who was heeding the warning to stay at home, lonely, and binging on a dwindling supply of emergency chocolate?

Of course, everything changed. There’s no reason for folks to go to home improvement stores. People are now busy rebuilding their gazebos and putting 10 bags of topsoil to good use.

Last weekend, LaDona and I went for a socially-distant walk in our neighborhood and decided to venture into the parking lot of Ace Hardware on East Avenue. It was near closing time and we gaped through the iron gate at the fresh shipment of colorful flowers, neatly arranged on the long, outdoor tables.

The view from just outside the barrier.

I wouldn’t say I was salivating, but I’m certain my blood pressure increased by a point or two.

The only folks walking under the shade cloth were two ladies wearing garden smocks and a few shoppers with smiles on their faces.

LaDona and I were too far apart to hear each other gasp, but we were both thinking the same thing. This would be the perfect time for a dash-and-grab plant purchase. I could have spent half my anticipated government stimulus check in 15 minutes.

Alas, we were walking and neither of us had thought to bring money.

We lingered longer than necessary. I checked out the prices for the bags of topsoil, overflowing the wooden pallet in the hot sun. We schlepped home feeling like that girl who is always longing for that doggie in the window.

The next day, LaDonna sent me a text to ask if I was home.

Duh. Where else would I be?

A few minutes later she rolled down the gravel driveway in her new (to her) pickup truck and offloaded 10 bags of topsoil. Just to further cement our sure-to-be-lasting friendship, she deposited two tomato plants on my outdoor table and refused to accept my money.

This is what people mean when they say members of the community are looking out for one another.

Soon, it was Easter, and I was back into one of those funks. My morning routine of scrolling through other people’s lives on Facebook became a pity party. I live alone and people were enjoying Easter. Families posted their pantry-item Easter brunches and pics of children frolicking as they gathered plastic eggs. I love to play board games like Settlers of Catan and Skip-Bo. There were my niece and nephews, gathered around tables with dice in their hands. Other people’s children were developing fine motor skills and mastering shape recognition by working on puzzles.

Harrumph. The computer was clicked off and I worked out my frustration by pulling weeds.

My Totally Cool Neighbor was gone, but I glanced over to the weathered wooden fence. He sometimes sits on his side of the barricade, and we chat about everything and nothing.

That’s when I spotted my surprise.

There, in an indentation where the wood has rotted at the top of the fence post, TNC had placed a one-gallon container overflowing with white Easter lilies. It’s in soil, so I can plant it!

I snatched them quickly because I didn’t want some guy on a bicycle to grab them on the way to visit his mother and work on puzzles. When I saw TNC later, he confirmed they were intended for me.

This story gets just a little bit better. Recently I ordered a bunch of stuff on Amazon. The shipments arrive bit-by-bit. To allow the boxes to detoxify, I place them in the middle of the kitchen for several days.

On Easter, I opened a small box that I expected contained either coffee filters or an oral thermometer.

Instead, it contained a big chunk of chocolate with a magnet on the back. Everyone knows you aren’t living large unless you have chocolate hanging on your fridge. Thank you Lynda, my ever-gracious step-mom, the timing turned out to be my chocolate Easter surprise.

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Sow There! How did it get so late so soon? 4-10-20

Sometimes we are in the right place at exactly the right time. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
April 10, 2020

Time.

Now it passes slowly, when once I could not find enough. This time we are in.

Waiting.

Waiting, not knowing for how long, not knowing what may be.

I find ways to pass the time, wonder what I did with all that time, and find nothing more but time ahead.

Other times, I remember that the pace of my life is seldom in my control.

This social distancing thing has sent my psyche into a whirlwind. Sometimes I feel all boo-hoo, alone and reaching for another individually-wrapped bag of barbecue potato chips, which were conveniently delivered in a cardboard box by a hurried stranger. Other times, I see clearly that we’re all in this — separately and together.

The pale blue light of late day reached through the window this week and found me sitting on the couch in a slump. I could hear the rain had returned, just a patter on the thick plastic that hangs over my picnic table.

A rainbow. That would make me happy. I wagered this was the right time to find one outside.

My friend Chere taught me that anyone can find a four-leaf clover. You just need to take the time to find them.

Rainbows are the same. Once you know the signs, listen and watch, all you need to do is get off the couch and chase them.

I was not disappointed. The colors stretched across the eastern sky, surely touching down north near the airport and soaring south to the Midway. As I took the time to document the moment, the hint of a double rainbow appeared. In this light, the color of the trees transformed to the yellow of Gingkos we see in the fall.

I proudly posted this joy-filled moment to share with anyone and everyone. If I needed a boost about this time, others would as well.

Within minutes, more than a dozen other rainbow pictures were posted. Suddenly, “my rainbow” was trending.

“I saw it too,” Erin gloated online, and I could feel her smile from halfway across town. “Socially distanced rainbow sharing,” she said.

Indeed.

Our politicians keep saying our virulent circumstances should be considered a war. This week our rainbow won the battle.

Weeds await

Another war is the battle of the weeds. With time standing still, many of us are paying closer attention to the slow changes in our gardens.

