Simple pleasures of gardening – try some succulents and cactus!

The tomatoes are happy in their containers, we’re getting tiny fruit now.

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The other day I noticed about a dozen new tomatoes on our container plants.

Cactus and succulents also make a wonderful container garden.  This Summer we plan to spend more time at our little shack in the woods, so we loaded a bunch of our cactus pots and took them along. Of course they can survive without much attention, but look what happens when you throw a little water their way now and then.

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My patio is lit up with these tiny red blossoms.

I found this old gas heater in a house we bought. It looked great but our PG&E man told me it was not up to modern standards.  With the top grate intact, it made a good coffee table. When I found these adorable terra cotta pots in somebody’s FREE pile, I took out the grate and made it into a plant stand.

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The little furry nodules appear like warts and then one day they open into these fabulous little blossoms.

This is an old cream separator my gramps picked up from who knows where. Made by the Excelsior Separator Company!

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Forever functional.

He liked old machines, this might have been from my cousin’s big dairy in Glenn County. It sat next to our tank house and we kids played on it for years – it had all these moving parts, now rusted pretty solid. We pretended it was a car, a spaceship, a stove for baking mud pies, etc.  Now it makes a great plant stand.

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I never get tired of these delicate pink blossoms, growing off of a grouchy old cactus.

I began collecting succulents and cactus when my mom died and left me with her hoard of pots. Let me tell you, they reproduce like crazy, and I  try to pot every one. Every now and then, as if to say, “Thanks!”, they explode with flowers. 

 

 

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Trying something new – gardening in containers

One of the biggest lifestyle changes we’ve made lately is gardening in containers. After all those years having a big truck garden and so many tomatoes we needed to get an additional freezer for the sauce, we find water has become too expensive to garden in Chico anymore. So we potted them up and moved them to our camp site in the hills. 

They get noticeably bigger every day.

Here we share a well with neighbors, paying about $200 a year for our share of the electricity bill for the pump. Our summertime Cal Water bills in Chico were over $100 a month.

GFY Cal Water!

So far they are growing like crazy and getting good, fat blossoms.

These look healthy and viable – last year they were small and gray.

At this time last year, the heat had already hit the valley, and I learned that blossoms will not “set” in temperatures over 94 F. They just withered and fell off. Many of our gorgeous plants, which I’d started from seed, never had any fruit. They sat mummified in the heat.  We pulled many rather than waste the water.  We only got about three dozen tomatoes all summer.

I had used the last of our seed store. So this year we bought cheap plants at Home Depot. We got an interesting cherry tomato from a neighbor. We bought dirt in the bag at Walmart. And we gathered some old black plastic tree pots we’d saved for recycling bins. 

My son also found several of these “grow bags” around the corner in our neighbor’s “free” pile.

This is a Geopot. I’ve seen them online for about $6. We’ll see how it works. It could hold a lot more dirt but I ran out.

They’re light and have handles, so you can move your garden if you need to. 

I also brought my potted flowers – echinacea and selvia. While my echinacea is taking off nicely in the ground in Chico (as long as I run a sprinkler on it every few days), the selvia was getting pushed out by an outrageous crop of feverfew. So I potted up a few selvia and grabbed my collection of echinacea pots. My husband, bless his heart, heave-ho’d them into the F-150. 

Selvia is loving it here – the first day it was here, ants raided the pot and ate all the pill bugs.

In Chico I had to water these every day, here they only need a quick squirt every other morning, and they’re going to town. 

I know my husband wants me to spend more time up here, cause he loaded up over half my cactus pots and quite a few of my big rocks. We’ve arranged those around our little patio, just in time for blossoms.

I’ll keep you posted, next time, on “This Old Lady! with Juanita!”

 

 

 

Bad air quality makes for pretty sunrise

We have a lot of fires burning in the North State, and you know, bad air quality makes for a magnificent sunrise.

Red sky at morning, everybody take warning.

We’ve been leaving the windows shut at night, with “lows” in the 70’s, it’s not worth taking in the crud too. 

In late Winter or early Spring I noticed some strange plants coming up along my driveway. They’re interesting looking, not the typical “weed”.

It grows a little every time I water the shrubs along the driveway.

I’ve asked my gardening guru, Belmont Rooster, to take a look, maybe he can tell me what these are.

Hey, we got another tomato!

No blossom rot!

We were so excited we rode our bikes to the store in 104 degrees to get a pack of bacon. We picked up an ear of corn for the side. 

Tried a different kind of bacon, this stuff is leaner than the old standard. And it fits the bread really good!

Nothing says Summertime! like a BLT.  

