gardening


What’s written below, was written over two and a half years ago, but I guess I never published it.  I don’t even remember writing it, but I do remember the incident with the lizard and am glad he’s/she’s immortalized here.

So much has happened in those 2 1/2 years!  There’s been a whole lot more life and death in our garden and in our lives.  Both of my parents passed away, our first “daug-ter” died of cancer, and we got a new dog who has either solo or team-caught over 30 gophers and moles in the last six months!  What a great help.  We’ve also added five beautiful hens (their coop is the former mist-house of our former nursery) and now I carry aphids, slugs and snails down to them.  I am happy to have bugs to feed to the girls, and still amazed that they can take that stuff and turn it into “perfect protein” the next day.  And just last week I spotted two lovely long-tailed alligator lizards chasing each other through the citrus house.  Hurray, life over death!

So on a beautiful spring day, which happens to be our 18th anniversary, I’ll head outside again to check on the strawberry pot I just planted.  The pot was one thing I saved from my parents’ yard in those last minute decisions before the estate sale.  The bareroot plants were just purchased on our anniversary weekend trip, so together we’ve turned a tough memory into a good one.  I’ve learned a lot more about life and death in these last two years, and I’m sure God is not finished teaching me still more.

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About 2 PM today I realized I’d spent a good part of my day killing things.  What a revelation for someone who wants to grow and enjoy beauty and good food!  I guess good things come at a price.  It’s a few hours later and I’m still undecided on how to proceed.  Coupled with my murder-in-the-second-degree (it was an accident!) of a lovely alligator lizard last week who was hiding in my snail trap) I need to make some changes.  Maybe next year…

  • I will forget about trying to grow a winter garden of brassicas that are a magnet for cabbage butterflies and their green looper babies.
  • I won’t bother to start anything by seed directly in the ground so that the birds, slugs and earwigs won’t just eat them or mow them down before they even have a chance.
  • I’ll just wave the white flag to the gophers and voles.  Tracy claims that there’s only so much they can eat and that to be less stressed I need to accept a certain amount of “damage”.  The problem here is that gopher “damage” is usually terminal and since I’ve been the one catching them I know what we’d be up against next year if I had not done-in the 20 or more this year.  In this regard, a barn cat is looking ever more attractive to me if we can keep it from eating our songbirds poolside while they bathe…
  • I’ll fight the urge to squish every cucumber beetle and earwig.  So they eat the pollen in the flowers and notch the nasturtium leaves – they can have them (maybe).
  • I’ll stop stepping on snails and eco-baiting for slugs.
  • I’ll give up growing winter squash and pumpkins since they take up so much room and the gophers kill the plants.  We don’t even eat that much of these things, but it’s good for us and if I grow them we’re more likely to eat better, so…
  • I’ll just wait it out and whatever is left I’ll propagate more of and re-plant, maybe.

Well, it sounds good anyway, and certainly maybe worth a try…

As a special gift to me today, while watering the bed where I buried that lizard, another one scampered away from the spray.   Between that and the five tree frogs and the kale, sweet peas, roses and dahlias, there’s still plenty of life in the garden, too.  Nasturtium through balcony

The last few months the camera has been capturing a few strange things we’ve discovered while we work on our property.  I never cease to be fascinated (though sometimes I get a bit queasy!)

A month or so ago I saw what looked like a drunk crane fly flopping around the air on our front porch, then it landed on the house and I took a ton of photos hoping one would come out well.

Snakefly

I didn’t know what it was so I asked our trusty agriculture office and received Dave’s quick reply:

“Awesome picture!  Yes, I know that one, can’t be mistaken for anything else.  It’s a snakefly, order Raphidioptera, closely related to the lacewings (Neuroptera).  The larvae hunt in leaf litter with snake-like movement, hence the name.  Both young and adults prey on smaller insects, adult is a voracious aphid predator.  Doesn’t that brighten your day?”

It was certainly great news to know that those pincher jaws were going to be working hard for us!

