Simple pleasures of gardening – try some succulents and cactus!

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

thumbnail_20180601_144510

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.

thumbnail_20180605_130352

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.

thumbnail_20180605_130305

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!

thumbnail_20180606_061358

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.

thumbnail_20180606_061333

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. 

 

 

Advertisements

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!”

 

 

 

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

DSC00235

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!

DSC00006

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another crazy Summer in NorCal – no tomatoes yet?!

Back in July, as we were watching the blossoms on our tomatoes dry up and fall off, I read this post from Pobept:

https://survivalfarm.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/summer-weather-pattern-settling-in-for-a-long-hot-dry-period/

“Tomato’s and Peppers stop pollinating and blooms drop occur when:
Daytime temperatures greater than 32° C (90° ) Pollen sterility occurs, flowers may drop.
35° C (95° F) Much reduced fruit set .
Night time temperatures less than 15.5° C (60° F) or greater than 24° C (75° F) will result in poor fruit set.”

Well, crap! Our daytime temps have been well over 95 for months now, with night time temperatures in the high 60’s, even 70’s.

We’ve seen some fruit on our tomato vines, but it’s just sitting there.

DSC00247

This will be a nice tomato…some day…

Beautiful green round tomatoes. The only ones that started to ripen turned out to have blossom rot.

But, we have been getting my favorite beans, the asparagus and long red beans. We get enough of those for dinner about every other night.

DSC00268

These asparagus beans will be ready tomorrow.

I have to look hard, they like to hide in the Johnson grass. 

DSC00270

It only takes a few of these beans to make a meal. You have to pick them regularly or they go to seed, like the bean at left. Of course we’ll save those for next Summer.

Peaches don’t do well in this weather either. They don’t get very big, they get burned, they don’t ripen evenly. And the blue jays are waiting. Every day I go out and pick a small box and leave it to ripen in the garage for a couple of days.

DSC00003

These are small but smell good.

DSC00084

Next January I will be damned glad to have them!

Today I have enough to fill a freezer bag.  They aren’t as nice as tree-ripened fruit, but it’s better than paying $2.50 a pound at the store.

 

My husband planted the usual melons, different kinds – in past we’ve done well enough to freeze a bag of mixed melon.

DSC00258

The future looks bright in the melon patch.

The last months have been tough. We spent our “discretionary” money fixing up our old rental to sell, and with no tenants to pay rent, that got pretty hairy. I worried and worried as my husband and son scraped paint and replaced rotten wood, replaced old fixtures, spent a couple thousand bucks just doing required testing and repairs. Luckily the buyer was anxious and willing, and very cooperative, or I think my husband would still be on top of that house scraping and hammering. 

He had to replace the hail-damaged shingles himself, but it was worth the savings.

Plus, my son was going through a lot of angst over the last year, marginally employed, girlfriend marginally employed, our town turning to crap all around their heads. Even in the worst neighborhoods, housing  is incredibly expensive here, whether you buy or rent. They wanted a house with a yard – in their price range, that would mean “Chapmantown.” Poor Mr. Chapman, getting that albatross hung round his neck.

A typical example – one cute house they looked at was on the news a few nights later. The neighbor, an elderly woman, had an old motor home parked in her side yard, and couldn’t keep the transients from breaking into it at night. One night it caught fire and nearly burned her house and the house next door. The news crews talked to other neighbors – older folks, many of whom kept little trailers on their property, or had sheds in their yards, and had the same problem – constant break-ins by transients.

Chico is having horrific problems right now, so we all had to wrap our heads around the concept of them moving to another town. That was hard for me, and later I realized, it was pretty traumatic for them too. 

They found a much nicer house and cheaper expenses, but we are physically separated for the first time, another town, a good half hour away. 

So, it was nice for the boy to spend a couple of months tagging along with Dad, scraping and painting and hammering, and talking about things that go bump in the night.

So now I got my husband and my dogs and my garden, and thank goodness for texting. 