It’s 6:55 am and I already got sweaty eyebrows. It pays to get up early to beat more than the heat. Yesterday morning I went out to get some aloe vera for my smoothie and the GD squirrels had torn up several of my pots, looking for somewhere to hide their GD nuts! I had to act quick, they’ve been in them before, and they work fast – they throw the little plants and expensive potting soil everywhere.  My husband had some old 2×4’s, extra fencing and netting left over from the garden, so we went to work.

Look at this ginchee cage my husband built for my aloe vera plantation.

 

The net skirt folds up so I can get in there.

 

I pinch off a big leaf with my thumb nail.

 

I put two of these in my fruit smoothie every morning.

 

Quality, “hand filleted” organic aloe vera!

 

I use these plants not only for a dietary supplement but for dry skin, rashes, burns, etc. A couple of weeks ago, I was weeding my tenant’s yard and my gloves got so full of wild parsley stickers, I had to throw them away. A couple of hours later, my right hand, which of course is the chief weed puller, swelled up and turned red and itchy – I started putting aloe on immediately, but my hand continued to swell up so much my knuckles cracked and bled. This happens to me a lot – one day I was doing some scrubbing with baking soda and vinegar, and forgot to wear kitchen gloves, same result. Aloe vera is the only thing that soothes the pain and itching, I have to rub it on constantly. It soothes on contact, but with a rash like that, you have to put it on every time the rash starts to dry out, about every half an hour.  It helps if you can stop doing anything with your hand, let it rest – oh yeah, sure! Try to live without your dominant hand – my left hand was like “What?!”

It took over a week of constantly rubbing on aloe vera to get the swelling down enough to bend my fingers. I also took aspirin, but too much aspirin has it’s own consequences! The last huge crack on my index finger is just starting to scab over. When I saw the damage the squirrel did to my pots, I started wondering what squirrel meat tastes like.

But my husband saved the day, I can enjoy the squirrels running through the trees outside my windows without worrying what they’re up to.  

Peace Out! Juanita!

 

 

 

Motherhood is a good gig!

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Here’s Old Mother Cactus and her children and grandchildren.   Those furry nodules to the upper right will hopefully bust into striking pink flowers before too long.

My succulents took a beating this past Winter, but my spiny flowering cactus seem to be happier than ever. They are reproducing so fast I can’t find pots for all their offspring, and most of them have two or more flower buds swelling with promise.

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This is a variety of aloe vera known as “Alligator” – I get it! Not only do the leaves remind me of snapping jaws but the flower spears resemble baby gators.

I’ve got sap from these alligator aloe before, they’re just not as juicy as their cousin. They are more hardy, taking to the bright open sun. I’ve been spreading these along my rock walls, in out of the way spots – they make a good ground cover, treated with the proper respect.

Speaking of the garden.

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Here’s our tomato nursery – the bigger plants are from the box store. I’ve transplanted them from their original sixpack containers and they are ready to go in the ground now. I planted the smaller ones from seeds we got from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I’ve started to put them into the sixpack containers left from the box store plants.

Last year my kids got me this cute little plastic tray with teeny tiny cups for planting seeds. It sits in another tray, and came with a lid, which I did not need.  It was supposed to be disposable, but I’m careful with it and I will  use it again next year. 

Baker Creek is a very reliable source of seeds – almost every one I planted sprouted.  Of course we love the Best Boys and Early Girls we get a Home Depot – they produce a lot, all Summer. Some of the heirloom varieties – like the beautiful Indigo Apple – produce a lot of fruit. Others produce small quantities of really good, big fruit.

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The Hungarian Heart  and the Carbon produced big, sweet, meaty tomatoes, weighing in at over a pound each. I don’t know if I got a dozen fruit between the two of them, so this year I’ve made sure to plant about a dozen seeds each, and the little plants are growing really well. 

Of course our tractor is on the fritz – we bought a used Kuboda tractor, a tiny backyard model, from a friend of ours about 10 years ago. It’s been great, but the last couple of Springs we’ve held our breath as my husband has jimmied the ignition switch. This year it won’t start, so we’re digging beds by hand and waiting to borrow our friend Wooton’s little rototiller. 

Luckily we still have about a dozen pints of tomato sauce in the freezer. Last night my younger son came home from college and we sat down to homemade pasta, meatballs, and sauce from last year’s garden. 

It’s good to be a mother. 

 

 

The cavalry arrives – with a little encouragement, flowers will push out the weeds

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Finally, the flowers are starting to outnumber the weeds in my dooryard.

