Sow There! Searching for Dr. Bronner, June 26, 2020

Blackened aphids on portulaca, after being sprayed with soapy water. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
June 26, 2020 at 3:30 a.m.

Stuffed in a cupboard, or hidden in plain view? Somewhere in my house there is a brand new bottle of Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap. I saw it recently, but my memory is blurred by heat and the state of chaos that is my life in seclusion.

Weeks ago, I had plenty of time to venture under the kitchen sink to reorganize cleaning products. Who knew I had so many half bottles of dollar store cleaning solution, a jar of putty, plumbers tape, stainless steel polish and lemon oil?

I should look under my sink more often.

In early March, I shopped all over town for hand sanitizer. My group from the college was headed to Washington, D.C., and everyone knows airports are covered with communicable diseases. I couldn’t buy sanitizer at the store but found a recipe to mix rubbing alcohol and aloe vera, and funneled the goo into travel bottles.

I wish I had simply looked under my sink. When I recently reorganized, I found two mostly-full bottles of hand sanitizers parents had gifted to my Third Grade class in 2018.

I can only imagine what useful items I will find when I finally reorganize my shed.

As for the castile soap, I know it will reappear.

Castile soap (and other types of plant soap) is useful for killing soft-bodied insects like aphids, mealy bugs, whiteflies and spider mites. To do the deed, you need to get the bugs soaking wet with a diluted, soapy solution. This same trick doesn’t work on hard-bodied insects, like stink bugs, nor my new foe: the adult harlequin bugs.

Spraying a mass of aphids like a crazy fool is fairly rewarding. When you look back a few minutes later, the bugs are gray, and later may turn black. More importantly, they are dead. Yet, it is just as easy to take your fingers and squish the bugs when you see them.

Note, plant-based soap is different than heavy-duty detergents used for cleaning lasagna baking dishes. These soaps have strong degreasing agents, which can also strip natural oils and natural wax from the surface of your plants.

The writers of the Garden Myths website,, suggest buying a bottle of insecticidal soap, which contains potassium and a special kind of plant-friendly fatty acids.

Of course, this requires thinking ahead and placing the insecticidal soap in a location where you can find it easily. (Again, smashing those bugs with your bare hands has many advantages).

You can also just snip away the offending life forms. Many times I’ll look closely and notice 100,000 aphids in a plant-feeding mass, resting in a defenseless, sucking pose. Within seconds, I can remove the entire branch and stomp on the bugs while wearing plastic garden clogs. Another aphid-fighting technique includes spraying the bugs away with the hose nozzle set on “jet stream.”

If you choose the quick thrill of soapy water, Dr. Bronner’s is a brand that has natural oils, less likely to harm plants. The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides,, recommends a recipe of 1 tablespoon to two cups of water. You can add cayenne or cinnamon if straight soap isn’t enough fun. Remember, you need to get the critters wet, so the best time to spray is morning, so the liquid evaporates more slowly and will eat into those soft-bodied insects.

As for those hard-bodied insects, such as the harlequin bugs, the harsh chemicals of hard-core dish soap do just fine when I whisk the bugs into a bowl of soapy water, avoiding that damaging business of actually spraying soap on my plants.

In search of Dr. Bronner

As for the bottle of Dr. Bronner castile soap, I’m guessing it will turn up this winter. By then the aphids will be long gone. The folks at Dr. Bronner’s offer umpteen other ways the soap can be used,, including washing the dog, controlling ants and vegetable rinse, among others.

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Sow There! Things you notice when you have the time, 6-19-2020

They’re tiny seeds, but after falling several feet onto lush leaves, the landing sounds like the slightest patter of rain. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
June 19, 2020 at 3:00 a.m.

A friend stopped her bicycle at the edge of my yard, guessing correctly that I would be on my knees battling Bermuda grass.

LaDona and I usually visit at her house, because she likes to feed her friends and I enjoy eating her food. I dusted off my kneecaps and gave her a tour of my squash and tomatoes, and handed off another plastic bag filled with kale seeds.

The kale has become quite an overgrown ordeal.

