Sow There! The view from another side of the sanitizing hand-wipe, 3-20-2020

March 20, 2020

My mom delivered an amazing array of seed packets this week – spinach, stringless beans, peas and other cool-season dandies that are ready to be poked into damp soil.

She made the delivery to my doorstep, then promptly back-stepped 20 feet toward her car.

Coronavirus care package.

I am confident I do not have the virus, but you never know. I recently traveled through three airports from Washington, D.C.

I’m that person who should not be out in public, at least for 4-14 days.

Inside the mombox I found protein shakes, steel-cut oats, toilet paper, tuna, soup and Indian food packaged in mylar.

This was unnecessary, I insisted before she made the 1 ¼-hour trip. Even without a proper inventory of my cupboards, I knew I had four rolls of toilet paper, eight cauliflower pizzas and enough chocolate to maintain my current weight from now until Halloween.

Yet, we all know how moms can be. They can be pushy. They often surprise us with a flood of love.

Back when it was early March, our group of 22 international Fulbright participants* left Chico for the nation’s capital. My main concern was packing my bags, not the pantry. I knew I was going to miss these new friends, and the ache felt like the beat of a Mongolian drum.

Our group flew east on Southwest, armed with hand-sanitizer and what may have been the last shipment of anti-bacterial wipes. We practiced greeting others by touching toes and tapping heels. Of course, the virus was a big problem in other countries, but it still seemed far away from Butte County.

In D.C. we lingered, holding tight to the end of our summer camp friendships. The cherries along the Potomac were at the earliest stages of bloom. One night we skipped across the green parkway toward the Washington Monument, the landmark aglow with floodlights, American flags fwapping in a light breeze. We saw many other small and large groups, seeing the night sights.

During the day, we attended educational seminars and began to say a drawn-out series of tear-filled goodbyes. There was zero time for museums.

Then, everything changed. The borders were closing. Flights were rerouted, some within 20 minutes of a bus ride to the airport. The president made a speech, my 401K dropped by 17 percent and everyone back home was hoarding toilet paper.

When I arrived in Chico, I sat in the dim light of my living room, suitcase still packed, checking for updates from my international friends, who are all teachers. One woman was sad she decided not to sleep next to her young son, who had missed her for six weeks. She wanted to protect him from all unknowns. In some towns, city streets were empty, except for military vehicles. A few travelers are still trying to reach home.

Back in Chico, I read about “flattening the curve,”, virus surge and closing of international borders.

I read about seemingly-healthy people in our country who could be witless spreaders of disease. People like me.

The news reports varied, but the shortage of medial respirators clanked around in my mind. My parents are in their early 70s. I shut my front door and made sure I had enough clean pajamas to wear for two weeks.

Now what?

In the computer age, a lot of us can work from home. My mom had delivered toilet paper, needed or not. My remaining dilemma was solved when Richard ventured to the store for supplies, and delivered chocolate chip ice cream to my driveway.

Living alone has its drawbacks, but staying alone means I don’t have to worry about infecting someone I love.

And then, there are the seeds. I owe my mother many apologies, and she may even have a list.

On a dormant winter night, my mother and I had made a pact to buy exotic seeds and swap. I made fun of her when she delayed her purchase.

When I opened the precautionary coronavirus care package, I found the seeds. She had carefully transferred the name and planting instructions onto small plastic bags containing treasures.

Mom: I love you and I should have known that you always come through.

Wednesday, wearing my pajamas and hiking boots, I pulled weeds and planted purple beans, Delicata squash and cool-season peas. Some of these grow quickly, and I might need fresh veggies if some worst-case scenarios arise.

I hope all of the traveling teachers will also have time to unwind before they plant seeds in the minds of their students.

In the meantime, I’m having trouble keeping track of my blessings.

  •  The Fulbright program at Chico State is funded through the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State and International Research & Exchanges, administered by Chico State.
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Sow There! Common ground through fresh eyes, March 6, 2020


March 6, 2020 

My current job with International Education and Global Engagement has included several weekends out of town with 22 teachers from 22 different countries. I know, I know, you’ve been reading about this for weeks. However, even my most loyal readers must admit this repetition is more interesting than column-after-column about green tomatoes.

