Where the bees are

I found some working girls in my yard this morning.

These days of downpour have brought good and bad  – flowers and weeds. And bees, humming busily, too busy to bother with us puny humans. 

They like blue flowers.

If you want bees, plant Rosemary, they love this stuff. She was moving so fast I could hardly get her in the shot.

As I pulled sticker grass around our fruit trees I found lots of surprises.

In a shaggy stand of oat grass I came across this Tiger Swallowtail.

He, or She, did not seem to mind being photographed.

 

And the good news is, Apple-ooza!

Oooo,  think of all the apple juice!

Those red bud trees Whipple gave us have spread PINK! around the yard.

I put some of these tiny blossoms on my printer and covered them with a sheet of blue construction paper and made some ginchee note paper.

And here comes the valerian, more PINK!

Pink broccoli.

The hyacinth flowers along the driveway add the complimentary blue.

Dainty little fairy bells, they push their way through the gravel every year.

I wonder what the April showers have in store for us!

 

 

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!

 

Camellia Time, Weed Time, Mosquito Time

Camellia time.

This is one of my favorite varieties because it cuts well and keeps a few days in a vase.

This past Winter was colder and wetter than the last five or so years of drought, and I notice a lot of stuff is blooming in my yard that has not bloomed for a long time. An old camellia bush that rests against the southern wall of one of my rentals really came out this year, covered with these perfect red “Winter roses.” I cut them whenever I get the chance – if you catch a bud at the right time, it will open in a glass of water.

I guess you noticed that over the course of the last storms the weeds been growing like crazy. I been trying to catch up with my  weed burner.

I let that patch get too lush.

I let that patch get too lush.

The torch takes out the little weeds – literally vaporizes ’em.  But once the grass gets a few inches long, it gets harder to burn, uses more propane.  So, I try to get out there whenever the rain lets up for a couple of days, spend a half hour or 45 minutes cleaning the gravel pathways before the sticker weeds get any thicker. I leave the mullein flowers – they’re hard to burn, and they do get quite spectacular over the course of Summer.

The other thing we can expect this year is a horde of blood sucking mosquitoes. My husband and I bat them off every evening as we sit on the porch to watch the sunset. They are big and furry this year, and seem very aggressive, but maybe that’s just my paranoid imagination. They don’t just breed in puddles, they like leaf piles and other composty places, so it’s time to clean up the yard, turn stuff over, get rid of those stands of weeds.

We noticed yesterday evening that they congregate around the patio ceiling and the edge of the roof, so today my husband will have to get up on a ladder and blow out the rain gutters with his leaf blower. 

Of course we’ve got our dogs on heart worm medicine – we get a good deal from Mike Seely, Butte County Mobile Vet.  He’s in the big motor home behind the Forest Ranch Store most Thursday afternoons, and up in Yankee Hill on Wednesday afternoons at the Hardware Store.  He’s available the rest of the week by appointment, but if you catch him at Forest Ranch or Yankee Hill it’s cheaper. 

So many things to remember, coming out of the fog of Winter.  Our orchard  is blooming, and the old soda bottles I collected to make bug traps are hanging ready in the greenhouse. By the time the fruit is as big as the end of my pinky-finger, I will have them full of molasses, vinegar and ammonia and strung across the trees.

I think this past cold Winter will produce a bumper crop of peaches this year, and I want as many as I can get.  I’ll have to thin them – last year that was hard, there weren’t very many, but we had to make sure those we got were not too crowded, so sacrificed quite a few. It worked – the peaches we got were spectacular, I just took the last bag of frozen halves out the other day.

Opening that zip lock bag, the smell  of peaches was all over the kitchen.

Things are popping up around here.

Rack of lamb as good as it sounds

Irises and bay flowers have appeared over the course of the last storms.

Irises and bay flowers have appeared over the course of the last storms.

Our bay trees are sparkling with little white flowers, something I try to watch for every year as it happens fast and is over. But I’ve been enjoying the purple iris flowers for a couple of months now, they just couldn’t wait for Spring.

Which is, as you know, right around the corner.  

