Sow There! Racing to learn new greenhouse tricks March 22, 2019

Racing to learn new greenhouse tricks | Sow There!

Earlier in the greenhouse adventures, my confidence in gardening grew each day. But a multitude of tiny sprouts can mean a big mistake if unzipping is delayed. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
PUBLISHED: March 22, 2019 at 3:16 am

When my third-grade class planted tomato seeds in January, I was filled with overconfidence. We have a little greenhouse at the school, the kind I always dreamed of having in my own backyard.

I imagined the temperatures would mimic the richest of Mexican growing regions. The seedlings would grow so fast, so tremendously strong, we would soon need to transfer them to 1-gallon containers.

Just so you know, it’s not that easy. The nights were cold and our little sprouts are still only an inch or two tall. The garden gurus shared a good tip: Don’t use water from the hose when the temperature outside is just barely above freezing.

The kind garden tenders had my full attention when they brought in some seedlings grown in the warmth of a sunny kitchen. Look children, these seeds were planted weeks after the chilled greenhouse darlings, and they’re just as tall.

Yet, as plants often do, our greenhouse plants kept growing despite my hapless torture.


I knew that becoming a third-grade teacher was a lot of responsibility. Yet, when it was time to volunteer to unzip and zip up the greenhouse, I thought this would be as mindless as erasing the chalkboard. It’s spring break. I don’t have much planned. I’m such a geek, I knew I would check on the seedlings on a regular basis.

My instructions were fairly thorough: Unzip the plastic before the heat of the day, and zip it up before the day began to grow cool.

Then I decided to take a “quick trip” to see my family in Redding.

You can see where this is going. After a night filled with pizza and jumping on the trampoline with my nephews, Mom and I stayed up late watching movies on her ginormous TV.

It was so nice to sleep in, I languished in her sound-proof house. Then she offered to give me some of her perfectly good, comfortable sandals, and soon it was near the heat of the day.

No problem; Redding is only a little more than an hour from Chico.

The car had already warmed up when I started the engine. I got nervous when I had to turn on the air conditioning.

The greenhouse! Our seedlings!

I drove straight to school and faced a blast of moist, hot air when I unzipped the once-coveted plastic enclosure.

Our plants were OK, but I’m glad I didn’t stop at the wildlife refuge on the way home.

Now I realize why those fancy gardening catalogs sell temperature-controlled venting systems and cooling fans.

One difference between growing plants on a windowsill and growing dozens and dozens of plants in a greenhouse is that a small mistake can mean a massive loss of good intentions.

We think that tomatoes are the easiest thing in the world to grow. However, many of us buy our tomato plants when they are 6, 12 or 24 inches tall. That means someone else pampered the plants during the high and low temperatures.

If all goes well, my third-graders will soon be transferring our plants to empty chocolate milk containers. They never need to know that our plants were within hours of looking like boiled cabbage.

Springing to life

Meanwhile, I learned more lessons about what does grow in endless combinations of varying temperatures – common groundsel, puncture vine and wild vetch.

As always, I planted poppies in the cracks of the pavement that run along my alley. A really cool man moved into the nearly-empty lot next door and upset the seed universe. He rolled over his land with a Bobcat and dragged in truckloads of gravel. I’m guessing that’s how a bazillion weed seeds ended up in the cracks in the alley.

Now I know that Velcro weed can grow in a paper-thin layer of decomposed leaf mold and that Vetch flowers by St. Patrick’s Day.

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Early spring, celebrate now | Sow There! March 8, 2019

Spring rain on peach blossoms at the Patrick Ranch this week. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

March 8, 2019 

It’s spring.

Almonds are in bloom.

My farmer friend Samantha says late variety almonds should be at peak bloom this weekend. Please don’t miss the view. Take an early spring drive.

Bulbs are in bloom.

If it would stop raining, the bees would be busy.

I choose to consider Valentine’s Day as the first day of spring.

Never mind that we had snow just last week or that the rain filled all the buckets in the yard.

If you doubt my logic, take a very slow walk in your neighborhood. Notice that all the weeds growing in the cracks of the sidewalk are blooming and that your lawn is growing an inch each day.

This week, a very kind person at my work reminded me to do something to unwind, feel balanced and feel more like the person I knew before becoming a teacher.

Oh, that’s right. I worked in my yard. I drove to the river. I took drives to upper park each week to see wildflowers.

The afternoon of my pep talk, I plunked the bucket of teacher books on my couch seat and took a long stride outside.