After weekends to Northern California attractions, our group learned that a stay-cation can be as satisfying as traveling to and fro.

I won’t claim that Chico is as postcard picture-perfect as San Francisco or the steep, snow-covered peaks of Lassen Peak, but I can certainly tell you I’ve had some amazing weekends in my common stomping ground. If you want to give your old town some new sparkle, try showing it off to someone new.

The plastic wheelbarrow transformed into a portable salad garden. These aren’t weeds, but arugula. Some seeds may have been dumped last year, or the plants scattered seeds all on their own. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

The first week the visitors were in town, our Chico State campus tour came to a long pause at the footbridge near Holt Hall. Half a dozen visitors stopped to take photographs of squirrels. Normally, I call squirrels “tree rats,” but when someone else is fascinated by that bushy tail and the wiggle of a cute, furry nose, it’s easy to see squirrels in a new way.

Self-check at the grocery store — using credit cards at the gas pump — free perfume samples at Sephora — these are all delights many locals have grown to overlook. Spending an ordinary day in my long-trodden town suddenly felt like the Madison Avenue scene in the movie “Splash,” only without the quirky love interest.

A mural on the side of the parking structure! Wow!

In some ways, being a hometown tour guide provides the same joy we receive from spending time with children. A child sees something for the first time, and loves it, and so should we.

Hello Patrick Ranch Museum, pinball at Woodstock’s Pizza, the second visit to Shubert’s Ice Cream, the overwhelming feeling of wandering through Winco — suddenly new and amazing.

Alas, my new, international friends will soon be packing their bags. I regret they’ll miss the wildflowers at Table Mountain, concerts in the park and the hush of the town in summer. I’ll try to remember to experience all these things as if I had a traveler by my side.

Something new

With all of these busy details, I found some time to unwind in my yard.

Mostly, this was required because it hasn’t rained and if I did not water, things would die.

I like walking around my yard with a hose in hand, or my rusted red watering can. Maybe it’s my utilitarian version of yoga. If I stand still, remember to breathe, and have a task to do, my mind goes quiet for long enough to remember what quiet feels like.

When I remember the quiet, I remember that I’m not that important and that my problems are as trivial as dryer lint.

Thank you Mark Carlson for finishing the job of pruning my Thompson seedless grapevine. I started the job mid-winter. It was several weeks before I noticed Mark had stopped by to hack the vine into fine shape. He may have even hauled away the twisted clippings. Yet if the gnarled branches are in a pile somewhere near the tree stumps, I’ll find them later.

When I remembered to breathe and look around the yard, I noticed the poppies have sprouted in the cracks of the pavement in the alley. It only took a few more minutes to yank the common groundsel, a weed that was just about to spread seeds.

The big surprise was the transformation of my plastic wheelbarrow into a portable salad garden. Apparently, I had harvested some compost and put the good soil into the green resin garden cart. Was that in November?

When I noticed the garden cart this week, it was filled with greenery. Nope, they aren’t weeds, but arugula. I may have accidentally dumped some seeds when I planted arugula last year. However, I’m betting the plants grew, and bloomed and scattered seeds all on their own.

Imagine that. This all happened while I was looking somewhere else.

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Sow There! Yes, its time to water the yard, 2-28-20

February 28, 2020 at 3:30 a.m.

CHICO — Life is full of mixed blessings. Some that easily come to mind include food – too much chocolate or the second basket of cheesy muffins at Red Lobster.

Over the past month, our group of 22 visiting Fulbright* teachers from 22 countries has taken three weekend trips, each during nearly perfect weather. Sunday, we clomped across compacted snow in inappropriate footwear. Several of the travelers had never touched snow, and had no problem with the one-mile walk to the Sulfur Works near Lassen National Park’s visitor center.

“I can’t wait to feel what snow feels like,” one bus rider said.

“Does it hurt when you get hit by a ball?” another wondered aloud.