I could and should yank the plants from the ground. Instead, the plants have gone to seed, again. The lazy plan is to let the seeds scatter in the wind, hoping for a carpet of new seedlings I can snip with scissors. They probably won’t sprout until the fall, but I’ll be ready if and when nature does her thing.

As LaDona and I chattered about this and that, I absent-mindedly began squishing harlequin bugs with my bare hands. The kale was crawling with them.

I almost never wear garden gloves, and frankly, I didn’t think about whether LaDona would find my hand-picking barbaric. The smashing was simply a reflex. Those buggers quite clearly needed to disappear.

My habitual domination over harlequin bugs began in July 2017 when my sister and I returned from Costa Rica. The Handsome Woodsman planted the kale in October 2016, a few weeks before he died. That first year, the idea of pulling those plants would have meant destroying his final garden gift.

Now that I think about it, these are those same plants. Who knew kale could live that long? Now I can understand more clearly why the stalks look like tree trunks, three inches in diameter.

However, back in the summer heat of 2017, those plants were newly overgrown.

I had been traveling, and without my interference, there were so many harlequin bugs on the kale, it looked like my raised bed had become the H-bug travel destination. I learned to strategically position a bowl of soapy water, and whisk the critters to their death.

I searched daily and soon learned to recognize nymph H-bugs, and even the barrel-shaped, silvery eggs, which are deposited in neat rows on the underside of leaves.

The party is over for harlequin bugs that have returned again and again to the kale that is grounded in place three years and counting. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

When I spotted harlequin bugs again this year, I needed to remember everything I had learned and forgotten. Oh, that’s right … the bugs will suck the life out of your plants.

Kale or cabbage is often used as a lure, to keep the critters from more desirable summer producers, such as tomatoes. I must have done a good job of hand-picking over the years, because the kale plants are alive. In addition to the dried seed pods, new leaves are growing from the “trunk.”

As for the reoccurring problem with harlequin bugs, this is my own fault, as usual. The surviving (and hiding) adult bugs spend the winter in the stalk of the kale plant, which any sane gardener would have burned on a bonfire.

I’ll put some thought into whether the original plants have outlived their usefulness. In the meantime, the bug infestation has given me the opportunity to feel triumphant. I have mastered my technique of the sly-hand backslide, as well as the splash dunk.

More time for hushed observation

Harlequin bugs, the first daffodils, a ripe tomato … all can be noted as markers of time. Some days I feel like a 12-year old on summer vacation, grounded in place. The minutes pass slowly, which means I’m looking at things more closely.

I had forgotten what it feels like to sit, listen to the wind chimes, and clear all of the air from my lungs.

Recently, I unveiled a new outdoor living room.

A heavy plastic tarp is propped up on a metal frame, covering the sturdy wooden picnic table that takes four grown men to move. A string of white lights adds just enough sparkle at day’s end, and I moved my brass floor lamp under the overhang to illuminate board games.

Living the dream. If I invite only one friend for dinner, we can sit six feet apart.

More than 85 potted plants are arranged in no particular order. As a backdrop, the concrete block wall is covered in needle-nosed ivy, from the “floor” to about 14 feet into the air.

I recall the first time the wall “talked to me.” It was a warm, cloudless evening and I thought I heard the slightest patter of rain.

After a curious investigation, I found that the sound came from the green wall.

It was the ivy. Pale green pods hide under the leaves. I saw, and heard, as those pods popped open. The rain-like sound was the tiny seedlings falling onto the leaves.

This week, as a friend and I sat at the table gorging on takeout from Alibaba restaurant, it was that time again.

Patter, patter … the gentle sound of rain with a cloudless sky, nowhere to go, and all the time I needed to sit and listen.


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Sow There! Bermudagrass hates shade, and other long-term plans, June 12, 2020

Sometimes you need to look the enemy in the eye. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
June 12, 2020 

For decades I’ve railed against privet as my most-hated garden nuisance. Sentiments certainly have not faded. However, the major privets in my life have thankfully been removed. And just like a battle-ready warrior, I’ve moved on to a new foe.