Now I remember … spring weed pulling. This is almost as never-ending as teaching. Once you see one nascent Velcro sprout, you see another. Soon you’re crawling around on all fours, fists of Velcro weed in your hair and half a bucket filled with grabby green waste. Bonus if you come across a snail.

I decided not to spend the last hours of daylight on weeds, and opted to plant some seeds. Then I realized I had left all my seeds in my classroom.

Luckily, I scrounged around in the shed and found a long outdated seed packet for Mesclun lettuce, whatever that is.

The packet said to plant in early spring (which is now, in my opinion). When I looked up Mesclun, I learned this is a hodgepodge of greens best picked when they’re young, originating in Provence. This made me feel so worldly I overlooked the fact that the seeds were varied and looked like bird seed.


I don’t know whether I felt more like myself after getting my boots dirty. However, I did remember a great weed-identifying tip from my previous life.

The best way to know if a plant is a weed is to spend some time outdoors.

Last weekend, I checked in at the Patrick Ranch Museum, where I work when there is a special event. I walked to the chicken coop and to see if there were any owl pellets near the base of the oak tree.

The weeds were awake and growing - cheeseweedcommon groundselchickweed, three-cornered leek and a few other I can identify by sight but not by name.

When you walk in a non-manicured landscape, most of what you see are weeds.

Take photos. Remember them. Yank them when you see them at home.

Another way to warm up to spring is to begin imagining all of the good things to come, like yellow crookneck squash and the smell of honeysuckle in the late afternoon. Yes, the earth is waking up and time for us to close that suitcase of deep winter introspection.

Mesclun lettuce? Only if you’re desperate. If those plants grow in Provence, they’ll melt in Chico by the time we have our Silver Dollar Fair. My plan this weekend is to grab that packet of Tuscan baby Kale seeds and spend more time getting my fingernails good and filthy.

Greenhouse update

Meanwhile, the tomato seeds we planted in the greenhouse at school are sprouting. One of the garden volunteers gave me a great tip about keeping a bucket of water in a semi-warm location. When you’re tending to seedlings, cold water will keep the plants from waking up. If you’re only spritzing the plants, the first water that comes out of the hose will be as cold as the outdoors.

The bucket of water in the greenhouse stays relatively warm.

I’m new at greenhouses, and it feels good to be learning.

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Sow There!: Kid kindness brings daffodil days to gray days, March 1, 2019

The daffodils did not remain for very long in my classroom. Soon, our kindness helpers were headed for the halls to make joyful deliveries. (Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record)
March 1, 2019 

When I was first learning about gardening, I sat on my living room floor in my flannel pajamas with gardening books spread out as if I was writing a term paper. Yes, this was before the internet, when we went to the library when we wanted good sources for new knowledge. I read books and magazines, and I called local experts to ask questions.

When does someone become an expert? In my mind, it is when you can remember all the correct answers to questions on a particular topic. More likely, the status of “expert” is something that sounds good on a resume or is used to validate why someone is speaking before a large group of people.

 Most of us simply learn a thing or two, and if we’re smart, we keep learning.

Sometime between then and now, I read that when growing daffodils, a gardener should clip off the flowers “as soon as you can bear it.”

I do not remember this factoid because I thought it was advice worth remembrance. Rather, I thought the idea was so silly that it was forever burned into my memory.

Why would anyone cut daffodils when they were still blooming happily?

Even a glimpse of yellow (faded or bright) is worth half a wink during the doldrums of late winter. Daffodils almost smile at you as they bob on long stems, dancing in the slightest spring breeze.

The logic behind the long remembered and long-disregarded advice is this: The less energy the plant puts into the flower, the more energy the plant will put into rebuilding the bulb for next year.

For similar reasons, it is a gardener’s sin to trim off the strappy green leaves before they wither to a dusty mass of tan strings. The plant sucks the life out of those leaves, sending energy to the storage unit below ground.

Here I am, pushing whatever historic age, and I finally realize that cutting daffodils in their prime means you have more time to enjoy them indoors.

Spirit Week

Last week, I was feeling mighty tired and a bit sorry for myself. I love all the children in my class, but sometimes you want to come home and talk to a grownup. The other day, I asked my children to raise their hands if they had a pet at home. I was the only person in the room who officially goes home to no one. To top it all off, I have no time to enjoy some of my favorite things — the daffodils that are blooming in my yard.

One dull morning, I clipped myself a bouquet of daffodils and hauled them to my classroom.

The second day, I clipped 19 flowers, and I had a good plan.

It just so happens it is Spirit Week, and we are encouraged to do kindnesses for our seventh grade sister class, which was drawn at random.

The children agreed, sharing our flowers was a bright idea.

