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!”

 

 

 

Have you got the Winter Blues? Go outside!

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I know, it’s been Winter for less than a month, but Spring is already trying to get her foot in the door.

Out walking my dogs in the fog this morning, I noticed those frilly daffodils are busting up along my driveway, this bunch already has buds on it.  There are more bunches spreading down the driveway into my tenant’s yard – gophers? How do they do that?

The sprouts push right up through the gravel base in my driveway, it’s amazing.

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See how hyacinth pushes the rocks aside to get to the sun.

Last year I didn’t get many daffodils, and only one bloom.  The hyacinth didn’t bloom at all.  Every Winter is different, so every Spring is different. Last year we had generous rains, with some cold hail storms, but not many Spring flowers. This year has been fairly dry  and sunny, and the recent rains have been warm. Go figure.

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I think that purple bud at center is an early bloom.

One of the red bud trees already has tiny clusters of flower buds.

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See the tiny buds a little above-right of center – they will burst into the prettiest pink bunches. Red bud trees are native to this area, and once mature, need very little water.

The grass I planted is full of weeds.

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This is how sticker weeds take over – they lift up and spread out and kill the grass. Some of these weeds can grow to the size of a dinner plate, and every sticker they produce is full of more seeds.

But if you mow at the right time, you can kill most of them. I’ll throw down the rest of the grass seed I bought, and with regular mowing and watering  I can get a nice lawn going here again. I don’t need a perfectly manicured lawn, but I hope I can keep it from going to stickers again. 

This has been an odd year – Hummer has been here almost all Winter, leaving only during the stormy weather. He isn’t completely dependent on flowers – I’ve watched him swishing around, doing his little bug-eating dance all day.  But, he’s really happy about the rosemary blooming – I sat and watched him for a while yesterday, sitting at the top of our crepe myrtle tree, singing away, then diving pell-mell into the rosemary bush.

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Sorry it’s blurry.  This is what everything looks like to me when I can’t find  my glasses.

These tiny purple flowers must be packed with nectar, Hummer spends his days guarding over and eating from this bush. He gets real testy about the rosemary – he’ll buzz you if you stand there too long. Biscuit likes to crawl inside this bush and scratch herself all over – the bush shakes.   Hummer has just had to learn to get along with her.

I’ll tell you what’s nice – I like to break off a bundle of these rosemary branches and burn them in my camp stove – the smell is outrageous.

Winter doesn’t always have to give you The Blues!

 

 

 

 

Mulch really helps

 

A couple of  months ago my husband and I were driving along a mountain road looking for a good spot to walk our dogs, when we came across a pile of wood chips laying at a clear cut. This section of woods was cut a couple of years ago, we had heard the screaming of the machines and seen the dirt plume from our shack.

We’d watched the trucks take out the logs, and then we saw the chips trucks come and go. This pile was left behind, was well weathered and washed by rain, and lays right in the public right-of-way along a county road. So we’ve been taking the F-150 up there once a week or so and helping ourselves.

Chips have become expensive since that drought – remember the drought? – made “zeroscaping” the In Thing.  I’ve been using leaves from our yard to mulch my medium size trees when they looked as though they were dying, and it really helped. But leaves are messy, I don’t like piling them too close to the front door. I’ve been looking for a cheap deal on bark or chips for my little dooryard “shade garden.”

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I killed this section of lawn with black plastic a few years ago and  planted red bud and crepe myrtle trees and some flowers in it’s place. This is the hottest part of my yard, and it took daily watering to keep this patch through one of the hottest summers in my memory.

That picture was taken earlier this summer. The feverfew flowers got frowsy and I’ve whacked them back, and I’ve started to fill in between the trees with chips. I’ve already noticed – I don’t have to water the patch every day anymore.

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Hummer’s favorite color.   As I was taking pictures he buzzed me a couple of times.

The blue sage has begun to bloom like crazy, and new echinacea plants have volunteered and bloomed.  Everything is greener and the whole patch is looking lush.

