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!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last little splash of Spring has brought on the weeds

This wet weather has been good for transplanting. Good for weeds too! Our back lot is fat with all the sticker grasses. Doc already found a sticker in Biscuit’s ear, and Badges barfed one up the other day with some of his lunch. My husband mows and mows – he joins the neighborhood symphony every weekend – but the foxtails and twirly stickers and barrel clover and star thistle just come back. Lately I been keeping the dogs closer to the house, where I’ve been able to keep the landscape a little more friendly.

I’m still moving my black plastic around, and I’m pretty happy with the results. Dead dirt isn’t as bad as I expected – I worried it would become a mud pit, and then dry up and send torrents of dust through my front door. So far that has not been a problem. The dead dirt is so hard, it just sits there.

I'll have to come back with the torch to get the weeds that came up along the edges.

I’ll have to come back with the torch to get the weeds that came up in the gravel, but the dirt stays clean with a hula ho. I’ll move this black tarp to another section of troublesome sticker weeds.

We planted a little grove of redbuds and a crepe myrtle that Whipple gave us, and they’re doing really well. Trying to fill in some space to keep out weeds, I added some blue sage and echinacea. The feverfew came up by itself. 

These have come along a lot with those nice rains. The echinacea is planted in submerged plastic pots to keep Mr. Gopher from eating it all up.

These echinacea and blue sage have come along a lot with those nice rains. The echinacea are planted in submerged plastic pots to keep Mr. Gopher from eating it all up.

 

Fever few is a neat little ground cover that has seeded itself around my property eversince the previous residents brought it into their garden.

Fever few is a neat little ground cover that has seeded itself around my property ever since the previous residents brought it into their garden.

 

I weed my a lot of my yards by hand because a lot of the volunteers are nice, I don’t want to mow them away. We got nice poppies this year, and a lot of stephanomeria with outrageous purple flowers.  But it takes a lot of hand pulling to maintain those little oases of color – my constant and close companion, Arthur Itis, says we should just mow the whole mess, we argue about it all the way around the yard.

When I pulled the plastic off my zeroscape areas, I started to get a lot of feverfew, a neat little herb that heads up into dainty white daisy flowers with bright yellow centers. They are wonderfully non-offensive little groundcover – the flowers are actually used for naturopathic medicines, a common remedy for headache and pollen related problems. Over the years I’ve managed to get a good patch going in my tenant’s front yard, they finally seem to be getting a leg up on the weeds, and my husband has a lot less mowing there.

I’ve enjoyed these Springy showers the last few days, I got a barrel full of  rain water.

Full to over flowing.

Full to over flowing.

And my husband and I enjoyed a nice pot of chicken soup.

Soup and salad.

Soup and salad.

It’s hard to believe – within a week or so, we’ll be enduring 90 + temperatures.   I got a note from Summer the other day, and she said she’s going to turn it up good. 

I’m ready!

 

Changing your environment for the better – creating shade

 

 

Crabgrass find it's way - through overlapping layers of heavy cardboard and six inches of shredded bark.

Crabgrass find it’s way – through overlapping layers of heavy cardboard and six inches of shredded bark.  The little oak seedlings are courtesy of our happy blue jay family. 

Do blue jays ever remember where they hid their nuts? I’ve watched them many times, they have the funniest little ritual in caching their plunder. First they peck out a hole in the ground, then carefully lay in their nut or acorn or whatever. They pat it over with dirt and debris – and then here’s the funny part – I’ve watched them search around, you know, for just that thing they want, a little piece of leaf or a bit of bark, and then put it on top of that buried treasure.  Then they turn their beak sideways and give it a quick pat pat before they take off.

Want to have some fun? As Jay is making his last arrangements over his little nut, say loudly, “What are you hiding?” Jay will  look at you funny, a panic expression on his pointy little face, and dig that nut up and fly away with it.  

I wonder how often I find a little tree growing in that spot a year or so later. With their hilariously bad memory for retrieving their stash, it’s a wonder more blue jays don’t starve to death. 

I’ve been moving around my yard in the early morning and late evening, when the sun is past, cleaning up the last stands of weeds before it really starts getting hot outside. I pulled aside some of the black plastic I’d laid down to kill a big patch of weeds, and now I’m wondering, what to do with it?

It doesn't get much deader than that.

It doesn’t get much deader than that.

This is the brightest, hottest part of the yard. It’s amazing how happily weeds took over this area when I stopped watering it a couple of years ago, and just as amazing how quickly a black tarp under the hot Winter sun can vaporize even the most vigorous weed patch. So now I got dirt, aka “dust,” and I’m wondering how amazingly quick it will get across the yard and over the porch and up the stairs of my apartment. 