The next day, I brought in 19 flowers. How could we divide these evenly among several classrooms? Well, we could divide them by six, giving three blooms to six different classes, and our remainder would be one.

Next, we needed to nominate and vote for where to send them.

Instead of hallway passes, I crafted “kindness passes.” I asked who wanted to run the errand.

More hands shot into the air than when I asked for volunteers to erase the chalkboard.

Select students scurried to ask our recipient teachers to borrow an empty vase. Later, a child returned with a vase containing flowers.

On the second day, I had another batch of fresh daffodils – 21 – another odd number.

This time I was smart enough to turn the vote into a data graph, and to ask the children to measure exactly 300 mL for each vase. More importantly, we spread joy up and down the hallway.

As the weather continued to be filled with gusty winds and buckets of rain, I welcomed the gray sky. I was putting my daffodils to good use. Not only that, I’m clipping the flowers at their prime, ensuring more fun for next years’ bulbs.

Daffodil Days

When I worked at the newspaper, the staff was hustled every year by good-hearted folks raising money for the Cancer Society. In March, the group sold and delivered bouquets of flowers to raise money.

The day was very much like Valentine’s Day. When everyone is receiving flowers on a certain day, you can’t help but feel sad and unloved if all you have on your desk is an empty coffee cup and some gum wrappers. Nonrecipients could pretend to work unfazed, then rush home to gorge on ice cream.

Yet, kindly Laura Urseny would break her budget, support the Cancer-free cause and buy enough bouquets to let everyone feel loved.

I did a google search for “Chico” and “Daffodil Days 2019” and found a group offering bouquets this month:

A few fun facts

The Old Farmer’s Almanac website,, had a few things to say about daffodils. I’d hope so; they’ve been around for more than 100 years, which is plenty of time to reach “expert status.”

The sap from daffodil blooms can cause other flowers to wither. For this reason, never add daffies to a bouquet with other flowers.

Also, if your plants bloom but the flowers are less-than vibrant, add a low-nitrogen, high-potassium fertilizer to add some zip for next years’ blooms.

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Sow There! Daffodils, a hard working bulb, Feb. 22, 2019

Daffodils are easy to love. The flowers make you smile from the time you see the bright colors on the bag until the happy blooms fade. (Heather Hacking — Enterprise-Record)
PUBLISHED: February 22, 2019 at 3:00 am | UPDATED: February 22, 2019 at 10:17 am

Hard work does pay off, even if you’re not always there to enjoy the triumph of your travails. I’ve been buying and planting daffodil bulbs since the year I learned squirrels don’t like to eat them. It’s easy to overindulge in a good thing, especially when the indulgences are spread out over time. That’s how you wake up one day and can’t fit into your “skinny jeans,” and realize you have a bad habit of eating ice cream every night.

Daffodils are easy to love. The flowers make you smile from the time you see the bright colors on the bag until the happy blooms fade. You can also torture daffies by planting them on the last day of January. After a year or two, nobody knows you waited until the last minute.

I remember one particular day not so long ago. I had a bag of 70 bulbs that had been sitting for more than a month in the middle of my living room. I had to walk over the bag, each time thinking I would plant them tomorrow.

One day I was avoiding more pressing tasks, and decided to take a break and do something about the daffodils. Once I got started, I had to finish the job or continue to trip over the bag.

The only worthy containers on hand were 10-gallon fabric pots I had bought in bulk, intending to share with my mother.

Filling five 10-gallon pots is a job that should be given to a teenage boy trying to save money for an educational trip to the Smithsonian. Where was that fictitious kid when I needed him?

I buy a mound of potting soil when its $2 a bag in early spring. That pile was overdue to be put to good use.

After what seemed like hours, the pots were filled. I had planted 70 daffodils and now hated daffodils.

Now I’m glad I cursed and sweated and gave myself a backache.

Every few days I’ve been gathering blooms and bringing them to my classroom. I have a flower press in my room and my plan is to gather the faded blooms and let children experiment with decoupage. Too bad you can’t take retroactive tax breaks for education-related purchases made years ago.

Some useful advice

Daffodils do just dandy in our climate. I have not scientifically tracked bulbs. However, I’d say that most of my daffodils bloom again and again. Hyacinth bulbs, in contrast, tend to be dingy and disappointing after the second year.

Freesia bulbs will also do well as repeats. However, the leaves will wither when the weather turns cold overnight. Another winner is Lilly of the Valley, which I have planted in the pot where I grow my fig tree. Lilly of the Valley is sweet, but almost a waste when blooming next to the over-shine of daffodils.