 

 

 

If you don’t like the weather…

Here we are, last day of May, and I woke at 4 am to a dumping downpour. Welcome to Northern California. Here, if you don’t like the weather, come back next week. Or leave, cause it’s not going to suit you.

A little over two weeks ago, we had flannel sheets and heavy comforters on the beds. My younger son came home from University of Reno to report there was still a snow blanket on Mt. Rose. A few days after he arrived, temps shot up to over 100 for two days, the old Kist thermometer registering 102 at one point. The air conditioners buzzed all around our house, and we wondered what kind of jump our PG&E bill would take.

This week it’s been in the low 90’s, not quite hot enough to stick more than a toe in the snow melt. It’s been uncomfortable to work in the direct sun at noon, but very nice the rest of the day, windows open most of the time.

My son drove back to Reno Sunday and spent Monday boarding Mt. Rose. He said “It didn’t suck,” which is his way of saying it was pretty good.

And now this dumper, which just started to get heavier as I’ve been typing. Haven’t I told you 100 times about that June we had a week straight of dumping rain? Our neighbor’s huge old oak tree was so overburdened with ivy and the roots so rotten, we actually watched it do a slow-motion tilt right onto our house, it took the entire week. 

Another year the temperatures were so mild and we had so many cloudy days, right into Summer, that we didn’t get our first ripe tomato until August.

Pobept had real tornadoes back in OK the other day –

https://survivalfarm.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/rain-storms-in-oklahoma/

Here we have little whips that come down from the sky to take chimneys and treetops. Now and then they “explode” an old barn, barn wood  scattering for miles.  Some years they’ve ripped out entire orchards – about 10 years ago there was so much orchard damage that  ranchers were selling downed trees for $5 each, come and cut your own firewood. Almond wood is the best, my husband and his friends brought in three big trailer loads of fuel for our wood stove.

Just a couple of years ago a Glenn County rancher lost an entire pistachio orchard! Noooooooo, not the pistachios!

We’re kinda nuts around here.  I don’t know what this “late” rain will do to the nuts, or the prunes. We like prunes around here too – although, some snobs like to call them “dried plums.” Hopefully this storm will just save the ranchers on their irrigation bill.

I know my yard is going to be very happy, I’m pretty stingy with water. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have watered Monday, but oh well.  My grapes are looking good this year, so burdened down, we had to take some wire and tie the branches up off the ground. The fruit is smaller than a pea right now, but growing fast. I’m not getting any “eating” grapes – I don’t know what’s the deal with  that old vine – but I am looking forward to plenty of juice to put in the freezer for next winter. My juice grapes have always been very generous.

Still dumping! I’m so glad my husband went out to take in our old patio chair. It’s not really an outdoor chair. It’s a “score” – we were going to the dump, and offered to take some of our neighbor’s stuff. She toted out this oak rocker – I envy this woman’s farm girl strength. It’s one of those new kind that works on tracks with a big heavy base, so you don’t squash your dog’s foot all the time. She said her “monkey boys” had it over, and it was all falling apart. My husband asked her if she’d like him to take a look at it, probably fix it. She said no, it caused too much trouble. So we headed right back down our driveway and left it.  

Later, my husband  put two screws in it, and it was good as new – except the cushion was pretty trashed. So it sat in the garage a while – it is too heavy to tote up the stairs into our apartment, where there’s very little room, anyway.  It sat in the garage, I waited until the Fall sale at Lowes and picked up a new cushion for about $9 – reverse-able! Get the hell out! New chair! We leave it in the garage during Winter and as soon as the weather dries out in Spring we put it on the front porch. We don’t fight over it as we immediately adapted to a take-turns system.

Still dumping. I’ve sat here for about 40 minutes. Thanks for keeping me company.  Things have been chaotic around my house, I’ve been so stressed out – new weight loss plan Girls! Worry! I’ve lost six pounds, and my hair line is headed due North, but I think I see a light at the end  of the tunnel. 

I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

 

 

 

Motherhood is a good gig!

DSC00016

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.

DSC00017

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.

DSC00018

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. 

 

 

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 –

dsc00174

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.