If you consider gardening to be exercise, I did about 1,000 squats in my yard yanking coarse grass that had just gone to seed. I could have sworn I pulled all the tall invaders from the poppies just the day before. Yet, each time I looked, more had taken their place.

Someday, scientists may discover that plants talk to each other. The moment one weed disappears, three that remain form a committee and decide now is the time to produce seeds as quickly as possible.

I have already documented that Velcro weeds can don a Harry Potter cloak. I’ll stare directly at Velcro weeds, certain that all I see is periwinkle.

However, these days I am looking at things more closely. You see, I planted seeds. I don’t plant in neat rows, and I certainly don’t have a labeling system. I put things in the ground, then try to generally remember where I need to add water. In this way, I am frequently surprised.

I can’t remember how much time has passed since my Totally Cool Neighbor and I pushed beans into the ground. Was it a week? 12 days? Last time I looked, I saw sprouts, which may be our beans or might merely be last year’s morning glories, coming back one more time. My quick crop of radishes are on their way, and I likely planted the squash too soon. No worries, the squash seeds may simply be taking their own sweet time.

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Sow There! I’m not OK with this, April 2, 2020

If this is your hidden back yard in the Avenues, thank you. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
April 3, 2020 at 11:58 a.m.

Ugh. Shuffle. Embrace the inner sloth. As much as I’m trying to distract my mind, be gentle with myself and avoid stress-eating, it’s tough to shake off these barricade blues.

Think happy thoughts. That’s the advice I would give others.

When it rained last weekend, I went to my “happy place” at the edge of the Sacramento River. Sunshine, even cloud-filtered sunshine, can increase serotonin. I felt a little better at that moment, and for an hour I did not consume chocolate.

The folks within my social media circles are doing their best to share words of comfort — videos of children singing separately but in unison, photos of cats curled at the edge of the couch, landscape photo challenges, drone-delivered toilet paper.

During this time of coronavirus cheerfulness, the sarcastic political rants seem to have gone silent.

We are the world — trying to keep our sanity: Virtual house concerts, zooming with my friends, group texts, reading classic books, binge-watching — Yet, it’s not the same as the life I once lived (and will live again).

Clap your hands

Years ago, I formed a habit about happiness, which I’m certain has been annoying to close friends. If I find myself in one of those glorious and fleeting moments, I’ll say “I’m happy right at this moment.”

It’s the adult equivalent of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”

When I’m alone and happen to be happy, I don’t say the words out loud (nor do I clap), but I’ll smile to myself, knowingly.

Maybe I want to solidify that moment, hold onto it for one second longer, to file it away.

That’s important because we all know that pretty soon something cruddy will come along to crumple our collection of happy thoughts.

These days I’m doing a good job of walking at least three miles a day, sometimes with my own thoughts, sometimes with a friend and often while gabbing on the phone. Most of the alleys that lead toward the nearby liquor store are strewn with single-shot booze garbage, drive-thru coffee cups and dog droppings. Yet, the alleys on the east side of The Esplanade have some amazing hidden gardens.

My friend Michael called this week and said he was willing to stretch his legs. We couldn’t help but pause and gasp (at a safe 6-foot distance from one another) at meticulously manicured raised beds hidden behind houses, visible only from the seldom-used, gravel-covered alley. Redbud trees are in bloom. We saw garden walkways meticulously covered with shredded leaves. Secret bungalows (perfect for an art studio or writer’s cottage) overlooked soil ready for planting. The colors included lilac and purple bearded iris. All were hidden from the front yard, to be enjoyed only by the homeowner or strangers who happen to walk through alleys.

When each of us is long-gone, flowers will continue to bloom.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I normally would have said, “I’m happy at this moment.” Michael’s a good friend, so I would have said this several times.

Funny, those words had not occurred to me.

That’s when I realized this thing outside of my firmly-closed front door is really getting to me. Silent. Scentless. Ubiquitous. Scary.

I won’t say I have low-level depression, because I refuse to solidify that thought. However, I just haven’t felt like saying “I’m happy right at this moment.”

When the Handsome Woodsman died in a car accident, I ambled about in brain fog. This lasted a long, long time. I dropped things. I searched for my keys and would find them in the front door the next morning. I really had no business behind the wheel of a car. The one thing that helped the most, back then, was that I had three friends who were also experiencing recent grief.

It was a great comfort to know they also lost track of thoughts, dropped things, and left their keys in the front door.

This week my friend Emily posted a rather revealing photo of a body part she had burned while baking. She said she had also sliced herself with a knife.

Brain fog.

I apologize to each and every Girl Scout to whom I lied “I’ll buy some next time.” (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

I saw a friend on the street, and we talked ever-so-briefly. He texted later and said it just feels weird to stand in public and talk, even with a good friend. I knew exactly how he felt.

An acquaintance posted on Twitter that if he had a time machine, he would go back three weeks and buy every box of Girl Scout cookies he could find. I feel the same way.

I’m glad to have the social media distractions — updates on sewing projects or recipes made from common pantry items. Another comfort is knowing other people are also feeling at wit’s end, and not particularly happy right now.

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