We reclaimed some of the dirt patch with the little trees Whipple gave us. They are doing well, but Summer lies ahead.

Here's my "zero garden" - the echinacea isn't doing too bad, but has to be watered every day.

Here’s my “zero garden” – the echinacea isn’t doing too bad, but has to be watered every day.

Whipple gave us three red  buds and a crepe myrtle. They were in tiny pots, and looked at least half dead when I planted them. They were still bare from Winter, there wasn’t the tiniest sign of a bud. After I put them in the ground I watched and watched for them to grow. One by one they started to push teeny green buds out of their spindly branches, and the next thing I knew, all four were growing sassy in their little wells.

This red bud was nothing but a stick in a tiny plastic pot a couple of months ago.

These red bud saplings were nothing but sticks in pots a couple of months ago. 

Notice how bright that part of the yard is – I might use shade cloth. The shade in the picture is from my dogs’ beds, which I lay out over the metal cages  every day to get fresh air.

I am afraid my clean areas will be a dust hazard in the Summer, a mud slick in the Winter – I have to think of good  ground cover.  Bark and gravel are expensive and have their problems. Of course there are other options.

For now, I will use the black plastic and some old "sport court" some friends gave us to keep the mud out of the pool.

For now, I will use the black plastic and some old “sport court” some friends gave us to keep the mud out of the pool. There are a couple of the oak saplings Whipple gave us, including a cork oak he grew from an acorn.

I’m going to keep watering and mowing in the shady areas, it’s easier to keep a nice lawn in the shade. And, I guess I’m going to plant more trees, create more shade.

 

 

 

 

Get those stickers, before they get you!

All that rain – I knew this year we would get a bumper crop of weeds.  I can’t get over how quickly they grew tall and headed up after that last shower. Already I have big foxtails and other sticker weeds waving in the wind.

I found some cana lillies among a jungle of weed grass.

I found some Cana lilies among a jangle of fox tails.

One year my old boxer dog Venus got a fox tail in her throat, and it was shocking how quickly she began choking.  It was really scary driving her across town to the vet, every stop light seemed to take an hour. He had to put her under anesthesia to get it out. After that my husband and I are kind of paranoid about sticker grass, we work hard every Spring to make safe areas where we can romp the dogs without worrying about another scary trip to the vet.

So he’s out there mowing, and then raking, and I am all along the fences pulling. In the driveway, where we seldom have the dogs, we use Round-up.

My husband did a flooring job for a man who had retired from Mansanto, where he said he worked making new formulas for Round-up. Oh yeah, the weeds figure it out after a while, he said, the formula has to be constantly tweaked. My husband told him I didn’t like Round-up around our yard, with our kids and our dogs, and he said that’s just as well – it’s not the best solution. He told my husband about a company cocktail party he’d attended, years back. The guest of honor was the chemist who had invented Round-up.  The inventor acknowledged the constant need to tweak the formula, and when somebody casually asked, ‘what’s the best way to get rid of weeds?’  the inventor just as casually responded, ‘pull them out by the roots before they go to head…’

End of story.

Of course I can’t pull them all. I stick to the fence lines where the dirt is soft, and I try to work quickly after the rains. I try to get the gravel path ways before the ground hardens – I try.  

Weeds moved in fast on my gravel pathways over those long rainy days.

Weeds moved in fast on my gravel pathways over those long rainy days, and as soon as the rain stopped, the ground turned to cement.

Even in a normal year I don’t make it, and this year, wow, they are coming at me like a regular Green Revolution. At this time of year, I depend on my propane torch.

The propane torch makes neat work of those tough weeds.

The propane torch makes neat work of those tough weeds. 

The torch is attached to a propane can that can blow a taco truck across the street, so it used to make me pretty nervous. You could easily catch your pants on fire, sure. It is a job that demands focus, that’s for sure, but it’s mesmerizing, watching the weeds crinkle up and disappear, leaving nothing but ashes and cinders.

Neat-O!

Neat-O!

It’s hard to get the entire root sometimes, those milky weeds are sticky. I’ll probably have to come back one more time, but maybe not, if this heat keeps up. 

The torch is heavy, I can only use it for about 20 minute stretches at a time. But it is so nice, watching my dooryard reappear from that shaggy green blanket, finding flowers hiding in the dank foliage, and getting rid of the stickers before I am picking them out of the dogs and my socks and shoes.