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!  

 

Mow, burn, pull that weed!

Yesterday I stood in my yard, sun shining warm on my head, rain drops sprinkling across my face.   This is absolutely fantastic weather for growing just about every variety of weed.

Just what is a “weed”? For some people, it’s a plant they didn’t put in, or plants that grow where they don’t want them to grow. 

Oh yeah, I got weeds.

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Whenever the weather dries out a little my husband is behind the mower.

The pollen coming off this yard is a health hazard.

So my husband mows and whacks, and I pull and burn. But Nature is having a big laugh on us – we can only work so many hours a day,  the weeds grow and grow, 24-7.

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Here’s where I dump the weeds I pull from along fence lines and flower beds.

Part of my solution is philosophical – I have learned to accept some weeds as harmless, even pretty.   They don’t make stickers or copious amounts of pollen, and they thrive with nothing but sun and rain water.

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This is “dock” – my grandpa showed me how to squeeze the sap from these plants to soothe the welts from stinging nettles.

Dock is really invasive, if you don’t want it to take over your yard, you need to look for it when it’s small and either pull it out by the roots or burn it out with the torch. This plant was in a nice spot, so I let it go. It stands over my head now, it’s very pretty. In Fall it will turn purple-red. It is actually a popular herb for skin solutions, shampoos, and other natural products. This blogger says it has the same dietary benefits as spinach, kale, and other leafy greens.

http://returntonature.us/stalking-the-curly-dock-rumex-crispus/

Another of my favorite weeds is mullein. There are two kinds that grow in my yard, this big furry leaf variety, and a smaller variety with shiny leaves and bigger flowers. 

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This plant has shot up to over a foot during these rain showers we’ve been enjoying.

These furry leaf mullein get to be very big – our biggest was over 9 feet, and Whipple claims he has had bigger ones. They get a tall stalk with lots of tiny yellow flowers, as the stalk grows taller, more flowers. Mullein is believed to have fairly strong antiseptic properties and you’ll find it in tinctures and salves down at Chico Natural or S&S. 

The bees love it. When the flowers are done, they turn into hard little seed balls. The tiny Downy woodpeckers come over and peck them open, eat the teeny tiny seeds.  They look so elegant, we don’t pull or cut them until late Fall.  Sometimes you can cut the dead stalk and the plant will grow another in Spring.

I sit here in the morning trying to plan my day – I can hear them growing out there right now.

 

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Mow me down!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.