Unfortunately the crab grass has moved in on the garden, looking for water, and I have to dig it out before I put down any more chips. I knew I should have torched it good during the heat, but it seems like this wind has been dogging me for a month now. I’ll get it when the weather changes.

I believe this patch of trees will change the climate in my front yard, I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

It’s the little things, really, that make life good

I am so tired. My husband and I finally decided to gravel a problem area in our tenant’s side yard. I’ve complained about it – so hot nothing will grow but sticker weeds, I have to clean it every Spring, and I usually lose a pair of gloves and sometimes a good pair of socks to the stickers.

So earlier this Summer I took a big piece of black sheet plastic left over from a construction job we did, and I folded it into four layers, and I stretched it over the spot, about 6 x 10 feet. Just hauling the plastic up there in my wheelbarrow was a job – I always think of that milk commercial, where the old man picks up the handles of his wheelbarrow and his arms fall off.

Nothing kills a piece of ground to the dirt like a few layers of black plastic left in the sun, oh yeah! But last week when we were up there sweeping the house, we noticed the sun was starting to eat the plastic, it was breaking into little pieces, which we realized would soon be floating all over the yard.

We looked into gravel at various places – cheapest deal was Focal Point, which has two yards in South Chico. The first location is at the intersection 20th and Fair, and the other yard is just down Fair near the Work Training Center. 

You know, right out by the FAIR grounds…

A yard of road base is about $22. We had to make two trips, cause we can only haul half a yard in the old F-150. But it was well worth it – we had a tiny bit left over to fix a muddy spot in the driveway where I almost fall on my ass every Winter. 

Sheesh – $22! All those years I put up with those weeds! At least 10 pair of socks and gloves! 

Isn’t it just the littlest, dumbest things to make an old woman happy. I got new shoes too – I always wait for the same pair of “Itasca” to go on sale at Big 5 – $17.50! It’s like getting a new pair of feet – the old ones were worn down to the nub, I could feel every piece of that road base coming right up through the soles! 

Oh yeah, life is good, for today – we’ll see what she throws at us tomorrow!

 

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!

 

 

 

July 28, and we’ve just got our first tomato

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At this point we’ll take anything.

As I told you previously, the only red tomatoes we’ve seen in the garden this year have had blossom rot. My husband applied some calcium to the soil and we’ve been waiting and watching.  This one grew out of the rot, pretty much, so we brought it in and cut it. The end was rotten, but most of the mater was still good!

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When I opened the container this morning, it smelled like SUMMER!

We cut off a thick slice and diced it over our salad. Today I will have a tomato sandwich. I wish I could say I had my own bread to eat it on, but it’s been too hot to take Bob out of the bucket, we’ve been subsisting on Alvarado Bread.

This weekend I am enjoying a “Staycation”.   I have finally got my husband to take some time and just sit around and enjoy.  We set up our tiny Intex pool on the patio, and put our old tv on the patio table, the antenna strung up on the umbrella.  

I can mix work with relaxation. This morning I watched “King of the Hill” while I mowed the lawn, when my eyebrows were heavy with sweat, I jumped in the pool! 

The other day they played the episode in which Mega lo Mart moves to town and forces Strickland Propane, where Hank works, out of business. Hank has  to go to work at Mega lo Mart. One day he’s trying to tell his co-worker, Buckley, to be more careful with the propane cans, when Buckley drops a can and blows up the entire store. Hank escapes but his niece Luann’s longtime annoying boyfriend Buckley is killed. 

At the funeral, Hank’s neighbor Kahn tells about his strange friendship with Buckley, explaining that Buckley taught him to “live in the moment” – a nice way of saying Buckley was completely careless and irresponsible, without any consideration for the future or those around him. 

Kahn tells a story to illustrate – a story about a man who is hunting a tiger, when the tiger charges and knocks him off a cliff. As he grasps at a root, pondering his fate, the hunter notices a strawberry growing along the cliff’s edge. Instead of being hysterical, he reaches up and picks the strawberry, eats it, and declares, as he falls to his death, that it was the best strawberry he’d ever eaten. 

So, whenever I see a strawberry, I pick it and eat it.