Why now?

I’m certainly spending more time in my garden. Was I unaware in the past? Did the plant’s heinous impact suddenly grow more fierce? Why does it seem to be making this mad dash to gain territory, despite my increasing exertion to yank, pull, deprive and mulch?

An article in Field Science (a magazine dedicated to turfgrass),, notes that Bermudagrass does not tolerate shade. I’m certain there are some folks who would argue this point. However, I realize the unmanageability of my tangle of Bermudagrass corresponds with the cutting of all trees from my property a year ago.

Thank you Field Science, for being so scientific.

Buckets filled with Bermudagrass, ’tis the current bane of my backyard. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

The outrage! Not only is the shade gone, but Bermudagrass has crawled quickly across my little universe.

Life has many battles and even more choices to make. In some ways, the grass if fine. It covers up the soil, looks green, loves Chico’s summer heat. All might be tolerable if it could just keep to itself. However, the very essence of Bermudagrass is to infringe upon the rights of all other plants.

A year or more ago I scored a truckload of mulch from some amenable tree trimmers. Ha!

As mulch decays, it does deplete the nitrogen from the soil, but I didn’t care. I wanted that Bermudagrass to suffer — without water, without nitrogen, without love. Surely the mulch should smother out the subterranean onslaught of roots and shoots? To further darken its growth path, I layered the bottom of the mulch with cardboard, recycled from the boxes accumulated from my home-delivered groceries during those early days of sheltering-in-place.

Nope. Each day the grass gasps for breath, emerging from the woody mound, snaking its way across the splintered wood as it reaches toward the fenceposts, the defenseless tall fescue, the raised bed. I dig and curse, yanking fistfuls after fistful. For two square feet of territory, I may fill an entire five-gallon bucket with its claw-like spokes.

Defeated, dejected and down-right angry, I have to take a break. There are other things to do now, like worry about how the heck I can teach elementary school children in the days of coronavirus.

Just when I’m not looking, just for a few days, the plant must note that I have temporarily put down my spade and gloves. That’s when the star-like seeds appeared, the torturous last barrage of hatred in the form of tiny seeds that scatter joyously when yanked with an angry fist or mowed by my meek electric mower. The seeds, by the way, can stay viable for two years, lurking among the defenseless blades of “good seed.” The good seed I sow in vain each fall, somehow hopeful that the enemy will know it is outnumbered.

Some good advice on keeping the encroachment to a minimum include ensuring the “good grass” is in great health, and that you mow at the highest possible setting. Also, shade helps.

As has been the case in the past, my research turned up additional sour advice: Cover the infested area with black plastic for six months or two years, depending on which websites you read. Mulch doesn’t create great soil due to the aforementioned depletion of nitrogen. (LaDona, my erratic gardening guru adds nitrogen under her mulch for just this reason). The Press Democrat,, suggests “sheet mulching” with cardboard and six inches of composted greenwaste, then waiting up to two years. Am I expected to have this kind of patience? Where would I find this amount of composted greenwaste? I don’t cook in an industrial kitchen.

Specific chemicals are sometimes suggested,, and I can understand why some folks resort to this option. I’m just not ready to bring out the poison guns.

There is hope, of course, in the longer scheme of things. Pre-emergent chemicals, applied at the right time for two years could kill off most of those seeds, if I manage the timing before those tiny enemies take root.

Here also remains the longer view: An oak tree in my yard is now as tall as an NBA basketball player, and some day, some day, one fine day, it will cast the shade that “Field Science” claims will see the decline of the virulent beast.

I’ll learn to pick my battles. About two years ago I was given two potted Indian peach trees. They were a gift from the amazing Ernie Dalton, who gave me a tour of the Nord School garden, I finally put the peach tree in the ground and have been ensuring it gets water. You guessed it, the Bermudagrass likes water as well. For the sake of that future soft-skinned fruit, I will continue to fight. I will dig until my fingernails are ragged to keep a circle of peace around this tree… until the tree grows and slowly gains victory through shade of its own creation.

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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 —, 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, 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,, 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 …


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.


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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