On the way home, almond bloom in the valley was about as bright as it gets. This was even better than a week ago, when we returned from San Francisco with horizon soft with pink petals. I noticed, however, that this week the farmers had turned on their irrigation.

Perfect weekend weather. Days that make you itch for a hike in the park. Sunshine that stirs up the serotonin and makes washing your car in the driveway seem like a better use of time than a matinee.

Yet, before you share that infectious smile with too many people in line for Schubert’s ice cream, consider that this could be too much of a good thing.

Dave Kasler in the Sacramento Bee notes that the ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure is parked ominously over the Pacific, blocking the rain from making its way to my back yard. This happened five years ago, and we all learned about tiered water pricing.

The good news, of sorts, is that there isn’t much alive in my yard right now that would die in a drought.

Yes, we need to water our yards in February. If my lawn wasn’t already mostly dead, I would be watering it right now. If I had planted winter vegetables, I would be watering them right now. I do have about 82 plants in pots, and I’m watering them right now.

Life has been good lately, so I’ll choose not to dwell on distant dismal ideas about summer. It could be bad. Let us enjoy this beautimous spring while we can, with daffodils, hyacinth, flowering quince and just about every flowering tree in full bloom.

We can even celebrate by visiting Lassen Peak — in shorts.

Prep now

Another upside to the lack of rain is that giving the soil a good workup should be an easy task. Digging in moist garden plots can cause clumps that need another work-up later in the season. This time of year, every weed known to the north valley sprouts before most big-box stores can restock seeds for the season. If you water your bare soil, the weeds will sprout and you can kill them with a hoe. That’ll stop one generation of new weeds in the yard, if you time it right.

It’s tempting to feel the glow of the sun on your shoulders and get a jump on spring planting. However, it’s still too early. Chances are we’ll have a few nights that will leave some frost on the windshield of your car, which you washed on the lawn because it was such a nice day.

You might, however, plant some vegetable or flower seeds indoors. For seeds like tomatoes and peppers, plant the seeds in a small container cover with plastic, and put in the warmth of the windowsill. Bring them in at night, because that windowsill sill will get cold as well. Check every few days, and mist with a squirt bottle if the top of the soil feels dry. Once seedlings emerge, uncover and rotate the pot so you don’t get a plant that grows at a 45-degree angle.

Or maybe we can all have some afternoon springtime barbecues. The weather is nice enough and could lead to a rain dance or two.

  •  The Fulbright program at Chico State is funded through the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State and International Research & Exchanges, administered by Chico State.
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Sow There! The gifts of the wide-open spaces 2-21-20

  • Flowers in San Francisco.


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Sow There! Small tasks and big rewards, Feb. 14, 2020

Small tasks and big rewards | Sow There!

February 14, 2020 at 3:00 a.m.

Sometimes, but not always, the hard work we put into an outcome can greatly increase the resulting joy of our efforts. Other times, the waiting also brings magnified joy.

Gardening is an excellent real life example. We hoe and dig, plant and water — we also wait and wait. If you love gardening, each step is filled with anticipation. That’s why it’s such a bummer when you lose your young lettuce to frost or blossom end rot shrivels your squash.

Right now, my time for gardening is minimal, which means I’ll stick with the winners.

I can’t remember when I put hyacinth bulbs into my nifty bulb vases. However, at the time I was thinking clearly. One week I popped a single bulb into place. The next week another.

A hyacinth bulb placed in a vase bloomed after weeks of weeks waiting. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

For weeks and weeks, I watched the semi-translucent roots reach into the water. The bulbs began to show color, and I waited some more. One day I opened the door to the cubby-hole office I share with Terri McFarland, and the room was filled with sweet hyacinth scent, made more profound by the small quarters.


I’d need to do some soul-searching to decide which smell I savor the most – Daphne odoro outdoors or hyacinth trapped in a room. It’s been a while since I have sniffed fresh plumeria in bloom, but I’d wager this would add another contender to most-favored scented plant list.

Forcing bulbs in vases makes me feel almost-forward thinking, when the fact is I simply never got around to putting the bulbs in the ground.

