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!

 

It might be time to bring in your plants!

Oooooo - go back in the house!

Oooooo – go back in the house!

A local tv anchor complained recently that the weather had “suddenly” turned cold. That’s the kind of astute observation that marks our local journalism.  The school district can lie, cheat and steal, but the mercury drops a few degrees and it’s NEWSFLASH!

Of course I’d already wrapped my outside plants, for fear they would turn to mush.

Yard gets to looking a little dreary this time of year.

Yard gets to looking a little dreary this time of year.

Aloe vera does exceptionally well in Spring and Fall, hangs in there in Summer, but Winter can be a deal breaker.  One good freeze and the leaves all turn dark and wilt, then turn to mush and die, it’s so sad.  So I wrap them up in some old freeze cloth, and if it gets below 30, they all get toted into the garage.  I’ve had to leave them in the garage, opening the front door for daily sun, for a week at a time.

But don’t worry, the sun will come back. Just repeat after me – “la primavera esta a vuelta a la esquina” – Spring is right around the corner. As if to remind us – 

iris flowers are already opening all over my yard.

iris flowers – in my family they are called “flags” –  are already opening all over my yard.

 

In the meantime we turn to food for comfort.  Safeway had cheap whole chickens again – 99 cents a pound, that works out to about $5 to $6 for a bird.  We had to give the new smoker another run. 

A chicken in every pot - yeah, that is nice, isn't it!

A chicken in every pot – yeah, that is nice, isn’t it!

I don’t think the smoker will ever get boring. That chicken was so good we picked it to the bone, eating the last bits with crackers and cheese.

Of course, the grill has become part of our routine already. We got a “party pack” of drumsticks and thighs for $1.89 a pound, a huge pack for less than eight bucks, and ate bbq chicken  legs for two dinners and lunch.  No, it doesn’t get old – the first night we had grilled baby potatoes, and the second night we had rice – makes it a whole different meal. What was nice  about it was my husband only had to stand over the grill  one night.  We even  had left-over potatoes for breakfast.

And a person needs a hardy meal when they have a day of physical work ahead of them. Today we get rid of “Doug”.

After 15 years you get attached to a tree, even if it was doomed from the beginning.

After 15 years you get attached to a tree, even if it was doomed from the beginning.

I don’t know who planted a Douglas fir right under the power lines 30 years ago, but it was a poor decision. When we bought this place we knew Doug’s days were numbered, but he continued to flourish. So, it was a surprise when he started to turn brown last Spring. By mid-Summer, he was looking pretty dead. We realized we couldn’t take him down ourselves because of the proximity to the power lines, so we called  PG&E. They came out, in October? and took him right to the ground. He wasn’t a huge tree, it only took a few minutes, and he was gone. 

PG&E will cut down or trim a tree for free but the property owner is left to get rid of the mess. The other tree they removed, closer to our house, was a deodor cedar.  Cedar burns well in our camp stove, we’ve been cutting up the smaller branches and having nice fires in the morning and evening. We’ve stacked it next to our green house, so we can bring wood into the greenhouse to dry out. It burns great. But Doug is a real  sap – even dead and seasoned  he is a messy, dangerous burn. So today we will load most of Doug into the F-150 and take him to the city compost facility. The bigger logs will  be rolled to the edge of the property, kind of a reminder to the dog walking neighbors, where public property meets private property.

I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Time for breakfast, wait for the mercury to go up a few notches…

 

As the skies darken, keep reminding yourself – la primavera esta a la vuelta a la esquina!

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Super Moon was at my window this morning.

Last night my husband and I built a fire in our camp stove and sat out under the Super Moon for a few hours. It was an enchanting evening, the nopalitos glowing around the stove, Screech Owl calling as he and his mate feasted on  bats over our back acre.

This morning I am not too surprised to find Super Moon still brightening all the windows and setting an eerie light over the yard.  Clouds have moved in to form a Super Rainbow.

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And Super Moon sinks into the Western sky.

Whipple gave me some celery starts – a  couple of his celery plants had gone to seed and he dutifully dug the little plants up and set them in an old container. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about a winter garden – I’d rather wait out the drought. Last Winter I had to water everything, and I still lost plants, so you know, I hate to make the emotional investment.  But these little celery plants were so vibrant in that old pot, they would wilt every now and then, but a splash  of water would bring them back singing, so I finally set them out in my lined wooden boxes a couple of weeks ago. They just wanted to live so bad.   And yeah, I like celery  – it’s a “Super Food”, full of vitamins and minerals, complex carbohydrates that don’t irritate my system, and it’s the King of Fiber.

