What are you up to today?

Hiding out in the house during the mid day to avoid that hot dry wind, I have greasy salve all over my arms to soothe that red itchy rash.  I spend the morning doing yard work, getting that rash annoyed, it rears up good. 

The heat has let up, it’s been cool inside the apartment, so I took advantage and made an upside down cake.

Strawberries have been cheap and plentiful lately, so I used some to garnish this pineapple upside-down cake.

Strawberries have been cheap and plentiful lately, so I used some to garnish this pineapple upside-down cake.

I should have made a bigger cake, this one went pretty fast, almost before I could get the picture. You melt 1/4 cup of butter in a baking dish while you are heating your oven to 350, then take it out and stir in 2/3 cup of brown sugar. Arrange whatever cut fruit you want in the pan, and then you set that aside. The cake batter is a half cup of butter creamed with half a cup of white sugar, a beaten egg, add a cup and a half of flour with two tsp of baking powder, alternating that with a half-cup of pineapple juice. You pour that batter over the fruit and bake it at 350 for about 35 minutes – it’s done when the top is golden brown and the sides are pulling away to expose the bubbling fruit syrup around the edges.  After it cools for 10 minutes, put a plate over the pan and flip the cake out. Don’t wait too long or the fruit and syrup will stick to the pan. 

When I’m not stuffing my face with butter and sugar, I’m out in the yard early to beat the heat. I’m still trying to get rid of the weedy patches around my rentals and home, now becoming dead, dry stickers. I can’t believe how many, in places where I have not had weed problems in a long time. Earlier in spring I used a propane torch where I could, and a hoe where that was practical. And I’ve pulled and pulled and pulled.  I suit up, I wear a mask and hat, today I used a sprinkler to wet the area down before I went in. Still I get this nasty red rash, just like when I was a kid. Only now I don’t have my gramma to set me out plate of orange sticks and a deck of cards. She’d gob me up with salve and give me an old raggy shirt to wear, and I’d sit at the dining room table playing Solitaire and nibbling my orange sticks a bit at a time, while the orchard dust blew by the windows in clouds. 

Now I watch the dirt clouds blow up and down our street – everything is so dry, it’s taking to the air. One morning I stood in the yard as the sun peeked up over the tree tops, and in a ray of golden sun, I saw bits of dirt tumbling and somersaulting around like tiny acrobats. I had an immediate compulsion to get a dust mask, I wear them a lot now. 

The splurge of pretty flowers around the yard, so brave after those late rains, are starting to fall over in this North wind, dead brown tops flopped over in a sad heap. My husband finally mowed a stand of poppies, leaving nothing but a dirt patch.  Great, another dirt patch, to become airborne with every puff of wind.

The whole area around that dirt patch has been a problem since we bought that house. A stretch of hell-hot dirt without a sliver of shade throughout the day in Summer, and absolutely no protection from Jack Frost in Winter.  We’ve planted, and we’ve mourned our losses. At one point we had a beautiful little grove of lemon and orange trees, yielding baskets of the prettiest lemons and oranges for several years running.  One Winter, a severe freeze burned them back to stumps, the following hot Summer beat them down further, and another hard freeze took them completely out the following year. Gone, kaput, outta there! Meanwhile the citrus trees we’d planted at another property did great, gave us more fruit every year. 

We tried rosemary, which has also done fabulous elsewhere – the sun on that stretch of yard is just merciless, we could never seem to give them enough water. They made a brave start, but of the five I originally planted, only one remains, and it’s very small for a 10 year old rosemary bush. 

The key is water, I realize. The problem is, it keeps getting more expensive. I try to cut back, but I hesitate to kill my yard back to dirt. Oh yeah, xeriscaping, that’s all the rage – ever find out how much work we’re talking about there? First there’s set-up – scrape up all that crab grass, get it out good, kill-kill-kill. Get ready for a life-long war on  that stuff – you’ll be looking for recipes to eat it and things to weave it into by the time you’re done. Spray it? Good luck there Buddy. The best way to get rid of that stuff is get a pair of gloves and a shovel and go after it. I’d recommend, put it in a black plastic trash bag and send it to the dump, for godsakes don’t put it in your composter.

Once you’ve got dirt, which is where I’ve ended up, you have to cover it fast or you just get the take-advantage weeds all over again. Nothing likes clean dirt like weeds. I’ve tried weed cloth and plastic and  bark, and geez, that’s another lifetime of work. Bark migrates, you’re always replacing it, and that ground cloth is a joke against crab grass.

My favorite ground cover is road base, that gray marble to walnut size rock that lays flat and creates a semipermeable surface. As this rock lays on the ground and gets run over by your car or walked on constantly, it makes a hard shell on the ground.  Water percolates in, but it’s tougher for weeds to make their way up. When they do, it’s easier to pull them, or burn them with your torch. I like road base on pathways, and around the base of the house. 

But this patch is too big for road base, and besides, that would be more of a heat generator on this sunny stretch of hard tack. I’d rather have green living things over there, the less maintenance the better, and that’s a job for grass. I never wanted to put lawn there before, I figured it would take way too much water to keep it alive, and then more gas to mow. But, as I’ve been experimenting around over there, and as I’ve watched friends deal with the same situation, I’ve finally decided to damn the torpedoes and go for a crabgrass cover.  

We were riding our bikes along one morning when we found a yard sale. The man was selling plants he’d propagated himself, including these neat little shrubs that had come up as seedlings from a very fine looking shrub in his yard. He said it was definitely drought hardy, tough as nails, and easy to prune. So, we bought three little shrubberies for $1.50 each. We planted them in the shelter of the fence, and ran  a drip line from our yard where we could control the timer. A year later, they are nice big plants. We’ve added some similar bushes we bought at Home Depot, and that fenceline is starting to look like an oasis of life. 

But the rest of the area had been taken over by sticker weeds after the late rains, big ones. When I attacked this patch last year I had to throw away the socks and gloves I’d been wearing, and I got scratches and a rash all over my arms and neck. So this time  my husband went over there and mowed without mercy. Then I soaked it good with a sprinkler and raked it all up as good as I could.  What was left was stubble,  a mixture of dead weeds and crabgrass. This I am determined to turn into a crude lawn.

A few days later, I could see that certain sticker weeds – they’re almost intelligent! – had started to grow again, fanned out low against the ground. I watered again and pulled those with my hands, it’s the only way to get rid of them. You know, that wild parsley, also known as “dog bane” because it makes those little tiny velcro-like stickers that get in pets’ fur, little tiny burrs.  Every pretty white flower turns into a burr.

Then there’s “tanglefoot,” that viney weed that gets the little star shaped leaves and pretty white flowers – these turn into similar burrs to the wild parsley. You’ve probably got both of these all over your shoes and socks in the park, or your pet.  They really don’t mow, they either just lay down, or they grow right back, even thicker. Mowing also spreads the seeds like crazy. So, once my husband has cleared most of the clutter, I just pull them, and pull them. Eventually this works, but I have to keep at it. One plant will “infect” a whole area pretty quickly. 

So now I go up there and clean and water that stretch twice a week, dragging my little sprinkler from one end to the other, raking up dead stuff and pulling weeds, for about a half hour. This is all the water I can afford, and I really worry what will happen if Cal Water kicks in with a rate hike. If I could just get some little oak trees established over there, it would change the whole ecology of that side yard, but it takes a lot of water to get a baby tree grown to somewhat independence. For now, crabgrass is going to have to do.  

I notice a lot of people are searching for solutions to weeds and stickers right now, I’ll keep you posted. 

 

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