Many books I have read recommend digging up daffodils every few years, and certainly if you notice that they are not blooming. That’s a great idea. I’ll let you know how that goes after some kid knocks on my door to earn money for his educational adventure.

In the meantime, I like the idea of planting in pots. Once every five years, I can hoist the 10-gallon containers into a wheelbarrow, fish around for viable bulbs and start over in fresh soil.

Planting now

The weather is still chilly, but I’m betting now is a good time to start seeds indoors. You don’t need a sunny bay window to get things started. Kale, spinach, lettuce and other cooler season plants will sprout nicely in containers on top of the refrigerator. It’s a bit warmer up there. You’ll remember to check for sprouts each time you make yourself another bowl of ice cream.

I like 4-inch pots. Wet the soil first, plant your seeds to appropriate depth and cover the container with plastic wrap. You may need to uncover the container for a few hours every once in a while, or risk moldy soil.

When the days get warmer, you’ll need to set the plants in a sheltered location and remember to bring them indoors at night. Plants don’t like the shock of cold nights after growing up cozy on the top of your refrigerator.


It may be almost too late to plant tomatoes indoors. If your plants are small in June, you’ll feel cheated when your only bountiful harvest is in October. For the past three weekends I’ve been planting tomatoes in our greenhouse at school. The garden helpers weren’t there, so I had to jump over the chain link fence to do the dirty work. The plants will be my class’ main fundraiser for our field trip fund. Like many things, I probably planted too many. I’m discovering that gardening at school has the same therapeutic effect that it does at home. I can feel like I am doing something productive while avoiding other work that is higher on my priority list.

However, this year growing too much seems important. Selling those tomato plants at our school’s Harvest Festival will bring smiles to more faces than just my own.

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Sow There! Check your losses, see where you can start again, Feb. 15, 2019

Coolness points will be awarded to the person who can tell Heather the name of this plant. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

February 15, 2019

It’s too late to save dead plants, but we can still talk about frost.

If  you were careful and hauled all your tender plants into the garage before the very cold nights — bravo.

I personally do not have a garage. What I have now is a jungle in my living room. My house was already fairly cluttered. Now my exercise routine includes a series of sidesteps to avoid knocking over potted plants between the couch and the kitchen.

One night I tried to watch a DVD and had to rearrange my greenery before indulging in televised, mindless drivel.

I’m mad at myself because I didn’t take necessary steps to avoid plant pain. I know better. My prized mystery plant with the enormous leaves is in a pot so large I had hoped I could simply cover it with a sheet and call it good. The next night I hauled the damaged goods indoors. This way I could sit and watch mindless drivel and feel really badly about the 15-gallon plant two feet from my feet.

When the sun shines again, you may be tempted to run out and lop off the blackened leaves. In most cases, this would be a mistake. Open wounds on the plant could lead to more damage. Plus, it might remain cold or get cold again. Damaged leaves can help protect the roots and crown of the plant, the University of California Cooperative Extension advises,

Unless the leaves could rot, wait until early spring. This way you’ll have a better view of where the plant is sprouting new growth. You might be surprised that the plant is able to regain a healthy stature with just a few snips here and there.

In the meantime, keep your plants watered well. A double whammy would be dehydration on top of cold damage. Another tip is to move potted plants to near the house. They’ll receive a bit of shelter from the cold, wind and your guilt-ridden glances. An added bonus is that if the plant dies, it will be away from the walk from the car to your doorstep.

Planting season soon

The beauty of living things is that there is always another life cycle.

A frost is a good time to track down the date of last frost for seeds. Many packets will provide information on how soon before date of last frost that seeds can be planted indoors. Many flowers, for example, will state 8-12 weeks before last frost if planting indoors.

We tend to be safe from frost by early April. However, our weather is never “typical,” so prepare to watch the weather when you place plants outdoors.

A greenhouse or a cold frame is ideal for planting a large number of seedlings now or after you return your potted plants to the outdoors.

My school has a greenhouse. I daydreamed about using it to plant some vegetables and flowers for my yard. However, the greenhouse is quickly filling up with tomatoes planted with the children.

For less than $40 you can buy a heating mat for sprouting seedlings indoors. I have one in the shed. This worked well in the past, but it’s too cold to start looking around in the shed.

When I was shopping for multi-colored pencils to give my students for Valentine’s Day, I was subconsciously lured into the garden section of a big-box store. Four-inch tall plants for lettuce, spinach and other cold season crops are now on sale. This seems like a logical cure for the heartache of losing plants to Jack Frost.