This week I was fortunate to experience other delayed moments of joy. In early November I began working for the Office of International Training at Chico State.

I was thrilled to bump into people on campus, and to work in a place surrounded by trees. My coworkers work well (and laugh) together, and frankly I was really glad to have a paycheck.

Yet, every moment was not a joy. We planned and planned, pushed papers around in a circle and my brain was blurred by Excel spreadsheets. If I loved crunching numbers, I might have had an entirely different career path, one that involved numbers and possibly a bigger paycheck.

Let’s face it. I’m that “people person,” destined to be a reporter, teacher or Girl Scout leader.

For months and months, my new coworkers sat in our offices and talked and planned.

There was one particular week when I was cranky and frazzled. If I juggled one more task I was certain I would forget to brush my teeth or tie my shoes.

“Just wait,” my hallway companions said with knowing expectation. “As soon as the scholars arrived, it will all change. You’ll be on cloud nine.”

The scholars are here, as in Fulbright participants, *22 of them from 22 countries. I’m floating. Who cares about sleep when there are 22 people to show around campus, and Chico, and Northern California. They’re interested in the crops we pass while riding in a Chico State bus to places beyond. They snap photos as we cruise by a field covered in sandhill cranes. They want to know my opinion about the best, reasonably-priced restaurants and aren’t shy about buying American-name brands at thrift stores. My 32 years of local knowledge now seems like a big deal.

Plus, they’re teachers. In all of the small ways I can be helpful, I’m helping them to learn new things that will help in classrooms throughout the world. Just as my coworkers had predicted, I can see clearly how all of those small tasks are adding up for some real good.

Having visitors is not the same as traveling the world. Yet, it does help to brighten the paths that we travel on a regular basis. I’ve been to Sacramento dozens of times. Yet, it’s all new when you’re with people walking down the steps of the Delta King for the first time, or hearing the clomp-clomp of horse hooves on cobblestone.

Delayed gratification has, indeed, become a gift.

  •  The Fulbright program at Chico State is funded through the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State and International Research & Exchanges, administered by Chico State.
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Sow There!, Stop and smell the Daphne, if you have time 2-7-2020

The Daphne odoro is blooming on the south side of Laxson Auditorium in Chico. This beauty loves winter and usually blooms around Valentine’s Day. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
February 7, 2020 at 

CHICO — Alternate adventures caused me to miss the Chico seed swap last month. When I wrote a column about the esteemed event, I knew I would not have time to attend. Instead, I made plans for a mother/daughter seeds swap, but Mom forgot.

I wrote about my disappointment in my column, partially because my mother has a great sense of humor, and realistically to light some fire under her credit card.

After the article was printed, my mom sent a text and said she had purchased some amazing organic seeds online. She was ready to share, she said with spring-like optimism.

Did she read my column, in which I made fun of her for forgetting? She said this was not the case.

However, my faith in the power of the pen has been renewed.

It would have been fine either way. I don’t really have time to plant seeds right now.

Life happens. You make a promise to yourself or someone else, and then you run out of time.

These past two weeks have been hectic but joy-filled. Forty-six travelers are in Chico from 23 different countries. My job is to be something of a mother hen – I help them get to the places they need to go and try to tell them interesting things along the way. I’m teaching conversational English, reserving classroom space, taking tours of Sacramento and San Francisco, and snapping a boatload of photographs. One day I’m helping to navigate American idioms, another minute we’re shopping for cell phones. The job has reminded me that when you’re busy/busy, and when the job is fun, it feels like the paycheck is just a bonus.

The downside is that I missed two weeks without writing a column. Thank you to the two readers who wondered why they had not spotted my name in print.

While I hate to neglect my two-person fan base, please understand that I also have not shaved my legs or paid my rent. I even had to decline a walk in the park with a handsome new friend. Other tasks undone include pruning my grapevines, checking for snails or managing the weeds that drop early seeds.

My great hope is that once the international travelers return home (and before more arrive), I’ll have time to drop my mother’s seeds into soil.

I did, however, stop to smell the Daphne.