Winter has been sitting on us hard these days. The Sun has gone off somewhere, lah-tee-dah!  We’ve been trying not to sit inside too much, going out whenever the dumping lets up. We’ve spent the last week or so cleaning up dead stuff around the yard, whacking into an old grape vine that was  smothering some trees, tearing out last year’s garden, etc. My husband tears the fence off the garden every year and tries to move it out a few feet when he puts it back again.  

They say old people like us should try new stuff, which is good in Winter, keeps us alert. A friend of ours orders all his organic chicken online, and a few months ago, the company sent him the wrong order – along with the usual chicken, they found lobster tails, a whole rabbit, and a rack of lamb. When he contacted the company about the mix-up, they not only apologized, they told him to keep the stuff he’d received at no charge,  and they’d have his own order shipped out immediately. 

He had no problem with the lobster – chicken of the sea – but had no idea what to do with the whole rabbit or the rack of lamb. So he gave them to us. We did the rabbit a while back.

https://worldofjuanita.com/2016/11/02/try-something-new-grilled-rabbit-does-not-taste-like-chicken/

That was delicious, but we were kind of timid about the rack of lamb. I kept reminding my husband it was wasting away in the freezer. Finally he sat down with his favorite recipe book – Google – and figured it out.

It was not as easy as the rabbit. Check this out:

 

There’s quite a bit of fat to be trimmed. We were a little intimidated, worried  that there would be no meat left on our little rack, but my husband took out his filet knife and went for it. 

Cooking was quick by comparison – less than 45 minutes all total. It had to be browned in a skillet first, and I steamed the potatoes and carrots for about 10 minutes before we tucked the whole thing into a pan and covered the meat with a mix of horseradish, diced onions and garlic.  

Here’s what we pulled out of the oven.

Rack of lamb, wow, it tasted as good as it looks.

Rack of lamb, wow, it tasted as good as it looks.

I’m sorry I didn’t get more pictures. When it was done my husband  divided it up into the most beautiful tiny rib steaks you have ever seen, and I tell you what, we ate almost the whole thing in a sitting. Get it while it’s hot.

I had expected it to taste “gamey,” but no, it had a very delicate taste, like a good prime rib.  We’ll finish the rest for lunch today, and feel lucky to have got it. I would eat it again if I got a good deal on it. 

It’s blumen time!

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Looks like a good year for daffodils.

If flowers are any indication, 2017 is getting off to a good  start. 

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These tiny hyacinth are pushing up rocks to get out of the ground. 

Cleaning up storm damage around my house, I couldn’t help but notice, things are growing, fast. The bleak landscape is changing before my eyes. 

It’s a busy time for Mother Earth, so we’ve been busy too.

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I think this is a cork oak, we’ll see.

My husband planted one of the little oak trees that Whipple gave us in pots last year, here’s to a long and profitable life.

 

Want to do something big that will influence the future? Plant trees.

I keep a “day book”. Maybe that makes me a control freak,  but I like to plan my life a few days ahead, even a few weeks, write down important stuff I need to do, check it off when it’s done. Gives me a sense of productivity. Knowing I can’t stop time, I would at least like to have a proper accounting of how time was spent.

Sometimes, you know – best plans of mice and moms often go awry. Sometimes I don’t accomplish ANYTHING on my dam-ned “to do” list. So, at the end of the day, I think back, write down what I did, check it off. 

Sometimes I run a line through an item – “I changed my mind, screw that…”  I guess a “to do” list does give me some sense of control over my life. 

Something I started doing a year or so ago, during The Drought (ha ha, remember The Drought?) is keep a rain diary. We had started to lose trees because we weren’t accustomed to having to water in Winter. At first it was young fruit  trees, two cherries we’d just planted a  couple of years previous. Our older cherry died. Our peach trees started looking down in the mouth.

Then we noticed bigger trees around the property were in trouble.  By the end of last Winter, our 80 year old deodor cedar was dead, and our 35 year old Doug Fir was on it’s last legs. We know how old they were because we counted the rings after PG&E came in a took them down this past Fall.