These little celery plants look so delicate but are actually pretty tough.

These little celery plants look so delicate but are actually pretty tough.

You know that old saying – “the best laid plans of mice and moms…” I set my little plants out and I watered them and they seemed to be taking off well.  Within a week the blue jays moved in to cause trouble – they just love that soft dirt to hide their nuts, those little bastards.  I went out one morning to find they’d dug holes all over my celery bed.  They didn’t seem to have upset any of the plants, just scooted the dirt around, so I raked it out again and put some water on it. They did it again, and I fixed it again, and the plants are actually growing.

When I was cleaning the beds I found some garlic from last year that had sprouted into new cloves, so I separated those and planted them in neat rows in the other half of the garden box.

If I can get the jays to leave these alone, I should get some Super Foods.dfs

If I can get the jays to leave these alone, I should get some Super Foods.

I don’t like to put a lot of effort into Winter gardening, and garlic is one of those things that doesn’t take much  effort, just a clean bed and regular watering.  The biggest trick is keeping the crab grass from getting it.

I know – celery and garlic are two of  the cheapest vegetables at the store. It’s just this compulsion I have to garden, just for that confidence you get when you grow your own food.

Another plant I’ve learned to grow is aloe vera – I started with a couple of pots and now I have so many I can’t find room for all of them. Some of them are suffering

This aloe pot had become so crowded the plants were withering.

This aloe pot had become so crowded the plants were withering.

while others are growing big, fat leaves, which I pick every morning to get sap for my smoothie. I also rub the sap on my skin, and my psoriasis and eczema are on the run.

The other day I was cleaning an empty rental, and I stuck my hand  way back in an old cabinet to wash it out. Suddenly I felt something ripping my fingers – my index and middle finger were slashed and bloody. It was a staple that had worked it’s way out of the wood, and it was sharp as heck. My husband reached in and fixed it, saying, “Don’t worry, those things are coated with zinc, that’s a clean wound.”  I trust my husband on these matters, he’s had a million injuries like this, but it still hurt like the dickens. My fingers swelled up,  throbbed all night, and the next day, I  couldn’t do anything with that hand, it drove me nuts. But all day, I smeared aloe vera on it, the miracle cure – by the next day the middle finger was healing. The index finger has taken a little bit longer, but today it feels good again.

So I hoard my little army of aloe vera pots, giving one away once in a while to a true believer.  I planted some in one of my box beds to see how they grow outside – I saw a picture of an aloe vera farm in Mexico,  and I figured, what the heck. I’ll  have to cover them from frost, they will probably not survive a real freeze, but let’s see what happens.

They look a little sad now, but I think it's just the shock of transplanting. There's already new growth.

They look a little sad now, but I think it’s just the shock of transplanting. There’s already new growth.

Gardening gives a person Hope. Hope is essential to a person’s mental health. As Winter darkens the skies, we all fight with SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is natural to want to slow down when it’s cold and dark,  but our modern lifestyles are contrary to Nature, so we have this conflict. It’s good to stay positive, have activities that help you look forward, don’t spend too much time dwelling over bad things – like Election 2016! Time to look forward, not backward. Get a project that will actually amount to something without draining too much of your energy.

And remember, always, la primavera esta a la vuelta a la esquina…Spring is right around the corner!

Fragile visitors adorn my patio for a day

Like aliens visiting from another planet, these cactus flowers will stay only one day.

Like aliens visiting from another planet, these cactus flowers will stay only one day.

Years ago a woman gave me a baby cactus from an old overgrown mother plant – a tiny ball of spines, I never imagined what would come of it. Today I have them in pots all around my patio, they reproduce like crazy, piling one on top of the other like a mound of sticker balls.

Every Spring, they produce furry little nodules. That seems to be the announcement of many babies, popping out of the older plants like warts. These can be pulled away when they have separated enough and put into their own pot. I use a pair of cooking tongs.

Sometimes the furry nodules will sprout a weird, snake-like bud, like an asparagus shoot. These are the flowers. They grow very quickly, over a couple of days, the tip swelling and turning an elegant pink.  One night, after the sun is good and gone, they open up into the most gorgeous, fragile, almost too-beautiful-to-be-real flowers.

They remind me of Cinderella at the ball, the petals made out of some elegant fairy stuff.  The sparkling golden anther are the jewels in a tiny tiara.

So elegant, like a fairy ballgown.

So elegant, like a fairy ballgown.

How ironic that something so fragile can rear itself up out of the ugly, twisted mass of thorny cactus.