This pink and white flower is from the Daphne odoro which, when blooming, makes for odiferous event. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

Each time I proclaim a plant as my favorite, I happen upon a new attraction that provokes a new proclamation. On this particular day I had delivered 22 teachers of English to a bus stop for their return to a local hotel. As I walked what may have been the 37th mile for the week (officially logged on my pedometer), I reacted to an odiferous event.

It’s February. Of course the Daphne odoro is blooming. This beauty loves winter and usually blooms around Valentine’s Day. Workers have recently pruned the rose bushes at the Chico State campus, so I naturally stopped to smell the Daphne, which grows inconspicuously at the south end of Laxon Auditorium.

Now that I’m a teacher, I naturally want to share what I know with others. Soon after I was sniffing, a woman wandered by and stuck her nose in my business as well. We shared a brief moment, and I remembered there was a list in my head of other things to do.

Valentine’s Day advice

A splurge for a dozen red roses may be the traditional lover’s day gift. However, I seriously question the roots of this trend. Could it be that FTD and other florists did some math and decided that roses could fetch the biggest mark-up in price?

How dare I be cynical about a day dedicated to love!

Or maybe I just don’t love roses when they are so shamelessly contained. The delicate appeal of roses should be gathered and enjoyed one gentle flower at a time.

A better gift is a plant that is living, not snipped then shipped in environmentally-detrimental cold containers, only to begin a quick decline that results in brown petals on the coffee table. Giving a live plant means your token of love can literally grow.

It might be too late to track down a Daphne odoro plant (although kudos to any kind suitors who will try). Yet, you can easily find forced bulbs of fragrant freesia and sunny daffodils. Bulbs can be saved and planted again. Avoid tulips, which are really just a one-shot in our climate. Other favorites might include kalanchoe, a succulent that will live for years but likely never bloom again.

Better yet, I’ve spied huge bags of bulbs in the big-box stores, which are ready to plant now. Any guy intent on making a move could score points by showing up with a bag of bulbs, a trowel and a promise to get down and dirty.

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Sow There! Chico seed swap, Jan. 17, 2020

  • Seed catalogs galore! (Heather Hacking — contributed)
January 17, 2020 at 4:17 am

When you have too many things to remember, it’s fun to set yourself up for a surprise. Weeks ago, I mailed an order for some wacky selections from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog. I did not check my P.O. box daily. When you order seeds in the middle of winter, there’s no hurry; you’re not going to plant them anytime soon.

When the manila envelope arrived, I had forgotten the late-night impulse buy and was pleasantly surprised.

The Baker Creek company is cool. If the company was a boy, and I was 12 years old, I would have a mad crush on “him.” Even the padded packaging has a certain “coolness factor,” with vintage adds on the envelope, as if the company’s image is suspended in a different time. In my romantic vision, the seeds had been shipped by train, packed by a grubby guy wearing overalls, and sent with postage stamps in the upper right-hand corner (the kind of stamps you had to lick).

In my infatuated state, the seed packets can do no wrong. One small envelope shows a photo of an outstretched hand holding purple beans, another shows swan-shaped crookneck squash. A bearded man looks whimsical as he poses with purple basil tucked behind his ear.

The images of the ground cherries remind me of water lilies emerging from dry land — the tawny fruit encased in papery leaves, others unfurling. It could only get cooler if I actually put the seeds in some soil.

And then the dilemma. I had talked about trading seeds with my mother. However, she never bought interesting seeds, and certainly not the totally cool seeds I now had in hand. Would I share with her anyway? Would she remember our pact?

My goodness! It’s my mother! What kind of seed-hoarding ingrate have I become?

Just about the time I was banishing bad thoughts, I was sent some very useful information from the kind gals who put on the annual seed swap.

The annual seed swap takes place from 12-2 p.m. Jan. 25, a Saturday, in the big room at Trinity Methodist Church at Fifth Street and Flume.

I love the seed swap. I’m not talking mere infatuation here. This is one of the many things that makes a person proud to live in Chico.

You can gather up all your seeds from last year and kindly share them with others. The really great part about it is you can also take a few seeds home.