Better yet, wander down to the farmers market this Saturday. Some nice plant-grower will help cure your dead plant blues.

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Sow There! Weed pulling is wise when you can see your breath, Feb. 8, 2019

This broccoli plant hasn’t grown even a quarter of an inch. Broccoli apparently only grows when you’re busy playing in the sunshine. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
February 8, 2019

Change is not a particularly exciting process to observe. That’s why we have so many idioms that recommend finding more exciting ways to spend our time:

  • A watched pot never boils
  • As fun as watching grass grow
  • Moving in the slow lane
  • As slow as molasses in January.

Last month I maneuvered a yardstick to measure the children in my class. The moment was filled with potential and also fit nicely with our unit on measurement. Most of the children are in the 4-foot-5 range. I also have a chart on the wall for lost baby teeth, but our counting unit has come and gone.

The day we measured it was a bit like pulling teeth. Standing against the wall didn’t seem like as much fun as twirling around with the extra yardsticks.

For now, that piece of paper has receded into the general clutter of the classroom. Yet, one day soon they’ll realize something amazing has happened. They will have grown.

Months ago, our outstanding garden helper Angie brought in tiny broccoli sprouts. We measured those as well, on the same day that we planted tomato seeds.

Since then, I’ve been secretly logging my disappointment. One day I popped out to the garden plots on a dismal day after a series of rainstorm.

Nope. The broccoli had not grown not even a quarter of an inch.

Broccoli apparently only grows when you’re busy playing in the sunshine.

Yank it

Weeds, however, are in an entirely different universe when it comes to time.

If I had been smart, I would have had my students measure weeds instead of broccoli. Weeds grow inches each day. They pop up in places where you looked for weeds the day before. Seedlings of common groundsel, and Velcro weed morph from invisible to invincible in less time than you can tug the hoe from beneath the pile of slowly decaying leaves.

I know it’s cold this week, which means you’ll burn more calories if you spend time pulling weeds. The wet weather gives you an easier wiggle and a better chance to tug the roots. I’ve had great luck in the mud yanking deep-rooted mallow. Another winter culprit to catch right is the three cornered leek. These are in the allium family and can be used in the kitchen for a light onion flavor. However, I won’t be the only one to tell you to yank them in your yard and scour the neighborhood if you ever need free onions.

These plants grow bulbs and also toss about black seeds like confetti at Mardi Gras.

In the rain, three-cornered leek is easy to tug. Grab as closely as you can to the moist soil and jiggle back and forth until you can pull the bulbs easily. If you wait until summer, you’ll lose many of the bulbs to the tough turf.

However, persistence pays off. Over the years I’ve yanked enough leek to fill a flatbed truck. When I spot them these days I almost want to greet them like a lost friend.

Early bloomers

You’ll also note that weeds bloom and produce seeds before anyone can even think about almond bloom. I planted poppies in the alley again this year. If I look closely I can spot the tiniest white flowers – weeds! The greenery is only about four inches high, which is easily overlooked when I’m driving off to work.

If I was to take my own advice, I’d be crawling around on my hands and knees now, yanking those babies when I can see my breath in the air.

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Sow There! After the fire, growing goes on, Jan. 25, 2019

A bit of statuary in planted bowl survived the Camp Fire at Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise, but many of the plants didn’t. (Steve Schoonover — Enterprise-Record)
January 25, 2019 

I haven’t visited the place we once knew as Paradise. It’s been in my thoughts of course. I’ve watched videos, viewed aerial photos taken by drones, scoured incident report maps and conjured many a memory in my mind. I’ve talked to friends who lost everything and joined conversations with strangers in grocery stores.

Yet, unless I have an actual reason to drive up the hill, it feels like it would be disrespectful to drive around in someone else’s tragedy. I’m curious, of course, to look at the property the Handsome Woodsman once owned — to see if any trees I once knew will have a chance to regrow.

The Carr Fire whipped through Redding last spring. At the time, we thought it was the worst we would see in Northern California for a long time.

Last weekend I accompanied some travelers to the Shasta Caverns, and took a short segue through Redding neighborhoods that had burned.

I could tell where the new fence lines began and ended. The pine boards were light brown, not yet weathered by the rains. Wattles — those rolls of straw contained in mesh — held the earth that would otherwise slide down slight slopes. As has been the case in Paradise, the devastation was seemingly random. One home would look mostly secure, with vacant lots nearby. Debris has been cleared and in some cases,  you can see an outline where a new home will begin.