Feverfew is a wonderful plant, drought tolerant, self-seeding, and very pretty with a bittersweet odor. It’s used in natural remedies for allergies, headaches and skin problems. If you cut a sprig just as the flowers are opening and put it in a big vase or jar with cold water, it makes very nice arrangements.

It’s a great weed block, and when you don’t want it anymore, it’s easy to yank out. It does start to look a little frowsy toward mid-Summer when the heat really starts to set in.  

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Lately I find echinacea is pretty good at self-seeding.

As I pulled weeds from my yard I left the feverfew and other little plants. I was really surprised to find a bunch of little echinacea plants.

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I thought echinacea were so delicious to every bug in the county – and you can see, this one’s been nibbled – that I would never have planted seeds directly in the ground.

Altogether I’ve found five little plants that sowed themselves, and I just sprinkle a little water on them as I water the trees,  and there they are. Of course the ones I have in pots are big and lush.

 

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My container echinacea are happy as hell, as long as they get water every day. I wash out my compost bucket from the dog’s dish and dump it in there. Nutrient rich!

I planted some bigger plants in the ground last year, they are nestled into the feverfew.  They are one of gopher’s favorites, I keep a sharp eye for his tunnels.

When we bought this place, we planted fruit trees. Most of them turned out well – some were duds!

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Did you know, some fruit trees are only ornamental? We didn’t realize – this pomegranate tree is only for looks, it will never bear fruit.

Oh well, the flowers look like Spanish dancers, and if I cut them as they are opening, they make incredible arrangements with the feverfew.

We got those weeds on the run!  

 

North Wind sucks the moisture out of everything – a little bit of aloe vera can bring it back!

We’ve been having the worst North wind, dry and irritating, tearing new branches and buds off shrubs and trees, and sucking the moisture out of the ground. All that rain we had – you’d never know it now.

Yesterday I noticed, it had torn several branches of new grapes off the vines, and an entire branch of pretty orange blossoms off the flowering vine my friend gave us.

And it’s blowing all that grass pollen around – eek! My neighbor threw up her hands and quit mowing her back acre – it waves at me from outside my windows. I call it, “The Pollen Nation.”

My grandma used to suffer this time of year, a Kleenex tucked into the band of her watch, her hair sticking out like a fright wig.  We kids didn’t get it – now I get it. Every time I do chores outside I feel like my brains have been sandblasted. I wander into the house feeling completely disoriented – I do exactly what my grandma did, I make a cup of steaming coffee, and I hold it under my nose.

My husband has been working on our house for sale. He found out stucco is really easy to use, so he’s been patching cracks and holes in the old siding. He and my son also went around checking for rot, removing and repairing trim and window sills that were getting crappy. That, of course, required re-painting, and when the repainted items didn’t match the rest of the trim, they went around and painted everything. I thought it would never end. While they were painting, my husband noticed the hail storms had damaged a section of shingles on the roof, so he dug the leftover shingles out of the shop and went about replacing the damaged ones.

He’s been out in the North Wind and the sun, and he’s looking pretty beat up, despite long sleeves, a hat, and plenty of sunscreen.

So we’ve both been using a lot of aloe vera. It’s been tough – my plants took a hit during a couple of prolonged cold streaks last Winter, and then a good pummeling from a couple of hail storms later in Spring.

This pot was just outside the protection of the patio cover during that last hail storm.

I kept them wrapped in the green house during the cold snaps, but the green house doesn’t get any sun in Winter, and I’m too cheap to get lights in there, so I finally moved most of them back to the front porch.  They didn’t like the rain, and the hail storms left the plants around the edge of the porch  bruised and broken. They tend to mold  when they get too wet, so I’ve had to trim them extensively. It looked like there wasn’t much left of them a month ago, but we pinch away at them anyway, looking for relief from itchy skin.

This is my “nursery” where I put the babies I’ve thinned out of the bigger pots.  See where I’ve trimmed off leaves, the remaining leaf gets big and fat and keeps growing.

Somehow they keep growing, the warming weather is good for them, they are getting new leaves.  They don’t like direct, hot sun, but they like bright indirect light. The sun moves a little farther that way every day, they seem to be responding.

I used a stick to loosen up the soaking wet dirt in the pots, and that really seemed to help.

Trimming them actually seems to help. I leave a couple of inches at the bottom of the leaf, and that seems to fatten up and keep growing.

Both my kids took plants and are glad to get them. My older son got a sunburn from painting the old house, and had trimmed his plant so extensively he had to ask me for more, but reports the trimming he gave it has made it grow bigger and fatter.  My younger son took a plant off to college, he says he and his girlfriend take leaves regularly for chapped hands and face, and the plant is flourishing. So, today I am going to take a paring knife and cut back all the wilty leaves, thin small  plants out of the bigger pots, etc.