Maybe I’ll invite my mother.

Seed tips

You certainly don’t want to be greedy, so bring your own envelopes or small pieces of paper within which to wrap just a few seeds. Bring a pen as well, to write down the names of your treasures.

You can also use your phone to take photographs of the important seed-planting tips.

When you bring plants or seeds to share, make sure you label carefully, so other people don’t need to guess.

The generous souls who have helped organize this event for the past 11 years include Sherri Scott.

Serious seed swapping

When I chatted with Sherri recently, she said serious seed-savers are invited to pop in early, for extra time for seed talk, starting at 11:30 a.m. This allows savers of seeds to chat in a more casual environment, before things get hectic.

Organizers are also hoping folks who lost gardens in the Camp Fire will also get there early. When people are rebuilding their yards, or a new yard, they’ll have more questions to ask.

Sherri did not mention how old is too old for seeds to share. However, remember that seeds do have a shelf life. The point of an event like this is to share joy, not to offload your mistreated and neglected seeds stash — only to cause garden disappointment.

You can also bring unwanted, but still functional garden tools to share.

Sherri said gardeners can share bulbs, seedlings or plant divisions. You can also bring in cuttings and scions. Scions are cuttings of new growth that can be grafted onto root stock, or the remains from trees that burned to the ground, to provide new top growth from a favored plant. Scions are used to make fruit cocktail trees, which will bear peaches on one branch, and other fruit on another. What fun!

If you’re kind-hearted, by all means, bring fruit from your trees or other garden-things you may think to bring, Sherri continued.

If you can’t make the event, you can learn more about Sherri and her group via the Chico Seed Lending Library’s Facebook page,

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Sow There! Grapevine wreaths and ring tosses on cloudy days, 1-10-2020

Grapevine wreaths and ring tosses on cloudy days. (Heather Hacking — contributed)
January 10, 2020

Nope. I haven’t planted the bulbs. The bags of daffodils and freesia remain — sad and neglected — in a box near the ottoman. I won’t feel badly about myself as a gardener. I’ll get to it tomorrow, or next weekend.

While I admire a person who wants to avoid procrastination this year, I just don’t feel up to planting bulbs – yet.

If you’ve ever visited my house, you understand that I enjoy the process of gardening much more than the outcome. It makes me smile to buy a bag of bulbs. I hum the entire time I put bulbs in the ground.

I experience ecstasy when I see blooms from the daffodils I planted three years ago.

Last week, I wrote about dormant grapevines, which reminded me that it was time to prune. I was in the yard, wearing my cute gardening smock and holding the clippers … and I realized I had forgotten all of those textbook pruning techniques. Re-learning would take research, and my plan was simply to spend some time in the yard.

I clomped out to the mostly-dormant lawn and clipped away with careful uncertainty.

Amid the snips, I texted grapevine expert Mark Carlson to ask his advice for the next time I prune, possibly in February.

In the meantime, what I managed to wrangle was a worthy pile of vines. They were pliable and ever-so-long. The sky was soft, with just enough daylight to enjoy some time — just me, the vines, and the din of the traffic on the busy street nearby.

Once you get started making grapevine wreaths, it’s difficult to stop. When I wrapped the middle section of the prickled rope around my head, the two ends were easier to braid into circles. Rather than trim off the errant side branches, I twirled the lengths into a rustic mess, which met my unplanned intentions.

Bonus that the curtains were drawn at my neighbor D.’s house, so I had no known witnesses.

The weaving of the vines became semi-hypnotic, when I wasn’t fwapping myself in the face. I envisioned how people would naturally string vines into long chains, which would naturally lead to propelling one’s self from tall tree to tall tree, which would elicit cheerful cries that would echo through a forest.

By accident, I discovered that sometimes the skin of the vines begin to peel, and can be used like twine to tie the circle into place.

What unbridled, simple joy.

Of course, I have no plan for using the wreaths. That’s not the point. I was feeling the organic pull from the earth, the sky and the vines – pushed to creativity.

And otherwise bored.