Growing again

Of the many tragedies, I gasped when I knew that Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise had been among the taken. I spent hours wandering through those neatly-kept rows, chatting with Jerry Mendon, who would lead the way in his electric cart. The first time I visited Mendon’s was with Elaine Gray, who cowrote this column once upon a time. I gasped the day I first visited the timeless nursery — a clam feeling enveloped me. Elaine and I agreed the place was a gardener’s Disneyland.

I count myself among the many who hope John Mendon will take a long breath, then decide to reopen the irreplaceable garden space. He’s a treasure chest of knowledge, passed along by his father and cultivated through his own career in the business.

Then I thought of David Walther, of Spring Valley Nursery, in Yankee Hill, which was also in the path of the inferno. Walther said he heard of other garden-center losses, including Paradise Garden Center on Clark Road.

As for Walther, the aftermath of the fire was almost as big of a hit as the flames. He lost only a percentage of his work to fire. When the power went out the damage to his plants increased. No power meant no water.

Next, the deer came. You can’t blame them. They browsed and nibbled on what remained. If Walther had been home, his dogs would have been home. The dogs chase away the deer.

“A lot of my pots melted off,” Walther said. He needs to wait to see if the roots were cooked.

He may have luck with some plants that were insulated by soil. His guess is that many herbaceous plants that grow from a crown will live to see the sun again. Plants with stems are likely lost.

“This garden is a learning garden,” he said, sounding about midpoint between acceptance and optimism. “I will learn a lot in the spring.”

At his property, it was not a flash of fire as made people dash from Paradise.

“There are signs where things burned slowly,” perhaps for 24 hours, he said.

His plan is to begin propagating new plants in February.

One task will be helping his soil to renew.

First steps

Local Master Gardener Laura Lukes wrote a fascinating The Real Dirt column on Dec. 14, about hydrophobic soil. This is when soil is damaged by intense heat. The damage causes the soil to halt absorption of water, which is part of the reason we’ll suffer from increased erosion and even flash floods.

Walther said adding dish soap to scorched potted plants will help — use about a teaspoon per gallon. This allows water to flow more easily.

For Walther, gardening is something he does, and from the sound of it, something perhaps he couldn’t stop if he tried.

“There will be rebuilding,” he said. “We will do it smarter — not mass plantings. We’ll keep more space between plants.”

It’s a help that his home was spared. Walther rebuilt after the Poe Fire in 2001. Firefighters used his well-maintained property for equipment while the blaze was being battled this time around. He knows to keep piles of pine needles maintained. Those piles — a safe distance away — did not burn this time, while other areas did.

When he heard people were being evacuated, he donned a backpack blower and blew out the rain gutters.

Overall, he sounded hopeful. Cyclamen (the showy winter flowers), have a “huge storage system” underground. Parts of these will likely regrow.

One note of advice is to feel around areas were plants were known to grow. If the roots are not mush, they may have survived. Roses are one example, unless the crown of the plant was charred, he said.

“I had an apple tree that burned down in the last fire,” about a dozen years ago, Walther said.

“It threw up 15 to 20 suckers. I didn’t know if it would be above the graft or not.”

He pruned off all but one sucker and “Now I have this beautiful apple tree.”

I’m hopeful to hear about Walther and others who will battle on, put shovels into the ground — again and again. That’s what gardeners do.

I’m also glad to know his place will be open and that he will continue to offer plants for sale at the Saturday Farmers Market in Chico. We’ll have to wait until spring when he has more to sell.

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Sow There! Just a bit giddy about the idea of a school greenhouse, Jan. 18, 2019

Beans growing in a protected area of our schoolyard have survived the winter, so far. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
January 18, 2019

Last week I was doing what I do these days — taking care of plants and thinking about how to enlighten children. Many lessons have come and gone from the day my students pressed soggy sugar snap pea seeds into four inch pots. I wasn’t very hopeful at the time. Maybe the seeds would sprout. More realistically, the plants would die and I would hide the evidence.

From my experience, the plants would grow, strive for light, grow spindly and wither.

That’s what has happened in the past when I have tried to grow plant indoors.

However, my school has a greenhouse.

The nice volunteers — who rake leaves, yank weeds and show children the world of worms — popped the plastic over the previously-barren frame in the back lot of our school.

We had an extended break after the Camp Fire, but I visited campus to add water to the pots within which my children had planted hope.

When I unzipped the 7-foot tall walk-in door, my glasses became foggy.

No one was there to hear my squeal of excitement.

My mind was racing. I had to leave the greenhouse to catch some cooling air.

My mother offered to buy me a mini greenhouse back in the day. Maybe she saw my tomatoes growing tall and spindly on my windowsill. Maybe she wanted me to grow.