Awhile later Tracy came from burning some fallen pine tree debris and opened his hand to show me this beauty.   We believe this is the larval form of nature’s stump grinder, one of the larger kinds of beetles known around here.  Wow!  and it really puts a visitor to Africa’s tale of being offered grubs for dinner in perspective.  Like I said, sometimes I can get kinda queasy…

As usual, the weeds/unwanted plants are getting way ahead of me.  We’ve had a lot of rain and a very cold spring, so the weeds are growing, but it’s not good weather for mowing or even being outside much.  However, last week I had an hour or two to weed after work (I just love these late sunsets), and I was thinning out the forget-me-nots and the blue borage in the front bed by the rosemary.  I should have been more observant, but thankfully stopped before going too far.  Deep underneath the borage and rosemary, built on top of the lavendula, was this beautiful nest of blue and brown speckled eggs: It  turns out that we actually have our own type of White Crowned Sparrow here in Humboldt County, and our property is definitely home to many of them.  Every year they find an interesting place to nest.  Usually it’s in a rose bush, which was problematic when Tracy was regularly spraying the outdoor roses (thankfully for all of us those days are over).  This year we can practically watch these ones hatch from the front window.  Despite my garden clean up I haven’t discouraged mom or dad from nesting, so that’s good, and I readjusted the remaining borage over the top of this to keep it somewhat sheltered and hidden.  It seems we’ve rarely had more than two eggs in a nest before, so if all of these ones hatch we’re going to see some very tired parents trying to keep them all fed!


Many people have asked us if we planned to hybridize our own roses and we always said no and went on to explain that it takes about ten years to save seeds, wait at least a year till they rooted and bloomed, then select varieties, test them in various climates, and finally propagate enough of them to meet the demand from a well-advertised (expensive) marketing campaign.  That said, we’ve firmly remained against starting a hybridizing program, but back in 1997 Tracy did hand me a Rugosa rose hip and told me to try my hand at hybridizing if I wanted to.  I think I left that hip in the refrigerator for at least a year and then broke it open and tossed the seeds in a flat of rooting medium in the shade.  A few plants came of it, but not until this year have we seen flowers!  Here I can introduce the first two of our very own rose babies:

Rugosa Baby #1

5 Hearts

It is rather exciting to realize that these two roses would never exist if we hadn’t saved that particular rose hip (which was pollinated by a particular bee, with pollen from other specific rose plants) then planted it and had patience to see what would develop.  There are three more plants yet to bloom, so we’ll have to wait and see what they turn out to be.  Time will tell if any of these plants are worth keeping around, how big they’ll grow and how they’ll do outside, but Rugosas tend to be a very hardy breed and good as hedge shrubs.

This post is a migration from our earlier blog, June 27, 2009

Garden Shot

Borage is that lovely blue star flower in the photo. I appreciate it every spring because it comes up on its own, and now I am blessing it in summer. This morning wasn’t the first time that I noticed how much the honeybees love all my borage plants. Yesterday the bees were still seeking out the flowers on the branches I’d pruned out and laid on the compost pile. Of course when I set out to take a picture today only the chubby bumble bee was present, but he’ll do for now.

Bee on Borage flower

If you’re concerned about the loss of honey bees (over a third of the hives in the US have disappeared – who shouldn’t be concerned?!) then I highly recommend planting some borage. Once you get it going it will come back year after year. It does reseed very well, but I find it very easy to pull out if it’s growing somewhere unwanted. Here’s a good site that Hagan Daas has created to help fund research into the cause of honey bee colony collapse: http://www.helpthehoneybees.com/

So, not only is Borage a rare true blue plant in the garden, the flowers taste like cucumber and look pretty sprinkled into salads, or frozen into ice cubes. And if blue isn’t for you, I exchanged a blue plant for a white one with a friend. Now the trick is to keep them separated so I’ll know which one’s seeds are sprouting in what part of the garden next year.

This post is a migration from our earlier blog, February 8, 2009

This is one of those postings I had planned for late last spring, but it’s just as appropriate now, because now we can actually get a handle on things and not have to live with my results of last year!

So, what’s the topic?  Weeds!