I read an article that said big trees needed to be “irrigated” every two weeks during Winter drought – in other words, if it hasn’t rained for two weeks, it’s time to set up the sprinkler. Last year I recorded rainy days in my rain diary, and whenever it didn’t rain for two weeks I went around the yard dragging hoses and sprinklers. It was too late for those two old trees, both of which had other problems – too close to roads, too close to power lines, butchered many times by PG&E crews. But we have younger trees, I was anxious to make sure they didn’t follow.

I also read my native oaks don’t need any help, in fact, they suffer from over watering. When we bought this place we planted evergreens – the neighbor had planted a bunch of redwoods on his property, and they were doing great! We have a flag lot, with three neighbors’ driveway running right along our yard, so we planted a row of redwoods on that side of our yard to keep the dust down to a dull roar.

Our other neighbor’s redwoods were about 25 years old, and doing very well, when suddenly two Summers ago, the trio standing next to our house turned brown, like in weeks. He hadn’t set them up on water, and the new owner wasn’t watering that part of the yard at all.  Those trees turned brown even faster than our trees, and they were standing right alongside our house. We were glad to come home from a weekend trip and see the neighbor had removed them, but it sure changed the dynamics of their yard. Suddenly they had a big, brown dead patch that turned to dust in Summer and mud in Winter. We started looking around our yard with a new panic.

The tops of our redwoods were turning brown. We started watering on the two week schedule, wishing and hoping for more Winter rain, but you know – it didn’t come. 

Realizing we were probably going to lose more evergreens around the yard, we started looking for native trees to plant in their place. In stepped our friend Whipple.

Whip-whip-whip! That’s what I call him, cause like a little bird, he appears out of nowhere.

Everything Whipple plants grows. He had been potting little trees that were coming up in inconvenient parts of the yard, and brought us a set of red buds, with a crepe myrtle he had propagated as an experiment. One of the red buds had been in it’s little pot so long a foot long root hung from the bottom. 

I always fuss over where to plant stuff. My husband gave me a general idea of where he’d like to see them, but it was a really hot spot, I wasn’t sure. He assured me that we’d water them and water them and eventually they’d grow big enough to turn that hot spot into a shady spot. Sheesh, he’s good at talking me into stuff.

It wasn’t a good spot for sprinklers, too far from a spigot. You know what you get with sprinklers anyway? Weeds. So, when I have little plants to take care of, I fill my watering can and walk around, parceling out the water, being careful not to wash away the roots.

My good friend and constant companion, Arthur Itis, walks along with me, cursing to beat the band.

So I watered my little trees all Summer. I planted little herbs like feverfew and selvia to hold the ground. I started to put down chips but I ran out of funding. Every now and then I would forget, or we’d take a trip somewhere, and pay back would be instantaneous – the tops of my  little red buds would burn, leaves would fall off, and I’d curse myself for being a slacker.

Now they sit leafless in the mud. But, I’ve taken a good look – there are buds on the naked little branches, fat with life. 

The dead looking sticks are the red bud tree, the green stuff is feverfew. If you look really close you can see little reddish buds along the stems of the tree.

The dead looking sticks are the red bud tree, the green stuff is feverfew. If you look really close you can see little reddish buds along the stems of the tree.

Oh yeah – the crepe myrtle looks dead, but you know, crepe myrtles always look dead this time of year. It’ll come back. 

This crepe myrtle looked dead in the pot when we got it, but came right back to life as soon as I planted it. It grew about  three times it's original size and got pink flowers all over it.

This crepe myrtle looked dead in the pot when we got it, but came right back to life as soon as I planted it. It grew about three times it’s original size and got pink flowers all over it.

So Whipple, seeing we’d made good, brought us a set of oak trees – two blue oaks, two cork oaks, and a valley oak. They’re still sitting in the pots. The good news is, my rain diary is starting to fill up, looks like a good year for baby trees. 

This is one of the cork oaks.

This is one of the cork oaks.

I’ll keep you posted on the oaks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life is full of surprises

My husband wandered into the garden with a cup of coffee this morning and came back with a cup of tomatoes.

My husband wandered into the garden with a cup of coffee this morning and came back with a cup of tomatoes.

