Saturday, April 26, 2014

What's That in the Composter?

I still have, and even use, that old black plastic composting bin which Alameda County used to make available at a deeply discounted price. And every so often I go through and harvest its rewards to use in the garden. This is one of those times, since I need that compost for hilling up those Purple Viking potatoes (planted in February) and getting the tin tubs ready for baby lettuces.
But you never quite know what else will show up, mixed in with the compost. Round here, it's usually just millions and millions of little red worms, shiny black beetles, roly-polies and the occasional ensatina salamander.  Sometimes though, there are some true surprises:
The soup spoon that went missing months (or was it years?) ago.

Or Princess, the helpful garden cat.*

* Honest. I did not stage this photo. She is a cat and, as such, just wanted to be part of the activities.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Escape from Alcatraz: Issue 4

Not the movie. Not the triathlon (good Lord!). Nope, it's the comic, or graphic novel, if you so prefer. Yes, the fourth volume in the series of comics describing all of the break-out attempts from Alcatraz (aka "The Rock") from way-back-when, when it was a federal prison (now it's part of the national park system).

And my best guy got to be part of this comic adventure.

So you know when you have a friend who has hidden talents (no, I did not say super powers, but, in fact, that is fairly close to the truth), and this friend invites you out to lunch where you then discover that, in addition to a successful real life, he has another successful life in the land of comics. And best of all, he wants you to be part of the action.

No, this is not one of those imaginary friend things (those guys never pick up the lunch tab) but Wren Nowan. Last year he was commissioned by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, a non-profit which supports the Golden Gate National Parks, to produce this fourth comic in the escape series. Heck, they even paid him.

So at this lunch, Wren asked if Michael would consider collaborating with him on the project and, although I wasn't there, I think the answer sounded something like "you betcha!"

They got to work and now, a few months later, Escape from Alcatraz: The Final Breakout, is ready.

There will be a book signing event at Escapist Comics in Oakland on Sunday, April 27th at 3 pm. Stop on by if you get a chance.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

From Winter to Spring and Back Again (And I'm Not Only Talking About the Crazy Weather)

Hellebore collected from my Uncle Joe's yard in Alabama

These garden toughies may be the salvation of my backyard. Known as hellebores (common names include "Christmas rose" and "Lenten rose"), they are among some of the best performers for that hellhole of a garden spot usually referred to as "dry shade". In addition to coping with little water and little light, they even can deal with icky-sticky heavy clay. Of course they prefer an easier life (who doesn't?), but that still doesn't stop them from blooming from here to almost forever.

However, snails and slugs may chew on them, so get your pitching arm in shape by winging those buggers out of the yard (boy, do I still miss that mockingbird which used to wait for me to show up in the early morning and "deliver" breakfast for the entire family).

With time (I have one which I planted somewhere around 15 or more years ago), the plants can get quite large - two-plus feet around or more.  Depending on the variety, the plant will die back and look a bit ragged in the fall (keep that flinging arm in shape or else), at which point the older leaves may be cut back to make room for new growth.

This year, mine started blooming in late December, are still going strong, and will probably be in bloom until June. With a breather, they will do it all over again with next winter's rains.

Annie's Annuals has a great selection of hellebores in a wide range of colors. Not all are available at any one time, and for sure these babies aren't cheap, but they may be your garden champions for life.