Humboldt County is known worldwide for one particular illegal weed, but it could easily be called the weed capital of the world for all the non-illegal ones thriving in our moist temperate area.  There is actually a town called Weed many miles east of us, but it’s much drier there and I bet we would easily beat them in a competition of most kinds of weeds.  It seems a new one shows up every year and it can easily gain a foothold in the garden.

weedsHere is the latest bane in my gardening life, Little Bittercress.  Actually there are at least four different weeds in this photo, but the Bittercress is the tall one on the left with the little white flowers.  I call it Rocket Weed because if it’s gone to seed and you try to pull it up, all the tiny seeds shoot up into your face and all over the garden to come back next year.  Argh…I can feel my blood pressure rising just looking at the photo!  So, yes, it’s better to get all weeds when they’re young, not just because their root systems are small and easier to pull up, but because they tend to go to seed quickly and you want to get to them before that!

Weeds on March

If you don’t, you get this little army of unwanted green marching into your pretty plot of irises.  Like anything or anyone testing the limits, it is TONS easier to keep them from invading, rather than trying to push them back out once they’ve already crossed the line. There are so many parallels to life you’ll just have to wait for my book someday… Tracy always says we have to have more Nos than they have Yeses.  It’s tiresome, but in the long run, it’s much less tiring than the alternative later.

And so, I resolved to use more mulch last year.  We got a beautiful load dumped from a local tree trimming company right around our anniversary, and I couldn’t have been happier.  I spent many weeks shoveling it around.  Unfortunately if there are weeds already growing and they have a strong will to survive, they will push through the mulch.  So, it was better, but not the best.

Weeds thru MulchI found that if I put down a couple sheets of newspaper before I spread the mulch I got better, longer weed prevention.  And since function often trumps fashion in my life, you’ll notice in a photo in the previous blog that I don’t always use newspaper.  We recycle a lot of cardboard this way, and recently I heard about using old carpet for pathways.  So, why not?  I’ll keep you posted!

This post is a migration from our earlier blog, February 4, 2009

First off, our first ever wholesale Bareroot rose shipment has come in and we’re turning them around as fast as we can. They are amazing #1 Grade plants from Weeks Roses. Tracy unpacked the huge boxes and exclaimed that these are the best he’s ever seen – beautiful canes and lots of roots. You won’t see anything like this coming out of a bag or box at your local drug store this year. Here’s a peak at what we’re proud to be able to ship to those of you who can take them this month and either plant them now, or pot them up and keep them protected until you’re safe to plant outside.Bareroot Grade 1 rose
The next little item of business is Pruning! I have always exclaimed that I love to prune – well, now that I’ve started to do it again this year I think what I mean is that I love to see pruned rose bushes. Annual pruning is really a very worthwhile and necessary chore as it gives us a chance for a real close look at our plants and how they’ve been growing the last year. There is no hiding that I did not feed some of my bushes well enough (or at all…) as I have lots of spindly growth to prune off. It’s also a great chance to look for cane damage and disease, and to get rid of it along with all

Dieback Wasp on rose

the fallen leaves that could be harboring disease spores ready to attack the plant when the conditions are right.

DiebackCane

And just to show a before and after bed of roses, this is a great shot as from left to right it has a Hybrid Tea, a Shrub and a Floribunda, so you can see how different they all look pruned. What a difference some weeding and a fresh coat of mulch makes, too.

Rose before being pruned
roses after pruning

Admittedly, I have had to prune a little lower than I usually do because of disease and twiggy growth. After doing a few pruning workshops with our local rose society, I’ve learned that it might be helpful to describe the finished Hybrid Tea as looking like antlers sticking out of the ground, or like an upward facing cupped hand. In general you want 3 to 6 good-sized, evenly-spaced canes around an open center. Here’s our hearty Pristine plant that is more typical of my thigh-high pruning.

Pristine Rose Pruned
Another option for pruning is to just lop 1/3 straight across the top. It’s better to clean out the center of modern varieties for healthy air-flow, but really, any pruning is better than no pruning at all. It rejuvenates your plant and tells it to get ready for a beautiful spring bloom. Be sure to clean off all leaves and throw them in the trash or burn them. Never compost rose debris! And a final tidbit from a pruning workshop attendee after we were all through. Prune off more than you think you should. It’s really very difficult to kill a rose bush by pruning it. Take this opportunity to remind it that you are the boss, and that you want a strong, healthy bush to support lots of flowers come spring.
Hmm, speaking of blooms, this post is sorely lacking, so here’s the last bouquet of 2008 on the eve of a good freezing night.

Final Roses of 2008
Now, finally Daphne, we’re off for that walk!

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