It’s a cluttered little rag tag garden, most of the plants in old plastic  pots from various plants we’ve bought at the nursery. They seem to like plastic pots the best, they don’t do so good in terracotta.

Have you noticed how expensive the bottled sap is at the store? And plants are getting pretty expensive too – a big aloe vera will sell for $50 to $100 at the big box stores. It’s better to look for small plants at the grocery store or farmer’s market, and start your own garden. 

Organic, hand filleted, these small leaves will yield about a teaspoon of sap. I just scrape it out with the back of the knife, right into my smoothie.

Or, I rub the split leaf on my skin.  It provides immediate relief, and dries without leaving any sticky feeling. I don’t like hand lotion because it only works if you leave it on for prolonged periods, and reapply every time you wash your hands. Aloe works immediately – you can wash it off five minutes later but you still got the benefit of using it. And there’s no smell, you can eat with those hands and not taste perfume.

Looking out my window, I think that North wind has finally passed. May is looking good! 

 

 

 

Thanks to whomever left that potted agave laying along Vallombrosa!

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Pobrecito!

About a year ago I noticed something weird laying alongside Vallombrosa as my husband and I were out with the dogs, but I couldn’t get a good look at it. I kept noticing it laying there – an old potted plant, looked like it had been tossed out of a car. I know people abandon pets in Bidwell Park but I never seen an abandoned plant. I finally asked my husband to pull over so I could take a look at it.

It was an old mother agave, crammed into about an 18 inch pot, full of babies, some of which were hanging by their umbilical cord over the side of the pot. All dried out and mummified looking.

I always wanted an agave, but they intimidate me a little. See those needles? My grandpa showed me one once – you can take that needle at the tip of the leaf and pull it down along the leaf – for geeshy sakes be careful! – and you will  have a needle and thread suitable for stitching soft leather.

The spines along the edge of the leaf will cut you like a saw.

I would call this plant, “Mother-in-law’s tongue,” but I think there’s already a plant with that nickname.  My mom and my mother-in-law both had tongues that could cut you.

So you know I wanted one real bad. Finder’s keepers, right? It had been sitting there for  weeks that I knew of, everybody had their whack. So, I took a holt on that pot, and I tugged, and my husband found himself a holt and he tugged, but that thing was so heavy there was no way we would get it in the truck.

We had to come back with a shovel.  So the next day while doing landscaping work at our various rentals, we went over to see if the pot was still there – as if!  There she was, laying on her side where we’d left her.  I went at the pot with my hand snippers – good luck! The baby plants hanging over the side of the pot had tough roots attaching them, I had to hack them off with the blade of my shovel. The big plant was really stuck in there, the roots were so impacted, it was like breaking a lump of cement. By and by I whacked loose two medium size plants, including the once pictured above, and I felt that sense of accomplishment, plus, I was afraid I was pushing my luck with  those needles.

We left the pot laying alongside the road. Within a couple of  weeks it disappeared – good for whoever took it, I had my chance. I hate to see a nice thing go to waste.

It took me a while to decide where to plant them, in the meantime, I laid them in an empty planter pot and dumped some dirt over the roots. There they sat for weeks while I tried to make a decision. These pig stickers get very big. There’s one across the road from the new records building in O-ville that’s as big as the family van parked next to it.

They multiply by little shoots like crabgrass, can you imagine a thing like this that grows like crabgrass?

So, we must be careful where we place things. I put the first one in my cactus patch, and  I’m already wondering if it’s too crowded.

I put the tiny babies in one pot – now they are busting to get out!

The last plant sat with very little dirt in a medium size pot, I kept meaning to plant it, but it ended up sitting there all through Winter. I couldn’t ignore something that wanted to live so bad.

We have a big yard in front of our tenant’s house, she never even uses it, telling me how nice it is to have so much space between her house and the street. We’ve left a big lawn in the middle, right in the bright sun, where past tenants have put a volley ball net, a picnic table, and one of those climbing things with the net, but our current tenant placed her table on the patio so she could sit back and watch the butterflies fluttering over the flowers.

When we bought this house there was a well-established butterfly  garden, with big yucca plants, flowering artichokes, and these neat little plants my grandma called “Devil’s Poker” for their scissor leaves and their spear shaped red flowers.   I  figured the agave would fit right in. Weatherman said rain this weekend, perfect time to transplant, so I loaded the bigger plant into my wheelbarrow and lugged it up front. I picked a spot where there were a lot of annoying little weeds growing.

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Wow, looks happier already!

We’ll see how it looks after this storm!