After I proudly posted photos on social media, friends suggested I weave herbs into the frames, or attach dried flowers.

Maybe I’ll get to that — sometime in the spring.

I’m thinking the circles could also be used for a ring toss. Why not? They were crafted around my neck and will certainly fit over my head. If I stand silently, people could strategically toss them at me.

My third-graders last year would have paid money at our school carnival.

Later that day, because I do this sometimes, I searched the Internet to see how others have spent an idle evening near grapevines. One gal in a video,, noted that things tend to stay together when she tied the vines with thin wire. Maybe I’ll remember that next time.

I also wasted some time looking at incredibly well-done grapevine wreaths on Pinterest. This was a mistake and made me judge myself when compared to others. If I wanted a perfectly formed circle, with no jagged edges, I could buy one for $9.99 from Amazon. Would that be any fun?

As it was, I could have made circles well into the night, but daylight dimmed.

The good news is there are more vines intact for another slow day.

I’ll read the advice from Mark, if he gets around to sending it, and trim back the rest of the vines before its time to plant tomatoes.

In the meantime, I’ll gladly gather any photos readers may have of their vine-inspired creations. Maybe this topic will have legs, and we can talk about vines until Valentine’s Day.

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Sow There! The fine line that makes a good neighbor, 1-3-2020

These vines look fairly inobtrusive in their dormant state, but the can become a big tangle in mid-July. (Heather Hacking — contributed)
January 3, 2020
In this compact and complicated world, it’s difficult to move an inch without offending someone.

We drive slowly, dress scantily, speak loudly or hang signs in our yard that state our opinion.

When it comes to being neighborly, its usually easy to cut each other some slack, rather than holding a grudge that could last until someone’s children go away to college.

I’m really lucky to have great neighbors. We give each other cookies during the holidays, and watch a locked house when one of us is out of town.

Barking dogs, late-night engine repair and your backyard band — it’s all OK until someone calls for code enforcement.

Over time, I’ve become friends with my totally cool neighbor, “D,” who works on his truck for weeks on end, and is currently remodeling the interior of his workshop. He seems to appreciate when I show up uninvited. I bellow “knock-knock” through the open doorway to his man cave, and if I hear a murmur, I’ll walk through the corrugated metal threshold. During a brief but meaningful talk last month, he said I was a “ray of sunshine,” which I interpreted as an open invite to stop by his shop any time I needed more positive affirmation.

Fresh-grown grapes vs. good neighborliness? Tough choices. (Heather Hacking — contributed)

Sometimes I bring gifts from my yard, including tomatoes or blood oranges. He never fails to reciprocate with a tour of his current creative project or other wild inspiration.

Last summer, during what was otherwise amiable conversation, I learned that he was the culprit behind the disappearance of my poppy plants.

For years, I have placed poppy seeds in the cracks in the pavement along the alley. In the spring, even rows of orange flowers grow. Yet, D is new to the ‘hood, and he didn’t know any better.

He confessed that he mistook the poppies for weeds, and once he started scraping the pavement with a shovel, he couldn’t stop until all my poppies were dead.

I forgave him. He knew no better, and now he knows.

It was easy enough to buy more poppies from the giant pitcher of seeds at Northern Star Mills.

More recently, I was bragging about my grapevines, which sprawl across the cyclone fence we share. I saw his brow twitch, just a slight movement on what is otherwise a smooth forehead. I realized the unruly vines might disturb his sense of a well-kept aesthetic.

“Do the vines bug you?” I asked without thinking of the outcome.

“A little,” he said. I knew this was an understatement.

Of course, the highest of neighborliness would include a future that does not include vines growing into his side of the fence. However, who am I to keep a vine from doing what it does best? My neighbor is new. The vine is well established. I can’t (or, more honestly, won’t) move the entire plant, not now.

Plus, if I pretend like I don’t know it bothers him, he probably won’t complain. Let’s face facts: I didn’t make a fuss when he murdered my poppies.

D didn’t ask me to remove the vine. However, I do feel a tiny bit of guilt. I’ll give him raisins next fall. Maybe that can make up for my grapevine sprawl.