Yet, I thought a greenhouse would be a bother. It would grow mold and sit on the side of the house with the assortment of broken pots and the wheelbarrow with a flat tire.

However, if you put a greenhouse on top of some asphalt — you’re talking steam baby, steam.

All those years I have been writing about planting tomatoes in January. I can actually do that with the power of my school’s greenhouse.

It’s not cheap to buy a greenhouse for your home.

If you’re only planting two or four or six tomato plants a year, the math doesn’t equate. You might as well let someone else do all the dirty work and buy perfectly good plants from the farmers market. Plus, you need to consider that mold question, and the shade by the side of your house. Yet, if you’re gung-ho, a website called will set you up with a mini greenhouse for about as much as you would pay for lunch and a pedicure (find the mini greenhouses in the Outdoor — Lawn and Garden section on

Tomatoes in January

Now we may be in business. It turns out that my third graders need to think about raising money for our overnight class field trip in the spring. If we start growing tomatoes now, the plants could be ready for gallon-sized containers by early spring.

Cha-ching. Even if the plants are spindly, people will feel sorry for my children and buy them anyway.

While we’re at it, we can plant flowers and herbs. I can see it now, I’ll be driving by my school three days a week to water plants during the summer break.

Do it at home

A greenhouse doesn’t need to be as fancy, even though some of the majestic houses sell for $5,000 on the Hayneedle website. My neighbor Bob used a relic of a bay window and placed it window-side up on top of gravel. Sally, another clever gal, built a square with hay bales, then placed an old glass shower door on top. Of course, both of these gardeners had yards with full sun.

The key is to have a way to vent the greenhouse once the weather warms. Otherwise you will cook your plants and add unnecessary disappointment to your busy life.

As most simple ideas go, you can end up getting fairly elaborate. One website, which I may or may not be reading more carefully, offers many gizmos for sale at You can add ventilation fans and cooling kits. I’ll try to watch the weather and move the plants to the mulched area of the schoolyard once spring is here to stay. I have children available to lug those plants in and out of the greenhouse doors when nights are cool.

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Sow There! When in doubt, remember what you read and write, Jan. 11, 2019

Not only do I save previously-written columns, I save re-usable imagery. This bowl of grapes is from the garden in late July 2018. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
January 11, 2019 

One really good thing about being a writer is that I can learn from myself.

This week my garden writing inspiration was on the lean side. To be quite honest, my daydreams did not go much further than staying under the down comforter and listening to the rain. Also, my days of sleeping late ended when the current semester of teaching began.

Under the tilted rays of the sun these days, I leave the house weekdays at first light. When I return, the solar lamp on my front porch is dim, leaving me to fumble for the front door keys.

It’s all good. I worked in my garden during the winter break.

I keep a blog of previous columns, I don’t really envision that many people know it’s there (years and years of garden knowledge and outdated quips). My guess is that even fewer people read that information. However, I post my columns so that I have a personal online record. It comes in handy when I can’t remember what to do in January, or if I have not recently toured my garden in daylight.

In January, 2015, I wrote about coming home from a trip and noticing that the daffodils were getting ready to bloom.

Oh, right. Daffodils.

Once upon a time, before I was a teacher, I planted daffodils in 10-gallon fabric pots. This was years ago. I have grown to know that daffodils can return year after year.

The thing about bulbs, however, is that the flowers bring intense joy for about two weeks in the spring. After the big show, the leaves slowly begin to turn from very-alive green to a color of brown that is tempting to toss into the green waste can.

I learned that if one plants bulbs in fabric pots, one can easily drag the containers across the pavement and tuck them out of sight in the north-facing shadow of the elderberry tree.

This is still a big job, and my fabric pots are 10- and 15-gallons. But if you’re diligent, they’ll slide across the pavement once you gather momentum. Unlike plastic, tightly-woven black fabric does not turn brittle after years in the sun.

When I cruised around the garden in late December, I noticed that many of the bulbs had sprouted. If the sun-deprived greenery could speak, I would have been harshly reminded to move the pots to a sunny location. Yet, I was busy, don’t you know, and lazy that day.

I haven’t bothered to look again, but my guess is that the daffodils will be just fine. It’s time to move them into a place where they won’t be overlooked.

Blog reader

Perhaps I was reminded to check my secret blog when a reader sent me some fan mail. Her name is Anna and we bonded via email right away. I liked her because she said she liked my column, that I amused her, and because she had bothered to write. It sounded like she was researching ways to kill snails in her yard, and had tracked me down in a mountain of search engine results.