Just when we had stopped looking, the garden provided us with a sweet surprise.  These little maters will be delicious in a salad or on some tacos this week. 

It’s good to take a stroll out about 6:50 am, the sky puts on an incredible color and light exhibition. I can’t really catch that with my digi-cam, it moves so fast – like a river of melted crayons. 

The sun comes up quickly in the morning, moving across the sky and starting to sink by early afternoon. I feel the days getting shorter – it’s like a friend is getting ready to go on a long trip.  By 6 o’clock I’ve lit my candles around the camp stove, my husband has lit the bbq, and we sit watching the flames. The dogs draw so close up to the stove I have to constantly pull one tail or another out of the ashes.

When it’s raining and we’re stuck in the apartment, I really miss that stove. I try to cook more, get the house warmed up and get food.  Sometimes I make a good meal, other times I give in to whimsy. 

My sister had a boyfriend named Roy who worked at a restaurant called Ricky’s Rib Cage.  It was  very popular, not just for Ricky’s ribs, but for Roy’s sweet potato pie. One night we had dinner at their house and Roy made the pie – I never forgot it.  It wasn’t the standard sweet potato pie, which is really  a pumpkin pie filled with sweet potato. No, it was different – more of a cake in a pie pan.  

Roy was pretty tight with his recipes,  being in the restaurant business, so my sister waited until he left the room to hiss the secret into my ear – “number 7 yellow cake mix and a can of 7-Up…” That was all she had time to tell me because Roy came back into the room. Boy did he look suspicious. I never told, and I never figured  out how to make the pie either. I was afraid to ask Roy for help cause he’d know my  sister gave him up.

They broke up over a dog – Roy’s rottweiler turned on him one day and let him know he was not allowed in my sister’s house anymore.  A sad ending to a gourmet relationship, but I have to admit – my sister was getting way too fat living with that guy.

30 years later, I was still thinking about that damned pie, but until recently, I just didn’t have the confidence to try it. This Thanksgiving something came over me and I picked up an average size sweet potato, a box of yellow cake mix (they don’t number them anymore) and a bottle of 7-Up –

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Hecho en Mexico?

my husband convinced me that can  or bottle wouldn’t matter, even though my sister insisted that it did. Some people are real superstitious about cooking.

The dough boy looks so coquettish.

The dough boy looks so coquettish, this just has to be fun!

So, I just guessed – prepare the cake as instructed on the box,  then add the pureed sweet potato and 7-Up.  See what happens. Holidays  are good for experiments, there’s always the store if you screw up.

Ever cook a sweet potato? Takes for-ev-er.  I thought steaming would be quicker, so I cut it into pieces and put it in the pot. It took almost an hour, and I kept having to add water to the steam pan, but I got it.

Sweet potato is really good, very mild taste, creamy texture. I almost feel guilt for what I'm about to do to it.

Sweet potato is really good, very mild taste, creamy texture. I almost feel guilt for what I’m about to do to it.

Mash the crap out of it, then mash it some more.

Mash the crap out of it, then mash it some more.

And then dump it into a bowl of yellow cake batter. I’m sorry – probably a great way to hand diabetes down through the family! Be sure to add that bottle of 7-Up nice and easy – it’s like NITRO! 

I couldn’t get pictures, too much action, only so many hands.

Then you put it in a pie pan and bake it according to the cake mix instructions - 350 for about 40 minutes.

Then you put it in a pie pan and bake it according to the cake mix instructions – 350 for about 40 minutes.

Something that didn’t occur to me is a batch of yellow cake mix is a two-layer cake, or 24 cupcakes, and that translated into two sweet potato pies. Luckily it was very good, and my husband and  I sat down immediately to eat a quarter of a pie each. We work hard, we get hungry. A friend who stopped by polished off another quarter and took a slice for his bgf.  I told him he should just staple it to her ass, cause that’s where it was going to end up. He said he liked a little sweet potato pie on his woman’s bones!

Who cares, I’m old, if I want to eat stuff like this, I will do it. But yeah, not every day, that’s for sure. Don’t forget the whip cream. 

Thanks Roy-Boy, wherever you are.