It could always be worse. I have friends who have built fences or elaborate tarp structures to obscure the view of broken-down washing machines or a travel trailer used for spare parts. A vine with a will of its own is far less obnoxious than a whirling windmill, well-stocked aviary or a Winnebago filled with beer-drinking relatives.

It’s time to prune the grape vines. I’ll see if there’s a thing or two I can do.

I can’t make promises. But when my treasures arrive from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, I’ll look for a sunny spot away from the cyclone fence where I can grow my dragon’s tongue purple beans and ground cherries.

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Sow There! A world of seeds at your fingertips 12-27-10

Ancient corn, you just don’t see that every day. (Heather Hacking — Contributed

December 27, 2019 at 4:34 am

For yet-to-be-understood reasons, a garden catalog appeared in my post office box. Normally, I’m peeved when I see junk in the box. This time, I was giddy to receive this unsolicited mass marketing.

Way back when, gardening catalogs were a source of needed joy on days when there is more darkness than light. I could sit on my cold floor in December, catalogs splayed out like a fan, and dream shop about the things I could try to grow.

In those days, (early to mid ’90s) I was convinced that once you ordered from one catalog, your name was immediately sold to numerous seed companies. Soon you had enough gardening catalogs to cover every wall of your apartment in glossy vegetable images.

And then things changed. My wild guess is that seed peddlers decided the dwindling response rate did not justify printing costs. Instead, companies began sending countless emails. This just wasn’t the same. These emails were lost in the sea of junk email coaxing me to click on or or

When the barrage of electronic junk mail becomes unbearable, I abandoned the email account.

However, this brave seed company tracked me down. Thank you, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, I had not realized how much I had missed you. You found me just at the right time. I was ripe and ready to look at shiny photos of flowers grown by experts, captured with perfect lighting at the exact moment of their highest beauty. I have free time right now to relish image of flowers so bizarre, they look like props on a “Star Trek” episode. Even if I don’t order seeds from South America, lovingly kept in cultivation by descendants of ancient peoples, I am glad to know they exist.

Thank you for giving me a reason, on a cold December night, to daydream about perfectly ripe crookneck squash and tomatoes with stripes like a zebra, melons that resemble decorated Easter eggs.

Yes. It was love at first sight. They had me at “Free shipping.”

I was so mesmerized, I sent them a check (yes, an old-fashioned check, the paper kind).

My guess is that my name will now be sold mercilessly and more catalogs will soon stuff my mailbox.

At Christmas, Mom and I spent quality time browsing through the Baker seeds.

We expressed sounds of admiration over winged beans, with edges that looked like feathers. Cauliflowers mottled with color, as if someone sprinkled the Cruciferae with purple paprika. Black nebula carrots – purple with yellow stars in the center — something Sasha Sagan might have nibbled in childhood. Strawberry popcorn with 2-3-inch burnt-orange ears. Black corn, purple corn, amber corn, country gentlemen corn. Who knew?

A good catalog includes facts that may or may not be useful, but provide entertainment and wonder. Maiz Morado corn, for example, was grown during the Incan Empire and is still used in South America to make a beverage, for use in dye and ground into flour, the Baker Seed editors chose to reveal in small print. Of course, you can also grow it in your backyard and eat it from the cob.

Glass gem corn: translucent kernels that “shine brilliantly like glass,” “decorative and delicious.”

Of course, I never grow corn. That’s not the point.

You just can’t get seeds like this on the racks at Walmart.

Some of the vegetables are simply dazzling and bizarre: tigger melon – the size of apples with vibrant yellow fruit and fire-red zigzag stripes on the outerside. These were so weird, they may also be manufactured by Mattel.

I left the seed catalog at Mom’s house. We made a pact that she would buy some packets, and the next time we meet, we’ll have a mom-and-daughter seed swap. This way, we did not need to argue over our choices. I’m trying to talk her into visiting the company’s brick-and-mortar store in Petaluma. I had planned to visit when I spent a weekend in Sebastopol the summer of 2018, but I was sidetracked by a free concert in a park.

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