I shared all that I knew about killing snails, which was actually a lot. I told her about stomping around in rainstorms, wearing washable rubber garden shoes and using a miner’s headlamp. I told her about the pros and cons of tuna cans filled with beer for snail traps, and putting a rim of copper tape around raised beds. Mostly, I told her how stomping snails is a lot like eating potato chips — the satisfaction of that crunching sound can be addicting.

I ended by telling her to think about adding ducks to her back yard.

I’m a teacher now. My children love snails. They want two or a dozen snails as class pets. When we have garden work days at school, they gather the snails and gently places them by the fence. I can’t continue to relish in the idea of killing such lovely creates. Alleviating a snail problem through the use of ducks is much more suitable for lessons about the life cycle in the garden. Yet, I think Anna and I both know there are other options.

Another January tip

Prune your grape vines.

I did this months ago — before Thanksgiving break.

My buddy Mark Carlson gave me advice on pruning grape vines several years ago. For some reason, when Mark tells you something its memorable. He also has produced inspiring videos on pruning trees and roses available at Last year, for example, he reminded me to add compost to my grape vines ( as well as a good tree and vine fertilizer. The same advice will help your fruit trees this time of year.

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Sow There! Good-bye old year, let’s try not to do that again, Jan. 4, 2019

How do you know when it’s time to tear out the tomato plants? When they look like this. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
January 4, 2019 at 4:30 am

A new year.

I’m characteristically hopeful, but I can’t shake this feeling of tragedy overload.

Sometimes I wish there was a gate you could close on bad memories. The padlock would be heavy. You could turn your back, take a few steady strides and all the sour memories would be sealed.

I felt this way last year. At the end of 2017, I was in my jammies at midnight, watching Netflix. The sound of distant parties, barking dogs and fireworks thumped against my closed door.

“I’m quietly celebrating,” I wrote in my journal that night, “not so much for the New Year, but for the end of 2017.

“If I have one word for 2017 it is ‘mourning.’ The cat’s gone. The Handsome Woodsman is gone. My brother is gone. I’m glad 2017 is gone.

“Luckily, each day, each New Year, brings …”


That’s where the journal entry ended. I didn’t have enough energy to finish my thoughts.

The year brought bright, new things. Indeed, 2018 was a great year. I finished school, landed a teaching job, met new, wonderful people and fell in love with bright-eyed children.

It was a great year, until it was not a great year. The Carr Fire tore through the hills and jumped the Sacramento River in Redding. The Camp Fire shredded Paradise. So many pieces of so many things are still floating in the atmosphere. Each day, new stories surface about struggles and small steps forward.

I hope I’m not foolish by being hopeful that this next year will end on a good note.

Yet, this year I did not sit alone in my jammies as the clock turned. For 2019 I sang Auld Lang Syne around a patio fire pit. We waved sparklers and wrote wishes in the air. My friend Bitz and I shared sweet stories about life’s highlights, and the only thing we lamented was that we don’t find enough time to talk until 2 in the morning.

I can’t control how this new year will end, but I’m glad that it began with something worth writing in my journal.

Starting off new in the garden

2018 wasn’t the best year for my garden. Fall was the season of neglect. The smoke was the final excuse I needed to let things go.

It was only this week I tackled the tangle of tomatoes in the raised bed. The vines were grizzled by this time, gray like the skies that recently hung as low as our moods.

On a bright, chilly morning I turned the soil and added a few bags of steer manure. I let a few partially-red tomatoes remain, and perhaps they will grow.

Lime tip

In my last interview with Jerry Mendon, before the wise garden-man died, we talked about adding lime to the garden bed. In the past I had trouble with blossom-end rot. My zucchini and squash would blossom and small fruit would grow. Then I would be bummed when the fruit shriveled.

Jerry said to add lime to the soil, and to add it in the fall.

I wouldn’t say last year was a bumper crop, but the fruit didn’t shrivel.

Adding lime in the fall allows the mineral to work its way into the soil, Jerry said. It’s winter now, but better late than never.

It doesn’t take much. If my garden bed is 8-by-4, I might need just a little more than a cup.

As the winter wears on I’ll add some compost from the bottom of that pile or buy a few bags at a big box store.

School garden

During the break from school I’ve spent time in my classroom. The children love books, but they forgot my valid instructions about how to put them away. I have a new lesson planned on how to scrub crayon markings from the beige desktop laminate.

To take a break, I sometimes visit our school garden. Our rows of potted sugar snap peas are mostly alive in the greenhouse. A few have died, which will be a good lesson on life and the statistics of yield loss. I’m glad there will be something special for the children when they return from the winter break.

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