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!

 

 

 

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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.

https://worldofjuanita.com/2016/07/17/think-i-can-fill-my-empty-nest-with-tomatoes/

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!

 

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!